Tuesday, December 6, 2011

The Charcutepalooza Finale: Choucroute Garnie

Choucroute Garnie
Growing up we always had our dinner together at the kitchen table.  We had no dining room so the kitchen table had to accommodate all six of us.  Having three younger brothers and living during a period of traditional gender roles, I often ended up being my mother's helper, whether cleaning the house, folding laundry, or cooking something.  My mother was never big on cooking and we pretty much had the same things for dinner every week.  Variety came from some of the first fast food joints, the local Italian pizzeria, and dinner with friends.  Of course, I wasn't a very big eater so I didn't really care about what was set in front of me.  I liked the ubiquitous spaghetti that was my Italian grandmother's recipe, but aside from that my mom usually made something very New England like pot roast, or very easy like biscuits with chicken gravy (thank you Campbell's Soup).  But there was one dish that my Dad loved, and I learned to love it too, and that was pork chops, potatoes, and sauerkraut oven-braised in a covered casserole dish.  My mom served it with gravy and I hesitate to think of where the gravy came from.

So, when the December Showing Off challenge was announced, my mind enthusiastically wrapped itself around the idea of Choucroute Garnie.  From 1984-1985, I lived in Stuttgart, Germany which is only about seventy miles from Strasbourg, the capital of Alsace, the home of Choucroute Garnie. The people of Stuttgart speak Swabian, which, like Alsatian, is one of the Low Alemannic dialects. As in Alsace, the people of Swabia (Stuttgart and the surrounding area), pay much attention to cured meats. Indeed, every town contains a Metzgerei, a butcher's shop where charcuterie is found in abundance.  My husband and I loved the food.  When my parents visited in the summer, my husband and I took them to Strasbourg for some Choucroute Garnie and three of us ordered it.  My mom ordered some chicken dish and I wondered if she hadn't really liked the pork chops and sauerkraut that she made so long ago.  I had made Choucroute Garnie a number of times in my adult years but this was the first time I would be tasting it in some fancy restaurant in Strasbourg. I don't remember the name of the place but it was very close to the cathedral.  It may have been Maison Kammerzell.  The food tasted sublime and exceeded my expectations.  I don't remember all the meats served with it, I only remember devouring most of it.

Having spent this past year diving with great expectation and fun into the Charcutepalooza challenges, I began to do some research on the history of Choucroute Garnie in order to serve an authentic dinner.  I also wanted to regale my guests not just with wonderful food but also with anecdotes about Choucroute Garnie like how the poet Edna St. Vincent Millay, when in Paris, ate it every day at the Rotonde in Montparnesse.

I also wanted to explain how this very German style dish came to be found in France. Alsace's location, west of the Rhine River and backed by the Vosges Mountains, made it a strategic place for both countries, as its history reveals. At the end of the Thirty Years War in 1648, Louis XIV annexed the area into France where it remained until the end of the Franco-Prussian War in 1870, when Germany took over Alsace.  After World War I, the Treaty of Versailles in 1919 gave the territory back to France. With the rise of Nazi power in Germany, Hitler annexed Alsace in 1940, but at the end of World War II, the area was returned to the French government.  Although this history of sovereignty must have been exhausting for the citizens of Alsace, it also seemed to bring out the best of both countries when it came to food.
As for other trivia about Alsace, that famous song "Les Marseillaise," known by many for its timely occurrence in the film Casablanca, was composed in Strasbourg.  A number of famous people have come from Alsace, including such illustrious chefs like André Soltner and Jean-Georges Vongerichten.  Marcel Marceau, the famous French mime came from Alsace as did Marie Tussaud of wax museum fame.  Also, according to the Saveur Cooks Authentic French cookbook, Alsace is known for its many starred Michelin restaurants.  As I remember from my year in Stuttgart, it is an interesting area because several close borders, including not only France and Germany, but also Switzerland and Austria, exchanged sovereignty, visitors, neighbors, friends, and family throughout its history.

I set the date for the Charcutepalooza final meal for the Sunday after Thanksgiving.  With the end of the semester and all its extra work looming in front of me, I wanted to give myself plenty of time!  I invited six, close friends who had been following and reading and hearing about my charcuterie escapades throughout the year.  They also had sampled some of the challenges.

Hors oeuvres
I wasn't quite finished with the final set up when my guests arrived, so my hors d'oeuvres table wasn't ready, but I quickly set out all the hors d'oeuvres, thus beginning an evening of showing off my newly acquired charcuterie abilities.  All the hors d'oeuvres had been made in advance and only needed to be displayed and eaten.  The day before I had done some preliminary preparations like making bread and sauce to serve with all these delectable charcuterie tidbits. In a blatant attempt to bribe the judges, I baked a loaf of Michael Ruhlman's Classic Rye Bread with Caraway Seeds and a boule of Bob del Grosso's Alt-Sourdough Technique bread in which I substituted some of the bread flour with rye flour and added some caraway seeds.  They were both delicious!  I had once been served pork rillettes with a Sauce Gribiche at Santé Restaurant & Charcuterie in Spokane, WA, so decided to do the same at my Charcuterie dinner, using the recipe from The Lutèce Cookbook.  For the charcuterie, I served thinly sliced noix de jambon, pork confit, melon squares wrapped in duck breast prosciutto, Anne Burrell's Bacon Wrapped Dates Stuffed with Manchego but wrapped them with pancetta instead, and a pork paté, as well as some cornichons and olives.  Both the hors d'oeuvres and the entree were served with coarse ground mustard and Dijon mustard.  We had to force ourselves to stop eating all the hors d'oeuvres in order to save room for dinner.

Choucroute Garnie
I compared a number of recipes for Choucroute Garnie in order to figure out some of the correct meats and spices. In the end, after looking at recipes from  Julia Child to Anthony Bourdain to Jeffrey Steingarten to André Soltner, I decided that I would pretty much follow the recipe from Soltner's Lutèce Cookbook.  I deviated slightly depending on what meats I had on hand and what I could make.  After smoking some ham hocks and frankfurters, which turned quite dark and smokey because the Brinkman Smoker doesn't have an interior thermometer, I received an early Christmas present: the Bradley Smoker.  I was able to use the ham hocks after boiling them a bit and changing the water for another simmer.  The frankfurters weren't too bad and had to be used because time was slipping away.  But, using my new Bradley Smoker,  I was able to make a delicious, stuffed sausage, Saucisses Montbéliard (a simple, garlicky sausage often used in Alsace in Choucroute Garnie).  I also made some pancetta, the salt cure, but made it flat so I could cut some large cubes to cook with the choucroute.  I had a small, fresh ham that I ended up brining, after which I cut it into manageable chunks, gave them a quick sear in rendered pork fat, then put it all into the choucroute as well.  I also added the cubed pancetta pieces, pork hocks, Riesling, onions cooked in pork fat, some of own chicken stock, juniper berries, cloves, caraway seeds, and bay leaf, covered the casserole and roasted it as 325F for an hour and a half.  Finally, I added the frankfurters and Saucisses Montbéliard which had been simmered lightly,and the boiled potatoes (from our garden) so that all the flavors would blend.

Spiced poached pear
We finished the dinner with a light dessert.  I decided to serve something both light and Alsatian.  Pear trees flourish in Alsace and are frequently used to make pear brandy.  They are also used to make the famous Alsatian fruit cake/bread known as Bierwecke.  Not having any real Alsatian pear brandy, and knowing from experience that the fruit cake is quite heavy, I decided to us our own Bosc pears to play off the pear theme and make some spiced poached pears.  I followed David Lebovitz's recipe.  I think I added too much ginger because after poaching the pears the ginger flavor dominated.  To take off that hot, almost bitter edge, I reduced the liquid with a bit of pomegranate syrup.  It tasted divine.  I served them on top of an Amaretto and Mascarpone Cream topped with crumbled, Amaretti cookies.  Then we made ample use of wine as a digestif.  We were satiated.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Noix de Jambon, Oops, Salt and Air-Cured Pork Belly

Noix de jambon

This may look like Jambon de Camont, and it may even taste like the re-named noix de jambon, but I confess, I cut all three of my noix de jambon too small, so by the time they had gone through the salt stage and the cold smoke stage, they had already lost 30% of their weight.  It made for a very easy challenge, but somehow I felt like I didn't really meet the challenge.  If I had hung them, they would have just become smaller and drier.  They certainly tasted good and, although the small and medium ones were a bit salty, they were still edible.  I saved the large one, the most edible, for my last and final December challenge.

I didn't have time (end of semester deadlines) to order another fresh "ham."  Actually, my local USDA butcher, Woods Meats, informed me that they were selling me pork leg because it wasn't ham until it was cured.  I smiled.  I've become well acquainted with them during the course of the year.  I wasn't even sure I could order more pork leg because this is the time of year when they're preparing for holidays, brining and curing their own hams, and stocking up for the winter.  I can't even buy pork back fat from them this time of year!  Luckily I have extra in the deep freeze.  Also, they only slaughter pigs on Wednesdays, so it would be another week before I could order another pork leg.  I wasn't sure what to do....  I thought about lonzino, but again, what if that went wrong as well?  And, I had never tasted lonzino.  Wonder if I didn't like it.  Oh, what to do? what to do?

Dry sausage like chorizo or saucisson sec all required too much time because of the grinding, cooling, mixing, cooling, stuffing, cooling, hanging.  I do love dry sausage and intend to make Spanish chorizo, Hungarian salami, and Saucisson Sec, but not in the midst of grading final papers, essays, and exams.

So, I turned to one of my favorite parts of the pig: the belly.  Since I couldn't get the pork back fat for lardo, why not some pork belly?  I love pork belly!  If I bought just the right size, I could make flat pancetta to use as large chunks of pork belly in the December challenge and use the rest for a small, cured pork belly - lardo with striation!  I had just enough time for twelve days of salt cure and eighteen more days hanging until November 30th.

Salt & Air Cured Pork Belly, aka Lardo

I took the pork belly out of its box in the heat controlled room with humidifier.  It looked and tasted salty and porky and lucious, but I was pretty sure that it needed more time.  It hadn't lost enough in weight (does that matter with lardo), plus I wanted that full 24 day hanging.  It's beautifully white with small striations of meat.  I believe that it becomes saltier over time, also drier, yet the fat will still dissolve almost instantly into the homemade bread I'll serve it on.

Cured pork belly on homemade rye bread

I tried it on some homemade, sourdough rye.  It's really good, but I think it will just become more and more delicious for each additional day I allow it to hang.  And after eleven months of charcuterie, I know that I need to go for the flavor.  Hurray, Charcutepalooza!

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Whole Hog: Appreciation Of The Animal Who Provides Our Food

I wanted to call this particular blog "From Nose To Tail" but I wasn't sure of the copyright laws regarding someone else's title, i.e., Fergus Henderson's The Whole Beast: Nose to Tail Eating.  It's a wonderful book, as well as a feast.  Fergus Henderson is just one of a number of recent chefs who have brought people back to the age-old appreciation and tradition of using the entire animal that sacrificed its life for our consumption.  Other chefs include Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, Chris Cosentino, and others, as well as many of the people interested in sustainable food like Michael Pollan, Barbara Kingsolver, and Alisa Smith and J.B. MacKinnon, authors of the 100 Mile Diet (the original link to their 100 Mile Diet website appears to have disappeared so I give you the Wikipedia synopsis - I did follow the original website and their year eating such a diet).  The list grows ever longer and now includes film as well.

But, back to "appreciation of the animal who provides the food."  I saw that "illuminating moment" while watching The Next Iron Chef: Super Chefs on Sunday, 10/30.  Maybe it was just my own personal Tipping Point, when I finally saw, with my own eyes, how a chef truly appreciated and knew, within his own ken, how to treat every part of an animal.

In the first part of this competition for the next Iron Chef, the chefs were teamed up in pairs.  Outside in the California countryside, they then had to make a fire with grill, butcher a small pig, and create two dishes that would win the competition.  The chefs came up with many very creative and delicious dishes.  I drooled over all of them.  But the genius, illuminating moment appeared for me while watching Chef Michael Chiarello.

Chef Chiarello was paired up with Chuck Hughes.  They made, for the first dish, a Crispy Pig's Ear Salad with Beets and Pork Cheeks. Their second dish consisted of Chili Maple Glazed Pork Chops with Pig Brain's Duxelles served on Grilled and Poached Potato with Grilled Pork Belly.  That illuminating moment came as I watched Michael Chiarello, using his hand, scoop the brains out of the pig's head and add them to the celery/duxelles mix, explaining that brains are "...creamy, voluptuous, and buttery."  He continued by adding that brains have "...great flavor and texture."  After seeing what he did and hearing his beautiful description I think something inside me changed and suddenly brains no longer held fear of kuru, Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease, or some other animal infestation of what, to my mind, however rational or irrational, is connected to mad-cow disease.  Suddenly, I understood that the brains, which are mostly fat, are very useful and contain that luscious porkiness flavor, and thick, buttery texture.

To think that only a few months ago I wondered what happened to the pig's brain while simmering the head in an aromatic broth.   Later, after an email to my internet friend, blogger, inadvertent food science mentor, and Charcutepalooza judge, I did learn that brains are mostly fat. Throughout this year, my participation in the Charcutepalooza community has taught me much about charcuterie and food in general.  I doubt that I would have appreciated Michael Chiarello's usefulness with the brains, had I not learned so much this year.

If I really want to appreciate the pig I raised, the pig whose every part I need to use in appreciation for the life that pig gave to me, I need to appreciate all the body parts offered by the pig, with the same understanding that a chef like Michael Chiarello has for the animal and the food produced by its parts. And it's not just the raising, the butchering, the use of the parts, and the ability to create great dishes from the parts, it's looking at what's at hand and using it in the most efficacious and delicious way possible.  I mean, why would I throw extra butter into a duxelles when the brains are right in front of me?   Frankly,  I think that Chef Chiarello's use of the brains were pure genius.  The other chefs used many parts, but that use of the brain, for me, was the highlight. 

And you know, I think I'd love to use the brains in a celery, wild mushroom duxelles.  Wow!  I even think that the pig would smile with me.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Finally, Duck Breast Prosciutto

Duck Breast Prosciutto with Melon
Yes, I finally made the Duck Breast Prosciutto.  It was the first challenge for all the Charcutepaloozas which began in January, 2011.  I became a member of this distinguished group of bloggers towards the middle of January, if memory serves well, and so was excused from meeting the first deadline.  Instead, I had the rest of the year to make the duck breast prosciutto.  I waited until I could order it fresh, with another item I really needed from D'Artagnan.  D'Artagnan isn't anywhere near my neck of the woods, and because I try to be sustainable and local, I ended up waiting months to place that order. The rest of the time I just drooled while examining their website.  But finally an appropriate need occurred with the appearance of the September Packing Challenge, sparking my overwhelming desire to make the Duck Roulade.  So I received my fresh Moulard Duck Magret, Half Breast when I ordered a Whole Pekin Duck in September. 

I used the recipe from Ruhlman and Polcyn's Charcuterie.  It was very easy and fun to make, although I used too many wraps of cheesecloth and had to remove some halfway through.  It tastes divine, with a bit of chew, good salty, peppery flavor, and an end of pure duck flavor on my tongue!  However, I think that when I do it again, I'll take off some of the fat.  It was just too much in my mouth.  But that same fat also brings in much more flavor when fried or broiled.  Decisions, decisions....

I tried it first plain.   While picking all the veggies before the first frost hit, my husband found the mini cantaloupe in the garden.  We're not even sure how it came to be there, and, with our long, rainy, cold spring and rather cool summer, it just didn't grow much.  Because it's so small, it didn't have a burst of flavor, but it looked so cute that I had to serve it with the prosciutto.  On another occasion, I used the prosciutto with pasta.  But now I'm saving it for the last Charcutepalooza challenge.  If there's any left, I'm sure I'll use it up pretty quickly in a pasta dish, on a pizza, fried with some vegetable, or just scrambled with eggs.  However I use it, I know the taste will be all I want it to be.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Gala Chicken and Rock 'n Roll Duck

Steve Jamsa, Photographer
I couldn't wait to make the Chicken Galantine!  I had a chicken in the freezer raised and butchered by my friends, Seth and Talina.  How local and sustainable was that!  This was to be a meal that did more than meet the Charcutepalooza challenge, it also became one in which I satisfied my desires to stay local and eat sustainably.  I had accessible to me all the ingredients except the salt, peppers, Madeira, Pâté spices, pistachios, and cheesecloth.   It felt good to be able to use so many local ingredients making a dish that is so elegant and classic!

I not only made the Chicken Galantine, but, having some leftover filling, I also made a pâté.  I always have local morel mushrooms which I receive fresh and then dry myself so I reconstituted some for the galantine.  I also added pistachios to the forcemeat.  Other than those two ingredients, I followed the recipe from Charcuterie.

Removing the skin from the rest of the chicken was pretty easy, except, heeding the advise of my hubby, I cut the skin around the top rather than the base of the drumsticks.  Dumb move.  It left me with a slightly smaller piece of skin than I would have had but it all worked out okay.  I used the extra forcemeat to make a  pâté which I baked in a ramekin.  I lined the ramekin with some rendered duck fat that I had made after making rillettes and covered the pâté with foil before baking it.

Chicken Stock
I grow my own bay leaves and thyme so I added them fresh to the chicken stock.  Because I'm in north Idaho, I do have to bring the bay tree inside during the winter.  But it still thrives!  The stock was delicious and after a good straining, I poached the galantine in the stock.

Steve Jamsa, Photographer
Some friends, Steve, Diana, and Alice stopped by after work for a sample of the galantine and a glass of wine.  Steve, a professional photographer, honored my request to shoot some photos.  I offered some other goodies as well, including lingonberry preserves (like the cranberry jelly with turkey), pickled ginger, olives, crackers, cherry tomatoes from the garden, and other "small bits" as well.  Everyone loved both the galantine and the pâté.

After the work on the galantine, I had to wait a week before starting in on the Duck Roulade. Because I also work, both dishes took two days. However, at least I knew how to take off the skin properly and to cut the thighs and legs at the base!

Duck Roulade
Unlike the chicken, I had to buy a duck raised elsewhere.  Usually, I pick one up across the border in Creston, B.C.  But I decided to take advantage of the wonderful discount offered by D'artagnan to the Charcutepalooza bloggers and I ordered a Pekin duck.  It arrived quickly but, since I had ordered a frozen duck, I had the opportunity to put it in the deep freeze while I honed my skills on the chicken.

Duck skin ready for freezer

Duck skinned
I invited two friends for Duck Roulade dinner, my neighbor, Gary, and my best friend and chef, Mark.  Mark arrived with several bottles of Elsa Bianchi Malbec from Argentina.  He always knows how to put a meal over the top!  I really enjoyed the wine and thought it went perfectly with the duck.  For dinner, I also served mashed potatoes and parsnips along with buttered pole beans, all from my garden.  It was delicious!  Everyone loved the duck roulade and it was a lovely closing to this time-consuming challenge.  And I was very, very happy that it all turned out so yummy!

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Pâté en Croute: Success and Failure

English Pork Pie
This is my success: the English Pork Pie from Charcuterie.  My husband and I had it for dinner and found ourselves acting rather piggy when we reached for seconds.  The pie was delicious!  I loved the saltiness of the meat, accentuated by the bountiful addition of smoked ham.  I used my own chicken broth in the meat mixture.  I did use the fine dice of the meat grinder but it still appeared a bit "rustic," although the texture was not like burger meat. The crust was pure butter, one of my favorites, and besides, store-bought lard contains the addition of "fake" fat.  Yuck!  What happened to pure lard?!  Actually, I do have a huge bag of pork fat in my freezer but it isn't rendered yet.  I guess I'm waiting for the "Confit" challenge....

Freezing equipment
I wanted this to be a success so my grinding equipment spent the night in the deep freeze.  I had already put together my mise en place: cooled onions and garlic in one bowl, diced ham in another bowl, pork shoulder in large dice mixed with the spices, chicken broth measured in a cup, and the ice bowl ready to go.  I ground the pork with the small dicer, added the chicken broth, and mixed in the ham.  Then, the pork mix went back into the refrigerator to stay cool.  Later, I made the dough, put it in the fridge to cool, and in the afternoon assembled my English pork pie.

In the oven
About an hour or so before dinner, I popped it in the oven.  I thought it looked kind of pretty in a very English Pork Pie kind of way.  I had a bit much crust, but after a problem with my original Pâté en Croute (see below), I didn't want to lose all the luscious fat again.

My dinner slice
The meat does not look as ground as it actually is because it's still warm, no aspic holds the ground meat together, and I used more than the required amount of ham (one of my weaknesses).  It was so good!

Notice how the meat hasn't shrunk hardly a bit from the pastry dough.  That made me very happy.  I did bake the pie on parchment, just to be sure it didn't stick to the pan.  Julia Child recommends lightly greasing the baking sheet underneath the pastry, so I thought I'd be safe with the parchment paper.  The paper did slide right out from underneath the pie later on when it had cooled.  Notice how I lost a bit of the fat, but not much.

The English Pork Pie is my success.  Unfortunately, I rather failed at the Pâté en Croute, which was too bad because I had been so very excited about it!

As soon as the announcement for the September Packing Challenge appeared, I immediately knew I would do the Pâté en Croute, because I had a wild boar tenderloin to substitute for the pork tenderloin.  I couldn't wait to begin.

I didn't have a proper terrine, so I substituted with a terra cotta loaf pan.  Everything seemed to go well - I even felt comfortable making my own chimney.  And into the oven it went.  I could smell the cloves in the spice mixture first and the aromas were heady.  But by the end of the cooking process, when the fat had broken through the pastry dough in I don't know how many places, panic mode set in.

My first thought was "get rid of the excess fat so it doesn't end up hardening around the outside of the pastry dough."  Wrong.  Do not throw out the delicious fat, even if it does spread a bit onto the crust because by pouring some of the fat out, I also poured out flavor and binder.  This a major mistake and, it turns out, I made several.

I sautéed my wild board tenderloin about a minute or so too long and it became dry in the oven.  The forcemeat was not packed tightly enough around the tenderloin.  My dough did not cover the pâté correctly and I didn't use enough egg wash.  Plus, it broke around the chimney funnel.  I also think I may have used a bit too much ground clove.  The entire pâté had shrunk too much from the crust.  The pâté was a bit dry because I decided not to use the aspic since I didn't know where the crust was leaking.

Pâté en Croute
It may look good, or, at least acceptable, but this was the next morning after the pouring-off-the-fat error.  After several tries, I managed to release it from the pan - of course, upside down.

Notice the fat on the bottom of the pastry...which is why I poured out some of the fat...to the detriment of the meat.  Luckily, I also managed to turn the whole thing right side up.

Now, that looks better, even without the chimney.

Then I cut my beautiful pastry encrusted forcemeat and my heart sank in direct relation to the space between the meat and the pastry.  I felt like crying.  But first I had to taste it.

It had a pronounced clove flavor that was too much over the top. I liked it, but it should have been more in the background.  The pork, minus that lovely aspic I made, tasted almost dry.  The boar tenderloin was definitely dry.   Woe was me!  What to do, what to do. 

I'm the kind of person who, given lemons, makes lemonade, so, first, I cut the tenderloin out of the pâté, for other uses (in risotto, in a ground pork mix, and shaved for a sandwich).  I saved some of the crust and the meat for occasional snacking.  The rest of the meat I cut into manageable pieces, pressed into a mini loaf pan, poked it about a thousand times with my cake tester, and then poured some of the aspic over the pâté.  It became much more moist and the flavor was lush, filling the mouth with flavors from a fairly recent but also remote rural past.

In the end, the pâté tasted rather good.  The aspic lent flavor and fat.  It didn't look particularly beautiful after such abuse, but it still tasted fine.

I have made pâtés and terrines in the past, but never one covered in pastry.  I'm not a big pie eater and for many years I always thought of crusts as just extra calories.  But I've learned much from actually doing the Charcutepalooza challenges and in the future, I'll be using these techniques and making this charcuterie much more often.  It isn't just a means of preserving food; rather, it has its own elegance and flavors that take me, at least, to other realms of possibilities.

Monday, September 5, 2011

A Birthday Dinner

Almond Panna Cotta with Cherry Compote

My friend, Mark, is very special because he is so much fun, wonderfully generous, thoughtful, compassionate, beautiful, gracious, smart, occasionally bitchy, an incredible chef, and a best friend forever.  So, after my friend, Ilona, and I gave Mark a surprise birthday last year (I think he has forgiven us but God forbid we ever have such thoughts again), I asked him what he wanted this year.  Of course, his first response was "No surprise party."  I suggested small and he narrowed it down to very small.  He wanted to play games (one of his favorite party activities) and to just eat appetizers.  I liked that idea.  Because we celebrated this party in July, I've belatedly had to re-construct the menu from the shopping list.

I began with a special request from Mark, Angels on Horseback.  Instead of wrapping the oysters in bacon, I used my Charcutepalooza pancetta.  Yummy!  Then followed plates of appetizers, all of which could rest at room temperature (the beauty of many cured meats) and which we could nibble all evening.  The dishes were mostly skewed onto fancy, Japanese toothpicks and included several interesting combinations.  Andouille sausage paired with salt and pepper shrimp (thank you Laura Caulder).  Fresh mozzarella teamed up with organic cherry tomatoes and fresh basil, sprinkled with salt, pepper, and a wee bit of raspberry balsamic vinegar.  Charcutepalooza fennel sausage loved the buttered, new potatoes with salt and pepper.  Marinated manchego cheese, matched well with marinated mushrooms à la Grèque (Craig Claiborne) and marinated olives (lemon, fennel, red pepper).  I served the Charcutepalooza smoked pork loin on crostini with my homemade pear chutney.  Finally, I long-slice fresh zucchini from the garden on our mandolin, after which I spread some goat cheese mixed with fresh herbs (nepitella, oregano, basil, savory) onto the zucchini slices, rolled them up, topped them with a piece of roasted red pepper, and tied them with fresh chives.  One of my favorites!  Then the game(s) began!

We ended up playing Trivial Pursuit, and, being the oldest, my husband soared to first place where he remained all night.  Nobody could best him no matter how hard they tried, and we did try hard.  Finally, we capped off the evening with that delicious almond panna cotta (pictured above) with cherry compote freshly made from my garden cherries.  It was fun and I think our dear friend, Mark, had a lovely birthday evening.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Head Cheese Hash With Eggs

Head cheese hash and eggs

I cannot describe how good this was.  I coarse ground the head cheese with some already cooked and cooled steamed new potatoes (from the Farmer's Market 'cause mine aren't ready yet), chopped raw onion, chopped raw green pepper, and salt and pepper.  The green pepper and onion gave it a bit of a kick that the head cheese and potatoes alone would have missed.  I sautéed the hash in a cast iron skillet until browned on both sides.  The eggs are from my friend, Helen, who knows a lot about farming.  After all, she and her husband have beef, chickens, garden vegetables and flowers, and many acres of alfalfa.  Also, her mother was a Stump Ranch Pioneer.  No wonder these eggs have such a golden yolk that is as tasty as it looks.  Of course, poaching them in water and salt allowed the richness of the yolk to shine.  The roll was homemade and contained fresh herbs.  The hash was so yummy, that I made a enough to store and have during the short, cold days of winter.  Packed into half-pint canning jars, they will keep for several months in the chest freezer.

Head cheese headed for freezer

In another effort to use up all the head cheese before the next Charcutepalooza challenge, I decided to make a potato "gratin."  I found the original recipe for this Swiss inspired gratin in a magazine that has long since disappeared and it never fails to disappoint through years of different cheeses, herbs, and meats, with the potato remaining unchanged.  The proportions depend always on the amount and kind of cooked meat I have at hand in the fridge.  The potatoes are cooked about three quarters of the way through, cooled, and then shredded in the food processor along with some onion, garlic, and cheese (I used Gruyère for this gratin).  I gave a large dice to the head cheese, and along with the herbs, folded it all together.  The original recipe called for rosemary, thyme, savory, and marjoram and I used all of them, fresh from the garden.  I put all but a bit of shredded Gruyère into a buttered casserole dish, added some cream, put the rest of the Gruyère on top, and baked it in a 350F oven until the top was well-browned, about 30 to 45 minutes, depending upon the depth of the casserole.  For me, it's as much a comfort food as mac 'n cheese.  I always serve it with a light, slightly acidic salad.  In this instance, I do confess with going a bit overboard on the feta.  After a month of head cheese, I guess I was just feeling rather cheesy.

Potato gratin with head cheese

Making head cheese has been a real challenge for me; indeed, more like an initiation rite than just a challenge.  From the first, I jumped into this challenge up to my head, well, the pig's head at least.  I not only survived, but have even thrived on the making of head cheese.  Every month I learn something new, and now, I eagerly await the next Charcutepalooza challenge.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Dutch Yellow Split Pea Soup With Head Cheese

Dutch yellow split pea soup with head cheese

With one pig's head and four ham hocks, I ended up with a large loaf of head cheese for just two people.  I tried to give some away, but I've had no takers.  Most of them are disgusted by the thought.  Some of them even looked at me in disgust.  But some thought what I made was great - but that didn't mean they wanted to try it.  So, I had to figure out something to do with the head cheese.
Since the head cheese has a flavor that was somewhat like ham, or at least the ham that's left over from making stock, I thought I'd begin with my favorite Dutch soup - yellow split pea.  I have a recipe for it from a book titled Dutch Cooking by Heleen A.M. Halverhout.  It's a very simple recipe, demonstrating that with fresh ingredients, simple can be delicious.  Although the recipe calls for green split peas, I have a love for both yellow and green split peas and since yellows were in the house, they became the split pea of choice.  Naturally it calls for water as well as a pig's trotter and a pig's ear.  I figured that head cheese was an acceptable replacement for both those ingredients.  It also calls for frankfurters, and although I was tempted to use my hot dogs, I had so much head cheese to use that I just made it do double duty.  But the following ingredients are what I think makes it so good.  It includes potatoes, salt, celeriac, bunch celery, leeks, onions, and more salt.  I think it's the double celeries and the double onion family that gives it the most flavor.

I make large batches of soup so that we can freeze some for winter.  I have found that 1 pint glass canning jars with a good inch or more of head room (allowing for expansion), make just enough for one person.  And in the winter, we love soup.  Whether having lunch at home, traveling over to Seattle for a few days, or bringing a lunch with me to school, soup is divine on cold, snowy, wintry days.

Navy bean soup with head cheese

Thinking even more about stocking up for winter, I decided to use more head cheese in a Navy Bean soup.  I love the small, white navy beans and the soup is basically made up from the beans, a mirepoix mix, and this time, head cheese.  It tastes delicious and I even added some of the head cheese gelatin.  Between these two soups and some tomato based and/or veggie soups, I should have soup in the freezer until spring arrives!

Of course, I'm still left with more head cheese, so more ideas for all this head cheese will arrive before August 15th!

Friday, July 29, 2011

Head Cheese: An Initiation Rite

Head cheese made in loaf pan

I feel like I've been through an initiation rite, and at first, I wasn't even sure into what I had been initiated.  Charcutepalooza's Sensible Worlds, aka Brad Weiss, writes about The Fetishism of Charcuterie and the Meatiness Thereof and I think he pretty much tagged this fascination correctly.  But having spent the last six months salting, brining, smoking, grinding, stuffing, and emulsifying, in other words, indulging this fetishism, why now did I feel "initiated"?  After looking over the "binding" challenge Charcutepalooza Facebook photos available, and at my own photos, and thinking about it for several days, I now know it was the pig's head.  I can't believe that I actually cooked the animal part that even Mrs. Wheelbarrow avoided.

And as I thought more about it, I realized it wasn't the head, per se, because, after all, I couldn't even see the nasty bits like the brains.  No, it was the eyeballs.  And they probably wouldn't have bothered me so much if I hadn't watched  the video of Chef Chris Cosentino removing the meat from the pig's head in order to make porchetta di testa.  During the video he says "...to be really careful not to puncture [the eye]," so the whole time my pig's head was cooking, I kept worrying about accidentally puncturing an eye.  I had no idea what would happen and why I shouldn't do it.  So when my stock began to reduce and I needed to turn the head a bit to keep it submerged, my stomach turned with it.  And suddenly I felt very liminal, between one state and another, just as occurs in an initiation ritual.

Nothing about charcuterie had really bothered me so far, so buying and cooking a pig's head really made me feel like a member of this charcuterie community.  Being a Charcutepaloozer was one thing, but working with a part of an animal in which you have to overcome hesitant thoughts, like dissolving brains and delicate eyes, really made me feel like I had entered a new stage of charcuterie.  For me, it was the biggest challenge so far, but I did it.  Wow!  Does that feel good!  What an initiation....

Simmering the meat
So, in my giant stockpot are simmering six hocks and one head.  Following the Charcuterie directions, I added the proper herbs and spices, including the nutmeg and allspice, and the aroma was, well, "heady."  After draining the stock back into the pot to reduce more, it was pretty easy picking out all of the meat, although it was also really, really greasy.  The leeks had absorbed all that fat and just clung to my fingers.  But when I finally finished my hands felt so soft.  Because I chose to use the pink salt, my meat remained pink, something I don't think I would do next time.  I don't own a terrine (yet), so I stuffed the meat into a loaf pan.  I think I packed it in a bit too tightly because the gelatin/stock didn't really spread as much as I would have liked.

Head cheese
I also saved the leftover stock/gelatin in 1/2 pint canning jars so I could freeze it and then use it in soups and braises.

Head cheese stock/gelatin
And after finishing the whole process, having taken up something that was a real, personal challenge, I sat down and had lunch.

Head cheese sandwich
A head cheese sandwich with homemade roll, my own canned dill pickle, and some Dijon mustard.  How much better can it get?  I love Charcutepalooza!

Friday, July 22, 2011

Pig's Head

Pig's Head
Yup.  I picked up my pig's head today.  As is obvious, it's cleaned, and quite well cleaned at that.  It certainly does not even compare to Chris Cosentino's beautiful pig's head.  Good job, Chris!  No ears, no tongue, no skin.  But I did get the eyeballs, ugh.  I'm not sure I understand the USDA set up for being able to sell ears and tongues, and the butcher was far too busy today for asking questions.  I know I can get the tongue and ears when it's my pig, but I guess they can't sell them.  C'est la vie...

I also picked up 6 lbs. of ham hocks to be added to the recipe.  Given that I barely had a container large enough for the brine, I think that is more than enough meat for two people and one (I hope) head cheese.  I have a pig's heart that I thought about adding to the mix, but again, all that meat and just two people, I don't think so.  I did find a few stray whiskers and some hair that I had to get rid of, so the head is even cleaner now.  I put it and the hock into the Charcuterie brine, so it's soaking in a bit of heaven.  Of course it was so heavy and so big that I actually had to set it outside where it may possibly do well in the cold spell we're having.  Just in case, I keep adding ice.

I would be more nervous at this point in time in making the head cheese, but I found a marvelous video that provides just the imagery and descriptive words I needed in order to proceed with ease and confidence.  Thank you Carl Tashian, Winnie Yang, Marisa Huff, and Johanna Kolodny.  I think I'm ready for the next step....

Friday, July 15, 2011

Auf Wiedersehen, Hot Dogs!

Long Hot Dogs
I almost forgot to photograph my hot dogs before putting them in the freezer.  That's the kind of month it has been (I totaled my car but luckily wasn't injured).  With all the meat I had, I couldn't imagine using a pastry bag to stuff them, so I took the lazy path and used my Kitchen Aid. It wasn't bad but they did turn out a bit uneven at times.  I made some regular sized hot dogs, but I have fond memories of the 15" chili dogs sold at Cupid's across the street from the San Fernando Valley State College campus (now Cal State Univ., Northridge), so I made some long ones as well.  They weren't thin enough, but that's because I used local hog casings instead of sheep casings.

My biggest problem came with the smoking.  My first edition, fourth printing copy of Charcuterie called for hot smoking, but with my old Brinkman smoker, sans attached thermometer, I think I should have cold smoked them.  I thought I saw a comment somewhere by Bob del Grosso saying that hot dogs should be cold smoked, but I couldn't find it so I dutifully followed the directions as printed.  So, the hot dogs were a bit too smoked, plus I put them on the grill so they had those grill marks, but I must say, the flavor is very good.
Hot Dogs and Kraut
I like my dogs with kraut and Dijon mustard.  When I lived in Stuttgart one year, I ate the local Rote Wurst all the time.  It tasted like a good hot dog should taste.  I wanted to duplicate that recipe, but couldn't find it.  In southern Germany (and maybe all over the country) and in Austria, small "sausage" kiosks are often found in front of department stores and on the streets late at night.  They usually offer two kinds of sausage or "wurst" and they come with a roll (Semmel) and Scharfe (sharp, but think quite hot) or Süsse (sweet) mustard on a rectangular plate.  The sausage are not put in the roll, after all the rolls are round, one just holds it in the hand, dunks the end into the mustard, and alternates bites with the roll.  It is the best!  And I loved when they had Rotwurst in the kiosk. 

Hot Dogs with Baked Beans
My husband likes his hot dogs with baked beans, even canned beans.  It works for him so although we sit at the same table, we part ways with the hot dog accompaniment.

I had great ambitions for this month.  I wanted to make the Weisswurst.  And I really wanted to make Thüringer Bratwurst like I remember it.  Actually, I like the Freybe's Thüringer Bratwurst that I buy up in Canada.  I know that in Thuringia two necessary ingredients are caraway and marjoram, and often garlic as well.  It gives the bratwurst such a pronounced flavor.  I didn't get the task done in this month's challenge but I will in the future.  I also wanted to use my pig's liver in liver sausage this month, but that wasn't made either.  Oh well, something to look forward to!  Along with next month's challenge: headcheese!

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Hot Dog Preparation

De-boning beef short ribs
I bought my short ribs from my favorite, local USDA butcher.  They use their own farm-raised cattle so no hormones or antibiotics.  Indeed, their place is very pastoral in the summer with the cattle grazing and lazing through the summer days in the meadow in front of their business.  I'm very proud that I saved myself $3/pound by buying the bone-in short ribs instead of the de-boned ribs.  Also, I needed the butchery practice.  I love practicing butchery which I have learned only from books and youtube.com.  It does intrigue me and although I'm not professional, I think I do an okay job.  I'd love to be an apprentice to a professional but between teaching and everything else, I don't think that will be happening any time soon....  Unfortunately, my knife sharpening skills are really atrocious, so much so that I need to use a knife sharpener.   But I do know what sharp is and I cannot work without sharp.  Maybe if I butchered more often....  Anyway, it was really easy taking the bone out.

So, I put the meat through the small grind and added my water and salts just like Ruhlman and Polcyn told me to do.  Now it's in the refrigerator, busy "...develop[ing] the myosin protein that helps give the hot dog a good bind and a good bite."  Go myosin, go!  Tomorrow or Saturday, I'll add the rest of the ingredients and make hot dogs!  It should be interesting....

I hadn't intended to make Ruhlman and Polcyn's hot dogs, but given the scant directions for making a good Swäbische Rote Wurst, I decided to learn from the Charcutepalooza heroes before embarking on more ambitious endeavors.  I cannot wait!

Wednesday, June 29, 2011


I know, I know, my photo abilities are limited, as is my camera, but that is a 10" x 15" tiramisu.  And yes it sits on the ugly, vinyl tablecloth that is used for all messy activities.  But it's good and the size is perfect for the occasion.  Like the shape?  My friend, Fred, who is also the local Democratic Committee vice-chair, owner of fifty head of Scottish Highland Cattle, and mechanic par excellence, made me a stainless steel 10" x 15" mold for this cake because I had to make five of them for a wedding. 

I've made many, many different recipes for tiramisu but this one is the best.  Simple pure flavors.  From Nick Malgieri to Franco Galli, I have tried many recipes and in the end, I think I've put together ideas that really don't make my tiramisu unique, but it sure tastes good!  I used to make it all the time at Papa Byrd's Bistro and everyone loved it.  That's why I was asked to do it as (multiple) wedding cakes.

I use Malgieri's Pan di Spagna made, of course, with farm fresh eggs.  I brush the cake with a coffee/brandy sugar syrup, then top it with Green and Black's Organic Cocoa Powder.  Then I layer it with a mixed filling of zabaglione (classic, with eggs, Marsala, and sugar), whipped cream, and marscapone cheese, followed by more cake with coffee syrup/powdered cocoa, and more filling, until I have three filling layers.  I finish with a somewhat heavy topping of the cocoa powder.  It's simple and easy and I think that is what makes it taste so good.

If there are any secrets, well, it must be the quality of the ingredients.  I didn't make up the recipe, I just learned from the best!

Friday, June 24, 2011

Charcutepalooza Throughout The Year

Moroccan smoked pork loin with beluga lentil vinaigrette
We were not able to eat all the smoked pork loin at once so I cut the rest into two-person portions so that just the two of us could have a quick and easy dinner some summer night.  Although summer has barely arrived here in the northwest, I did need that quick and easy dinner so I took some of the Moroccan smoked pork loin out of the freezer, defrosted it, and later gently warmed it in the oven, covered with foil and a few drops of water to kind of steam warm it.  I served it with beluga lentils with a bit of mirepoix in a Pomegranate Balsamic Vinaigrette.  It was delicious!  The sweet tanginess of the vinaigrette married well with the smokey spiciness of the meat.  Yummy!  Charcutepalooza all year long!  And to think that I made it myself...well...with the inspiration of many other Charcutepalooza fans.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Japanese Peanut Butter

Yes, that's my empty jar of Japanese Peanut Butter.  Well, I haven't cleaned it out completely, but I will. Isn't it sad?  I can't find it anywhere.  Not even in Seattle!  Not even at Uwajimaya.  So I'm posting this in the hopes that someone can tell me where to find more.  Below is the front of the jar:

Followed by a list of ingredients (I think):

Where oh where do I find this delicious peanut butter????

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Bangers And Mash

Bangers and Mash

Well, it wasn't just any sausage, it was my garlic sausage.   And, of course, I also changed the mashed potatoes by adding a bit of parsnips.  For sweetness.  And, I'm addicted to mashed potatoes and parsnips.  Finding a British beer in Bonners Ferry, Idaho, was nothing short of a miracle.  Bass.  At Safeway.  Wonders will never cease.  So began my multiple usages of stuffed sausage.

Given my weakness for sausage,  my first four different sausages didn't make a dent in my freezer so I decided to go for even more.  Top left is Charcuterie's Smoked Andouille recipe.  Below is Mrs. Wheelbarrow's Merguez Sausage.  On the right, both coiled and in links, is Charcuterie's Venison Sausage.  I feel like I'm on a sausage mission, trying more and more kinds of sausage-making, but maybe I'm just filling a junk food addition.  Be that as it may, as long as I had extra minutes in the day, a love of sausage loomed overhead.

At first I wasn't crazy about the Andouille, so I used and froze it without smoking it.  I figured I could smoke some of it, if I wanted, after defrosting....  I may be completely wrong but I had no choice because life is like that....  I didn't think it had enough pepper a first, but after freezing and then defrosting a few links, I changed my mind and really liked the flavor. Andouille Sausage is really good whether smoked or not, and it lends itself to many different dishes.  I used it in a risotto and it turned out very well.  I also made a cream sauce with peppers, onions, and zucchini and served it over egg noodles, as shown above.  Now I think that smoking it would really bring out the flavor even more.

Garlic sausage and peppers

So, every summer I look forward to the County Fair in late August (and yes, that is way too early).  I often enter some of my canned goods and have won a number of blue ribbons.  But what I really look forward to is the food booth from Coeur d'Alene because they serve coils and coils of homemade Italian sausage.  I can smell the sausage and pepper, onion, garlic, and oregano mix on the grill before I even see the booth.  The server cuts a long chunk of the coil, sticks it into an oversized sausage roll, covers it with the pepper mixture, puts it onto some serving paper, and hands it to you.  And, in a truly disgusting fashion, I also put yellow mustard on top - it must be some childhood thing.  Occasionally, throughout the year, I try to emulate the flavor, and although I didn't add the disgusting yellow mustard to the above sandwich, it came close to county fair memories.

I've used my sausages in a number of ways.  For dinner one night my husband and I had rigatoni with chicken sausage and peppers in cream sauce again.  I love how the cream absorbs the flavors of the peppers and sausage as well as the changing herbs that I add.  To me, it's comfort food.  I also made a risotto with my chicken sausage removed from the casings and I added some cut up broccoli.  That was delicious!  The hint of tomato from the sausage blended well with the broccoli, onions, and garlic.  My own chicken stock just added more flavor.

I haven't had the venison sausage yet.  I'm thinking I'll like it more in winter....  However, once those root vegetables come up in the fall, I may be tempted to serve them with venison sausage.  Hmm, what kind of beer would go well with venison sausage?  Maybe on a gusty, windy fall day, red wine would match the sausage better.  So many choices!  And tomorrow, a new Charcutepalooza challenge!  I'm ready!