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travel: the delights of waikiki

aloha!
once again, i must hang my head in shame and apologize for my absence. i was away for 9 days, but the rest of it has just been real life and a giant black hole of stress sucking my inspiration.  but this morning, i’ve committed myself to posting my hawaii roundup before i head off to seattle for the night.

november saw me return to waikiki for the 5th time.  but this trip wasn’t about sightseeing or anything important… it was about getting some sun and relaxing with my husband.  …and special guest appearances by my bro & his buddy and the puss & her family.  all around, it was a great time.

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we stayed at the aqua bamboo, which was new for me.  it was actually my first time not staying at a beachfront property right on waikiki beach.  for those familiar with the area, the bamboo is on kuhio, pretty much in line with the surfrider.  so it’s not far to the beach… lets say a 5 minute walk (2 blocks), but i will still stand by my preference of staying beachfront.
the hotel itself was good… cheap and cheerful as they say… nothing fancy, but absolutely fine for a week stay.  the hotel had an adorable little pool and the world’s tiniest hot tub, which was a factor in choosing the hotel, but at the end of it all we never actually made it in to either.

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i did enjoy that the bamboo had a very affordable massage place that was poolside.  my husband i both had a 50 minute massage for just under $80 including tax & tip.  a great bargain.  and boy did it ever feel good after that hike to diamond head.

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ah the diamond head hike… its turned into a must do for me.  you know… i must punish my body for so many mai tais.  somehow it makes me feel better. this trip, i literally woke my hangover up, did the 45 minute walk to diamond head, then did the hike and back and then ate a giant burger and then swam in the ocean,  then went for a massage.
overall, i’d say it was a hawaii win.  cured my hangover, thats for sure.

so, beverages will come in their own post, because in hawaii, there is no shortage of happy hour and tropical delights… but this one is all about the food.

hawaii’s food is a unique style of cuisine that defines melting pot.  it has strong influences from asia, polynesia, north america and when its mixed in with the traditional foods native to the area, you get things you can’t find anywhere else.  my husband’s favourite is loco moco.
basically loco moco is rice, a hamburger patty, 2 fried eggs done any style and smothered in gravy.  for breakfast. and its delicious.

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you know how they say; when in rome…?  well, when in hawaii, you’d best eat some loco moco.  and my husband did.  5 times.  lol.  he was on a mission to sample the local favourite at as many places as possible… and his verdict was that every place did it a little different, but at the end of the day, it was all delicious.  some places had a homemade gravy, sometimes adding mushrooms and/or onions… some places garnished with chopped green onions… some places put the gravy on top of the eggs, others eggs last.  some burger patties were clearly frozen from a box, others were hand formed and fresh.  but the base for all of them never changed… this delicious hawaiian style white rice.  i’m not too sure how they make their rice taste so good, but it sure does.  and for me, it’s one of my LOVES about hawaii, is that i can get this yummy sticky almost sushi style rice with my breakfasts.

so while my husband was eating his weight in loco moco, i was eating things like this:

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and i can’t forget the magic of this…

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ahhhh pancakes in hawaii.  another random thing to be in love with, but i never ever order pancakes at home. i just don’t care for them much. but in hawaii its a different animal.  topped with things like pineapple, coconut, macadamia nuts and other local treats… and then smothered in coconut syrup instead of maple?  oh man, put a fork in me, i am DONE.

and let us not forget the papaya that much accompany every breakfast no matter what your main of choice is:

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yup, thats the stuff.

another island favourite is “pupus” which as far as i can tell is just hawaiian for appetizer.  which makes for hilarious (warning: may only be hilarious after several mai tais) jokes about needing to “take a wicked appetizer”.  haha.
anyhoo…. we had a lot of pupus.  because happy hour is cheap!  and if you do it right, you don’t really need a proper dinner.
one of my favourite destinations for pupus in waikiki is hula grill in the outrigger waikiki on the beach.  its upstairs from duke’s and often overlooked in favour of dukes.  but here’s the thing.  the decor is just as awesome upstairs, the food is pretty much the same and the drinks are waaaaay cheaper during happy hour.  so the hula grill is where you’ll often find me at happy hour…. eating things like: kahlua pork potstickers and ceviche and crab & mac nut stuffed won tons…

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and my personal favourites: crispy pork belly bao

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and the honey chicken lollypops which were ridiculously sticky sweet goodness.

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and at the end of a several hour long happy hour… we weren’t much worse for the wear financially.

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then there’s downstairs.  duke’s.  what can you say? if you’ve gone to waikiki, you’ve gone to dukes.  you just… have to.  yes, its loud and crazy and filled to the brim with pasty tourists and there’s children… but it’s dead centre in waikiki beach and makes a wicked mai tai and has good food and live music and, well, it’s just fun.

i am particularly in love with their salad bar.  there’s not a lot of good salad in waikiki, and dukes scratches my itch for fresh crispy lettuce and tons of good toppings so that i can construct my picky girl salad of choice.
but the fish entrees should never be overlooked.  you get the list from the server of whats in season and fresh right now and you choose from one of 4 preparations that they offer and chow down.  the fish entrees are always well cooked, perfectly seasoned and just fucking delicious.

we had the following: mine is the opah with mac nut crust and butter caper sauce (i just drooled typing that)
SAUTÉED MAC NUT AND HERB CRUSTED – Lightly dusted in parmesan cheese & bread crumbs, topped with lemon and caper butter

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and my husband dinned on the ono done duke’s style…
BAKED “DUKE’S STYLE” – Baked in a garlic, lemon and sweet basil glaze

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both were giant portions of fish so fresh, it may have been swimming yesterday… and at a fair market price.  plus it includes salad bar. did i mention the salad bar?

my last category for hawaiian eats is pop ups, food carts & beach shacks.  yes, food is everywhere in waikiki.  on two occasions this last trip, my husband and i grabbed some fish tacos & pork tacos from the food hut right on waikiki beach beside the surfrider and deemed it one of the best deals around.  $19 got us 4 giant tacos and a house brewed iced tea with pineapple juice in it to share.  not too shabby.

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a few days into our trip, on the way back from the beach to the hotel, we were surprised by a pop up market of sorts… except it was all food stands.  it wasn’t selling groceries, like our markets here, but selling fresh baked delights and pad thai and poke and even empanadas and dim sum treats.  so we stocked up and went back to our balcony with some local beers and made our own happy hour.

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last, but certainly not least… once can not forget that hawaii knows its food trucks.  possibly the best one i’ve ever seen… the malasadas truck.  leonards is famous for its malasadas which are basically like a big round dounut rolled in sugar and sometimes stuffed with creme or fruit filling.  they’re DELICIOUS.  and leonards is the king.  buuuuut we didn’t quite make it to leonards proper, so we were thrilled to stumble across their food truck on the way to sandy beach one day.

so while we did this:

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we also go to eat this:

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a clear win win situation.

and off course, on our quest to enjoy this beach:

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we also got to enjoy this shrimp shack on the north shore.

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there’s a lot of shrimp options, and generally we go to giovanni’s, but this one lured us in with their option to have local shrimp, while a lot of stands have switched to the cheaper and inferior thailand shrimp.  the difference slapped you in the face.  these were almost like my beloved spot prawns.  sooooo worth the half hour wait.  (this place was BUSY – also a good sign)

and of course, i had to have my coconut… and this time i also may have had a corn on the cob at the roadside pit stop…

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mmmhmmm.  and thats how i do hawaii.
oh, but before i wrap up, i’d like to give a surprising honorable mention to buba gump’s shrimp.  yes, it is a chain theme restaurant and generally that goes against my better instincts, but my husband loves it and he actually sold me on it with this:

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thats a pound and a half of hot fresh cooked peel & eats with half caijun spice and half butter and garlic.  ya, we slayed those in a few minutes flat.  they were messy and buttery and so fucking delicious.

but then we followed it up with some shrimp tacos…

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and the calamari that they swore was the best ever and you know, it actually was like top 5 in my life and i’ve eaten a LOT of fried squid in my day.

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theirs had half squid, half rock shrimp and also deep fried red peppers and pepperoncini peppers.  well played bubba gumps, well played.

and so, i leave you with my last view of hawaii for this trip… diamondhead from my brothers suite on the 33rd floor of the sheraton.  yes, it was a grand time had in hawaii, and yes, i’ll be back as soon as i can.

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food: pork shoulder

 

for canada day, we kinda went all out.
i’m not going to give you a whole lot of preamble, but we slow roasted a 15lb bone-in pork shoulder for 24 hours.
so, there’s that.

we also let it brine for 24 hours before cooking.
aaaaand we butchered the pig ourselves.
so let’s just say it was a real farm to table meal so to speak.

i’ll let the pictures tell the story…

brine for 24 hours.

homemade spice rub and injection.

ready for the oven.

after 6 hours.

after 15 hours.

finished product after 24 hours at 200 degrees.

and then we let it cool for an hour and removed the fat cap and shredded the pig into a mountain of deliciousness.

we served it up with 3 bbq sauces.  a mustard based south carolina sauce.  a vinegar north carolina sauce.  and a more classic looking kansas city bbq sauce.
and then we chowed down with some delicious cornbread & coleslaw side dishes.

everyone like their bbq different.
this first plate is mine.  i poured the vinegar sauce all over the pork and then did a side of mustard and classic bbq sauces and dipped as i ate.

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this second plate is moonbeam’s.  she made 4 piles, one plain and one with each of the 3 sauces to taste them all appropriately.

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and then jules made hers into a cornbread sandwich.  which, frankly, i can’t fault a sister for.

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the winners were the two homemade sauces, north & south carolina.
the bottled sauce was the least favourite even though it was a tasty one.
the pork itself was incredible.  so tender and roasted to perfection.
and as an added bonus, it made my house smell magical for 2 days.

it was the first time i’d ever cooked something for that long and wow.  what results.
part of me was a bit nervous about the whole endeavor… leaving the oven on overnight, what if it overcooked and dried out ect… but it turned out absolutely perfect.

and now i shall be eating pork leftovers for the next week.  and that is in no way a complaint.

restaurants: border grill las vegas

border grill in mandalay bay has been my favourite place to dine in las vegas since my husband (then – boyfriend) stumbled across it on our very first trip to las vegas.
we were walking to the shark reef and saw the cantina and decided on a whim to stop in for a margarita.  we started noming on chips and salsa and realized we were kind of hungry, so we ordered tortilla soup.

not just any tortilla soup… the best one i’ve ever had in my life.
and an obsession was born.

this restaurant is owned by Mary Sue Milliken and Susan Feniger who i knew from their cooking show Two Hot Tamales.  (side note – remember when the food network used to have actual cooking shows? i miss that)
since then, susan feniger has made appearances on top chef all stars, doing quite well for herself.  and its no surprise, her cooking is masterful.

the restaurant itself has two lovely outdoor areas.  one upstairs that is covered and i’ve dined in a few times, and also the downstairs outdoor patio that housed my wedding reception.  outdoor areas for dining are a rarity in vegas, so i always make note of them for my lists, as i love al fresco dining.
this is where we had lunch on my latest visit… the downstairs outdoors…

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as if the regular menu choices don’t cause me enough distress with all the yummy options, their specials menu gets offered to me.
oh my… what to do…

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well, obviously the pineapple strawberry sangria needs to get in my mouth.

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my mom went with the patron silver margarita, and said she preferred the one at hussong’s because it was simple.  of course, she ordered one with blood orange and other stuff, so its obviously not comparing apples to apples.

while we were waiting for lunch, we enjoyed the chips and salsa… i love their salsa.  all 3 of them.
they haven’t changed the recipes in years and i love them for it.  its perfect. not to be messed with.

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for the meal, we both decided on tacos, since it was lunch time and we were hungry, but not starved and wanted something kind of light since we were headed back to the pool.

i went with the carnitas with no onions.  because it was supposed to have guacamole on it which contained onions, they just put avocado slices on it for me.  which worked perfectly.
you have the option of pinto beans or black beans and i went pinto.

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my tacos were delicious and the pork cooked to perfection, although they were a little greasy.  they could have been drained a little better before going on the tortillas.
but in terms of flavour, preperation, tenderness, ect, top notch.

my mom went with the shrimp creole tacos and they were WOW.
she had black beans, also good, but i still stand by my pinto bean decision.

my mom’s shrimp was cooked to perfection and the slaw on top was crunchy and provided a great contrast for the rest of the taco.
we agreed that these were the superior choice between mine and hers.

stuffed to the brim, we headed back to pool for a lay down.
thanks for yet another amazing meal border grill.  i’ll see you next time.
cheers!

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food: 7-spice pork tenderloin & bok choy

this meal had a few inspirations… first of all, it’s a house favourite.  my husband makes a homemade spice blend that he fouls up my coffee grinder with, but it is damn tasty.

it includes the following:
cinnamon stick
star anise
ground ginger
corriander seed
fennel seed
chili flake
brown sugar

we call it “tyler 7 spice” in my house… and it’s a delight.  sometimes, time permitting, the whole spices will get pan toasted before hitting the grinder, but it’s not necessary.

he then takes most of the spice rub and coats a pork tenderloin with it… and the remainder goes into a sauce containing various things, based on current whims.

this week’s sauce included soy, fish sauce, sugar, sesame oil, orange juice and maybe a few other things he forgot to tell me about.  it happens.

so, first things first, you have to sear off that pork tenderloin.  tenderloin is best cooked, IMO, to medium well.  just a hint of pink in the very centre, but done on the edges.  to achieve this, i seared it on a reasonably high (let’s say on 7/10) on all sides for a couple minutes and then turned it down to 4, put a lid on it and roasted it until the internal temp read 140.  then i removed it, tented it and let it rest up to 150.  it was perfect.

for the bok choy, i threw the sauce mixture in the pan, loaded the bok choy on top, slapped the lid on and left it for 5 minutes.  then removed the lid & continued to stir until it was at desired doneness.

i plated it and cut the pork while the remaining pan sauced reduced a little more into a sweet salts glaze.  added some toasted sesame seeds and sauced the plate and voila!

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now, when i say there were a few inspirations, the other one is my friend christa who is doing the paleo diet with her husband.  she’s been blogging it here: http://christaleecarr.tumblr.com

she’s already lost 30lbs, which i find inspiring and amazing! (go girl!) but i’m also really enjoying her pics of meals that follow the paleo diet.

as someone that is totally addicted to white bread (or really, any bread) this scares me.  no, seriously, i’m actually eating 2 pieces of white bread toast RIGHT NOW while typing this, lol.  but i know that it’s not good for me… but like smoking and drinking, i do it anyways, because the enjoyment factor is high.

i can, however, change my mindset if i BELIEVE the logic behind something.  like when i went vegetarian for a few years… and when i decided to eat local… and when i stopped buying prepackaged preservative filled convenience crap that masquerades as food.

and this paleo diet intrigues me.  i have no doubt that you would drop a ton of weight by following it and that your body could live and function happily on it.  and giving up dairy would be doable, sugar the easiest i think… but that devil wheat.  in fact, no grains at all!  see, i may be able to survive if i could still eat rice and quinoa and those other yummy things… but no grains at all is very scary.

so basically i’m just trying to phase them out a bit.  more veg, less grain.  and trying to keep breads out of the house.  because i am powerless against them and clearly should not be trusted.
in any event, i enjoy reading about this stuff, so it’s been a good exercise in learning.

food: ham and other pig products

as part of our pig bounty from the butchery class, we had a ham.
a raw, uncured, cut fresh off the carcass ham.  so… more like a ham-shaped piece of pig than an actual ham.

task #1… figure out how to cure a ham and make it a ham.
we did loads of internet research and the results were… mixed, to say the least.
traditional methods involved using “pink salt” which is what gives commercial hams their pinky-hue.  but it also apparently is a cocktail of chemicals, many of which are NOT good for you at all.  its other function is to kill botulism.
now, this ham came off a fresh pig and straight into our freezer.  i think it was handled appropriately and so scary food borne illness wasn’t something that i was particularly worried about.

so we decided to brine this guy for 3 days without the pink salt.
we created a brine based loosely on this recipe – http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/anne-burrell/brined-fresh-ham-recipe/index.html

ours was more like this:

Brine:

  • 1 cup kosher salt
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 4 bay leaves
  • 1/4 cup fennel seeds
  • 1/4 cup mustard seeds
  • 2 tablespoons crushed red pepper flakes
  • 10 bruised garlic cloves
  • 1/2 large onion, coarsely chopped
  • 1 gallon water
  • 1 (3-pound) fresh ham

we let it hang out it the fridge – covered, with a dinner plate on top to sink it into the brine – for 3 whole days.

when it was done, it looked like this:

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sadly, that’s the only picture i took.  no finished results – food blogger fail.

so after brining, we rinsed it off, patted it dry and roasted it in the oven at 325 for about 2 hours.
i made a “glaze” of sorts with cola, maple syrup and some mustard, but the ham gave off so much liquid that it didn’t really glaze as i had pictured.

at the end of it all, we had a damn fine meal.  it was kind of weird because it tasted like ham & had the right consistency, but it looked like a pork roast.  it’s funny how we’re so conditioned into seeing that bright pink ham colour.
anyways, it was great and i definitely recommend trying this yourself.  in fact, just taking the time to brine any meat makes a huge difference.

also on the pork note, we had a bunch of bones left over from our class as well that we’d been meaning to make stock from… and we finally got to it yesterday.  we just did a basic stock, bones, water, an onion, some celery, bay leaves, peppercorns, salt & thyme.  let it boil for a couple hours, then strain it and skim the fat off. cheesecloth was definitely necessary for this task… there was a decent amount of “scum” on the liquid.

when we had achieved beautiful tasty clear-ish stock, we cooked some dried white beans in it and added this ham hock that we smoked ourselves (also from the butchery class)

here’s a picture of it from the summer when we smoked it…

anyways, so into the stock went the hock, dried beans and leeks that had been sauteed in butter.  we added a few things… spices and whatnot… and after an hour or two we shredded the meat off the hock and had a ridiculously rich and delicious ham soup.  which i also do not have a picture of, lol.

the husband and i were pretty proud of our work… a complete meal, farm to table, as it were.  the only things in the meal that i couldn’t place would be the dried beans… no idea where they came from.  but the ham we knew and the leeks were from a local farm up the road.
the mileage that we’ve gotten out of our butchery class is impressive… but we’re down to the last bits.  we have our 16lb bone in pork shoulder, which one day will make fabulous pulled pork… and a few odds & ends like jowl meat and pork belly.  the fatty bits that i’m not super keen on.  but the end is definitely near… might be time to start thinking about getting access to another pig soon.  man, i need a deep freeze.

food: maple, mustard & riesling roast pork

last night, i’m not sure how i got so lucky, but i came home to a feast courtesy of my husband.
my canadian living cover picture was singing a siren song to him in the form of maple, mustard & riesling pork roast.
even the name sounds drool worthy.

here was the finished product – served with roast potatoes & butternut squash with my favourite brussels sprouts recipe (with bacon & pecans) on the side.

i wish the photo wasn’t blurry, but i was too excited to eat to play photographer.

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Recipe, courtesy of canadian living

Ingredients

  • 1 cup riesling wine
  • 1/4 cup maple syrup
  • 3 tbsp Dijon mustard
  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 tbsp grainy mustard
  • 2 cloves garlic , minced
  • 1/4 tsp pepper
  • 3 lb boneless pork loin centre roast
  • 8 oz shallots , (about 8 large)

Preparation

In dish large enough to hold roast or in large resealable bag, mix together 3/4 cup of the wine, maple syrup, Dijon mustard, oil, grainy mustard, garlic and pepper. Add pork; turn to coat. Cover and refrigerate, turning once, for 1 hour. (Make-ahead: Refrigerate for up to 12 hours.)

Cut shallots into 1/2-inch (1 cm) thick pieces; place in roasting pan. Top with pork; drizzle with remaining marinade. Roast in 325°F (160°C) oven, basting 2 or 3 times with pan juices, until juices run clear when pork is pierced and just a hint of pink remains inside, or meat thermometer registers 160°F (71°C), about 2 hours.

Reserving pan juices, transfer pork and shallots to serving platter; tent with foil and let stand for 10 minutes before slicing pork thinly.

Place pan over medium heat; bring juices to boil. Add remaining wine; cook, stirring and scraping up any brown bits on bottom of pan, for 2 minutes.

Mix carving juices into pan juices; spoon some over pork slices. Serve remainder on the side.

butchery class

lots of people have asked about the butchery class that we did a few month ago.
basically there were 2 responses from friends & twitter lovers.   either:  a) why? that sounds gross.  or b) cool!  how did you do that?

well, to be honest, it was a bit of a whim.
it was nothing i’d ever considered, but when the opportunity presented itself, it really seemed to easily fall in line with my dedication to really KNOWING what i was eating and focusing on local, whole ingredients.
plus, i’m a total whore for knowledge.  my brain craves being filled with as much random knowledge as possible.  its how i become such a know-it-all.

so a few months ago a groupon appeared for butchery classes at Big Lou’s Butcher Shop.
i had been looking for something fun to do with my husband ~ you know, like a hobby or some junk, and my pal moonbeam (of metal & muffins fame) is always down for some pig handling, so it really just all seemed to make sense.

so we each paid $100 in exchange for a class that lasted a few hours and a take home of 20lbs of pork each.  give or take.
a pretty solid deal IMO, since 20lbs of organic local pork would probably have been in that price range anyways.

the class itself was quite informative.  good class size – 6 of us and the instructor moved things along at a  good pace so it kept it interesting.

we started with this:

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basically it’s half a pig.  or a pig cut in half.  depending on if you’re a glass half full person or not 😉

after being shown all the parts (ie – this is where the bacon comes from… this is a ham…) then our instructor started breaking it down.

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and then it was our turn…

my husband was pretty eager to get in there and make the magic happen.  me & moonbeam took a backseat for a bit, but don’t fear, we made our mark.

here’s my husband removing the pork tenderloin.  the delicious delicious tenderloin.

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and then he got to do the real fun stuff… because all men like taking a saw to a carcass.  essentially he’s separating the ham from the midsection where the ribs will come from.

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now, here’s a few shots of me cleaning up a piece of the piggie… for the life of me, i can’t remember what i’m doing from these pictures, so… you know, just make up something good.
(but my hair looks fabulous)

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there you have it.  our butchery class highlight reel.

it was pretty awesome and i would definitely do it again and recommend it.
i really enjoyed the understanding that i gained about the process that generally happens behind closed doors.  and i genuinely felt like i acquired some life skills that not everyone has.

our instructor mentioned that they will be doing game classes, and indeed, i see them on the web site now.
http://biglousbutchershop.com/bouchery_classes.html

as much as i would be totally into learning how to do a whole deer, the $250 price point is a bit high for me.  $500 for both me & my husband to go?  eeesch, that’s half a trip to vegas.
so i’m going to keep my eye out for a future groupon or deal and maybe something awesome will happen. for me, the $100 class was just right and i felt happy paying it.  even $125 i might have done.

anyways, this experience also left me with an amazing amount of pork.  40lbs between my husband & i.  the big prize was a 16lb bone in shoulder.  it’s going to make magical pulled pork.  i just need to find some pig eaters to help me with the sexy results.  *currently accepting applications*

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