Harvesting the Last Days of Summer

This has been a beautiful week! For the first time in recent memory, our annual trip to an apple farm was done wearing shorts and t-shirts. And we’re not complaining! We’ll take this summer-like weather as long as we can get it. onions

So to keep up the guise of summer, we’ve been enjoying the end of summer’s harvest with our meals. Today’s recipe is reminiscent of our trip to Michigan in August. On the last afternoon of our vacation, we enjoyed a wonderful gourmet pizza at a local winery. We’ve since recreated it at home several times. While the prep time is a little lengthy, Mike and I think this Summer Harvest Pizza is worth the effort. balsamic caramelized onions

We start the meal prep early in the day by making a semolina pizza crust. We use my bread machine to simplify the process. The dough recipe makes enough for three large pizzas. We make one for Mike and I, one for the kids and then ten mini-pizzas for the kids to take in their school lunches. Later in the day, about an hour before dinner, we begin the remainder of the prep, starting with caramelized onions. semolina pizza dough

Next, we prepare the figs. We’ve used several different recipes off the web as guidelines. (Like this one or this one.) After cleaning and slicing the figs, we toss them into an oven-proof dish. We drizzle them with honey, balsamic and a bit of brown sugar. We then bake them for 20 minutes at 400F. oven roasted figs

Next up comes the candied bacon. This was not included on our pizza in Michigan, but after reading it over at Rufus’ blog, we knew it had a place on this dish. The recipe is so simple, we’ve made it several times (dangerously simple). candied bacon

Both the figs and the bacon cook up conveniently while the onions are doing their thing on the stove. Then there’s only one last thing to do before assembly. Slice the heirloom tomatoes. heirloom tomatoes

The onions usually take about 45-60 minutes. Once they are done, we roll out the dough and place it on a pizza tray lined with parchment or foil, and sprinkled with corn meal to prevent the pizza from sticking. Then we brush the pizza crust with olive oil and begin to pile on the ingredients. We like to start with the onions, followed by the tomatoes. harvest pizza

Next we add the figs, a few handfuls of arugula, the candied bacon bits and a sprinkle of goat cheese crumbles. You can also add a fresh squeeze of lemon juice at this point as well. We’ve done both with and without and either way was equally enjoyable. The pizza then bakes for 15-20 minutes at 400F. summer pizza

Once the crust is golden brown and the pizza is nice and hot, we remove it from the oven and sprinkle a bit more fresh arugula over the top. veggie pizza

Then we slice and serve. I like to add a bit of balsamic reduction over the top just prior to serving as well. Adds that extra bit of sweet tang to the dish. Mike and I both thoroughly enjoy this tribute to summer on a pizza. It’s packed with a variety of flavors and textures – a true delight to the taste buds. tomatoes and heirlooms

Mike and I both give it a solid 3 spoons. It’d be tough to get a homemade pizza to rank 4 spoons – we grew up on Chicago-style pizza after all. That said, it’s a good gourmet-style pizza that we’ll surely make again. The kids, however, weren’t into this one at all. Far too many visible vegetables for them. They opted for a more traditional sauce and cheese pizza one night and a pesto pizza another night. That’s fine by us – more slices for us! homemade pizza

I found a good batch of figs at the market recently, so this last time I roasted a triple batch. I’ve frozen them along with some slices of heirloom tomatoes in hopes that they’ll work over the winter. I would love to have this pizza in the middle of January. It may not be summer then, but a good bottle of wine, the fireplace and the taste of summer on a pizza…sounds like a nice winter evening to me.

Print this recipe: Summer Harvest Pizza

fig pizza

Now, I suppose we’ll start moving onto fall…somewhat reluctantly, although I admit I do love fall cuisine. I’m going to have Mr. N pick our next country to cook from this week. So we’ll be back in a week or two with his choice and a dish to go along with it. Have a great week everyone!

Sweet and Saucy

Can you believe the kids are on their 5th week of school already! Mr. N is now in 5th grade – his last year before middle school – and Miss A is now in 1st grade. It’s their last time at the same school for the rest of their schooling years. So bittersweet. Time is certainly flying.

Miss A's first day of 1st grade.

Miss A’s first day of 1st grade.

Fortunately for us, we have a bit of a slow down (relatively speaking) coming our way. Mr. N’s plays are wrapped up, summer activities have come to an end and for the first time since early May, we have nothing scheduled on our weekends from now until Thanksgiving. That’s not to say we won’t keep busy, but it certainly gives us more flexibility. I hardly know what to do with myself! For starters…I’m getting a post up here!

Mr. N's first day of 5th grade.

Mr. N’s first day of 5th grade.

Last weekend was our annual neighborhood block party. Mike has been smoking something or other for the last few years, and this year was no exception. This time around he chose a pork shoulder – actually two pork shoulders. We made a large batch of sliders and nachos. Both were equally delicious and not a single bite was leftover. While I didn’t have time to blog either dish in their entirety, I did grab a few pictures of the homemade BBQ sauce we made for the sliders. jalapeno and shallot

I wanted to use a recipe that didn’t involve ketchup as a base. I also wanted to make use of some flavors from our home state of Illinois this time of year. I had some beautiful red jalapenos from one of my favorite places in Illinois and wanted to pair them with some fruit. We chose raspberries as they are plentiful this time of year and one of our favorite things to pick in August and September. raspberries

The recipe was simple. We sautéed the jalapeno with some shallots (also locally grown). Next we added a little garlic and some adobo sauce and brought it up to a simmer. The raspberries were then added and cooked for just a few minutes before adding some apple cider vinegar, honey, sugar and salt. apple cider vinegar

After a good mixing of the ingredients we let the sauce simmer until it reduced by about half. I wasn’t happy with the thickness of the sauce at this point, so I added a little cornstarch. Much better.raspberry sauce

I let the sauce cool for a bit and then tossed it in the blender. In the meantime, Mike wrapped up the pork and we started to assemble the sliders. pork shoulder

I was really satisfied with the sauce. It was sweet, tangy and brought just the slightest amount of heat. pork sliders

The sliders were a hit, as was the sauce. For Mike and I the sauce was 3-1/2 and 4 spoons, respectively. Mr. N gave it 3 spoons; although he preferred his slider without any sauce (the flavor from the smoker was incredible on its own!). Miss A, unfortunately, wouldn’t even try the sauce. Once she saw the jalapenos, she was out. Unlike her brother, Miss A is becoming a bit more discerning in her tastes and a bit more stubborn with what she’s willing to try. Still, I suspect she tries more different foods than most. raspberry jalapeno bbq sauce

Fortunately for the rest of us, we made a large batch of sauce and were able to freeze a few portions for later this year. I’d like to try it salmon and grilled chicken. We also had a half of pork shoulder leftover that will be a nice treat this winter. I love the taste of summer in the depths of the cold, gray days, but we won’t talk about those just yet. The next time I get around to blogging, I have a great end of summer harvest pizza to share. We’ll keep the summer theme going for just a bit longer here anyway.

Print this recipe: Raspberry Jalapeno BBQ Sauce

Until then, we’ll be running the kids around – gymnastics, swimming and acting. I’ll be turning another year older (eek!) and we’ll be keeping busy in our newly found free time with another thing we brought home from the farmy…Hobbs

Hobbs is the newest addition to the family and a very welcome one. Chipper (our almost two-year old kitty) was very ready to have a friend again, and he’s welcomed the little one right into the fold. And Miss A is quite the little animal charmer. She spends much of her day playing with him and carrying him around. Never a dull moment – and frankly, I wouldn’t have it any other way! Enjoy your day everyone! animal charmer

Precious Moments

First a brief update – Mr. N’s show is going very well. His performances blow me away – every time. For those of you that don’t know the story of Medea, Medea is betrayed by her husband Jason (of Jason and the Argonauts fame) and she is filled with rage that culminates in the murdering of her two sons. Mr. N is one of those sons. He plays his role spectacularly and makes me wince and tense each and every time he calls out “Mother!” just before he dies.

medea 2

 

I tell you, even though I know it’s not real, it is not an easy thing to watch. It’s an incredibly well-done show that is thought-provoking, heart-wrenching and powerful. He even had his first review printed in a local stage review. The reviewer said of Mr. N and his stage brother, “…deliver performances that are wise beyond their years as Medea’s children.” He is thrilled.

medea

And today we are off to Miss A’s gymnastics performance. She is all a flutter about it. She’s been dressed and ready to go for hours, and has literally been climbing the walls! I’m not kidding. She has learned how to scale a doorway – and not by feet on either side of the frame – but rather by gripping one side of the door frame like a koala and climbing her way up to to the ceiling. It’s a good thing she has a place to go and get this energy out!

Now back to our French adventure. If you guessed that the kids’ favorite French food was crepes you would be correct! We tried a variety of foods from mussels and macaroons, to cheese and of course chocolate (well, them, not me). As you can imagine, everything was delicious and it’s hard to truly pick a favorite, but the one thing the kids kept coming back to again and again, were crepes. They were fast, available everywhere and the toppings were unlimited. So today we bring you French crepes.

Crepe ingredients

We started by blending together flour, milk, water, eggs, sugar and salt. We let the batter sit at room temperature for about an hour before pouring it a bit at a time into our greased and hot skillet.

blended batter

The crepes cooked for about two-minutes on the first side – waiting until you see the edges brown is crucial so as not to flip too early and make a mess. crepes cooking

We sprinkled a little sugar on either sides as the crepes cooked – just as we watched them do in Paris. While we didn’t have all the fancy crepe equipment the creperies do, our skillets worked just fine. browned crepe

Although smaller than the crepes in Paris, we were still able to fill these with similar ingredients. I never realized how easy these are to make and am surprised we’ve never tried them before. I can guarantee we will be making these again. crepes

We filled our crepes with our favorite ingredients from our trip. For Miss A and Mike that would be Nutella and bananas. For Mr. N and I, it was lemon, honey and cinnamon. We threw on a bit of confectioner’s sugar for good measure as well. nutella and banana

The crepes, not surprisingly were a hit. The kids gave them 3-1/2 spoons. Mike and I came in at 3 spoons. They were good, but not quite as good as in the City of Lights. I mean honestly how could they be! But while our kitchen isn’t in Paris, we are sure to be making these again. Perhaps with savory ingredients for the next go-round. lemon and honey

And as promised here are some more images from our time in Paris. Despite only having three full days and cramming quite a bit of sightseeing into the day, we did manage to find time to lounge about in parks, linger over meals, play at parks, picnic and simply be together as a family with no outside interruptions. It was a precious time.

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We’ll be back soon with highlights and recipes from our next European destination. Have a great week!

Writer’s Block

Well, when we left for our spring break adventures, I certainly didn’t intend to take such a long hiatus from the blog. Little did I realize how busy we would get upon our return. I’ll be back in a few days to share our adventures, give a few updates and then we’ll launch into some cooking around the world again. For today, however, I figured I would provide a little flashback to our first year of blogging. You see, I was reminded by Charlie Louie at Hotly Spiced that today is ANZAC Day, a day of remembrance for Australian and New Zealand veterans. She shares a fabulous story of her grandfather in WWII, so in honor of him and all veterans, here’s our ANZAC post from three years ago. Cheers!

 

As promised, we have one more delicious recipe from New Zealand. I think that to-date this has been my favorite cooking destination on this adventure and I know that many of these recipes will become part of our regular rotation. Earlier this week, Mr. N and I baked up these little gems – ANZAC Biscuits.

They are a traditional treat from both Australia and New Zealand and were often sent to soldiers in the Great War; thus the name Australian and New Zealand Army Corp or ANZAC biscuits. The traditional recipe is easy to make and the biscuits last for weeks without perishing. Continue reading

Mr. N in the Driver’s Seat

This is the last installment for Chopped Challenge 2014. I wish our dessert round was more inspired this year, after all Charles gave us a great basket to work with! Dessert Basket 2014

Sadly, however, after a long nine hours of cooking our creativity (and quite frankly motivation) was lacking. Don’t worry Charles, we’ve decided next year’s Chopped Challenge twist will be that the dessert round goes first. I know the kids won’t complain! So what to do with quinoa, chocolate, mango and Grand Marnier? Well, Mr. N suggested no bake cookies – they are easy, they are good and it should work. He also knows it’s the only way his mom will eat chocolate and figured it was a sure-fire way to win. conspiracy

So that’s what team Cleavers opted to do. We subbed the quinoa for oatmeal, the vanilla for Grand Marnier and added bits of dried, chopped mango in our regular recipe. The result was interesting. It certainly had the flavor of no bake cookies, but not quite the texture. Mr. N and Miss A both loved them and gave them a 4 spoon rating – the same as the regular recipe. Mike and I gave them 3 spoons each; although in retrospect they were more like 2 spoons. I didn’t eat them again. no bake cookies

I really didn’t even think it necessary to share the recipe, but the kids were insistent. They loved the quinoa cookies. They save well in the freezer and I saw Miss A sneak one out just yesterday. I guess this is one way to get her to eat some quinoa! Team Number Won was actually going to make no bake cookies too (a first in the Chopped competition to have both teams thinking along the same lines), but ultimately they opted for a no bake-inspired granola bar. The result didn’t quite go over as well, only garnering 2 spoons from all but Mike.

Long story short, stick with the regular recipe (unless you’re trying to get your kids to eat quinoa). The recipe provided here is our regular recipe passed down for several generations on my dad’s side of the family. It’s been a favorite for years and soothed many a broken hearts during the high school/teenage years. At the kids request we did include the quinoa option in the recipe for anyone interested.

Print this recipe: No Bake Cookies

Before we sign off for the week, I figured we’d share a few pics from President’s Day this week. Unfortunately Mike had to work, but the kids and I had a fabulous day at the Arboretum. Since it had warmed up into the 20’s (F), we thought we should try to take advantage of some of the snow and try our hand at cross-country skiing. The kids did great for their first time. skiing

We were out for an hour and half (although we only got about 1/4 mile). Mr. N had a rough start, but quickly got the hang of it and had a lot of fun. Miss A had a difficult time staying upright. She remained determined and optimistic for a good while, but then collapsed in a heap flailing her skiis about, becoming quite contorted yelling, “I’m useless! I’m just useless! Don’t talk to me!” It was quite the dramatic scene. cross country ski

That was the end of our skiing adventure. Fortunately she calmed down after we warmed up and ate some lunch. We then decided to take a drive through the park and photo the snowy scene. We were in the midst of a solid blizzard. snowstorm

Each of the kids had a camera as we drove around. We’d occasionally stop the car and hop out for photos. snowy day

The kids were all giggles and we were having a lovely time. We found this particularly pretty spot and paused to play in the snow a bit (the park was virtually empty but for us). snowy forest

The kids had fun rolling around and catching snowflakes on their tongues. happy day

Then it was time to get moving – only we couldn’t move. I should have known this would happen. My car (which I loathe beyond words) is not the best in snowy, icy or wet weather. I shifted forward, shifted backward, but we were not moving. Not one bit. I tried again – nothing. I was beginning to think we might have to call the visitor’s center and request assistance, but I wasn’t quite ready to do that yet. I sat for a moment to think. We didn’t have any kitty litter in the trunk, there were no other cars/people in the vicinity…Then I hopped out of the car, opened the backseat and told Mr. N to hop in the driver’s seat. His eyes widened and he looked at me like I was crazy (and perhaps I was). He was a bit hesitant, but I explained he just needed to sit there, push the pedal with his foot and hold the wheel straight while I pushed the car. This he found quite amusing. snow play

So with Mr. N at the wheel, I stood with the driver’s door open for leverage and pushed with all my might. I rocked the car back and forth, back and forth. Miss A in the meanwhile was squealing with delight. “Wheee! This is like a ride!”

Mr. N was trying to play it cool and be all serious, but you could see the devious little twinkle in his eye. He was relishing this moment. After about five minutes of rocking, pushing, pausing, pushing we started to move. I quickly popped Mr. N to the passenger seat and took control. At first we were going back and forth sideways (maybe six inches either way). I didn’t even realize it was possible for the car to move this way. Then finally we began to slowly roll forward. Success!

We decided it was probably time to go home, and so ended our snow day adventure. It’s one we won’t forget anytime soon. We all had a lot of fun and Mr. N was quite proud to have saved the day – modest too. “Thank you Mr. N! Without you, we still would have been stuck and had to call for help. I couldn’t have done that without you.”

“I didn’t do anything. I just sat there and pushed a pedal,” he said. But you could see the gleam in his eye and the slight uptick in the corner of his lips.

What a winter! At least we have some fun stories to share now. And even though we’re facing another week of temps below zero and in the teens, we’re getting closer to spring. We did have one day this week where we hit 45F, some snow melted and I got out for a run. Spring is on the way. I know it!long shadows

Our shadows are getting longer!!! So while we continue to wait out spring, we’re going to get back in the kitchen and start cooking recipes from around the world again. First up are Miss A’s picks for a few dishes from Poland. See you next week!

Staying Warm and Toasty

As many of you know, the Midwest has been experiencing a very cold and snowy winter. As of today we’ve had 20 days with below O degree (F) temperatures. Six more days and we’ll beat a record from sometime in the 1800’s. Frankly, that’s a record I’m not interested in beating. I don’t mind the snow, but honestly, it’s hard to enjoy it when it’s minus nine outside. Fortunately, we have managed to get our fair share of sledding in this winter which always makes us happy.

So let’s talk about something warm and toasty. Even if it’s summer in your neck of the woods, this dish would make a fun appetizer. It’s our Toasted Bacon and Apple Tortellini from Super Sunday’s Chopped Challenge. I’m going to get right down to business, as I hope to post all the winning recipes from the challenge in a timely manner.Then we can get back to cooking around the world. Thanks again to everyone that followed along that day. We had a lot of fun and have finally recovered (we didn’t want to be in the kitchen for a few days after that marathon!). So now on to the winning appetizer.

This basket came to us from our very own little sous chefs, Mr. N and Miss A. They very much thank you for their votes. They were quite excited! Mike and I on the other hand were a bit puzzled what to do with tortellini for an appetizer, but the kids had some fabulous ideas. Miss A instantly had a pasta salad in mind. Mr. N knew we had to stuff the tortellini with bacon. So that’s how we began. Appetizer Basket Ingredients 2014

For our homemade tortellini we referred to Chicago John’s tutorial on using won ton wrappers for the dough. (Glad I remembered that one!) stuffing tortellini

For the filling we added ricotta, basil, apple, bacon, an egg, Romano and salt and pepper to the food processor. We filled each won ton before carefully shaping them into tortellini. making tortellini

Mr. N really enjoyed making the tortellini. Even Miss A asked if she could make a few, which concerned Mr. N for a moment as he was suspicious of sabotage from the other team. Ultimately he let her try her hand at pasta making as well. won ton tortellini

Now came the fun part. I reminded Mr. N of the Toasted Ravioli we made a long, long time ago to represent Missouri and St. Louis. I suggested we deep fry our little tortellini to make them feel more appetizer-like. Well, one mention of the words “deep fry” and he was in complete agreement. So after cooking the tortellini we dredged them in flour, egg and panko before deep frying them to a crisp, golden brown. toasted tortellini

The only thing left was to come up with a sauce. Since we used a filling with apple and bacon, we thought a sweeter cream sauce was in order. We combined mascarpone, cashew cream and white wine in a small sauce pot before heating it over a low flame until it was blended, nice and creamy. You could easily use heavy whipping cream in place of the cashew cream, but if you’re so inspired, it was delicious. There are an abundance of cashew cream recipes out there, but we used a simple blend of raw, unsalted cashews (soaked in water), lemon juice, vegetable stock and a little bit of almond milk. Just toss it into a food processor and run until smooth and creamy. mascarpone and cashew cream sauce

So there you have it, team Cleaver’s Toasted Bacon & Apple Tortellini. It was 4 spoons for both Mr. N and Miss A, and 3 spoons from the grown-ups. While these were quite tasty, I’m not sure we’ll make them again. They are rather involved and frankly I prefer my tortellini as a main course with a nice light creamy mushroom sauce (fortunately we have a bunch saved in the freezer that didn’t make it to the frying stage). Not to mention if we’re going to deep fry, there are quite a number of foods I’d rather splurge on before these; but a winner is a winner. It was definitely a lot of fun to make and great to have both kids so active in the kitchen this year. This has become quite the “sporting event” around here this time of year!

Print this recipe: Toasted Apple and Bacon Tortellini

Now before I sign-off, I’ll give you a brief run down on the competition’s dish. After all it was completely the brainchild of our little Miss A (who recently got all dolled up for the annual daddy daughter dance). daddy daughter dance

The salad started with a bed of Romain lettuce which was topped with the cooked four-cheese tortellini, apple slices, pear slices, bacon crumbles, fresh basil and peanuts. The salad was dressed with an Asian-inspired dressing of sesame oil and ume plum vinegar. The sauce and peanuts weren’t the biggest hit, so we recommend a different choice of nut – walnut or pecan perhaps – and going with either less sesame oil, or another more subtle oil. The salad was served cold and was pretty good (but take our recommendations for adjustments into account).Tortellini Salad

Have a great week everyone! We’ll be back soon with our winning main course recipe. In the meantime, aren’t they just too cute?! If someone figures out how to stop time and keep these little ones from growing up so fast – please let me know. ;) dance night