Sunday, January 26, 2014

Q.E.D.: Pork Tacos with Diced Mango

I mentioned that we got a lot of leftovers out of our slow cooker pulled pork. So we decided to make some pork tacos. Of course they were amazing! It's hard for them not to be since the pork was so great.

Notes: The only thing I think I would have changed would be to add some lime zest to the cabbage/cilantro mixture. But I didn't have any limes.

I opted for the havarti cheese because I didn't want the cheese to overpower the pork. You can use whatever you like, but I wouldn't go with something strong.

If you haven't made slow cooker pork, you could use some rotisserie chicken from the store in its place to keep this meal Q.E.D.

1 box of your favorite taco shells
2-3 cups of cooked shredded pork 
1/2 Nappa cabbage
1 bunch cilantro
1 mango
4-5 oz. of havarti cheese
Hot sauce (optional)

Directions: Heat the oven to the temperature you need for your taco shells.

Thinly slice the Nappa cabbage. For 6 tacos, you'll need about 1 1/2 cups. Finely chop the cilantro. Mix the cabbage and cilantro together in a small bowl, season with salt, and set aside. 

Dice the mango and set aside. Grate the cheese and set aside.

Warm the shredded pork in the microwave or in a pot on the stove while you taco shells are cooking. Add as much hot sauce as you like.

When the shells and pork are hot, assemble everything together. Serve the mango on the side or on top of the tacos. Enjoy!

Friday, January 24, 2014

Eat Food, Save Money: DIY Maple Almond Granola

The first post I did on eating food and saving money was about making your oatmeal from the big can rather than buying the individual packets.

For you granola fans out there, you should consider doing the same thing. If you shop in the economical bulk section, you can buy several cups of oats and nuts at once, which is pretty much all you need for making granola. If you make it yourself, you can make a lot more than you could buy in a box in the cereal aisle, which means you'll save money in the long run. Also, you can make whatever flavor combination you want.

Notes: Granola is more of a method than a specific recipe. I wrote this recipe with the stuff I used, but you can use what you want. Essentially, it's 2-to-1 oats to nuts (or seeds) ratio, sweetener, some oil to keep it from sticking, and whatever spices you like.

You can add some dried fruit after it's done if you like. Keep it in an airtight container on the counter or in the fridge. It'll keep a little longer in the fridge.

4 cups of rolled oats (you can use any type of similar grain)
2 cups of raw sliced almonds
1/2 cup of maple syrup
1/2 cup of olive oil
1 teaspoon of vanilla
1 teaspoon of cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon of ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon cloves
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

Directions: Heat the over to 300.

Add the oats, nuts, spices, and salt to a bowl and stir to combine. Add in syrup, vanilla, and oil to the bowl and stir.

Pour the oats onto a greased or foil-lined baking sheet and spread out in one layer. Bake for 30 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes or so, until the granola is fragrant and darker in color.

Allow it to cool on the baking sheet. If you want clusters, let it cool completely and then break it up into the size pieces you want. If you like flakier granola, stir it a few times while it's cooling to keep it from clumping.

You can eat it like cereal with milk or you can serve it on top of some yogurt. Eat food, save money, and enjoy!

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Eat Food, Save Money: Making Leftovers Less Leftover with Beef Stew Baked Potatoes

If you're learning to cook or trying to eat at home more often, that means eating leftovers. Now, I'm not opposed to leftovers. If you make something that tastes great, who wouldn't want to eat it one more time? But, leftovers can also be kind of boring. One way to get over the boredom is to use your leftovers in another dish. 

Enter beef stew baked potatoes. 

I made a big pot of beef stew in the slow cooker (I just realized I need to post that recipe). It was great and it made a lot, so we had leftovers for a couple of days. One day we ate regular leftovers, but the next night I topped a couple of baked potatoes with the beef stew. It doesn't seem like much, but even a little tweak like this can break the monotony. 

You could do this trick with pretty much any leftover stew you have. You could also do it with curry or stir fry, provided you don't have rice in either of them (that would probably be a bit too starchy). 

Leftover beef stew (you need about two cups for two people, but if you have more or less, that's fine)
2 medium-sized baking potatoes 
Salt (optional)
Butter (optional)

Directions: Heat the oven to 400.

Prick the potatoes all over with a fork. Rub them with a little butter and salt (optional). Wrap them in foil and bake them for 1 hour and 15 minutes right on the oven rack. 

Right before the potatoes done, heat the leftover beef stew in a pot on the stove or in the microwave. When the potatoes are finished, slice them open and fluff the insides with a fork. Scoop the warm beef stew on top and serve. Enjoy some not-so-boring leftovers!

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Slow Cooker Pulled Pork

Lisa over at 100 Days of Real Food is a genius and I am indebted to her forever for this recipe.

It. Is. Amazing.

I've been looking for more slow cooker recipes now that school has started again. It's so easy to just throw everything together before I go to work and when I come home dinner is ready!

I'm skeptical of meat in the slow cooker because I've had some bad luck with it. So I was nervous to try this recipe. But Scott loves pulled pork and he convinced me to do it. I'm SO glad I did.

Notes: This is quite literally the greatest slow cooker meat I have ever eaten.

If you get a pork butt or shoulder that's particular thick, you might want to cut it in two pieces. Mine was pretty normal, so I didn't do anything to it.

The pork doesn't have a sauce per se, so if you're thinking you're going to get a thick BBQ sauce like the bottled kind, you're barking up the wrong tree (or pig). You end up with really tender pulled pork with a great flavor, but it's not saucy. I dashed some hot sauce on mine and it was all I needed. The flavor of the pork is so great, you don't need much else!

You'll end up with plenty of leftovers, so plan accordingly. We're going to make pork tacos tomorrow night!

1 3-3.5 pound pork shoulder or pork butt (I used bone-in)
3 tablespoons cumin
1 tablespoon salt
1 tablespoon of chili powder
2 teaspoons black pepper
1.5 teaspoons garlic powder
1 teaspoon Italian herb mix
1/2 cup honey
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
10-15 shakes of hot sauce (to taste)
3 tablespoons of olive oil
1 large onion


Take the pork from the fridge and let it sit out for about 30 minutes to come closer to room temperature.

Slice the onion into thick rings and lay them on the bottom of the slow cooker, making a layer for the pork to rest on.

Stir together all the dry ingredients (cumin, salt, chili powder, pepper, garlic powder, Italian herbs). In another bowl, stir together the wet ingredients (oil, vinegar, hot sauce, and honey). Put the wet and dry together and stir or whisk to make a paste.

Put the pork in the slow cooker and pour the paste all over the pork. Rub it in and then set the slow cooker on low for 8-10 hours.

When the time is up, shred the meat with a fork. Serve and enjoy!

Served here with roasted potatoes and lemon garlic green beans!

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Eat Food, Save Money: 4 Steps to Learning to Cook

A common new years resolution is to learn how to cook, but I think people often don't know how to get started. Like eating healthy and exercising, people likely try to do too much too quickly and then aren't able to stick to it. So, I thought I would dedicate an "eat food, save money" post to learning to cook.

Most of these tips are things I wish I had known when I started cooking in earnest (9 years ago!!).

1. Start small

When you're learning how to cook, starting with a roasted lamb or finicky pastry is not a good idea. Start off slow and with simple dishes. Don't try to dive straight into a recipe with lots of steps and a long list of ingredients. Start with recipes that don't take much time and don't require an entire cart full of groceries (QED meals, in other words!).

If you're planning to cook a meal, don't try to cook absolutely everything from scratch. Try just cooking one part of the meal instead of the whole thing. If you're making fried chicken, for example, opt for some steam-in-the-microwave vegetables as your side rather than trying to make the main dish AND the side dish.

2. Focus on the basics

I think the number one thing that deters people from cooking is the prep. Chopping vegetables, mincing garlic, and stripping herbs takes FOREVER if you're new to it. It's discouraging to do all that work and end up with something that tastes just OK. Figuring out the basics of cooking makes it much more enjoyable and something you'll be more likely to stick with.

Learning how to dice an onion, brown meat, and prep veggies is more important than any arsenal of recipes. When I learned to cook, I watched lots of shows on the Food Network. The thing that's great about cooking shows is that they demonstrate cooking methods in a way that written recipes don't: you can watch someone dice an onion and see how it's supposed to look. If you learn how to brown meat--any meat--you increase your recipe options tenfold.

The sad truth is learning the basics just takes time and practice. But that shouldn't be surprising: learning how to do most things requires time and practice! It's better to take the time at the beginning to learn the basics and then start trying out recipes rather than fumble your way through a bunch of recipes.

Learning the basics is also made much easier and less frustrating if you have some of the right equipment. You don't have to break the bank, but trust me, learning how to dice an onion with a tiny dull knife is WAY more time-consuming than doing it with a big sharp knife. For my money, you need the following things:

1 large stock pot with a lid
1 large high-sided skillet with a lid
1 big chef's knife
1 big cutting board
1 baking sheet with sides

And that's pretty much it. With these things, you can learn all the basics and make countless dishes.

3. Plan ahead

Since learning to cook takes time and practice, planning ahead is indispensable.

Most people work full time. Add commuting to that and lots of would-be cooks don't get home until 7 or so at night during the week. You do not want to take time and lots of effort to get food on the table. Planning ahead will help you have the time to learn how to cook.

Since learning the basics and prep take time, try cooking one of your meals on the weekend. You'll have more time and feel more relaxed. If you're starting small (see tip #1), resolve to cook every Sunday night for a month. It's a small goal and achieving it will go a long way to setting you up for more success.

A little pre-prep when you have the time goes a long way. As you're working on the recipe for that night, prep some of the ingredients for future meals at the same time. If you're dicing one onion for the recipe you're working on, go ahead and dice another one. You can keep it in the fridge in a food storage bag and use it later in the week. Same thing goes for veggies. You can also make extra rice: make 6 rather than 4 servings and you'll have cooked rice ready for later.

This strategy works best (and learning to cook works best) when you think ahead and plan your meals out for the week. That way you can do pre-prep and save yourself some shopping trouble. Here's an example of a possible meal plan:

Sunday: Baked chicken, mashed potatoes, steamed vegetables
Monday: Chicken tacos (If you baked extra chicken on Sunday, you're halfway done)
Tuesday: Potato pancakes and roasted veggies (Use up the leftover mashed potatoes. If you chopped extra veggies on Sunday, you're halfway done)

And so on. It takes a little practice and forethought, but you can save yourself time and money in the long run. Once you achieve your goal of cooking for a month of Sundays, try to plan out 3 meals during the week using the weekend pre-prep method.

The other plan-ahead strategy is making sure you have non-perishable extras on hand. Keep an wide assortment of steam-in-the-bag frozen vegetables in the freezer. Make sure you have a couple of boxes of pasta in the pantry and a few jars of your favorite pasta sauce. If you keep staples like these on hand, you won't have to make everything from scratch and you'll have fewer excuses to go out.

4. Accept that you'll make mistakes

Learning to do anything new takes time, effort, and patience. Not everything you make will be a success. You'll try some things and they won't taste good. You'll try a recipe and something won't cook right. There will be some things that you won't even want to feed to the dog.

DO NOT be afraid to toss it and order pizza. The important thing is to TRY AGAIN.

Because the first time you make something that tastes really great is one of the best feelings in the world! But you won't get there if you give up.

Learning to cook seems overwhelming, but if you start small, learn the basics, plan ahead, and accept that you'll make mistakes, you'll set yourself up for success.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Eggplant Pizza

Happy New Year, everyone!

People usually resolve to eat healthier in the new year, which means finding more ways to eat vegetables. Eggplant is an overlooked vegetable, so resolve to eat more of it this year.

Notes: Eggplant contains a lot of water, so you need to get some of that out before you put it on the pizza. I salted mine so it would drain and then patted it dry several times.

 If you wanted some extra flavor, you could grill the eggplant first. You'd need to slice it a little thicker.

I liked the way the eggplant turned out, but I think next time I might brush it with olive oil. I might also add some fresh basil on top when the pizza is done.

I made a whole wheat crust for some added nutrients.

1 ball of homemade pizza dough
1 ball fresh mozzarella
1 cup of your favorite pizza sauce (we have Vesper Brothers up here, so that's what we used)
1/2 a small eggplant


Heat the oven to 500. Position one rack at the top of the oven and one at the bottom.

Thinly slice the eggplant. Salt both sides of each slice and lay them on a cooling rack or in a colander. Let them sit for 45 minutes to an hour. Liquid will start to leech out. Pay them as dry as you can and set aside. Tear the mozzarella into small pieces.

Roll out the dough and lay it on a pizza stone or round baking sheet. Spread sauce evenly around the dough.  Scatter half the mozzarella around the pizza. Add the eggplant and then top with the rest of the cheese.

Bake for about 20 minutes, 10 minutes on the bottom rack and 10 on the top rack. Slice and enjoy!