July’s Charcutepalooza Challenge: Emulsification

Blended meat and fat, suspended together in tantric harmony. For most people, this cosmic mix should bring us back to a classic childhood memory, decades before I learned what emulsified meat meant. That’s right, you guessed it. None other than the almighty hot dog. Held in the hands of children, hot dogs are remembered by all as a staple at barbeques across the nation. However, if you were raised by a Sicilian step-father that also meant you ate cold cuts like Mortadella. No Oscar Meyer in my fridge, this was the real deal. But, childhood hot dogs taste like crap. And what’s that green stuff in the baloney you’re making me eat? PISTACHIOS? No thanks! I’m a picky kid! So, leaps and bounds more mature than the palate of 7 year old me, bound and determined to up the meat paste’s of my past, I made both. Hot dogs and Mortadella, the July challenge.

It should be said here, in this July and now over half way through this wonderful year of learning Charcuterie and posting about it, that my efforts have not been lonely ones. These successes I have shared with great happiness each month with my dedicated partner in crime, Jake. He totally deserves some face time and recognition for his interest and hard work making all these challenges a reality for us in our home kitchen. Ladies and gents, my partner in crime, my nocturnal assistant, my lovely boyfriend, Jake.

Give credit where credit is due, check. Now back to the assignment. This month, we were to venture into the world of emulsified sausages, making both the hot dogs, and the mortadella.

First the hot dog: Let me tell you, casing emulsified meat is a lot harder than the prior sausages. It’s denser, stickier, full of air pockets that blow out the casings. Frustrating, to say the least. It took a bit of work, but we were able to case the sausages, poach them, and grill them. They made the best hot dogs I’ve ever had. We served them with spicy mustard on huge french rolls, and potato salad studded with pickles, celery seed, mustard seed and coriander. A touch of cayenne and apple cider vinegar rounded it out nicely.

 They were fantastic, and like no other hot dog I’ve had. Smokey, filled with spice, and great texture. Step aside ballpark.

Next up was the mortadella. Now mortadella is like baloney in color, and consistency as well. But it hails from Bologna, and it’s big fat rounds are actually emulsified pork shoulder and fat, studded with tiny diced fat and pistachios. They are stuffed into beef bungs, and believe me, if we could have found them anywhere in the city of Seattle, we would have done just that. However, after many butchers looking at me like I’m crazy, we decided to poach them in plastic.

Mortadella is a lot of work. You have to cut the meat, season it, and grind it. You have to grind the frozen fat as well, and keep them seperate. You have to blanch the fat cubes, as well as the pistachios. Then take the skin off the nuts. While mixing, be very careful to follow the steps and temp your product, so you don’t break your emulsion. Wouldn’t want to get this far only to end up with a break. We did a thorough job of temping and mixing, and came up with a pretty great product.

Mortadella, my step dad would be proud.










The hunt for mushrooms…

It was a long day, hiking around, in search of what spring in the pacific northwest has to offer. We went looking for Morel mushrooms, and while we found  a lot of false morels, we were only able to find a sparse couple of the choice edibles. I found one, though! My first official foraged mushroom, in all its glory.

Morel, June 2011


It was delicious.

June Charcutepalooza Challenge: Stuffing

This month, the Charcutepalooza challenge was to case sausage. Poultry sausage, to be precise.

Now all you dear readers know I love me some duck, so I figured what better bird to bind than that. Duck sausage, ground with pork fat and cased in flavor. I like the sound of that.

Duck Sausage


These duck sausages are very special indeed, prepared with love from the Pacific Northwest. And this is a special day, since yesterday I foraged my first morel mushroom! With the excitement of mushroom hunting still fresh in our minds, we utilized some beautiful Chanterelle mushrooms that were stashed in the freezer from the fall (thanks to my partner in crime). The addition of carmelized onions sauteed in Chantrelle butter and fresh Douglas Fir pine needles makes this a duck sausage a thing of beauty.

The meat was ground last night, the mushroom, onion and herb mix rough chopped and folded into the meat mixture. It’s been sitting overnight for the flavors to meld, and tonight, on the 15th of the month (surprise, surprise), we case the sausage, juuust in time for the June deadline.

I can’t wait to try these. Some of my favorite ingredients, made with my favorite man, these sausages truly embody the flavors and energy of the Pacific Northwest.

All for you mom

Blood, sweat and tears, I tell you. Hour upon endless hour of planning, prepping, pining, and at least a couple meltdowns all for one very special meal: Mother’s day. The beast of breakfast; the boss of brunch. One of the most stressful days of the year.

You few dear readers know I make cheese, and sausage, and bread and pretty much eat sleep live dream food. You see me write about it with great fervor in much of my spare time. Cooking and creating great meals is what I do for money as well, only for a much, much larger audience. Here’s a taste of Mother’s Day, 2011. For Carmen.

The May Charcutepalooza Challenge- Grinding

Merguez or chorizo, merguez or chorizo…hmmm. How ’bout both?

This month, for the May Charcutepalooza challenge, we grind. The wonderful, balanced combination of meat and fat. Merguez, a North African inspired yet French influenced lamb sausage rich with red wine and roasted red peppers. Chorizo, of the Mexican variety and not Spanish, smoky and flavorful with Ancho chiles. With two wonderful things to choose from, we ended up making both. The Merguez was frozen (not before we sampled a bit- wonderful!) and will be cased later.

With the chorizo, we made simple tacos topped with an avocado-tomatillo salsa and home made 7 month old cheddar. A squeeze of lime, the pop of cilantro, these tacos were proof that great food doesn’t have to be complicated. A simple meal of hand made ingredients shared with friends is a great thing.

A Southern Drawl.

Drool is more like it. After smoking Tasso Ham and Andouille Sausage, we went for gold and made Gumbo. A rich, earthy, soulful blend of smoked meats, rich stock, vegetables and dark earthy roux.

Overnight, the stock steeped. Chicken bones, duck bones, and ham hock stewed. In the morning the whole house smelled of rich broth. Just in case that wasn’t enough, the addition of veal stock ensured this ain’t no diet gumbo. This is the real deal, folks. Tasso ham, Andouille sausage and Chicken gumbo, rich with the stock and a dark smoky roux, served on top of dirty rice with a hunk of home made french bread. I could eat it again and again.

I will mop up the remnants. I will lick the bowl clean.

Hot Smoking: The April Charcutepalooza Challenge

This month, the Charcutepalooza challenge was hot smoking. A neurotic overachiever through and through, I opted to make the Tasso ham, and to also case and smoke Andouille sausage. 10 pounds of pork shoulder and seasoning, several bottles of wine, many long nights of cooking after 8 hour shifts in a kitchen, a lover as dedicated to food as me, and the sweet, spicy, smoky results are amazing. We smoked them both with hickory chips in a small Weber grill. The Tasso is a bit more cooked than we had hoped, but it still tastes great. The Andouille turned out damn near perfect. I give you Tasso Ham and Andouille sausage, our very own Southern-style goodness in the Pacific Northwest.

Duck, duck…duck!

As a child in grade school, I sat on the playground in circles with folks my own young age and waited, with eager anticipation, to be the chosen one. One after the next, they called it out. Duck! Duck! Duck! Duck!

Even at this fare early age when we wanted so badly to fit in, we each secretly wanted to be the unique “Goose!”, to be the one who was picked out of the circle, called something special. I even have some midwest friends of mine that insist that as children they played “duck- duck- grey duck” and not “duck- duck- goose”. I know, I think it’s weird as well. Yet the principle remains the same.

However, all games aside, this dinner set a new precedent. Exit childhood whimsy, of running in circles. No playground fancy could prepare one for the DUCK WELLINGTON.

An overindulgent feast of fowl, the duck wellington is a true thing of beauty. Layers of duck liver terrine, duck confit, and seared duck breast wrapped in puff pastry. Hours to make, minutes to enjoy sopped in sweet satiation. Step aside, geese and grey ducks. This game is for serious contenders only. I am pretty sure I’d chase someone in circles for more.

Duck Wellington

Where there’s Smoke…there’s Fire.

The April Charcutepalooza challenge: Hot Smoking. Canadian bacon, or Tasso ham?

Tasso ham it is! As of right now, 5 pounds of pork shoulder are sitting in dry cure. Tonight, they will be rinsed and seasoned, and tomorrow they will be smoked. In addition to the Tasso, more pork is cubed and ready to be turned into spicy, smoked Andouille sausage. Tuesday is gonna be a hot one…

And here it is, a balmy 40-something-degree April evening in Seattle…Tasso ham smoking outside on the grill, Andouille sausage ground and ready to be cased. The Andouille will sit overnight to develop its pellicle, and it will be smoked tomorrow night. It’s not yet hot, sticky or humid here in the Pacific Northwest, but it sure smells like Cajun country.