Slow Cooker Pork Gyros with Tzatziki Sauce

I’m still in a Greek mood over here at SS&N (check out my last post, Warm Greek Salad with Chicken, if you missed it!) so I’m continuing the theme with another very much Greek-inspired dish!

Gyros are one of the most well-known parts of Greek cuisine. You’re probably familiar with them – a grilled pita filled with either chicken, pork, or veal, along with various condiments and veggies. Traditionally, the meat is roasted slowly on a spit over a constant heat. I’ve deviated a bit from tradition here, mainly due to my lack of a vertical turning spit for meat, and decided to do mine in the slow cooker. One of my most popular posts was my Apple Pulled Pork, and this definitely gives a nod to that method, but I’ve switched up the spices and cooking liquid a bit to make the dish definitely Greek.

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Start by dicing 1/2 a red onion and 2 stalks of celery and put them in the bottom of your slow cooker, to create a bed for the pork. Next comes the ever-important spice rub, which as always, starts with brown sugar. To the brown sugar, add 1 tbsp sat, 2 tsp of pepper, and about a teaspoon each of garlic powder, basil, oregano, celery seed, and dill weed. Rub this liberally all over your cut of pork. For mine, I used a 2 pound pork loin, and it turned out SO tender! If you’re needing to serve more than 4 people, you can use a pork butt (also called a pork shoulder) like I did in my original pulled pork recipe. If you get one that’s 4 pounds it should easily serve 8 people. (Obviously, double the quantities of everything listed if you go that route!)

Carefully place your pork on top of the bed of celery and onion.

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The last thing you’ll need before you set this thing a-cooking is your braising liquid. It’s so simple, you almost won’t believe it. Just combine the zest and juice of one lemon, 1 cup of dry white wine, and 1/2 a cup of balsamic vinegar. Pour that around your pork, put the lid on, and cook on high for 4 hours (or low for 7-8).

After the pork is cooked through, take it out of the slow cooker and use two forks to shred the meat, then return the shredded meat to the slow cooker and let simmer on low for another 15-30 minutes… essentially as long as it takes to do the rest of the prep for the meal!

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To make the tzatziki sauce, dice 1/2 a cucumber, salt liberally (perhaps 2 teaspoons or so), and then add them to a blender or food processor, along with 1 cup of plain Greek yogurt, the zest and juice of 1/2 a lemon, and a teaspoon each of pepper, dill weed, and mint. Blend until smooth and then dish out into a small bowl.

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Finally, no gyro is complete without vegetables! Julienne 1/2 a red onion and 1 green pepper and saute with olive oil over medium high heat for about 3-5 minutes, or until they become tender and pliable. Add 2 cloves of minced garlic, saute for one additional minute, and then remove from the heat.

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Once everything is done, use a slotted spoon to dish the pork out of the slow cooker, ensuring that you let most of the liquid drain off. Serve the pork, sauce, veggies, and some feta cheese in warmed pita bread. Pita bread comes with a handy little pocket for filling, but for the pictures, I just piled all my filling on top! 🙂

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Enjoy with a glass of dry white wine. Cheers!

Full Recipe:

Slow Cooker Pork Gyros with Tzatziki Sauce

Yield: 4 hearty servings

Ingredients:

Pork:
1/2 red onion, diced
2 stalks celery, diced
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 tbsp salt
2 tsp black pepper
1 tsp each garlic powder, basil, oregano, celery seed, dill weed
2-pound pork loin
1 lemon (zest and juice)
1 cup dry white wine
1/2 cup balsamic vinegar

Tzatziki Sauce:
1/2 cucumber, diced
2 tsp salt
1 cup plain greek yogurt
1/2 lemon (juice and zest)
1 tsp each pepper, dill weed, mint

Gyro Assembly:
4-6 pieces pita bread
1 tbsp olive oil
1 green pepper, julienned
1/2 red onion, julienned
2 cloves garlic, minced
Feta cheese, for topping

Process:

1) Make a spice rub for the pork. Combine brown sugar, salt, pepper, garlic powder, basil, oregano, celery seed, and dill weed in a small dish. Rub liberally all over the sides of the pork.

2) Place diced onion and celery in bottom of slow cooker. Carefully lay rubbed pork on top.

3) Combine lemon zest and juice, white wine, and balsamic vinegar, and then pour around the pork. Cover and cook on high for 4 hours or low for 7-8 hours.

4) Once pork is finished cooking, remove from slow-cooker and use two forks to shred the meat. Return the meat to the slow cooker and let simmer on low for another 15-30 minutes.

5) To make the tzatziki sauce, salt the cucumbers with the 2 tsp of salt and add to a blender or food processor. Also add the yogurt, lemon zest and juice, pepper, dill, and mint. Blend until smooth and pour into a small dish for serving.

6) Saute julienned green pepper and onions in olive oil over medium high heat for 3-5 minutes or until beginning to become soft and translucent. Add garlic and saute for one additional minute, then remove from heat.

7) Warm the pita bread and then cut open and fill with sauce, pork, and veggies. Top with feta cheese and enjoy!

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Coconut Chicken with Pina Colada Glaze and Hawaiian Rice

Happy Valentine’s Day to all! This would be an awesome dish to make your valentine if you’re sick of the cold and want to imagine you’re in the tropics with a Mai Tai in your hand and not a care in the world! (Stay tuned later this week for my amazing take on a mai tai.) Of course, this is also just an awesome dish in general – I’d even wager that your kids would like it, as long as they don’t have anything against coconut or pineapple.

The title is a little of a mouthful (sorry!) but there’s a lot of moving parts to this meal and there’s just so many good things about it that I had to include as much in the title as I could!

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The recipe following is for four, but feel free to adjust as necessary!

The first thing you’ll need to do is preheat your oven to 350 degrees, and then put together your breading assembly line. Doing any kind of “breading” process on meat is very simple, but so many people wind up with their yummy coating not sticking and falling off the meat! There’s an easy trick to it, as some may remember from my Parmesan Breaded Chicken (which was a popular hit on Pinterest!): you have to coat the meat in flour first, THEN egg, THEN the breading. Coating in flour first gives the egg something to stick on to, which then makes the breading adhere better!

So, you’ll need three shallow dishes:

Dish 1: 2 tablespoons of flour plus 1 teaspoon of salt plus 1/2 teaspoon of pepper
Dish 2: 1 egg, beaten
Dish 3: 1 heavy cup coconut flakes plus 1/2 cup finely chopped pecans

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MAKE OR BREAK TIP: Adding the salt and pepper to the flour ensures that the flavor is close to the chicken and doesn’t get lost in the breading. Follow this rule any time you’re breading meat, especially with coarser coatings like this one!

Next, prep your chicken. I tend to buy the store brand of chicken breast, and they are HUGE, so I cut one of those babies in half to make two better portioned pieces. Cut two large breasts in half to make four pieces and then get a few tablespoons of canola oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Coat the chicken first in the flour (shake off excess), then the egg, and finally the coconut. You’ll really need to use your hands to coat the chicken thoroughly. Lay each piece carefully in the pan and allow to brown on both sides. (About 2 minutes or so per side.)

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Once the chicken is browned, put the pieces in a glass baking dish, sprinkle with some additional coconut (1/4 cup or so) and bake for 20-25 minutes. (Conveniently, that should be about the time you’re finishing up everything else.)

Next, you’ll need to get your pina colada glaze reducing. In a small saucepan, combine 1 cup pineapple juice, 1/4 cup cream of coconut, 3 tablespoons sugar, 1/2 tsp salt, 1/4 cup coconut flakes, and 2 ounces of crushed pineapple (1/4 of an 8 oz can). Stir well and keep over high heat, allowing it to boil and then reduce down while you’re making the rice.

KITCHEN TIP: You can find cream of coconut in most liquor stores, or in the section of your grocery store where they sell drink mixers. As my loyal readers know, I’m a bit of an amateur mixologist, so I always have some on hand for when I make tropical drinks!

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I use regular old Uncle Ben’s white rice, which takes about 20 minutes to cook. Put 1 cup of rice and 2 cups of water in a medium saucepan, allow to boil, then cover and reduce heat to low to allow the water to soak into the rice while it cooks. (Otherwise, follow the directions for whatever kind of rice you use.) Once the rice is going, you can work on the rest of the components to make the rice super delish. 🙂

I call it Hawaiian rice, but really, it’s essentially just fried rice with some minor changes… I gave a recipe for excellent fried rice in my Slow Cooker Teriyaki Chicken recipe, but since this is a bit different, here’s a refresher:

Dice 1/4 of a sweet onion and 1/2 a green (or red, or yellow, or orange…) pepper. Put these in a skillet over medium high heat with a few tablespoons of oil. (I just washed the pan I used for the chicken and used that one – less dishes later!) Once these have sweated for about a minute or so, add 3/4 cup frozen peas, stir to distribute, and allow to cook for 4-5 minutes. Just before it’s done, add 1 clove of minced garlic.

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KITCHEN TIP: Buy your peppers in bulk and prep them once your home – I usually like to julienne some and dice the rest. Put them into separate Ziploc freezer bags, labeled with the date, and freeze them! They’ll be good for up to 6 months, and then you can just take out what you need.

Once the veggies are cooked, push them to the side and pan-scramble one egg in the empty space of the pan. It’s not going to look super appetizing, since it’s going to pick up the oils and juices from the vegetables, but don’t worry. The brown stuff is packed with flavor!

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Once the egg is cooked, mix it in with the rest of the vegetables. Add your cooked rice, 1 tsp salt, 1 tsp pepper, and 1 tsp ground ginger, along with 6 ounces of crushed pineapple (the rest of the can you opened earlier for the glaze) and 2 tablespoons each of soy sauce and teriyaki sauce. Stir this all together until combined and then remove from the heat.

By the time your chicken is done, your glaze should have reduced nicely. Take the glaze off the heat and get the chicken out of the oven. You’re ready to plate and serve! Top the chicken with the glaze and serve immediately. (You could also double the glaze recipe and add it to the rice, too!)

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I’m not responsible for when this dinner disappears faster than you can blink! Once you get the process down, it works like a well-oiled machine, and I’m sure this will become a staple dinner for your house!

Full recipe:

Coconut Chicken with Pina Colada Glaze and Hawaiian Rice

Yield: 4 servings

Chicken:

2 large chicken breasts, cut in half to make 4 pieces
2 tbsp flour
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
1 egg, beaten
1 heavy cup coconut flakes, plus more for sprinkling
1/2 cup finely chopped pecans
3 tbsp canola oil, for the pan

Glaze:

1 cup pineapple juice
1/4 cup cream of coconut
3 tbsp sugar
2 ounces crushed pineapple
1/4 cup coconut flakes
1/2 tsp salt

Rice:

1 cup regular white rice
2 cups water
2 tbsp canola oil, for the pan
1/4 onion, diced
1/2 green pepper, diced
3/4 cup frozen peas
1 clove garlic, minced
1 egg
6 ounces crushed pineapple
1 tsp salt
1 tsp pepper
1 tsp ground ginger
2 tbsp soy sauce
2 tbsp teriyaki sauce

Process:

1) Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Prepare breading assembly line by combining flour, salt, and pepper in first dish, beaten egg in second dish, and coconut and pecans in third dish.

2) Coat a large skillet in canola oil and put over medium heat. Bread the chicken by coating first in flour, making sure to shake off the excess, then the egg, and finally the coconut. Use your hands to ensure the chicken is well coated in coconut and then lay each piece carefully into the pan. Brown on each side for about 2 minutes, then transfer to a glass baking dish, top with additional coconut, and bake for 20-25 minutes or until cooked through.

3) In a small saucepan, combine pineapple juice, cream of coconut, sugar, crushed pineapple, coconut flakes, and salt. Stir to combine and bring to boil over high heat and then allow to reduce.

4) In a medium saucepan, add rice and water. Bring to a boil and then cover and reduce heat to low, allowing rice to cook through until all the water is gone.

5) In large skillet, heat canola oil over medium high heat and add onion and pepper, allowing to sweat for a minute before adding frozen peas. Let this cook for 4-5 minutes, then add garlic and cook for one additional minute.

6) Push the vegetables to the side of the pan and pan scramble an egg in the open space, then stir into the vegetables.

7) Once the rice is done, add to the vegetables, along with pineapple, salt, pepper, ginger, soy sauce, and teriyaki sauce. Stir to combine and then remove from heat until ready to serve.

8) After chicken is done baking, remove from oven and plate with the rice. Top chicken with glaze and serve!

Truly Home Made Pasta Alfredo

Okay, so I know that food manufacturers make it like SUPER easy to skip a bunch of steps when you’re cooking and buy everything pre-made and then just throw it together in various pans.

While the convenience is nice… you lose a lot of flavor potential and, quite frankly, the dish tastes flat and, well… canned. Hmm, maybe that’s why the “pasta alfredo” you make at home with lackluster jarred sauce and frozen meat doesn’t taste quite like the “Pasta Alfredo” you get from the authentic Italian restaurant down the road that promotes their “made from scratch” Alfredo sauce and “fresh, never frozen” meat.

I have tried to really make it clear through this blog that cooking from scratch and making restaurant quality dishes doesn’t have to be hard or expensive! If you shop smart and cook without waste it really becomes so worth it to make everything yourself.

Now, I’m not about to tell you to start making your own pasta – while that can be very rewarding, it’s a tricky process and sort of defeats the “it’s really easy and quick” mantra I continually put out. So, keep on buying boxed pasta on sale for $1 a box – it’s really cheap and still tastes fine!

That being said, after reading this post, you should never buy jarred or canned Alfredo sauce – EVER again!

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The kind of pasta and meat you use for this is really entirely up to you – I used smoked sausage for my meat and Cellentani for my pasta. The important part is getting the sauce down. A note though: if you’re used smoked sausage, it’s really seasoned enough on its own, so just brown it in oil and set it aside. If you’re using something like chicken or shrimp, however (which has a blander flavor profile) you’ll want to kick up the spice a bit while you’re cooking it – even if it’s just salt, pepper, and something like basil or cayenne.

So, once you’ve browned/cooked your meat in some olive oil and removed it from the pan, keep the pan over a medium-low heat and add 1/2 a diced onion to the remaining oil. Let the onions sweat for about 2 minutes, then add 2 cloves of minced garlic.

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Let this sweat for another minute more, then add 1 cup of cream (or milk, if you’re trying to keep things low-fat).

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It will bubble and steam as it de-glazes the pan and reduces down. After about 1-2 minutes, add 2 tablespoons of mascarpone cheese and 1 cup of Parmesan cheese, along with 1 tsp salt, 1/2 tsp pepper, 1 tsp basil, and 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper. Stir until the cheese has melted and spices are combined.

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Stir in your reserved meat and then whatever pasta you cooked, and serve! That’s it. It’s that simple – and it will taste so much better than that lame jarred stuff!

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Full Recipe:

Home Made Pasta Alfredo

Yield: 2-3 servings

Ingredients:

1 tbsp olive oil
1/2 onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup cream (or milk)
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons mascarpone cheese
1 tsp salt
1 tsp basil
1/2 tsp pepper
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper

Process:

1) Heat olive oil in a skillet over medium-low heat. Add onions and allow to sweat for about two minutes, then add garlic and let sweat for an additional minute.

2) Pour in cream to de-glaze the pan and allow to reduce for 2 minutes or so, then stir in spices, Parmesan, and mascarpone until cheese is melted and everything is combined.

3) Stir in cooked pasta and browned meat of your choice and serve immediately.

Skillet Chicken with White Wine Cranberry Glaze

I often have occasions where I stare into my pantry/fridge and I see a couple of different things and think, “Hm, I wonder if I could make this work together…”

Perhaps I just watch Chopped too much, but this dish was born out of that type of experience. I knew I had chicken in the fridge and dried cranberries in the pantry, so I got to thinking, “What if…” and thus, this dish was born. And boy, was it delicious.

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Bonus, I’ll also include a recipe at the bottom for that amazing spicy and sweet succotash you see with the chicken. 😉

Preheat the oven to 350. Add a tablespoon of olive oil to a skillet and heat over medium-low. While the pan is heating, sprinkle both sides of two chicken breasts with salt, pepper, oregano, cilantro, and thyme, then add them to the pan.

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Let them cook for about 5 minutes, then flip and cook for an additional 5 minutes. While they are cooking, roughly chop about 1/4 cup of pecans and spread them out on a small baking sheet. Then dice 1/4 of an onion and mince 1 clove of garlic.

Once the chicken has browned on both sides, put it in a baking pan coated with non-stick cooking spray and allow to bake while you prep the sauce. (About 15 total minutes in the oven should do it.) You can also put the chopped pecans in the oven now – just remember to take them out after about 5 minutes.

In the same pan that you cooked the chicken (still over medium-low heat), add your diced onion and toss to coat in the remaining olive oil. Allow these to saute for a few minutes, then add the minced garlic and about 1/2 cup of dried cranberries.

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Toss to combine and allow to simmer for another two minutes or so, then add 1/2 cup dry white wine to the pan. Allow this to reduce down (3-5 minutes) and then add 2 tablespoons of mascarpone cheese and 1 tablespoon of butter. Stir this in until it melts, leave on the heat for one more minute, and then remove from the heat.

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Plate your chicken once it’s cooked through and top with the glaze and a handful of chopped pecans. Serve with the spicy-sweet succotash listed below!

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Recipes:

Skillet Chicken with White Wine Cranberry Glaze

Yield: 2 servings

Ingredients:

2 boneless skinless chicken breasts
1 tbsp olive oil
Salt, pepper, cilantro, oregano, thyme (to taste)
1/4 cup pecans, roughly chopped
1/4 onion, diced
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1/2 cup dry white wine
2 tbsp mascarpone cheese
1 tbsp butter

Process:

1) Preheat oven to 350. Heat 1 tbsp of olive oil in a skillet over medium-low heat.

2) Sprinkle both sides of chicken with salt, pepper, cilantro, oregano, and thyme, then place in the heated oil. Cook for 5 minutes per side, then place in a baking dish coated with nonstick spray and bake for 15 minutes. Put the pecans on a small baking sheet and also put these in the oven – bake for 5 minutes.

3) In the same pan used for the chicken (still over medium-low heat) add the onions. Toss and saute for about 3 minutes, then add the garlic and cranberries. Saute for another 2 minutes or so, then add wine and allow to reduce for about 3-5 minutes.

4) Add the mascarpone and butter to the pan and stir until they’ve melted. Remove from the heat after an additional minute.

5) Plate chicken and top with glaze. Sprinkle with toasted pecans. Serve immediately.

Spicy-Sweet Succotash

Yield: 2 servings

Ingredients:

1 & 1/2 cups water
3/4 cup frozen corn
3/4 cup frozen lima beans
1/4 cup dried cranberries
2 tbsp butter
1 tbsp sugar
Salt, pepper, cilantro, cayenne, to taste

Process:

1) Add frozen corn and lima beans with water to a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cook for 7 minutes.

2) After the initial 7 minutes, add the cranberries to the water and cook for an additional minute or two.

3) Drain, then put the succotash back in the sauce pan over low heat and stir in butter, sugar, and spices. (The more cayenne you add, the spicier it will be. A safe bet to not be overwhelming is about 1/4 tsp.) Serve immediately.

Grilled Chicken Cilantro Lime Salad

This is a fabulous summery dish that you can have really any time of year if you want to remind yourself of the crisp and sweet tastes of the warmer months! (I really needed that reminder since Old Man Winter keeps dropping snow on us!)

It uses a great combination of different flavors to provide a really great flavor profile for a great dish that’s good for a hearty lunch or a light dinner!

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Start off by getting your spices together: in a small dish, combine the zest of 1 lime, and then 1/2 tsp each of salt, cilantro, and garlic powder, along with 1/4 tsp of black pepper and cayenne pepper.

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Coat a small frying pan in a couple teaspoons of olive oil and heat it over low heat. Take about 1/4 of your seasoning mix and rub it over one side of a chicken breast.

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Put this in your frying pan, seasoning side DOWN, and then add some more salt, pepper, and cilantro to the unseasoned side. Let this cook for about 5-8 minutes or until it’s started to brown, then turn the chicken over, cover, and cook for an additional 8 minutes or so, or until the chicken is cooked through.

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While the chicken is cooking you can prepare the salad. Roughly chop 1 romaine lettuce heart and add it to a medium-large bowl. Then, julienne 1 carrot, 1/2 an onion, and 1/2 an apple. (I used Gala to add some red color, but any crisp/tart variety would be fine!)

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Add these to your lettuce and toss them together. Then, to the dish of your remaining seasoning, add the juice of the lime you zested earlier, 2 tbsp of olive oil, and 1 tbsp of rice vinegar. Use a fork to whisk this together, then pour it over your salad and toss to combine. Dish the salad out into two bowls.

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Once your chicken is done and has cooled a bit, cut it into thin slices and then top each salad with equal amounts of chicken. Serve immediately!

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Full Recipe:

Grilled Chicken Cilantro Lime Salad

Yield: 2 servings

Ingredients:

Zest & juice of 1 lime
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cilantro
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/4 tsp black pepper
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp rice vinegar

2 tsp olive oil
1 boneless skinless chicken breast

1 romaine lettuce heart, roughly chopped
1 carrot, julienned
1/2 onion, julienned
1/2 apple, julienned

Process:

1) In a small dish, combine lime zest, salt, cilantro, garlic powder, black pepper, and cayenne pepper.

2) Heat 2 tsp olive oil in a small skillet over low heat. Rub 1/4 of the seasoning mix onto one side of your chicken breast and place it seasoning side down into the skillet. Sprinkle unseasoned side with additional salt, pepper, and cilantro. Cook for 5-8 minutes, then turn and cover and cook for an additional 8 minutes or until cooked through. Set aside to cool.

3) Stir in 2 tbsp olive oil, 1 tbsp rice vinegar, and juice of 1 lime to your seasoning mix.

4) Combine lettuce, carrots, onions, and apples in a large bowl and toss together. Add dressing and toss to combine.

5) Plate salad in two separate dishes. Cut your chicken into thin slices and divide evenly between the two salads. Serve immediately.

Homemade Barbecue Sauce

Oh no, it’s another teaser post before the main course! 🙂

I PROMISE the showstopper is coming later today – but this sauce was so good, it had to have its own recipe post!

Hmmmm, coleslaw, potato wedges, and now BBQ sauce… I wonder what the entree will be!

Barbecue sauce is a tricky thing, and many people are picky about it. My house tends to prefer Sweet Baby Ray’s, and while I’ve definitely got nothing against Mr. Ray, it is… well, sweet! If you’re looking something with a little more of a bite, you’ve got to give this sauce a try. It’s surprisingly easy!

In a medium saucepan, combine 2 cups apple cider vinegar, 2.5 cups brown sugar (the less sugar you use, the more of a bite it will have, so you could use even less than this for more tangy sauce), 3/4 cup ketchup, 2 tbsp dijon mustard, 2 tbsp molasses, 1 tsp garlic, 1 tsp salt, and 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper. Whisk it all together until everything is combined and the sugar is fully dissolved, and then put it over medium high heat until it comes to a boil. Then, turn the heat down to low so it stays at a simmer and let it reduce. A good long while. I did about 40 minutes – you might want to get cozy with a book in a kitchen chair, because you don’t want to leave it unattended (you’ll need to stir it every so often) but standing there staring at a simmering pot of sugary, spiced vinegar can get awfully boring if you’re not otherwise occupied.

Once it’s reduced down, turn the heat off and let it cool for about 15-20 minutes before transferring it to a storage container of your choice. I used a mason jar, but a plastic squeeze bottle would also work well! Bear in mind that as it cools, it will thicken more, so don’t be put off if it still seems to liquid-y to be barbecue sauce when you turn the heat off.

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Full Recipe:

Homemade Barbecue Sauce

Yield: About a pint, plus a few more ounces.

Ingredients:

2  cups apple cider vinegar
2 & 1/2 cups brown sugar
3/4 cup ketchup
2 tbsp dijon mustard
2 tbsp molasses
1 tsp garlic
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper

Process:

1) In a medium saucepan, whisk together all ingredients until combined and sugar is dissolved.

2) Put on a medium high heat until sauce comes to a boil. Turn the heat down to low and let it simmer and reduce, stirring occasionally, about 30-40 minutes.

3) Remove from heat and allow the sauce to cool for 15-20 minutes before transferring it to a jar or bottle. Keep refrigerated.