Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Made From Scratch: Slow Cooker Spaghetti Sauce

This rich and meaty spaghetti sauce tastes like you spent the day stuck in the kitchen stirring a pot on the stovetop. No one needs to know that the slow cooker did most of the work – that can be our little secret.


Slow Cooker Spaghetti Sauce || A Less Processed Life

Back in my vegetarian days, I used to joke that I was really a "pastatarian," as I ate pasta for dinner more often that not. Truth be told, I was kind of a terrible vegetarian, mostly due to the fact that I had no desire to spend a lot of time in the kitchen making dinner for one after a long day of work.

Slow Cooker Spaghetti Sauce || A Less Processed Life

Oh, how the times have changed. Not only am I no longer a vegetarian, but now I actually enjoy spending time in the kitchen.

Slow Cooker Spaghetti Sauce || A Less Processed Life

However, my weekdays are still busy with work, and when dinnertime rolls around, I'm all for whatever's quick and easy to put together. This slow cooker spaghetti sauce requires a little bit of work (about 30 minutes) at the beginning, but then the slow cooker works its magic for 6-8 hours.

Slow Cooker Spaghetti Sauce || A Less Processed Life

And when the work day is done, all you need to do is cook up some pasta (I'm a fan of angel hair pasta, which takes less than 5 minutes to cook), and dinner is ready and on the table. Now that's my kind of meal!

Slow Cooker Spaghetti Sauce (printer-friendly version)
makes 6-8 servings

For the sauce:
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 medium carrots (3/4 cup), finely diced
1 stalk celery (1/2 cup), finely diced
1/2 large onion (1 cup), finely chopped
2-3 garlic cloves, minced (about 1 tablespoon)
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 pound grass-fed ground beef (90 percent lean)
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon dried basil
1/2 teaspoon dried parsley
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon fine sea salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
pinch nutmeg
pinch crushed red pepper flakes
1/2 cup 1 percent organic milk
1/2 cup dry red wine
1 28-ounce can San Marzano whole peeled tomatoes
1 bay leaf

To serve: 
cooked pasta, such as spaghetti
fresh basil, for garnish

1. Add the oil to a large skillet and heat over medium heat. Add the carrot, celery, and onion, and saute until the vegetables have softened, 6 to 8 minutes. Add the garlic and the tomato paste, and cook until the garlic is fragrant, about 30 seconds. 
2. Add the beef, breaking it apart with a wooden spoon, and cook it until just browned. Stir in the thyme, parsley, basil, oregano, salt, pepper, thyme, nutmeg, and crushed red pepper flakes.
3. Stir in the milk and bring to a simmer. Continue simmering until the milk has reduced completely and most of the liquid has been absorbed, about 10 minutes. Stir in the wine and simmer again until almost completely reduced, about 10 minutes. Transfer the beef mixture to the bowl of a 6-quart slow cooker.
4. Strain the tomatoes through a fine-mesh strainer, reserving the juices. Carefully add the tomatoes to the slow cooker, smashing them against the side of the slow cooker with a spoon or smooshing them through your fist to break the tomatoes down into bite-size pieces.
5. Add the bay leaf to the slow cooker and stir everything together. If the mixture looks too dry, add a little bit of the reserved tomato juice.
6. Place the lid on the slow cooker and cook on low for 6 to 8 hours. 
7. When only 30 minutes of cooking time remains, check the sauce. If it looks very liquidy, remove the lid to let the excess liquid evaporate. If it looks too dry, stir in a little bit of the reserved tomato juice. 
8. Serve the sauce over pasta and garnish with fresh basil. You can keep the leftover sauce in the refrigerator in an airtight container for up to one week. 


Slow Cooker Spaghetti Sauce || A Less Processed Life

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Thursday, July 21, 2016

What's For Dessert: Blackberry Strudel

Showcase your favorite summertime berries in this surprisingly simple to make strudel. 


Blackberry Strudel || A Less Processed Life

Oh, I cannot get enough of the summertime bounty of berries. It appears that we are going to have a bumper crop of berries this year. There's a big patch of blueberries at the base of our driveway (that neighbors, both near and far, appear to also be fans of), and the blackberry bushes that line our roadway are bursting with soon-to-be ripe berries.

Blackberry Strudel || A Less Processed Life

And of course I can't help but buy multiple pints of berries at the market, too, meaning my fridge is basically busting at the seams with berries.

Blackberry Strudel || A Less Processed Life

I wanted to make a pastry for dessert, but didn't have the patience (or time) to make a pie from scratch. Since I already had some puff pastry on hand in the freezer, I decided a strudel was in order. If you can find it, I highly recommend using an all-butter frozen puff pastry for the best flavor, but the not-so-fancy kind will work, too.

You'll need about 30-40 minutes to let the puff pastry thaw, and while the pastry comes to room temperature, you can prep the rest of your ingredients. You can use whatever berries you like for this recipe, though it helps if all of the berries are about the same size (I tend to keep things just over pea-sized).

This strudel tastes delicious warm from the oven or at room temperature. And you can't go wrong with the addition of a scoop of vanilla bean ice cream on the side.

Blackberry Strudel (printer-friendly version)
makes 8 servings

1 frozen puff pastry, thawed (1/2 17.3-ounce package)
1/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon dried orange peel [optional]
1 tablespoon finely chopped crystallized ginger
12 ounces fresh blackberries (about 2 1/2 cups)
1 egg
1 tablespoon water
coarse sugar, for sprinkling

1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper. Roll out the thawed puff pastry on a floured work surface into a 15- x 12-inch rectangle. Carefully transfer the puff pastry to the prepped baking sheet and set aside.
2. In a medium bowl, stir together the sugar, cornstarch, cinnamon, orange peel, and chopped ginger. Quarter any large berries into pea-sized pieces. Add the berries to the sugar mixture and stir gently to coat.
3. Spoon the berry mixture crosswise onto one half of the prepared puff pastry, spreading into an even layer one inch from the edges.
4. In a small bowl, whisk together the egg and water. Brush the egg mixture around the edges of the pastry.
5. Fold the pastry to enclose the fruit. Use a fork to crimp together the edges of the pastry. Brush the top of the pastry with the egg mixture and sprinkle with the coarse sugar. Cut 3-4 slits in the top of the pastry.
6. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until the pastry is golden brown and the filling is bubbling. Carefully transfer to a wire rack to cool.

(adapted from this Better Homes & Gardens recipe)

Blackberry Strudel || A Less Processed Life
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Tuesday, July 19, 2016

What's On the Side: Baked Parmesan-Romano Zucchini Crisps

Is your garden overflowing with a bounty of zucchini? This recipe for Healthy Baked Parmesan-Romano Zucchini Crisps is the perfect solution.


Baked Parmesan-Romano Zucchini Crisps || A Less Processed Life

Truth be told, we didn't plant a garden this year, other than putting in a few more perennial plants (asparagus, rhubarb, and apple trees) for future harvests. We have plenty of other projects going on around the homestead, and to be honest, I'd much rather support other local producers rather than tend to my own garden.

Baked Parmesan-Romano Zucchini Crisps || A Less Processed Life

And, really, we never planted zucchini even when we did have a garden, because, so long as you have a friend who grows zucchini in their garden, you'll never be without.

Baked Parmesan-Romano Zucchini Crisps || A Less Processed Life

I picked up a couple of zucchini at the market the other day and was looking for a side to serve alongside a chicken dinner on Sunday night. I wanted something a little different than my usual go-to oven-roasted zucchini recipe, and these zucchini crisps, covered in a blend of Parmesan and Romano cheeses, really hit the spot.

Baked Parmesan-Romano Zucchini Crisps || A Less Processed Life

I made a gluten-free version by using almond meal, but you can substitute breadcrumbs or Panko if you have those on hand instead. A little salt and pepper and a dash of garlic powder and you've got yourself a tasty little bite. I find that these zucchini crisps taste best and have the most ideal texture when eaten warm straight from the oven.

What is your favorite way to use zucchini?

Baked Parmesan-Romano Zucchini Crisps (printer-friendly version)
makes 2-4 servings

2 medium zucchini (about 1 pound total)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan
1/4 cup freshly grated Romano
1/4 cup almond meal
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
pinch of freshly ground black pepper

1. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Set a wire rack on a rimmed baking sheet and spray with cooking spray. Set aside.
2. Slice the zucchini into 1/4-inch rounds and place in a medium bowl. Add the olive oil and toss to evenly coat all the slices.
3. In a separate shallow bowl, stir together the grated cheeses, almond meal, salt, garlic powder, and pinch of freshly ground black pepper.
4. Dip each round into the cheese mixture, evenly coating each side and set onto the prepared wire rack.
5. Bake the zucchini rounds until browned and crisp, 25-30 minutes. Remove from the wire rack with a spatula and serve immediately.

(adapted from this Food Network recipe

Baked Parmesan-Romano Zucchini Crisps || A Less Processed Life

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Friday, July 15, 2016

What's For Lunch: Quinoa Black Bean Salad

Lunch is ready in a jiffy when you have this delicious quinoa black bean salad waiting for you in the fridge. 


Quinoa Black Bean Salad || A Less Processed Life

The great thing about making a big batch of quinoa at the beginning of the week is that you can customize it all week long. This recipe uses three cups of cooked quinoa, but you could easily change the proportions to match however much quinoa you have on hand.

Quinoa Black Bean Salad || A Less Processed Life

Quinoa black bean salad makes a great side for tacos, burgers, or barbecued chicken. And I find that it's also perfectly filling on its own for lunch. Having it ready to go in the fridge is perfect for those days when my lunch break is virtually nonexistent and I barely have time to get up from my office chair, let alone throw together something healthy for lunch.

Quinoa Black Bean Salad || A Less Processed Life

This salad is fresh, zesty, and ready to eat when you are. I prefer it cold from the fridge, though it also tastes great at room temperature, making it perfect to bring along to your next picnic or potluck.

Quinoa Black Bean Salad (printer-friendly version)
makes 4 servings

3 cups cooked quinoa
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 cup diced red onion
1/4 cup diced sweet pepper
1 15-ounce can black beans, rinsed
1/4 cup quartered grape tomatoes (seeds removed)
1 teaspoon ground cumin
2 teaspoons taco seasoning
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
3 teaspoons fresh lime juice (juice from half a lime)
fresh cilantro, chopped (for garnish)

1. Add the cooked quinoa to a large serving bowl and set aside.
2. In a medium skillet, heat the olive oil over medium high heat. Add the red onion and sweet pepper and saute until softened, 5-7 minutes.
3. Add the cooked onion and sweet pepper to the quinoa and stir to combine. Then stir in the black beans, chopped tomatoes, cumin, and taco seasoning. Season to taste with salt. Sprinkle with fresh lime juice and stir to combine.
4. Chill in the refrigerator until ready to serve. Garnish each serving with freshly chopped cilantro, if desired.



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Wednesday, July 13, 2016

How to Make: Quinoa

Quinoa packs a nutritional punch, it's a cinch to make, and it can be used in a variety of ways.


How to Make Quinoa || A Less Processed Life

I've been trying to make sure the fridge is packed with healthy food options of late, so I've gotten into the habit of making a big batch of quinoa on Sunday that lasts all week long.

How to Make Quinoa || A Less Processed Life

I'm a huge quinoa (pronounced keen-wah) fan – it's a great source of vegetarian protein (over 5 grams per serving) and also contains all nine essential amino acids, making it a complete protein. 

How to Make Quinoa || A Less Processed Life

Though there are over 120 varieties of quinoa, the most common types you'll see in the market are white, red, and black. I don't really have a preference for one type over the other; this tricolor variety provides the best of all worlds.

How to Make Quinoa || A Less Processed Life

Though often categorized as a grain, quinoa is actually a seed and is most closely related to spinach, beets, and chard. The seeds have a bitter coating, so unless the packaging says that it is pre-washed, always rinse your quinoa in cold water before using.

You can cook quinoa in water, but for more flavor, I tend to cook mine in vegetable broth or homemade chicken stock. While quinoa is perfectly fine on its own, it also pairs quite well with the addition of other ingredients, such as beans, roasted or sauteed vegetables, or your favorite fresh herbs.

What is your favorite way to prepare quinoa?

Quinoa (printer-friendly version)
makes 3 cups

1 cup quinoa, rinsed
2 cups chicken stock, vegetable broth, or water

1. Add the quinoa and broth to a medium sauce pot and bring to a boil over medium high heat. Reduce the heat to low, cover, and simmer for 15-20 minutes, or until nearly all of the liquid has been absorbed. Turn off the heat and let sit for 5 minutes, then fluff with a fork and serve.


How to Make Quinoa || A Less Processed Life


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Wednesday, July 6, 2016

What I'm Snacking On: No-Bake Protein Power Balls

Stave off the afternoon munchies with these satisfying protein power balls. 


No-Bake Protein Power Balls || A Less Processed Life

Summertime has reached the Northwoods and that means I have no desire to turn on my oven. So let's stay on the no-bake theme I started on Monday, shall we?

No-Bake Protein Power Balls || A Less Processed Life

Dustin has been on a fitness kick of late, and that means that protein is in, and not-so-healthy treats are out. However, healthy doesn't have to equal tasteless. These no-bake protein balls make for a nutritious and delicious snack – be it after a tough workout or as a way to stave off the afternoon munchies.

No-Bake Protein Power Balls || A Less Processed Life

The protein balls are packed with peanut butter flavor and get additional crunch from toasted coconut flakes and oatmeal. The protein comes from the addition of almond meal and protein powder; I've used both chocolate and vanilla protein powder, and both work quite well. Though personally, I love the chocolate-peanut butter flavor combination the best.

No-Bake Protein Power Balls || A Less Processed Life

I tend to keep my protein balls in the freezer to keep them nice and cold, though you could also store them in the fridge in an airtight container. They don't have to be kept cold, however, I just prefer them that way, and keeping them cold does help them retain a firm texture.

No-Bake Protein Power Balls || A Less Processed Life

Just one protein ball is all I need to keep my hunger at bay and boost my energy level, whether after a workout or during those 3 p.m. late-afternoon workday doldrums.

No-Bake Protein Power Balls (printer-friendly version)
makes about 16 balls

1 cup lightly toasted old-fashioned rolled oats
1/2 cup unsweetened, toasted coconut flakes
3 tablespoons almond meal
3 tablespoons protein powder (I'm partial to chocolate)
3 tablespoons pure maple syrup
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2/3 cup natural peanut butter

1. In a medium bowl, stir together the oats, coconut flakes, almond meal, protein powder, maple syrup, vanilla, and peanut butter until combined. If the mixture is too sticky, add additional oats, or if the mixture is too dry, add in a bit more peanut butter.
2. Use a measuring spoon or small scoop to form one-tablespoon portions and shape into a ball. Set each ball in the cup of a mini-muffin tin or on a rimmed baking sheet. Freeze for 20 minutes or until firm to the touch. You can store the protein balls in the freezer or in the refrigerator for up to five days.


No-Bake Protein Power Balls || A Less Processed Life

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Monday, July 4, 2016

What's For Dessert: Vanilla Bean No-Bake Cheesecake Parfaits

No need to turn on the oven to make these simple–but delicious–vanilla bean no-bake cheesecake parfaits.


Vanilla Bean No-Bake Cheesecake Parfaits || A Less Processed Life

Happy Fourth of July! I've been on a bit of a berry kick lately, and currently have a fridge full of blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, and strawberries. I might need an intervention.

Vanilla Bean No-Bake Cheesecake Parfaits || A Less Processed Life

And while I've been eating most of these berries in one of my daily Greek yogurt parfaits, I figured since it's a holiday, it wouldn't be a terrible idea to make a more decadent treat to highlight the fruits of summer.

Vanilla Bean No-Bake Cheesecake Parfaits || A Less Processed Life

Enter these vanilla bean no-bake cheesecake parfaits. They are simple to make and don't require you to turn on your oven (which is kind of key on a hot summer's day, particularly if you're like me and your house lacks central air conditioning). Even better, they are delicious and light in flavor, making for a perfect summertime dessert.

Vanilla Bean No-Bake Cheesecake Parfaits || A Less Processed Life

I would've photographed all three, but, um, I might have eaten one last night. Which, you know, is important so that I can tell you all about how delicious it is. Which it is. And was. And I'm totally looking forward to enjoying another one later today! Or maybe for lunch, whichever happens first...

Vanilla Bean No-Bake Cheesecake Parfaits (printer-friendly version)
makes three servings

1 package (8 ounces) neufchâtel or plain cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup sweetened condensed milk (about half of a 14-ounce can)
caviar from one 4-inch vanilla bean
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
4 sheets graham crackers, crushed
1 cup fresh strawberries, hulled and quartered

1. Place a layer of crushed graham crackers into the bottom of three glasses or jars (about two tablespoons each). Set aside.
2. Add the neufchâtel cheese, sweetened condensed milk, vanilla bean caviar, and vanilla extract to the bowl of an electric mixer with the whip attached. Whip at high speed until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes.
3. Add the filling to an icing bag or zippered quart size bag. If using a zippered bag, snip off a corner and then pipe about 2-3 tablespoons of filling on top of the graham cracker layer in each glass. Top with a layer of strawberries and another sprinkle of crushed graham crackers. Repeat the layering with one more layer of cheesecake filling and top with fresh strawberries. Chill in the fridge for at least 30 minutes before serving.

Vanilla Bean No-Bake Cheesecake Parfaits || A Less Processed Life

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