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!!!


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