New Restaurant Added – Heartland, Minneapolis, MN

The recently published list of 38 “essential” restaurants selected by Bill Addison at Eater featured Heartland, located near the Farmers’ Market in St. Paul, MN. Chef Lenny Russo has been recognized with a nomination for Best Chef in the Midwest by the James Beard Foundation in 2010, 2011, 2012, and 2014. Addison captures the experience this way:

“Around 90 percent of the food at Heartland and its adjacent market comes from within a 300-mile radius. The substantial bar menu includes four burgers (beef, pork, veal, and bison) and fun, smart riffs on snacks like smoked kielbasa corn dogs or cheese curds with apricot ketchup. In the main room, entrees dole out bear hugs of direct, honest flavors: The “Midwestern Cassoulet” defrosts with its mix of lusty meats and silken white beans delivered from nearby Encore Farms. Russo’s devotion to culinary Minnesota is evident in every forkful.”

Other items of note on recent menus include:

  • Pork bratwurst with Summit Ale mustard, house fermented sauerkraut, with cucumber pickles
  • Midwestern artisan cheese sampler served with chutney and wildflower honey
  • House crafted charcuterie sampler served with pickled vegetables and apple mustard

We are happy to add Chef Lenny Russo and Heartland to our Restaurant page.

Drifting through Madison, WI

With some free time in the Madison, WI area you can discover all sorts of lovely surprises, including two new additions to our Purveyors page. On a recent business trip to the area, a walk around Capitol Square brought me to Fromagination, a specialty cheese shop featuring Wisconsin cheeses and other artisan and local products.  It is an absolute gem of a store, which my poor picture does not do justice.

FromaginationThe service was helpful, offering tastings of a number of different cheeses including a number of exclusive offerings. They clearly have an excellent relationship with their suppliers, as some the cheeses on offer here will not be found any where else (How about a curry-rubbed, Manchego-style cheese aged for 6 years?). A new offering from an old favorite eventually caught my eye, Golden from Holland’s Family Cheese. Their description: “This creamy, semi-soft, American Original boasts a flavor profile rich in nuttiness with hints of sweet fruit. Handcrafted by award-winning cheesemaker, Marieke Penterman and her team, this raw milk beauty is carefully aged on Dutch pine planks in our cellars.” The flavor profile is full and creamy, reminiscent of a young sheep cheese. We paired the Golden with the other end of the Holland Family Cheese spectrum, the “Super” aged Gouda, which has a Parmesan-like texture with a deep, caramel nuttiness.

A quick trip west of Madison will take you to the Fitchburg/Verona area, which is the edge of the Driftless Region, an area that has been left untouched by the glaciers which flowed over much of the Great Lakes region in the geologic past. Here is where Bavaria Sausage continues a 5o year tradition of making authentic German sausage. Smoked sausage, fresh sausage, frozen sausage, smoked meats, thick-sliced bacon, and nearly every German condiment you could ask for (How about seven varieties of curry ketchup?).  Amongst the variety of summer sausages, we selected the venison, and then grabbed a small beef summer sausage for comparison. Check out the bundles of landjaeger (upper left).

Bavaria sausage

The venison summer sausage is blended with beef which balances the flavor and adds moisture. Bavaria Sausage uses no fillers, no colorants, no artificial flavors. The flavors of the sausage are pure meat. In the picture below, the darker venison sausage is on the left, paired with the Super.  The beef summer sausage on the right was paired with Golden. But playing with combinations made this a simple, tasty, quickly consumed treat, enjoyed with summer cocktails.

Cheese Plate Summer 2014


So as you drift through the area, explore the old traditions, and the new producers. Enjoy the experience of ethnic traditions honored, and made new again. This is the exploration of Great lakes Cuisine.

Spring Beer Tasting

A recent gathering dedicated to craft brews featured a set of beers from Wisconsin paired with artisan cheeses and small plate appetizers…ahhh, the joy. The variations of craft beers provide a great complement to so many foods and Great Lakes Cuisine takes full advantage of such pairings.

Spring Beer

The most difficult part was setting the drinking order, due to the varieties being tasted. Typically, the biggest, hoppiest beer are last, but the highest alcohol are frequently later as well. Here, we had the lowest alcohol in our hoppiest beer, creating a bit of tasting dilemma.  Here they are in the order we tasted them along with paired dishes:

Central Waters – Hop Rise Session Ale : Described on their website as “An explosively hoppy” beer, the Hop Rise has a great nose of citrus, grapefruit, and floral notes. Compared to a Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, it is a bit less full in the body, but has a more pronounced hop-finish in the end. We enjoyed this paired with a home-cured Saucisson Sec, Sartori Montamore cheese, and Milwaukee Midget Dill Pickles. The peppery punch of the dry-cured sausage and the bold, tangy flavors of the cheese provided a nice compliment to the hoppy burst of beer.  Both the sausage and the cheese also provide a fatty, creamy contrast to the beer as well.



Lakefront Brewing – Riverwest Stein : A beautiful, malty amber lager, which despite their website’s recommendation to pair with German food, we paired with our version of Pastrami on Rye. The pastrami was a gift from my good friend, Tom, which he based on Michael Ruhlman’s pastrami shared at his blog, then smoked on the Green Egg. We returned to our smorrebrod approach we’ve discussed before. We spread a thyme butter on Rubschlager Pumpernickel Rye, add a malt vinegar mustard and then slice into quarters.  Each piece is then topped with the smokey goodness of pastrami.

pastrami on rye

The onions were caramelized in bacon lard with thyme and malt vinegar, for a sweet and tangy contrast to the rich meat flavors.The result created a nice foil for the slight sweetness of the malt in the Riverwest Stein, really a meal in one bite and a sip of beer – smoky, savory, sweet, and tangy.

pastrami on rye2


Wisconsin Brewing Co. – Big Sweet Life : This maibock-style brew was a “must have” for a spring beer tasting.  A malty, but not over-powering version of a bock beer, maibocks are traditionally not released in Germany until May 1st and are commonly served at spring festivals. Wisconsin Brewing Co. offers this advice at their website:  “There’s a sweet side to a Maibock that pairs well with savory, so think roast pork, potato dumplings, ham — you get the idea.” Yes, we got an idea – rakott krumpli. This a traditional Hungarian potato and sausage casserole. But we’re not going with a particularly traditional preparation here.

Re-imagining traditional dishes is a hallmark of Great Lakes Cuisine, and this dish provides a fun example. The potatoes of the traditional dish are here served as a potato pancake. The traditional Hungarian sausage is replaced with a home-made version. Both are topped with a smoked paprika sour cream and snipped garlic chives.


The potato pancakes provided a savory base which allowed some of the sweetness of the maibock to show through. We used 3 yukon gold potatoes shredded and one medium shallot grated, with 1 egg and a tablespoon of flour to create the pancakes. Fried in a pan with 2 tablespoons of oil until golden brown on both sides. This made about two dozen appetizer sized potato pancakes. The sausage we’ll discuss in another post dedicated to sausage-making. The smoked paprika is from Penzey’s. The chives are an early spring gift from the garden. The savory, smoky flavors are nice, and the maibock has enough alcohol punch to carry through.

In addition to our planned pairings, we had a lovely Wisconsin Gouda sampler available throughout the event: an aged Gouda from Edelweiss Creamery, a Smoked Gouda from Carr Valley Cheese Co., and a Marieke Gouda with Honey Clover from Holland’s Family Cheese.


The most interesting pairing partner was the Marieke Gouda with Honey Clover. The herbaceous qualities brought to the fore by the honey clover created a very nice complement to the hoppy character in the beer, and as it is the hoppiest of the beers we tasted, Central Water’s Hop Rise was the perfect dance partner. And that is one of the things beer can do best, play with different foods in unique and interesting ways.  No wonder it plays such a central role in so many cultural traditions, and is prominent in the Great Lakes Cuisine tradition as well.

Venison Sausage with Asiago Cheese

A recent gift of spicy venison sausage came with a warning – don’t over cook or it will dry out. This is pretty standard fair for any cut of venison, but often the pork fat added to sausages provide all the moisture needed. But these were not natural casings, and the links were not sealed as tightly as we might have preferred.  No problem – we baked them under a blanket of Nueske’s bacon to ensure moist, flavorful sausages.

Venison sausage with sweet potato2

We added these to a dish with quinoa, roasted sweet potato, kale, and candied pear, topped with Sartori’s Extra-aged Asiago cheese. In past versions of this dish, we’ve utilized dried cranberries, which are excellent.  A suggestion of pairing venison with candied pears appeared in my paperback version of The Derrydale Game Cookbook by L.P. De Gouy, originally published in 1937, though curiously no candied pear recipe is listed. Here’s our version:

Candied PearHeat oven to 300 degrees. Slice two pears vertically into 1/4 inch slices. Heat 1 cup water with 1 cup sugar to a low boil with 3 bay leaves, 5 cloves, and a cinnamon stick. Add pear to the pan and allow to boil until beginning to become translucent.  Place on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Place in oven until just beginning to turn caramel brown, about 20 minutes depending on thickness of the slices.  Allow to cool and then cut into 1/2 inch squares for this recipe.  Also, these can be left whole as a snack. The poaching liquid cooled becomes a wonderful simple syrup for cocktails.

In this dish, the spicy venison sausage are baked then allowed to cool enough to slice. These are added to a skillet on medium-high heat with rendered bacon fat.  The roasted sweet potatoes are added along with kale, which is allowed to wilt. Pre-cooked quinoa is added to the skillet along with the candied pear pieces. The dish is topped with large shavings of Asiago cheese.

Venison sausage with sweet potato

The result is a very pleasant blend of spicy, sweet, and nutty flavors.  The Asiago adds both nuttiness and creaminess as it melts into the hot dish. The candied pear is not individually discernible, but adds a lovely sweetness to the background and plays off the creaminess of the cheese. We’ve added an additional pear chip and a dried kale chip as garnish. Flavorful, complex, complete.


Buffalo Hoppel Poppel

We’ve detailed our love for Hoppel Poppel before, as it lends itself so beautifully to creativity, innovation, and the use of leftovers. The traditional recipe in diners across Wisconsin includes the use of diced leftover potatoes, with onions, salami, and topped with eggs and cheese.  A stop by the  Milwaukee Winter Farmers Market offered a unique substitution for the salami: Lakeview Buffalo Farms – Buffalo Summer Sausage.

Buffalo Summer SausageThis sausage has the tang and depth of flavor of really high quality raw beef. When added to the skillet, the diced sausage becomes chewy/crispy bites of delicious, adding a layer of flavor to the potatoes as they caramelize. We top them here with a soft egg and melted white cheddar.

Buffalo Hoppel PoppelWe prepared the same dish on another day with a smaller dice of potatoes and sausage, and also added the Purple Haze carrots from the farmers market. Here the hash was molded in a a small tart pan then topped with the egg and cheese. The sweetness of the carrots were a nice complement to the saltiness of the sausage and cheese. We added a skillet-crisped slice of the buffalo summer sausage and a white cheddar crisp.

Buffalo Hoppel Poppel2

The dish could be even more successful by molding the hash to the tart pan and creating a depression for the egg.  The whole dish could then be baked and topped with the cheese in the final minutes and broiled.  The cheese oozing into the hash adds not only flavor, but a pleasant texture to the whole dish. Hoppel Poppel continues to be a favorite dish and a favorite way to play with new ingredients.