Teaching myself to cook, one recipe at a time.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Crock Pot Brown and Maple Sugar Pork Tenderloin

I started a new job recently.

It’s so, so wonderful to have regular hours again. Working two part time jobs, while it helped pay the bills, led to an inconsistent and unpredictable schedule that made things hard to plan around. I had to put everything in a shared google calendar just so hubby would know if he could plan on spending time with me or not.

Now that I have a regular full-time job with predictable hours for the first time in a long time, I find myself getting home about the same time as hubby, give or take a half hour. Without an afternoon to prepare dinners, I’ve been looking for meals that I could throw together quickly.

Enter the crock pot.


I found this recipe via Pinterest, hosted on a blog called “Your Homebased Mom.” Leigh Ann’s pictures looked pretty yummy, so although pork really isn’t my favorite meat to cook with, I was game to try it. A little variety is always nice, and let’s face it: I love maple syrup.

My first step was greasing my crock pot. No recipe ever says to do this, and it never occurs to me to do it independently, and I always end up with some charred sauce bonded to the sides of the porcelain. I’m trying to be better about this.


Next, I put my pork in the bottom of the crock pot, seasoned with salt and pepper.


Next, I made my sauce. I started with a bit of garlic…


Added maple syrup…


Added Dijon mustard…


And some honey…


And some brown sugar…


Some balsamic vinegar…


And finally, some dried thyme.


Whisked together, this is what it looked like.


Just pour it over the pork…


Cover and set it to low!

At the end of the day, this is what the pork looked like. A little nasty looking, not gonna lie.


Before serving, we’re going to make a sauce. This is super easy and quick. Just take the juices from the crock pot and cook on the stove.


Dissolve some corn starch in water…


And mix it into the sauce to thicken it up.


That’s that!

To serve, I put some instant mashed potatoes on a plate, topped with some of the pork (which pulled apart easily at this point), and dribbled some of the sauce on top.


At this point, I was still skeptical. I informed hubby that I wouldn’t be offended if he didn’t like it, as the pork looked dry and the sauce looked a lot darker than I expected. But as it turns out, everything was quite good. The pork wasn’t dry, just tender, and the sauce had a nice sweet-yet-smoky taste to it that made me happy that I’d bothered to put it together.

Give it a try!

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Winter White Sangria

I was having some family over for dinner, and I planned to serve wine fondue. To go with the fondue, I decided to make a white sangria.  I had a fancy fruit-infusing pitcher from my brother and sister-in-law and wanted to put it in that.


It turned out to be quite easy to make.

First, a bottle of white wine. I believe this was a cheap chardonnay.


Then some brandy. I think I bought this bottle for a red sangria over the summer. What is it about sangria and brandy?



Anyway, then some sugar…


And that’s the main mixture.


Next, I prepared some fruit. There were limes…


The slices were too big for them to fit in my special fruit infuser.


So I cut them in half. I added lemon, too.


Also, green apple. The recipe called for green grapes, but I left those out. I had enough fruit in the house, as it was, and I didn’t think they’d add any flavor to the drink so I didn’t bother with them.



Then I put the fruit into the infuser…


And put it into the pitcher.


Then I wondered why I only got one bottle of wine. Clearly, it looked like a lot less liquid in a pitcher this size. Next time, I will definitely double it. Depending on the number of people, maybe even triple.

Oh well.

Anyway, I chilled the mixture in the fridge all day. Just before serving, I added club soda and ice.

Then I poured everyone a glass before I remembered to take a picture.


The drink was crisp and refreshing. It was sweet and yet still had a bite. Five of us polished it off fairly quickly, and I think if I’d doubled it, we would have made a sizeable dent in that.

It also went really, really well with the wine fondue that I served.

I’m not sure how much was attributable to the wine and how much was due to family, but I remember a really happy buzz when I was drinking this.

It makes me want more. Now.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Meatballs, Mastered!

I have only made meatballs a few times.

Each time, it was based on my mother-in-law’s transcription of HER mother-in-law’s famous spaghetti and meatballs recipe.

This recipe, while giving details about ingredients, leaves some room for interpretation when it says “cook the meatballs.”

Bake them?

I’ve tried that. They end up very flat on one side, very stupid looking.

Fry them?

I’ve tried that. They end up breaking up as I try to roll them around the pan.

On Valentine’s Day, I decided to give it another go. Yes, I realize that was a month ago. So I’m slow to post lately. You forgive me, right?

This time, I think I got the technique down!

First, I got uniform meatball size using an ice cream scoop:



Then, I chilled the whole plate in the freezer to help them firm up. This helped them keep their shape.

Then I fried them, over higher heat than I normally would, just aiming for some surface color. I only put a few in my large skillet, leaving room for them to roll around, and I kept them moving as much as possible. I used my fingers when necessary. I really wanted them to keep their round shape.


When they were browned all around, I took them off the heat even though they were still raw in the middle.


Then I put them all on a big baking sheet and let them bake the rest of the way. Voila!


Then I forgot to get close-ups afterwards. Ah well. They weren’t perfectly round, but they were so much closer than I’d gotten before. Definitely a lot more work, but I think it was worth it.

Just thought I’d share.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Steak Fajitas

Hubby and I love to order steak fajitas at Mexican restaurants. We split an appetizer and then an order of these. They’re always so yummy when someone else makes them.

But I’ve never managed to make steak fajitas worth writing home about.


Mainly because my method was: (a) buy package of pre-cut “stir fry beef” from the grocery store, (b) sauté this with a packet of “fajita seasoning.”

Meh. Underwhelming.

(Is that a word? I’ve heard it used so many times that it has lost that sense of being wrong)

So it had been a long time since I made steak fajitas. Then, somewhat recently, I was inspired to try again. I had a pound of sirloin leftover from a wine fondue night, so I thought I’d turn it into something else. I found a recipe and went with it.

First, I made a marinade. Some soy sauce…


Some red wine vinegar…


Some light corn syrup (I have such few things to do with corn syrup that I was a bit excited about this!)


Some hot sauce… For this, I finally opened the tabasco sauce that was a favor at my friend Diane’s wedding. Another friend had seen it at my house this summer and asked why I hadn’t opened it, what I was possibly saving it for. I didn't have an answer, so maybe it was time.



Also, some black pepper


Here it is, all whisked together.


This was my sirloin. The recipe said to use flank steak, but this was nice too.


After I sliced it up, I smooshed it in the dish with the marinade.


Then I cut up some veggies (onion and green pepper):


And smooshed them in there, too:


Then I put it in the fridge for about 24 hours before sautéing it and serving.

And forgot all about taking pictures.

Luckily, I made it again soon after this. This time, I used skirt steak:




This time around, I whipped up some guacamole to go with it. I started with a lot.


Then I ate a lot while I waited for hubby to get home. I couldn’t help myself. I was hungry.



Ooops. In my defense, that is a very small bowl.

Anyway, when he was about 10 minutes away, he texted me to let me know that he was almost home. I threw everything in a hot pan and sautéed it just long enough to cook the meat. I wanted the veggies to be crispish, not too tender.



When I served, I sprinkled the meat and veggies with some Mexican blend cheese and added a dollop of plain Greek yogurt.


Very yummy, very juicy!


This recipe is definitely a keeper. Finally, homemade fajitas that are actually pretty good! They were both juicy and flavorful, and a very easy weeknight meal if you’ve had the foresight to marinade in advance.

Give it a try!