Tag Archives: charcutepalooza grand prize

tales of traveling

It’s been a whirlwind two weeks of travel. I may be physically back in Washington, DC. I may be making dinners and sitting at my desk, wandering around my yard, all full of Spring blooms, but in my heart, I am still in Paris.

I love that city. We had a great visit. Ate oysters frequently, but not often enough. Drank lovely wines. Watched pretty Parisians all dressed up and looking impossibly chic. Filled my eyes with architecture and art. With long views down the river from bridge to bridge.

Hermes left bank store on Rue de Sevres

Smelled the fresh baguette, the macarons at Ladurée, the crisp expensive air of Hermes’ new-ish Left Bank shop (in a former swimming pool!) Learned my favorite huilerie has closed, but found a shop around the corner that carries the stunningly good pistachio and pine nut oils.

A welcome package from W.W. Norton publishers - a fascinating book, especially if you love Paris.

The Charcutepalooza soirée, attended by a band of Paris bloggers, the generous sponsors and old and new friends, was a glorious occasion, and felt properly festive. It was a pleasure to meet Peter, and to see how he was as transformed by his Gascon experience, as I was. He blogged daily, and brilliantly, so read his posts! David Lebovitz wrote up a lovely piece about the party, too.

After all that celebrating, Kate and I chunneled to London for a quick stopover. We had brunch at Caravan – delicious thick slabs of sourdough with chunky avocado and red pepper flakes and fat poached eggs with yolks the colors of marigolds. Dessert was coconut cake, toasted, with lemony creamy custard and roasted rhubarb. My goodness, what a breakfast.

We walked the city – the weather was glorious – and met up with friends of Kate’s. We snacked again at Duck Soup in Soho – bits and bites that satisfied, then on through the throngs of Chinatown to St. John’s bar for Manhattans and more snack foods in their cool as a cucumber interior space, the bartender a little frantic and odd, but amusing. The other guests including someone who seemed to be doing a very bad impression of Russell Brand.

In the morning, we were off to Hogwarts, or so it seemed, as we boarded the train to the School of Artisan Food. What a fantastic setting for this new, bold educational experiment.

The Welbeck estate, all 17,000 acres of it, is situated in central England – north of London by just ninety quick minutes on the Retford train. Charlie, the local taxi driver, picked us up, and really I thought I was in the middle of an Agatha Christie novel, out in the Midlands.

But driving through the main gates pushed me out of Agatha Christie and right into Downton Abbey mode. Building after gorgeous building, long walls topped with stone pineapples, backing up greenhouses as far as the eye can see.

Pheasants gathered on long broad swaths of green grass. A brewery and a dairy and gorgeous brick bread baking ovens all clanging away, putting out some exceptional artisanal foods.

The exceptional breakfast at Mrs. Brown's.

The school put me up at Mrs. Brown’s B&B, a quaint, picturesque, utterly perfect place just across the road. Joan is a delight and makes the most glorious breakfasts. My room was sumptuous with an enormous bathtub that demanded I take a minute to soak and relax. And I did.

The day I visited SAF, some students were in the butchery, breaking down ducks, making confit, pate, rillettes in strokes familiar to the Charcutepalooza community. Across the stone courtyard, in the bakery, elementary school students watched as Matthew, a young baker, demonstrated the magic of yeast and the roar of the wood burning brick bread ovens.

The children lined up to touch the warm bricks, returning to the line with enormous eyes and squeals. Each child would leave the school at the end of the day with a loaf of their own handmade, artisanal bread. Give a man a fish…

All this is possible with the artistry of a few and the vision of one. Alison Swan Parente is a remarkable woman who started out looking for a good loaf of bread. She lives in this little place, Welbeck Abbey. Yes, I know. It took my breath away, too. How does she do it? Remain so approachable and thoughtful and grounded?

Alison and I traveled together to London later that week. On the train, we talked about the state of culinary education, the history of artisanal apprenticeships, how knowledge passes from one generation to the next, and how desperate the need is to preserve these skills. It was an exciting and inspirational train ride.

Dates on branches at La Fromagerie.

I spent an afternoon in London wandering around Marylebone. The Ginger Pig is the perfect butcher shop. I picked up a small pork pie for the airplane – it was exceptional! I just wish I had packed some mustard. Next door, La Fromagerie made me yearn for my kitchen. I saw remarkable produce, a cheese room that looks like a fine jewelry shop, and jars of bouquets garni that signal real greatness at work.

My final night in London included meeting up with Twitter friends. I met Jane at a classic pub, The Crown and Two Chairmen and she was every bit as wonderful as I expected.

At Quo Vadis, this fruit and flower display greeted diners.

And a few feet away on Dean Street, Ruth, a Charcutepalooza finalist and excellent dinner companion, suggested Quo Vadis. Splendid offerings including spectacular oysters, smoked eel and horseradish sandwich, salsify with parmesian and a fresh cheese, like loose fromage frais, with peas and mint. Perfection.

There is more. Much more. I’m still processing. In the meantime,  I’m posting a few more photos over at Facebook, so check out my page there for the best of the bazillion pictures I snapped.

Stick around, I’m back in the kitchen already and have some zippy new preserves to share. More soon.

hello spring.

Without even a moment of Winter, it seems, Spring has arrived.

It’s hard to leave my garden in Spring, when every day brings another surprise. Today a tulip – an early Gregii – popped up. And others will appear while I’m away, and may even fade before I return. So much could change. It is March, after all. There could still be a snowstorm that could frostbite the magnolia blossoms.

But I’m going to bid adieu for just a few days. The iris and snowdrops. The daffodils and tulips. Buds swelling on the cherry tree and the crabapple. And the camellias, with the promise of blowsy flowers far too flashy for these early months.

We’re off to Paris for a few days of just-us time.

Friday will be a whirlwind Charcutepalooza day when we meet up with Peter Barrett, after his four days at Kate Hill’s Camont, all part of the Charcutepalooza grand prize. All of us will join  The Antiques Diva as she leads us through the Ham and Antiques Market. After that.. off to finally meet Jack Dancy from Trufflepig, for a swank and meaty cocktail party he’s throwing. Thrilled Ariane Daguin from D’Artagnan will be in Paris, and Florence Casterede from Armagnac Casterede will, too. That puts nearly every sponsor in the City of Lights to celebrate Charcutepalooza. Without these sponsors, none of this could have happened.

one of my prized hellebores

I can’t wait to meet people I’ve wanted to meet for a long time, and others I’ll be seeing again. And I’m especially thrilled that DC friends currently living in Brussels and Vienna are hopping trains to come to Paris.

Please, don't bloom yet. Wait for me, camellias!

After all this Charcutefolie, I’ll be chunneling to London, and then on to the School of Artisan Food with Kate. The trip will end with one night in London, eating and drinking with Charcutepalooza friends before an early flight back home.

I am beyond excited, feel ever so fortunate, and I promise to tell you all about it in a couple of weeks.


PS Follow me on Twitter. I’ll be using the #charcutepalooza hashtag. I’ll also post on Facebook and Instagram, my new social media friend.

charcutepalooza december challenge. showing off.

This is it. The last challenge. It’s time to show us what you’ve learned. You’ve had a year of experimenting and practice. You’ve had the benefit of this exceptionally creative and daring Charcutepalooza community. And ‘tis the season.

What better reason to gather your friends and family than a celebration of all things charcuterie? It’s exciting to serve up these homemade lovelies. No reason not to crow a little. You’ve earned it.

Cassoulet is a natural. Choucroute garnie, as well. Perhaps Schweinshaxe? Or a long simmered Italian “Sunday Gravy?” A tapas offering? What about dim sum? We’ve looked cross culturally for so much of the year, the possibilities seem endless with a little internet research and a dollop of imagination.

Create a menu, a meal, a dish, a platter. We challenge you to create a celebration.

Use at least three items (Apprentice Challenge) or four items (Charcutiere Challenge) from the following list.

•Smoke, cure, or brine a whole cut of meat, poultry or fish (for instance, ham, duck proscuitto, roulades, pastrami, smoked salmon)
•Dried, cured sausage (for instance, soppresata, saucisson sec, salami, landjager, chorizo)
•Pork belly, any preparation (for instance, bacon, pancetta, ventreche, red cooked, braised)
•Sausage (for instance, bulk, in casings, smoked, emulsified)
•Pate, terrine, or mousseline, en croute, if you wish
•Rillettes or confit

Your deadline is December 6, 2011. Yes, this is different than the date first announced, for a very good reason – the details are revealed at the end of this post.

Good luck and have fun. We can’t wait to see what you do.

It’s just a fancy name for franks and beans.

I love my friend Katrin. She has been my BFF for many many years. She’s witty and warm, with a huge heart. Her Martha’s Vineyard home, circa 1680, the second oldest home on the island, sports low hanging doorways and wonky windows. This wonderland has been the site for a gathering of ‘girls’ for the last fourteen years. Some years there are over a dozen of us, and some years, it’s just six. But every year, this weekend recharges my spirit.

So when I set about planning the final challenge for this extraordinary Year of Meat, Martha’s Vineyard seemed the perfect spot. I wanted to share a Camont recipe for cassoulet and all the new knowledge from Girls Meat Camp with these dear friends. Katrin’s response? “Cassoulet? I’m not a fan. It’s just a fancy name for franks and beans.” I was determined to change her mind.

Start with the Best

To prepare, I engaged in some crazy suitcase packing, again. Noix de jambon, rillettes, fresh saucisse de Toulouse, ventreche and couenne snuggled in next to garlic, thyme from the garden, and some kitchen tools. I secured it all in ziplock bags, and tucked the bags in between my clothes. Hello, TSA!

Our friends at D’Artagnan had everything, shipping the remainder of what was needed for the perfect cassoulet, duck legs and duck fat, and a real treat – prunes stuffed with foie. (They’re called French Kisses. Rhapsodically good.)

D’Artagnan also carries the official bean of cassoulet – the Tarbais. This bean is like no other, and sports a great back story. It cooks perfectly, with some beans shedding their skins and softening to create a thick backdrop for the meats, and other beans magically remaining whole, but meltingly tender. A perfect texture for cassoulet.

(I also ordered a good sized roasting chicken, air chilled. This bird was delicious and chicken-y. I stuffed D’Artagnan’s outrageous truffle butter under the skin of the breast and legs, then served it with duck fat roasted potatoes and green beans.)

Take note. This month, for our last Charcutepalooza challenge, D’Artagnan will offer a remarkable discount on their entire product line. Watch your email for the code. You must call to get this discount, and talk to the sales reps. They are so knowledgable and will steer you in the right direction every single time. It’s a rare opportunity for this access – imagine, game birds, wild mushrooms, every cut of pork and lamb, wagyu beef and foie gras.

Constructing the Cassoulet

The beauty of cooking something like cassoulet is the minimal hands on time.

Soak the beans the night before. Sauté the ventreche and couenne, and the aromatics, then cook the beans for an hour or so in plenty of water. Just do this in the morning while the rest of the household wanders in and out of the kitchen for coffee and bagels imported from Brooklyn.

There was more than enough time for a walk through Edgartown, unearthing a new charcuterie shop as well as the divine baker, Rickard’s.

In mid afternoon, with the help of one able assistant (thank you, Jessie!) we added the browned duck confit and rope of saucisse de Toulouse. This concoction cooked for three plus hours. Occasionally, I would reach into the oven and stir everything around a bit. It was dinner time when a nice crust had formed on the top and the smells were so intoxicating we simply had to dig in.

I was a little sad that I couldn’t bring the traditional cassoulet pot Kate gave me, but the suitcase was already absurd. In the Vineyard kitchen, we unearthed an enameled cast iron dutch oven from the back of a kitchen cabinet and it was perfect.

The divine recipe and some tips from Kate:

The couenne, or rolled, tied, pork skin, adds a silky, delicious feel to the simmering beans. Add it with the ventreche, at the start.

Later, when adding the meat, untie and unroll the couenne, dice it the same size as the beans, and add it to the pot. These little pieces of goodness will rise to the surface and add a crispy je-ne-sais-quoi to the cassoulet crust.

The ventreche, carrots, and onions should be diced the same size as the beans.

Cook the beans in a full two quarts of water per pound. Don’t panic if there is a lot of liquid left when the beans are soft. Just add the browned meats and sausages and get the mixture simmering and hot. It will all work out.

Cook the cassoulet in a 325° oven, uncovered, and make sure it keeps the simmer. The cassoulet will develop a rich brown crust in good time. Be patient.

Serve with a very acidic, crunchy salad and a rough, earthy red wine.

Celebrating Charcutepalooza

While waiting for the cassoulet to finish, we enjoyed bourbon manhattans and a charcuterie board of jambon de Camont, pork rillettes, duck rillettes, cornichons and pickled asparagus. It should come as no surprise that we watched Bridesmaids.

And oh, it was a marvelous cassoulet, with duck confit, saucisse de Toulouse, ventreche, couenne and Tarbais beans. As authentic as it could be, from this side of the pond. Kate, I hope you approve!

Cassoulet is a food made for celebrations, and sharing it with good friends feels like a great big hug.

Charcutepalooza, Food52 and The Grand Prize

The Grand Prize will be awarded in just a few weeks. Kate Hill, Trufflepig, and The Antiques Diva have been dreaming up amazing fun for our lucky winner.

The dates are now firm – the winner will fly to Paris on March 2nd and fly back on March 10th, 2011.

There will be one night of fun in Paris, then off you go on a fast train to Agen, the Lot-et-Garonne town near Kate’s Camont.

You’ll spend four days in Gascony experiencing charcuterie at the source, then you’ll hop back on the train to Paris, where you’ll have an afternoon to explore the city. Friday, March 9th will be packed with fun: start your Paris day with a visit to the historic Ham Market with The Antiques Diva and then wrap it all up at Friday night’s blogger cocktail party. A true Charcute-folie!

Eligibility and Entries

We’re beyond thrilled that FOOD52 has agreed to host the Charcutepalooza final competition. Watch the FOOD52 site for details about the Charcutepalooza contest that will close up the year. That’s right, from December 29th and ending January 4th, 2012, the two finalist’s entries will be featured on FOOD52. Are you ready for your close up?

For now, this is a good time to review the eligibility requirements for your entry, and to begin to gather your thoughts.

We’ll be looking for quality writing, beautiful photography, and an original recipe, so scan your posts for the best example(s) of your charcuterie skills.

Your entry, due no later than Midnight EST, December 6th, 2011, must include

•your name, blog URL and email address
•a profile photo (jpg format)
•50 words describing your Charcutepalooza experience
•links to the 12 Charcutepalooza monthly challenge posts on your blog
•links to no more than two of your Charcutepalooza blog posts that you wish to nominate for the grand prize competition

Send this information in an email to Charcutepalooza at gmail dot com by 12/6/2011.

Kim and I will review all the entries. It’s up to us to whittle them down to the best six and we already know it will be tough – you all are so awesome.

The semifinalists’ posts will be forwarded to the judges, who will whittle the six down to two. The two finalists’ blog posts will be presented on FOOD52, where the community’s vote will decide the winner.

It’s all very exciting. And it’s coming right up.