Crock Pot Chicken Tacos

I know I haven’t been super consistent with this series, but… it’s Crock Pot Wednesday!

I’ve seen lots of recipes floating around out there for chicken tacos in the crock pot, but most of them used a lot of store-bought ingredients. So I waited for the right time, when sales and time were on my side, and cooked this up! (See what I did there? 😉

What you’ll Need
Boneless Skinless Chicken Thighs*
1 can diced tomatoes with chilies
1 batch Cassie’s Homemade Taco Seasonings (measured in teaspoons)
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*More often than not, the thighs are sold with bone-in and skin on. These were miraculously on sale one day and I knew it was perfect for this recipe:
#1. I like the thigh meat better – it’s more tender and juicy, and it’s also usually cheaper.
#2. I didn’t want to worry about pulling bones out of the crock pot, or worrying if there was a small bone mixed in with my child’s taco. If you can’t find the boneless skinless variety, you could probably skin them yourself and pick the bones out when it’s finished. But I was feeling lazy ;
)

This one’s really simple. Just put your chicken in the crock pot, season with some salt, and pour the taco seasonings over top.
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Use a pastry brush to spread across the surface area of all the chicken. Use a tongs to lift chicken thighs up and get the seasonings underneath as well.
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Then add the can of tomatoes & chilies and a thin layer of water (I think I used too much because I had to use a slotted spoon to remove my meat later – but use your discretion).
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Set on low for 6 hours. Or, since I was short on time but didn’t want my chicken to be overcooked, I set it on high for the first hour and a half, then separated the meat a bit, and then set on low for the last 2-3 hours. To separate the meat, just take a metal spoon or a flat wooden spatula and poke at the chicken until the pieces fall apart. It will be pretty easy.

Here’s what it looked like with the chicken separated and cooking up in the juices:
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If you have older kids that are in lots of activities, or if you and your hubby have opposite schedules one night, this is a great meal to make, because you can prep everything, and leave the crock pot to “Keep warm”. This way everyone can eat when they’re ready.

Then serve it on up with your favorite taco fixins! We use whole wheat tortillas, sour cream, salsa, limes, Mexican cheese, and I also made homemade guacamole (if you’ve read this recipe before, check it out again – I changed something that I completely forgot was the most important ingredient!).

Now wait, that’s not all… because tomorrow I’m sharing a REALLY good Second Meal using the leftover chicken!

Happy cooking!

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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.

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)

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!

Crock Pot Beef Bourguinon

I made this today and it was amazing. Like, lick the pot out amazing (which I may or may not have done). It Was everything you want a beef “stew” to be. Warm, hearty, tender. I’m not sure, but i think this is what they call “umami”.

I served it with egg noodles.

I couldn’t NOT share with you. Here’s the recipe:
http://www.food.com/recipe/crock-pot-beef-bourguignon-127752

MINOR CHANGES:
I sliced the onion and carrot with a mandolin instead of my knife (purely for time reasons). I think it made it better,  because everything kind of melted into one amazing tasting sauce.
I also used baby bella mushrooms because they have more flavor.
…And accidentally added some of them and the wine an hour early, so I added another splash of wine (point noir) and the second batch of mushrooms when I was supposed to.

Happy cooking!

Best BBQ Pork in Crock Pot

For the first few years of my marriage I didn’t really use my crock pot. I felt like it was more work than help, as I still had to prep everything, but I had to do it EARLIER instead of having all day. My husband and I didn’t really eat enough by ourselves at that time, so we always had leftovers (and I hadn’t figured out how to repurpose them yet). Yes I viewed this as a problem. I guess I wasn’t too good at cooking, so if it already didn’t taste great, who wants the leftover version of something you had to suffer through the first time? Ha. Plus that big crock pot insert was so ANNOYING to clean. Sigh.

This meal is the one that got me interested in the crock pot again. It is SO UNBELIEVABLY EASY that I promise, even if you think you’re the worst cook, you can’t really mess it up. So here is the “First Meal”: BBQ pork ribs in the crock pot.

All you need are: a crock pot, a package of country style pork ribs (bone in or boneless, either will do), a bottle of BBQ sauce, and some water. Yep. That’s it.
I always buy the family pack of these, because they are generally cheaper and that way I can freeze half of it for next time.

Side note: Have you seen these Ziploc Perfect Portions? I love them, because they make it quicker to defrost frozen meats, plus it prevents the mess (you put them on like a glove, grab your meat, and pull the plastic over the meat to form a bag. Fold it and you’re done!) It’s great if you have a smaller family and want to portion out 2-3 chicken breasts at a time, or even if you have a larger family but want to separate the meat to decrease defrost time. Plus then you can keep everything in a large gallon bag and take out only the number you need instead of potentially wasting extra food you won’t use.
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So. All you do is put the pork in the crock pot…
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squeeze the bottle of BBQ sauce on top…
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And add water to the top of the meat.
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Then cook on low for 8 hours. That’s it!
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I love this because…
1. It’s so easy. No prep required.
2. My kids love it.
3. My husband loves it.
4. I love it. The pork is so tender!
5. The Second Meal opportunities!!!
6. It smells so good all day.

Stay tuned for Second Meal ideas!

Crock Pot Italian Chicken

One thing about my dinners: if I want to be successful I have to plan ahead (and by successful I mean have anything on the dinner table within a reasonable hour).

Knowing that we would spend Halloween afternoon visiting all the grandparents and great-grandparents, I knew a crock pot meal was the way to go. I found this recipe from “the Girl who ate Everything” and decided it was perfect.  I already had the cream of chicken soup, a staple at our house, and the Italian seasoning packet- another staple- so I picked up a family size, sale-price package of chicken thighs, and an 8 ounce tub of cream cheese, at the store this week. I wish I would have had the foresight to pick up a bag of frozen peas, because I think they would be great in this recipe, & I didn’t really have anything planned for a vegetable. (In my house the general rule for dinner is a protein, a starch, and a veg, probably because I grew up eating balanced meals this way.)

So, after a morning at bible study and picking Aubrey, our Kindergartener, up from school, I started this in the Crock pot about noon, knowing we usually eat at 5. I did use thighs instead of breasts, so I left the bone in but I did take the skin off. The recipe calls for 4 breasts, but seeing as thighs are smaller than breasts I put the whole family size package in. Plus I love having leftovers! (Helloooo easy lunch!)

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Another general guideline for my cooking is to use up what I have before opening something new. So instead of using 2 cans of soup, I used up the rest of this chicken broth I’ve been trying to get rid of before it expires. Plus I didn’t want the sauce TOO thick. I put it in after the chicken thighs.

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Next I added the soup, then the seasonings packet. Then I realized I should have done it the other way around to directly season the chicken.

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I’ll probably try that next time, but it came out great this way. Last I added the cream cheese. I mixed it around as much as possible. You can probably tell from the picture that I skipped the “softened” part. Oops!
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I set it to low for 5 hours and sat down with my hubby for a little while before the bewitching hour(s) began!

Here’s a few pics of our kiddos!

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Camille was so excited to be a cupcake!

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Brendan showing his “Spidey” muscles

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Aubrey’s costume almost makes Poppop’s clarinet look like a rifle!!

By the time we got home it was after 6. It looked like this (Yikes!)…

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So I stirred it up and broke up the tender chicken with a serving spoon (much better):

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I threw a pot of salted hot water on the stove and greeted a few trick or treaters. I always keep several boxes of different types of pasta on hand. I buy them when they’re $1 or less and try to pair those sales with coupons. The only thing is, I never measure my dry pasta and I almost always use about 3/4 of a box at a time which leaves me with only a 1/4 next time (not enough for a meal for 5!). So sometimes my hungry family gets 2 kinds of pasta at once. Tonight was rotini and mini ziti:
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I recently discovered that everything tastes much better with freshly grated parmesan. So of course I added some!

I’ll definitely be making this again, probably adding peas at the very end for texture and more nutrition. Also… we LOVE egg noodles at our house. And this was SCREAMING egg noodles 😉

Here’s the link to the original recipe: http://www.the-girl-who-ate-everything.com/2009/07/crockpot-italian-chicken.html

Check out this ‘second meal’ using the leftovers: Creamy Chicken Soup