Duck, Duck, Goose

So sometimes, it’s just for fun. We took the duck rillette we had saved after our smoked duck breakdown and decided to to use the fat to oven-fry Yukon gold potatoes and top with the shredded duck. So that’s duck, duck. We just had to come up with the goose to complete the childhood game. We had purchased Montamore cheese as a possible topping and considered a Grey Goose vodka gravy and create a variation on poutine. Instead, we hit upon a beer cheese sauce made with Goose Island Beer Co.’s Honkers Ale. Here was our results:

Duck Duck Goose

The Yukon golds were roasted perfectly at 400° for an hour, with duck fat, thyme, and sea salt. The smoked duck and beer cheese sauce combined for a richly decadent topping. You never know when inspiration will strike.

In Praise of Beer

I love beer. I love the caramel toasty notes of a rich American amber. I love the coffee and chocolates of a well-crafted stout. I love the citrusy floral notes of pale ale. I love the varieties, the possibilities, the potential. I love that you can smoke the malts and make a beer that tastes just like a perfectly cooked slab of bacon. I love pairing beers so well the flavors swell and swoon.

You know what else I’ve decided I love? Beer people. Maybe it’s just here in the Great Lakes region, but beer people have always impressed me as welcoming, warm, open. Theirs is not a passion of exclusivity or a fanaticism steeped in expense. This is not a passion based on the scarcity of a harvest or the limited number of barrels. Beer people want you to love beer. And they are perfectly willing to make as much of it as you would like to drink. This is a passion based on abundance. Let me set the scene.

I am sitting at a tasting event next to the folks from Potosi Brewing Company. Across the table are some members of the Milwaukee Beer Society. About 40 people have gathered at The Rumpus Room’s private space, invited by the founders of The Crafter Space. The Crafter Space aims to be craft beer incubator, providing scale-up efforts to home brewers and related brewing industries looking to take the next step. Our event this evening is specifically focused on tasting India Pale Ales, with two certified cicerones who are both Master Cicerone candidates this year, Jason Pratt and Brian Reed from Tenth and Blake. There are nine Master Cicerones in the world. Nine.

Jason and Brian are casual, engaging, occasionally beer geeky (we’ll get to the discussion around melanoidins in minute). Tenth and Blake is the “crafty” beer division of MillerCoors. They now own Leinenkugel’s and Blue Moon, and import a lot of interesting European specialty beers. But the tasting tonight will start with one of their beers and then go on to taste three beers from different brewers. They just want us to learn these beers, and to learn to love beer. But the event doesn’t start for a few minutes, so I have a moment to venture over to the main bar of The Rumpus Room.

Yes, Sugar Maple and Burnhearts are die-hard beer bars, which raise the standard for Milwaukee, but The Rumpus Room is growing on me. The selection of bottled beers is impressively wide and the tap selections have a little something for everyone. The décor is a polished take on early 1900s bars. I’m ordering a Robert the Bruce from 3 Floyds Brewing Company, a malty, toasty Scottish Ale, because I want to steer clear of any overly hoppy flavors that I’m anticipating in the IPAs. I always taste a bit of cooked fruit in Scotch ales that somehow reminds me of pie.

As I return to the private room and sit down to enjoy my beer, we talk about beer and what people do for a living and what stuff people love. I enjoy beer people. I finish my first selection as John Graham from The Crafter Space goes through introductions. And we’re right into the tasting.

The first beer is a White IPA from Blue Moon Brewing and the nose on the initial pour is all citrus, beautifully orangey citrus. But the flavor is more crisp, floral flavors. Our cicerones explain that nearly 90% of flavor comes from aroma, and there are two ways we actually detect aroma. Ortho nasal is the aroma we get when we inhale through the nose. Retro nasal is the aromas we detect when food or drink is in our mouth. Right before you take a drink, what’s the last thing you do? You inhale slightly. The air mixes with the drink or the food and flows up into the nasal passages, which pick up different aroma compounds. So the beer can be all citrus on the nose, but not taste like oranges on the tongue. The flavors are predominantly coming from a blend of four different hops, with different mixes added before and during fermentation. This is an easy beer to drink, not overly complex or demanding.

Our next beer returns me to 3 Floyds with a bottle of Zombie Dust. John explains that it was actually bottled today. So, yeah, it’s fresh. The guy from Potosi is telling me how much he enjoys this beer, so we cup our hands over our glass, give it swirl and inhale deeply. More herbaceous, floral notes. We sip. “Oh, this is different,” he remarks, “I remember this as being crisper.” Our cicerones explain the beer is as floral as it will ever taste, as those flavors dissipate over time. These are the alpha acids from the hops. As a beer ages, the beta acids from the hops will oxidize and add additional bitterness. So a chilled, slightly older Zombie Dust is going to present as a bit more bitter, more “crisp”. This beer is a bouquet of flavors.

The conversation on our next beer goes into another bit of chemical alchemy. We are tasting Bell’s Two Hearted Ale. I have to be honest, I’ve enjoyed Two Hearted many times and never thought of it as an India Pale Ale. The Centennial hops in this beer are balanced with a strong malt flavor which leads to a discussion of melanoidin flavors. “Ah, what are melanoidins?” comes the question from the crowd. Oh yeah, a chance for beer geekery from our cicerones. So you know how sugar, a touch of moisture and heat creates caramels? If you add amino acids to that cocktail, you get melanoidins. This is the same process that creates foundational flavors when the Maillard reaction occurs with proteins. It is this malty flavor of toasted bread which counter-balances the hop aroma. The discussion then turns to year over year variations in the Centennial hop, which is part of the reason brewers blend different hops to create consistent flavors. I prefer the variations.

The final beer comes to the table in a carafe, on draft in the main room, Double Crooked Tree from Dark Horse Brewing. This beer is as literal a take on Double IPA as there can be. The folks at Dark Horse have simply doubled every ingredient in the recipe but the water. A Double IPA is not quite that technical in definition. It typically means a higher alcohol level balanced with a bit more bitterness. But Dark Horse felt like it should be literal. I love this beer. For me, this is a heavenly balance of all the floral, herbaceous character of the hops with the deep, rich caramels of the malts. Complex without being over-powering.

Beer offers so many different possibilities to combine flavors, styles, and techniques. A tasting like this offers so many chances for learning, conversation, and appreciation. A tasting event like this is a wonderful experience of the emerging trends of Great Lakes Cuisine.

Smoked Duck Pot Pie

We had the great fortune of receiving a gift of several whole smoked ducks. We decided to take one and break it down. First, we quartered the whole duck and placed it on a bed of Granny Smith apples and celery with thyme and cup of water in the oven at 350° for about 2 hours. The duck was already fully cooked, so we were looking to break the duck down into shredded meat. After cooling over night, we shredded the meat, and separated the fat from the gelatinous stock. Some of the shredded meat we then placed in small jars and topped with melted fat to make a smoked duck rillette.


Duck Pot Pie1

We intended to return to our exploration of the hand pie with the remaining shredded duck, but instead we went with pot pies. With the expert culinary assistance of my daughter, we diced onions, celery, and carrots and sauteed them in duck fat and a bit more thyme and salt until the carrots were slightly softened. We then added the shredded duck and the stock, thickening with corn starch. We allowed the mixture to cool to room temperature before spooning it into the pastry lined cups of a large cup cake pan, then topped with pastry and baked at 350° for 45 minutes.

Duck Pot Pie

The hot pastry, savory gravy, smoked duck combined for a soul satisfying meal. It brought back memories of childhood meals, but taken a new direction. They should make a smoked duck pot pie.

Of Cabbage Rolls and Inspiration

Culinary touchstones inspire new creations. Savoy cabbage in the crisper drawer. Excess stuffing from a stuffed mushroom cap appetizer. A pork tenderloin. The memory of stuffed cabbage rolls.

Cabbage leafs boiled and then filled with a small serving of minced meats and seasonings exist in countless cultures across the globe. The Polish immigrants to Chicago called these Golabki, “little pigeons” or “little doves”. We could have simply placed a tablespoon or two of our mushroom stuffing and rice in the par-boiled cabbage, rolled up the cute little packages and baked them into delicious morsels. But Great Lakes Cuisine is not just tradition. It’s also about asking – Where else can we take this?

Here is where we took this. Instead of stuffing the cabbage leafs, we stuffed pork tenderloin with the mushroom mixture. Served the roasted pork pinwheels on a bed of red rice with chèvre and dried mushrooms. We oven roasted the cabbage into flaky, nutty chips with flavors slightly reminiscent of rye bread and concentrated cabbage.

Cabbage Rolls3

The oven dried greens we have done before with kale and chard. Taking advantage of an oven set to 250°, this time we also dried radicchio, endive, and even red cabbage sauerkraut. The radicchio was uninspiring, largely flavorless and the red color faded to brown. The endive was bitter. The red cabbage sauerkraut had caramelized, but still retained a lovely sour tang.

The dish is earthy and nutty, but misses a bit of the “green” look and flavor of stewed cabbage, so we brought a dash of green to the plate with pureed pea shoots.

Golabki-inspired Stuffed Pork

1 pork tenderloin (apprx. 12 oz.)
2 Tbs. butter

¼ lb. bulk pork sausage
4 oz. cremini mushrooms, finely chopped
3 oz. pancetta, diced small
1 piece of crustless bread
½ cup milk or cream
1 tsp. dried oregano
1 tsp. dried basil
1 tsp. salt
1 medium egg, whisked

2 Tbs. olive oil
2 cups red rice
3 cups beef broth
1 oz dried cremini mushroom
3 Tbs. butter
5 oz chèvre

1 head savoy cabbage
1 cup pea shoots, plus ½ cup addl. for garnish
1 shallot, diced
½ cup sweet white wine
1 cup water
1 Tbs. olive oil

In advance: Heat oven to 250°. Separate the cabbage into individual leafs, remove the thick stem of the leaf, lay in a single layer on a baking sheet, and roast for 2 to 3 hours or until just shattering crisp. Set aside. They’ll look something like the plate pictured above.


Place the bread in a small bowl and top with milk or cream, allow it to absorb completely, approximately 30 minutes. Place the sausage, copped mushrooms, pancetta, soaked bread, oregano, basil, salt and whisked egg in mixing bowl and combine well.
Butterfly the pork tenderloin (slice along the length, but not entirely through) and lay it open on the cutting board. Cover with a gallon plastic bag (works better than plastic wrap) and pound out until pork loin is approximately ½ inch think. Layer the stuffing own the middle of the pork, roll, and tie with butcher thread. Chill stuffed tenderloin until 1 hour before cooking. The result should be something like this:

Cabbage Rolls1
Soak the dried mushrooms in 1 cup of hot beef broth, let rest for 30 minutes, then drain and reserve liquid. Chop mushroom and onion. Heat olive oil over medium heat in large stock pot, add mushrooms and onion, and cook until onions are translucent. Add rice to pan and toss to coat. Add remaining beef broth and strained reserved liquid. Cook for 40 minutes or until tender. Stir in butter and chèvre.

While rice cooks, heat water and wine in a small saucepan until boiling. Add diced shallot and simmer for 30 minutes. Return to a boil and add pea shoots, cook for 2 minutes pressing pea shoots down into boiling water. Remove and immediately add enough ice to chill the mixture quickly, about 3 cups. Strain and remove ice. Puree the shallots and pea shoots in a food processor with olive oil until smooth. Set aside.

While rice cooks, heat oven to 450° and heat butter in large-oven proof skillet over high heat. Sear stuffed pork on all sides and place in oven. Roast for 20 minutes or until center reaches 160°, cover and let rest 5 minutes.

To plate: scoop of mushroom red rice, topped with slice of stuffed pork tenderloin. Dot the edges with pea shoot puree and scatter cabbage leaves. In the picture below we also added dots of the red cabbage sauerkraut, which we pulverized and then incorporated into beef gravy.

Cabbage Rolls4


An alternative plating: the next day we rolled the cold slices of pork in a thin coating of the red cabbage sauerkraut purée, then rolled them in crushed cabbage leaves. Yes, this a lot of steps, but in the end it was more about process than a recipe. It was more about ideas, approaches, experiments. This was all about tradition as inspiration.