Sunday, October 21, 2012

Crock Pot Italian Beef

If you're not from Chicagoland, you probably don't have easy access to good Italian Beef sandwiches.  In Chicago and the suburbs, I would bet you're never further than a 5 minute drive from a good Italian Beef.  Out here in Ohio, sadly, things are not the same.  All is not lost, however - it's easy to make a good beef sandwich in the crock pot at home.

Italian Beef sandwiches are traditionally wet-roasted to medium rare, then shaved thin on a deli slicer and finished in "the juice," then served on dense, chewy bread and topped with sweet peppers, hot peppers, or giardiniera (or some combination of the three).  I don't have a deli slicer handy, so my own version is shredded rather than sliced, but the result is much the same.  This recipe is an easy, delicious way to feed a large group - but make plenty, they may want seconds.

Here's what you'll need: 3-4 pounds of cheap beef (sirloin butt, top round, or bottom round), a couple of sweet onions, a couple of bell peppers, some beef broth, worcestershire sauce, garlic powder, italian seasoning, salt, and pepper.

Start by chopping the peppers and onions into large pieces.  Too small, and they'll either end up mushy or disintegrate altogether after cooking all day - and that just won't do.

Cover the bottom of the crock pot with a little more than half of the chopped veggies.  The rest will go on top in a minute.

Next, nestle the star player into the pot on top of the veggies, and cover that enormous hunk of beef with the rest of the chopped vegetables.  My cut of beef was a little bigger than I usually use, so it just barely fits in the pot - it took a while longer to cook, but it still turned out just fine.

With the beef and vegetables in place, it's time to add the cooking liquid and the seasoning - add the Worcestershire sauce, beef broth, Italian seasoning, garlic powder, salt, and pepper to the pot.  Be sure to lift up the beef a bit to make sure that the liquid gets all the way down to the bottom of the pot.

With your liquid and seasoning in place, your beef is ready to cook.  Set the crock pot to low and cook 6-10 hours - the amount of time can vary quite a lot depending on the particular cut of beef you get.  The good news is that it's pretty tough to drastically overcook this beef, so if it goes an "extra" hour or two, no big deal.

You'll know the beef is done when it shreds very, very easily with a fork.  If it's at all tough to get apart, put it back in the pot and try again in an hour.  Once the beef is tender, shred it with a couple of forks until it's in nice, bite-sized pieces.

To assemble a sandwich, pile plenty of beef onto a good, chewy sandwich roll.  Drizzle with extra juice and/or serve with a cup of juice on the side.  Top the sandwich with roasted sweet peppers, giardiniera, hot peppers, or any combination thereof.  This time around, we used these Pickled Hot Peppers to great effect.

While this sandwich may never entirely stave off my craving for a Portillo's sandwich, this recipe is a nice approximation of the Chicago classic.  Enjoy!

Recipe: Crock Pot Italian Beef
Prep Time: 10 Minutes | Cook Time: 6-10 Hours in Crock Pot | Difficulty: Easy | Servings: 12-16

  • 3-4 lbs Beef (sirloin butt, top round, bottom round)
  • 2 large Sweet Onions
  • 2 large green Bell Peppers
  • 4 cups low-sodium Beef Broth
  • 3 tbsp Worcestershire Sauce
  • 2 tbsp Italian Seasoning
  • 1 tbsp Garlic Powder
  • 1 tbsp Salt
  • 2 tsp Black Pepper
  1. Chop onions and peppers into large pieces.
  2. Line bottom of crock pot with half of chopped vegetables.  Set beef atop vegetables, then cover with the other half of the onions and peppers.
  3. Add Worcestershire sauce, Italian seasoning, garlic powder, salt, and pepper to crock pot.  Add enough beef broth to cover all of the ingredients.
  4. Cook in crock pot 6-10 hours on Low until a fork can easily pull the beef apart.
  5. Shred beef into small pieces with two forks.
  6. To assemble sandwiches, pile beef atop chewy sandwich rolls.  Drizzle with additional juice and/or serve with a side cup of juice.  Top with sweet peppers, giardiniera, and/or hot peppers.  Serve hot.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Pickled Hot Peppers

Pickling is pretty cool.  You take some food, throw it in something nice and acidic, and after a while the taste is transformed and your food will last way longer.  Neat!  I'm not the hugest fan of traditional pickles, but you can pickle lots of things, and pickled peppers are particularly tasty.  Kristin and I have eaten these peppers on Italian beef and hamburgers recently, and both have been really fantastic.  We've got half of a batch still in the fridge right now, and they'll likely go on some nachos later in the week.  If you haven't already, try some pickling.

Here's what I used for this batch of pickles: jalapeno peppers, poblano peppers, anaheim peppers, hungarian peppers, shallots, garlic, thyme, cider vinegar, salt, and sugar.  You can vary the peppers and veggies as you see fit - I went for a nice mix of milder and hotter peppers and it made for a nice heat level that's definitely noticeable, but doesn't take over the whole dish.  If you want things milder, you can include some regular belle peppers.  If you like it spicier, add some hotter peppers - the sky is the limit.

Start by chopping all of the vegetables.  I like to chop things fairly rough so that the finished product has a nice, firm texture with plenty of bite.

Once things are chopped, combine the vinegar, salt, sugar, and thyme in a saucepan.  Bring the contents to a boil, stir well to make sure that all of the sugar is absorbed, and remove your pan from the heat.

Once the brine in the saucepan has cooled a bit, add the chopped vegetables.  Let this sit until the whole mixture is room temperature.

When everything is cool, transfer the vegetables and brine into jars or your storage medium of choice.  Kristin and I intend to go through these fairly quickly, so we're not bothering with a long-term canning process.  If you want to make larger batches or save these longer, be sure to use safe and sterile processes.  For our purposes, we just re-used some well-scrubbed pasta sauce jars and plan to eat the pickles expediently.

Throw your jars into the fridge for at least 6 hours, then open them up and invent as many ways to eat these as possible.

These really may be my new favorite condiment.  We've made a couple of batches already as we keep on thinking of new ways to use them - I imagine there will only be more variations and more applications to come.  If you make these or something like them, leave a comment and let me know how it went and how you used them!

Recipe: Pickled Hot Peppers
Prep Time: 15 Minutes Hands-On + 6 Hours Refrigeration | Cook Time: 5 Minutes | Difficulty: Easy


  • 5 Jalapeno Peppers
  • 3 Anaheim Peppers
  • 3 Poblano Peppers
  • 3 Hungarian Peppers
  • 2 Shallots,
  • 3 cloves Garlic
  • 1/2 cup White Sugar
  • 2 cups Apple Cider Vinegar
  • 2 tsp Thyme
  • 2 tsp Salt 

  1. Chop peppers and shallots and mince garlic.
  2. In a medium saucepan, combine vinegar, thyme, salt, and sugar.  Bring to a boil over medium-high heat and stir to dissolve sugar.  Remove from heat and let cool several minutes.
  3. Add chopped vegetables to saucepan and rest until completely cooled.
  4. Transfer vegetables and brine to glass jars.  Seal lids and refrigerate at least 6 hours.  Use sterile canning processes if storing pickles longer than 10 days.