Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Slow Cooker Pork

A New Start

This dish was a great way to launch the blog in so many ways. It was a recipe that has been aging in the recipe stash for...a long time. I used my new food budgeting skills when deciding which cut of pork to use, fresh vs. frozen corn...actually, the same with all of the produce needed. Grocery shopping took a while, but that should get better as I get a sense of what are the best values. And of course, the dish was healthy.

Step 1: What Is a Healthy Recipe Anyway?
I figured out my own personal guidelines for a healthy recipe about 2 years ago. It was originally based on some American Heart Association guidelines for sodium and fat intake and then after some experimentation, I simplified it to the following. I keep track of four major things; % of fat, % of sodium, and % of total cholesterol per serving. Each is limited to 30% or less per serving. That basically means 20g of fat, 600mg of sodium and I don't know how much cholesterol...most recipes that meet my fat and sodium requirements do not have more than 30% of cholesterol per serving anyway. I do not pay attention to calories per serving for a similar reason...most of those recipes that meet the cut-off have a reasonable number of calories per serving (usually 400 or less). I found that the majority of recipes that are VERY low sodium or fat generally taste bland. So the recipes that make the above "cut" (pardon the expression!) are usually chicken, turkey, vegetarian, some seafood, and a bare sprinkling of beef and/or pork.

Step 2: What's For Dinner?

I have a fairly loosey-goosey method for recipe selection from one week to the next. I always eat some type of protein with my meals. And since I will eat the same breakfast, the same lunch, and the same dinner for pretty much the entire week..I am definitely bored of the dish by Saturday. I change things up by changing which protein forms the basis of the meal. So if I had chicken for lunch one week, I pick either turkey or pork or whatever for lunch the next week. And so on for dinner and breakfast. During the last week of 2008,I had a lot of chicken. So the first week of 2009, for my lunches, I wanted either beef or pork. Pork boneless tenderloins were on sale (50% off, good deal!) at the local Food Lion, so I browsed my recipes looking for pork-based meals. I turned to my collection of bookmarks from Allrecipes.com and found Slow Cooker Pork. This recipe was a winner for a couple of reasons, it was a simple recipe and I already had most of the ingredients, or, in case of the taco seasoning, I could simply make the mix. Fantastic. For those who are interested in the nutritional information, most of the recipes on Allrecipes.com has the nutritional information provided, near the "bottom" of the page.

Step 3: Making The Meal
I trimmed the visible fat from the pork tenderloin and prepared the meat as directed in the recipe, except: 1) I lightly salted the meat. It's my #1 rule for cooking any kind of meat, even in the slow cooker. When I first started cooking, I would always forget and then my dishes were always weirdly "off." My college roommate is the one who taught me to salt the meat, thank goodness. 2) I used half of the home-made taco seasoning. I hardly ever make tacos, so I did not know how spicy this mix was. It actually turned out to be a mistake, as the meat was definitely under seasoned. Fortunately, I was able to save the roast. More on that later. 3) I used chicken boullion mixed with water as directed on the little bottle. Again, this was to provide more flavor. I have cooked with "just water" to braise meats often enough to know that the flavor is pretty flat without the broth.

Many hours later, I got a rather nice looking roast out of the slow cooker and thinly sliced the meat. Here it is, to the right.

It looked and smelled great. It tasted...barely okay. It needed more taco seasoning. So I dumped the shaved meat back into the cooking broth, added another 2 or 3 teaspoons of taco seasoning into the liquid, mixed it all up and let it sit for another 8 hours while I went to work. And that did the trick...I re-tasted the meat and it was wonderful! The flavor went from about a 3 to a 9. Folks, this recipe is a winner. If you do not have a slow cooker, you can use a dutch oven or a large pot with a lid, set it on medium low heat and let it go for 6-8 hours. I would start checking it. after the first two hours, just to make sure that the pork does not over cook.

I put half of the tenderloin into the freezer. I served the shaved pork over rice and corn. To borrow a phrase, it was "good eats"!