Slow-Cooked BBQ Pig tails

Pig tails are a staple in my family. They’re plentiful and easy to find in my hometown of Kitchener, ON, which also happens to be home to the second-largest Oktoberfest in the world.

I’ve been told by my family that pig tails are a traditionally German food. So it makes sense that a family that’s lived in this city a few generations would call this a staple.

However, the recipe that serves as our base when making pig tails is from an old Canadian-Mennonite Cookbook. The city is bordered by a large Mennonite community, so this makes sense as well. What are the actual origins of the recipe, German or Mennonite? I really am not sure.

That said, the recipe I make is my own version. It’s different than the way my Dad makes it. And different than Nana’s recipe. So I think I’ve decided that it can be influenced by both potential origins.

One thing we can agree on, however, is that pig tails make a very affordable and delicious dinner. Traditionally, my family serves this with a side of roasted or boiled potato and sauerkraut.

Lately, I’ll serve it with a side of brown rice or sweet potato and a salad.

Ingredients

  • 2 1/2 lbs pig tails

BBQ Sauce

  • 2 tablespoons cooking oil (I use grapeseed)
  • 1 cup ketchup
  • 4 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup white vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons paprika
  • 1 teaspoon dry mustard
  • 1 bottle dark beer (Shhhh don’t tell S that I cook with beer)
  • 1 large sweet onion, diced
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 pint grape tomatoes (optional)
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. Mix all of the BBQ Sauce ingredients.
  3. Toss the pig tails in a large roasting pan and mix in the sauce until evenly coated.
  4. Roast for 20 minutes at a high temperature.
  5. Turn the heat down to 280 degrees Fahrenheit and let it roast for 2-3 hours. The fat should render a bit, the meat will become tender, and the sauce will be caramelized.
  6. Let the meat rest for a bit before serving.
  7. Enjoy and keep lots of napkins at the table! (The sauce can be a bit messy)
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You Don’t Win Friends With Salad

Eat more salad, they told me.

And yet the whole time, this clip from a older episode of The Simpsons (Lisa the Vegetarian first aired in 1995) was running through my head:

I’m not opposed to eating vegetables. I’m not opposed to eating salad. I just thought, previously, that I was doing ok with my ratio of food-type consumption.

First, a Dietician told me that I needed more leafy greens in my diet. Then, a Natuopathic Doctor. It took two professionals to set me on the right track.

And you know what? 9 months later I can honestly say it’s been a long time since I’ve felt as good as I do now. It’s not just that I eat salad. I made a lot of dietary changes. But salads have probably been the biggest change and the most challenging to integrate. At first, ideas for salad didn’t come naturally. And they don’t always now, but it’s getting easier. I have to meal plan. I have to make new choices at the grocery store.

I had to decide it was time for a change.

I’ve learned to embrace salads as a daily food choice, as part of my meal planning, and part of my grocery budget.

Know what else? I’ve won friends with salad.

I’m slowly becoming known as the friend with all the salad ideas. People have mentioned that my constant barrage of salad pictures on Instagram inspires their own salad-making!

Guacamole

Guacamole, or “whack-a-mole” as we often refer to it at home, is probably one of my all-time favourite foods. And it’s was one of the few Mexican foods I can could eat since taking some food-related irritants out of my diet (more on that another time though). I can still eat this, but I have to be more careful about how much and how often I indulge.

One of the things I love about making this dish, is that it’s very versatile. That is, there are a few necessary staples. And everything else can be added according to preference, or what you happen to have on hand (You can even easily divide a single batch into portions to accomodate everyone’s taste preferences).

Me? I add a bit of everything! I love my guacamole with LOTS of tomatoes and garlic. And only a bit of heat. And a good amount of fresh cilantro.

S has similar tastes, but likes fewer tomatoes and more jalapeno. And NO cilantro. Sometimes I sneak in a bit of dried cilantro because the flavour is mild.

I think he might be one of the unfortunate few who taste soap…

Ingredients

  • 5 small Hass avocados
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 lime, juiced
  • 1/2 – 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • Flour tortillas to make chips

Optional ingredients

  • 3 medium-sized vine-ripened tomatoes, chopped
  • 1/2 jalapeno pepper, seeded and minced
  • 1/2 small red onion
  • Fresh cilantro

Substitutions

  • Lime: 1-2 tablespoons of concentrated lime juice
  • Hass avocados: Jamaican avocados (the taste is milder)
  • Fresh cilantro: Dried cilantro has a much milder flavour
  • Vine-ripened tomatoes: Grape tomatoes, halved
  • Flour tortillas: Corn chips or naan bread

Directions

  1. Prepare all of the add-ins: mince the garlic, chop tomatoes, slice an onion, juice a lime. Have everything EXCEPT the avocado ready to go.
  2. If you’re making your own tortillas into chips, slice your tortillas now and toss them in the oven to crisp up. Watch them closely so they don’t burn. If you’re using a bag of chips, open them up and put them in a fancy serving bowl.
  3. Slice and scoop the avocado from the husk.
  4. Mash it! I like to use a potato masher.
  5. This is a good time to divide into portions if you want to make a few different combinations.
  6. Add the fixings (garlic, salt, lime, and anything else you’ve prepared).
  7. If you like the dip chunky, mix it quickly and you’re done! If you like the dip smooth, mash it up some more before serving.
  8. Serve with chips.

Storage tips

  1. Reserve the avocado pit and put it in any leftover guacamole.
  2. Add a bit of extra lime juice on top of the dip, don’t mix it in.
  3. Cover the leftovers with a piece of plastic wrap that is placed directly on top of the dip, smooth it down to push out any air bubbles.
  4. Store it in an opaque container so no light gets in.

Mixed Seafood with Saffron Sauce and Rice

My challenge lately has been to make meals that don’t require a trip to the grocery store (with the exception of a few essentials). And honestly I’m amazed at how much crap — I mean food — is actually in the freezer.

It’s been 3 weeks since I’ve done a serious shopping trip. I’m still pulling food out of the freezer! And there’s still more to go.

This meal is a result of using up leftovers. Wine that’s been in the fridge since who knows when. (Oh hey S, I opened your white wine. Hope you don’t mind I turned it into delicious food!) Seafood mix that’s been in the freezer at least 3 months now (I bought it on a whim when I was grocery shopping while hungry). And saffron that I purchased so long ago I don’t care to figure it out (let’s just say I’m pretty sure I was still living with my parents and possibly even in undergrad at the time).

The result? Tons of food to keep as leftovers. Used up a bunch of food that I had purchased without a plan. And created more dishes that usual to clean up later (but that’s ok, because  now I have leftovers).

Mixed Seafood with Saffron Sauce and Rice

Ingredients

  • 2 cups white wine (I used a Pinot Grigio)
  • 2 cups chicken stock
  • Pinch of saffron
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 cup rice (I used Jasmine rice)
  • 3-4 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 package of mixed seafood (I think it was about 1kg), thawed
  • 1 teaspoon dried parsley flakes
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice

Directions

  1. In a sauce pan, heat 1 cup of the white wine, add saffron, cover, and remove from heat. Set aside to let the saffron steep.
  2. Melt 1 tablespoon of butter. Add rice. Cook for a minute, stirring, to coat the rice.
  3. Add 1 cup of white wine and two cups of chicken stock. Cook rice until tender.
  4. Melt the remaining butter in a large cooking pot. Add garlic. Cook for 30 seconds to 1 minute. Add seafood mixture. Cover. And cook until heated through/cooked (the seafood mix I purchased was pre-cooked).
  5. Put it all together! Combine the steeped saffron, rice, and seafood. Sprinkle with parsley and lemon juice.
  6. Beg someone else to help with the dishes.

No Butter, Dairy-free, “Butter” Chicken

I wish I had a good story to go with this recipe. Because I’m so excited to post about it…

A few weeks ago I started wishing I could eat Butter Chicken. I had made a recipe from the Cooking School Indian cookbook years ago, and LOVED it, but knew the recipe wouldn’t do this time around. No dairy. And the chickpea flour likely wouldn’t make me feel well. It was time to find some substitutes.

So I googled “dairy-free butter chicken.” I found a bunch of recipes that called for… you guessed it… BUTTER. So much for dairy free. So I kept digging. Nothing seemed quite right. Some of the curries seemed bland. Others too complicated. There was no consistency on what was recommended for the curry sauce.

So I compared my favourites by amalgamating the ingredient lists, picking the spices or foods that showed up most frequently, cutting the rest, readding a few I liked, cutting what I thought might not belong… it was quite the process.

Recipe inspired by the many many recipes I read ahead of time:

By no means would I call this a quick meal. It took a bit of work… and a lot of planning. But it’s sooooooo worth it. (I can’t wait to see S’s reaction to this meal. He doesn’t love curry, but I think this might change his mind!)

Ingredients

It’s all about the base

  • 1 lb boneless skinless chicken pieces
  • 1 tbsp coconut oil for frying
  • Basmati rice, naan bread, or roti

Marinade

  • ¼ tsp green cardamom
  • ¼ tsp cinnamon
  • ¼ tsp coriander
  • ¼ tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp garam masala
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 2 cm ginger
  • 1/4 lemon, sliced
  • 1 onion, grated
  • ½ tsp paprika
  • ¼ tsp pepper
  • ½ tsp salt
  • ½ tsp turmeric
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 cup water (or just enough to cover)

Sauce

  • 1 tbsp coconut oil
  • ¼ tsp green cardamom
  • ½ tsp chili powder
  • ¼ tsp cinnamon
  • 1 can coconut cream
  • ¼ tsp coriander
  • ¼ tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp garam masala
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 cm ginger, peeled and sliced
  • 2 tbsp lemon
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 onion, sliced
  • ¼ tsp pepper
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 2 Roma tomatoes, chopped
  • 1 small can tomato paste
  • ½ tsp turmeric

Optional garnish

  • Fresh or dried cilantro

Tip: Mix all the spices at once, then divide the mixture in half. Half for the marinade and half for the sauce. There is a small variation in the spice mixtures, so this doesn’t make a big difference in the resulting meal.

  • ½ tsp green cardamom
  • ½ tsp chili powder
  • ½ tsp cinnamon
  • ½ tsp coriander
  • ½ tsp cumin
  • 2 tsp garam masala
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • ½ tsp pepper
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp turmeric

Bonus Tip: Make extra spice mixtures while you have them all out of the cupboard. This will significantly cut down prep time the next time you make this recipe.

Directions

  1. Make the marinade
    • Grate the onion, garlic, and ginger (or do this the easy way and put the ingredients through a mini food processor)
    • Slice 1/4 lemon.
    • Combine spices: green cardamom, cinnamon, coriander, cumin, garam masala, paprika, pepper, salt, and turmeric
    • Chop chicken into bite-sized chunks.
    • In a shallow container, add chicken pieces. Drizzle with olive oil. Sprinkle with spices. Add grated onion, garlic, and ginger. Then, add just enough water to cover.
    • Let it marinate for at least an hour. I like to put the marinade together in the morning so there’s tons of flavour soaked in by dinner time.
  2. Make the sauce
    • Heat half of the coconut oil on low heat.
    • Add onion slices and cook until caramelized (about 20 minutes).
    • Add garlic and continue to cook until fragrant (about a minute).
    • Remove garlic and onions to your blender.
    • Cook the roma tomato pieces on low heat until they are soft and the liquid is reduced/thick.
    • Add the tomatos to the blender mixture.
    • Also add the ginger.
    • Blend until smooth (if you have cats, the noise will probably scare them away at this point, mine were begging for chicken prior to the blender making noise).
    • Heat remaining coconut oil.
    • Add spice mixture: green cardamom, chili powder, cinnamon, coriander, cumin, garam masala, pepper, salt, turmeric and lightly fry it until fragrant.
    • Add the tomato paste and the blended tomato and onion mixture.
    • Cook over low heat until bubbly.
  3. Brown the chicken over high heat.
  4. Put it all together
    1. Add the chicken to the tomato sauce and continue to cook until cooked through.
    2. Add lemon juice and coconut cream.

Serve hot with naan bread, rice, or roti! This makes lots of food, so share with your friends. But don’t share this with your kitties, even if they think it might be a good idea.

Dairy-Free Creamy Mushroom Soup

At home, I try to cook without dairy, but it’s generally not the end of the world if I eat some — in moderation — while out. And by moderation I mean some butter on the food, a splash of milk, or a nibble of cheese. But I wouldn’t eat a creamy soup.

Avoiding dairy seems really restricting at times. Passing up homemade cheesecake at family functions is the worst. And I always hesitate before saying no to whipped cream.

A few weeks ago I had a craving for one of those dairy-filled foods that I had almost completely forgotten about. Cream of mushroom soup! (Which is weird to me because I refused to eat mushrooms as a child, and couldn’t eat the dairy by the time I was an adult)

Anyway, I set out to make a dairy-free version, which could easily be made vegetarian by substituting vegetable stock.

My initial thoughts:

  • I made wayyyy too much. I had satisfied the craving by the third bowl of soup and didn’t want to eat any more. I would divide the recipe in half next time.
  • A variety of mushrooms would have made the soup more flavourful.
  • I would make this again, but as an appetizer, not a stand alone meal.

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Ingredients

  • 3 pounds mushrooms (I used regular white mushrooms because they were on sale. Next time I would use a mixture. Maybe some shiitake, oyster, enoki and crimini)
  • 1 spanish onion, diced
  • 2 cans of coconut cream
  • 2 teaspoons coconut oil
  • 4 cups chicken stock
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme leaves

Directions

  1. Add 1 teaspoon of coconut oil to frying pan and sautee the onion until translucent, then set aside.
  2. Add 1 teaspoon of coconut oil to frying pan and sautee the mushrooms, then set aside.
  3. When onions are cooled, blend with 1 cup of the chicken stock. Add a bit more chicken stock if needed to blend until smooth.
  4. When mushrooms are cooled, blend with 3 cups of the chicken stock. Add coconut cream if needed to blend until smooth.
  5. Add blended onions and mushrooms to a cooking pot. Add any remaining coconut cream and the thyme.
  6. Cook until hot, then serve and enjoy!

Beef Heart Roast with Pepper and Garlic

Before you say “EW! No way!” and pass by this recipe. Give it a chance!

“When it comes to calories and protein, beef heart is about equal to white-meat chicken.” — SFGate Healthy Eating

Yes, I grew up eating offal meats. Yes, the texture is a bit different from what you’re used to.

HOWEVER…

It is lean meat. It is cost effective. And it is delicious! Just ask Scotty – I convinced him to give this a try a few months ago and he happily eats roasted beef heart any time I make it. WIN!

Beef Heart Roast with Pepper and Garlic

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Ingredients

  • Beef heart
  • Lots of garlic, minced
  • Black pepper
  • Green peppercorns, ground
  • Sea salt

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. Prepare/trim the beef heart (or ask your local butcher to help you out).
  3. Coat roast with garlic, both types of ground peppercorns, and sea salt.
  4. Bake for about 20 minutes – roast and garlic should be nicely browned.
  5. Turn oven down to 300 degrees Fahrenheit.
  6. Continue to bake until cooked through and tender (this took about 75 minutes for this particular roast).
  7. Let the roast rest for about 10-15 minutes. Slice and serve!

Why not try this roast topped with bacon jam?

Beet and Wild Rice Salad

For me, this recipe screams Fall! Thanksgiving! Family time! One of my aunts makes a variation of this salad for family get togethers. This is a copycat version of her recipe.

The original recipe calls for regular feta cheese, if you prefer.

My family uses Black Duck Wild Rice, from Peterborough, Ontario. This rice is roasted with maple wood and makes your entire home smell absolutely amazing!

Beet and Wild Rice Salad

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Ingredients

  • Beets
  • Wild rice
  • Dill (fresh), chopped
  • Goat feta cheese, crumbled
  • Balsamic vinegar
  • Olive oil
  • Maple syrup

Directions

  1. Cook beets and wile rice at the same time. Boil the beets until cooked through, and cook wild rice according to directions (I made about 12 beets + 1 cup of wild rice).
  2. Rub beets with a paper towel to remove the skin (and wear rubber gloves so you don’t dye your hands). Seriously, this works really well and there is less waste than if you try to peel with a pairing knife.
  3. Slice beets into bite-sized pieces and add to wild rice.
  4. Add dill and goat feta cheese, then stir.
  5.  Mix the vinaigrette (2 parts olive oil, 2 parts balsamic vinegar, 1 part maple syrup).
  6. Pour vinaigrette over salad.
  7. Enjoy warm or chill in the fridge and serve later!

Bacon Jam

I was trying to figure out how to begin this post. Half paying attention to each blogging and the Blue Jays game. (Yep, I wrote this a while ago) Then an Arby’s commercial summed it up for me: “Bacon is a present pigs give you when you’re good.”

Isn’t the “bacon-everything” trend over? Maybe. But really, bacon is awesome and I’m willing to give most recipes a try. Except maybe bacon-flavoured toothpaste.

But back to why you’re reading this post. Because I caught your eye with the title Bacon Jam. What do you do with bacon jam?

Homemade burger with bacon jam

Homemade burger with bacon jam

Use bacon jam to top:

  • Roasts (beef, pork, chicken, any roast!)
  • Sandwiches (especially hot sandwiches like grilled cheese or fried egg)
  • Burgers
  • Eggs/omelettes
  • Toast
  • Yorkshire pudding

I’m sure there are more delicious uses for bacon jam! These are just the things I’ve tried so far.

Convinced this is an awesome idea? Here’s how to make your very own batch of bacon jam!

Shout out to Chef Paul Harper who let me act as his sous chef for so many meals where we made bacon jam and lots of other yummy eats. This recipe is my best recollection/approximate of his bacon jam that our group of super amazing rock climber friends helped make for numerous occasions.

Bacon Jam

Ingredients

  • 1 lb of your favourite bacon (bacon ends are great for this recipe)
  • Onion or a bunch of shallots
  • Garlic
  • 4-5 ripe tomatoes
  • Worcestershire sauce
Bacon jam and fried egg sandwich

Bacon jam and fried egg sandwich

Directions

  1. Dice the bacon, onion, garlic, and tomatoes into very small pieces.
  2. Cook the onion until translucent – set aside.
  3. Cook the bacon until crispy.
  4. Add garlic. Stir.
  5. Add onions. Stir some more.
  6. Add tomatoes. Keep stirring.
  7. Add Worcestershire sauce.
  8. Cook until the mixtures makes a jam-like consistency. (Be patient! The tomatoes are very watery)

You’ll probably want to eat the jam right away — but you can store it in the fridge for later.

Hello world!

Obligatory “Hello World” blog post goes here.

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Hey there! Amber here. Blogging from Ontario, Canada. I’m a writer of sorts. I also do video things. I love rock climbing, cats, dogs, crafty things and cooking. Not necessarily in that order.

I used to blog a lot while I was a university student. I had a personal blog that talked about cooking on a budget. I used that to help me get started writing. Many classes required me to blog about academic articles, and projects.

When I struck out to find my career path (about 2 years ago now), I quit blogging cold turkey. I found lots of reasons not to blog. My interests have changed. I don’t want go back to the blogs I once wrote for. I’m tired of being on the computer at the end of my day… Yet, I still feel I need a creative writing outlet.

Guess what? I’m blogging again. The intention is to keep this a fun hobby. I’ll write when I feel inspired. I won’t feel obligated to post on any sort of schedule. I’m ok with holding onto something for a while before I share it. I won’t worry about getting photos with my DSLR – cell phone pics will suffice if that’s what I have available. I wish I could say I won’t look at stats — but I will. It’s nice to see what you’re interested in reading.

What will you find on this blog? You will find recipes, especially if I’m trying something new and adventurous. Lots and lots of cat pictures. Because I’m a crazy cat lady. Pictures and stories of camping, hiking, and enjoying the outdoors.

Happy reading!