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!

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The Secret is in the Sauce

Well, another busy week is behind us and we’re about to start another one; however, and I hesitate to say this, I think I’m finding a new rhythm. We’re no less busy than we have been for the past six months, but I’ve found a bit of a flow. I mean when is the last time I posted twice in one week!

It’s hard to believe the Chopped Challenge is already several weeks ago now, especially when we’re still enjoying the fruits of our labor. (We still have two pot pies remaining in the freezer!) So speaking of those pot pies, most of you will recall, our main ingredient basket for the big day was brought to us by Vanyadhanya from Skinny Chef de Cuisine and included Garam Masala, Cashews, Pumpkin Seeds and Potatoes. Main Course Basket 2014

It was definitely a close contest between the two dishes – Garam Masala Dumplings and the Vegan Pot Pie with Garam Masala. In fact, if it wasn’t for the secret ingredient Mike had been hiding since we shopped for the event, it would have been a dead heat. Little did I realize he had that little surprise up his sleeve! So what was the thing that put Team Number One over the edge for this round? Well, let’s recap how it all got started first. Miss A and Mike began their dish by boiling the potatoes and creating a sauce using whole garam masala. boiled potatoes

They sauted some shallots and garlic in a skillet before adding two cups of water. Next they placed the garam masala inside a cheesecloth, tied it closed and placed it in the same pot to simmer for almost an hour. garam masala

Next it was time for the cashew cream – a blend of cashews (soaked in water for 12 hours) and almond milk. Cashews

Once the garam masala had simmered long enough, the cheesecloth was removed and tossed. Mike and Miss A then combined the cashew cream with the stock to make a creamy sauce. But they didn’t stop there. They also added a bit of ground garam masala and the secret ingredient – paneer (a fresh Indian cheese). This is when I knew Mr. N and I were in trouble. I LOVE paneer – and Mike certainly knew that!

As the sauce was set aside to keep warm, Team Number Won then combined their boiled potatoes, all-purpose flour and some cilantro in the food processor. making dumplings

From there they scooped out golf ball sized pieces and formed little round dumplings. The dumplings were dropped in boiling water and cooked until they floated to the top. Rolling dumplings

Next Miss A and Mike rolled the dumplings (still wet and somewhat sticky) in chickpea flour and then placed them into hot oil to deep fry. The dumplings were fried to a golden brown and then drained. Once drained, the dumplings were served immediately with the garam masala-paneer sauce. garam masala dumplings

The dish was fantastic! The flavors were so warm and comforting. It was easily a 4 spoon dish for Mike, Miss A and I. Mr. N, however, preferred the pot pie. In all honesty, Mike and I likely would have given both main course dishes 4 spoons had we enjoyed them on separate occasions, but that secret ingredient was just too good to look past, and it was a competition after all!deep fried dumpling

Print this recipe: Garam Masala Dumplings

So since the pot pie met with rave reviews from each of us as well, we thought we’d share this recipe with you all too. It’s vegan, filled with bold flavors and very comforting! Not to mention, you can make plenty to have for a meal another day.

Print this recipe: Vegan Pot Pie

Next week we’ll be back with our final entry from this year’s Chopped Challenge – the dessert round. After that we’re setting off around the world on another cooking adventure (from our own kitchen that is). Have a great week everyone!

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

Live Blogging Event – Chopped Challenge III – 2014

The wait is over! The big day is finally here! The smack talk has been ramping up for days and the teams are ready to go. It’s Chopped Challenge 2014.

First, we’ll introduce this year’s line up:

For The Cleaver’s (points to those who get the play on words) its Kristy and Mr. N; and for Team Number Won it’s Mike and Miss A. Chopped Challenge Teams 2014

Which team will reign supreme? And which team will be Chopped? Let’s get cooking to find out!

We’ll start the day with our Appetizer Basket. Teams will have to use the ingredients from this year’s winning basket and with 35% of the votes comes to us from Mr. N and Miss A, and those ingredients are:
Appetizer Basket Ingredients 2014

Now since this is a live blogging event, make sure to check back throughout the day. We’ll post photos and updates throughout the day for each course as well as the results. This year we’re also going to try to keep up with a photo stream on our Instagram account (eatplayloveblog) which will also post to our Twitter feed @eatplayloveblog. Getting a bit more high tech this year! Once again thanks for your participation and for following along.

Here’s to a great day of cooking and eating! Let’s get it on!

Well, Team Number Won is off to an early lead after commandeering the kitchen. sesame oil

They’ve got some kind of sesame oil and ume plum vinegar mixture going on in there. ume plum vinegar

The Cleaver’s have their bacon going, bacon bacon bacon

and some other mascarpone concoction, mascarpone

but is the pressure already driving Kristy to the brink??? boozing

Thankfully Mr. N is staying focused for The Cleavers.
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It looks like they’re hand-stuffing Won-Ton wrappers to make their own tortellini–impressive.
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Well, folks, the appetizer round is complete. Team Number Won created a tortellini salad featuring apples, pears, bacon and an Asian-inspired dressing; and the Cleavers came up with a homemade tortellini (using won ton wrappers) which were deep fried and served with a mascarpone cream sauce. appetizer contenders

The salad, which was entirely Miss A’s idea, was a tasty combination. Yet while all the pieces worked in concept, the execution was a bit lacking (which Miss A blames on her teammate – is there dissension in the ranks?). The sesame oil in the dressing was a little too over-powering making the dish a bit too salty. Still the bites with apple, tortellini and bacon were quite good and might do better with a more Italian inspired vinaigrette. This dish came in with 2 spoons from Kristy and Mike, 1-1/2 spoons from Mr. N and 0 spoons from the chef that created the dish! Tortellini Salad

That means – the winner for this round is THE CLEAVERS! The tortellini was made using won ton wrappers (thanks to a post from Chicago John Kristy remembered from last spring) and stuffed with a mixture of ricotta, bacon, basil and apples. After the tortellini were cooked, they were dredged in flour, egg and panko before being deep fried to perfection. (Recipe to come in following weeks.) The crispy tortellini were served alongside a mascarpone cream sauce for dipping. Mr. N and Miss A came in with 4 spoons each while Mike and Kristy gave the dish a 3 spoon ranking. It’s hard to beat a deep fried appetizer folks, especially with two kids at the judging table! fried tortellini

Now it’s time to clean the kitchen from round one. We’ll be back shortly to post the winning main course basket! Stay tuned…

The first round of cleaning is done and we’re on to the main course! This year’s winning basket with 32% of the vote comes to us from Vanyadhanya: Main Course Basket 2014

And the cooking is already underway with a garam masala sachet in the works for Team Number Won. garam masala

The Cleavers are again late to the kitchen, we hope they’re not getting too cocky – it’s still anyone’s game! Although they do seem to have soaked some cashews…another cream perhaps? Cashews
It took us a little while to track down Mr. N and Miss A for Round 2. They kinda vanished for the cleaning phase of the contest. Fortunately we had a good idea where to look.
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Team Number Won is mixing up some potatoes, cilantro and flour. Gnocchi, perhaps? Not quite.
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Mike and Kristy seem to be sharing the counter space nicely. Wonder how long that will last?
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Everyone is on a roll. Lots of cooking is underway. All four burners are in use, the oven, a food processor and a blender. Too bad this isn’t the real chopped kitchen – these teams have to wash dishes in between use! So what is everyone up to? Let’s check back in…Team Number One is rolling something into balls. Looks like it’s potatoes flour and cilantro. Rolling dumplings

Once the balls were rolled, they were dropped into boiling water? Looks like they’re going for some sort of dumpling. The Cleavers are mixing their potatoes, carrots and onions with a cashew cream. Wonder what that’s going to be…mixing cashew cream

A casserole??? pot pies

Nope – a pot pie! Oh, the pressure is on now Team Number One! veggie pot pie

Team Number Won needed a victory in round two of the challenge, and they brought out deep fried potato dumplings in a cashew cream sauce with whole Garam Masala spice infusion and the secret ingredient. They were up against a vegan pot pie with potatoes, carrots, cashews and pumpkin inside, and quite a bit of heat from their own liberal use of the garam masala.IMG_0591

Mr. N was ready to call this one for Team Number Won even before tasting (he did know what the secret ingredient was), but once we actually sat down, it was clear this was going to be a tough call. The pot pie was boldly flavored, with plenty of kick and the pumpkin and creamy cashew mix gave it a great texture.

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Mike had just a bit of nervousness as we tasted his team’s dish. He had spent most of the past 24 hours chirping about “the sweet, sweet taste of victory,” which came wrapped up in a small black grocery bag from the little Indian grocery store nearby. After the pot pie, he needed to deliver. Unfortunately, this wasn’t a dish that was going to score big on presentation.
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But oh, that secret ingredient–Paneer! Even Kristy had to acknowledge that the thick chunks of paneer in the sauce put it over the top. The Pot Pie got 4 spoons from Mike and Miss A, 3 spoons from Kristy and Mr. N. The dumplings got 4 spoons from Mike, Kristy and Miss A and 3 spoons from Mr. N, though Miss A only liked the paneer in the sauce and didn’t give the dumpling much of a chance.
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We head to the dessert round all tied up at a round apiece, though I have a feeling the pot pie may be one of those things that we eat a lot of, even though it didn’t win. We’d better, Kristy made enough to freeze three big casserole dishes full. But before we get to dessert, it’s cleanup time. You’d never know we cleaned up about halfway through this round.
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And as the evening draws to a close and all the natural light has disappeared, it’s time for the final round of Chopped Challenge 2014. So with a title riding on this round, what basket do we have in store for Team Number Won and the Cleaver’s? Well, with 39% of the vote, it was Charles’ basket from Five Euro Food! Dessert Basket 2014

The teams are in the kitchen – except for Miss A. She is now providing entertainment for the wary chefs who are going on nine hours of cooking, eating and cleaning! Dancing A
Miss A entertains
you don't know you're beautiful

It’s time for a dessert basket update. What are our super chefs up to now? Team Number Won appears to be slicing mango, slicing mango

and rolling out something under some parchment paper. rolling rolling rolling

As for the Cleaver’s they seem to be conspiring over near the stove. conspiracy

As we go in for a closer look, it appears to be something rather familiar. no bake cookies

But wait? What about the mangoes? dried mangoes

The Cleaver’s have some dried mangoes chopped up, for what remains unclear; and Team Number Won has some simmering on the stove. This could be an interesting round! mango syrup

Alright fans and friends, the results are in for the third and final round. Let’s see what our teams came up with for dessert this year. Desserts 2014

The Cleaver’s created a No Bake Cookie Pop. It’s a cookie with quinoa, chocolate and peanut butter and it looks like they’ve sprinkled it with dried mangoes . Team Number Won opted for a similar concoction, but came up with granola bars and a mango syrup. So who was the winner of the dessert round (and ultimately this year’s title)? No Bake Cookie Cake Pops

The Cleaver’s No Bake Cookie Cake Pops took the lead with 3 spoons each from Kristy and Mike and 4 spoons for each of the kids. Some might call this the easy way out, going with a tried and true recipe and not a chocolate quinoa cake or quinoa chocolate chip cookie, but there are exactly two things that bring about a gag reflex in Kristy – beets and chocolate. Oddly enough, this is the only recipe with chocolate that Kristy enjoys. And frankly it remains the one and only! granola bars

Knowing Kristy’s abnormal distaste for chocolate, Team Number Won tried to craft a dessert similar to the no bake cookie in hopes of winning over the chocolate hater. Unfortunately their choice of dark chocolate didn’t do the trick. The Quinoa Choco-oat Bars came in with 3 spoons from Mike and 2 spoons from the rest of the judges.

And there you have it, folks, the 2014 Chopped Challenge Champion is The Cleaver’s! Winners 2014

Despite Kristy’s three-peat at the annual event (and her victory in this year’s Super Bowl pool), there are no hard feelings at Eat, Play, Love. love

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Or are there?! brother sister fun
Argh

Don’t worry, it’s still giggles and laughter all around. It was a game well played by all. Thank you to everyone that participated by providing our basket ingredients, voting and of course following along. It’s a marathon of a day – 11 hours for 2014 – but one of our favorites each year. It’s a tradition we hope will last many more years to come.

Now it’s time to tuck the sous chefs into bed, kick up our feet and enjoy a glass of celebratory Champagne. Thank you all! We’ll be back in the next few weeks with recipes for our winning dishes. Cheers!

Oh – and yes – the cleaning is all done now too. :)
back to normal

Like kissing your…brother?

An oft-repeated quote in sports goes like this: “A tie is like kissing your sister.” A google search attributes the origin of the quote to former Texas football coach Darryl Royal, Alabama coach Bear Bryant, Michigan State coach Duffy Daugherty, or Navy coach Eddie Erdelatz, but regardless of who said it first, it sure fits. A weird combination of completely unsatisfying, and could have been worse. We had a tie in last year’s Banana Bread challenge, and needless to say, we weren’t eager to repeat that again in our French Toast Challenge this year.

The final showdown pitted the top two seeds against each other, with #1 Bermuda French Toast taking on #2 Blueberry Stuffed. Bermuda struggled in the first round, but ultimately just had too much and managed to avoid the upset. Blueberry Stuffed prevailed in a tough battle in its previous match-up to earn its spot in the finals. Both recipes were at their best on challenge day, and it was clear when we got them both on the plate that we were in for an entertaining and enjoyable challenge. Continue reading

Thoughts of Summer

I realize that most people are still thinking about spring. It’s so close after all. Even if there is still snow on the ground. Miss A, however, she’s our summer girl and keeps asking when it will be summer again. She has been this way from the time she was tiny. She loves it hot outside. She wants to live in sun dresses and never have to wear a coat (I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve found her without a coat this winter.). And can I just tell you how cute her curls are in the heat! So while we’re bringing back a few of our favorites from the past during this month-long hiatus, we thought we’d share with you one of our summertime favorites. This one is also from one of our state-side cooking adventures which we do in addition to cooking recipes from around the world.

I hope you’re all doing well. We’ve been keeping busy and we’ll have photos to share soon. Until then, we hope you enjoy this past recipe as much as we did! Continue reading