Category Archives: Slow Cooker

Taste Testing: Emeril’s Essentials

TomatoliciousHi, Sweeties! I just couldn’t resist sharing this luscious tomato picture. I’ve been getting awesome tomatoes at the farmer’s market all summer long, and I will miss them when they’re gone. What an easy side dish! Slice and serve. That’s perfect for a busy summer!

I love things that make cooking easier in the summer. Summer is the time that I’m most likely to find myself cooking at a campsite or beach rental–  places where pre-made spice blends come in handy, and it is the season when I’d rather be outside than in a hot kitchen following an ingredient list a mile long. Do you take shortcuts during the summer? Let’s be honest too. If you have awesome produce, it takes very little effort to make a delicious meal.

I received a few new summer shortcut type items a month or two ago through my participation in the Foodbuzz Tastemaker program. I love trying new things, and it’s even more awesome when I can try them for free. I received a box full of products created by Emeril Lagasse. The box contained a container of Emeril’s Original Essence, Emeril’s All Natural Steak Rub, Emeril’s Kicked Up Horseradish Mustard, and Emeril’s Chicken Stock. Sad to say, the chicken stock package did not survive shipping, and the broth was seeping out through the top of the tetrapack. With safety in mind, I tossed the chicken stock. I have enjoyed using the other items, and I thought I’d give you a little run down on what I did with them, along with some basic info.

Emeril’s Original Essence

Bam-tasticEmeril’s original essence is a pretty traditional seasoning blend– salt, paprika, black pepper, granulated garlic, spices and onion powder are the listed ingredients. Salt is first, and that’s something to keep in mind when sprinkling this on. I treated it in the way I would treat salt, just to be sure that I didn’t overdo it. I didn’t find it to be spicy at all, but it did add a nice bit of savory flavor. 

I used it to spice up some zucchini that was headed for the griddler. You’ll see the finished zucchini later in the post. 

ZucchiniI also sprinkled a bunch of Essence on top of a couple of chicken breasts that I put into the slow cooker with a can of Ro-tel. 

Chicky SchnickyThe garlic and onion in the essence went well with the spicy Ro-tel, and I ended up with a bunch of nicely seasoned shredded chicken taco meat at the end of the day.

Essential ChickenI had some of it on a bed of brown rice along with some black beans, feta cheese, Greek yogurt, tomatoes and avocado. Yum!

Lovely MessIs the Essence an essential pantry ingredient? While I liked this product, I can’t say that it really rocked my socks off. It was fine, but nothing unusual. I don’t really mind mixing individual spices from my pantry when seasoning my food. In making my own, I would go heavier on the spices and lighter on the salt. I’m sure I could have used more essence to add more flavor, but, due to amount of salt, my food would have been way oversalted.

Having said that, if you don’t have room in your kitchen for a lot of different little spice bottles, or if you are trying to pack lightly for a camping trip or a beach vacay, this blend would be a great thing to have on hand for a bit of extra flavor. It’s also quicker than making your own blend, so it will get you out of the kitchen a tiny bit quicker too, if that’s a concern.

Now, onto the rub…

Emeril’s All Natural Steak Rub

This steak rub has a lot going for it. Just look at the blend:

SpicyThe list of ingredients includes: salt, black pepper, minced garlic, minced onion, crushed red pepper, spices, chopped red bell pepper, granulated onion, granulated garlic. According to info on the side of the container, one of the spices is coriander. The rest are a bit of a mystery. 🙂 Like the essence, the first ingredient is salt, so it’s important to keep that in mind when deciding how much to use. I don’t tend to like my foods super salty so I always proceed with caution where salt is concerned. 

I really liked the flavor of this blend, and it was certainly convenient. The chopped red bell pepper really stood out. How did I use it? 

I mixed some into a pound of 96/4 ground beef and made steaky burgers. I like that you can see the seasonings.

Steaky Burgers

Remember the zucchini that I sprinkled with Essence?

BurgerliciousI thought these burgers were easy and good. The rub really gave them a steak house flavor, and it required little effort to mix some rub in. I think I added 2 1/2 tsp to my pound of ground beef, and it was just about right.

I also used the rub on some awesome petite filets that I splurged on at the farmer’s market:

Happy Beef

Ready for the RubI didn’t use a lot of olive oil, but I did use just enough to moisten the rub and allow it to stick to the steaks. I rubbed it on, and let the beef sit for a bit. Then, my friend, Mr. T, and I cooked the steaks in a skillet on the stove. I sometimes overcook meat using the griddler, and I didn’t want to risk it with these little lovelies. Medium rare for me, please!

VoilaAlongside the steak, we had a bit of sauteed arugula with lemon zest and pine nuts as well as a lovely pile of polenta with gorgonzola and fresh thyme from the balcony. I must have polenta with gorgonzola again sometime. It was seriously good! The steak turned out just the way I like it, and I really thought the flavor of the rub enhanced the great taste of the beef. 

Would Sweetie Pie buy this at the store? The quick answer is “yes.” While I have some rub recipes that I mix up myself from time to time, I really liked the flavor of this product and would substitute it for one of my homemade rubs without any consternation. I especially loved it in the burgers, and I think I might keep it around as a burger seasoning if nothing else. I thought the big flakes of red bell pepper made it unique, and I loved the seedy coriander and the healthy amount of black pepper. I like the rub. Emeril, I give you a “bam” on this one!!

Emeril’s Kicked Up Horseradish Mustard

The final product I’ve been trying is Emeril’s Kicked Up Horseradish Mustard:

Kick it up a notch, please!I will admit that I haven’t gotten very creative with this mustard, but I have used enough of it to have an opinion. The steaky burger pictured above is topped with a mix of this mustard, mayo and blue cheese. I’ve had it on numerous turkey sandwiches and on a few chicken sausages too, but I have no photos to share. My verdict? Sorry, Emeril. I don’t think this is kicked up at all, and I barely taste the horseradish. That was a disappointment. I like horseradish, and I was hoping this mustard would have a healthy dose of horseradishy heat. Instead, it is quite mild and just tastes kind of like dijon. It’s perfectly fine, as far as dijon goes, but it’s nothing to get excited about if you are a horseradish lover. The bottom line: this is fine, but it’s nothing special. 

So there you have it. I tried to give you my honest opinion on these products, and I hope I didn’t hurt Emeril’s feelings when it comes to his mustard. 🙂 I’m sure he reads my blog. Ha ha!! Just kidding, of course.

Maybe I was expecting more spice and flavor from the mustard and the essence as well. This could be due to the fact that I’ve seen countless audiences yelling “BAM” as Emeril has chopped a garlic clove or lifted his pepper mill. I’m glad that doesn’t happen in my kitchen, by the way. I would not enjoy having people yell while I was cooking. Anyway, I think I equate Emeril with these strong and spicy flavors, and I don’t think the essence or the mustard really lived up to the expectation I had in my mind.

I’m curious to know if any of you have tried these products, and whether you agree/disagree with my take on them. Do you have a favorite pre-mixed spice blend?

Now, I’m off to the gym. Ciao for now, sweeties and have a great day!!

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Filed under cooking, Farmer's Market, Food, Slow Cooker, Uncategorized, Weight Loss Success Story, Zucchini

Greek Yogurt: Kitchen Superstar

Hello sweeties! I hope this finds you enjoying your summer! I’m enjoying mine. 🙂 As you know, part of my summer fun involves visiting the farmer’s market. I went to my market in Courthouse on Saturday and made a major haul:

Market BootyI bought peaches, one little nectarine, blueberries, blackberries, cherries, an onion, yellow squash, zucchini, Brandywine tomatoes, beets, garlic scapes, tomatoes, some silver queen corn (my childhood favorite!!!), a container of Blue Ridge dairy Greek yogurt, and a pork shoulder that is barely peeking into the picture on the bottom right hand side. There’s also a little piece of cherry pie that I just couldn’t resist. It was a little one, I swear! 😉

I had a plan for the peaches, and they’ve been sitting in the box with their nectarine buddy and ripening a bit this week.

What a peach!

This was all gone. 😦

Cherry Berry "Ice Cream"Time to make more frozen loveliness! I peeled all but one of the peaches and the nectarine (5 fruits), and gave them a blitz in the blender along with 1/4 cup of unsweetened vanilla almond breeze, the juice of a lemon, the scrapings from a random vanilla bean I had in the fridge and a little can of fat free sweetened condensed milk. Today, I added a bit of extra love to the batch too: 1/2 cup of fat free plain Greek yogurt. I put the mix into the machine and flipped the magic switch.

Magic MachineWhile my mix was going for a spin, I peeled and chopped the remaining peach. It was SO ripe and juicy. YUM!

Peachy KeenAfter the freezer had been running for 30 minutes, I added my ripe peach chunks and let it run for 10 more minutes. 

ChunkyTake a look at this!:

Peachy Creamy LoveThis batch is bursting with fresh peach flavor, creaminess and tang from the Greek yogurt, and the smooth sweetness of the condensed milk. I will be sure to add Greek yogurt from now on. I couldn’t believe the difference it made! This is the creamiest batch I’ve made so far. I’ve tried more traditional recipes using eggs and full fat dairy before, but I can be quite happy with a slightly less creamy dessert that still tastes great and is virtually fat free. The Greek yogurt really upped the creaminess (as well as the protein!) without adding extra fat. Me likey. Me likey a lot!

Seriously, I don’t know how I made it for so long without Greek yogurt in my kitchen! It’s great for making potato salad, chicken salad and tuna salad creamy. It works well in baked goods. It makes a great salad dressing when mixed with a bit of mustard/vinegar/pomegranate molasses/hummus. It’s yummy with honey/maple syrup/agave/jam/nuts and fruit. It works great as a sub for sour cream. It adds creaminess to curry. It makes a great dip for fruit when mixed with a bit of PB2 and jam. I’ve never asked it to make my morning cup of coffee, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it could do that too. Yes. I believe Greek yogurt has officially become a staple in my kitchen. In case you can’t find it where you live, you can always make your own! Making your own might be a cheaper alternative as well, and that’s a good thing these days.

Aside from my frozen deliciousness, I’ve had a pretty uneventful week in the kitchen. I mentioned that I bought a pork shoulder at the market on Saturday, and I’ve been eating leftover pulled pork all week. While not as lean as a pork tenderloin, it isn’t too bad, and I tried to minimize the fat as much as possible. First, I trimmed off all of the visible fat using my kitchen scissors, and rubbed the pork with some mesquite grilling spice mix:

Pork!Then, I put it into the slow cooker with 1/2 an onion, 1/4 cup of apple juice, 3/4 cup of water, and 2 Tablespoons of balsamic vinegar. Then I let it cook on high for two hours. After two hours, I flipped it over and let it cook for a couple of hours more. 

In the PoolAt that point, my meat thermometer told me that it was done, and I pulled it out and let it rest. Easy! 

Yum!

I let it cool and then gave it a good shred with a couple of forks. 

This pork shoulder was about 2 1/4 pounds before cooking. I put in enough liquid to keep the meat moist, but the meat was really just dipping its toes in the puddle. My goal was to allow the fat and juices to run off into the bottom of the pan instead of later appearing on my plate. I grew up eating Memphis style barbecue, which isn’t typically swimming in grease or sauce. I saw a number of recipes on line for cooking a pork shoulder in a slow cooker, and most of them involved adding bottles of barbecue sauce. I think that is no bueno from a calorie perspective and also from a yumminess perspective. I didn’t need that much sauce, and there would have been no way to avoid any of the fat that had cooked off if the drippings and sauce were all incorporated. I wanted to be able to taste the meat, and I was surprised at how much I liked this given that I cooked it without the benefit of a smoker. It was moist, delicious and, maybe by virtue of its ecofriendly upbringing, it really tasted like pork. Perfect!

My friend, Inga’s mom, came over for dinner Saturday night, and we each had a big plate of summer:

Plate o' SummerI’ve enjoyed something similar for my dinners this week, but now it is all gone. 😦 I’m going to have to do this again sometime soon!

I’ve had one other blogworthy eat this week. I picked up a little package of this wondrous stuff at Whole Foods over the weekend:

Awesome!I nibbled some by itself, but quickly realized its proper place:

Outstanding Oat BranThe. Best. Oat bran. Ever. It has chocolatey nibs, coconut, sweet raisins, berries and oat bran goodness all in one big bowl. Sadly, I’m out of this yummy little mix, but I will definitely be buying more on my next Whole Foods visit!!

So, now you’ve seen the highlights from my week. I know I’ve become a once or twice a week blogger this summer, but I’m finding so many nice outdoor activities to keep me occupied. Last night, I decided to walk home from work instead of taking the metro. It took two hours, and I was pretty pooped when I got home. However, the weather was great, I enjoyed my stroll through the city, and I got some exercise without hitting the gym. I’m trying to find more opportunities for that sort of activity, and it was a fabulous day for a long trek home. What’s your favorite way to get in some exercise without going to the gym?

I’m also trying not to focus so much on food. I think that, while useful, keeping a photo journal of my eats each day was putting way too much of a focus on my food and making me a little crazy. I’m sure to go back to that eventually, but, for now, I want to focus on new dishes and treats in my posts. I loved everything in this post, and I loved telling you about it!

Now, it’s time for me to head to bed. I did something weird to my shoulder the other evening, and I don’t think this evening’s strength training workout did me any favors. I believe that some ice may be called for, and then I’m heading to bed. 

I hope you have a great weekend, and I hope you stick with me and my infrequent posts. I think I just need to take it easy a bit and go from there. I’m sure I’ll be in the kitchen this weekend, and I’ll want to tell you about it for sure. Until then, ciao for now, y’all! 🙂

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Filed under Arlington, Farmer's Market, Food, Greek Yogurt, Recipes, Slow Cooker, Weight Loss, Weight Loss Success Story

Slow but Easy Baked Beans

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Wow! This weekend flew by and Monday did as well. I’ve been too busy to post since Friday, and I’ve missed it and all of my bloggie friends! I hope everyone had a great weekend. I did! It even came complete with a tiny bit of sunburn. I wasn’t properly prepared for the beautiful weather at the cookout on Sunday, but it was certainly nice to see the sun!

Thank you all so much for the wonderful comments you left on my last post. I will treasure them! I’m so happy with my new approach for now, and I have to say that I had a much less stressful weekend full of eating activities, largely due to my new outlook. It was lovely. I didn’t realize how stressed I had been about food situations. I’ve just been doing my best to choose things that I really want, and then eat reasonable portions. I think I’ve done pretty well.

I don’t have any photos (some friends don’t know about the blog…), so I won’t get into too many longwinded details, but I will say that over the past few days, I’ve enjoyed bastilla, lamb couscous and chicken mkali at a Moroccan restaurant. I had Rabbit Fricassee with Gnocchi, Coq au Vin, Chocolate Mousse Cake with Bourbon Cherries, and an assortment of items from the charcuterie menu including spanish ham and an amazing duck prosciutto at Vinoteca, which is a very cool wine bar and bistro on U Street. At the cookout, I had a small portion of some pulled pork that my friends had smoked, salad, some of the baked beans I’m going to tell you about, and a small lemon bar for dessert. I love lemon bars. Yum!

I’ve kept my portions small, tried to skip the bread when possible because it isn’t my favorite thing anyway, and tried to plan ahead while eating during the rest of the day so as to leave a bit more room in the calorie count for these richer foods. I’ve kept up with my workout schedule too. The last few days have been nice, and I haven’t regretted any of the things I’ve eaten. I figure that’s a pretty good sign that I’m doing ok. Time and the scale will tell, but, as I said before, I’m absolutely prepared to keep tabs on the situation and adjust if necessary. 

So, on to the beans! I volunteered to bring baked beans to the cookout, and I wanted to try making them from scratch rather than just doctoring up some canned beans. Here’s the recipe I came up with:

Mmmmm....

Slow but Easy Baked Beans

Ingredients:

1 lb. small white beans, uncooked

water

1/4 cup maple syrup

1/4 cup brown sugar

1/8 tsp. salt

1 cup chopped onion

3 ounces center cut bacon, chopped

1/2 cup Virginia Gentleman Bourbon Barbecue Sauce

2 tsp. dijon mustard

Directions:

Rinse and sort the dried beans. Place the beans in a large pot and cover them with water. Bring the pot to a boil, and boil for 10 minutes. Cover, and allow the beans to sit for one hour. Drain the water, rinse the beans again and place them in a slow cooker. Add 1 1/2 cups water, onion, syrup, brown sugar, salt and bacon. Cook over high heat for four hours. I added a splash more water to the slow cooker around hour number three because the beans were looking a bit dry. You might want to keep an eye on them and add a little water if needed.

Add the barbecue sauce and dijon mustard and allow to cook for an additional hour.

I made mine the day before the cookout, so I spread them in a baking dish and reheated them at 350 degrees for about 40 minutes just before I got ready to serve them. I think this was good as it allowed a bit of a crust to develop on the top.

This made about sixteen 1/4 cup servings.

I decided to use smaller amounts of syrup and brown sugar than usual, and then to finish it off with a distinctively flavored barbecue sauce to punch up the flavor. I think that the sauce gave the beans a nice taste without adding quite as many calories. I also wanted some bacon, but I didn’t want to go overboard. There was enough in there to give it some good bacon flavor without resulting in greasy baked beans. Here’s what they looked like right after I put them in the slow cooker:

The heat is on!

I know this post is short and sweet, but I need to head off to bed. I have a bit of an early day tomorrow. I’m headed to the dermatologist in the morning for an annual check-up, and I’m sure that my bit of accidental sunburn will earn me a well deserved lecture. Here’s a question: Do you wear sunscreen every day or just when you expect to be out in the sun for a long period of time? 

My everyday foundation has sunscreen in it, and my face didn’t burn at all. I have a weird stripe on one forearm and my collar bones got a bit singed. It is lovely, to be sure. Speaking of lovely, I hope you all have a lovely night and a lovely week. I’m hoping to get caught up on reading/commenting over the next couple of days. I’m sure I’ve missed some great posts! Goodnight!

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Filed under Beans, cooking, diet, Fitness, Food, Recipes, Slow Cooker, Uncategorized, Weight Loss, Weight Loss Success Story