In the summer, when food revolves around salads and grills and fresh vegetables, I often forgo things that seem fancy or fussy. We eat whole foods that don't require much in the way of chopping, or even turning on the oven.
But I am also interested in using up every shred of food in my house. I am never so satisfied as when I have cooked something and eaten it in three delicious ways over the course of a week or more.
Recently, I cooked a couple of pork shoulders for BBQ pork to serve at a party. The leftovers were divided into containers: one for the fridge for immediate snacking, and one for the freezer for future happiness.
That happiness came in the form of a need for an appetizer to serve a few friends with wine on a weeknight. Looking around my kitchen, and not wanting to go to the store for extra ingredients, a plan was born. It may have been one of the best things I ever invented, and I only used leftovers and bits of things I had on hand.
An ear of corn, some pickled jalapenos, a day-old loaf of ciabatta, and a dash of creme fraiche and I was on my way to my happy place.
BBQ Pork Crostini with Sweet Corn Relish
1 1/2 cups barbecue pulled pork
For the relish:
1 ear corn
1/4 cup sliced pickled jalapenos
1 teaspoon juice from the jar of jalapenos
2 teaspoons minced onion
Pinch of salt
Dash of finely ground black pepper
For the creme fraiche:
(For full disclosure: I had some store bought in my refrigerator that I used, but it's very simple to make.)
1/2 cup heavy cream
2 teaspoons buttermilk
Stir well or shake up in a canning jar. Leave it partially covered for 8 to 12 hours, until it thickens to the consistency you like.
(But again, if you are like me, there is usually a store-bought container on hand.)
For the crostini:
1/2 loaf of day-old ciabatta or other porous, soft bread
1/2 cup olive oil
Preheat your oven to 400 F. Clean your corn and either boil or steam it.
Slice the ciabatta vertically into about 5 slices, and then halve the slices so you have 10 pieces.
Brush each piece top and bottom with olive oil.
Lay them on a cookie sheet and bake for about 5 minutes, until they begin to look golden brown and a little crispy.
Meanwhile, cut the corn from the cob and chop the pickled jalapeno and onion. Stir in the salt and jalapeno juice.
Then top each crostini with 2 tablespoons of hot pulled pork, a sprinkle of relish, and a drizzle of creme fraiche.
This took no time to put together, since I had the pork thawed and ready to use. Simple, lots of flavor, and a hearty appetizer to serve even in lieu of a meal. This, my friends, is about as "fancy" as summer food gets at my house.
I'm all over the ramen thing. It's flooded with irony, because for all of the "poor college kid" eating I did (read: loads of hot dogs and mac and cheese and frozen burritos), I never did ramen. Not once. I proudly abstained, though I'm not sure why, in retrospect.
My husband laughs at me because one of his standby meals for the kids if I am not home is "Daddy's spicy noodles," which equates to a bowl of ramen noodles and a side of grapes. When I tried to make them a time or two at my son's request, I ruined them. That's right, The Flying Fork couldn't make ramen. I didn't know when I was supposed to put the spice packet on, how long to cook them, or whether to drain the liquid off. Mine were never the same as Mr. Meat and Potatoes'.
So when Ramen Bowls came to town, I was all, "Whaa?" I mean, I'm supposed to pay for the item that cost 10 cents from the store and that I refused in high and mighty glory to eat even when I was dead broke?
How wrong I was. A good ramen bowl is a thing of beauty, as I finally learned.
So naturally, I wanted to show up my husband and let him know that not only can I make ramen, I can make it AMAZING. No spice packets of who-knows-what for me; I was gonna do it right. Or, well, sort of right, because I am too lazy to go to a special market and too space-short to own a bunch of random spices and ingredients to store on my limited pantry shelves.
Today I had a pork shoulder thawed, and decided now was the time. I had planned to put it in the slow cooker, so I thought, "Hey, why not." It came out super-fine and even the 4-year-old ate it all up, which has pretty much never happened IN HIS LIFE. So I will now make this every day until he refuses it completely, which might be tomorrow.
Slow Cooker Pork Ramen
1 pork butt, loin, shoulder, whatever you have will be fine
2 packages ramen noodles
1 bell pepper (I used red)
1 box chicken stock
1/3 cup soy sauce
1 tablespoon Sriracha
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon curry powder
1 tablespoon honey
1 teaspoon lime juice
1 teaspoon lemon juice
Salt and pepper
Water, if necessary
Green onions, for garnish
Salt and pepper your pork and pop it in the slow cooker. Pour in the chicken stock and then the soy sauce. Sprinkle in the spices, toss in the vegetables (I just cut my pepper in half and threw it in for flavor, not for actual eating).
Now, you can pop the ramen in right from the start, though if you plan to be gone more than 5 or 6 hours, it might get overcooked. If you can pop it in after a few hours it will be best.
Add extra water to be sure everything is covered, put the lid on, and cook on low.
I cooked mine for about 8 hours total, which was plenty.
That is all! Shred the pork a little, ladle out some broth and noodles, and serve in a bowl garnished with green onions.
Warm, simple, delicious and something everyone can get behind, from foodies to farm boys.
Go ramen! I'm a convert.
I'm not going to lie. This was not the most beautiful meal I ever made. But it DOES NOT MATTER because it was epically delicious. So maybe you don't serve this to your new in-laws whom you want to impress with your Martha Stewart perfect skills. You serve this to your best friends and your husband who love delicious food and don't care that it doesn't look like modern art delicately arranged on the plate. This is a "hot, brown, and plenty of it" kind of meal.
It's also awesome because it is all in one pot. Specifically, a crockpot.
I love this kind of thing. I like smelling good food cooking all day and I like not fussing over it. I like how June Cleaver-ish I feel when my husband walks in after a long day of work and tells me the house smells amazing. It is so dang domestic I can barely stand myself.
Pork Chops and Broccoli Potatoes au Gratin
4 good-sized boneless pork chops
4 potatoes (I used yukon golds)
2 cups fresh broccoli
2 cups shredded smoked cheddar
4 cups milk
3 tablespoons flour
salt and pepper
First, salt and pepper your pork chops and sear them in oil. Get them nice and brown on the outside.
Lay them in the bottom of the crockpot and then slice your potatoes, as thinly as you can. I didn't take the time to peel mine and it was no matter at all.
Lay one layer of potatoes on top of the chops, sprinkle them with salt and pepper, and toss one tablespoon of flour over the top. Cover with cheese, and repeat. When you are finished layering all the potatoes, pour the milk over the top of everything and cook on low for about five hours. Add the broccoli in (be sure to poke it down so it's submerged in liquid) and cook another hour or two.
The pork chops will likely fall apart when you dig into the pot to serve it, and that's okay. Just let the whole thing mix together in cheesy goodness. Like I said, this really isn't about presentation. It's just about hot, delicious comfort food. It's about smelling the smells and feeling like June Cleaver, but putting in about as minimal effort as you can for such a complete meal.
Have you noticed that since this baby came along my recipes have gotten simpler and simpler, easier and easier? Yeah, I thought so. I can't apologize for it. It is what it is. Maybe some of you out there, like me, only have time for a 15 minute prep for dinner most nights and this appeals to you. To the rest of you, please know that I still love you. I just don't have time right now for hand-rolled pasta and deboning rabbits.
Surely, one day I'll go back to those ways. A girl can dream.
In the meantime, the rest of us will make refrigerator surprise. And we will LIKE IT.
This one in particular I did quite like, so I thought I'd share it with you in hopes that there are some of you out there who won't judge me too harshly for using a bag of frozen pre-cut peppers and a can of pineapple chunks instead of the fresh stuff. Just this once.
We'll call this "Asian Pork Chops and Rice" because the recipe includes soy sauce. Otherwise, it's just a casserole. But I like a good one-dish meal. The assembly was ridiculously fast and the result warm and comforting, and really, what more do you want on a chilly Monday night? Oh fine, you want rabbit ravioli. Well, go on then.
Asian Pork Chops and Rice
4 or 5 pork chops
2 cups white rice
2 cups chicken broth plus 1/2 cup reserved
1/2 cup soy sauce
1/2 teaspoon Sriracha (more if you like the spicy)
3/4 cup pineapple chunks (yes mine were from a can)
1/3 cup pineapple juice (I just used the stuff from the can of pineapple)
1 cup sliced bell peppers (yes mine were frozen tri color from a bag)
Cracked black pepper
Prepare a 9x11 baking dish by coating with cooking spray or butter. I used butter. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.
Measure in your rice.
Combine the liquid ingredients, pineapple, and peppers in a mixing bowl, then pour the whole thing over the rice. Lie your pork chops on top of the rice and pineapple/pepper mixture, and then pour about another 1/2 cup over the top of everything and crack some black pepper over them. Bake for about 45 minutes until the rice is cooked.
Fruit, vegetable, protein and starch all in one dish. White trash? Maybe. But seriously, it was delicious, my husband and my 3-year-old liked it, and it make a lot for a very reasonable price, which in my recipe book gets a gold star.
I like pork. I never met a pig product I didn't like. I am particularly partial to the pork loin, for it is lovely in its diverse applications. I don't ever pass up an opportunity to buy a pork loin when it is on sale, and I always plan to cook it in the crock pot over the weekend, but somehow I never do. Crock pots require a degree of thinking ahead that just doesn't agree with my fabulous and spontaneous lifestyle. Or, at least, with my ADD.
So, with my most recent pork purchase, I planned to slow cook a little barbacoa, but of course, I remembered this plan at about 4 in the afternoon on the day it was intended. Oops. Go ahead and consider this a crock pot recipe that I have already bastardized to go in the oven. I like to make a big mess of something on Saturdays so that there are leftovers for the rest of the week, particularly right now, when I could give birth at any moment. It's comforting to know there's food around. You'd think I was born in the depression, the way I'm stockpiling food.
Traditional pork barbacoa has chilis in adobo sauce, and I do love a good chili in adobo, but it is awfully spicy, and I like to make things my 3-year-old will eat these days. So, while this recipe has a kick, it's not too spicy for a delicate palate. If you love spicy, go ahead and blend in some chilis in adobo. You won't regret it.
Mr. Meat and Potatoes gave me a Soda Stream for Christmas, mostly to shut me up since I've been whining about wanting one since June. I want every single thing I drink to have bubbles in it. And now, since this most precious of gifts has been bestowed upon me, it does. I've been compulsively using it, and I like to incorporate it into my cooking as often as possible, so into the barbacoa went a liter of homemade Dr. Pepper. People, there isn't much that Dr. Pepper can't make better. And Dr. Pepper you made in your house? Righteous. I mean, you could use store-bought Dr. Pepper to fine results, I'm sure, but somehow making a fresh batch right there for my recipe seemed far superior.
Dr. Pepper Pork Barbacoa
For the sauce:
2 cups El Pato Tomato Sauce
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 liter (about 5 1/2 cups) Dr. Pepper (do not use diet)
1 tablespoon juice from pickled jalapenos
2 cloves garlic, finely minced
1/4 teaspoon onion powder
2 teaspoons cumin
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
few shakes of crushed red pepper
3 pounds pork loin or pork butt
Kosher salt and cracked black pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil (I had some pepper-infused olive oil that I used for this to great results)
Begin by preheating your oven to 325 F.
Then salt and pepper your pork liberally and heat the olive oil in a Dutch oven over high heat. Toss the pork in the oil and brown thoroughly on all sides. Do not skimp on this step. Turn on your vent, because this could get rather smoky.
Meanwhile, mix up your sauce. I just stirred mine together but if you are using chilis in adobo you'll want to blend or food process it to make it all smooth and incorporated.
Just put everything except the Dr.Pepper in a bowl and stir. Pour the Dr. Pepper into the pot around the pork and then pour the tomato mixture over the pork to coat.
Cook at 325 F for about three hours.
I served mine with some jasmine rice and black beans, a la rice bowl with green onions and cilantro, but you could wrap it in a tortilla or even on a bun. Whatever makes your skirt fly up.
It makes a lot and will freeze nicely for later, say, when you are recovering from a cesarean section and cooking sounds like a torture akin to pulling out your arm hairs one by one.
Our family's Sunday night pasta tradition is, frankly, usually dictated by my tastes, much like all the meals in this house are. I figure those are the cook's rewards. If I am going to be the one to scour the ads for good deals, make the list, do the shopping and cook the meals, I'm gonna cook stuff that I like. Once in awhile, though, I like to throw Mr. Meat and Potatoes a proverbial bone. He's a pretty good chap and I like to express my appreciation for his fathering skills and that one time when he made the bed by making dishes that he particularly likes and I particularly do not.
One of those dishes that he is fond of that I can do without is spaghetti. I know, I know. Who doesn't like spaghetti? It's typical of me to find fault with something for all intents and purposes is at least innocuous and at best beloved.
But here's the thing.
Of all of the pasta incarnations, I like spaghetti the least. I do not appreciate the shape of the noodles. They can get slimy or sticky, neither of which is good. I don't find that they hold sauce as well as, say, a nice penne noodle, and the long strings are sort of unwieldy. So, usually for Sunday night pasta, I make a baked ziti or a nice shrimp penne a la vodka or maybe something with bowties in a little cream sauce. Rarely is the long noodle the pasta of choice.
But, recently, my husband must have done something good because I decided to do a spaghetti dinner. But I found a way to make it a win-win. When is a boring spaghetti dinner not so boring? When it's spaghetti and meatballs! Oh, who doesn't love a good meatball? And the operative word there is GOOD. I don't want any mediocre meatball. I want the real deal, and don't skimp.
What, you ask, is the "real deal" of meatballs? I'll tell you. There are two basic criteria, in the world according to Megan: first, it has to be made of both beef and pork, and second, it has to be fried and then baked, not simply popped in the oven first thing.
A good meatball is full of flavor. It is textural in that it is crispy on the outside and soft and juicy on the inside. It is made with love. It is made with fat. It is not made with ground turkey. Okay, I have made them with ground turkey to pretty decent results, but don't kid yourselves. IT IS NOT THE SAME.
Megan's Made With Love Spaghetti and Meatballs
For the meatballs:
1 lb ground beef (I recommend one that is 80 percent lean - not the super lean stuff, because it won't brown as nicely or taste as good)
1 lb Italian sausage
1 cup bread crumbs (or smashed crackers or whatever you got)
1/4 cup grated parmesan
1 clove of garlic, minced
1 teaspoon basil
1/2 teaspoon oregano
1/2 teaspoon fennel
salt and pepper
Combine the ingredients and mix with your hands, but don't overwork it. The more aggressively you handle the meat, the tougher it becomes.
You can use a little scoop, or you can do like me and use your hands. Just form it into balls using about two tablespoons of meat mixture per meatball. Again, don't overwork your meatballs. Gently form them - don't squeeze or pack.
Put them in the freezer for about five minutes once they are done. This will help them keep their shape in the frying process.
Next, choose a large skillet and start browning meatballs over med-high heat on all sides. Don't crowd them; you'll have to do them in batches. Get them good and brown, even a little crispy, on all sides, then set aside and do another round. When they're all brown, all around, pop them in a 300-degree oven for about ten minutes to cook through.
Next, start your pasta boiling. My only advice here is to heavily salt your boiling water. HEAVILY salt it. And, you can skip putting olive oil in the water to prevent the noodles from sticking. It doesn't work. The oil goes to the top of the water and doesn't mingle with the pasta at all.
Meanwhile, start your Sunday Gravy. You can use the jarred stuff or you can show your family you really love them and make mine. You can find the recipe here.
Really. Make mine. It's not hard and it is so worth it.
I like to serve this all piping hot in a big bowl together, family style. It's a pretty impressive spread, even for a non-spaghetti-lover like myself. I may come around to the dark side yet.
Last week I shared a recipe for a roast pork loin. I was proud of the recipe. It was delicious and perfect for a fall dinner. Which makes me almost loathe to admit that even better than the original pork was the sandwich I made with the leftovers.
I love a good sandwich. I think good sandwich making is an art form - a very under-appreciated art form. My husband, Mr. Meat and Potatoes, eats a lot of sandwiches and tends to lump my artful ones into the same category as his pressed turkey on white bread with Miracle Whip work lunch sandwiches, which is a true crime. It's like lumping Nickelback in with the London Symphony Orchestra. I mean, they both make music, right? Ugh. Those white bread monstrosities are a pox on all sandwichdom.
For my special leftover pork loin sandwiches, I needed a special ingredient. I decided on onion jam and whipped up a quick and simple version that doesn't require time or pectin or canning or any fussiness.
Easy Onion Jam
1 C sliced onion
1/4 C vegetable oil
1/4 C white wine
pinch of kosher salt
1/4 C honey
1 Tablespoon balsamic vinegar
Start by heating the oil until almost smoking. Add in the onions and salt and cook until they're tender and translucent and just starting to brown. Add the white wine, lower the heat and simmer.
Meanwhile, in a separate saucepan, heat the honey and vinegar over medium high heat until it's starting to bubble. When the onions are ready, transfer them to the hot honey mixture. They should thicken immediately. Set aside.
The Rest of the Sandwich
4 hoagie rolls
approximately 1 lb pork loin, siced thinly
cheese - optional
Next. toast your buns. I buttered mine and browned them in my cast iron skillet.
Then it's time to warm the meat. I put the thin slices in the well-seasoned cast iron skillet to brown a bit and heat through. If you need to add a little oil, go ahead, but if you have a good cast iron it's not necessary.
Slather the bottom bun with spicy mustard, layer on the pork, and top with shredded cheese and onion jam.
Amazing. This is not a sandwich. This is a masterpiece.
My friend Lindsey recently told me she'd made a pot roast and it might be her favorite meal to do because it seems like a lot but there's nothing easier. She got me thinking that I hadn't done a big one-pot roast-y kind of thing in awhile, and I vowed to put two crock pot meals on my menu for the next week.
And here is my solemn confession: I am a crock pot failure. In concept, the crock pot is a perfect cooking tool for a busy working mom like me. But in practice, it just never works. It seems like I should be able to prep everything the night before or even in the morning before I go to work, but it turns out I never want to. I've already made dinner on Monday night, and I don't feel like going back in the kitchen when it's all said and done to cut up potatoes for Tuesday night. And Tuesday morning always proves more frantic than I wanted it to be, and I end up blowing off my crock pot prep in lieu of having my hair washed and dried before work.
So, while I generally love the results my crock pot produces, I have just resigned myself to using it primarily on weekends or for parties, and knowing I just have to use my stove or oven during the week.
I had thawed a pork loin roast with the intention of crock potting it last week, but if course it didn't happen. Thankfully, my roast was only about three pounds so I had time to cook it in the oven and even have it done at the early geriatric hour we prefer to have dinner. And, even without the crock pot, it was EASY. It made for a gorgeous meal and plate presentation, and provided leftovers for some amazing sandwiches that if you're nice I'll share with you next week.
By the way, have I ever talked specifically about my love of the pork loin? It's one of my favorite cuts of meat to work with. I like it far, far better than the pork tenderloin, which in my never-to-be-humble opinion is always dry and just so-so. It's a fairly inexpensive cut and is super-versatile and forgiving.
So, without further adieu, here is my good weeknight roasted pork, which I promise will impress your family and they'll wonder what they did to deserve such a meal on just a random Tuesday.
Herb-Encrusted Roasted Pork Loin and Oven Vegetables
3 lb pork loin
4 yukon gold potatoes (these are far superior, but any potatoes will do)
3 cups baby carrots
1 red onion
4 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1 tsp garlic powder, divided
2 tsp basil
2 tsp oregano
1 tsp tarragon
1 tsp sage
(or whatever favorite herbs you have on hand)
salt and pepper
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.
Heat a skillet (I use cast iron for this) to high heat and put in a tablespoon of olive oil. Sear your pork loin on all sides, thoroughly, until it's a little brown all around.
Cut up your onion into large hunks.
Toss your carrots and onion pieces into a roasting pan with a rack and drizzle with olive oil, salt, pepper, and a little balsamic vinegar.
Put your pork loin on the rack, sprinkle it with balsamic, then cover it thoroughly with herbs, and salt and pepper. Put the potatoes around the roast and then drizzle everything with olive oil. Be sure to salt and pepper the potatoes as well.
Bake at 350 for 30 minutes per pound. Let the meat rest for ten minutes or so before you cut and serve it.
Poof! A perfect dinner in about an hour and a half, all in one pot. Eat and be happy.
Learning to cook "on the lighter side" has been kind of fun, and I've put several new tricks into my tool belt. I've been at this for about a month now, and I'm getting in the swing of the new system.
My husband has not been complaining - I've been cooking more often than I used to because we can't just hit a fast food joint or pull out a frozen pizza on a busy night if I am going to stay on track. So he's been getting a lot of home-cooked love and he has, for the most part, been happy with all the results (he just eats twice as much as I do). But I know deep down in his Mr. Meat and Potatoes heart, he has missed some of our standards. He missed sausage and pasta and cheese.
I had offered to babysit a couple of munchkins besides our own on Friday night, and Mr. Meat and Potatoes was going to have to help! "Hi, honey! Here's an 18-month-old, a 5-year-old, and our 2-year-old! Have fun!" So in order to keep him happy and on my team, I decided to make lasagna. Except, this time, it wasn't going to bust the Weight Watchers scale.
In order to control the pasta, I decided to make my own. Making your own pasta is really not that big of a deal, especially if you are doing lasagna noodles that don't need to be cut into smaller noodles or formed into fancy shapes. You just make your dough, run it through the pasta maker a few times, and voila, beautiful homemade sheets of pasta for Friday night dinner.
I wanted to make my own for a couple of reasons. I had tried whole wheat pasta from the store and found it to be very unsatisfying in both taste and texture. Also, I wanted my sheets of pasta to be thinner than regular lasagna noodles. The thinner the sheets, the fewer the points!
This recipe only needs a small batch of pasta, so you can get it going in no time.
Basic Whole Wheat Pasta Dough
1 cup white flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
2 egg whites
cold water (start with 1/2 cup and go up from there)
pinch of salt
I just dump all of this into my KitchenAid mixer bowl, fix the mixer with the dough hook, and turn it on low. I keep (very slowly) adding cold water until it comes together to form a ball. Do not be tempted to add too much water. You want it fairly dry - not sticky. If you accidentally get the dough too wet, just sprinkle in a bit more flour and mix some more.
I divided my dough into small sections (if you don't get the sections small, the noodles will get VERY long and unmanageable). Then I ran it through the pasta maker from level one to level eight. Eight gets it quite thin - if you want more "tooth" to your pasta, stop at seven.
While I mixed up dough, Mr. Meat and Potatoes browned meat. Usually I just throw in two pounds of spicy Italian sausage, but this time I decided to cut the fat content, so we did one pound of sausage and one pound of 93 percent fat-free ground turkey, and mixed them together.
I also lightened up the cheese mixture. I bought low-fat ricotta (I would have gotten fat-free but they didn't have it at the store) and low-fat cottage cheese. I read the labels on the two cheeses and determined that the cottage cheese had a lower point value than the ricotta, so I used more of it and less of the ricotta.
3/4 cup low fat ricotta
1 1/4 cup low fat cottage cheese
1/4 cup grated parmesan (I like the stuff in the tub with the large flakes, or grate my own - no green can!)
1 cup chopped mushrooms (I used baby bellas)
1 egg white
1 tsp rosemary
1 tsp basil
1 tsp salt
1 tsp black pepper
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1 1/2 cup low fat part skim mozzarella (for sprinkling over the cheese mixture)
Stir it all (except the mozzarella) together and sprinkle the shredded cheese over the top once it's been layered on.
You'll need several cups of your favorite red pasta sauce. I made my own, sans any oil.
Then you are ready to layer. I sprayed the bottom of my pan with cooking spray (my new best friend) and layered on the first sheets of noodles. It took two wide sheets.
Then I sprinkled on half of the meat mixture, and topped it with sauce.
Then I covered the sauce in half of the cheese mixture, and sprinkled on about three-quarters cup of low fat mozzarella. Then I repeated the whole thing.
Now, mind you, this is a "weekend splurge" meal. It's still not something you probably want to eat every day. It's still about portion control, but I think I cut about half the calories and more than half the fat out of this bad boy. Still, it tasted flavorful and delicious and I didn't feel deprived at all.
I just served it with some steamed asparagus with balsamic on the side and a salad, so no extra points in the side dishes. A nine point dinner, and my pasta-deprived husband was happy. Plus, there were plenty of leftovers, which is always a bonus in my house.
Yields: 12 servings Points Plus Value per serving: 9