Chalupa: A Weeknight Winner

Chalupa Crock-Pot Recipe

If there’s one thing we’re all lacking, it’s time. I’m always searching for recipes that I can throw together for a no-fuss weeknight dinner. Chalupa fits the bill and is really inexpensive to make. It takes five minutes to put in the crock-pot in the morning and cooks all day without stirring.

I started making this Chalupa recipe years ago — even before we went gluten free. It fits every diet except vegan and vegetarian (obviously!). We’ve served this dish for picky friends who have scraped their bowls clean. The topping bar is such a hit! Kids can add their favorite veggies by the spoonful, making their own unique creation.

Here's Sweet Pea's cheesy bowl of Chalupa. She likes her toppings on the side.

Here’s Sweet Pea’s cheesy bowl of Chalupa. She likes her toppings on the side.

Seven simple ingredients make up this rustic meal. I always recommend using organic ingredients when possible. I buy bags of 365 organic beans at Whole Foods (don’t trust the bulk bins if you have food allergies). The recipe calls for pinto beans but I only had kidney beans when I first made it. We loved the rich pinkish broth, so I kept making it with the kidney beans until recently. The pinto beans create a different flavor with a earthy brown broth. Now I alternate between pinto and kidney, usually letting my monkeys choose.

I stock up on cans of Hatch diced green chiles at Whole Foods because the ingredients are cleaner than the mainstream brands at the grocery store. Buy local pock chops at your Farmer’s Market or try Whole Foods for organic. Frozen pork chops work really well in this recipe. I rarely remember to defrost the chops in advance and the dish comes out the same either way.

Chalupas are traditionally Mexican served in a fried shell, but this recipe is not spicy. You could definitely add a hot pepper for a kick. With its rustic flavor, a bowl of Chalupa is perfect for any season. Chalupa tastes even more delicious with fresh cilantro, tomatoes from the garden, and corn scraped right off the cob. We’re looking forward to some Chalupa nights on the patio with friends this summer!

Serves 8
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Prep Time
5 min
Prep Time
5 min
  1. 2 pounds boneless pork chops
  2. 1 pound dry pinto or kidney beans (soaked overnight)
  3. 1 teaspoon oregano
  4. 1 tablespoon cumin
  5. 1 heaping teaspoon garlic powder
  6. 1 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
  7. 1 can of green chiles
  8. filtered water to fill the pot, about 5 cups
Topping bar ideas
  1. avocado
  2. fresh cilantro
  3. grated cheddar cheese
  4. chopped tomatoes
  5. chopped peppers
  6. chopped red onion or scallions
  7. organic corn
  8. sour cream
  1. Soak the beans overnight.
  2. Drain the beans and put them in a 6 quart crock-pot.
  3. Add filtered water to cover beans plus 1 inch more.
  4. Add spices and green chiles. Top with pork chops. The chops don’t need to be totally covered with water. It will create more liquid as it cooks.
  5. Cook in crock-pot for about 8 hours on low.
  6. Before serving, shred the pork chops.
  7. Serve with your favorite toppings.
  1. - If you serve with corn chips, you may always have to serve with corn chips. Little monkeys have good memories!
  2. - This recipe feeds my family of four plus 6 cups of leftovers that go straight into the freezer in a glass container.
  3. - I use garlic powder so that my fingers don't smell like garlic at 8am. Fresh chopped garlic tastes great too.
Under the Monkey Bars
Cómelo todo!

Terragon Chicken Salad

Terragon Chicken Salad Recipe from Under the Monkey Bars

I worked at an Advertising agency in Boston one summer during college. When we ate lunch at the little cafe near the office, I always ordered a tarragon chicken salad sandwich. I ate something recently with a similar flavor and thought, why haven’t I made this?

Must. Find. Terragon. Chicken. Salad. Recipe!

Here it is, friends. You are going to love it! It’s an easy make-ahead meal that works for anything except breakfast. For an appetizer, try serving this chicken salad on a granny smith apple slice. It’s a little tricky to eat but really fun. This recipe is naturally gluten free, soy free, dairy free, nut free, and paleo friendly.

I’ve used both left over grilled chicken and roasted chicken for this recipe; both work great. You could also try using this crock-pot chicken recipe. Make sure you zest your lemon before you squeeze out the juice — much easier. When I don’t make my own mayonnaise, we love the brand Just Mayo; check your label since most brands contain genetically modified canola oil and many additives.

We mostly eat Terragon Chicken Salad for a weeknight dinner when I’m not home to cook a full meal. Move over kale, the monkeys have a new favorite salad green. Have you tried watercress? It’s uber fresh because it comes from the store alive with roots and dirt! Watercress is full of antioxidants and adds a peppery bite to the chicken salad. I wrap the dirty roots (it’s literally a live plant) in a bag while I rinse the watercress leaves. Then just chop off the ends with a big knife and call it done. Whole Foods and our local Natural Grocer both keep watercress stocked. Definitely try it!


Terragon Chicken Salad with Watercress
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  1. 3 cooked boneless, skinless chicken breasts
  2. 1 tablespoon olive oil
  3. 1/2 cup mayonnaise
  4. 1/4 cup chopped tarragon
  5. 1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
  6. 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  7. 2 sliced scallions
  8. 2 sliced celery stalks
  9. ¾ teaspoon salt
  10. ½ teaspoon black pepper
  11. 1 pound watercress, thick stems removed
  1. In a medium bowl, mix together the mayonnaise, tarragon, lemon zest, and lemon juice.
  2. Fold in the chicken, scallions, and celery.
  3. Season with salt and pepper.
  4. Serve over watercress.
  1. Tip for Kids: I serve the scallions and celery on the side. The monkeys have been adding a little more each time, but they never would have touched it if I started with the scallions and celery in there!
Adapted from Real Simple
Adapted from Real Simple
Under the Monkey Bars

Simple Roasted Chicken + Bone Broth


Do you roast whole chickens? It’s an easy meal that my family loves, and one of our favorite weeknight meals. I roast a chicken every other week, sometimes weekly. I always use the bones to make homemade broth in my crock-pot.

I can’t tell you how easy it is to roast a whole chicken. I had to get over my irrational fear of touching it. These helped. It takes less than 10 minutes to get the chicken in the oven. After it’s in, I start chopping veggies and just pop them in the oven as they are ready. Easy peasy, lemon squeezie (from Sophia Grace & Rosie’s Royal Adventure – frequently quoted at our house in a British accent, of course)!

What kind of chicken should you buy? Choose a pasture-raised chicken and organic ingredients whenever possible. I purchase chickens from local farms, like The Pasture at Pettingill Farm (order now for June if you are in the Newburyport area). Pasture-raised chickens always taste better and it’s important to me to buy local and support local farms. Additionally, pasture-raised meat is higher in omega-3s. Because the chickens are fed grass-based diets, the meat is lower in total fat and calories with higher levels of antioxidants and vitamins (E, C, and beta-carotene). Pasture animal products are also better for the environment.

We have a chest freezer in the basement that I keep stocked with whole chickens and other local organic meats. I make an exception to my rule with organic chickens from Whole Foods, which is the only grocery store where I will buy meat because of their strict standards.


How to Roast a Whole Chicken with Veggies
What you need: whole chicken, a lemon, an onion, olive oil, salt, pepper.

Directions (keep reading – it’s easy, I promise):
1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
2 Lightly spray a baking dish with olive oil. I use Misto because most packaged sprays have lots of hidden ingredients. Check your spray.
3. Take the chicken out of its packaging and remove the bag of parts inside, reserving for later when you make broth.
4. Rinse the chicken thoroughly and pat dry with paper towels.
5. Place the whole chicken in the prepared baking dish.
6. Cut a lemon in half and stuff it inside the chicken.
7. Cut an onion in quarters and place the pieces around the chicken.
8. Spray or drizzle the chicken and onions with olive oil.
9. Generously salt and pepper the chicken.  
10. Put it in the oven and cook for an hour and 1/2 or until the internal temperature reaches 180 degrees.
11. Now chop up some veggies: potatoes, sweet potatoes, carrots, onions, garlic, parsnips — whatever you have. Toss in olive oil and add some salt and pepper if you want. Put everything on a baking sheet, and flip after 30 minutes. Cook an additional 15-30 minutes.
12. Let the chicken cool enough for you to handle it.
13. Remove all of the chicken off the bones.
14. Put the chicken caracas (plus everything you are not eating that comes off that chicken: skin, etc.) directly in the crock-pot. Keep reading to find out how to make bone broth!
15. Optional: Remove the wishbone and dry it out for a few days. Bean and Sweet Pea love to see who will get the wish! 

What to do with leftovers?
– Add left over chicken to a salad for lunch.
– Cut chicken into cubes for lunch boxes.
– Make chicken salad or leftover chicken soup.


Bone Broth

Are you thinking, why would I want to make homemade broth when I can buy it in a box at the grocery store? Homemade bone broth is detoxifying and it contains excellent minerals and nutrients that help your body function. And let’s face it, it’s a great way to save money. It costs almost nothing to make, and would cost about $18 to purchase organic at the grocery store. But wait, there’s more…

Benefits of bone broth
– Aid digestion
– Heal the gut
– Boost collagen
– Good for your teeth
– Anti-aging
– Combat the side effects of cold and flu

The fact that bone broth is good for your teeth really caught my attention. My Mom made bone broth when I was growing up and I don’t have any cavities. I’ve been making bone broth for three years. The monkeys don’t have any cavities. Kind of makes you go, “Hmmmm.”

As with everything, there’s the easy way and the hard way. I like the easy way, so I use my faithful crock-pot. Keep the broth simple because it will be the base for whatever you’re making: soup, sauces, rice, quinoa, vegetables, and for sipping. You can add spices when you’re ready to cook.

How to Make Homemade Bone Broth in Your Crock-pot
What you’ll need:
– Chicken caracas plus all of the parts that come inside (neck, liver, etc.)
– Drippings in your baking dish from roasting the chicken
– A stalk of celery and a carrot if you have them
– 2 TBSP of apple cider vinegar
– Filtered water to fill the crock-pot

1. Put all of the ingredients in your crock-pot in the order listed above.
2. Turn your crock-pot to high until it is hot and bubbling, which is about two hours in my crock-pot.
3. Cook on low for about 24 hours. It doesn’t have to be exact. 
4. Pour entire contents of the crock-pot through a mesh strainer into a large bowl.  Note: Wear an apron; it can be splashy!
5. Discard the bones.
6. Cool and store in freezer safe glass containers or in cubes. Make sure to leave room at the top of the container for the liquid to expand when frozen.

Yields approximately 16-18 cups of broth, depending on the size of your crock-pot.

I keep a few boxes of chicken broth in my pantry for emergencies. I rarely run out of my homemade bone broth but when I do, this one is my favorite. Check what’s in your pantry and read the ingredients on the label. Most packaged broths have REALLY long ingredient lists with preservatives and tons of sodium. Besides, chicken in a box? Kind of grosses me out.

Buy a chicken. Make some broth. Unless you are vegan; I’m sorry this post just isn’t for you!

Here are some recent articles about bone broth:
NPR: The Elixir Du Jour: Bone Broth
New York Times: Bone Broth Evolves From Prehistoric Food to Paleo Drink
Yahoo! Health: Bone Broth: 4 Reasons Wellness Experts Are Obsessed

Cómelo todo! 

Easy Back-to-Back Dinners

I love my crock-pot.  We’ve been inseparable since the first time it had a hot meal waiting for me after work years ago.  Simple stews and soups are my go-to recipes for my magic pot.  I’d never cooked plain old chicken in there until I found this recipe for Crock-Pot Chicken from Lexi’s Clean Kitchen.  It’s a healthy, easy way to prep cooked chicken for any recipe.

One of our family’s favorite dinners is Against All Grain’s Leftover Chicken Soup with Roasted Vegetables.  It’s a stove top recipe and you know I love my crock-pot.  The first time I made the soup I used chicken that I had roasted the day before, and it just wasn’t enough meat.  My crock-pot brain started thinking…I could make the chicken for the soup in the crock-pot using Lexi’s recipe.  Serve Crock-Pot Pesto Chicken Salad one night, and Leftover Chicken Soup the next.  It’s such a great weeknight back-to-back dinner combination.  Both recipes are naturally gluten free, paleo, dairy free, and can be made vegan (yes, I know they are chicken recipes but keep reading).

Here’s what you’ll do….

Wednesday morning: Do you have chicken in the freezer?  You can totally make this tonight!  Follow Lexi’s recipe for Crock-Pot Chicken.  Use a lot of chicken breasts so that there’s enough for both recipes;  this will depend on your family size (I use 6 for the 4 of us).  When it’s cooked, take the chicken out and pour the broth through a mesh strainer to remove the onions from the broth.  Discard the onions and SAVE the broth!  It’s much more flavorful and nutrient rich than the broth you started with and you can use it again (my home made crock-pot broth recipe coming soon!).

Wednesday night’s dinner: Follow Lexi’s recipe to make the Pesto Sauce.  We like raw cashews but you can use almost any kind of nut.  I double the pesto ingredients and add a little water when I throw it in the blender.  Shred half of the chicken breasts and mix them with the pesto sauce.  This dish can be made in advance and stored in the refrigerator in an airtight container.  My girls like their “green chicken” served over risotto with sautéed peppers, but the possibilities are endless.  If you’re vegan (and you’re still reading), the pesto would be delicious tossed with pasta.


Thursday night’s dinner: Use the broth you saved from the night before plus the extra chicken to make Leftover Chicken Soup.  Try roasting some extra veggies when you make this soup.  Roasted veggies are perfect for lunch!  You could also set aside some of the pureed veggie mix for the baby (if you have one, of course).  I made most of Bean and Sweet Pea’s baby food, and would have loved this recipe so that they could eat what we were having.  If you’re vegan, try making the soup with vegetable broth and omit the chicken all together.


The Leftover Chicken Soup can be frozen.  Use a Pyrex 6-Cup glass container for the family, or mason jars for individual portions (no plastic!).  Have you tried heating up left overs in your crock-pot?  It is so easy.  Thaw the container in your refrigerator over night.  In the afternoon (2:30pm-ish), put the half frozen soup in the crock-pot on warm and it will be ready at dinner time.

If you haven’t poked around on Lexi’s Clean Kitchen or Against All Grain, I highly recommend both blogs.  I’ve made many of their recipes and we always love them.  Add the ingredients to your grocery list and give these two recipes a try!

Cómelo todo!*

For the Pesto Chicken Salad recipe, go to Lexi’s Clean Kitchen.

For the Leftover Chicken Soup recipe, go to Danielle Walker’s Against All Grain.


*Translation :: Eat it all!
When I studied abroad in Madrid during college, my Señora Encarna would say, “Cómelo todo!” when she brought dinner to the table.  I sometimes say it to my monkeys at dinnertime with a smile, remembering that incredible experience.  You can expect to see “Cómelo todo!” at the end of my recipe posts as a tribute to the lovely lady who made sure I was well fed all those years ago in Spain.

Super Chili + Cornbread

cooking chili

Chili and cornbread go hand in hand with football.  Check out these killer recipes that are sure to please any Super Bowl crowd.


We have been making this recipe for Turkey Chili with White Beans from Epicurious for years.  The girls call it “Chocolate Chili” and they are always part of the Clean Plate Club when I make it.  The chocolate elevates the flavor, complimented by cinnamon and chili powder.  This chili comes together quickly, especially when you measure the spices into prep bowls.  We decided to make it for the blizzard, but our local farm and grocery stores were out (turkey must be up there with bread and milk!).  Luckily, ground beef was just as tasty.  It’s a versatile recipe and a real crowd pleaser – especially for your gluten free and paleo friends.


When we went gluten free, I couldn’t believe that most cornbread recipes call for wheat flour.  Shouldn’t cornbread be made of corn?  It took a few recipe fails until I found this keeper.  Toss your old cornbread recipes and replace them with Gluten Free on a Shoestring’s recipe for Old Fashioned Gluten Free Cornbread.  It is super moist and reminiscent of what cornbread should taste like.

No matter who you’re cheering for this Super Bowl, you will cheer for this yummy combo.  We will be rooting for the Pates (as Bean called the Patriots when she was three).  GO PATES!

 Here are my notes on the recipes:

Turkey Chili with White Beans

  • Vegetable oil is not good for you.  Try olive oil for this recipe.
  • We absolutely love the flavor of the turkey in this chili.  However, you can substitute beef or whatever ground meat you have on hand.
  • Use raw cacao powder instead of unsweetened cocoa powder.  Raw cacao is a good source of fiber and contains minerals like potassium, iron, and calcium.
  • Chopped tomatoes are easier than whole.
  • Add one yellow or orange pepper after you sauté the onions.
  • Chili freezes great.  Use a Pyrex glass storage container for the family, or mason jars for individual portions.  Please no plastic!
  • For this paleo and gluten free chili recipe, go to Epicurious.

 Old Fashioned Gluten Free Cornbread

  • Local raw honey makes a difference in taste and flavor for this recipe.
  • I use Stonyfield whole milk plain yogurt and Kerrygold butter.
  • Definitely use organic cornmeal because most corn is genetically modified (GMO).  I like Arrowhead Mills.
  • Crisp up leftover cornbread with some butter in a pan.  Serve with eggs, veggies, and meats for breakfast.
  • It’s gluten free, vegetarian, and has no refined sugar.
  • For the cornbread recipe, go to Gluten Free on a Shoestring.

Cómelo todo!*


*Translation :: Eat it all!

When I studied abroad in Madrid during college, my Señora Encarna would say, “Cómelo todo!” when she brought dinner to the table.  I sometimes say it to my monkeys at dinnertime with a smile, remembering that incredible experience.  You can expect to see “Cómelo todo!” at the end of my recipe posts as a tribute to the lovely lady who made sure I was well fed all those years ago in Spain.