Crockpot Coconut Braised Pork

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How was everyone’s weekend?  We ran all over, catching up with several different friends and with M’s mum, now that she has returned from her vacation.  On Friday, we started with seeing several of my friends from high school, gathering to watch the new documentary on the making of Hamilton (yep, still obsessed!)  I thought the documentary was very well put together and it was awesome to see a few more clips from the show.  I’m sure it will still be many years before M and I get to see it–ticket prices are absurd and the first national tour doesn’t look to be any more accessible.  Even so, I thought the documentary was very good and it was even better to catch up with my friends.  I don’t see them nearly as often as I should.  On Saturday after work, we visited M’s mum to hear about her latest vacation.  She and her sister RV’ed around the Southwestern U.S. and had a grand old time!  We pulled together a meal out of our fridges–I made a sort-of onion panade from the leftovers of French Onion Soup and some homemade bread.  It’s all the right flavors, at least.  And M’s mum had lamb chops, green beans, and polenta stashed in her freezer.  Everything came together in a not-too-disjointed-and-definitely-delicious way.

Sometimes, those thrown together meals are the best ones.  It isn’t so hard to “eat from the pantry”.  Have you tried?  I try to stick with a $50 weekly grocery budget for M and myself (including my weekly $15 veggie box).  I have varying success, so whenever I find my mid-week grocery trips/my grocery grocery spending starting to climb, I will have us eat from the pantry for a week.  It saves money and it makes me remember how much food we already have!  I’ve done it to clear out some freezer space and this week, we are eating from the pantry because I had to spend a little too much on car repairs this month.  I did keep my weekly Hungry Harvest box, which allowed us some fresh fruits and vegetables.  Those are the hardest to ‘give up’ for these eat from the pantry weeks.  And, since our freezer and pantry were already full with a few cuts of meat and many different grains, we are eating well.   I made us a loaf of bread from the flours I had on hand, and we have been all set.  Already this week, we’ve had Eggs Benedict and crab cakes with salad and roasted potatoes.  Upcoming on my dinner plans are Roasted Tomato+Pesto Pasta, Crockpot Chicken Pho, and BBQ Meatballs with Yellow Squash Cornbread.  The leftovers will get us through the other nights and be used for my lunches and we have eggs, oatmeal, and yogurt for breakfast.  All this without spending anything at the grocery store this week.  (To give you some context, our harvest box had the yellow squash, tomatoes, romaine, and potatoes that I am using in our dinners.  It also had some fruit that I will have with breakfast and lunch.)

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As work ramps up and I move towards the end of the semester with my classes, I am trying to be better about using my crockpot at least once per week.  Not only is it suited perfectly for Fall dishes, it saves me time for homework and/or working late shifts.  Two weeks ago, I perfected this Crockpot Coconut Braised Pork which can be turned into ultra delicious sandwiches!  We had this at the Saxapahaw General Store (and continue to get it every time we visit) and fell totally in love with this juicy pork paired with vinegary pickled vegetables.  I like to save up a few dollar here and there from my shopping trips until I can buy a big boneless pork butt/shoulder every few months.  Buying a 5-10 lb cut will likely have the meat priced cheaply.  When I get home, I portion it into 2-3 lb pieces and stick them in the freezer.  This is the perfect cut for making shredded pork dishes in the crock pot, like this Coconut Braised Pork for sandwiches, Sweet Pork Barbacoa for tacos, or Citrus Pork for chilaquiles.  Pork butt/shoulder is a great stock-up item!

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Crockpot Coconut Braised Pork

Serves: 4-6 | Prep time: 15 minutes | Cook time: 8 hours on low (crockpot)

  • 2.5 lbs pork shoulder/butt
  • 1 can (15-16 oz) coconut milk
  • 1/3 yellow onion
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 1 tsp. curry powder (I used hot madras curry)
  • 1-2 Tbsp. sriracha sauce
  • 1/4 c. fish sauce
  • 1 Tbsp dried cilantro
  • salt & pepper

For Sandwiches:

  • 1 cucumber
  • 1/2 red onion
  • 1/2 c. rice vinegar
  • 1 Tbsp salt
  • 1 Tbsp sugar
  • 1/2 c. water
  • spicy mayo/yum-yum sauce
  • gluten-free buns

Prep the Pork & Vegetables

Heavy a heavy-bottomed pan or cast iron skillet over medium-high heat.  Slice the yellow onion and peel and crush the garlic cloves.  Add to the crockpot with the coconut milk, curry powder, sriracha, fish sauce, and cilantro. Stir to combine the ingredients.  Coat the hot pan with a dollop of oil and place the pork in the pan to sear.  Sprinkle with salt and pepper, then allow to sear for 2 minutes on every side.  Add the pork to the crockpot (it should be mostly covered, but not entirely covered by the coconut milk mixture).  Cover with the crockpot lid and cook for 8 hours on low heat.

Slice the red onion thinly and pack into a half-pint jar.  Thinly slice the cucumber into coins and pack into a second half-pint jar.  Mix the rice vinegar, water, sugar, and salt until the sugar and salt completely dissolve.  Pour this mixture over the packed vegetables.  Close jars and place in fridge to marinate while the pork cooks.

Make the sandwiches

After eight hours, the pork should have a lovely crust where it was not covered by the coconut milk.  Remove the pork from the crockpot to a plate with tongs–it should already pull apart quite easily.  Gently pull the pork into smaller, bite sized pieces.  Spoon a little of the coconut mixture from the crockpot over the shredded pork.

On a toasted bun, add the spicy mayo, shredded pork, then a liberal amount of pickled cucumbers and a few slices of pickled onions.  Some fresh herbs like cilantro or basil might also be delicious here.  Enjoy!  (Pork should keep in the fridge for 3-4 days–add some more of the coconut mixture to keep it from drying out!)


Cabbage & Noodle Chicken Thai Salad

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Well, just as I was getting excited for a nice cool autumn, we woke up to an October heatwave!  We are supposed to hit a high in the 80’s today!  I was glad for the sunshine after so much rain, but this is a little too summery.  So much for sweater weather!  In fact, these warmer days have me craving cold dishes and raw veggies all over again, while I was just gearing up for stews and braises.  This cold salad uses a very seasonal veggie–cabbage–as it’s base, which keeps things nice and cheap.  While rice noodles aren’t the most expensive ingredient out there, they do cost more than cabbage!  By switching the ratio of cabbage and noodles, I was able to stretch this salad even farther.  The neutral flavor of cabbage is just perfect to support the strong flavors of the other ingredients.  And crunchy cabbage + chewy rice noodle = my perfect bite!

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I tend to be one of those people who makes too much food.  Usually, it works out in my favor, since I almost always bring dinner leftovers for lunch the next day.  This salad is no exception, I will gladly admit.  It also keeps in the fridge for 4 or 5 days, so it is a perfect dish to make for lunches to last through the work week.  More than once over the summer, I did exactly that.  (Although I had to forgo the peanuts during summer–no nut products at camp!  It was still extremely delicious without them, though I do prefer that bit of extra crunch and salt.)   But, peanuts or no, or even with chicken or without, I never grew tired of this hearty, filling salad.

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Cabbage & Noodle Chicken Thai Salad

Serves: 4-6 | Prep time: 20 min | Cook time: 25 min

For the Salad

  • 1/4 of a small head of red cabbage
  • 1/2 of a small head of green cabbage
  • 2-3 carrots (or 1 c. shredded carrots)
  • 1 small red onion
  • 4 scallions
  • 1 loose handful of mint leaves
  • 1 loose handful of thai basil leaves
  • 1 loose handful cilantro leaves
  • 8 oz thin rice noodles
  • 1/2 lb. (8 oz) chicken breasts (optional)

For the Dressing:

  • 1/3 c. fish sauce
  • 1 1/2 Tbsp. sugar
  • 1/4 c. lime juice
  • 1 Tbsp. rice vinegar
  • 1 Tbsp. soy sauce (or coconut aminos)
  • 2-3 tsp. sriracha (or to preferred heat level)
  • 1/2 tsp. garlic powder
  • 4-5 Tbsp. olive oil

For Garnish:

  • 4-6 Tbsp. chopped peanuts (optional)

Submerge the chicken into a small pot of water.  Bring to a boil on the stove, then turn down to the lowest setting to simmer, cover, and cook for 15-20 minutes.  The chicken is done when the meat is not longer pink inside (since we will be shredding it, feel free to fish out a piece and cut entirely in half to check).  Once cooked, drain and set aside to cool.

Prepare the rice noodles according to the package, but drop one minute off of the cooking time or two minutes off of the soaking time.  Once done, drain, then rinse the noodles in cold water.

While the chicken and noodles are cooking, whisk the listed dressing ingredients (fish sauce, sugar, lime juice, soy sauce, rice vinegar, sriracha, garlic powder, olive oil) until the sugar is dissolved and the mixture has emulsified into a smooth mixture.

Shred the cabbage by slicing it as thinly as possible.  If using whole carrots: peel the carrots and discard the peelings. Then use the vegetable peeler to continue to peel the carrot into long strips.  Use a knife to cut the wide strips into thinner pieces.    Peel and quarter the red onion, then slice thinly.  Chop the scallions into thin slices, then chop all the herbs.  Add all vegetables and herbs to a large bowl.

Shred the cooled chicken, then add 1 tablespoon of the sauce, mixing to coat all of the pieces.  Add the chicken to the vegetables.

Heat a wok over high heat, then add 2 tablespoon of the sauce and the rice noodles.  Sauté for 3-5 minutes, stirring constantly.  Pour the remaining sauce over the vegetable mixture in the bowl, add the hot noodles and mix/toss with tongs until the salad is completely mixed together.

Served topped with a tablespoon of chopped peanuts sprinkled over each bowl.  This will keep in a covered container in the refrigerator for 3-4 days.


Mushroom Risotto with Roasted Tomatoes

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I hope everyone is enjoying the beginning of October! The temperature is starting to drop, which makes me worry a little for my seedlings in the garden, but also makes me so happy because Autumn is my favorite season!  I love the ability to layer clothes and dress in comfy sweaters.  I love all those fall flavors and dishes: pumpkin and squash, apples, pears, brussels sprouts, spices, thick stews and gravies, and all of those stick-to-your-ribs and warm-your-bones types of food.  I love that everything gets a little more cozy.  Summer is for going everywhere, traveling, eating at restaurants, on patios, going out with friends, and all that.  I think that Fall finds us at home more, but also in homes more, whether we are visiting friends or having them over at our place.  And since I love feeding people and love staying home, this makes this season pretty ideal.

At the top of my cozy, crave-able dinners list is risotto.  It’s always my back-up, since the base can be made with pantry staples, so it is great for days when I didn’t plan dinner or when my other plans are foiled for one reason or another.  Then I can dig out some arborio rice, some broth, an onion, and a bit of cheese for a risotto base that can be doctored up in endless ways!  Risotto also has the same sort of creamy, starchy goodness as say…macaroni and cheese, but it doesn’t leave me feeling quite as weighed down after eating it.  Plus, I am pretty particular about my mac and cheese, so–even with the required stirring–risotto is way easier for me to get on the plate.  And, as an added bonus: leftover risotto is perfect for making arancini!  This is another favorite that I will have to post soon, but the leftover risotto is wrapped around cheese, then breaded and fried or baked to crispy, cheesy, dip-able perfection!  Easily one of the best leftover dishes, ever.

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This risotto, as I mentioned, comes from the same base as I’ve posted before.  I’ve come a long way from my first frightened attempt at risotto.  I am nearly on auto-pilot nowadays.  When I got shiitake mushrooms in our Hungry Harvest Box (still totally in love, BTW), I knew I wanted to make them into a risotto.  Since M isn’t too keen on mushrooms, he is usually a good sport when I ‘hide’ them in our dishes.  But I wanted these to be the star of the dish.  Luckily, he goes off with friends one night a week, which is quickly becoming my time to indulge in all dishes mushroom and/or shrimp.  So this risotto was thrown together on a Tuesday, after my late shift at work.  After 30 minutes stirring at a toasty stove, I had my reward!  I decided to throw in these tomatoes at the last minute, when I realized that they needed to be used up, and I’m so glad that I did.  The mild acidity of the roasted tomatoes is the perfect compliment to the creamy risotto.  While it may not be much to look at, it was delicious! Enjoy!

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Mushroom Risotto with Roasted Tomatoes

Serves: 4 | Prep time: 5 minutes | Cook time: 30-40 minutes

  • 3 Tbsp. butter, divided
  • 3 small-medium shallots
  • 3 garlic cloves
  • 1 c. arborio rice
  • 1/4 c. white wine*
  • 4 c. broth (chicken, beef, veggie)
  • 8 oz mixed mushrooms**
  • 8 fresh sage leaves
  • 1 stalk fresh rosemary
  • 10-12 stems of thyme
  • 1/4 c. heavy cream or half & half
  • 1/4 c. parmesan, grated
  • 1 pint small tomatoes (cherry, grape, cabernet, etc)

*If you want to avoid alcohol entirely, you can replace the wine with an equal amount of broth + a splash of vinegar.

**I used equal parts button and shiitake mushrooms.

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees F.  Line a small baking sheet with aluminum foil.  Toss the pint of tomatoes with a splash of olive oil and a sprinkle of salt, until well coated.  Pour the tomatoes onto the baking sheet and bake for 25-30 minutes.  Once the time is up (sometime during your span of cooking the risotto), turn off the oven and leave the tomatoes inside to stay warm.

Set a pot on the stovetop over medium heat.  Fill with the broth and add 2 sage leaves, a few stems of thyme, and one crushed garlic clove.  Bring to a boil, then turn the heat down low.

Prep the veggies: Finely dice the shallots.  Mince the remaining garlic cloves.  Dice the mushrooms.

In a large pan, over medium heat, melt 2 tablespoons of butter and then add the chopped shallots.  Cook for 3-4 minutes until the shallots are softened.  Add the arborio rice and stir to coat in the butter.  Cook for about 4-5 minutes, stirring constantly, until the rice turns opaque and smells a little toasted.  Stir in the garlic and cook, stirring, for one more minute.  Add the white wine and continue stirring until the liquid is absorbed.  Stir in the mushrooms.  Add a ladle-full of hot broth and continue stirring.  Just keep on stirring to release the starch of the rice, which makes risotto super creamy.  The liquid will begin to be absorbed until when you pull your spoon across the pan, there will be a second or two where you can see the trail of the spoon before the rice mixture begins to pool back together.  Then it is time to add another ladle of broth and stir some more.  Always keep stirring and adding a ladle of broth once the previous is absorbed.  When you are down to just one more ladle of broth, chop up and add the herbs.  When all of the broth has been added to the pan and absorbed by the rice mixture, add the cream, parmesan, and the final tablespoon of butter.  Stir until the cream is absorbed.

Top with the roasted tomatoes and serve immediately.