Holiday Italian Sausage

My family on my mother’s side has a tradition of infusing Italian culinary delights into the holidays.

While it may be odd to those more familiar with turkey and ham this time of year, I love our ‘Italian Christmas’ – lasagna, Gramma Tootsie’s meatballs, sausage and antipasti platters.

My mom usually tackles the lasagna and tomato sauce, and we sometimes make the meatball-making a family affair. But this year, I asked if I could put my charcuterie love to use and make homemade sweet Italian sausage.

Butcher Shop Meats Royale on Overland

Butcher Shop Meats Royale on Overland

Thanks to Boise’s Meats Royale for the needed pork butt, back fat and hog casings, and Michael Ruhlman’s recipe in his book Charcuterie for the guidance.


Pork Back Fat

Pork Back Fat

Dicing up the pork butt

Dicing up the pork butt 

Adding in the seasonings - salt, pepper, sugar, garlic, sweet paprika, fennel seeds

Adding in the seasonings – salt, pepper, sugar, garlic, sweet paprika, fennel seeds

The grind

The grind

Lined up deliciousness

Lined up deliciousness


Porcine Adventures

To kick off 2014, I went on a bit of a foodie sojourn for an experience I’ve coveted for some time.

Living in Boise, I’ve gotten to know quite a few people of Basque heritage – and they rival my Italian family for great foodie traditions. Case in point – the Annual Pig Killing in Central California.

My friend Julie Sarasqueta Hahn comes from a proud Basque family. While they now live in Idaho, their roots are in the agricultural mecca of central California. It’s where her mother’s and father’s family  - along with many other Basque and Patterson-area farm families – have been gathering since the 1960′s on a long weekend in January to slaughter, butcher and process pork. Of course, in a very hands-on, often traditional manner.

This year, the boy and I tagged along with a few other Boise friends and headed West – butcher attire at the ready.



The official PK2014 attire

Like all traditions that you randomly insert yourself into, it was a bit of chaos and a lot of ‘figuring it the heck out’ and ‘just jump in and do something’.

In other words, awesome.

This wasn’t a stand back and observe kind of foodie adventure. It was a roll up the sleeves and prepare to sink your hands into a lot of… stuff… kind of weekend. No, I did not participate in the pig slaughter. Though it was an interesting process to watch by some very adept butchers and fascinating contraptions. But I was there for the end of the 10 pigs lives and the start of their transformation into deliciousness.


Early morning observation of the pig slaughter


French Basque brothers John Baptiste and Jean Pierre stirring the boiling pot of body parts that go into the blood sausage

Making the morcilla

Making the blood sausage (aka morcilla)

First transformation - the morcilla (blood sausage) made on Day 1

First transformation – the morcilla – made on Day 1

I probably should mention we ate. A lot. Lunch and dinners were hosted by different families at the farm and were often grill-centered.

Now that's a grill

Now that’s a grill

The pigs slaughtered on Day 1 rested overnight in a cool barn off property, while we worked on prep work, like prepping sausage casings (intestines) and lots of garlic (for chorizo)

Getting handsy with intestines

Getting handsy with intestines

That's what they call a #$%!-ton of garlic

That’s what they call a #$%!-ton of garlic

Day 2 was all about butchery. There was the traditional way showcased by the French Basque brothers Jean-Pierre and John Baptiste.




And then the commercial butcher..

Knowing thy butcher

Knowing thy butcher

While I would have loved to practice some of what I learned at Portland Meat Collective, there was no way that was going to happen. First off – it is a tradition passed down through families and you have to put your time in to get to the head of that table. Secondly – I still have no real idea of what I’m doing without a lot of guidance. So I was quite happy to stare at the men making quick work of the sides of pork and get to wield a knife at the trim end of the table.




Of course, there wasn’t just one thing happening at a time… or even two. More like seven. While the sides of pork were being broken down into primals and subprimals in the front of the garage, cleaning and packaging of cuts was occurring in the back.




1604547_10202091335497225_820552537_nAnd in the small kitchen through the doorway, a crowd was sorting the leftover cuts and fat to cut down and grind for chorizo. At that same table a few hours later, the guys would get hands on to custom spice & mix the chorizo.


Mixing up the chorizo - custom spice blend per each family's direction

Mixing up the chorizo – custom spice blend per each family’s direction

The cuts of meat – mainly the hams and bellies – that didn’t get packaged to be frozen were tagged and tied and put to bed in delicious salt cures.

Me, the boy & a heck of a lot of hams

Me, the boy & a heck of a lot of hams

Holding onto bellies

Holding onto bellies

Going to rest in a salty slumber

Going to rest in a salty slumber

IMG_5193The final task on the morning of the third day was the all important chorizo-tasting (I definitely think the Boise Basques represented the best with some serious spice.) Our freezer is now stocked with a variety of cuts and bags of said chorizo.

IMG_5206Pictures and words don’t really seem the do the experience justice. It’s amazing to be able to truly see farm to table and witness the transformation of an ingredient like this. Especially when that occurs in the midst of a decades-long family tradition. Endless thanks to the Beltrans, Sarasquetas and Patterson farm families who invited us in and put us to work. Eskerrik asko!

A Girl & a Pig

There once was a girl who wanted to butcher.

She talked about it. She blogged about it. She handled meat and made sausage and got on stage to talk about it.

Then she put her money and knives where her imagination was – and butchered that hog.

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There were many reasons why I wanted to go to the second year of Feast Portland, but getting to stand on one side of a butcher block while Portland Meat Collective’s Camas Davis schooled us in the art of butchery was definitely the main draw.

As my dear friend Liz once shared,
A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.” – Robert A. Heinlein

Perhaps that sentiment is why I’ve wanted to learn to butcher a beast. Or to do something physical and tangible and non-sit-at-a-desk-type-on-a-device. Or because I embrace being a generalist in life because like Robert Heinlein so eloquently stated, specialization is for insects.

2013-09-22 14.07.50In that frame of mind, Camas is a sherpa. An idol. One badass woman with a blade.

Finding herself out of work in 2009 she went searching for knowledge, butchery knowledge to be exact. Not finding it in her home town, she jumped the pond to France to apprentice with a family and learn the art of whole animal butchery. Once back home, she kept following her gut and launched the Portland Meat Collective – to bring knowledge of the art of butchery to the masses, and connect communities to their food in a more tangible way. Camas helps bridge the knowledge gap that exists between the animal in the pasture and the meat on your plate.

In the words of Wusthof when honoring her for their Edge Awards, “Camas is challenging expectations, breaking stereotypes and bringing intellectual depth to the art of butchery. “ 

And in an interview for those same awards, she summed up just why I got such a thrill out of her class, “I really could feel my brain – these connections happening – while I was cutting up meat”  

Here’s a photo journey through my day of butchery. I’m the one in the Seahawk hat grinning wildly while hugging a ham hock.

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Having a rabid fan base (pun kinda intended) that quickly sells out most of the PMC classes isn’t the pinnacle, now Camas is leading the charge for Meat Collectives Across America. Here’s the Kickstarter campaign that was quickly funded earlier this year.

Don’t think I haven’t been scheming about one in Boise. Who’s in? Raise your cleavers.

(P.S. For the latest admiring writeup on Camas – check out Martha Stewart’s feature honoring her as an American Made Tastemaker )

Meat Monger in the ‘hood

Recently did a double-take as I drove home up Americana Boulevard and passed the former home of Reel Foods (the fish monger’s over on Capitol in a sweet new location) under the Connector overpass and across from the skate park.

What did my eyes spy in the window? Could that be a meat monger in that space?


Why yes, yes it is. Merry Christmas to this non-vegetarian! And welcome to the ‘hood Prime Cuts Butcher Shop!

Per their website

It’s butcher shop meets slaughter house meets grocery retail at a professional and custom level. The customer is always first and where quality and service come first!! 
It’s then and now!!

 Prime Cuts offers a wide range of products and services. If you don’t see something you want just contact us and we will do everything we can to make it available to you. Offering reasonable and competitive prices is our main goal and we understand your time and investment in you meat. Prime Cutsis here to keep it local, fresh, healthy and all natural. So if we won’t BUY it we won’t SELL it!!    

  NOW OPEN for professional custom butchering. COMING SOON !!  is your one and only downtown Boise Butcher ShopYour retail space is currently going under some construction and remodeling to better serve you. We look forward to assist you in the future and earn your trust.


I may not be hunting and gathering my meat (just yet), but I can appreciate a true butcher shop and look forward to the retail opening.

Perhaps Prime Cuts could also start offering butchery lessons in the near future – I’d be a happy first registrant for that and I’m sure there are quite a few other foodies in town that would be interested as well.



Argentina’s Amazing Asado: Idaho Foodie in Argentina


Of all the foodie experiences I was salivating over when prepping for Argentina, asado was at the top of the list.

In America, people debate over whether Kansas City, Texas or Carolina BBQ is best. In Argentina – they know their barbecue is the best in the world (sorry US :-) Their pride is palpable with most homes having their own Asado setup in the back of the house and the cooking of Asado being a celebration of family & friends coming together for hours of socializing.

The ultimate breaking bread.

We had some Asado at a roadside restaurant – Choripaso – on our way from Buenos Aires to Santa Rosa. But true Asado is had in the homes of Argentines – and I was giddy when my hosts in Trenque Lauquen treated me to a night I won’t forget.

Luis Armando and his wife Silvina Tressilo were the epitome of warmth and hospitality and showed me every step of the process.

Photos are pretty self explanatory – but the essence of what I learned:
- Tranquilo, Tranquilo, Tranquilo – you must relax, be patient and chill out to make Asado. It’s a lesson Luis repeated often as I frantically danced around the grill. Great meals take time (in this case – about two hours)
- Meat doesn’t need much more than steady heat and a dose of salt to showcase its true flavors. I have yet to see frozen meat in any of the homes here and I believe the quality, freshness and origin of the beef is key to the great asados we’ve had. (I’m kicking myself for not getting a photo of the beef truck I saw parked in front of a carneceria with sides of cows hanging from hooks)
- Variety is the spice of life. Like many meals – there is a pre-meal of antipasti (cheese and chorizo and morcilla and bread) and various cuts of meat from the grill – sausage, ribs, loin, along with various salads and red wine of course. I need to find a good link to an article a out the various cuts of meat featured in Asado.
- You’ve got to have good wood. Seriously. You need dry, dense wood to create the crucial coals needed for the slow cooking of the Asado.
- Pace yourself. Deciding to enjoy Asado is a time commitment. And with our often-obnoxious pace of life in the US, embracing time commitments with friends and family is something we could do a bit more of.

I asked my friend Luis for his thoughts on why Asado is so important in Argentina. In summary, he shared:
‘It is traditional because it became from the gauchos who ate it while they were traveling long distances. To have Asado is one of Argentina’s traditions and the meat is so fantastic because of the open pastures the cows feed on. Asado is more than meat though, because you drink mate while preparing it and it is a time to get together with friends and family. ‘

- Jess

Here’s to the nasty bits

I get really geeked out when chefs give me a peek behind the apron, an insight to get my palate ready. 

So, much thanks to B29 Streatery Chef Greg Lamm for sending me this Tweet DM the night before Boise’s monthly Food Truck Rally…“We’ve got crispy pig’s feet ‘Hot Dog’ on the truck for the rally tomorrow… Gotta let a fellow ‘nasty bits’ peep know what’s going on.”

Needless to say, I had to try the dog. It. Was. Amazing. Succulent and soft with a crunchy shell. Trotter elevated. Fellow foodies at the rally – including the talented Trey McIntyre and John-Michael  from TMP – were also effusive in their love for B29′s take on the dog. It wasn’t my first time enjoying trotter. I had made the plunge to try it out when at Thomas Keller’s Buchon (here’s a fellow foodies’ take on the Bouchon Trotter).
But admittedly, the elegance of the trotter dog (as I affectionately remember it, but Chef Lamm had a much more better description on the Streatery menu) was not quite as fantastic as the blog post that led paid homage to the dog.

The post ‘Ode to Pig’s Feet’ is probably the first foodie blog to really get me thinking. About what it is to pay credence to sustainability, to qualify yourself as a locavore, to truly respect the ingredients. Some of my favorite nuggets:

One of the largest hurdles to converting to a sustainable agricultural model is how to make it affordable across all economic models.  I suggest a very simple solution:  eat feet.  Eat ears.  Eat noses and tongues.  Eat the other 1/3 of the animal that is currently going in the trash or to animal feed.  All of these off cuts have strong culinary traditions behind them, and not just in “ethnic foods”.  We as Americans have very strange concepts of what is an acceptable foodstuff.  Americans will eat fast food, but say “yuck” to ears and feet grown by local, sustainable and organic farmers. 

If we as consumers eat the off cuts of our local and sustainable products, it will do two things: continue the demand for the product but it will also help to moderate the price of the premium end.  The vast majority of farmers are not gouging us on loins, chops and premium cuts because they can.  They are recouping the losses of offering a premium product that isn’t being fully utilized.  And if they are gouging us, we will know.  Then we can shift our purchasing power to a producer who is able to moderate pricing.  It’s a win-win.  

This doesn’t only apply to pigs.  We as Americans drastically underutilize our beef, poultry and other livestock.  We buy beets at The Capital City Market and then throw out the tops.  Then we buy swiss chard to serve with our beets.  FYI – Swiss Chard is a non root producing variety of beet.  

We need to start eating feet as a nation.  We need to start eating hearts, cheeks, liver, ears, and tongue.  Eat weeds.  Eat tops.  As Anthony Bourdain puts it, “eat the nasty bits.”  Our current eating habits are just pushing the ideal of sustainable eating further towards the few and away from the many.

Cooks have to step it up.  We have to offer these products, and prepare them with enough skill that an adventurous skeptic will become an avid fan.  This requires dedication, a capital investment and practice.  Tongue isn’t expensive, but screw it up 4 or 5 times and it starts to add up.  It really adds up on the time end, where proper preparation can take hours or days.

This isn’t the final solution, but it will progress us towards the goal of sustainability. 

Well worth the read – and the commitment to embrace more of the ‘nasty bits.’

- Jess

A Carnivore’s Dream with Chef Dave Martin @ Sun Valley HarvestFestival

There’s nothing I like more with a thoughtfully crafted meal with friends while meeting new people.

Wait, check that.

There is something I like more – a thoughtfully crafted meal with good friends and new ones when that meal is prepared by a dynamic personality whose love of cooking oozes out of his pores.

Just like ambiance can make or break a meal, so can the personality of the chef behind the meal.


In the case of the Carnivore’s Dream dinner pre-event for the Sun Valley Harvest Festival - Chef Dave Martin (of Top Chef fame) ratcheted up the evening with his wit, enthusiasm and pure joy for the experience and engagement with the dinner crowd of 70.

Enough of my blathering – let’s get to the true star of the show – the amazing spread prepared by Chef Dave and local Chef Brent Barsotti. Here is the nom-worthy menu, chock full of local meats and produce courtesy Idaho’s Bounty, Snake River Farms, Ballard Cheese, Teton Waters Ranch and Bucksnort Root Beer.


  • Dave’s Ginger POM Martini made with American Harvest Organic Vodka
  • Local Idaho Trout–Gravlax Style, short cured with Idaho Potato Tuile Topped with Local Chevre
  • Bounty of Local Idaho Cheeses from Ballard Cheese, Dried Fruits, Nuts and Idaho Honey

Dinner Menu

Salad of Duck Confit-Idaho Duck, Oven Roasted Pears, Nutmeg Walnuts, Apple Cider Vinaigrette, a sprinkle of Bleu Cheese and a pinch of Frisee


Citrus Marinated Idaho Grass Fed Teton Waters Ranch Skirt Steak over Roasted Corn Salad with Champagne Vinaigrette


Brent’s Famous Fava Bean Tortellini with sauce of Butternut Squash topped with Grana Padano and Fried Sage


Bucksnort Root Beer Braised Snake River Farms Pork atop Wild Cherrywood Bacon & Goat Cheese Grits drizzled with Dave’s Roasted Poblano BBQ Sauce


Pumpkin Panna Cotta with Molasses Cookie and Salted Chantilly Cream

A few observations from this extremely happy foodie:

  • I enjoy eating a confit as much as I enjoy saying the word.
  • Roasted corn salad comes alive when with a light and refreshing vinaigrette and can trump a hella-good skirt steak.
  • Fava beans AREN’T just for the enjoyment of creepy Hannibal Lector. Puree and add in some marscapone cheese and it’s a fab filling.
  • Who knew that root beer was for braising? 
  • Hello! Grits? When you are combined with bacon and silky smooth goat cheese you are elevated to foodgasm status.
  • Salt can pop anything. Forget salted caramels – my new favorite end to a fabulous meal is a kick-ass panna cotta with salted cream to pop that flavor.
  • You always meet entertaining people at group dinners. Case in point – the crew from Sysco Idaho. It was a true pleasure meeting the corporate Chef Randy King and I can’t wait to hear him emcee’ing the Chef Demos.
  • Chef Dave is a gem – and his personal attention to every diner’s happiness made the event.


Here’s to a foodie heaven weekend up in the mountains! The Sun Valley Harvest Festival officially kicks off tonight with a Restaurant Walk and events throughout the entire weekend (p.s. there is still time to come imbibe & indulge!) Check the website and the festival program for more information. 


– Jess Flynn

Ode to My Meat Men #Charcutepalooza

I’ve been talking a lot about meat on this blog over the past few months… a lot. Maybe it’s because of my attempt to live up to the Charcutepalooza challenges, or the fact that I live in the great state of Idaho where our producers are second to none. For a time though, it’s appeared that I’ve been more on a meat quest, trying to find fresh pork belly, back fat, beef suet, and understand what part of the pig the pork butt comes from.

So today, an ode to my meat men of Southwest Idaho. The guys, who with patience and the typical Idaho helpfulness, have inspired my charcuterist ways and kept my fridge & freezer full.
I also call this guy ‘Market Sausage Man’. He doesn’t know it, but Lin Hintze of Mackay inspired my foray into charcuterie. Our household’s been making the trek to the Capital City market to fill up on Big Lost River links for several years and Lin is always there. 
Don’t be a rude market grazer and take advantage of his free samples! Sample one or two and make a purchase people. My favorites are the Garlic Rosemary, Chicken Apple, Italian Hot, and Chicken Parmesean Romano Patties.
Sharing the top grill with some Chicken Apple sausages from Big Lost River are the best damn franks I’ve had in my life, courtesy of…
Homestead Natural Meats and the fabulous Ed Wilsey. We first stopped by Ed’s booth during the first market of the season to try out the bacon (of course!) and a sample of the old-fashioned franks had us hooked. I’m a frank girl, grew up on Sabretts in NYC, but these knocked my socks off!

So when I put out the call on Facebook and Twitter for a purveyor to help me with the ingredients I needed for my latest Charcutepalooza challenge – Ed was there to help me out…hooking me up with pork back fat, beef suet, and the below pork shoulder needed for my Italian Sausage-making (blog to come!)

In the course of looking for the perfect cuts for my recipes, I’ve come across a few other purveyors I look forward to patronizing:

Meats Royale on Overland in Boise: "an Old Fashioned Meat Market. Friendly customer service and fresh meats. We’re always happy to custom cut and wrap for you. We will help you hand select the perfect steak, find that specialty item you want or help you fill your freezer at home with one of our bundle packages, all for a great price. Meats Royale carries fresh and frozen meats, we offer catering services, wild game processing and much more. 
(I can speak to the service – they were super helpful over the phone and I’ll be heading over soon!)

Double XL Ranch in Melba: "At Double XL Ranch we believe in raising natural products that are superior in taste and quality. We raise Berkshire "Kurobuta" pork, Wagyu "Kobe" beef and poultry which comes from animals raised on a 100% vegetarian diet with no animal proteins or byproducts in the feed, ever. This means no artificial ingredients. no preservatives, no antibiotics and no growth hormones in our products."  

(While I haven’t taken them up on their fresh pork belly – from kurobuta pork! – just yet, their willingness to deliver a custom ordered product and meet me at one of their market stands was impressive and when I take another run at homemade bacon I know who I’m contacting!) 

- Jess

A Good Reprieve from the Daily Grind #Charcutepalooza

I learned something surprising about myself last night as I belatedly tackled my May Charcutepalooza challenge.

I REALLY love the process of making sausage. Heck, I just really love the task of hacking up big hunks of protein.


Going from the image in the front – a chunk of Pork Shoulder Butt (no, it’s not an oddly shapped animal but the end piece of the shoulder) – to the diced pieces at the back was oddly fulfilling.


And then, putting my multi-tasking new kitchen gadget (a meat grinder AND pasta maker? Heck yeah!) to use with my chile-coated chunks of pork. The site honestly brought me back to my Play-Doh days and had me utter to Kevin, “Wow this is so fulfilling.”


He thought I was joking. Do I look like I’m joking in this picture? I’m a focused gal. The honest truth is it is immensely fulfilling to me – just like the other Charcutepalooza challenges have been and all the other times I tackle a family recipe or try to channel Alton Brown. What’s great about cooking for me, especially when trying something out of my comfort zone, is seeing the fruit (or meaty goodness) of my labor RIGHT THEN.

After a day filled with strategy discussions, problem solving and putting out fires, days in which I rarely produce a tangible example of my work, it is extremely fullfilling to turn a hunk of raw protein into something delicious. Do I follow the recipe exactly? Of course not, I’m a creative mind and part Italian after all. That’s where I get to go all Iron Chef on a recipe when I don’t have the exact spice or misread a specific direction. You take what’s in front of you and you make it work.


And frequently, it works out in a delicious way. We blended Italian and Mexican flavors for the above result – homemade smokey spicey chorizo atop polenta, finished with roasted tomatoes, black beans and the first cilantro from the herb garden. Fulfilling and filling.

Waiting on my Grinder #Charcutepalooza


Never thought I’d be so anxious for kitchen gadget shipment. But it’s been nearly a week since we ordered our first meat grinder and I’m getting a little impatient. Heck, it’s not just a meat grinder. It can also make pasta!

Yeah, I thought that sounded weird as well.

But when the Charcutepalooza May challenge called for grinding your own, our trusty Men’s Journal roundup of the best grinders for your buck came in pretty handy.

Meet the Norpro #151 Grinder/Mincer/Pasta Maker – which, according to the foodie scribes at MJ is “tiny, inexpensive, and made of plastic, but when Chernow and Holzman test recipes at home for the Meatball Shop, this is what they use. Thanks to a sharp blade, ???it works effortlessly,??? said Holzman. ???We ground 40 pounds of meat a week with the Norpro, and it never got dull.??? Plus, the suction-cup base keeps the diminutive body steady. ???It???s perfectly engineered,??? said Holzman. [$30;]

Nothing says Happy Mother’s Day like freshly ground pork or beef right? I’m hoping to put this bad boy to the test for the Mom’s Day brunch I’m in charge of – either a sweet breakfast sausage or sassy chorizo.