a balanced plate with room for dessert


My Favorite Slow Cooker Ribs

Slow Cooker Ribs |

Years ago when I first started blogging, I posted about slow cooker ribs. To this date, it’s one of the most popular recipes on the blog. My cooking techniques and recipes have evolved over the years and I thought that it might be a good time to make an updated post about my favorite ribs. Instead of baking the ribs first, I bake them after the slow cooking to get the caramelized stickiness that we all know and love. I also start the ribs out with a rub to give them an extra dose of flavor.

I know that some people might consider sticking ribs into the slow cooker sacrilegious, but it works for me and I think the results are pretty stellar! Plus, I don’t know the first thing about starting up a grill. That’s Mike’s domain.

Slow Cooker Ribs |


As a side note – that beer you see in the back? Amazing. Two thumbs up for Southern Tier and their amazing Choklat stout.

Slow Cooker Ribs

3 pounds baby back ribs
1/2 cup light beer (don’t use the previously mentioned Choklat!)
1 onion, sliced
2 cloves garlic, smashed
2 1/2 cups barbecue sauce (storebought or homemade), divided

for the rub:
2 tablespoons paprika
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon chili powder
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon onion powder
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper (optional)

  1. Make the rub: mix all ingredients together.
  2. Season ribs evenly with the rub to taste. Brush 1 cup of the barbecue sauce over the ribs. Arrange ribs along the side of the slow cooker insert or cut ribs into thirds or halves and place them in the bottom of the insert. Pour in beer and add onion and garlic cloves. Cook on high for 3.5 – 4 hours or until ribs are tender but not falling off the bone.
  3. Preheat oven to 350°F. Transfer ribs to a baking sheet and baste with remaining barbecue sauce. Bake for 10 – 15 minutes, turning every 5 minutes and basting with additional sauce as needed.


Slow Cooker Beef & Veggie Chili

Is it cold where you live? Do you have mountains of snow outside your window? Are you short on time? Do you hate doing dishes? Do you love comfort food that warms you up? If you answered yes to any or all of those questions, this chili is for you. Tossing everything into the slow cooker means you don’t have to spend hours standing over the stovetop, stirring and tending to your chili. Plus, who doesn’t love coming home after a long day to a house that smells amazing?

Slow Cooker Beef & Veggie Chili |

Slow Cooker Beef & Veggie Chili

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 pound 93% lean ground beef
2 medium onions, diced
8 cloves garlic, minced
1/3 cup chili powder
1 tablespoon ground cumin
2 bell peppers, diced
8 ounces cremini mushrooms, chopped
16 ounces tomato sauce
2 (15-ounce) cans diced tomatoes
2 (15-ounce) cans kidney beans, drained and rinsed
1 jalapeno, seeds removed and minced (optional)

for serving (optional):
cooked macaroni noodles
fat free Greek yogurt or sour cream
shredded cheese
thinly sliced green onions
jalapeno slices
hot sauce
diced onions

  1. Heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add beef, onions, and garlic and cook until beef is no longer pink, about 7 minutes; stir with a spoon to break beef up into smaller pieces. Add chili powder and cumin and stir to coat. Cook for 1 – 2 minutes or until fragrant, stirring frequently. Transfer mixture to a slow cooker.
  2. Stir in bell peppers, mushrooms, tomato sauce, diced tomatoes, and kidney beans. Cover slow cooker and cook for 6 hours on high or 8 hours on low. Season with salt and pepper to taste before serving  toppings of your choice.


Lightened-Up Spinach Artichoke Dip

I love chips and dip. Taco dip, guacamole, salsa, French onion, hummus… I’m the weirdo hovering by your dip bowl at the party. Hovering? More like hoovering. I really want to host a chips and dip dinner party. I don’t know if anyone would come, but I could probably eat the entire spread myself. Just sayin’.

Lightened Up Spinach Artichoke Dip |

Spinach artichoke dip is one of my favorites to dip in, but all that cheese – oh goodness. I did my best to lighten it up while still keeping that to-die-for richness. I opt for fresh spinach, but feel free to sub in a package of frozen chopped spinach; just make sure to thaw and drain it before stirring it in.

Lightened Up Spinach Artichoke Dip |

Lightened-Up Spinach Artichoke Dip

8 ounce bag baby spinach, roughly chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 (14-ounce) can artichoke hearts, drained chopped
8 ounce package reduced-fat or fat-free cream cheese
1 cup plain fat free Greek yogurt
2 tablespoon light mayonnaise
8 ounces part-skim mozzarella, shredded
1/2 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
tortilla chips

  1. In a medium pot, combine, spinach, garlic and artichoke hearts. Cook over medium heat until spinach is just wilted. Stir in cream cheese, yogurt, mozzarella, Parmesan, and red pepper flakes. Continue to cook, stirring frequently, until cheese is melted and ingredients are blended.
  2. Bake at 350 for 20-25 minutes or until bubbly and golden brown.
  3. Slow cooker instructions: place ingredients into a slow cooker and heat on low for 3-4 hours or high for 2 hours. Stir well before serving.

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Easy Slow Cooker Italian Chicken Sandwiches

Football season is over this weekend. I don’t know what I’m going to do with all my extra time. What am I going to eat now that game foods are out? I’m assuming that eating spinach artichoke dip for lunch isn’t acceptable unless you’re watching football. On second thought, it’s probably not acceptable during football season either.

Once in a while, I will eat real food during a football game. You know, something that isn’t 99% cheese. Like this super easy slow cooker Italian chicken sandwich. Holy bucket of yum, I tell ya. If you don’t have your Superbowl menu set yet (shame on you!), make sure you get this delicious sandwich on there! Your friends and family will thank you.

Slow Cooker Italian Chicken Sandwiches |

Easy Slow Cooker Italian Chicken Sandwiches

3 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breast
1 envelope Good Seasons Zesty Italian salad dressing mix
8 ounces pepperoncini slices, drained + 2 tablespoons liquid
8 ounces hot giardiniera, drained
2 cups low-sodium chicken broth

for serving
whole wheat buns
provolone cheese slices

  1. Place chicken in the bottom of a slow cooker and sprinkle with dressing mix. Top with pepperoncini, giardiniera, and chicken broth. Cover and cook on low for 6 hours.
  2. Remove meat from slow cooker and shred with two forks. Alternatively, place the chicken into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the flat beater. Beat on low for 30 or so seconds or until chicken is shredded. Return shredded chicken to slow cooker for 5 minutes.
  3. Scoop chicken onto buns and top with provolone cheese, giardiniera, and pepperoncini. Serve immediately.

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Niu Rou Mien (Taiwanese Beef Noodle Soup)

I’ve realized that some dishes are just better when my mom makes it. My mission this time was to replicate the delicious beef noodle dish I ate growing up – niu rou mien. I asked her for a recipe, and she told me to just come over and watch her make it and take notes. She ended up sending me an email with a rough draft of a recipe; I’ve done my best to assign amounts to the various ingredients.

This recipe is long. It has many, many ingredients. I thought about finding shortcuts, but I honestly don’t think there are any. This recipe is truly a labor of love and it’s not something you can cheat and simplify without sacrificing taste.

One thing I noticed from pouring over niu rou mien recipes is that most of them instructed you to boil the beef to get rid of the impurities. If you have bone-in meat, you’ll want to make sure you boil it or you will end up with a film of gunk on your finished product. And that would be a major bummer after you spent all that time prepping and cooking, right?

This dish is my childhood in a bowl. And I’m so happy that I have been able to recreate it in my kitchen.

Niu Rou Mien (Taiwanese Beef Noodle Soup) |


Slow Cooker Niu Rou Mian (Taiwanese Beef Noodle Soup)

3 pounds beef shank and/or chuck roast  (I used 1 1/2 pounds each)
2 tablespoons canola oil
2 medium onions, chopped
10 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
2-inch piece ginger, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons fermented black beans
2 teaspoons five spice powder
2 tablespoons Sichuan bean sauce
1 tablespoon hot chili sauce
1/2 cup Shaoxing wine (vodka, vermouth, or sherry will also work)
1/3 cup low-sodium soy sauce
1/3 cup dark soy sauce
1 tablespoon rock sugar
2 cups beef broth
2 tomatoes, quartered
5 green onions, cut into thirds
3 dried chili peppers, optional
8 hard boiled eggs, peeled
1 tablespoon Sichuan peppercorns
5 star anise
2 cinnamon sticks
2 bay leaves
5 large carrots, sliced

for serving:
baby bok choy, blanched
noodles of choice, cooked (I prefer medium-width Chinese noodles)
green onions, thinly sliced
rice wine vinegar
pickled mustard greens, recipe below

  1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add beef and reduce to a simmer. Cook until beef is cooked all the way through. Skim off the impurities floating on top of the water. Remove beef and reserve the cooking water.
  2. Heat a large pot over medium-high heat and add the oil. Brown the beef on all sides. Remove beef from pot and place into the bottom of a slow cooker.
  3. Add the onion, garlic, and ginger into the pot and cook, stirring frequently, for 2 minutes. Add the black beans, five spice powder, Sichuan bean sauce, and hot chili sauce and stir to combine. Stir in the Shaoxing wine, both types of soy sauce, and rock sugar and cook until the sugar has dissolved. Pour mixture on top of the beef.
  4. Add in the beef stock, tomatoes, green onions, chili peppers, and hardboiled eggs. Add the Sichuan peppercorns, star anise, cinnamon sticks, and bay leaves (optional: combine these ingredients in a cheesecloth and tie it up to make removing all the little pieces a bit easier at the end.) Top everything off with stock and six cups of the reserved cooking water (or use 8 cups of beef stock). Cover and cook on low for 5 – 6 hours or until the meat is tender. Add carrots and cook for an additional 30 minutes or until carrots are tender. Taste and add more soy sauce if necessary.
  5. To serve, place noodles in a bowl and top with bok choy. Ladle scoops of the beef stew on top. Garnish with green onions and the pickled mustard greens relish. Top with a splash of rice wine vinegar, if desired.

Pickled Mustard Greens Relish

10.5 ounce package mustard greens
2 hot chili peppers
2 tablespoons sugar

  1. Rinse the pickled mustard greens and soak in water for 30 minutes. Change the water twice during this time period to get rid of excess salt.
  2. Dice the mustard greens into pea-sized pieces.
  3. Heat a nonstick pan over medium heat and add the mustard greens. Cook for 2 minutes. Add in chili peppers and sugar and stir until sugar is evenly distributed. Continue to cook, stirring frequently, until water has evaporated.
  4. Allow to cool and store in the refrigerator in an air-tight jar.


recipes slightly adapted from my Mama’s recipe


Beer Can Crockpot Chicken Sandwiches

Today’s recipe is for a Super Bowl Snacks & Appetizers recipe swap. I was assigned the blog The Barbee Housewife  and started my search for the perfect Super Bowl snack immediately. She has so many dishes that I really, really wanted to make – loaded baked potato dip, chicken bacon ranch taquitos, pizza puffs… but none of those were going to doable for me since they contained dairy. I finally decided I would make her beer can crockpot chicken sandwiches into little sliders and serve them as an appetizer for the game.

These sandwiches are so good and so, so easy. One pot, that’s it. You get a ton of food and the leftovers freeze beautifully. Make these now. If you’re feeling like you want to do a little more cooking, try your hand at making some homemade barbecue sauce!

Beer Can Crockpot Chicken Sandwiches |

Beer Can Crockpot Chicken Sandwiches 

1 cup beer, any kind you like
1 tablespoon onion powder
1 tablespoon paprika
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
3 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts (about 6 large)
3 – 3 1/2 cups barbecue sauce

for serving:
buns of choice

  1. Pour beer into the slow cooker. Whisk i onion powder, paprika, garlic, salt and pepper. Add in chicken breasts and pour barbecue sauce on top.
  2. Cook on low for 6 – 8 hours, or until chicken is cooked through. Remove chicken from the slow cooker, shred, and return meat to the slow cooker and stir to evenly distribute the sauce.
  3. Serve on buns topped with coleslaw.


A big thanks to Sarah at Taste of Home Cooking for hosting! Click on the link below to check out the other delicious swap recipes!


SNAP Challenge: Day 6 and Slow Cooker Turkey Quinoa Meatballs

Today’s Feeding America prompt: “In November 2013, the government will cut SNAP benefits for all recipients. These cuts will be $36 for a family of four – dropping the average benefit per person per meal to under $1.40.  How would this week have been different for you if you had even less money to spend on food?”

I’ve typed up a dozen really, really long responses to this prompt and I’ve deleted them all. Short version: you’re told to follow MyPlate guidelines for a “healthy diet”. Then you’re given a little over $4 a day to figure out how the hell you’re supposed to do that. How is a person supposed to fit low-fat dairy, lean meat, whole grains and tons of fruits and vegetables into their diet each day with $4? I haven’t quite figured that out. We had a lot less fresh fruits and vegetables around to snack on. My meal plan this week was also severely lacking in the dairy department. I couldn’t fit in milk into our budget for Mike, let alone lactose-free milk for myself!  What if a low-income family had special diets to accommodate for? I’m hoping to give this Challenge a try again in November when benefits are cut (and when I don’t have garden produce). But I can’t imagine it going any easier.

What we ate today:

  • Breakfast: oatmeal with egg (me) and whole wheat toast with peanut butter and banana (Mike)
  • Snack: peanut butter toast with banana (me)
  • Lunch: macaroni and cheddar cheese (Mike) and pepper chicken with rice (me)
  • Dinner: spicy black bean soup with cumin lime sour cream and baked tortilla chips
  • Snack: raisins

I’ll be honest – it’s been hard keeping up with daily blog posts to document the SNAP Challenge. I’m already thinking about food a lot more than usual; having to not only cook, but photograph and write about it makes it even harder. To top it all off, I spend a lot of my free time reading food magazines and food blogs. Torturing myself, really. Writing about the turkey quinoa meatballs literally made my stomach growl. I’m so tired of eating chicken and bell peppers cooked different ways. I think I need a break from them after the Challenge is over. Sorry chicken, sorry peppers – it’s not you, it’s me. But, it’s not really me… in fact it’s 100% you.

That leads me nicely into today’s recipe from a blogger’s choice swap (not part of the SNAP Challenge). This time, I bring you a dish that I made a couple weeks ago (yup, no worries –  we didn’t cheat during the Challenge!). This dish is something new, something different, something that doesn’t contain chicken or green bell peppers! Drum roll please… turkey quinoa meatballs!

Turkey? With quinoa?  Yup. And they are awesome. I made a few minor changes to Ali’s recipe: I had a plethora of tomatoes to use so I used fresh tomatoes instead of canned. I also left out the cheese from the meatballs, but Mike had a little shaved on top of his finished dish.

I served the meatballs over spaghetti squash, but you can use regular ol’ spaghetti noodles if you would like!

turkey quinoa meatballs with spaghetti squash |

Slow Cooker Turkey & Quinoa Meatballs with Spaghetti Squash
adapted from Sparks from the Kitchen

2 1/2 pounds lean ground turkey
1 cup cooked quinoa
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 large egg, lightly beaten
2 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for browning
2 teaspoons Italian herbs
1/2 teaspoon onion powder
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon white pepper
1 large sweet onion, cut into rounds
2 cups tomato sauce (I used homemade)
4 cups chopped fresh tomatoes
Pecorino Romano cheese, for garnish, optional

1 large spaghetti squash*
2 tablespoons olive oil
salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

  1. In a large bowl, combine turkey, quinoa, garlic, egg, olive oil, Italian spices, onion powder, salt and white pepper. Mix by hand until combined, being careful not to over-mix.
  2. Roll meatballs into 1 1/2-inch balls and set aside.
  3. Place sliced onions on the bottom of a slow cooker. Pour in 1 cup tomato sauce and 2 cups of the chopped tomatoes.
  4. Heat 1 teaspoon of olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Place meatballs into pan, being careful not to overcrowd. Brown meatballs on all sides. When browned, place them into the slow cooker on top of the tomatoes. Once you have half the meatballs in the slow cooker, top with another cup of chopped tomatoes. Continue to brown the meatballs and place them in the slow cooker.
  5. When all meatballs are browned, add the remaining tomato sauce and chopped tomatoes, making sure all the meatballs are covered.
  6. Cover and cook on low for 6 hours or high for 4 hours.
  7. An hour before serving, prepare the spaghetti squash. Preheat oven to 450°F and lightly grease a baking pan.
  8. Cut spaghetti squash in half and scrape out seeds. Season with olive oil, salt, and freshly ground black pepper. Place squash flesh-side down in prepared pan and bake for 30 – 40 minutes or until fully cooked. Remove pan from oven and let squash cool slightly. When cool enough to handle, scrape out the squash strands from the skin.
  9. Place spaghetti squash on a plate and top with meatballs and sauce. Garnish with freshly grate Pecorino Romano, if desired.

Thanks again to Sarah at Taste of Home Cooking for hosting! Click on the link to check out the other delicious swap recipes!