A Year Of... interesting things

Monterey BBQ Pork Pasta

This is another delicious recipe I picked off Mel’s Kitchen Cafe blog and made my own and thus screwed it up in the process.

Monterey BBQ Pasta - Mine vs Mel's

On the left is my version, on the right is the considerably better looking version from Mel’s blog.

I don’t quite know what exactly I screwed up.

Given the amount of tomatoes (chopped) this requires, as well as the 1 cup of BBQ sauce, I’m surprised how clean Mel’s version is.

I’m confident my using messy shredded pork over cubed chicked didn’t help, but still…

The recipe is delicious nonetheless.


About 30 minutes to make. Add 5 hours if you include the cooking of the pork on a slow cooker :)

This is for my version. You can find Mel’s Monterey BBQ Chicken Pasta here.

If you find it too sweet, you can add some marinara sauce and/or some more pasta.


  • 1 to 2 pounds shredded pork
  • 6-7 slices bacon, cooked, chopped
  • 3 1/2 cups chicken broth
  • 2 cans (10 ounces each) rotel tomatoes, undrained
  • 16 ounces rotini pasta (or similar shape)
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2/3 cup BBQ sauce (I used Sweet Baby Ray’s)
  • 1 cup shredded Monterey Jack cheese
  • Chopped chives or green onions, for garnish (optional)o


  1. In a large pot over medium heat, add the broth and the rotel tomatoes and bring to a boil.
  2. Add the pasta and the salt, stir to combine, bring to boil and cook over medium heat, stirring frequently until the pasta is cooked usually 10-15 minutes (see pasta package instructions).
  3. Add in the BBQ sauce, the pork, and the bacon, and stir until heated throughout.
  4. Sprinkle the cheese on top, cover, and let rest for 2-3 minutes until cheese is melted.

Serve garnished with chives or green onions. Extra BBQ sauce as needed or maybe a sprinkle of balsamic vinegar.

Creamy Pork and Quinoa Casserole

The basis for this delicious dish is Mel’s excellent Creamy Chicken and Quinoa Cordon Bleu Casserole.

I made a few modifications due to ingredient availability:

  • used shredded pork left over from my BBQ pulled pork sandwich attempt;
  • subtituted the quinoa with a quinoa & bulgur mix since that’s what I had;
  • I accidentally ate the ham earlier in the morning, so instead of a cup of ham it was mostly a cup of thinly-sliced-to-look-like-ham cranberry pork sausage (and a little bit of ham);
  • sprinkled some crushed red pepper on half of it because I like spicy things.

Cream Pork and Quinoa Casserole

It was great, still.


The recipe is fairly straightforward and the hands-on time minimal: I’d say 5 minutes, 10 at best.

If we discount the time it took to prepare the pork (5-6 hours in slow-cooker), we’re looking at about 1 hour of cooking.

Couple of ideas/variations:

  • probably best idea would be to put breadcrumbs on top;
  • baring that, I think crushes tortilla chips would be great too;
  • replacing the Swiss cheese with cheddar would make for a stronger (not necessarily better) tasting casserole;
  • I bet smoked gouda would be phenomenal;
  • I wonder how would it taste with added sauteed mushrooms and/or roasted red pepper


  • 2 10oz condensed cream of chicken soup (highlight chicken as most casseroles I’ve made, few as they were used cream of mushrooms);
  • 1 cup low-sodium chicken broth
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 cup quinoa, rinsed well and drained (or quinoa and anything mix)
  • 2 cups cooked, diced pork
  • 1 cup chopped deli ham (or leftover ham of any sort) or 1 cup of chopped sausage
  • 1/2 cup shredded Swiss cheese
  • 1/2 cup shredded Monterey Jack cheese
  • 2 cups broccoli crowns, chopped, steamed
  • 1/4 cup shredded or grated Parmesan cheese


  1. Preheat the oven to 375F.
    Lightly grease a 9 x 11 or 9 x 13 inch pan.
  2. In a large bowl, stir together the condensed cream of chicken soup, broth, salt, pepper, quinoa, pork, ham/sausage, Swiss cheese and Monterey Jack cheese.
  3. Spread the mixture evenly in the pan.
    Cover with foil and bake for 30 minutes.
    Remove the casserole from the oven, uncover, and give it a good stir.
    Return to the oven and bake uncovered for about 12-14 more minutes.
  4. While the casserole bakes, steam the broccoli (I used this microwave method). Stir the broccoli into the casserole, sprinkle the Parmesan cheese on top and bake for another 10 minutes until the quinoa is plump and tender and the edges are golden and bubbling.
  5. Remove the casserole from the oven and let sit for 5-10 minutes before serving.
    Letting it sit is really important as it will help the casserole to firm up and also make sure the quinoa is completely tender.
  6. Serve warm - don’t wait too terribly long to serve it as it gets less creamy the longer it sits.

Serves 6 (serving size 1 or 1.5 cups). Probably 300-500 calories per cup, lots of fat from the cheese.

Per Mel’s notes on the original recipe, the casserole can be pre-made if you stop right after putting the mix in the pan and refrigerate it instead of putting it in the oven. The steamed broccoli can be refrigerated too, although given it only takes a few minutes to make I’m not sure it’s worth it.

BBQ Pulled Pork Sandwiches

In the annals of recipes I made this year I don’t think there’s one more hands-off recipe than this BBQ pulled pork sandwich.

It’s easy to make, delicious, and supports a fairly large array of customizations. Furthermore, it allows one to cook in advance a large amount of pork which can then be used in other dishes.

BBQ Pulled Pork Sandwich

I feel that a few warnings/caveats are important:

  • the BBQ sauce is the king here and the bun is the queen; we were all in agreement that we couldn’ve substituted saw dust for the pork and still would’ve made a deliciuos sandwich; as such, make sure you select a BBQ sauce that you absolutely love;
  • having a slow-cooker makes it the easiest variant possible; that being said, a Dutch oven would work too and would likely require a bit of monitoring;
  • it’s not easy to eat - as you bite into the sandwich, the pulled pork as the most liquid component, will have a tendency to escape the sandwich; most photos on the internet show a good inch of pulled pork between the buns - that’s the ideal amount for taste and yet I found it totally unmanageable.


The typical pulled pork sandwich is made with pork butt aka shoulder.

I used pork loin because it was on sale at Costco for a little under $2/lb. I don’t think it makes a difference - the BBQ sauce annihilates whatever subtle flavor the pork cut would’ve brought by itself (so select a delicious BBQ sauce).


  • 1-2 lbs of pork butt, loin, shoulder, etc (advice: put as much as it comfortably fits into the slow cooker - freeze the remains)
  • 1 cup of BBQ sauce - we used Sweet Baby Ray’s
  • bread: regular onion rolls work, so do scratch rolls, even Hawaiian rolls (if a paired with a not-so-sweet sauce)
  • toppings: sauteed mushrooms, coleslaw, pickles are traditional


  1. Place pork in slow cooker. Cook on low heat for about 5-6 hours; look for center temperature to achieve 195F and for the pork to start coming apart when poked with a fork.
  2. Pull pork apart, mix with whatever fat was in the pot. Add BBQ sauce and mix well.
  3. Serve on buns with whatever toppings your heart desires.

Calories: hard to say because the type of BBQ sauce and the bun make a large difference. All in all I’d say 600-1,000 calories per serving, with some 30-50g of fat, around 40g of protein, and way too many carbs. All worth it.

Mandarin Chicken Salad

This is a fairly filling salad which can be easily served as a main course meal.

The inspiration from it is Mel’s Kitchen Cafe blog, which I highly recommend for its diverse and delicious recipes.

Mandarin Chicken Salad

Mel’s version, aside from considerably better photography, uses chow mein noodles, which I did not have. However, one can make chow mein even from spaghetti by frying them after boiling the pasta almost to completion.

I also used shredded rather than chopped chicken. I think using choped or at least larger pieces of shredded chicken would have helped.

As a note, don’t let a kid that’s determined to make this into a sandwich near it.
They will use the extra 3 cups of chicken you had other plans for to turn this salad into the other kind of chicken salad that you put in sandwiches.


The recipe calls for 3 cups of shredded chicken and I think that strikes a good balance. However one could add a bit more if desired to make it more filling, or a bit more cabbage and lettuce to make it more airy.


  • 3-4 cups shredded cabbage (can use coleslaw mix)
  • 3-4 cups chopped romaine lettuce
  • 2 cans (11-ounces each) mandarin oranges, drained
  • 3 cups cooked, chopped chicken
  • 3 green onions, chopped (red onions also look cool)

For dressing:

  • 2 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce
  • 3 tablespoons rice vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon minced fresh ginger
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon sesame oil
  • 1-2 teaspoons chile-garlic sauce (can use Sambal Oelek if available)
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • Salt and pepper to taste

For topping:

  • 1-2 cups chow mein noodles or toasted, chopped almonds (or both)


  1. Mix together all incredients for the dressing.
  2. In a large bowl, toss the the salad ingredients.
  3. Add the dressing and toss to combine.
  4. Serve on a plate or in bowls topped with the chow mein noodles, or better a mix of chow mein and toasted chopped almonds.

Serving size: 1.5 cups, serves 6.

I think due to the sauce, which has a generous amount of oil, as well as the mandarins and chow mein, we’re looking at 400-600 calories per serving.


Pozole is a type of Mexican soup or stew - I guess which it ends up being depends on the amount of water one uses.

Funny enough, pozole means hominy which is one of the main ingredients of this dish (I guess it’s how we pasta to refer to either the dish or the ingredients) and it tends to be a dish made for and around main holidays, moreso in Mexico: Christmas, birthdays, etc.

I think it owes this special place due to the nature of the corn in Mesoamerican culture. The typical meat in the pozole is pork and that’s due to another historic reason: the Aztecs made the stew with white corn - the nominal hominy=pozole - and… left over meat from human sacrifices 🤢.

Turns out that pork tasted “very similar” to human flesh (hello bacony brother) and since the cannibalism was banned after the “Spanish Conquest” pork took its place.

The dish is delicious and not overly difficult to make from scratch - the ingredients might be a bit hard to come by.

However, what I came by was a jar of Pedro’s Posole from Cookwell & Co and thus I cheated the process a bit.


The pozole is typically getting served garnished with shredded cabbage, thinly sliced radishes, avocado, cilantro, onion, and lime wedges.

I opted to go without the last two and I wish I had a wider bowl to better showcase the stew itself - in the photo above my garnishes became… toppings.


Cookwell’s Pedro’s Posole is effortless and I opted to make mine with shredded chicken.

If you’re looking for a more authentic recipe, Nancy Lopez-McHugh’s red pozole looks absolutely delicious.


  • 1 jar of Pedro’s posole
  • 8-16 ounces of cooked, shredded chicken (8 oz -> soup, 16 or more -> strew)
  • 28 oz can of hominy, drained
  • 1 cup of shredded cabbage
  • 1/2 cup of thinly sliced raddishes
  • 1/2 large avocado, diced or sliced
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped onion
  • cilantro
  • lime wedges (can substitute with juice)


  1. Pour the pozole jar into a 4 quart pot; heat over medium heat for 2 minutes.
  2. Add the cooked, shredded chicken and hominy. Simmer, stirring occasionaly until all ingredients are heated throughout (5 minutes, tops).
  3. Use a wide bowl and garnish with the shredded cabbage, radishes, avocado, onion, cilantro, and wedges of lime.

Serves: 4

Calories? Don’t know - likely in the 200-250 calories per cup.