Autobahn Mi

Inspiration can come from anywhere, including a recent trip to the Vietnamese sandwich shop near by to have a fairly lackluster Special Banh Mi. Banh Mi simply translates as “bread”, but has come to mean the sandwich served on a specific type of crispy, French-inspired, demi-baguette. The classic is known as the “special” and comes with liver pâté, cold cuts of Vietnamese pork sausage and barbecued pork, daikon and carrot pickles, and house made mayo. A pretty rockin’ combo, but the one I got…not so good.

But it got the creative juices flowing. Liver pâté, pork sausage, barbecued pork – perhaps a world away geographically, but culinarily not that far from traditional German. Why not smoked liverwurst in place of pâté? How about slow roasted bratwurst as the pork sausage and a six-hour, applewood-smoked pork shoulder? Quick-pickled radishes and carrots and a seasoned mayo finish it off. The roll is a Mexican bolillo-style available from a local bakery – thin, light crust with a airy interior.

Autobahn mi

The roll was buttered and then tossed on the grill to get the shattering crispiness characteristic of great Banh Mi. The smoked liver sausage adds a deep meaty richness to the layers of porcine delight. The brat was a house-made variety from a local grocer, roasted over hardwood grill at about 400 degrees, off to the side slightly from the main coals in order to slow-cook it without splitting and losing all those incredible pork fat juices. The pulled pork was a pork shoulder seasoned with salt, garlic, oregano, and paprika then slow smoked with apple wood at 275 degrees for over six hours. Not quite roast suckling pig, but it’ll do in a pinch.

So all the ingredients were firmly in the tradition of German-American cuisine from the Great Lakes region. How they came together was an entirely modern inspiration, born of our ever-broadening exposure to cuisines and traditions from around the world.Even a not-so-good sandwich can send us off in new and exciting directions. A little bit like racing through the German country-side where “Limits no longer apply”.

In Praise of Rhubarb

Rhubarb means summer. Summer in the 12 year-old, off-of-school, complete freedom sense. Summer in the sleep-in, wake-to-warm-sunshine, go-play-in-the-field sort of way. When I was 12, we lived on forty acres of prairie grasses and wild flowers, bordered on two sides by a slow flowing river, which would sparkle like gold in the setting sun. We also had a garden with a gooseberry plant, an apple tree, and a pear tree. As summer closed, we could harvest all types of fruit and vegetables, but only one plant provided an unlimited snack in early summer – rhubarb. Mom gave us complete freedom to snap off as many stalks as we wanted to dip in sugar and enjoy long before anyone thought of sour patch kids.


A recent article about freezing fresh food in the New York Times included a reference by Chef Tory Miller of L’Etoile and Graze in Madison to freezing rhubarb to use year round as “Wisconsin’s lemon”. That reference inspired a flurry of rhubarb creations, not the least of which was my daughter’s rhubarb crumble.

Rhubarb Crumble

Another creation captured a bit of that childhood essence of summer – a rhubarb radler. Radlers are a German creation which combines a lighter beer with a fruit soda for a lower alcohol, refreshing summer drink. Typically the fruit soda is lemon, though more recently grapefruit has become popular. Why not rhubarb? We simmered diced rhubarb in water and sugar, strained the solids out and then added sparkling water. That house-made “soda” was then combined in equal parts with Hinterland White Cap IPA. If you can’t get Hinterland in your area, Blue Moon’s White IPA would work or you could select another flavorful craft IPA that is not too heavy on the bitter flavors and not overly malty. The hop bitterness in the Hinterland White Cap is beautifully bold and the rhubarb soda accentuates the floral notes. The resulting drink reminds me of a fresh ruby red grapefruit. I recommend enjoying it this way:

Rhubarb Radler

The rhubarb radler got the creative juices going. These flavors combined really beautifully, so how might we create a dish with the same profile? We marinated boneless, thick-cut pork chops in 1 can of Hinterland White Cap with 5 cloves of smashed garlic, 1/2 cup of sea salt, and 2 tablespoons of chopped oregano flowers. Fresh oregano can be substituted, but the flowers are a bit less powerful in flavor and seem to bring a somewhat floral character. The chops marinated overnight and then were grilled. We topped them with a rhubarb compote made of 1 cup of diced rhubarb and 1/4 cup sugar and 1/4 cup more beer slow simmered on the stove. When the rhubarb softened just a bit we removed the solids, reduced the liquid down to a very thick sauce and then added back the solids for a quick compote. The dish is topped with more oregano flowers and of course enjoyed with another Hinterland White Cap.

Rhubarb compote1

The compote was sweet but the IPA added the needed complexity to hold a bit of interest. My daughters claimed they could taste the beer in the pork chop, but only after I told them it was marinated in beer. The beer flavor is subtle, but different enough to make it a bit intriguing. Overall, a very nice blend of flavors. We enjoyed these with skillet browned baby potatoes and tarragon butter green beans. It tasted like summer.

Pork Schnitzel, Beer Spaetzle, and Gingersnap Gravy

Using crushed pretzels as the coating for a pork schnitzel adds a nice texture to the coating. The flour, egg, pretzel sequence of coating, as well as allowing the coating to rest for five minutes before frying, ensures better adherence. The spaetzle gets an addition of New Glarus Totally Naked in place of milk or eggs, and the result is a bit lighter with just a slight overtone of the flavors in the beer. Totally Naked is a very lovely, and very light, beer. This seems to be an experiment worth revisiting with darker, bolder beers and perhaps whole wheat flours or other alternative grains. We used a new product in the sauce – Bonewerks Culinarte’ Demi-Glace de Porc. It is a thicken, reduced pork stock from their kitchen in Green Bay, WI.

Bonewerks Demi-Glace de Porc
Bonewerks Demi-Glace de Porc

Their products are well made and a great “cheater” on a dish or sauce if you don’t have a long simmered pork broth on hand at the time – super convenient. The other flavors in the sauce are intended to echo those in sauerbraten, which in some traditional recipes includes crushed gingersnap cookies. We recommend using craft brew vinegar for the sauce, such as the American Amber from Milwaukee Craft Foods, but apple cider vinegar is a workable substitute.

Pork Schnitzel
2 pounds boneless pork loin
1 cup all-purpose flour
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 cup milk
2 cups pretzels (crushed fine)
½ cup canola oil (see below)

Note: This is pork loin, not tenderloin. This is often sold as boneless pork chops, which is the loin cut into 1 inch steaks.

Heat oven to 200 degrees.

If purchased as a full loin, cut into 1-inch pieces across the grain, and then place each piece inside a plastic freezer bag and use a meat mallet to pound the pieces until 1/4 inch thick. Sprinkle each piece with flour to coat lightly, but completely. Mix the eggs and milk together in a shallow, wide bowl. Spread the pretzels in a sheet pan. Dip each piece fully in the egg mixture and then press both sides into pretzel mixture to coat well. Set aside for 5 minutes.

Over medium high heat, heat canola oil in a large cast iron pan. Oil should be approximately ¼ inch high on the sides of the pan. When oil shimmers, but is not smoking, add pork. It should immediately begin to sizzle. Work in batches and do not crowd pan. Pieces should fit in one layer with some spacing around them. Allow to cook until a golden brown, slightly darker than corn flakes. Turn over to complete cooking.

Remove pieces as they finish to a draining rack set over a sheet pan in the oven to stay warm as you complete the remaining pieces.

Beer Spaetzle
6 cups chicken broth
1 ½ cup flour
½ tsp baking powder
¾ tsp salt
½ tsp nutmeg
2 eggs
¾ cup beer
2 Tbs. butter

Note: we used New Glarus Totally Naked for our dumplings, a lighter offering from the folks at New Glarus, but only available in Wisconsin. Nearly any beer will work in this application based on your flavor preference.

In a large pot over high heat, bring broth to a boil then reduce to a simmer. Mix remaining ingredients in a large bowl. Dough should be slightly thicker than pancake batter with some elasticity. Over the simmer broth, working in batches, force the dough through a spaetzle maker, a colander with holes, or a spoon with holes. As the dough falls into the pot, it will cook into irregular shaped dumplings. They will float to the surface, or give a light stir until they do. Cook for 3 minutes then strain out with a slotted spoon, and layer onto a sheet pan while completing the remainder of the dough.

Heat butter in a large sauté pan over medium high heat, and when foam subsides, working in batches as to not crowd the pan, toss the spaetzle until just slight browning appears on edges. Serve immediately.

Gingersnap Sauce
½ cup molasses
½ cup craft beer vinegar or apple cider vinegar
4 ounces Bonewerks Demi-Glace de Porc (½ cup ham or similar stock would also work)
Pinch Penzey’s powdered ginger
Pinch Penzey’s ground cloves

Place all ingredients in a large sauté pan over medium high heat and reduce until as thick as maple syrup.

Pork Schnitzle, Beer Spaetzle, Gingersnap Gravy
Pork Schnitzel, Beer Spaetzle, Gingersnap Gravy

On Culture, Caraway…again

The flavor combinations we detailed in our post On Culture, Caraway, and a Computer were intriguing – partly because of the genesis of the recipe and partly because of the use of under-appreciated caraway. The texture of the pudding we prepared, given the bacon and pepper flavors, seemed odd, but the taste was interesting. So we reprised the flavors, but moved away from the dessert approach to an entree. We prepared a pair of pork tenderloins with a spice rub of salt, smoked paprika, cumin, powdered clove, powdered caraway, and powdered dried mushroom. We smoked them over applewood chips, while enjoying a Lakefront ESB Organic Ale.

Pork tenderloin smoked3


We served this with green beans grilled with red onions and a buttermilk gravy made with bacon and black pepper. The buttermilk gravy was really a nice, tangy complement to the smoky tenderloin. The caraway powder was perceptible on the pork, without being overpowering, and seemed to be accentuated by the smoking process. The mushroom powder was not individually detectable, but there was an earthy tone to the pork, which may be attributable to the mushroom addition. So same flavors, re-purposed.  A very enjoyable Great Lakes Cuisine dish.

Pork tenderloin smoked1



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.