Sunday, June 26, 2011

Year-old Leeks Make Awesome Breakfast Sandwiches

As I was sitting down this afternoon to contemplate what delicious thing to blog next, it occurred to me that I never told you about a delicious brunch sandwich we threw together almost a month ago.

It was a fairly lovely weekend, weather-wise, so we decided to spend some time prepping the vegetable gardens for summer planting... pulling weeds, working the soil a bit, and spreading out whatever compost our bins had produced over the course of fall/winter.  But, it was also time, I decided, to pull the leeks!

For the second year in a row, I'd overwintered a couple dozen Bandit Leeks -- a cold hardy variety which produces nice thick stalks with a pleasantly sweet, mild flavor.  I love winter-hardy vegetables like the bandit leek for their ability to give me backyard-fresh produce so early in the season -- a true gift, especially after a long, hard Wisconsin winter.  And it seems a bit of a miracle to me, at times, that these lovely tender spring leeks are the product of an entire YEAR of growth.

These pictures are from our crop last year (this year's leeks were eaten down a bit by hungry bunnies, so they weren't quite as photogenic):
You'll note that these 2010 leeks have very long green tops.  Well, I learned my lesson and buried this year's crops of leeks quite a bit deeper this year, so we had longer, more impressive white stalks in our 2011 harvest.  But, even these short, nobby stalks were quite tasty -- and  a welcome spring treat.
After marveling at the way they survived even the brutality of this year's winter (during which we received record amounts of snow, and plenty of cold), I pulled a few of this year's leeks fairly early in the morning. Since it was just before breakfast, I washed them, sliced them into thin strips, and allowed them to sweat slowly in some sweet cream butter with a bit of freshly clipped tarragon (which was just starting to green up out in the herb garden).  When the leeks were meltingly tender, I added a few whipped eggs, cooking them up into a soft scramble.

We had leftover rolls from some Cuban sandwiches we'd made the evening before, as well as some Virginia ham. So, along with a bit of Swiss cheese, everything came together to create a lovely, flavorful spring sandwich.  You can just imagine the sweet, slightly oniony flavor of the leeks pairing just perfectly with the salty ham... and dancing gracefully on your tongue with the subtlest hint of cool, tender, anisey tarragon.
It was the sort of sandwich that would be perfect eaten right out on the patio as the sun was rising on a cool spring morning.  Can't you just feel the dew between your toes as you sip your coffee and take in all the vibrant green hues -- the grass, the budding trees -- along with the scent of the late blooming tulips and early blooming lilacs?

To me, this is the perfect kind of food.  It's the sort of dish that makes the most of that perfect moment in a given season. In this case, it's  lovely convergence of winter greeting spring, dormancy springing to life, and hunger meeting the ultimate in satiation.

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Want more? Read Lo's latest ruminations at DEVOUR Milwaukee, her Milwaukee Magazine blog.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

2011 Wisconsin Beer Lovers Festival

This past Saturday, while Lo was hanging out with the bears in northern Wisconsin, I spent the afternoon drinking beer at the Wisconsin Beer Lovers Festival in Glendale, WI. The Wisconsin Beer Lovers Festival is the premiere all Wisconsin craft beer and tasting festival, featuring selections from 30 breweries throughout the state. Local chefs created unique tasting portion designed to complement more than 100 unique beers from the state’s finest craft breweries.

One of the cool things about this festival is that most of the breweries were represented by the actual beer master. So it was a great opportunity to get to chat with them and hear about their craft and what they had in the works.

One of the more well known Wisconsin breweries is Milwaukee's Lakefront Brewery. They were sampling my favorite brew, Fixed Gear, and my second favorite, Bridge Burner. Russ Klisch, brewmaster and owner of Lakefront, was there and mentioned to me that the Fixed Gear will soon be available in 6-packs which made me very happy. You see, although I don't mind the 22 oz. bomber bottle trend, I seem to be able to pace myself better if drinking out of the 12 oz. bottles. And truthfully, a 6-pack is easier to carry than 3 bomber bottles... I know... I know. Me and my first world problems, right?

There were a few breweries that brought some interesting creations along with them. The Delafield Brewhaus brought a Russian Imperial Stout that had been aged in whiskey barrels for 18 months. Even better, they were pouring the brew straight out of the whiskey barrel. Nice touch.

Vintage Brewing Company in Madison presented a lovely experimental brew -- a Saison style beer flavored with the habiscus flowers. Smooth, refreshing and pink it was a experiment well worth tasting.

There was also a newcomer to the festival. Starting his brew pub only 9 months ago, Woodman Brewery had a large selection of beers to choose from. I sampled the Jamarillo, a jalapeno blond ale, and was quite pleased with the result. It wasn't spicy, but it presented a nice strong green jalapeno essence. I could see drinking this beer with street tacos or other casual Mexican food. Their beer is only currently available at the brew pub and in some of the Woodman area bars, so if you happen to drive through the Southwest corner of the state, make sure to check them out.

I was able to taste a good variety of IPAs and other hoppy beverages. Angry Minnow (Hayward) brought a Tre Svends IPA that was quite delicious. The Hoppy Face from Fox River Brewing Company (Oshkosh), the Hop Farm from The Grumpy Troll (Mt. Horeb) and the One Hop Wonder from Titletown Brewing Company (Green Bay) were some of my favorites.

Finally, a few last shout outs go to South Shore Brewery (Ashland) for a tasty Honey Double Maibock, Potosi Brewing Company (Potosi) for a refreshing Steamboat Shandy Golden Ale that is infused with lemons -- perfect for a hot sunny day, and to Hinterland Brewery (Green Bay) for bringing their Door County Cherry Wheat.

I was a bit sad that I didn't make it to the Bull Falls Brewery (Wausau) tent in time to taste what they were offering. They ran out of beer by 3:30 (event went until 5pm) and they even brought more than they did last year. Glad that they were a hot spot, sad I missed out on it. Next year, they will be my first stop.

And for you cheeseheads out there -- I found out from Sartori Cheese that they are coming out with a Mediterranean Fontina and an Extra-Aged Fontina. Both should be available wherever Sartori Cheese is sold by the end of June. And if you haven't tried any of the BellaVitano line, you really need to do yourself the favor of getting some. I highly recommend the Raspberry BellaVitano, which has been soaked in New Glarus Raspberry Tart Ale. It's the perfect summer cheese for your next gathering.


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Want more? Read Lo's latest ruminations at DEVOUR Milwaukee, her Milwaukee Magazine blog.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Spring Scallop Tacos with Strawberry Salsa

Although summer has been slow to arrive here in Wisconsin, and we're growing impatient for the bountiful produce that promises to show up at the farmer's market ANY DAY NOW, we're making a real effort to enjoy the best of the season.

Just take a look at the delicious scallop tacos we threw together last weekend -- grilled sea scallops on a bed of fresh cucumber slaw and topped with a deliciously sweet & spicy strawberry salsa.

It was a deliciously light entree, and one of those dinners perfect for throwing together on a sweltering summer evening when it's simply too hot to turn on the stove.

It was also uncommonly delicious.  The strawberry salsa, which contained scallions, lime juice, and a bit of bite from jalapeno peppers, perfectly complemented the buttery scallops, while the shredded cucumbers (which had been drained and tossed with cilantro), provided a crisp, fresh crunch.

I was particularly proud of the fact that a significant percentage of the ingredients to make this dish were both local and seasonal...  with one pesky exception.  The seafood.

It can be difficult being a locavore if you're a seafood lover living in Wisconsin.  For, while we do have our fair share of lake-sourced fish -- including Walleye, Northern Pike, Trout, Bluegills, and Perch --  there are some items blatantly missing from the locally sourced fish list.

Sea scallops are at the very top of my list.  These delicious bi-valves are meaty, clean-tasting and uncommonly sweet.  Even better, in most cases scallops are a good choice when it comes to sustainable seafood.  But, there is nowhere in Wisconsin to buy a locally raised scallop.

So, what's a gal to do?
For a while, as we initially made the transition to eating more local foods, I avoided eating seafood that I couldn't source from "home".  But, after giving the situation a great deal more thought, we've since changed our tune.

When it comes to our local eating philosophy, it's probably important to clarify that we are hardly purists or perfectionists.  The fact is, MINDFUL eating is really more of what we espouse.  While we pay attention to where our food comes from, we also care about but how it's been produced, and the impact its having on not only our bodies & health, but the world around us.  We are responsible for the foods that we allow into our bodies, and we make decisions accordingly.  Likewise, we emphasize a way of living that is clearly sustainable for us all year round (not just during the summer months).

If we have the choice between eating a locally grown apple and one imported from Washington State, we'll be most likely to opt for the local apple.  Likewise, if we can find local sources for meat, dairy, and cheese, we'll be unlikely to bother with purchasing products from outside of Wisconsin.  However, the fact also remains that there are highly nutritious and delicious foods that  it makes sense to import because we can’t grow them here.  This list includes items like bananas, pineapple, coffee, coconut, and the like.  For us, it also includes seafood.

We choose to purchase scallops every now and again, and we don't feel badly about it. We choose sustainable sources and attempt to support local fish mongers whenever possible.  Most of all, we make sure to take the time to enjoy the food we're eating.

I should mention that we made this dish again last night for company, and we substituted thinly sliced red cabbage for the cucumber.  Also delicious -- and I really liked the additional color & crunch!

Spring Scallop Tacos
Strawberry Salsa

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Going Whole Hog: Our Experience in Pig Butchering Class

When I announced that we'd be participating in a Whole Hog Butchering Course at Bolzano Artisan Meats on Facebook last week, my friend Rena was one of the first to respond. 
 "... you are the only person i know who would be excited about a pig butchering class," she said.

And I had to laugh.  It's probably true, to great extent.  But, I don't think it would have always been the case.

If someone had suggested to me ten years ago that we'd be interested in breaking down the primal cuts of a pig, I probably would have fallen off my chair laughing.  Why on earth would anyone need to know how do that?

But, things change. And these days, we're increasingly interested in the ins and outs of the food we eat.  If we're going to consume meat, we want to know the details about it -- where it came from, how the animals were treated, and what impact our decision to eat that particular meat has on the environment. If I decide to order a portion of pig from a local farm, I'm interested to know which cuts are available to me -- and become more well informed about how to use and modify them. Likewise, when I'm buying a package of meat from the butcher, I'd like to know I'm getting the cut I requested.

More importantly, Peef REALLY wanted to see firsthand where that delicious slab of pork belly comes from.  And so, the opportunity to harvest his own bacon became a part of his birthday present.

To be honest, the experience was pretty amazing.  Although we weren't complete newbies on the topic of how cuts of meat are prepared, we did learn a great deal about the versatility of different portions of a pig -- about the options for obtaining ribs and pork chops, and why certain portions of meat are named as they are

Boston Butt, for instance, is really part of the shoulder... so why on earth is it called butt??  Well, in the early days of pork processing in the U.S., less valued pork cuts like shoulder cuts were packed into casks or barrels (also known as "butts") for storage and shipment.  Since many of these "butts" originated in the boston area, the way the hog shoulder was cut became known regionally as  "Boston butt."

If you're interested in seeing a summary of our course in photos, take a gander at the slideshow.

So, what's your perspective?  Would you take a hog butchering class?

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Want more? Read Lo's latest ruminations at FOODCrush, her Milwaukee Magazine blog.