Charcutepalooza: A Year of Meat, Chaos and Hope

Recipes: Duck Prosciutto Fig Spread, Mostly Poultry Cassoulet

It’s been a year of living dangerously: curing raw meat, making cheese, tending bread and yogurt starter, making sauerkraut in crock that belonged by my great-grandmother – a year of re-defining normal. And I owe the attitude that fueled all that to Charcutepalooza. I started out nervous. And I’m ending triumphant, with a renewed enthusiasm for all things culinary.

Would I have started making my own cream cheese if I hadn’t signed on? Would I have decided my diet is best defined by a proactive standard, i.e. humanely raised, locally grown, fair trade, etc. versus just drawing an arbitrary line in the sand and eating “no mammals” without Charcutepalooza?

Luckily, I’ll never know. Instead, I made duck prosciutto and never really looked back. I met the rancher who raised the pig who became the bacon and ribs I worked with this year.  I can breakdown and chicken, a duck or a turkey, without flinching. I haven’t bought any kind of stock in months. It’s become too easy to roast the bones and make my own.

And smoking? There’s a habit I hope I never kick. Smoked salmon, yes, but also  smoked chilies, blended with onions and carrots into our own house hot sauce. And smoked tomatoes frozen in jars to go in curries and pastas all winter long.  We even had smoked creamed onions for Thanksgiving.

You’ll never see me give up my Ipad – but in the kitchen, I’m living a life much closer to my grandparents – fearless, frugal, and more connected to the food I eat and serve. Thank you, Cathy (Mrs. Wheelbarrow) and Kim (The Yummy Mummy), for all your hard work, guidance, and inspiration; and also to all my fellow Chacutepaloozians. What a grand dance it’s been.

Today, the year of meat ends. Charcutepalooza has seen us through curing, brining, smoking, grinding stuffing, blending, binding, stuffing, packing, and stretching. That’s a lot of technique and a lot of meat. Our assignment for the finale? Showing off –creating one menu, one dinner to sum up the whole experience.

I knew immediately I’d finally be making my cassoulet. It’ not cutting edge, but my duck confit was predestined for this. My friend’s surgery was a complete success. She’ll be looking over her shoulder for a few years, but for now, we have the best possible outcome. It’s first time I’ve been a part of a cancer story with a happy ending of any kind. Believe me, that’s a milestone worth celebrating – and something for which I am immensely grateful. I’ve lost too many people I love to that damn disease. It’s more than time for some defiance.

My feast needed to contain as many of my keepers from charcutepalooza as possible: duck prosciutto, bacon, turkey pastrami, smoked salmon, fresh sausage, duck confit. And it had to be portable –this meal would be cooked in my kitchen, and served, (and cleaned up after) with as little fuss as possible at my friend’s home.

Our first course was a spread trio: turkey pastrami diced and mixed with homemade sauerkraut. Smoked salmon with capers and homemade cream cheese, and duck prosciutto fig spread – prosciutto diced and mixed with lemon roasted fig preserves. I could, and did eat the duck prosciutto fig spread with a spoon. It’s that good.

And the cassoulet was a perfect fit for the occasion; comforting, rich and earthy. In my version, the only pork was the bacon. But so much more went into this pot of beans: homemade chicken sausage with figs and fennel, turkey stock (made from the same turkey who provided the pastrami), confit duck legs, and smoked tomatoes. And we loved it. One dish – so much more than the sum of its parts. With a green salad and an apple cake for dessert, it was a perfect meal for our celebration of love, friendship and luck.

I made nearly everything we ate that day. But it really didn’t feel like showing off. It felt like business as usual. And I’m grateful for that too.


8 responses to this post.

  1. Perfectly said and gorgeous pictures too. Congratulations.


  2. Everything looks beautiful and sounds so tasty. Have to make some more duck proscuitto so I can try that recipe. Cassoulet is in my nearish future, but I kind of cleaned out my sausage supply by now. I still have some casings though…..


  3. Doesn’t it feel like such an accomplishment to be done with this year? I love that you made nearly everything you ate for the final meal – us too and it felt really amazing. It’s been great getting to know you over the course of this year 🙂


  4. Posted by heidi on December 6, 2011 at 7:12 pm

    I need to tell you I was moved/loved your post. so personal, intimate and real.It struck me for so many more reasons than I can go into here. Thank you.


  5. Gosh, the pictures of your food are really terrific, and like other commenters, I’m warmed by the thoughts you share. Our cassoulets look like they might be twins, too 🙂


  6. What a great story so deserving of such a beautiful meal. Your friend is precious to you and it shows 🙂


  7. Beautiful and inspirational post! So glad that your friend’s surgery was successful. Combining hope with food lovingly made, then shared in celebration — such a wonderful thing!


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