Spring Sunlight Seeping In

A cold spring; the slightest hint of warming. Squirrels chase across budded trees swaying, still leafless. Settling down behind the barn, hiding from the wind, sunlight creeps in slowly. But chives peek through the soil.

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Milwaukee chefs Dan Van Rite and Dan Jacobs have secret room, a sacred place, tucked inside their restaurant, DanDan. The memory of their great-grandmothers, their recipes, and their sense of family becomes a gathering space, a place to bring memory and imagination together in food, a place they call EsterEv. The tasting menu, eclectic and unconstrained, ranges freely across cuisines, culinary approaches, and flavors; all seasonally inspired.

Though globally inspired, occasionally the Great Lakes roots of these chefs peek through on the monthly-rotating menu selections. Chicken liver financier, “deviled egg”, and latke with smoked salmon started off a recent visit, the “deviled egg” an egg white meringue filled with a savory puree. A previous menu included a pastrami-style short rib, red cabbage puree, crisped pumpernickel, potato cake, pickled mustard seed and red mustard leaves. These are the tastes of Great Lakes cuisine peeking through in newly inspired ways. Our inspiration for the dish below was a potato soup they served with a dollop of mashed potatoes in the center; could be the perfect canvas for our spring garlic chives. We used Yukon Gold potatoes, originally developed by Gary Johnston to thrive in the soils of southern Ontario, where the Great Lakes moderate the temperatures and former lake beds create fertile soil. This recipe involves several steps, but much of it can be done while waiting for potatoes to boil. Alternatively, you can just enjoy the rich, creamy indulgence of the soup on its own. But don’t forget the fresh chives.

Potato Leek Soup with Shallot Mashed Potatoes

Soup
8 large Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and diced
1 large leek, chopped (white, pale green sections)
1 Tbs. butter
1/2 cup white wine
2 bay leaves
1 tsp. dried marjoram
6 cups vegetable broth

Add butter and leaks to large stock pot on stove-top over medium heat, sprinkle lightly with salt. As leeks begin to soften and just start to caramelize, add half of the wine. As wine cooks off, add remaining wine. When wine has cooked off a second time, add broth, bay leaves, marjoram, and potatoes. Bring to a boil over high heat then reduce to simmer until potatoes begin to fall apart, about 25 minutes. Allow to cool. Puree until smooth. Additional broth retained from next step can be used to thin to desired consistency before service.

Mash
4 large Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and diced
4 cups vegetable broth
2 bay leaves
3 Tbs. softened butter
1 large shallot, peeled and diced fine
1 Tbs. fresh thyme or 1 tsp. dried thyme
1/4 cup white wine
1/2 cup heavy cream

In a large pot over high heat, bring potatoes, broth, and bay leaves to a boil, then reduce to simmer until potatoes begin to soften (but not fall apart). While potatoes cook, add 1 Tbs. butter to a sauce pan over medium heat with shallot and thyme. When shallot begins to become translucent and just start to caramelize, add wine. Simmer until wine is completely cooked off, then remove from heat and add remaining butter and stir together. When potatoes have finished, drain and save broth. Add the potatoes back to the pan and mash along with all of the butter mixture and the heavy cream until very smooth.

Garnish
1 large Yukon Gold, peeled and cut into wide matchsticks
1 Tbs. pork lard and vegetable oil or 2 Tbs. butter (see note)
1 Tbs. chopped fresh chives

Note: We used smoked pork lard derived from our method of preparing Nueske’s bacon, butter can be used as a substitute here. In a sauce pan over medium-high heat add the lard and oil (or butter) and the potatoes. Allow to cook until deeply browned, but not burnt, the color of dark caramel, but not chocolate. The potatoes should be drained on a paper towel when finish to drain the oil. Lightly salt to taste.

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We served grilled cheese sandwiches alongside, featuring a blend of three different aged white cheddars. A dollop of the shallot mash potatoes is surrounded by the potato leek soup, bacon-flavored matchstick potatoes as crisp “croutons” on top and dotted with freshly chopped chives.

 

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New Restaurant Added – Morel, Milwaukee, WI

Morel is a gem of a space. On a recent dark and stormy night, we ducked inside. The lights were low, the conversation was vibrant. The small restaurant space was full, but we were able to grab the last two spots at the bar, which looks into the cooking space. Here is how they describe what they are trying to do:

“Morel Restaurant is a modern American farm-to-table restaurant that finds inspiration from Chef Jonathan Manyo’s roots: Wisconsin. Morel explores natural flavors, colors and textures from local farms, purveyors, foragers and artisans.

The wild morel mushroom marks the start of a new growing season and is the delicious reward of those who forage in the woods of Wisconsin. Like the hunt for morels, Jonathan enjoys the adventure of finding and preparing locally grown, raised and produced food for Morel’s diners.”

The menu the night we stopped in was inspired by local foods, many of the dishes were modern American. We ordered the pheasant terrine, the duck confit, and a beautiful dish of sauteed mushrooms over polenta. Each dish was thoughtfully composed and full flavored. The mushroom dish inspired an attempt at reproducing it the next weekend at home, as a vehicle for serving pulled pork.

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We started with whole kernel corn, half of which we shallow fried in corn oil until beginning to turn caramel brown. We then blended fried and non-fried corn together, with just enough chicken broth to allow it to blend. Back into the pan and added grated Sarvecchio Parmesan. The mushrooms are cremini and shitake, sauteed in butter with onions, savory, and oregano. The pork had been roasted for over four hours, studded with pieces of garlic, and covered with fresh oregano and sea salt. It was excellent, but Morel was better.

A few dishes of note from a recent menu:

Duck Confit, Sage, Ricotta, Pumpkin, Apple, Maitake Mushroom, Duck Jus

Pork Shoulder, Bratwurst, Horto Beans, Bacon, Kimchi, Herbs

Beef Short Rib, Celery Root, Brussels Sprouts, Garlic, Watercress, Bacon, Beef Jus

A worthy addition to our collection of Restaurants which exemplify Great Lakes Cuisine.

The Definition of Cuisine

Our recent trip to Minneapolis included a wonderful dining experience at Heyday, led by Chef Jim Christiansen. The setting was intimate, with tables nestled in right next to the open kitchen, and the menu was inventive (the company was excellent as well, but you’ll have to supply your own on that front). We elected to begin with a set of three seafood dishes to share which included a revelatory presentation of Blue Mussels with frozen yogurt, pickled cucumber and dill. The balance of dill with the salt and sour of the dish inspired an almost immediate sense of the ocean. We then moved on to a number of meat dishes.

Our selections included (clockwise from left):

Grilled beef culotte, coal roasted carrots, turnips, and turnip leaf relish. Culotte is essentially a cut of sirloin, also called the sirloin cap, which in this case was cut with the grain, then grilled and served rare.

Guinea hen served with pressed beets, fresh wasabi and basil. The compressed beets were sweet with all the full richness of slow roasting, but far firmer in texture.

Roasted squab with a raviolo (singular form of ravioli) made from kohlrabi and filled with sour potato, parmesan, and thyme.

The flavors on these dishes were unique and incredibly well-balanced. The combination of flavors elevated each dish beyond a mere sum of the parts. Part of that sensibility comes from the time Chef Christiansen spent at Noma, in Denmark, which he credits for creating his awareness of wild foods but also of connecting to the local harvest.

Noma has been named the top restaurant in the world four times, so it’s a pretty good place to learn some lessons. But a recent video they published on their site is what really inspired this post. It’s ten minutes, but it is worth watching. They discuss a upcoming change to their restaurant location and format, but more importantly to us at Great Lakes Cuisine, they spend the first four minutes discussing the difficulty in defining cuisine.

They discuss their initial vision which included approaches such as using ingredients only from the Nordic “territory”, “distilling [the] landscape onto plates of food”, and using methods of preservation as inspiration. They discuss throughout the video the ideas of seasonality. At the same time, the recognize the somewhat arbitrary nature of defining a cuisine. Discussing issues like where to draw geographic boundaries, what “imported” foods to allow, and how far back one should go into history, they discuss the difficulties with defining what is “authentic”.

Here at Great Lakes Cuisine, we have wrestled with the same linguistic, historic, ethnic questions. Why are we comfortable with the sausages, beers, and rye breads from Chicago, but begin to wonder about the fit of deep-dish pizza within our definition? More broadly, why favor the Eastern European, Slavic, and Nordic culinary traditions in our approach over the Italian or Italian-American traditions? Why do we work so hard to avoid citrus in our approach (for fear of introducing a “foreign” flavor) while embracing vinegar made from the newest craft beers?

Some of this we have already addressed in our pages on Definition and Ethnic traditions. And some of these issues are exactly the point of what we are doing. We want to inspire the conversation, inspire the questions. These tangle considerations of history, geography, ethnicity, and seasonality are the very point of cuisine. Talking about Napa cuisine, or Tex-Mex, or any regional cuisine is not an objective process. It is inherently subjective. It is not about absolutes, but about inspiration.

Though the offerings of Heyday would have to be considered more global than local, we can say without reservation they were a source of inspiration. For that, we thank you.

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Smoked Turkey, White Bean Soup

From the outset of our effort here at GreatLakesCuisine.com, we have believed the foods of indigenous peoples in the Great Lakes region should be included in the conversation, both as tribute and inspiration. The failure to celebrate the peoples who thrived in the Great Lakes region before settlement by primarily European immigrants would be a loss of heritage and tradition. Wild rice, venison, and blueberries are staples of that diet, and wonderful flavor components for many Great Lakes dishes. Of course the major obstacle for the current chef is a lack of written recipes compounded by the systemic elimination of the indigenous cultural traditions, breaking the continuity of food traditions as well.

Sean Sherman is promoting a “Pre-Contact” Dinner to be held in coming weeks in Minneapolis. Some of the traditions he draws from are more from the Plains states, which likely had a distinct culinary tradition from the Great Lakes region. Nevertheless, we admire the effort to bring focus to a culinary tradition long marginalized to our collective detriment. The menu will include:

dehydrated rabbit – honey hominy cake – toasted walnut – berry jus – wilted dandelion

stewed white bean – cedar broth – seared smoked whitefish – sorrel

buffalo ribs – wasna cake of dried berries – puffed wild rice – sweet potatoes – watercress blooms

smoked duck – dried blueberry – amaranth cracker – blueberry jus – crisp – amaranth leaf – maple – pepitas

squash puree – maple sun seed – cranberry – mountain mint

There is inspiration aplenty in those dishes and our soup echoes some of the flavors Chef Sherman includes above. The following recipe is hardly “pre-contact” indigenous by any definition, but some of the same flavors and ideas are permeating through this belly-warming offering. A wild shot turkey, brined and then smoked over cherry-wood would be ideal (might we suggest something like this approach adapted for the much larger bird), but you may have to settle, as we did, for the store purchased variety. Leftover turkey breast was well-utilized here.

 

Smoked Turkey Soup

Smoked Turkey, White Bean Soup

1 Smoked Turkey Leg
4 cups Turkey Broth
4 cups Water
2 bay leaves

1 medium onion diced
2 cups raw corn kernels
2 15 oz cans of white beans or 4 cups cooked beans
1 tsp oregano
1 tsp thyme
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp chili powder

2 cups cooked turkey breast, large dice (leftovers work well)
1 bunch fresh herbs (cilantro, parsley, or lemon thyme work well)
Feta or Cotija for grating (frozen, see note)

Bring broth and water to boil in a large stock pot. Add turkey leg and bay leaves and return to a boil then reduce to a simmer for two hours. Discard bay leaves and remove leg and set aside to cool. In a medium skillet over medium heat, add 1 tbs. butter with the onions. Cook until slightly caramelized then add the corn. Continue to cook another 3 minutes stirring often and then add entire contents of skillet to stock pot. Add white beans and seasonings. Simmer for 30 minutes. While soup is simmering, remove all meat from the turkey leg, paying attention to remove all of the long pieces of cartilaginous “quills” from the meat, then dice into 1/2 inch pieces, set aside.

After beans have simmered for 30 minutes, using a slotted spoon, remove approximately half the beans and puree until smooth. Take care when pureeing hot liquids. Alternatively, use a stick blender to puree approximately half of the corn/bean mixture right in the pot. Leaving half of the corn and the beans whole adds some textural appeal to the soup. Return the puree to the pot, then add both leg and breast turkey meat and bring to a low simmer.

We served this with a herb oil, by taking the herbs and pureeing with just enough olive oil to liquefy and a clove of garlic with a pinch of salt. But this could just as easily be served with finely chopped fresh herbs. Our preference is for lemon thyme, which we grow in the backyard, but during the winter this is a bit harder to come by.

Lemon Thyme

So in this version we went with the cilantro which adds a nice brightness. We’re assuming Sean Sherman in his white bean soup listed above is using the native wood sorrel (oxalis) rather than the French imported variety. Either would be a nice addition, but the wood sorrel would keep the recipe truer to our purposes here. The feta here is served grated with a Microplane grater after being frozen.  We have used this approach before with blue cheese over a beet salad and similar applications. The cheese loses none of the flavor appeal as it warms in the soup, but the fine grate creates a more even dispersion. Not necessary, but a fun little wrinkle. Clearly the cheese is not an indigenous item, so leave it out if desired, though it adds a nice saltiness and creaminess to to the finished soup. In the end, this is more of a melting pot dish than a culturally accurate one.

Prepare this soup over an outdoor fire with house-smoked wild-turkey and the result would likely be far better and far closer to a more “pre-contact” experience. Inspiration can from anywhere, but history is a particularly rich source for Great Lakes Cuisine.

New Restaurant Added – Storyhill BKC, Milwaukee, WI

We have discussed before the difficulty in parsing what fits and what does not in Great Lakes Cuisine. Hopefully, we have been clear this site is not a review of “The Best of the Great Lakes”, it is specifically not intended as a restaurant review site. We are not claiming an exhaustive list of the best restaurants. We are highlighting a few of the very best examples of an emerging trend in local traditions, local flavors, and local chefs – what we call Great Lakes Cuisine.

So, when we added Graze in Madison, WI, it was a praise of style and in no way should be seen as a slight to Tory Miller’s flagship restaurant L’Etoile, one of our all-time favorite restaurants in the Great Lakes area. But L’Etoile is French. Not just in name or in theme, but in the very heart of everything the restaurant does. It feels French, it tastes French. As a genre of restaurant it is most clearly French. A similar occasion arises once again with the addition of Storyhill BKC, in Milwaukee, WI.

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The restaurant is the most recent collaborative effort between Joe & Meg Muench and Dan Sidner. We couldn’t be more pleased to have one of their restaurants listed on our site, as their two previous offerings are fantastic, though outside our scope. Maxie’s serves excellent low-country Carolina, Creole, and Cajun cuisine as well as one of the best fresh oyster bars in the city. One might make the argument their other offering, Blue’s Egg, already belongs on our list as they feature a current take on traditional immigrant breakfast and lunch. The food is excellent and the menu creative, but has always seemed more fully “American” diner than specifically Great Lakes.

Storyhill BKC is undeniably Great Lakes Cuisine. Here the breakfast can be simple. Perhaps just a nice latte and a danish filled with cheese and house marmalade.

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The lunch menu changes constantly, though the breakfast entrees are served through lunch as well. The dinner offerings provide some wonderful examples of creativity, flavors, and tradition. We could start with recent offerings of Great Lakes Bisque or Steamed Walleye. Perhaps we’ll have the Whipped Clock Shadow Quark, served with pureed carrot, cranberries and spiced nuts. Quark is a unique creamy cheese produced at Milwaukee’s only urban cheese factory, Clock Shadow Creamery (Good story on it here). We can move to entrees such as Lake Superior Whitefish which is ham crusted, or Pork Country Spare Ribs served with sour cabbage, or perhaps Lake Trout with tomato jam. Maybe we should have them carve us a slice of Bacon Wrapped Pork Loin with a Founder’s Apple Rye sauce. Don’t forget to pair your entree with a regional brew such as recent offerings of O’SO Brewing (WI) Don’t Turn My Brown Eyes Blue IPA or Central Waters (WI)Le Petite Morts Bourbon Barrel Weizenbock. The current line-up also features Bell’s (MI), Founder’s (MI), Summit (MN), Potosi (WI), Capital (WI), Ale Asylum (WI), Hinterland (WI), Three Floyds (IN) and more.

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The space is divided into bar, restaurant, and store. Heavy on the re-claimed wood and friendly service. The menu changes often, but the focus thus far has been on local ingredients, creative presentations, and traditional flavors. We’re pleased to add Storyhill BKC to our Restaurant list at Great Lakes Cuisine.