30 September 2014

Pork slow cooked in flavorful tomatoes and herbs until fall-apart tender and served over creamy parmesan polenta.  Sounds good, doesn't it?  We enjoyed this meal last week when the temperatures were starting to dip and comfort food was on our minds.  

Red Gold sent me another packet of goodies!  They asked if I would help promote their "2-A-Day Crock-Pot Giveaway".  Everyday, two Red Gold fans will win an awesome Crock Pot.  That makes 44 winners!  The promotion ends on October 8th, so hurry over to their Facebook page now to enter.  (Make sure to come back here afterwards to check out this awesome recipe I made with Red Gold tomatoes!)

In order to help promote this great giveaway, Red Gold asked if I would like to create a warm, comforting slow cooker meal using their tomatoes.  No problem!  They sent me six cans of tomatoes, this rockin' wooden spoon, and an apron to give away to one of my lovely readers.  Stay tuned after the recipe for instructions on how to enter the giveaway.

Nice spoon, huh?

I have a new title. :)

Pork loin went on sale right around the same time I got my stuff from Red Gold.  I love pork loin.  I actually find it much more versatile than tenderloin, which is more popular.  I love to stock up on the loin when it goes on sale for $1.99/lb.  There are so many things you can do with it.  My favorite thing to do is to throw a hunk of it into the slow cooker, cover it in an easy sauce of some type, and then forget about it all day.  My Savory Apricot Pork follows this method.  Since tomatoes were on the agenda for this, I decided to go with an Italian flavor profile this time.  

Slow Cooker Italian Pork over Polenta

2 lbs. pork loin
½ tbsp fresh oregano, chopped
½ tbsp fresh thyme, chopped
1 tsp onion flakes
1 tsp salt
Freshly grated Parmesan cheese, optional

Place pork in a 3 quart slow cooker.  In a small bowl, combine the diced tomatoes (with their juice), fresh herbs, onion flakes, and salt.  Pour tomato mixture over the pork.  Cover slow cooker and set to low.  Cook for 7 hours.  Carefully remove pork from slow cooker and let rest 5-10 minutes.  Cut into slices or break up into chunks.  

Bring 3¾ cups water and 1 tsp salt to a boil in a medium saucepan. Add 1½ cups cornmeal in a steady stream, whisking constantly. Lower the heat to medium-low and cook, stirring constantly, until the polenta is very thick, about 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in 2 tbsp butter and ¾ cup parmesan.  If polenta thickens too much, stir in some milk.

Serve pork over warm polenta, garnishing with additional freshly grated Parmesan, if desired.

Makes 6 servings.

Wow, this was so good!  It took all of 5 minutes to throw together in the morning, didn't need a single thing done to it all day, and came out so perfectly tender and flavorful at dinnertime.  The polenta is simple and quick to whip up too.  This is an awesome meal for those busy weeknights.

The petite garlic and olive oil tomatoes were just perfect for this.  The smaller chunks of tomatoes were just the right size and the garlic and olive oil complimented the other flavors perfectly.  I happened to have fresh herbs on hand when I made this, but you can of course use dried instead.  I would decrease the amounts of thyme and oregano to 1/2 tsp each if using dried.

 Now, how about the giveaway?  I am giving away a gorgeous, tomato red, official Red Gold apron.  I received an apron identical to it when I participated in the summer promotion, so I can tell you this apron is pretty cool!  It has adjustable straps and nifty pockets.  It has become my favorite apron.  So I am excited to share the apron love with one of my lovely readers.  As an added bonus, if someone local to me wins, I will throw in 6 cans of tomatoes as well.  I would love to offer that to everyone, but the cost of shipping 6 heavy cans of tomatoes is too prohibitive to me.  So they will just be an added bonus if someone in my community happens to win.

All you have to do to enter this giveaway is to comment on this post telling me your favorite dish to make with canned tomatoes.  I also strongly encourage you to enter Red Gold's slow cooker giveaway, but I won't make that a requirement.

So tell me what you like to make with tomatoes, making sure to enter your email address into the comment form (it won't show up publicly), and I will pick a random winner next Tuesday, October 7th.  Good luck!

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27 September 2014

Have you started fall cooking yet?  I'm always sad when summer is over, but I have to admit that I love fall cooking.  Apple, maple, pecans, butternut squash, pumpkin: these are some of my favorite things to cook with in the fall.  I started in earnest this past week.  In the same day, I made this dish with apple and pecans, I made a Roasted Butternut Squash Hummus, and we had roasted butternut squash with dinner.  So yummy!  I didn't have this dinner on my meal plan; I realized that morning that I had forgotten a key ingredient for the recipe I had planned that day.  Oops!  I really didn't feel like running to the store (I am lazy), so I decided to come up with something that I could make using stuff I already had.  I keep my pantry pretty well-stocked.  I had some chicken, so I knew it would be a chicken dish.  I had recently stocked up on pecans as well, so I looked around for a chicken recipe that included pecans.  I found Toasted Pecan Chicken at Plain Chicken and thought it sounded amazing.  I ended up changing it quite a bit, though.  Here's what I came up with.

Chicken with Apple Pecan Gravy

¾ cup pecans, chopped
1 tbsp olive oil
4 chicken breast cutlets
1 tbsp butter
2 tbsp flour
½ cup apple cider
1 cup chicken stock

Toast chopped pecans in a large dry skillet until fragrant.  Remove from skillet and set aside.  Heat oil in same skillet.  Season chicken with salt and place in the hot skillet.  Cook chicken until browned on both sides and cooked through, about 8 minutes.  Remove chicken to a plate and cover with foil. 

Melt butter in skillet.  Stir in flour and cook for a minute or so.  Slowly whisk in the apple cider, scraping up the browned bits from the bottom of the pan.  Whisk in the chicken stock and bring mixture to a boil.  Once it has thickened, turn heat down to low and stir in the pecans.  Taste for seasoning, adding salt if desired.

To serve, place chicken on plate and top with the apple pecan gravy.

Makes 4 servings.

So the original recipe called for orange marmalade and a ton of heavy whipping cream.  I'm sure it's delicious, but I needed it to be dairy and lactose-free for my daughter and myself.  (I know it's not technically dairy-free since it contains butter.  My daughter can handle butter, but not cream.)  So I decided to thicken the gravy using a roux instead.  Her recipe also called for the sweetness of the gravy to be provided by orange marmalade.  I did have orange marmalade, but since I was in my fall cooking frame of mind, I wanted to use apple instead.  I didn't have any apple jelly, so I cut the chicken stock with apple cider instead.  It was just perfect.  Just a hint of apple-y sweetness.

Brown rice just seemed to go with this meal perfectly with its delightfully nutty flavor, but you could serve it with potatoes or pasta as well.  I served it with roasted butternut squash, and it was just the most perfect fall meal ever.  My girls and husband all loved it.

Keep your eye out for the recipe for the Roasted Butternut Squash Hummus.  It was amazing!

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24 September 2014

How about another great rice recipe?  I used to love those Lipton rice packets from the store.  So easy to make on a busy weeknight and my family devoured them.  The cheesy broccoli one was everyone's favorite.  You know the one, right?  The one with the orangey cheese powder and the minuscule dried bits of broccoli stems?  Yeah, that one!  I loved it, but it wasn't long before I started feeling really guilty feeding that stuff to my family.  I am not one of those people who gets all worked up over processed foods, but this stuff was just loaded with salt, salt, more salt, and fakey ingredients.  So I had been wanting to make my own version for a while.  I saw a recipe for cheesy zucchini rice at Buns in My Oven and decided to use broccoli instead.  The result is so much better than anything that comes in a packet and is not that much more work.

Broccoli Cheddar Rice

1 cup long-grain white rice
1½ cups water
½ tsp salt 
½ of one stalk of broccoli, cut into very small florets
2 tbsp butter
1 cup cheddar cheese, shredded
¼ cup milk, or more as needed

Combine rice, water, and salt in a medium saucepan.  Cover and bring to a boil.  Once it boils, reduce heat to as low as it goes and set timer for 15 minutes.  

Meanwhile, steam broccoli florets until tender. 

Add the butter to the rice and stir until melted.  Add in the broccoli and cheddar and stir until cheese is melted.  Add milk to thin out to desired consistency.  Taste for seasoning, adding salt if necessary.  

Serve warm.

Makes 4 servings.

This stuff is so good with real pieces of broccoli and real cheese!  I have always made this with white rice (I used parboiled from Sam's), but I have been wanting to try it with brown.  Maybe next time.  

Make sure you chop your broccoli into tiny pieces for best results.  You can cook it however you like; I use my Pampered Chef microcooker.  Takes about 5 minutes.

Once you try this rice, you will never look back!

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19 September 2014

I have a couple of rice recipes I've been meaning to share for a while now.  I have made this one a few times now and it is one of my all-time favorite ways to make rice.  Cooked rice is tossed with sauteed carrots, garlic, onions, and ginger.  It's a great way to spruce up boring old rice.  It's adapted from For the Love of Cooking.

Carrot Ginger Rice

1 tbsp olive oil
½ large onion, diced
2 carrots, peeled and grated
1 tsp fresh ginger, peeled & minced
1 clove of garlic, minced
Salt, to taste
4 cups cooked rice, brown or white
¼ cup fresh cilantro, chopped (optional)

Heat the olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and cook for 5 minutes, stirring often, until tender. Add the carrot, ginger, and garlic to the onions and cook, stirring constantly for 1-2 minutes. Add the cooked rice to the mixture.  Check for seasoning, adding salt if necessary.  Add the cilantro, if using.  Stir gently so all ingredients are well combined. Serve immediately. 

Makes 4 servings.

I strongly recommend using brown rice in this recipe.  The nuttiness of brown rice really goes well with the carrot and the ginger.  I use my Baked Brown Rice recipe, which is nice because I can make it earlier in the day if I need to and it's ready to go at dinnertime.  But if you are working all day and need a quicker prep than that, you could totally use a couple packets of that Uncle Ben's Ready Rice.

If you read the recipe and compared it to my picture, you may notice a discrepancy.  I left out the cilantro the day I took this pic.  Cilantro goes bad so quickly in the fridge that I often find myself out of it when I need it.  My husband isn't a huge cilantro fan anyway, so I sometimes make this rice without the cilantro.  Personally, I love it, so if you do too, and you have some, throw it in there.  It's a beautiful dish either way.

I love to serve this rice with Asian main dishes.  The flavors are very complimentary with soy sauce, teriyaki, sesame, etc.  But it would also be great with a roasted chicken or your favorite pork chops.

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18 September 2014

It's time once again for the Improv Challenge.  And this isn't just any old Improv Challenge post; it's my first as hostess!  Kristen had been our faithful leader for almost three years but felt it was time to pass on the hostess duties to someone else.  I volunteered immediately because I had never hosted a monthly linky party before but always wanted to.  I'm super excited to be hosting this challenge.  I have loved this challenge from the first time I participated, in November 2011.  The lady who started the challenge abruptly quit blogging and Kristen swooped in and saved the day by hosting that month (most of us had already made dishes and typed up posts when we found out the hostess was MIA). And in that almost three years since, I have only missed one monthly challenge, the month we were packing up to move from Michigan to Wisconsin last year.  So I am very happy to be hosting now!

This month's assigned ingredients were milk and honey.  Nice!  I quickly found out that those are popular ingredients in soap-making.  While soap-making probably does resemble cooking in a lot of ways, I wanted my creation to be edible, so I moved on.  I actually found a recipe that not only uses the two assigned ingredients, but uses ONLY the two assigned ingredients.  Has that ever been done before?  Do I get some kind of special award?  :)  I found this recipe for popsicles at Honest Cooking and I thought it was so cool that it only had two ingredients; coconut milk and honey.  I am lactose-intolerant and my youngest daughter is allergic to dairy, so I was really intrigued by the idea of a dairy-free creamy popsicle.  Recipes don't get much simpler than this one!

Coconut Milk and Honey Popsicles

1 (13.6 oz.) can unsweetened coconut milk
3 tbsp honey

Combine coconut milk and honey.  Stir or whisk until completely smooth (I used my stick blender).  Pour into popsicle molds.  Freeze at least 4 hours.  

Makes 8 small popsicles.

Note: Use the coconut milk that comes in a can that is found in the Asian aisle of the grocery store, not the kind in the carton that is found in the dairy section. They are two very different products which, unfortunately, have the same name. Also, get the full-fat version, not the low-fat.

These were so incredibly easy to make.  The only problem I had was getting them out of the molds.  The sticks pulled out of a few of them.  The trick I figured out was to run them under warm water for a few seconds.  They popped right out then.

So how did they taste?  I'll let my kids tell you.

 Lena's tongue was blue from a sucker she had right before this.  I like how it matches her eyes!  She has no dairy issues but she loved these pops.

 Eva liked them, but had a hard time finishing hers due to the weather.  It wasn't exactly popsicle weather last weekend here in Wisconsin!  I think we were struggling in the mid-50s this day.  

 These popsicles are on the soft side, so you don't want to take too much time eating them.

Or you will end up with a drippy face!

Be sure to check out all of the great milk and honey recipes below and come back next month to see what I make with chocolate and peanut butter.  Classic!


    An InLinkz Link-up

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16 September 2014

Today I'm sharing with you a great slow cooker side dish.  My husband and I love potatoes; they are probably our favorite side dish.  (My kids don't like them; Eva won't eat them at all, but Lena is starting to wear down and will eat small amounts of them now.)  Even though my kids aren't huge fans, I make them at least once or twice a week.  They are cheap, filling, somewhat nutritious, and I love how versatile they are.  The only thing I don't like about potatoes is how long they take to cook.  I love mashed potatoes, but the peeling is a huge pain in the butt, then the chopping, then they take forever to come up to a boil and cook.  I like using the oven to make potatoes, but that can be a problem if your main dish uses the oven as well.  My automatic conclusion was to use the slow cooker to make potatoes.  I've had some iffy results doing that, but last summer I found a real winner of a slow cooker potato recipe.  I found it at 365 Days of Slow Cooking.

Slow Cooker Italian Potatoes

2 lbs. small yellow potatoes
1 tbsp olive oil
1½ tsp kosher salt
1 tsp Tuscan Sunset or other salt-free Italian seasoning

Halve the small potatoes; quarter the larger ones.  Place them in a 3 quart slow cooker.  Drizzle with the olive oil and sprinkle with salt and Tuscan Sunset.  Toss to evenly coat the seasonings.

Cook on low for 3-5 hours, stirring occasionally if you can.

Makes 4 servings.

They key is using yellow potatoes, I think.  Russetts tend to turn kinda brown and get too mushy in the slow cooker.  The yellows keep their color and their shape better.  This is how they look going into the slow cooker.  

They really don't look too different when they are done.  I was very pleased with how they turned out.  They are tender, but not mushy.  And the seasoning was just perfect.  I used Penzey's Tuscan Sunset, which is the best Italian seasoning ever, but you can use your favorite Italian seasoning, or a mixture of dried Italian herbs like basil, oregano, and thyme.  Tuscan Sunset also contains garlic, so add some garlic powder if using a different brand.  Tuscan Sunset is salt-free, so adjust the added salt if using a blend that contains salt.

Of course, these don't have to be Italian-flavored potatoes.  You can season them any way you like.  Greek seasoning, chili powder, smoked paprika, lemon pepper, and curry would all be delicious on these potatoes.

I served these with my favorite white fish recipe, Baked Cornmeal Crusted Cod.  The potatoes were awesome on their own, but I also enjoyed dipping them in a little bit of my Homemade Tartar Sauce.  Yum.

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12 September 2014

Is it as cold where you are as it is where I am?  Geez, this weather is crazy!  Yesterday we barely made it to 50, which was the coldest high temp ever recorded for September 11th in Milwaukee.  Yesterday afternoon, watching the Cardinals game, I was freezing!  I considered turning the furnace on, but that seemed utterly ridiculous for the first half of September.  I was really wishing I had soup on my meal plan!  I couldn't get soup out of my head, so I got creative and took my planned meal of Barbecue Chicken Quesadillas and Golden Cheddar Corn Cakes and, using most of the same ingredients, turned it into this Chicken Bacon Corn Chowder and cheese quesadillas.  Meal plans are awesome, but you definitely have to be flexible too!  This is a chowder I made last December and loved.  I immediately thought of it when re-designing my meal plan.  I did have to run to the store for one ingredient (creamed corn because I don't keep that on hand), but I needed milk and some pork that they had on sale anyway.  This recipe is adapted from Better in Bulk.

Chicken Bacon Corn Chowder

3 tbsp butter
½ large onion, diced
3 tbsp flour
2 cups chicken stock
2 cups whole milk
1 (15 oz.) can whole kernel corn, drained
1 (15 oz.) can creamed corn
6 slices bacon, chopped
2 cups cooked chicken, shredded
½ tsp smoked paprika
1 cup cheddar cheese, shredded
Salt, to taste
Green onions, sliced

Melt butter over low heat in large soup pot.  Add onions and increase heat to medium.  Sauté onions until they are soft.  Stir in flour and cook for a couple of minutes.  Slowly whisk in chicken broth and milk.  Increase heat to high and boil until it thickens.  Dump in corn, creamed corn, most of the bacon (leave a little for garnish), chicken, and paprika.  Reduce heat to low and stir in cheddar cheese.  Taste for seasoning, adding salt if necessary.  Ladle into bowls and garnish with reserved bacon and green onions.

Makes 6 servings.

I cannot even tell you how perfect this chowder was for our first chilly evening of the season.  It really hit the spot!  Lena, my six-year-old, had three servings!  And then begged to have the leftovers for lunch today.  The only bad thing about this soup is that my little one can't eat it because she's allergic to dairy.  She could probably handle the cheese, but the milk would be too much for her.  So I kept out a little bit of the chicken and the corn and mixed them into some brown rice leftover from the dinner before.

This is a pretty easy soup to put together.  I try to keep a can of chicken in the pantry, especially during soup season, because it's so easy to make a meal out of it in a pinch.  

We did buckle and turn the furnace on in the middle of the night, as the temp in our house dropped into the mid-60s.  We never once made it to 90 degrees this summer and the local weather dude has predicted that we will not reach 80 again this year.  This chowder will definitely be a go-to for us in the season to come!

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