Cooking Up Some Family Fun

We have always enjoyed being in the kitchen together as a family. From a very young age the kids have helped plan and prepare meals. Now that they are older they have become quite enamored with cooking competitions. In large part this stems from spending way too many nights in hotel rooms this past fall where they delighted in watching The Food Network. Their favorite show is the Holiday Baking Championship, but they also enjoy Cupcake Wars, Chopped, and Top Chef.

Kids in the kitchen equals a lot of crazy fun!

So, they were beyond excited this past Christmas when Santa Claus set us up with our very own family cooking competition – Team Asian Fusion versus Team Mediterranean. This past Monday was the perfect day for the competition as we dawned our aprons and entered the kitchen ready to whip up some amazing dishes.

This judge means business.

The rules for the competition were pretty straight forward. Prepare an appetizer, main course, and dessert using the five ingredients that Santa left. In addition our esteemed judge gave us each a “special” ingredient that we had to incorporate. High Five is a very skilled food judge and critic making us all work hard to impress not only his sense of taste, but also his attention to plating details.

Team Asian Fusion

In the end the two teams were evenly matched and we all left the competition feeling exhausted and quite full. Everyone gained a new appreciation off how hard it is to prepare a three course meal in a set amount of time. High Five has more cooking competitions in the works and we all look forward to increasing our skills in an effort to impress his refined tastes:)

Team Mediterranean

Team Asian Fusion: Five Spice and Five Ball
Must Use Ingredients: Forbidden Rice, Kelp, Brown Rice Noodles, Sweet Chili Sauce, Chinese Five Spice
“Special” Ingredient: Sunflower Seed Butter
Appetizer: Sweet Potato and Kale Pot Stickers
Entree: Forbidden Rice Stir-fry with Vegetables
Dessert: Chinese Five Spice Cake with Orange Coconut Cream Frosting

Team Mediterranean: Five String and Five of Hearts
Must Use Ingredients: Orzo, Artichokes, Sun Dried Tomatoes, Fire Roasted Tomatoes, and Garbanzo Bean Flour
“Special” Ingredient: Popcorn
Appetizer: Garbanzo Bean Foccacia with Sun Dried Tomatoes and Artichoke Dip
Entree: Orzo Stuffed Tomatoes
Dessert: Fig Bars with Lemon Frosting


Chili for the Faint of Heat

Traveling as a family means that we can’t always eat our favorite meals. The reality is that certain ingredients just won’t be available (or affordable) in every area that we visit. So, we do our best to strike a balance between cooking some of the kids favorite meals and trying new regional foods that are abundant and inexpensive. However, there is always an adjustment period, which lasts much longer for some of us than others:)

When we first started traveling we made incorporating beans into our recipes a priority. Beans are usually abundant in most grocery stores and they are a great source of nutrition. As a family we were evenly divided in our fondness of beans (2 for, 2 against, and 1 undecided). However, after spending a few months in areas with very few vegan friendly protein sources those of us on the opposing side had no choice but to adapt, accept, and try to enjoy.


While it wasn’t always easy we discovered some ways to help make the transition go more smoothly. Hopefully these tips will work with other new foods that we encounter in our travels.

1. Incorporate the new food type into an already familiar and popular dish.

2. Try changing the texture of the product. Five Ball refuses to eat a whole black bean but he will happily wolf down a black bean burger, provided that the beans aren’t recognizable.

3. Get everyone involved in the process. Taking ownership of creating the food helps when it comes time to taste the finished product.

4. Make sure meals are balanced between “safe foods” or “favorites” and the new product.


This week we put our tips to the test to create a family dinner of chili. Instead of using a recipe heavy on the spice and beans we came up with a recipe that more closely resembled our favorite minestrone soup. Lots of vegetables, just a cup of beans, very little spice, and a couple of tablespoons of chocolate thrown in to entice reluctant eaters. To get everyone excited by the meal we prepared a batch of tortillas, a bowl of some nice “safe” rice, and fruit slices for desert.


While we didn’t convert our 100% die hard “bean resister” we made some headway. So, for now we will keep trying, experimenting, and traveling forward. Who knows someday we might watch Five Ball wolf down a big bowl of super spicy, bean abundant chili, and say “remember when…”. Or maybe not, but at least we tried:)


Chili for the Faint of Heat (and beans) 

1 Onion Diced

4 Cloves Garlic Diced

3 Stalks of Celery Diced

1 Carrot Peeled and Diced

28 oz Can of Diced Tomatoes

1 Cup of Pre-Cooked Pinto Beans

1 Small Can of Corn Kernels

1 Cup Vegetable Broth

1/2 tsp Chili Powder

1 tsp Cumin

1 tsp Coriander

1/2 tsp Oregano

1/2 tsp Salt

1/4 tsp Black Pepper

1/2 tsp Garlic Powder

1/2 tsp Onion Powder

1 tsp Brown Sugar

2 Tbs Cocoa Powder

1 tsp Soy Sauce


– Saute diced vegetables in olive oil (1 Tbs.) over medium heat.

– Add can of diced tomatoes and all spices, sugar, and soy sauce.

– Add vegetable broth and bring to a boil.

– Reduce to a simmer for 15 minutes or until vegetables are soft.

– Add in corn and pinto beans and simmer for 10 more minutes.