Monday, December 30, 2013

Christmas eats

Christmas eve dinner
Bread bowls, using Peter Reinhart's hoagie recipe from ABED (best bread bowls ever!) with creamy chicken-wild rice soup

Fresh fruit, green salad, and homemade personalized Christmas ornaments for name plates :)

Christmas morning
BBA cinnamon rolls and a sausage-cheese-egg bake
(based off of this one, halved and baked in an 8x8 casserole dish)

Christmas snack
Hot cocoa (made from this mix) with marshmallows and almond tea bread (made by my dad)

Christmas dinner
Ham from the co-op (made from this CI recipe), au gratin potatoes (made with gold potatoes and half cheddar, half gruyere), broccoli slaw, honey wheat dinner rolls, homemade applesauce, sugared cranberries, and pumpkin custard made by the kiddos for dessert (pumpkin pie without the crust, baked in ramekins)

Hope those who celebrate it had a very Merry Christmas...and Happy New Year to everyone!

Saturday, December 28, 2013

New Christmas toy

Hubby surprised me with a pasta press this Christmas. Apparently last year during our first unprocessed month, I was bemoaning the fact that, although I'd gotten pretty good at making fresh pasta, I still had to buy elbows for mac-n-cheese and tuna salad and rotini or fusilli for other pasta salads and casseroles.

I hadn't really thought about it much - when I made mac-n-cheese, I just used fettuccini...a little unconventional but just as tasty.

But apparently after hearing me complain a few times, my wonderful hubby jumped online, ordered me the pasta press for my stand mixer, and it's been sitting in the closet of our guest bedroom ever since.

Last night, I mixed up my normal pasta dough (3 eggs and 8.5 ounces of white whole wheat flour) and tried it out. We tested out both the rotini and fusilli plates.

The dough was a little too dry, I think,and the fusilli didn't curl, but we figured it out. We served the pasta with some sauce we received from one of hubby's coworkers for Christmas, and along with some leftover broccoli slaw and Christmas ham, it made quite an easy and delicious dinner!

Thursday, December 19, 2013

First catering job :)

A couple of months ago, a friend of mine from work asked me if I ever catered parties. I thought she was just making conversation. "Well, no, except for my brother's rehearsal dinner last year."

"Would you want to?"

She asked me if I would be interested in handling the food for a bachelorette party she was throwing for another coworker. I put the date in my calendar, said I would for sure at least help if not cook everything myself, and promptly put it out of my mind until Thanksgiving was over.

Suddenly Thanksgiving was over, we were swamped with parent-teacher conferences, dance class, and various pre-holiday social engagements, and it was time for the party! Eek!

My hostess friend has absolutely no interest in or knowledge about food/feeding large groups, so she told me that the bride-to-be likes brie, teriyaki wings, and these special chocolate nut goodie bars from a local grocery store. She'd handle picking up the alcohol and nut goodie bars; the rest was up to me. Twenty guests, five o'clock on a Saturday.

I decided we needed another dessert (after all, some silly people don't like chocolate!), which ended up being a good thing because the store only had one small tray of bars. I made mini strawberry swirl cheesecakes, based off of this recipe from Annie's Eats. I replaced the raspberries with strawberries in the puree and baked the cheesecakes in my mini muffin tin in little foil papers. (The minis baked for about 18 minutes.) I was a little disappointed that the cheesecakes sank slightly in the middle after they cooled, but they were still pretty cute and very delicious. Definitely a recipe to make again.

For our "main dishes," I used this recipe from Tracey for crockpot teriyaki chicken wings. I upped the wings to four pounds, but was still surprised by how few there were. I would double the recipe for a large party next time. I didn't get a report on how these turned out, but the crockpot came back empty.

I also made these turkey-spinach-boursin roll up sandwiches. I first made this recipe for a baby shower, and have made them for several road trips. They are delicious and so easy to eat. Apparently they were a hit and completely disappeared.

Because you never want to run out of food, I whipped up an easy cold pasta salad to fill things out: a pound of pasta, eight ounces of fresh mozzarella, a package of halved grape tomatoes, sliced basil, sliced black olives, and a simple vinaigrette.

For the brie, I made a golden raisin compote from Cooking Light. I didn't have time to try it, but one of the party guests said it was so good, she could've licked it out of the bowl. :) I made six baguette using Peter Reinhart's pain a l'ancienne recipe from Artisan Breads Everyday - always a winner.

Finally (although maybe they should've gone first), I made two dips: my favorite red pepper hummus and a black bean hummus (not an attractive color, by the way!). I served the dips with sliced bell peppers, carrot sticks, and pita chips. And I added some grapes because a meal isn't complete without a little fruit.

Hubby drove me to the hotel and was my faithful assistant, helping me set up. Apparently the party was a smashing success; as for us, we went Christmas shopping for the kiddos.

I'd agreed to do this catering job to help out a friend, because it sounded like fun, but mostly, just to see if I could do it...and I did! :)

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Homemade nearly-instant peanut brittle

Let me be clear: this recipe is not even close to unprocessed, calling for a huge amount of both sugar and corn syrup. Nevertheless, totally worth making.

We recently read The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe to the kiddos, which of course led to a search for a description and then a recipe for Turkish delight. In my search, I stumbled on this NYT article on microwaving holiday candy, which included recipes for Turkish delight, pralines, and peanut brittle.

This afternoon, I was craving a sweet-salty snack and remembered the peanut brittle recipe. So easy, so yummy.

I made a half batch: a cup of peanuts, a cup of sugar, a half cup of corn syrup, 1/4 teaspoon salt, a tablespoon of butter, and 3/8 cup water. Microwaved for 5 minutes, stirred, microwaved for 5 minutes, stirred, and microwaved for 1 more minute. Added 1/2 teaspoon each of vanilla and baking soda, stirred it, and spread on a foil-lined baking sheet.

The whole thing made and cooled while doing the dishes. And hubby declared it the best peanut brittle he'd ever tasted. Try it!

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Homemade ranch dressing

I have a fairly easy time when it comes to salad dressings during our unprocessed months. I'm easy to please with good ol' oil and vinegar.

The winters are hard for me, though; when it's cold, I crave soup, chili, stew...I have a really hard time eating salads. Of course, especially after indulging in a meal like Thanksgivinukkah, salads are especially important!

The one dressing that can make me eat a salad even in the winter is ranch; I love the stuff in the green and white bottle. Look at the ingredient list, though, and it hardly counts as unprocessed. (Although Unprocessed October is officially over, we have been trying to stick to most of rules.)

I found a lot of recipes online that claimed to taste "just like the real thing - or even better!" but couldn't find one that sounded just right. So I looked at what we had...thought about what we liked...and came up with this recipe.

Abby's ranch :)

1/2 c mayo
1/2 c sour cream
1/4 c homemade kefir
1 tsp dill
1 tsp dried parsley
1/2 tsp garlic flakes
1/2 tsp onion flakes
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp freshly ground pepper

Whirl it all up in a blender! (Still loving my Vitamix.) :)

Many of the recipes I saw called for fresh chives, so I may try adding them next time, but this dressing was pretty perfect as-is.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Happy Thanksgivukkah...

...from this food nerd to any other food nerds out there. Hubby made fun of me tonight because I simply cannot seem to stop myself from photographing food. I really can't help it - it's all so interesting and beautiful to me! :)

Just about our entire meal was locally-sourced, organic, free-range, etc, etc...except for Nana's traditional cranberry jello mold, but I'm pretty sure there'd be a revolt if anyone messed with that! Usually I buy a grocery store frozen turkey with that awesome $.89/pound coupon they have, but this year, I went to the co-op (which we finally joined!) and ordered a fresh, local, free-range bird. It was beautiful.

My new favorite time and stress-saving tradition is making gravy on the night before Thanksgiving with last year's frozen stock and turkey fat. Plus there's enough for everyone to take home leftovers!

For my apple pie this year, I made the apple slab pie that Tracey posted. I struggled a bit with the dough - probably because I insisted on subbing in whole wheat flour for part of it - but it worked out fine and tasted fantastic!

Plus...again, lots of leftovers!

I was really tempted to make latkes to celebrate this once-in-a-lifetime Thanksgivukkah, but I just couldn't pull it off. Still, oil made a special appearance with my first ever homemade fried onions - yum!!! And hopefully I can still make latkes this weekend.

Not exactly food, but my new toy made cooking the turkey so easy-peasy! Thermoworks new Chef Alarm - I love it!

Honey wheat rolls from KAF and completely from-scratch green bean casserole.

Nana's jello, turkey, green bean casserole, and my dad's sausage-wild-rice-bread stuffing.

I'm such a nerd that I actually baked a loaf of bread to cut up, just so he wouldn't have to use the bagged stuff - this unprocessed thing is a little addictive.

The full plate...with gravy:

And without:

Update: And how could I forget the most important part of the meal?!? Pumpkin pies, one made by the little guy and one made by the little girl, with a little help from Pa and Grandma - served with homemade vanilla bean ice cream - perfection!

Hope your Thanksgivukkah was filled with love, friends, family, good food, and a little drawing on the steam on the windows after dinner. :)

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Leftovers and homemade frozen burritos

One of our family's favorite go-to lunches are frozen burritos. During our unprocessed October, we had to give them up; their ingredient list reads like this:


At the beginning of October Unprocessed, I saw this blog post on Good Cheap Eats about making your own homemade frozen burritos. I finally tried them at the end of the month (the process, not the actual recipe), and we were big fans. I heated up a little olive oil and sauteed some onion. Then I added a bit of spice (cumin, salt, pepper), a defrosted jar of chicken meat from the freezer, and a defrosted jar of black beans from the freezer. I cooked it until everything was warm, dolloped the filling on large flour tortillas, added some cheese (cheddar for the kids and me, pepperjack for the hubby) and wrapped them up. Onto a tray, into the freezer, into a baggie. The next weekend, we threw them into the microwave, just like our old processed kind, and they were soooo much better. Best part about it - it's such an easy process, you can adapt it to such a wide variety of fillings…spicy salsa for the hubby, nothing added for the kiddos….

Well, last night, as I looked into the fridge, there were way too many leftovers...especially considering that we only need lunches for a few days this week...and that there's a fairly big holiday coming up that's going to make quite a bit of leftovers on its own. :)

I'd tried two new recipes from this month's Cooking Light over the past couple days: Slow-cooker Cuban pork shoulder with beans and rice and Chicken and mushroom empanadas. The pork shoulder was ah-maze-ing! We loved it, and it made an absolute ton. The empanadas were good (I hear)...hubby liked them, but they were too spicy for the rest of us. Thus, a lot of leftovers.

So then I thought, why not turn the leftovers into more frozen burritos?! And now we have a freezer full of easy, healthy, and delicious weekend lunches. :)

Monday, November 25, 2013

Unprocessed with kids: Make-your-own ambrosia

The little guy's class has been having a visitor from our local co-op every couple of weeks. The guest teacher talks to the kids about real foods and healthy choices; she shares a recipe, and the kids get to make and eat a snack made with whole foods. I absolutely love that our messages about food are being re-affirmed in school.

Today, the little guy bounced out of school, gripping this paper in his fingers. He could not wait to tell me: they made ambrosia!

The guest teacher's topic today was long energy sweets and short energy sweets...foods that make you feel good for only a few minutes and foods that give you energy for the day. He compared the short energy sweets to our red foods. :) And then they made ambrosia. He read the recipe to me, and I assured him that we had all of the ingredients in our house. He explained that the pictures at the top were long energy treats: a pear, an apple, a banana, and a pea.

When we came home, the kids immediately washed their hands and got out their kitchen stools. We talked about the fact that we were low on plain yogurt (Mommy uses it in her oatmeal each morning), so we were going to "break the recipe into three," as the little guy put it.

Both kids put 1/2 cup plain yogurt into their bowls. We had a little incident when the little girl tried to add her "dashes" of cinnamon...the cinnamon dashed fairly explosively and I had to scrape a bunch of it out of her bowl. Then they both added a teaspoon of honey and a teaspoon of maple syrup. ("The grown-up has to pour it into the spoon because it's so sticky.")

The kids brought their snack to the table, stirred vigorously, and gobbled up the entire bowlful. This is especially exciting because, along with cereal, flavored yogurts are a favorite that I have found impossible to get out of our house. I was shocked when I first read that flavored yogurts are one of the biggest unprocessed offenders, with lots of added sugar and ingredients that I certainly wouldn't have in my kitchen. I've tried adding homemade fruit jams, vanilla, and honey to plain yogurt, but to no success. Apparently when they make it themselves, it's somehow different...they loved it!

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Meat pies with whole wheat pie crust

Do you read Terry Pratchett? We love his Discworld series. We try to get one or two of his novels on audiobooks for our summer travels each year...we just love his dry sense of humor and all of the off-beat culture references.

Anyway, one of his characters is a fairly unsavory fellow, and he pops up selling yucky meat pies in many of the books. Every time I make these pasties, my hubby calls them Dibbler's meat pies. These, of course, are way better. :)

As promised, I took our leftover potroast, and used it to make these pasties. (Hubby was thrilled to discover that after taking out the three cups needed for the pasties, there was still a lunch of meat leftover for him.)

This is a Cook's Country recipe. It was published with their Joe Booker stew as a way to use up leftover stew. When I made the recipe several years ago, we thought the stew was okay, but the pasties were divine. Since then, I've made them with all sorts of similar left overs: stew, pot roast, brisket, etc. They're always amazing.

One of the biggest changes I've made since we began our unprocessed journey is my attempt to eliminate white flour. So, knowing these pasties were on the menu, I went in search of whole wheat pie crust recipes. There weren't that many out there. I found two from Bob's Red Mill, and eventually settled on this one. The other one was 100% whole wheat, and I just wasn't sure I was brave enough to try 100% my first time out.

I had also read recently that you can substitute coconut oil (which is used a lot in unprocessed baking) in place of shortening in pastry recipes. I never buy shortening and usually just replace it with butter, but I have a big tub of coconut oil, and so I was happy to try it.

The crust was easy to work with and absolutely delicious - flaky, buttery, a tiny bit sweet. You would never know that it had coconut oil in it, or that it was made with over 50% whole wheat flour.

Anyway, dinner was amazing. Hubby said he would be willing to eat it every night of the week. Here's what I did:

Whole wheat pasties
pasties adapted from Cook's Country, pie crust adapted from Bob's Red Mill

for the pasties
3 T unsalted butter
1 onion, diced
1/2 pound ground meat (we usually use pork, but only had turkey this time)
1 tsp dried thyme
1/4 tsp ground allspice
3 cups leftover pot roast or stew (meat, veggies, broth)

for the crust
1 c (4.5 oz) all-purpose flour
1 1/2 c (6.75 oz) whole wheat pastry flour
1 T sugar
1 tsp salt
7 T solid coconut oil
12 T unsalted butter
8 T ice water

1. Melt the butter in a large skillet. Add the onion and saute for a few minutes until softened. Add the meat and spices and cook until the meat is no longer pink, about 8 minutes. Add the leftover pot roast or stew and cook until the liquid has evaporated, 5 - 10 minutes. Put the mixture in a medium bowl, mash it up, and set it aside to cool.

2. For the crust, put the flours, sugar, and salt into the bowl of a food processor. Pulse a few times until mixed. Add the coconut oil and pulse a few times. Then add the unsalted butter and pulse about 8 times, until the mix is coarse, but you can still see chunks of butter. Dump the mix into a medium sized bowl.

3. Add the ice water, 2 tablespoons at a time, and press the dough together with a rubber spatula until the dough starts to hold together. You still want to have sandy parts falling off. Divide the dough into two equal portions, each on a piece of plastic wrap. Use the plastic wrap to fold the dough over on itself several times until it holds together. Then wrap each piece up and put it in the fridge to chill.

4. When ready to make the pasties, preheat the oven to 450, and put a silpat or a piece of parchment on a baking sheet.

5. Roll out the dough and cut it into pieces twice as big as you want your pasties to be. I make different sizes: big ones for the hubby, medium ones for me, and little ones for my little ones. :) Put a large scoop of filling in the middle of the dough (again, the size of the scoop will depend on the size of the crust -- experiment). Then paint the edges of the dough with water, fold the dough over, and use the tines of a fork to crimp the edges. Cut a few vent holes on the top of each.

6. Bake the pasties for 25 minutes. (You can also freeze the pasties on a tray before baking; wrap them in foil, and when you're ready to bake them, just take them out and throw them on a baking sheet. You may need to increase the baking time slightly.)


Friday, November 15, 2013

We have meat!

I've mentioned a few times in my unprocessed posts that one of our biggest challenges in our unprocessed journey has been meat. We are big meat eaters...hubby grew up in a Western Kansas meat-and-potatoes family, and while I wasn't always a big meat-eater, I have become more so in the past few years. (Starting when I was pregnant with my little guy and developed an absolute obsession with hamburgers...something I'd never really been fond of. Must've been low in iron, or something. Anyway, the obsession lasted throughout pregnancy, and never really went away.)

So while I liked the idea of eating less meat, and eating more lean meat, and eating only free-range grass-fed organic meat...I couldn't really figure out how to manage it. For one, good meat is just so expensive. For another, I didn't really know where to find it. We'd pick up some whenever we went to the farmers market, but we don't go there every week. And our grocery stores don't have the best selection.

In our first attempt at going unprocessed last April, I didn't meet our meat goal at all. This past October, we did better. I was able to find some organic free-range chickens at a couple of stores, and we hit the farmers market a couple of times. We still defaulted to grocery store meat sometimes, though.

Well, how excited was I when I was contacted about getting a meat share from a local farm?! One of my mom's good friends was planning to split a share of meat with another coworker; when that coworker backed out, they were looking for someone to share with, and she asked my mom, "Would Abby be interested?" She sure would!

We got our meat a couple of weeks ago. It took some rearranging in the freezer, but we were able to clear a shelf for our bounty: 13 pounds of ground beef, two roasts, six steaks, and one rack of ribs.

I defrosted the first roast this week and made my favorite pot roast recipe.

I was a little nervous when after the two and a half hour cooking time, the meat was not fall-apart-tender. With the grocery store roasts, you usually just have to touch it with a fork and it falls to pieces. With this roast, I still needed to work to separate it into servings.

I needn't have worried. I don't normally think of myself as having that discerning of a palate, but I just could. not. believe. the. difference. The meat was so incredibly tender...almost buttery...with the most delicious flavor. It was like a completely different food from the grocery store roasts. The little ones gobbled up their servings and asked for seconds: "Veggies, too?" "NO! Just meat!" I admit that the hubby and I had seconds, too. :)

The leftovers are reserved for tomorrow night's dinner: pasties, and we are so looking forward to it. We'll be using our first package of the ground beef for dinner this week, so I'll report back on that.

If you live in the area, I strongly recommend checking out Rising Moon Farms. I have eye-witness reports that they have very happy cows, and we can attest as to the quality of their meat!

Friday, November 1, 2013

Ending October Unprocessed in style

We fully intend to continue many of the habits formed in the last month: no cereal for the kids, minimal pop for the hubby, no candy for me (I made it through Halloween and the day after with no candy cravings!!). But we did miss going out to eat...and getting take-out from our favorite Chinese restaurant to celebrate November 1 has been our plan for quite a while. :-)

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Last night of October Unprocessed

After a loooooong day at work and a quick trip to the grocery store, I came home to make Halloween dinner. We always like to fill our tummies with warm, healthy food before we go out to trick-or-treat.

I pulled some beautiful chicken stock out of the crockpot, grabbed yesterday's crockpot chicken out of the fridge, mixed up some noodle dough, and made chicken noodle soup. Then chopped some apples and made some quick applesauce. Pulled out some broccoli slaw from a few nights ago. Unprocessed. Delicious.

The kiddos made it through about two blocks before wanting to turn around and come home. They happily passed out tiny lollipops, then picked out a few pieces of candy to eat and set the rest out for the Switch Witch. Wonder what she'll bring!