Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Made From Scratch: Taco Seasoning

Step away from the seasoning packet! You probably already have all the ingredients you need to make your own Taco Seasoning from scratch.

Taco Seasoning || A Less Processed Life

When dinnertime rolls around and I have yet to put a thought into what will be gracing our dinner table that night, my go-to default meal is either tacos or burrito bowls. Both dishes are simple to put together and I typically have all of the key ingredients already on hand.

Our burrito bowls usually have a base of rice, some greens and chopped tomatoes, black beans if we're keeping it vegetarian or seasoned ground beef (more often ground venison in our house), a dash of shredded cheese, chopped avocado, a spoonful or two of salsa or pico de gallo, and a little dollop of plain Greek yogurt. Tacos are similar, but with rice served on the side.

Taco Seasoning || A Less Processed Life

Of course, you can't have seasoned meat without the taco seasoning. Turns out it's pretty easy to make your own taco seasoning from scratch. And the best part is that when you make your own seasoning, you can control the salt and spice level, and avoid the preservatives found in the store-bought varieties that keep them shelf-stable for the long haul.

This recipe makes about 1/2 cup of seasoning. I usually use about 1 tablespoon of seasoning per 1 pound of ground meat, but you can play around with the ratios. When we're doing a vegetarian version of this meal, I like to stir a spoonful of taco seasoning into the rice to amp up its flavor.

Taco Seasoning (printer-friendly version)
makes about 1/2 cup

3 tablespoons chili powder
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon onion powder
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
2 teaspoon fine sea salt
1 teaspoon ground black pepper

1. Add all of the ingredients to a small bowl and stir together until thoroughly combined. Transfer to an airtight container and store in a cool, dark place for up to 6 months.
To use: add one tablespoon taco seasoning (or more, to taste) along with 1/3 cup water to browned meat. Simmer for five minutes over low heat and serve.

Taco Seasoning || A Less Processed Life


Monday, August 22, 2016

What's For Breakfast: French Toast

Make the morning special with freshly-baked French toast for breakfast.

French Toast || A Less Processed Life

Monday through Friday, my breakfast typically consists of a bowl of oatmeal or a piece of avocado toast with scrambled eggs on top. Both of these breakfasts take less than 10 minutes to make, which is ideal during the busy workweek. (Even if my office is only, like, 10 steps from the kitchen, given that I work from home.)

French Toast || A Less Processed Life

But when the weekend rolls around, I like to cook up something special. The something special should be pretty hearty, too, given that we normally skip our lunchtime meal on the weekends.

French Toast || A Less Processed Life

This past weekend Dustin's parents were in town, so after making the best buttermilk pancakes for breakfast on Saturday, I made French toast on Sunday. This French toast tastes like a dream and is super-filling.

French Toast || A Less Processed Life

The key to delicious French toast is to use the right bread. For this recipe, I'd recommend either challah (which is what I used) or brioche bread. You'll want to use something light and fluffy. You could use white bread in a pinch, but I really think you need to use a quality eggy bread for the best results. The bread should also be slightly stale. When necessary, I cheat a little by popping the sliced bread in the oven for about 3 minutes as the oven is warming up.

French Toast || A Less Processed Life

When topped with fresh berries, a dusting of powdered sugar, and a healthy drizzle of maple syrup, you've got the perfect breakfast meal for the weekend. Could someone please pass me a mimosa?

French Toast (printer-friendly version)
makes four servings

1 cup organic half-and-half
3 large eggs
2 tablespoons maple syrup
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
8 (1/2-inch) slices day-old challah bread
4 tablespoons butter

1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Place a wire rack on a rimmed baking sheet and set aside.
2. In a shallow bowl, whisk together the half-and-half, eggs, maple syrup, vanilla, and salt.
3. Dip the bread into the egg mixture for about 10 seconds per side. Place the dipped bread onto the prepped wire rack/baking sheet and let sit undisturbed for 1-2 minutes.
4. Melt 1 tablespoon of butter in a skillet over medium-high heat. Place two slices of bread at a time on the skillet and cook for 2-3 minutes per side. Place the cooked French toast on a rack in the oven and bake for 5 minutes.
5. Repeat step 4 with the remaining slices of bread.
6. Serve immediately with powdered sugar, fresh fruit, and maple syrup.

(adapted from this Alton Brown recipe)

French Toast || A Less Processed Life


Friday, August 19, 2016

What's For Breakfast: Banana Pecan Granola

Granola that tastes like freshly-baked banana bread? Don't mind if I do! 

Banana Pecan Granola || A Less Processed Life

Okay, yeah, so maybe I need a granola intervention. Should I change this blog's name to "A More Granola Life"? Possibly.

Banana Pecan Granola || A Less Processed Life

Although I am a major fan of my recipe for citrus-y maple cinnamon granola, I can't help but change things up a bit every now and then.

Banana Pecan Granola || A Less Processed Life

This delicious granola is flavored with banana and a couple of my favorite banana bread spices – cinnamon and ginger. Add in a healthy handful of pecans and coconut flakes, and you've got yourself a delightfully crunchy and flavorful granola.

Banana Pecan Granola (printer-friendly version)
makes about 4 cups

4 cups rolled oats
1/4 cup coconut flakes
1/4 cup chopped pecans
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
2 very ripe bananas, mashed
1/4 cup maple syrup
1/4 cup coconut oil, melted
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
pinch of flaky Maldon sea salt

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper or a silpat.
2. In a large bowl, stir together the oats, coconut flakes, cinnamon, and ginger.
3. In a separate bowl, stir together the mashed bananas, maple syrup, melted coconut oil, and vanilla.
4. Add the banana mixture to the oat mixture and stir to combine.
5. Turn the granola out onto the prepped baking sheet. Use a potato masher (or rubber spatula) to press the granola into an even layer. Sprinkle with flaky sea salt. Bake for 15 minutes, then rotate the pan 180 degrees and bake for an additional 15 minutes. Continue baking until light golden brown and dry to the touch.
6. Remove from the oven and let cool completely in the pan. Use a fork to break into crumbles and store in an airtight container for up to two weeks.

Banana Pecan Granola || A Less Processed Life


Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Made From Scratch: Brandied Cherries

You'll never reach for those neon-red cherries again after you make – and taste – brandied cocktail cherries made in your own kitchen.

Brandied Cherries || A Less Processed Life

A couple of weeks ago my brother was in Wisconsin for a conference held at the University of Wisconsin in Madison and after it ended he headed north to visit us in Rhinelander.

Brandied Cherries || A Less Processed Life

While he was here we roadtripped to Door County to get in a little cherry picking before the season ended. The first thing we did when we arrived in Door County was make a stop at Sweetie Pies for a fresh slice of pie. (It is very important to fuel up before an afternoon of cherry picking, ha ha.) We also picked up a frozen cherry pie to bring home with us.

After satisfying our appetites, we headed to Zettel Farms in Baileys Harbor to pick sweet and tart cherries. We ended up with a pail of each ... for a total of 8 pounds of cherries.

Brandied Cherries || A Less Processed Life

The downside of picking eight pounds of cherries is having to pit eight pounds of cherries. I started with the sweet cherries, which were destined for a few different canning projects. For the first batch, I made brandied cherries, which are the perfect complement to a brandy old-fashioned. These cherries are lightly spiced, delightfully boozy, and full of sweet cherry flavor.

Brandied Cherries (printer-friendly version)
makes 4 pints

1 cup raw sugar
1 cup water
1 cinnamon stick
3 whole allspice
3 blades star anise
1 spent vanilla bean
1/2 - 3/4 teaspoon almond extract
2 cups brandy
2 pounds sweet cherries, stemmed and pitted

1. Sterilize four pint jars in boiling water and let dry. Add the cherries in even amounts to the sterilized jars and set aside.
2. In a large sauce pot, combine the sugar and water and heat over medium high heat, stirring until the sugar dissolves completely in the water. Add the cinnamon stick, allspice, star anise, and spent vanilla bean and bring the mixture to a boil.
3. After the mixture begins to boil, reduce the heat to low and simmer for 5 minutes.
4. Remove the sauce pot from the heat and stir in the almond extract and brandy. Remove the spent vanilla bean.
5. Use a ladle to carefully fill each of the jars with the liquid, leaving 1/2 inch of headspace.
6. Place the lids on the jars and store and process the jars in a boiling water canner for 20 minutes. (See this chart for exact processing time depending on your altitude.) After canning, carefully remove the hot jars from the water bath and place on a heat-safe smooth surface and leave undisturbed overnight.
7. Wait at least one week before using the cherries – the longer they sit, the better they will taste.

Brandied Cherries || A Less Processed Life

Friday, August 12, 2016

Made From Scratch: Hot Fudge Sauce

It takes less than 10 minutes to make a jar of homemade hot fudge sauce. 

Hot Fudge Sauce || A Less Processed Life

One of my favorite food rules comes from Michael Pollan: “Eat all the junk food you want as long as you cook it yourself.” According to Pollan, “The fact that labor has been removed from special occasion food has made us treat it as everyday food. One way to curb that and still enjoy those foods is to make them.”

Ergo, if I want hot fudge sauce, per Pollan, I need to make it myself. Challenge accepted.

Hot Fudge Sauce || A Less Processed Life

The key to delicious hot fudge is using the best possible chocolate you can get your hands on. For me, that meant Ghirardelli bittersweet chocolate chips and Guittard Cocoa Rouge Unsweetened Cocoa Powder

I've made a version of this hot fudge sauce with heavy cream and another with half-and-half and found that either one works quite well in this recipe. And perhaps the best thing about this recipe is that it takes less than 10 minutes to make your own decadent jar of hot fudge from scratch. And while it tastes delicious served warm over a bowl of vanilla bean ice cream, it also is quite tasty eaten straight from the jar. Not that I have any experience with that ... um, right. 

Hot Fudge Sauce (printer-friendly version)
makes about 2 cups

2/3 cup organic half-and-half (or heavy cream)
1/2 cup light corn syrup
1/3 cup light brown sugar
1/4 cup unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder
1/4 teaspoon coarse sea salt
1 cup bittersweet chocolate chips, divided into two equal portions
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1. In a medium-size heavy saucepan, combine together the half-and-half, corn syrup, brown sugar, cocoa powder, sea salt, and 1/2 cup chocolate chips.
2. Bring the mixture to a boil. Then reduce the heat to a gentle simmer, and cook for an additional five minutes, stirring occasionally.
3. Remove the chocolate sauce from the heat and stir in the remaining chocolate chips, butter, and vanilla extract. Stir vigorously until smooth and shiny.
4. Let the sauce cool slightly before serving over ice cream.
5. Any leftover chocolate sauce can be kept in an airtight container in the fridge for up to a week.

Hot Fudge Sauce || A Less Processed Life
This post originally appeared on January 4, 2012. The content and recipe have been updated. 

Thursday, August 4, 2016

What's For Lunch: Pearl Couscous Salad with Basil Pesto and Summer Vegetables

Hot summer days call for light meals with little-to-no cooking effort. This Pearl Couscous Salad with Basil Pesto and Summer Vegetables is a satisfying way to keep cool during a summer heatwave.

Pearl Couscous Salad with Basil Pesto and Summer Vegetables || A Less Processed Life

This time last week I was on my way to the Eastern Seaboard for a weekend getaway in southern Maryland with my dear girlfriends from grad school. We try to get together at least once a year for what we lovingly dub "Spring Breeaaaak!" regardless of the time of year. During our trip we tallied all the times we've gotten together since the majority of us graduated in 2004; long story short, the list was impressively long. I love that we are so committed to getting together and keeping in touch.

Pearl Couscous Salad with Basil Pesto and Summer Vegetables || A Less Processed Life

When it comes to our girlfriend getaways, we do not mess around when it comes to food. We had quite a stockpile of snacks, and while there was plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables (aka, filler, ha ha ha), I definitely managed to consume more of the not-so-good for you stuff. (Cheesy poofs for breakfast? Why not?) We also made a brilliant concoction of brookies one night – a layer of brownies baked with a layer of cookie dough on top. Um, yeah, that was delicious. And of course, seeing as we were in Maryland, plenty of crab cakes were eaten as well. Long story short, by the time I came home, I was ready for some light meals.

Enter in this recipe for Pearl Couscous with Basil Pesto and Summer Vegetables. It's a simple one-pot meal that takes less than 15 minutes to prepare. Add in some cubed tofu or shredded cooked chicken to make it a full meal, or it works perfectly well as a side dish, too. This recipe makes a big batch, and I've been enjoying it as a light lunch all week long.

Pearl Couscous Salad with Basil Pesto and Summer Vegetables (printer-friendly version)
makes 6-8 servings

1 1/2 cups water
1 cup pearl (also called Israeli) couscous
1/3 - 1/2 cup basil pesto
1 medium zucchini, diced small (about 2 cups)
1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved and seeds removed
1 15-ounce can garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed
1 cup crumbled feta cheese
salt and pepper, to taste

1. Bring the water to a boil in a medium saucepan. Add the couscous and return to a boil. Then cover with a lid and reduce the heat to low. Simmer for 10 minutes, or until all the liquid has been absorbed. Remove the saucepan from the heat and stir in the pesto sauce.
2. Gently stir in the zucchini and tomato until combined. Then stir in the garbanzo beans and crumbled feta. Season to taste with salt and pepper if necessary. Serve room temperature or cold.

(adapted from this recipe from Bob's Red Mill)

Pearl Couscous Salad with Basil Pesto and Summer Vegetables || A Less Processed Life

Friday, July 29, 2016

Made From Scratch: Basil Pesto Sauce

Nothing says summer more than basil pesto sauce made with basil fresh from your own herb garden. Or from the store. No judgement here!

Basil Pesto Sauce || A Less Processed Life

Every year I have the best of intentions to grow a bountiful herb garden. After a few lackluster tries growing herbs in the plant boxes on our deck, I opted this year to plant all of my herbs in a single giant pot.

Basil Pesto Sauce || A Less Processed Life

And things were going well ... until I neglected to keep up with pruning my plants, so that they all began to flower. And now I have some very tall plants with only a few leaves on them. Whoopsies. Maybe next year I'll get it right.

Basil Pesto Sauce || A Less Processed Life

Until then, there's always the giant clamshell of basil on sale at the grocery store. I have a terrible tendency of forgetting about the little packages of herbs I keep in the refrigerator, but a recent purchase of a large quantity of basil, stored front and center in the refrigerator, kept it at the forefront of my mind. With a vacation on the horizon, I decided I'd better make some basil pesto sauce while it still looked nice and healthy!

Making basil pesto is a cinch and you can make a large quantity in a single go. If you like, you can freeze tablespoonfuls in an ice cube tray for future use, or just add a thin layer of olive oil over the top of the pesto to keep it nice and green for several days in the fridge.

Basil Pesto Sauce (printer-friendly version)
makes about 1 cup

4 cups lightly-packed basil leaves, rinsed and patted dry
4 cloves garlic, minced
2/3 cup pine nuts
1/2 cup freshly grated romano cheese
1/2 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
1/2 - 3/4 cup olive oil
freshly ground black pepper
fine sea salt

1. Toast the pine nuts in a skillet over medium heat for 1-2 minutes. Stir frequently and remove from the heat as soon as the pine nuts become fragrant.
2. Place the basil, garlic, and pine nuts in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse to combine the ingredients.
3. Add in the cheeses. Pulse to combine. Use a rubber spatula to scrape down the sides if necessary.
4. Add the olive oil in a slow stream while the food processor is on. Continue adding the olive oil until the pesto reaches a smooth consistency.
5. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
6. Store any leftover pesto in tightly-covered container in the fridge. If the pesto is a bit dry, pour a layer of olive oil over the top of it prior to refrigerating to prevent the pesto from turning brown.

Basil Pesto Sauce || A Less Processed Life

© A Less Processed Life. All rights reserved.