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.


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


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!


Summertime Coq au Vin

Coq au Vin has been on my must-cook list for years. Yes, years. I’m not sure why I never got around to making it, but I was pretty excited when I received this recipe for the “cooking with alcohol” swap from My Chicago Kitchen.

Now that I’ve made this, I know that I will be making this again and again and again. It was so easy to put together it was unbelievable. Slow cookers in my house are used pretty much only in the fall and winter. Once summer comes around, it goes into hibernation deep in my cupboards.

Why that happens, I’m not quite sure… but this recipe definitely convinced me that slowcookers are a year-round kitchen tool that I should be using!

Summertime Coq au Vin |

Summertime Coq au Vin
adapted from My Chicago Kitchen, originally from Williams-Sonoma

1 cup all purpose flour
salt and pepper
8 bone-in, skin on chicken thighs
4 tablespoons olive oil
4 shallots, minced
2 cups dry white wine
1 cup chicken stock
6 sprigs fresh parsley
6 springs fresh thyme
6 carrots, peeled and diced
2 cups pearl onions
2 cups sugar snap peas

  1. Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Season chicken with salt and pepper. Lightly dredge in flour and shake off any excess. Brown chicken in pan on all sides, about 3-5 minutes per side. Place chicken into slow cooker.
  2. Pour off all but about 1 tablespoon of grease in pan. Add shallots and saute for 1 minute. Remove skillet from heat and pour in wine and chicken stock. Bring mixture to a simmer over medium heat. Pour into slow cooker over the chicken.
  3. Add in parsley, thyme, and carrots, making sure the herbs are fully submerged in the liquid. Cover and cook for 2 hours on high or 5 hours on low.
  4. After 2 or 5 hours, uncover and add in onion and peas, submerging them in the liquid. Cover and cook an additional 30 minutes on low. Serve warm.

Thanks to Taste of Home Cooking for organizing! Make sure to check out the other recipe swap posts!


French Dip Sandwiches

When life gives you a humongous roast, you might as well use it took cook up something delicious!

Slow cooker meals are my saving grace right now. The dietetic internship has been keeping me busy busy busy. I rarely have the energy to cook after a long day of school/work and then a workout. But slow cookers? I can prep the stuff the night before and shove it into the fridge and then have Mike start cooking it at around noon. I’m really digging this system, and it’s so convenient!

I skipped the soy sauce in the recipe below (didn’t have any… no idea how that happened!) and just tossed in about 4 sliced mushrooms instead for the umami that soy sauce lends. It turned out great and the sodium levels were cut even more!

French Dip Sandwiches
makes 7 sandwiches 

1 medium yellow onion
3/4 cup low sodium beef broth
1/4 cup low sodium soy sauce
1/2 cup water
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 1/4 pound chuck roast, trimmed
salt and pepper to taste
7 sandwich rolls
7 slices provolone or Swiss cheese

  1. Slice onions into 1/4″ rings and place in the bottom of the slow cooker. Add broth, soy sauce, water, Worcestershire sauce and garlic.
  2. Salt and pepper all sides of the roast and place on top of the onions. Cook on low for 6 – 7 hours or until beef is fall-apart tender.
  3. Transfer roast to a cutting board and shred with two forksReturn roast to crock pot.
  4. Toast bread in oven until just browned. Remove tops of bread and set aside. Scoop beef onto sandwich bottoms and top with a slice of cheese. Heat in oven until cheese is just melted. Top with sandwich tops and serve with small bowls of jus.
recipe from stick a fork in it


Pulled Pork Sandwiches

Folks, I’ve never made pulled pork before in my life. In fact, I’ve probably only eaten it a couple of times. I don’t know why the idea of making pulled pork got stuck in my head, but I’m so glad it did. And I’m so glad I didn’t ignore that little voice, because oh my goodness, you have no idea how good this stuff is.

It’s so simple – toss everything into a slow cooker, set it, and come back to a delicious heap of tender pork. Take a few minutes to shred it, slap it on a roll, and BAM! Dinner. I made it a little more time-consuming, though, by trying my hand at making my own barbecue sauce instead of using the bottled stuff. I loved the way it turned out, but I would definitely use some Sweet Baby Ray’s if I was ever in a rush.

I served it with a side of tangy coleslaw – check back soon for the recipe! Or even better, subscribe or “like” me on Facebook to get instantly notified when it gets posted!

Pulled Pork Sandwiches
serves 10

For the barbecue sauce
1 cup ketchup
1/2 cup water
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
3 tablespoons brown sugar
2 tablespoons honey
1  teaspoon black pepper
1  teaspoon onion powder
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon ground mustard
1 1/2 teaspoons lemon juice
1 1/2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce

For the pork
4 pound pork shoulder roast
1 cup homemade barbecue sauce
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
1/2 cup chicken broth
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 tablespoon yellow mustard
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon chili powder
1 cup chopped onion
4 cloves garlic, chopped

To serve
10 kaiser rolls

  1. To make barbecue sauce, combine all barbecue sauce ingredients in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil, stirring frequently. Reduce to a simmer and cook for 40 minutes, or until thick.
  2. Place roast in bottom of slow cooker. Add in remaining ingredients and stir to combine. Cover and cook on low for 10 – 12 hours, or until roast shreds easily with a fork.
  3. Shred roast with two forks. Return meat to slow cooker and cook for 1 more hour.
  4. Spoon pulled pork onto kaiser rolls and serve with a side of coleslaw.

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Buffalo Chicken Dip

I had this dip for the first time over the summer and I just had to recreate it for the Super Bowl! I found a few recipes online and made some adjustments. I made it with ranch dressing this time, but I think that I will try it with blue cheese next time for something different.

Buffalo Chicken Dip

2 8 oz packages of Neufchâtel cheese (1/3 less fat cream cheese), softened
1 cup ranch or blue cheese dressing
1 cup Frank’s Hot Buffalo Wing Sauce
1 1/2 cups cooked chicken breast, shredded
1 cup cheddar cheese, shredded
1 bunch celery, washed and cut into 4-inch sticks
1 package crackers of your choice

  1. Place cream cheese, dressing, and Red Hot in a medium size pan and heat over medium heat until melted, stirring occasionally.
  2. Mix in chicken and 1/2 cup cheddar cheese. Heat until chicken is warm. Transfer to a slow cooker and sprinkle remaining 1/2 cup cheese on top. Cook on low until cheese is melted.
  3. Keep warm and serve with celery and crackers.


Slow Cooker Ribs

This is such a great meal to make in the slow cooker. You toss it into the pot before you leave for work or class and come home at night to one of the best smelling things in the world. On top of that, these are fall-off-the-bone tender. Who can pass up tender, easy, delicious ribs? I know I can’t!

Slow Cooker Ribs

Slow Cooker Ribs
adapted from

4 pounds pork baby back ribs
salt and pepper to taste
1 bottle BBQ sauce (I used Sweet Baby Ray’s Original)
3/4 cup ketchup
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
4 tablespoons vinegar
2 teaspoons dried oregano
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
1 dash hot sauce

  1. Preheat oven to 400°F.
  2. Season ribs with salt and pepper. Place in a shallow baking pan. Brown in oven 15 minutes on each side and drain fat.
  3. In a medium bowl, mix together the BBQ sauce, ketchup, brown sugar, vinegar, oregano, Worcestershire sauce, hot sauce, and salt and pepper. Place ribs in slow cooker, pour sauce over ribs, and turn to coat.
  4. Cover, and cook on low 6 to 8 hours, or until ribs are tender.