Friday, January 30, 2015

What's For Lunch: Roasted Blood Orange and Kumquat Salad

[Jump to the recipe for Roasted Blood Orange and Kumquat Salad]

The start of a new year is when many people vow to make dramatic changes to their diet. Well, January is almost over – how are your New Year’s resolutions holding up?

I started writing this blog five years ago as a New Year’s resolution to eat fewer processed foods and add more whole ingredients into my diet. My main sources of inspiration at the time were the documentary Food, Inc. and the book The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan. Both of these resources took a critical look at food production in the United States and its impact on the American diet. I’ve long been interested in the food I eat. I was a vegetarian for a decade. During my vegetarian days, I flirted with a vegan diet for a week before deciding that my love for all-things-dairy – I’m looking at you, cheese and ice cream – was too strong a bond to break. These days, while meat is back in my diet, I tend to eat it sparingly and I am very particular about where it came from and how the animal was raised.

Adopting healthier eating habits can seem daunting at first. I know firsthand how much easier eating processed food can be – just open a can or a box, and voila, dinner is nearly ready. There’s a reason why my blog is called  “A Less Processed Life” and not “An Unprocessed Life” – there are times when convenience wins out over made-from-scratch in my home, too. However, there are a few simple steps that I’ve found helpful to slowly introduce healthier eating habits into my life.

Advance meal planning can really help you stay on track with healthy eating. I know I do my worst eating when 5 o’clock rolls around and we don’t have a dinner plan set in place. Typically, I spend some time on the weekend planning our meals for the upcoming week. 

Meal inspiration comes from a variety of places including other food blogs, Pinterest, magazines, and, of course, cookbooks. While making our weekly menu, I also write up a shopping list so I know exactly what I need to pick up at the grocery store. 

Set yourself up for success by keeping healthy snacks on hand. Prepping ingredients in advance – such as cutting up vegetables and making a healthy dip like hummus -- means that you always have something healthy to choose from when you feel a snack-attack coming on. I find it also helps to portion out snacks in advance, which can prevent mindless overeating. 

Get to know your ingredients by reading labels. While taking a look at the calorie and fat counts can help you make a healthier choice, I tend to focus on a product’s ingredient list. My label-reading days hearken back to when I was a vegetarian and I would skim ingredients for anything animal-derived. These days I check out ingredient lists for artificial colors, flavors, additives, or preservatives. The longer the ingredient list, the less likely the item is going to make it into my shopping cart.  

Don’t be afraid to try new things. We all get in a rut when it comes to the things we eat. One of the easiest ways to get out of a rut is to add new ingredients into your diet. Never tried leeks before? Add them to a casserole or stir-fry in place of onions. New to kumquats? Eat them whole or add sliced kumquats to a citrus salad served over arugula. I also recommend re-trying those fruits or vegetables you hated as a child. One bitter and mushy Brussels sprouts experience at a restaurant put me off the vegetable for years, until I decided to give them another try recently. 

Pan-roasted Brussels sprouts with a little butter and olive oil? Delicious. But don’t feel like you have to eat something just because it’s the healthier choice. Life is too short to eat things that you hate. Forcing yourself to eat something you don’t like will only make you resent your healthy diet.

So, whether your healthy-eating New Year’s resolutions have already fallen to the wayside, or you’re just looking to boost an already-wholesome diet, there’s no time like the present to adopt a few new healthy eating habits. You may be surprised how one small change can cascade into a whole lot of healthier choices over the long run.

Roasted Blood Orange and Kumquat Salad
makes 2-4 servings

2 blood oranges, sliced 1/8" thick, seeds removed
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
fine sea salt
freshly cracked black pepper
1/4 small red onion, sliced very thin
3 tablespoons fresh lime juice (from 1 lime)
2-3 cups fresh greens (baby spinach, spring mix, arugula)
2-3 tablespoons poppy seed dressing (use more or less per your preferences)
3-4 kumquats, sliced
2-3 tablespoons sliced almonds

1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside.
2. Put the orange slices into a shallow bowl. Add the olive oil and toss gently to combine.
3. Place the orange slices onto the prepped baking sheet. Season with salt and pepper.
4. Roast in the oven for 15-20 minutes, or until caramelized and just beginning to char on the edges. Flip every 5 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool.
5. While the orange slices are cooling, add the sliced onion and lime juice to a bowl and toss to coat. Season with salt and pepper, then let rest for 5 minutes. Drain off the lime juice before using.
6. Add the greens to a large serving bowl. Add the poppy seed dressing and toss to combine.
7. Top with the red onion slices, roasted blood orange slices, sliced kumquats, and sliced almonds.


Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Made From Scratch: Citrus Poppy Seed Dressing

While the weather outside is anything but tropical, I am so happy to find the grocery stores full of citrus fruits -- navel oranges, blood oranges, cara cara oranges, tangerines, tangelos, clementines, the list goes on and on.

On a recent grey day, I couldn't help but fill my shopping basket with piles of the brightly colored fruits. I immediately made plans for a citrus salad (coming later this week). But, as I was working on the salad ingredients, a chicken-or-the-egg question arose -- what came first, the salad or the dressing?

In this case, the salad dressing came first. I had a delicious poppy seed dressing not too long ago, and I  wondered if I could make my own version from scratch. As is the case with many food items, the answer was a resounding "yes!"

Since I had those aforementioned piles of citrus on hand, I added a little citrus flair to the dressing in the  form of blood orange zest and blood orange juice -- although any type of orange would do, I would lean more toward a sweeter-tasting orange given the amount of vinegar in the dressing.

Citrus Poppy Seed Dressing (printer-friendly version)
makes 2 cups (about 12 servings)

1/3 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup white wine vinegar
1 1/2 teaspoons fine sea salt
1 teaspoon ground mustard
1 teaspoon grated white onion
1/2 teaspoon blood orange zest
1 teaspoon fresh blood orange juice
1 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon poppy seeds

1. Add together the sugar and vinegar in a small sauce pot. Heat over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until sugar dissolves, about 1-2 minutes. Remove the pot from the heat, and stir in the salt and mustard. Let the mixture cool for 15 minutes.
2. Add the cooled mixture to the bowl of a food processor fit with a metal blade. Add in the onion, orange zest, and orange juice, and process for 20 seconds to incorporate.
3. With the food processor turned on, slowly pour the oil through the chute, and continue processing until the oil is fully incorporated. Add the poppy seeds and process for 10 seconds.
4. Pour the dressing into a container with an airtight lid. The dressing can be stored in the refrigerator for up to two weeks.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Made From Scratch: French Onion Dip

Even deep in the winter, the Wausau Farmers Market is still going strong on Saturday mornings. D and I like to make the trek down every couple of weeks (it is an hour's drive each way for us) to pick up some fresh produce, meat, coffee, and chat with our friends who run farms in central Wisconsin.

On a recent trip to the market, I came home with multiple bags of root vegetables. We picked up parsnips, carrots, and a grab-bag of gorgeous radishes from Stoney Acres Farm, and another bag of carrots from Red Door Farm.

With all those fresh veggies on hand, it took me little time to decide to make up a quick dip. I wanted something fairly light in flavor that wouldn't overwhelm the taste of the vegetables, so I opted to whip up a French onion dip with a yogurt base. I've made this recipe a number of times over the past couple of weeks, and it is pretty easy to adapt to what you have on hand. You can use either regular or Greek plain yogurt -- the Greek yogurt will add a little extra tang. I've made this dip with both full-fat and nonfat yogurt varieties, and both work, though a richer yogurt will lead to a creamier and thicker dip.

This dip is fresh, easy, and perfect for game day (or mid-afternoon weekday) snacking.

French Onion Dip (printer-friendly version)
makes about 1 cup

1 cup plain yogurt (nonfat, low-fat, or whole would work; the richer the yogurt, the creamier the dip)
2 tablespoons dried minced onions
2 tablespoons dried chives
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
1/4 teaspoon ground mustard
freshly cracked black pepper

assortment of fresh vegetables for dipping

1. In a small bow, stir together the yogurt, dried minced onions, dried chives, garlic powder, salt, and ground mustard.
2. Season to taste with pepper and additional salt if necessary.
3. Spoon into a serving bowl and serve with fresh vegetables, such as carrots, parsnips, radishes, or broccoli. (And of course, potato chips also make a great dipping option, too.)


Friday, January 23, 2015

What's Baking: Rosemary and Olive Focaccia

Freshly-baked bread is one of my favorite aromas. Add in some olive oil, rosemary, and olives, and oof, my olfactory sense goes on overload! 

Aside from making the house smell amazing while it bakes, this savory focaccia bread also tastes delicious. You really can't go wrong with the flavor combination of fresh herbs and briny olives.

I'm typically intimidated by yeast breads and their multiple rises and general kneadiness (ha!) -- but this recipe is quite simple to put together. There is a bit of waiting in between rises, so make sure you have plenty of time available before attacking this recipe.

However, the time investment is definitely worth it. I've been eating this focaccia all week long -- by itself as a snack, as a side with soup for lunch, and even cut in half to make a fried egg sandwich at breakfast. You gotta love a savory bread that's good to eat at any time of the day!

Rosemary and Olive Focaccia (printer-friendly version)
makes 8 servings

2 cups warm water (105°F to 115°F)
2 teaspoons active dry yeast
4 1/4 cups unbleached all purpose flour (plus ~ 1/4 cup if necessary)
2 teaspoons fine sea salt
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided
2 tablespoons sliced black olives
24 Kalamata pitted olives, sliced
1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary, plus a few small intact bunches (3-4 leaves)
finishing salt (such as pink Himalayan salt or Maldon flaked sea salt), for garnish

1. Pour two cups of warm water into a large bowl. Sprinkle the dry yeast over the water and stir with a fork to combine. Let the mixture stand for 10 minutes, allowing the yeast to dissolve. If the mixture does not become frothy, you should start over with fresh yeast.
2. Add 4 1/4 cups flour and the salt to the yeast mixture. Stir with a wooden spoon or rubber spatula to combine. The dough will be quite sticky. 
3. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Knead the dough until smooth and elastic, about 10 minutes. Add more flour by the tablespoonful if the dough is sticky. 
4. Pat the dough into a large ball. Grease a large bowl with olive oil, then add the dough to the bowl, turning to coat it evenly with oil. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and set in a warm, draft-free location to rise until doubled, about 1 1/2 hours.
5. After the dough has doubled in size, punch it down, add two tablespoons of sliced olives, and knead back into a ball. Return the dough to the oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and let rise again until doubled, about 45 minutes.
6. Coat a 17"x11" baking sheet with 1 tablespoon olive oil. Punch down the dough, then transfer it to the oiled baking sheet. Use your fingertips to press the dough out into a large rectangle, about 13"x10". Let the dough rest for 10 minutes.
7. Drizzle 2 tablespoons olive oil over the dough. Sprinkle the dough evenly with the sliced Kalamata olives and chopped rosemary. Press in a few small bunches of rosemary on top of the dough. Allow the dough to rise until puffed up, about 25 minutes.
8. Preheat the oven to 475 degrees. Use your fingertips to press into the dough, forming indentations all across it. Garnish with finishing salt. Bake the bread until golden and crusty, about 20 minutes.
9. Serve the bread warm or at room temperature. Store any leftover bread in an airtight container at room temperature.


Monday, January 19, 2015

What I Made for Game Day: Vegetarian Mexican Layer Dip

Let's ignore the results of yesterday's Packers-Seahawks game and instead focus on this delicious vegetarian Mexican layer dip I made as a game-time snack.

This tasty Mexican-inspired dip includes layers of refried beans, cheese, guacamole, pico de gallo, taco-seasoned Greek yogurt, green onions, chopped tomatoes, and sliced black olives. Whoa - that is a lot of goodness in one dish!

While the list of ingredients may be long, this dip is actually quite easy to put together and makes for a spectacular presentation as a part of your game-day snack spread. I think there's a good chance this dip may make a reappearance for the Big Game on February 1st.

Vegetarian Mexican Layer Dip (printer-friendly version)
makes 8-10 servings

1 15-ounce can vegetarian refried beans
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon ground coriander
1 cup guacamole (see recipe below)
1/2 cup shredded cheese (sharp cheddar, monterey jack)
1 cup pico de gallo (or your favorite salsa)
1 cup plain Greek yogurt
1 teaspoon taco seasoning
1/2 cup chopped green onions (green and white parts)
1/2 cup chopped roma tomatoes
1/2 cup sliced black olives

1. In a small saucepan, heat the refried beans over medium heat until warmed through. Stir in the ground cumin and ground coriander. Use a rubber spatula to spread the beans into an even layer onto the bottom of an 8x8 square baking dish.
2. Evenly spread 1/2 cup shredded cheese over the refried bean layer.
3. Dollop the guacamole over top the cheese layer and carefully spread to cover the cheese.
4. Top the guacamole layer with 1 cup pico de gallo.
5. In a small bowl, stir together 1 cup Greek yogurt with 1 teaspoon taco seasoning. Dollop the Greek yogurt mixture over the pico de gallo layer and carefully spread to cover the pico de gallo.
6. Sprinkle the chopped green onions over top the Greek yogurt layer. Top the green onion layer with chopped tomatoes. Finally, cover the chopped tomato layer with sliced olives.
7. Serve at room temperature with tortilla chips. Store any remaining dip in a covered container in the refrigerator for 2-3 days.

makes about 1 cup

2 avocados, pits removed
1 garlic clove, pressed (or finely minced)
1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lime juice
salt and pepper, to taste

1. Scoop the avocado flesh into a small bowl. Add in the pressed garlic and lime juice. Stir to combine the ingredients. Season to taste with salt and pepper.


Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Made From Scratch: Gluten-Free Almond Flour Multi-seeded Crackers

After eating all-things-sugar for about a month straight during the holidays, I'm slowly turning to more healthy snacks during the day. As a good Wisconsinite, one of my favorite go-to snacks is cheese and crackers (lately I've been alternating between a white cheddar with cranberries and a jalapeƱo muenster). Of course, crackers are also a great vehicle for healthy dips such as hummus.

During a gluten-free phase last year I became hooked on gluten-free crackers. I'm particularly a fan of the crackers that are full of different seeds, giving them both a great flavor and texture. However, the downside of these crackers is their price point. Often, a box of not-that-many crackers is over $5.

So what's a girl to do? Make her own, of course. To make my crackers, I used a base of almond flour and added a couple of eggs along with some olive oil as a binder. A little bit of salt and a handful of seeds gives the crackers flavor and crunch. If you'd like, add a bit of freshly-cracked black pepper to the crackers just before baking.

I used a pizza cutter to slice the dough into squares; but my crackers are far from uniform in shape. (I suppose I could have broken out a ruler, but who has time for that?) If you really want everything to be evenly-sized, I'd recommend using a square (or round) cookie cutter. These crackers are tasty, but simple. If you'd like to pack in more flavor, consider adding in a teaspoon or more of your favorite dried (or fresh) herbs. Ooh, how about rosemary-sea salt crackers? Maybe with a little grated Parmesan? Looks like I need to pick up some more almond flour at the store!

Gluten-Free Almond Flour Multi-seeded Crackers (printer-friendly version)
makes 25-35 crackers, depending on size

2 cups blanched almond flour
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
4 tablespoons seeds (I used 1 tablespoon each of poppy seeds, white sesame seeds, black sesame seeds, and chia seeds)
2 eggs
1 tablespoon olive oil
freshly cracked black pepper [optional]

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silpat, and set aside.
2. In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, salt, and seeds. Add in the eggs and olive oil and stir to combine until a dough forms.
3. Divide the dough into two equal portions. Take one portion and pat it into a disc shape. Place the dough disc between two sheets of parchment paper and roll out the dough until it's about 1/8-inch thick. Use a sharp knife or pizza cutter to cut the dough into 2-inch squares. Place the squares on the prepped baking sheet and top with freshly-cracked black pepper if desired. Bake for 12-15 minutes, flipping halfway through the baking time, until lightly browned and crisp. Remove the crackers from the baking sheet and let cool completely on a wire rack. Repeat with the remaining disc of dough.
4. Store the crackers in an airtight container at room temperature.


Monday, January 12, 2015

Made From Scratch: Hummus

A friend came over to watch the Packer's game yesterday (Go Pack Go!), which gave me the perfect opportunity to whip up a batch of hummus using the tahini I made last week. Hummus is a Middle Eastern dip made from chickpeas (garbanzo beans), garlic, tahini, lemon juice, salt, and olive oil. With the help of a food processor, it is a cinch to make.

I opted to go the simple route for this batch of hummus and didn't add in any extra ingredients, but there are plenty of options to take the traditional hummus flavor profile up a notch or two, such as by adding in roasted red peppers, toasted pine nuts, a handful of fresh herbs, or drizzling the top with sriracha or your favorite herb-infused oil. Pita bread wedges (fresh or toasted) are a perfect vehicle to take the dip from the bowl to your mouth, but toasted baguette slices and fresh veggies (carrots are my go-to choice) also make great hummus accompaniments as well.

Hummus (printer-friendly version)
makes about 3 cups

2 garlic cloves, peeled
1 16-ounce can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1 teaspoon fine sea salt
3 tablespoons tahini
4 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 tablespoons olive oil

1. Add the garlic cloves to the bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade. Process until minced.
2. Add the chickpeas, salt, tahini, and lemon juice to the food processor. Process until coarsely pureed, scraping down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula as needed.
3. Add in the olive oil and process until smooth.
4. Season with additional salt if necessary. Spoon the hummus into a serving bowl and drizzle with about one tablespoon of olive oil before serving. Serve alongside pita bread, toasted bread slices, or fresh veggies.
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