Warming Up to a New Year and An Invitation

Happy New Year! We hope you all enjoyed the holiday season and are enjoying a fabulous start to the New Year. Since our area is under an uncharacteristic deep freeze, we thought it fitting to bring you this warming stew recipe to enjoy during these colder months. We also have some fun planned for a future post, so make sure to keep reading to find out how you can play along!

buttercup squash

Now this particular recipe is also for our dear friend Sally at Bewitching Kitchen who mentioned she loves chickpeas. Sally has followed our blog for nearly three years now and was our first non-family/friend commenter. So since she holds a special place in our hearts, I’m going to do a little bragging on her behalf. Check out this post to get a glimpse into why we love Sally and why her blog is on our list of faves. Congrats Sally!

Someone spied a bird out the window!

Someone spied a bird out the window!

Now, this recipe for Amazon Bean and Squash Stew (adapted from Eating Well) is also one of our faves because it’s very filling, flavorful and it’s vegan. I haven’t shared this on the blog yet, but last September, Mike and I undertook a three-week vegan cleanse. The results were fabulous – we slept better, felt better and found a ton of ways to get creative with beans, lentils, nuts, spices and all sorts of foods that were relatively new to us. As a result, we’ve completely altered our eating habits and lifestyle (in fact Mike has lost 45 pounds and is the healthiest he’s been since I’ve known him!). While we’re not vegan 100% of the time, we do eat vegan more often than not. Now that’s not to say we would turn down a fabulous seafood dinner, bacon jam, a good piece of meat, or a delicious dessert, but on an average day we’re choosing plants. In other words, there’s no hardcore rules and the blog will still feature a mixture of international recipes of all types, but this particular stew is one we can enjoy any day of the week.

veggies

So the stew starts out simple enough – roast the squash with a bit of olive oil and sea salt. We’ve used an assortment of winter squash including buttercup and acorn, and they’ve all worked well. We also typically roast the squash on the weekend, store it and whip the stew up on a weeknight. When you’re ready to make the stew, heat the olive oil, drop in some garlic (Sally – you can omit the garlic), carrots and diced onion, and saute until the veggies are tender.

making stew

Next we add a bit of veggie stock and water, the roasted squash, a tomato and a boat load of seasonings including salt, pepper, red pepper, turmeric, oregano and cumin. We bring the stew to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cook for about 20 minutes. Next we transfer batches of the stew to the blender to puree and then return it to the pot.

squash soup

Finally we add cooked wild rice, fresh spinach and chickpeas to the pot, mix it together and cook it for another 10 minutes, or until the spinach wilts and the beans are heated through.

filling ingredients

We serve the stew with tortilla chips and lime wedges. It makes enough for dinner for four with leftovers (or two servings each if like Mr. N you want seconds). The stew is hearty and flavorful.

amazon squash stew

It’s a 4 spoon dish for Mr. N and I, 3 spoons for Mike and 2 spoons for Miss A. It isn’t her favorite dish in the world, but she will eat her share – especially if the chips are involved. In fact, we’ll all eat our share and have on several occasions now.

Chickpea stew

Print this recipe: Amazon Squash and Bean Stew

bean and squash stew

Okay, now for a little fun. This month is our three-year blogging anniversary. While we don’t post as often as we did in year one or two, we’re still making many new international dishes and exploring different cultures. It’s an adventure we all love for the food we get to try, the time together in the kitchen and for all the friends we’ve made. So, like last year, we’re going to have our annual Chopped Challenge to celebrate. For those of you that aren’t familiar with our Chopped Challenge, you can find year one here and two here. We’ve had several successful recipes – some have even stuck around. You can see all the results on our recipes page.

Appetizer Basket

So how does this work? Well, we ask for mystery basket ingredients from twelve readers which are then put up to vote in a blog poll. Our readers vote on a basket for three categories – appetizer, main course and dessert. The baskets with the most votes in each category will be our mystery ingredients. Then on Super Bowl Sunday (February 2, 2014), Mike and I go head-to-head in an all day cooking challenge. The kids serve as both sous chefs and judges, a task they take very seriously.

winning basket

This year we’ve asked our top six commenters and five new commenters to provide us with basket ingredients. Now,that leaves one opening and we’d like to make this open by special invitation. We know there are many silent blog readers and occasional commenters out there, and we want to make sure you’re included as well. So, if you would like to name ingredients for an appetizer basket we’d love to include your choices in the poll. Just shoot us an email at eatplayloveblog@gmail.com or leave a comment with four ingredients to include in our appetizer basket poll. They can be as wild or as traditional as you want to be, as long as they can be relatively easy to source. All ingredients received by 1/15/14 will be put into a draw and one participant will be selected.

Dessert basket

We look forward to your submissions and are excited for a new challenge. Albeit not so excited about the mess that always results. ;) Messy, messy, messy

Happy New Year all! Stay tuned for the upcoming interactive blogging fun. We’ll put our ingredient baskets up to vote sometime after the 17th of this month, after which our challenge lies in your hands! Until then, enjoy the stew and stay warm. Cheers!

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Happy Endings

Well, is it just me or did this past summer just fly by? Every year they get faster and faster. Well, as you know we ended our summer with a little country getaway. We rented a farm-house in Michigan for a week with the kids and just spent some quality time with absolutely no distractions (except for a few bee stings – poor Mike!). farm house

Thankfully Mike is not allergic to bees and recovered just fine; albeit rather annoyed. Aside from those two little incidents, the trip was utterly blissful. The kids were happy the whole time (no meltdowns or plate turnings) and they were inseparable. From morning until night, they were attached at the hip, playing and laughing. campfire

We did lots of cooking, ate every meal outside, read books, made crafts and even got to pick our own peaches. peach orchard

I’m not joking when I say that Miss A ate at least five peaches while we were in the orchard. peach picking

Somehow we still ended up taking home one whole bucket of fresh Michigan peaches. So as you can imagine, our next few recipes will be down right peachy. peach wagons

The farm house was exactly what we needed. It was peaceful and felt like home the second we walked through the doors. country home

It wasn’t extravagant by any means, but it was homey, clean, private and surrounded by grape vines. grape vines

And it was only a short 30-minute drive to sunsets on the beach. beach sunset

As simple as it was, we all agreed that it was one of our best family vacations. We all felt happy, connected and most of all rested. sunflowers

There’s not a whole lot to report back other than we spent a lot of quiet mornings in our upstairs sitting room overlooking the countryside. Then we’d make our way down to the kitchen area where the kids and Mike would read and craft while I cooked something up. I don’t think we were ever dressed or out of the house before noon! quiet mornings

Our days were lazy and spontaneous and then we’d head for some quiet nights either on the beach…sunset beach time

sunset girl

or back at the farm. country sunset

One evening, we sat around the campfire. Mr. N and Miss A were roasting marshmallows and Mike and I were sipping wine. The discussion turned to what a great trip it had been and that we should definitely visit the farm again. Then Miss A, usually not one for serious conversations, sighed and said, “Yes. This was like a happy ending for summer.”

Indeed it was. It was then just a few days later that I was snapping the first day of school pictures. Mr. N school day

It’s always the first day of school pictures that reflect back to me how much they are growing up and changing. First day of school

While the end of summer is always bittersweet for the kids, it was especially so for us parents too. Miss A is now a kindergartener, which means a full day of school five days a week. In other words, our house is suddenly very, very quiet. Since this was the first day of “real” school for Miss A, we weren’t sure how she would handle the separation. She had cried a few days beforehand, but otherwise was staying her tough little self. As the bus approached, we said our goodbyes and gave out our hugs. I was using every ounce of self-control to keep those tears locked away behind my sunglasses. I was standing behind Miss A, when she looked at Mike slightly panicked and said, “Where’s mommy?”

Just then, Mr. N walked up alongside of his little sister, took her by the hand and happily said, “Come on, Miss A.” boarding the bus

She looked up at her big brother and smiled. They boarded the bus and didn’t look back until they were in their seats, smiling and waving. As the bus turned away, the dam burst and my tears were flowing. Fortunately, I’m in good company and several of us moms were able to cry, laugh and hug our way through the walk home.

Miss A was right – that vacation was definitely a happy ending, but I also think that this is a new happy beginning. It’s definitely a new stage of life for us. For the past nine years, Mike and I have juggled our schedules both working from home and our offices. We’ve managed through the chaos and the stress to be stay-at-home parents as much as possible. Mike would stay home some days, I would stay home others, we’d work nights and sometimes weekends, trading off work and at home time, while trying to find a balance for quality family time when we could all be together. It wasn’t easy. And it’s the strangest feeling to look up, nine years later and think that those days are behind us. happy endings

While I very much miss my little buddies, I can’t help but think about all the possibilities and opportunities that lie ahead for all of us – and I’m excited. Even with only one week of this new life under our belts, I can already see that this next stage, might be just as fun as the last – particularly if this vacation was any indication. sunny side up

So since I’m feeling all happy and sunny, I figured we’d kick off our Michigan recipe series with some bright and sunny foods. This first recipe, is hardly a recipe at all. We obviously had a lot of peaches on-hand, so we used what we had in our little kitchen to whip up a fresh Peach Salsa. peach salsa

We used peaches, tomatoes, jalapeno, onion, honey, cherry balsamic vinegar and salt for seasoning. We first served our salsa as a side with tortilla chips. Miss A was not a big fan of the salsa due to the jalapeno. This was only a 2 spooner for her. Mike enjoyed the fresh peaches with his chips. It was a good blend of salty and sweet. salty and sweet

Mr. N and I enjoyed our peach salsa with the chips, but our favorite way to serve it was with a sunny side up egg on toast. peach salsa and eggs

Mike, Mr. N and I all gave the salsa 3 spoons. It was fast, fresh and was a simple balance of sweet and spicy. Print this recipe: Peach Salsa

Thank you all for your wonderful comments. We read them while we were away and always enjoy them. We read many of them to the kids and they enjoy following along as well. They know many of you by name, and will often ask which one of you provided the new recipe at our table (as many of your recipes are served at various meals). I promise I’ll get back to commenting soon, I just have a few projects that I’ve been sitting on for quite some time that I’m ready to move forward on; and of course, we’re still working out our new school time routines. Please know that I’m hovering in the background printing many of your recipes and that I’ll be popping in and out as I can as we try to find our new balance.

We’ll be back soon with a few bread recipes. Yes – I’ve actually made some bread! And the best part, it’s edible! Until then, here’s a flashback that happens to be another great use for peaches. We made this in Michigan too, and needless to say, Miss A devoured this one. :)Georgia peach cobbler

A Devil of a Good Time

Hi everyone! As we mentioned in our last post we were preparing for some fun. Well, this week we are off to our neighbor to the North to meet some new friends and enjoy some family time. Yep, it’s another road trip; although not quite as epic as the one a few years ago that took us to many of the same places. little devils

So while we are away, you’ll forgive us for not checking in on many of your wonderful blogs. We’re going to unplug for a short time and recharge. We’ll be back next week with another French recipe and hopefully some great vacation stories to share. Lobster Devils

Until then, we thought we’d share this little non-recipe of a recipe with you. It was a HUGE hit in our house and it just happens to involve lobster which is reminiscent of that trip a few years back. Just search “lobster” on our site and you’ll see what we mean. deviled eggs

We took a basic deviled egg recipe – hard-boiled eggs, add the yolks to a bowl, and mix them with Dijon and mayo. This time we then added a bit of dill, some Champagne vinegar, diced shallots, and of course some chopped up lobster. (We had claws on-hand after a tasty special at Costco.) The measurements on today’s recipes are approximates. You can easily adapt this to your own taste preferences. lobster deviled eggs

Once the mixture was added back into the egg whites, we topped them with a pinch of truffle salt, some chives and a sprinkling of paprika (regular, not smoked, as we didn’t want to diminish the taste of the lobster). Now you can see why these were such a hit. Lobster Deviled Eggs with Truffle Salt

Mike and I both gave them 4 spoons. Hands-down. No questions. Miss A gave them 100 spoons. I have never seen her eat so much of a non-dessert food in my life. I’m not kidding. She put these little devils (pun intended) away! But Mr. N, he insists on saying they were 3-1/2 spoons….despite also devouring them and fighting with his sister over the last one. Hmmm. I’ve determined his vote is due to either not wanting to appear as a conformist, or that it wasn’t dessert and therefore doesn’t deserve a 4 spoon vote. IMG_7151

What I’m trying to say, is that you may as well consider this one of the rare 4-spoon all-a-rounders. Now do you think I should add it to our index page for four spoon dishes. Hmm…

I’ll ponder that while we’re away. Enjoy your week everyone! Print this recipe: Lobster Deviled Eggs

Red, White and BBQ

Don’t you just love a good rivalry? Growing up we had some intense baseball rivalries in the family. Dad is a Cubs fan. Period. My sister and I, well naturally we grew up as Cub fans. Grandma, on the other hand, is a Cardinals fan. It was understood in our house that the Cards were the arch-enemy. I still remember my dad’s t-shirt, “I root for two teams. The Cubs and whoever plays the Cardinals.” To this day, family visits are still full of all kinds of Cubs/Cards gifts and lots of competitive banter. Cub Fans

Then there was my mom’s side of the family. Die hard White Sox fans. Grandpa got a few Sox fans out of his kids and grandkids, but not in our house (mom often remained silent on the subject). And my Dad doesn’t even regard the Sox as legit. This of course led to several lively discussions throughout the years. Then I married Mike…another die hard Cubs fan. (Lucky for him!) Mike jests with Mr. N and Miss A that you can’t like the Sox because they’re crooks (referring to the 1919 “Black Sox Scandal”). Yes, Cubs fans’ memories go back that far (insert Cubs’ World Series reference here). Little Fan

And despite one little scare when Mr. N was 3 or 4 and insisting he was a Cardinals fan, we have so far successfully raised two Cub fans. In fact, Miss A’s nightly bedtime song – “Take me out to the ballgame,” complete with Harry Caray’s “Let’s get some runs!” Take Me Out to the Ballgame

As serious as we take our baseball team affiliations, let’s face it, the rivalry is just downright fun! That’s why it worked out perfectly that Miss A’s pick for our state-side cooking adventure this week is Alabama. You see Bama has a rivalry of its own as well…and as you probably guessed, this one has to do with food – White BBQ sauce vs. Red BBQ sauce. We had never heard of a white BBQ sauce before, but apparently it’s all the rage in northern Alabama. So for today’s post we’re pitting White vs. Red in this BBQ battle. Red sauce

Starting with Bama’s take on the red sauce, we selected a recipe that hails from the Chicken and Egg festival in Moulton, Alabama. This sauce uses ketchup, cider, Worcestershire sauce, lemon juice, brown sugar, mustard and some seasonings. The ingredients are combined and cooked over medium heat. The chicken is then tossed in the sauce to coat. red sauce chicken

Finally, the chicken is placed in a baking dish and wrapped completely in foil to bake for 15 minutes at 500F and an hour and 15 minutes at 350F. Baking chicken

The end result is a fall-off-the-bone kind of chicken. Alabama Chicken Bake

Seriously – this stuff was amazingly tender and juicy. We know we’ll be baking chicken this way again. However, the flavors were a bit disappointing. It was good, don’t get me wrong, but I think we were hoping for something with a bit more tang. Mike would prefer tang with a kick, while I would prefer a tang with a sweet and spicy finish. Alabama chicken BBQ

Overall the ratings weren’t bad: Mike – 2 spoons, Kristy – 2-1/2 spoons, Mr. N – 3-1/2 spoons and Miss A – “2 or 90 spoons.” Mr. N was the biggest fan. Bama Red BBQ

As for the Alabama White BBQ Chicken, we used a recipe from The Neelys on The Food Network. We started by mixing together the sauce – a combination of mayo, apple cider vinegar, lemon juice and seasonings. We reserved some in the fridge for dipping and used the rest to baste our chicken. basting chicken

The recipe couldn’t be simpler. Mix, baste, grill, eat. The finished product was a beautifully grilled and delicious BBQ chicken. I realize this is high praise which can perhaps be attributed to the fact that it was our first outdoor grilled meal since last summer. Still, it was very tasty chicken. Grilled chicken with White sauce

I was a bit nervous about the sauce for two reasons. One, I’m not being a big mayo fan. And two, it was incredibly watery. It had the consistency of a light salad dressing vs. a thick barbecue sauce, but unlike last time, my expectations were surpassed. It was tangy, sour and tasted fabulous on the grilled chicken. Alabama White Chicken

Ultimately the white BBQ won out over the red with our final votes of: Mike – 3 spoons (“Not 4 spoons because it’s still just chicken.”), Kristy – 4 spoons, Mr. N – 4 spoons and Miss A – 3 spoons. I do have to put a disclaimer on Mr. N’s 4 spoons though. You see we made these dishes on two different weekends and the voting was tallied at the time of the meal. However, even though Mr. N gave the white chicken 4 spoons, he did not like the dipping sauce and insists that he’d prefer the red version to the white even though his ratings don’t reflect as much. White BBQ

Now while Mike, Miss A and I will take the white over the red any day of the week, I am anxious to try that baking method out on my own BBQ sauce sometime because the chicken itself was truly memorable…unlike the White Sox. ;)

Alabama Red Sauce recipe: Alabama Red BBQ Chicken

Side dish courtesy of: Rufus’s Sweet Potato Fries and Oven Baked Fries

Alabama White Sauce recipe: White BBQ Chicken

Side dish courtesy of: Kraft Macaroni & Cheese (I shamelessly admit that it’s a guilty pleasure!)

Monkey Business

The New Year is upon us! We are very ready to turn the page and welcome a new year, new adventures and renewed spirit. We had a fabulous Christmas this year, well four Christmas celebrations, each just as special as the next. And now with the chaos of the holidays behind us, we’re winding down one of the best ways we know how – together. No work, no cleaning, no chores, no snoring mangoes. Santa was here

So with four Christmas celebrations you can imagine that we did some cooking and ate some delicious food. In fact, we ate a lot of delicious food. The celebrations kicked off at my grandparents’ in rural, central Illinois with some of Grandma’s blackberry cobbler. The next day we returned home to spend the evening with Mike’s family (aka Nana and Papa) and we brought along our Chilean Christmas cake.  Continue reading

Good Things in Small Packages

This is our final birthday post of the summer. We’ve been finished celebrating for a few weeks now and are just about ready to get back to our international and stateside cooking…just in time for school to start. Where did this summer go?! (Well, maybe we have some idea where this summer went.)

Miss A’s swim lessons.

Anyway, as many of you may remember, the kids get to request a special birthday meal and dessert as part of their birthday celebrations. Mr. N requested Sesame Chicken and his rather elaborate homemade birthday cake. Well, Miss A took it a little easier on me this year. She wanted pasta in a cheesy sauce and a cherry crisp. Pasta sauce and pies/crisps are totally in my wheel house. They are the two food groups that I LOVE to cook and often do without a recipe. They are totally in my comfort zone. Continue reading