Central Waters Beer – Root Cellar Dinner

A recent barrel-aged beer throwdown occurred at my local drinking establishment between Central Waters Brewing and Potosi Brewing, two Wisconsin breweries enjoying most-favored-brewery status in my house. Seven offering from each, ranging from their respective ambers and IPAs to fully loaded, barrel-strength stouts. They were glorious.

They were also inspirational. An recent dinner gave us the perfect opportunity to pull out a selection of old favorites from Central Waters (and one extravagance from O’so) and pair them with seasonally inspired fare. Seasonal fare for the Great Lakes in winter would be root cellar offerings – the hardy remains of the late fall harvest, which were traditionally kept in cellars dug into hills throughout the region. We’re talking preserved meats, root vegetables, and anything dried. Our dinner used those elements as inspiration, rather than rigid restrictions, because…well…I can go to the store. We focused on freshly smoked meats, rather than salted or fully dried offerings. We did make everything on the grill, actually on a Green Egg, which is a bit like cooking in a old cast iron oven. Here’s the run-down:

First Course: Smoked Whitefish Dip with Central Waters Honey Blonde Ale

Lake Superior whitefish is a very light, small flake fish without a particularly strong flavor profile. The texture is often fairly soft, similar to an Icelandic cod. Once plentiful throughout the Great Lakes, it was over-fished and can now really only be found commercially in Lake Superior. We sprinkled a fresh skin-on fillet with sea salt and lemon, let it sit for about 30 minutes and then on to the grill for a slow smoke. The grill was at 250 degrees and we used mesquite chips, though I prefer applewood for this application when available. The fish was smoked through in less than 30 minutes, but we allowed it to firm up on the grill for another 15 minutes for our application. The fish was allowed to cool, then removed from the skin and flaked into a bowl. In an electric mixer went cream cheese, mayonnaise, spritz of lemon, then whipped until well blended. The cheese mixture was then folded in with the fish and a handful of diced scallions and chilled for over an hour.

We served the smoked whitefish dip on pumpernickel rye toasts with house-made yellow zucchini pickles on the side. We paired our initial offering with the Honey Blonde Ale. The beer is really bright and refreshing, with just a hint of sweetness from the honey. It is an easy opener and cleansed the palate between each bit of the whitefish. Simple, complementary flavors.

Second Course: Wild Rice, Roast Vegetables with Central Water Horicon Session IPA

Beer Dinner1

Early in the day, rainbow carrots and pearl onions were slow roasted on the grill in butter and kale was later dried on the grill until crisp. At time of service, cooked wild rice was heated with butter and shredded Sartori Family Heirloom Parmesan and the carrots were caramelized in buckwheat honey and malt vinegar. The sweet carrots were offset by the savory kale and the rich, nuttiness of the wild rice. We paired this with Central Waters Horicon Session IPA, looking for the more pronounced hop flavors to harmonize with the earthy flavors of the dish. A lovely combination, the slight bitterness in the beer made every bite of the carrots sing.

Third Course: Smoked, Maple-Glazed Chicken Thighs, Corn Puree, Roasted Mushrooms with Oisconsing Red Ale

We adapted our Smoked, Maple-glazed pheasant approach to chicken thighs and then served them on the corn puree we recently featured, inspired by Morel Restaurant. The corn was caramelized on the Green Egg for about 45 minutes, yielding a puree that was reminiscent of summer corn on the cob. The Oisconsing Red flavors tend towards the caramel malts with enough hop balance to keep it interesting. A nice pairing, though we might have considered something a bit more contrasting to set the smoky, sweetness of the dish off to a greater degree.

Fourth Course: Smoked Beef Short Ribs, Dried Cherries, Rutabaga Puree with Mudpuppy Porter

Beer Dinner2

Our Door County cherries make an appearance in this dish, with a marinade based on the spices we used for our Epic Beef Short Rib we had a few summers back. The dried cherries had been re-hydrated in a reduced beef broth and the then marinated the beef overnight. The ribs were then slow smoked over mesquite wood on the Green Egg at 275 degrees for three hours. We placed it on a puree of yukon gold potatoes and rutabaga, which we boiled until soft, then into a food processor with almond milk and butter. We finished it back on the stove top with brie and Creama Kasa from Carr Valley, which is a triple cream, adding a real richness to the dish. We paired Central Water Mudpuppy Porter with the dish to offer a deep, dark note, accenting the smoky beef flavors.

Fifth Course: Blueberry Slump with O’so Convenient Distraction (Imperial Porter with Coffee and Vanilla Bean)

A slump is basically a pie filling topped with dumplings. As we were cooking everything on the Green Egg, this was a easy way to finish the meal. We took about 4 cups of blueberries, added a dash of vanilla extract and about a 1/2 cup of maple syrup. Then we made a dumpling dough with flour, baking soda, butter, and water. We hand flattened the dough and tore irregular pieces to layer on top of the blueberries in a heavy enameled pan. Onto the Egg for 45 minutes at 300 with a top and it was perfect. We paired it with Purple Door Vanilla Ice Cream and O’so Convenient Distraction – an Imperial Porter with Colombian coffee and Madagascar vanilla bean. The bright fruit flavors were a superb complement to the dark chocolate nuances of the beer.

Winter Cheese Tasting

Something about the cold winter air has me feeling a bit Alpine here in the Great Lakes region. Sure, we don’t have the picturesque mountain vistas, but we do have the alpine-style cheeses. Another road trip to Fromagination in Madison, WI yielded a multitude of wonderful choices paired with a few selectsausage offerings from the folks at Underground Meats.

Cheese Plate - Sheep Winter 2016

We’ve discussed the joy of Fromagination before in this post, and detailed the temple of butchery that is Underground Meats in this post. After much careful deliberation (and tasting!) we selected the following cheeses for our Alpine-style plate:

Cheese Plate - Sheep Winter 2016-1

Our selections, from top to bottom:

Underground Meats Wisco Old Fashioned – a clever twist on the ever-popular Wisconsin Old Fashioned, which is unique for the use of brandy rather than whiskey. Heritage pork is combined with allspice, orange zest, and brandied cherries. I’ve really come enjoy the flavor of dried berries in a well-made sausage, like dried cranberries in my landjaeger. I may have to venture completely that direction and give the Native American pemmican a try.

Underground Meats Goat Sec – a traditional sausage with the added depth of goat meat, which has the full flavor to complement bold cheeses.

Hidden Springs Creamery Ocooch Mountain – A sheep milk aged cheese in a Gruyere-style, named for the Ocooch “Mountain” which tops out at 350 feet, just 15,428 feet short of the highest Alpine peak. Aged a few months, it retains the creamy texture and showcases the sheep milk flavors.

Roth Kase Private Reserve – A cow’s milk Gruyere-style cheese, aged a few months longer, provided a comparison for the Ocooch, and highlighted the more robust flavors of the sheep milk variety.

Hidden Springs Creamery Timber Coulee – Another sheep milk cheese in a different style, aged a bit longer creating a more granular texture. The sheep milk flavors are very pronounced, with plenty of what we call “barnyard” in the cheese.

Ram Hall Dairy Berkswell – Sheep cheese from the UK which according to Murray’s has significant seasonal variation, and based on their description ours was likely a late season version. Not as pronounced in flavor nor as granular as the Timber Coulee, but an excellent international cheese for the plate.

To complete the plate, we had cranberry hazelnut crisps from Potter’s Crackers and a house-made jam from Wisconsin-grown peaches with a touch of mulling spices. A roaring fire and my take on an old fashioned in hand, the winter cold was held at bay for another delightful evening.


Pheasant and Cranberries

A recent trip to Minnesota to visit good friends included a bit of cooking, as any trip to visit good friends should. A later post will address a wonderful dining experience we enjoyed at a local restaurant, but for now we’ll focus on some of the dishes we created together. A bountiful harvest of pheasant provided inspiration and we further challenged ourselves to incorporate cranberries in each dish.

We allowed for global inspiration and the main dishes were decidedly more global fusion than Great Lakes Cuisine. But our opening tasting bites stayed pretty close to home and fall neatly within our definition of Great Lakes.

Pheasant - Cranberry

The bites were presented smørrebrød style (our passion for smørrebrød has been covered here and here) with two served on whole grain rye from Rubschlager, brushed with duck fat and toasted. The bite on the far right above is a turducken terrine, the middle is a pheasant breast mousse, and the far left is a country pâté of pheasant dark meat.

The turducken terrine was the result of leftover turkey from Thanksgiving, which had been roasted with onions, apples and savory. A combination of light and dark meat was then pureed with a bit of apple and turkey fat until fairly smooth. The process was repeated with a smoked duck, and chicken was poached with lemon and herbs, and treated the same way. The mixture was layered and allowed to cool overnight. We served it with a spiced cranberry/stone ground mustard.

The pheasant mousse was made from poached pheasant breasts, pureed very smooth with shallots, herbes de Provence and cream. A bit of gelatin was added to help give the mixture body and then allowed to cool. We then piped the mixture onto beet crisps and topped with a wine candied cranberry.

The country pâté consisted of finely chopped (not pureed) poached pheasant dark meat, carrots, onions, and spices. It was topped with a quick pickled relish of red onions and thin sliced cranberries.

Just to satisfy those of you who are curious, the main courses were a PiriPiri spiced pheasant and a Korean BBQ-style pheasant. The spiced pheasant breast included sumac and grated cranberry in addition to more traditional spices and allowed to marinate overnight. After being grilled over very high heat, it was served on a caramelized corn waffle with a spiced cranberry syrup. The Korean BBQ pheasant played off the flavors of Kalbi ribs, with pureed pear and cranberry added to the marinade of soy, sesame, and spices. A portion of the marinade was later reduced to provide a sauce, topped with the quick grilled pheasant breast, and served with turkey broth rice and a kimchi/bok choy slaw made with thick-cut bacon.

In every variation, the rich flavors of the pheasant were highlighted by the tart fruit of the cranberries – a natural Great Lakes Cuisine flavor combination.

In Praise of Pumpkins

Pumpkins are simply a uniquely identifiable type of winter squash, indigenous to America, and now a globally recognized symbol of autumn. The flavors of winter squash can vary from relatively bland to rich and buttery. They can also take on vegetal qualities similar to summer squashes, such as zucchini. Pureed or roasted, they provide a wonderful canvas for experimentation and are one of the few foods that we enjoy in America equally in savory and sweet preparations. In the spirit of experimentation, the following are few approaches we’ve enjoyed so far this autumn.

Pumpkin Squash Soup
Our garden provided an abundance of pumpkins, ripening into their characteristic oranges just as the weather turned cold. We decided to supplement the home-grown pumpkins with a couple winter squash varietals, Butternut and Golden Nugget from the Wisconsin Co-op.


After splitting the squash, we removed the seeds, and then oven-roasted them skin side up, adding a cup of water and ¼ cup of maple syrup to the roasting pan. When the squash were tender, they were allowed to cool and scraped out of the skins. In a large stock-pot, we combined the squash flesh with 2 cups of chicken broth, the pan liquids, and then pureed smooth with a hand blender. We added almond milk to add a bit of sweetness and achieve a lighter soup. Seasonings included a lovely mix from Penzey’s Spices called BBQ 3001, which includes paprika, mustard, ginger, cinnamon and other spices and then added an additional bit of smoked black pepper. We topped each bowl with candied pumpkin seeds, with the same seasonings, to add a bit of textural contrast. A rich and warming opening to a late season meal.


Pumpkin Pierogi
A recent lunch at La Merenda in Milwaukee, WI, featured a number of innovative small plate offerings. Chef Peter Sandroni has long done a wonderful job with the global fusion approach to small plate dining, and we applaud his efforts to showcase local farm products. A recent offering fits solidly in our description of Great Lakes Cuisine – an innovative adaptation of a local, ethnic tradition featuring local, seasonal products. Pierogis are a traditional Eastern European dish, brought to the Great Lakes region with the wave of immigrants in the late 1800s, typically made with a picture of potatoes, cabbage, and ground meats in an unleavened dough wrapped dumpling.


Chef Sandroni plays with the traditional fillings by featuring heirloom pumpkin puree with purple potatoes, kale, and cream cheese. The perfectly prepared dumplings were topped with Sartori SarVecchio parmesan, salted maple butter and sprinkled with dried cranberries, roasted pecans, and fried sage.

Pumpkin Cupcake
The pumpkins in the garden were the choice of my daughter, and the pumpkin cupcakes were hers as well. She baked dense, moist cupcakes and then topped them with a salted caramel butter cream frosting. The home-made caramel was just slightly over-cooked, which added just a hint of bitterness. It turned out to be a happy accident, the caramel added additional complexity and interest to a frosting that otherwise would have been too sweet. Just a few crystals of sea salt on top was the perfect touch.


Pumpkin Pancakes
A bit of leftover pumpkin puree made its way into pancakes the next morning for breakfast. We still had apple butter left from a previous harvest feast and combined 2 parts to 1 with the home-made caramel – Caramel Apple Butter. A perfect way to start an autumn week-end. A perfect example of Great Lakes Cuisine.


The Humble Hamburger

The hamburger origin dispute is fun. The effort made to claim the invention of the hamburger is in stark contrast to effort needed to make one. There is one claim by Carlie Nagreen of Hortonville, WI, who claimed to serve them first at the Seymour County Fair in 1885. There are also claims for invention at a lunch counter in New Haven, CT., in 1900 and at the St. Louis World’s Fair in 1906. Barry Popik may have the final word on the subject. A quick summary: “Hamburger sandwiches” were a nation-wide phenomenon by the late 1800’s based on an adaption of Hamburg steak from Germany and spread across the U.S. by immigrants. Here is one of my favorite references:

October 1883, The Caterer and Household Magazine, pg. 76, col. 1:
“I should like a recipe for ‘Hamburger steak,’ a dish I am very fond of, but I must confess have not been successful in preparing.”
Or, instead of frying, place your steaks upon a gridiron or double wire broiler, well greased, and broil them on both sides; place them on a hot dish, and pour over them melted butter seasoned with salt and cayenne pepper. This mixture of meat is also often spread upon slices of bread, with butter in which a spoonful of dry mustard has been mixed, and used as a sandwich, or it may be served raw and cold with slices of Vienna bread spread with gilt-edged butter.

A few things are very clear – hamburgers as we think of them today, are simply a sandwich adaptation of a much older Hamburg steak tradition. The description above predates every single origination claim. Basically, no one can lay claim to the invention, but they’re still going to try. The second thing that is very clear, this is not Great Lakes Cuisine. Now there are a few hallmarks of Great Lakes Cuisine here – immigrant dish with some deep roots in the Germanic immigration to the Great Lakes region. But this is a dish that has simply become ubiquitous, it belongs to everyone and no one. It is not uniquely identifiable with the Great Lakes region. That doesn’t mean I don’t still enjoy a great burger. So just to indulge a bit, here are some recent favorites. (Oh and before I move on,if you get really food geeky and want a description of gilt-edged butter like I did – here you go)

Prepared very similarly to our description from 1883 above. Pretzel bun, malt vinegar caramelized onions
Prepared very similarly to our description from 1883 above. Pretzel bun, malt vinegar caramelized onions.


Brie and caramelized onions
Brie and caramelized onions, from John’s Sandwich Shop in Wauwatosa, WI. Note the broccoli slaw served as a side, delicious.


Mac-n-cheeseburger enjoyed with a Road Slush Stout from the fine folks at New Glarus Brewing.
Mac-n-cheeseburger enjoyed with a Road Slush Stout from the fine folks at New Glarus Brewing. Would have been even better with our Ultimate Mac.


Not even a hamburger – Thin sliced, house roast beef on a pretzel bun with arugula, blue cheese, and malt vinegar caramelized onions.

A couple of honorable mentions – We enjoyed a patty melt recently made with a half and half mixture of ground sirloin and bratwurst removed from the casing, topped with our ever-present malt vinegar caramelized onions, shredded Montamore from Sartori Cheese, on marble rye from the folks at Clasen Bakery. Again, not technically a burger, but we’re not getting suddenly technical around here.

A second honorable mention for a burger inspired by Cafe Bavaria in Wauwatosa, where they have a build-your-own burger option. The menu features a Braunschweiger melt, which is just as it sounds, braunschweiger with melted muenster cheese. We used that as our inspiration and had a Braunschweiger Smashed Burger – 1/3 pound beef patty, braunshweiger, muenster, lagered onions and Dusseldorf mustard on a pretzel bun. The result was “meatiness squared” as the braunschweiger just amped up the burger to another level.

Now those last two are pretty representative of our local ethnic traditions, locally produced food, and put together in new ways. Maybe we’re talking about Great Lakes Cuisine here after all.