Quick Tip – Peeling Garlic

For awhile I’d heard this rumor that if you put a head of garlic in between two stainless steel bowls and shake it violently, it would remove the skin.

Sounds a little unreliable, don’t you think? Like, too good to be true?

I finally did try it, and guess what? It worked! And it’s so simple! Just put that garlic in between the bowls, and shake it like a Polaroid picture (Shake it! Shake, shake it!)… Okay, not really – more like a bartender shakes a drink mixer.

I did have to do this 3 times before it removed ALL the skin. So each time I separated the bowls to check on the garlic, I put the skin in one bowl and the garlic cloves in the other:

Separate the peel from the cloves, throw away the peel, and start again

Separate the peel from the cloves, throw away the peel, and start again

After 3 shaking sessions about 10-20 seconds each, I ended with this beautiful sight:

All cloves were free of peel!

All cloves were free of peel!

Now, if I only need 1 or 2 cloves, I probably wouldn’t use this method as it takes more time and effort than it’s worth; you should definitely wash the bowls to remove any residual oils or small pieces of peel. But when you need lots of cloves (I was studding a beef roast with them) it’s definitely a time saver. And it keeps your hands clean of that sticky garlic residue!

Plus, who doesn’t love a built-in workout? 😉

Semi-related articles: How & When to Plant Garlic and 5 Ways to Grow Garlic (because I want to this year!)

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Overnight Chicken Stock

This is Recipe #3 of the Meal Plan using Chicken breasts. 

The first time I made homemade stock it was vegetable, because I forgot to pick up a whole chicken. I was nervous because it was the first time I had made it. I found a recipe for an overnight crock pot stock and thought, this sounds easy enough! A big thanks to her, because I tried it, and it turned out great! I immediately used it in chicken soup the next day. That’s what we’re going to do here: make the stock overnight, and use that stock in a chicken soup the next day.

I’m really enjoying the homemade stock because it’s the ultimate way to get the best bang for your buck, using scraps, and using up your OHI. You can’t really mess this up. And this way, you just set it and forget it in the crock pot. It doesn’t get much easier than that!

What I USED:
3 Chicken breasts, ribs in, most chicken used (for this and this) but some still attached
Broccoli stalks (leftover from this dinner)
Celery and celery leaves, cut into chunks
Parsley – a moderate bunch (I used the tops of the leaves of a bunch that was starting to turn yellow on bottom)
Carrots
Half a Red Onion (or yellow, or white… whatever your OHI is), skin on is okay
Garlic (1 head, cut in half), again skin on is okay
9 1/2 cups water
~1/4 cup or so of cooking water from carrots from this meal

All you have to do is toss everything in your crock pot, add the water, and set to low for 8-10 hours.

Veggies and chicken bones in the crock pot

Veggies and chicken bones in the crock pot

Don't throw away this nutrient-rich cooking water. Drain into crock pot instead.

Don’t throw away this nutrient-rich cooking water. Drain into crock pot instead.

In the morning when this is finished, it might look something like this:
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You can drain using this method. (If you come up with a better one, let me know!) Just like recommended on original recipe, I set up a bowl with a colander over it (mine has a nifty little hook!). Using tongs, I remove the larger pieces of veggies and bones and put them in the colander.

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Dump in garbage when full and start again.

Then I use a ladle to spoon the contents (including liquid) into the colander as well. (I’m experimenting to see if those carrots will be useful for anything. I’ll let you know how it goes.)
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Once full, I again dump the colander contents and store the stock in a jar or a tightly sealed glass container until ready to use. (If you are going to use the stock right away, like we will in the meal plan, you can leave it out for an hour or two to let it cool to room temp while you prep the veggies for the soup.)

After draining, I had about 8 1/2 cups of stock (all of which we will use in our next meal, chicken noodle soup!).

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Beautiful homemade stock!

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If you have bits of fat after storing, you can skim them off the top before reusing the stock.

Twice-Cooked Pork Tacos – Second Meal

Like a lot of my ideas, this recipe was born of necessity. I didn’t have much around to make a brand new dinner, I was out of Taco Seasoning packets, and we had some beer in the house. I had lots of leftovers from the pork I had made in the crock pot and figured, hey, why not?! And now this is probably my favorite Second Meal.

I usually start with the leftovers from the easiest BBQ pork ribs in the crock pot. The pork is already super tender and has good flavor from the BBQ sauce. However you can start with leftovers from really tender pork loin (if cooked in crock pot) or a pulled pork recipe. You’ll need enough to basically fill a large skillet or frying pan.

Start by adding a pat of butter to the pan, heating over medium heat. Saute half a chopped yellow onion until they are becoming translucent. Then add your leftover pork. Toss with a spatula.

Pork & Onions

Pork & Onions

Next add these spices:
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I never measure, I just add to my taste. I usually add a few times throughout the cooking process, and add more of what I think it needs. If I had to guess, though, I’d say the ratios are probably close to this:
2 teaspoons garlic powder (1/2 teaspoon at a time)
2 teaspoons paprika (again, 1/2 teaspoon at a time)
1- 2 teaspoons cumin, to your preference (again…. ^^^)
1/2 – 3/4 teaspoon chili powder, or more to taste (added 1/4 teaspoon at a time)
*Since writing this post, I have written out a recipe for taco seasonings from scratch. Find it here.

After you add the first round of spices, stir. Now add your beer! I always use whatever we have on hand (use up your OHI!). I tend to like a malty beer best though:

Sam Adams, Leininkugel, or Smithwick's are ones we usually have and use

Sam Adams, Leininkugel, or Smithwick’s are ones we usually have and use

You want enough to go around the pan once. Don’t dump it all in there – just pour slowly around the pan and cover every bit of the pork. It’s going to bubble up and look like this:

The sugars in the beer tenderize the pork. SO GOOD!

The sugars in the beer tenderize the pork. SO GOOD!

DON’T STIR RIGHT AWAY! Give it a minute to cook in that beautiful juice. When there is less foam, you’re free to give it a little toss.
Now you’re going to repeat those steps a few more times. Add seasonings up to 4-5 times, and add beer up to 3 times. Just remember: Don’t add more beer until the previous addition has completely evaporated and the pork has soaked it up. Taste as you go and adjust to how you like it. If you like spicier, add more chili powder or even cayenne pepper. If you like heat and warmth without the heavy spice, use more paprika or cumin. If it tastes too bland, add more garlic powder.
When you taste the pork right out of the pan, it should be melt-in-your-mouth-tender and full of flavor.

You can prepare your tacos however you like, using whatever toppings you have and enjoy. I always like to use whole wheat tortillas, but I recently found a corn/whole wheat combo that was really good too. For toppings, we usually use some combination of the following: chopped tomatoes, salsa (the hubs’ favorite!), avocado, avocado spread, or guacamole (my favorite!), sour cream (the kids’ favorite!), and of course, CHEESE! I really like the Mexican Blend, but cheddar would be good too.

One thing you should NOT skip: LIME. A squeeze or two of fresh lime juice really brightens up these flavors and brings them to life. You can squeeze juice from half a lime directly into the pan with the meat, but I like to give each person a little wedge of their own to add as much or as little as they’d like.

Twice-cooked pork tacos with Spanish Rice

Twice-cooked pork tacos with Spanish Rice

I usually serve this with some kind of flavored or brown rice and some fresh veggies. Use your OHI! You can prepare these the same time you’re re-cooking the pork. This way, from start to finish, dinner should only take about 25 minutes or so. We usually get anywhere from 7-12 tacos from this recipe, depending on how much pork you have and the size of your tortilla. But since you’re not using a seasoning packet, you can adjust to whatever quantity you need! Bonus! I try to make more rather than less, because they do reheat well for lunch the next day (although there’s never more than enough for 2 tacos!).

I hope you and your family enjoy this quick delicious meal as much as we do!

Spring Pork Loin with Citrus Garlic Ginger Crust and Apple Onion ‘Salsa’

You know what’s great about trying new cuisine or ingredients? You can try them in new ways – or, I suppose, OLD ways with a new twist.

Are you confused? Sorry. Let me explain in detail:
This week I attempted Indian food for the first time – Tandoori Salmon. It was actually AMAZING. I bought fresh ginger for the recipe. I’ve used ginger before, but not very often. The combination of the extra ginger sitting there and the marinade I made for the salmon gave me an idea. I scrapped the recipe I was going to try for my Thursday meal and made up my own instead!

And now I’ll share it with you! I’m calling it “Spring Pork Loin” because I suppose I’m wishful thinking. It is mid-March after all, and the weather has topped 50º more than once this week! (But then again, in Chicago that means nothing. Reluctant prediction: we will get another snow storm in April.)

Pay attention to the captions on the photos – they include instructions!

Here’s what you’ll need:

Not pictured: 1 orange, cinnamon, soy sauce

Not pictured: cinnamon, soy sauce, 1 orange

I started with a 4 lb. pork loin which I patted dry with paper towels. Next I made the marinade, which also serves as our liquid for the crock pot.

1/8 cup soy sauce

1/8 cup soy sauce

Enough red wine to come to almost 3/4 cup - then add the juice of one orange

Enough red wine to come to almost 3/4 cup – then add the juice of half an orange

Now brush that marinade onto the pork.

I always use a pastry brush. I've never used it for pastry. ;)

I always use a pastry brush – which I’ve actually never used for pastry. 😉

I let that sit while I made the “crust”:

Start with about a 1 1/2 tsp minced fresh ginger

Start with about a 1 1/2 tsp minced fresh ginger

Add 1 Tblspn diced garlic and the zest from your orange

Add 1 Tblspn diced garlic and the zest from your orange

Stir in the Dijon mustard, then brush that ‘crust’ onto the pork:
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Be sure to get all sides and cover thoroughly. (More crust = more flavor!)

Put that baby in the crock pot!

Put that baby in the crock pot! (Fat side down)

Pour the remaining marinade into the pot. Just be careful not to wash away the crust. I poured mine in that little space you see above the pork.

Make the apple onion salsa by slicing an apple (I used Gala and a quarter of a Golden Delicious we had in the fridge. You see, I really do save and use everything. – almost -) and putting it in a bowl. Cut up half of a white onion by slicing vertically through the bulb 3 times, cutting in half crosswise, and then cutting a few times crosswise again to get big chunks. Put in bowl with apple. Add the applesauce, orange juice, and cinnamon, and toss.
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Now (gently) dump that ‘salsa’ on top of the pork! (I’m calling it a salsa because it’s the only word that comes close to a chunky kind of sauce. It’s not a slaw. It’s not a chutney. So it’s a salsa!)
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Cover any bit of the pork that is showing by moving the chunks around.

Now put on the lid and cook for 8 – 9 hours on LOW. I originally cooked mine for 8 on low, but had to cook it for an additional 30 mins on HIGH because it wasn’t as tender as I wanted.
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Here’s the finished product, ready to eat!
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Look at how caramelized the apples and onions were. They not only got soft but also soaked up the juice. The ginger and orange juice are bright against the deep, traditional ‘au jus’ flavors of the marinade, which is further balanced by the sweet apples. And the crust just melted right into the pork. So, maybe it was more of a ‘rub’ than a ‘crust’, since a crust implies crunchy, and crunchy it was not. It did however impart that nice spring flavor and extra layer of texture. All the pork has this great ginger scent. It’s just a hint, not too spicy or overwhelming. The meat was falling apart into shreds – just perfect to make a Second Meal of pork tacos or pork sandwiches!
I served it with a slightly modified version of these 
roasted sweet potatoes (yes, I jumped on the coconut oil bandwagon!).

If you’re craving spring, give this a try and let me know what you think!

Ingredient List:
1 4lb Pork Loin
Marinade:
1/8 C soy sauce
–up to 3/4C red wine
Juice from 1 orange
Crust:
2 Tblspn Dijon mustard
1 tsp fresh minced ginger
1 Tblspn diced garlic
Zest from 1 orange
Apple Salsa:
1 Apple, sliced
Half large white onion, chopped
1/3 C Applesauce
Juice from 1/2 an orange
Few dashes of cinnamon (I used 5)

Boiling Water for Beginners (and other pasta cooking tips)

I remember when the hubs and I first got married and realizing I was going to have to cook dinner every day. I watched my mom cook plenty of times, and probably helped her a bunch too – but I definitely did not do enough to be solely responsible for my own and my husband’s meals every night.  (How did I get through college?? I must’ve eaten more dorm & fast food than I thought.)

There I was, a newly blushing bride, utterly uncomfortable in my own kitchen. The few things I did feel comfortable making were frozen pizza, sandwiches, French toast, and I figured I could handle Mac N Cheese or maybe spaghetti (not with homemade sauce, the way my mom made it; but the store-bought stuff I could surely handle).

I remember filling the pot with water and wondering if it was too much or not enough. Should I keep the lid off or put it on? Shouldn’t I put salt in the water or something? I stared at that pot of water waiting for something to happen. I was so scared of messing up that I kept messing with the heat levels. After what seemed like forever, tiny little bubbles appeared on the bottom surface of the pan. Is this it?  I remember thinking. Should I put the macaroni in now? I just didn’t know.

So I called my mom.
You can imagine how that went. Thankfully my mom is an incredibly patient lady!

So to spare a newbie an embarrassing phone call, I figured I’d go back to basics and share a few tips on boiling water and cooking pasta.

To Boil Water:
1. Start by choosing a pot based on the quantity and type of pasta you’re making. Spaghetti or fettucine calls for a large stock pot. Smaller amounts of shape pasta (rotini, macaroni, bow tie, shells, etc) can be cooked in a medium size pot.

2. Now fill that pot with hot water. The hotter the water, the faster it will boil. (If you don’t believe me, you can ask the hubs who was CERTAIN cold water would boil faster. So we did a friendly little experiment and I proved him wrong 🙂 I usually fill my pot to three quarters full. You definitely want enough that when you put the pasta in, all of it is covered completely under water, with an inch or so of water above it.
If you put too little water, the pasta might soak it up and you will end up with dry sticky pasta. You do not want to ‘crowd’ your pasta as it will prevent it from cooking properly.
I don’t believe there is any such thing as too much water – as long as you’re not overflowing your pot. Remember: when you add the pasta, the water level will rise also. 

3. Put 3-4 shakes of table salt from your salt shaker in the water (or, 2 pinches of Kosher salt). The salt not only will flavor the pasta, but there’s a wive’s tale out there that says it helps your water boil faster. Cover pot with a lid (clear lids are preferable so you can see what’s going on in there) and set heat to medium. If you’re brave and impatient you can set it to medium high or even high – but don’t you dare leave it alone!

I can’t give you a time on how long this will take, because there are many factors – how hot your water is; if you have electric or gas; how big your pot and how much water is in there.

First, though, you will notice small clear bubbles forming on the bottom of your pan. This will happen right before the boil. It will probably only be another minute or two (depending on your heat level) to develop into a full boil, which is defined by large clear bubbles rising to the top of the water.

4. This is the time to add your pasta! Measure if your recipe calls for it. You will get better at knowing how much you need for yourself/family/recipes with time. Immediately after you add the pasta, give it a stir with a wooden spoon to prevent sticking. You will have to stir about 2-3 times more before it is time to drain the water.
Do not replace the lid! It will trap the heat and your pot will boil over – creating a nasty mess for you to clean up.

Here is a picture of a ‘rolling boil’:
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Usually after you put your pasta into the boiling water, you will see this white filmy looking layer on top. This is caused by the pasta releasing its starches.
Most of the time I leave my water at a medium-heat setting. This allows the pasta to have a big enough boil to cook without overflowing your pot or overcooking your pasta.

5. Cooking times: You can pretty much ALWAYS find the cooking times for your pasta on the box or package it came in. Some guidelines:
*Fresh pasta (refrigerated or homemade) takes the least amount of time to cook – usually only 2-4 minutes.
*Semolina pasta (white pasta) can vary depending on thickness. Angel hair (capellini) takes less than Spaghetti, for example. These usually take anywhere from 6-9 minutes.
*Whole Wheat pasta takes the longest – usually around 10 minutes.

When time is up, drain the pasta by pouring the entire contents of the pot into a colander in the sink. (Or, if you have cool pasta pots like I do, which have holes on the lids, you can drain directly from the pot without a colander. Just be sure to keep a firm grip on the lid and use a potholder to prevent burning.)

Here’s another little trick. If you want your pasta to soak up the flavors of the sauce it is in (you do!), cook it a few minutes less than what it says on the box. Drain early, and add to the sauce. Let it cook for the remainder of the time in the pasta sauce, stirring occasionally.
Regardless if you add sauce after letting cook the entire recommended time, or if you cook it awhile IN the sauce, be sure to add sauce immediately after draining to prevent it from turning into one big pot shaped mold. 😉

A few notes:
Boxed pastas generally hold their shape better than fresh. It is much more difficult to overcook and make them mushy. (Unfortunately I think it has to do with preservatives.)
Also, many times those boxes include a recipe for an accompanying sauce. Take a look next time you’re at the store, and decide if it’s something that looks easy enough for you to make. They are usually pretty basic, but good, recipes.

Trouble shooting:
*I cooked my pasta for the recommended amount of time, but it still came out hard and chewy. You probably got scared of the boil and reduced your heat too low, and the pasta was unable to cook enough. Maybe you turned it down because you had to walk away for a minute (that was smart) but forgot to turn it back up (not so smart). Leave it at a moderate boil (medium heat should do it) and stick nearby next time, until you get the hang of how long it takes.

*My pasta is really soggy and sticking together. Most likely you either forgot to stir your pasta while it was boiling, or you let it cook too long. This can also happen if you leave it alone too long after draining and don’t add a sauce immediately. If your sauce isn’t ready yet, add a few drizzles of olive oil and stir just to keep it from sticking.

So there it is. Hopefully I have spared a few newbies some headache and embarrassment!

And even if I didn’t, the best way to learn how to cook (and in life!) is through your mistakes. Try, Fail, Adjust!

NEW – Beginner’s Series

When I consider where I started in my cooking journey, I remembered how long it took me to really grasp certain concepts. Many hours watching cooking shows, asking my mom questions over the phone, poring over magazine articles and recipes; I eventually got familiar with the basics: necessary prep, different cooking methods, different ingredients, and most importantly, CULINARY LINGO. (Because I remember not knowing the difference between a dice and a chop and a mince, and why did I have to do one to an onion and another to a clove of garlic? What’s a HEAD of garlic, and what’s a CLOVE? And how do you get the skin off that garlic anyway??)

So, in an effort to aid others who may be in the same boat I was, I am starting a Beginner’s Series. These posts will discuss very basic things like how to boil water; cooking pasta; the difference between broiling, baking, frying, steaming, etc.

If you, as a reader, have a question, please post it here and I will do my best to answer, as best I know how!

Happy cooking!

A good place to start learning is by searching the “Quick Tip” Category.

Maximize your Time & Minimize your Waste in the Kitchen

I have never been one of those people that could have a marathon cooking day once a week and freeze meals in advance. I just don’t think I’m organized enough for that. Honestly, I don’t usually have that much time carved out in one day either.

But today I probably got the closest I ever will to that concept. (And it felt AWESOME!)

You know if you read the blog frequently that I almost always make substitutions on recipes from my OHI (On Hand Ingredients), for two main reasons:
1. To use up an OHI before it goes bad
2. To prevent purchasing an ingredient solely for the purpose of one dish, thus increasing savings

I have a hard time buying fresh herbs for this reason; I generally don’t need an entire bunch of a particular herb for a recipe – it usually only calls for 1-2 sprigs, or a handful of leaves, etc. And then I throw the rest away once it has been sitting in my fridge long enough that it goes bad.

But – with proper meal planning, and by beginning to make more things from scratch, I think I’ve begun to master the art of using all parts of every ingredient.

Prepping station!

Prepping station!

With just a few hours in the kitchen today, I made:
*Grilled Chuck Steak
*Chimichurri
*Quinoa with celery, corn, and parsley
*Creamed spinach
*Prepped veggies for chicken noodle soup
*Prepped veggies for homemade vegetable stock
*Celery sticks for snacking

From left: Veggie Stock ingredients, Veggies for chicken soup, chimichurri, quinoa, steak

From left: Veggie Stock ingredients, Veggies for chicken soup, chimichurri, quinoa, steak

Not only does this save me time for tomorrow because I did all the prep work at once, but I used up every part of the celery and parsley and used almost every other ingredient in more than one way.

Here’s the meal and prep plan.

DINNER, NIGHT 1:
Grilled Steak (cut and season)
Chimichurri (parsley, cilantro, garlic, EVOO, RW vinegar, jalapeno, oregano, S&P)
Quinoa (corn, parsley, celery, lemon juice, EVOO, mozzarella, salt)
Creamed Spinach (frozen chopped spinach, cream cheese, half and half)
Avocado (I like it with my steak – it cuts the saltiness of the chimichurri)
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OVERNIGHT STOCK:
Onion
Carrots
Celery
Parsley
Garlic
Asparagus (which was almost ready to be thrown out)
*Stock to cook in crock pot overnight

LUNCH, DAY 2:
Steak wraps with chimichurri, cheddar, lime, avocado, tomato
I might even try the leftover quinoa IN the wrap… I’ll let you know how that goes


DINNER, NIGHT 2
:
Homemade stock (from crock pot)
Chicken
Prepped veggies (carrot, parsley, celery, onion)
Homemade whole wheat bread
*Soup to cook in crock pot all day, after straining veggies out of stock

So, when you’re doing your meal planning, think about multiple uses for each item you’re buying – especially produce, since this expires quickest.

The steps below outline my thought process for meal planning to maximize your time and minimize your waste. Give it a try and let me know if it works for you!

1. Choose one night to try a new recipe and/or a new ingredient.
2. Think of other ways to use the ingredients in that recipe, or a different way to use that new ingredient. Implement meals according to those thoughts.
3. Always keep in mind ideas for leftovers so you’re not just reheating old meals, but you’re also not throwing things away.
4. Do prep all at once, as much as possible.
5. Research ways to use the ‘throwaway’ parts of produce and protein.

Garlic & Onion Crusted Pork Loin with Red Wine Jus

Every Thursday my eldest has dance class from 4-5. It is at least a 15 minute drive, more if we get stuck in rush hour traffic. I knew when I signed her up that I’d have to be strategic about dinners on these days. I figured it was a perfect opportunity to try new slow cooker meals!
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Most times my meal planning is influenced by the sales that week. This particular week, pork loin was on sale, so I searched for pork loin crock pot recipes. I came up with this: Amazing Pork Tenderloin in the Slow Cooker. However, since Kelly’s Honest Mom interview, I’ve been following her tips to read labels, and trying to do better in choosing products with more natural ingredients. One of the ingredients in this recipe was Onion Soup Mix. I checked the label at the store, and it had dehydrated onions, salt, onion powder, and some paprika – and a bunch of things I couldn’t pronounce. I decided to skip the mix and replicate the spices myself. I also adjusted the recipe because I bought a 4.8lb pork loin, and the recipe only calls for 2lbs. (I’m planning on making a Second Meal with the leftovers!)

Here’s what you’ll need:
Pork Loin (again, mine was 4.8lbs)
1/2 c chopped onion
4 Tbspn minced garlic
3 Tbspn Soy Sauce
3/4 c Red Wine
Freshly cracked black pepper
1 tsp Garlic powder
1 1/2 tsp Onion Salt
1 c Water
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First I trimmed the pork loin of some of the fat, since the hubs and I are eating healthier. But don’t remove it all – you’ve got to leave some for flavor and tenderness!
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Then I cut it in half (it was big! too big to fit in my crock pot otherwise) and layered the chunks in the crock pot.
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Next I sprinkled the seasonings over top (onion salt & garlic powder) and added the liquids: wine, water, and soy sauce. Be sure to pour some of the soy sauce directly on the meat – it will sink in and make for a delicious bite!
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Next I placed the onion and garlic over top of the meat and cracked the pepper over top.
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Replace the lid and cook on low for 8 hours.

When it’s about half-way through the cooking time, splash 4 more dashes soy sauce and about 1-2 more tablespoons red wine directly on the meat.

Good luck resisting the amazing garlic smell coming from the crock pot all day. It’s worth the wait though, with a distinct saltiness and tender pork that pulls apart with no effort at all. The onions and garlic almost form a crust on top. So good!
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Save that juice and pour some over your meat and whatever side you choose; I served it with egg noodles and homemade creamed spinach.
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Save the leftovers for a Second Meal – pulled pork sandwiches, wraps (they’d be great with avocado, lime, and a little cheese!) or pork soup!

Quick Tip – Mince Garlic

A quick tip today to prep for tomorrow’s recipe!

Remember where I came from as a cook – not knowing how to cook pasta. Somehow I knew how to mince garlic, but I did have to google it the first time I did it to be sure I wasn’t just making it up.

Hence, how to mince garlic:

1. Start with one garlic clove and a clean cutting board. Remove the skin from the garlic clove by placing your knife horizontally above the garlic. Rest it there gently. Use the heel of your palm to slam the knife down.
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When you move the knife away, the skin should be broken and easily peeled away. (If it’s not, try smashing it again.)

2. I always cut off the very bottom tip of the clove.
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3. Slice the garlic thinly – horizontally first.
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4. Now slice in the opposite direction. Continue gathering the garlic into a tightly condensed pile and cutting until the pieces are very small.
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5. Here comes the mincing part. Hold your knife at an angle over your now finely chopped garlic. Firmly press the blade down over the garlic. I find it’s easiest to do if you first condense into a tight pile again. Then start at one side and move across to the other, repeating as necessary. (You’re basically smashing the garlic to release the oils.)
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And voila! You have now minced garlic!
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Stuffed peppers

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Wow! It’s been about 3 weeks since I last posted. I’ve got a lot in the wheelhouse but just haven’t had time to write! You can look for an update post sometime soon…

In the meantime, let’s cook!

This fast became one of my favorite meals. Especially now that my son loves bell peppers – I can’t believe I haven’t thought to make them in so long. These can be a First or Second meal using sausage. They’re great because they’re pretty healthy, very affordable, and easy too. You can buy the peppers on sale for $1 each. I often get the canned tomatoes for under a $1: $.88 actually. Usually one pepper per person is enough. The kids probably only need half of one. This recipe makes 5. You can do different variations of stuffed peppers, but here is mine!

Heat a skillet over medium heat. Add to the pan a 1lb chub of ground sausage. I use the regular kind because of the kids, but you can use the spicy kind if you like more heat. If you don’t like sausage at all, you can also substitute ground beef. Then add about a tablespoon of butter in the side of the pan and add a generous handful of chopped onion.

Break the sausage up with a flat wooden spoon or spatula and mix in the onions.

Meanwhile, in a large skillet with a lid, prepare the pan according to directions on the box of Spanish rice. I used the Meijer brand this time (got it for $.59!)
so I started with a couple tablespoons of butter and the Vermicelli mix. I have to give credit here to a former coworker, Kelly, who turned me on to the idea of using Spanish rice. It is by far the best way to stuff peppers. I could probably eat the stuff all day!
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It says to brown the vermicelli then add the rest of the ingredients…

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First the water. The pan should be hot enough that when you add it, it will sizzle and steam. Stir as you’re adding to avoid the rice sticking or burning.
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Next mix in the seasoning packet
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Then the canned tomatoes (do not drain! You want that delish juice!)
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I also added about half a chopped fresh tomato as I had it leftover from a grilled sandwich and wanted to use it up.
Now, as Chef Anne Burrell says, “BTB, RTS.” If you don’t know her it means Bring to Boil, Reduce to Simmer. Follow directions on the box. It will probably say to cover it. You’ll want to stir this maybe twice while it’s cooking just to make sure it’s not sticking.

By now your meat pan should look something like this:
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Be sure all the meat is browned. Then bring the whole pan over to the sink where you smartly have a colander waiting, and dump contents into it to drain the fat. It can hang out for awhile while you finish these other steps.

Preheat the oven to 350º and prepare your bell peppers. When shopping for these, get the biggest you can find with a sturdy, even bottom so they will stand up. You can use any color. I used red, orange and yellow. That’s what my family likes and they were on sale anyway 😉

Wash them of course, then what you will do is cut off the top/cut out the inside. Best way to get this done is by cutting a square shape in the top of the pepper around the stem and close to the outside edges. You want to put the knife as far down as possible, but not so much that it cuts through the bottom of the pepper.

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You should be able to just lift the stem up and remove that whole middle section. If not, you might have to go around your cut again, or a little further out, to make sure you’ve cut away all the white flesh inside. Even after removing the stem, you may still have to fish around with your knife to remove any excess white flesh. Afterwards they should look like this:
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Now cover a baking sheet with foil and set your peppers on it. Set aside for a few minutes.
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When your rice is finished (usually you have to let it set for a few minutes), add half the sausage/onion mixture to the rice and stir to combine. You can save the rest for another meal. Or, if you really like sausage, I suppose you could add all of if it.
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At this point you have 2 options. You can add some cheese directly into the rice and stir (the rice is still hot and cheese will melt and become all gooey! Yum…) I would recommend mozzarella and then have some cheddar on hand too.

I was trying to be good however, so I skipped this part. 😦

Scoop the rice mixture into the peppers, pressing down gently as you go to eliminate any air pockets.
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I then added the cheese on top only (AHEM, mozzarella AND Triple Cheddar), again pressing down gently with fingers to keep cheese from spilling over as it melts.

Put in the oven and cook for approximately 45 minutes or until cheese is melted and peppers are significantly softened (you don’t want them super soggy though!) They will look like this…

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When the rice was cooking I also prepped some refrigerated rolls and prepared some of this favorite broccoli to serve alongside the peppers.
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I cut one in half for the kids to share:
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I hope you enjoy this version of stuffed peppers!