Charcutepalooza: Makin’ Bacon Part I

For a gal whose love of bacon and bacon flavored items (chapstick, chocolate, donuts, vodka) has been well-documented – I am ashamed to admit that I have never cured my own bacon.

Well, that changes this week.

In fact, this year will have me salting, smoking and curing many an item. Inspired by a post shared by Boisean & fellow foodie blogger Lynn Marshall, I’m jumping on the Charcutepalooza (“shar-coo-ta-pa-loo-za”) challenge created by Mrs Wheelbarrow and The Yummy Mummy and guided by the bible for Charcuterie by Michael Ruhlman & Brian Polcyn.
Come on, how could a foodie NOT want to be involved in something known as 12 Months of Meat?

And after reading the forward from Thomas Keller, I was hooked.
A final reason Charcuterie is important: it recongizes the pig as the superior creature that it is. From a culinary standpoint, the pig is unmatched in the diversity of flavors and tetures it offers the cook and the uses it can be put to-from head to tail, from ham to tenderloin, it’s a marvel. A pieve of pork belly can be brined, roasted, grilled, sauteed, dry-roasted, braised, or confited, with widely varying results. This is a very hopeful time for the pig in America, and this book underscores that fact.”

Charcutepalooza began with duck prosciutto as the January challenge. I’m a bit late to the meat-wagon so I’ll be playing catchup on that challenge (once I figure out how to configure a curing locale in my tiny house!)

But it is kind of fitting that I begin in February – the Salt Cure – and with the apprentice challenge option – fresh bacon.

A simple list of ingredients and not too difficult directions made me a bit overconfident. One of my toughest challenges? Finding the pink salt needed for curing (Ruhlman said I should order it online, but my instant-gratification-self didn’t want to wait). After hitting all my Bench grocery stores and Cabela’s cooking section I found Himalayan pink salt at the Boise Co-op. Is it the right pink salt? I have no idea. But it did look pretty and it is doing its salty-curey thing in the fridge right now.
The recipe did mention ‘high quality pork belly’. We made a round of calls to all of our familiar meat stops – Smoky Davis, Porterhouse, Boise Co-op. No such luck (though Smoky said they were ‘out’). Amusingly, searching ‘Boise pork belly’ on Google pulls up several Idaho Foodies posts :-) So we went to our Pork Belly standby of the Orient Market which carries it and many other fascinating meat items on Saturdays. It was slightly frozen so I may have misstepped again with not getting totally fresh belly. 
Me rubbing the belly with the cure mixture. (Warning: there will be many references during the 12 Months of Meat to rubbing, massaging, working my meat – so get the giggles out early!)
Although I’ve read chapters from the wonderful non-fiction book Salt: A World History, I didn’t quite realize the amazing qualities of a salt cure until I saw what happened within hours to my belly.  Here’s the Day Two view – juicy bacon-curing deliciousness as the salt cure works its magic extracting moisture.
Looking forward to seeing if I’ve screwed up my first challenge – or stumbled on a delicious foodie skill I can replicate over and over again.
Stay tuned for Makin’ Bacon Part II in a week! 

- Jess

Foodie friends, Charcutepalooza and Duck Prosciutto

One of the wonderful things about blogging, besides being able to archive adventures in foodies adventures and otherwise, are the people you connect to through shared interests, passions and sometimes obsessions.

Idaho Foodies has allowed me to connect with some wonderful culinary cohorts from around the globe – and in my hometown.

A comment on my most recent Mangia post led me to Lynn Marshall, and her foodie blog Eat Drink Man Woman Dogs Cat: One Woman’s Quest to Eat & Live More Sustainably A great blog to add to your blogroll and visit for some sustainable foodie inspiration.

One post that really caught my eye focused on cured meats (which, as you may know already, I’m a huuuuge fan of)

Plus – how can you  not love a post titled Gateway Duck?

From Lynn: Charcutepalooza is making me nervous ??? both on a practical and philosophical level. A year-long project conceived and organized by Mrs. Wheelbarrow, and the Yummy Mummy,  Charcutepalooza is a blog challenge, all about learning to smoke, preserve and cure meat. All the bloggers signed up will cook their way through Michael Ruhlman???s  Charcuterie: The Craft of Salting, Smoking, and CuringI haven???t eaten red meat deliberately in more than 12 years. So why did I sign up? Two words: Duck Prosciutto ??? the inaugural challenge and something I???ve wanted to make for years. Prosciutto is literally Italian for ham, traditionally made from dry cured, uncooked pork. It is typically sliced paper thin and served raw. It???s an incredible flavor, and one I???ve missed on our no-mammal diet.

Duck Prosciutto? Hell yeah! Now I’m hooked on the Charcutepalooza initiative (I did say charcuterie at least three times this weekend while in Seattle, bemoaning that yet again my trip didn’t land on days that Salumi was open)

Thanks Lynn for the inspiration – and welcome to Boise! Happy to make the connection – and looking forward to a 2011 learning the art of smoking, preserving & curing meats!

Needling my Way to Homemade Chicken Fried Steak

I really really love kitchen gadgets. This love has been professed previously with the purchase of the Olivator (AWESOME device & great cocktail conversation starter. Well, if the people at your cocktail party are foodies!)

So when the opportunity arised to purchase another gadget AND make one of my favorite comfort-food-snowy-lazy-Sunday meals we jumped at it.


And now our household is the proud owner of a Needler – that much needed device that claims to:

  • Achieve better cooking results from less expensive cuts of meat with the multi-blade hand-held meat tenderizer
  • Helps reduce cooking time by up to 40 percent; helps meats cook more evenly by reducing shrinkage
  • Razor sharp knife blades cut through connective tissues that make meat tough
  • Create tiny heat channels without changing shape or appearance of meat, resulting in faster penetration of marinades


Fancy description for what we used it for – to turn a hunk of beef bottom round into chicken fried steak worthy cuts (instead of using the lesser cube steak cuts). The inspiration and directions for our first run at this Texas state dish came from our foodie hero – Alton Brown – and his Good Eats episode ‘Cubing A Round’


Our first go wasn’t too bad (we also followed Alton’s recipe) But the next time we’ll make a few tweaks. Among the lessons learned:

  • Dredge the beef before you needle
  • Needle at least four times per side
  • Salt & pepper the beef (not just the dredge)
  • Make sure your oil is good and hot to help sear the dredge on


What is a chicken fried steak meal on a Sunday without hashbrowns, fried eggs, sausage gravy & biscuits? (No, you can not have my awesome 1960′s pink Frigidaire Custom Imperial Flaire oven/stove featured in this cooking in action shot :-) Even when I screw up a recipe I feel hip and sassy while doing so due to this awesome piece of 60′s kitchenery.)


While I always knew Texans owned this dish – I had no idea about the immigrant component of it’s history. Here’s more on its Texas Hill Country origins per Alton...

“…this dish is based on Weiner schnitzel and was probably brought to the hills of central Texas by the thousands of Germans who immigrated there in the nineteenth century. Lacking veal, they adapted their recipe by tenderizing tougher cuts of meat. Even the white gravy traditionally served with the dish has roots in German cream sauce. Over time chuck wagon cooks started making it and it diverged into myriad varieties.”


Oh happy day! CHEESE glorious cheese!

Made my first mozzarella braid tonight!

Now that this cheese fiend has taken the first small (& pretty dang easy) step into cheesemaking I can say i’m hooked.

Knowledge comes courtesy of the fantastic Ricki Carroll of the New England Cheesemaking Supply Company and some starter cheese kits. Check her out at


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