Saturday, March 24, 2012

Pulled Pork and Purple Cabbage and Pinching Pennies

Last year I failed to use all of my annual leave from my job. I actually had to give up leave I had earned because I did not use it all in time. My boss told me that this is not acceptable as my mental health is more important than my finishing a report. Okay. I believe her. She's been doing this work longer than I have.

So this year, I put in for one Friday off each month along with my normal family vacations. Even to me this sounds like a lot of vacation time. But, I've been working a high stress job with the same organization since 1993 and due to budget cuts haven't seen a raise in over 5 years. To be honest, had I not gotten a promotion, back in 2006, I would still be making the same rate of pay I was making then. Basically, the state employees have not seen a raise in over 10 years. So, I'm glad I have vacation time that I earn each year.

So, what does all that have to do with this blog? Well two things, I can take one Friday each month and work on food prep; that's 12 extra days a year I did not have before to take care of large food prep issues like canning tomato sauce, butchering meat, planting gardens, etc. It also means that I need to do all of my food prep on a budget. A budget that is getting tighter due to rising gas prices and an office that is not getting closer to home. I seriously need to sit down and crunch some numbers and figure out if early retirement might save money by cutting down on the clothing and gas costs. Heck, we might even be able to get down to one car which would be a huge money saver.

In the interest of pinching a penny, I decided that one of the pork roasts we recently put in the freezer from our purchase of 1/2 a pastured hog; needed to stretch out over several meals. Making pulled pork seemed to be the first step in this and the plan became to make four meals for 2 people from one 2 pound pork roast.

This adventure in fine dining started yesterday with pulled pork. The roast, still frozen, was put into the slow cooker with the following ingredients:
  • 1 cup of cider vinegar
  • 1/2 cup vermouth
  • 1/2 cup mead (had some left over)
  • 2 tablespoons sea salt
  • 2 tablespoons red pepper flakes
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper (I should have put more)
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon onion powder
Went in on high for four hours and then dropped to low for four hours. No peeking. Just turn it down midway through the process. At the end of 8 hours, I took it out and cut it into four pieces.

The four planned meals are: Barbeque Pulled Pork Sandwiches with Fermented Red Cabbage, Pork Perogies, Pork stirfy with veggies, and Pork Egg Fu Yong.

So the first meal is the Barbequed pulled pork sandwiches with Red Cabbage Ferment.

Red Cabbage Ferment lives in my frig at all times. It is my go-to condiment when I need a ferment for a meal. In this case, I also get to use fermented Ketchup. I pulled the pork meat apart with forks and pulled out the very large bits of fat and minced them and stirred them back into the meat. This goes into the oven on warm while I prepare the sauce.

So, to make the BBQ sauce:

1 cup of fermented ketchup
1 teaspoon of liquid smoke (I make my own soy free version and will share that recipe later)
1 tablespoon of organic tomato paste
1 tablespoon of raw honey
1 tablespoon of blackstrap molassas
1 teaspoon of ginger minced very fine
1 teaspoon of hot sauce or cayenne pepper (I used the pepper)
2 teaspoons of minced garlic\
2 tablespoons of cider or fruit vinegar (I like cherry vinegar myself)
salt and pepper to taste

Mix with a whisk. Taste. If too tart, add more honey; if too sweet, add more vinegar. If you are grilling with this, you may want to add more honey because it will carmelize in the heat and become thick and crunchy and wonderful but lose some of it's sweetness.  In this case, I'm just using it as is and stirring through the pulled pork.

To plate this dish for presentation as they say in the foodie world: Put down a layer (1/2 cup or so) of the red cabbage ferment on the plate. Put a cup of the sauced pork on top. Mince up some fresh parsley and sprinkle over the top. Put two or three homemade bread and butter pickles on the side with carrot and celery sticks. If you have a bread eater in the house, toast up a sourdough bun and spread it with a little brown mustard and serve it on the side. Diner gets to assemble his or her own sandwich. In my case, since I've given up bread, I just stirred the red cabbage into the pork and ate it straight off the plate. I also gave myself extra pickles and veggies. Good eats.

Serve with a dark beer or lemonaide or mix the beer and lemonaide and make a Shandy.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Purple hands and baby plants

It's been an interesting Winter. We had, for us, an early hard frost just before Halloween (or as I call it, Samhain - Pronounced "Sow-wain".). Then, it seems like there was to be no snow. We finally got about two inches which did not stick on the road at all but was pretty to look at. That came at the very end of February. Then it decided to get warm. Today, St. Patrick's Day, is 84 degrees! So here we are, mid-way through March and my husband and I planted out tomatoes today. When I first moved here 22 years ago, we did not dare to put out tomato plants until Mother's Day. We may still get a cold snap, but a sheet of plastic is at ready to cover the plants we put in today. In any case, I really am beginning to feel like global warming has come to Virginia and perhaps I can now grow things like Brussels sprouts and pineapple.

So, what is in our straw bale garden?
  • 15 tomato plants (all but 3 are paste tomotos to be made into sauces, catsup and chopped.)
  • 4 Cayenne Pepper plants. I will dry the peppers for use throughout the year.
  • 6 green cabbages
  • 6 purple cabbages
  • 6 broccoli plants (there are six more not yet ready to be planted out)
  • 6 cauliflower plants
  • 6 celery (with 6 more in the wings for round 2)
  • a 4 foot row of butter beans (Ken's favorite)
  • a 4 foot row of bush green beans
  • a 6 row of sugar snap peas
  • a 6 row of flat peas. These are actually planted one on each side of a support net.
  • a 6 foot row of butter crunch lettuce
  • 12 collard plants
  • 12 kale plants
  • a 4 foot row of sorrel
  • a 4 foot row of winter crunch lettuce
What we will be planting in the garden on the ground (formally an herb garden consumed completely the by sheep) will be our ground plants: carrots, yellow onions, red onions, garlic, leeks, parsnips, turnips, beets, and potatoes. In the front garden bed where we thought we were going to have spring flowers this year, but which failed to appear, we are going to plant all of our vine type plants: cucumber, summer squash, butternut squash, pumpkin, and acorn squash. At the ends will go the zucchini plants. All of the herbs (basil, dill, parsley and thyme,etc) we will tuck in among the flowers. I may stick a few odd cucumbers into the flower gardens as well for ground cover and just a few more sources for making pickles. Most of my flowers are either medicinal or dye plants anyway. We eat the flower buds from the daylilies by stuffing them with sausage, dipping in an egg batter and frying them. The rose petals are collected and dried and sometimes find their ways into beverages or as decorations on desserts.

I hope to also have a fall garden with some root veggies and things like cabbages surviving under row covers well into December.

As things are harvested, if we can't eat them, I will blanch and freeze or, in the case of kale, sorrel,  and collards, dry and add to soups and stews all winter.

Oh, and the purple hands? Our Spring has not exactly been dry. Soggy would be a better descriptor. As a result, my poor sheep have been standing on damp ground since December and their hooves (really just toenails) have grown and become very soft due to the moisture. As a result, there seems to be a touch of foot fungus when I looked at their feet last weekend. Ken helped me upend them today so I could clip their overgrown toenails and while they actually looked pretty good and free of fungus today; I took the precautionary step of spraying their newly trimmed feet with Blue Cote (it's a fungicide and also a treatment for wounds). As usual, I managed to get more on myself than the sheep so now both of my hands are dark purple and no matter how hard I scrub, the stuff just doesn't want to come off. I"m hoping it will have at least faded by Monday when I go back to work.