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.

Venison Pastrami

On a recent weekend, Venison Pastrami and Smoked Pork Belly became friends on the smoker together.


The Smoked Pork Belly has been detailed here. Now we share the Venison Pastrami (hint: it’s the one wrapped in bacon). The basics of preparing pastrami are fairly simple: brine a two to three inch thick slab of meat overnight, coat with pepper and coriander, then smoke at 250 degrees until desired internal temperature is reached. Typically, this is prepared with a cut of beef brisket with a thick fat layer to keep the meat moist during the process.  Michael Ruhlman shares a nice, traditional preparation at his site.

In this preparation, we are using a venison tenderloin. Venison is naturally lean and the tenderloin is particularly so, which is why we wrapped the venison with Nueske’s bacon during the smoking process. But we’re two days ahead of ourselves.  The process starts with the brine. Desiring to play up the earthy elements of the venison, rather than disguise them, we have used dark molasses as the sweet element. We have not used any curing salt in this preparation as our intention was to consume the entire amount upon completion.

Home-cured Venison Pastrami

3/4 cups Morton’s kosher salt
½ cup brown sugar
¼ cup dark molasses
5 cloves garlic, smashed with the flat side of a knife
2 tablespoons pickling spice (Penzey’s)
1 venison tenderloin
3 strips bacon

1 tablespoon peppercorn, toasted and ground
1 tablespoon coriander seed, toasted and ground

In a large pot, combine 1/2 gallon of water with kosher salt, sugar, molasses, garlic and 2 tablespoons pickling spice. Bring to a simmer, stirring until salt and sugar are dissolved. Remove from heat and add ½ gallon ice to chill mixture. Pour brine into non-reactive container, of sufficient size to hold the venison and then place venison in brine. It should remain submerged, weight if necessary.

After at least 12 hours, preferably 24 hours, remove brisket from brine and rinse thoroughly. Refrigerate it for another day uncovered. Prepare the smoker. Combine the pepper and coriander and coat the brisket. Add a small amount of olive oil to help the spices stick. Wrap with bacon. Smoke at 250 degrees for 2 hours.


Slice thinly to serve. We chilled the pastrami before slicing and served it on cabbage leaves dressed with black currants. Under the venison was a dollop of a mixture of brie whipped with a puree of onions and apple cooked in bacon fat, again adding fat back to the preparation.  The smoke played with sweet, the cabbage adding a nice crunch.

photo credit: Chelsea Holton Photography
photo credit: Chelsea Holton Photography

In Praise of Smørrebrød

Nordic cuisine has ascended in recent years to join the culinary pantheon of fine dining, a welcome broadening of the traditional European references for modern American experimentation. Such a re-emergence of Nordic influences generates an interesting confluence in the Midwest, particularly in Wisconsin and Minnesota, where immigrants settled a few generations ago.  They brought with them a great number of culinary traditions, including the open faced sandwich – smørrebrød. In the simplest form, this is a specific style of rye bread, spread with butter, and topped with meats and accompaniments, eaten with a fork and knife. These sandwiches were a traditional lunch offering, and the butter was intended to keep the bread from getting soggy under the toppings. The name literally means “butter bread” in Danish.

If you want a more in-depth description of the current Danish traditions, the blog – goes into the more formal service traditions as well as the line-up of sandwiches that have become somewhat standardized in Denmark. We would rather refer you to a passionate expert, than try to do justice to the tradition in this short piece. And while we’re referring to experts, we’d also recommend the blog and cookbook from Brett Laidlaw, Trout Caviar, which is where we started our more in-depth reading on these Danish open-faced sandwiches.  He views them as a canvas for expression of his love of local ingredients and local traditions. Throughout both his cookbook and his blog, he captures much of what we consider Great Lakes Cuisine.

The particular local love we wanted to express on our version of smørrebrød was for smoked meats. We have explored the smoked meat topic before, but we made a recent pilgrimage to Wittenberg, WI to the temple of all that is smokey, meaty goodness – Nueske’s.


After you walk in through the wooden doors, you are greeted by exquisite aromas of smoked meats and visions of endless meat cases of sausages, bacon, and pork chops. There are free samples of buttermilk and Sprecher Root Beer.  You can buy a hot dog for $1.50. This is like smoked meat nirvana.  And if you sneak in to the back room off to the left of the main room, there are two low, refrigerated open coolers of odd and ends, the bacon ends and the sausage casing mishaps. This is where we found Thick-cut Bacon and Smoked Liver Pate.  Our impulse purchase was a small package of smoked chicken. We also found Rubschlager’s Rye and 10 year aged cheddar and blackberry jam and more than just a little bit of campfire happiness.  The result of the happiness was this:

Food Pictures 004

We took great liberties with the traditional preparations, but stuck to the rye bread, butter starting point. It may not be apparent in the pictures, but we actually quartered the slice of bread, so each open-faced sandwich actually became a two-bite appetizer. Herring is traditionally the first served and we honored that with our offering here.

Food Pictures 005

The pickled herring is prepared by Bay View Packing Company in Milwaukee, WI. They use imported Atlantic herring, which is not related to the lake herring of Lake Superior (Dara Moskowitz Grumdahl from Minnesota Monthly details the differences here with great piece of culinary history). We topped each piece with a dill cream, pickled onions and pickled green peppercorns (in place of the more traditional capers). A fresh sprig of dill would have been a nice addition.

Food Pictures 008

Our smoked chicken was diced fine and prepared as a chicken salad with plumped currants, celery, and candied, spiced walnuts. We used a malt vinegar mayonnaise which took on the smoky flavors of the chicken when the flavors were allowed to meld overnight. Topped with a slice of pear and additional candied, spiced walnuts, this was a sweet and tangy, smokey and rich bite.

Food Pictures 002

Our final sandwich was Three Little Pigs – a smoked pork liver mousse on roast pork loin blanketing a piece of smoked, thick-cut bacon. The inspiration for the mousse was actually two different sources.  We had a version of Fedt (Danish for “fat”) based on the recipe at which came out wonderfully using the Nueske’s bacon drippings, apples, and onion caramelized together, then pureed. Discovery of a recipe from Amy Thielen’s cookbook, The New Midwestern Table, for braunschweiger mousse was another inspiration. She uses mascarpone cheese whipped into braunschweiger to add richness and and a velvety texture. So of course we whipped our fedt into our smoked liver pate.  This, my friends, was goodness. The topping is finely diced, house-pickled red onions and watermelon radish. And our happiness was complete.

Find your happiness, express it through food. Traditional and new. Simple and complete. This is Great Lakes Cuisine.

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.


Grilled Cheese Sandwich #3

The cheese that started the experiments with Grilled Cheese Sandwiches – Carr Valley’s Menage. If you missed them, here are Grilled Cheese #1 and Grilled Cheese #2. Enjoying the Menage before dinner one evening, the complex, grassy flavors combined with the creamy texture inspired this thought – What would this be like as a grilled cheese? But it’s such a unique cheese, we had to create the right complement to showcase it. Thus, Grilled Cheese Sandwich #3.

Grilled Cheese #3a

The Cheese: Carr Valley Menage

Here is how Menage is described by the folks at Carr Valley – “This mixed-milk beauty is aged for intense flavor and a drier texture. It’s dipped in a lovely wax as vibrant and green as Wisconsin’s summertime pastures. This cheese won a 1st Place ribbon at the 2009 World Cheese Competition, a Bronze Medal at the 2011 World Cheese Awards, and another 1st Place ribbon at the 2013 Wisconsin State Fair.” It tickles me that they list a 1st place at Wisconsin State Fair, as if it had the same weight as the 1st place at the World Cheese Competition. The sheep milk here really comes through in the flavor, similar to another Carr Valley favorite, Mobay.

The Accompaniment: Bacon Bourbon Black Currant Jelly

Black currants re-hydrated in a bacon-washed bourbon and blended with a black currant jelly.  This is a good thing.  I have two small jars additional.  I’m happy about that.

The Bread: Black Rye

Rubschlager’s Rye-Ola out of Chicago, IL, is a traditional black rye, meaning the black color comes from rye and molasses. This is not a rye with any wheat flour at all and no colorants to make it look dark. It’s just rye, blackstrap molasses, salt, yeast, malted barley and a preservative. That’s it. It is dark and dry with a naturally roasted flavor.  It was the perfect canvas for the artistry of the cheese to shine though. Here’s a simple idea: toast these in a low heat oven until crisp and break into artsy looking shapes and serve as a replacement for $8 artisan crackers. Simple ingredients, forgotten product. Worth rediscovering.

The Result

Grilled Cheese #3c

I love seeing the malted barley in the bread and sprinkled on the outer crust. As this sandwich toasted, the black currant jelly melted into one side and began to caramelize.  The Menage melted into the other side, all creamy and herbaceous.  This was delightful and worthy of more variations on the theme. Enjoy with a big, rich stout like Tyranena’s Down n’ Dirty Chocolate Oatmeal Stout.