Slow Cooker Pulled Pork with Bourbon-Peach Barbecue Sauce

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So, I looked up from the craziness of life and realized, “Oops…summer is almost over!” This means that the lazy days of outdoor barbecues, freshly prepared summer salads, and picnic lunches are slowly giving way to food blog posts featuring hefty tailgate snacks, school lunch ideas, and super-quick weeknight dinner recipes.

However, one item that segues nicely from season to season is the slow cooker. And, what better way to use the slow cooker than to make flavorful and extremely tender pulled pork! The sweet and spicy bourbon-peach barbecue sauce keeps the summer flavors around a little longer while the slow cooker gives you more time outside to enjoy these last few summer weeks. As an added bonus, this recipe is from Cooking Light, so the pork and the sauce are calorie-friendly!

Find the recipe here or in the June 2014 issue of Cooking Light.

I’m back! (For real this time)

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I cannot believe it’s been two months since I last posted! For those who read my blog regularly, you may remember that I got a new job back in April. Well, I thought I was back on track with food blogging after I first started, but the work load was a bit more voluminous than I had expected, so I was staying late just about every night for the first month, meaning way more take out for dinner.

But, what you didn’t know was that my weekends were crazy as well, considering I went to Las Vegas for five days (with all the great restaurants!), watched the Duke men’s lacrosse team win back-to-back national championships over Memorial Day, and did a ton of traveling for the NBA Playoffs. Right around the time I started my new job, I was presented with a pretty amazing opportunity to write for the NBA during the final weeks of the regular season and during the playoffs, which meant I traveled to Charlotte, North Carolina for the first round, covered the Chicago Bulls during the second round, went to Indianapolis for the third round, and was capped off by a stint in San Antonio for Games 1 and 2 of the Finals! So, again, no opportunity to cook but ample means for dining out and take out meals.

Now that basketball season is over, I’m pretty much settled for the rest of the summer in Chicago. However, I needed something to get me excited about cooking at home again. And what better motivator than the produce at farmers markets! Oh, the smell of the strawberries and the tomatoes! I just couldn’t resist. Especially since my Cooking Light magazine introduced a fun way to enjoy the season’s juicy beefsteak tomatoes: by frying the skins! It was a simple little step that made these tomatoes even better. And, it got me excited about cooking again! I’m so glad to be back.

Beefsteak Tomato Salad with Fried Tomato Skins
(from Cooking Light June 2014)

2 1/2 pounds beefsteak tomatoes in assorted colors (about 4)
5 tablespoons olive oil, divided
3/8 teaspoon kosher salt, divided
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
2 cups baby arugula

1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Core tomatoes; discard cores. Place tomatoes in boiling water for 15 seconds. Plunge tomatoes into ice water; drain. Peel; arrange skins flat on a jelly-roll pan. Cut peeled tomatoes into 1/2-inch-thick slices; arrange on a platter.
2. Heat 1/4 cup oil in a small skillet over medium-high heat. Add half of skins to oil; cook 2 minutes or until crisp, turning occasionally. Drain on a paper towel; repeat procedure with remaining skins. Discard oil in pan. Sprinkle skins with 1/8 teaspoon salt.
3. Drizzle tomatoes with remaining 1 tablespoon oil; sprinkle with remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt and pepper. Top with tomato skins and arugula.

Pancetta Risotto with Truffle Oil

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Can you believe that Thanksgiving was only two weeks ago? I can’t. I hosted this year’s festivities for my family, and it was a whirlwind of baking, laughing, shopping, and eating! Even after sending everyone home with food, I’ve had enough leftovers that minimal to no cooking has been required these past two weeks!

However, the most recent issue of Cooking Light has been staring at me for awhile, and I wanted to try at least one recipe. I chose this pancetta risotto with truffle oil because I love truffle oil and because I had all the ingredients on hand except the pancetta. I was going to use chopped up bits of honey ham from Thanksgiving, but I wanted to stay true to the recipe since it was so simple. (See the recipe here).

This risotto was delicious but a bit peppery for my taste. Next time I’ll probably add only a quarter teaspoon of pepper (as opposed to the recipe’s one whole teaspoon) and splash on some fresh lemon juice for good measure. It was definitely worth buying the pancetta because its crispness and saltiness balanced out the pepper and made the risotto’s texture more substantial. This recipe is worth a try, if not for the truffle oil alone!

Ohio Buckeye Treats

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A few things:
1. I’m not a college football fan. I graduated from Duke, where our football team generated revenue for our amazing basketball and lacrosse programs instead.
2. Because of number 1, I don’t follow any college football team including the Ohio State Buckeyes.
3. I do watch Mike & Mike on ESPN2 while getting ready for work in the morning.
4. Ohio State is playing at Northwestern this weekend.
5. I know number 4 because one of the hosts of Mike & Mike went to Northwestern and cannot stop talking about Ohio State playing at Northwestern this weekend.
6. I have a subscription to Cooking Light magazine.
7. This month’s issue of Cooking Light includes a recipe for chocolate-peanut butter balls called Ohio Buckeyes that resemble Ohio buckeye tree nuts.
8. These Ohio Buckeye treats were pretty delicious and mostly easy to make. I had a bit of a problem dunking the peanut butter balls into the melted chocolate because they kept rolling off my dunking fork. Find the recipe here or in the October 2013 Cooking Light magazine.
9. I may have to watch the Ohio State game at Northwestern this weekend while eating these Ohio Buckeye treats.

INGREDIENTS
2 c. powdered sugar
6 tbsp. unsalted butter, softened
2 oz. 1/3-less-fat cream cheese, softened
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
1 1/2 c. reduced-fat creamy peanut butter
1/4 c. graham cracker crumbs (I inadvertently used 1 1/2 c. of graham cracker crumbs! The increased amount made the peanut butter balls less gooey.)
8 oz. dark chocolate (60-65% cacao), chopped

DIRECTIONS
1. Place first 4 ingredients (through salt) in a medium bowl; beat with a mixer at medium speed until creamy. Add peanut butter and graham cracker crumbs; beat until blended.
2. Cover a baking sheet with parchment paper. Shape peanut butter mixture by tablespoonfuls into 38 balls. Place balls on baking sheet; refrigerate 1 hour.
3. Place chocolate in the top of a double boiler; place over simmering water, stirring until almost melted. Remove from heat; stir until smooth. Let cool slightly.
4. Place each ball on a fork, and dip ball in chocolate until partially coated; return to parchment paper to harden.

Meatball Subs

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My sister’s girlfriend (Codename: PsychoBabble) is a huge Ohio State fan. Three weeks ago, she and my sister came over to watch OSU’s season opener against Buffalo, and I decided to make some traditional tailgating fare, meatball subs. Only after they had wolfed down three and a half of these subs did I reveal that I had followed Cooking Light’s recipe!

These meatball subs were absolutely delicious and filling. This trimmed down version used 90% lean ground sirloin, low-sodium marinara sauce, and roasted onions and yellow bell peppers. I even upped the health quotient by using multigrain hoagie bread and a mozzerella/provolone shredded cheese mix. These meatball subs are definitely worth a spot on your game day menu.

Vanilla Buttermilk Pound Cake

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After getting back from vacation, I noticed a large stack of “must try” summer recipes that I had piled up on the counter. Not wanting to deal with them or the fact that seasonal fruits and veggies are quickly disappearing, I decided to bake a random pound cake instead! I stayed healthy and chose a throwback recipe from the November 2008 issue of Cooking Light, see here. Though not as dense and lacking a tight crumb found in traditional pound cakes, it was lighter, fluffier, and only mildly sweet. Which is good because I ate a couple of slices with fresh berries.

Fettuccine with Seared Tomatoes, Spinach & Mozzarella

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This weekend was rather pleasant weather-wise in Chicago. Chilly enough to wear a sweater inside but bright enough to wear sunglasses outside. On this type of day, I want nothing more than to eat a satisfying dish of pasta. But, I didn’t want to indulge on one that was laden with tons of meat, cheese, or fat. So, I naturally turned towards Cooking Light to find a healthier, slimmed down pasta dish. This tasty fettuccine with seared tomatoes, spinach and mozzarella was in the March 2013 issue of Cooking Light, and it doesn’t skimp on flavor or seasoning. Although the original recipe calls for burrata, I substituted in a healthy-sized slice of buffalo mozzarella. Check out the recipe here.

Blush Mac n’ Cheese with Tomatoes

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One benefit of doing a cleanse is that it makes you appreciate the food you used to eat without reservation. After doing the Ultimate Beach Body Detox cleanse, I really thought about what food or dish I wanted to have once the cleanse was over. After careful consideration, I knew I wanted some kind of cheesy pasta, but I didn’t want to go overboard with the cheese. So, I turned to Cooking Light and found this blush mac ‘n cheese with tomatoes dish.

The pasta was extremely rich and creamy, considering the roux only contained 1 tablespoon of flour as thickener. And, who knew you could get so much flavor from just a bit of shallots, garlic, 2 tablespoons of tomato paste, and only 4 ounces of reduced-fat cheddar? I went a step further in the health department by using organic soy milk instead of 1% milk. I couldn’t even tell a difference. This came together so easily and satisfied my three-week long craving for cheesy pasta. And, the best part is that I didn’t have to undo any benefits I received from the cleanse to enjoy it!

This recipe can be found in the April 2013 issue of Cooking Light or here.

Fresh-Ground Brisket Burgers

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Even though I was really looking forward to it, I missed the Series 3 premiere of Downton Abbey on January 6th. However, it was scheduled for a repeat airing last Saturday at a later time (10:00 PM) which was perfect because it gave me plenty of time to try out my Kitchen Aid grinder attachment and make Cooking Light’s fresh-ground brisket burgers for dinner. I’m embarrassed to say that I received this grinder attachment as a Christmas gift in 2011. I’m not sure why I waited a whole year to use it, but it was my loss because these fresh-ground brisket burgers were delicious! And, I felt a sense of accomplishment that I was grinding my own meat because, a la Downton Abbey, their meat would have been fresh-ground as well. Although Miss Patmore’s grinder would definitely be a hand-crank as opposed to my electrical one.

Using brisket meat was definitely the right choice for these burgers; even the meat guy at Fox & Obel said so as he had seen the same recommendation on The Cooking Channel. The brisket was tender and only needed a dash of salt and pepper to enhance the flavor. Cooking Light’s recipe suggested passing the brisket through the grinder twice, but I found this to be a bit cumbersome. A lot more of the fat got stuck in the twisty tube the second time around, but maybe this was Cooking Light’s intention. I’ll have to experiment next time with the meat only going through once. Also, be warned that this recipe produces somewhat small burgers, so if you’re thinking you’ll get a nice, big, juicy burger, be prepared to bite into a nice, small, juicy burger.

ADM: Browned Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies

Every month when I receive my Cooking Light magazine, I dive into the issue wanting to try just about every recipe. However, as the month goes by, “every recipe” dwindles down to a handful, which then results in only one or two actually being made, depending on time. This month, one of the “survivor” recipes was browned butter chocolate chip cookies. This recipe struck a chord with me mainly because it uses whole wheat flour and melted browned butter. (No need to wait for softened butter!) These cookies tasted pretty fantastic. The recipe calls for a mixture of chocolate chips, but I used all dark chocolate ones. And, I ran out of vanilla somehow, so I substituted in half the amount with almond extract, which gave the cookies a tasty flavor twist.

Browned Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies (follow the link for the original recipe)
adapted from Cooking Light, October 2012

Ingredients
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons canola oil
5.6 ounces all-purpose flour (about 1 1/4 cups)
3.3 ounces whole-wheat flour (about 3/4 cup)
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
2/3 cup granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon almond extract
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 cup dark chocolate chips

Preparation
1. Preheat oven to 375°.
2. Heat butter in a small saucepan over medium heat; cook 5 minutes or until browned. Remove from heat; add oil. Set aside to cool.
3. Weigh or lightly spoon flours into dry measuring cups; level with a knife. Combine flours, baking powder, and salt, stirring with a whisk. Place butter mixture and sugars in a large bowl; beat with a mixer at medium speed until combined. Add almond extract and eggs; beat until well blended. Add flour mixture, beating at low speed until just combined. Stir in chocolate chips.
4. Drop by level tablespoonfuls 2 inches apart onto baking sheets lined with parchment paper. Bake 12 minutes or until bottoms of cookies just begin to brown. Cool slightly.

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