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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Bavarian Pretzels and Beer Cheese Sauce

For us, one of the simplest and most satisfying snacks for the cold months remains the freshly baked soft pretzel with a beer sauce. Of course these have been appearing on every gastropub and craft beer bar menu for the last few years now, but we’ve never taken the plunge to make our own. In Milwaukee, the best options while out on the town are always house-baked when available or the “Bavarian Beast” from Milwaukee Pretzel Company, who gives us a good working definition on their website of what we enjoy most in a soft pretzel:

 Unlike their American counterpart, Bavarian pretzels pack a denser, chewier inside and a darker, crispier outside. And there’s a certain “tang” to the Bavarian-style pretzel that sets it apart from other soft pretzels. But best of all, it doesn’t need to be dipped in cheese or drenched in butter to taste delicious! We even suggest eating them at room temperature – just like the Germans do. (Of course, the true German way would be with a dash of mustard and a nice, cold Weiss beer!)

A still-chilly spring week-end with the sun shining, seemed like a fine time to try our hand at creating these tasty morsels ourselves.

Pretzel

Soft Pretzels with Maibock Cheese Sauce

1 cup warm water
1 package yeast (2¼ tsp)
3 cups all-purpose flour
2 Tbs melted butter
1 Tbs sugar
½ tsp salt

In a large mixing bowl, combine ½ cup of the warm water and yeast, allow to dissolve for five minutes. Add flour, butter, sugar, salt. Mix while gradually adding remaining water to create a moist, but not sticky dough. Knead for 10 minutes until smooth. Place in oiled bowl and cover with plastic wrap to allow to rise to double in volume (1 to 2 hours).

Remove from bowl and place on silicone mat or lightly oiled sheet pan. Divide into 12 pieces and roll out each into a 18 inch long rope, then form a pretzel and place on another lightly oiled sheet pan. The dough has the melted butter so it should be easy to manipulate without any additional flour. There is a technique to twisting the rope into a pretzel, but you can simply form it into a pretzel, which is what we did. Cover pretzel and allow to rise again for another 30 minutes. Heat oven to 400º F. In a big pot, bring 8 cups of water and 2 heaping tablespoons to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Slide a pretzel into the pot and allow to simmer for 30 seconds each side, then place back on oiled sheet pan. Repeat for all pretzels. Sprinkle with sea salt and bake for 15 minutes, or until golden brown. These are delicious on there own, but we served them with a beer cheese sauce which we adapted from Joy of Cooking, which makes the notable addition of blue cheese to kick up that cheese flavor and cream cheese to enhance the smoothness.

Maibock Beer Cheese Sauce

1 cup Maibock Beer (see note)
1 Tbs corn starch
1 Tbs cold water
2 cups grated aged cheddar
1 ounce cream cheese
1 ounce blue cheese
4 dashes Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp mustard

Note: We made this version with Lakefront Brewery’s Maibock as an homage to spring. You can read a bit more about Maibock as a style here. We’ve made this with a nice malty amber or a simple pilsner. As the basic ingredients are the cheddar and the beer, give some thought to how the flavors might marry.

Bring the beer to a boil and reduce to a simmer. Mix the cornstarch with the water and slowly stir into the beer. the mixture will thicken in a minute or two. Then stir in the remaining ingredients until melted and smooth. Serve with pretzels.

Red Cabbage Slaw with Hot Bacon Dressing

A couple years back we wrote about our love for red cabbage served rotkohl-style which, as part of our Bavarian heritage, finds its way to some of our Thanksgiving tables. Traditional rotkohl brings a welcome sweet and sour contrast to rich, fatty meats, but this time around we wanted to make something a bit different. Our approach was to soak the red cabbage overnight in malt vinegar, then drain and top with a variation of a hot bacon dressing. Many of the same elements as rotkohl are coming into play, but soaking the cabbage rather than cooking, leads to a crisper end result and a bit of contrast between cabbage and dressing.

Red Cabbage Slaw with Hot Bacon Dressing
1 small head red cabbage, quartered, cored and sliced thin
1 Granny Smith apple, cored and grated
1 cup vinegar (see note)

4 slices smoked thick sliced bacon (Nueske’s is a great choice)
1 cinnamon stick
8 whole cloves
8 whole peppercorns
8 whole juniper berries
1 tsp. dried thyme
1 Tbs. brown sugar

Note: We have been using house fermented malt vinegar in many of our recipes for the last few years. A quality apple cider vinegar, such as Bragg’s Organic Apple Cider Vinegar, will do just fine and is more widely available, but adding a dash of your favorite Oktoberfest beer wouldn’t hurt.

Combine the cabbage and grated apple in a small, non-reactive container and cover with vinegar. Allow to steep for at least one hour or as long as overnight, tossing occasionally to ensure even soaking.

After soaking period, strain the cabbage and save the soaking liquid in a glass bowl. Dice the bacon and place it into a large sauté pan over medium heat. Add the spices and stir frequently until the bacon is crisp. [That may look more like 20 juniper berries, but you gotta use your own discretion on this one.]

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Strain bacon and spices and set aside, leaving the fat in the pan. Add 1 cup of the soaking liquid to the pan slowly, while stirring. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer. Reduce by half, then add sugar and stir until dissolved. While mixture reduces, remove spices from bacon and discard. Add the crisped bacon to the drained cabbage and top with the warm bacon fat dressing. Serve immediately.

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This is an ideal accompaniment for a rich fatty dish, such as a sauerbraten, but can also work nicely with the dark meat of a smoked turkey.

Potage Colcannon – Potato Leek Kale Soup

The bounty of the farmers’ market created the inspiration of a Pottage Parmentier meets Colcannon – a potato leek soup with the addition of garlic sautéed cabbage. Potato leek soup served cold and topped with cream and chives is most often known as vichyssoise, but the classic warm soup owes it’s name to Antoine-Augustin Parmetier, who reportedly popularized the potato in Europe after it was brought back to the Old World from the New by the Spanish. I love potato. Parmentier may become my patron saint.

The French were slow to adopt the potato, seen at the time of introduction as peasant food, or even worse, animal fodder. The Irish took to the tuber a bit more readily and one of the classic dishes of the Emerald Isle is colcannon, which is basically mashed potatoes with onions, cream, and cabbage added. We were inspired by some beautiful kale (which basically is just a cabbage variety), leeks, and a selection of fingerling and traditional potatoes.

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Potato Leek and Kale Soup

2 cups fingerling potatoes, large dice
1 Tbs fresh thyme leaves
4 Tbs vegetable oil
4 tsp sea salt

4 leeks, minced (see directions)
2 quarts vegetable broth
8 medium potatoes, peeled and thin sliced
1 pint heavy cream (or almond milk)

6 leaves kale, or enough to yield 2 cups chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese

Heat oven to 400 degrees. Toss fingerlings potatoes with thyme, 1 Tbs oil, and 2 tsp salt and spread on a sheet pan. Roast for about one hour, or until browned and crisp in the exterior and still soft internally. While potatoes roast, proceed to make soup.

Wash the leeks and thinly slice the lower eight inches, which is mostly white. The remaining greens can be saved for other uses. The slices should then be further chopped fine or processed in a food processor until finely chopped. Place 2 Tbs oil in a large soup pot over medium heat on the stovetop, add the leeks and sprinkle with a pinch of salt. Stir until softened but not browned, about 20 minutes.

Add broth and sliced potatoes. Cook until potatoes are softened, about another 20 minutes once broth comes to a boil. Add cream and just heat through. Do not overcook the cream or it will separate and   Puree until smooth and set aside.

While soup comes to a boil, slice kale into 1/2 inch pieces and rinse then drain well (a salad spinner works well). In a large skillet over medium heat, add 1 Tbs oil and minced garlic. Cook until beginning to brown and very fragrant. Add kale, sprinkle with remaining 2 tsp salt and toss well. Allow to cook for about 10 minutes. Cook times will vary depending on the variety of kale, but the result should be softened and yet retaining some structure. The result should be along these lines:

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Gather the roasted potatoes into a pile and top with cheese, then melt cheese until just browned under the broiler. We used a dill and garlic cheddar cheese curd. There are many great uses for Cheese Curds, but it turns out this wasn’t one of them. We should have gone with some grated white cheddar or similar strong, melting cheese, because the curds retain some of their spongy texture even when melted, which was not ideal in this application. But it looked pretty awesome:

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We served our soup with a healthy pile of kale in the center and then topped with our crispy roasted potatoes and cheese. The smooth, rich flavors of the potato created a wonderful vehicle for the garlicky kale. Our fingerling potatoes were a stand-in for croutons. We’ve done grilled cheese croutons before in our tomato soup, which would have worked here as well.

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Playing with our ethnic traditions, local farm-grown products, and giving it a new twist is right in line with our definition of Great Lakes Cuisine. It was also a lovely, warming autumn meal. Thank you St. Parmentier.

More Hoppel Poppel Variations

Frequent readers here know that we have an unhealthy obsession with this creation known as Hoppel Poppel (read more on our earlier post here). Quick synopsis of the required ingredients:

Basic Hoppel Poppel – Diced, par-boiled potatoes cooked until browned and crisping, sauteed with diced onion, and diced “salami” (see comment below), topped with egg, scrambled and then optionally topped with melted cheese.

Variations – Any root vegetables diced. Any member of the allium family. Any leftover meat, diced. Any egg, any style. Cheeses, many beautiful cheeses.

In some ways, the variations may be closer to the original than the Basic given above. The Basic is based on the dish as it appeared on a number of diner menus in the Great Lakes region over the last 50 years. Particularly in Milwaukee, the recipe always included “salami”, which is understandable in the home of Klements and Usingers. But what is called “salami” on these menus is really much closer in style and moisture content to beef summer sausage, rather than the much harder Italian-style true salami. The alleged origins of hoppel poppel was as a simple a way for the Germans settling in the Great Lakes region to use leftovers. The boiled potatoes from the previous evenings dinner were diced and fried in butter with onion and a bit of leftover meat.Mix in a few eggs and you have yourself a hearty and economical breakfast.

It is in this tradition that we have the most fun. Leftovers create some of the most memorable dishes. Bits left from a labor-intensive dinner preparation re-appear in the morning as effortless additions. One of my favorite all-time dishes was made by my good friend Tom after an epic roasting session with a whole leg of lamb went into the wee hours of the morning. The whole leg of lamb dinner was a labor. The lamb hash the next morning was all bonus; beautiful, effortless. We present two variations on Hoppel Poppel here – one  in the spirit of leftovers and and another which is a bit more fanciful.

Sweet Potato Hoppel Poppel with Duck Egg

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We began with leftover potatoes and sweet potatoes which had been cooked over the campfire the previous evening, fried in butter with onions, and topped with a slow-fried duck egg and goat’s milk jack cheese from Caprine Supreme.

“Royal” Hoppel Poppel

The purple potatoes we used in this preparation were a local farmers market find and inspired a pairing with a Lavender Jack, also from Caprine Supreme.

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So go forth and experiment. Please feel free to share your creations with us here or on Twitter at @greatlakesfood.