Monthly Archives: February 2012

Slow-Cooker Pork Chops with Onions and Garlic and Herbs de Provance Oh My!

So, one of my favorite things to do is find new recipes for yum yums on the web and try them out. One of my other most favorite things to do is fiddle with the recipes and tweak them to make them more my taste and style, and, let’s face it, better. I’m also a firm believer that onions and garlic make everything better, and, when combined with the correct spice mixes, you can take something that could ordinarily be quite boring, like a chicken breast or pork chop, and transform it into something totally awesome.

Over the past several weeks, I’ve seen numerous recipes on the web that mixed pork chops with onions, but all called for cooking in a skillet. In my personal opinion, pork chops can be quite tough if they’re not given enough time to cook. They are also a blander cut of meat that need additional time to have flavors cook into them to get them all good and tasty. I prefer to cook pork chops in the slow cooker (assuming the grill is not available due to winter and all) and hence, after some fiddling (and use of the skillet for par-cooking) the following recipe was born!

Ingredients:

4-6 boneless pork loin chops sliced about an inch thick (I used 6 chops and they reheated as leftovers beautifully)

2 Large Sweet Yellow Onions (Halved and sliced thinly)

3 Large Garlic Cloves (minced)

Salt + Pepper, to taste

1 Tablespoon Onion Powder

1 Tablespoon Garlic Powder

The Spice House Lake Shore Drive Seasoning

1-2 Tablespoons Herbs de Provence

2 Tablespoons Fat of Your Choice (I used 1T butter and 1T olive oil)

Balsamic Vinegar

1/2 Cup Chicken Broth

Instructions:

1.  Rinse your pork chops in cool water and pat dry on paper towels.

2.  In a large skillet, heat the fat you’ve chosen to use on medium-high heat. While the skillet is heating, season your pork chops with the salt, pepper and Lake Shore Drive seasoning. Be liberal with your seasonings, the chops will taste better for it. Once the skillet is ready, add your chops and cook them 2 minutes on each side. You don’t want to cook them fully, you just want to get them started and give them a lovely brownish tinge. Remove the cooked chops and set aside on a platter.

Look at those gorgeous par-cooked chops!

3. To the still hot skillet, add 1-2 Tablespoons butter and let it melt.  Add the onions and garlic and cook thoroughly in the butter, letting them brown and start to sweat and be beautiful. Kind of like the onions in this picture.

4.   As the onions and garlic keep cooking, season them with the onion powder and garlic powder, and then add your Herbs de Provence. Stir everything in well and let the mixture continue to cook on medium heat. You don’t want your onions or garlic to get blackened, just to continue cooking down and looking gorgeous.

5.  After about 20-25 minutes of cooking, add balsamic vinegar to the cooking mixture and mix it in. You can use as much or as little balsamic as you prefer, based on your personal tastes. I used approximately 2 Tablespoons.  Stir the vinegar into the cooking onions, and they should look like this:

6.  Now, to the slow cooker! Put your slow cooker on LOW, and using tongs place your pork chops on the bottom.  Whatever you do, save the juices from the pork chop plate for later use. Then, pour all the onions and garlic from the skillet into the slow cooker on top of the chops. The onions are going to do a magnificent job of cooking down onto the chops and adding all sorts of wonderful flavors to them.

7.  Your skillet will likely have lots of little bits of pork and onion and garlic stuck to the bottom of it.  We are going to deglaze the pan to get those yummy bits into a quick sauce to also add to the slow cooker.  Put the skillet back on the stove, and over high heat, add the juices from the pork chops plate and add 1/2 cup of chicken broth. Turn that baby up to the highest heat you have and bring it to a gorgeous boil. You’ll want to use your wooden spoon to stir it and get all the bits off the bottom of the pan.

8.  Let the broth boil until it has reduced by about half.  Taste test it, of course, and if needed add a pinch of salt or pepper to your personal taste preferences.  Once the sauce has reduced by half, turn your heat off and pour over the chops and onions in the slow cooker.

9.  Cover and cook for 4-6 hours, mixing occasionally if you’re around to do so. Serve the chops with a good heaping of the onions on top, and the veggie of your choice.

As I said above, since I made 6 thin chops with this recipe we had plenty of leftovers. I stored it in the fridge in regular Tupperware and reheated in the microwave. The chops reheated deliciously and made a great lunch the following day.

Hope everyone enjoys!

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Thai Chicken Soup – Paleo Friendly!

As addressed in my previous post (which I’m sure everyone has read since you, fair reader, want to scoop up my every word) my husband and I have been following a (slightly modified, dairy friendly) Paleo diet. Essentially, we eat fruit, veggies and proteins, and have cut out simple carbs like pasta, potatoes, white rice, bread and processed foods. Cooking in the Paleo lifestyle hasn’t really been a challenge, since there are so many AMAZING recipes that don’t require the bad things, and we love protein, especially meat.

The other evening, I made a LOVELY Thai Chicken Soup, the base recipe from which I got from America’s Test Kitchen. To find the original recipe, you can click on the phrase “America’s Test Kitchen” to the left, OR, you can buy the wonderful book, America’s Test Kitchen Slow Cooker Revolution. The book is very much worth the price of admission, as it has MANY wonderful recipes that are just plain delicious. As with all recipes, I slightly modified this one to suit my own tastes and preferences and needs.

If you’re looking for a filling, but not too hearty, soup with lovely Thai flavors that won’t burn your nose hairs out, I highly suggest giving this one a whirl. I made it in the slow cooker, but did start the chicken cooking in a skillet. I will give instructions for both the “quick prep” and the slow cooker way.

Ingredients:

2 Small Onions, minced

6 Garlic cloves, minced

2 Tablespoons fresh ginger, grated (we store our fresh ginger in the freezer and I just pulled it out and grated it frozen)

1 Tablespoon olive oil

4 cups low-sodium chicken broth (I used my homemade chicken stock) (4 cups = 24 ounces)

2 14-ounce cans of coconut milk (I actually use boxed coconut milk from Whole Foods as opposed to the canned Thai Style brand, for no reason other than we use a lot of coconut milk in our house and I buy it in bulk)

2 stalks Lemon Grass (just save yourself the time and go to Whole Foods to get it, as I couldn’t find it anywhere else in Chicago) You only want the bottom 5 inches of the lemon grass, rinsed. To prep the lemon grass and release its wonderful flavor, using the back of your chef’s knife, create indentations in the stalks about 1 inch apart (do not CUT them, just create bruised indentations)

2 Medium carrots, peeled and sliced 1/4 inch thick

3 Tablespoons fish sauce (you can find this in any Asian aisle at the grocery store.)

10 Cilantro stems, tied together with twine

1.5 lbs boneless, skinless chicken thighs, fat trimmed

8 ounces white mushrooms, sliced thin

Juice from 2 limes

2 Teaspoons Thai red curry Paste

Instructions:

1.  Turn your slow cooker on to high. I always turn mine on before I start doing the food prep, so that it’s ready to actually start cooking once my ingredients are ready.

2.  Grab your food processor and combine the onions (halved) and garlic and pulse it until they are in small, small pieces. (This was a much faster prospect for me than hand mincing everything, especially when I needed to get the soup going in the slow cooker if I had any hope of serving it for dinner the night I made it).

3.  After you’ve food processed your onions and garlic, toss them into a medium sized glass bowl that is microwave safe, add the ginger and the olive oil.  Microwave for 3-5 minutes, until the onions are softened, stopping approximately each minute to stir the mixture.  When done microwaving, throw these ingredients in the slow cooker.

4.  Add the following to the slow cooker after tossing in the onions/garlic/ginger — all the chicken broth, 1 can (or 14 ounces) of coconut milk, 1 Tablespoon of the fish sauce and the cilantro stems.  Stir around a bit so it’s all mixed together and then put the lid on. You’re going to prep the chicken now.

5(a).  *Fast-Cook Chicken Prep* — Time was an issue for me the day I made this recipe, so I needed to get the chicken on it’s way to being cooked BEFORE I put it in the slow cooker. Here’s how I did that. Got my trusty skillet out and put in 2 Tablespoons Olive Oil and heated it up on medium-high heat. Make sure your olive oil coats the entire bottom of the pan. While the pan is heating, salt and pepper both sides of your chicken thighs. You can add additional seasonings to your personal taste. Once the pan is ready, lay the chicken thighs into the pan and cook for 2 minutes on each side. This will lightly brown the exterior of the chicken and start it cooking so that it only has to finish in the slow cooker. ONLY 2 MINUTES PER SIDE. The chicken will still be visibly pink inside. It doesn’t matter. It WILL finish cooking in the slow cooker. Due to the size of my pan, I had to cook the chicken in 2 batches. No biggie. Once the first batch is done, remove from the skillet and put on a plate while you’re cooking the remaining chicken. Once all the chicken has been cooked, 2 minutes each side, put it into the slow cooker and make sure it is submerged into the soup. It will finish cooking in there.  If you’re like me and you love all the little bits of chicken that got stuck to the bottom of your skillet and think they add flavor, you can do a quick deglaze of the pan using either 1/4 cup water or chicken broth, boil on a high heat until the pan is deglazed and then add that minimal liquid to your soup. I did that, and the soup was still delish.  Cook the soup mixture, with chicken, for 4 hours on high, or 6 hours on low.

5(b) *I’ve Got All Day Chicken Prep* — If time isn’t an issue for you on the preparation of this soup, after step 4, just salt and pepper your chicken thighs and toss them in the slow cooker, making sure they’re submerged in the soup. Cook the soup mixture, with chicken, for 4 hours on high, or 6 hours on low.

6.  After 4-6 hours of cooking time, and some excellent smells from your soup, grab a slotted spoon and a cutting board. Remove the chicken from the mixture and place onto a cutting board.  Let it cook for a few minutes and then you’ll be cutting it into bite-sized pieces. At this point, my chicken was so tender it pretty much cut with just a fork.

7.  While your chicken is cooling on the cutting board, add the mushrooms to the soup and keep the soup cooking on low.

8.  In a microwave safe glass bowl (I used the same bowl from earlier), microwave the remaining 14 ounces of coconut milk (approximately 2-3 minutes depending on the power of your microwave).  Remove the bowl from the microwave and whisk in the remaining 2 Tablespoons of fish sauce, the lime juice, and the curry paste.  Whisk gently, just enough to combine everything and have the curry paste dissolve. Your mixture will be a beautiful orange hue now.  Add to the slow cooker and stir it in.

9.  After cutting your chicken up, add it back to the slow cooker and let everything cook about 30 minutes more. You want the mushrooms to be tender but not falling apart, and to have had everything combine together beautifully to be hot.

10.  Using tongs, remove the 2 stalks of lemon grass and the cilantro stems and toss in the trash.

11.  Serve the soup in the bowl of your choice. If you so desire, you can garnish the soup with fresh cilantro leaves (that’s what I did), scallions, or lime wedges or peppers. All to your taste!

Leftovers Note –> This recipe is going to create leftovers, unless you’re cooking for a small army.  I refrigerated the leftovers in standard Ziploc tupperware and the soup reheated beautifully the following 3 days.

Pictures Note –> I LOVE pictures on cooking blogs, not only because it’s food porn to me, but because I like to see how things should look when I’m trying to replicate the recipe. My camera was charging and I forgot to take pictures of this soup, but starting with my next recipe (Pork Chops with faux Onion Jam) there will be lots of pictures as we go along. Yay!

Paleo Eating, It’s What We Do!

Since January, Patrick and I have made a concerted effort to cut out simple carbs and eat “paleo.” It’s also been called eating primal, caveman, etc. It’s actually a pretty simple theory for how to model your food — cut out simple carbs in the form of bread, wheats, white rice, pasta, white and red potatoes and the like, and focus instead on eating protein, veggies, nuts and fruit (in moderation). If we were eating “true 100%” Paleo, we would cut out dairy 100%, but that is really just too difficult for me. I need my cheese. And as long as it is in moderation and isn’t soy cheese or low-fat cheese it is fine.

Why are we doing this you might ask? Primarily for health and weight loss benefits. Both of us should lose weight (especially before we have kids) and we want to feel better. Now that we are in our mid-30’s, we were both starting to feel more creaky and found we weren’t feeling good after we would fill up on some of our favorite foods like pizza and pasta and breads and potatoes. I also have a slight gluten sensitivity, and when I avoid foods with gluten, my stomach thanks me greatly. But most importantly, oh my God do we feel better and younger and faster and stronger eating this way! It’s hard to believe that changing how you eat on what is ultimately a minute level (we usually cooked at home before too) can promote a bunch of bigger and better feelings. When my blood sugar levels aren’t spiking after eating foods so high in starch like potatoes and pastas, I don’t feel the need to nap after eating.

I wish I could explain it other than just saying “I feel good” but it’s true. I feel good. My blood sugar levels are solid, my water intake is up, my joints feel good, my stomach feels GREAT and I’m sleeping better. By cutting out processed foods, increasing water intake and eating healthy foods for me, my skin has improved and frankly, when you have extra weight you’re carrying around, it kind of starts to melt off. The added bonus, of course, is that when you don’t need to nap after every meal or lay on the ground in the fetal position clutching your stomach, you can actually exercise too!

What CAN You Eat? This is a question I get a lot…..”sputter, sputter, if you’re not eating bread and grains and pasta, what the hell are you eating?” Well, first off, we are eating like kings lately! The general rule of thumb for our plates is half protein, half veggies/fruits/nuts. If it’s an animal? You can eat it. If it’s a vegetable? You can eat it. If it’s a nut? You can eat it. If it’s fruit? You can eat it in moderation. I love all those things! Nom nom nom. And when you fill your house with good foods, as I tell my mom all the time, it’s that much harder to eat the bad food.  I have a heroin-like addiction to pretzels. BUT, if I do not buy them, and I’m craving them, it’s a lot of effort to get up, get shoes on, go to the store, run in to get the pretzels, and then return home to eat them. That’s a 30 minute time commitment I have to make to getting junk food when if I wait 15 minutes at home, the craving will probably pass.

My saving grace for eating in the “Paleo” lifestyle, though, is meal planning. Course, I’ve always done meal planning since we live in an apartment with a regular sized refrigerator and not 3 fridges and 2 freezers tucked into a basement somewhere. We have somewhat limited storage space in our pantry and while we store all of our “staples”, fresh fruits and veggies need to be bought at least weekly and I buy our meat in bulk about once a month. Sundays for me is the day to sit down with the paper and see what’s on sale (have I mentioned I’m an avid coupon clipper), check out the specials at the store, and sort through the recipes I’ve found during the week that I earmarked for trying. We figure out our schedules for the week, who will be home for which meals and start the planning there. My theory is always if I know what I’m going to be eating each night for dinner, AND I know that I have the ingredients all ready to make the meal, I’m not going to be as tempted to sit down and order take out on my way home or grab a frozen pizza. Because let’s face it, pork chops on the slow cooker sound AND taste way better than take out or a frozen pizza.

 

If you’re at all interested in reading up on the Paleo lifestyle, and/or looking for yummy Paleo recipes, here are a few blogs that I follow that make finding new and yummy foods easy:













I set my blog subscriptions up in Google Reader and then log on each morning to see what’s new!
Happy Eating!

Kick Ass Red Wine Reduction Sauce

Hello Fair Readers! Yes, I know, it’s been so long since I’ve blogged. I wish I had some really awesome excuse as to why I hadn’t been online (like, winning the lottery and sailing the world in my new yacht) but no such luck. Sometimes, it’s just laziness. I’ve got ideas. I’ve got posts rolling around in my head. It always just seemed, though, that when the time came to put pen to paper, or in this case, fingertips to keyboard, something else always came up. I had wanted to change the theme of the blog up a bit, and update the world on our eating style (paleo, awesome, loving it). All will come in due time, I swear.

For now, though, I wanted to publish a quick recipe that after many, many, many, many, many attempts at perfecting I finally perfected. This one is also a special shout out to Meme Bennett, the mother of one of my dearest college friends. And sort of a follow-up to my last post about Wildfire Restaurant.

At Wildfire, some of their steaks have this AH-MAZING red wine reduction sauce drizzled so lovingly over the top of the steak you order. It is rich and sumptuous and is so good it makes you want to cry. Literally. I’ve tried for years to perfect it, and couldn’t get it right. I had pretty much given up on it altogether….UNTIL, Friday evening, I ACCIDENTALLY stumbled across the perfection that it is. I wasn’t even trying to replicate the Wildfire sauce, it just happened.  The key that I had been missing for all these years? Demi-glace sauce! That was my missing ingredient. Had I known to use a demi-glace sauce for the base of my reduction, I’d have been eating this deliciousness for the last several years.

Now, I warn you, it is time consuming to make your own demi-glace….not much work at all, but you have to be home to check on it so you can watch the stovetop. I’m also giving you the “quick” demi-glace recipe and not the one that requires you to go out and slaughter your own cow and butcher it and then take 2 small bones from it and use them as a base.

Easy Demi-Glace:

Ingredients:

2 Quarts Beef Stock (I used Meijer 99% Fat Free Organic Beef Broth)

3 Tablespoons red wine of your choice (I used some cheap Meijer Merlot that came in a box [shame face], but it’s going to cook out)

Instructions:

In a stock pot, pour in your beef broth and your red wine, and bring to a rolling boil. Once you’re at the boiling point, reduce the heat on the stove to the lowest possible setting and let the sauce simmer away for about 3-4 hours. Yup. Just let it simmer away, filling your house with amazing smells. You want it to reduce down to about 1-2 cups of liquid. It’s going to get thicker and you’ll know the demi-glace is done when it coats the back of a spoon.

Store your demi-glace in Mason jars and refrigerate after cooking.

Once you’ve got your demi-glace made, it’s time to make your red wine reduction sauce.

Red Wine Reduction Sauce Ingredients:

Ingredients:

1 Small Shallot, super finely minced (I actually food processed the hell out of mine)

1/2 cup red wine of your choice (again, I used cheap Merlot)

1/4 cup of your Demi-Glace sauce that you made

1 teaspoon red wine vinegar

1 tablespoon unsalted butter

Salt and pepper to taste

Instructions:

1.I made my red wine reduction sauce in the same large skillet that I cooked my steaks in, to give it that wonderful flavor. So, in your large skillet that you cooked your meat, toss in the shallot after you’ve removed your meat and cook it in the leftover juices of your meat. You only want to get it tender, so cook for about 2-3 minutes.

2.  Add in the red wine, demi-glace, and red-wine vinegar. Bring to a rolling boil over high heat and add your salt and pepper. Of course, it goes without saying that you need to taste test the entire time you’re cooking this:) If the sauce tastes too astringent for your personal comfort, add in beef broth in 1 Tablespoon increments. This will help cut away the acidity of the red wine a bit.

3. Let the sauce just boil away, reducing until it’s to your preferred level of thickness. Once you’ve got the sauce to the thickness you desire, add in the tablespoon of butter and stir it into the sauce with your spoon. Once it’s all melted in, turn off the stove (this is an important step, believe me) and pour it lovingly over the steak of your choosing. Or pork chops. Or chicken even. It’ll be great on everything!

After I realized the perfection that I had stumbled upon while making this sauce (demi-glace, demi-glace), I tried it a second time, this time with some herbs to make it an herb and red wine reduction sauce. You can add whatever herbs you like to your personal taste palete. Personally, I used the following:

2 Teaspoons minced chives (I used garlic chives I had from last summer’s garden)

2 Teaspoons fresh minced parsley leaves

1 Teaspoon fresh minced tarragon leaves

Add the herbs into the sauce when you add the liquids and let them cook in as you simmer away.

Enjoy!