14 June 2013

Ephraim, Wis., in Shoulder Season

Just 17 miles across the bay from my kitchen, the village of Ephraim in Wisconsin's Door County is a charming enclave of white clapboard houses and churches, galleries, eateries, fudge shops and harborside parks.

Door County is a peninsula - an island, really - that juts northeastward, separating the bay of Green Bay from the waters of much larger Lake Michigan. It is known for its cherry orchards and farm markets and for its lovely harbors and resorts - and its villages.

When I first discovered Door County as a teenager - in those days, many teens from my town found summer jobs as waitresses and busboys - I was intrigued by the colorful place names north of bustling Sturgeon Bay: Egg Harbor, Fish Creek, Sister Bay, Gills Rock, Northport, Baileys Harbor, Jacksonport and Institute.

Perhaps the most picturesque of Door County's villages is Ephraim, sandwiched between bluff and shore, just north Fish Creek and south of Sister Bay. With its harbor on the bay and its pristine white cottages and shops spilling down the hillside, Ephraim - the name means "doubly fruitful" - feels like a touch of New England in Northeast Wisconsin.

Settle by Moravians in 1853, Ephraim's population of 300 celebrates Fyr Bal, the Swedish welcome to summer, every June with bonfires along the shore and a celebratory spirit throughout the village. Ephraim is a dry community, and my observation is that it is the most family-oriented of Door County's villages.

Because of its long-time popularity as a vacation spot for urban midwesterners, Door County is crowded in summer. Finding a lunch spot in mid-July can be next to impossible. We prefer to visit in shoulder season - spring or fall - when traffic is light and resort rates are low. The photo above was shot mid-week in mid-May, a relatively sleepy time on the Door peninsula.

Door County offers opportunities for boating, golf, shopping, eating and gallery hopping. Especially in summer, cultural opportunities abound. You can see a play, attend a concert, watch a potter at work, or take a course in watercolor or weaving - and much more.

We like to visit galleries and play mini golf. Trying new restaurants - everything from outdoor bistros to traditional supper clubs - is essential, but we also pack a hamper of picnic foods. Visiting Door County farm markets, which offer a plethora of cherry products, is a must. In the past dozen years, a number of wineries have opened on the peninsula, and their tasting rooms are worth a visit.

In spring there is a palpable sense of excitement as the peninsula gears up for the busy summer season. In fall, the wind down begins as the marinas empty of boats, summer staff goes off to school and shops begin to clear their shelves of summer merchandise. It's a bittersweet season but still lovely, especially when the leaves are at peak color in early October.

12 June 2013

An Old-Fashioned Staple: Hattie's Strawberry-Rhubarb Crisp

Although it's nearly the middle of June, warmer weather has only recently arrived in northeast Wisconsin. Temperatures have climbed as high as the low 80s, but evenings and mornings are still cool.

Our ancient rhubarb patches are flourishing, although a bit later than usual, and I have already made two rhubarb desserts and frozen two quarts for fall and winter baking. I will do this as long as the patches produce rhubarb, and give some away, too.

Rhubarb is a cottage-garden staple, an old-fashioned vegetable that conjures up visions of picket fences, weathered barns, climbing roses and cool summer kitchens. It is excellent on its own, or combined with apples or strawberries, and we've enjoyed it in everything from pies and muffins to cakes and crisps. 

Since we have two patches, we freeze a good deal of what we harvest for winter desserts. I plan to try it in savory dishes, too, which will be a first for us. I like this idea as well.

Rhubarb information, history and more recipes may be found here

Two days ago, I made a simple rhubarb-strawberry crisp that yielded six servings. 

For the filling
  • 7 stalks of rhubarb, washed and sliced or diced
  • 15 large strawberries, sliced or diced
  • dash lemon juice
  • 1/2 cup of sugar

For the topping
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 1 cup old-fashioned oatmeal, dry
  • 1/2 to 1/3 cup sugar
  • 3/4 cup walnuts, chopped
  • roughly 1/2 stick of butter
  • dash sea salt
Once the rhubarb is washed and sliced, place it in a bowl, add about 1/4 cup sugar - enough to lightly coat the rhubarb - and allow to chill overnight in the refrigerator, covered.

When you are ready to bake, pre-heat your oven to 350 degrees.

Toss the chilled rhubarb (you may have to remove some liquid, but do not rewash the rhubarb) with the strawberries, lemon juice and sugar. Place in a greased 8-by-8-inch baking pan.

Use the topping ingredients to make a crumbly topping, as you would with any other crisp. Spread this atop the rhubarb-strawberry mixture. At this point, I sprinkle a small amount of sea salt on the topping to mitigate any overly-sweet taste. 

Bake for one hour, or until crispy top is golden brown. 

This basic crisp recipe can be used with just about any fruit, and I've experimented with it since I first laid my hands on it while a graduate student at Edgewood College in Madison, Wis. It originated with a lovely lady named Clarice, who worked in the continuing education office, and who made it with apples and raisins (another favorite dessert at our house).

I think of the recipe as Hattie's Rhubarb Crisp, because I think the rhubarb was planted about 70 years ago by a woman with that name for whom our 1896 Victorian was a retirement home. Sadly, Hattie's husband died not long after the couple moved here from the country, and then Hattie took in boarders, female students from the nearby county normal school, to make ends meet. She also raised chickens and had a grape arbor on the sunny side of the house. 

I've thought of her a great deal this spring, although we never met, as my husband and I removed layers of wallpaper from our second-floor book room, one of the rooms Hattie rented out to coeds. We got down to the circa-1940 wall paper, removed that, and then patched and re-plastered the entire room. Before and after photos will show up in a later post. Meanwhile, I am rather proud of my prowess with a trowel.

The patch below is the smaller of the two, and is located on the sunny west side of our old horse barn.

08 November 2012

Frugal French Friday: Roasted Chicken

One of the best things about not working is having the time and energy to spend time in the kitchen. You can make use of everything.

Take a roasted chicken, for example. A $7 whole (chemical-free) chicken yields a variety of meals, including chicken with roasted potatoes, chicken with rice, and chicken sandwich spread. I also made soup stock from the carcass, something I always try to do.

I also - for the first time ever - did a pretty good job of trussing my chicken. Do this to keep the chicken moist and tender. It really works. I have occasionally forgotten this step, to my great regret, and ruined my share of whole chickens.

I did a masterful job this time, if I do say so myself, and the chicken was so tender and moist, it fell apart in my hands. I had to use a photo from five years ago, which I am disclosing in the interest of transparency.

I've spent a considerable amount of time researching various methods of chicken roasting, and I've come up with my own approach, which - save for the falling apart stuff - is close to perfection.

Roasted Chicken

Preheat oven to 450.
  • 1 medium whole chicken
  • 1/3 stick of butter
  • sea salt flakes
  • 1 small lemon
  • freshly ground pepper
  • herbes de Provence
  • 3-4 garlic cloves
  • roughly 1/3 to 1/2 bottle leftover white wine (I used Riesling)

Remove the liver or whatever is packed inside the chicken. I actually forgot to do this once.

Wash the chicken; pat dry. Quarter the lemon and cut the garlic cloves in half. Stuff these inside the chicken, along with a small handful of sea salt and herbes de Provence.

Truss the chicken; rub with butter after trussing (or it will slide around and trussing could become a contest between you and the chicken). Next rub the entire chicken with more sea salt, ground pepper and even more herbes de Provence.

Place in roasting pan. Add wine and about a cup of water. Roast for 90 minutes. I carefully turned the chicken over for the last half hour of roasting, so it would brown evenly.

When the chicken is completely roasted, remove it form the oven and let it rest about 30 minutes, covered, before removing it from the pan. Save any liquid in the pan; you can add this to your stock pot. I recommend removing the lemons if they have fallen out of the chicken. They impart a fresh flavor to the chickens while roasting, but will spoil your stock. Trust me on this one.

This chicken was packed with meat, yielding a total of eight servings. I made chicken sandwich spread, chicken vegetable soup, and used the pan drippings for pumpkin soup. I froze a small serving of chicken, so I can make a casserole for one some night when my husband is eating something I don't like.

Cost: I paid almost $7 for the chicken, but had everything else on hand. It was easily under $1 per serving.

Wine pairing: I like an oaky chardonnay. But there are many other options.

Roasting a chicken is one of the best ways to eat frugally. I have served it for Thanksgiving during lean times, and enjoyed it just as much as turkey or ham.  

05 November 2012

Sweet Pumpkin Soup with Cipollini Onions

I confess: Even though I live 53 miles north of Green Bay, Wis., football games on TV put me to sleep. It's white noise to me. So on most fall Saturday or Sunday afternoons, while my husband is cheering for Notre Dame, Wisconsin, Michigan or Green Bay, I'm sleeping on the couch.

Except when I'm in the kitchen.

On Sunday afternoon, I was in the kitchen watching nuthatches and chickadees frolic at the backyard feeders and making pumpkin soup. Since I'd never made it before, I did my research, perusing a variety of approaches online and in cookbooks.

My goal was to use ingredients on hand. I had a small cipollini onion left over, and the savory liquid from the bottom of a pan I'd used to roast chicken. While I roasted the chicken, I also roasted a small sugar pumpkin.

Easy Sweet Pumpkin Soup with Cipollini Onions
  • 2 teaspoons butter
  • 1 small cipollini or other sweet onion, chopped
  • 1 cup unsalted chicken broth
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 can (8 ounces) pumpkin puree, or 1 cup fresh pumpkin, mashed
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • dash ground cloves
  • 1 cup fat-free milk
  • 1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
In a medium stockpot or sauce pan over medium heat, melt the butter and brown the chopped onions slightly. Gradually add the chicken broth and water. Then slowly add the pumpkin puree, the spices and the milk. Grate pepper over the soup last. Use a whip to keep the soup smooth. Makes 4 good-sized servings.

The soup is mild but comforting. I added a dollop of sour cream to mine.

This soup won't appeal to people who need spice or heat. I'm going to try it with canned pumpkin and vegetable broth next time. It's a start, but I think it needs some tweaking.

I served this with chicken salad sandwiches on beer bread and a small green salad. I think next time I will serve it with corn bread croutons and grated Gruyere cheese.

The onions and pumpkin were locally grown, from Immerfrost Farm.

04 November 2012

Time for Tourtiere (Meat Pie from Qu├ębec)

Here on the Wisconsin-Michigan border, and probably where you live, too, the pace of life changes in November. There's a speed-up and then a period of calm before the holidays descend.

Deer hunting season: The time of year when deer camps - rural property, sometimes held in the family for generations - are filled with convivial groups of fathers and sons, brothers and cousins, or just good buddies, who hunt together and - admit it - drink beer together. Or other seasonal libations.

Grocery, hardware and sporting goods stores offer plenty of specials from low prices on sausage to sales on blaze-orange gear. Even if you don't hunt, you can feel something different in the air.

Deer hunting in Wisconsin and Upper is an almost sacred tradition. It's not just for men, either; plenty of women hunt. Some have told me it's the tranquility of sitting in a deer stand that attracts them. I can believe that - and I can thoroughly understand it. Still, you won't get me out there this time of year! A walk in the neighborhood is enough.

The run up to Thanksgiving doesn't mean deer hunting, or its female equivalent, Christmas shopping, for me. I have my own traditions. I indulge in a bit of pampering, read familiar and dearly-loved books, and ponder my holiday menu. My husband doesn't hunt either, so he's home to help with holiday projects, culinary or otherwise.

This year, for the first time in many years, I'll have time for some holiday baking. I'm going to make a tourtiere, or meat pie, a French Canadian holiday classic. Grandma Annie made it every year; so did my  aunts. Somehow the meat-pie making gene bypassed my mother. Nonetheless, tourtiere is a tradition I embrace.

Grandma Annie's Basic Tourtiere Recipe

  • Three pounds ground pork
  • One large onion, minced
  • Dash nutmeg
  • Dash allspice
  • Dash freshly-ground pepper
  • Dash sea salt
  • 1-2 eggs
Prepare a pate-brisee, or use a store-bought pie crust, top and bottom.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Brown the meat and onion in a large skillet. Season with pepper and spices. Set aside; you can make this ahead and keep it refrigerated.

Pat your bottom crust into a greased pie plate. Before adding the meat, blend in an egg or two, depending upon the size of your pie. The eggs keep the pie from crumbling. Season with salt, if necessary.

Bake for about 45 minutes, until the top is lightly browned. I used an egg wash on the crust.

There are many versions of tourtiere, and I expect the recipe varies from family to family. Here's one that adds carrots. And another that's a bit less basic than mine. Here's an elegant but hearty version.

Because this is a rather heavy dish, I like to serve it with a green salad, fruit salad, or cole slaw.

Here are some ideas for wine pairing.

01 November 2012

Frugal French Friday: Warm Brussels Sprout and Leek Salad with Roasted Walnuts and Dried Cherries

I love this time of the year. Well, I love every time of the year, but especially the countdown to Thanksgiving with its unabashed emphasis on food.

As I ponder what we'll have for Thanksgiving dinner, I've also given a fair amount of thought to where I am going with this blog and my cooking.

As some readers know, I picked the blog up again after a couple of years during which family and work obligations occupied much of my time. Blog posts were rare. We ate out a lot, and relied on simple meals.

Simple is the operative approach for me. If I'm going to continue to post at French Kitchen in America, I've got to make a commitment to myself (and anyone who reads my posts) that all recipes featured must be very doable. I'm not going to feature any dishes that take hours to prepare. I'm going to assume you are as busy as I am.

Even though I quit my full-time job five weeks ago, like most of you I have a lot going on in my life: Family, friends, workouts and fitness classes, volunteer work and yes, maybe a little bit of paid work. I like to spend time with my husband, too. And I prefer to make dishes both of us like - that can be tricky.

This pairing of Brussels sprouts and leeks was simple. I wanted to create something festive enough to serve for Thanksgiving dinner. But my immediate need was a side dish for a small filet and some herb-y roasted potatoes.

Warm Brussels Sprout and Leek Salad with Roasted Walnuts and Dried Cherries
(measurements are guidelines and subject to taste preference)

  • 24 fresh Brussels sprouts
  • 3 small-to-medium leeks
  • 1 Tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 3 Tablespoons butter
  • 2 teaspoons lemon juice
  • dash sea salt
  • dash freshly-ground pepper
  • 1/3 cup roasted walnuts
  • 1/3 cup dried cherries

Trim Brussels sprouts at the flat end; remove outer leaves. Cut into thin slices as you would an onion. Place in a large bowl. Wash and trim leeks, using only the white or very light green portions. Slice thinly; add to the Brussels sprouts. Drizzle with olive oil. Set aside.

Meanwhile, roast walnuts in a preheated 350 oven for 10 minutes. I drizzled mine with melted butter and a scant tablespoon of brown sugar.

Melt 3 tablespoons of butter in a skillet under medium heat,  and add sprouts and leeks. Stir constantly until golden brown and tender, lowering heat if necessary. Add lemon juice, and salt and pepper to taste. Toss in roasted walnuts and cherries. Cranberries are another option.

Serve warm. I opted not to use a dressing, but a simple oil-and-vinegar dressing would be perfect; so would a creamy honey-mustard dressing.

Cost: This festive side dish can be made for about $7.

Wine Pairing: Since this side dish would be as good with ham as it would be with turkey, chicken or beef, almost anything goes!

30 October 2012

What's Brewing: Samuel Adams Harvest Pumpkin Ale

"Don't bother with pumpkin beers," warned a Facebook friend when I mentioned I was aiming to develop my beer-tasting savvy.

Bah! I said to myself. Why not? Who wants to read only good reviews?

So I wasn't expecting much. But I was pleasantly surprised.

The pumpkin libation I sampled, Samuel Adams Harvest Pumpkin Ale, was bubbly and crisp, with no hint of bitterness. The foam head is thick and golden. The beer is the color of burnished copper: Think old bowls and pots from Paris's E. Dehillerin.

There is a mere hint of pumpkin and a fair amount of spice (ginger?)  here, with the tiniest trace of - what? - apple? This malty beer tastes of autumn.

The beer has body. My husband liked that.

"I'm waiting for it to warm up because I like beers that taste good at room temperature," he said. "Let's see how it tastes when it warms up."

Me, I like my beer cold. That probably means I'm a novice. Well, I am. But I can learn, right?

(The truth is, neither of us is a big beer drinker. We prefer wine. But I became intrigued with beer tasting a decade or so ago when Country Living Magazine ran a beer column. It was cleverly and vividly written by some guy.)

As it turns out, Harvest Pumpkin Ale retains its spicy, pumpkin hints, even when warm. If anything, as it warms the broad fruity flavors come through for an overall refreshing experience.

"It's good warmer, too," said my husband. "I like it. I like it."

Harvest Pumpkin Ale has an almost cider-y feel. About five sips into my half-glass, I started to crave Beer Nuts, those salty, semi-sweet nuts that used to be ubiquitous in drinking establishments. After further imbibing, I started thinking of ham and cheese with mustard on pumpernickel.

Yup, we'll buy this one again. So much for staying away from pumpkin beer. But after sampling Harvest Pumpkin Ale, I realized I had not considered a few crucial factors like the speed of head formation (who knew?) and the appearance of the liquid. I just looked at the color. That's how I buy cars, too. Is there something wrong with that?

I did notice the scent, but since I'm rather experienced in purchasing perfume that observation came naturally. Maybe I should apply it to pulse points?

There are a few more factors I need to consider, too. I'm not aiming to become an expert, just seeking to find a few drinkable brews to pair with meals. And use for beer bread, which I really like.

It's a learning process. But it's more fun than math.