An Ode to my Slow Cooker

I adore my slow cooker. It’s also a pressure cooker, but the slow cook function gets used way more often. It’s great for long days, it’s a nice way to avoid using the oven and heating up the house, and there are usually fewer dished to wash.

I’m not actually going to write an ode to my slow cooker. I’m not totally crazy. But it has been a life saver. I love coming home to dinner and there are few things as delicious as a slow-cooked roast or pulled pork.

I have this model. It was a birthday gift from my boyfriend and I don’t think he has ever gotten as much out of a gift that he bought for someone else.

Our lives will start getting more insane in a few weeks when school starts and I start my new big kid job and commute a little bit more. So it will be a lot more slow cooking and less time in the kitchen. Which is not a bad thing. I love being in the kitchen and cooking and being creative, but it’s also really nice to have those hours.

Here are my top 10 favorite slow cooker recipes that are always in rotation at my house:

  1. Braised Beef Ragu with Polenta
  2. Crockpot Pulled Pork 
  3. Crockpot Coffee Ancho Chile Short Ribs
  4. Lemon Pepper Chicken
  5. Honey Ginger Apple Shredded Pork
  6. Slow Cooker Pork with Noodles (I use tamari or coconut aminos instead of the soy sauce and sometimes chicken instead of pork)
  7. Crockpot Chicken with Thai Peanut Sauce (Vegetarian/Vegan option)
  8. Slow Cooked BBQ Ribs
  9. Jambalaya
  10. Crockpot Sesame Honey Chicken

What is your favorite slow cooker recipe?

 

Boredom and another Meal Plan

Almost one month ago today, I made the trek from Hopkinton to Boston on foot with 30,000 of my closest friends. I am realizing now that marathon training really did take up my whole life. I had a big goal and every choice I made was aimed at getting me closer. With the exception of a few nights where I drank entirely too much wine. Unless you want to call that carb-loading.

Marathon training meant my time was pretty much already accounted for. My training plan meant that I knew what I would be doing every morning, my diet plan meant I knew what, when, and how much I would be eating. Weekends meant long runs, Monday was a rest day, and I settled into a routine of working really hard.

Now I’m in this weird place of not training for anything and feeling kind of lazy and unmotivated. There is something so fulfilling about making progress towards a goal and I miss it. Working towards something so big is a ton of work and requires sacrifices, but I have always been proud of what I was doing. I have questioned my sanity more than twice, but working towards a big goal is something I really enjoy.

So the big question (still) is now what?! I have a couple random races scheduled in the next month and a half marathon on the docket for August. I can’t decide if I want to try to crush the half or not. I guess I don’t have to decide that for another couple of weeks.

I’m kicking around the idea of trying to get really strong. Spending my mornings and my afternoons in the gym picking up heavy things and putting them back down. But I am also the fastest I have ever been and I worry that prioritizing lifting right now will slow me down. Maybe a half in August and then spend the fall getting stronger? So many choices….

The one thing that hasn’t changed is trying to eat well. Here’s what’s on the agenda for this week:

Sunday: Game of Thrones party. I made some sweet potato fries. Apparently the secret to crispy fries is to give them a nice long soak first. I was not diligent about making sure they don’t touch each other… but they still turned out alright, just not as crispy as I might have hoped.

Monday: Lemon Chicken Breasts, Risotto, and Asparagus. We have had a weekend of dreary weather and risotto is one of my current favorite comfort foods. I ran out of arborio rice, so I used mostly arborio and some jasmine rice and it still turned out delicious.

I took a picture of this and only after we ate, I realized that I took a picture of the breast that I poked with the thermometer to make sure I wasn’t feeding us raw chicken. The juices started running out and long story short, it didn’t actually photograph well.

Tuesday: Tri-Tip. I use this recipe for inspiration. Most of the time I just throw together seasonings or a marinade, let it sit overnight and then off to the grill. I grill on high heat for 5 minutes per side, then turn the heat down to medium for ~10 minutes per side.

Wednesday: Copycat Red Robin Burgers from Paleo Parents. With chicken breasts, grilled pineapple, white rice, and broccoli.

Red Robin Recreation - copycat teriyaki Banzai Burgers as seen on Paleo Parents

Thursday: Super simple crockpot pulled pork. My recipe is pork loin + spices (whatever sounds good) + 1/4 cup water + crockpot. Let it hang out for 6-8 hours on low and enjoy.

Friday: We camped Friday night, so dinner was pan-fried chicken breasts and rice. We got a new campstove and it has 2 settings – off and Dante’s inferno. I’ll talk more about camp cooking next week. The trip was an adventure.

I got some awesome recipes in my inbox this week and I’m looking forward to trying them and sharing with you!

 

What I Fed Myself This Week

When I started this blog, I had high hopes that it would be a platform to share recipes that I developed myself. I love food, I love cooking, and being in the kitchen is my favorite way to get creative. It seemed like a great fit.

I learned that food styling and food photography are not my strong suit, botched recipes can get expensive, and it takes quite a bit of time and iterations to get a recipe dialed in enough to want to share it with the world.

I have a whole new respect for food bloggers. These days, my focus is running and Crossfit and meal planning, shopping, cooking, and eating takes up enough time as it is.

Most of what I cook is loosely based or “inspired by” the recipes I pick out.The ingredients are more like a suggestion or a framework to build off of. Unless you are baking. You should be reasonably precise with that or things will not go well for you. I’ve learned that the hard way more than twice.

But I realize that not everyone likes to meal plan. Not everyone knows where to start. We all have busy lives. It can be hard if you have never done it before.

So I wanted to start sharing what I am feeding myself – to share ideas with you, help you out if you are trying to cook at home more, or just to share some new recipes!

I use my slow cooker  and my grill religiously. Between the BF and I, we have a number of dietary considerations, so I typically rotate between broccoli, asparagus, and zucchini as our veggie side. Our carbohydrate/starch is typically rice (jasmine, sushi, arborio,etc.) or any variety of potato. Sometimes rice noodles. I’m working on incorporating quinoa. We eat simply and most of these meals require little prep time.

Sunday: Balsamic Braised Beef from the 21 Day Sugar Detox with Broccoli and Polenta

Monday: 30 Minute Cacciatore Chicken with Grilled Asparagus and Mashed Potatoes

Chicken Cacciatore

Tuesday: Filipino Style London Broil with Rice and Grilled Zucchini and Carrots

Wednesday: Ginger-Marinated Bulgogi-Style Chicken with Rice and Broccoli. This is one of my favorite marinades – I use some variant of it almost every week. I use tamari or coconut aminos instead of soy sauce for a gluten free option.

Thursday: Carnitas Nachos. Because Cinco de Mayo. Pork Verde, Baked Tortilla Chips, and all the fixings (avocado, salsa, cilantro, tomato, green onion, mango).

Paleo Pork Verde on www.PopularPaleo.com

Friday: Another favorite of mine and a marinade that I use almost weekly. Balsamic Rosemary Steak with broccoli and roasted red potatoes.

Steak, potato, and mushroom kabobs are soaked in a flavorful balsamic rosemary marinade and grilled to perfection! This takes steak and potatoes to a whole new level! | LoveGrowsWild.com

Saturday will be an adventure. I may or may not cook something. We might go out. It’s too soon to tell. I’m sure it will be delicious.

 

Happy eating!!

 

 

Eating an elephant. And other delicious things.

Last year at this time I was “only taking research credits/working on my thesis” and I had a grand notion that I would, in fact, have time to actually work on my thesis. In hind sight, I’m sure I did, but the deadline was far enough away to make it feel like I “had plenty of time”.

I defended in December of last year – later than I wanted to, but probably the best I could have hoped for given the circumstances. The idea of writing a thesis seems simple – you do some research and you write about it. Kind of like running a marathon. You go out and you train and then you run for a really long time. But as you get into those things, you realize that they are a lot more involved than they appear on the surface.

No one told me I would read 400+ journal articles or actually cry into my laptop. No one told me I would have to buy “fat shoes” that I could wear when my feet get super swollen or that I would cry on the side of the road or that you can get chafing so bad that you bleed. There are a lot of things that no one told me before I started either of these endeavors… but perhaps it’s best that we don’t fully understand what we are getting ourselves into.

The process can be so overwhelming. Terrifying even.

I have to run a marathon.

I have to write a thesis.

Those are big. They seem bigger than I can handle. I don’t know how I am going to pull these off. I lose perspective.

Perspective says, “I don’t have to run a marathon tomorrow. I just have to do my training run for that day. I don’t have to run 26 miles… just 6 or 8 or 10 or whatever my plan calls for.”

Perspective says, “I don’t have to have my thesis done by next week. I just need to write the next paragraph. Read the next article.”

Perspective says do the next right thing. Not even a big thing. The next thing. What is the next thing you can do to get closer to where you want to be? It can be simple. I’m going to wake up tomorrow and go for a run. Maybe your goal is weight loss – the next thing you can do is wake up tomorrow and eat a healthy breakfast. Go walk for 10 minutes.

How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. Just take the next bite.

And if elephants do not sound delicious, here are the recipes that I am making over and over because I’m too tired to be more creative! Enjoy!

Balsamic Rosemary Steak Kabobs

Ginger Marinated Bulgogi Style Chicken

 

 

Clean eating when you have no time for that cooking nonsense

It has been a bit quiet on the blog-stead lately. Can I call it a blog-stead? Like a homestead, only a blog. Whatever. I have been totally swamped and life has been kicking my butt over the last two weeks. It is mid-semester crunch time and I have been more or less completely consumed with school. The only writing I have done recently has been academic (gross) and the only cooking I have done involves pressing buttons on my microwave. Complicating the matter is that I am doing a Whole30 and I need to be very intentional about what I am eating. It is good that I’m not a picky eater; I’ve eaten some odd combinations of random leftovers just because I don’t care and I’m hungry. I think I finally got it figured out though and this week is looking much better!

How to eat well when you don’t have time:

1. Slow cook. Everything.

A lot of recipes call for a bunch of prep work before the slow cooking part. I think the whole point is zero prep work. If I have to use more than my slow cooker, a cutting board, and a knife, I’m not interested. I often skip steps like browning meat before hand. I might miss out on flavor, but the time payoff is worth it. I just throw everything in there and go.

Roasts, chili, and soups/stews are all great slow cooker candidates. I’ve put chicken breasts in the slow cooker – easiest shredded chicken ever. Same goes for pork loin. You’d be surprised at all the slow cooker recipes out there – I’ve seen some for cake, meatloaf, and everything in between.

 

2. Make big batches.

If you are making dinner, make enough for several meals. Double recipes and throw leftovers in the freezer. If you are busy, there is a good chance that you will have to get used to eating the same thing over and over. So make sure you are making awesome things when you get the time to make something.

 

3. Cook when you can.

Often, I will throw some chicken breasts in my slow cooker overnight and then I have shredded chicken for the next few days. If I am home in the morning or evening, I will often use that time to roast squash or other prep work. It’s totally normal to roast squash at 6am, I promise.

 

4. Make components, not meals.

Cook meat. Cook veggies. Not together. Keep the seasonings simple and then you can combine whatever you want. This is a nice way to avoid eating the same thing over and over and over. 3 proteins + 3 veggies = 9 different meal combos. Meat + veggies + spices/sauces = whatever meal you want. It’s like putting outfits together.

 

5. KISS

Keep it Simple. Super simple. As much as I love to get fancy, a lot of my go-to meals when I am busy are super simple. Baked chicken and sweet potatoes. Burgers. Soup. Or recipes without a lot of “active time”. So maybe it’s some sort of baked dish that takes a little while to cook, but only 10 minutes to throw together. Any “hands off” time can be used to do other things.

A couple of my favorite simple yet delicious meals:

Mustard Salmon Fillet (or chicken thighs)

Spaghetti Squash with ground beef and pasta sauce (check your ingredients!)

Lemon Chicken

Grilled steak and whatever side you want – sweet potato, grilled veggies, salad, whatever.

 

6. The one-pot wonder

Like the slow-cooker, only not. Fewer dishes = less cleanup = more time. Soup is great for this. You can saute any veggies you want, add your protein, add your liquid, simmer. Or any sort of stir-fry.

Here are some great and healthy one pot wonders!  Bonus – most of these are very freezer-friendly.

 

7. Dedicate a prep day.

Do you have a few hours free on the weekend? Spending a little bit of time chopping veggies and meal prepping can save you tons of time throughout the week. If time is the issue and money is not, you can buy pre-sliced veggies to save on prep time.

Maybe you can spend an afternoon making a week’s worth of meals. Check out Once A Month Meals for some great ideas and recipes! They also cater to a variety of dietary needs.

 

8. Make a plan!

Failing to plan is planning to fail. Make sure you have the ingredients you need. Find your recipes. I like to know what the plan is for dinner every night so I’m not trying to come up with something when I get home and am tired and hungry. Or if I need to throw something in the slow cooker in the morning. It is a terrible time when you plan on making something in the slow cooker that takes a while to cook (like a roast) and don’t realize it until you get home and you have no dinner and no back-up plan for something to be prepared quickly. Which brings me to my next point.

 

9. Have a safe plan B.

Is there a restaurant that you know can accommodate your dietary needs? Or a grocery store nearby? I default to the hot bar at my Whole Foods. It is not cheap at all so I try not to do that very often, but it’s nice to know I have an emergency fallback. I also have a couple “safe restaurants” nearby. Do the detective work beforehand so you don’t have to worry about where to find food for those days when cooking is not an option or you forgot your lunch at home.

 

10. Keep some back stock.

Maybe that is an “emergency lunch/dinner” in your freezer. A meal you can just pull out when you are scrambling. I almost always have chicken in my freezer… I know that with a quick thaw, I can have dinner in about 20 minutes. I also keep a small stock of canned salmon and tuna. And that equates to being able to eat dinner in about 47 seconds.

 

What are your tips for eating well when you are constantly on the run?

It’s Hatch season!! And Green Chile Chicken Pizza

It’s hatch chile season!!! I decided that this is the second best foodie season. Pumpkin season is the best. And that is just around the corner! I keep seeing pictures of people with Pumpkin Spice Lattes all over Facebook and I cannot wait until my house smells of roasted pumpkins. Right now it just smells like burnt peppers and my fingers are burning from peeling and seeding peppers. And then I made the terrible mistake of rubbing my eyes… Fail.

I picked up a bunch of these little gems from my local farmers market and my local Sprouts. And when I say “a bunch”, I mean 10 pounds. Because I want to have enough for the year. Because roasted hatch chiles are delicious. They go with everything. There is really no savory dish that they don’t work well with. If you can do cheese, the cheddar-green chile combo is killer. Please just eat good cheese, like the kind that comes from grass-fed cows and isn’t full of hormones and gross stuff.

My agenda for all my chiles:

Green chile bacon burgers

Make green chile sauce and freeze it

Chop peppers and store them in the freezer

Green chile and chicken enchiladas

Green chile guacamole

Green chile beef jerky – this was sooooo good!

Aaaaaaand this gem of a recipe:

Green Chile Chicken Pizza (gluten free, grain free option, dairy free option, vegan option)

Your favorite gluten and/or grain-free pizza crust (I’m using this one)

Hatch chiles, roasted (how to roast them at home)

Green Chile Sauce – I like 505 brand (it’s gluten free) or you can make it at home using this recipe. Just substitute rice flour/ arrowroot for the flour

Favorite pizza toppings – for this recipe, I’m using

  • shredded chicken breast
  • onions
  • bell pepper
  • vegan cream cheese (I use Daiya- it’s soy-free)
  • vegan cheddar cheese (Daiya)

Directions

1. Make your pizza crust

2. Make your green chile sauce. Or buy your green chile sauce – 505 brand is the only one I have found that is gluten free. I modified the recipe I linked to and made it spicy with roasted hatch chiles, serranos, jalapenos, Anaheim chiles, and a green bell pepper.

3. Mix the green chile sauce and softened cream cheese. I used about 1 cup of sauce to 4 oz of cheese, but you can play with the consistency.

4. Slather on your pizza

5. Throw all your toppings on and return to the oven for about 15 minutes, or until the cheese is melted.

6. Devour. Which is exactly what happened in this case… and that is why there is no picture to go along with this recipe yet!

Sriracha Jerky, aka How I Became the Favorite Sister

I’m not going camping. I wish I was. The men in my family are headed up to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area and I will be running 26.2 miles down a canyon instead. It’s almost the same.

When they went last year, I convinced them that in exchange for a dehydrator, I would make them food to take. Part of that was just a ploy to get some financial contributions towards a dehydrator, but making your own dehydrated food is almost always more economical than buying packaged meals (check out the Backpacking Chef for a lot of great ideas and recipes!). Most of it was successful, some of it was not, but they ate most of it because they were hungry and in the woods with no other options. Just FYI, dehydrated chunks of chicken are not a pleasant texture. Taste is fine, texture is totally weird. There is a very good reason you don’t ever see chicken jerky.

I dehydrated everything I could get my hands on last summer. That thing ran almost around the clock. One day, there would be a nice pumpkin aroma wafting through the house and the next it was teriyaki and ginger. I have yet to effectively dehydrate blueberries and not have them turn into little crunchy blue pebbles. I also learned how valuable it is to have parchment paper or tray liners. And if you are going to spend the money on a dehydrator, invest in one with a timer. It is 100% worth it!

Anyway, one of my favorite things to make is jerky. And it’s super super easy. I like to play with different flavor combinations – ginger and garlic, teriyaki ginger, barbecue jerky, and the family favorite – Sriracha jerky. Seriously, sriracha is good on everything. Sriracha jerky, Sriracha eggs, hummus, salad dressing, barbecue sauce, rice, whatever. I continue to hear about how much they loved the Sriracha jerky – they even remembered where they were when they opened up that bag of spicy goodness (Knife Lake, in case you were curious).

 

Sriracha Jerky

I feel bad even calling this a recipe because it is ridiculously simple.

  + 

1 lb ground beef

1/4 – 1/2 cup Sriracha (depending on your heat preference)

salt, pepper, and other seasonings to taste (garlic, onion powder, cumin, paprika, etc.)

 

Mix your beef, sriracha, and spices together. Let marinate overnight for best results.

Place on your dehydrator sheets (I line mine with parchment paper) in strips. You can get fancy with a jerky gun or you can just shape them with your hands. Dehydrate at 155° for 6-8 hours.

Or use your oven. Just turn it to the lowest setting (typically 175°) and bake for 2-5 hours.

Feed to your brothers so they will love you forever.

Jerky is not very photogenic…

 

Other jerky variations the boys are getting for their trip:

Whiskey-ginger ale. Whiskey is good, jerky is good, the two of these together? Delicious! I used 1 lb beef, 1/4 cup whiskey, 3/4 cup ginger ale (or ginger beer), and juice from one lime. Marinate overnight and dehydrate.

Chipotle. 2 tbsp tomato paste, 1/2 tsp paprika, 1/2 tsp cumin, 4 dried chipotle chiles, 1/4 tsp garlic powder, salt and pepper to taste.

Orange-Ginger. 3/4 cup gluten-free tamari, 1/2 tsp ground ginger, zest from 1 orange, juice from 1 orange, salt and pepper.

Salsa Verde. I made salsa verde using a combination of tomatillos, hatch chiles, onion, garlic, chicken stock, and spices.

 

I’ll report back with the favorite. My guess is that Sriracha will still reign supreme. Jerky is a great snack – lightweight, portable, tasty, and packed with protein. When I started making jerky, I went with lean cuts, but found that it is much more economical and just as tasty to make it with lean ground beef.