Friday, February 26, 2010

Crock Pot Root Beer Pulled Pork

Here is another super easy crock pot recipe. Before work I put two small, defrosted, "Daisy" pork buts in the crock pot. I added two bottles of IBC root beer, set it on low, and went to work. On my way home I stopped for KFC coleslaw to go with dinner. They make the best coleslaw ever! I've never made my own because I know it wouldn't measure up to the Colonel's recipe. When I got home I pulled out some burger buns and heated up a couple of  cans of baked beans.Then you drain the root beer and shred the pork. Serve with a bottle of your favorite BBQ sauce and dinner is ready. Enjoy!

Crock Pot Salsa Chicken

So, I just joined a facebook group called the "Crock Pot Recipe Exchange" and there are so many recipes! Plus, there are tips, like other uses for your crock pot and the best brands to buy. Also, I've been looking for some easy recipes to use on the weekdays, and nothing is as easy as crock pot cooking.

The other night I made the easiest dinner ever! You just put 4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts on the bottom of the crock pot, then dump a jar of salsa on them. I used frozen chicken and Tostitos brand salsa, and they turned out great! So moist! Set the cooker on low and go to work. When you get home from work, break out some flour tortillas, shred some lettuce, set out some shredded cheddar cheese, hot sauce and sour cream and, Voila! Yummy chicken soft tacos for dinner! All you have to do is take two forks and start touching the chicken and it shreds. I also made Spanish rice to serve with it. I used Rice-a-Roni brand, but instead of canned tomatoes, I used two cups of freshly diced Roma tomatoes. I know! I just said I wanted to stop using boxed food in my last post! But, this is one of those things that I haven't figured out how to make from scratch yet. I'm working on it, but the last one I made from scratch wasn't nearly as good. I'll try again when I have more time for experimenting.

I think this chicken would be good in so many ways. Burritos, enchiladas, over rice, on a baked potato, in a soup. Let me know if any of you come up with other ideas!

Thursday, February 25, 2010

My Cooking and Eating Habits

I've been meaning to write a post for a while to explain a little bit about my cooking style, so here goes!

One of my personal goals for this year is to try to stop eating "fake" food. I only use real butter, real sugar, etcetera. I'm also trying to get away from using pre-packaged, processed foods, like dehydrated potatoes, instant stuffing and anything with a "flavor packet". This is not an easy task! Just think about what is in your pantry right now, and how much easier it is to use these items than it is to make your own from scratch. Also, two of my guys actually prefer some of this "food" to the fresh foods I make. I think it may be impossible to stop using some of these items, but I'm going to make an effort to try.

I read a great article about what the experts won't eat and I'm trying to stay away from some of these items as well. This is also easier said than done. Organic anything seems to cost more than the regular counter part, so that is a challenge. Another problem I'm having is that all the organic potatoes I've seen just don't seem as fresh and they come in much smaller containers. I can't wait for spring to come so I can start going to farmer's markets to buy produce. Hopefully I will be able to speak with someone who works on the farm and ask some questions about how their food is grown. You would think it would be easy to stay away from canned tomatoes, but how do you know what is in a jar of sauce? I've read labels and it confuses me. The only ones I really feel safe eating are the ones that say "fresh tomatoes". I only wish I could afford grass fed beef, so that is a dream for another day. I don't eat farm raised seafood at all if I can avoid it. I'd rather have something else than eat farm raised salmon. Read the labels at your grocery store. Most salmon says "farm raised, color added". Why do they add color?!!! Maybe it's because so many people believe salmon should be a bright pink when in reality, a soft, light pink is fine. I wouldn't know how to avoid milk with antibiotics and such, but I really don't use much anyway. I only use milk in my cooking (as little as possible) and on cereal. I think drinking it is gross, but that's just me. I know lots of people who love the stuff.

I try to purchase most of my food from the outer aisles in the grocery store. Produce, meats, breads, real cheeses. *Hint* if the package says 'processed cheese food", it probably isn't real cheese. I don't eat white bread or much of anything made with bleached flour. I try to avoid high fructose corn syrup, but that's hard too. Read the labels on your food. You'll be shocked when you see how many items have that stuff in it, and as my husband says, "It's the white man's poison". I avoid soda, but when I do give in and drink one, I drink regular. I don't consume "diet" anything. I am by no means a health nut. I put bacon in my cookies! How could I be a health nut? I'm just trying to make smarter choices.

There are also a few items that must be in my kitchen at all times. Olive oil is essential. I always have a bottle of olive oil, plus I keep a spray bottle full next to the stove. I always have a block of Parmesian-Reggiano cheese in my fridge. I prefer the taste of freshly grated cheese to  the stuff in the green can that we all grew up with. I have two cheese graters so that if one is dirty I have a back up. Chicken broth or stock is essential. I like to buy it in the cartons, and in case I don't use the whole container full, I also keep a couple of clean, empty ice cube trays in a cabinet. Simply pour the un-used broth into an ice cube tray and freeze. The next time you need broth, it's right there in your freezer. Garlic. I use garlic in almost everything, so I always have lots of fresh garlic on hand. Chocolate! Who doesn't love chocolate? We keep a couple of large chocolate bars in the fridge, and after dinner we have a square. It's a nice way to finish a meal and it helps keep me from snacking on large amounts of bad food late at night.

There are also a few essential tools that I can't get enough of. I love cutting boards! I have 2 wooden, 2 large plastic, 1 small plastic, 2 of the really flexible sheet style and 1 marble. Can you believe that I still want more? I would love to have more knives too. I have a few really nice knives, but more would be better. I have a few small bowls and ramikens that I would be lost without. I have very limited space in my kitchen, so I like to prep everything and have it in small bowls before I start the actual cooking process. This way I can clean as I go and maximze space. I also refuse to cook in a dirty kitchen. I have to clean before I can get started. As, I said, space is limited, and I can't stand working in a cluttered kitchen. It just makes the experience too chaotic for me.

Cooking and eating is not just about fueling your body. It is a joyful experience that should be savored.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Banh Mi

Banh Mi is a Vietnamese sandwich that can be made from a variety of different ingredients. The first time I had one was from a street vendor in Portland, Oregon last August and I've wanted another ever since. Then, last weekend, we went to the Brewer's Art in Baltimore city for dinner. They had two different banh mi on their bar menu. My husband ordered the beef banh mi and I got something else entirely. He gave me one bite and I had such food envy! That night I really didn't sleep well because I was literally dreaming about this sandwich. When I finally got up the next morning I started doing some research and found that I would have to travel quite a ways to get an authentic banh mi, so I started thinking about making my own. Finally, this weekend we went and bought all the ingredients, brought them home and made our own sandwiches. We had them for dinner on Saturday, lunch on Sunday, and I plan on bringing one to work for lunch tomorrow (Monday).

I found a really great website that had a lot of great information. You can go to Battle of the banh mi to check out pictures, recipes and links to find a banh mi shop near you.

This is the meat recipe we used. When we make it in the future I will alter it a bit. The fish sauce does create a really strong odor that drove my brother out of the house. I didn't think it was really that bad, but I felt bad about driving him away. It did taste great, so that was the really important thing to me. Viet World Kitchen is another great site that includes the history of the sandwich and more recipes. We used the pickled daikon and carrot recipe from the second site. We bought a French baguette at the grocery store,  but we went to Hmart in Catonsville, Maryland for all the other ingredients.

We used cilantro, pickling cucumbers, Sriracha hot chili sauce, Jalapeno (cut in half, seeds removed, thinly sliced), red onion slices and two kinds of thinly sliced pork in the recipe above. Put it all together and you have a sandwich that hits all of your taste buds. Spicy, sweet, sour. It's awesome! The spice of the Jalapeno and hot sauce is nicely balanced out by the coolness of the cucumber and cilantro, plus the sweet and sour flavor of the pickled veggies. I'm already starting to brainstorm using steak, chicken or even tofu.

This is my new favorite sandwich. I hope you all enjoy it as well!

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Dizzy Pig spices and rubs

Dizzy Pig spices and rubs are a great addition to any cooks cupboard. They have so many different kinds that you'll find yourself reaching for one of their seasonings just about every night of the week. They have a Jamaican Jerk rub, a Montreal style rub, a rub made with coffee, pineapple flavor, and so many more. I have every style and use them frequently. Sometimes I use them to season my meats and other times I just sprinkle a little on veggies. They even sell a sampler so that you can try all the flavors and then pick out your favorites. Plus, the guys who own the company are awesome! They are so nice that it is always a pleasure to see them at BBQ events or do business with them.

Check out their website by clicking here...

Dizzy Pig BBQ

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Roasted Garlic

Roasted garlic is so tasty and easy, plus you can do so many things with it. My awesome mother-in-law gave me a garlic roaster for my birthday, but you don't need this handy contraption to start roasting your own garlic right now.

Simply take a whole bulb of garlic and cut the top third off. Remove some of the papery outer skin, but leave the bulb intact.  Wrap very loosely in aluminum foil and drizzle with a little olive oil before you close the top of the foil. Roast in an oven for about an hour at 350. When you remove it from  the oven it will be hot, so be careful. Let it cool for a while, then you can easily squeeze the garlic out of the bulb.

This method makes the garlic flavor very mild, so you can do a lot with it. You could spread it directly onto fresh, warm bread, add it to soups or stews, add it to potatoes right before you mash them, put it in a food processor with some butter to make fresh garlic butter, the possibilities are as endless as your imagination. Feel free to let me know some ways you use it!

Crock Pot Venison Pot Roast

If you hunt, or know someone who does, this is a good recipe for pot roast. Also, doing it in a crock pot means minimal effort on your part. Just toss everything in in the morning, and by the time you get home from work, dinner is ready.

2 lb venison roast (Or you could substitute a beef chuck roast)
1 large yellow onion, cut into eighths and separated
1 lb carrots, peeled and cut into 1-2 inch lengths
1 lb potatoes, cut into large chunks
4 stalks of celery, cut into 1-2 inch lengths
6 cloves garlic, minced
1  pkg dry onion soup mix
Worcestershire sauce
2 cups of water

Brown the meat on all sides in a large skillet, then put meat into crock pot. Add dry onion soup mix, water and a few dashes of Worcestershire. Add garlic, then the veggies. Set on low for 8-10 hours. When it's done, scoop out the veggies onto a platter or into a bowl. Remove meat and slice or pull apart into large chunks. The meat will be so tender that it will fall apart easily. Serve the meat with some of the sauce from the bottom of the crock pot.


Snowmageddon 2010!!!

I survived it! What a crazy week we've had here! I live about ten minutes south of Baltimore, Maryland in a little town called Catonsville. Today is Thursday and since last Friday we've had about 45 inches of snow fall in the form of two major storms. To put this into perspective, Maryland averages about 18 inches of snow per year. Before the first storm hit we had already had about 36 inches of snow. The actual totals recorded at BWI for the season have brought us to a record breaking 79.9 inches this season. It's been totally nuts!

I was stuck in my house from Friday afternoon until Tuesday morning. I live on a one way street where everyone parallel parks on each side and we didn't get a plow until Monday night around 10ish. I was asleep at that point, but the neighbors tell me that they had to bring in a front end loader to remove it all. There was just no where left to put the snow. When I finally did get out on Tuesday it was just to make a trip to the grocery and liquor stores so that I could prepare for the next storm to hit. Luckily the plow has already been here again, so I am going to be able to go to work tomorrow.

Here are a few pics from this afternoon...

This is the view from my front porch...
 Here is my car. As you can see, the snow piled up next to the side walk is just a little taller than the SUV!

This is my poor house...

And here is a shot of the giant wave of ice that's hanging over my house and my neighbor's house...
 That actually just came crashing down as I was uploading the pic. My dad was standing on the front porch, but luckily he got out of the way as it was coming down. 

I know none of this has anything to do with food, but it's my blog and I'll do what I want! Ha!

Easy Meal Idea: Sausage, Peppers and Onions over Rice

This is another very simple meal idea. I just bought a package of fully cooked, beef, smoked sausage and cooked them up with peppers and onions and served it over white rice. Fast, easy, flavorful and colorful.

I package sausage. Use whatever you like. I used Esskay smoked beef sausage. They were a little too greasy for my taste so next time I'll try something different.
1 red onion, cut into eighth's and separated
1 red and 1 green pepper, but sometimes I use yellow or orange.
Salt and pepper
1 beer
white rice

First I start by cutting up all the veggies and then I set them aside in a bowl. Then I cut the sausages into 2-3 inch long sections. I start with a little olive oil in a large skillet on medium-low heat. When the pan has warmed up, I add the sausage. As the sausage cooks I add a little beer for extra flavor, turning the sausage every few minutes so it doesn't burn. Cook rice according to your package directions. In a non-stick skillet melt some butter. I usually use about 1 tbsp. Cook veggies in non-stick skillet until they are done to your liking. I like to keep them a bit more crisp. When its all done, plate a bed of rice, then top with veggies and sausage. Enjoy!

Roasted Cod with Potatoes and Olives

I got this recipe from Martha Stewart's Everyday Food magazine and I didn't change a thing. It was delish!

  • 2 pounds red new potatoes, scrubbed and quartered
  • 4 cloves garlic, halved lengthwise
  • 1/2 teaspoon crushed dried rosemary
  • 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • Coarse salt and ground pepper
  • 4 cod fillets, (6 to 8 ounces each)
  • 1 pint cherry or grape tomatoes, whole or halved
  • 1/2 cup pitted Kalamata olives
  • Lemon wedges, for serving (optional)
  1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees. On a large rimmed baking sheet, toss potatoes with garlic, rosemary, and 1 tablespoon oil; season generously with salt and pepper. Arrange potatoes in a single layer, cut side down. Bake, tossing potatoes once, until beginning to brown, about 20 minutes.
  2. Meanwhile, rub fillets with remaining teaspoon oil; season all sides with salt and pepper.
  3. Remove baking sheet from oven. Add tomatoes and olives to potatoes; stir to combine. Push vegetable mixture to one side; place fillets flat on baking sheet, next to vegetables. Return to oven, and roast until fish is cooked through and potatoes are brown and tender, 15 to 20 minutes. Transfer fish and vegetables to serving platter. Serve immediately, with lemon wedges if desired. 


I served this with brussel sprouts from the freezer. The kind that you steam in the bag. Easiest veggies ever.

Sauteed Spinach

Easy, Yummy, Healty.

1 large package of baby spinach leaves
1 tbsp butter
Salt and pepper

Melt butter in a large sautee pan. Add spinach a little at a time, it will shrink up A LOT! Continue tossing as you add more spinach. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and serve.

Oven Baked Tofu

Okay, I know I got the idea for this from someone else's blog, but I really can't remember what is was, so I'm sorry for not giving credit! I served this as a side with my beef and veggie stir fry, but you could certainly use it as the main dish in the meal instead of beef. Tofu is a great vegetarian option for anyone who is looking to reduce their meat intake.

1 block extra firm tofu
1 tsp sesame oil
3 tbsp soy sauce

Cut the tofu in four equal slices. Lay tofu over paper towels and place paper towels on top as well. The goal is to try to remove as much moisture as possible. Gently press the paper towels onto the tofu. Use more if needed. Once that's done, mix the sesame oil and soy sauce together. You may need to use a whisk to really incorporate the two. Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees (I used my toaster oven). Use a pastry brush to brush both sides of each piece of tofu. Allow this to sit and absorb while the oven heats up. Spray a baking sheet with cooking spray and place tofu on cooking sheet. Cook the tofu for about an hour or so, re-coating with sesame-soy mixture every ten miutes until all the liquid is gone. Cook until tofu is firm to the touch and nicely browned. I also seem to remember that the blog I got this from advised adding some sesmae seeds and scallions when it was done. That sounds yummy to me, but I didn't have any on hand.

Beef and Veggie Stir Fry

This was a quick, simple and yummy meal!

1 lb Beef strips (Most grocerey stores sell packaged beef that says "For stir fry", or you could buy a flank or skirt steak and slice it)
Fresh broccoli florets
Fresh carrots
Sesame oil
Soy sauce
Teriyaki sauce
Fresh garlic
Powdered ginger (Fresh is better, but I didn't have any.)
Salt and pepper
White rice

In a large skillet or wok heat about 2 tbsp of sesame oil over medium heat. Add beef, tossing occasionally as it cooks. After a few minutes add broccoli, carrots, garlic, sprinkle with ginger, salt and pepper. Add a few dashes of soy and teriyaki sauces. Continue tossing every few minutes until cooked to your liking. While cooking the beef and veggies, cook rice according to package directions. Plate a bed of rice, then top with beff, veggies and sauce.

Fast, easy and tasty! I also served this with a side of tofu. I will add that recipe in a seperate post.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Ugly Chicken Pot Pie

This got a little ugly while I was putting it all together so I figured I would add "ugly" to the title. It's been snowing here since Friday and I made this on Tuesday evening. I was really in the mood for some good, old fashioned, comfort food so I decided to make a chicken pot pie, mostly from scratch, without a recipe. It was so yummy, but next time I will have to put a little less inside the pie so it comes out a little prettier. I vow to put my successes and my failures on this blog, and while this was mostly a success, aesthetically, it was a failure. See?
I had too much filling to make the top and bottom crusts pinch together, so I had to just lay the top crust over the whole pie dish. I'll be more careful next time.

1 cup chopped carrots
1 cup frozen peas
1 cup diced potato (I always leaves the skins on for extra fiber)
1/2 cup chopped celery
5 cloves minced garlic
1 sprig fresh rosemary, chopped
1 stick butter
2 cups cooked chicken(I had roasted a chicken so I used some of that. I would probably use 1 lb boneless, skinless chicken, cubed and cooked)
1/3 cup flour
2 ready made pie crusts(This is the not home made part)
1 1/2 cups chicken broth
1 1/2 cups milk
Salt and pepper

Put carrots, peas, potato, celery, and chicken in a large sauce pan. Cover with water and bring to a boil. Simmer for 15 minutes. Remove from heat, drain into a colander and set the mixture aside. Melt butter in the pan and add garlic, onion, rosemary and salt and pepper to taste. Cook until softened (About 5 minutes). Remove from heat and sift in flour. Stir in chicken broth and milk. Place 1st pie crust into a deep pie pan. add chicken and veggie mixture. Slowly add liquid mixture. Stop adding liquid before you get to the top of the pie crust. (That's where mine got ugly!) Put top crust on and pinch together top and bottom crusts. Cut several slits for ventilation. Cook in a pre-heated 350 degree oven for about 40 minutes, or until crust is golden brown. Let it stand for about 5 minutes before serving to allow sauce to thicken.

I know. It doesn't look so great, but it was really tasty! I never seem to put enough salt and pepper, but that seems to work out, because one person in my household never tastes anything before he adds a lot of salt and pepper. I hope next time it is prettier, but in the mean time, I enjoyed seconds for lunch today!