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Pulled Pork Sliders

As promised in my last post about Slow Cooker Ribs, here is another slow cooker recipe that’s super versatile, kid-friendly and most importantly TASTY!

I made this as part of a freezer meal workshop, which is something I highly recommend. It fills your freezer with ready-to-cook dinners, and usually all you have to do is buy bread for sandwiches or some salad to serve alongside when you’re ready to cook. Some of the things we made, like the chili, I’m going to save for the fall; others, like the wings and steak tips, I can’t wait to get on the grill this summer!

INGREDIENTS

  • 3-4 lbs boneless pork shoulder (or similar boneless cut)
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1/2 Cup apple cider vinegar
  • 3 TBSP brown sugar
  • 1 TBSP oil (I used Wildtree Roasted Garlic Grapeseed Oil, which we love)
  • 2 TBSP Wildtree Rodeo Rub (or similar Southwest Seasoning, like McCormick’s)
  • 1/2 Cup BBQ Sauce (we used Wildtree Cactus Pete’s Agave; any BBQ sauce will do)
  • 1 tsp mustard powder
  • At cooking time: slider buns, or whichever kind of bread you prefer, plus cheddar cheese, shredded.

DIRECTIONS

Mix all ingredients (except the “cook day” items, slider buns and shredded cheese) into a gallon freezer bag. Remove excess air, double-bag and label if you plan to store in the freezer for a while. If you freeze, defrost in the fridge overnight before cooking. If you do not plan to freeze it, simply place into the fridge to marinate.

At cook time, place all the ingredients from the bag into your slow cooker/crockpot. Cook on low for 6-8 hours.

When it’s done, shred the pork finely with two forks.  Pile on top of slider buns with cheese and more BBQ sauce if desired. Yum!

These are so versatile because you can serve in any kind of bun you like, with or without cheese, and add a variety of condiments to change the flavor. I added sriracha; Mark added hoisin sauce! If you have leftovers, you can toss the pulled pork into soup, bake it with macaroni and cheese, or turn it into chili. You can even serve it plain, as a sub, or with no bun, with a side of corn bread, corn on the cob, salad, collards, mashed potatoes, you name it. I always keep at least two packages of Trader Joe’s frozen mac n’ cheese on hand to round out daycare lunches or serve alongside leftover meat and veggies, and we heated up a couple of those one night to use up the leftovers of this pulled pork. No matter what you do with it, one thing’s for sure: this pulled pork definitely won’t go to waste!

Hope you all had a very happy Easter! Georgia was so excited to do an Easter Egg Hunt with her friends from school and church in our neighborhood on Saturday afternoon, and then to see her precious “Uncle Brent and Auntie Shell” for brunch Sunday!  She also had lots of treats from the Easter Bunny and her grammies to open, so by the time bedtime rolled around Sunday night she was off the wall. Luckily she’s home with Daddy on Mondays so she had a day to acclimate from all the excitement before going back to daycare! Have a wonderful week, everyone.

Inside: magnetic wooden paper dolls,  Chewbeads toddler necklace, Minnie Mouse Munchkin 360 training cup, preschooler gardening gloves, pastel chalk (for the chalk paint wall daddy painted in her bedroom!) in a bunny-shaped container, rabbit- and bunny-shaped bubbles, and some new hair bows and clips…and one plastic egg full of M&Ms, her favorite candy 🙂
 pigtails for our Easter egg hunt with friends!Brunch with mom! No photos of Georgia wearing her Easter bonnet survived the day 🙂
Recipes

Slow Cooker Ribs

As I mentioned in my last post, I did find time to cook despite traveling so much this winter. One thing I’ve found useful is to do bulk meals in the crockpot every week, and in the days before I traveled to Portland for work I did just that for Mark and Georgia, leaving them with pulled pork sliders and baby back ribs for dinner while I was away. Thanks to an awesome freezer meal workshop that I recently attended, I have these recipes and more to share over the next few months. So let’s start with the ribs! Sorry for the low lighting. The taste makes up for the bad photos, I promise!

Slow Cooker Ribs

(makes approximately four servings)

INGREDIENTS

  • 3 lbs. baby back ribs, fat trimmed (optional ~ mine looked pretty lean so I didn’t trim)
  • 1/2 medium onion, sliced
  • 2 TBSP oil (I used Wildtree Roasted Garlic Grapeseed oil)
  • 2 TBSP + 3 reserved  (5 total) southwest seasoning (I used Wildtree Rodeo Rub)
  • 2 TBSP minced garlic (I actually used the jarred kind and it worked great!)
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp pepper
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 cup BBQ sauce (I used Wildtree Cactus Pete’s Agave Sauce — amazing)

DIRECTIONS

You can either marinate this for a day or two in the fridge, or prep ahead and put in freezer storage until it’s ready to cook. I bought fresh ribs, marinated them 48 hours in the fridge, then cooked them in my slow cooker on the third day while I was at work. If you freeze this, I’d double-bag and defrost in the fridge the day before you cook them).

Mix all but the water and BBQ sauce (including TWO of the southwest seasoning TBSPs) into a freezer bag. Remove the air and seal.

When you’re ready to cook, pour 1/2 cup of water into your slow cooker and layer the ribs (plus everything in the bag) into the slow cooker. I had to really bend the rack of ribs to fit in there (same with the freezer bag at prep time) — that’s ok!

Cook on high for 4 hours or low for 8 hours (I did the latter).

When you get home or are ready to serve them, preheat the oven to 375. Transfer the cooked ribs to a baking sheet, discarding everything else in the slow cooker, including the onions. Coat the ribs with the remaining 3 TBSP southwest seasoning/rodeo rub and then add 1 cup  of BBQ sauce on top. Bake until the sauce caramelizes and sticks to the ribs, approximately 10-15 minutes.

Dig in!

I’ve never made (or eaten) ribs before, but I could tell by the way these fell off the bone that they were awesome even before Mark told me. And he would know, having grown up eating them somewhat regularly!

To make the green beans you see on the side, I just covered a baking sheet in foil, added about a pound of green beans from Costco, ends trimmed, and drizzled with olive oil, salt and pepper before roasting at 400 for 25 minutes. This is Mark’s favorite way to cook vegetables, and the flavor is ridiculous for something so simple to do.

Now, about that freezer meal workshop. It was a lot of prep, but so worth the effort now that my freezer is JAM PACKED with family-sized meals! This may turn me into a convert for freezer cooking, which I’ve heard a lot about (especially since becoming a parent). I always assumed my tiny fridge couldn’t handle it, but by making sure to really clean out the freezer before prepping for this kind of workshop, I found I was more than able to handle the influx of gallon bags full of ready-to-cook dinners. You have to be organized, and doing it as part of a group helps keep you on task. Read more here if you’re interested in what large-scale freezer cooking takes.

more meat than I’ve ever bought before, in my entire lifetime, altogether.

Next up, I’ll be sharing the recipe for the pulled pork sliders I made. What a crowd-pleaser! While I love Wildtree products and am fortunate to know someone who sells them, you can substitute anything comparable that your family enjoys, from barbecue sauce to steak seasoning and so on. These recipes are easily replicated with the ingredients you love. Love having a fully stocked freezer 🙂

And have a Happy Easter this weekend! We are having brunch with my brother and his girlfriend (maker of the famous Stuffed Mushrooms), which is great because I’m not cooking like I did last year (though I’ll miss the leftover pea soup from having made ham!) Looking for a last-minute dessert idea for this weekend? How about Orange Creamsicle Cake, a last minute idea for us a few years ago that became a holiday staple. Also check out some Easter gift ideas in this post from a couple years ago, when Georgia was still a chubby baby! Now just look at her, having frappes and french fries with daddy on his day off!

 

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Greetings from Sarasota

As promised, here’s a quick glimpse at our family vacation to Sarasota! I started writing this while we were there, but got too busy having fun to finish it up. Vacation was awesome but it’s also good to be home. Mark and I definitely feel rested and ready for the busy spring ahead! For this vacation, we made a couple changes to our usual travel strategy, and we’re never looking back. Any guesses what they are? 

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The biggest thing we did differently was to go away for a longer stretch.

Traveling with little kids is exhausting, and when we used to go to Florida for one week at a time, it always felt even shorter because the travel days took so much out of us. We also were being cheap. Georgia’s daycare gives tuition credit for just one week of vacation at a time (which I know is more generous than most) so we planned our trip around that restriction. Also? Mark, being self-employed, doesn’t get paid vacation time, so every time we go away it’s to the detriment of his income.

However, we realized that we simply don’t feel very relaxed after those short trips, and what’s the point of vacationing if you return feeling depleted? So, we stretched it out this time, and I’m never, ever, EVER going back to the old way. I might even try leaving for two weeks next time, if we can manage it, even though that likely means eating even more preschool tuition.

  

The other thing we changed, because we had no choice, was to buy Georgia her own seat on the airplane. She did so much better and we were so much less frazzled! In hindsight, we should have done this when she was 18 months old, if not younger. Sure, it’s expensive, but by now she’s old enough to survive a connecting flight, which is loads cheaper than going direct — so we saved a ton of money that way, and actually ended up paying the same for all three of us as we did to fly direct last time with her on our lap. G was able to eat, play, read and stretch out so much more easily on the plane, and we could actually sit back for a minute instead of wrestling with her for three hours straight. We fly frequently, so I don’t know why it took us so long to figure this one out, but I’m going to tell all my friends from here on out!

The other tip I’d share: instead of having both parents “on duty” for the entire flight, it’s much less stressful to trade off and let one person read for a bit while the other one entertains the little one. We were much less drained after doing it this way, and we each got to read a magazine or book on one leg of the journey. Obviously this gets harder the more the child-parent ratio tips out of your favor, but for us it was a lifesaver.

Bye, Boston!

We also invested in a new travel stroller that we LOVE. I know for some people the City Mini GT already is a “cheap alternative” to a luxury stroller, but that’s not our life and we treasure that thing. We can’t afford for anything to happen to it, because we truly rely on it for actual transportation every single day. It’s our all-terrain workhorse, and we want to make sure it’s still with us for our next adventure close to home!

Thankfully, a friend tipped us off to this amazing single stroller by Kolcraft, and it may be the best $50 I have ever spent. It has an extended UV sun canopy, two parent cup holders, a snack tray, a large basket underneath, two foot brakes, a one-hand fold that locks and stands up by itself, it’s under 10 pounds AND it fully reclines with a five-point harness. It also is comfortable for tall parents to operate and dries ultra fast in case of spills. While it will never replace our City Mini for long walks on trails, hills and cobblestones, it lives in our car for errands and outings, and I’ve already got big plans for it when we attempt to visit Disney next year.

So what else did we DO in Florida?

Well, no trip would be complete without a visit to our favorite Gulf beaches — Nokomis and Siesta Key, recently voted top in the country (for good reason!) — and to get some delicious food and ice cream. This year we had great dinners at Gold Rush BBQ in Venice, Casey Key Fish House in Osprey, and Siesta Key Oyster Bar. Our favorite ice cream place is Nokomis Groves but we also love The Soda Fountain and Ciao Gelato in Venice.

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whose long legs are those??

On one of our last days in town, we took a water taxi from Casey Key around the Intracoastal Waterway and out to the Venice Jetty, where we watched dolphins jumping in and out of the ocean. It was amazing!


We also were lucky enough to get tickets to see the Red Sox playing at the Baltimore Orioles spring training park in Sarasota. Georgia lasted until the top of the 8th and it was so much fun! Beautiful facility, great food, nice breeze, and the Sox won 🙂 You have to plan pretty far in advance to get tickets, but they aren’t overly pricey (especially compared to Fenway Park!) and there are lots of places to cool off in the AC or run around with a toddler who doesn’t want to sit still in their seats any longer. We felt so lucky to do this day trip!

We had so much fun and can’t wait for our next family adventure. If you are making a trip to the Sarasota/Venice/Bradenton area, be sure to check out Bundle of Joy rentals for any baby and toddler gear! We rent a full-sized crib for just $25 per week from them, and they will deliver, assemble and dissemble it for you, plus provide a real mattress, sheets, bumpers if you use them, and any other supplies such as strollers, car seats (including installation), beach toys, bouncers, etc. that you need. It sure beats a pack n’ play or portable crib, and Georgia sleeps much better because of it. I can’t recommend them highly enough! Have a Happy St. Patty’s Day everyone! 

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Blue Apron · kid-friendly · Recipes

Salmon Burgers with Potato Salad & Tossed Arugula

Here is an oldie but goodie from my first month using Blue Apron. We have recreated it many times since! It’s a great way to get some healthy salmon into your diet — including for Georgia, who loves salmon burgers and the grilled salmon Caesar salad I often make, especially in the summer. She may drive me crazy wanting the same foods over and over, but every now and then she surprises me by embracing something like lettuce or fish. As they say, it’s important to keep offering new foods over and over until they come around. Sorry the lighting on these is so blah! I promise they taste good 🙂

Salmon can be very expensive, and the great thing about making salmon burgers is that one fillet makes two burgers (and therefore feeds two people). Grab a couple of fillets and you should have plenty; scale up from there.

SALMON BURGERS WITH RED POTATO SALAD & TOSSED ARUGULA

Note: this feeds two. Double it to feed four, and so on.

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 Skin-On Salmon Fillet (about 8 ounces)
  • 2 Buns
  • 2 Cloves Garlic
  • 1 Lemon
  • ½ Pound Red Potatoes
  • 1 Ounce Arugula
  • 1 Bunch Mint
  • 2 TBSP capers
  • 1 Shallot
  • 1/3 Cup Crème Fraiche or Greek yogurt
  • ¼ Cup Breadcrumbs
  • optional: 1 egg white to help the patties bind

DIRECTIONS

Preheat the oven to 450. Place a large piece of foil on a sheet pan. Place the salmon on the foil, skin side down; drizzle with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Roast in the oven 12 to 14 minutes, or until lightly browned on top. Using a spatula, lift the roasted salmon off its skin and transfer to a large bowl. Discard the skin. Using a fork, flake the roasted salmon into small pieces. When the salmon has cooled, drain off and discard any liquid from the bowl.

While the salmon roasts, wash and dry the fresh produce. Heat a medium pot of salted water to boiling on high. Halve the buns. Peel and mince the garlic. Cut the potatoes into bite-sized pieces. Pick the mint off the stems; discard the stems. Roughly chop the capers. Zest the lemon, then quarter and deseed it. Peel and mince the shallot to get 2 tablespoons of minced shallot and place in a bowl with the juice of all 4 lemon wedges; season with salt and pepper.

While the salmon continues to roast, in a medium bowl, combine the crème fraiche or yogurt, shallot-lemon juice mixture and half the mint (roughly chopping just before adding); season with salt and pepper to taste.

Add the potatoes to the pot of boiling water. Cook 12 minutes, or until tender. Drain thoroughly and return to the pot. Off the heat, add the capers and half the crème fraîche sauce; stir to combine and season with salt and pepper to taste.

While the potatoes cook, to the bowl of flaked salmon, add the breadcrumbs, garlic, lemon zest and remaining mint (roughly chopping just before adding); season with salt and pepper. Gently mix to combine (this is where you can add the optional egg white). Form the mixture into two ¾-inch-thick patties, squeezing firmly to ensure that the patties are tightly packed. In a medium nonstick pan heat 2 teaspoons of olive oil on medium-high until hot. Add the patties and cook 2 to 3 minutes per side, or until golden brown and cooked through. Transfer to a paper towel-lined plate. Carefully wipe out the pan.

In the pan used to cook the patties, heat 2 teaspoons of olive oil on medium until hot. Add the buns, cut sides down, and toast 2 to 3 minutes, or until golden brown. Transfer to a clean, dry work surface. Place the arugula in a medium bowl; drizzle with olive oil and toss to coat. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Top each toasted bun bottom with a cooked patty, half the remaining crème fraîche sauce, a pinch of the dressed arugula and a toasted bun top. Serve with the potato salad and remaining dressed arugula on the side. Enjoy!

You can also definitely use any kind of potato or green in substitute. Also, feel free to throw good old fashioned tartar sauce on this if you don’t want to fuss with crème fraiche or Greek Yogurt. Whatever you use, I think you’ll find it a light alternative to a regular burger! Perfect for when winter is transitioning to the warmer seasons.

We are in the land of great fish right now — the Gulf Coast of Florida — and I know it’s going to be another few weeks of stews, chili and casseroles once we get back home before we can really switch to spring flavors. I’ll be posting some photos of our vacation to Sarasota soon. Until then, stay warm if you’re in New England, and I’ll be back shortly with some awesome slow cooker recipes that I made before we left, including baby back ribs and pulled pork sliders. XO!