Saturday, July 14, 2012

Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations ... Merrill??

Those who know me know that lately I've been obsessed with the show "No Reservations."  For those who haven't seen it, it is a bit difficult to describe; a former NY chef travels the world, eating and meeting locals and generally just experiencing (as opposed to being a tourist).  Part of my interest is vicarious; I would dearly love to be the places he is going, meeting the people he is meeting, and especially (except for some very specific instances of warthog rectum and fermented shark) eat the things he is eating.  There's another part that is inspirational; we'd love to have our own restaurant someday (fully knowing how likely it is to fail, how much work it would be, and how much money we'd have to have to invest) and the various places that he goes provide copious examples of what we'd like to do and what we wouldn't.  Of course, in the meantime it also provides delicious ideas for dinner that my family and friends benefit from (one day soon we WILL be eating sichuan hot pot... maybe one day when the kids aren't here...)

The show generally involves Tony eating lots of street and local foods, talking to locals, being given whatever the local hooch is, being a snarky New Yorker only in the voiceover while being infallibly polite and even downright sweet to his hosts - and almost always exclaiming how good the food and drink he is imbibing is.

One thought that formed in my mind while watching the show was "If this show were to come to northern wisconsin, where and what would I want to show them?"  What is truly great around here, unpretentious, awesome, not full of crap.... or maybe just weird and unique?

I tried to think of things that were really local; nothing that had a branch elsewhere; things to do that were uniquely north-central Wisconsin.

If it came in winter, Rib Mountain skiing is cool, but maybe Sylvan Hill tubing is more unique.  In summer, tubing on the lake and eating fresh caught bluegill (I know a couple people who are expert fisherman - you know who you are), thrown in Shore Lunch and fried up, is possibly one of the best things in life.  Brats boiled in beer and thrown on the grill to brown, drinking homemade "Apple Pie".  The fair, with deep fried cheese curds.

We've got some really amazing food options.  In Merrill itself is Big Haas BBQ, with the butt chop sandwich being one of the best things I've stuck in my face (their fries are only so-so, but at least they are made from actual potatoes).  Geiss Meat Service is where we get most of our meat, and it's all wonderful, but their sausages are spectacular and worth a visit by themselves.  Chips is an institution, and it's all-American fast food done right (when there's that much flame and smoke, there's something good going on).  In Wausau Red Eye Brewing company has GREAT locally brewed beer and tasty vittles served (mostly) without pretension.  Pho 76 makes the national dish of Vietnam (and by co-incidence, one of Anthony Bourdain's very favorite meals) phenomenally well, and would provide a bit of insight into the local Hmong culture.

Then of course there's the cheese.  If you ask me, the best around comes from Hollands Family Cheese in Thorp.  Yes, it's mostly Gouda, but its the best Gouda I've ever had and am ever likely to have.  I can't think of any other cheese I've fallen in love with quite as hard.

I'd also take them on a tour of all our closed factories.  Like it or not, that's currently a part of our culture.

If you had only a couple of days and really wanted to give someone a taste of what northern WI is, where would you take them?

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Mushroom risotto

Here's my standard mushroom risotto recipe.

tablespoon olive oil
3 cloves garlic
2-4 shallots (if you don't have shallots, substitute yellow onion)
8 oz fresh shiitake, crimini, porcini, or whatever, mushrooms, or 2-3oz dried (you can use more mushrooms if you're as fond of them as I am)
1/2 cup dry white or red wine - whatever you'd drink with the meal
4 1/2 cups chicken, turkey, or beef broth (again, match to your main dish)
2 cups arborio rice
3-4 oz grated parmesan, romano, or asiago (to taste)

Heat broth over low-medium heat until steaming to simmering. Chop garlic and shallots very fine (I cheat and use the food processor).  Chop mushrooms coarsely.  Heat olive oil over medium heat; add garlic and shallots, and mushrooms if using fresh.  Cook until onions are translucent and mushrooms are brown, 2-4 minutes. Add wine, and dry mushrooms if you are using them, and simmer for 2-4 more minutes until wine is somewhat reduced. Add rice and one cup of the hot broth, stirring constantly.  Continue to stir constantly, adding broth when the previous broth has been completely absorbed, continuing until rice is al dente.  If you run out of broth, heat water and use that.  When rice is done (approx 30 minutes), remove from heat and stir in cheese.  Serve.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Fine Mesh Salt Smoking Basket

So, I wanted to try smoking my own sea salt.  Admittedly, I only have my grill to smoke foods, so I knew I wouldn't get as concentrated of smoke flavor as I would if I had my dream electric smoker, but hey. The bigger problem, and one that I could not find anything to fix,was something to put the salt into.  Most of the recipes I found said to put the salt in a pie plate.  I wanted something that would allow the smoke to permeate throughout the salt, as well as something that I could use to grill small things in the future.  So... I decided to design one.

First, I procured a piece of very, very fine stainless steel mesh.  This particular mesh is a filter mesh; it's 80 Mesh / 177 Micron Screen (very very fine). The sea salt I'm using will sit in here without a problem; you could put table salt in this and it wouldn't go through.  The edges are pretty sharp, however, so first:

I use a ruler to fold the edges over.  I actually fold them twice over, so that the raw edge is completely covered 

Now I use a wet erase marker and the ruler to mark two inches in, to make the folds for the sides.

I fold along the ruler, making the corners into triangles.

And here is the fully folded box.

I still need something to hold the corners together and down; I've decided to hand-rivet the corners with brass rivets.  It'll be safe for food, but soft enough I can do the riveting by hand.  First I'll have to make holes for the rivets.

I use a 1/16th inch punch to mark where to make the individual holes.  The punch isn't strong enough to do all the holes at once (and probably won't be terribly good at punching paper after this...)

I punch through at the indentations.

Here I put the rivet thru the holes in one corner, and prepare to set it with a hand-riveting set.

The completed box!

Here's the box on the grill, with the wood smoking away.

And here's the salt added.  None of it fell through at all!

A couple of hours later, the completed salt (still hot).  The box obviously looks used/smoked, but it worked like a champ.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Chicken picatta

When I make chicken picatta for the fam, this is pretty much how I do it.

2 lbs boneless, skinless chicken breasts, butterflied or pounded to 1/3 inch thick
1/2 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
juice of 1 lemon (more or less to taste)
1 tablespoon capers, rinsed
2 cups chicken broth (if you're using bullion or broth packets, for faster reducing just use 1 1/2 cups of water but still two cups worth of bullion)
1 tablespoon butter (optional; adds a richness to the flavor, but it'll still be tasty without it, though not quite as thick)

3-4 tablespoons olive oil

Mix together the flour, salt and pepper on a plate; mix the lemon juice, capers, and chicken broth in a glass measuring cup. Put olive oil in a saute pan, heat over medium-high heat until it's hot (sorry I'm not more accurate here; I just know when it's ready. Sorta shimmery, right before the smoke point). Dredge the chicken breast pieces in the flour (I usually do about three at a time, as that's how many will fit into my pan). Place in fry pan and cook until golden brown on both sides and cooked thru, about 4 minutes or so a side. Remove chicken to plate with paper towel. Repeat for the rest of the chicken, adding oil if necessary. When the last of the chicken is done, deglaze with the juice/broth/caper mixture, scraping up any browned bits. Allow to reduce to about 1-1 1/4 cup liquid. Take off heat and add cold butter if using; stir in until melted. Add chicken to coat, plate chicken and put sauce in serving bowl.

I enjoy serving with cheesy polenta and asparagus.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

The (new) Wright Place on Sixth (closed)

Sad update: the Wright Place on 6th is no more.

We've visited the Wright Place on 6th before under it's old management and chef, and the food was quite good (and the atmosphere excellent). We were a bit apprehensive about the fact that it was now under new ownership, with a new head chef, but the sample menu online looked very interesting, so we decided to go for it.

SOOOOO glad we did.

I've been lucky to eat at some excellent restaurants across the country - in New York, Chicago, and the Bay Area. Now, I'm not exaggerating when I say that this meal could have competed easily in any of those markets.

We arrived early so we sat in the lounge for a bit. The lounge is new - it used to be a small secondary dining room, where we had actually eaten the majority of our meals at the Wright Place. The lounge area is nice though, as it gives you somewhere where you can relax in a more intimate setting than at the bar. Joshua wanted a sweet and fruity drink, so I ordered him an Apple Pear martini. I actually managed to stick to my gestational diabetes guidelines (more on that later), so I got a water.

When we were done with drinks we were shown to our table in the main dining area. This part hasn't changed much (or maybe even at all); there's still a lowly lit atmosphere that encourages quiet talk.

Now we got down to the menus. There were two different menus, a Table d'Hote Menu and an A la Carte Menu. Both menus change daily with what's available locally and seasonally. Of course, this makes me a very happy person, as I adore local and seasonal more than almost anything... (yet I ended up with a main that was not local, but hey). The Table d'Hote menu is the same thing as a Prix Fixe menu; you get two or three courses selected from a couple of options for a set price. I adore Prix Fixe menus... but i had to go a la carte, because they had duck. Smoked duck.

First came our amuse, which we forgot to take a picture of. It was a shrimp in a tomato (and something else) foam, with a thin crouton with a dab of corriander (cilantro) gel on it. It was very tasty, and set the tone for what was to come very well.

We got whole grain rolls with dinner (well, sort of; I requested a whole grain and was given a white, and Joshua was kind enough to trade with me). They were served with butter topped with smoked sea salt. Nummers. (There's one carb down - three to go)

For our appetizers, I ordered the smoked duck breast, with spinach, red onion, poached egg, and English mustard foam. The waitress suggested I break open the egg as soon as I got the dish, so the yolk could act as a sauce for it. I did so with glee.

It was really beautiful. They smoke the duck themselves, and it was just the right amount of smoke (and no fakeness to it at all). The flavors were perfect together; I can't even describe how delicious this was.

Joshua got the Cauliflower veloute (a cream soup based on veloute sauce), with pieces of fried cauliflower, black truffle shavings (done at the table), and brioche. I got to taste, and the flavor and texture were wonderful (I'm rapidly running out of adjectives here). The cauliflower flavor was dominant, but with a very nice creaminess and just a hint (not overpowering) of the truffle.

Next, Joshua had ordered the beet salad, which we again forgot to take a picture of. There were two golden beets and one red beet, with arugula, hazelnuts, and powders (beet and hazelnut if i remember right). They do seem to really like the powders here, as there were more with dessert. Josh enjoyed it, I only tasted the powder to see what all the fuss was about. Neat, but not my highlight.

Then the mains arrived. I was happy and relived to see that the portions were what they should be - that is, not gigantic as is the case with most restaurants in the area. If you're a person that insists that you should get the most food calories possible in return for your dollar - don't go to the Wright Place. If you want the best food possible - do. (For my gestational diabetes, where I'm supposed to have 3-4oz of protein for dinner, along with lots of non-starchy veggies, and four carb servings - it was perfect)

Sea bass with roast shrimp, fennel bulbs, black trumpet mushrooms, gnocchi, and sauce of deliciousness +3 (I am completely spacing on the sauce, sorry). This was out of this world. The flavors were all so perfect and complementary I don't even know where to start. The sea bass was perfectly cooked, with an excellent crust and a wonderful flaky center. The fennel bulbs were tender and delicious, and everything mixed with the trumpet mushrooms was wonderful. The gnocchi filled my second carb spot of the night in a very tasty manner. The only part that was less than perfect was the roast shrimp, which seemed slightly overdone - but only was a detriment in comparison to the perfection of the rest of the dish. At pretty much any other restaurant in the area I would have accepted the shrimp without comment :).

I was so absorbed in my dish that I honestly am not totally sure what was in Joshua's. I believe it was a fillet from New Grass Farm (who supplied the meat for our wedding - and we buy most of our beef from! Glad they are doing well!), along with some braised ox shin, pearl onions, and I'm not sure what else. Josh gave me a taste and it was very, very good.

Last, because I still had two carbs to go, we decided to do dessert. This is only the second time I've had dessert since being diagnosed.

I got the hazelnut mousse with mascarpone cheese, banana and something else ice cream, candied hazelnut, and white chocolate powder. I totally forget what the sauce was, but it was very tasty. The ice cream was excellent, but the mousse was only good; I'm picky about my mousse texture and this seemed a little gelatinous to me. The flavor was very good though, so that went a long way. And it was very, very pretty. Again, the portions were far from huge, so this was my last two carbs of the night.

Joshua got the carrot cake, which came with a slice of dried carrot and a scoop of orange-cream cheese ice cream, and walnut powder. I had a taste of the ice cream, and it was great. Joshua said that the cake was really really good too.

All together, it was a wonderful meal, a new best for the area, and honestly it could compete with anywhere. I really hope everyone can give it a try. It's worth it.

Wright Place On 6th on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Tiny bubbles, in my... PIZZA!!!

We finally got to try out the sourdough starter today. I used this recipe, adapted somewhat from the recipe here, baked in the oven at 525.

2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup olive oil
2 1/2 cups sourdough starter
1/2 cup water

First I combined the dry ingredients in my mixer bowl, then poured in the wet ones, and mixed until they were throughly combined. I like thin pizzas, so I went for a sticky, wet dough.

I lightly oiled it and put the bowl in a warm (80-90 degree) oven for a couple of hours (about 2 1/2) to rise.

Of course, I forgot to take a picture of the risen dough. But...

There's the pizza crust (which was cooked for about 6 minutes before adding sauce) with the beginning of the sauce. And then the final product...

Which my family proceeded to eat...

And the verdict?

Yeah, there were no leftovers, and everyone agreed it was the tastiest homemade pizza I had made. Sourdough crust won. Next? Sourdough BREAD.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Pretty healthy ranch

This is the recipe we use for ranch. I like using olive oil mayo (cause it's both good and olive oil is a nice, healthy fat). I really like greek yogurt in this more than regular, as it's more savory and tart, which I think is nice in a ranch.

2 cups plain greek yogurt
1/4 cup mayo
1/4 cup finely chopped green onion (I have also used garlic chives to great result; ramps are fun too)
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley or 1 teaspoon dried, crushed
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon fresh ground pepper
1/4 cup grated parmessan

Combine, and allow to sit for at least a half an hour to let flavors combine. It'll keep for a few days, but because it's made with fresh veggies it won't last forever, unlike the crap in a bottle. But it tastes SO GOOD.

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Tiny bubbles, in my bread

The sourdough experiment continues. This time it never collapsed into grey goo; at this point it smells somewhere between yeast and alcohol (and smells like I want to eat it), and tiny bubbles have formed.

I'm feeding the starter regular water now (but still whole wheat flour), and in a couple of days I'm going to switch to white flour. After two weeks, with luck, I should be able to make my first loaf. Yay!

Thursday, February 02, 2012

Yakibuta - Japanese Pork Tenderloin

1 1/2-2 lbs pork tenderloin
1 tablespoon sake
1 tablespoon oyster sauce
3 1/2 tablespoons sugar
2 green onions, chopped
1/2 teaspoon ginger
1 1/2 tablespoons cinnamon (I like Ceylon cinnamon, but regular will work)
1/2 teaspoon sanshou or sichuan peppercorns (not really anything like regular peppercorns - this is the hardest to replace)
1 1/2 teaspoons star anise (or regular ground anise)
1/2 cup soy sauce

If you have a whole tenderloin, cut it in half so it fits nicely in a medium pot. Combine all the ingredients in the pot (you could do it in a different bowl, but I like less dishes) and allow the meat to marinate for 1-4 hours.

Put a little bit of oil in a fry pan (I like cast iron) and put over a high heat. Take pork out of marinade and brown on all sides, then return to pot with all the marinade. Add just enough water to cover the meat, and bring pot to a boil.

Boil for 25-35 minutes, until meat reads 160 on an instant read thermometer (Mine took about 25 minutes, as it was a thin loin), and remove pork to a plate. Reduce remaining sauce down until slightly thick. Cut loin into quarter inch thick pieces, and spoon sauce over pieces on plate. Serve with white rice and whatever else (we had it with Chawanmushi and grilled asparagus)

Chawanmushi - Japanese savory egg custard

We had chawanmushi when we went to Charlie Trotters, and it was perhaps my favorite dish. I've since discovered it is really, really easy and incredibly delicious. The texture is custard-like, but it isn't a dessert at all; I've made it for both breakfast (in place of regular eggs) and for a part of dinner. It's easiest to make in a bamboo steamer (which are surprisingly inexpensive); but you can use any way that you use to steam veggies. I don't have dedicated chawanmushi cups, so I use glass custard cups, which I cover with foil. This recipe makes 6 servings. You can also add other ingredients, like cooked chicken, prawns, shitaake, or the traditional ginko nuts; this is just for a really simple version. We really like green onions, so I'm including it.

5 eggs
3 cups dashi (some people substitute chicken broth, but it's just not the same)
2 tablespoons mirin
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 green onions, finely chopped
1/4 teaspoon salt

Preheat the steamer over low/medium heat (important; if you cook it over a igh heat you'll end up with an unappetizing grey mess) Beat the eggs until they are combined. Add the rest of the ingredients except the onions, stir throughly, and strain thru a mesh strainer (some of the egg parts will be left behind in the strainer, this is ok.) Pour into cups, divide the onion into each, cover with foil, arrange in steamer.

Cook for about a half an hour, checking after about 20 minutes. It'll be done when it is lightly set, and the color changes to a pale yellow; a toothpick inserted in the center will come out clean if it's done.

The completed chawanmushi is on the left.

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Sourdough starter... again

So I'm trying to start some sourdough starter again. Last time I followed a recipe that gave me bubbles at first, then collapsed into a grey, unpleasant goo (twice). This time I'm following a recipe that many swear by, that I found on Breadtopia. I'm making it with whole wheat flour (the recipe also calls for pineapple juice and eventually purified water). I'll update every few days to show you how it's going.

The first ingredients ready to go!

The mixture all together, and ready to wait its two days before more flour and pineapple juice. Wish it luck!

Monday, January 16, 2012


I love making Japanese food; and one of the ingredients used in almost all Japanese dishes (that aren't fried) is dashi. It's a subtle broth that adds umami to dishes. This is my recipe for a standard dashi; for a vegetarian version, omit the bonito flakes, and put about a cup of sliced fresh shitaake into the broth when you turn the heat on. You can also use shitaake in a non-vegetarian stock, for a stronger flavor (works well for a clear soup).

1 piece kombu (about 5" square, more or less; seaweed for making dashi stock; available online or at a good asian food grocer)
3 tablespoons bonito flakes
4 cups water
1 cup sliced shitaake (optional)
cheesecloth or very fine strainer

Put dried kombu and water into a pot. Allow kombu to soak for about half an hour. In the meantime, make a little pouch out of cheese cloth with the bonito inside (alternatively, you can put the bonito directly into the pan and strain with a fine mesh strainer afterwords) Turn heat to medium, and remove kombu when water just begins to simmer. Remove from heat, add bonito flakes and stir for one minute, then remove bonito pouch or strain thru fine sieve.

Grilled salmon in ponzu sauce with spicy mayo and avocado

Another recipe by popular request. This one is absurdly healthy, and really, really tasty!

Ponzu sauce:
1/3 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup yuzu juice (or lemon/lime mix, or if you're desperate, just lemon)
1 Tbsp rice vinegar
1/3 cup or more dashi (in a pinch water will be ok, but not as good)

Combine all ingredients to make ponzu sauce.

Spicy mayo:
1/2 cup mayo
2 tablespoon Sriracha hot sauce


Grilled salmon in ponzu sauce with spicy mayo and avocado:

2 salmon filets, halved
ponzu sauce
spicy mayo

Quarter the avocado (easiest to cut the avocado in half, remove the seed, then quartering it).

For the salmon, get the best wild caught salmon you can. Grill over a high heat, for three minutes per side; don't worry about the skin, it'll slide right off when the salmon is cooked (or just stick to the grill). Serve a fillet in ponzu sauce with a quarter of avocado (easiest to do in a bowl), with a dollop of spicy mayo on top. White rice as always makes a good side dish.

Friday, January 13, 2012


Here's my recipe for yummy yummy katsu, in both gluten rich and gluten free forms!

2 lbs meat - chicken, pork, wild boar, elk. Should be boneless, sliced or pounded to about 1/4-1/3 inch thick (for instance, I like elk round steak pounded thin - flavorful and tender; for pork, thin boneless pork chops work well; for chicken boneless breasts pounded or sliced will work, either way is fairly tender; pre-tenderized wild boar cutlets are perfect)
2-3 eggs, beaten (start with two, use another if you need it)
1/2-1 cup flour OR cornstarch (for gluten free)
1 box panko OR 1 1/2 cups crushed rice chex (again, gluten free - there are gluten free panko too, but rice chex sounds like it would work really well)
3" deep frying pan with about a inch and a half of fry oil of your choice
1/4 cup soy sauce (this is approx)
2 tablespoons brown rice vinegar (this is also approx)
1/2 head of cabbage, very thinly sliced

Take your meat and put it in a non-reactive bowl; add soy sauce and rice vinegar (in approximate proportions) until meat is fairly covered - stir meat around so marinade gets all over it. Refrigerate a half an hour or more, whatever you've got time for (I tend to like about 2 hours if possible, but I've done it in 20 minutes).

While its marinating, prepare a plate of flour or cornstarch for dredging, a bowl of beaten eggs, and a plate of panko/chex. Once the marination is done, take your meat pieces one by one. First, dredge in the flour (this prevents the juices from escaping and making your panko all soggy). Next, dip in egg. Finally, lay in panko one one side, then flip to the other until you've got a good coating all around. You can let the meat rest on the panko while your oil heats up; I usually end up doing my meat in about three batches, leaving the extra that doesn't fit on the panko plate in the marinade in the meantime.

Heat oil in frying pan. You want enough oil so that your meat can float freely, but not so much that it boils over the side of your pan. I have an electric stove and usually heat it at about medium-high; you can also do this in a deep fryer if you really want. Prepare a receiving plate with paper towels!

Once oil is heated to about 350-375 (honestly, I don't use a thermometer, I just use my judgement and am used to when its ready), lay the meat gently into the oil. You'll want a pair of tongs! Once all the pieces for your first batch (don't double layer!) are in, let it fry on one side for 2-3 minutes, then turn all pieces and allow to fry on the other (use your judgement for chicken vs elk; elk doesn't have to be as done as chicken). Once pieces are golden brown they should be done; pull them out and put them on the paper towel bedecked plate. Repeat for the rest of the meat.

Serve on a bed of finely chopped cabbage (this helps keep the katsu nice and crispy) with white rice. Have katsu sauce and soy sauce available.