Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Regional Culinary Specialties - Wisconsin Style

When I was young, all I wanted to do was move to "the city" any big city would have worked, I just wanted out of my sleepy small town.  Now older and hopefully wiser, I look forward to vacations back in my home state of Wisconsin.  I embrace my smaller sleepy town and slower pace of everyday life, but especially I embrace the regional uniqueness of what the entire state of Wisconsin offers.  It is after all the land of cheese- aka cheese heads, beer - craft brewers that have taken brewing beer to a new level and summer sausage-  the variety and amount on Wisconsin grocery store shelves can boggle the mind!  This year, on one of my trips home I discovered a pit smoked summer sausage.  It would leave my hands smelling like my grandparent's meat locker, they owned a meat processing facility.  Even my daughters who attend school in the Midwest can't get enough of this new found college student staple.  
And then there is cheese, the dairy state lives up to its reputation.  I like tasting my way around small artisan cheese producers at local farmers markets.  My highlights are goat cheese curds and seasonal goat cheese specialties.  Not to mention all the cheese made from cow's milk.   
And then...there is the beer!  I grew up with the song, " heaven there is no beer that's why we drink it here...."  truth be told, I never liked beer as a "young adult," it was when I moved to Germany that I discovered the nuances of beer.  The craft beer movement has been a powerful force in the quality and selection of beer in the United States.  A Wisconsin brewery that my German husband put on the map for me is New Glarus Brewery.  New Glarus Brewery takes its beer quality so serious, they only sell their beer in Wisconsin.  The brewery is located outside of New Glarus, Wisconsin, about 45 minutes from Madison in a charming Swiss influenced "village" surrounded by farms -  heaven on earth!  Check out their website New Glarus Brewery
So back to the "wiser me" and some life advice.  Discover local regional specialties, seek them out!  Go to the farmers markets, small stand alone restaurants or diners and hit the back roads....stop at that road side farm stand.
My Top 10 Wisconsin Favorites ~
1.  Cheese.  One of my next trips to Wisconsin will include a cheese tour to meet Wisconsin's master cheesemakers. I purchased "The Master Cheesemakers of Wisconsin" by James Norton and Becca Dilley to use as my guide.
2.  Beer.  New Glarus Brewery is a slice of heaven on earth and so is their beer.  Another book I found was "Dinner in the Beer Garden" by Lucy Saunders  Great ideas for food pairings with beer!
3.  Summer Sausage.  It is a Wisconsin culture and I enjoy it most with some Wisconsin cheese, a glass of New Glarus beer,  a lake view, family and friends.
4.  The back country roads with big red barns.
5.  Farmers Markets.  Madison, Wisconsin has the largest producer only farmers market in the country.
6.  My favorite farm truck vendor that parks on main street and has the best sweet corn, green beans and melon.
7.  Lakes.  
8.  Organic grocery store.  Prepares the best soup and sandwiches and carries local food finds.
9.  Supper Clubs.  Because when in Wisconsin you must have an Old Fashioned.
10.  Flowers.  Black Eyed Susans to Lilacs to Cat Tails, all childhood memories.
The End
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Monday, July 20, 2015

Summer + Rosé + Pan Bagnat = Perfect Summer Pairing

The lazy days of summer are all about no fuss cooking, sipping a glass of wine and enjoying the great outdoors.  This summer I am embracing a few things French, starting with Pan Bagnat which is a tasty sandwich evoking the ingredients of a Nicoise salad but between ciabatta bread.  The Pan Bagnat requires no cooking, aka no oven, no stove, NO HOT KITCHEN!  The Pan Bagnat is assembled in the morning or even the night before, pressed to absorb the flavors, and refrigerated.  Hours later after all the flavor enhancing,  you simply enjoy it picnic style, perferably outdoors and with a glass of rosé wine from Provence.  
Rosé from Provence, that other French thing I've embraced this summer.  Rosé is light, refreshing and a food friendly wine.  The number and variety of rosés on the U.S. market this summer has grown from previous years, rosé's popularity is on the rise in the U.S.  My rosé favorites are from Provence.  They tend to be lighter in color almost a light salmon hue with a perfect fruit to acidity balance and fermented dry.  A Provence rosé stand out for me this summer is the 2014 Château d' Esclans, Côte de Provence Rosé, Whispering Angel.  Whispering Angel consists primarily of Grenache, Rolle(Vermentino) and Cinsault,  13% alcohol,  light to medium on the palate with flavors of red berries and a nice balance of acidity.  The perfect wine for a summer picnic with Pan Bagnat.   
Summer + Rosé + Pan Bagnat = Perfect Summer Pairing


Pan Bagnat
adapted from Melissa Clark "New York Times" and  "Food 52"

10 inch ciabatta, sliced in half lengthwise
16 large basil leaves
2 small garlic cloves, minced
2 teaspoons red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
salt and pepper
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil plus extra for drizzling on bread
2- 5oz cans of tuna in olive oil, drained
1 small red onion, thinly sliced
3/4 cup Kalamata olives, pitted
1 small red bell pepper, chopped
1/4 cup Italian parsley, chopped
1 large tomato, sliced

1.  Slice the ciabatta bread lengthwise in halve.  Remove some of the bread from the bottom half to make a small indentation.  Brush both inside halves with extra virgin olive oil.  Line the bottom half with the basil leaves.
2.  Make the vinaigrette in a small jar by combining garlic, red wine vinegar, mustard, salt and pepper. Shake well and then add 4 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil. Shake.
3.  In a medium bowl add tuna, breaking it up with a fork, then add red onion, olives, red pepper and parsley.  Gently mix to combine.  Give the vinaigrette another good shake and pour it over the tuna mixture and combine.  Taste for salt and pepper.
4.  Spoon the tuna mixture on top of the basil leaves on the ciabatta bread. Line the tomato slices on top of the tuna mixture.  Cover the bottom half with the top of the ciabatta bread.
5.  Wrap the entire bread tightly with plastic wrap and press down with a cast iron pan or other heavy object. Wrap the bread again in foil and refrigerate topped with a heavy weight over night or at least for 2 hours.

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Monday, June 15, 2015

New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc Tasting and Food Pairing - Part 2

It may officially not be summer however, in the South summer has arrived with temperatures in the 80's and 90's.  While I personally do not need summer like weather to enjoy Sauvignon Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc is the perfect summer wine;  cold, crisp and usually lower in alcohol.  The varietal characteristics of citrusy, herbaceous, cut grass, passion fruit and gooseberry make for a summer food friendly wine.  

Round two of my Sauvignon Blanc tasting takes me down under to Marlborough in New Zealand, one of the coldest Sauvignon Blanc prime growing regions.  The number of New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs available out-numbered the selection of California, French, Chilean or South African Sauvignon Blancs, at least in my buying area.  It became clear New Zealand has arrived as a major Sauvignon Blanc producer and Americans are huge fans.

Kim Crawford was probably my first New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc.  (Kim Crawford Winery produced it's first wine in 1996 and in 2003 sold the winery to Vincor.  "The" Kim Crawford and his wife Erica have since started another winery called Loveblock also in New Zealand making Sauvignon Blanc.)  I do recall really liking the Kim Crawford Sauvignon Blanc and started buying more New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs.  Splurging a  little, I tried Villa Maria and Cloudy Bay, considered premium brands.  But even at $25 a bottle, it was a steal for a premium wine.  Another reason to love Sauvignon Blanc is the value!  (Another side note, Kevin Judd who was the winemaker for Cloudy Bay has since also moved on to his new winery called Greywacke, yes also producing Sauvignon Blanc).  While the number of New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs I have tried are many, I have narrowed my round two tasting to three New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs;  Kim Crawford, Oyster Bay and Cloudy Bay.  All three are 2014 vintages and easy to find in your local wine or grocery store.  

My food pairings were driven by researching what to eat with what you drink in "What to Drink with What you Eat" by Andrew Dornenburg and Karen Page.  Sauvignon Blanc food pairings that stood out were:  asparagus, artichokes, avocados, apples, chickpeas, crab cakes, cumin, fennel, hummus, Brie, Camembert, feta, goat cheese, mango, cilantro, garlic, tomatoes, turkey, green vegetables, basil, to name just a few.  So then I turned to my cookbook collection and starting searching for recipes that sounded good with those ingredients/foods.  I decided on Green Pancakes made with spinach from "The French Market Cookbook" by Clotilade Dusoulier and Cabbage, Fennel and Apple Slaw with smoked salmon toasts from "The Sprouted Kitchen Bowl + Spoon" by Sara Forte and finally some fresh goat cheese coated with dried chiles and fresh herbs.

Part 2 - New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc
(Rating scale from "What to Drink with What You Eat" 5 point scale +2 to -2, best to worst)

1.  2014 Oyster Bay 
     13% alcohol
     100% Sauvignon Blanc
     Marlborough; Wairau Valley and Awatere Valley
     Stainless Steel fermented
My tasting notes:  Nice overall acidity. When paired with the food the herbs and garlic were nicely accentuated. 
Rating +1

2.  2014 Kim Crawford
     12.5% alcohol
     100% Sauvignon Blanc
     Marlborough; Wairau Valley and Awatere Valley
     Stainless Steel fermented
My tasting notes:  Nice citrusy, acidity and  tropical fruit characteristics. When paired with the food the citrus characteristics were enhanced.  My favorite with the food.
Rating +2

3.  2014 Cloudy Bay
     13.5% alcohol
     100% Sauvignon Blanc
     Marlborough; Rapaura, Fairhall, Renwick and Brancott subregions of the Wairau Valley
     Stainless Steel fermented
My tasting notes:  Nose is distinctively different from the other two.  Grassy, grapefruit and stone fruit flavors with a nice big mouth feel.
Good with the food but also a nice wine without food.
Rating +2 

What did I learn?  New Zealand Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc is a personal favorite.  I realized the colder growing region and stainless steel fermentation produces a more herbaceous, citrusy forward wine.  I cook with a lot of fresh herbs and vegetables and Sauvignon Blanc enhances the flavor of those ingredients.   Oh, and summer also a perfect match! Cheers!

Green Pancakes
adapted from "The French Market Cookbook" Clotilde Dusoulier

1 cup flour
fine sea salt
1/4 teaspoon cumin
4 large eggs, 2 whole and 2 separated 
black pepper
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
2 tablespoons Sauvignon Blanc
1/2 cup whole or 2% milk
8 oz. spinach, finely chopped
1 tablespoon fresh chives, chopped
Extra virgin olive oil

1.  In a medium bowl, combine flour, 1 teaspoon of salt, 1/4 teaspoon cumin, and a pinch of black pepper.  Make an indentation in the center and add 2 whole eggs and 2 egg yolks.  With a fork mix the eggs into the flour mixture.  Add garlic, white wine and slowly pour in the milk whisking as you pour.  Mixture should be smooth, a few lumps are okay.  Cover and refrigerate for 2 hours or overnight.
2.  After chilling, remove the bowl from the refrigerator and stir in the chopped spinach and chives.
3.  In a medium chilled bowl, beat 2 egg whites with 1/4 teaspoon of salt.  Beat until stiff peaks form. Gentle fold the egg whites into the flour batter.
4.  In a large skillet or griddle, heat 1 tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil over medium heat.  Ladle about 1/4 cup of the batter into the skillet/griddle making a "pancake."   Depending on the size of your skillet/griddle about 4-6 pancakes at a time.  Flip the pancake after 3-4 minutes, they should be golden in color repeat on the other side.  Makes 10-12 pancakes.
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Wednesday, April 15, 2015

California Sauvignon Blanc Tasting and Food Pairing - Part 1

If you want to Eat, Drink and be Merry, take the time to enjoy both your food and wine by consciously tasting your food and wine.  First, selectively shop and prepare a meal you like.  Second, consider a wine that will enhance or maybe simply just bring you the greatest pleasure with your food.  Food and wine pairings can make an ordinary meal extraordinary and memorable.  The bonus - you learn more about the wines you like!
I have long been a fan of Sauvignon Blanc.  My introduction to Sauvignon Blanc was when I worked at Clos du Bois Winery.  Back then Clos du Bois produced a Graves style Sauvignon Blanc blended with Semillon and stainless steel fermented.  When I was a stay at home mom, the budget ruled and Sauvignon Blanc was affordable and I usually picked up Geyser Peak, I liked the grassy herbaceous style.  Now years later, I am still enjoying my fair share of Sauvignon Blanc.   I know why after reading "What to Drink with What you Eat" by Andrew Dornenburg and Karen Page,  Sauvignon Blanc complements the foods I like to eat.  Vegetables from the farmers market, fish, chicken ~ Mediterranean, Mexican and Middle Eastern cuisines.
The world of Sauvignon Blanc has grown since I had my first glass.  Some of the top Sauvignon Blanc growing regions are the Loire Valley in France, Sancerre and Pouilly-Fume,  Marlborough in New Zealand, South Africa, Chile and of course, California.  Like all wine, the end product is influenced and determined by terroir (soil & environment), climate, wine making, vintage, vineyard practices....and the list goes on.  
So I know I like Sauvignon Blanc, but with so many good choices and top growing regions, I want to hone in on what style and regions I actually like, paired with the foods I like to eat.  In other words, side by side tastings of top Sauvignon Blanc growing regions.  
Part one:  California Sauvignon Blanc with a simple Greek Style Herb Chicken Salad (fresh greens, tomatoes, cucumbers, red onion, feta cheese and a vinegar olive oil vinaigrette.  Herb chicken is from the previous post and homemade Naan bread.

To keep track of how I rate the wines I'll use "What to Drink with What you Eat" five point scale ( +2 to -2, best to worst)

Part 1 - California Sauvignon Blanc

1.  2013 Frog's Leap
12.4% alcohol
100% Sauvignon Blanc
100% Rutherford
100% Stainless-Steel fermented and aged

My Tasting Notes:  Beautiful grassy nose, nice acidity and crispness.  Notes of citrus and herbs.

With a Greek Style Herb Chicken Salad:  Crispness was mellowed, the fennel from the chicken came alive, nice balance and depth of overall flavor.  Both the food and wine enhanced. 
Rating: +2

2.  2013 Geyser Peak
13% alcohol
97% Sauvignon Blanc 3% Viognier
Sonoma, Lake, Mendocino, Solano and Clarksburg Counties
100% Stainless-Steel fermented

My Tasting Notes:  Citrus nose, lighter, nice acidity with hints of lime and grapefruit.  Finishes soft but flat.

With a Greek Style Herb Chicken Salad:  Good but neutral neither wine nor food enhanced.
Rating: 0
*Just for fun also tried with Tzatziki it was a match that greatly enhance both the wine & food.  The wine came alive with more crispness and acidity and the garlic in the Tzatziki was nicely highlighted.

3.  2013 Duckhorn
13.5% alcohol
84% Sauvignon Blanc 16% Semillon
Napa Valley
Barrel fermented in new oak, 5 months on the Sur-lies

My Tasting Notes:  Grassy Mineral nose, crisp with a melon richness.  More complex and longer flavor finish.

With a Greek Style Herb Chicken Salad:  More layers of flavor came through especially in the wine.  Good but not a wow food pairing. 
Rating:  +1

In conclusion, the more you taste, the more you learn, the better you get.  
3 Tasting Steps from "What to Drink with What you Eat" - Look - Smell - Taste.

Remember - everyone's palate is different, you are not wrong if you taste something different from someone else.  It is helpful to know grape varietal characteristics and regional styles.

Highly recommended reading - "What to Drink with What you Eat" by Andrew Dornenburg and Karen Page
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Thursday, March 5, 2015

A Simple Roasted Chicken

Simplicity, we strive for it, and what is simpler than a humbly roasted chicken.  A well roasted chicken is an art worth mastering.  This winter I have roasted a chicken weekly after finding the perfect simple recipe from "Buvette" by Jody Williams.  Every chicken I have roasted is so delicious, I have repeated making roasted chicken week after week.  The chicken is the constant, but what I pair with it varies with my visits to the farmers market.  Then there are the leftovers which also vary depending on my cravings, Mexican tacos, French crepes or lately, LOTS of soup (winter you can go NOW).
Today the menu is Super Simple  Roasted Chicken, Cheese Souffle and a Seasonal Winter Citrus Salad.  Tomorrow "Clean Slate" inspired Chicken, Kale and Sweet Potato soup.  (I transformed my roasted chicken carcass into my soup broth.)

Super Simple Roasted Chicken
adapted from "Buvette" by Jody Williams

1 tablespoon fennel seeds
1 tablespoon kosher coarse salt
1 tablespoon Herbes de Provence
1 3-4 lb chicken ( Bell & Evans Organic Air Chilled Chicken is my choice)
1-2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1.  Preheat the oven to 425 F
2.  In a mortar and pestle grind together the fennel seed, salt and Herbes de Provence.
3. In heavy roasting pan just large enough to hold the chicken, place the chicken in the pan and drizzle lightly with the olive oil.
4.  Season the chicken all over with the fennel mixture.
5.  Roast the chicken in the preheated oven for 1 hour and 15 minutes.  (Thigh temperature should  measure 165 F when done.)   Let the chicken rest for 10 minutes before carving.

Recipe can be doubled for extra leftovers!

My Seasonal Winter Citrus Salad inspired from The Cooks Atelier (see below)

My favorite cookbooks NOW
"Buvette" ~ Jody Williams
Turning the pages of this cookbook immediately brings a smile to my face, a sense of calmness and comfort.  It is an old world feel with simple real food.  Not only do I want to visit the restaurant in New York City or Paris for the food, but also the atmosphere.  Check out the website ( and you too will understand what I mean, buy the cookbook now to taste the amazing food, every recipe I've tried has delighted me and my family!

"Clean Slate" ~ Editors of Martha Stewart
The start of every new year re energizes my focus to eat healthy and more mindfully.  Since the first of the year I've been cooking my way through "Clean Slate" and feeling healthier and longing for the next satisfying recipe.  Another full proof cookbook by the Martha Stewart team.

Two blogs I stumbled across this week The Cooks Atelier ( and Well Plated by Erin (  The Cooks Atelier got me dreaming of what I want "my world" to look like and and Well Plated by Erin hit a nostalgic button for my home state of Wisconsin and got me thinking of supper clubs and Brandy Old Fashioned. (Yes, I did make an Old Fashioned that night!) Pin It

Monday, February 9, 2015

A Valentine's Day Cocktail

Sometimes I feel like I am ahead of the trend curve and then there are other times when I am running to catch up.  A trend with staying power that is worth chasing down is the craft cocktail movement.  Being a wine lover, I was slow to join.
It all started last year when I was celebrating my daughter's graduation.  We were out to eat at a favorite restaurant Bistro VG in Roswell, GA.  The cocktail menu and wine list were presented and I was set to order a glass of wine when my sister suggested I try this Champagne cocktail with St. Germain (an elderflower liqueur).  As they say, the rest is history.  I am now a St. Germain fan and I joined the craft cocktail movement. When dining out now, I  actually look at the cocktail menu with great delight and anticipation and order a cocktail and then a glass of wine with my dinner. Having a cocktail is my new ritual.  The "new" craft cocktail movement is about creative and fresh ingredients, it's fun, exciting, and tasty!
On a recent vacation to Hawaii it was my personal mission to try a new cocktail each day.  So  as we watched the sunset after enjoying a beautiful day, we treated ourselves to a Hawaiian craft cocktail.  If you are planning a trip to Hawaii anytime soon,  don't miss stopping in for a cocktail at the Monkey Pod in Kapolei or just check out their cocktail menu on line at for some inspiring cocktails.
Hawaiian Sunset Ritual
To get a little more back ground on the craft cocktail revolution, check out the documentary "Hey Bartender" on Netflix.
While I am no mixologist, I do plan on spending this Valentine's Day at home for dinner and thought I would create a craft cocktail for this special occasion  My ingredient list includes:   Sparkling Wine, St. Germain and fresh juice from some seasonal blood oranges.  Every cocktail needs a name so since it is for Valentine's Day I thought I would name it Cupid's Kiss (LOL). Cheers and Happy Valentine's Day.

Cupid's Kiss

1 part St. Germain
1 part freshly squeezed blood orange juice
Sparkling Wine
Mint leaves and raspberries

1.  Using a jigger, measure the St. Germain and blood orange juice.  (I used the larger end and did one part each of St. Germain and blood orange juice.)  Pour the St. Germain and blood orange juice into a cocktail shaker with ice.  Shake!
2. Strain off the ice and divide the mixture into a Champagne glass and top off with sparkling wine. Garnish with fresh mint leaves and a raspberry. Pin It

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Thanksgiving Essentials from Trader Joes

1.  Organic Cranberries from WISCONSIN - Cranberry Sauce recipe posted November 2014
2.  Cornbread Mix - Herbed Corn Bread Stuffing recipe posted November 2010
3.  Chesnuts - for the Herbed Corn Bread Stuffing
4.  Brussels Sprouts Stalk -  Balsamic Brussels Sprouts with Smoked Applewood Bacon recipe posted November 2009
5.  Uncured Applewood Smoked Bacon - for Balsamic Brussels Sprouts with Smoked Applewood Bacon
6.  Cinnamon Sticks - for Cranberry Sauce
7.  Organic Canned Pumpkin - for Pumpkin Pie
8.  Turkey Gravy - for my guests, I do not like gravy so I don't make it (they don't have to know).
9.  Wild Hot Smoked Sockeye Salmon - for an appetizer
10.  Le Rustique Camembert, Basque Cheese, and Unexpected Cheddar - just a few favorite cheeses
11.  100% Greek Kalamata Extra Virgin Olive Oil - my favorite all purpose, got to have it in the house olive oil!
12.  2012 Caymus Anniversary Cabernet Sauvignon - because Thanksgiving is a celebration.
Happy Thanksgiving!  

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