Sunday, December 23, 2012

Rainy Day Recipe: Sweet Italian Sausage

According to NOAA, this isn't an El Niño year, but looking out the window..?  It sure looks like one!  Holy hell, has it been raining!!!

And, I think it was Friday night, I was lying in bed - trying to fall asleep, when it suddenly occurred to me that - ahem! - Christmas is on TUESDAY and I hadn't procured the necessary ingredients for our Mini-Christmas Feast!

So, THE SATURDAY BEFORE CHRISTMAS, I decided to tackle the grocery store.  I was practically having cold-sweats and heart palpitations in the friggin' parking lot!  Gawd, do I hate crowds!!!

If there are any of you out there who are facing a similar dilemma and have to hit the grocery store these final days, two words:  Protective Gear!  I'd hate to hear of anyone ending up in the hospital due to a dispute over the last can of sliced pineapple!

But I digress....................

I *did* survive my assault on the grocery store and we *do* have everything we need for our Holiday Repast.  Spreckles *will* be served!

Okay!  So the shopping (assault) got done and I found myself with an entire Saturday afternoon to kill.  The utterly crap-tastic weather outside severely limited my choices of leisure activities.  :::sigh:::

I had been perusing various recipe sites - looking for New and Exciting Ways to utilize some of the ABUNDANT pork in my freezer.  In fact, awhile back, I found a *most* interesting site on Sausage-Making: Lets-Make-Sausage.  What the hell, right?

About a year ago, I purchased a manual meat-grinder/sausage stuffer.  It was fairly inexpensive (I wanna say around thirty bucks), and it looked a lot like an old meat-grinder that my dad used whenever he had a hankerin' for fresh roast-beef or corned-beef hash.  When my mom died, and we were cleaning out her house, I was really-really hoping we'd stumble onto it - because I really WANTED it.  Unfortunately, it was long-gone.

Anyway, in a fit of nostalgia, I decided to order my own, new, meat-grinder thingie - thinking it would be the same as my dad's.  And yes, it does *look* like it.  But that's where the similarity ends.

Weapons of Spreckles Destruction

Firstly, my dad's grinder had a built-in C-clamp so you could firmly affix it to the edge of a counter-top.  Mine has four legs with holes so you can bolt-it-down.  Somehow, I don't think I want this as a permanent fixture in my kitchen!

Secondly, my dad's grinder could grind meat like nobody's business!  My grinder's box said "Grind 5 lbs of meat in one minute" so, naturally, I thought....  Well...  Let's continue the rambling, shall we?! ("Oh please!")

Okay, so anyway, when we picked-up Spreckles, both Finny and I ended up with something like 10# of Hot Smoked Italian Sausage apiece.  Hubs and I aren't big into spicy so I figured I'd make a batch of Sweet Italian Sausage using my handy-dandy/Just-Like-Dad's meat-grinder/sausage stuffer.

I used the "Gina's Sweet Italian Sausage" recipe from this page.  I'm not gonna bother re-posting the entire recipe, but here is the general gist of it:  5 lbs pork shoulder roast, cut into one-inch-cubes, then ground (I ended up using 2 store-bought roasts :::gasp:::) (Hey, they were on-sale and I wanna save the Spreckles roasts for smoking next summer!).  Then there's the seasoning which I prepared using the following ingredients:

Seasoning ingredients:
  • 5 tsp cracked fennel (I found whole fennel seeds and I lightly crushed them with a mortar/pestle)
  • 1 TBS salt (I would definitely recommend cutting back on that)
  • 1 TBS fresh ground pepper (I think I used about 1/2 TBS - and that was fine)
  • 1-1/2 TBS garlic powder (I used 1 TBS garlic powder and 3 large, fresh cloves finely minced)
  • 2 tsp rubbed sage
  • 1 cup cold white wine (I used Kendall Jackson Chardonnay - but I wonder if a sweeter wine, like a white riesling, might be better)
You can get the step-by-step directions from the sausage site........

Let's do pictures, k?

Soaking the pure hog casings in warm water

While I was cutting/cubing the roasts, I soaked the hog casings (I bought mine as part of a sausage kit on Amazon).  The really grody part was rinsing the INSIDES of the casings.  We're talking about pig intestines here - just FYI - and they're slithery and slimy!  It was challenging to separate the casings, and then to pry one end open and keep it open under a running faucet to let the water run through it.  Then you have to squeeze-out all of the water by pinching/sliding down the length of the casing...  Yeah!  Gross!

Okay, now back to the meat:

This requires a super-sharp knife!

All ready for the grinder!

All right!  
So far, so good!

Wellllll....  It started out all right, but....  Let me just say this:  Whoever came up with that claim about being able to grind 5 lbs of meat in one minute was - for lack of a better word - full of sh*t!  I suppose if I had bolted the damned thing down, it might've gone a little bit easier.  It's extraordinarily difficult to stuff AND crank AND hold the thing steady (in spite of the fact that the grinder weighs a freaking ton!).  Alternatively, maybe having a second person to turn the crank might've helped a bit as well.  But let me tell you: Whoever has crank-duty had better have Popeye arms!

I'm strong to the finitch 'cuz I eats me spinach!

Yeah, so, 30 minutes later (with sweat dripping into my eyes - EW!),  I noticed that I was turning the crank and nothing new was coming out the other end.  In fact, the stuff I was stuffing into the grinder was simply oozing back out the top of the grinder.  WTF?!!

Yeah, the grinder plate kept getting jammed up with fatty connective tissue from the roast.  Sh*t.  So I had to keep stopping, removing the grinder plate and blade to de-gunkify them (had to use a knife and a strong-stream of running water), then re-assemble the unit.  I repeated that process, several times, and - ohhh maybe after an hour, total - I ended up with a bowl-full of freshly ground sausage. 

(which I forgot to take a picture of - but I think you can imagine it, right?!)

So then I pulled the hog casings from their soaking bowl and began the tedious task of separating them.  I had no clue how many casings I would need, so I started out with five:

Gross, right?!
(I ended up using only one! HA!)

Okay, then I mixed up the seasonings:

The trick - at this stage - is to have the liquid seasoning mixture COLD so that the meat and fat solidify a bit. The other trick is to do your final mixing with your bare (or gloved) hands so that the seasoning gets evenly distributed.

I didn't take pictures during the stuffing phase because I'd need to sprout more arms!  But I removed the grinding plate and blade, and replaced it with the sausage stuffer tube.  I smeared the outside of the tube with a little olive oil so I could more easily slide the hog casing onto the end of the tube.  And it really wasn't easy at all - particularly since my fingers were super-slimy (no way to avoid that!  I think I went through a whole roll of paper towels!).

The stuffing of the casings really wasn't very difficult (after the prep-work was done!).  Pull the end of the casing off the feed-tube and start turning the crank.  The casing fills with air at first, but then the sausage starts coming out.  Right hand gently tugs the casing, guiding the sausage, while the left hand turns the crank.  Once you've got one sausage length, stop cranking, tug the sausage away from the stuffer and give it a couple-three twists.  Then resume tugging/guiding and cranking for the next sausage...

End up with this:
Yummy Sausage!

I ended up with 9 links appx 3-4" long (from one hog-casing).  I could have kept going with the casings, but I actually prefer bulk Italian Sausage (and didn't want to wrestle with more pig intestines!!), so I also ended up with two vacuum-packed 1-lb bags of bulk Italian sausage for the freezer - and one smallish bag (maybe half-a-pound?) that I tossed in the fridge.

I left the stuffed sausages to air-dry on the plate in the fridge overnight (since I don't have a cool dry place to hang them).  This morning, I vacuum-sealed them (2 per bag) for the freezer...

* * * * *

I did cook-up one link and some mini-patties for brunch this morning since I was dying to see how they came out.  The flavor of this recipe is good - but not well-suited for breakfast (Hubby agrees!).  I am SURE that this will be awesome in tomato sauce, though...

Now I can't wait to make a batch o' spaghetti sauce with my very own Frozen Squozen 'Maters, home-grown herbs, and home-made Italian Sausage!

So: What's the final verdict on Sausage-Making?!
  • I wish I had my Dad's old grinder - This one sucks!
  • The fact that it got jammed-up, early-on, meant that the meat inside the grinder got super-smushed.  And not in a good way.  
  • So, for Round I of sausage-making, it really didn't have the proper "chunky" texture throughout.
  • Sausage-making seems like a lot of work to me (right now) and I am not super-eager to attempt it again anytime soon!
  • Bottom Line:  I need a better grinder (and I think I've decided I also need a Kitchenaid Stand Mixer.  Hello Amazon Wish-List!)
I DO have a whole lot of hog-casings to use up, however.  And I DO want to try more of the recipes on the sausage-making site (Mmmm...  Bratwurst!), so I suspect I may end up buying some plain-ol' already-ground-up breakfast sausage from the store (::::GASP:::).  Using the grinder as a sausage-stuffer really isn't all that bad (I might ask hubby to run the crank next time!), so I probably WILL attempt this again.

Hope you've enjoyed my Culinary Mis-Adventures.  I'm not calling this one a "Win" - but definitely worthy of more experimentation - once I get the proper equipment!

And now I will leave you with a picture of a blown-glass snowman that I made at Bay Area Glass Institute a couple of weeks ago:

"Merry Christmas!"

Monday, December 17, 2012

Recipe: Pot Roast - It's a Beautiful Thing!

Urgh!  Winter's here.  And we're getting our first *Official* freeze tonight.  Booooo!!!

But - you know what that means?  Time for "Comfort Food" and that means Pot Roast. Yayyyy!!!

I ♥ My Crock Pot!

Okay, I'm not even gonna call this my own (although I did tweak it a bit).  It's Pioneer Woman's recipe and you can find it over here.

I did all of the initial prep on the stove-top in my dutch oven.  I deglazed the pan with half a mini-bottle of Merlot.  Then I decided to transfer everything over to the crock pot so I could 'Set it and Forget it!'  My stove, even on simmer, just requires too much attention.

My only additions (so far!) were 2 cloves of chopped, fresh garlic: One went in the pot with the "brown your onions" stage - and the other went, raw, into the liquid.

I also opened the freezer and discovered a bag of "Stew Vegetable Mix" (carrots, potatoes, celery and pearl onions), so I tossed that in the bottom of the cooker before I transferred the meat and freshly browned veggies (and beef broth) to the crock-pot...

Mine was a ~3.5 lb "Flat Iron Roast" (which is basically two Flat Iron Steaks stuck together with connective tissue).  According to the package, this is an oven-roast roast, but - since it's basically chuck - I figured I'd better braise it...

Anyway, it's blorping away in the crock pot (I'm estimating 4 hours on 'high') and it smells WONDERFUL :-)

I may end up adding more "stuff" towards the end (definitely more Merlot - possibly more veggies near the end).  If I do, I'll update the post.  I also hope I can snap a halfway decent dinner-plate pic.

* * * * *
Okay, just halfway-decent!

No significant changes to the recipe, actually - other than mixing up a couple TBS of corn-starch with a couple TBS of water so I could thicken the sauce a bit.  Oh, and I dumped the other half of my mini-bottle of merlot into the sauce at the very end...

Excellent "Stick-To-Your-Ribs" kinda meal for a super-cold rainy night....


Sunday, December 16, 2012

A Shiny New Blog :-)

I find I don't yak nearly enough about my "attempts" at Ceramic Artistry over here.  This seems to be more of a Cooking and Gardening and Blathering Mindlessly about Nothing kinda blog!

I really do want to ramp-up the Ceramic Stuff though.  Make more.  Maybe sell some sh*t on Etsy (or something!), so I'm slowly trying to defibrillate my Alter-Ego, NanTiKi.  I've got a webpage (that really doesn't *do* anything!), NanTiKi and now I've decided that I want a Content-Only Blog (HEYYY!!!).

So, if you're even remotely interested in Ceramic Stuff, go take a look at my Other Blog, k?!

I hope you enjoy! (And yes, I'm sure I'll still be blathering endlessly over here, too!).


-QT (aka NanTiKi)

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Recipe: Pina Colada Jam (Super easy!!!)

Okay, so my "old" studio, Blossom Hill Crafts held their annual sale at Los Gatos History Club - just like they do every year...

And, just like every year, there was a gal selling AWESOME jams and jellies...

And, just like evey year, I spent more $$ than I should have - on home-made jams and jellies (given that I have an entire shelf-full of my OWN home-made jams!).  One of my personal favorites is Pineapple Jelly and - seriously - how difficult can that be???

Honestly, the jelly I bought was FAR too sweet - so naturally I decided I'd best make my own, right?!!

So here is what I came up with!

QT's Pina Colada Jam (decidedly different from what I bought - but tasty nonetheless!)
Yields 7 half-pint jars of jam

  • 2 x 20 oz cans of crushed pineapple - IN PINEAPPLE JUICE (so that kinda limits it to name-brand Dole!)
  • 1 cup unsweetened shredded coconut (I got mine at the local health-food store - but you could probably substitute "sweetened" coconut if that's all you can find at your local grocer's)
  • 1/4 cup Torani Sugar-free Coconut Syrup
  • 2 TBS Coconut-flavored pancake syrup (Optional - we had a bottle that we'd picked-up during our last Maui vacation!)
  • 1 tsp real vanilla extract
  • 4 cups sweetener (I used C&H Light - Cane-Sugar + Stevia 50/50)
  • 7 TBS Low/No-Sugar Pectin
  • Opt salt (if it seems too sweet)
  1. Put your can-lids into the base of your canner with a little water and start heating them on medium low...
  2. Dump 2 cans of crushed pineapple into a large cooking pot / dutch oven
  3. Add shredded coconut, vanilla & syrups and start heating on Medium-High 'til it starts to boil
  4. Mix Pectin with appx 1 cup of sweetener.  Add to boiling liquid.
  5. Stir and add the rest of your sweetener.
  6. Give it a taste.  If it seems too sweet (mine did), add some salt.
  7. Bring to a hard boil.  Let it boil hard, stirring constantly, 'til you get a good "set" - for a minimum of one minute - (scoop a little into a spoon and place the spoon in your freezer for 5 mins to make sure it doesn't gloop off the spoon).
  8. Once you're confirmed an adequate "set" - spoon the jam into heated sterilized jars.
  9. Cap and process for 10 mins in a hot-water-bath or steam-canner...
I may, or may not, post photos later.....................................

Okay, here's a photo!

Haven't sampled it yet (except while it was cooking), but I suspect it will be delicious!

Addendum:  I opened one of the jars the next day and I think I used too much Pectin.  I'd suggest cutting it back to 5 TBS (for 2 cans of pineapple) and check for set sooner.  Also, my jam came out sweeter and more coconutty than I normally like (not sure how that happened!).  When/if I make this again, I'll probably eliminate the Torani Coconut Syrup...

Nevertheless, this jam is QUITE tasty with cottage cheese.....................

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Garden Tutorial - How to make a super-cheap hoop-house for winter

Oooh!  "Content!"

Okay, so the other day, I yakked about the cheesy POS "mini-greenhouse" I'd purchased, online, last summer.  And how the thing basically imploded after the first big wind-and-rain storm.

Instead, I put this up:

Finny Farm - Getting ready for bed!

Yesterday, I put one layer of Floating Row Cover fabric over the bed.  I don't think it rained last night, but it got pretty dewy.  When I went out to check it this morning, it seemed to fare pretty well, actually.  It wasn't oozing down onto the plants or anything like that - so I think this may turn out to be a Successful Experiment (That's one in a row!!!).

Finny Farm Tent, Day #2
(one layer of fabric - at this point)

So here is my mini-tutorial on how I accomplished this amazing feat!

First off: The raised beds are appx 4'x6'.  We used 2 @ 10-foot lengths of 2x12 pressure-treated lumber to build two of the beds (yes, I know pressure-treated isn't ideal, but that's what was readily available, at the time).  I think the third bed is actually redwood. "Build-a-raised-bed" is a fairly simple endeavor.  Just cut your wood to the appropriate lengths, use flat "L" brackets and BIG screws to hold 'em together, make a big ol' square or rectangle, place the bed wherever you want it, and fill it with good planting mix.

The "Poor-Man's Hoop House" is constructed from 4 @ 2-foot lengths of rebar (per bed).  I think they were appx $2 at Home Depot (just checked - yep, they're $1.98 apiece).  I drove them into the ground, with a hammer, at each corner of the raised bed.  Not *just* into the planting-mix soil, but clear down into the rock-hard clay underneath.  I think I left appx 6" sticking straight-up at each corner.

Then, for each bed, you'll need 2 @ 10-foot lengths of 1/2" diameter PVC pipe ($1.68 apiece).  Basically, you take one end of the pipe and slide it over the exposed rebar, then bend the pipe and slide it over the rebar in the opposite corner of the bed.  This part's a little tricky because the pipe is bending down at an angle, but the rebar is standing straight-up.  It takes a little jiggering and re-jiggering, but eventually you'll be able to get the pipes to slide *almost* all the way down.  It doesn't have to be ALL the way down, but far-enough that the pipe can't flip-up and "Boi-oi-oi-oi-oing" up and slice your nose off your face!

Hoop-base with appx 2" of exposed rebar
(FF Bed, I was able to get the PVC to go all the way down to the soil)

The trickiest part of all is getting BOTH pipes situated so that they touch where they cross in the middle of the bed.  The next step requires the use of one of mankind's greatest inventions:  Duct Tape!

Amazing stuff!

I honestly don't know if this step is necessary, but I figured it can't hurt, right?  Duct-tape the pipes together so they can't wobble around.  We get some pretty windy storms here, so I figure the duct tape will help add rigidity...

Next, you'll need some floating row-cover fabric.  I used Harvest-Gard HG-50 Plant Protection Fabric ($18.99 from Amazon).  You could probably shop-around and find it for less but I was already placing a big Christmas-Shopping order from Amazon and wanted to take advantage of Free Super-Saver Shipping!  

This is super lightweight unwoven fabric that allows sun and water to penetrate, and will protect my plants from freezes as low as 29* (single layer) or 26* (double-layer).  To be honest, I am less concerned about frosts (we only get a handful of nights where temps dip below freezing), but I am interested in protecting my Brassicas from BUGS!  So there you have it!

Anyway, the fabric comes in 5' widths or 10' widths.  10' would have MORE than covered my raised beds, but would have been rather unwieldy!  So I chose 5'.  The first layer went on the long side of the bed (which is 6' wide), so the first layer came-up a little "short."  I used cheesy-cheap clips, situated about 18" up from the soil level, to secure the fabric.

Cheesy Magnetic Clips (that the magnets fell out of!)
I think they came in a 6-pack from the Dollar Tree!

If you scroll back up to the Finny-Farm Pic, you'll see how the 5' width couldn't quite cover the 6' long side.  Ahh well!

So, drape the fabric over the "long" side of the bed, clip it off at all 4 corners, then attempt to cut the fabric so there is some "overhang" at soil-level.  Unfortunately, I did not take measurements, so I can't tell you actual lengths.

And, BTW, use a GOOD pair of shears to cut the fabric.  This stuff does NOT like to cut in a straight line!

Next, drape the fabric over the "short" side of the bed.  When you do that, you'll have enough overhang at the sides to make-up for the shortfall on the first run!  Use the same clips to secure the second layer of fabric.

It's like a little tent!

The last step will be to secure the fabric down at the soil-line.  You can either use dirt (excuse me, SOIL), or plant-fabric staples, or - ultra-cheesy and über cheap! - get yourself some old wire coat-hangers and a pair of heavy-duty wire cutters to make your own fabric staples by cutting 6-8" lengths of hanger-wire and bending them into 'U' shapes.

Originally, I thought I would use my staple-gun to secure the fabric to the sides of the raised bed - but that would prevent me from easily checking on (or HARVESTING) my veggies, so I think I'll be using Garden Staples (appx $6 for 40 of them @ Home Depot).

The 5' x 50' length of fabric was MORE than enough for two raised beds.  My third bed has a Very Tall artichoke growing in it (and is far too close to a MASSIVE Yucca tree), so I won't be able to construct a similar tent over that bed ("Oh, well!").  

All-told, my "Poor-Man's Hoop House" cost less than $25 per bed to construct. (It'd be closer to $20 if I went with home-made staples).  That is certainly less than the $35@ for the cheesy greenhouses I bought online (that didn't survive one measly storm!).  I actually like the "height" of these houses - more than the $35 greenhouses anyway!

So there it is!  My "Moment" of Ingenuity!  Hope you find this helpful!  And, of course, I'll post updates if anything noteworthy occurs................


Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Garden Ramblings... In December?

Yes, in December!

First off:

Yes, we did experience "Fall"

Autumn, like Spring, in Northern California, lasts about two weeks (give or take).  My fruit trees FINALLY decided to give-up their leaves at the end of November.  

Have I raked them up and disposed of them?! 

And yes, I probably should do that because the peach trees have Leaf Curl :::sigh:::

Now, immediately after FALL wreaked havoc on my fruit trees, we are experiencing WINTER.  Winter around here means buckets and buckets of rain.  Luckily, these last few storms have been comparatively mild in terms of temperatures (but INSANE with wind and rain).  We'll probably get our first freeze in the next couple of weeks - BOOOO!!!

In the meantime, I am "mostly prepared" for winter - and just in the nick of time!  A couple-three weeks ago, I hired P's son, jokingly referred to as "Rent-A-Son-Services," and he helped me put the yard "to bed" as it were.  The palapas are down, the electronics are stowed, the bar sink and fridge have been relocated to the shed porch, and all of the patio furniture is either covered or tucked-away someplace dry...  

The greenhouse has been insulated with a layer of large bubble-wrap on the ceiling (that keeps falling down b/c I bought crappy packing tape!), the "marginal" plants have been tucked-in to the GH. And those plants that are too big to fit through the greenhouse door have been clustered together in such a way that I should be able to strategically place some tall garden-stakes and toss a bed sheet over them on the Super Cold nights...

One of my "Wild Hair" ideas was to construct mini-greenhouse shelters over the raised beds.  Brylane Home sold them for relatively cheap (appx $35@ - and I probably had a coupon).  Size-wise, it seemed like they would work, so I bought two of 'em.

This is what they looked like on the website.
Nifty, huh?

This is what it looked like after we assembled it.
Not quite so nifty...

It's one of those metal pole assemblies with plastic squishy-together fittings that doesn't like to go-together AT ALL.  And the cheesy clear plastic cover started to tear as we were easing it onto the frame...

I didn't take a picture of it after our Big-Ass-Wind-And-Rain Storm.  Suffice it to say, the thing practically imploded when the water started pooling-up on the top.  It basically collapsed (squishing the plants underneath), and some of the plastic fittings were destroyed...

Not sure if any of it is salvageable, to tell you the truth, but it is definitely GONE now (And the second one - which was never removed from the box - is being returned).

Here is my Super-Cheap, Super-Low-Tech Alternative:

El Cheapo Hoop-House

4 x 2' lengths of rebar, driven into the ground at the corners, and 2 x 10' lengths of 1/2" PVC pipe from Home Depot.  I have no idea if this will hold floating row-cover fabric or not - but I intend to try.  I suspect there will be binder clips, duct tape, and possibly a staple-gun employed in the process (Regardless, it can't possibly turn-out any worse than the Mini-Greenhouse Debacle!).

As you can see, my Cool-Season Crops are lookin' pretty happy.  I have a boatload of radishes in there, as well (been thinning them whenever I wander back there), and a few carrots are starting to make an appearance...

I think *this* hoop-house oughtta work out fairly well.  It's not like it gets THAT cold here, and the height is kinda nice, I think.  We shall see!

Recipe: Crock-Pot Cranicot Pork Loin (and my New Love: Sweet Potato Queens)

Yep.  I've been a bit quiet lately, I know.  I think I've finally recovered from Thanksgiving and now Christmas Shopping Madness is upon us (Thank Gawd for Amazon and my new "boyfriend" who stops by, with alarming frequency, in his big brown truck!)...

The leftover turkey + a little dressing + sweet potato guts + green bean casserole + leftover gravy + whatever the hell else I could find in the fridge/freezer/cupboards ended up inside a MOST delicious Turkey Pot Pie.  Sadly, no "recipe" to share, its basically just a grab-whatever-sounds-good kinda recipe that started out with fresh chopped onions carrots and celery, sauteed in olive oil.  Then leftover turkey (and assorted "stuff") tossed into a medium saucepan and heated up (with just enough chicken broth to keep it "soupy").  Then dump everything into a 9" frozen pie crust, cover with rolled 'fridgerator pie-crust and bake at 425* for 15 mins, then reduce to 375* and bake 'til golden brown (maybe 30 mins?  I didn't keep track - sorry!).

Bottom Line: It was delicious and barely lasted 24 hours!

Added Bonus: I made enough "guts" for two pies, so I glorped the excess into a ziplock baggie and tossed it into the freezer for future pie-making...

Okay, now onto the Recipe du Jour...

So I have a new literary addiction. Initially, I got hooked because Amazon Kindle has these ever-changing specials for cheap reads, right?  Whenever I go on vacation, I like to load-up my Kindle with lots of light reading, so I browsed the discounted book selections and stumbled onto: "Fat is the new 30:  The Sweet Potato Queens' Guide to Coping with (the crappy parts of) Life."   Honestly, I couldn't pass it up (I think it was like $2-3).  Well, I read it and literally laughed my @$$ off while reading it on the plane.  So now I am hooked on Jill Connor Browne and all of the Sweet Potato Queens' books.

I've read 3 of them, so far - and I can't seem to get enough!  I'm not gonna bother doing a Book Review - but you can get the general gist of the books by reading the Amazon reviews.  Just trust me: They are freaking hysterical - and light enough that you can set it down and pick it up a week or so later, and continue reading without feeling "lost."

Added bonus: She always shares SINFULLY delicious-sounding recipes - most of which I will never try (lots and lots of sugary-sweet/diabetic-coma-inducing desserts!).

The last book I read was "The Sweet Potato Queens' First Big-Ass Novel" and, at the end, she makes mention of her dream of one day opening a restaurant that only serves "Funeral Food."  Now coming from MY background (my ancestors crossed the plains in covered wagons and settled in Utah - there's a clue!), Funeral Food does NOT sound very appetizing - since it invariably involves Tuna Casserole and at least one dish made from Lime Jell-O.

I'm guessing that people from the South have it a bit better in the Funeral Food realm!

Anyway, I decided to attempt one of her recipes today and...  So far, so good!

I don't want to be guilty of plagiarism, so before I post (my interpretation) of the recipe, I wanted to see if Google was forthcoming... And it was!  Original Recipe here: "Who Croaked? Crock-Pot Pork"

Talk about a Win-Win!  Pork AND Crock-Pot?  Yeah, sign me up!

That said, I give FULL CREDIT to the Sweet Potato Queens for this recipe - but I *did* tweak-it-up a bit. (I just can't help myself!!!)

QT's Crock-Pot Cranicot Pork Loin
Adapted from "The Sweet Potato Queens' First Big-Ass Novel"


  • 1 medium chopped onion
  • 1 cup fresh white mushrooms, sliced
  • 2 stalks chopped celery 
  • 14 oz can of whole-berry cranberry sauce (orig recipe called for a 16 oz can, but I'm guessing that Cranberry Sauce is going the way of Toilet Paper and "1/2 Gallons" of Ice Cream: Ever-Shinking  Bastitches!!!)
  • 1 cup chopped dried apricots
  • Couple handfuls of Craisins (maybe 1/2 cup?)
  • 1 cup Apricot Nectar (Do you have any idea how difficult it is to find Apricot nectar that ISN'T sweetened with High Fructose Corn Syrup???) (Shame on you, Kerns!  I always considered you "Healthy!" NOTTT)
  • 1/2 cup Splenda
  • 1 TBS white vinegar
  • 1 tsp dried mustard
  • 1/4 tsp crushed red pepper
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2-1/2 lb pork loin
  • Apricot Jam (optional - to glaze the meat toward the end)
  • 1-2 TBS corn starch
  • 1-2 TBS water
  1. Dump your chopped veggies into the crock pot (I'm considering mushrooms a veggie!).
  2. Dump your can of cranberry sauce on top of the veggies
  3. Add in your chopped apricots + Craisins and nectar, start stirring it up.
  4. Add sweetener and spices, to taste (give it a sample to make sure you like it!)
  5. Place your pork loin on top of all that, and spoon the sauce and veggies over it 'til nicely coated.
  6. Cook in Crock-Pot on low for 6-8 hours
  7. About halfway thru cooking, turn the pork loin over
  8. Toward the end of cooking, turn the loin over again and smear it with a little apricot jam to give it a bit of a glaze
  9. If the sauce seems too runny, mix some corn starch with water and stir it into the sauce 'til it thickens to your liking.
That's as far as I've gotten, so far.  I tasted the sauce and it is AMAZING!!!  Kinda reminiscent of Sweet 'n Sour pork - only better!  Depending on how it comes out, I may end up adding a couple-three TBS of home-made apricot jam as a final glaze...

I'll report back (hopefully with pictures) later.  Just wanted to type it out while it was still fresh in my mind!

* * * * *


Okay, I did make a few additions:  Apricot Jam (preferably home-made) smeared on the pork loin near the end of cooking - to give it a glaze.  And corn starch + water to thicken the sauce a bit.

It is, indeed, a tasty dish!  Definitely got a Sweet 'n Sour vibe to it (which is good), and the addition of the dry mustard kept it from tasting too much like Chinese food.  Although you could omit the mustard and maybe add-in some canned pineapple and fresh bell peppers if you wanted a more "Asian" vibe.  It would be quite tasty over rice (per the SPQ's recommendation), but I had some pre-made mashed 'taters in the fridge - and it was fine with that.

Final bit of disclosure:  Even though I have labeled this post "Spreckles" - this really wasn't Spreckles at all.  How sad is that?!  I've got slightly less than half a pig in the freezer, and I had to BUY a pork loin at the grocery store (:::GASP:::).  Actually, we didn't get a pork loin from Spreckles b/c we opted for pork chops.  I bet I could make this again - using pork chops instead of the loin.  In fact, it was good enough, that I just might do that!

Anyhoooo...  The Final Verdict: Cranberry/Apricot/Crock-Pot-Pork Loin is a very tasty dish indeed!  Highly recommend!!!

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Happy Thanksgiving!

Six hours of cooking...  Followed by fifteen minutes of eating...  Followed by an hour's worth of clean-up!

Does that about sum it up?!

Okay-kay-kay...  Just a quickie update - before the tryptophan kicks in and I gotta get all horizontal!

So, I'd mapped out my "Plan of Attack" yesterday, right?  And started my preparations...  To be honest, I basically printed up last year's post (for the recipes), and I pretty-much followed it to-the-letter, except my stuffing ended up a bit too wet and heavy, so I tossed in a third box of Stove-Top Stuffing Mix! (and when that proved to be a little too dry, I slopped in a little more low-sodium chicken broth and a couple TBS of pure maple syrup).  I ended up with two 8x8 cake-pans of stuffing (and it was Yum-Yum-YUMMY!).

Turkey went in the cooker around 11:30am and was supposed to take appx 3 hours...

Turkey and injection marinade - in the Big Easy basket

I injected the bird before I wrestled it into the basket.  Oh, and the turkey is sitting on two yams (which actually affected the cooking - turkey butt was a wee bit under-cooked, unfortunately - but nobody likes turkey butt anyway!).  Oh, I also rubbed the outside of the bird with Bell's Seasoning (the stuff in the little yellow box), and olive oil...

Bird in the cooker!

So yeah, it was supposed to take approximately 3 hours.  I made the mistake of putting the lid on the cooker for the first hour (and the lid reflects heat "down" into the cooker), then I went about my business.  Came back after the first hour and the bird was *very* brown!  And, in fact, the top thermometer was registering 180*.  Holy sh*t!

I removed the basket and dragged the bird into the house.  Used my digital thermometer on the thigh and it was ALSO registering 170* (meaning "It's done"), but when I removed the digital probe, the juice that came out of the bird was not clear - so back into the cooker (with a generous basting of the "extra" brine + chicken broth)...

So yeah, I assembled my stuffing, covered it and put it in the fridge.  Assembled my Green Bean Casserole...  (those two dishes took almost an hour to put together)  Then went and checked the bird again.  Verrrrrrry dark.  So the turkey came out at the 2-hour mark.  I brought it in, transferred it to a large disposable roaster pan and wrapped it in foil to rest...

Suddenly realized that I had run out of time (AND run out of steam!), so I figured we could skip the Gulliver's Creamed Corn (can have that for Christmas, right?!), and I put hubs in charge of the mashed potatoes while I put the casserole and one of the stuffing pans into the oven (375* - 20 mins + 15 mins for the green bean casserole; 15 mins for browning the stuffing).

I used drippings as a base for the gravy - after separating the fat.  Drippings + one jar + one can of store-bought turkey gravy (it actually was very good - and you could definitely taste the citrus from the drippings!).

Dinner was deeeeeeelish!  And I am stuffed!

And I can't take attractive pictures of dinner with my Droid
"Oh well!"

I had been "taste-testing" as I was cooking, so by the time everything was done - I really wasn't very hungry (Oops!).  Hubs had two servings though - so I think he liked it!

Ohhhhhh...  Then after we'd "digested," Hubs had his regular pumpkin pie, and I sliced into my low-sugar pie.  I've decided that my low-sugar pie is more accurately described as "Pumpkin Mousse Pie" and, as such, it is QUITE tasty.  It's really not cheese-cakey at all and definitely more Mousse-Like.  So I edited yesterday's post accordingly.............

Anyway, Thanksgiving was VERY nice (and ohhhhh soooo filling!).

Hope yours was awesome too!

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Recipe: Low-Sugar Pumpkin Mousse Pie

Okay...  Turkey is in the bag o' brine...

...And OMG it smelled *just* as delicious as I remembered it!

I have reserved half-a-cup of the concentrated brine to incorporate into my injection marinade and stuffing tomorrow!

PSA: 12# bird + brine just BARELY fit into a 2-1/2 gallon Ziplock Baggie - Anything larger would be impossible!  It DID fit into my steam-canner pot and everything is just kickin' back and chillin' in the fridge tonight...

I also decided to tackle my Faux-Pumpkin Wannabee Pie.  I did buy a regular pumpkin pie for hubs, from the Snob Hill Bakery.  But I wanted something lower in sugar for me.

Google wasn't forthcoming when I keyed in my main ingredients (Sugar-Free Cheesecake-Flavored Jello Pudding and Canned Pumpkin), so I was on my own!  Here is what I came up with, and I'll report back later on the Final-Final Taste Test...

QT's Low-Sugar No-Cook Pumpkin Cheesecake Pudding Pie (Boy, that's a mouthful, eh?!)

Edit: QT's Low-Sugar No-Cook Pumpkin Mousse Pie (more accurate!)

Yield one 9" pie (with about a bowlful of Jello leftover)

  • 1 pre-made 9" graham cracker crust (Okay, not exactly low-carb - but I wasn't in the mood to crush almonds/pecans to make a truly low-sugar crust)
  • 1 small box (1 oz / serves 4) Sugar-Free Jello Cheesecake-flavored pudding
  • 15-16 oz of canned pumpkin (NOT pre-sweetened pie-filling - just plain cooked pumpkin)
  • 8 oz of softened cream cheese (I used Neufchatel "1/3 less fat" cream cheese)
  • 1-1/2 cups of heavy cream
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 2 heaping TBS Splenda Brown Sugar Blend
  • Several shakes of Pumpkin Pie Spice (cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger)

  1. If desired, you can "toast" your graham cracker crust in a preheated 375* oven for appx 5 mins (I toasted mine).
  2. In a large bowl, mix the cheesecake pudding mix with your cream and water. Whisk until well-blended.
  3. Fold in your softened cream cheese and canned pumpkin.  You'll need a bona-fide hand mixer for this (my immersion blender squealed in protest!).  
  4. Add in the brown sugar blend and start adding spices.  You'll want to taste-test it as you go along.  I think I ended up using 3-4 TBS of the Pumpkin Pie Spice blend.
  5. Mix thoroughly (I'd say appx 5 minutes worth at medium speed).
  6. Once your crust has cooled, spoon the pudding mixture into the pie-crust.  Smooth the top an sprinkle with more pumpkin-pie spice.
  7. Refrigerate for at least an hour before serving...
Crappy Droid Pic!  Again! :-)

I just nibbled a spoonful from the "extra" bowl of pumpkin pie guts.  It's "interesting!"  It's got a pudding consistency and a pumpkin-spicy flavor.  It's not exactly pudding, nor is it cheesecake, nor is it pumpkin pie (which is more custardy, I know).  But it is an interesting mash-up of flavors... (Edit: It's more "mousse-y than cheese-cakey or custard-y!) (It's good, k?!)

To be honest, I am probably gonna be so stuffed with turkey that the dessert isn't gonna matter anyway.  But at least I can  get a smidge of pumpkin in a somewhat-guilt-free way, right?!

Anyhoooo...  My Turkey Day Prep is complete - for today.  Tomorrow is when the REAL madness begins!!!

Happy Thanksgiving everyone! :-)


P.S. Unrelated to anything - but I saw it posted on Facebook (Raw Food Rehab's page) and thought it looked like something cool to try someday...

Vegan Turkey Platter!
(Gotta love it)

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Pre-Turkey-Day Ramblings...

Rampant Rambling Ahead (You have been warned!)................

Oh me, oh my!  Where DID the time go???

Thanksgiving is upon us and - O' woe is me! - my friggin' feet are a MESS!!!  I'd gotten an email from The Mountain Winery, advertising their Thanksgiving Buffet (for $70.00 per-person).  I actually seriously considered suggesting it - but then I realized that Hubs (on the road, yet again!) probably would prefer a Home-Cooked Meal.  I just hope my feet let me stand-up long enough to pull it off!

So yeah, gonna do another Organic, Range-Raised, Birkenstock-Wearing, Granola-Eating, Prius-Driving Natural Turkey.  Headed over to Snob Hill Foods and looked for another Diestel Turkey Breast - to no avail.  They only carried whole birds (and I didn't want to tackle Whole Foods - this close to Thanksgiving!)  (Nob Hill on the Monday before T-Day was bad enough!).  So I got a 12# whole bird.  Lotsa food for the two of us (which means TONS of leftovers - yummm!!)

I've gotten the propane jug refilled, and I've dragged out my Big Easy Turkey Cooker (Love-Love-Love my Big Easy - because it *totally* frees-up my kitchen - Yay!).

(And no, nobody "gave me anything" nor do I get any linky-$$ for posting the link.  I legitimately Love-Love-Love my Big Easy!)

Now I'm running through all of my recipes from Turkey Days' Past and deciding what we're gonna have this year.

I think I'm sticking with last year's rub recipe (Pioneer Woman's original here).  That brine is simply indescribable in it's deliciousness! (It's AMAZING and totally worth the extra work!)  And it "carries over" nicely into the injection marinade AND stuffing!

Soooo...  Brining will begin tomorrow!  I've got 2.5 gallon ziplock baggies and I think I can use the big-pot from my steam canner for "containing" everything during the brining process.

Side dishes:  

Classic Green Bean Casserole but I think I'll be adding freshly cooked bacon ("Mmmm  Bacon!").  And probably cheddar cheese.  There are about 800-jillion variants on Green Bean Casserole. Google away!

Annnnnd... Of COURSE! We'll be having Gulliver's Creamed Corn (Orgasmic!).

Mashed 'taters.  Hubs *insists* on fresh mashed 'taters, so I think I'll put HIM in charge of those!

Baked Sweet Potatoes (with butter, brown-sugar and a sprinkling of cinnamon/nutmeg):  Hubs didn't care for 'em, but I think I'm gonna toss a couple of yams in the Cooker with the bird.  If they cook-up nicely - great!  If not - "Oh well!"

Stuffing: Duhhhh!  With freshly cooked breakfast sausage (NOT from Spreckles though :::GASP:::), and maple syrup, and chopped pecans and Craisins.  I'm pretty-much just going to duplicate last year's stuffing (Cheater-style with Stove-Top Stuffing Mix, finished-off in the oven).

Pillsbury Crescent Rolls (Yes - I'm a cheater!!!) (But they're "traditional" right?!!)

Cranapple Jam - which tastes like Cranberry Sauce - only better (but I also bought a can of whole-berry-style sauce, too - for hubs)

Gravy:  I've found that pan-drippings are minimal with the Big Easy, but I'll scrape-up what I can...  Most likely, the majority of the gravy will come from a jar (Eeeek!) with giblets and assorted accoutrements thrown-in.......


I bought a pumpkin pie from the Snob Hill Bakery, and I'm also gonna try experimenting with canned pumpkin and sugar-free "Cheesecake" flavored pudding mix.  No clue WHAT'S gonna happen there, but I really do want something nearly-carbohydrate-free for dessert (for me).  And if it turns out good, I'll post a recipe!  Deal?!

So today I'm trying to map out my "Plan of Attack" for T-Giving...

Tomorrow, I'll begin brining the bird, and I'll reserve some of the brine for the injection marinade and stuffing.  I'll probably also make my pumpkin/cheesecake-whatever, and hope it refrigerates overnight, okay...

Thursday morning: Inject the bird, let it rest for an hour, then cook the turkey and sweet 'taters in the Big Easy.  That'll probably take a couple-three hours...

Set the table (so I don't have to worry about it later!)

Maybe an hour after plopping the bird in the cooker, I'll start assembling the Green Bean Casserole and Stuffing.  GB Casserole will go in a casserole dish; stuffing will go into 8x8 disposable cake pans, and they can hang-out in the fridge 'til showtime.  They'll both go in a 350* oven for appx 30 minutes (just before the bird comes out of the cooker).

The rest of the stuff is "Stove-Top" - peel, chop, boil the russets in salted water; The Gulliver's Creamed Corn is also a stove-top creation (Ridiculously easy to prepare, actually), as is the gravy...  So, really, the last 30 minutes (while the bird is resting) will be the crazy-busy time

So yeah...  I think I've got a Game-Plan for Turkey Day!  Honestly, I really DO enjoy cooking Thanksgiving.  In fact, when I lived on the boat, I really couldn't "cook" at all (I had a mini-microwave oven, and a 2-burner plug-in cooktop) (and I could only operate ONE electrical item at a time - srsly!), so every T-Giving, I would descend upon my mom's house and banish everyone from the kitchen so I could get my "Cooking Jones" out of my system for one year!

So yeah, I do enjoy cooking.  I just hope my hands and feet (which are flaring miserably right now) will let me make it thru the day!


Saturday, November 17, 2012

Spreckles: The Other White Meat

Okay...  Spreckles is in the oven!

Unfortunately, I discovered that Freedom Meats (love 'em dearly - don't get me wrong!) doesn't shrink-wrap the individual meat portions.  The sausages and hams were shrink-wrapped, but the chops were wrapped (2 per pkg) in butcher paper.

Soooooo...  That means I have to "Plan Ahead" now!  Perilous Territory, folks...  I can barely see past the tip of my nose, most of the time.  And just because something sounds good in the morning - doesn't necessarily mean I'm gonna WANT THAT (or have the energy to prepare it), when evening rolls around.

Yeah, I know.  Sucks to be me.

Gotta decide in the morning (or worse: A day or two in advance!) if I want to defrost dinner "properly." That's what I like about Omaha Steaks, actually.  You just open the freezer, decide 'hmm, a sirloin sounds good,' pop that shrink-wrapped hunk o' goodness in a sink full of cold water and half an hour later, you're Good-To-Go to fire-up the grill!  (OTOH, I'm pretty sure Omaha Steaks aren't open-range raised, nor sprinkled with Pixie Dust.  They're probably factory-farmed, knee-deep-in-sh*t, feedlot steaks - something I am SLOWLY try to move away from, k?! Baby steps!)

Annnnnyyyyhooooooo...  I consulted Google to find a suitable pork chop recipe.  I wanted to "Keep It Simple, Stupid."  I also wanted to minimize the amount of sauces/seasonings/fancy-shmantzy-sh*t because I want to TASTE the Goodness that is Spreckles!

Here is the recipe I followed - pretty-much/almost to the letter (:::GASP:::).

Okay-okay, I futzed around with it a TEENY bit!

Spreckle's Debut: Baked, Glazed Pork Chops
Yields 4 pork chops


  • 4 pork chops (mine are bone-in, medium thickness)
  • 1 can Cream of Mushroom Soup with Roasted Garlic (Campbell's)
  • 3 stalks celery
  • 1 lb fresh white mushrooms
  • 1 large onion
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • Generous sprinkling of onion powder
  • Light sprinkling of garlic powder 
  • Light sprinkling of celery salt
  • 1/2 - 3/4 cup Marsala wine (the regular stuff, not salted cooking wine)
  • 1/2 cup Crema Casera or heavy whipping cream
  • 1/2 cup water
  • French-fried onions (appx 1/2 - 1 cup)
  • Olive oil
  • Butter
  1. Preheat oven to 375*
  2. Coarsely chop your onions, celery and mushrooms. Finely mince your garlic. Set aside.
  3. Season your chops with garlic powder (a little), onion powder (lots!), celery salt (medium amt), and pepper (your preference!).
  4. Heat a medium saucepan with a little olive oil and butter and saute 1 clove of garlic, your onions and celery on medium heat.  Stir and add a little salt. Cook until the veggies are limp and translucent.  Remove from heat and set aside.
  5. Heat a large skillet with appx 1/2 TBS butter and 1/2 TBS olive oil.  Add one clove of minced garlic and - once it's hot (but before the butter burns), add you chops to sear them.  Reduce heat to medium and cook until brown on the outside (appx 10 mins).  Set the chops on a plate.
  6. Deglaze the pan with the wine.  Cook on medium low, scraping up all the crusty goodness in the pan.  Continue cooking and stirring 'til it thickens slightly and becomes a runny glaze.
  7. Return the chops to the pan, increase heat to medium and turn the chops several times until covered nicely with the glaze (maybe another 5 minutes?  I didn't count!).  Then remove the chops and place 'em in a casserole dish (I think mine is a 1-1/2 quart).
  8. Next: Dump your cream of garlic/mushroom soup into your skillet and blend it with the remaining glaze.  Add water and cream and mix some more.  Add your chopped mushrooms and your pre-sauteed celery/onion mix.  Cook on medium-low for maybe 5 minutes (you just want to warm it up).
  9. Pour the soupy glazy veggie-y mix over your chops in the casserole dish.  Turn the chops so they get completely coated and buried in the sauce.
  10. Cook, uncovered, for appx 45 minutes.  Everything should be nice and bubbly (but the topside veggies might be a little crispy).  Remove the casserole dish, stir it up a little (get the crispy top-stuff incorporated into the gravy).  Add a couple handfuls of French-Fried Onions and return to the oven for 10 minutes 'til the FF onions are brown and crispy.
Annnnndddd...  Spreckles is now OUT of the oven - and in our bellehs!

Yeah, Crappy Droid Pic - I was *hungry* dammit!

Spreckles was tender and delicious!  I served her with mashed potatoes (using the sauce as gravy), mixed veggies and "baked" apples (actually nuked apple spice mixture that didn't make it into yesterday's pie!).

Hubbie agreed, Spreckles is, indeed, a Very Good Pig!  Waaaay better than grocery-store pork!  Tender and lean.  In fact, I'll make sure I post a picture of the BACON (Mmmm!  Bacon!) whenever I pull it out of the freezer.  Hardly ANY fat!

While Spreckles was in the oven, I Googled a bit further and discovered that you can pretty much type in "Pork" + [Any Kind of Fruit] and find a recipe!  And I have a garage FULL of various fruit jams and - did I happen to mention - a freaking FREEZER full of piggie?!

So yeah, I think I may have found a use for some of those jams I put-up all summer, hmmm?!  In fact, I think that THIS recipe might actually be a good "launching point" for other creations.  Start with the same base ingredients (tweaking, as necessary), and maybe swap out the type of wine to better accompany some kinda fruity-jammy sauce.  Say apricot jam and apricot brandy (instead of Marsala wine)...???  Yep, sounds like there might be some Experimentation in my future (Eeeeek!).

Friday, November 16, 2012

Damn this Crappy Weather!! (Plus Low-Sugar Apple Pie) (And Pig-Tale Link!)


Summer Weather is GONE (but I soaked-up literally every last minute of it!!!)

Am I ready for winter?  Oh HELL no!  But Rent-A-Son Services is (hopefully) coming over this weekend to help me "put the yard away."

How 'bout all those other Wild-@ss Ideas you've been yammering about?!

Is Laundry caught-up?

Green Tomato Relish?  Uhhhmmm, no! But the tomatoes *did* ripen - all on their own even! - so I might still whip out one more batch o' Tomato Bisque.

Cranberry Apple Chutney?  Still have the ingredients - but no, I haven't made it yet.

How 'bout that Apple Pie?

Apples - mostly from my tree, but some are from the Farm-Share

As a matter of fact...  I DID bake a pie today (Yay!!!)

Funny thing, those apples...  I planted an espaliered grafted tree with 6 different varieties of apples, several years ago.  Lost the individual "tags" the first year (so I have NO clue which variety is what).  Then we built the greenhouse directly in front of the tree and I always FORGET that there are apples to harvest (Ooooops!).  As usual, most ended up rotting on the ground, but I did harvest a sizable basket's worth (Yay me!)...

Soooo I Googled a bit, and made a mental note of all the necessary ingredients, and this is what I came up with:

QT's Low-Sugar Apple Pie
Yields 1 @ 9" deep-dish pie

  • 8 cups peeled, cored apples (assorted varieties) (~3 lbs)
  • 2 TBS lemon juice (bottled is fine)
  • 3/4 cup C&H Light (50/50 Cane Sugar and Stevia)
  • 2 heaping TBS Splenda Brown Sugar Blend
  • 1/8 cup all-purpose flour (I think I might bump that up to 1/4 cup next time)
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 1 egg-white
  • 2 pie crusts suitable for a 9" deep-dish pie
  • 1-2 TBS butter
  1. Pre-heat your oven to 425* and pull your crusts out to thaw (if you're a cheater like me!)
  2. Whip out the W-A-D - or you can peel/core the Old Fashioned Way (I love my Peeler/Corer Gizmo)
  3. Chop the apples into apple-pie sized chunks and toss 'em in a bowl, sprinkling lemon juice as you go (to keep 'em from browning).  Keep peeling/coring/chopping apples 'til you have appx 8 cups.
  4. Add your sweeteners, spices and flour to the chopped apples and toss 'til everything is covered.
  5. Fill the bottom crust with sweetened apple spice mixture.  It's okay to heap the fruit up to appx 1" above the crust edge (the apples will shrink during cooking).
  6. Put a few blorps of butter on top of the fruit.  
  7. Dampen the edges of the crust with a wet finger.  Add your top crust, cut off any excess and pinch the two crusts together.
  8. Mix the egg-white with a little water and brush the top crust lightly (so you get a nice shiny crust).  Optional: Add coarse granulated sugar crystals.
  9. Cut vent holes/slits in the top crust
  10. Place pie in your pre-heated oven.  Be smart and put a foil-lined big-pan underneath it (it will gooze a bit!).
  11. Cook for 10 minutes @ 425*, then reduce heat to 375* and continue to cook for appx 30-45 minutes or until golden brown (I was using my convection oven and it took a lot longer than anticipated)
Pie is delectably delicious - although a bit runny (and therefore not photo-worthy!)

In other News (Random Rambliness!):

Project Pork:  I have a full freezer!  And Finny has posted the Final-Final Piggy Update here - including pictures of Spreckles and her SCARY-NEAT Chestie Freezer (No, I will *not* be posting pictures of OUR freezer!).  We still haven't sampled Spreckles - but I found a tasty-looking glazed pork chop recipe that I am eager to try...  Maybe tomorrow - and if it's tasty, I'll share!

Psoriasis Woes: Have returned with a vengeance.  Not sure what to attribute that to (Unfortunately, that blows my theory of cannabis-based topicals being a panacea), but I'm back to using steroid creams (Hate 'em!), and still take Humira (Abso-f**king-lutely DETEST that sh*t!).  I'm actually pretty convinced that "what I've got" is far more insidious than "just" psoriasis (and "just" diabetes).  I think there is something hormonal and/or metabolic at work here - and some of my Googling leads me to believe that my theory MAY pan out.

I'm going to see my endocrinologist in a couple of weeks.  Of all of my doctors, she is the ONLY one I can have an intelligent dialogue with, and I'm "pretty sure" she'd be open to discussing it further and exploring other options (although her initial response - when I first brought up my skin woes - was to refer me to a dermatologist).  I need to research this further, but I want her to order any and all tests that MIGHT help get to the root of this because I am SICK TO DEATH of being a freaking invalid! (Srsly!  I'm back to walking with a cane! Sh*t F*ck P*ss!).

Ceramic Artistry:  I did manage to crank out a few more pieces, and most of my Christmas Crap is well underway, and I squoze-in a couple more firings (still wanna do 1-2 more firings in the next week).  My company had a Holiday Bazaar up in Pleasanton, earlier this week, and P and I shared a table.  I sold appx $80 worth of stuff (Yay!), but had to put $71.00 into Willie's Gas Tank afterward (Wahh-Wahh-WAAHHHHHH!).  Still, it was fun to go into the office and see my buddies - AND sell some of my "stuff!"

Holiday Bazaar @ Work

Glass Artistry:  Going to BAGI again tomorrow - this time to make a glass bowl.  Hopefully I can post some cool pictures.  And I want to sign up for their "Make A Snowman Ornament" class - just for grins...  I like their one-off classes where you sign-up to "Make A [Whatever]."  I'm not "into" glass to the point where I'd want to fork over the $$ for classes and renting Hot-Shop Time - but I do enjoy creating the individual projects (let's see, so far I've made a paperweight, a flower, a heart, and a teardrop-shaped ornament).

Okay, well, that's about all the news that's fit to print.  Rambly? Yes - but if you made it this far: "Thanks!!!"

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Damn this nice weather!!! (Plus French Dip Sandwiches)

No.  Not really!!!  I freaking LOVE it!  But it is totally cutting down on my Kitchen-Witchery/Creativity/Indoor-Chores/Ceramic Artistry!!!

Yeah, I picked a boatload of green tomatoes, and still have a handful of "colored" nearly-usable tomatoes...  My PLAN was to make a soup from the roasted colored tomatoes (plus carrots, plus onions, plus garlic, plus a big ol' honkin' fennel-root I got from the farm-share).  But - truth be told - as long as it's Sunny and Nice outside - to HELL with the kitchen, right?!!

I also have a FULL basket of greenie 'maters which are destined to become Farm-Girl's Green Tomato Relish at some point (unless they manage to ripen, in the meantime!).  Oh, crap!  I just realized that I don't have any fresh cilantro so...  Must go back to the store :::sigh:::

Then I ALSO wanted to make a fresh, home-grown apple pie.  But the apples will be fine for another week or so.  Annnnd...  I'm still contemplating Cranberry Apple Chutney...  Again, the core-ingredients will keep!

I've got a metric ton o' laundry piled up in the garage (Ooooops!), and - as long as it's sunny/warm out - I have ZERO motivation to do anything about it!  In fact, I even left the clean dishes in the dishwasher LONG ENOUGH for Hubs to feel compelled to empty it ("Thanks, Darling!!!").

Ditto the "Works in Progress" in the Tiki Shack/Ceramic Studio!

Yep.  The place is completely going to hell in a handbasket - and I don't freaking care!  Temps outside are in the mid-80's -- IN NOVEMBER?!!  Damn Skippy I'm gonna sit my butt outside at the Tiki Bar!!! (I even let WORK fall to the wayside today.  BAD, BAD QT!!!)

Well, the weather prognosticators are calling for a "Cooling Trend" starting tomorrow (including something called  ...  Starts with an 'R' I think ...  "Rah-een?!").  They're calling for "rain" starting tomorrow afternoon ("NNNNOOOOOO!!!!!").  Honestly, given how ABSOLUTELY GORGEOUS today is, it is damned difficult to believe that tomorrow is gonna be Suck-Tastic!  So I am embracing my Inner Cleopatra and sticking with my beloved State of De-Nile!

I fully intend to soak-up EVERY AVAILABLE MINUTE of Nice Weather, dammit!!!  Because the Dark, Dreary Days of Winter will be upon us in NO TIME!!! (Let the whining commence, right?!!).

So, today's nod to Domesticity DID include a Crock-Pot French-Dip Sandwich Recipe.  I started with this recipe and wandered off-path (Really?!!).

QT's Crock-Pot French Dip Sandwiches
Yields - appx 6-8 sandwiches


  • 3-4 lb Sirloin Roast
  • 1 medium-to-large fresh onion, thinly sliced
  • 2 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
  • 1 @ ~10 oz can of Beef Broth
  • 1 @ ~10 oz can of French Onion Soup (condensed - do not add more water)
  • 1 @ 12oz. can or bottle of beer (I used Gordon Biersch Märzen)
  • 1 envelope Swanson Beef Flavor Boost
  • 1 tsp dried thyme
  • 1 bay leaf
  • Generous sprinkling of Prime Rib Seasoning (I used this - you can use whatever you like)
  • 6-8 sourdough rolls + butter
  1. Cut off any excess fat, if your roast is at all fatty (mine wasn't).
  2. You may, or may not, choose to marinade your meat before cooking (I chose not to.  Had I chosen to marinade it, I would have used McCormick/Grill-Mates Montreal Steak Marinade).
  3. Thinly slice an onion, and place it in the bottom of your crock pot (mine is a 5 qt "oblong" model).
  4. Coarsely chop two cloves of garlic and place on top of the onion slices
  5. Coat the roast with a light sprinkling of Prime Rib Seasoning (or skip the seasoning, if you chose to marinade instead).  Place the roast on top of the onions/garlic
  6. Pour in two cans of soup:  Beef Broth and French Onion
  7. Top it off with 1 can or bottle of beer.
  8. Add thyme and bay leaf.
  9. Cook on "low" for 7-8 hours.
  10. Remove the roast and confirm done-ness
  11. Remove the broth mixture.  If the onions/garlic haven't completely dissolved, you might want to hit it with an immersion blender to make a smooth au jus.  
  12. If it seems too salty, add some sweetener (Splenda or sugar)
Sandwich Prep:
  1. You can either pre-heat your oven to 350* or just use a toaster-oven (I went for the toaster oven!).
  2. Butter your sourdough rolls and toast them in the oven for 10 minutes (or Toaster Oven for however long!).
  3. Ladle a scoopful of au jus to one half of the sourdough roll...
  4. Thinly slice the beef and pile it onto the roll
  5. Serve warm with a bowl-full of au jus for dipping
  6. ENJOY!!!
If I end up with anything photo-worthy, I'll update this post later (Right now, the roast is still in the crock-pot and none-too attractive!).

Okay, here's a photo-worthy pic of dinner:

Confirmed: "Yummm!!!"

In Other News:

I went to see the dermatologist today and - no surprise - she attributes my "Huge Improvement" to the Humira.  I certainly couldn't DENY that there has been a huge improvement - since my last visit.  I have actually been GLOVE-FREE for three days now.  And I am up to day #81 of being able to WALK.  I'll definitely "Take it!"

But...  What I find "interesting" is the fact that I have been on Humira since Sept 13, with no real "dramatic" improvements.  However, since I started my topical ointments - with Medical Cannabis - I actually did SEE a dramatic improvement - in a matter of DAYS!  Seriously!!!

Yes, it absolutely COULD be "coincidental" and yes, the Humira MAY HAVE decided to "kick-in" at the same time, right?!  

So...  I did do the "full disclosure" thing to the doc and admitted that I had decided to try "Cannabis Alternatives" to her treatment regimen.  Surprisingly, she did not go off the deep-end with that revelation, but (not so surprisingly) she DID choose to believe that it was the Humira "doing the job" and, in fact, she went on to suggest that I give Humira AT LEAST three months - preferably SIX months - before I consider stopping it.

Additional Food For Thought:  Evidently, if you choose to "stop Humira" and then re-start it later, you *might* not achieve the same results...  Hmmmm....

So, when I suggested that I wanted to experiment further with this, she didn't disagree - but she definitely voted AGAINST stopping the Humira.  If anything, maybe I should try continuing my Cannabis Regimen on ONE SIDE of my body, and stick with "traditional treatments" (Steroid Creams) on the other side...

That seems reasonable enough, I suppose...

The part that killed me was when she suggested that, maybe, the Cannabis treatment was giving me a "Placebo Effect."  Uhhhmmm, NO!  If I were gonna achieve a "Placebo Effect" on anything, it would've been my own home-made lotions, thankyouverymuch!!!  I have (ALMOST) no doubt that the cannabis IS helping.  And I absolutely DO intend to continue "experimenting" with it.  In fact, I think I'll brew up another batch of home-made hard-lotion(s) using hash-oil (or, ideally, CBD oil - if I can find it!).  I do NOT get "high" from topical medications.  And - even the small qty of "Indica" I use, nightly - for sleep, does NOT get me "high."  It just knocks me out (and STOPS the friggin' itching!!!).

No.  I don't think that the recent improvements with my skin-condition are related to "Placebo Effect" - I absolutely DO think that there is "something" to this cannabis-as-a-valid-medical-treatment idea!

Sunday, November 4, 2012

'Mater Murderess and Other Garden Stuff

So today is November 4th and I harvested three salvageably-ripe Kellogg's Breakfast 'Maters and one pale Early Girl.

I can't say that's a Record-Breaker for me (I know I've found 'maters as late as December and early as February - in years' past), but all-told, I have to say "Not Bad!"

There are definitely worse things than harvesting fresh, home-grown maters in November, right?

(Even those that are destined to be Green Tomato Relish!)

I pulled the greenies off today...  Because...

It's time to say "Adios" to the Tomato Beds.

Today is turning into a simply lovely day - possible record-breaker with temps creeping into the low 80's (AWESOME!).  But nighttime temps are definitely dipping into the 40's so the maters are essentially "Done."  Plus, there were white-flies galore.  Yep, definitely time to rip 'em out.

Beds are now (nearly) empty

And the wheelbarrow is (very) full!

Next up:  Need to amend the empty beds. I'd already stuck a few transplants in the ground, under the 'maters, so I need to be careful not to OVER amend.  Although I am sticking with organic amendments so, hopefully, no risk of burning (tho' I'm not sure about bagged steer-manure...  Seems not to have hurt the FFF bed though).

Speaking of:

My seeds have sprouted!
Not sure if they're carrots or radishes. Oh well!

And here are a couple more shots from around the yard:

Morning Glories had a rather "Vigorous" year!

Nannas are still hangin' in there (the fruits are about thumb-sized)
No chance of harvesting anything edible though :-(

I've had these bananas since 2004.  I'm pretty sure that the only survivor from that particular eBay acquisition was the Saba.  And this is the second time I've gotten an inflorescence and fruit.  They die back every year, but also put-out pups, so I think I'll have nannas forever!  Saba is cold-hardy, but what Googling I've done has led me to believe that the fruits need to stay on the tree for appx 11 months before they can be cut down.  They may still be green at that point, but they might stand a chance of fully ripening.

However...  We don't get 11 months worth of Banana-Friendly Weather.  Winter temps can (and DO) dip into the 20's so Edible Fruit just ain't gonna happen.  The first hard-freeze will wipe-out the trees, turning the "trunk" to mush, unfortunately.

Next year, I think I may try to plant a California Gold Banana.  Supposedly, that variety does stand a chance of ripening into edible fruit.

Nevertheless, I still think it's pretty damn cool that my Sabas are at least attempting to fruit!

Okay, I think that's a pretty decent "Garden Update" for November, wouldn't you say?!!


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