It’s Time to Vote….Chopped Challenge 2015

Sure we hardly have time to blog let alone cook these days, but we’re not about to miss our annual Chopped Challenge live blogging event! It seems it has become a sacred family tradition. As Mike and I were trying to figure out how to logistically pull it off this year, the kids became quite adamant that it still happen on Super Bowl Sunday (Sunday, February 1st). It appears the kids take this just as seriously as we do, and why not, it’s always a ton of fun.

Remember this mess from 2012:dirty dishes

Or this delicious winner from 2012 (Chiptole Grilled Lobster over Stir Fried Buckwheat Noodles):chopped main course

We kicked things up a notch in 2013 with homemade pasta versus lentil burgers. The homemade pasta won the prize, but the lentil burgers have been made many times since. Black Beluga Lentil Burgers with Muffaletta Olive Salad

beluga lentil and artichoke pasta

And last year, well the competition got stiff. Chopped Challenge Teams 2014Arghboozing

The kids favorite dish from last year – Toasted Apple and Bacon Tortellini. fried tortellini

So are you ready for this year’s cooking challenge? Below we’ll have three polls – one for appetizers, one for the main course, and one for dessert. For those of you that aren’t familiar with the format, we base this off of the Food Network’s “Chopped” series. The premise is simple, contestants must use the ingredients in the basket (no matter how crazy they seem) to create a dish. There are three rounds (appetizer, main course, and dessert). The winning dish of each round is selected based on taste, presentation and creativity.

Well, below you’ll find three basket options for each round. This year we’re pulling from the baskets that didn’t make the cut in the past three years. Some of the baskets are clearly more kind than others; though we won’t name names. We’re excited about them all and look forward to the challenge. So, please select one basket (hitting “vote” on each poll – total of three) for each of the three rounds. The winners will then be announced in our live cook-off event on Sunday, February 1st, as Mike and I will go head-to-head to see what we can cook-up (will Mike be able to knock me off the winner’s circle this year?). Mr. N and Miss A will again serve as sous chefs, though teams have yet to be picked.

So without further ado…vote early and often! Voting remains open until Friday, January 30th. And make sure to stay tuned for the live blogging event and subsequent recipes. We can’t wait to see what you drop in our baskets this year!

For the Appetizer Basket we selected the non-winning baskets from 2013.

The Main Course options were taken from the non-winning baskets from 2014.

And the Dessert Basket comes to us from our very first year’s non-winning baskets in 2012.

Thanks for voting and we’ll be back, live (all day) on Sunday, February 1st for Chopped Challenge 2015!!!!

Holiday Round-up

Happy holidays! While we’ve prepared for the holidays for weeks now, I’m still not quite ready. Fortunately the shopping is done. Now we just have cooking/baking, cleaning up and wrapping to do. No worries though, it will all get done. It always does. For as long as the to do lists get this time of year, it never seems to stress me. I love the holidays. I love the traditions, the memory making, the family celebrations, the laughter and the love. And we’re already off to a good start. old school xmas tree

Last night was the first of our four celebrations, our traditional Christmas at my mom and dad’s. Would you be surprised that there was enough food to feed the whole neighborhood? It makes it hard to believe I have to cook more food! I’m having a hard time even thinking about it, I’m still so full. Here’s a few of the gems that adorned yesterday’s holiday table:
Cranberry Bruschetta
Cranberry Bruschetta

Spicy Maple Walnuts
Spicy Maple Walnuts

An Uzbek treat that seems to have become a regular at the holidays now, Sugar-Coated Almonds.
sugar-coated almonds

And of course Christmas isn’t complete without mom’s Oatmeal Cookies.
Mom's Oatmeal Cookies

As for tomorrow night, it’s our special Christmas Eve dinner. Mike, Mr. N, Miss A and I will all sit down for an intimate dinner, we’ll open some presents (the kids usually exchange with each other on Christmas Eve), we’ll put on our new Christmas jammies, grab some cookies and milk and pile into the car for a Christmas lights drive before tucking the kids into their warm beds to await Santa’s arrival. It’s my favorite night of the season. xmas eve

On tomorrow evening’s menu is a special family recipe, but not one of our own. We’re making the Bartolini Lasagna. You can’t go wrong with a dish from Chicago John and his clan. In fact last year, Chicago John’s Spaghetti alla Carbonara was the star of Christmas Eve dinner. If I didn’t know better, I’d say the Bartolini recipes are becoming a Christmas tradition of their own.

Then it’s Christmas Day and the children will be up bright and early (At least not as early as my sister and I used to arise – sorry mom and dad!). We’ll spend the morning opening the goodies from Santa, lounging about in our jammies and listening to Christmas music. We’ve got hot cocoa and mimosas lined up to go and we’ll be serving them along with a batch of one of our most popular recipes from the past several years, the Maple Bacon Biscuits
maple bacon biscuits from Vermont

The family will pop in after 1 p.m. and we’ll serve hot breakfast dishes all day long. The kids will likely still be in their jammies, unless we head out to sled, and we’ll have a slow, lazy day with our loved ones. sledding

But wait, there’s one more! This treat from Egypt has also become a staple at our holiday meals and we’ll be making this for the big day as well. Next to the oatmeal cookies, it’s one of Mike’s favorite desserts, the Egyptian Baklawa. I can smell the orange blossom water already. Mmmm!
Baklawa

Needless to say, we’ll be good and full come Wednesday night.

We wish you all a wonderful holiday, a Merry Christmas and an amazing New Year. Thank you all for following us here at Eat, Play, Love. We’ll be sharing a warming, healthy soup for the New Year and then launch back into cooking around the world. Until then, may you all enjoy peace, love, happiness and health throughout the season and the New Year. Happy holidays! Mike, Kristy, Mr. N and Miss A

Just Desserts – The Dessert Basket

Today is the last post from our Chopped Challenge 2013. And what better way to celebrate and spread some cheer than with desserts. I hope you’ve enjoyed following along as much as we enjoyed the event. I have to say this last round was just as delicious as the rest and was by far the kids’ favorite. Our ingredients for the dessert basket came to us from Dawn at First Look, Then Cook – Mangoes, Pretzels, Bacon and Agave Nectar. Dessert basket Continue reading

Gratitude.

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving and even though I try to be grateful throughout the year, I still find myself overwhelmed with thanks this time of year. So I’m postponing our Canadian vacation recipe for a special Thanksgiving treat.

Even though, as I mentioned a few weeks ago, there have been many things this year that have snored the mango, there are so many more for which I am thankful. It goes without saying that I’m thankful for Mike, Mr. N and Miss A. I thank my lucky stars for their health and happiness every day. I’m also thankful for my wonderful friends, neighbors, mentors, co-workers and of course the many friends I have come to make through this blog. My life is richer with each passing day. 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

The Cake

Thank you all for the wonderful birthday wishes. I had a great night with my family. The kids spent the evening in Grammie’s craft box making me bouquets of flowers, cakes, ice cream and decorative plates. They had so much fun! My dad worked the grill, as the sun finally poked its head out. He made a delicious barbecue chicken with Vidalia onion bbq sauce. It was super juicy and grilled to perfection. The whole evening was perfect – lots of great food, laughter and reminiscence.

In the kitchen with my dad. Now he’s a climbing apparatus for my kids!

But now on to why you came here today. The cake. It’s not fancy and it’s not a batter from scratch, but my goodness if this isn’t the best darn cake out there. Well, maybe there are better ones, but you’ll never convince me otherwise. It’s so moist and so darned full of wonderful pumpkin and spice flavors, and it’s covered in cream cheese frosting! Continue reading