Whip Smart Kitchen

Recipes, methods & musings for the whip-smart home cook


Cinco de Mayo, revisited: slow-cooker cilantro lime tacos

Mexican, Slowcooker, RecipeLeannda Cavalier2 Comments

This post was originally published on my old blog. This version may contain minor edits and updates. The original is preserved at Recipe Repository


May 5, already! Just got this post in under the wire. Phew. 

One year ago today I began Recipe Repository. I posted a recipe for chicken tomatillo enchiladas, a recipe I absolutely love. It’s full of flavor, healthful and filling.

Though it’s not difficult to make, a quick recipe it is not. I honestly love that about it, as making it requires you to use several techniques and less-than-mainstream ingredients you can learn here and use for other recipes. I wholeheartedly believe making recipes that take time and thought is one of the surest ways to learn to cook, and that everyone could benefit from spending a little more time cooking.

Still, I realize that sometimes you truly need a quick and easy recipe. We’re all running around like chickens with our heads cut off all the time. From work, to class, from the store, to a party that you were looking forward to but now you’re honestly kind of exhausted to go to… all the while you’re still compulsively checking your email without realizing it.

If you still want to make your own meal after all of that, you’re on the superhero fast-track, my friend.

Because I appreciate your super status and your food journey—whatever it looks like right now—I’m going to share the antithesis of chicken tomatillo enchiladas. One of my go-to quick recipes. Slow-cooker cilantro-lime tacos. 

Though slow is in the name, speed is the game.

If you can carve out 10-15 minutes in the morning (or on your lunch break, as I did today), you can make these. When you get home, shred it, stick it in a tortilla and add your favorite toppings.

Here we go!

Slow-cooker Cilantro Lime Tacos 

Makes 14-16 tacos 

Prep: 10 minutes 

 Cook time: 6-8 hours


  • 1 TBSP extra virgin olive oil 
  • 3-4 lbs boneless, skinless chicken breasts
  • 2 small white or yellow onions, quartered 
  • 6 medium garlic cloves, smashed and peeled 
  • 2 bay leaves 
  • 1 TBSP cumin 
  • 1 tsp red pepper flakes 
  • 2 tsps oregano 
  • ¾ cup cilantro, chopped and divided in half 
  • 3 limes, halved 
  • Salt and pepper to taste (start with ½ tsp each) 
  • Taco tortillas (8-inch)

Suggestions for serving: 

  • Avocados or guacamole 
  • Salsa 
  • Diced tomatoes 
  • Shredded lettuce 
  • Crema Mexicana or sour cream 
  • Cheese


  1. Pour oil in the bottom of the slow-cooker, making certain to cover the sides as well as the bottom.
  2. Place the onions in the slow-cooker.
  3. Add the chicken, garlic and bay leaves.
  4. Evenly spread the cumin, red pepper flakes, oregano, salt and pepper over the chicken.
  5. Squeeze two of the lime halves over the chicken, placing the (clean) rinds in the slow-cooker.
  6. Place the lid on and cook 6-8 hours on low or (if you’re desperate) 4 hours on high.
  7. Shred the cooked chicken with two large forks*, removing bay leaves as you go.
  8. Squeeze the remaining lime juice over the chicken and add the remaining cilantro.

Optional: wrap 3-4 tortillas in a clean, slightly damp kitchen towel (squeeze out as much water as you can), and microwave on a plate for 30 seconds to warm. 

*If any part of the chicken is still pink and will not shred, put the lid back on for half an hour more and check again.

Tip for more flavor: Sprinkle the raw chicken breasts with a little salt and pepper and sear for 4 minutes in a pan over high heat. This is a totally optional step and will make the recipe take longer, but it takes the flavor to a whole new level thanks to the maillard broening reaction that happens when you cook food with higher, direct heat.

Food safety tip: Frozen chicken is a Godsend, but it doesn’t belong in a slow cooker. Unthawing with the slow-building heat of the crock-pot puts chicken in the prime temperature range for bacteria growth for too long. If you want to use frozen chicken, be certain to thaw it overnight in the refrigerator first.

This recipe makes quite a bit, so it’s great if you have guests. Personally I like to make it and then eat off of it for a few days. I’m a big leftovers for lunch kind of girl, so it’s perfect. I know some people don’t like leftovers (explain this to me, please), but what kind of MONSTER doesn’t want tacos for lunch?!

Sorry, got a little carried away there. 


I really can’t believe it’s been a full year since I started this blog. I call it that lightly, because this was never meant to be permanent. Soon I’ll be starting a bigger project (really, it’s almost ready), so be on the lookout here, on my Instagram (@leanndacavalier) and on SnapChat (lcavalier33)! 

Yay for progress! And TACOS. 

Tacos. Mmmmm…

Let me know what you think with a comment or over on SnapChat. I’d love to hear from you!

Summer slow-cooker veggie lasagna

Slowcooker, Italian, Recipe, VegetarianLeannda CavalierComment

This post was originally published on my old blog. This version may contain minor edits and updates. The original is preserved at Recipe Repository


Making pasta the right way is an art.

Getting the perfect al dente bite. Building the flavors in your sauce for hours on the stove. It’s a process that’s been perfected, taught and argued over for years and years.

But you know what? Sometimes you just need to eat some freaking pasta right now.

Or perhaps you need it right when you get home from work/school/marathon/sockhop.

Two practical truths: 

  1. Compromising on traditional perfection is actually progress if it gets you fed in time to finish out your day and get some sleep. “Imperfect” homemade lasagna is much more healthful than making some “perfect” ramen.
  2. Sometimes pasta done the “wrong” way can be just as good as pasta done the “right” way.

I know. Burn.

I like authenticity as much as the next food-obsessed person, but there are days when you really just need a win. This is quick and easy victory that takes care of itself while you focus on everything else.

Considering the above, this lasagna is basically American Pharoah. 

It delivers on what I consider to be the true markers of a great lasagna: smooth, creamy ricotta layers; aromatic sauce with simple ingredients and complex flavors; plenty of gooey  mozarella; and above all a beautiful balance of acidity and richness. The vegetables make this summer dish surprisingly fresh and bright for both a lasagna and a slow-cooker meal. 

Another win: I consider this to be a pretty healthful meal. Lots of veggies, a good amount of protein and no added sugar. Pasta isn’t even so bad as long as you have it in moderation, as this meal encourages.

You know what else is pretty healthful? Using full-fat cheese. It tastes better, has a better texture AND guess what: eating fat isn’t what causes weight gain. 

Generally if something says fat-free or reduced-fat it actually means sugar and carbs have been added and THOSE are what make you gain weight. Backwards, right?

I’m gonna step down off that soap box and refer you both to Emily Schromm (so smart!) and the documentary “Fed Up” (on Netflix). I did Emily’s 21 Day Superhero Challenge in February. I’ve always been fascinated with food and nutrition and I learned a lot from her.

I also gained the ability to do push ups. It was a big deal.  Look her up after you read this!

Emily probably tell you not to eat the pasta though, so… I mean you could try sauteed eggplant slices instead?

Or eat the pasta. I triple-dog dare you.

Summer Slow-Cooker Veggie Lasagna

Serves 8-10

Special equipment:

  • 6-quart (or larger) slow-cooker
  • Apron or old t-shirt

Cheese Filling


  • 16-oz container full-fat ricotta cheese
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 cup finely shredded parmesan cheese
  • 1 tsp Italian spices
  • ¼ cup minced shallots
  • 2 cups spinach or other baby greens, cut into thin ribbons
  • 1 small zucchini, quartered lengthwise and sliced thin
  • 2 cups finely chopped baby bella mushrooms or portabello mushrooms


  1. Combine ricotta, egg, shredded parmesan, Italian spices and shallots in a large mixing bowl.
  2. Stir in spinach, and mix until evenly distributed.
  3. Stir in zucchini and mushrooms until mixture is even.

Tomato Sauce


  • 2 28-oz cans whole tomatoes, in juice, no salt added*
  • 3 cloves garlic, crushed and minced
  • ¼ cup fresh basil, cut into thin ribbons
  • ½ tsp fresh rosemary, minced (or ¼ dried rosemary, crushed)
  • Pinch of red pepper flakes
  • Salt and pepper to taste


  1. Drain tomato juice into a large mixing bowl.
  2. Crush the tomatoes by hand using the following method:
    1. Wearing an apron** or other cover, hold tomato in the palm of your hand over the same mixing bowl, fingernails facing down.
    2. Carefully pierce the stem end of the tomato with your thumb and gently squeeze out as much juice as possible.
    3. Keeping your thumb in the center of the tomato, close your fingers around it and squeeze as hard as possible to crush the tomato’s flesh. It doesn’t matter whether the fibers fully separate.
  3. Repeat with all remaining tomatoes.
  4. Add garlic, basil and red pepper flakes, then stir to combine.
  5. Salt and pepper to taste (start with a pinch of each).

Lasagna Assembly


  • Tomato sauce mixture
  • Cheese filling
  • 1 TBSP good quality extra virgin olive oil
  • 15 lasagna noodles (about 12 oz)
  • 4 ½ cups full-fat shredded Italian cheese blend or mozzarella, divided


  1. Pour olive oil in slow-cooker and use a brush or paper towel to coat the bottom and sides
  2. Pour 1 ½ cups tomato sauce mixture in and spread to cover the bottom evenly.
  3. Lay five noodles over the sauce mixture, breaking as needed to cover as much sauce as possible. I find laying them lengthwise and breaking to cover the corners works best.
  4. Carefully spoon half of the cheese filling over the noodles and spread to cover, packing it down firmly and cover with 1 ½ cups of the tomato sauce mixture.
  5. Sprinkle 1 ½ cup of the Italian cheese blend over the sauce evenly.
  6. Add another layer of noodles, cheese filling, sauce and Italian cheese blend.
  7. Add the last five noodles, and remaining sauce. Reserve last cup of Italian cheese blend in the refrigerator for serving.

The layer breakdown should look like this, going in order from the bottom to the top:

  • 1 ½ cups tomato sauce
  • 5 noodles
  • Half of the cheese filling
  • 1 ½ cups tomato sauce
  • 1 ½ cup shredded Italian cheese blend
  • 5 noodles
  • Half of the cheese filling
  • 1 ½ cups tomato sauce
  • 1 ½ cup shredded Italian cheese blend
  • 5 noodles
  • remaining sauce
  • (after finished cooking) 1 ½ cup shredded Italian cheese blend

9. Place lid on and cook on low for 4-6 hours OR on high for 2-3 hours.

10. Take the lid off and spread remaining shredded Italian cheese blend on top. Turn off heat, replace lid, and let sit for 45 minutes to allow the noodles to absorb the juices.***

11. Serve warm!


*You can always use pre-crushed or diced canned tomatoes and skip the tomato-crushing step. I personally prefer the rustic and varied texture of hand-crushed tomatoes.

**Hand-crushing tomatoes is messy no matter how careful you are! Move anything you don’t want tomato splattered on at least four feet away.

***In the picture above you can see a small amount of cooking liquid around the edges of the lasagna. That’s from all the veggies, and it’s the result of not letting it rest for 45 minutes. It’s not pretty, but it’s delicious—plus, it means the noodles are more firm because they haven’t soaked all the liquid up. If you let it sit, the noodles absorb all that extra liquid, meaning less sits on the plate, and the layers are easier to keep together, more like a traditional lasagna. To me it’s a toss-up in terms of taste, but letting it rest is definitely more aesthetically pleasing in the end. 

This recipe is loosely adapted from an “Eating Well” slow-cooker vegetarian lasagna recipe, which you can find here

Easy make-ahead recipes for Memorial Day: slow-cooker Italian roast beef and dill pickles

Slowcooker, Italian, RecipeLeannda CavalierComment

This post was originally published on my old blog. This version may contain minor edits and updates. The original is preserved at Recipe Repository

Just found out you have company coming for Memorial Day? Scrambling to find something to make?

Don’t worry, I’ve got you.

I have one of the easiest roast recipes in the world, with a flavor that skips no corners: Slow-cooker Italian Roast Beef. Tender, tangy, slow-cooked perfection.

There’s a kick other than the flavor though: this recipe is far more American than it is Italian. It follows the classic Italian-American formula of using tenderizing agents and strong flavors to cover up the fact that a cut of meat isn’t exactly prime rib. 

To be fair, a bottom round roast isn’t a terrible cut, but it is pretty lean, which can make it a little tough depending on how you cook it.

This simple method is going to make it melt like cotton candy in a rainstorm.

I got this recipe from my Mom and Ya-ya, who have taught me a lot about the principles of food and cooking. If you know the basics, you can change just about any recipe to suit your needs without royally screwing it up. I’m pretty sure that’s what they did here.

I’ve seen similar versions elsewhere, but they generally rely on seasoning packets and other similar ingredients I’m not a fan of using. The giardiniera (Italian-style pickled vegetables) is about as “fake” a food as I want to use. My family turned this into a four-ingredient crockpot of tender heaven that can easily feed a small party or me and my husband for half a week.

What more could you want? Oh, you do want more? Good, because I have it:

PICKLES. Impressive ones, ‘cause you made them yo’self!

I adapted this recipe from Alton Brown’s fermented dill pickle recipe.  I was watching the “Dill-icious” episode of “Good Eats” the other day (definitely not for the fifth time since it’s been on Netflix, that would be crazy…) and noticed he said you could skip the fermentation process and make refrigerator pickles.  

I saw that as a challenge, so an experiment I started.

I am posting the recipe instead of just linking it because I made a few adjustments and elaborated on it for those who have trouble cooking without following a recipe exactly (p.s., we’re gonna work on that later, you and me!).


First, I pared it down a little. This was a late-night experiment, after all. Second, whether or not you reduce the ratios, you need less salt when you’re not fermenting. Third I actually upped the garlic because I love it. Fourth, I added some vinegar just in case the other flavoring agents weren’t enough. Looking back, I don’t think the vinegar was necessary, but I will continue using it because I like the little zesty something it adds. Finally, I replaced dill seed with dried dill weed because either the Morristown, Tennessee area has no use for dill seed, or there is a vast conspiracy among the local grocers. I’ll let you choose your own adventure there.

Back to Monday. Pair these recipes with staples like grilled corn and fruit salad and tell your guests they’re welcome to bring a covered dish. You seem like you’ve got it all together, friend.

So are you really going to make burgers and hot dogs again this year?

Slow-Cooker Italian Roast Beef Sandwiches

(Serves 8-10)

Prep: 5-10 minutes

Passive cooking: 10 hours

Shredding: 5 minutes

Total active cook time: 10-15 minutes


  • 3-4 lbs bottom round (rump) roast
  • 16-oz jar of Italian giardiniera, packed in vinegar
  • 16-oz jar of mild pepper rings
  • 4 cloves garlic, crushed
  • Bread of choice for serving (I recommend toledo rolls)


  1. Place beef roast in the center of your slow-cooker.
  2. Pour jar of Italian giardiniera over the roast.
  3. Drain off half of the juice from the pepper rings and discard. Pour the rest of the jar’s contents over the roast.
  4. Add garlic cloves to the mixture.
  5. Put the lid on, set the slow-cooker to low and cook for 10 hours. 
  6. Remove from heat, shred with two forks.  Drain off excess juice—and save it!
  7. Serve warm on toledo rolls or Italian sub rolls. To take it to the next level of comforting deliciousness, serve it with little cups of the juice for dipping. 

Refrigerator Dill Pickle Spears

Prep: 10 minutes

Refrigerate: 3-4 days (2 minimum)

Total active cook time: 10 minutes


  • ⅓ cup pickling salt
  • 1 tsp dried dill weed
  • 1 tsp black peppercorns
  • Pinch red pepper flakes
  • 1 cup white vinegar
  • 4-5 pickling cucumbers (4-6 inches), quartered lengthwise*
  • 3 cloves garlic, crushed
  • ½ large bunch fresh dill
  • Several cups filtered water


  1. Combine pickling salt, dried dill weed, black peppercorns, red pepper flakes, white vinegar and one cup of filtered water in a quart-sized mason jar.** Stir until salt dissolves.
  2. Place as many cucumber spears as you can fit into the mixture.
  3. Place fresh dill and garlic cloves in between and around the cucumbers, using a butter knife to help you push them down if necessary.
  4. Top off with filtered water, making sure to cover all of the pickles. Seal tightly and give it a shake to combine.
  5. Leave the jar in the refrigerator for at least two days, preferably 3-4. Eat within 10-14 days.

*If you like your pickles thinner, you can always halve any large quarters.

**I actually used a deli container this time that I had from buying grape leaves. You can really use just about any air-tight container that holds about a quart. Just don’t use anything that’s going to hold the smell of the vinegar or pass on smells from other foods.