Mac Attack

My son made this request for his birthday meal – “I want Great Lakes Cuisine worthy Mac & Cheese”. Here you go –


Mac Attack

6 thick slices bacon
½ cup maple syrup
1 tbl. barbeque seasoning (such as Penzey’s BBQ 3001)

1 lb. cavatappi pasta (corkscrew tubes) or elbow macaroni
¼ cup butter
1 medium onion, diced
2 medium carrots, diced
½ lb. smoked ham, diced
6 smoked wieners, ¼ inch slices

1 lb. aged white cheddar, grated
7 eggs, beaten
1 ¾ cup milk
6 oz. blue cheese, crumbled

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Line baking sheet with parchment paper. Pour maple syrup into a small bowl and drag bacon slices through syrup and place on baking sheet. Bake for 8 minutes, flip and season with barbeque seasoning. Bake an additional 8 minutes or until crisp. Watch carefully in the final few minutes to avoid burning. Set aside to cool.

Cook pasta according to directions.

In a large saucepan over medium heat, place 1 tablespoon of butter, onion, carrot, ham and wieners until vegetables are softened. Remove from heat, and stir in the remaining butter, milk, eggs, and cheeses. Stir in the pasta.

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Fill 13×9 pan with pasta mixture. Bake for 25 minutes or until the egg mixture sets. While the pasta bakes, cut the bacon into crumbles. Serve with crumbled bacon.

We enjoyed this with a side of home made apple sauce, with apples picked at a local orchard. Our apple sauce included 2 each of Pippin, McIntosh, and Cortlands, peeled and cored then cooked in a medium sauce pan over medium each with 1 cup water, ½ cup brown sugar, ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon, and ¼ teaspoon ground cloves. Cooked for 10-15 minutes until it reaches your desired consistency.


This was a fun twist on the classic combination of cheddar and apple. We’re big fan’s of Nueske’s meats, which we’ve covered before, so it is no surprise that all the meats in the dish were Nueske’s. The white cheddar we used was 6 year aged and the blue cheese was from Black River. Very rich, smoky flavors. Really enjoyed this with a Staghorn Oktoberfest from New Glarus Brewing. Yes, that was birthday worthy.

Welcoming Autumn

Seasonality is a foundational idea in Great Lakes cuisine. The seasonal cycles in the region are pronounced and the agricultural traditions respond accordingly. The traditions of preservation, so important to Great lakes cuisine, is clearly derived from the seasonality. Some of the traditional meals also fall in line with the turn of the seasons. As summer fades into the golds of autumn, apples are one of the many fruits which reach full harvest. Here we use our bounty of apples in a variety of ways to add a bit of flavor to our smoked turkey.
 Turkey Dinner1
Apple-Glazed Smoked Turkey
1 Turkey Breast (Preferably bone-in, skin on)
Prepare brine:
4 cups apple juice
1 cup salt
1/2 cup brown sugar
4 bay leaves
4 whole cloves
1 cinnamon stick
Bring to a boil, then simmer 5 minutes.
Add 4 cups ice (ice will chill brine and bring to proper salt level.  I prefer an “ocean water” level of salt, rather than some more heavily salted brine recipes.)
Place turkey in large non-reactive container, just large enough to hold it. Cover with brine and allow to marinate at least 4 hours, but no more than 8 hours.
Prepare smoker with applewood chips to 250 degrees. Place turkey on the smoker for 3 hours or until internal temperature of 160 degrees.
While the turkey smokes, prepare the glaze:
1 cup apple juice
2 bay leaves
2 whole cloves
1 cinnamon stick
Over medium-low heat in a sauce-pan, reduce by half, then remove seasonings.
Add 1/2 cup brown sugar, reduce over low heat until a thick syrup.
Brush Turkey with glaze every ten minutes for the final 30 minutes of cooking.
Remove turkey from smoker and allow to rest for ten to twenty minutes before carving.
 Turkey Dinner
We served this with our mulled cranberry sauce (recipe below), pureed roasted sweet potatoes, and grilled zucchini dressed with winter savory leaves and flowers. Winter savory flowers have a mild, peppery finish which adds a nice flavor, in addition to the visual appeal.
Mulled Cranberry Sauce
It is worth noting, the apple variety we used in the cranberry sauce was a Zestar, a cultivar more recently developed by the folks at my alma mater, the University of Minnesota, the same genius minds that brought us the Honeycrisp. You can use any variety well suited to applesauce.
1 lb fresh cranberries
1 apple grated (skin on, cored)
1/2 cup apple juice
1 tablespoon orange zest
1 cup organic brown sugar
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp. ground clove
1/2 tsp. ground ginger
Combine all ingredients in a medium sauce pan over medium heat. Bring to a boil then reduce to a simmer. Allow the sauce to thicken, about 20 minutes. The majority of the cranberries will begin to burst and the natural pectin will thicken the sauce as it cools.  Allow sauce to cool overnight or at least 8 hours. Taste for flavor. Add maple syrup to reach desired sweetness.


Butchers, Beef, and Three Hours of Smoke

Here in the Great Lakes, a local butcher is a good person to know. Let’s say one day you walk in looking for something unique to throw on the smoker. No, not pork belly. We’ve done that. Beef brisket, done it. Most of the standard fare, we’ve covered. If you’re a regular like Tom and you’ve caught the butcher when things are not busy, they just might invite you to the backroom to take a look at the half cow they are preparing for the day and ask you “What looks interesting?” That is how he ended up with a six pound, custom cut, beef short rib from the folks at Clancy’s Meat & Fish. If you are able to procure such a glorious cut of beef, here is one of our recommended preparations:

Smoked Beef Short Ribs

Spice Mix

Mix together 1 cup brown sugar, 1 tablespoon salt, 1 tablespoon five spice powder, 1 teaspoon garlic powder, 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes, 1 teaspoon dry mustard, 1 teaspoon powdered ginger. Then add just enough olive oil to wet the mixture and make a paste.

Prepare the Beef Ribs

Coat the entire beef short ribs with the mixture, wrap with plastic wrap and allow to marinate overnight in the refrigerator.

Fire up your smoker, apple wood and oak chips are recommended. When smoker settles to approximately 250 degrees, throw the beef ribs on, bone side down over indirect heat. We placed a pan with Sprecher Oktoberfest underneath to catch dripping which later became a pan sauce. Smoke for about 3 hours or until internal temperature reaches 185 degrees. The meat will pull easily away from the bone. It should look something like this:


Beef Ribs1


We enjoyed the smoked ribs two ways – the first evening we had a slab of beef with sauteed kale, potato rosti, and creamed corn. The corn was a roadside farmer’s stand find which we creamed with buttermilk and Carr Valley Cheese’s Dancing Sheep Fontina, picked up earlier directly from the one of the Carr Valley locations. The ribs were deeply smoked and unbelievably rich in flavor as the inter-muscular fat had partially rendered and left the beef really moist, the sugars caramelized into a crisp exterior shell of spicy goodness.

The next day we sliced leftover smoked ribs into 1/4 inch slices, served two slices on a multi-grain sourdough toast, topped with oven-roasted tomatoes and Carr Valley Cheese’s Smoked Gorgonzola (same recipe for the tomatoes as our past version of a steak sandwich).

Beef Ribs2

These were rich, decadently fatty and creamy, with the concentrated tang of the oven-roasted tomatoes adding a nice contrast. If you have the opportunity to enjoy them lakeside on a brilliantly sunny afternoon, alongside friends and family, they may be even better. This is Great Lakes living. This is Great Lakes cuisine.

Clancy’s Meat & Fish is a great little butcher shop in the Minneapolis area. In Madison, talk to the folks at Underground Meats which we featured in a previous post. In Milwaukee, Bunzel’s Old Fashioned Meat Market is a great family-run butcher or Bavette La Boucherie offers a very European-style shop. Wherever you are, find a real butcher, explore different cuts, ask them what they think, if you like their stuff keep going back. A local butcher is a good person to know.