Wednesday, November 25, 2015

What I'm Drinking: An Autumn Orchard Boulevardier

Autumn Orchard Boulevardier || A Less Processed Life

The day before Thanksgiving calls for as much prep work as possible. Thus far I've made cranberry sauce and prepped ingredients for an apple strudel (which we'll eat for dessert tonight). Still on the docket: dough for a pie crust. I'm not quite sure what kind of pie I'll be making, but currently it's between a classic pumpkin pie or pecan pie. I already have a pie pumpkin (and pumpkin puree, if I decide to go the even easier route) on hand, so it looks like pumpkin pie might be the winner.

Our Thanksgiving forecast calls for sleet and snow, so I think a hot cocktail might be on order. In this simple recipe, the classic Boulevardier cocktail gets an autumnal twist with the addition of simmered apple cider. This cocktail recipe can easily be scaled up for a crowd.

Autumn Orchard Boulevardier
makes one cocktail

4 oz (1/2 cup) apple cider
2 oz Bourbon
1 oz sweet vermouth
1 oz Campari
1 cinnamon stick, for garnish

1. Add the apple cider to a small sauce pot and bring to a boil over medium high heat. Add in the Bourbon, sweet vermouth, and Campari. Stir to combine.
2. Carefully pour into a heat-proof mug or serving glass. Garnish with a cinnamon stick and serve.

(lightly adapted from a recipe by MarĂ­a del Mar Sacasa via Serious Eats)

Autumn Orchard Boulevardier || A Less Processed Life

Monday, November 23, 2015

What's Baking: Powdered Sugar Baked Donuts

Powdered Sugar Baked Donuts || A Less Processed Life

Okay, so yeah, I am a huge fan of donuts. Alas, as I've lamented before, the town I live in does not have a great place to get fresh donuts. (Because, let's face it, Dunkin' Donuts really does not count when it comes to a truly delicious donut.)

Powdered Sugar Baked Donuts || A Less Processed Life

My parents are in town for the Thanksgiving holiday and this past Saturday we spent the morning and early afternoon in Wausau. I opted to hit up a yoga class while my parents had breakfast in a local cafe. However, prior to getting my hot yoga on, we took a quick detour to Kreger's Bakery where we picked up nearly a dozen donuts. To split between the three of us. Completely normal, right? The worst part was waiting until after yoga was over to eat one of the delicious pastries. Detox to retox, that's my motto. And it was totally worth it.

 So, back in my kitchen this morning, I decided to bake up a batch of powdered sugar donuts. Now, baked donuts will never be quite as satisfying as fresh-from-the-fryer donuts, but they are a healthier alternative. Paired with a piping hot cup of coffee, and you've got yourself a mighty fine second breakfast.

Powdered Sugar Baked Donuts (printer-friendly version)
makes 6 donuts

1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 cup plain Greek yogurt (non-fat or low-fat)
1/2 cup 1 percent milk
1 egg
2 tablespoons canola or vegetable oil
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1-2 tablespoons powdered sugar

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spray a donut pan with cooking spray and set aside.
2. Whisk together the dry ingredients.
3. In a separate bowl, whisk together the yogurt, milk, egg, oil, and vanilla extract. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and stir until smooth.
4. Carefully spoon the donut batter into the prepared baking pan. Fill each cavity about 3/4 full.
5. Bake for 9-12 minutes, or until the donuts just spring back when touched.
6. Allow the donuts to cool in the pan for five minutes. Then remove donuts from the pan and let cool completely.
7. After the donuts have cooled, use a fine-mesh strainer or dusting wand to sprinkle the tops, bottoms, and sides of each donut with powdered sugar. This step is best done right before eating. (Store any leftover donuts in an airtight container and sprinkle with powdered sugar immediately before serving.)

Powdered Sugar Baked Donuts || A Less Processed Life


Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Made From Scratch: Apple Cider Caramels

Apple Cider Caramels || A Less Processed Life

The downside of having a small farm that includes free-ranging (though surrounded by electric fence) chickens in the Northwoods of Wisconsin is the potential for attacks from above. This past summer we lost several chickens to hawks and bald eagles (#America!).

Apple Cider Caramels || A Less Processed Life

Last week our backyard (and by backyard, I mean our Back 40, and yes, that's acres) was apparently the place to be for all the bald eagles in the area. Our chickens have a few small shelters to roost in at night, but nothing with a door.

So, I took the time to drag our retired chicken coop (that we housed the chickens in last year) into their fenced-in area. (That was, uh, fun. My workouts at the Y are finally paying off, ha ha.) Next I found a tarp and re-covered the back of the coop, which had seen better days. And then I set up my sure-fire(ish) bald-eagle deterrent: I placed a radio atop our Subaru "Say Anything" style and blared Top-40 music. My intention was to get all of the chickens into the coop and close the door, but they were having none of it. So I wished them well and told them to go in there if any danger flew overhead. Long story short, all the chickens lived to see another day.

After all that work, I was definitely in need of a treat. Thank goodness I had made a delicious batch of apple cider caramel candies. Oh my, these are delicious. Do you like apple cider? Do you like caramel sauce? If so, you will definitely like these caramels. They are quite easy to make and would make a delicious treat to share with friends and family this holiday season. You know, if you don't eat them all yourself.

Apple Cider Caramels (printer-friendly version)
makes about 64 candies

4 cups apple cider
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
2 teaspoons flaky sea salt
1/2 cup (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter
1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
1/3 cup heavy cream
cooking spray (or neutral oil) for the knife

1. Bring the apple cider to a boil in a 3- or 4-quart sauce pot over high heat. Continue boiling (stirring occasionally) until the cider has reduced to a thick syrup, about 1/2 cup in volume. This should take about 30-45 minutes.
2. While the apple cider is reducing, prep the remaining ingredients so that you have them ready to go for step 3. Add the spices and salt to a small bowl and stir to combine. Set aside. Line an 8-inch square metal baking pan with parchment paper, leaving on overhang on each side to create a sling that will allow you to easily removed the set caramel from the pan.
3. Once the apple cider has reduced, remove it from the heat and stir in the butter, sugars, and heavy cream. Place the pot back on the burner and return to a boil over medium-high heat. Clip a candy thermometer to the side of the pan and continue heating until it reaches 252 degrees. This should take between 5 and 15 minutes, depending on your stovetop.
4. Once the caramel reaches 252 degrees, remove it from the heat. Add the spiced salt mixture and stir to evenly combine. Carefully pour the caramel into the prepped metal pan. Let the caramel sit undisturbed until completely firm – this should take about 2 hours.
5. When the caramel is firm, remove it from the pan and set on a cutting board. Spray, or wipe, a sharp knife with a neutral cooking oil and cut the caramel into 1" squares (or whatever size/shape you choose). Wrap each caramel individually in a 4-inch square of waxed paper, carefully twisting the ends to close. Caramels can be kept in an airtight container at room temperature for two weeks.

(lightly adapted from this Smitten Kitchen recipe)

Apple Cider Caramels || A Less Processed Life

Friday, November 13, 2015

What's For Dinner: Pan-Roasted BBQ Chicken Thighs

We eat a lot of chicken around this parts. As in several nights a week. I love chicken in that it's a nutritious source of lean protein and it lends itself quite well to a wide variety of recipes.

For a simple dinner, I'll season boneless, skinless chicken thighs with salt and pepper, place them in a lightly oiled glass baking dish and bake them in a 425-degree oven for 20 minutes. Easy-peasy.

This recipe for pan-roasted BBQ chicken thighs takes my simple recipe a couple steps further, but still cooks up in less than 30 minutes. To add a little crispness to the skinless chicken, the thighs are first roasted on the stovetop before being basted with barbecue sauce and finished in the oven.

On a weeknight when time is of the essence, a simple recipe like this one is a total godsend. I usually start a batch of rice in the rice cooker right before putting the chicken on the stove, so that it's ready to go once the chicken is out of the oven. Place a serving of chicken on a bed of rice, garnish with fresh parsley or cilantro, and dinner is ready to be served.

Pan-Roasted BBQ Chicken Thighs (printer-friendly version)
makes 4-6 servings

1 tablespoon grapeseed oil
6 boneless, skinless chicken thighs (just over 1 pound)
fine sea salt
freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup barbecue sauce
fresh cilantro, chopped [optional]

1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Add the grapeseed oil to a cast iron skillet and heat over high heat. Use a paper towel to remove any excess moisture from the chicken thighs and trim any excess fat. Season both sides of the chicken thighs with salt and pepper and place them in a single layer in the skillet. Reduce the heat to medium-high and cook for 10 minutes. Flip the chicken over and cook for an additional 10 minutes.
2. Coat both sides of the chicken with barbecue sauce (about 1 tablespoon per side per piece) and place in the oven. Bake for 3 minutes, then remove from the oven and coat each side again with barbecue sauce. Bake for an additional 3 minutes, or until the chicken is cooked through and the barbecue sauce begins to blacken around the edges. Let rest 5 minutes before serving. Garnish with chopped cilantro. 


Wednesday, November 11, 2015

What's Baking: Pumpkin Spice Cupcakes with Maple-Bourbon Cream Cheese Frosting

 Pumpkin Spice Cupcakes with Maple-Bourbon Cream Cheese Frosting

What do you do when you have about a half-cup of pumpkin puree left over after making a batch of pumpkin pancakes? You make a dozen pumpkin spice cupcakes, of course! Or at least, that's what I do.

 Pumpkin Spice Cupcakes with Maple-Bourbon Cream Cheese Frosting

A friend of mine hosted a clothing swap on Sunday, and of course, trying on clothes requires a variety of snacks and plenty of wine. I decided freshly-baked cupcakes were in order, especially since I didn't have too many clothes to add to the pile because I had done a major closet cleanse a couple of months ago and donated all of my castoffs to Goodwill.

Somehow I managed to come home with more clothes than I came with. . .and we still managed to fill up several huge bags of clothing to donate to a local charity. And the cupcakes were a hit, although they had plenty of competition from treats others had brought including a freshly-baked pie, a pumpkin-chocolate chip bundt cake (yum), and savory snacks as well.

 Pumpkin Spice Cupcakes with Maple-Bourbon Cream Cheese Frosting

While this recipe calls for a relatively small amount of pumpkin puree, the cupcakes still pack quite a pumpkin-y punch, which is complemented by the requisite pumpkin pie spices including cinnamon, ginger, allspice, and nutmeg.

And the frosting! I mustn't forget to mention the frosting. A classic cream cheese frosting gets an added oomph of flavor with the addition of pure maple syrup (always use the real stuff – you'll never go back) and bourbon. I literally had to restrain myself from licking the mixing bowl clean. Too much information? I apologize. But, really, it is that good.

Pumpkin Spice Cupcakes with Maple-Bourbon Cream Cheese Frosting
(printer-friendly version)
makes 12 cupcakes

For the cupcakes:
1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon allspice
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup raw sugar
1/2 cup canned pure pumpkin puree
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
2 large eggs

For the frosting:
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, softened
4 ounces cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup powdered sugar, sifted
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 tablespoon pure maple syrup
2 teaspoons bourbon

chopped pecans, for garnish

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a 12-cup cupcake tin with paper liners and set aside.
2. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, cinnamon, ginger, allspice, nutmeg, baking powder, baking soda, and sea salt.
3. Use an electric mixer with the beater attached to cream together the butter and sugar. Add in the pumpkin puree and vanilla and stir to combine. Then beat in each egg, one at a time.  Turn the mixer to low and stir in the flour mixture in several batches. Continue stirring until fully incorporated.
4. Divide the batter evenly among the 12 cupcake cups. Bake in the oven for 20-22 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of a cupcake comes out clean. Remove from the oven and let cool completely on a wire rack.
5. While the cupcakes cool, make the frosting. Add the softened butter and cream cheese to the bowl of an electric mixer and beat until well-combined and light and fluffy, about 4 minutes. Beat in the sifted powdered sugar. Then add the vanilla, maple syrup, and bourbon and beat until thoroughly combined. If the frosting seems too soft, refrigerate for 15 minutes before using. Frost the cupcakes and garnish with chopped pecans. 

 Pumpkin Spice Cupcakes with Maple-Bourbon Cream Cheese Frosting

Monday, November 9, 2015

What's For Breakfast: Pumpkin Pancakes

Pumpkin Pancakes || A Less Processed Life

My weekday breakfasts typically consist of one of three choices: scrambled eggs, yogurt with granola, or oatmeal. These options have one thing in common: they're super-quick to make, which is ideal as these days I often hit the ground running with meetings first thing in the morning.

Pumpkin Pancakes || A Less Processed Life

However, when the weekend rolls around, I like to pull out all the stops for breakfast. (After first sleeping in, of course.) This past weekend's chilly mornings called for a hot batch of made-from-scratch pumpkin pancakes.

Pumpkin Pancakes || A Less Processed Life

I used my recipe for the best buttermilk pancakes as the base for these pumpkin pancakes. In addition to a healthy amount of pumpkin puree, these pancakes also get the pumpkin pie treatment with the addition of pumpkin pie spices. (If you don't have pumpkin pie spice on hand, you can sub in 1 teaspoon cinnamon, 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg, 1/4 teaspoon ginger, and 1/4 teaspoon allspice.) When topped with a pat of butter and a generous pour of maple syrup, you've got yourself a hearty and filling –and dare I say, pumpkin-licious – breakfast to start your day off right.

Pumpkin Pancakes (printer-friendly version)
makes 12 pancakes

2 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon fine sea salt
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
2 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
2 eggs, slightly beaten
2 cups low-fat buttermilk
1 cup pumpkin puree
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, for the skillet

1. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, salt, baking powder, baking soda, sugar, and pumpkin pie spice.
2. In a separate bowl, stir together the eggs, buttermilk, pumpkin puree, and vanilla. Stir in the melted butter.
3. Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients, pour in the wet ingredients, and whisk until just combined. Do not over stir!
4. Melt the butter in an electric skillet heated to 350 degrees. Add about 1/3 cup of batter in rounds to the skillet. Flip when the pancakes when bubbles form and the batter looks matte in appearance. Cook for an additional minute or two. Serve immediately or keep warm in the oven until ready to serve.

Pumpkin Pancakes || A Less Processed Life

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

What's For Dinner: Butternut Squash Coconut Curry

Butternut Squash Coconut Curry || A Less Processed Life

Sometimes I make things, and I'm like, well, this tastes good, but is it awesome enough to share on the blog? And then I have leftovers on day two, and I'm like, this is amazing. So, yes, you can definitely eat this butternut squash coconut curry the day you make it. But ... after spending a day in the fridge, allowing all the flavors to meld and the squash to become even more tender ... this dish is truly delicious. Is that a weird way to sell a dish? Maybe. But I'm sticking to it.

Butternut Squash Coconut Curry || A Less Processed Life

Even when we lived close to an Indian restaurant (oh, Indian Restaurant – yes, that was really its name – how I miss your less-than-two-blocks-away proximity), we would typically order an extra entree to have as leftovers the next day. And it always tasted just as good – if not better – on day two. So I guess I really shouldn't be shocked, nor is it all that weird, that this curry dish improves with a little age.

Made as described, this dish is vegetarian/vegan; if you'd like a more protein-rich meal, you could stir in some pre-cooked tofu cubes or shredded chicken before serving.

Is it lunchtime yet?

Butternut Squash Coconut Curry
makes 6-8 servings

1 - 1 1/2 pound butternut squash
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 small white onion, chopped (about 2 cups)
1 red pepper, chopped (about 1 cup)
4 cloves garlic, minced
1-inch fresh ginger piece, peeled and minced (about 1 tablespoon)
2 tablespoons red curry paste
2 teaspoons turmeric
2 teaspoons smoked paprika
1 teaspoons ground cumin
1/2 ground coriander
1 teaspoon fine sea salt
2 cups low-sodium vegetable broth
1 (14-ounce) can coconut milk
1 - 2 tablespoons cornstarch [if necessary]

cooked jasmine rice, to serve
chopped fresh cilantro, for garnish

1. Cut each end off of the butternut squash. Then cut the squash horizontally, separating the neck from the bulb. Cut each portion in half vertically. Use a spoon to remove the seeds from the bulb end. Then carefully peel each portion. Cut the peeled squash pieces into 1/2-inch cubes. Place the cubes in a 4-quart slow cooker bowl.
2. Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the chopped onion and red pepper and cook until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and ginger and saute until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Carefully add the sauteed vegetables into the slow cooker.
3. Top the ingredients in the slow cooker with the red curry paste, turmeric, paprika, cumin, coriander, and salt. Stir in the vegetable broth and coconut milk.
4. Place the lid on the slow cooker and cook on high for 1-2 hours, or until the squash is fork tender. If the liquid is too thin, make a cornstarch slurry: dissolve 1 tablespoon of cornstarch in 3 tablespoons of water and add to the slow cooker. Stir to combine, and simmer for 5 minutes. Repeat once more if you would like to thicken it even more. Season to taste with additional salt.
5. Serve over rice with a garnish of chopped fresh cilantro.

Butternut Squash Coconut Curry || A Less Processed Life

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