Slapdash Souvlaki

May was an INTENSE month here at the Ali Does It household. LongJohn went to daycare a month earlier than scheduled and I had a whole four weeks to get all the stuff done on the house I hadn’t had an opportunity to do when we moved in … because of the whole having-a-baby thing. Some of those projects are still in progress but I have SO MUCH to show you when they’re ready to be shown. If May was intense, then June is even more so. I went back to work full time AT A NEW JOB. And on my first day, I had HAND surgery. Today I’m having hand surgery on the OTHER hand. So things are a little nuts, to say the least. Luckily I have a bit of a backlog of posts for you guys. Let’s start with this one for the barbecue, now that we’re officially into grilling season.

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The Pie is a huge fan of souvlaki. We’re fortunate that some of the best souvlaki in town is only a short drive away. But it’s actually pretty easy to make your own souvlaki at home, provided you have some time to prep. Here’s how you can do it.

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First, let’s start with that most essential of condiments: tzatziki. You can always buy this but it’s easy to make as well. I rarely measure my amounts because I find they vary depending on my mood but here’s an approximation for you. Start off by grabbing about 1/2 cup plain yogurt and plopping it in a few layers of cheesecloth in a colander. Wrap it well and put something with a bit of weight on top. Place the colander over a bowl and shove it in the fridge for a few hours. I use Balkan style yogurt for this, but if you have Greek yogurt you can skip this step.

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After your yogurt has been pressed and some of the water has drained out, you can unwrap it and give the cheesecloth a bit of a rinse. You’re going to need it in a second.

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Grate up about half a cucumber. Plop the cucumber bits onto the cheesecloth, wrap it up, and give it a good squeeze over the sink and get rid of excess water.

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Now, tip that into a bowl together with the yogurt, some minced garlic, chopped fresh dill, salt, pepper, a few drops of lemon juice, and a drizzle of olive oil.

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Stir, stir, stir! Shove that back in the fridge for a few hours (preferably overnight) to let the flavours mingle.

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For the souvlaki we’re going to create a marinade. Start by finely chopping up a small red onion. I’m being smart here and using a large red onion because I’m making the recipe twice and chucking half of it in the freezer.

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Throw the onion bits in a large Ziploc freezer bag and tip in about 1/2 cup olive oil,

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2 tablespoons red wine vinegar,

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and 4 tablespoons lemon juice.

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Next plop in about 2 cloves minced garlic, 2 teaspoons dried (or fresh) oregano, and of course salt and pepper to taste.

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Wrangle yourself a decent-sized pork tenderloin (you can do this with chicken breast too). Don’t be tempted to use a pork shoulder or any other cut for this, as they’ll be too gristly when cubed. Trust me. I did it once when they were on sale and I regretted it. Pull the tough membrane off the tenderloin and trim any excess fat.

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Cut it into cubes.

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Chuck those cubes into your freezer bag.

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Seal the bag carefully, give it a good smushing together, and bung it in the fridge for several hours. While you’re waiting, grab some wooden skewers and plop them in a tray of water to soak for at least thirty minutes before you grill.

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When you’re set to start, shove the cubes of marinated meat onto your skewers (I like to use two skewers per so that they’re easier to flip) and grill until cooked through and at an internal temperature of about 145°F.

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Serve over rice with a hefty side of your fresh tzatziki and enjoy the summer!

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Teeny Tiny Tuna Patties

This was another attempt to feed LongJohn as well at home as he eats at daycare. He ended up not being a huge fan of these (despite, of course, him loving them at daycare), but I enjoyed them so much I’ve made them for myself and others since. It’s a great easy lunch when the thought of another boring sandwich just does not appeal. Not to mention that it’s one of those great flexible recipes that requires no measuring. The only ratio that is really important is one egg to every can of tuna you use. Other than that, play around!

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When I’m doing stuff like this, I always start with my seasonings: what do I want the flavour to be? In this case I have some chives, garlic chives, tarragon, and sage growing out in my garden so that was an easy choice.

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Other good options would be diced caramelized onions or green onions, shallots, fresh rosemary, basil … you get the picture. Chop those babies up.

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Tip your handful of fresh herbs into a bowl with about half a cup panko bread crumbs (you can use regular bread crumbs but I like the crunch of panko). Season with salt and pepper, maybe a little bit of onion and garlic powder if you’ve got ’em.

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Tip in as well some grated parmesan cheese, to your preference.

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And an egg! One egg for every can of tuna ensures maximum patty cohesion.

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Mix it into a gross paste.

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Now, your can of tuna: this is a chunk white albacore.

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Break that up and chuck it in the mix as well.

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Now melt a gob of butter and a dash of vegetable oil (to keep the butter from burning) in a large frying pan and let that heat up.

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Form the tuna paste into patties any size you like. These ones are about 2″ in diameter and I ended up with 8 in total.

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Slide those patties carefully into the hot butter and let them fry!

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Flip them after a few minutes, or when the bottoms are a nice golden brown.

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When they are brown on both sides, slide them onto a piece of paper towel to drain and cool slightly before taking a HUGE BITE.

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I served these with some plain yogurt mixed with Dijon mustard and those avocado fries I made in the last post.

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Fun Food Friday: Baked Avocado Fries

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Did you know that these are a THING?

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I was looking for a way to make it easier for LongJohn to grasp slippery avocado without totally. smushing. it. EVERYWHERE. and I found out that people BAKE the suckers after BREADING them. I got very excited about that. Then I looked at the price of avocados in this country and felt less excited. But LongJohn needs his superfoods …

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The trick here is to use underripe avocados, because otherwise they go a little too squishy after baking. These were perhaps a little past their prime but they did a decent job.

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Preheat your oven to 350°F, set the rack in the centre of the oven, and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Pit and peel your avocados and slice them lengthwise into nice long “fries.”

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Grab a bowl with some flour, another with some panko (seasoned with salt and pepper and whatever else you crazy kids can come up with), and a third bowl with a beaten egg (go with the ratio of one egg for every avocado you use).

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Dip an avocado fry into the egg, then the flour, then the panko, and lay them out on the baking sheet.

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Spray the fries with some cooking spray (sounds weird, I know, but trust me – it’ll make the panko go all nice and golden).

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Bake for 20-25 minutes, flipping the fries halfway through, until the panko is gloriously gold and they’re nice and crispy. You can see that my fries were a little softer than they should be in that my spatula took chunks out of them in the flipping process.

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I served these up to LongJohn with some tasty tuna patties, a dijon-yogurt dipping sauce, and a small mountain of fresh fruit … but you can do them however you do.Baked Avocado Fries 13

Creole Okra with Chicken and Tomatoes

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I don’t really know that much about southern food except that I like it a lot, and whenever I’m down south (I’m talking the southern US states here) I eat as much of it as I can. This dish started because I found okra at a good price at the grocery store and is more Creole-inspired than actually authentic (because again I don’t know much). It is adapted from something I found on The Kitchn. I doubled the amounts, prepared half this recipe in the pan and then chucked half of it in the freezer for later, like the clever person that I am†. Not that this recipe isn’t dead simple. I’m just lazy.

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I accompanied this one-dish meal with another dish: steamed beet greens.

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Preheat your oven to 400°F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Zest 1 lemon.

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Gather your spices. Creole spice blends tend to run to mixtures of the following, so make one to suit your own taste (this one is about 1 teaspoon of each): onion powder, garlic powder, oregano, thyme, parsley, smoked paprika, salt, pepper, cayenne. The recipe I was looking at didn’t use creole spices; instead it called for a bit of cumin and coriander. So I just used everything. Set that aside for a few minutes.

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Start with your okra, about 1lb, and slice the tops off before cutting it in half lengthwise. Apparently people either love or hate okra, because it’s a bit slimy. I am ambivalent so far.

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Lay that on your baking sheet and sprinkle with about 1 cup (canned/drained/rinsed) black-eyed peas.

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Next, slice up a small white onion.

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Sprinkle that onto the pan, together with a few cloves crushed or minced garlic.

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Give that a good drizzle with some nice olive oil.

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Now here’s where I kind of diverged from the recipe. This dish is a good meal all in itself as a vegetarian option, but I feed boys (boys who are not vegetarians) so I had to chuck some meat in here somehow. In a large bowl, I threw 8 boneless, skinless chicken thighs together with a 14oz can of diced tomatoes and your lemon zest.

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Then I chucked in all those lovely spices and gave it a good mixing.

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Spread the chicken and tomatoes evenly across the top of your peas and okra and shove it in the oven for about an hour. Give it a stir once or twice to make sure everything is browning evenly.

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We served ours over rice with the beet greens and it was pretty good. The Pie thought the okra was a little slimy (#1 reason why many people dislike it) but I thought it was pretty good!

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If you plan to freeze this recipe for later, I would recommend freezing it in two parts: in one bag goes the okra, peas, garlic, rice, and oil, and in the second bag goes the tomatoes, chicken, and spices. It just seems like a logical thing to do to tenderize the meat and prevent the peas and okra from getting too soggy.

Slow Cooker Texas Beef Chili

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Do you hate beans but like chili? Do you like beans but also like chili that’s a little different? Do you like chili? If you answered yes to any of the previous questions then this chili is for you. It’s beanless and beefy and incredibly satisfying, which is good because though it may be spring SOMEWHERE, in Ottawa we’ve had some major flooding and on Monday it stopped raining enough to SNOW. ALL. DAY. So we kind of need something cockle-warming. This chili is adapted from one my parents found on the internet and printed out and that I stole off their fridge in Florida and smuggled across the border.

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Start with 2lbs cubed beef chuck or stewing beef, and huck that in a non-stick skillet on high to sear all the sides. Chuck the browned beef into a large slow-cooker pot.

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Next, add in 2 tablespoons Worcestershire (“wooster”) sauce, 1 cup beef broth, a 28oz can of diced tomatoes, and 2 tablespoons tomato paste. Now, the recipe did not say to drain the tomatoes so I didn’t and I found my chili ended up a bit on the watery side (I also added twice as many tomatoes as the recipe asked for). I thickened the sauce with some cornstarch later on and it turned out super awesome, but I’ll leave it to your discretion to either drain the tomatoes or use a smaller can.

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Dice up the following: 1 white onion, 2 red bell peppers, 2 large carrots, 2 celery stalks, and a couple large green chilis. I used Anaheim chilis because they are huge and not too hot and I wanted to be able to feed this to LongJohn. Gather as well 1 tablespoon chili powder, 2 teaspoons cumin, 2 teaspoons paprika (ours is smoked), 1 teaspoon onion powder, 2 teaspoons garlic powder, and 1 teaspoon salt. Chuck all that in the slow cooker.

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Don’t forget to give it a bit of a stir.

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Cook that sucker on low for 8-12 hours, or on high for about 6.

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Before serving, juice 1 lime and add the juice to the mix.

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Serve garnished with either grated cheddar cheese, sour cream, or chopped cilantro (or all of the above, who are we kidding?).

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Cloud Cake

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I made this Martha Stewart recipe for one of our two Mother’s Day celebrations earlier this month, and it was easy to prepare all the pieces the day before and then assemble it with a flourish on the day of. The original recipe is not gluten-free but we had Fussellette staying with us and made one simple adjustment to make it that way – you can do it whichever way you would like.

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Start with the meringue: preheat your oven to 275°F and grab three 8″ round cake pans. I happened to have 2 8″ round cake pans and one 9″, so that’s what I used.

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Butter the pans and then line the bottom and sides with parchment. This is easier said than done as the pans are round and parchment is straight. Get creative with the folding. It’ll just add to the allure of the finished product, I promise. Now butter the parchment as well to make sure it sticks.

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Crack open 6 large eggs and separate the whites from the yolks. Put the yolks in the fridge for now and leave the whites to come to room temperature.

In the bowl of a food processor, pulse together 1 1/2 cups sugar, 3 tablespoons cornstarch, and 1/4 teaspoon coarse salt until smooth and powdery and when you open the lid it kind of wafts out like smoke. Don’t inhale that. You will cough.

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Now grab your 6 egg whites and beat them with a pinch of cream of tartar until soft peaks form.

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Slowly, a little bit at a time, tip in the sugar mixture and keep beating until you get lovely stiff peaks.

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Smooth the meringue amid your three pans and bake for 1 hour.

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Then turn off the oven and wedge the oven door open with a wooden spoon for another hour. Then move the pans to a wire rack to cool completely. If you’re going to assemble the cake the next day, slip each layer of cooled meringue into a separate sealed bag and suck the air out of it.

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Next, let’s work on the custard cream. In a bowl, whisk together 1/3 cup sugar, 1/4 cup flour, and a pinch of coarse salt. We made a gluten-free version of the flour by combining coconut flour, xanthan gum, and corn starch.

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In a small saucepan, combine your leftover 6 egg yolks (original recipe calls for 3 but why waste them?) with 1 1/2 cups buttermilk and a split vanilla bean pod with the seeds scraped out. Stir that over medium heat and slowly add in the flour mixture.

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With ours, because of the nontraditional ingredients, I found the buttermilk reacted with either the cornstarch or the xanthan gum and I pretty much had instant custard. So I stirred it until I was sure the yolks had a chance to cook and then took it off the heat. If you’re using regular flour you may have to work harder at it, so stir until it just comes to a boil and then strain through a fine meshed sieve.

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Pour the custard cream into a bowl, lay a piece of plastic wrap over the surface so it’s completely sealed, and chuck it in the fridge for at least an hour or overnight.

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Now there’s caramel to make too. In the original, Martha used the microwave but we moved ours into the basement and that was too far away. I did this in a small saucepan on the stove. First, spray a baking sheet with cooking spray or line it with parchment.

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Then over medium heat, stir together 1/3 cup sugar and 2 tablespoons corn syrup.

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Cook, stirring often, until the mixture is bubbling and turns a light brown.

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Remove that from the heat and drizzle it over the baking sheet.

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Leave that to cool then chop it up with a knife into little tiny jagged pieces. If you’re assembling the next day, shove the pieces into a resealable bag and squeeze the air out.

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To assemble, start by whipping up some heavy cream to your taste and amount (this is going on the top as garnish so use as much as you like – I think we whipped up about a cup of it). Cream whips better if your bowl and mixers are cold, so chuck them in the freezer for a while if you can.

Plop one of the meringues on a nice plate and smother it with about half the custard cream.

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Sprinkle that with about 1/3 of your caramel pieces.

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Let some fall off artistically to the side. It’s decorative.

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Plop another meringue on and smear with the rest of the custard cream and another 1/3 of the caramel bits. Add the final layer and top that with your whipped cream and the last of the caramel. Serve immediately!

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Another Slow Cooker Dip Trio – in two parts

This past weekend, we had our housewarming party – finally. Mostly because we finally had enough furniture for people to sit on. And also because it’s hard to warm a house in the middle of the winter. This way, we could use the barbecue.

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The Pie wanted to make use of our three-pot mini slow cookers and prepare some dips for our guests, so here are two of the ones we came up with. The final one involved a bit of extra prep so it’s a post on its own. The two posted today were made significantly smaller so they’d fit in our tiny pots.

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This first one, a garlic white bean dip, doesn’t really require a slow cooker, unless you want it to be served warm (which we did). I also took out some of the prep steps to make the whole thing a one-shot process. Start by glugging 1/4 cup olive oil into a small saucepan, and add in the equivalent of 6 cloves of garlic, thinly sliced. Cook that on low for about 5 minutes, until garlic smells start to fill your whole kitchen.

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Grate up about 3/4 cup parmesan cheese and the zest from 1 lemon.

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Then, grab your food processor and chuck in 2 cans of cannelini beans, drained and rinsed. I used one can white beans and one can of white navy beans. Tip in as well 1/3 cup water, 1 cup ricotta cheese, your garlic and oil stuff, the parmesan and lemon zest, 1/4 cup pitted kalamata olives, and a generous helping of salt and ground black pepper.

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Give that a good whaz until it’s all smooth. Add a bit more olive oil if you think it looks dry (and if you’re going to keep it in the slow cooker all day, add a bit more as it has a tendency to dry out).

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Plop that in the slow cooker and leave it on low for about 2 hours to warm through. Enjoy!

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This next one is pretty good, but we actually found it a little bland and might spice it up some more next time. It’s a corn and cheese dip with bacon and pale ale and I think it has plenty of potential for enhancement. Start by tipping 3 1/2 cups frozen corn into your slow cooker. Top that with 2 minced cloves of garlic and 1 1/2 cups grated cheese (we used an extra-old cheddar).

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Dice up a red bell pepper and a de-seeded jalapeno.

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Chuck those in the pot with 3/4 cup sour cream, 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin, 1/2 teaspoon chili powder, and salt and pepper to taste.

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Grab a pale ale as well and tip in about 1/3 to 1/2 cup of it. I think next time I’d use something with a bit more flavour, as neither the Pie nor myself are IPA fans (not that I’m drinking these days anyway).

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Give that a good stirring to mix things up. Then grab a package of plain cream cheese and break it up into chunks, which you can then spread over the top of the thing. Cover and cook on high for 4 hours.

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While that’s on the go, cook up about 4 slices of bacon until it’s crispy enough to crumble and let it cool (so you can crumble it). Harvest some fresh chives from your garden (it’s the only thing growing right now). Cut those up in a wee bowl and set the bacon and chives aside until the dip is ready.

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When the dip is hot, stir well to incorporate the cream cheese and then garnish with the chives and bacon. Eat!

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Slow Cooker Black Bean Enchiladas

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This recipe from the kitchn came with so many caveats about how these are not your ordinary baked enchiladas, and how they end up being a gooey mess but they’re still good, that it was almost worth making them just to see if they lived up to all the anti-hype. They’re easy, they’re tasty – they’re messy and not crispy at all. And still good. So give them a try.

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They are a great way to use up weird leftover bits of things. This is what tofu does when you freeze it. People like to freeze it because it goes crumbly, so we tried it as an experiment after making stir fry one night.

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Start by chopping up 1 small onion. Dice up 1 red bell pepper. Drain and rinse 1 16oz can of black beans. Divvy out 1 cup frozen corn. Mix all those together in a bowl. Grate up 1-2 cups good melting cheese, and add in 1/2 cup of that cheese to the bowl.

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Mix together as well some spices: 2 teaspoons chili powder, 1 teaspoon cumin and 1 teaspoon kosher salt. I find often that this sort of food genre is benefitted by adding in 1 teaspoon cinnamon as well.

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Tip that into the mixed veg.

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Add in any leftover ground meat or chicken you have, if you have any, or this weird crumbled spongy thawed tofu. I really felt like I was breaking up a sponge. Later, I felt like I was EATING a sponge.

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In the bottom of a 4-6 quart slow cooker, spread enough of a 30oz jar of salsa to coat the bottom. You’ll note here that we have a very bowl-shaped slow-cooker. This probably works a bit better in a more flat-bottomed version.

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Ker-SPLAT.

Grab a package of flour tortillas (ours were the small size, pack of 10). Scoop about 1/3 cup of that vegetable filling into each tortilla, roll it up, and lay it seam-side-down in the slow cooker.

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Once you’ve got a layer (with our shape of bowl, that didn’t take long), sprinkle with more salsa and some more of the cheese.

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You should probably end up with only two layers but because of the shape of our bowl we had three, so it was a good thing I grated more cheese. Any extra filling can be piled on top.

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Then add in the rest of the jar of salsa. Resist adding on the rest of the cheese – keep about 1/2 cup of it back for the end bit.

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Cook on high for 2-4 hours (or on low for 8 hours if you’re prepared for extra mushy enchiladas). In the last 15 minutes of cooking, take the last 1/2 cup of cheese and sprinkle that over top, close the lid, and let it melt.

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Serve with sour cream, guacamole, and cilantro, or whatever else floats your enchilada boat!

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(More) Meals en Masse: Beef Stroganoff

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I know, it seems like this is all I’m doing these days. Well it’s kind of all I have time for in the evenings now, and I kind of want to get as much of it done as I can before I start to get REALLY tired. This Martha Stewart Stroganoff (adapted for lazy busy people) is almost as good as it would be if you made it by searing the meat and cooking it in a Dutch oven, and it takes way less time to put together. The amounts below will make a meal that serves six; I doubled the recipe and then divided it into three, cooking one and freezing two, and it perfectly sated the Pie and myself for dinner and provided a hefty lunch for us both the next day.

Start by chopping up 1 large onion. Chop it as coarsely or finely as you prefer. This is your jam, man.

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Grab as well 1 lb white mushrooms. You can cut them in half if you like but I was extra lazy and bought the pre-sliced mushrooms. Because I’m an adult and this is my house and I totally can do whatever I want (the novelty has not worn off yet – I don’t think it ever will).

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Grab yourself 2lbs good quality stewing beef. Mmm beef. The original recipe calls for you to take 2lbs chuck and slice it 1/2″ thick and 3″ long but who got time for that?

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Pitch all that into a 5-6 quart slow-cooker pot and dust liberally with coarse salt and black pepper.

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The other batches I chucked in freezer bags and I’m hoping the mushrooms will come out of it okay. Fingers crossed. If it doesn’t work out I’m sure that the Pie and I will be too sleep-deprived to notice.

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Cook your beef for 8 hours on low (or 6 hours on high), until everything is nice and brown and you have all this awesome juice. Scoop out about 1 cup of that awesome juice and pour it into a wee pot on your stove.

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Grab 2 tablespoons cornstarch and blend it with 2 tablespoons water.

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Pour that cornstarch mixture into the cooking juice and bring that to a boil.

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Let it cook for a few minutes until it gets nice and thick.

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While that’s going on, cook up a batch of egg noodles. I feel like this particular dish is what egg noodles were made for. If you wanna go gluten-free on this one, you may have to find alternative noodles.

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Turn the slow-cooker off (or leave it on warm) and return the thickened juice to the pot. Tip in as well 1/2 cup sour cream and 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard (this version I use has tarragon in it and it’s AMAZING). Give that a solid stirring.

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Serve over your cooked egg noodles with fresh dill, if you have it (I didn’t).

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A hunk of nice bread to sop up the extra sauce won’t go amiss, either.

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Meals en Masse: Honey Chicken with Quinoa

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Here’s another quick-to-make slow-cooking easy-to-freeze recipe that is highly satisfying and adaptable (which I adapted, of course, from i heart naptime). You can use fresh or frozen chicken breasts in the recipe, which means that even if you didn’t plan ahead you’re still going to be just fine.

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Take 2-3 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (mine are frozen) and plop them in the bottom of a slow cooker pot turned to low.

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Chop up 1 sweet onion into bite-sized pieces (the original recipe calls for onion powder but I think real onions are better).

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In a bowl, dollop 1 tablespoon olive oil, the equivalent of 2-3 cloves minced garlic, 1 teaspoon kosher salt, and a bunch of ground pepper, as much as you like.

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Add to that as well 1/2 cup soy sauce and 3/4 cup honey and give it a good stirring.

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Pour the sauce over your chicken and cook for 4-6 hours on low.

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And if you happened to have additional chicken breasts, you can chuck those in a freezer bag with more onions and more sauce (I made the recipe in triplicate) and chuck those in the freezer for later.

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I realized just now that I wrote “April ’17” on these bags. I hope future me isn’t too sleep-deprived to think that they were made by an even more future-me.

The chicken is done when it falls apart on you.

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I decided to go whole hog and shredded it with a fork to expose all the chickeny bits to the sauce.

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I served it on top of a quinoa-bulgur blend that I cooked with just a little bit of lemon juice added to the water, a little bit of extra sauce, and garnished the whole thing with a pinch or two of white sesame seeds.

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