July 31, 2012

Kickapoo Country Fair hosted by Organic Valley {SW Wisconsin}

I had never heard of the Kickapoo Country Fair, hosted by Organic Valley, until reading about it on the blog Driftless Appetite. After determining that it was only 10 miles away from our campsite, I knew I needed to attend. Even better, a few days later the blog Haute Apple Pie offered a ticket giveaway and I won four tickets!

Organic Valley is in La Farge, Wisconsin and their headquarters are amid gorgeous surroundings. Typically there are few employment options in small towns, so it's great to see an employer with a great reputation headquartered in such a small town (population 775).

The fair started in 2004, and according to their site, here's why Organic Valley hosts the fair each year -
  • To be together.
  • To eat, laugh, and learn together.
  • To share this gorgeous paradise in which we live, farm and work: The driftless region of southwestern Wisconsin.

I love any fair that offers a "Culinary Campground" in which you can learn about pantry basics, pesto, home cheese making, and food pairings. Below is a photo of Michel Nischan who demonstrated how to make grilled chicken breasts stuffed with pesto cheese.

Janine MacLachlan spoke about how to optimize your farmers' market experience and I intended to buy her book, Farmers Markets of the Heartland, but unfortunately I couldn't find any copies by the time I arrived at the book tent.

I would have loved to stay for Cowboy Mouth who performed on the main stage at 8:30pm, but unfortunately we had to get back to our campsite at Wildcat Mountain in order to cook dinner before the sun went down.

I couldn't leave before buying something from the Grazin' Garden though. Wisco Pop looked most interesting, so I chose a root beer float, which was perfect on a hot summer day. Although the pizza was also very tempting!

Quick Summer Sangria {Tinto de Verano}

Chris saw an article in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel last week about a Spanish summer drink called tinto de verano, and almost immediately bought red wine and sparkling lemonade so we could try it.

My favorite sparkling lemonade is Effervé, however it's not easy to find.  Welch's is more mainstream and recently started making sparkling lemonade.  In the newspaper article, Anna buys both her wine and sparkling lemonade from Trader Joe's.

Just a red table wine is needed, don't get too fancy.  You wouldn't use a nice bottle of wine in sangria, nor should you use it when making tinto de verano.

I really like the combination of red wine and sparkling lemonade.  Even better, unlike sangria, tinto de verano is not made ahead of time, so it can be immediately enjoyed.

We took a box of wine and a couple bottles of sparkling lemonade along with us while camping this past weekend, and everyone in the group loved it.  In fact, we underestimated the drink's popularity and didn't bring enough sparkling lemonade.

Tinto de verano is a 1:1 ratio of wine to lemonade, so after reaching the end of the sparkling lemonade we tried various substitutions.  Sierra Mist and sparkling lemon water are not nearly as good, but they'll do in a pinch.

July 30, 2012

Wildcat Mountain State Park {SW Wisconsin}

This past weekend was our annual camping trip with friends, seven of us in total. We alternate between Iowa and Wisconsin, and this year it was time to choose a Wisconsin State Park.

Chris suggested Wildcat Mountain State Park, because he had been in the area once before on a day trip and always wanted to come back to explore the area more.

It's a gorgeous area, and I definitely recommend visiting. I took the photos above and below from the observation area within the park. It's a short quarter-mile walk from the campsites, and sunset is an especially nice time to make the short trek.

Wildcat Mountain is near Ontario, and located in the driftless region of Southwestern Wisconsin. The park sits atop a steep ridge overlooking the scenic Kickapoo River Valley. The lack of water up top makes it one of the best state parks to avoid mosquitoes.

I was surprised at how small the park felt despite its 3,643 acre size. The campsites are out in the open, and only a few have any privacy. In fact, two out of our three campsites (sites 8 and 10) bordered the main park office and parking lot.

However, they actually ended up being very nice sites for our large group because they were more spacious than most sites. The worse sites are definitely 22-30, which have absolutely no privacy and border the main road into the park.

The loop portion of the campground (sites 1-13) offers the best sites, with the outside loop offering shaded, more private sites. Don't reserve site 13 unless you want to make small talk with every camper coming to fill up their water jug.

Our group used site 9 in the evenings for chatting around the campfire and enjoying desserts from a dutch oven. Our favorite was pineapple-upside down cake, which is easier to make while camping than it sounds.

The two most popular activities while camping at Wildcat Mountain are canoeing the Kickapoo River and biking the Elroy-Sparta trail. We enjoyed our time paddling the river, but I would love to go back sometime and bike the 32-mile rail trail that passes through three tunnels...or at least part of it :)

I'm a sucker for sunsets, and I dragged Chris back to the observation area on our last night for one more round of photos. I took many photos of the sun, but my favorite shot of the evening ended up being one of the moon.

Before leaving the park, we made one last stop at the Ice Cave. The hike is less than a mile and the geological formation is worth seeing. I've read that the cave has giant icicles in the winter, which would also be cool to see.

July 27, 2012

CSA Frittata and Skillet Fried Potatoes

The frittata recipe I made for the first time just a few weeks ago has quickly become one of my favorites.  Tonight I turned to that recipe because I picked up my CSA box after work, and with a busy weekend ahead, I know I won't have time to cook.

Tonight's meal included several CSA items - kale, spring onions, oregano and new red potatoes.  The best part is that this meal can be enjoyed twice.  It made a delicious dinner, and the leftovers will make a great breakfast tomorrow.

I love that frittata ingredients are interchangeable.  I cooked the kale a bit longer than the spinach and beet greens that I've added in the past, but otherwise it's easy to swap ingredients.

I used one bunch of spring onions for the frittata and another for the potatoes.  In the past I have used tarragon, but tonight I added oregano instead.  I also added more summer squash in place of a bell pepper.

For the potatoes, I added a couple tablespoons of oil to a skillet, and cooked them for about 15 minutes covered over medium heat, and another 10 minutes uncovered over medium-high heat. 

Salt and pepper are the only seasonings I added, and they were seriously some of the best potatoes I have ever had.

After a long day at work, it's tempting to just "scrounge for dinner" as Chris likes to say, but picking up my CSA box each Thursday gives me a renewed interest in preparing healthy meals.  It doesn't get any healthier than a meal centered around farm-fresh vegetables.

July 24, 2012

Summer Harvest Cooking Class

I really like cooking classes, whether they're hands-on or demonstration only, I always walk away with new knowledge and/or skills.  The Mid-Summer Harvest cooking class I attended at the Milwaukee Public Market this past weekend was no exception.

I've attended one class there before with the same instructor, and would highly recommend Elizabeth Crawford's classes.  The market has a great space for classes, and I loved the weekend option (Sunday at 1pm) since the majority of classes begin at 5:30pm weeknights, which is hard to do after work.

In 2 hours, eleven of us watched Elizabeth make four dishes.  She started with steamed beets served with aioli and arugula.  She recommends steaming beets instead of roasting them, and I'm anxious to try her method because they were seriously the best beets I've tasted.

The method is simple.  Heat oven to 350 degrees.  Trim the beets, leaving a 1/2" of stem attached, and wash well.  Set the beets in snug-fitting pot with a cover, and add an 1/8" of water (just enough to cover the bottom of the pot).  Cover and bake until a knife easily pierces the beets (about an hour).

Most of the ingredients used in the class came from Elizabeth's friend's farm near 43 and Brown Deer.  Her friend harvested everything the morning of the class, and even the eggs were laid that morning!

When I saw anchovies being added to the caesar salad dressing I was convinced I wouldn't like it, but forced myself to try it and was surprised at what a great flavor the salad had.  Although I doubt I would add anchovies when making this salad at home.

The homemade garlicky croutons was definitely my favorite element of the salad.  The croutons came from baguette slices brushed with olive oil on both sides, then baked for about 15 minutes.

Elizabeth also made a gratin, which I didn't care for and therefore am not sharing a photo of.  I loved the idea of a new potato and shallot gratin made with gruyere cheese, but as I was eating it all I could think about was how much I preferred the gratin I made recently.

The final dish she prepared was a berry tart with creme patisserie.  The crust, known as pate sucree, is a sweet pastry dough and similar to a butter cookie.  She topped the crust with a delicious pastry cream and fresh berries dusted with powdered sugar.

In addition to seeing recipes prepared, I also like hearing various cooking tips.  Here are a few that she shared during the class -

  • Always cut off any green parts of potatoes because that portion contains toxins.  Elise, of Simply Recipes, has more information on this blog post.
  • Aioli originated in Provence and is traditionally made with a mortar and pestle, which is also the way Elizabeth made it. 
  • Shallots are stronger than onions, but less flavorful than garlic, so if you're substituting for garlic, use more shallots and if you're substituting for onions, use less shallots.
  • Always smell your spices.  If there is no smell, there is no flavor and the spice needs to be tossed.  Flavoring elements are critical to cooking.
  • To clean a food processor blade, remove the majority of whatever is in the food processor bowl, then pulse the blade a couple times.  She learned this tip from Jacques Pépin.

Milwaukee's Big Taste at Discovery World

This past Sunday evening was my first, and likely last time, attending Milwaukee's Big Taste. Don't get me wrong, the food was quite good, and the venue was fantastic, but it didn't seem like it was worth the ticket price.

I couldn't help but compare the event to Feasting for Fido, which had a better food selection, alcohol was included in the ticket price and there was no disparity among event attendees.

At the Big Taste, tables were reserved for big spenders. So if you weren't in the cool crowd, you fought among the peons for access to six random unreserved tables, several of which were outside in the rain.

Pictured below are a few of the food samples our group of four picked out. See the pork sandwich on the top left? My brother loved that sandwich and couldn't stop raving about it. It was from Catch 22, which is near Cathedral Square.

A couple restaurants offered non-alcoholic versions of their famous cocktails, such as INdustri Cafe's Bloody Mary's. They informed us they were not allowed to add alcohol because the Big Taste didn't want any restaurants competing with the cash bar.

The salted caramel ice cream from Sassy Cow was definitely one of my favorite samples of the evening. Along with Fleance cheese from Cedar Grove that was available at the Clock Shadow Creamery table.

The rain held off long enough to allow us to walk the pier and enjoy an amazing view of the Milwaukee skyline. Pictured below is Discovery World, with the Big Taste tent on the right.

I enjoyed hearing the Phil Vassar concert from across the water at Festa Italiana. In fact, I had "Phil Vassar" stamped on my hand from attending the Italian celebration earlier in the day. I think it's a novel idea to use the name of the performing artist for that evening as the re-entry stamp.

We hung out on the pier for awhile, thinking we might stay for the fireworks, but decided to head home instead. It really was a gorgeous evening, with a spectacular view though.

July 23, 2012

Honeypie in Bay View {Milwaukee}

I've lived in Milwaukee for almost exactly four years now, and somehow had not yet made it to Bay View until this past weekend. We ended up walking quite a bit of it, due to a bike race that blocked access to the restaurant, and it seemed like a great neighborhood.

Five of us had dinner at Honeypie on Saturday night, and I am not exaggerating when I say it was a 3-hour dinner (I have time-stamped photos to prove it!). There were many things I liked about Honeypie. Prompt, attentive service was not one of them.

5:30pm - Arrival

Near our table was a list of Honeypie's local farmers and vendors. I was happy to see HighCross Farm on this list, as well as Purple Door and Sassy Cow which make some of my favorite ice creams.

5:45pm - Waiting to Order

Our waiter was slow from the very beginning which provided a realistic expectation for the remainder of the evening. I should point out that the restaurant was not busy, and we were given no explanation for slow service other than a "paper jam."

I was very happy with my drink order of a summer sangria. In general, I'm not a fan of white wine, but their sangria made with Gewürztraminer was really good.

Although our waiter's appearances were infrequent, each one was amusing. When our drinks were served minus one, we were told that the bartender dropped the last can of IPA beer, and he was waiting for it to settle.

6:15pm - Drinks Arrived

We ordered house made pretzels with beer cheese, which was an excellent appetizer. The pretzels were quite buttery, and not what I was expecting, but delicious nonetheless.

6:30pm - Appetizer Served

For dinner I ordered a Rich and Charlie's Salad with a corn muffin on the side. I love corn muffins, and was looking forward to trying their house made version. Unfortunately, my salad was served sans corn muffin, and I completely forgot about it until after we had finished eating.

7:15pm - Dinner Served

So at this point, the length of our meal had taken on a comical note. Even our waiter appreciated how ridiculous it was. As he approached the table to clear our dinner plates, he apologized for the slow service and offered us free pie if we were willing to stay even longer.

The photo below is of my brother's piece of coconut cream pie because it was fantastic. I ordered peach pie, which was not nearly as good because it had way too much nutmeg.

8:00pm - Dessert Served

8:30pm - Check Arrived...and we are freed from what felt like it was becoming a hostage situation.

The food at Honeypie was very good. I loved the atmosphere, and despite the slow service our waiter was actually quite nice, and did provide us with some funny memories of the evening. Here are a few quotes from our waiter...
  • "I think there might be a paper jam."
  • "I have confirmed there is a paper jam."
  • "I don't really know what's going on, but I'm sure it's my fault."
  • "The plot thickens." (in relation to many types of pie not being available)
  • "I can't believe you're still here."

I was also amused when someone in my group asked the waiter what Milwaukee Mud pie was. The waiter replied "I don't know, but I can find out." The guy in my group said "It's ok, please don't leave."

My pregnant sister-in-law noticed on her many trips to the restroom that the tables around us had different customers on each trip. It appears the paper jam issue related solely to our table.

Honeypie - 2643 S. Kinnickinnic Ave, Milwaukee (Bay View)

July 19, 2012

CSA Thursday

We're over a quarter-way through the CSA summer season and the quantity and variety is definitely increasing each week.  Between my trip to the farmers' market on Wednesday, my container garden and today's CSA box, I may have overestimated how many vegetables we can eat.

Today's box included: kohlrabi, summer squash, sweet onions, carrots, purslane, swiss chard, and basil.  I've seen summer squash being given away at work recently, but that's the one item I never have trouble finding a use for.  There are so many summer squash recipes that I love.

I'm always intrigued when I find something in my CSA box that I don't recognize.  I took the photo below and asked on Facebook if anyone knew what it was because the newsletter hadn't arrived yet.  It turned out to be purslane, which is considered a weed, but can be eaten as a leaf vegetable.

The stems, leaves and flower buds are all edible, and typically eaten on a salad or stir-fried.  I found an article called Weed It, or Eat It? interesting, if you're looking for more information on purslane.

After unloading my CSA box, I focused my attention on my container garden.  Some containers needed more soil, most plants needed to be harvested, and a couple needed to be composted. 

My chives and cilantro did not survive the past few hot, dry weeks, despite my twice daily watering.   Everything else is looking pretty good, and I love seeing the tomatoes and chili peppers turning red.

I like seeing the droplets of rain on the hot pepper plants even more than the color change.  After 6 weeks without any rain, we got nearly an inch over a 3-day period.  I've never been so happy to see gray, rainy skies.

Canoeing the Kickapoo River {SW Wisconsin}

Did you know that the Kickpoo River is known as the crookedest river in the nation? There's a great canoeing stretch of the nearly 130 mile long river near Wildcat Mountain State Park where we camped this weekend.

The driftless area of Southwest Wisconsin is one of my favorite places to visit, yet this was my first time seeing the Kickapoo Valley. It's located in the counties of Vernon and Crawford, and was left untouched by the Ice Age glaciers.

The town of Ontario has proclaimed itself the "canoe capital of the Kickapoo" and that's where our group of seven rented canoes. We chose Drifty's Canoe Rental, only because it came up first in a google search. There are three other choices for canoe and kayak rentals in Ontario.

At Drifty's you pay a flat fee of $35 per canoe, and you can paddle as long as you'd like for the day. You just have to let them know which pickup point you'd like to stop at, and then watch for the numbered bridges so you know where to pull over.

We chose the 2.5 hour option and it was a great trip length. Their estimate was dead-on, and a bus was waiting for us when we arrived. I'd definitely recommend renting from Drifty's.

The section we canoed was very shallow (presumably from lack of rain this summer) and the current was slow but steady. There was a fun little area with a few rapids, and I was hoping we'd come across more, but unfortunately the one pictured below was the only one.

I really enjoy the peaceful nature of paddling when you can separate yourself from the groups that have cases of beer on their canoes. Saturdays in the summer are the busiest days on the Kickpoo and it is recommended that you arrive early to avoid congested river traffic.

We left at 10am and ran into quite a few kayakers and canoers along the way, but our group of three canoes were able to separate ourselves for the majority of the trip.

My favorite aspect of the scenery were the carved out towering cliffs of sandstone. It reminded me a lot of the Wisconsin Dells area.

Below is a photo of Chris and I in the red shirts. You might notice that I'm facing him, and that's because he was willing to paddle while I photographed our friends who were canoeing behind us :)

July 18, 2012

Farmers Markets

I typically avoid my local farmers' market because it's on Wednesdays, which means going on my lunch hour.  Also, I risk having way too much produce after receiving my CSA box on Thursday.  We're having guests visit this weekend though, so today I took the risk :)

I picked up potatoes, a cucumber, sweet onions, beans, shallots and bell peppers.  The one aspect I really like about the Menomonee Falls farmers' market is that it's never crowded, so it's really easy to chat with the farmers.

Not surprisingly, the most popular topic of conversation today was the weather.  One farmer I spoke with could tell me exactly how much rain every neighboring community received, within a 50 mile radius!  Unfortunately he had received 0 inches of rain in Brownsville, as of this morning, despite recent rain in the area.

Yesterday I came across a Berkeley Guide to Storing Fruits & Vegetables which I think is really helpful.  The goal of the guide is to avoid using plastic bags for storage.  I was happy that I remembered to bring my reusable bags today.  Only the beans came home in a plastic bag because they were pre-packed.


As I was walking through the farmers' market today, I was thinking about an article I read recently by Anne Maxfield (blogger at Accidental Locavore).  She says...

"Remember, all this beautiful food is really labor intensive. It's planted, weeded and harvested, primarily by hand. Trust me, these guys work hard, harder than you or I. If prices seem higher than at a big supermarket, be thankful you have access to the remarkable taste that only comes from something being picked that morning, at the peak of flavor. Not to mention the variety. Even at the best stores, you never see twenty different kinds of eggplants or forty varieties of tomatoes."