Backyard Grilling

There is a primal satisfaction in lighting a fire and cooking outside once again in early spring after a long, cold winter. Winters here in the Great Lakes region can be bitter cold and heavily snow-covered. The days are short and the nights long. As the days start to lengthen, the snow recedes and we begin to walk our gardens to see shoots of chives beginning. We see our neighbors and make plans for the week-end. All feels new, re-born.

Pickles3

This last weekend featured a warm fire, warmer friendships and wonderful food. We had a full feast, but my favorite little tastes came from that hardwood fire. We sipped beer as we grilled, a slight chill lingering in the afternoon air, sweet smoke rising. Pheasant sausages and venison Italians slowly roasting.

Pheasant Sausage1

Slices into bite-sized chunks, we ate them with our hands while still too hot right off the cutting board, dipped in yellow mustard. We also stuffed them into pieces of freshly baked white bread.

Venison Sausage3

Some ice-cold beers, some house-made pickles, and good conversation. Spring brings the earth back to life and re-kindles friendships. Light the fire and enjoy.

beer

Advertisements

Hidden Springs Cheese Tasting – Winter 2015

We recently made a return trip to Fromagination in Madison, WI, to pick up selections to create a tasty winter cheese plate. Our last trip we detailed here and featured a Holland’s Family Cheese offering, Marieke Gouda. This time we picked up two varieties of sheep cheese created by Brenda Jensen at Hidden Springs Creamery – Ocooch Mountain and a Manchego-style cheese. We also picked up another Manchego-style from Emmi Roth, called GranQueso, this one a cow’s milk variety. We also picked up a favorite dry sausage from Underground Meats, their Saucisson Sec.

We’re using the term Manchego-style because Manchego, like true Champagne, is defined by the region it originated from. Here is Murray’s Cheese explanation:

Perhaps Spain’s most famous cheese, Manchego is a D.O. (Denominacion de Origen) protected cheese, meaning the traditional recipe must use 100% Manchega sheep milk. The breed has proven sturdy enough over the centuries to traverse the rocky, arid central plateau region of La Mancha – where cows just can’t hang. Made using fresh, pasteurized sheep’s milk, this Manchego develops a rich nuttiness and pleasant gaminess (think toasted almonds and broiled lamb chops) after over a year of aging. The patterned rind is a nod to the grass baskets previously used to form the cheese. Firm enough to grate for any culinary application, highlight its sharp, caramelly flavor anywhere you would use Parmigiano.

So Hidden Springs approach is fairly close to the tradition – sheep’s milk, organic farming, and old-school techniques. The flavor is grassier, more herbaceous, more “farmy” than any imported Manchego we have tried. We’ll admit to having never traveled to La Mancha to savor farmstead Manchego, but a taste of Hidden Springs definitely transports us to the hills near Westby, WI, where the sheep graze. We included the Ocooch Mountain in the tasting as way to distinguish the sheep milk effect as compared to the cow milk variety fro Emmi Roth. Ocooch is wonderful in it’s own right, like a sheep milk Parmesan, though slightly softer in texture, maybe hinting towards a Romano in texture, but many levels more interesting in flavor.

Cheese Plate - Winter 2015 Manchego2
Clockwise from upper left: Hidden Springs Ocooch Mountain, Hidden Springs Manchego-Style, Emmi Roth GranQueso

 

 

The GranQueso is fun, approachable and an interesting addition to the tasting, as the texture is very close to Hidden Springs and a traditional Manchego.  According to the maker, this cheese is “rubbed with a spice blend including cinnamon and paprika to bring out a unique identity”. You get just a hint of cinnamon and paprika, so little that if you did not know they were there, the reaction upon tasting would be one of those “Hey, there is a little bit of something in the aftertaste. What is that?”. Upon hearing the spice mix, you’ll immediately say – “Yeah, that’s it.” It’s subtle but it adds a sense of sweetness to the cheese. Some preferred this to the other two, others liked the more pronounced flavors present in the sheep milk varieties.

We added Honey Crisp apples along with the Saucisson Sec to complete the plate. Quince paste is the traditional Spanish accompaniment, and we considered a number of pear or apple options. A pear butter with honey would likely have made a nice addition (or maybe a preserve made of Pear with Honey and Ginger from the aptly named Quince & Apple in Madison). Overall, a fun and enjoyable exploration of artisan foods, taking traditional European approaches and adapting them, tweaking them, making them a new example of Great Lakes Cuisine.

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.

In Praise of Sausage

A recent lunch at Bavette in Milwaukee, WI created a growing sense of wonder. On her site, Karen Bell talks about “honoring time old culinary traditions as well as providing a direct link from farmer to consumer” which are deeply held values of Great Lakes Cuisine, but the particular bit of wonder on this particular visit was the sausage-making. First, perhaps we should set the scene – As you dine at Bavette, you can sit at tables in a classic bistro-style setting, but you can also sit at a bar, much like a traditional diner.  Yet unlike any other diner, here you are not watching the kitchen at work, but rather a world-class butcher shop in full swing. So as my good friend Jay and I enjoyed a very nice sampler of dried sausages, a gentleman was actively preparing another batch of fresh sausage. Our sampler included (clockwise from the top) Gin and Juice, a lamb sausage with juniper from Smoked Goose in Indianapolis,  Saucisson Sec, a traditional pork sausage from Underground Meats in Madison, and Pamplona Runner, a dried chorizo-style sausage from Bolzano Meats in Milwaukee.

Bavette1

The accompaniments were chili-pepper flecked jam, pickled pears, and house crackers. I enjoyed a Central Waters Brewing Co. Mud Puppy Porter with it and was in heaven. And that was before my sandwich.  The menu at Bavette is great, filled with so many innovative appetizers, salads, and sandwiches for lunch. For me, the real treat was the diversity of cuts available. Here is where the joy of eating lunch in a butcher shop really comes through.  All those cuts that we don’t normally eat on their own need to be highlighted, experimented with, and featured, and this is the ideal environment to do just that. Jay enjoyed a shredded beef cheek sandwich with braised kale and fresh red grapes, but I couldn’t pass on a beef tongue pastrami sandwich with braised red cabbage and a butternut mostarda.

Bavette2

The tongue was rich and brilliantly offset by the tang of the braised red cabbage and the creamy, mustard punch of the poached butternut spread. At this point I had moved on to a scotch-style ale, Dirty Bastard from Founder’s Brewing Co. which was a lovely, malty complement. Particularly nice with an ultra thin slice of bresola, which we got as a little complimentary taste from the chef.

And the whole time I’m enjoying this Great Lakes feast, I’m watching this guy make sausage from scratch. I understand that some people may not find this fascinating.  Some may agree with John Godfrey Saxe when he said “Laws… like, sausages, cease to inspire respect in proportion as we know how they are made”. I beg to differ. My sense of wonder grows as I consider the process and the possibilities of sausage making (law making is another matter). Thankfully, I got an opportunity to explore that sense of wonder over a recent week-end.

Tom and I were using “In The Charcuterie: The Fatted Calf’s Guide to Making Sausage, Salumi, Pates, Roasts, Confits, and Other Meaty Goods” by  Taylor Boetticher and Toponia Miller as our jumping off point to explore sausage making first hand. Tom has already produced some pretty spectacular pancetta and other treats from their work, but this was a first run at sausage making for me. Tom had selected a Saucisson Sec and fresh Hungarian sausage for us to prepare. The pork for the Hungarian sausage was pre-seasoned by Tom with paprika, peppercorn, oregano, mace and garlic and allowed to chill over night. Our last minute addition of finely diced bourbon-soaked orange rind was about flavor inspiration, and clearly moved us away from traditional preparation. The actual process of grinding and stuffing was fairly simple as a two-person job and the details of that process can be better learned from the above referenced text. One pound of Hungarian sausage was enjoyed that evening with a curried yogurt dipping sauce and another pound came home with me and was featured in our recent Spring Beer Tasting as part of modern take on the traditional Hungarian potato casserole – rakott krumpli.

The Saucisson Sec is fairly simple preparation with pepper, garlic, and bit of white wine. One critical issue is to use high-quality pork which will be the dominant flavor of the resulting product. The other critical issue is to find the right place to allow the sausage to dry in a relatively temperature and humidity controlled environment.  I recommend a wine cellar if you have one, like Tom does!

 

Saucisson Sec

Isn’t that just a beautiful thing? Each of these simple preparations yields insight into the process, and inspiration into the possibilities. Hank Shaw has a phrase in his excellent cookbook “Hunt, Gather, Cook: Finding the Forgotten Feast” when talking about meat yielding to “the caress of salt and time” in the sausage making process. Ah, the caress of salt and time.

montamore

Simply pork, salt, and some spices transformed in the sausage making process to rich, wonderful morsel to be shared with friends over craft brewed beers and good conversation.  This is a formative element of Great Lakes Cuisine, taking an old-world preservation tradition and using it as a process to explore more flavor combinations. This is the spirit of Bavette, and the spirit of the Great Lakes.

 

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.