Category Archives: Main Dishes

Chicken & Cheese Enchiliadas

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It’s no secret that I love all Mexican foods. I’ve written about how I made the perfect refried beans, many variations on tacos, and the simple pizza-like toastadas. I’ve been meaning to tackle a particularly intimidating recipe for a while: enchiladas.
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You may not think enchiladas are intimidating, but for whatever reason I kept thinking it would be hard to make these. Then the s.o. requested it, I had a big stack of tortillas in the fridge, and so I was like, ok it’s time.
Turns out, they weren’t so scary after all. And damn delicious.
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Ingredients:
2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
7 tortillas
2 tbsp taco seasoning
2 tbsp butter
1/2 cup refried beans
1 cup shredded cheese mix
1 can tomato sauce
1-2 tbsp sriracha
I used large flour tortillas here, I know corn is the norm. But trust me, no one was upset about these. Give it a try, or go ahead and use corn if that’s what you have.
Step 1: Cook the chicken either in the oven, frying pan, or poach in boiling water. Use two forks to shred it finely. Cook in a pan with a little butter and taco seasoning.
Step 2: In each tortilla, spread a few tbsp beans, a handful of shredded chicken, and sprinkle on some cheese. Roll up, and place with the seam-side down in a sprayed oven-safe pan.
Step 4: Once the pan is full, sprinkle more cheese over top, then pour the tomato sauce over everything. Use as much as you need to cover the tops, but not to soak them. (Sidenote, I hate the taste of regular enchilada sauce at restaurants, that’s why I went the homemade tomato sauce version. If you like it or have a jar of enchilada sauce at home, feel free to use that.)
Step 5: Squirt on a thin layer of sriracha and/or hot sauce, and bake at 350 for 30-40 minutes.
We ended up having two each, and the leftovers didn’t last more than a day. These could be made in the crock pot as well, simply assemble and leave on low all day. Make sure to add extra sauce so they don’t burn if you go that route.
Serve with a little sour cream on top to cut the spice if that’s your thing.
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You could make the vegetarian by adding extra grilled veggies or tofu instead of chicken, and just feel free to add in some onions and peppers regardless of what else is in there.
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What’s your favorite Mexican food?

Slow Cooker Red Pozole with Pork

 

So I’ve been tutoring a high school kid in Biology for a year. He’s great, as are his parents. And his mother is a large part Native American. She is an amazing cook, I often show up to tutor and/or leave to tempting smells wafting from the kitchen. They are kind enough to ask me to share their dinner with them quite often.

As I love cooking myself, typically I have dinner already started in the Crock pot or at least plans, so I decline. However, one night she was serving up this thick, red stew that smelled too irresistible. This was my first introduction to pozole.

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Pozole means “foamy”; also spelled “pozolli” or “posole”. It is a traditional stew originally from Mexico, which once had ritual significance due to its use of maize, called hominy. The word “hominy” comes from the Powhatan language word for prepared maize. (Maize is corn).

Hominy is a very interesting thing. To make it, you take regular corn kernels, dry it, and then treat it with an alkaline agent to break down the cellulose in the corn. The result is puffy, chewy, soft kernels that look a little bit like corn-shaped popcorn.

Well, this tomato-pork-hominy stew was unlike anything I’d ever had, so of course I had to ask for the recipe. She had gotten it from the Denver Post a few years back, and was more than happy to share it with me.

red posole with pork

The red pozole with pork is the recipe I used and show here, but there is also one for Green Pozole with Chicken. I’ll save that for another day.

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I wanted to try this right away, but I forced myself to be patient. Normally I just center my grocery shopping around sales, but this time I kept an eye out for the ingredients I needed. Anytime I want to make something with a unique or expensive ingredient I try to wait to maximize my food dollars. As soon as I saw hominy on sale at the local Save-A-Lot I snagged a can.

As is my way, I took the recipe, tweaked it a bit to what I like and what I had in the house, and it turned out wonderful! I don’t like spicy foods, so I left out the peppers, but I did throw in a pinch of dried chipotle pepper to keep the Native American feel of the recipe. If you want to go all the way and buy the exact spices called for, be my guest. But I omitted the Mexican oregano, and used regular paprika, not Spanish. I also added a can of red beans for extra fiber and filling power.

Slow cooker red pozole with pork:

  • 1.4 pound pork roast
  • 2-3 tbsp garlic powder
  • 1/2 tbsp cumin
  • Pinch chipotle pepper
  • 1 tbsp chili powder
  • 2 tbsp paprika
  • 1 whole white onion, diced
  • 1 can diced tomatoes, with liquid
  • 1 can red beans, drained
  • 1 29oz can hominy
  • 6 chicken bouillon cubes and ~24 oz water
  • 3 tbsp flour
  • 1 bottle beer (Colorado native)

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Step 1: In slow cooker, mix flour, beer, spices, diced onion, and tomato.

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Step 2: Heat water in the microwave for 2-3 minutes, dissolve the bouillon cubes and add to crock pot. Or just use chicken stock.

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Step 3: Dice the pork roast into bite-sized cubes. I had a 1.4-pound roast defrosted, so I used that. But you could use chops also.

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Peel or cut off fatty pieces to make it more lean.

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Step 4: Add the pork and hominy to the slow cooker. Cook on low 6-8 hours, or high 2-4 hours.

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The finished product is a complex but light stew, with an amazing depth of flavor. You can obviously add more spice to your taste, but I loved it the way it was. I also didn’t have ground cumin, so the little pieces were annoying at the bottom, but the flavor they added was worth it.

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I made some biscuits to serve with the posole, and my s.o. loved it too. The recipe suggests shredded cabbage, radish, cilantro, cheese, or sour cream as garnishes. If you add extra flour or cornstarch you can make it thicker, add more stock to make it more soup-like.

 

What’s your favorite slow cooker meal?

 

 

Turkey & Veggie Tacos

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Tacos are always a popular meal choice. They are great for so many reasons:
  • Frugal – use up whatever meat or vegetables are in the house
  • Green – use up vegetables before they go bad & reduce waste
  • Customizable – you can please meat eaters and vegetarians
  • Healthy – easy to add tons of extra veggies and fiber with beans
Unfortunately, tacos are also very easy to go overboard with and make into fatty cholesterol nightmares. If you use fatty ground beef and heap on cheese and sour cream, your arteries will not thank you. The good news is, there are simple swaps you can make that don’t have a huge impact on overall taste but will have an impact on how huge your waistline is in 20 years….
  • Use ground turkey, pork, or chicken instead of beef
  • Better yet, don’t use meat at all! Use tofu or lots of beans instead
  • Make sure to cram in as many sneaky veggies as possible
  • Swap unflavored Greek yogurt for sour cream
These simple switches seem small, but have big long-term impact. You don’t have to go cold-turkey health nut all at once. Try one at a time and see what works for you.
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These turkey tacos are super-charged with healthy greens and multiple veggies. But once rolled up in a warm tortilla, you would never know there is so little fat and far fewer calories than your typical taco. My meat eater s.o. even had to admit that they are delicious!
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Ingredients:
1 pound ground turkey
1 tortilla
1 onion, diced
1 cup diced bell peppers
1/2 head kale
Refried beans
1/2 cup cooked rice
1 tbsp plain Greek yogurt
Sprinkle shredded cheese
Seasoning: garlic salt, cumin, Nature’s Season
Step 1: Brown the ground turkey in a pan. While that is cooking, dice up your veggies. You could use whatever vegetables are in season and that you like, try eggplant, asparagus, spinach, sweet potato…
Step 2: Drain the grease from the meat and season it to your liking. Add in the veggies, hardest ones first. Cook until onion and peppers are soft, and kale is wilted.
Step 3: Open a can of refried beans, or make your own. Heat up in a frying pan or microwave.
Step 4: Warm up a tortilla in the microwave for 10-30 seconds. Layer on the turkey and veggies, 1/4 cup cooked rice, a few tbsp of beans, 1 tbsp Greek yogurt, and a sprinkle of shredded cheddar. Roll it up and enjoy! Alternatively you could use a hard taco shell, or spread over tortilla chips as a fun appetizer.
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Tacos are so endlessly customizable. I love topping mine with salsa, guac, diced avocado, lettuce, spinach, black beans, shredded carrots… the possibilities are endless. They can be extremely frugal too, rice, beans, and tortillas are all easily found for under $1, and make a very filling and healthy meal. It’s super easy to make them vegetarian or vegan too.
What’s your favorite taco toppings?

The Art of Ethiopian: Part 4 – Cheese, Greens, & Injera

 

This is the fourth and final post in my Art of Ethiopian Cuisine post series. From a 100%-not-Ethiopian-American, I must say this all tasted really dang good. And it doesn’t take too much hands-on work time. If I had had a real Ethiopian over to try it, I’m not sure what their opinion would be. But if you want the “Americanized” easy version, these recipes are sure to do the trick!


The Art of Ethiopian Cuisine: Part 1 – Beef & Pork
The Art of Ethiopian Cuisine: Part 2 – Chicken & Fish
The Art of Ethiopian Cuisine: Part 3 – Potatoes & Lentils
The Art of Ethiopian Cuisine: Part 4 – Cheese, Greens, & Injera

Ayib

The cheese is called “Iab or Ayib” and is like a cottage cheese/ricotta hybrid. You usually need it to temper the heat in these types of dishes, but my recipes leave out the Berberi spices you will notice. If you like super hot foods, feel free to pick some up and sprinkle it into all these stews. Because I don’t have hours or days to make it the proper way, THIS recipe from Whats4Eats comes close to approximating Iab.  


Ingredients (Ayib):
1 cup large curd cottage cheese
2 tbsp plain Greek yogurt
1 tbsp lemon juice
Sprinkle sea salt

Step 1: Rinse the cottage cheese in cold water and let it drain. Press dry with paper towels if you like. I tried that and the towel got cheese curds stuck all over it so try at your own risk.

Step 2: In a bowl, mix the cheese curds, yogurt, lemon juice, and salt. Refrigerate until serving.

Gomen Wat

The greens are called “Gomen Wat” (guess Wat…again) and the recipe I used is based off the one HERE on my trusty AllRecipes site. I didn’t have collard greens, so I used what I had, which was kale. I bet you could use spinach instead as well, any leafy green will do.

Ingredients (Gomen Wat):
2 cups chopped kale
2 cups water/stock
1 tbsp turmeric
1 tsp ground ginger
3-4 tbsp lemon juice
2 cloves garlic, chopped
Sea salt

Step 1: Put the greens, spices, and liquids in a small crock pot. Cook on low for 1-3 hours. 

Make sure to stir every now and then. The greens will wilt and take up less room. I like my greens extra tangy to counteract the bitter. I also sprinkle them with a healthy dose of fresh coarse ground sea salt. Keep on low until you serve.


Injera

And of course, the cornerstone of the meal, that which holds it all together and is both plate and utensil, the Injera bread. Usually it is made from pure Teff flour and allowed to ferment and rise for three days. I unfortunately had neither the grain nor the time. So I based mine off this cheat recipe HERE from Whats4Eats, which does not need either. It rather ingeniously uses club soda and lemon for both the bubbles and the tang.

Ingredients (Injera):
2 cups flour
1 tbsp baking powder
2 tbsp lemon juice
2 cups club soda

As you can see, I had lemon-lime club soda so at first I didn’t use the lemon juice. Several other recipes I found also use vinegar if you don’t have lemon.

Step 1: Combine all ingredients and stir just until all flour is incorporated. The club soda will bubble quite a bit. 

Step 2: On a hot, sprayed griddle, pour about 1/2 cup of batter. 

Step 3: Typically injera is only cooked on one side, but I found that this better was just thick and pancake-y enough that I had to let it mostly cook, then flip for a final minute or two. There were still bubbles, which approximates injera. However the consensus was that the dough is thicker and sweeter than usual. So these are the Americanized Ethiopian pancake version of injera. And actually some said they prefer it, so perhaps this is a better way to ease an American palate into ethnic cuisine.

And this was the final meal. Ground beef, pork, chicken, fish, lentils, potatoes, greens, cheese and my injera pancakes. You of course don’t have to cook all these at the same time, but I encourage you to at least make some injera and try one or two stews. You may find that you crave the flavors of Ethiopia from now on! And by cooking all this at home, you control the ingredients, so this meal turns out to be quite healthy, and very filling.


What’s your favorite ethnic cuisine?

 

The Art of Ethiopian: Part 2 – Chicken & Fish

 

This is part two of a four-part series on Ethiopian cooking, the American way. Since I am such an expert (I know someone from Ethiopia. Plus I’ve eaten it like… four times) I decided to share my versions of some of my favorites.

The recipes are fairly straightforward, you just need to obtain the spices, and be patient. All said, the cooking for this dinner party probably took about 6 hours. The dishes took twice that long. 😉

The Art of Ethiopian Cuisine: Part 1 – Beef & Pork

The Art of Ethiopian Cuisine: Part 2 – Chicken & Fish
The Art of Ethiopian Cuisine: Part 3 – Potatoes & Lentils
The Art of Ethiopian Cuisine: Part 4 – Cheese, Greens, & Injera

Part 2: Chicken and Fish

Sounds like the punchline of a bad Lent joke. Appropriate for April I guess. (Is April still when Lent happens?) But since the earlier post had already covered the red meats, this one is for the “white meats”. Sorta.

Chicken stew in Ethiopian is called Doro Wat. I’ve figured that most things that say “Wat” mean meat stew, whereas “Tibs” means meat and vegetables stewed together. As in “Yasa Tibs” meaning my fish, tomato & spinach stew. The recipe I based the Doro Wat from is found HERE from NomNomPaleo, while the fish inspiration is found at Allrecipes HERE


Ingredients (Doro Wat):

3-4 pounds chicken (I used 2 thighs and 2 boneless skinless breast)
1/2 cup diced onion
2 tbsp butter
1 cup chicken stock
2 tbsp turmeric
1 tbsp garam masala
1 tbsp ginger powder
 

Step 1: Add stock to chicken in a pan, and cook over low heat until no pink. Cut the breast into bite-sized cubes.

Step 2: In a separate pan, add butter and diced onions. Cook until the onions are soft and translucent. Add 1 cup onion to the chicken.

Step 3: Add the rest of the spice, and simmer for 30 minutes until serving. Add more stock if liquid starts to evaporate.


Ingredients (Yasa Tibs):
1-2 small tilapia (or other white fish) fillets
1 cup fresh spinach leaves
1 tbsp garam masala
1 small can tomato paste
1 tbsp olive oil
1/4 cup fish sauce (or vinegar if you don’t have it)
2 tbsp lemon juice
Garlic salt to taste
Squirt of Sriracha or Tabasco, if you like

Step 1: Cut the fish into bite-sized pieces. Cook in a pan with olive oil until white and flaky. Add all sauces and spices and spinach. Simmer at least until spinach is wilted, until serving. This one is delightfully salty and tangy from the fish sauce and acidic lemon juice. And probably the healthiest stew thus far, with little to no fat and a spinach boost.

Up next: 
Part 3 – Potatoes & Lentils

Crockpot White Bean Chicken Chili

Chili is definitely in my top ten favorite winter dishes. I suppose really all year, but especially in winter it’s nice to cook up a hot batch of thick, delicious chili to enjoy at the end of a chilly day. (See what I did there?)

There are also endless variations, from vegetarian chili, to Skyline chili like in southwest Ohio (go to Columbus or Cincinnati and have some if you don’t know what I’m talking about), chili over noodles, meatless chili, bean-less chili, sweet chili… you get the idea.

There are chili cook-offs all over the nation, there is even an International Chili Society. That’s how serious some people take this stuff. Their webpage explaining the history of chili is pretty fascinating.

Now, hardcore chili con carne people who believe beans have no place in chili and pasture raised longhorn beef is the only meat good enough to earn the name, will not like my laissez faire approach to chili. I’ve been known to throw in all manner of vegetables, use various preparations of tomatoes besides juice, and use all kinds of types of meat.

This version is a kind of white bean chicken chili, but it got a little Jen makeover, as most things coming through my kitchen do.

Ingredients:

  • 2 large boneless, skinless chicken breasts
  • 1 can diced tomatoes with chilies
  • 1 can corn
  • 1 can navy beans
  • 1 can kidney beans
  • Dash chili powder
  • Optional: 1/2 cup milk

 

Step 1: Spray the Crockpot and add the chicken breasts. Turn it on low.

Step 2: In a blender or food processor, liquefy the can of kidney beans (or any other type really. This just adds a thicker, creamier texture) after you drain the can. Add water or some milk if you need to.

Step 3: Add the liquid beans plus all the other cans, milk, and any spices you want. (Garlic, onion, hot sauce, etc)

Step 4: Cook on high 4 hours or low 4-6. Take the chicken breasts out and shred them with two forks. Put back into the chili, stir and let sit another hour or eat immediately.

Top with whatever you like. I used plain Greek yogurt and shredded cheese, but salsa, cornbread, or avocado would also be delicious.

This chili is such a perfect combination of creamy and light. It has just a hint of spice from the diced tomatoes with chilies, but you could kick it up a notch easily by adding jalapenos or other peppers, or sprinkling on some hot sauce.

You could also use two cans white beans, kidney, black beans, whatever you have in the pantry. I’d really recommend not skipping the pureeing though, it totally adds that little ‘something’. I had leftovers for three days, and was not upset about it!

What’s your favorite kind of chili?

Chicken Liver Pasta

 

Now I may have lost many of you on the title alone. But trust me. Have I ever steered you wrong? If you hate liver & onions, that’s ok. If you’ve never had liver, then you can’t say you don’t like it!

Liver is an extremely inexpensive meat per pound, because most people don’t know what to do with it, or don’t like it. Their loss is my gain. And yours.

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Beef liver is what liver & onions is typically made from, because it is much larger. Chicken livers are a lot smaller, and are perfect for this recipe which requires blending them into a sauce. They cook up quickly, and easily fit in the blender. It is up to you, I imagine beef liver would taste similar.

Organ meats (offal) were traditionally a large part of many cultures. However it seems they are not thought of much and even spurned in today’s society; where we can all basically afford whatever cut we want. But every animal killed for a steak, wing, or ham contains edible parts like the liver, kidney, and even heart.

Some avoid liver because they are concerned that it stores toxins, since the liver’s main job is to detoxify chemicals and drugs in the body. Chris Kesser sets the record straight: “While it is true that one of the liver’s role is to neutralize toxins (such as drugs, chemical agents and poisons), it does not store these toxins. Toxins the body cannot eliminate are likely to accumulate in the body’s fatty tissues and nervous systems.”

So eating liver will not cause you to ingest a bunch of toxins. It will cause you to ingest large amounts of all kinds of vitamins and micronutrients though. Gram for gram, liver has more copper, iron, vitamins A, C, D, and E, B vitamins, and P, K, Mg than apples, carrots, or lean red meat in most cases combined.  Of course, where the liver comes from is important. A grass-fed, naturally raised cow’s liver is much healthier than a CAFO animal fed antibiotics, growth hormones, corn, and packed in too tight to lie down.

If you are lucky enough to already like liver, rock on! Keep eating that superfood. And hopefully you will love this recipe, as a new and exciting way beyond the typical onions or pate to enjoy liver. If you don’t like liver, give this a try anyways and see what you think. Blended up with other veggies and pasta, you may not even notice. Look for it in the frozen section if you can’t find it in the meat aisle.

Ingredients:

  • 1 pound pasta (I used bowtie)
  • 1 pound chicken livers
  • 1/4 cup cream or milk
  • 1 can diced tomatoes
  • Handful chopped kale or spinach
  • Garlic salt
  • Grated Parmesan cheese

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Step 1: Boil the pasta for 7-9 minutes. While that’s boiling, cook the livers over medium heat until only slightly pink, then turn heat off. Drain pasta and put in a large fry pan.

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Step 2: In a blender, combine cooked livers, milk, and garlic salt to taste. Blend well and coat pasta. Add in can of diced tomatoes and greens. Cook another 10-15 minutes, until greens are wilted and everything is heated through.

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Serve with a sprinkle of Parmesan cheese on top. That last tiny hit of saltiness really makes this sing. It is a bit gamey, but I absolutely loved it! Which is good, because it made about four meals’ worth for me.

 

Do you ever eat liver? If so how do you cook it?

New Years’ Day Lucky Tradition: Kielbasa and Sauerkraut

It’s almost 2014! 

I must admit I am a huge fan of almost all edible things pig. Bacon of course is in a league of its own. But ribs, chops and roasts are also all delicious and versatile to prepare. For New Year’s Day, my family has always had kielbasa and sauerkraut for good luck. You could also make a pork roast and sauerkraut.

According to a Nosh blog, the reason for this good luck is because pork from a “fat” pig represents an abundant year to come, and the sauerkraut from ‘green’ cabbage represents wealth. Thinking about this tradition made me wonder what was in sauerkraut and where it comes from. This lead to hours of research into the various parts and cuts of pork.

Stay tuned after the recipe if you want to know more! =)

Kielbasa & Sauerkraut Recipe

  • Ingredients:
  • 1 small pork roast (2-4 lb) or 2-4 pounds kielbasa
  • 1 bag of sauerkraut (or jar, or if you’re ambitious you can ferment your own)
  • 1 can/bottle of beer, 12 oz
  • 1 cup brown sugar

Step 1: Place roast or kielbasa in a slow cooker. Mix the beer and brown sugar. Pour over the pork, then cover with kraut. Cook on high for ~4 hours or low 6-8 hours.

Enjoy on NYD! May your 2014 be full of success and joy.

Photo from Pressure Cooking With Lorna Sass
Pork roast & sauerkraut on NYE


So what about the rest of the pig?

Generally speaking, pork tends to be less expensive than beef. For reasons I won’t discuss in this post, it is always a good idea to look for humanely raised pork, or best case scenario to be part of a CSA (which stands for Community Supported Agriculture) and get part of a farm-raised pig. Find one near you here.

They usually raise a set number of pigs based on how many shares are purchased, then will slaughter them and divide up the meat for you. However, I understand most people don’t have the time, space, money, or energy to commit to a half or whole pig, wait half a year, then bring home a hundred pounds of meat in various cuts and store it. Therefore, this is more of a guide to what you’ll find at a typical grocery store and what you can do with it.

This photo is from CloveGardens website and shows the various cuts of pig.

The CloveGardens site also has photos of every cut of meat, including less well-known cuts and parts you wouldn’t normally think of using like the feet, snout, and organs. If you’re feeling adventurous you can ask your butcher, or try an ethnic market. The most typical cuts you find at a North American grocery store are chops and roasts. 

Ham

This is the upper part of the thigh, and is what we think of when we think of a holiday ham. Often oven roasted and marinated or glazed. Holds up to slow cooking methods, and tastes great paired with sweet glazes like brown sugar, maple, honey and/or pineapple.

Pork Chops (aka pork loin end chops, center loin chops, rib chops, end cut chops, top loin chops, pork blade chops)

Many different cuts of meat can be called pork chops. They can be bone-in or boneless, in various sizes and thicknesses. Typically, thicker-cut chops with the bone still in tend to be the juiciest and most flavorful. These are great for pan-frying and grilling. Boneless chops are also great for frying or grilling, but can fall apart easier in longer methods like slow cookers or braising. Pork blade chops are from the blade roast, and tend to be fattier and tougher than chops from other cuts. They can be tenderized by marinating beforehand, and can be cooked with longer methods.

Pork Roast (aka pork tenderloins, rib roasts, pork legs, top loin roast, sirloin roast, hipbone roast, end roast, butt and shoulder-see below)

Like chops, there are many cuts that get sold as a roast. They are defined as cuts which stand up well to oven or slow cooker roasting. 

Pork Rib Roast(aka pork center loin roast, pork roast)

The ribs can still be inside or the ribs may have been removed. These cuts are extremely flavorful and juicy, but still pretty lean. If you want to cook it with the slab of attached fat for flavor, simply carve it off before serving. 

Pork Blade Roast (aka pork rib end roast, rib end pork loin, 7-rib or 5-rib roast)

The blade roast comes from the back/shoulder areas, and is fattier than most other cuts. This makes it less expensive but very flavorful. If the bone is still in, you can ask the butcher to crack it between the ribs to carve it easier.

Pork Loin (aka tenderloin, loin chop)

Cuts from the loin come from along the back and sides of the spine and are the leanest, most tender cuts. This makes them easy to overcook, so try to avoid long cooking times. There are three sections, the Blade end, Center portion and Sirloin end. The Blade end is closest to the shoulders and like the Blade Roast tends to be fatty. The Center portion is in the middle, it is the leanest and most tender, which makes it usually the most expensive. The Sirloin end is nearest the rump, and is typically bony and lean. All can be pan-fried, braised, or slow cooked.

Hocks and Shanks

This is the shin area of the pig’s legs. A hock with skin removed is called a shank. They are often smoked, and make good additions to soups to add flavor. 

Pork Ribs 

The ribs are generally cut into three seperate sections, all of which are great for smoking, braising, oven roasting, or grilling. And all are great slathered in BBQ sauce. Country-style ribs or pork blade end ribs are the meatiest and fattiest of cuts, but they aren’t as easy to eat with your fingers. They can be bone-in or boneless. Pork back, or baby back ribs are the middle ground of meatiness and easier to pick up. Pork spareribes are the least meaty, but have the most popular texture for finger foods. They are tender-chewy, and are the least fatty cut.

Pork Shoulders & Butts

Though named differently, both cuts are from the shoulder of the pig. Technically they are different cuts. The “butt” (aka Boston butt or shoulder) comes from a thicker section with more marbling. This makes it ideal for pulled pork or other barbecue styles. The “shoulder” is usually the triangular piece of meat attached to the butt. Both are great braised, slow roasted, BBQ-ed, slow cooker style, or in stew. They can essentially be used interchangeably.  

Bacon and Sausage

Ahhh the longtime favorite, bacon is unique in taste and is revered worldwide for it meaty, smoky deliciousness. Used to flavor all types of dishes and soups, as a centerpiece of breakfasts, and wrapped around just about anything, bacon is a versatile meat. It does not come off the hog looking like bacon. First the ribs and belly are removed from the loin. The belly here does not refer to the actual stomach but rather the fatty underside of the pig. The spare ribs are cut away, then the pork belly is sent through the long process of curing, smoking and eventual slicing up into bacon. Sausage on the other hand, can be made from just about any part of the pig that is not used elsewhere. Anything that was left from de-boning other cuts, high quality meat that can’t be turned into a roast or chop, or pieces that didn’t end up elsewhere all get mixed together. They are seasoned in various ways and ground, sometimes multiple times. This is then sold as bulk sausage, patties, or put into casing for links, most often the pig’s own intestines. (Seriously).

For a great, thorough article on the various parts of the pig and how to use lesser known cuts see this website for Sugar Mountain Farm in Vermont, which has its own USDA approved butcher site on the farm. They use as much of the whole pig, nose-to-tail, as they can, which I totally approve of!

For an article which sub-divides these types of cuts even further and includes photos, see here. They also have pages for cuts from beef, lamb, and veal if you’re curious and I don’t cover them soon enough. 

If you have a solid stomach and want to see photos and a description of each step in the pork processing process (redundancy, check), check out this blog post from Chico Locker & Sausage Co.


Nutrition information such as calories, protein and fat content will vary greatly depending on the type of cut and how it was prepared. According to Nutritioninfo.com the average nutrition data from one pound of raw meat cooked is:

Pork contains plenty of protein, iron and selenium and no gluten. However it is high in cholesterol, so you should try to control portion sizes to 3-6 oz per serving, and as in all things use moderation. Pork is safe to eat when cooked to an internal temperature of 160 F, so use a meat thermometer if you have one. Generally speaking, when oven roasting you should cook it at least a half hour per pound of meat. 

Do you have any New Year’s Eve or Day traditions?

Thanksgiving Meal Under $20

 

The time of giving thanks is approaching! Everyone knows the beloved American holiday featuring a rather large, ugly bird. Kids drawn pictures of feathered Native Americans and buckle-hatted Pilgrims gathered around the cornucopia and a turkey drawn from your hand’s outline. 


But like most American holidays the original meaning has become commercialized and veered a bit from the original. The first Thanksgiving meal happened in fall of 1621, sometime between mid-September and mid-November. It was to give thanks for a successful harvest, and the Pilgrims joined the local Wampanoag tribe to eat fowl, fish and deer, and probably local plants like berries, plums and boiled pumpkin. 

After that, it was not immediately a national holiday. That didn’t happen until George Washington proclaimed Thursday, November 26, 1789, a “day of public thanksgiving and prayer” in honor of our new nation and brand new Constitution. Even then the holiday was not a set annual day. During Lincoln’s presidency, when he needed a way to unite the states, he turned to Sarah Josepha Hale, writer of the famous “Mary Had a Little Lamb” rhyme. She thought the holiday would be a way to infuse the nation with hope and belief in itself and the Constitution. Thus Lincoln declared the last Thursday in November a national holiday.

FDR caused a bit of a ruckus when he tried to change the date, causing TWO Thanksgivings in 1939 and 1940. Sounds awesome, two days of paid vacation, stuffing yourself and football right? Not so much, because some states kept the traditional date while others followed the President. Thus it caused some familiar discord as people had different days off, schools had to reschedule tests and vacations, and it sure is lucky airplanes weren’t around yet, because that would have caused a lot of date-change booking fees. Congress finally got around to making it into law that the fourth Thursday of November was the official and forever Thanksgiving Day.

If you’re heading into T-Day with a lot of things to be thankful for, but a large bank balance isn’t one of them, fear not. You can still have a stellar feast, and for less than an Andrew Jackson. 

 

Now, for the remainder of this post I will make a few assumptions. Don’t be offended if they don’t apply to you. Adjust the advice accordingly.

1. You will be feeding 2-4 people.
2. You want turkey and not a ham.
3. You want the most “traditional” American dishes.
4. You have twenty dollars.
5. You have basic cooking equipment and knowledge.
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Ok, so for the “traditional” American feast, the most common dishes are:
*The Turkey
*Stuffing
*Mashed Potatoes
*Green Bean Casserole
*Cranberry Sauce
*Pumpkin Pie
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That’s what we need to make, as inexpensively as possible. If those don’t sound right or aren’t quite what you want, try here for thousands more Thanksgiving day recipes. 
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*The Turkey (free – $7)
Here we have a few options. You aren’t likely to find a whole bird under $20. There are a few ways around it. Some stores run specials leading up to T-day such that you purchase a certain amount of groceries and get a free bird. If you had planned spending $100 in groceries into your budget anyways, pick up that free bird! If not, you still have choices. One option is to purchase only turkey drumsticks rather than the whole bird. I just saw these at a store, four drums for $5-7. Your other option is to purchase mini hens/ducks or a whole chicken. If the people you’re cooking for won’t care what type of fowl they eat, this can get you a bird for $4-7 as well.

*Stuffing ($1 – $3)
If you’re good with boxed types, keep an eye on sales. These can be picked up for $1 or less per box, and you’ll probably need at least two. If you want to make your own, you’ll need a loaf of stale bread, 2 cups stock, seasoning, and 1 cup diced & sauteed celery/carrot/onion. all together the ingredients shouldn’t cost more than $3. Mix it all and bake at 350 inside the bird or in a casserole dish for 30-40 minutes.

*Mashed Potatoes ($1 – $3)
Again, if you don’t mind the boxed stuff, I’ve seen this at the dollar store as well as on sale for $1 or less. To make your own, peel and dice about a pound of potatoes per person. Boil the potatoes in salted water until soft, about 10 minutes. Drain and put back into the pot. Mash or use a hand blender. Add in garlic salt, butter, sour cream, and/or milk to your desired taste and consistency.

*Green Bean Casserole ($2)
A good old stand by favorite, this is nothing more than a can of cut green beans mixed with a can of cream of mushroom sauce. If you’ve been good about sales you should be able to get at least two cans of each for less than $2. You can also be fancy and use a pound or two of fresh green beans, cleaned and boiled. The fanciest is to add some french friend onions or crushed potato chips on top.

*Cranberry Sauce ($1 – $2)
Buy a can of this jello like fruity goop for $1 or less, it will probably not all be eaten. Or you can get yourself a bag of fresh cranberries on sale. Mix 1 cup water, 1 cup sugar and the cranberries in a sauce pot. Bring to a boil, then simmer for about ten minutes, or until cranberries burst. At this point you can add anything you like, such as cinnamon or nutmeg, chopped almonds or pecans, orange zest or blueberries or raisins. Cool and then put in the refrigerator until served.
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*Pumpkin Pie ($1 – $3)
If you get lucky and find a frozen or fresh pie on sale you like, go for it. However if you want the homemade touch, take 1 can pumpkin puree, 1 can sweetened condensed milk, 2 eggs, and pumpkin pie spice (or combination cinnamon, nutmeg and allspice) and a pie crust. Mix all ingredients and pour into the crust. Bake at 425 for 15 minutes, then reduce heat to 350 and bake another 30-45 minutes, until set.
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Total: $6 – $20
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So you see you can indeed enjoy an all-American thankful feast for under $20. Also of note, there are lots of things that go on deep sale during the holidays that you use other times of the year. If you’re an avid baker and find a 4 for $1 sale on condensed milk, snap that up! If celery is .50 per pound, buy a whole bunch and freeze some for soup, or use it at Christmas. Especially if you have a big freezer, when the birds left are taking up space the day after Thanksgiving, head to the grocery store after your Black Friday shopping for steep discounts on fowl, and freeze it for Christmas or any time of the year. Happy bargain-hunting!
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If you have any budget-friendly holiday tips, please share!
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Sausage gravy & biscuits

 

If you asked my family if ever they thought they’d see the day where I not only willingly ate sausage gravy and biscuits, yet alone cooked it myself, they would call you crazy.

For the longest time I was very against sausage in any form; ground, patties, links. Well, I’m living proof that tastes change over time. The more times I tried sausage gravy & biscuits, the more I liked it. However, I am also aware that commercial gravy is horrific for you. I had a can of biscuits in the fridge and sausage was on sale $3/pound at my farmer’s market.

I couldn’t resist buying a nice, fresh ground pound of sausage and trying my hand at this artery-clogging breakfast favorite. Turns out, it is actually quite easy. I did cheat and use canned biscuits rather than make my own. But the gravy is more art than science, use your own judgment and tastes when adding milk and flour to make it the consistency you want. You could also use cornstarch to thicken it rather than flour for a gluten-free option.

Pro tip: this sausage gravy would be great over just about any meat or grain, like chicken and mashed potatoes, or ham and rice.

Ingredients:

  • 1 pound sausage
  • 1 can biscuits
  • 1 cup milk
  • 4 tbsp flour
  • Salt & pepper

Step 1: Brown the sausage in a frying pan. Once fully cooked, remove the sausage, drain the fat and set aside.

Step 2: Bake the biscuits in a 350 oven for 10-12 minutes.

Step 3: Add the flour to the pan you cooked the sausage in, slowly whisk in the milk. Add all the milk, and bring to a simmer. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Step 4: Add the cooked sausage back in and mix well. Pour over warm biscuits and enjoy!

Sausage gravy & biscuits

Ingredients

  • 1 pound sausage
  • 1 can biscuits
  • 1 cup milk
  • 4 tbsp flour
  • Salt & pepper

Instructions

  1. Brown the sausage in a frying pan. Once fully cooked, remove the sausage, drain the fat and set aside.
  2. Bake the biscuits in a 350 oven for 10-12 minutes.
  3. Add the flour to the pan you cooked the sausage in, slowly whisk in the milk. Add all the milk, and bring to a simmer. Add salt and pepper to taste.
  4. Add the cooked sausage back in and mix well. Pour over warm biscuits and enjoy!
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I can feel my taste buds cheering, and my arteries crying…