It’s Mexican Night: Make Your Own Tacos

Is this a recipe?  Probably not.  But this is a go-to around here, and is perfect for those nights when 1. you need to feed more than two people; 2. you have no time to cook; and 3. you just want people to be happy (note: avocados + sour cream + cheese + tortillas + chicken = happiness).

crucial topping: avocado
crucial topping: avocado

Make Your Own (Slow-Cooked) Tacos:

for the chicken –

  • 1 pound chicken breasts
  • 1 large onion, sliced
  • 1/2 to 1 jar salsa, your choice of spiciness
  • splash of chicken broth (if you don’t have that much salsa, which we didn’t)
  • spices galore: crushed red pepper, salt + pepper, chili powder, cumin, adobo seasoning, anything your heart desires
  • optional: 1-2 cloves crushed garlic

and your toppings –

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 onion, sliced
  • 2-3 bell peppers (green, red, orange), sliced
  • salt, pepper, other seasonings
  • additional: tortillas, taco chips, avocado, sour cream, grated cheese, quartered cherry tomatoes, spinach, beans, cilantro, salsa, rice, etc.
  1. Arrange the sliced onion at the bottom of the crockpot.  Season the chicken liberally – salt, pepper, chili powder, crushed reds, and then place on top of the onion.  Pour a bit of the salsa all around and finish with a splash of chicken broth, if needed.  Add more seasonings – seriously, you probably can’t use enough.  Add the garlic, if using.  Cover and set on low; cook for 8 hours or so.
  2. When you get home from work and are so hungry you might just tear into your cupboards instead, get your onions sizzling in a saute pan in a little olive oil.  Cook down a minute or two and then add the bell peppers.  Season as you wish.
  3. Shred the chicken in the crockpot, plate all of your toppings, and serve in a warm tortilla.  Happiness ensues.
i like to overstuff the taco/burrito. it's more delicious that way.
i like to overstuff the taco (maybe this is better called a burrito). i’m pretty sure it’s more delicious that way.

The Verdict:

Even if you don’t have a Mexican restaurant near you (Barbara, this one is for you!), you can bring the Mexican restaurant to you.  And if you have leftovers, this is seriously even better served over a bed of spinach as a salad.

Slow Cooked Chicken, Sweet Potato & Cauliflower Curry Stew

It’s been at least two or three weeks since I last busted out our crockpot, which just isn’t right.  Thinking about how to right that wrong, I decided it was time to build on the earlier success of this week (I was pretty pumped for being able to rescue the curried red lentil soup) – and do it all over again.  That’s how you learn, right?  Recipe inspired and adapted from Food & Wine.

these veggies are excited for the crockpot.
these veggies are excited to get crockpotin’.

Slow Cooked Chicken, Sweet Potato & Cauliflower Curry Stew

  • 1 pound or so chicken breasts, rinsed and patted dry (Note: this would probably be tastier with chicken thighs, but the Husband and I BOTH don’t like dark meat = at least we’re equally weird.)
  • salt + pepper
  • canola or vegetable oil
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 5 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 tablespoons fresh grated ginger (Tip: keep a fresh ginger root in your freezer and just grate it as you need it!)
  • 2 tablespoons or so curry powder
  • 1 tablespoon chili paste, for kick
  • 1/4 cup chicken or veggie broth
  • 1 sweet potato, peeled and cubed
  • 1 head cauliflower, cut into florets
  • 1 15 oz light coconut milk
  • 1 bag frozen peas, thawed (Tip: just take them out of the bag, sit in them in a colander and let drain as the rest of the dish slow cooks)
  • optional: cilantro, lime
IMG_2660[1]
yea, veggies.
  1. Heat oil in a hot saute pan.  Season the chicken with salt and pepper and sear them on each side, until just golden brown.  Transfer to your crockpot.
  2. In the same saute pan, reduce the heat, add a bit more oil and then your onions.  Saute until starting to soften, then add garlic & ginger.  Cook for a minute, then add curry powder and chili paste.  Cook another minute or so and then add your broth, scraping up the yummy bits from the pan.  Pour over the chicken in the crockpot.
  3. Add sweet potato, cauliflower, and coconut milk to the crockpot and give it a quick toss.  Season with salt and pepper.
  4. Cook on low for about 7-8 hours, until chicken is cooked and vegetables are tender.
  5. Stir in the peas until warmed through.  Serve over brown rice, squeeze with a hit of lime juice, and top with cilantro.
mm, mm good.
mm, mm good.

 

 The Verdict:

This 1. was just the right amount of spicy; 2. smelled awesome; and 3. tasted great.  Veggies were maybe slightly mushy, and there was a lot of liquid.  With a bit of tweaking on this adaptation, this is a winner.  That will feed you for days. And days.  (Especially when the Hubs is at work – nothing like a crockpot full of chicken and veggies for one, okthanks.)

The Ultimate Go-To: Spicy BBQ Pulled Chicken with Broccoli Slaw

When I started this blog, I wanted a way to quickly catalog those recipes that were home runs, ones that I could turn to over and over again every time I started thinking “I have no idea what to make tonight.”  In other words, I wanted to catalog our “go-tos.”

The following is THE go-to in our house.  Cooking for a crowd?  Need a lot of leftovers?  Don’t have more than 10 minutes to cook? Going to happy hour and you’re not sure if you’ll be eating there or at home?  This is the answer, every time.  It’s not elevated cooking, but it’s delicious, it’s plentiful, and it’s oh-so-easy.

Spicy BBQ Pulled Chicken

  • 3/4 of 1 can cola (not diet!)
  • 1 jar spicy BBQ sauce – our favorite is Stubb’s
  • 1 onion, sliced
  • 1-2 lbs chicken breasts (can obviously also make with pork)
  • 2-3 cloves garlic, peeled and roughly chopped
  • freshly cracked black pepper, crushed red peppers
  • good buns
  • optional: chips, pepper jack cheese
  1. Add onions and garlic to a slow cooker.  Season the chicken breasts with black pepper and the crushed reds and then layer them on top of the onions and garlic.  Cover the chicken (just barely) with the cola and BBQ sauce.  Set heat on low and cook 8-9 hours.
  2. At the end of the cook time, use forks to shred the chicken (if there’s too much liquid, mix in a teaspoon of cornstarch to thicken up the sauce).  Serve with warmed buns; top with coleslaw.
tastier than it looks.  i promise.
tastier than it looks. i promise.

Broccoli Slaw with Homemade Dressing

  • 1 package broccoli slaw (Trader Joe’s carries this, but I’ve recently seen in Harris Teeter and in Safeway, as well!)
  • For the dressing:
    • 1/2 -1 cup light mayonnaise
    • 1 tablespoon sugar
    • 4-5 tablespoons cider vinegar, depending on how tart you like your dressing
    • 2 teaspoons pepper
    • dash salt
    • one heaping tablespoon prepared horseradish
    • teaspoon Dijon mustard
    • optional: dash celery seed
  1. Prepare the dressing by whisking all of your ingredients, minus broccoli, together in a bowl.  Stir thoroughly, until the sugar dissolves.  Do a bit of taste-testing along the way to make sure it has the right amount of tang for you.
  2. Toss thoroughly with the broccoli slaw.  If you like, refrigerate a bit before serving.
hello, comfort.
hello, comfort.

Recreating Germany (on a Plate)

Last night, I returned from a work-related trip to the Motherland.  While my family and I have spent a fair amount of time in Germany, especially growing up and to visit with my grandparents, this was my first trip to Berlin.  So, after two and a half days of full-day meetings, I was ready to eat my touristy way through the city.

German fare is not for the faint (or cholesterol-sensitive) heart.  Germans love pretzels and croissants for breakfast and huge plates of (fried) pork schnitzel and french fries for dinner.  For lunch, they might dig into a huge plate of spaetzle (for the non-acquainted, a soft, egg-based noodle), and wash it down with a massive mug of beer. They have a well established “coffee break” around 4pm, consisting of a strong cup of coffee or a steaming mug of hot chocolate, accompanied by cakes and cookies.  (Side note: during one meeting, our German hosts apologized for the “cake and cookie situation.”  I thought maybe they were apologizing for adding to our expanding waistlines.  Turns out, they thought the variety of cookies and cakes that had been served was sub-par.  I guess eight different types wasn’t enough?!) In between spaetzle and schnitzel, a Berliner might dig into a “currywurst” – a deep fried sausage topped with a mixture of ketchup and curry powder.  If you feel the need for some veggies, your plate may come with a side of cabbage.  Or maybe a couple of cucumbers with some mayonnaise.**

Obviously, after I got home from the airport last night, I just had to re-create some of this for the Husband.

Slow Cooked Pork with Spaetzle and Braised Red Cabbage

  • Our go-to slow cooker pork recipe and ingredients, minus the mozzarella and arugula
  • Spaetzle (or any egg noodle)
  • For the Cabbage:
    • 1 small head red cabbage, quartered and thinly sliced
    • 2 tablespoons butter
    • 1/2 onion, chopped
    • 1 green apple, peeled and cut into thin slices
    • 3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
    • 1-2 tablespoons honey
    • 1 teaspoons salt
    • optional: a dash of caraway seeds
  1. In the morning, get the pork cooking.  Refer back to our go-to recipe, and only go through step two (putting all the ingredients in the crock pot and setting it on low for 8-9 hours).
  2. About an hour and a half before dinner time, get your cabbage going.  Immerse the cabbage (cored and sliced) in a bowl of cold water.
  3. Heat the butter in a large dutch oven over low heat.  Add onions and cook until golden.
  4. Drain the cabbage slices and then add to the pot, along with the sliced apple, the red wine vinegar, honey, salt and (if  you like) caraway seeds.
  5. Cover the pot and cook over medium-low heat for about 60-90 minutes, or until the cabbage is soft.  Do not cook for too long – it will either turn to mush or turn bitter.
  6. About 15 minutes or so before serving, get water boiling for your spaetzle or egg noodles.
  7. Serve the spaetzle topped with pork and a side of cabbage.  Guten Appetit!
das schmeckt gut!
das schmeckt gut!

The Verdict:

Our pork (really, the Husband’s) is a go-to and there’s a reason why: it’s delicious.  Having spaetzle (especially fresh, which I carried on the plane back with me!) was a special treat, and took me right into my mom’s and grandmother’s kitchen.  This was true comfort cooking.  I’ve never made cabbage before, and to be honest, this recipe was maybe a touch sweet.  That being said, it provided the perfect tang and balance to the rest of our German meal!  The big bonus here: plenty of leftovers, which will serve us well this (short) Thanksgiving week.

** My description of standard German fare isn’t entirely fair, to be honest.  Germany – and especially Berlin – seems to be embracing the local and organic food scene a la Brooklyn 2009, with “healthy” cafes popping up everywhere.  I also saw a slew of vegetarian and even vegan restaurants, as well as restaurants from every culinary tradition one could imagine.  After all, Berlin is, at heart, an incredibly dynamic city with a very young and hip feel, even as it continues to sit at the heart of an incredible amount of history.**

Crockpot Time: Coconut and Red Curry Butternut Squash Soup

A few years ago, I received one of the best Christmas gifts ever: an immersion blender.  (Oh, boy.  I am definitely getting older.)  No longer did I have to transfer batches of boiling hot vegetables into a blender; no longer did I have to sully yet another pot or tool.  Soon after that, I embarked on a winter of pureed soups – broccoli, butternut squash, even cauliflower and asparagus.

I particularly like the heartiness of butternut squash soup.  I’ve made it with apples, with onions, with sour cream…but never with coconut milk, as the November issue of Cooking Light suggests.  So, this past Saturday, when the Husband and I ran into a friend (the husband, actually, of the amazing chef who put together the Diwali feast) who was flying solo for the evening, we invited him to dinner and hoped the crockpot – and the coconut – would turn on some magic.  I served this up with a cauliflower side, coming in a separate post.

Crockpot Coconut and Red Curry Butternut Squash Soup

  • olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1.5 tablespoons fresh ginger, minced (tip: I keep a fresh ginger root in the freezer and just grate it as I need.  Nice and easy!)
  • 1-2 tablespoons red curry paste (I used Sambal Oelek)
  • 8 cups peeled and diced butternut squash (tip: buy the pre-diced at Trader Joe’s, if there’s one near you)
  • 3-4 cups chicken (or veggie) stock
  • 1 potato, peeled and chopped
  • 2 teaspoons brown sugar
  • salt and pepper
  • juice of 1 lime
  • 1 13.5 oz can light coconut milk
  • cilantro (obviously!)
  1. Heat oil and butter in a small saute pan over medium heat.  Add the onion, ginger, garlic and curry paste and cook about 8 minutes, until the onion is softened.
  2. Combine onion mixture, squash, stock, potato, brown sugar and salt and pepper in your crockpot.  Cover and cook and low for 6-8 hours.
  3. With your immersion blender, blend the mixture together in the crockpot until smooth (alternatively, use a regular blender, working in batches).  Stir in the lime juice and the coconut milk until the soup turns a nice light orange color.  Top with cilantro and serve.
#AWC (always with cilantro)
#AWC (always with cilantro)

The Verdict:

The Husband was very skeptical about the coconut milk, not being a coconut fan.  But I’m here to say: it works!  (And he and our guest both had seconds.)  The creaminess of the butternut combined with the coconut milk definitely requires the kick of the pepper (although the curry definitely lends it some heat) and the acidity of the lime, but this is a squash soup for the rotation.