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You’ve heard of Meatless Mondays and Taco Tuesdays, but in this house we’ve had “Slow Cooker Thursdays” for the last two months. It doesn’t have the same ring as the other two, but it has made my life way easier. Mr. Picky had baseball games every Thursday (and Sunday) since March and they were conveniently scheduled at dinnertime. Scrunchy face. Picture hubby and me sitting at a little league game until 7:00 or 7:30 (gotta love extra innings!) while my daughters were texting me from home “We r starving! When r u coming home? Can we eat without u?” Then of course I actually had to assemble dinner in record time once I finally returned home. That happened once, until I figured out that Thursdays would have to be “Slow Cooker Night” unless I wanted to let the girls eat acai bowls for dinner (because that’s about all they would take the time to make even when “starving”) or allow Mr. Picky to eat hot dogs or microwaved canned chili on top of Fritos from the snack stand at the field. Um, no.
I work really hard to make sure we eat together every night. It’s actually more important to me than what we eat. I’ve always said that breakfast might be the most important meal of the day from a nutritional perspective, but dinner is the most important from an emotional perspective. However, getting the five of us at the table at a reasonable time for dinner can be a challenge, especially during Little League season. And no matter how hard I tried to get Mr. Picky to find baseball boring, he just wouldn’t see it my way. So if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em and that’s where I found myself every single blessed Thursday night. Deciding to make something in the slow cooker on Thursdays was my ticket to freedom so I wasn’t stressed out every time a player was walked or someone got a hit, both of which keep the game going on and on and on.
When I first started using this slow cooker in December, so many people asked me for good slow cooker recipes. I was honestly surprised since one quick search on Foodily turned up thousands. But as I’ve experimented, I have realized what everyone else already knows — that not every slow cooker recipe is a good one, and certainly not a healthful one. Never said I was a quick learner!
I recently invested in the book, “Slow Cooker Revolution” by America’s Test Kitchen and it looks promising. I tried their recipe for barbecued chicken and we all loved it! I have been experimenting with making my own barbecue sauce and I’m super close to posting it, but not quite. I did use one of my homemade BBQ sauce experiments and the chicken turned out super tender and flavorful. We had it the first night on cracked wheat buns with homemade cole slaw — super delicious. And the next day I put it into quesadillas for the girls’ lunch. They asked for it again the day after that, but sadly it was all gone.
I thought to share this recipe with you this week for a possible Father’s Day menu item or for a July 4th party. It’s also a good time to remind you why grilled animal protein isn’t that good for you. Check out an earlier post on that here. Slow cooking with low heat cuts way down on carcinogens from forming. It’s a win-win! Even though Little League is over, my slow cooker is staying and so is this chicken!
- 1 ½ pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs, trimmed of fat
- 1 ½ pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts, trimmed of fat (or use all thighs)
- 2 teaspoons chili powder
- 1 teaspoon sweet paprika
- ¼ teaspoon ground chipotle powder or cayenne
- ½ teaspoon sea salt
- ¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1 ½ cups barbecue sauce
- Place chicken pieces in the slow cooker.
- Mix together chili powder, paprika, chipotle powder, salt and pepper and rub all over chicken.
- Pour ½ cup barbecue sauce over chicken and toss to coat. Cover and cook until chicken is tender 4-6 hours on LOW. (5 hours worked great for me.) The slow cooker can also go to the WARM setting if you are not ready to eat the chicken after cooking 4-6 hours.
- Transfer chicken to a large bowl and allow to cool slightly. With two forks, shred meat into bite size pieces, but not too fine.
- Pour the liquid that remains in the slow cooker into a fat separator (or leave the liquid in the slow cooker and try to skim the fat off the top with a large spoon.)
- Heat the remaining 1 cup of barbecue sauce in a small saucepan until hot. Toss shredded chicken with hot barbecue sauce and 1 cup of braising liquid. You’ll have extra liquid if you need it. Serve warm either by itself or on toasted whole grain buns or in a quesadilla.
I know time flies when you’re having fun, but these days I think it flies because everything moves at warp speed, whether you’re having fun or not. And sometimes I think it’s not very fun when life happens so quickly, especially when you’re eating good food! Eating is one of my greatest pleasures in life. Thankfully I get to do it several times a day, every day. But very few things annoy me more than having to rush through a very delicious meal.
That’s what I was thinking the other day when I made these stuffed sweet potato skins. I enjoyed them so much that I didn’t want them to end. Need help with your math homework? No problem! Come back in 20 minutes. Ooops. Forgot to call my mom back. She can wait. I have a sweet potato party on my plate and I’m not ready to leave.
Cinco de Mayo, one of my favorite food holidays, is just around the corner. I know. It’s MAY in like 5 days! I had no plans to include this recipe on the blog but I made it on a whim last week and I knew I had to share it with you. Although I can say with 99% confidence that you will never find this recipe on the menu of any Mexican restaurant, so maybe it’s not Cinco de Mayo fiesta fare if you are having people over. BUT, the flavors here are totally South of the border and it’s such a healthful and satisfying meatless meal, you should make it no matter what day it is.
If you are not a sweet potato fan (stop it! really?), then maybe substitute a baked potato. But sweet potatoes are sooooooo nutritious and I never feel like I need dessert afterwards. They’re the perfect natural antidote to my sweet tooth. The best part of this recipe is the contrast between the creamy sweet potato and the smoky corn and a hint of spice. I made these about as spicy as my family would like them, but you can go as hot as you want. Serve with a green salad or some grilled asparagus and you’re all set. My girls and I loved them, and Mr. Picky ate half of one and said they were “okay.” I think if I had let him eat it with corn tortilla chips, he would have finished the whole thing.
For those of you like me, who very much like to either prep some or all of your meals in advance, it’s your lucky day. You can make this entire thing ahead and bake it just before dinner until it’s nice and hot. Or assemble different parts of this ahead, like baking the sweet potatoes or sauteing the onions. The cheese on top is very optional. I had mine without, as did Mr. Picky, and still loved it. My daughters added extra on top of theirs and asked me to tell you that they don’t think the cheese is optional and that if they were writing the recipe, they would double the cheese. Okay, girls. Have it however way you want. Just don’t rush me.
- 3 medium sweet potatoes, scrubbed clean
- 1 ½ cups fresh or frozen corn kernels, defrosted
- 1 ½ cups cooked black beans or 1 15-ounce can, drained and rinsed
- 1 Tablespoon unrefined olive oil, coconut oil or unsalted butter
- ½ of an onion, chopped
- 1 jalapeno, seeds removed and diced
- ½ teaspoon chili powder
- ¼ teaspoon chipotle powder (more if you like it spicy)
- 1 ½ teaspoons sea salt
- ½ cup cilantro leaves and tender stems, chopped
- ½ ripe avocado, flesh scooped out
- 6 Tablespoons shredded cheese, such as Cheddar or Monterey Jack or dairy-free Daiya (optional)
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees. On a parchment-lined baking sheet, bake sweet potatoes until tender, about 45-60 minutes.
- While sweet potatoes are baking, place corn in a medium heavy cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat. Do not add anything else to the pan and do not stir so that the corn gets a little charred. Then toss a little and cook corn until browned and toasted on the outside. Transfer to a medium bowl. Add the black beans to the corn.
- You can use the same skillet to sauté the onion and jalapeno. Warm the oil in the skillet and sauté the onion and jalapeno until tender and translucent. Stir in the spices and salt and cook for 1 minute more. Add the cilantro to the pan and turn off the heat. Toss to combine the mixture and transfer to the bowl with the corn and beans.
- Remove the sweet potatoes from the oven. Allow to cool slightly so you can cut them easily or use rubber gloves if you’re in a rush and you don’t want to burn your fingers. Slice the sweet potatoes in half lengthwise. Scoop most of the flesh out and leave the skins intact. I like to leave a thin layer of sweet potato to help these stay together better. Transfer the scooped out sweet potato to a large bowl and leave the skins on the parchment-lined baking sheet.
- Add avocado to the sweet potato in the bowl and coarsely mash together, but don’t make a puree. Add the corn, bean and onion mixture to the mashed sweet potatoes and stir gently to combine.
- Preheat the broiler in your oven and arrange the oven rack to the second level from the top. Scoop the filling into the skins. It might seem like you have too much, but you should use it all and make them nice and full. Sprinkle each with cheese if desired and broil for a couple minutes or until cheese is melted.
As I type this, my slow cooker has been on for 36 hours straight. Is that allowed? I am officially obsessed and I completely understand why you all have been too while I was under a little rock. Wow! I made this awesome sweet potato chili the other night, then washed out the insert and put in some beef bones to make beef stock while I slept. Then the next morning strained the beef stock and made a grass-fed beef brisket with veggies that I turned into a delicious sauce for pasta. I’m on fire!
Are you gearing up for Super Bowl Sunday? I love football, so I am always excited for the big day. What I’d really like to know though, is why does everyone make chili for the Super Bowl? Or a lot of Tex-Mex food? I take that back. My family in NY will be eating sausage and peppers and a baked pasta of some sort. Maybe it’s just Southern California, but everyone I know is ripening their avocados for guacamole to go on top of their tacos or nachos or what have you. Just curious since I am one of these people too and I’m not quite sure how I got to be.
I do try and mix it up a little every year, but somehow chili makes it onto the menu in some way. I have been alternating between Vegetable Chili (my favorite) and Deer Valley Turkey and Black Bean Chili, which I serve alongside a baked potato bar, corn bread and Mexican Chopped Salad which I have a feeling doesn’t resemble anything you’d get in Mexico but sure is the perfect salad to go along with everything else Tex-Mex-y. I’m in a bit of a conundrum this year with only two days to go until Super Bowl Sunday because I have no menu yet! There are too many things I would love to make, including this fabulous chili as well as Slow Cooker Chicken Tacos or even this terrific-looking vegetarian tortilla soup recipe I spotted on Foodily. Alas, I have a mere one slow cooker.
Fear not, good people. I will share with you how to make this recipe on the stove in case you either do not have a slow cooker (yet) or you only have one slow cooker and you are planning on making my slow cooker chicken tacos. I like to have a good balance of different food groups even on Super Bowl Sunday so that it’s not just chips and animal protein all day long. Personally, I think chili is an easy dish to do vegetarian. All those beans are super high in fiber and protein so they’re really filling and it’s the spices that make everything taste delicious, not the meat. This chili is really interesting because it includes a bit of sweet potato, one of my most favorite foods. There’s a touch of cinnamon and cocoa powder which you can’t really taste, but pairs great with the chili powder. I didn’t add any leafy greens, but in retrospect I think a few chopped leaves of chard, spinach or kale would have been a nice addition at the end. This Super Bowl I’m rooting for you to eat something healthful!
- 2 Tablespoons unrefined olive oil (or skip this if you don’t want to pre-saute vegetables)
- 1 red onion, chopped
- 1 green bell pepper, chopped
- 1 sweet red bell pepper, chopped
- 1 jalapeno, diced (remove seeds to make it less hot or use half or omit altogether)
- 4 garlic cloves, chopped
- 1 Tablespoon chili powder
- 2 teaspoons ground cumin
- 2 teaspoons unsweetened cocoa powder
- ¼ teaspoon smoked paprika (optional)
- ¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1-2 teaspoons sea salt (depending on salt in tomatoes)
- freshly ground black pepper to taste
- 1 28-ounce container chopped or diced tomatoes with the juice (I prefer to use Pomi from a box or tomatoes in glass jars to avoid the inevitable BPA in canned tomatoes.)
- 1 ½ cups cooked black beans or 1 15-ounce can, drained and rinsed (click here to learn how to cook beans from scratch, otherwise Eden Organics doesn't use BPA in their cans)
- 1 ½ cups cooked kidney beans or 1 15-ounce can, drained and rinsed
- 2 medium sweet potatoes, about 1 pound total, peeled and cut into ½-inch pieces
- 1 cup water (use 2 cups water if cooking this on the stove)
- Omit this step if you cannot bear to pre-cook anything when using a slow cooker. I like to sauté my vegetables because I think it adds more flavor, but feel free to dump everything (omit the oil) into the slow cooker and press “start.” Otherwise, heat oil in a large skillet (if not using a slow cooker, sauté in a large pot) over medium heat. Add onion, peppers and garlic and sauté until onions are tender and translucent, about 6 minutes.
- Add spices, salt and pepper and stir until fragrant, about 1 minute. If your tomatoes are unsalted, use 2 teaspoons salt.
- Add tomatoes and their liquid and cook for another minute or two.
- Pour the onion and pepper mixture into a 4-6 quart slow cooker. Stir in beans, sweet potato and 1 cup water. (If cooking on the stove, add remaining ingredients to the pot plus 2 cups water. Bring to a boil, lower to a simmer and cook until sweet potatoes are tender and everything is nice and thick, about 1 hour.)
- Cover and cook until sweet potatoes are tender and the chili has thickened, on low for 7-8 hours or on high for 4 to 5 hours.
- Taste for salt and pepper. Serve with desired toppings such as tortilla chips, diced avocado, chopped cilantro, and sour cream.
You have all waited patiently while my life changed with the arrival of my new slow cooker. Apparently, I am very late to this party. I had no idea there was this whole huge world of slow cooker devotees. There are even websites devoted to only slow cooker recipes. I could wallow in self pity right now, knowing that all these years I could have been starting my dinner first thing in the morning and then return at 6:00 pm to a fully cooked meal. I could think about all the fall apart tender meats I missed out on or the flavorful soups and stews that could have been. But who can be down when you’re in love? Not me, friends. Because I am in LOVE with my new slow cooker.
I use the words “slow cooker” instead of Crock Pot because Crock Pot is a brand which I don’t have. But for all intents and purposes, they are used in the same way. If you don’t have a slow cooker, I am not trying to sell you one here and I will provide directions in this recipe for how to make these tacos without one. But seriously people, this machine rocks. I don’t know what took me so long to get one. I think part of my resistance was that I don’t have any room in my kitchen to store it. I still don’t, but I did give away a box of Disney DVD’s in the garage to make space for it. (Shhhhhh!) I also never had a job where I left early in the morning and didn’t return until 6:00 pm to a house of hungry human beings. Until now.
The irony is that I bought my sister a slow cooker a few years ago when she had her second baby because she does have a job like that. She has been raving about it ever since! A few months ago, I gave my other sister the same slow cooker when she moved into a new house and I think she just started playing around with it. But I’ve used mine a few times a week since mid-December and I’m hooked.
Listen, no one needs a slow cooker, but here is why I love mine:
–if you spend a little time before you leave for the day, your slow cooker will make dinner and keep it warm for you until dinnertime;
–slow cookers cook at low heat for longer time. Lower heat prevents nutrient loss. Also, cooking above 350 degrees (which a slow cooker does NOT) can create AGE’s (advanced glycation end products) which are very inflammatory to the body and considered carcinogenic (ugh.) Yup, you heard that right. Preparing food in a slow cooker is better for your health!
–slow cooking can be very beneficial to tougher, leaner cuts of meat by breaking down the muscle and creating a very soft, tender meat;
–you can leave it unattended for up to 12 hours without overcooking your food or worrying about burning your kitchen down.
Again, I am new to slow cookers, and although I have learned a lot just by trail and error, I am no expert. But so far, I’ve noticed that I prefer the recipes that ask you to brown meat or saute vegetables before adding them to the slow cooker. You get much better flavor that way. Yes, I realize you’re getting another pan dirty, but it’s worth it and you’re getting it over with in advance. Also, I’ve made many non-slow cooker recipes in the slow cooker and just reduced the liquid a bit since there’s almost no evaporation happening and a lot of condensation.
The recipe I’m posting today is a super easy one which I made on Sunday. This is truly a measure, dump and press start recipe. I used two different kind of chicken parts to see how they would both turn out and I’ll tell you the truth — although my family much prefers white meat, no one could tell what was what. Both the thigh and breast meat were super fork-tender. I personally think thighs have more flavor, but that’s just me. Everyone L-O-V-E-D these! I set up a taco bar with lots of toppings so they could just help themselves so I could sit on the couch with a cozy blanket and the new issue of Bon Appetit while watching the football game. Bliss. Slow cooker + Me = Together Forever!
Any slow cooker love stories out there? I want to know it all — how and when you met, how you keep the passion alive, recipes for success, etc!
- 2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts and/or thighs (I used 2 breasts and 3 thighs.)
- 1 teaspoon chili powder
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- ½ teaspoon ground chipotle powder
- 1 teaspoon sea salt
- black pepper to taste
- 4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
- ½ cup prepared tomato salsa (I used pico de gallo.) + more for serving
- suggested accompaniments: corn tortillas, guacamole, salsa, shredded lettuce, cilantro-lime slaw
- Place the chicken in slow cooker and sprinkle with chili powder, cumin, chipotle powder, salt and pepper. Add garlic and salsa and rub around to combine. Cover; cook on high for 4 hours or low for 6-8 hours.
- Either shred the chicken with 2 forks right in the slow cooker or transfer to a plate to shred. Moisten chicken with cooking juices and serve with desired tortillas/taco shells and toppings. You could even serve the chicken over rice with salsa and diced avocados.
Oven method: preheat oven to 350 degrees. In step 1, place all ingredients (except accompaniments) in a 5-quart Dutch oven or ovenproof pot with a tight-fitting lid. Add 2 cups water or chicken stock. Cover and bake until chicken is fork-tender, about 2 hours. Proceed with step 2.
A close second to my obsession with summer tomatoes is my love for fresh locally-grown summer corn. I think I buy it twice a week from the end of June to October. I love corn’s juicy, grassy sweetness. I love how easy it is to make it taste good (if it’s fresh) and how it goes so beautifully with all the other summer produce. A major bonus is that everyone in my family loves corn. Actually, not true. My father grew up on a farm in Italy where they fed the pigs corn and he still associates it with animal feed. Pity.
Given all the above, I have prepared A LOT of corn for summer dinner guests and I have made an unscientific observation. Adults are not fond of eating corn-on-the-cob in front of people they are not related to. Guilty! I have served both boiled and grilled corn on the cob to guests, as well as sauteed corn kernels or corn off the cob in a salad, and corn cut off the cob is always more popular. I think that sometimes eating an ear of corn is awkward or messy. Perhaps it gets stuck in your teeth or stays on your check and no one tells you until dessert is served. So I have a policy of making corn on the cob for my kids and my husband and me, but always cut off the cob for guests.
One very popular way to eat corn in Southern California is Grilled Mexican Corn on the Cob. Typically the ear of corn is grilled in the husk and then the kernels (still on the cob) are slathered with mayonnaise, chili powder and/or cayenne pepper, a squeeze of fresh lime and sprinkled with salty, crumbly Cotija cheese. Utterly delicious, albeit messy and something I would never eat in front of you, especially if I hope to make a good impression and keep my shirt from the dry cleaners. But I figured the same flavors would translate to to cut corn kernels. It worked! The only thing I leave out is the mayonnaise which I think can take over and detract from the corn. But I’m sure many of you would challenge me on that one. I am crazy about grilling corn in the husks, though. Have you ever smelled burning corn husks? It’s fantastic. I really think it adds a delicious smokiness to the final dish.
Definitely try this recipe if you’re looking for something a little different or if you love the taste of grilled street corn, as some people call it, but you’d still like to look like a lady/gentleman while you eat. I served this the other night with grilled fish tacos and I ate it both as a side dish as well as a condiment on my taco. Delicious! If you can’t get enough of corn right now, try my recipe for my favorite salad, Chopped Grilled Vegetable Salad, as well as Southwestern Quinoa Salad, or Grilled Corn and Black Bean Salsa. Of course there are thousands of recipes you can search on Foodily, where I was just asked to be a Tastemaker. Fun! I get to highlight awesome recipes that I find all over the web. Check it out!
- 4 ears of corn
- 2 ½ Tablespoons unsalted butter
- ¾ teaspoon chili powder
- ¾ teaspoon smoked paprika
- juice of ½ lime
- fine grain sea salt to taste
- Crumbled feta, Parmesan or Cotija cheese, if desired (it's just as good without)
- Preheat a grill over medium heat. Carefully pull down husks and remove silks. Replace most of the husk and grill for 5-6 minutes per side or until kernels are charred. Don’t worry if the husk burns. Remove husk and cut kernels off of the cob.
- Melt butter in large sauté pan. Add chili powder, paprika and lime juice and stir to combine. Stir in corn and season with salt. Taste it for seasoning. Try not to eat the whole thing. Finish with lime juice and a sprinkling of cheese, if you like.