Summery Shrimp Pasta Salad*

*This is a non-crockpot recipe, just too darn good not to post.

I have to admit I am pretty proud of this pasta salad, as I created it one night when I just had some leftovers in the fridge. The first time the mix wasn’t right, but by the third, I got it down pat. I will for sure be bringing this pasta salad to other BBQs or just enjoy through out the summer.



– 1 and 1/2 large avocado or 3 small avocados cut into cubes
– 1/2 container of cherry tomatoes cut into 1/4ths
– 6-8 small bell peppers cut into tiny pieces
– 1 bag of frozen pre-cooked shrimp
– 1/6 cup of pesto
– 1 log of marinated/flavored mozzarella cut into small pieces
– 1 medium onion cut into small pieces
– 1/2 container of gluten free elbow pasta

Overall this meal is pretty easy to prepare, just a lot of washing and cutting. The part that takes the longest is waiting for the shrimp to defrost and cooking the pasta. But if you put the shrimp out earlier that day, and cook the pasta while you are cutting everyone else, then no time is wasted.


The reason I am posting this recipe is because of the strong response my roommates had to it. The salad is filling yet light and pretty healthy over all. Such a hit!

The Nitty Gritty:

– Total Cost: $25 – the gluten free pasta is more expensive than other pasta
– Total Time: 30 minutes
– Serving Size: 3 – 8 (depends on if you are getting seconds or not)

Instead of onions, you could use strawberries to make it more summery.


Photo Credit: Elyse Aldana. She also set up the beautiful food photo.


Memorial Day BBQ Beans

In honor of summer finally making its presences known in Chicago for Memorial Day weekend, my friends hosted a lovely pot luck style BBQ. I have been struggling to find great slow cooker recipes that are summer friendly, yet I seemed to find a winner with these Betty Crocker BBQ Beans.


– 4 cans of low sodium black beans
– 4 cans of Northern Great beans (or Great northern beans)
– 1 cup of black bean juice
– 2 cups of ketchup
– 1 cup of dark brown sugar
– 2 teaspoons of ground mustard
– 2 tablespoons of cider vinegar
– 1/2 cup of molasses
– 2 medium onions
– 1 package of turkey bacon

When I was reviewing the invite to the BBQ, I had noticed that about 30 people were planning on coming so I thought I should double my bean recipe to accommodate for more than the 12 people that the beans would serve. Thirty people did not show up to the BBQ. The serving size of twelve would have been perfect because now I’m eating beans for days, but onto the prep.

The first uh oh comes with the molasses. The recipe called for light molasses. Now, perhaps that is to be healthy or perhaps molasses comes in lighter colors, but I couldn’t find any light molasses so I went with regular molasses. (And no, I wouldn’t be able to tell you the difference between light and regular molasses if I had to. Instead I would google that as I should have done at the grocery store to see if it really matter.) Then came the matter of buying medium sized onions. At this store, there were only bags of small onions, so instead I used 4 small onions to equal two medium onions. Again, I am not sure if one can consider that equal, but I decided that yes, 4 small onions = 2 medium onions.

Otherwise, this is a very easy recipe to make. I first sautéed the onions on a sauce pan for 10 minutes (yay for me following directions well this time!). Then I cooked the turkey bacon. I must admit that I am not a big bacon fan, and have had little experience cooking bacon, so many of my pieces of bacon came out charred or slightly under cooked (but I reasoned with myself those pieces would just cook more in the crockpot- debatable). So I can say I have mastered the art of making very crispy bacon in a case any one was worried. This took the longest to prep as I could not fit a whole package of bacon on one sauce pan. However, once all the bacon was cooked, I chopped the bacon into 1/2 inch – 1 inch pieces and added it to the bowl. Only then did I turn the crock pot on high for 3.5 hours. I did at one point remove the crockpot from the wall plug in for a 15 minute period in which I transferred the beans from point a to point b, but the crock pot was still very hot, so the beans kept cooking I believe.


A very big hit! The next day I brought some leftover beans to my cousin who is a chef’s house and he approved. I must admit that made me feel pretty good about these beans! Everyone who had some liked them! A crowd pleaser!

The Nitty Gritty:
– Total Cost: $25.00 – I had to buy cider vinegar and the molasses
– Total time: 4 hours – if you know how to cook bacon it would be less
– Serving size: 24 – 30

This recipe makes beans on beans on beans, so be prepared or half.

Chili Sloppy Joes

In honor of Mother’s Day, I decided to make a meal that my mother sent me. When I said sent me, I mean my mother mailed me! I’m not sure where the recipe is from, but it came from a magazine and my bet is Sunset. That being said, I attempted to make some Southwest Sloppy Joes.

– 1.25 lbs ground turkey meat
– 1 medium white onion
– 1 can (15 ounces) tomato sauce
– 1 can black beans
– 1/2 cup frozen corn
– 1 can (8 ounces) tomato paste
– 2 tbsp brown sugar
– 1 1/2 tbsp Valentina
– 3/4 tsp ground cumin
– 1/2 tsp ground coriander
– parsley

Now let me start off that I had many times where I strayed from the recipe. I would like to say I made those choices consciously, but really. I just forgot to check the recipe and spaced out on some aspects. The first chef freedom I took came with the onions. The recipe said to brown the onions for 5-7 minutes in a sauce pan. I completely forgot and cut the onions up and put them in the crock pot and proceeded to add everything else quickly. It wasn’t until I added the turkey that I realized I had not browned the onions. Now here comes some more of my cooking freedom and I decided not to cook the turkey meat in the sauce pan. The onions appeared to not be affective negatively by my choice not to use the sauce pan, but the meat yes. So use the sauce pan, because otherwise your meat will stay in strands/chunks.

As I was adding in the tomato paste, I didn’t realize that 8 ounces is not the same as 1/4 cup of tomato paste. The next chef freedom I took came with the black beans. This was an honest mistake of I just didn’t check the recipe. The recipe called for drained and rinsed black beans. Now I have never heard of draining or rinsing black beans, so naturally I didn’t do that. Also, I decided not to measure the frozen corn, so again I’m not exactly sure how that proportion turned out. And I forgot to stir all the ingredients until after 6 hrs, another spacey moment of mine.

Basically, what I’m leading up to is that my sloppy joes turned out much more like chili. For a gluten free individual, I bought some buns but I couldn’t wait to heat them up to eat so I decided to go chili style. My roommates followed suit, and even ate some of my gluten free rolls.


The Chili Sloppy Joes as styled by Elyse Aldana.


Another delicious dish, but let’s call it what it is – a chili dish. It was very delicious, and you must cook the turkey first. Everyone seemed to like it! And I’d make it again for a cold winter day or a rainy summer day!

The Nitty Gritty:
– Total Cost: $30.00 (I had to buy new spices.)
– Total Time: 8.5 hrs, 15 minutes of prep
– Serving Size: 6-8 people

Rubbed Ribs*

*This is a non crock pot dish, but due to the fact it was such a hit, I decided to publish it!

After making an awesome pulled pork earlier since blogging, I decided to make pulled pork again. The new issue became that yet again I bought the wrong piece of meat. The ribs looked very similar to the pork shoulder I was trying to buy, so now I was able to make pulled pork and ribs! The first step was to create a rub for the ribs.


– 3 tbsp Kosher salt
– 2 tbsp chili powder
– 2 tbsp dark brown sugar
– 2 tbsp paprika
– 1 tbsp garlic powder
– 1 tsp black pepper
– dash of red flakes
– 1/4 of a bottle of BBQ sauce
– 1 onion

So I have no idea how to make ribs, and when I say no idea I mean I wasn’t even sure what a rub was. Now the first thing I learned was that I needed to cut the fat off the back of the ribs. That proved to be more difficult than I thought it would be, but in the end I won and removed the fat. Next came the rub. I was missing some ingredients from the original recipe, so what I wrote is what I put together. I ended up having a lot more rub than ribs (the rub was for meant for 5-6lbs and I only had 4lbs), so I also put the rub on the pulled pork I was making. (I used the same recipe as before, but I added the rub and that made all of the difference!!!! Everyone loved the pulled pork!!!) I then left the ribs in aluminum foil in the fridge for 36 hrs.

When it came to cooking, I am clueless as to how to cook on a grill, but I wanted to give it try. I ended up cutting up an onion and putting it under the ribs in aluminum foil as we cooked the ribs on the grill. (Our grill is not clean enough to cook directly on, so we had to use aluminum as a cover.) I then put BBQ sauce all over the ribs. I ended up cooking each side of the ribs for about 25 minutes, covered in aluminum foil so it can smoke up. I put them in the oven to sit for 3 hrs and then put the back on the grill for 10 minutes. I had some excellent help/an advisor, my friends boy friend and hi and I whipped up some awesome ribs.


The whole meal. Including the amazing potatoes and ratatouille my roommates made! Photo Credit: Chelsea Lin


A HUGE HIT! Honestly, I was so surprised people really liked it. But it was honestly the hit of the party! I ended up putting BBQ sauce out for people to eat if they wanted with the ribs, and that was a great mix!

The Nitty Gritty:
-Total Cost: $28.00
-Total Time: 30 minutes of prep, 36 of marinating, and 1 hour of cooking
-Serving Size: 5 – 8 people

Meaty Chicken Tacos

I was lucky enough to host one of the teams I coach over for end of the year banquet this past weekend, and I decided to cook something that everyone can eat. We happen to have many vegetarians and individuals with food disagreements (some people have to have mini fights with their stomachs to eat, while others have full on allergic reactions). So this recipe is one that again after consulting many websites I decided to attempt by myself and I found it was successful.


– 3 lbs of chicken breast (skinless and boneless)
– 3 lbs chicken thighs (boneless and skinless)
– 1 packet of taco seasoning (make sure this does not contain soy, gluten etc)
– 10 oz can of dice tomatoes with green chilies
– 8 oz can of unsalted tomatoes sauce
– Dash of pepper
– Dash of salt

Now I don’t think I could screw up this recipe, and guess what… I didn’t! First I placed the chicken breast in the crock pot followed by the chicken thighs. The chicken thighs needed to be cleaned, as in I has to cut the fat off of the thighs, and then in they went in the crock pot. Then I added all of the other ingredients and let the crock pot sit over night.

Next I cooked the crock pot on high for 4.5 hours. I was worried that I had over cooked the chicken breasts because they did not break apart as well as the chicken thighs. So I decided to cut up the chicken breasts and thighs and I put them in a bowl and let the chicken and all the yummy juices soak in these fridge over night. In order to reheat, I put the chicken back into crock pot and the chicken was a huge hit at the taco night!


A big success! I even brought out the chicken for the next night when I had another dinner party over and it was again a huge hit. I ended up mixing the chicken in with some eggs for breakfast the next day and again it was delicious. This is a great dish that can have multiple uses!

The Nitty Gritty:

– Total Cost: $30
– Total Time: 5 hrs
– Serving Size: 16 – 20 people