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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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!

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!