Slow Cooker Shredded Chicken Quesadillas

Slow Cooker Shredded Chicken Quesadillas is a little different than your typical recipe. The slow cooker-braised chicken filling sits inside a freshly pressed masa dough tortilla.

Slow Cooker Shredded Chicken Quesadillas
Serves 6 – 10

For the Shredded Chicken
2 lbs. boneless, skinless chicken breasts
2 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 cup mild salsa
1/2 cup medium salsa
6 Tbsp brown sugar
1 4 oz. can diced green chiles
1 14.5 oz. can diced tomatoes
1 1/2 Tbsp Mexican chili powder
2 tsp Kosher salt
2 tsp each – ground cumin, garlic powder, onion powder
1 tsp each – smoked paprika, dry oregano, black pepper, ancho chili powder

For the Quesadillas
16 oz. prepared masa dough
1 cup apple cider vinegar
2 tsp Kosher salt
2 Tbsp sugar
1/2 red onion, thinly sliced
2 jalapeños, stemmed and seeded, thinly sliced lengthwise
16 oz. shredded Chihuahua cheese
2 Tbsp canola oil

Guacamole, sour cream, and salsa verde to garnish

To prepare the shredded chicken: In a medium bowl combine the brown sugar, salt and spices. Whisk thoroughly. Drizzle the bottom of the slow cooker vessel with half of the oil. Place the chicken in the vessel. Drizzle the remaining oil over the chicken. Pour an even layer of the rub over the chicken. Pour the diced tomatoes and diced green chiles over the chicken along with the salsas. Cook on high for 3 hours and the 6 hours longer on low. Remove the chicken from the braising mixture. Allow the chicken to cool before shredding.

To prepare the pickled red onions and jalapeños: In a medium bowl, dissolve the salt and sugar in the vinegar. Add the onions and jalapeños. Set aside at room temperature for at least an hour.

To prepare the quesadillas: Form eight equal sized balls of masa and press them until they are tortillas of about 10 to 12 inches in diameter. On one half of each tortilla place a layer of cheese, top is with a thin layer of chicken and finally a portion of the pickled red onions and jalapeños. Fold the tortilla in half and press the edges together to seal the filling inside. Heat the canola oil in a large heavy skillet over medium heat. When the skillet is hot, working in batches, fry the for about 2 minutes per side. Serve warm.

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Shrimp Nachos

Shrimp Nachos is a quick dish that can be a meal or served as a part of a heavy appetizer menu.

Shrimp Nachos
(Mark Kelly, 2017)

Serves 4 – 6

2 lbs large shrimp, peeled and deveined
1 Tbsp smoked paprika
1 Tbsp garlic powder
2 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 large bag corn tortilla chips
10 ounces shredded Colby Jack cheese

Sour cream, fresh salsa, chopped jalapeno, chopped green onion, and hot sauce to garnish

Preheat oven to 375F.

In a large bowl, season the shrimp with paprika and garlic powder, tossing to coat. Drizzle with oil and toss again.

Place the shrimp on a large foil-lined rimmed baking sheet. Bake for 5 minutes. Flip the shrimp over and bake for another minutes. Remove the shrimp to a room temperature bowl.

Set a rack in the oven 4 inches below the broiler element and turn on the broiler.

Re-line the baking sheet with foil. Arrange a single layer of tortilla chips on the baking sheet. Place the shrimp over the chips. Sprinkle a generous layer of cheese over the shrimp and chips. Broil, watching carefully so as not to burn the chips or overcook the shrimp, until the cheese is melted. Serve warm with you favorite garnishes and hot sauce.

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Slow Cooker Mexican Shredded Pork

Slow Cooker Mexican Shredded Pork makes a great filling for tacos and burritos. The slow cooker makes it a breeze to prepare. This recipe will yield a mildly spicy finished product. For a little extra kick, increase the amount of slice jalapeños and add a few dashes of your favorite hot sauce to braising liquid at the start.

Slow Cooker Mexican Shredded Pork
(Mark Kelly, 2017)

Makes 10 – 12 Taco or Burrito Servings

8 lbs. pork shoulder cut into 2-inch cubes
2 Tbsp sugar
2 Tbsp Kosher salt
1 Tbsp garlic powder
1 Tbsp ground cumin
1 Tbsp dried oregano
1 1/2 Tbsp Ancho chili powder
1 1/2 tsp cayenne
1 1/2 large jalapeños, stemmed and seeded, sliced 1/8-inch thick crosswise
2 limes, juiced
1 large orange, juiced
2 bay leaves
1 bottle of beer, preferably Negro Modelo

Mix the seasoning in a large bowl. The night before putting the pork in the slow cooker toss the pork pieces with the seasoning rub in a large bowl until thoroughly coated. Refrigerate, covered, overnight.

Six hours before serving put the seasoned pork in the slow cooker vessel and add the lime juice, orange juice, bay leaves and beer. Cover and cook on low, stirring occasionally, until the pork is tender and just falling apart. Drain the pork, reserving 1 1/2 cups of the liquid. Put the pork back into the slow cooker and gently shred the meat. Pour the reserved cooking liquid back into the shredded pork. Keep on warm until serving.

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Slow Cooker Oil-Poached Chicken Breasts

Slow Cooker Oil-Poached Chicken Breasts is a simple way to achieve perfectly cooked, tender chicken breasts. Preparation time takes 15-20 minutes and then the slow cooker does the rest. To insure the chicken cooking within 45 minutes make sure: that you have halved the breasts, that you have allowed them to come up to room temperature, and that the poaching oil is at 200F when the chicken is placed in the slow cooker.

Slow Cooker Oil-Poached Chicken Breasts
(Adapted from recipe courtesy of Food and Wine, January 2017)

Serves 4

1/4 cup fine salt
1/4 cup sugar
1 lemon quartered
4 skinless, boneless chicken breasts, halved lengthwise
3 cups extra-virgin olive oil
5 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
2 Fresh bay leaves
1 Tbsp dried thyme leaves or 2 sprigs of fresh thyme
1 fresh rosemary sprig
1/2 tsp whole black peppercorns
Kosher salt

In a large bowl, whisk 5 cups cold water with the fine salt and sugar until dissolved. Squeeze and add 2 lemon quarters into the bowl. Add the chicken, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 1 hour or up to 6 hours.

Meanwhile, add the oil to a slow cooker along with garlic, bay leaves, thyme, rosemary, peppercorns a couple of pinches of salt, and the remaining 2 lemon quarters. Cook, covered, on low until the oil registers 200F, about 1 hour. The oil can be kept on low for up to 6 hours.

At least an hour before cooking remove the chicken from the brine and pat dry; transfer to a plate and discard the brine. About 45 minutes before serving, using tongs, carefully lower the chicken into the warm oil and cook on low until the internal temperature registers 155F, about 40 – 45 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the chicken to a platter. Let sit for 5 minutes before serving. Serve with a fresh vegetable and crusty warm bread.

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Old Bay Shrimp with Creamy Polenta

Old Bay Shrimp with Creamy Polenta is a variation on the Southern classic Shrimp and Grits. The east coast Old Bay seasoning replaces the Cajun spices. I found using the air fryer to cook the shrimp was very successful. It seemed to intensify the flavors in the seasoning that sometimes get diluted when sautéing or baking the shrimp.

Old Bay Shrimp with Creamy Polenta
(Mark Kelly, 2017)

Serves 2

For the Shrimp
1 lb. 20-30 count shrimp, peeled and deveined
2 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1 Tbsp Old Bay Seasoning
1 tsp smoked paprika
1/2 tsp cayenne
Kosher salt

For the Polenta
3 cups 2% milk
1 Tbsp unsalted butter
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
3/4 cup yellow cornmeal
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan

Preheat air fryer to 390F.

To prepare the shrimp: Mix the seasoning, including a pinch of salt, in a small bowl. In a large bowl, toss the shrimp in the oil to coat. Sprinkle in the seasoning while continuing to toss. In two batches, cook the shrimp for 5 minutes, shaking them halfway through.

While the shrimp are cooking, bring the milk and butter to a gentle boil in medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the corn meal a little at a time while constantly whisking. Cook until creamy and thick, about 4 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Remove from the heat, add the cheese, and stir until it is melted.

To serve: Divide the shrimp and serve them over the creamy, warm polenta. Garnish with your favorite hot sauce.

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Air-Fried Buffalo Chicken Wings

Air-Fried Buffalo Chicken Wings are a slightly healthier version of the traditional game day food since the wings are fried without oil. The air-fryer makes the skin super-crispy. This recipe is for the well-known Buffalo sauce version of wings. After air-frying, any sauce can be used. My air-fryer is a NuWave Brio. I will tell you more about this handy kitchen device in a future post.

Air-Fried Buffalo Chicken Wings
(Mark Kelly, 2017)

Serves 2

2 lbs. chicken wings, drums and flats separated, tips discarded
1 Tbsp Kosher salt
1 Tbsp freshly ground black pepper
1 Tbsp garlic powder
1/4 cup unsalted butter, softened, cut into small pieces
2 Tbsp Frank’s Red Hot Wing Sauce
1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp cider vinegar
Blue Cheese Dressing to serve

Preheat air-fryer to 360F.

Combine the salt, pepper and garlic powder and mix well. Toss the chicken wings in the seasoning. In two batches, air-fry the wings for 25 minutes, shaking them about halfway through.

While the wings are cooking. Heat the wing sauce, Worcestershire sauce, and vinegar in a small saucepan over medium-low heat. Add the butter pieces. When the butter is melted bring the sauce up to a low boil and then set aside.

When all of the wings are cooked. Toss them in a large bowl with the warm wing sauce. Serve immediately with a generous portion of the Blue Cheese Dressing.

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Italian Sausage-Stuffed Eggplant

Italian Sausage-Stuffed Eggplant can be made with pork or turkey Italian Sausage. The stuffing can be made a day ahead and refrigerated.

Italian Sausage-Stuffed Eggplant
(Mark Kelly, 2017)

Serves 6

3 large eggplants, halved lengthwise
3 medium zucchini, peeled, 1/4-inch dice
3 large shallots, peeled, sliced into slivers
5 large garlic cloves, minced
Extra-virgin olive oil
1 1/2 lbs. Italian sausage, browned and crumbled
6 Tbsp flat leaf parsley, coarsely chopped, plus more for garnish
1 Tbsp dried Italian Herbs
1 15-oz. can diced tomatoes
1 Tbsp tomato paste
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Cooking spray
2/3 cup coarsely chopped Romano cheese
6 oz. fresh mozzarella, torn into 3/4-inch pieces
Freshly grated Parmesan

Preheat oven to 400F.

Place the eggplant halves on a foil-lined rimmed baking sheet with a wire rack. Score the cut side off each eggplant 1/2-inch apart lengthwise and crosswise taking care not to cut through the skin. Season generously with salt and spray the cut side with cooking spray. Bake for 40 minutes. Remove and cover loosely with foil. Allow to cool before handling.

Meanwhile, heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a large heavy skillet over medium heat. Add garlic and cook for 30 seconds. Add shallots and cook until softened, about 2 minutes. Add zucchini and season with salt, pepper, and Italian herbs. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 4 to 6 minutes. Add tomato paste and stir into zucchini mix. Add diced tomatoes with their juice and cook, stirring occasionally, until most of the liquid has evaporated about 8 minutes. Add the crumbled Italian sausage, chopped Romano, and parsley and stir to combine. Remove from heat and season with salt and pepper.

Lower oven heat to 350F.

Using a spoon scoop out most of the flesh from each eggplant, leaving about 1/2-inch of skin and flesh. Fill each hollowed out eggplant with one-sixth of the Italian sausage mixture. Return to the prepared baking sheet without the wire rack. Bake for 30 minutes. During the last 5 minutes, dot each eggplant with the fresh mozzarella pieces.

Serve warm with Parmesan and parsley garnish.

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Crawfish Salad Pastry Puffs

Crawfish Salad Pastry Puffs is a quick, easy and festive appetizer that is perfect any holiday party. The salad can be made ahead of time and the pastry puffs can be baked ahead of time so you can assemble them just before serving. This will keep them from getting soggy.

Crawfish Salad Pastry Puffs
(Adapted from recipe courtesy of Louisiana Cookin’, November/December 2016)

Makes 24

2 Tbsp unsalted butter
1/4 cup minced leek
1/4 cup minced celery
2 large garlic cloves, minced
1 lb. cooked crawfish tails
1 small red bell pepper, seeded and diced
1 tsp Creole seasoning
Kosher salt
1/2 cup minced red onion, rinsed
1/2 cup mayonnaise
2 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
1 Tbsp Dijon mustard
1/2 tsp smoked paprika
1 Tbsp finely chopped cilantro, plus more for garnish
4 (10-ounce) packages puff pastry shells, baked and hollowed

In a large skillet, melt butter over medium-high heat. Add leek, celery, and garlic; cook until tender, about 3 minutes. Add crawfish, bell pepper, Creole seasoning, and a pinch of salt; cook until liquid has evaporated, about 8 minutes. Remove from heat. Refrigerator for 30 minutes.

In a large bowl, combine onion, mayonnaise, lemon juice, mustard, paprika, and another pinch of salt. Add crawfish mixture and chopped cilantro.

Place about 2 tablespoons crawfish salad in each prepared pastry shell. Garnish with cilantro.

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Standing Rib Roast with Blackberry-Cabernet Reduction

Standing Rib Roast with Blackberry-Cabernet Reduction uses a reverse browning technique that I learned from BonAppetit.com.

Standing Rib Roast with Blackberry-Cabernet Reduction
(Mark Kelly, 2016)

Serves 10-12

For the Blackberry-Cabernet Reduction:
18 oz. fresh blackberries
3 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
4 stalks of celery, roughly chopped
4 medium carrots, peeled and roughly chopped
1 large yellow onion, roughly chopped
10 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
4 Tbsp tomato paste
6 cups beef broth
2 cups Cabernet Sauvignon
1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
3 bay leaves
2 Tbsp finely chopped fresh rosemary
8 Tbsp unsalted butter at room temperature
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper

2 6-bone standing rib beef roasts (dry aged for at least one week, fat cap trimmed to 1/4″ thick
12 large garlic cloves, finely grated
12 large garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
1 cup rosemary leaves
6 Tbsp fennel seeds, finely ground
4 Tbsp dried minced onions
3 Tbsp Seasoned salt
2 Tbsp freshly ground black pepper
4-6 fresh thyme sprigs
1 large onion, coarsely chopped
3 carrots, peeled and coarsely chopped
2 celery stalks, coarsely chopped
2 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper

To prepare Reduction: Heat oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat until it shimmers. Add the carrot, celery, and onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables begin to brown, 8 to 10 minutes. Add garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, for 2 minutes. Add the blackberries and cook, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes, until the berries soften and release their juice. Reduce the heat to medium. Add the tomato paste and cook stirring occasionally, for 2 minutes. Add the broth, wine, vinegar, bay leaves, rosemary, and fresh black pepper. Mix well. Bring to a boil then reduce the heat to low and simmer for 45 minutes.

Strain the sauce through a fine mesh sieve into a medium saucepan pressing down on the solid with a wooden spoon. Continue to simmer until the sauce is reduced by about half, about 45 minutes. The sauce can be made to this point and refrigerated for up to 3 days ahead of time. To finish the sauce, over low heat, whisk in the butter, one tablespoon at a time. Reseason with salt and pepper and remove from heat.

Working in batches, scatter rosemary over a paper towel-lined microwave safe plate. Microwave on high for 1 minute. Check rosemary and continue to microwave for 20 second intervals, until dry and crisp. Grind the rosemary in a spice mill or coffee grinder. Add fennel seeds and dried minced onions and grind until powdered. Mix in seasoned salt and black pepper.

Trim the roasts to remove any moldy of spoiled surface meat and all but 1/4-inch of the fat caps. Score the fat caps in a crosshatch pattern spacing cuts about 1-inch apart. Rub the roasts all over with the garlic paste. Coat the roasts with the rosemary-fennel mixture. Place on a rack in a large roasting pan fat cap-side up uncovered in the refrigerator over night, up to one day. Let roasts sit a room temperature for at least 2 hours before roasting.

To cook the roasts: Preheat oven to 225F and place a rack on the lower third of the oven. Place the roasts on a rack in shallow roasting pan or on a rimmed baking sheet. Toss onion, carrots, garlic cloves, and celery in oil and season with salt and pepper. Scatter the vegetables around the base of the roasts along with the thyme sprigs. Roast the meat, rotating the pan once until an instant read thermometer reads 125F. Remove from the oven and tent with foil and let rest for 30 minutes. To finish: Move a rack to the top third of the oven and increase the temperature to 500F. Roast until deep brown and exterior is crisp, 8-10 minutes. Let rest for 10 minutes before serving.

To serve: Drizzle slices of beef with generous amounts of the Blackberry-Cabernet Reduction.

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Eggplant Parmesan Casserole

Eggplant Parmesan Casserole is gooey, cheesy version of this classic Italian dish. It takes some time to prepare but it is worth every minute.

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Eggplant Parmesan Casserole
(Adapted from recipe courtesy of BonAppetit.com, 2016)

Makes 12 servings

For the Marinara:
1/4 cup olive oil
1 head of garlic, cloves crushed
1 large red onion, chopped
1/2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
1 Tbsp tomato paste
1/4 cup dry white wine at room temperature
2 28-oz. whole peeled tomatoes
1/4 cup torn basil leaves
1 tsp dried oregano
Kosher salt

For the Eggplant and Assembly:
4 medium to large eggplants, peeled, sliced lengthwise 1/2-inch thick
Kosher salt
3 cups Panko
1 1/2 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 1/2 cups finely grated parmesan, divided
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
5 large eggs, beaten until just blended
1 1/2 cups extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 cup finely chopped basil and parsley, plus more basil for serving
6 oz. low-moisture mozzarella, grated (about 1 1/2 cups)
8 oz. fresh mozzarella, thinly sliced

To prepare the Marinara: Preheat oven to 350F. Heat oil in a large ovenproof pot over medium. Cook garlic, stirring often until golden, about 4 minutes. Add onion and red pepper flakes and cook stirring often, until onion is translucent, about 5 minutes. Stir in tomato paste and cook stirring often, until slightly darkened, about 2 minutes. Add wine and bring to a boil then cook until almost completely evaporated, about 1 minute. Add tomatoes, breaking up with your hands, and their juices; add basil and oregano and stir to combine. Swirl 1 1/2 cups water in one of the tomato cans and then the other and add to the pot. Season with salt. Transfer the pot to the oven, roast the sauce uncovered for 2 to 2 1/2 hours until thick and the tomatoes are browned on top and around the edges. Allow the sauce to cool and process in a food processor until smooth. Taste and season with salt, as needed.

For the Eggplant and Assembly:
Lightly season eggplant slices all over with salt; place in a single layer on several layers of paper towel inside a rimmed baking sheet. Continue adding layers of paper towel and eggplant topping the last layer with paper towels. Place another baking sheet on top and weigh down with a heavy pot. Let the eggplant sit until it has released excess liquid, 45-60 minutes.

Meanwhile, pulse panko, oregano, pepper, and 3/4 cup of parmesan in a food processor until finely ground. Transfer to a shallow bowl for dredging.

Preheat oven to 350F.

Place flour in another shallow bowl and eggs in a third shallow bowl. Working one at a time, dredge eggplant slices in flour, then dip in egg, allowing excess to drip off. Coat in breadcrumb mixture, shake off any excess, Place on wire racks.

Heat 2/3 cup oil in large skillet or Dutch oven, over medium heat. Cook as many slices as will comfortably fit, turning once, until golden brown, about 5 minutes. Transfer to paper towels and immediately press with more paper towel to absorb oil. Working in batches, repeat with remaining slices, adding remaining oil and wiping out skillet, as needed. Let cool. Taste and season with more salt.

Toss chopped herbs, grated mozzarella, and remaining 3/4 cup Parmesan in a medium bowl. Spread 1 cup sauce over the bottom of a 13X9 baking pan; top with a layer of eggplant (trim as needed). Drizzle 1 cup sauce over and sprinkle with one-third of cheese mixture. Add another layer of eggplant, followed by 1 cup sauce and half of the remaining cheese mixture. repeat with the remaining slices sauce and cheese mixture. Cover with foil and bake on a rimmed baking sheet for 1 hour.

Remove from oven and arrange fresh mozzarella over the casserole. Increase oven temperature to 425F and bake, uncovered, until cheese is bubbling and browned in spots, 15-20 minutes. Let rest for 30 minutes before serving. Top with basil leaves just before slicing to serve.

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