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!

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!

Kindergarten Blues

Our Miss A is typically a joy (with the occasional difficult moment or two). Last year her preschool teacher called her a “sprite.” She flits around, happy as can be and is typically always singing, dancing or doing gymnastics. She’s the type of person that you want around when you’re having a bad day because inevitably she’ll lift you up. She exudes warmth and happiness….that is until these last few weeks. The kindergarten blues have officially kicked in – full force.

Now, it’s not what you might think. She loves school. She’s making friends, loving her lessons. She’s even practicing reading and writing almost constantly all of her own volition. So it’s not school per say, but rather the amount of time schooling consumes. She’s gone from having most of her day to play, mornings to sleep-in, and plenty of mom and dad’s attention – particularly when Mr.N was at school – to an entirely different way of life. It’s the school way of life. Mr. N went through it too. It was inevitable. It’s one of the growing-up transitions I like the least.

The difficult part about this transition is age. She’s only five. She can’t quite put into words what she’s feeling all the time – and most of the time it’s hard to recognize. As an adult I can see that her world has drastically changed, not to mention the rigors of sitting in a classroom all day, and the fast pace at which they have to learn. It’s a lot – a big change – even if you love everything about school. So if it’s difficult to find words and understand the magnitude of the change in your life, you can imagine that the result is not pretty. Let’s just say we’re having many more of the “up-turned plate” kind of moments, epic meltdowns and increasing sibling rivalry. The one good thing – she’s our second child, so I know it’s a phase. No need to pull out the “what-am-I-doing-wrong” and “what-happened-to-my-sweet-baby” books this time around. She’ll come back to us….now it’s just our turn to lift her up (and of course provide a bit of boundaries lest we create a monster).

So for our next Indian cooking adventure, some comfort was in order. Until this recipe, I’ve not had much experience with curries and I hadn’t even been to an Indian restaurant (that has since changed!). What I did know, was that curries are considered one of the ultimate comfort foods, making this was a no-brainer. I also wanted a way to tie in some flavors of the season, so for this dish we went with a Pumpkin Lentil Curry. lentil curry

We started by heating the oil, onions, garlic and ginger in a pot along with a bonanza of spices for the curry. For the curry powder we mixed turmeric, cayenne, cumin, coriander, bay leaves, cinnamon, salt and pepper. We let everything cook for about 4 to 5 minutes and splashed a bit of water in the mix to keep it from sticking to the pan. pumpkin curry mix

Next it was time to toss in the lentils. We went with the green variety. green lentils

Then we added the pumpkin puree and water. We brought the mixture up to a boil and then reduced to a simmer for about 35 minutes (until the water had absorbed and the lentils were tender). lentil curry

Finally, we removed the bay leaves and tossed in some chopped apples. We let the apples cook in the curry for about five minutes, then we added a bit of lemon juice and were good to go. green apple

Can I just tell you how warm and fall-like the kitchen smelled. It was delightful. The aroma just brought a sense of calmness to the house (at least for me) and a definite sense of hunger. We were all ready to sit down for this one – well, most of us. pumpkin lentil curry

Miss A, however, was less than pleased with the meal sat before her on this particular evening. It didn’t look familiar and she wasn’t having any of it. Now on some nights I’ll make the kids something other than what Mike and I will eat. I have to pick my battles. But on other nights, what’s set before you is what you get. This was one of those nights. lentil curry for fall

Now Miss A knows the rules. You have to eat some of your dinner before you can ask for a snack (which inevitably follows dinner by an hour or so), so she wasn’t arguing. That said, she was in definite pout mode – big eyes, puffed out lips, crossed arms. At least I thought she had crossed arms. As I turned back from grabbing something off the counter I saw her take her little tube of yogurt and squirt it at Mr. N! As I gasped, she then looked at me and squirted it all over the floor. (Yes, this was a school night.) curried pumpkin

While I do empathize with her situation and know that she’s exhausted both emotionally and physically, we still have to make sure certain behaviors are not condoned. So I picked her up out of her chair and set her on the floor. Then I said she had to go to her room for a time out and when she came back she could clean up her mess and join us for dinner. As you can imagine, this was not what she wanted to hear. The tears started, the collapse to the floor happened and the flailing of arms and legs ensued. She was “too confused” to walk to her room. Her legs “wouldn’t work.” I was the “meanest mom” in the world. And clearly “no one” loves her. Twenty minutes later she was eating her dinner and telling us about her day, and 40 minutes later she was flipping at gymnastics with a smile on her face. pumpkin lentil curry

So you may now be wondering how the curry was received by our little Jekyll and Hyde. Well, she didn’t love it, but she did eat it. It was a 2 spoon vote for her. As for the rest of us, I thought it was the perfect fall dish and gave it 4 spoons. I still find myself craving it. Mike and Mr. N also enjoyed the flavor combinations and gave it 3 spoons each. They don’t crave it like I do, but they would happily eat it again. It was warming, very flavorful and definitely filling.

Print this recipe: Pumpkin Lentil Curry

As for Miss A, well, we’ve been down this road before so I can look at it from a wiser perspective. I can often even find humor in the situation (after I’m out of her line of sight that is), especially since the juxtaposition between her happy-self and melt-down-self is quite drastic. That said, it is getting to be a bit trying as it continues to drag on. I miss my happy girl. I think we’re at the point of an intervention now. For Mr. N it was little jars that he could fill each day – one with M&Ms for good things that happened, and one with black liquorice for bad things that happened. We also had a little chart of things he had to accomplish each day – brush teeth, get dressed, homework, etc. – that he could track himself. He quickly learned that the good things in his day out-weighed the bad, and he enjoyed the sense of accomplishment with his little chart. Problem solved, kindergarten blues banished. It’s time to put my thinking cap on for Miss A now – she’s a different personality than Mr. N and requires a different parenting style. The chart with some twists might work. We shall see. It’s time to banish these blues.

We’ll be back soon with an Amazonian dish to share and then one of us will be picking a new country for the next adventure. I hope for all those celebrating holidays this season that they are off to a wonderful start. May your days be happy and tantrum free.

Some Like It Hot

Can you believe that Thanksgiving here in the U.S. is only a week away! How did that happen? I swear we were just setting the kids off to school after summer break only yesterday. Well, even though I am nowhere near ready for the holidays, I am ready to welcome them. I’ve been feeling very holiday-ish for weeks now. Perhaps its the unseasonably cool temperatures we’ve been having? Burr!

But before I can turn my attention to holiday cooking, I figured I had better post some of our Indian recipes I’ve been mentioning. India was my choice for our cooking around the world adventure. I’ve been participating in lifestyle and teacher training program at my yoga studio since August, and one of our recent adventures was to spend an afternoon with the wife of one of our instructors learning how to cook home-style Indian cuisine. It was the perfect fit for our blog!
Cauliflower

We learned how to make dosas, curried cauliflower and a delicious chickpea stew. The instruction was hands-on and our teacher was very informative and helpful. She brought her most used equipment from home, her pressure cooker and spice tin. She said that the traditional gift for a new Indian bride is a pressure cooker – she couldn’t get by without hers. And her spice tin was a circular container (it reminded me of a Christmas cookie tin my grandmother used to have) with individual compartments for her most used spices. It was such a clever container and a far site more organized than my crazy spice drawer (which is now over-flowing with spices and herbs from around the world).

My favorite recipe from the day was the curried cauliflower, which I’m sharing with you today. It’s simple. It’s healthy. It brings the heat! But I think the best part about it was learning how to prepare my own curry. I had no idea that curry powder is a spice blend. I always figured it was its own spice, when in fact it is a blend of spices that was said to have been created by an Indian cook for a British soldier who was returning to England and wanted to take the flavors of India home with him. Our instructor prepared her curry with cumin, cayenne, coriander and turmeric which is the version I plan to share today.
cutting cauliflower

Mr. N joined me in the kitchen to make the cauliflower. He had a sample from my class and was eager to learn how to make it. The great thing about this recipe is that it’s fast and easy, so perfect for Mr. N to learn how to make for himself (with oven supervision of course). We started by cleaning the cauliflower and then slicing it into quarters. The trick to slicing it is to make a deep cross-cut into the stem of the head and then pull the quarters apart. This makes it easy to break the cauliflower into bite size florets.
cauliflower florets

After rinsing the cauliflower clean, we added it to a Ziplock bag. Mr. N then measured out and added a bit of olive oil and our spices to the bag.
curry spice mix

After giving the bag a good shake to coat the cauliflower, we then placed it onto a parchment lined baking sheet and roasted the cauliflower at 450F for 15 to 20 minutes.
shake and bake

While the cauliflower was baking, Mike and Miss A called us out to the yard where they had been raking up leaves. They just had to share their amazing find…a rather large praying mantis!
praying mantis

The kids were just enthralled (as was I). She was a real beauty. She sat perfectly still, well all but her eyes were still. Her eyes tracked our every movement. You can see how the praying mantis makes such a great hunter! Had she been on a plant, we likely never would have noticed her. praying mantis close-up

Back in the kitchen the cauliflower had finished roasting, so Mr. N and I returned to the kitchen to get a first taste of our healthy snack. We had toned down the cayenne and increased the cumin from my instructor’s version and were hopeful that it would be as good. We still wanted it hot – just not need-a-fire-extinguisher-hot. oven roasted cauliflower

The verdict – we have a winner! This dish might hold a special place in my heart – it’s a vegetable, which I have never really been partial to, in fact, I typically can’t stand cauliflower – and I love this recipe! I could hardly stop snacking on these little gems. Mr. N too, he kept coming back for more, and then a few more. And how fun that it’s a snack we don’t have to worry about overeating! curry cauliflower

I can’t believe I’m going to say this, but it earned 4 spoons from both Mr. N and I – a vegetable nonetheless! Mike also enjoyed the cauliflower. This ranked at a 3 spoon vote for him. Surprisingly, the heat was a bit too much for him (the man that literally douses things in srichacha). oven roasted curried cauliflower

And I’m guessing that you can imagine Miss A’s reaction. Yes, this was a 1 spoon dish for her. She did take a few bites offered by her brother, but after several moments she went charging to the sink to pour water into her mouth. A bit of an over-reaction? Perhaps. Drama does tend to run in the family. 😉
our budding actor

Print this recipe: Oven Roasted Curried Cauliflower

Long story short, if you like it hot, give this one a try. It’s a fast, healthy recipe that makes a great side dish or snack. Just ask Mr. N, he’s requested this as part of his weekly school lunches. cauliflower curried

All-in-all, I’d say our first Indian cooking adventure was a success. We’ll have one more Indian dish to share after Thanksgiving as well. Until then, I hope you all enjoy the holiday. As we count our blessings for the Thanksgiving holiday, all of our wonderful readers, commenters, friends and family will make the list. Like this recipe, you all hold a special place in our hearts. Cheers!

Short But Sweet

I’m late in posting this week. It’s been a whirlwind. We’re heading out on a little vacation this week before school starts and there’s always so much to do before leaving the house. This is especially the case when we come back to a school year in full swing. So this trip required a little more organization, so that once we get home we’re ready for the end of summer. So, much like summer, this recipe is short, but sweet. vegan cafe

I had another volunteer day recently. This time it was at the Thanks Jordan Foundation’s Raw Vegan Cafe. The restaurant, as the name suggests, serves all raw vegan cuisine. It’s also run by volunteers. Well, not entirely, there’s an owner, a chef, a teacher, and a few servers, but the rest of the kitchen help is all volunteer-based. The cafe is a non-profit with proceeds going toward cancer research. While I don’t think we’ll be going vegan or raw anytime soon, it was an absolute pleasure to work in the restaurant and I have to admit the food was amazing. I brought several items home and Mike and the kids agreed. They do a fabulous job – particularly with dessert. soaking almonds

And talk about an incredible volunteer opportunity – I got to work in a restaurant! How fun is that?! Not only did I get to help the community, I got to live out a little dream of mine. Even doing dishes was fun – too bad that doesn’t carry over to home. 😉 While at the cafe, I had the opportunity to make the raw vegan taco “meat.” I did my best to replicate the recipe at home because after one bite, I was sold. Not only is it healthy and full of protein, but it has an incredible smoky flavor. It starts with almonds which are soaked for a bit. The almonds are then processed until they are crumb-like. chopped almonds

Next up are the carrots – peeled and chopped. carrots

They are then processed until crumb-like as well. chopped carrots

And then the carrots and almonds are mixed together – this creates the texture of the “meat.” carrots and almonds

Next it’s onto the sauce that will give the “meat” its smoky flavor. Again we turn to the food processor (gotta love a one pot meal) where we blend the remaining ingredients – garlic, agave, Tamari (gluten free soy sauce), cumin, fresh oregano, cayenne, chili powder and sun dried tomatoes. sun dried tomatoes and tamari

While processing the sauce, a bit of water is added and blended until smooth, or at least until there are no big chunks hiding in the sauce. taco sauce

The sauce is mixed together with the almond-carrot mixture and voila – you have your taco “meat.” vegan taco meat

We decided to serve some fresh sweet corn with our tacos. Mike took the kids outside for a lesson in shucking (Good thing they learned to shuck before heading to Miss C’s farm to feed the animals!). shucking corn

We seasoned our sweet corn with a mixture of olive oil, shallots and sage before tossing it on the grill. sweet corn

The sage and sweet corn combo is absolutely delicious. I never would have guessed it, but it’s really a good marriage of sweet and savory. shucking the sweet corn

But enough about that, back to the vegan tacos. So you might be wondering how these went over with my carnivorous husband and children. We served the taco meat on organic (albeit not raw) tortillas and topped them with fresh chopped avocado. vegan tacos

Believe it or not, the vegan tacos were a big hit. I’ve already admitted to being a fan of the smoky flavor, so these were 3-1/2 spoons for me. Much to my surprise, they were also 3-1/2 spoons for Mike. So you can be sure these don’t taste like what most meat lovers think of as vegan or raw. This stuff is tasty enough to have Mike ring in a near top mark! raw vegan tacos

The key to this meal (and the others I sampled) is the generous use of various herbs and seasonings. There’s nothing bland about this meal. Even Mr. N was impressed. He came in with 3-1/2 spoons as well. He couldn’t believe that it wasn’t meat. gluten free tacos

Unfortunately Miss A was not as impressed. This meal was a bit too spicy for her. She would have much preferred the raw vegan brownie (which both kids swore tasted just like a homemade brownie). She did enjoy her corn though as well as the fried sage, courtesy of Greg and Katherine over at Rufus’ Food and Spirits Guide. vegan taco night

Overall, this meal was a success and made for some great lunches the rest of the week. I think we’ll be making it again (with something on the side for Miss A). I never would have expected this much flavor out of raw food, but I guess when it’s done right, just like anything, it can be flavorful and satisfying.

Print this recipe: Vegan Raw Tacos

So for the next week, we’re going to head for some peace and quiet. So if we aren’t frequenting your blogs, you’ll know why. We’re heading somewhere we can cook, read, play and just be – the four of us – before the busy new school year kicks into high gear. You see, this year is going to be especially new for us…Miss A will start her first full day of school and her first full week of school. I’m not sure how I’m going to manage watching my baby get on a bus, but I know she’s ready. Mom’s just not ready. Childhood – another thing that is far too short, but sweet. Fortunately, I have a few more years of childhood with my babies…so here’s to the short and the sweet whether it’s summer, a good meal, childhood, vacations or any of those other things that we love so much. Cheers!