Tuesday, November 29, 2016

What I'm Drinking: Slow Cooker Apple Cider

You'll be a hit at the party if you bring along this Slow Cooker Hot Apple Cider. 

Slow Cooker Apple Cider || A Less Processed Life

Now that Thanksgiving is over, I'm pretty sure I'm supposed to start featuring all sorts of peppermint and chocolate recipes. However, my calendar still says it's November, so I think I can get away with sharing this recipe for Slow Cooker Apple Cider.

Slow Cooker Apple Cider || A Less Processed Life

My friends had a get-together recently and I wanted to bring along a warm beverage to share. This slow cooker hot apple cider is super-easy to make and gives off a delicious aroma, too.

Slow Cooker Apple Cider || A Less Processed Life

When I first considered bringing along hot apple cider to share, I looked through a few recipes that actually start with whole apples. But I kind of wasn't in the mood for all that effort. This recipe starts with a gallon of (unsweetened) apple cider, but once you add a pile of spices to the mix, it will taste way better than it does straight out of the bottle.

I brought along a bottle of rum for folks to spike their own mugs of cider, but if you prefer, you could stir in a cup of your favorite booze (rum, bourbon, or brandy) before serving. Just make sure you let your guests know that it's been spiked before they imbibe!

Slow Cooker Apple Cider (printer-friendly version)
makes 12-14 servings

1 gallon unsweetened apple cider
5 cinnamon sticks
1 teaspoon whole cloves
1 teaspoon whole allspice
1 teaspoon cardamom pods
5 whole star anise
1 orange, sliced thin
1 apple, sliced thin
additional orange slices, apple slices, and/or cinnamon sticks for garnish

1. Add the apple cider to a 6-quart slow cooker. Add the cinnamon sticks to the cider.
2. Place the spices in a tea infuser ball, or wrap in a double layer of cheesecloth or a coffee filter and tie closed with a string. Add the spice pouch to the cider.
3. Top the cider with the sliced orange and apple.
4. Heat on low for four hours. Serve hot with cinnamon sticks and sliced fruit for garnish.

Slow Cooker Apple Cider || A Less Processed Life


Tuesday, November 22, 2016

What's For Dinner: Brussels Sprouts and Potato Gratin

Brussels sprouts, potatoes, spinach, a little bit of cream, and a whole lot of cheese make for a delicious holiday side dish. Long story short, you need this Brussels Sprouts & Potato Gratin in your life. 

Brussels Sprouts and Potato Gratin || A Less Processed Life

Thanksgiving is two days away – and if you're on your game you've likely had your holiday menu planned for several weeks. If you're still scrounging around for menu inspiration, have I got a great side dish for you.

Brussels Sprouts and Potato Gratin || A Less Processed Life

This delicious vegetarian side dish features thinly sliced Brussels sprouts, thinly sliced potato rounds, onions, leeks, and spinach. But what makes it ultra-delicious is the addition of cream (well, technically half-and-half), a dash of nutmeg for comforting fall flavor, and plenty of Gruyère cheese. And a layer of bread crumbs on top gives this dish just the right amount of crunch.

Brussels Sprouts and Potato Gratin || A Less Processed Life

Long story short, if there's any room left on your holiday table, you should plan to make this dish to share. It reheats like a dream, so you can even make it in advance and just warm it right before serving. That's a winning dish in my book!

Brussels Sprouts and Potato Gratin
makes 8-10 servings

1 teaspoon olive oil
1 teaspoon unsalted butter
1 pound red potatoes, cut into 1/8" slices
1 pound Brussels sprouts, trimmed and cut into 1/8" slices
1 1/2 cups chopped yellow onion
1/2 cup thinly sliced leek (white parts only)
1 teaspoon fine sea salt, divided
2 cloves garlic, minced
8 ounces spinach leaves, stems removed
freshly ground black pepper
pinch ground nutmeg
1/4 cup half-and-half
1 cup fresh whole-wheat bread crumbs (2 slices of toasted bread processed into coarse crumbs)
1 cup grated Gruyère cheese
Hungarian paprika

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Coat a 9x13-inch baking dish with olive oil spray and set aside.
2. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add the sliced potatoes and Brussels sprouts and cook until tender, 8-10 minutes. Drain and set aside.
3. Heat 1 teaspoon of olive oil and 1 teaspoon of butter in a large skillet. Add the onion, leek, and 1/4 teaspoon salt and sauté until softened, about 8 minutes.
4. Stir in the garlic and sauté until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the spinach and cook until wilted. Stir in the remaining 3/4 teaspoon salt, several grinds of black pepper, a pinch of nutmeg, and the half-and-half. Stir to thoroughly combine and then carefully transfer to the prepped baking dish.
5. Top with an even layer of bread crumbs and grated cheese. Bake in the oven for 15-20 minutes, or until the cheese is melted and just beginning to turn golden. Serve immediately.

(adapted from a recipe in the vegetarian cookbook The Heart of the Plate by Mollie Katzen)
Brussels Sprouts and Potato Gratin || A Less Processed Life


Tuesday, November 15, 2016

What's Baking: Bakery-style Chocolate Chip Cookies

You don't need to go to the bakery when you've got this recipe for delicious chocolate chip cookies that have crispy edges and a perfectly chewy center.

Bakery-style Chocolate Chip Cookies || A Less Processed Life

I am a huge fan of the Food Network and have to admit one of my favorite parts of the weekend is grabbing a huge cup of coffee and settling onto the couch for a good couple of hours of cooking shows on Saturday or Sunday morning. Okay, both mornings, really.

Bakery-style Chocolate Chip Cookies || A Less Processed Life

My biggest pet peeve, however, is when the host of the show wears something with giant fluffy sleeves. How impractical are flowy sleeves while you are cooking? So impractical. And I say this from experience, as I totally spent a lazy Sunday morning this past weekend baking this batch of cookies whilst wearing a robe with, you guessed it, giant bell-shaped sleeves. Somehow I managed not to slather my sleeves in cookie dough, but it was not an easy feat.

Bakery-style Chocolate Chip Cookies || A Less Processed Life

Baking these cookies was like a little therapy session for me. There's something about methodically measuring and adding ingredients to a bowl, stirring, shaping, and baking that just calms me. This past week has been a bear and I don't think I'm going to feel any better about it any time soon. But for a couple of hours on Sunday, making these cookies took my mind off of things – scary things – and for that I am grateful. And, as a complete bonus, the resulting cookies are absolutely delicious, and might just be my favorite chocolate chip cookie recipe to date.

Bakery-style Chocolate Chip Cookies (printer-friendly version)
makes one dozen cookies

1 3/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
14 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup packed dark brown sugar
1 teaspoon fine sea salt
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
1 1/4 cups semisweet chocolate chips
Maldon flaky sea salt

1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Line a baking sheet with a silpat or parchment paper and set aside.
2. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour and baking soda.
3. In a small sauce pot, melt 10 tablespoons of butter. Continue cooking, swirling constantly, until the butter begins to emit a nutty aroma and is golden-brown in color, about 3 minutes. Carefully transfer the browned butter to a heat-safe bowl. Stir the remaining 4 tablespoons of butter into the browned butter until completely incorporated.
4. Add the sugars, salt, and vanilla extract to the browned butter mixture. Whisk until well-combined. Stir in the egg and egg yolk until completely smooth, about 30 seconds. Let the mixture rest for 3 minutes, then whisk for another 30 seconds. Repeat for a total of three times.
5. Stir the flour mixture into the butter mixture until just combined. Then stir in the chocolate chips.
6. Scoop the dough into golf-ball sized rounds. (Each ball will have about 3 tablespoons-worth of dough.) Place six dough balls on the prepped baking sheet, about 2 inches apart. Sprinkle the top of each dough ball with flaky sea salt.
7. Bake the cookies for 10-14 minutes, or until golden brown on the edges and nearly set in the middle. Rotate the baking sheet halfway through the baking time. Remove from the oven and set the cookies on a wire rack to cool completely. Repeat with the remaining dough, for a total of 12 cookies.

(lightly adapted from this recipe from America's Test Kitchen)

Bakery-style Chocolate Chip Cookies || A Less Processed Life


Tuesday, November 8, 2016

What's For Dinner: Baked Butternut Squash Risotto

Butternut Squash Risotto is perfect comfort food for a chilly autumn evening. Eating fireside optional. 

Baked Butternut Squash Risotto || A Less Processed Life

I am not the biggest fan of daylight saving time. Although commonly blamed on farmers, DST actually comes from Germany, where it was enacted during World War I to reduce the use of artificial lights and save fuel for the war effort. President Woodrow Wilson signed a seven-month daylight saving time (called "fast time") period into law in 1918, though it was later abolished by Congress after the war ended. President Franklin Roosevelt instituted year-round DST during World War II. After the war was over, DST formally ended in September 1945, though many states east of the Mississippi River kept summer daylight saving time. In the mid-1960s, daylight saving time was standardized so that every state that observed DST would start and end on the same date. These days, most states (except for Arizona and Hawaii) observe daylight saving time. Officially, daylight saving time starts on the second Sunday in March and ends on the first Sunday in November, with the time changes taking place at 2:00 a.m. local time.

Oh, and long story short, the energy savings is minimal at best.

Baked Butternut Squash Risotto || A Less Processed Life

All that to say I'd much rather it be dark in the morning than dark at 4:30 p.m. It makes for a rather long winter when you live at a latitude of 45°N.

Baked Butternut Squash Risotto || A Less Processed Life

When it's cold and dark out, there's nothing I like better than some comforting food for dinner, and this butternut squash risotto really hits the spot. Even better is that the oven does the hard work for you, so there's no endless standing and stirring at the stove.

Baked Butternut Squash Risotto || A Less Processed Life

Admittedly, I am not the greatest fan of raw kale, but it cooks up wonderfully tender in this dish. Add in a generous amount of Parmesan, and you have a creamy and comforting autumnal dish for dinner.

Baked Butternut Squash Risotto (printer-friendly version)
makes 6-8 servings

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 shallots, diced small
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
1/2 teaspoon chopped fresh sage leaves
1 1/2 cups Arborio rice
fine sea salt and freshly-ground black pepper
1/2 cup dry white wine (Pinot Gris; Sauvignon Blanc)
1 medium butternut squash (1 1/2 to 2 pounds), peeled and diced medium (about 4 cups)
4 cups low-sodium vegetable broth
1 bunch kale, tough stems removed, cut or torn into bite-size shreds
1 small sprig rosemary
1 cup freshly-grated Parmesan
freshly-shaved Parmesan, for garnish

1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
2. In a medium Dutch oven or heavy ovenproof pot with a tight-fitting lid, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the diced shallots and sauté, stirring occasionally, until soft and translucent, about 3 minutes.
3. Add the garlic, thyme, and sage and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Stir in the rice and cook, stirring frequently, until opaque, about 3 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.
4. Add the wine and cook, stirring, until completely absorbed, about 2 minutes. Add the squash and vegetable broth and bring the mixture to a boil. Stir in the kale and add the sprig of rosemary.
5. Cover and transfer the Dutch oven to the oven. Bake until the rice is tender and most of the liquid is absorbed, about 20 minutes. Remove from the oven. Remove the rosemary sprig and stir in the grated Parmesan.
6. Garnish each serving with freshly-shaved Parmesan.

(adapted from this recipe from Everyday Food)

Baked Butternut Squash Risotto || A Less Processed Life


Tuesday, November 1, 2016

What's For Breakfast: Carrot Cake Baked Oatmeal

Carrot cake for breakfast? You can make that dream a reality with this scrumptious recipe
for healthy Carrot Cake Baked Oatmeal.

Carrot Cake Baked Oatmeal || A Less Processed Life

When cold weather rolls in, oatmeal becomes our mainstay morning meal. But after a few short weeks, I get a little bored with our bowl of oatmeal + toppings routine.

Carrot Cake Baked Oatmeal || A Less Processed Life

Enter in baked oatmeal. It takes a bit longer to prepare than a simple bowl of hot oatmeal, but the bonus is you'll have breakfast ready for the rest of the week.

Carrot Cake Baked Oatmeal || A Less Processed Life

This baked oatmeal features all of the flavors of my favorite carrot cake recipe – shredded carrots, pineapple, cinnamon, ginger, raisins, and pecans.

Carrot Cake Baked Oatmeal || A Less Processed Life

If I was feeling particularly decadent, I'd add a little cream cheese frosting drizzle over the top. For just a regular ol' Tuesday, though, a little drizzle of maple syrup will do just fine.

Carrot Cake Baked Oatmeal (printer-friendly page)
makes 6 to 8 servings

2 1/2 cups rolled oats
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
pinch ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
1 1/2 cups lightly packed shredded carrots
1 can crushed pineapple in 100% pineapple juice, drained 
2 1/2 cups unsweetened coconut milk 
1/4 cup pure maple syrup
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 1/2 teaspoons fresh minced ginger 
1/4 cup raisins 
1/2 cup chopped pecans

1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Lightly grease a 9-inch cast iron skillet (or casserole dish) with coconut cooking spray and set aside.
2. In a large bowl, stir together the rolled oats, baking powder, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt.
3. In a separate bowl, whisk together the shredded carrot, crushed pineapple, coconut milk, maple syrup, vanilla, and fresh ginger. 
4. Add the wet mixture to the dry mixture and stir until combined. Stir in the raisins and chopped pecans.
5. Pour the mixture into the prepared skillet and smooth out into an even layer with a spatula. 
6. Bake for 35 - 40 minutes minutes or until the oatmeal has set and is lightly golden along the edges. Let cool for about 10 minutes before serving. 
7. Leftovers can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to five days.

Carrot Cake Baked Oatmeal || A Less Processed Life

Thursday, October 27, 2016

How To Make: Oven-Baked Wild Rice

Never forget rice cooking on the stovetop ever again by using this simple oven-baked method to cook wild rice instead. 

Oven-Baked Wild Rice || A Less Processed Life

We've all been there, right? You put rice on the stovetop to cook, start doing something else, and before you know it, your house is filling with smoke. Oh wait, that's just me?

Oven-Baked Wild Rice || A Less Processed Life

Wild rice typically takes a long time to cook on the stovetop, so it's easy to see how you might forget about it. Enter in this oven-baked recipe. It's not any faster than the stovetop method (and quite possibly takes a bit longer, if I'm being honest), but the result is evenly cooked wild rice that's ready to be used in another recipe or served up on its own as a sidedish. I tend to make my wild rice with water to keep my options open with the leftovers (have you tried wild rice porridge yet?), but you can easily add a punch of flavor by cooking the rice in your favorite stock of choice (chicken, vegetable, or beef).

Oven-Baked Wild Rice (printer-friendly version)

1 cup wild rice, rinsed
2 cups water

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
2. Place in the rinsed wild rice in a 2-quart casserole dish. Cover with 2 cups water. Place the lid on the casserole and bake in the oven for 1 hour.
3. Remove from the oven and fluff with a fork. Add more water if necessary. Bake for an additional 30 minutes.
4. Remove from the oven and serve immediately.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

How to Make: Roasted Cherry Tomatoes

Bring the flavor back to out-of-season tomatoes by roasting them.

Roasted Cherry Tomatoes || A Less Processed Life

The summer bounty of tomatoes is officially over. And well, it has been for quite awhile.

Roasted Cherry Tomatoes || A Less Processed Life

I know if I were to truly eat local–or seasonally, at the very least–I would eschew tomatoes until next summer. However, sometimes a girl just wants to buy some fresh tomatoes, even if they did have to travel a far piece to get to my local grocery store.

Roasted Cherry Tomatoes || A Less Processed Life

And okay, more often than not, the taste of those out-of-season tomatoes is terrible given the long journey they had to make.

Roasted Cherry Tomatoes || A Less Processed Life

The best way to rejuvenate and concentrate that tomato taste? Roast them in the oven. I love how a little olive oil, salt, and pepper renders nearly-tasteless tomatoes into delicious candy-like treats. (Okay, that may be overstating it slightly, but a caramelized tomatoes is truly tasty.)

I like to add these tomatoes to a simple pasta dish tossed with olive oil and fresh mozzarella. Or they are delicious on their own as a savory-sweet snack, too.

Roasted Cherry Tomatoes (printer-friendly version)
makes about one cup

1 pint cherry tomatoes, rinsed and dried
olive oil
fine sea salt
freshly ground black pepper

1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
2. Place the tomatoes on a rimmed sheet pan and drizzle with olive oil. Shake the pan gently to evenly coat the tomatoes in oil. Sprinkle generously with salt and pepper.
3. Roast for 15 to 20 minutes in the oven, until the tomatoes are soft.
4. Serve immediately or store in the fridge for up to one week.

(lightly adapted from this Barefoot Contessa recipe)

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