Tag Archives: pork

How to Eat Out on a Budget

The answer is .. you don’t.

At least, if I do, it’s very rare these days.

Dim sum, sushi and Red Lobster are my only dining out treats, but even they are quite rare … a few times a year.

Let’s do the math of dining out in comparison to cooking at home.

The last time I went out for AYCE sushi, I spent $17 and change. And that didn’t include a $3 tip.

In comparison, I spent $10 ($14 regular price with a 30% discount 30%) on a smoked picnic shoulder ham, and another $7 for a package of 4 fresh, skinless, bone in chicken breasts. Sometimes you can find boneless chicken breasts on deep discount.

After boiling the ham, I ended up with 18 cups of broth. I used half of the broth to make 11 cups/servings of ham and bean soup. I used 2 cups of diced cooked ham in the soup and still had enough ham left over for eight generous servings for other meals.

As to the chicken breasts, which were big enough to serve two people each if just simply breaded and baked, the possible usages are plentiful. Another option is turning the meat into breaded cutlets or chicken fillets.

Admittedly, chicken and pork are the most inexpensive proteins available … $2 – 2.50 a pound. Fish and seafood are a lot pricier. And a premium steak. The savings of cooking at home aren’t as obvious, but it’s still cheaper than dining out … two meals in for the price of one meal in a restaurant.

Every time I get tempted to dine out, I do the math.

Although, being frugal in my grocery shopping means that I CAN afford to treat myself occasionally.

What’s your favourite dining out treat? Do you eat out as much as you used to 5 yrs ago, 10?

ETA: I spent $18 on this name brand (Butterball) turkey bought frozen for $1.49 a pound. Lots of breast meat, thighs turned into a spicy Indian curry dish, roasted wings and drumsticks, turkey and rice soup, giblet and rice dressing, delicious gravy and the carcass will end up in a big pot turkey stock.

Pork Crackling Yeast “Biscuits” Redux

It’s been almost a year since I last made these pork crackling biscuits and I’ve been wanting to make some for the last month or so. They’re not particularly pretty  (I still took a lot of pictures to make up for the bad ones posted before) but they’re fluffy and tender from the pork fat in the cracklings. Some recipes grind half the cracklings to a paste and leave the other half more granular, but I kept them all granular. Duck fat was used to help create the layers.

Chunks of ground pork cracklings give texture and flavour to the biscuits

Two Different Finishes to the Biscuits  – The cuts on top should have been only 1/4 inch apart but I got lazy. The top layer slid off so it wasn’t as photogenic as the ones I made a number of years ago.

Pork Cracklings – cut into chunks and then ground

Layering the Dough

Duck and Pork Cassoulet/Casserole

I first tasted this dish at a very expensive restaurant in Chicago while visiting there with some friends. We stayed at the Renaissance Blackstone Hotel, in walking distance of other famous landmarks including the Art Institute of Chicago, the Field Museum, the Shedd Aquarium and the Adler Planetarium which we visited. We even walked all the way to the Water Tower Place for some window shopping. It was a memorable visit long before my mobility issues.

For a simple French peasant dish, there are a lot of ‘expert’ opinions on what you should and shouldn’t do when making this glorified pot of baked beans.

As you know, for Christmas dinner, I roasted a duck very simply and sliced and froze away both breasts, one of the legs, the carcass and some trimmed meat from the back. I had visions of a hoisin duck wrap with the breasts. And with the leg … well, I made duck gravy with the drippings and froze that away as well. I can’t remember exactly WHY I decided to make a duck cassoulet. I think I saw one posted on FB and had an A-HA moment.

In any case, since I’m home this week and snow was predicted midweek, I thought it would be the perfect time to give the cassoulet a try.

Duck and Pork Cassoulet – single portion with a breadcrumb crust

Just a bit of broth left at the end makes for a perfect cassoulet

5 Steps in Making a Cassoulet

Step 1: Soak the beans – This step and the next can be eliminated if you buy canned beans. Drain and rinse well and go straight to Step 3. In this instance, I added a generous tablespoon of salt to the soaking liquid as I wanted to see if that would affect the cooking time. It’s also been suggested that this will give the salt more time to penetrate the beans and flavour them.

Step 2: Cook the beans – You don’t have to cook the beans until they fall apart, just until they’re no longer crunchy, as you’ll be cooking them some more with your meats.

Step 3: Brown the meat – The meat used is a matter of debate. Duck, lamb (mutton) and pork, in several forms, may be used. The lamb is often omitted, which I did as well. Chicken may be substituted for the duck. And then, there’s a question of fresh or smoked. I’ve already mentioned that I was using leftover roasted duck, about a pound in total. For pork, I went with fresh pork belly, with the rind removed, and cut into portion sized chunks, as well as two raw apple sausages. I wanted to use raw garlic sausages, but my regular butcher didn’t have any, and I forgot to check at the other one at the market. (duh!!)

Step 4: Prepare the crust – This step is also a matter of debate. Some cooks swear by a crunchy crust made of fresh bread crumbs fried in duck fat, spiked with garlic (fresh or dry) and fresh, chopped parsley with a bit of stock to moisten it before it’s spooned generously over the top of the cassoulet. Pat the crumbs down gently and bake your cassoulet until the top is brown and crunchy. For other cooks, a ‘natural’ crust formed by the broth as it cooks down is preferred.

I was GOING to make the breadcrumb topping but then found myself with only 2 TBSP of breadcrumbs in my breadcrumb jar and no bread in the house/freezer that I could make more out of. I was too lazy to run to the local bakery and buy breadcrumbs so I made a single portion of the cassoulet in one of my ramekins with the breadcrumbs I had.

Step 5: Assemble and bake – Use a casserole dish large enough to hold all your beans, meats and enough liquid to just cover the beans. You will bake the contents for at least an hour until the beans and the meat are cooked through and then uncover and continue cooking to reduce the amount of liquid. You’re not making a soup but you DO want some liquid left. If your bean mixture gets too dry, you can spoon some of the reserved bean cooking liquid or stock over each individual portion before serving.

Duck and Pork Cassoulet/ Casserole … finished dish

Duck and Pork Cassoulet – serves 6

Beans and meats for your cassoulet

1 pound dry navy beans, soaked overnight along with 1 tbsp salt
1 pound duck meat, legs and or breasts
1 pound fresh pork belly, rind removed and cut into 4-6 portions
1/2 pound (2) fresh pork sausage, garlic preferred but apple was used

For the duck stock

1 duck carcass
6 cups of water, enough to cover the duck carcass
~ 1 tsp salt
1 small onion, ends trimmed and outer skin removed
1 carrot, rinsed, trimmed and chopped into 2-3 pieces
1 stalk celery, rinsed, trimmed and chopped into 3-4 pieces

For the bouquet garni – wrapped in cheesecloth and tied closed

1 clove garlic, whole, root end trimmed and paper husk removed
2-3 dry bay leaves
6-9 black peppercorns
1/4 tsp dry thyme

Cooking the beans/making the stock

In a large stock pot combine the soaked navy beans, water, duck carcass and bouquet garni. Bring just to the boil, skim off any scum that floats to the top, reduce the heat until the contents are just simmering, cover and cook 45 min to 1 hr or until the beans are just barely tender. Remove the carcass to a bowl. Let cool and pick off any meat from the carcass which you’ll add to the cassoulet during the assembly.

Remove and discard the bouquet garni, onion, carrot and celery pieces.

Drain the beans, reserving the cooking liquid for assembling and cooking the cassoulet.

For the cassoulet

6 cups cooked navy beans
2 – 2 1/2 cups duck stock or bean cooking liquid
2 tbsp duck fat
1 onion, finely diced
1 clove garlic, finely minced
1 medium carrot, peeled and finely diced
2 tbsp tomato paste

For crumb topping

2 – 2 1/2 cups fresh bread crumbs
1 tsp dried parsley
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1 – 2 tbsp duck fat

Preheat the oven to 350 deg Fahrenheit.

Place a large dutch oven on the burner set to medium heat and when hot, add the trimmed off rinds from the pork belly. Render out the pork fat and then add the meaty cubes of pork belly. Brown on all sides then transfer to a large dish. Brown the sausages on both sides, cut each into 2-3 pieces and add to the dish with the cubes of pork belly.

Drain off all the pork fat from the casserole. Add 2 tbsp duck fat to the casserole and saute the diced onion over medium heat just until the onion is soft but not browned. Add the minced garlic and saute for another minute or two. Add the tomato paste and cook for a few minutes to dry out the tomato paste. Add a cup of the bean cooking liquid/duck stock and scrape up browned bits from the bottom. Add the beans and as much liquid to just cover the beans. Nestle the meats into the broth, bring to the simmer and then cover the dutch oven and transfer to the preheated oven. Cook for an hour.

Even without a crumb topping, you’ve got a tasty dish … a bit of fresh parsley scattered over the top would be perfect

Prepare the crumb crust by toasting the garlic in the duck fat, if using fresh minced garlic, in a large saute pan. Otherwise, toast the breadcrumbs, dried garlic powder and the dried or fresh parsley in the duck fat. Add a splash or two of bean cooking liquid to the pan. Remove the dutch oven from the oven and pat the crumb crust over the top of the cassoulet.

Return the dutch oven to the oven and continue cook for another half hour or so before checking the level of liquid left.

You may turn on the broiler on high for 2-2 1/2 minutes to finish the browning if your liquid has reduced enough. Check carefully as you don’t want to burn your crumb topping.

Spoon into each individual bowl making sure there’s a bit of sausage, pork belly and duck in each portion.

Garnish with some fresh parsley before serving.

Pork Chops alla Pizzaiola

I’m not posting a recipe with amounts below but more of a guideline. For a more detailed recipe, try Giada or Rachel Ray.

Boneless or bone-in, pork chops make for a fast and tasty meal.

I got tired of my regular ways of cooking them – panfried with gravy or without, ‘shake and bake’, breaded (using Italian seasoned or panko breadcrumbs) and then fried or baked…

… so, with some leftover pizza sauce with mushrooms as an inspiration, I made this flavourful dish which can be served over pasta, mashed potatoes, polenta or rice. A comfort dish with some red pepper flakes to give it a bite. I didn’t have any wine to slosh into the sauce but if YOU do, go for it.

Pork Chops alla Pizzaiola

“Pork chops alla pizzaiola” includes the items that the wife of a pizza maker (pizzaiolo) would have available to her in her kitchen or her husband’s shop … tomatoes, olives, olive oil, dried red pepper flakes, anchovies, onions, garlic, capers and oregano. Maybe a bit of red wine from a jug sitting on a shelf.

As for the meat, a little goes a long way as is often necessary in a modest household … a thin cut sirloin steak, a piece of fish. Or, in this case, a couple of pork chops from a tray of various cuts purchased on sale in my local budget grocery store. If you don’t like olives or anchovies, leave them out, but if you DO, saute them in your olive oil along with your garlic until the anchovies melt and give an amazing subtle flavour to your sauce. The same with the capers. If you don’t have them, that’s fine, but if you DO, their salty flavour will add something special to your sauce.

Seeded, peeled and diced whole tomatoes, or halved cherry tomatoes, from your garden are great. Diced canned tomatoes are good too, but I was cooking for one and the leftover pizza sauce in my fridge was a perfect amount.

The cooking time depends on your meat. The steak and fish just need a quick sear (30 seconds on each side for the steak) on medium high heat in the hot oil, while the timing for your pork chops depends on their thickness. Use a large saute pan so your ingredients have room to move around. Remove the meat when it’s seared. Transfer it to a plate and cover to keep warm. Remember, you can finish cooking it in the sauce for as long as needed.

Saute your thinly sliced onions, finely minced garlic, anchovies, capers, finely minced olives, red pepper flakes and tomatoes, and then simmer covered, until the tomatoes have broken down into a wonderful sauce. You may need to add some water depending on how juicy your tomatoes end up being. Add your wine before adding the tomatoes so that it will help pick up the great browned bits from the pork chops and cook off.

Add your browned pork chops, and any liquid that has drained off while standing, to the sauce, cover and simmer for 10-15 minutes to allow the flavour to permeate into the pork chops. Serve with whatever starch you like.

Home made Pita Breads … Sort of Fail

I decided to make another attempt at pita bread. For some reason, flour tortillas, naan and pita breads aren’t great successes for me, but I don’t give up. Especially as I’d bought a couple of packages of pork souvlaki on sale and a tub of tzatziki to eat them with.

This time, I used Chef John’s recipe and, as expected, they did NOT puff up. The frying temp (medium-high) in the cast iron pan charred areas of the pitas, in the time frame recommended. I reduced the temperature to medium and the remaining pitas looked better.


I tried baking one of the pitas at 425 deg F and ended up with crispy bread by the time the bread got the golden colour I was aiming for. It was tasty as a vehicle for eating hummus with in any case.

And then I decided to make some pita pizzas with the rest of the dough. Both pizzas were topped with tomato sauce and mozzarella cheese.

After baking for about 8 minutes at 425 deg F, torn prosciutto was placed on both and julienned fresh basil on one before returning the baking sheet to the oven, for a few more minutes.

White pita pizza – extra virgin olive oil, caramelized onions, grated Grana Padano and mozzarella cheese. I topped this one with some prosciutto as well, though I forgot to take a picture.

Oh well, everything was still edible.

Hot and Cooking Boring Stuff

No recipes … just lots of pictures. If you want recipes for something, let me know.

It’s been really warm and humid, and the A/C is labouring to deal with it all,  so I have been doing minimal cooking.

In fact, I bought a giant (28 piece) cheese and pepperoni shreds pizza and have been eating 2-4 pieces for lunch or dinner over the last week, while playing with some aspect of tried and true recipes.

Like trying a substitute for chicken stock in the form of a jar of “Better than Bouillon low sodium organic chicken base” and then using it to make egg drop/flower soup. The pinch of turmeric didn’t make the soup appreciably more ‘yellow’ than my usual recipe even though it’s supposedly a Chinese restaurant trick.

And then there was the boneless chicken breast that I sliced in half horizontally, pounded thin, and panko-breaded. I ended up with a cutlet and some chicken fingers which I baked. The twist was combining the egg/flour breading steps into a batter flavoured with mayo and mustard. The end result was super crunchy.

Chicken Finger/Cutlet Batter

1 egg
1 tbsp mayonnaise
1 1/2 tbsp dijon mustard (or any other mustard of choice)
2 tbsp flour
1/2 tsp salt
Black pepper

Place the Batter ingredients in a bowl and whisk with a fork until combined.

I pounded a boneless pork chop thin and treated it in the same manner.

I also made a batch of crepes (must remember to re-season my cast iron frying pan cause there’s a sticky spot), a dozen cream puffs and a half recipe of pastry cream. Instead of baking the cream puffs at the usual temperature (350 deg F) I tried the high/low combo that the classic recipe calls for. They looked great but about half the tray fell and I can’t account for it.

NEON PASTA ALERT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

And, finally, I attempted the classic Italian pasta dish egg-yolk ravioli (Uova da Raviolo). I used beet pasta from the freezer, cause I didn’t want to bother making a fresh batch of plain pasta dough. I rolled the dough a bit too thin and, while I was cooking the ravioli, the fragile pasta tore open. I managed to salvage the 2 ravioli (that’s all I made) and, after dressing them up with a browned butter-bacon-sage sauce, ate a delicious dish with a perfectly cooked egg yolk.

The effort is worth the fuss. I used the rest of the ricotta-Grana Padano cheese filling to make some regular ravioli which I froze away.

I kneaded a bit more flour into the pasta from the trimmings used above for these ravioli giving me a paler colour.

All in all, it’s been a fun week. 🙂

Pine Nut Brittle and a Break

I  think I’m going to take a bit of a break … not sure how long though so I’ll leave you with a quick candy recipe post. This will give anyone reading a chance to catch up on earlier posts which they may have missed (hint) and give ME a chance to come up with some ideas for what to make during my two months of summer break.

POSSIBLE projects are mostly rehashes of things I haven’t made in ages … like cannoli shells, potstickers, pastas (I’ve been meaning to try a beet puree for colouring), yaki onigiri. (I may add more ideas here as they come to me. Right now I’m too hungry to think clearly.)

I had a brittle craving a while ago, but the only nuts in the house were pine nuts from my freezer, so that’s what I went with. Not cheap to make compared to something like a peanut brittle, but OH SO GOOD.

Pine Nut Brittle

A very simple basic brittle recipe using equal amounts by weight of sugar (100 g /1/2 cup sugar, 100 gm/1 cup pine nuts, 1 tsp butter, a pinch of baking soda, a pinch of sea salt and a few finely minced fresh rosemary leaves).

I made a second batch in which I doubled the sugar and halved the nuts. It was good too and more economical on the nuts if that’s a concern. Here’s a picture of the two versions for comparison. At least I could spread out the 2nd batch of brittle more thinly on the sheet.

Meal Round-up

Breakfast of sourdough starter pancakes topped with macerated strawberries and maple syrup, eggs over easy and LOTS of bacon.

Various chicken dishes: a disappointing chicken kebab recipe which was transformed into a chicken shawarma wrap, a couple of ways to serve leftover shredded chicken mole

Leftover pea-meal bacon roast, mac and cheese and peas … all from the freezer

Potato salad with hardboiled eggs with my home made blender mayonnaise.

Fun Cooking … Roasts/Sides, Puddings, Condiments etc

As my LJ says, “Cooking is Fun … Really”.

You can make big flashy dishes like a rosemary and garlic rubbed boneless lamb shoulder roast ($4.99/lb)  …

… with roast veggies.

Or this bbq sauce glazed peameal bacon (Canadian bacon) roast  ($2.99/lb) …

… with sauteed spinach/pine nuts, baked potatoes/sliced onion and roasted asparagus.

But you can also make simple things like this rich and creamy home made blender mayonnaise without any artificial ingredients, to use in your egg, potato or tuna salads. It’s also a great base for an aioli with the addition of roasted and pureed garlic.

Or, a basic home made pudding like a classic chocolate, which I’ve posted in the past. (I’m reposting the recipe for convenience.) Spike it with rum, bourbon, whiskey or Grand Marnier or Cointreau for a grown up version.

Old Fashioned Chocolate Pudding – serves 4

2 cups milk
3-4 tbsp cornstarch
1/4 cup sugar (can increase from 1/4 to 1/3 cup if desired)
1/4 tsp salt
2 tbsp good quality cocoa
1 tsp vanilla

Scald 1 1/2 cups of milk in a heavy saucepan (look for tiny bubbles around the edge).

Mix together the cornstarch, sugar, salt and cocoa, add the remaining 1/2 cup milk, and stir until well blended.

Stir in the scalded milk and blend well. Pour the mixture back into the saucepan and stir constantly over medium heat until thickened. Let the pudding boil for one minute while stirring briskly. Remove from heat, pour into a bowl and let cool for a few minutes.

Stir in the vanilla, spoon into serving dishes.

And a butterscotch pudding variation.

Butterscotch Pudding Variation – serves 3

1 cup milk
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 tbsp cornstarch
1/8 tsp salt
1 egg yolk
1 tbsp butter, cut into cubes
1/2 tsp vanilla

Scald 3/4 cup milk.

In a saucepan, whisk together brown sugar, cornstarch, salt and egg yolk. Stir in 1/4 cup of cold milk until smooth.

Whisk in the warmed milk, very slowly. Place saucepan over medium heat and cook until thickened. Let the pudding boil for one minute while stirring briskly. Remove from heat, pour into a bowl and let cool for a few minutes.

Whisk in the butter, a cube or two at a time until melted.

Whisk in the vanilla and then spoon into serving dishes.

Even a watermelon lemonade when your seedless watermelon turns out not to be as sweet as you hoped.

And remember that spaghetti meat sauce made with leftover odds and ends like green peppers and sauteed mushrooms? I tossed it with some large pasta shells. You can dress up the dish with grated Romano cheese or down with some leftover sweet and milky home made paneer (Indian farmer’s cheese).

Carrot Cake, Tamales and Savoury Empanadas

My freezer/pantry clear out has taken a serious turn and I can finally see the bottom of the upstairs freezer. And there are darned few things left in there so I’ve had to be creative.

Even the carrot cake was partially made with a freezer item, the last of a bag of walnuts from Costco. I DID have to buy a can of crushed pineapple though. And, killing two birds with one stone … carrot cake is on my cooking bucket list. I haven’t crossed anything off it in ages. The results were great. I used a recipe I found on Fridgg, even though I had several recipes stored away already on my hard drive. That ‘shiny, new’ tendency strikes again.

Pineapple carrot cupcakes with orange cream cheese frosting and a garnish of walnut halves

I made half the recipe and baked 12 large cupcakes with the resulting batter. Perfect for a single person or couple.

The tamales were made with the last of a bag of Maseca brand masa harina and dried corn husks from my storage area. Instead of water I used frozen ham broth from the picnic shoulder ham I boiled a while ago to flavour the tamales. I made a shredded mole chicken filling with poached bone in chicken breasts. The mole paste was a jarred brand, Dona Maria. The filling wasn’t quite as good as the pulled pork I’ve used in the past but beggars can’t be choosers.

Destined for the freezer and quick meals

Tamales with a bit of mole sauce to drizzle over

Steamed tamales

The savoury Mexican chorizo and potato empanadas were made with home made chorizo and pie crust (Tenderflake lard recipe from the box) from my freezer. I got 2 dozen 5″ diameter empanadas from a bit less than 1 pound of fried chorizo and some limp potatoes from the basement, cubed and pan fried until brown and crispy.

Pan fried potatoes and chorizo filling

April Clear-out

I haven’t done much cooking in April, certainly nothing post-worthy, but I thought I’d share some of the tasty things I made.

Barbecue meal of giant hamburgers and sausages, with mac and cheese and corn side dishes, and a Mexican beer to wash it down.

Burgers (ground beef and pork) and sirloin tip steak, chicken breast basted with Jamaican barbecue sauce and Grill ’em sausages

Baked chicken drumsticks with the jerk bbq sauce, mac and cheese, onion rings and raw broccoli with ranch dressing

Oven baked pork chop and baked potato

Hot Italian sausage and broccoli over pasta

Thin crust pepperoni and mozzarella pizza

I picked up some frozen chicken cutlets and used them in several dishes including a Chicken Alfredo salad and a Mexican chicken and rice wrap with Taco Bell hot sauce.

Breakfast burrito with a pepperoni omelette, home fried potatoes, Mexican rice and avocado

Sushi – fake crab legs and avocado or cream cheese filling. I also made an attempt at a Caterpillar/Dragon roll with a garnish of spicy Mayo with flying fish caviar.

Orange curd and …

an orange loaf cake

Cheddar cheese straws and bars