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Reclaiming Picnic Fare: Hot Dogs

13 Aug

Anytime I attend a barbecue or a sporting event and someone is grilling hot dogs, there are inevitably one or two people who mention that they don’t eat them. It’s not because of vegetarianism or taste, “I’m just grossed out by what might be in there.”

Fair enough. Hot dogs are, after all, a meat emulsion. And if some cheap processor was feeling Sweeney Todd enough, he or she could put pretty much any part of the cow or pig into the sausage without the customer being much the wiser. And the sad fact is that even when the meat is of decent quality, processors often use a significant amount of filler. Consider that 3 oz. of short rib meat (separable lean) contains 26 grams of protein, and then look at a package of decent quality kosher beef hot dogs. Most are 2 oz., yet contain only between 6-10 grams of protein. What that tells me is that I’m eating mostly fat and filler…and we can do better, don’t you think?

Since Labor Day is coming up and it’s the perfect moment for a picnic, let’s rescue the humble hot dog and make it a sausage you’re proud to serve your guests. Plus, you’ll be the best friend of pregnant women everywhere who have been banned from eating pre-packaged hot dogs due to the risk of listeria and other bacteria.

The secret to hot dogs, as with most sausages, is getting the right ratio of meat to fat. Fortunately the cow in all of its glory has a cut that achieves this balance perfectly (and inexpensively in most cases): The short rib. And don’t discard the bones! They make excellent beef stock.

All Beef Hot Dogs

Adapted from Charcuterie, by Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn

  • 2 ½ lbs. beef short rib meat (you’ll need about 4 lbs. of short ribs to get this amount), diced and chilled
  • ½ oz.  kosher salt
  • 1 tsp. pink curing salt
  • 1 cup ice water
  • 1 tbsp. dry mustard powder
  • 2 tsp. smoked paprika
  • 1 tsp. toasted ground coriander
  • ½ tsp. white pepper
  • 1 tbsp. finely minced garlic
  • 2 tbsp. light corn syrup
  • About 5 ft. worth of sheep casings, soaked in lukewarm water for at least a half hour

Begin by grinding the meat using the smallest dye you have.

Mix the ground meat with the salt, pink salt, and water, then mix by hand to distribute the salts throughout the meat. Cover and refrigerate this mixture for 24-48 hours.

Add the mustard powder, smoked paprika, coriander, white pepper, garlic, and corn syrup to the beef and salt, and mix well.

20130713_130519Spread the meat mixture onto a baking sheet in one even layer. Freeze for a half hour, or until the meat is stiff but not frozen solid.

20130713_130515Regrind the mixture and again spread it onto a baking sheet and freeze until the meat is stiff, about a half hour.

20130713_131252Now it’s time to process the mixture into a uniform paste. The most important part of this step is to not let the meat get too warm. I processed this amount of meat in two batches; use brief pulses until a smooth consistency is reached.

20130713_134903Find the opening at the end of the casing and rinse through with cool water. To stuff the sausages, I used the attachment for my mixer with the smallest tube (5/8 in.). Grease the tube with a small amount of oil and shimmy on the casing. Tie off the end and have a sterilized pin nearby to prick out any air bubbles or pockets that form during stuffing. For a detailed, photographic tutorial of sausage stuffing, see my earlier post on how to make boerewors.

Feed the hot dog mixture slowly into the casings, taking care not to overstuff. Go slowly enough to ensure even thickness throughout. Once you’ve filled the casing, go back and smooth out the rope of sausage, check for evenness, and twist into 6 in. links. How many links you get will depend on the diameter of the casing and the thickness of the sausage. Prick the casings all over with the pin.

20130713_143353Let’s get smooooooookin’! I used applewood chips in my stovetop smoker and hot smoked the hot dogs until they reached an internal temperature of 150 degrees. While the hot dogs are smoking, prepare an ice bath large enough to chill the whole batch. Once they have reached 150 degrees, move the hot dogs directly to the ice bath and chill completely. This step helps finalize that characteristic hot dog texture on the inside and gives the casing that nice *snap* when you bite into it.

I store hot dogs in vacuum sealed bags, but well-wrapped in wax paper they will last in the refrigerator for about a week. They also freeze well, but thaw completely before broiling, simmering, or grilling.

20130714_083339Joe and I are purists when it comes to hot dogs. We usually forgo the buns altogether and eat these with a few squirts of good old Heinz ketchup. Every once in a while though, I go full ballpark: Steamed bun, finely diced blanched onion, pickle relish, and mustard. Yum.

Oh, and fellow DC / NoVA residents…want a half-smoke? Simply replace half of the short rib meat with diced pork shoulder and amp up the spices with some chili powder, cayenne pepper, and hot paprika. You’ll feel like you’re on U Street or at Nationals Park in no time.

Be the genius at your Labor Day picnic when you say, “I’ll bring the hot dogs!” When friends get a taste of that perfectly emulsified sausage full of rich short rib meat, spices, and smoky flavor, they won’t be able to resist having one…or three. Plus, your well-fed guests receive a heap of protein and iron, making you a culinary hero all around.

Ciao for now,


The Zen Balance of Maple-Cured Smoked Bacon

16 Jul

Talk about a hiatus, eh? Well, Neen has not abandoned her Notes, but the last few weeks have been a little bit tricky. My last week at the Folger was the epitome of bittersweet, and frankly I’ll admit that I’m still grappling with what and who I am now. It sounds strange; I never thought that I was so attached to seeing myself as Associate Production Editor of Shakespeare Quarterly until I suddenly couldn’t do it anymore.

Now Im the boss. That is beyond weird. Yes, the individual who hates being bossy or delegating tasks was suddenly thrust into the bizarre managerial scenario of being her own boss. And though I’m not perfect at it, I’m getting the hang of keeping my days busy and varied. I do crave a little bit of structure, which is on the horizon in the form of a recent acceptance into Tufts’ graduate certificate program in nutrition science for communications professionals, and (provided the application and interview process go well) beginning yoga teacher training in the fall at Pure Prana.

Where I’m headed with my career is vaguer. I write new letters and apply for jobs every day, but nothing has leapt off of the page at me yet. So part of what I am hoping to do through these personal and professional development courses is figuring out what exactly I’d like to be next. I’ve already decided that I don’t want my identity to hinge on it…who I am is Neen.  And pigeon-holing a person, or boiling down their essence to a single occupation? Well…that seems oversimplified to say the very least.

But there are some constants and certainties in life, and one of those is surely cooking. It has remained (along with family) as my home base, my safe place throughout this entire internal earthquake. It has been where I manage to find a center…and so what recipe more appropriate to share with you than the sweet-salty balancing of over-the-top-crazy-good MAPLE BACON.

My last few days at the office were full of last-minute trips to my favorite walkable spots on the Hill, and especially to Eastern Market. I decided to make some duck prosciutto (recipe here) and try out my new Cameron stovetop smoker on a batch of maple bacon. After acquiring the necessary animal parts at Union Meat (thanks guys!), I stopped to talk to Mrs. Calomiris and she as always sent me on my way with an armload of the perfect accompaniments, and an extra banana and a handful of cherries (“for your walk back to the office”). I felt rejuvenated after that trip, and ready to forge ahead with so many of the food projects I’d put off due to lack of time. So yes, while I haven’t written to you recently…oh, I have been cooking. And rest assured that this “so-good-it’s-gonna-make-you-swear” bacon is just the first of many treats to come.

Maple Cured Smoked Bacon

  • 5 lb. pork belly, skin on
  • 2 oz. kosher salt
  • ¼ cup dark brown sugar
  • 2 tsp. pink curing salt
  • 1 tsp. freshly ground black pepper (I used a citrus pepper blend)
  • ¼ cup dark grade b maple syrup

Combine the kosher salt, brown sugar, pink salt, and black pepper, and mix well. Add the maple syrup and stir until the ingredients are thoroughly combined.

20130612_17185520130612_171934Trim the pork belly until it is as uniformly shaped as possible. This is important because you want the cure to penetrate the meat evenly. Place the trimmed pork belly in a snug-fitting nonreactive baking dish. I used a 9×13 in. pyrex baking pan, but the pan you use will be dependent on the size and shape of your piece of meat.

20130612_172003Rub the meat thoroughly with the cure on all sides.

20130612_172401Cover the baking dish with plastic wrap and press down to remove as much air as possible. Move the dish to the refrigerator and allow the belly to cure for one week, flipping it every other day to redistribute the cure.

The bacon is cured when the meat is firm to the touch at the thickest point. If it still feels squishy at the end of a week, flip it and allow it to cure for another 24 hours. This belly took 8 days to fully cure. Once the meat feels firm, rinse and pat dry and move it to a wire rack over a baking sheet and refrigerate uncovered for 24 hours. This will allow the surface of the meat to develop a sticky pellicle for the important forthcoming smoky goodness to adhere to.

Now, if you have an outdoor smoker you’ll want to preheat it to about 250 degrees. I used an indoor stovetop smoker set over medium heat. For this batch, I selected applewood chips to add a little bit of fruitiness to the caramel-y molasses flavors in the brown sugar and maple syrup cure.

9299857471_6773c4974b_bSmoke until the belly reaches an internal temperature of 150 degrees and then allow it to cool completely before attempting to slice.

9299823731_80b87f011f_b9299844553_eda8328fcf_bGo ahead and slice it down yourself if you’re feeling like Chef Sakai. Me? I sought the excellent helpful hands of the folks at Springfield Butcher. For a more than reasonable $7 fee, they sliced the whole belly down for me and I had over 4 lbs. of perfectly even slices to share with family over our vacation trip to Fenwick Island.

9302600758_fbfc61dd8e_b9302584984_d72cf909bf_b9302554436_55faeb656f_b20130624_075909Verdict? Salty, sweet, deep caramel richness, and a fruity smoky finish. Well-rounded to the point of reaffirming my belief that finding balance in the kitchen is just a step away from translating it to other facets of life. Nobody has everything figured out, and even if someone did…wouldn’t that be kind of boring and predictable? I think I’ll keep looking for and refining the edges, because like the yogis always tell me: When you fall out of an inversion or a balancing posture, just reset your foundation and try again. Falling just means you’re reaching for something new.


Something better.

Ciao for now,


Recipe Megapost: FRACAS 2012

6 Dec

Each winter I go completely overboard and cook a bizarre amount of food in the span of 2-3 days for the Folger Recycled Arts and Crafts Annual Show (FRACAS). The Green Committee holds the event each December and displays creative art pieces made from recycled objects by Folger employees, family, and friends.

After I’m home from the first ingredient run, I have a brief “you are out of your mind” moment, get that five minute panic out of the way, and then move forward. Once prep lists are made and I’ve worked out what needs to be done when / how things should be stored, it’s go time.

I may not be a trained chef, but I’ve been cooking for groups since I was old enough to reach the counter. One of the benefits of being the location of choice for most family holidays was / is getting to spend days in the kitchen working on party food with my family. We put on music, everyone picks a task, and sometimes a bottle of wine even starts floating around. Sometimes grandmothers or aunts even appear, ready to help. We’ve been a pizzelle factory, ravioli assembly line, cookie shapers, manicotti fillers and just about everything in between.

It’s different to do it alone. Fortunately, I never feel alone, because when I’m in the kitchen my family is with me whether they’re physically there or not. There may be several less pairs of hands, but all of their experience sticks right with me. So when this once-a-year madness comes around I go at it with everything I’ve got.

This year, the FRACAS tasting plates were primarily influenced by dishes from France and the Mediterranean. I was inspired by the spirit of our Green Committee to think about being a responsible steward of the earth and used each ingredient in as many ways as possible. I also considered the sustainability and seasonality of what was planned and consulted with friends from the local Arlington County Farmer’s Market in order to prepare a thoughtful, respectful group of dishes. My most sincere thanks go to those purveyors for making available the many local herbs, meats, vegetables, and preserved foods (i.e. dried cherries and strawberry jam). Special thanks to the fine folks at Smith Meadows, Cibola Farms, Toigo Orchards, and Twin Springs.

We begin with the plate of tapenades, spreads, and rillettes…

Smoked Salmon Rillettes
adapted from David Lebovitz

  • 8 oz. wild salmon filet, bones removed.
  • 5 tbsp. unsalted butter
  • 1 tbsp. olive oil
  • Juice of half of one lemon
  • 2 tbsp. fresh chives, chopped.
  • 4 oz. of smoked salmon, cut into thin strips and then diced.
  • ¼ tsp. smoked paprika

Season the fresh salmon lightly with salt and steam for 8 minutes or until cooked through. Set aside to cool. In a medium-sized bowl, mash together the olive oil and butter until very smooth and then stir in the lemon juice, chives, and smoked salmon.


Remove the skin and flake the cooked, fresh salmon over the top of the mixture then fold it in gently until well combined. Season with chili powder and salt if needed. My smoked salmon was quite salty and so I did not add any extra salt.

Cover and chill for at least two hours. Allow the rillettes to come to room temperature before serving them. They will stay fresh covered in the refrigerator for up to three days or tightly wrapped in the freezer for up to two months.

Pork Rillettes
adapted from Michael Ruhlman

  • 3 lbs. fatty pork shoulder
  • 8 oz. rendered pork fat (lard)
  • 1 leek, thoroughly washed and split lengthwise, leaving one inch intact at the root end.
  • 1 celery stalk
  • 1 small bunch fresh thyme
  • 3 fresh bay leaves
  • 1 yellow onion
  • 5 cloves
  • 2 qt. water or veal stock

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees F.

Dice the pork into 1 in. cubes and place in a pot. Cover with water by 2 in., bring to a boil, and drain the pork. Return the pork to the clean pot.


Stuff the thyme and bay leaves into the split leek. Take the celery stalk and put it alongside the leek, then tie everything together with a piece of cotton twine. This is called a bouquet garni.

Stud the onion with the cloves.

Add 2 qts. of water or stock to the pot with the pork in it, add the bouquet garni and clove studded onion, then bring to a simmer over medium heat. Cover the pot and place it in the oven. Cook until the pork is very tender and falls apart when poked with a fork.

Remove the pork from the cooking pot and transfer it to a plate to cool. Strain the cooking liquid into a bowl and set aside.


Once the pork has cooled to slightly above room temperature, put it in a mixing bowl and mix on low speed, adding reserved cooking liquid as needed until it is a smooth, spreadable consistency. Season with salt and black pepper to taste.


Put the spread into individual containers and refrigerate until chilled.


Melt the lard over low heat and then pour a 1/8 in. layer of it on top of each container of rillettes. This seals the containers and keeps the rillettes fresh. Put the rillettes back into the refrigerator and chill until the layer of fat has solidified. Remove from the refrigerator two hours before serving.

Covered, they will keep in the refrigerator for up to a week and in the freezer for up to a month.

Mediterranean Olive and Vegetable Rillettes
adapted from Michael Ruhlman

  • 1 zucchini, cut into ½ in. discs.
  • 1 yellow squash, cut into ½ in. discs.
  • 4 oz. mushrooms, quartered.
  • 2 medium sized tomatoes, quartered and seeded.
  • 1 yellow bell pepper
  • 1 red bell pepper
  • 1 cup kalamata olives, pits removed.
  • 1 onion, diced.
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced.
  • ½ cup olive oil
  • 2 tbsp. balsamic vinegar
  • ¼ cup basil, chiffonade cut.
  • Salt and black pepper

Broil or grill the red and yellow peppers until the skin is black all over. Put them in a bowl, cover with plastic wrap and allow them to cool.


Once cool enough to handle, remove the skin, core, and seeds and then ½ in. dice.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Toss the zucchini, yellow squash, mushrooms, and tomatoes with ¼ cup olive oil, spread on a baking sheet and roast for 20 minutes.

Saute the onion and garlic in 2tbsp. of the olive oil until soft, but not browned and then set aside to cool slightly.

Process the olives, garlic, and onions into a puree. Fold in the balsamic vinegar, roasted vegetables, peppers, and basil.


Season to taste. Cover and refrigerate for up to a week.

Fig and Olive Tapenade
adapted from David Lebovitz

  • 1/2 cup dried black mission figs
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 cup nicoise or kalamata olives, rinsed and pitted.
  • Juice of half a lemon
  • 2 tsp. stone ground mustard
  • 1 small garlic clove, peeled and smashed.
  • 1/2 tablespoon capers, rinsed and patted dry.
  • 1 tsp. finely diced rosemary
  • 1/2 cup olive oil

Salt and black pepper

In a medium-sized pot, simmer the figs in the water until they are soft and the cooking liquid becomes syrupy. Remove the figs from the water with a slotted spoon and reserve the excess cooking liquid.


In a food processor, pulse together the olives, mustard, lemon juice, garlic, figs, capers, rosemary until a chunky paste forms. Add the olive oil until the mixture is spreadable.


The reserved liquid from the figs can be used to thin the spread if needed. Season to taste. Refrigerate for at least one day prior to serving. Covered, it will keep in the refrigerator for up to a week.

Roasted Garlic with Marinated Dried Tomatoes

  • 1 cup dried tomatoes
  • ½ cup olive oil
  • 1 tbsp. fresh lemon juice
  • 2 heads garlic
  • 2-3 sprigs fresh thyme
  • Salt and black pepper

Combine the tomatoes and olive oil and set aside for at least 30 minutes or until the tomatoes have softened slightly. If you have trouble getting the tomatoes to soften, you can put the mixture over very low heat for 5 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Split the heads of garlic in half horizontally and drizzle olive oil on each half. Put the garlic back together and bundle tightly in aluminum foil. Roast the garlic for 40-45 minutes or until soft and lightly caramelized. Set aside to cool.

Squeeze the softened garlic out of the peel and mash in a bowl. Drain and roughly chop the tomatoes, then mix them into the garlic with the lemon juice and thyme. If you like a chunky texture, stop and season here. If you prefer more of a spreadable consistency, you can puree this in a food processor. Season to taste. Cover and store in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.


…The second plate was full of cured pork tenderloin and parma ham accompanied by a few young cheeses and special condiments to brighten everything up. Everything here mixes and matches pretty well, but my favorite was a toast topped with the cured tenderloin and mustard fruit. Salty, sweet, and a little tangy, yum!

Sage and Thyme Cured Pork Tenderloin

  • 4 lb. pork tenderloin, trimmed of fat and sinew.
  • ½ gallon water
  • 1 cup salt
  • 5 tbsp. DQ Cure #1, also known as pink salt or Instacure
  • 1 cup sugar (you can use a mixture of brown and white)
  • 1 bunch fresh thyme
  • 1 bunch fresh sage

Combine the water, herbs, salt, curing salt and sugar in a pot and bring to a boil. Set aside and chill until cold in a container large enough to hold the tenderloin.

Add the pork to the container of brine and place a plate on top of it to keep it submerged. Allow this to sit in the refrigerator for 48 hours.

Remove the pork from the brine, rinse and pat dry. Set it on a wire rack over a baking sheet and refrigerate uncovered for 12 hours.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

Roast the pork until it reaches an internal temperature of 150 degrees, rest, and then wrap and chill. Slice thin on the bias to serve.


Ancho Chile Spiced Ricotta

Follow the recipe found here for making homemade ricotta. Once the curds have drained, add 1 tsp. ancho chile powder and mix thoroughly. Store covered in the refrigerator for up to a week.


Queso Blanco with Roasted Piquillo Peppers

Follow the recipe found here for making homemade queso blanco. Prior to pressing the cheese, fold in 1/3 cup diced roasted piquillo peppers. Store well wrapped in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.


Mustard Fruit
adapted from Michael Symon

  • 1 cup dry red wine
  • 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1/3 cup stone ground mustard
  • 1/2 tsp. yellow mustard seeds
  • 1 pear, peeled, cored, and chopped into ½ in. cubes
  • 1 dried sour cherries

Place the dried cherries and chopped pears in a clean, quart-sized mason jar and set aside. Cover and shake to mix.

Combine the wine, sugar, vinegar and salt in a medium-sized saucepan and bring to a boil. Stir in the mustard until thoroughly blended and then mix in the mustard seeds.

Gently pour the hot liquid over the fruit in the jar, cover, and shake gently to distribute the liquid. It should generously cover the fruit. Store in the refrigerator for at least two days and up to one month. The longer it is stored, the more pronounced the flavors will become. The dried cherries will also plump up a little bit and they are delicious.

adapted from Michael Symon

  • 1 pound celery, peeled and sliced thin.
  • 2 jalapeño peppers, cut into thin rings.
  • 2-3 cherry peppers, diced.
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced.
  • 1 red onion, quartered and sliced thin.
  • 1 tsp. ancho chile powder
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. toasted, ground coriander
  • 1/4 cup flat leaf parsley, chopped.
  • ½ cup red wine vinegar
  • ½ cup olive oil

Combine all ingredients in a large mixing bowl and mix thoroughly. Pack into a 1 quart mason jar. Store in the refrigerator for up to a month, shaking gently every so often to redistribute the liquid.


Strawberry Jam Tart with Walnut Crust

Follow the recipe found here for making a strawberry jam tart, but replace the cornmeal with ½ cup finely ground walnuts.


Chocolate Hazelnut Tart
adapted from the Noble Pig

Tart shell:

  • 12 tbsp. unsalted butter
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
  • Zest of one large orange


  • 2 tbsp. cornstarch
  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 3/4 cup Nutella or other chocolate-hazelnut spread
  • 1/2 tsp. vanilla
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • Chopped hazelnuts to garnish

Preheat the oven to 325o F.

Melt the 12 tbsp. of butter in a medium-sized pot over medium-high heat and brown just a touch. Remove the pot from the heat and stir in the sugar, vanilla, salt, and orange zest until the sugar is mostly dissolved.


Put the flour in a large bowl and add the butter mixture. Mix until a soft dough forms.



To form the crust, roll the dough into a ball and then press it into an ungreased 10 in. tart pan with a removable bottom using the heel of your hand. Push the crust approximately ½ in. up the sides of the pan.


Freeze the crust for 15 minutes and then bake it for 25 minutes or until the edges are just becoming golden. Set aside on a wire rack to cool slightly. Unlike many tart recipes, the crust does not have to be completely cool before the filling is added. It can be warm, but you should be able to touch the sides of the pan.


Whisk the cornstarch with ¼ cup of the heavy cream. Make sure the cream is cold when you do this.

Combine the remaining 1 ¾ cups cream, chocolate-hazelnut spread, vanilla, and salt in a saucepan over medium heat. Add the cornstarch mixture and mix thoroughly.


Whisking constantly, bring the filling to a boil and boil for one minute or until it thickens considerably.


Pour the filling into the tart shell.


Top with chopped hazelnuts and refrigerate until set for at least two hours before serving. Chilling it overnight is ideal for the very easiest cutting serving. Covered, the tart will keep for 2-3 days in the refrigerator.


Here’s the whole spread waiting to be enjoyed in our photography department. As you can see, I was not the only one contributing delicious goodies. We have a very talented staff, what can I say?


And that doesn’t even include all of the truly special artwork that was created for the event. Tote bags, planters, wreaths, mobiles, frames, dioramas, models, origami…you name it, my colleagues thought of a creative way to make it. A personal favorite was a giant paper crane made out of a proposed engineering plan. He was pretty cool looking. For my own FRACAS piece I wanted to find a way to save all of the beautiful greeting cards Joe and I received at our wedding, so I made this wreath out of those, fabric scraps left over from making a skirt, a bow from the groomer which Dioji no longer cared to wear, and a broken embroidery ring:


Well, I hope that this post will sustain you through December, since I’m fairly sure that I’ll go MIA during Christmas baking season. (Dare I try to break the record of 114 dozen treats?) All I’ll say is that a certain grandma gave me a pizzelle iron at my bridal shower and that it’s been calling to me from the cupboard ever since I deemed it acceptable to begin thinking about Christmas.

Warmest holiday wishes to all of you. Remember that what you always have is what you carry in your heart and head, so make it something fun!

Ciao for now,

DIY Charcuterie Returns: Duck Prosciutto

21 Sep

First, a bit of shameless self-promotion:

The Choral Arts Society of Washington (of which I am a member) is performing Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana with the National Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Rafael Frübeck de Burgos and featuring soloists Nicholas Phan (tenor), Laura Claycomb (soprano), and Hugh Russell (baritone). The performances will take place at the Kennedy Center Concert Hall on the evenings of September 29th, 30th, and October 1st. Also on the program is Beethoven’s Symphony No. 8.

Please come hear what is going to be a really spectacular show! Tickets are available through the Kennedy Center’s website here:

Secondly, football season is at last in full swing, which is awesome, and also means the return of fantasy football. Let me tell you, team Merchant of Menace is looking pretty good so far (fingers crossed) aside from an injury or two. Here’s this year’s lineup so that I can look back at the end of the season and go “What was I thinking?” But hopefully not. The starters are in boldface:

  • QBs: Matt Ryan, Kyle Orton
  • WRs: Roddy White, Mike Wallace, Kenny Britt, Pierre Garcon, Hines Ward
  • RBs: LeSean McCoy, Tim Hightower, Ryan Mathews, LaDanian Tomlinson
  • TEs: Owen Daniels, Aaron Hernandez
  • K: Sebastian Janikowski
  • DEF: New England

I’ve been luckier than most the first few weeks. My only major downer is Aaron Hernandez going down with a sprained MCL. It could be anywhere from 2-6 weeks before he returns, but I’ll keep him on the bench until I absolutely need the roster spot. It’s a shame; he started off the season really strong.

Now let’s switch gears entirely and talk about duck. How is it that in all of my charcuterie posts from earlier this year that I never got around to sharing the delightful creation known as duck prosciutto? You can even see it hanging in the pictures of the pancetta and soppressata!

But honestly, it’s a good thing that I waited. Really. I’ve made the duck prosciutto from Charcuterie a few times now with my own little changes and have discovered a few things along the way that I think will make your first time trying it more successful. This is definitely the easiest charcuterie project to take on, so if you’re looking for a place to start, you’ve found it.

Duck Prosciutto, adapted from Charcuterie, by Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn

  • One duck breast (I normally use a moulard duck breast weighing in around 20 oz.)
  • 2 cups kosher salt
  • Fresh sage and orange zest
  • Cheesecloth and butcher’s twine

First, find a lidded container that will snugly fit your duck breast. I use a small rectangular Ziploc tub, but a 1 qt. oval baking dish covered with plastic wrap would work well too.

Pat the duck breast dry and set aside.

Combine the 2 cups of salt with the herbs and zest to make a cure. You can use other flavors too. Some people like to add crushed juniper berries, herbs de provence, or a combination of hot pepper and brown sugar to their cure. Think about the kind of flavors you like. For my preference, nothing brightens up duck like orange zest and a few torn sage leaves.

Pour one cup of the salt cure into the storage tub or baking dish and place the duck breast on top of it. Pack enough of the remaining cure around and on top of it to just cover the surface on all sides. Cover the container and refrigerate for 24 hours.

Remove the duck breast from the cure and rinse it under cool water. Pat it dry once again and weigh it.

Wrap the duck breast in a layer of cheesecloth and hang it in a cool, dark, and mildly humid place to dry. Ideal conditions are around 60 degrees F. and 60-70% humidity.

Hang for 1-2 weeks, or until it has lost 1/3rd of its original weight. Store wrapped in butcher paper in the refrigerator or vacuum seal for longer-term storage. Serve very thinly sliced with peppery greens like arugula, and fresh tomatoes.

On slicing: To make it easier to slice thin, you can put the duck breast in the freezer for a half-hour or so prior to slicing to make it firmer. And just look at the beautiful color:

Happy Autumn to you all. I assure you that after the Carmina Burana performances, I’ll be back with more fall (football!) recipes.

Ciao for now,


DIY Charcuterie the Third: Peperone (Pepperoni)

24 Apr

Project pancetta has come to its savory and delicious conclusion. Here’s a final shot:

I think a trip to Eastern Market for some nice, plump sea scallops is in order. Wrap them up in pancetta, roast quickly, and serve with a spicy plum or peach chutney…yum.

Ah, but with room in the drying closet comes room for a new project. With all of this bacon-y goodness and soon to be finished soppressata, I thought something a little bit leaner might be in order. I once bought peperone from a small Italian market that made it on-site and was pleasantly suprised by two things: It was much less fatty than the average slice you might see on pizza and also much more heavily spiced.

Pepperoni is the Americanized spelling of peperoni, the plural of the Italian word peperone which means “pepper.” Makes sense then, that this would be a peppery sausage that bites back a little bit when you taste it. So let’s go for it:


  • 5 lbs. of lean beef, cut into small cubes. A round or chuck roast with the sinew and fat trimmed away is perfect.


  • 3 tbsp. kosher salt
  • 1 tsp. DQ curing salt #2 / Insta-cure #2 (
  • 1/4 cup Bactoferm F-RM-52
  • 1/4 cup distilled water
  • 3 tsp. cayenne pepper
  • 1/2 tsp. ground allspice
  • 1 tsp. ground fennel
  • 4 tbsp. dextrose
  • 3/4 cup nonfat dry milk powder
  • 2 tbsp. paprika
  • 2 tbsp. dry red wine
  • 10 ft. sausage casings

Soak the sausage casings in warm water for at least a half hour.

Combine the meat with the kosher salt and DQ curing salt #2 and grind through a small die into the bowl of a stand mixer.

Dissolve the Bactoferm starter in the distilled water and add it, along with the rest of the ingredients, to the ground meat. Mix thoroughly to combine everything. At this point, I let the meat rest for a few hours in the refrigerator. Prior to stuffing, I also fried a small patty of the ground meat to check the seasoning.

Grease a sausage stuffer (I use the attachment for the Kitchenaid) with a small amount of shortening. Find the opening in the soaked casing and run cool water down the length of the casing several times to remove any kinks, and then shimmy it onto the stuffer. Tie a knot at the end. Have a sterilized pin at the ready to remove any air pockets that form as you form the peperone. Stuff the seasoned meat into the casing using consistent speed and gentle, even pressure.

Once you have completed stuffing a rope of peperone, twist it into 10 in. links alternating directions, and then tie each link off with butchers twine. Prick the peperone all over to remove any remaining air pockets and facilitate drying. Weigh them and take note of the weight.

Hang the links at room temperature for 12 hours and then move to a cool, dark, humid place to dry completely. Ideal conditions are about 60 degrees and 60-70% humidity. The peperone is ready when it feels firm all the way through and has lost 1/3rd of its weight. Here it is hanging out in the drying closet on the left, with the soppressata (which is almost ready!!) on the right.

Depending on the thickness and size of the links, drying can take anywhere from one to three weeks. Then, well…mangia!

Update: Here’s what the finished peperone looked like. Had a nice little kick to it, but nothing too palate-numbing. Really worth the wait!


Ciao for now,


More DIY Charcuterie: Soppressata

19 Apr

As hard as it may be to believe, I don’t always feel like cooking. Like any other working person, there are days that I come home from the office entirely wiped out. There are also the rare occasions when Joe gets a fast-food craving, and unless it’s for burgers at Five Guys I usually pass. Those evenings, I turn to simple pleasures for dinner. Maybe an avocado, sliced thin with a squeeze of lime juice and a sprinkle of salt alongside thinly rolled slices of smoked turkey. If I have caramelized onions in the fridge, I might cut up some mild cheese (like queso blanco) and eat those together with a little bit of French bread.

But my favorite simple meals are things like little slices of soppressata and sharp provolone with some kind of raw or pickled vegetables on the side. That, some warm bread, and a glass of sparkling water and I’m a pretty happy camper.

Well, I did feel like cooking this weekend, and honestly, I can’t really think of why I haven’t been compelled before now to make my own soppressata. I’ve made fresh sausage lots of times. The only difference here is that this is left to dry for a few weeks.

Okay, so there are a few more differences than that, but only in the sense that you need to mix a spoonful of special salt and a starter into your ground meat. Most recipes you’ll find online don’t include them, but the authors of Charcuterie recommend them to guard against the growth of mold and prevent botulism. I’ve included a source for those ingredients and have found their shipping and service to be excellent.

Here’s what you’ll need meat-wise:

  • 4 lb. pork shoulder, cut into small cubes
  • 1 lb. pork fat, diced (Back fat is recommended, but I used a little bit of belly fat and the fat cap from my pork shoulder.)

For the cure:

  • ¼ cup distilled water
  • 20 grams Bactoferm-f-rm-52 starter (
  • 3 tbsp. kosher salt
  • 1 tsp. DQ curing salt #2, also called Insta Cure #2 (
  • ½ cup nonfat dry milk powder
  • 3 tbsp. dextrose ( Ooh, one-day shipping!) You can also use plain sugar, but dextrose is a better food for your starter.
  • 1 tsp. ground white pepper
  • 1.5 tsp. minced garlic
  • 1 tsp. hot red pepper flakes (can be doubled if you like hot sausage)
  • ¼ cup Pinot Bianco or other dry white wine
  • 10 ft. sausage casing

Get both the fat and the meat very cold. In fact, you can even freeze the fat. This will keep it from smearing and give you those wonderful little bites of fat you see in soppressata.

Grind the fat and meat coarsely and then refrigerate.

Soak the casings in water that starts at 110 degrees F. while you prepare the rest of the ingredients.

Dissolve the Bactoferm starter in the distilled water. In a separate bowl, combine the rest of the dry ingredients for the cure and mix well.

Add the cure, wine, and starter to the meat and mix on your mixer’s lowest speed (or by hand) for a minute or two until well combined. Return the mixture to the fridge while you prepare the sausage stuffer.

Grease a sausage stuffer (I use the attachment for the Kitchenaid) with a small amount of shortening. Find the opening in the soaked casing and run cool water down the length of the casing several times to remove any kinks, and then shimmy it onto the stuffer. Tie a knot at the end.

Slowing stuff the meat mixture into the sausage casing. Have a sterilized pin handy to prick out any air pockets that form. Keep one hand on the extruded sausage and stuff as evenly as possible. (It is difficult to take pictures while doing this, but you can see more of the process in my earlier post on boerewors.) Once you have completed a rope of sausage, twist it into links alternating direction each time, or tie them off with small pieces of butchers twine. Prick the links all over with the sterilized pin to facilitate drying and remove any remaining air pockets. Weigh the sausage and take note of the pre-dried weight.

Hang the sausages to dry at room temperature for 12 hours. This will help to incubate the beneficial bacteria created by the starter. After 12 hours, move the links to a cool, humid, dark place to dry until they have lost 1/3rd of the original weight. On average, this takes 2-3 weeks.

This soppressata began drying on Saturday afternoon and was 74 oz., so it will be finished when it reaches 49 oz. See you then!

Update! Here’s a picture of the finished soppressata. It was amazing, but gone so quickly.

Ciao for now,


P.S. My basement smells delicious.