Crockpot Chicken Tacos

These are seriously so FANTASTIC!  My friend brought these over to share during a lunch date.  I could not get over the flavor!  So I had to immediately make them for my family.  The chicken is tender and moist as it's been sitting in the crockpot slow-cooking all day long.  And the salsa combined with the brown sugar is just the perfect amount of sweet to offset the tang of the salsa.  I took these to my parents to share on Monday and they agreed that they were amazingly delicious.  This will definitely be a staple on our menu!   I think they taste best paired with the uncooked tortillas (like you get at Costco) that you cook at home.  And the black beans are an amazingly compliment to the flavor of the meat.  Oh, and did I mention how easy it is??? You know that gets extra marks at our house!

3 lbs. frozen chicken breasts
1 24oz jar salsa
2 cups brown sugar

1. Place the frozen chicken breasts into the slow cooker. Pour half the jar of salsa over the chicken. Sprinkle 1 cup brown sugar on top. Cover and cook on high for 6 hours.
2. Remove the chicken from the slow cooker and discard the liquid. Shred chicken and place back in slow cooker.
3. Cover chicken with remaining salsa and brown sugar. Cook on low 1 hour, then stir the chicken to coat the meat. Cook on low for 1 more hour.

Top with your favorite taco toppings--cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, black beans, etc.

Tips:  When my friend made hers she just used equal parts salsa and brown sugar on hers.  She didn't do the draining part and adding more salsa and brown sugar.  I, however, followed this recipe without draining it.  The meat seemed dry after I shred it so I added more brown sugar and salsa.  However, it was a little too juicy (dripping all over your hands) when eating the taco.  So.....the moral is---follow it exactly or just cook in 1 C salsa and 1 C brown sugar , shred, and return to former juices.  Are you thoroughly confused??? If so, leave me a comment :).

Tacos with Mango Barbecue Sauce

I was fortunate enough to not only grow up in southeast Texas amid an incredible abundance of Tex-Mex restaurants, but to grow up just down the street from an incredible Mexican woman. Homemade tortillas, migas, and tamales were just a very few of the authentic Mexican dishes that Martha turned out of her kitchen.

I remember helping roll out flour tortillas (because Martha didn’t use a press) and wrapping tamales (because child labor was easily rewarded with leche quemada, a Mexican confection, or Nintendo time back in the day).

We do love our quesadillas around here. Matter of fact, there’s a member of this household who rarely glances at the menu when we go out for Tex-Mex. The other member of this household is less discriminate, whether it be a traditional variety or a more exotic mixture of caramelized onions and brie, a barbecue & brie, or a “black & bleu.”

Martha understood the relationship between a good life and good food – the woman was always busy in the kitchen cooking for a big family event. So even though the mixture would probably be met with raised eyebrows and a few words I wouldn’t understand, I know she wouldn’t object to me violating a Tex-Mex classic with a homemade mango-barbecue sauce.

Project Pastry Queen tackled this dish a few months ago when Tara selected the recipe. I originally blogged this back in November of 2007. I’ve since learned a little more about food photography – and how to bust out the crockpot for this recipe.

Easy crockpot beef carnitas

For some reason I can’t say that word without a Mexican accent and drawing out the middle of the word as long and obnoxiously as I can. Seriously, I did all the prep for these pork carnitas in under a minute. They were moist, spicy, and great snuggled in a warm tortilla with some pico de gallo, avocado, cheese, and a squeeze of lime. John loved the pork on a salad with some of the extra sauce that it had been cooking in all day. I loved this dish because it uses pork tenderloin which is leaner and healthier than a pork roast.

You can’t see but this pork is super moist.

These Easy Crockpot Pork Carnitas come from Kelle Hampton who is a mom who shares her life inspirations as well as her experiences with having a daughter with down syndrome. If you haven’t heard of her blog start here to hear her story. Once I started reading, I was hooked on Kelle’s outlook on life.

How to Make Garden Stepping Stones

You will need:
Round non-stick cake pan (You could also use a heart-shaped pan)
Contact paper
Old plates or saucers that you don’t need (I got mine at the thrift store)
Glass gems
sea glass (optional)
marine varnish
chicken wire or other type of wire mesh

Mediterranean Chicken Kebab Salad

Marinated chunks of grilled chicken breast served over a bed of lettuce with feta, fresh diced tomatoes, cucumbers, green peppers, black olives, red onions, parsley and dill tossed in olive oil and fresh lemon juice.

Last week I got tickets to see the Dr. Oz Show live in the city, talk about a fun day! After, I had lunch with my friend at a Turkish restaurant and I fell in love with their Shepard's salad. They served it with fresh grated feta on the side and fresh lemon, I don't think I'll have feta any other way now. I savored that salad and took notes so I wouldn't forget it.

Today, I fell in love with it all over again.

The fresh flavors of the lemon, a hint of dill, cucumbers, tomatoes with the grilled chicken makes a wonderful main dish salad, perfect for lunch or dinner. If you want to make it more substantial you could serve it in a pita. I went with real feta, I'm not a fan of the chalky taste in reduced fat feta and a little goes a long way.

Photo above served with skinny tzatziki sauce. (Pita not included in nutritional info)

A wonderful high protein, low fat, low carb, low point, gluten-free main dish salad! To make this Paleo-friendly, leave the cheese out,

Peppermint Mocha Kahlua Truffles

I made my yearly trip into the liquor store this weekend for a bottle of wine to take to our work Christmas party. However, this year I was organized enough to purchase a cute wine bag from Target because last year’s bag from the liquor store was a bit unfortunate. Let’s just say it was covered in gold foil and grapes.

Every single time I walk into that store I’m drawn to the aisle with the mini bottles of liqueurs all lined up in pretty little rows. I’m not much a drinker, but I have a pretty impressive stash of mini bottles because I’m kind of a fan infusing these sugary spirits into baked goods. Nothing struck my fancy this time, so I headed to the checkout with Brian.

I caught a glimmer of red foil out of the corner of my eye and immediately honed in on a little bottle of something that was sure to be fun and festive. I hopped out of line and proceeded to an end cap that housed Peppermint Mocha Kahlua – jack pot! I hurried back up to the counter where I was welcomed by Brian’s shaking head and the cashier asking to see my driver’s license – which is always a welcomed bonus!

As we drove to the party I started planning the future for my Kahlua and immediately thought – Peppermint Mocha Truffles. I wanted to kick up the mint flavor a bit, so I added in pieces of chopped Andes Peppermint Crunch Baking Chips. I decided to forgo my typical roll in sweetened cocoa powder and instead opted for some gorgeous chocolate jimmies that I picked up at King Arthur Flour. Simple, delicious and full of festive flavors – what more could you ask for?

Forcing tulip bulbs in water

Forcing tulips in water is a fun, easy, and a unique way to present tulips that most people have not seen before. I think showing the natural beauty of the bulb is a pure, modern, and minimalist approach to floral design. Give it a try.

Give me flowers any day of the week and see me smile, but give me tulips and you have just made this lady a very happy woman! I adore tulips. Blame it on my genes, I’m Dutch. In years past you could find me each fall, out in the garden with my bulb digger, planting a multitude of spring blooming bulbs. I think my record year (as far as bulb planting effort is concerned) was 450 bulbs. My house looked FABULOUS! But that was a lot of work. For all you non-green thumbs and impatient peeps, I want to share a little trick about How to Force Tulip Bulbs in Water.

How to Build Swings Around a Campfire

It’s a relatively easy project. You start by building a hexagonal shape to hang the swings from. If you want 5 foot swings then you need your braces about 7 feet apart each. You may want to leave one of the bays open so that people can go in and out but oh my goodness, what a great project.

You could build this in the yard and people would never want to leave your house. This would be such a neat project for summer evenings and you can either buy the swings or just build them yourself.

Extra Virgin Olive Oil

This is a Sponsored post written by me on behalf of Carapelli Olive Oil. All opinions are 100% mine.

Brian and I don’t really frequent chain restaurants on a regular basis, we tend to gravitate more towards locally owned establishments with seasonal menus. This way of dining certainly limits our choices; however, we typically find ourselves pleasantly content with all aspects of the local dining experience – fresh food that’s in season, and most of the time they can even tell us where the produce came from that day. Not so with most chain restaurants.

Most of the time we walk away from a chain feeling as though we’ve been a little ripped off. We’ve had far too many less than adequate experiences with the chain scene and at some point found ourselves questioning why we continued to dine in a restaurant when we weren’t happy with the experience.

This certainly caused us to branch out a bit within our area – which was awesome, because we now have a pretty fantastic repertoire of restaurants on our radar that includes some of the best food that either of us have tasted. However, we still crave certain items from some of the chain restaurants we used to frequent.

When the folks at Social Spark asked me to create a recipe using Carapelli Olive Oil, I was pretty excited because I already use this brand in the majority of my cooking. And I’ve been seriously jonesing for some Carrabba’s Italian Butter and thought this would be the perfect opportunity to post the recipe on MBA.

If you have never dined at Carrabba’s, you may not have experienced the herb and olive oil bliss that they serve with every meal. It’s incredibly addictive and pretty much the number one reason we used to dine there. They bring it out on a small dish and add olive oil to it table side – creating the perfect “dip” for their piping hot bread.

Although I was aware that olive oil came in several varieties, I wasn’t aware that you can actually conduct an olive oil tasting. Pretty fancy, huh? An olive oil tasting is actually performed much like a wine, coffee, or bourbon tasting following the “Four S’s” (Swirl, Sniff, Slurp and Swallow). After several sniffs and slurps, Brian and I decided to conduct our little tasting with pieces of ciabatta and we were surprised how much the oils varied! We both agreed that our personal favorite was Extra Virgin Numerato. It’s smooth, well balanced flavor was the perfect accompaniment to our herb mix and fresh bread.

I’m not going to pretend that many a meal I wouldn’t be content to simply sit with the bread, the Italian butter, and a glass of vino- who needs an actual meal?

Crockpot Chicken Tacos

I'll keep this short and sweet: this is one of my all time favorite recipes. If there is one crockpot recipe you need in your repertoire, this is it. But truthfully, after making it once you won't even need the recipe because it's just so darn easy.

Three ingredients and almost zero work. The result is a juicy, flavorful shredded chicken that makes some killer tacos. I like to load up my tacos, so they look a bit messy in the pictures. They were like that in real life, too. Messy and delicious. I've been told before I have a knack for ordering the messiest foods on any menu. Why? Because the messiest foods are the best foods. It's a fact.

You can easily put together a great tortilla soup with the leftovers from the chicken. I've included the recipe at the bottom of this post. If you read through the comments you'll also see a number of great reader suggestions for ways to adapt the recipe. My favorite twist is to add a block of cream cheese about 15 minutes before the chicken is served. I didn't think this recipe could get any better until I made them and tried this out. Amazing. I've also seen that adding a can of cream of mushroom soup when you throw in the ingredients is delicious. I'll be trying that next time!

**As a side note, I am SO grateful to everyone who has made this recipe and/or commented on the post. I may not be able to respond to all of the comments, but I read every one, and I absolutely love them! I can't tell you how happy it makes me that people are enjoying the recipe so much. Thank you,

1 Envelope Taco Seasoning (I use Old El Paso Reduced Sodium)
6 Pieces Boneless, Skinless Chicken Breasts
1 16-ounce jar Salsa (I switch between brands, but Newman's Own or Pace are my favorites)

Dump everything into a crock pot and give it a little stir to blend the seasoning with the salsa. You do not need to add any water to the taco seasoning. Cook on high for 4 to 6 hours or on low for 6 to 8 hours. When done, the chicken should shred easily when stirred with a fork.

For tacos, serve the chicken with soft flour tortillas, guacamole, lettuce, shredded cheese and/or sour cream. This is very versatile and can be used for enchiladas, nachos, tostadas, quesadillas, etc. Any leftover chicken can then be used for tortilla soup (make it the next day or freeze the chicken to use at a later time).

Easy Way To Build a Small Greenhouse

This is a portable greenhouse, good to start seeds or small vegetables  (basil, parsley, salad, cilantro...). it's really fast and easy to built, and super economic and ecologic, I made mine all out of scraps and in little more than an hour.

Materials :
1 . Big plastic can (white is better)
2 . Transparent or semi transparent plastic sheet
3 . 4 screw with 4 nuts;
4 . 4 little piece of plywood about an inch by an inch;
5 . a piece of bike inner-tube;
6 . Duck tape

Tools :
1 . Jigsaw
2 . Power Drill

Best Way to Store Fresh Parsley

Realization of the Day:
I often take parsley for granted, but if there isn't any growing in the garden I really miss it. It's just so versatile—and tasty. I love it in this Confetti Egg Salad Recipe I recently wrote about on Farmgirl Fare.

Like so many things, the very best place to store your parsley is out in the garden, still attached to the plant. But it won't stay out there indefinitely, maintaining its ready-to-pick state until you're actually ready to pick it. (Why do I always forget this basic rule of growing things?)

This curly parsley is from a plant that overwintered in the greenhouse. I usually grow Italian flat leaf parsley from seed (my favorite variety is Prezzemolo Gigante D'Italia, which I order from Pinetree Garden Seeds; 600 seeds for $1.15), but a friend who was experiencing a parsley explosion in his garden last spring offered me a couple of curled parsley plants, and I never say no to free herbs.

Parsley is a biennial, which means it requires two years to complete its lifecycle. The first year the leaves grow, and the second year the plant blooms, produces seeds, and then dies. Many gardeners grow edible biennials such as beets, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, carrots, celery, lettuce, and Swiss chard as annuals. (I grow Swiss chard—which I'm crazy about and which is so easy to grow from seed—as both an annual and a biennial, overwintering several plants each year in the greenhouse under protective blankets and old sheets.)

Once the temperatures started warming up, my scraggly little greenhouse parsley plant took off, but then it began to bolt. I snipped off the main center stem, plunked it into a 'vase' of water, and set it on the kitchen counter. Three weeks later it looked almost as good as the day I picked it. I changed the water once.

Last year I wrote about the best ways to store fresh basil (this post also talks about my new found love for purple basil), and I mentioned that one of our lamb customers keeps a big bunch of basil in a pitcher of water on her kitchen counter during the summer. I said I needed to try this, and several of you let me know that you store your basil this way, too.

I made some basil 'bouquets,' last summer and it worked great, so I figured I'd try it this year with parsley, too. I usually store parsley in the refrigerator (often for several weeks), washed and wrapped in a plastic bag with a paper towel, but having it out on the counter is so much more fun—and visible. I'm one of those 'out of sight, out of mind' people, so a big green reminder in the middle of the kitchen is exactly what I need.

A lot of sources advise you to store your fresh herbs in a glass of water in the refrigerator, but I don't find it necessary. Herbs thrive outside in the sun and heat, and if the water is keeping them from wilting, there's really no reason to chill them. Besides, I know I'd probably reach into the fridge and knock the glass over an hour after putting it in there.

As for this cute rooster glass, I spied it during a recent trip to World Market (I love that store) and couldn't resist bringing home a couple of them. At the rate we tend to break glasses around here, though (I'm down to my last little World Market sheep glass), I'm thinking I probably should have bought four.

The best way to garden

I have been so happy with my garden over the past year. I am trying to share it with others and I use pinterest to share my blog posts. If you got to my site and like my idea, please help me share it with others. Leave me feedback on any questions you have. happy gardening! Melanie

If you are new to my garden site, here are the benefits of gardening this way and feel free to click around and see what else I grow.

Growing rose cuttings with potatoes

The other day, I read you can propagate roses by sticking rose cuttings in potatoes, and then sticking them in the ground. I decided to try it out using my rose bush, which is blooming like crazy.

First, I cut a potato in half, and then I drilled a hole in each half using a 5/16″ drill bit (but I don’t think the size matters, as long as your cutting can fit in it).

Then I cut two 8″ stems (at ~45* angles) from my rose bush, and cut the dead rose buds off of them. After I took the cuttings, I stuck them directly in the potato holes.

Last, I buried the potatoes in the ground, and watered generously. We’ll see if it works!

UPDATE 6.23.2013: Sadly, all I got were potatoes with this experiment. :( However, I did have two hard freezes after I attempted to propagate these roses, and I didn’t use any rooting hormone. I’m curious to try it again with rooting hormone and non-freezing weather. I did get potatoes though! :)

Crock Pot beef Peppers

2 pounds ground (or a combination of and beef)
4 large green peppers
1 large onion
2 carrots
4 cloves of garlic
1/2 head of cauliflower
6 ounce can of tomato paste
1 tablespoon dry oregano
1 tablespoon dry or fresh tarragon
Salt and pepper to taste

Cut the tops of the peppers and clean the seeds out.

Arrange peppers in the Crock-Pot standing up and make sure they fit securely.

Grate onion, carrots, garlic and cauliflower in the food processor. You can also just chop them into small pieces with a knife if you don’t have a food processor.

In a big bowl, combine ground beef, shredded vegetables, seasonings and tomato paste.

Add salt and pepper to taste. Stuff the peppers with the mixture and arrange leftover meat between the peppers. Add half a cup of water, cover and cook on low for 8-10 hours.

If you don’t have a slow-cooker, the dish can be cooked in the oven, covered, for 1-2 hours.

Crock Pot beef Peppers : Amazon