Great things never come from our comfort zone. Do you agree?
I'm the kind of girl who likes to live with familiar and comfortable routines. Don't we all really? I prefer a predictable and reliable lifestyle. Why mess with a good thing? But great things usually happen when I'm OUTSIDE my comfort zone and not living my comfortable and predictable life.
Travel is one of the best ways that I've found for me to stretch my boundaries and get outside my comfort zone. I get accustomed to viewing the world from my own front door. My little circle of existence gets very small when I spend too much time without leaving it. It doesn't take a long or expensive vacation to broaden my perspective and get me out of my comfort zone though. A day trip to the mountains, a hike through the forest or an afternoon spent on the lake can really reset my navigational beacon. It's not in my normal routine to do any of those things but they really are great ways to expand comfort zone.
I also have a cooking comfort zone but today I'm going to challenge myself to get just a little bit out of my culinary comfort zone. Adding a new grain or a new kind of olive into my diet can be just the thing that I need to break myself out of my comfort zone cooking. Pulling out the slow cooker, picking up some farro and Castelvetrano olives and putting together this uber-tasty chicken dinner for tonight. Great things happen when I break out of comfort zone cooking.
Mediterranean Chicken and Farro
2 Tablespoons oil
4 split chicken breasts
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
3 cups chicken broth
1 cup uncooked farro
1/2 cup chopped onion
10 pitted Castelvetrano olives, sliced
1/2 cup fresh parsley, chopped
1/4 cup toasted almonds, chopped
1 teaspoon lemon zest
1 Tablespoon lemon juice
1 glove garlic, minced
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
Garnish with additional parsley.
The beige pictures of this chicken dish don't really do it justice. The briney olives, the bright lemon zest, the crunchy almonds, the spicy red pepper and the fresh parsley all work together beautifully to create a dish that is absolutely bursting with flavor. I love the way that the farro perfectly compliments the chicken and visa versa. And the fact that you can toss it all in your slow cooker and walk away for 8 hours is just an added bonus.
I think that all of the busyness of the Christmas season has caught up with me. I was so busy with birthday preparations, getting the house decorated and catering orders that I only managed to fix dinner - 1 day last week! I share that somewhat embarrassing confession with you just to let you know that we ALL get overwhelmed and overloaded during the holidays - especially food bloggers.
Don't worry about my dietary requirements though - we managed to survive on a smoked chicken that I picked up from our favorite BBQ restaurant and a batch of vegetarian chili from the freezer.
This week - I'm determined to do better about getting home cooked meals on the table. Hello trusty slow cooker.
Ben and I both like pulled pork but it doesn't ever seem practical to make an entire pork shoulder for just two people. As luck would have it - I found a boneless pork shoulder that was a little over a pound at my local meat market last week. That is the perfect size for the two of us - with leftovers for lunch the next day.
Finding a pork shoulder made for two was the perfect excuse to try out my new recipe for Slow Cooker Pork with Peach Barbecue Sauce. I put the pork in the slow cooker before we left for church on Sunday morning and it made a delicious dinner.
Slow Cooker Pork with Peach Barbecue Sauce
2 teaspoons smoked paprika
1 1/4 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon pepper
3 1/2 pound pork shoulder
1/2 cup chicken broth
1/3 cup balsamic vinegar
1/3 cup molasses
2 teaspoons soy sauce
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper
1/2 cup peach preserves
2 cups sliced red onion
5 garlic cloves, sliced
1/4 cup bourbon
2 Tablespoons cold water
2 teaspoons cornstarch
Drizzle sauce over pork and onions.
I was really frustrated with myself over this meal because I drastically overcooked the pork. I cooked my 1.5 pound boneless pork shoulder for 6 hours - big mistake. I adjusted the recipe to say 4 hours but that is really just my best guess at this point. The flavor of the meat was really good and I will definitely try this recipe again - with a shorter cooking time.
We have officially been empty nesters for 2 months now and think I could get used to this cooking for two thing. (At least SOME of the time.)
One acorn squash, a slow cooker and 30 minutes of morning prep time was all it took to put this scrumptious two person meal together.
I feel like I should mention that you also have the option of cutting the prep time in half by purchasing precooked brown rice. (Confession time: I've never actually tried the prepared brown rice but it sure seems like a good option for people who have limited meal prep time.)
Slow Cooker Acorn Squash
1 cup cooked brown rice
1/4 cup dried cranberries
1/4 cup chopped green onions
1 Tablespoon olive oil
1/2 teaspoon dried sage
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1 1/2 pound acorn squash
2 cups ice cubes
1/4 cup chopped toasted walnuts
Combine rice, cranberries, green onions, oil, sage, salt and pepper.
Cover and cook on low for 7 1/2 hours.
Sprinkle with walnuts before serving.
It doesn't get much cuter than serving an entire meal in a perfectly portioned edible bowl. I love love loved the filling and the squash was good but acorn squash is not my favorite so I think that I want to try it again with a butternut squash or even a mini pumpkin. How cool would that be to make for Halloween?
As a chef and as a mom - I make a whole lot of food that I don't particularly enjoy eating. It's truly a blessing in disguise because let's face it - if I only made food that I liked - everything would have chocolate in it and I would eat all of it.
Meatloaf is a meal that frequently ends up on our family menu because it's a favorite of my daughter. I don't necessarily share her meatloaf affection but I make it because I know how much she enjoys it.
I'm happy to say that that isn't true anymore. I recently found a meatloaf recipe that we BOTH love. Ground turkey meatloaf packed with vegetables and Southwest flavor was the ticket to a delicious meatloaf that I can make for her AND me.
Finding common ground in a meatloaf was epic but you haven't even heard the best part about this recipe yet --- This scrumptious meatloaf bakes in the slow cooker!! It's easy to put together and it bakes all afternoon. I love a great hands off recipe every once in a while.
Slow Cooker Sante Fe Meatloaf
1 1/2 pounds lean ground turkey
2/3 cup + 2 Tablespoons red enchilada sauce
1/2 cup quick oats
1/2 cup chopped green onions
1/3 cup + 1 Tablespoon frozen corn
5 Tablespoons black beans, rinsed and drained
1/4 cup fresh cilantro
1 1/2 teaspoons cumin
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon onion powder
4 ounce can chopped green chilies, drained
1 clove garlic, minced
1/3 cup Mexican cheese
Cook on low for 6 hours. Remove loaf using sling. Drain liquid from slow cooker and return loaf.
Arguably, this meatloaf doesn't look very appealing at this stage but trust me - it will get better.
Cover loaf with 2/3 c. enchilada sauce, cheese, 1 T. corn and 1 T. black beans.
Cover and cook on high for 10 minutes. Remove from slow cooker and garnish with cilantro.
Slice and serve.
I made my meat"loaf" in a half sphere shape because my crock pot is round. If you have an oblong crock pot - by all means - shape your meatloaf into a more traditional loaf.
I served these wedges of meatloaf to my daughter and her friend who was also home from college for the weekend. They gobbled this up like they hadn't eaten a home cooked meal in weeks! My college freshman has a whole new appreciation for my home cooked dinners -- and I'm loving it.
Get creative with your toppings. Chopped tomatoes, sliced olives, avocado slices and sour cream would be great condiments to add to this Southwest meatloaf. Customize it to your family.
I love my slow cooker and I'm not afraid to say it. Anyone else relying heavily on their slow cooker to get meals on the table this month? I've got enough stress without having to worry about getting meals prepared by 6:00. I can through dinner in the crock pot at 10 and voila - dinners ready by 5.
I chose Cornish Hens for my slow cooker last week because we are in the middle of celebrating the 12 Days of Christmas. You know - 3 French Hens? Well, my hens were Cornish and not French but you get the idea.
Slow Cooker Cornish Hens
2 Cornish Game Hen Chicken
8 oz. Orange Juice
1 Sprig Rosemary
1 Handful fresh Parsley
1 Tablespoon Salt
1 Tablespoon Pepper
1 Fresh Orange, Sliced
2 Tablespoons Honey
1 Tablespoon Olive Oil
Pour juice mixture over hens. Place rosemary and parsley around hens.
Cover and cook on low 4-6 hours.
Place under broiler to brown the hens.
Since I could only fit 2 hens in my slow cooker and I definitely needed 3 to stick with the 3 French Hens theme - I roasted one of my hens in the oven. It turned out just as good as the crock pot hens.
Stay turned for my entire 12 Days of Christmas post. You will certainly get a good laugh at how we ATE our way through the 12 Days of Christmas.
Like my page on facebook.
Follow me on Instagram