Guinness Pulled Pork

Because I think that trying new things is important, and because I don’t think there’s such thing as ever truly perfecting a dish, I decided to try a new recipe for pulled pork the other day. On freebie day, someone had left a box of books on the side of the road, and one of the ones in there was Cooking With Beer: Quick & Easy from Publications International Ltd. (2010). One of the ingredients in the recipe was stout – there weren’t any brands mentioned (probably due to trademark or copyright issues), but whenever anyone thinks “stout” around here, one of the first beers to come to mind is “Guinness”. So that’s what I used.

Given that it was a beer-based recipe, I also used Bulls-Eye Guinness Barbecue Sauce (recently bought on sale for $0.99 a bottle), and I served it on my bread machine beer bread (you can find the recipe in yesterday’s post). I thought that this would be the perfect combination.

Sadly, I wasn’t terribly thrilled with this pulled pork recipe. It had a nice flavour, but you didn’t really taste even the slightest tang of beer. Also, the sauce didn’t thicken very much; it was more like pulled pork soup than a proper sauce. And, in my case, it took way longer to cook than planned. I mean, the meat was cooked through by the specified time, but it definitely wasn’t soft enough to shred. Now, that might have been the fault of my oven, but overall the recipe just wasn’t up to my (admittedly high) hopes. All that being said, though, everyone ate their fair share, because there’s only so wrong you can go with pulled pulled pork on fresh bread.

Bread Machine Beer Bread

I think I’ve finally gotten the beer bread recipe to the point that I feel it’s good enough to share! This bread is customizable based on what kind of beer you choose to use. For this bread I chose to use Lost Craft’s India Pale Ale, which is a nice, light beer with only a 4% alcohol content. But feel free to choose the beer that you like best! A stout will make a much darker, richer bread, while a crisp, light beer will have a much less pronounced taste. You could even use a non-alcoholic beer. Additionally, you can choose to omit the caraway seeds, which do have a strong flavour of their own, so that the beer shines through.

The beer that you choose to use changes what it goes well with. It’s a light fluffy bread no matter the beer, so if you’re going to spread something on top, it’s best to toast it first. With a light ale and caraway seeds, I like it paired with a sharp cheese, deli meats, and/or a touch of mustard. Without the caraway, I have served it with eggs and toast for breakfast, and received quite a few compliments.

Bread Machine Beer Bread
Yields one 2lb loaf

A note about bread machines:
Every bread machine comes with an instruction booklet (most of which are also generally available online) that will specify the order that ingredients should be added. Mine says that liquids should be added first, then flour, then yeast. When preparing this recipe, the instructions for your specific bread machine should take first priority, so if your manual says to add the ingredients in a different order, do so.

Into the bread machine pan, pour:
1 ½ cups India pale ale
2 Tbsp olive oil
Over the liquids, pour evenly:
4 cups flour
Into one corner of the pan spoon:
1 Tbsp sugar
Into the other corner of the pan, spoon:
2 tsp salt
Make a divot at the center of the flour. Into the divot, put:
2 tsp yeast
Over the top of all of the ingredients, sprinkle:
3 tsp caraway seeds

Set the bread machine to the basic/normal/white setting, with a light or medium crust to your preference. Press start. Running this cycle should take about three to four hours, depending on your machine.

It’s as simple as that!

Double Chocolate Triforce Cake

Thing 1’s birthday was over the weekend, which of course meant that we had to bake a cake. Since, in my experience, kids love baking cakes, Thing 1 and Thing 2 helped. I also believe that even if it doesn’t turn out perfectly, kids really do benefit from cooking with their parents.

Thing 1 requested a “chocolate Zelda cake with chocolate icing”. Since I am not known for my beautiful cakes (my 16th birthday cake being a great example of my skills), I decided to keep it as simple as possible. We used the tried-and-true Amelia Bedelia’s Sheet Cake recipe, which is found at the back of the story book Amelia Bedelia Bakes Off (Herman Parish, 2010). (You can also find the recipe via Desktop Cookbook.) This makes a very rich, moist, dark chocolate cake — which, as a bonus, is tree-nut and peanut free, and can be made vegan (which is great when you have to make cupcakes for school, FYI).


It’s dangerous to go alone! Take this.

The kids had gone to bed by the time the cake was cool enough to ice, so it was my turn. I used the Chocolate Satin Frosting recipe from page 796 of the Joy of Cooking (Rombauer & Becker, 2006 edition). This recipe is ridiculously easy — since it’s mostly made in a blender or food processor, it’s only slightly more difficult than cracking open a can of pre-made frosting from the grocery store. It’s also a very dark chocolate icing, almost bitter, which is perfect for my little chocolate lover.

I made the Triforce design using a stencil. I went low-tech and drew the pattern with a pencil and ruler on a piece of card stock, then cut it out with scissors. Then I simply held the stencil very closely over the icing and sprinkled on the sugar. The result wasn’t completely perfect, but Thing 1 knew what it was supposed to be. As an added bonus, the coloured sugar added a lovely crunchy topping.

So happy birthday to my fabulous firstborn! I love you so much.

Fresh Tomato Bruschetta

My garden has definitely reached the “overgrown” stage. I sent the girls in to pick some tomatoes, and, well…

I almost lost them!

Just the other day I got what I’d consider my first real harvest of tomatoes (the first three cherry tomatoes didn’t really count, volume-wise). I thought that it was high time to bushwhack into the furrows and pick all of the ripe fruit before it rotted and fell into the dirt.

With Thing 1 and Thing 2’s help, I harvested a number of cucumbers, a bowl of tomatoes of various colours, and a lone eggplant. I did, however, forget that there are thorns on the greens of some kinds of eggplants, and I almost threw it across the room when I pricked myself. Lesson learned.

For dinner that night I wasn’t terribly inspired: just a rotisserie chicken and a pre-made Ceasar salad from the grocery store. But I did make bruschetta with the freshly-picked tomatoes! It’s honestly one of the quickest dishes in my repertoire. Throw tomatoes, a clove of garlic, a dash of olive oil, basil, and some grated parmesan into the food processor. Blitz it for a few seconds until it’s chunky, spread it on some thick slices of nice French or Parisian bread, and pop it in the oven at 350°F until heated and browned. This time, I also added a slice of lactose-free Gouda to the top of each piece of bread (any hard cheese that melts well will do). It’s lovely! As a bonus, it’s a dish that can be made in a toaster oven, i.e. outside where it won’t heat up the house in the dog days of summer.

Slow Cooker Caribbean Lobster Bisque Recipe

About four years ago I had the opportunity to try PC Jammin’ Jamaican Lobster Bisque, which is a frozen entree that was created by Winslow Taylor of Mississauga, Ontario for the PC Recipe to Riches contest. I loved it! It was creamy and filling with just the right amount of bite. Sadly, this frozen dinner didn’t stay on the shelves long, and it has been years since it’s been in production, I think. So a I did some research and some testing, and I came up with what I consider to be a really nice non-dairy Caribbean-style lobster bisque that you can make in a slow cooker. I originally posted this recipe in my old blog a few years back, but I’ve had the chance to refine it somewhat since then. Enjoy!

Slow Cooker Caribbean Lobster Bisque

In a frying pan, gently heat:
1 Tbsp olive oil
To the oil, add:
1 white onion, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, finely minced
Saute until the onions are clear. Stir often so that they do not brown. Put sauteed items in slow cooker.
Add to slow cooker:
4 cups reduced-sodium chicken broth
3 cups pumpkin* puree**
6 Roma tomatoes, peeled, de-seeded & chopped
1 tsp black pepper
1 tsp salt***
1 tsp paprika****
4 sprigs fresh thyme
1/2 tsp Scotch Bonnet hot pepper sauce*****
With a large sharp knife, cut off the fan part at the bottom of:
4 lobster tails****** (totaling 400g or more)
Reserve the remaining meaty parts of the lobster tails for later.
Add the fan part of the lobster tails to the crock pot. Stir. Cover and cook in the slow cooker for 6 hours on low.
Remove and discard lobster tail ends & thyme. Using a blender or food processor, puree the soup until it has an even, creamy consistency. Put the soup back in the slow cooker, and add the reserved meaty parts of the lobster tail. Stir, cover, and cook for about 45min to 1hr, or until lobster shells are pink and meat is cooked through. Remove remaining lobster from the slow cooker and let it cool until it is comfortable to handle.
While the lobster is cooling, stir into the slow cooker:
1 can (400mL) coconut milk
Remove lobster flesh from the shells. Discard shells. Chop lobster flesh into small bite-sized pieces and add to the slow cooker. Stir.
Optionally, garnish each serving with:
a sprinkle of fresh cilantro or parsley, chopped

This bisque is delicious as an appetizer or as a lunch. It freezes well; I like to freeze it in single-sized portions so that I can take it along with me for work lunches. It goes well with crusty bread and strong cheese.

Notes:
* Equal quantities of winter squash puree such as butternut, calabaza, or Hubbard squash may be substituted.
** When I can my own squash, it comes out much more watery than the commercial canned versions. If you are using a thicker canned squash, add enough water to the mixture in the slow cooker so that it has the consistency of a thinner cream soup. This amount will vary depending on the consistency of the puree.
*** If you use regular chicken broth instead of the reduced-sodium version called for in this recipe, omit the salt. If you use homemade chicken broth with no salt at all, add an extra 1 tsp salt.
**** If you can get it, smoked paprika adds an extra layer of flavour to this recipe. Otherwise, regular paprika will do.
***** I used the Scotch Bonnet hot pepper sauce made by Grace (which is available at most grocery stores around here), but you can use the one of your choice. My original recipe called for 4 tsp of this sauce, but it ended up too hot for anyone in my family except me. If you like your food spicy, add a little more than 2 tsp. If you aren’t that fond of spice, cut it down to 1 tsp for a tiny bit of a bite. If you don’t like spice at all, you can omit the sauce altogether for a mild bisque redolent with coconut – although if you do this, I’d recommend adding more thyme.
****** I have used lobster tails to make this soup, I have also done it with satisfactory results with other (cheaper) parts of the crustacean, like the claws. Just set aside the bigger, meatier parts for the last step of cooking, and use the smaller, mostly-shell parts for the slow-cooking stage to add flavour. Remember to take any parts with shell out before you blend!

Taro Jelly

I think I’m still compensating for the lack of food in the house the other day, because I’ve felt the need to whip up more sweets. I don’t generally make desserts unless it’s a special occasion. I think it was that strong craving for Two Bite Brownies that undid me. At any rate, I found some Taro Flavour Jelly Powder in the back of my pantry that I’d forgotten about, so I figured it was time to give it a try.

I’d picked this mix up at T&T some time ago with the intention of making it up for my girls. (Generally, I’m not a big fan of moulded jellies.) I do love taro root, though, especially in Japanese sweets, so I thought I should give it a try too.

I used my vintage Tupperware Jel-Ette Moulds, which make single servings. I wasn’t sure how much the package would yield, since the instructions in English weren’t very detailed. It turns out that you can get five 1/2 cup servings out of one package.

I was a little afraid that it wouldn’t set up right, but I followed the instructions to the letter, and it turned out perfectly! I love the colour and the smell. The flavour was okay, but I think that the texture might have been throwing me off since I’m just not a huge jelly fan. Thing 2 didn’t finish her dinner and hence didn’t get to try, but Thing 1 was excited that she got to taste. She said that it was so different from anything she’s used to that she’s not sure if she likes it or not, but she’s willing to try it again at a later date to figure it out. That’s a very well-considered opinion, if you ask me.

My Food is Problematic

So the thunderstorms that they were predicting throughout the day yesterday never happened. Instead, we had drizzle all day that just upped the humidity so that when the sun finally came out, your clothes stuck to your skin and your face became greasy with sweat almost instantaneously. Well, at least the heat and humidity were predicted correctly, and I had planned a meal that could cook out in the garage where it wouldn’t heat up the house: pulled pork in the slow cooker, fresh white bread in the bread machine (simply the herb bread recipe minus, well, the herbs), a few slices of lactose-free cheese, and a grocery store salad. Easy peasy.

Except that at about 4:40pm, right before the bread was scheduled to start its baking cycle and near the end of the pulled pork’s cooking time, the power went out. Blips being what they are, that didn’t concern me too much until 45 minutes had passed, at which point I realized that it wasn’t going to come on again any time soon.

We looked into multiple options, such as borrowing a neighbour’s power (that wouldn’t work, the coverage on this outage was pretty large and affected 1,000+ people), cooking on the barbecue (with nothing thawed and nothing that I had started being barbecue-friendly), and going out for dinner (just like the other 1,000+ people who suddenly couldn’t cook dinner). Eventually we settled on driving over to my parents’ place and finishing cooking dinner there. Of course, to do that I had to wait until my husband got home so we could all go together, which added to the wait. By the time we arrived, the capacitor or backup battery in the bread machine had flattened and it couldn’t be re-started from the same point in the cycle. I mean, at least it hadn’t started baking, since it’s more or less impossible to finish cooking a half-baked loaf over an hour later… So I had to bake the bread in the oven, which was totally opposite of the point of using the bread machine in the first place! And I had to finish the crock pot meal inside my parents’ house, when the whole plan was to cook outside to avoid the heat. Not only that, but in all the hooferah I forgot to pick up the salad!

In the end, almost two hours late, the dinner was the pathetic-looking thing pictured above: bland and boring and entirely without even the semblance of vegetables or fruit.

My string of bad cooking luck definitely needs to end soon. I am becoming disheartened.

On the bright side, at least the power was back on for us by 8:00pm or so, when they’d predicted it wouldn’t be up before 1:30am Friday. But I understand that at least half of the 1,000+ customers affected by the outage didn’t get their power back until the wee hours of the morning, so it could have been much worse.