Fatted Calf: Salumi Class

Last weekend I attended a salumi making class at Fatted Calf in Napa. I signed up to take the course last September and have been looking forward to it ever since. This is a class my BFF recommended to me after taking it herself.
The drive to Napa from Oakland took about fifty minutes. The course runs about four hours and includes snacking on a well stocked charcuterie platter, lunch, and bringing goodies home. The class was made up of twelve students and three instructors, led by Taylor who would teach us how to make three items.  

The first item we made was “salame cotto” which means cooked salami. We watched as the pork meat and skin was grounded in a heavy duty machine. We then hand mixed the meat and seasonings before learning how to stuff the casing with the meat. 
We labeled our own “salame cotto” which were taken away to be steamed at a low heat. When it reached its doneness, it was placed in an ice bath. At this point, it is ready to eat. I placed mine in the refrigerator as soon as I got home. After a week, I finally cut it open to make a delicious tasting sandwich.  
The next item we learned about was guanciale, cured pork jowl. I am familiar with this meat having used it in pastas. It is loaded with fat which also means it is loaded with flavor. In this part of the course, we also learned a new skill, trimming glands from the jowl with a boning knife. There is a long timely process to get the pork jowl from its raw form to guanciale. There is a curing process, refrigeration process, and drying out process. Since the class is four hours, we would not be taking home the pork jowl we worked on, but someone else’s. 
Last night I made a simple pasta dish called Pasta alla Gricia, a recipe from Mark Bittman. It was a good way to make my homemade guanciale the star. The ingredients are limited to spaghetti, guanciale, black pepper, and Pecorino Romano cheese. I’ll be exploring other recipes to use my guanciale in the next few months.
The final item we made were “cacciatorini.” These are small, thin salami. After hand mixing the pork and seasonings, we had the opportunity to case three links, tying them together. We would take our own “cacciatorini” home to dry in a dark cool space.
I took my “cacciatorini” home to my tiny apartment in Oakland. I contemplated where I could hang dry it. The only place I could find was my hall closet. Yes, this is the closet that also stores supplies such as extra toilet paper and paper towels, storage boxes with miscellaneous items, and shoes. This photo shows the raw form and then seven days later (halfway through the drying process.)
We also got a tour of their refrigerator that stores much of their cured meats. It was like charcuterie heaven.  
After the class, we all enjoyed a delicious lunch together. We had a cheese platter, a salad, pork loin, and beans. The meal also included wine. 

 Unfortunately I couldn’t stay too long and hang out with my classmates. But I absolutely loved everything about the class and enjoyed the experience. Although I am doubtful I would make salame at home, I had a lot of fun. I would recommend anyone who loves pork to take this course. If you just want to buy their products, you can either visit the Fatted Calf butcher shop in San Francisco or Napa.


Sunday Funday in Napa County

Today I took a trip to Napa County with friends. We weren’t going wine tasting, but had planned to hike Mount Saint Helena. Hiking up five miles on the Stevenson Memorial Trail would take us over 4,000 feet to St. Helena’s peak.  
With so much rain and lack of exercise lately, the hike was much needed. It was a gorgeous day for this ten mile roundtrip hike. The views were beautiful. I admit that I felt out of shape as my muscles were really sore as we descended.  
Before heading back home, we stopped at Oxbow Public Market for an early dinner. I felt that I deserved a nice piece of steak. Five Dot Ranch Cookhouse is where you can get local and sustainably raised beef. I was attracted to the menu item “you pick it, we grill it.” The butcher shop meat case had some amazing pieces of meat. I then noticed the special of the day which was a 7 oz skirt steak with potato puree, roasted Brussels sprouts, and a bone marrow glace for $20. I was sold.  
My skirt steak was cooked a medium rare as I requested, and was tender and full of flavor. The potatoes were buttery and creamy, while the Brussels sprouts were roasted to perfection. As much as I deserved a steak dinner, this dinner plate deserved to be eaten. I was completely satisfied.  
Before the long ride home, I wanted to have some coffee. I stopped for a cappuccino at San Francisco based Ritual Coffee.  

 I guess it’s no secret I was also going to use the loo too. The barista sure has a good sense of humor.

DIY: Strawberries and Whipped Cream filled Cream Puffs

Last Sunday afternoon, I hung out with my two youngest nieces, ages 7 and 9. They wanted to bake. I was inspired to make cream puffs having recently eaten the Italian version, bigne alla crema from Ca’ momi in Napa. If you are in the area, you must visit Oxbow Market and pick up some of these delicious pastries.  

  Never having made cream puffs before, I searched for a simple recipe. I found a recipe online from King Arthur Flour. I use King Arthur flour and have been successful in the past using their recipes. I already had most of the ingredients. Fresh whipped cream would fill these pastry shells. I picked up some of the sweetest organic strawberries from the farmer’s market earlier in the morning so I would add that to the recipe. This recipe makes a dozen cream puffs.
Ingredients for pastry:

  • 1 cup water
  • 8 tbsp unsalted butter
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 1/4 all purpose flour
  • 4 large eggs

Ingredients for filling:

  • 1 pint heavy whipping cream
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 basket of strawberries, washed and sliced


Preheat oven to 425°F. Place water, butter, and salt in a medium-sized saucepan over medium high heat. Let the butter melt. When the butter reaches boiling point, remove the pan from heat. Quickly add the flour and stir vigorously.

 Return the pan to the burner and cook over medium heat, stirring all the while, until the mixture smooths out and follows the spoon around the pan; this should take less than a minute.
 Remove the pan from the heat, and transfer dough to a mixing bowl and let the cool for 10 minutes. Beat eggs one at a time. Once last egg is in, beat for an additional 2 minutes.
 Measure out the dough into 3-4 tablespoons rounds and place them on a parchment paper lined baking sheet about 3 inches apart.
 Bake the pastries for 15 minutes, then reduce the oven temperature to 350°F and bake for another 20 minutes. The pastries should be a medium golden brown. Do not open the oven door while the pastries are baking.
Remove the pastries from the oven. Make a small slit in the top of each, and return them to the oven for 5 minutes, to allow the steam to escape. Place them on a rack to cool. 
 To make the whipped cream, pour the heavy whipping cream into a mixing bowl, and begin to whip on high speed. Add sugar gradually as you whip. Continue to whip until stiff and smooth. 
The cream puffs are now ready for assembling.  
 Slice the cream puffs in half and fill the bottom halves of the puffs with whipped cream, add sliced strawberries, replace their tops, and dust with confectioners’ sugar.

 The nieces loved helping to make them and eat them. They especially loved the whipped cream.  

My Weight Watchers Journey

I have been unhappy with my weight for the past ten to fifteen years. I never considered myself overweight, but for the past few years, I have seen myself go from a size 2 to a size 6. I gave myself plenty of excuses to eat whatever I wanted and ignore my weight gain. Turning 40 was one and starting a food blog was another.

Last year, a size 6 started getting tight and a size 8 was more comfortable. I became somewhat depressed. I asked myself when would this stop? I ignored my weight and focused instead on the compliments I received about my food blog. Late October of last year, I decided I had to do something about my situation. My sister had recently joined Weight Watchers and a friend at work was joining Weight Watchers at Work. I would join Jennifer Hudson and millions of others.

I felt like a smoker who was going cold turkey. I ate small portions and kept track of everything I ate. I walked 3 miles a day and on weekends I walked more. I was feeling good and was dropping about 2 pounds a week for several weeks. Dropping pounds was keeping me motivated as well as my coworker, my sister, and my Weight Watcher at Work group. I was feeling great about being able to lose weight and maintain my food blog. I still ate bacon and other things I love, just not as much as I used to. It was a delicate balance.

In mid-March, my coworker and I reached our goal weights. I dropped a little more than 18 pounds. We had to maintain our weight for six weeks, only being able to fluctuate up and down by 2 pounds. At that point we would become Lifetime members of Weight Watchers and no longer have to pay dues. My coworker and I made a pack at the start that we would celebrate in Napa when we made Lifetime.

Last weekend, we celebrated our victory. We shopped for our new sizes at the Napa outlets and went over to Yountville to have lunch at Bouchon Bakery, facials at the Villagio Inn and Spa, and dinner at Redd Wood.

It was a great day and here are the photos of what we ate at Red Wood. We started with fried cauliflower and Brussels sprouts which was so delicious. It reminded me of flavors you get when eating fried calamari.

We shared a lardo, mushroom, spinach, and fontina pizza. This was a white pizza and pretty good. The pizza crust was excellent and I would not hesitate to try other toppings in the future.

Next came crispy spicy chicken wings with a calabrian chili sauce. These were like upscale buffalo wings and very tasty, packing a punch.

We were celebrating, so we had to have dessert. We enjoyed the strawberry rhubarb crisp with vanilla ice cream. It was the perfect seasonal dessert to end our day trip to Napa.

Between the two of us, we ate every bite of what you see in the photos. Not bad for the two of us on Weight Watchers who for the past several months have made mindful choices and continue to do so.