March Challenge: Brining

March 31, 2011

All year long, we'll be hosting Charcutepalooza, the meat extravaganza masterminded by bloggers Cathy Barrow (our own MrsWheelbarrow) and Kim Foster.

Each month brings a new challenge (e.g. duck prosciutto, salt curing), and a new roundup of the best posts -- which we'll feature on Food52. Charcutepalooza will culminate in a competition offering an amazing grand prize (details here). You can see a list of past challenges here, read the rules here, and see a list of the bloggers who've signed on here.

See Cathy's announcement of April's challenge: Hot Smoking, here. Read on below for Kim's tales of smoking almonds, plus a roundup of the best posts in March's challenge: Brining.

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Smokin' Somethin'

-Kim Foster

I thought, somehow, it would be a good idea to smoke almonds at a play date with four year olds.

Call me crazy but this Charcutepalooza smoking challenge seemed like a no-brainer to me - a fun, slightly off-beat activity with enthralled kids, with lots of time to play Barbie while all the smoking is happening, and at the end, a wholesome snack. I find that kids expect you to make muffins or something lame like that with them, but if you smoke something or light something on fire, get some steam happening, some broth bubbling and popping, if you play with the elements, well, that just catches them off guard. Then you have them.

But this time they had me. It was hell the minute we stepped out of the school doors. Edie had a 45 minute meltdown in the barren parking lot that serves as our school's playground. 45 minutes sitting on damp concrete weeping over a headband. But we soldiered on, my kids and Edie's best friend, Sofia. We calmed ourselves, walked two feet and stumbled into the Italian Ice man, which started a cacophony of begging and more weeping. I tried to convince them about my smoked nuts. Smoked nuts are sooooo much better than Italian Ice, I told them. I had on my excited face. But they didn't buy it and really I wasn't buying it either. I caved. I bought them Italian Ice.

Still, I thought I could save it. I was focused on my nuts. We dislodged ourselves from backpacks and winter coats when we got home and I set about lining the wok with foil, and called them all in to join me for adding the wood in the bottom of the wok, and setting up a lattice of chopsticks across the pan that would hold a plate of almonds and covering it tightly with foil to create a little oven. They were interested for about 20 seconds.

I barely turned on the heat and they were done with me. Someone yelled out "Princess Dress-Up!" and two seconds later they had discarded all of their clothes on the kitchen floor and were streaking through the apartment buck naked running for first dibs on the dress-up box. Leaving me, of course, alone holding my nuts.

The apartment didn't start filling with smoke until they were all dressed in various ball gowns watching Tim Burton's "Alice in Wonderland" together. We live on a high floor so we have child locks and can only open the windows just shy of a kid being able to get their head through the crack. And we have a pretty lame hood exhaust. Our only option is to open the door and make the neighbors pay for our indiscretions and experiments. That's when Sofia started coughing like a four pack a day smoker and Edie joined her. Then everyone was hacking and clutching their throats, as if nerve gas had been released in the apartment. It wasn't that bad. Really. But then Lucy came into the kitchen and asked if we were all going to die in a fire, and I heard Edie say something to Sofia about "stop, drop and roll".

Which is why I stopped smoking the almonds. I know when to accept defeat.

Instead I made Mrs. Wheelbarrow's Tamari Almonds, which toast up quick in the oven and make a pretty addictive snack. I didn't mess around with them. I wasn't in a messing around mood. They were perfect just the way Cathy wrote the recipe. Pretty soon I had three girls dressed in gowns, drinking sparkling water out of champagne glasses, wearing garish flower petal headbands and popping warm, freshly-toasted almonds into their mouths. I wish I had a picture for you, but by then I was too busy pouring myself a glass of wine and cursing my wok.

I'll save my smoking for the country house from now on. This weekend I'm smoking bacon on the deck. Outside. Far away from the children.

For now, here's Cathy's simple, but life-saving nuts. Great for emergency snacking and after school rehabilitation.

Cathy Barrow's Tamari Almonds
(almond picture also by Cathy)

1 lb raw almonds
1/4 c (scant) low sodium tamari

Preheat oven to 325°
Line a sheet pan with parchment paper.
Toss the almonds with the tamari until they are well coated.
Spread the almonds out on the sheet pan and allow them to dry a little while the oven heats up.
Toast the almonds in the center of the oven for 18 minutes.
Remove the pan from the oven and loosen the almonds from the parchment paper using a spatula.
Remove the paper and spread out the almonds on the hot sheet pan, shaking well.
Pop them back in the oven for two minutes to dry out a little more.
Remove and allow the almonds to cool completely on the sheet pan.
Store in an airtight container.

Now for some Charcutepalooza monthly business:

Monthly Give-Away

The winner of the Charcutepalooza apron is...STEPHIREY from Food52! You've won the adorable apron, which you can check out here, made by Charcutepalooza-er Pam, who blogs at Snappy Service Cafe, and can be found on Twitter at @LeakySpoon. Get in touch with Cathy. She'll hook you up with details about your apron. We have fallen in love with it!

For this month's brining stars - check out these blogs. The bar is getting higher and higher every month. There's some amazing food coming out of our Charcutepalooza kitchens.

Best of the Blogs - Brining

1. Curing The Heart
Rye Spaetzle

2. Affairs of Living
A Vegetarian Cowers in the Corner

3. Smoke Cure Pickle Brew
Building the Perfect Scratch Reuben

4. Former Chef

5. Chez Us
Whiskey Glaze

6. Good For The Palate
Side dish - Collard Hash Wraps with Jameson Mustard Cream Sauce

7. Viveksurti
Corned Beef Goes Indian

8. WTF Am I Cooking?
Crisped Poached Brined Duck with Lentils

9. Foodie Prints
Ox Tongue and Ox Heart Sandwiches

10. Butchers Apprentice
Classic Danish Luncheon Meat Roulade - Rullepols

Best of the Photos - Brining

1. Eat This Lens (Marshall Wright)

2. Tiffin Tales

3. The Hungry Photographer

4. Toast

5. GirliChef

Charcutepalooza loves our sponsors. D’Artagnan offers 25% off the meat-of-the-month. If you aren’t receiving your email with the secret code for Charcutepalooza members, register here. And the trip to France – an awesome grand prize deliciously designed by Trufflepig and Kate Hill at Camont.


mcs3000 April 4, 2011
Freakin' hilarious, Kim! Loved your "Angry Mom" post too - honest, funny + brilliant.
Burnt O. March 31, 2011
Thanks for the coffee snort, Kim. Scared the hell out of my cats! So funny.
katehill March 31, 2011
I love seeing the bar being raised at these great Charcutepalooza posts- writing, recipes, techniques, photos. This last junket to the States was a wonderful way to meet some of the faces behind the names- next time you Yummy Mummy!
MrsWheelbarrow March 31, 2011
Ten spectacular posts, indeed, but I have to say, it was hard to select just 10 (and just 5 photos) - the Charcutepalooza bloggers are doing an amazing job.