New Bar Added – Stubby’s Gastrogrub and Beer Bar, Milwaukee, WI

“We’re kind of like your favorite local dive bar — but with a killer craft beers and a robust menu packed with locally-sourced offerings.” – Stubby’s Gastrogrub and Beer Bar website

Yeah, that about covers it. Stubby’s has a great selection of draft beers with healthy selection of local Wisconsin brews, an equally healthy selection of some of the best Great Lakes brews, all supplemented with a number of world beers which are high-end representatives of their style. It took me ten minutes to select my first beer because I knew I was limited to only having a few. I’m glad I started with Karben4 Fantasy Factory.

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Karben4, out of Madison, WI, has created a beautifully balanced IPA which leans towards the citrus end of the hop spectrum, but the English malted barley adds plenty of body. Stubby’s is located on the Milwaukee River, on the edge of a newly revitalized neighborhood. It was a sunny, breezy, happy hour kind of night. We ordered a selection of appetizers for the group – fried mac-n-cheese, fried cheese curds, and nachos topped with pulled pork.

Stubby's

Apart from the obvious artery destroying power of this display, it was ton of fun. The fried mac-n-cheese were lusciously creamy and complemented with a spicy marinara-style sauce. The nachos were topped with pulled pork and a ridiculous amount on cheese, guacamole, and sour cream. This is not subtle folks, this is a full-on bar food binge. And yes, those barrels are painted with the Central Waters logo. So what do you pair with deep fried cheddar cheese cords with a Parmesan bacon dipping sauce?

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Well, the Black Husky Pale Ale was exceptionally nice as the bright hop flavor cut through the richness of the deep-fried cheese and bacon sauce. Then you slip slowly and blissfully off into a food coma. Oh, it’s so worth it. If you have the opportunity, I highly recommend it. We’re happy to add Stubby’s Gastrogrub & Beer Bar to our Restaurant page as another representative of Great Lakes Cuisine.

A Celebration of Wisconsin Cheeses

Due to a fortuitous turn of events, we found ourselves with an overabundance of beautiful, Wisconsin cheeses. A quick consult of the composed cheese courses Thomas Keller’s French Laundry Cookbook provided inspiration as well as past courses created with my good friend, Tom. In sequence of how they were served, here they are:

Cheese Course1

Oven roasted beets with Milwaukee Craft Brew Vinegar’s American Amber vinegar and buckwheat honey vinaigrette served on Growing Power sunflower sprouts with chèvre and a malt vinegar glaze.

Cheese Course2

Farmers’ market shredded carrots over a golden raisin puree with Saxony Alpine Style from Saxon Creamery, inspired by a recipe from Thomas Keller.

Cheese Course3

Roasted tomato tartar, salami-wrapped grilled asparagus, chive oil, Parmesan crisp. This owed inspiration to a Thomas Keller dish which he serves with dressed haricot vert.

Cheese Course4

Stuffed and grill-smoked Cremini mushrooms on micro-greens with Great Midwest Morel & Leek Jack cheese. We served the greens dressed with a play on warm bacon dressing – We used our bacon-wash technique on the vinegar to transfer the bacon flavor and then make a standard olive oil vinaigrette with crumbles of bacon added.

Cheese Course5

Grilled cheese with goat cheddar from Carr Valley and caramelized onions with a tomato “soup”, which was a puree of oven-roasted tomatoes and red onions. Tom and I have made a version of this in the past, though that past version benefited from an amazing onion and fennel jam Tom had created.

Cheese Course6

“Au gratin” potatoes – thin sliced Yukon gold potatoes were stacked with a blend of shredded Carr Valley Mobay and Menage between each slice, then oven roasted until crisp. The oils released in cooking were used to wilt arugula, used as the bed of the dish. Topped with a poached egg, the dish is then topped with another strip of Mobay.

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We finished the meal with individual chocolate chip cheese cakes, courtesy of my daughter.

You say Porchetta, I say Porketta…Let’s Have a Sandwich

Across the regional cuisines of the Americas are dishes which reflect both a point of origin and the place of creation. The unique hybrid of Japanese approaches with Peruvian ingredients as showcased by Nobu in New York is one of the more surprising combinations, and demonstrates this interplay of “point of origin” with “place of creation”.

Many hallmark dishes of Great Lakes Cuisine clearly express their “point of origin” in Germanic, Norwegian, or Polish traditions, yet they have been adapted not only to local ingredients, but also to local tastes, many times over several generations. Porchetta/Porketta is another great example of the process. Porchetta originates in Italy as a tradition of stuffing an entire pig with herbs and roasting until fall-apart tender. The current keeper of all that is good and sacred about Italian food in America, the prophet Mario Batali, recently shared his version of his Dad’s version in the December 2014 Food & Wine magazine. Iron Range Porketta is another “version”, handed down through generations of Italian immigrants coming to work in the Iron Range, which stretches across the northern sections of Minnesota and Wisconsin.

Iron Range Porketta caught our interest when an America’s Test Kitchen article ran a few years ago detailing a trip to Hibbing, MN, in pursuit of the fabled regional roast. Mario’s version gave us the inspiration to try something new with something traditionally Great Lakes. Instead of the lean roast with added fat from a sausage stuffing in Mario’s version, we stuck with the pork butt approach used by Fraboni’s in Hibbing, MN. But the addition of the fennel bulb in Mario’s version made sense, rather than simply the fronds and fennel seed. We also used fresh garlic rather than powder. Finally, many versions suggest the addition of vegetables under the roast while it cooks. Mario suggests red onion, his father uses carrots, onions and fennel bulb, a comment on the Hibbing article contends carrots, onions and potatoes are the right addition. We elected to add another staple of the Iron Range, rutabaga, along with red onion and fennel bulb. We served this as a Sunday dinner one night, but the real fun was adapting this into our version of a Porketta Sandwich.  The end result is neither traditional Iron Range, nor traditional Italian. It is Great Lakes Cuisine.

Porketta Sandwich

1 4 lb pork butt roast
1 bulb fennel, cored and sliced thin, 2 Tbs. fronds chopped
6 cloves garlic, sliced thin
1 Tbs. fennel seed
2 Tbs. coarse salt
½ Tbs. cracked black pepper

1 medium rutabaga, peeled, cut into 2 in. pieces
2 medium red onions, peeled and quartered

For red onion/fennel “ketchup”
¼ cup cider vinegar
1 ancho chile, rehydrated
Salt and sugar to taste

For rutabaga herb “butter”
1 Tbs. dried Italian herbs
Salt to taste

Hard rolls, such as a ciabatta

Pickled sweet peppers (optional)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Pork butt will contain a bone in approximately the center of the roast. Place the roast on a cutting board with the fat side up, cut from one side to the bone, and cut around the bone to remove without cutting all the way through the roast. The result will be a boneless, butterflied roast. Evenly spread half the fennel bulb, all the garlic, fennel fronds, fennel seed, and 1 tbs.salt and pepper across the opened roast. The result should look something like this:

Porketta

Then carefully fold the roast back to the original shape and tie the roast in several places with butcher twine to hold together for roasting. Place red onion, rutabaga, and fennel bulb in a large roasting pan. Set the roast on top, and sprinkle with remaining 1 tbs. salt. Roast for 4 hours, tented with foil for the first three hours, until the pork reaches 150 degrees or is fall-apart tender. This is a fatty roast, it is hard to over-cook it, so if in doubt, go longer.

At this point, the roast can be placed on a platter, tented and allowed to rest while the vegetables are pulled from the pan. If having this as a dinner, the vegetables ran be served alongside a sliced roast and enjoyed. We enjoyed it. But…we had leftovers and that is when the fun really begins.

The fat left in the pan after removing the vegetables was saved and refrigerated. The next day we had this:

Porketta Fat

The top layer is pork fat with just a hint of fennel bulb flavor. The bottom is the gelatinous, concentrated essence of pork. We wanted to do a version of the Hibbing Porketta Sanwich, but with a Mario-flair. Mario suggested slices of his lean pork roast with a bit of home-made hot sauce, and that served as a jumping off point.

The rutabaga was golden, soft, with a texture similar to a beet, but with flavors hinting toward cooked cabbage or turnip. We pureed the rutabaga with just the top layer of pork fat until smooth, then added salt and dried herbs to taste and created an herb “butter” to smear on our toasted hard roll.

The fennel and red onion were also pureed, this time with the bottom layer of pork essence, cider vinegar, and salt, to creating a bit of sauce for our sandwich. The result needed depth, so a re-hydrated ancho chile added just the right color and depth, and just a pinch of sugar, to create a very nice “ketchup”.

The pork roast was shredded by hand, removing any difficult sinews and excessive fat, then reheated. We added home-pickled sweet peppers instead of the hot sauce Mario had in mind. The result:

Porketta Sandwich

The pork was rich with overtones of fennel, which echoes the flavors of great pork sausage, but with the texture of pulled pork. The “ketchup” added a contrasting zing, added by the pickled sweet peppers. The herb “butter” brought all the flavors together, with a texture not unlike hummus, but a flavor closer to well-roasted cauliflower.

The result of this little flavor experiment wanders far from our Italian point of origin, but it certainly explores our sense of place. No self-respecting bar in Hibbing is likely to serve a rutabaga puree on a Porketta sandwich, but we’re playing around with culinary ideas that share the same geography. Much of regional cuisine does this and Great Lakes Cuisine is no different. And definitely worth the effort.

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.

A Belgian Beauty – Booyah

Light the fire at sunrise; it’s ready at sundown. But only on the perfect autumn days somewhere near Green Bay, Wisconsin, as the crisp chill startles you awake when you walk outside. When the sun isn’t up yet, but the horizon is the pale blue of promise, trees stand as black silhouettes against the sky – this is when you start the fire in the barrel. Then let it cook all day, enjoy it at sundown. But the process actually begins earlier.

Booyah11

The previous night, over cold beers and good conversation, we chopped carrots, peeled potatoes. A large pressure cooker was already going on the stove-top when I arrived. Inside, chicken bones and skin boiling. The butcher had kindly skinned and de-boned the thirty pounds of whole chickens, making the prep a bit easier, but the flavors had to be captured.  Peter insisted the onions be finely diced, so they would melt away in the cooking process. I happily complied, never shed a tear. When the carrots, potatoes, celery, and ever-so-finely-diced onion were chopped, bagged, ready for tomorrow, we split a final beer. But the process really began earlier.

Booyah31

Peter owns the specially prepared barrel needed to make an authentic booyah. They had to travel across the state to find the right stainless steel wash machine inserts which, when welded into a closed cooking pot, fit perfectly atop the 55 gallon drum. You can find a recipe, you can study the history, but in the end, a key part of the process in how you cook it, not just what goes in. Booyah is cooked outside, over an open flame, lit at sunrise. How much does the process add to the flavor? Not sure. But like a clam bake on a beach in the Cape or a luau under the warm Hawaiian skies, the cooking process is part of the tradition, part of what makes this authentic. And what you want here is authentic. This isn’t about innovation. This isn’t about your “take on it”. This isn’t about creativity. This is about tradition. This is about who knows the oldest recipe, the first use of the term, the most authentic version. This is where a dish transcends any individual participation, and you become immersed in a tradition. So obviously, the process begins much earlier.

September 1852, two families from the Wallonia region of Belgium decide to immigrate to the United States. Perhaps inspired by their story, a significant group of families decide to follow the next May. As they travel, they decide to accompany a group of Dutch families heading to Wisconsin. So after an ocean voyage and train rides across this young nation, they chose not to settle in the growing cities of Chicago or Milwaukee. They likely traveled north by stagecoach, along Lake Michigan’s western shore. As the sun rose upon the waters of that great lake, they would have seen rolling fields and forests covered in the mists of a spring dawn, and geese flying north in a silent, V formation. They settled northeast of modern-day Green Bay, where the forests of the peninsula began, and formed a new Belgian colony. It is estimated between 5,000 and 7,500 Walloon-speaking Belgians settled in the three-county area around Green Bay from 1852 to 1856.

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These were farmers, loggers, miners; people working with their hands, carving out a new life, in a raw, rugged land. The Peshtigo Fire of 1871 wiped out much of the logging, but cleared land for farms to quilt the landscape. These farmers would gather together for camaraderie, to share stories, to remember their traditions. In fall, they would gather over a harvest stew, not unlike a traditional chicken bouillon, with carrots, celery, onions, whole chickens over an open fire. Potatoes and corn, staples of the early American farm, were added. Along the way, a more unlikely ingredient, oxtail finds it way into the stew. A farmer looking for a richer texture, additional flavor, or was it simply leftover from another family dinner? The reason lost to time, but a tradition was born. And the name? There is a pretty common explanation (and a fair amount of discussion about who has the “most authentic” recipe), but for me it simply comes down to pronouncing bouillon in a thick French accent and someone spelling it like it sounds.

A booyah is not a recipe, but tradition. It is a process of making a harvest stew, but as much about the process as the stew. This is about fall and friends. A chill in the air. A fire lit at sunrise. So when friends start to gather on the patio around noon, the fire is glowing embers, and the pot is steaming. Peter wants to keep it to a low simmer, a rapid boil will dry out the chicken. After hours of cooking the oxtails are fished out and broken down, most of the bones removed, their rich flavors suffused through the stew. We talk. We drink beer. I try Duvel for the first time, a strong blond ale from Belgium. A friend of Peter’s at Milwaukee Brewing Company brews a Belgian-style saisson, named for Peter’s stew. We drink some of that too. The kids are running around the neighborhood, dressed up for Halloween. The golden glow reserved for late autumn shines through the rustling leaves. Another beer. More friends arrive. The sun settles down beyond the horizon – booyah is ready.

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The stew is full and rich, in flavor and in mouth-feel. If you enjoy the difference between a home-made chicken soup and a store bought variety, the difference is likely the rich, fatty mouth-feel from the skin and bones of the chicken. We’re going several steps beyond. The broth created from the skins and bones from the pressure cooker have been added. The oxtail creates a lush richness to the stew. The onions have melted away. I’m not sure I can taste the smoke of the fire, but after spending the last few hours huddled around the barrel for conversation, I smell of smoke, and it adds something to every taste. Wash it down with another beer. These are good times. These are good friends. This is good food. A Belgian beauty – booyah.

Light the fire at sunrise; it’s ready at sundown.