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.

The Continuing Quest for Great Ramen

I’m still working on getting the best ramen — especially the best tonkotsu ramen — possible in this neck of the woods. It frustrates me so that you can get decent, if not downright good, ramen on just about every street in Japan, and cheaply, too! It’s generally not considered fancy food. But here it’s practically gourmet fare, hard to find, and expensive.

So I’m still trying to make my own passable version. Overall, the best ramen broth I’ve made was shoyu ramen from page 8 of Simply Ramen by Amy Kimoto-Kahn (2016) (or her website easypeasyjapanesey.com. But my favourite type of broth is still tonkotsu, and to be frank it’s more than a little intimidating because there are so many steps that must be gotten just right. I’ve been trying to skip the cooking step on this one and just find a pre-made alternative, but I haven’t had a lot of luck.

Last night I made another attempt at using a pre-packaged soup base. I couldn’t even read anything on the package except “tonkotsu ramen” (what can I say, it’s been twenty years since I took Japanese lessons), and I am still kicking myself for not taking a picture of the packaging. The base came in what was essentially a bag, and was fully liquid. As with many other such things, I bought it at T&T.

The broth was okay I guess, but nothing spectacular. It was better than any of the dried kinds I’ve tried, but still not as good as the fast food places that I know for a fact use instant broth (I’ve watched them cook it). So yeah, nothing to write home about.

The noodles, were a bit soggy and floury. I’ve used this brand before (Nissin Frozen Ramen Noodles), and at this point I’m just using up what’s in my freezer. I don’t plan on buying them again.

The toppings, though, were really tasty. I made pork belly with soy sauce, a dash of sake, and a little bit of sugar. I think I could have gone a little bit lighter on the soy sauce (it was a little salty), but otherwise I liked this pork belly much better than the kind I have made in the past. I think what helped was that I browned it first, then added the liquids and let it simmer for a while. It really enhanced the flavour.

The other toppings included soft-boiled eggs, enoki mushrooms, thinly sliced carrot (made easy by using a veggie peeler instead of a knife), narutomaki (fish cake), green onion, and tobiko (flying fish roe). The toppings were tasty, complimentary, and easy to prepare.

It’s getting to the point now where I think I had best just start making tonkotsu broth and ramen noodles from scratch in order to meet my own standards. I’ve wasted so much time trying to find decent pre-made ingredients when I’m starting to think that they’re just not available this side of the pond. I think the next step is investing in a pasta machine. At the very least, I think I’ll be waiting for autumn to start making my own broth — since it takes so long and so much boiling, it doesn’t seem wise to start cooking broth during the dog days of summer if I can avoid it.

BBQ Ribs & Potatoes

The other day I had a desire both not to cook in the house and to try something new. Well, new to me in the cooking department, at least. I grabbed a rack of pork ribs from the grocery store, threw them in a pre-made marinade, and chucked them on the grill.

Although the meat was definitely edible, even tasty, I did discover that I had a lot to learn about cooking ribs because they ended up being rather chewy. When I’ve had ribs that other people have made, they always end up being fall-off-the-bone tender. I think I really needed to cook them low and slow to get that desired tenderness. Perhaps in a slow-cooker, or on a low setting on the smoker grill, once we get the auger fixed. Quick and dirty on the gas grill just isn’t going to cut it for the results that I’m looking for.

As a side, I made foil packet potatoes with garlic butter on the barbecue. They don’t look like much, but they were cooked to perfection and were packed with flavour. As a veggie, we had a quick leafy salad.

All in all, I would consider this dinner to be a provisional success. It wasn’t perfect, but everyone came back for seconds, and I learned something. It wasn’t bad for a first attempt, but I’m sure with practice I could do better.

Pork Belly Onigiri

Boyed up by not having messed up dinner over the long weekend, I decided to try a recipe that has been on my to-do list ever since I saw it on Tasty Japan: Pork Belly Onigiri (English translation in the video comments). The simplest onigiri is just a palm-sized ball of sticky rice, shaped by hand or pressed in a mould, and served cold. Often, they have a filling (such as canned salmon or barbecue eel), and they are served with a sheet of nori (the same seaweed that wraps some kinds of sushi), which makes them easier to grasp. They’re one of the most ubiquitous snacks you can find in Japan. You can buy them at nice restaurants, but they’re also in the cooler of every corner store and even in vending machines.

These pork belly onigiri definitely take it up a notch when it comes to complexity. First of all, there’s a whole soft-boiled egg in the middle, which means that the rice balls are going to be a lot bigger than the standard kind. Also, they’re wrapped in pork belly (the same cut of meat as bacon, but not cured), fried, and then a sauce is added.

My pork belly onigiri were very tasty, even though I couldn’t find any shiso leaves at a store in my area, and hence had to omit that ingredient. However, all but one of my onigiri fell apart in the final stages of cooking. I think it was because the pork belly I had at home had been thick-sliced at the butcher shop. Really, what you want is something as thinly-sliced as cheap bacon, not the thick cuts that are better in tonkotsu ramen. It’s totally possible that I just might not have squeezed the balls firmly enough before frying them.

In addition, despite cooking the soft-boiled eggs for exactly the amount of time recommended, they ended up being hard-boiled instead of soft. Should I try this recipe again, I think I will deliberately undercook the eggs a bit so that when they cook a bit during the frying stage, they’ll end up perfect in the middle.

Each one of these onigiri was a meal in and of itself; my kids couldn’t finish theirs, and my husband and I were very full after eating ours. I think they might make a nice appetizer if they were made using quail eggs instead of chicken. Quail eggs being a pain in the butt to peel, let alone getting the timing right for soft-boiled, I don’t think I’ll be trying that myself any time soon. Overall, this was a fun meal to make and it was very tasty, even if my end result was far from perfect. I would definitely recommend giving it a go.

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.

Preparing for the Storm

We’ve been getting dire warnings from the Weather Network over the past week that yesterday and today will be all about thunderbolts and lightning, and then the storm will pull in a massive heat wave behind it. I’ve been trying to plan my cooking to keep that in mind, but nothing seems to be going quite right.

On the hottest days, I try very hard not to cook indoors or, if that can’t be arranged, at least I try not to use the oven. So I figured that on Wednesday night I’d make the last “comfort food” for a while and throw on some pork loin, mushroom gravy, Dad’s biscuits, and steamed carrots. This is a meal that I’ve made a million times, so you’d think it would be easy, no?

Well, everything going well until I tried to get the biscuits on. That’s when I realized that I’d left my bag of all-purpose flour at my in-laws’ cottage; I’d intended to bake bread on the day that was predicted to be really rainy, but the weather never got bad enough to totally pin us inside. All I had left at home were the dregs left in one storage jar. I ended up combining those dregs with some multigrain bread flour that had been languishing in my cupboard for quite some time. (I’d bought it to make a specific kind of bread, and the package contained way more than I’d needed.) The multigrain flour actually worked out okay in that the biscuits rose and baked properly, but it did mean that they had a whole different texture than I was used to. Usually these biscuits are soft and fluffy, but the multigrain flour has crunchy bits and doesn’t rise as well.

Then last night it was supposed to be hot and humid, so I wanted to cook the majority of the meal outside. (It actually didn’t end up being that bad, with the storm pushing the cold air in front of it so that it actually cooled down around dinnertime, but I didn’t know that was going to happen.) Actually, “cook” is probably stretching it a bit, more “prepare”. I had bought a rotisserie chicken at Costco earlier in the day, which I’d just planned on reheating on the wood pellet grill. So I turned on the machine, preheated it, put on the chicken, and waited… And waited… And waited… But it didn’t seem to be heating up. It turned out that wood dust had clogged the auger that feeds the fuel pellets, so no fuel was burning. My husband took the grill halfway apart to figure that out, and he was still cleaning it out when it started to rain. He threw the cover over the grill and promised to finish cleaning it at a later date.

But that still left us without dinner. And a pre-cooked chicken is supposed to be easy, right? Not so far, not this time. We also have a propane grill, which I then tried to start, but nothing happened at first. Turns out the hose had somehow become loose and the fuel wasn’t getting to the grill. (This seems to be a theme.) A quick tightening did the job on that one, and I’m happy about that because I first assumed that the tank was empty — which would have delayed the meal even further.

Finally, I was able to reheat my chicken (and crisp up the skin — throwing a rotisserie chicken on the grill or in the oven is good for that). While it warmed up, I cooked up some penne and coated the noodles with basil pesto that I’d made and frozen last summer. At least that part was easy. By the time supper was finally complete, we were easily an hour and a half past our normal dinner time, so I didn’t even get a chance to take a picture with my good camera before the food was devoured — I had to use my phone, which I almost always have on hand.

Hopefully my cooking over the next few days will go a bit more smoothly.

Crock Pot Pork Loin with Gravy

After complaining in my last entry that I felt like I wouldn’t have time to cook properly until all of my ComicCon costumes are complete, I took a look at the shelf of dusty appliances in the basement and vowed to let them do most of the work for me for the next month or so. I figure that my three crock pots will be getting the most use. (The bread machine never really gets put away because we use it so much anyway.) I’m starting to wish that an Instant Pot was one of the tools that I had at my disposal, but that’s a purchase that will have to wait.


Crock pot pork loin with gravy served with mashed potatoes and steamed carrots.

My friends and family have been sending me their favourite slow cooker recipes to help me along. In my experience, the ones sent to me by the friends who aren’t fond of cooking are the ones that I’ll find take the least effort and are the most foolproof. My mother (not a cooking fan) sent me the link to a Crock Pot Pork Loin with Gravy Recipe from Recipes That Crock. It’s as simple as throwing a few ingredients in a slow cooker and leaving it for about five hours. I actually had my husband do this part, and unfortunately he chose to use my 1970’s crock pot, which runs at a much lower temperature, so the dish took a good hour and a half longer than expected. (For food safety reasons, under-cooked pork is a really bad idea.) Also, he put in too much water, so I had to thicken the gravy afterwards on the stove by boiling it down and adding a little flour. That’s also why the gravy has such a light colour. That being said, this was still a delicious meal, even with the mistakes. Basically, it’s pork chops with mushroom gravy, but with a whole lot less effort. Works for me!