October Unprocessed 2014

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October Unprocessed 2014

For the last several years, Eating Rules has hosted October Unprocessed- a challenge to forgo processed food for the month. This year, I’m joining in.

We do a fairly good job of eating like this on a normal basis, but there are always things that find their way into the kitchen that could be better. Going completely unprocessed has been a goal of mine for a while and this seems as good of an excuse as any to bite the bullet and actually try it.

What is considered “unprocessed”? We’re using Eating Rules’s kitchen test – if a person with reasonable kitchen skills could make it in a home kitchen with whole food ingredients, it’s unprocessed. What does that mean in layman’s terms? It means things like canned tomatoes, peanut butter and humus I don’t necessarily have to make myself – I just plan on buying versions that I could make, if I really wanted to.

We will have two exceptions for the month – we’re going to two weddings and will be partaking in the festive food, whatever that may be, but any of our own cooking and eating out will be as unprocessed as possible.

So, for the month of October, I’m going to be sharing recipes that fit the bill for the challenge. It’ll be a little different than usual, but it should be interesting!


M&M Brownie Batter Dip

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I’m pretty sure dips are the perfect party food. They’re easy to prepare, easy to serve and easy to over-indulge in without every noticing.

What more could you want?

I whipped this up when we went over to the neighbors’ to watch football. The game was incredibly disappointing, but the dip was a hit! I served it with pretzels and animal crackers for dipping – graham crackers and apple slices would be great, too!


M&M Brownie Batter Dip
(from Something Swanky)
Makes about 4 cups

8 oz. cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup butter, softened
5 Tbsp. all purpose flour
5 Tbsp. cocoa powder
3 Tbsp. brown sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
Pinch of salt
2-3 Tbsp. milk, divided
2 1/2 cups powdered sugar
1 cup mini M&Ms
Pretzels, animal crackers, apple slices or graham crackers for dipping

Beat together the cream cheese and butter until smooth. Add the flour, cocoa powder, brown sugar, vanilla, salt and 1 Tbsp. of milk and beat until well combined and nearly smooth. Add another 1 Tbsp. of milk and powdered sugar. Beat until smooth. If you want a thinner dip, beat in an additional 1 Tbsp. of milk. Stir in M&Ms.

Refrigerate until ready to serve.


Chinese Restaurant Green Beans

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Are you sick of green beans yet? I’m not. Green beans are my favorite and I’m regretting not getting my act together and doing a fall planting. I’m savoring the last of our summer crop.

I cooked these up as a side dish to go with some pork potstickers. It was a great combo and two of my favorite Chinese food dishes. It mmade me feel like we had gotten takeout – such a nice fake out!

Chinese Restaurant Green Beans
(from Sweet Makes Three)
Serves 2 – 3

1Tbsp.  reduced-sodium soy sauce
1Tbsp. honey
1Tbsp. water
1Tbsp. unsalted butter
2Tbsp. olive oil
12 oz. fresh green beans, trimmed
½ tsp. salt, to taste
1Tbsp. minced garlic

In a small bowl, whisk together the soy sauce, honey and water. Set aside.

In a pan, heat the olive oil and butter over medium-high heat. When the butter is melted, add the green beans and salt and toss to coat. Cook 7-8 minutes, until beans are slightly browned and shrunken. Stir in garlic and cook for an additional 30 seconds.

Add in the soy sauce mixture and toss to coat. Cook for about 30 seconds, until the sauce becomes glaze-like. Transfer to a serving dish and serve immediately.


Taco Stuffed Shells

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This was another freezer meal I prepped before Jake was born. I’ve made it a few times before but never got a bloggable picture before this. If it’s surprising to you that the best picture of this dish came while I was carrying around a baby, it’s surprising to me too.

This is a real people-pleaser meal – a fusion of tacos and pasta, how can you not love it? If you’re looking for a meal to bring to a friend, this is a great one.

For the freezer, I covered and froze after the taco sauce. I bagged the cheese separately and froze that so I’d have one less thing to do on a busy night. Also, the picture shows a half batch – I prefer to freeze in portions that are easier for two people so we’re not drowning in leftovers!

Taco Stuffed Shells
(from Blog Chef)
Serves 4-6

1 lb. ground beef
1 package taco seasoning
4 oz. cream cheese
20-24 large pasta shells
1 cup salsa
1 cup taco sauce
1 cup cheddar cheese, shredded
1 cup Monterey jack cheese, shredded
1 ½ cups tortilla chips, crushed
Green onions, black olives and sour cream, for serving, optional

In a frying pan, brown the ground beef and prepare as taco meat according to directions on the seasoning packet. When finished, stir in cream cheese until melted and combined. Remove from heat and set aside.

While the meat cooks, cook shells according to package directions. Preheat oven to 350F degrees.

Pour the salsa into the bottom of a baking dish. Fill each shell with the taco meat mixture and lay on top of salsa. Cover shells with taco sauce. Cover with foil and bake for 30 minutes.

Uncover and top with cheeses and tortilla chips. Bake for an additional 15 minutes.

Top with green onions, black olives and sour cream, if desired, and serve.


Green Beans in Peanut Sauce

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This was sort of a thrown-together dish – something to go with the Thai-spiced chicken skewers and something that would use up some more green beans. It ended up being one of my favorite things of the week.

I’m always a fan of quick sides and this fits the bill. It was the perfect accompaniment to our dinner and a dish I know I’ll be making again soon!

Green Beans in Peanut Sauce
(adapted from The Taste Place)
Serves 2

1 tsp. olive oil
1/2 lb. green beans
1 Tbsp. soy sauce
1 Tbsp. hoisin sauce
1 Tbsp. creamy peanut butter
1/2 tsp. onion powder
1/4 tsp. ginger

Over medium heat, heat the oil until shimmering. Add the beans and cook for about 3 minutes, until crisp-tender.

In a small bowl, whisk together remaining ingredients. Pour over green beans, toss and cook until heated through.


Thai-Spiced, Honey-Glazed Chicken Skewers

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Meat on sticks. There hasn’t been enough of it this summer so I’m trying to remedy that before grilling weather is officially over. (It’s coming. Sigh.)

When I was making the meal plans for the week, I was pleasantly surprised to realize I already had all the ingredients for these skewers on hand, so they went on the menu. It’s simple ingredients, but they pack a big flavor punch here.

I set my chicken up to marinade in the morning, but starting to marinade the night before would be good too. I’d give this a few solid hours in the marinade to pack the biggest punch.

Thai-spiced, Honey-Glazed Chicken Skewers
(from The Iron You)
Serves 4

1 lb. chicken breast, cut into strips
2 tsp. Chinese five-spice
1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper
1 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. black pepper
1 Tbsp. honey
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 Tbsp. lime juice
Sesame seeds, for garnish
Sriracha mayo, for dipping

In a small bowl, whisk together the Chinese five-spice, cayenne, salt and pepper. Sprinkle over the chicken strips and toss until well-coated.

Add the chicken to a ziplock bag. In the same small bowl, whisk together the honey, olive oil and lime juice. Pour over chicken in the bag, seal and turn to coat. Refrigerate and let marinate for several hours.

After marinating, place the chicken on skewers. (If using wooden ones, soak in water for at least a half hour beforehand.)

Preheat a grill to medium and oil the grates. Grill for 8-10 minutes, turning halfway, until cooked through. Sprinkle with sesame seeds.

Serve with Sriracha mayo for dipping.


Baked Green Bean Fries

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Green beans are the new tomatoes. And by that I mean we have about a metric ton in the garden. Our go-to is to saute them with garlic, salt and pepper but with so many I’ve been trying to prepare them other ways so we don’t have green bean burnout.

When I told Mark I was making these, he was like, I don’t know about those. They were, thankfully, well received. I like that they were baked, not actually fried, and that it was a great way to sneak in some veggies where we would have normally done potato fries.

Baked Green Bean Fries
(slightly adapted from Smarty had a Party!)
Serves 2

2 cups panko breadcrumbs
1 tsp. backyard brick oven seasoning
1/2 lb. green beans
1/2 cup flour
2 eggs, beaten
Sriracha mayo, for dipping

Preheat the oven to 375F degrees. Wash and trim the green beans.

In one bowl, whisk together the panko and seasoning. In another bowl, whisk together the flour and eggs.

Dip the green beans into the egg mixture, roll in the panko and place on a lined baking sheet. Bake for 15 minutes or until golden brown.

Serve with sriracha mayo for dipping.


Stocking the Freezer Pre-Baby

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Even before I was pregnant, I knew I wanted to stock the freezer to give us some help during the first weeks of having a baby. I had visions of all these new, exciting recipes covering all different kinds of meals. What I ended up doing didn’t match that at all.

What changed things? Well, I essentially got a test run. I mentioned back in November that I had stocked up in preparation for NaNoWriMo. I, more or less, did what I thought I’d do for a baby - lots of freezer-to-crockpot meals, casseroles, and the like. We found out in early November that I was pregnant and while my NaNoWriMo writing fell by the wayside, those meals I’d made ahead ended up being a huge help in getting us through the first trimester. The thing was, we weren’t super thrilled with a lot of the meals, we ended up getting sick of leftovers, and I wasn’t a huge fan of figuring out a new recipe while not feeling my best.

So, for this go-round, I tackled things differently. Instead of making meals just for the freezer, I cooked up regular meals and portioned out a section for freezing. I stuck with things we’d made – and liked – before or things that came highly recommended from friends. And, I only froze portions for one or two meals so we wouldn’t be drowning in leftovers.

Here is what we had in the freezer when Jacob was born:

Things I made up:

Hawaiian Hula Pulled Pork – enough of the pork for 4 good sized sandwiches
Creamy Taco Mac – 2-3 servings
Garlic Beef Enchiladas – two servings
Baked Chicken Chimichangas – four servings (prepped, wrapped in foil and individually frozen)
Pork Potstickers – about 1 1/2 dozen (frozen on a baking sheet for about 2 hours, then transferred to a large freezer bag)
Baked ziti with sausage and peppers – four servings (no real recipe – just made with leftovers we had on hand)
Taco stuffed shells – 2-3 servings
Brownies – half a batch

Things we bought to have on hand for easy meals:

Frozen, microwavable rice
Chicken that I pre-cut into bite-sized pieces for stir-fry (and some bottled stir-fry sauces in the pantry)
Stir-fry veggies
Pizza dough and shredded mozzarella (and pizza sauce in the pantry)
Our favorite ravioli
Pierogies and Kielbasa
Assorted sides: Fries, Garlic bread and veggies
Girl Scout Cookies (a necessity!)

Altogether, we had about two weeks of dinners in the freezer when he was born. We ended up not touching our stash until Mark went back to work because generous friends and family brought us food or we were able to tag-team cook dinner those first two weeks. Since he’s been back to work, I’ve been mixing in a freezer dinner or two to the weekly menu for nights I know will be busy. Even though we’ve mostly found our groove with this whole baby thing, being able to just pull something out and heat it up has been really, really great some nights and I think having a few meals ready to go in the freezer is something I want to continue going forward.

This worked out so much better than my first attempt that it’s definitely how I’ll work on freezer-stocking going forward!


Burgers with Brie, Caramelized Onions, Arugula and Hampton Creek’s Just Mayo Garlic Mayo (+ Win a Hampton Creek Just Mayo Prize Pack!)

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A few weeks ago, the folks at Hampton Creek contacted me about trying out some of their Just Mayo products. A company that’s trying to make sustainable, healthy, affordable food? I was totally on board.

They sent three mayos to try – regular, garlic and sriracha. I’ve been incorporating all three into dishes the last few weeks and I can honestly say I’m impressed. The mayo is eggless, so it’s allergy-friendly and it tastes really good.

These burgers went on the menu so I had an excuse to try the garlic mayo. So delicious! The flavors really go together well here for an awesome, easy burger.

Interested in trying some Just Mayo yourself? The nice folks at Hampton Creek sent along a set of Just Mayo products for a lucky reader. Want to win? Leave a comment below letting me know how you’d like to use the mayo. I’ll pick one comment at random to receive three bottles of Just Mayo in original, garlic and sriracha flavors. You have until midnight eastern time on September 14, 2014. Open to US residents only.

Burgers with Brie, Caramelized Onions, Arugula and Garlic Mayo
(adapted slightly from Handle the Heat)
Serves 2

1/2 lb. ground chuck
Salt and pepper, to taste
2 slices Brie cheese
1/4 cup caramelized onions
1/2 cup arugula
2 Tbsp. garlic mayo
2 burger buns

Heat the grill to medium heat.

Divide the meat in half and form into 2 patties. Season both sides with salt and pepper. Grill for 10 minutes, turning halfway, to desired doneness. Top with the cheese and remove from the grill immediately. Tent with foil and let rest for 5 minutes.

Serve the burgers on buns topped with caramelized onions, arugula and garlic mayo.


Caprese Quiche

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Why, yes, I am still trying to use up the absurd amount of tomatoes coming out of the garden! I’ve officially given up trying to make Mark-friendly dishes out of them and have started cooking whatever catches my eye – including this Pinterest find.

We have a good bit of basil in the garden too, and I had fresh mozzarella on hand already (because Caprese salads have been in heavy rotation!) so this was a quick one to whip together and perfect for a quick lunch during the week.

I used a frozen pie shell to make this really easy, but if you have five extra minutes, this pie dough would work great too.

Caprese Quiche
(slightly adapted from 17 Apart)
Makes 1 8″ quiche

4 plum tomatoes, quartered
4 oz. fresh mozzarella, diced
Small palm-full of fresh basil leaves
6 eggs
1/2 cup milk
Salt and pepper, to taste
Pre-made, deep dish pie crust

Preheat your oven to 350F degrees.

Arrange tomatoes and mozzarella in the bottom of the pie crust. Sprinkle basil leaves over.

In a small bowl, whisk together eggs and milk. Season with salt and pepper. Pour egg mixture into pie crust.

Bake for about 45 minutes, until egg is set. Let cool for 10 minutes before slicing.