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  • PREVIEW: Frozen Tundra Wine Festival

    Posted by Jeff Flynt

    The wonderful husband and wife winemaking team of Steve Johnson and Maria Milano at Parallel 44 in Kewaunee are ready to welcome area oenophiles to their 4th Annual Frozen Tundra Wine Festival on Saturday February 23rd.

    I spent time with Maria discussing how the rough 2012 growing season affected their wines and what 2013 may bring. That was for the radio side of things.

    But more on the event, which is located at Parallel 44 Vineyards on N2185 Sleepy Hollow Road in Kewaunee. It runs from Noon until 6 p.m.

    It costs $10 per person, which gets you a wine glass, tastings of their 13 wines, free live music, tours of the vineyard every hour, and other vendors offering samples of their products. There will also be food available for purchase.

    Its outdoors, so Milano says, "dress hearty." 

    Hearty is a word mentioned a lot there, especially when it comes to their vines. The vines need to be, to survive not just a crazy weather year, but every winter in Wisconsin.

    These are grapes are different than the vitis vinifera (like cabernet sauvignon, chardonnay, etc.) you may be used to. Those tend to struggle with rough Badger State winters.

    Vinifera hybrids are what's grown on the 10 acres in Kewaunee County that Steve and Maria oversee. Grapes like Frontenac, Marechal Foch, La Crosse and St. Pepin are the fruits which you'll see on the vines (when it's a bit warmer).

    But combined with winemaking techniques, the end result can be every bit as exciting and tasty as what is grown in other states.

    Maria says among the featured grows this year are:

    • 3 Frozen Tundra Wines (Rose, Red and White) = The rose and red are made from Frontenac, while the white is a blend of Frontenac Gris and La Crescent. The red is a deep bold wine, rose is crisp (like a rose should be), while the white has a lot of peach and tropical fruits with a hint of honey.
    • St. Pepin Late Harvest Wine = Maria says last year, they made their St. Pepin into an ice wine. This year, they went the late harvest route. Beautiful dessert wine with flavors of honey, vanilla and peach.
    • Frontenac Dessert (Port-style) = It's a hat tip to the big chocolate, cherry flavor ports. 17 to 18 percent alcohol and fruit forward.
    • Rosso = Maria says it's a medium-bodied red made from the Marechal Foch grape. Lots of berry and cherry flavors in a fruit-forward wine.
    • Glacier Red and Glacier White = Maria tells me these are Parallel 44's answer to the Bordeaux-style of winemaking. It's the best of everything the vineyard has to offer. Both are complex wines, with the red giving more of that Bordeaux feel of currant flavor and earthy tones.
    Maria says it's a celebration, and if you're a wine lover interested in learning about the growth of Wisconsin's own industry, this is the place to be on Saturday.
    You can follow Parallel 44 on Facebook, Twitter and on YouTube.
  • 2013 James Beard Award Semifinalists Unveiled

    Posted by Jeff Flynt

    The list of semifinalists for the 2013 James Beard Foundation Awards have been revealed.

    They call them the "Oscars" of the food world. The semifinalists were selected by a Restaurant and Chef Committee from over 44,000 online entries in 20 categories.

    The state of Wisconsin is represented in many of the categories, and I'll take this time to introduce you to those who've made this first cut. The finalists will be announced March 18.


    Forequarter, Madison. It's a restaurant run by a collective of underground professionals who pride themselves on local food, butchering and drink. They're located at 708 1/4 East Johnson Street. 


    Bryant’s Cocktail Lounge, Milwaukee. Mixology is king at this classically-styled Brew City haunt. Over 450 cocktails that pairs the old with the new. Bryant's Cocktail Lounge is located at 1579 South 9th Street.


    Elizabeth Dahl, Nostrano, Madison. Located at 111 South Hamilton Street, the restaurant features local, seasonal ingredients. The dessert menu is intricate, yet thoughtful and apparently executed to perfection given this high honor.


    L’Etoile, Madison. Wine Director Michael Kwas says his list features artisans who shape their wines based on their specific growing season and unique circumstances. Over the years we have found certain regions and grape varietals that harmonize with the food of the Midwest and our own style of cooking. L'Etoile is located at 1 South Pinckney Street.


    Daniel Bonanno, A Pig in a Fur Coat, Madison. According to a review in the Wisconsin State Journal, "executive chef Bonanno, formerly of the Italian restaurant Spiaggia in Chicago, likes rich, fatty meats, but he has a keen sense of balance and doesn’t overcomplicate quality ingredients. On Tuesdays, he sources from the Eastside Farmers Market one block away." I like the sound of that. A Pig in a Fur Coat is located at 940 Williamson Street.


    Justin Aprahamian, Sanford, Milwaukee. Winning a 4-diamond award from AAA, Chef Aprahamian recently bought the business from one of the Brew City's biggest names in the restaurant business, Sanford D'Amato. Sanford is located at 1547 North Jackson Street.

    John Gadau and Phillip Hurley, Sardine, Madison. It features bistro dining and a lively bar scene on the shores of Lake Monona with two well-traveled and experienced chefs. Back in 2000, the pair opened Marigold Kitchen near the Capitol. Sardine is located at 617 Williamson Street.

    David Swanson, Braise, Milwaukee. It's the Brew City's first community supported restaurant, which features locally sourced ingredients. It doubles as a culinary school and is open to the public. Braise is located 1101 South 2nd Street.

  • Two Ways to Great Tasting Polenta

    Posted by Jeff Flynt

    If you've never had polenta that makes you crave more, or learn how to improve your technique, then you have missed out.

    A pair of recipes from the L.A. Times gives you a couple options with the coarsely-ground cornmeal.

    The first gives you a pork and tomato sauce style of polenta gratin.

    The second gives you a creamy mushroom and Fontina cheese gratin.

    But the wonderful thing about polenta is its versatility. You can enjoy it in other ways, from grilling and baking to frying it.

    (photos by Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles Times) 

  • Review: Central Waters Bourbon Barrel Cherry Stout

    Posted by Jeff Flynt

    Central Waters Brewing Company in Amherst, Wisconsin is one of the Badger State's great craft breweries. They offer a tremendous line of craft beers.

    This week, our friends at Ridgeview Liquor in Ashwaubenon offered an exclusive of Central Waters' Bourbon Barrel Cherry Stout. It was a limit of two bottles per customer.

    I took advantage of picking up my allotment. Below is my tasting review of the Brewers Reserve Series offering.

    The Bourbon Barrel Cherry Stout pours a dark color fitting many types of stouts. According to Central Waters, they utilize 75 pounds of Door County tart cherries for each used oak barrel and the beer is aged for six months.

    I found wonderful aromas of bourbon, tart cherry, coffee, caramel, vanilla and dark toast.

    It tasted like you would expect, with mid-palate layers of coffee inspired stout, teamed with smoky bourbon flavors and a subtle cherry undertone.

    The offering is pretty much what I had expected. Those looking for a bourbon-infused stout with a hint of tart cherry flavor, this beer is for you. It is not for the faint of heart, but is definitely worth the prices of between $3 and $4 per bottle.

    According to Central Waters' website, this Bourbon Barrel Cherry Stout was a Gold Medal Winner at the 2006 Great America Beer Festival in the Oak and Barrel Aged Strong Beer Category.

  • Hearty Winter Soup Without Meat

    Posted by Jeff Flynt

    There are a lot of folks who are either vegetarian or vegan. (By the way, there is a pretty big difference.)

    I find I can go several days without eating meat (not by design, more due to not be aware or obsessive about it) and I'm good with that.

    But winter stews and soups tend to make one feel like meat is required. I believe it's because the general feeling is it will make the dish heartier. 

    This is not the case. You can make a great Winter Vegetable Stew without the animal protein.

    As February drags on and the colder weather sticks around, it's always nice to stay inside with a great bowl of stew, which can be served over a number of items. They can include rice, couscous, mashed potatoes, and quinoa.

    This may be a perfect weekend to give it a shot.


  • If You're Gonna Pay, Red Burgundy Should be the Way

    Posted by Jeff Flynt

    The hype machine has been running for a little bit, but the indications are that the 2010 vintage of red wines from Burgundy will be expensive.

    But it will be great.

    According to the heralded New York Times wine writer Eric Asimov, faces of the tasters in this endeavor has seldom been happier.

    I don't have the kind of bank account which allows me to buy up a case or two and sit on it. Nor does it enable me to buy up a case or two and drink it down.

    But if there is one of these labels available, it may be worth the cash to sample what may be a most memorable journey. 

    Plus, it's just in time for Valentine's Day.

  • Inside Look: Paczki Day at Smurawa's Country Bakery

    Posted by Jeff Flynt

    How do you know it's Fat Tuesday in Wisconsin?

    Paczkis. Each year, hundreds will make the pilgrimage to Smurawa's Country Bakery in Pulaski to grab the Polish pastries by the dozen, and in some cases two, three and four dozen.

    I spent time in the kitchen at Smurawa's on the day before Lent, and saying it's a busy place would be an understatement. 

    Owner Greg Smurawa says it's an all hands on deck kind of tradition, where former employees, current employees and family members pitch in to help push nearly 20,000 of these tasty treats out the door.

    "We started preparing this past weekend, but all of the paczkis are made fresh," says Smurawa. "We had a lot of pre-orders, a lot of order taking Monday. We left about an hour-and-a-half last night to take a nap and clean-up, then come right back at it."

    Smurawa explains the tradition behind Paczki Day.

    "It goes back to Old World Poland centuries ago, the tradition of using up the enriched ingredients, having one last big celebration before Lent," said Smurawa. "When we started our bakery 14 years ago, the bakery became the catalyst for us to share this tradition with everybody else."

    He said it is their biggest business day, with paczkis playing a major role. Lots of bakeries and grocery stores have paczkis, so why is Smurawa's so popular?

    "We believe we've got a good family recipe for paczki," Smurawa says. He adds that his favorite flavor of the 17 offered is also their most popular, Raspberry. Prune is the second-most popular.

    "It's a very good prune filling, and it's not just old people who like it," Smurawa says. "It's got a nice balance of sweet and tart. The prune name has a bad aura to it, but it's a very delicious paczki."

    The new flavor for 2013 is Cream Cheese, which Smurawa confirms is based on the popularity of 2012's new flavor Red Velvet.

    "We had several people requesting a cream cheese filled," Smurawa said.

    Despite the joyous festivities, having a full staff, and prepping several days ahead, Smurawa says it can be a challenge to ensure the customer is well taken care of.

    "We do our best to get the paczki to the customers," said Smurawa. "We take care in making sure each one is the one we want it to be and each customer is satisfied. When you hear people talking about it and coming back, it's pretty awesome."

    You can follow Smurawa's Country Bakery on Facebook.


  • Bringing the World to Your Plate

    Posted by Jeff Flynt

    I'm a big advocate of using spices in my cooking. Not outrageous amounts of global spice blends in a meal just for the sake of using them.

    But I mean going after a particular flavor from a part of the world where a lot can be learned just by making a native dish.

    This story from the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel takes a look at a food and catering company called Afro Fusion Cuisine. Yollande Tchouapi Deacon, a native of Cameroon, brought the flavors of her youth to the region.

    It not only tells a great story about a growing business, but examines the different spice blends which you can buy or put together yourself.

    A couple of my favorites are Jamaican Jerk seasoning and Herbes de Provence.

    Jamaican Jerk seasoning includes allspice, cinnamon, brown sugar, red pepper, cloves, cumin, salt and black pepper. Usually mixed with oil to season meats for grilling and stews.

    Herbes de Provence includes dried thyme, savory, marjoram, rosemary and lavender. While not technically a spice blend, it's commonly used like one to flavor meats, especially poultry. It's also excellent on root vegetables.


  • Ruling Their Own Roost: Part Two

    Posted by Jeff Flynt

    On Tuesday I told you about the owners of the popular Fox Valley food truck "Kangaroostaurant" moving into the former Plum Hill Cafe in Kaukauna.

    Co-owners Jay and Kelly Barnes will open the doors to the "Kangaroost" on February 19th at 313 Dodge Street.

    After traveling across the valley, how well do they believe they can turn tables in Kaukauna?

    "Our thought is that eventually we’ll capture that Kaukauna audience, but our initial customer waves will be for people who know us and will drive over there. I think the kind of demographic we serve, will drive there for us," said Jay Barnes.

    Jay Barnes says the response thus far has been great, with rooms inside the building (there are separate ones) getting booked already.

    As for what customers can expect when they sit down? Barnes says it'll be more substantial than just grabbing a sandwich.

    "We’re looking at doing more knife and fork meals at the restaurant. Where we would have a pulled beef on the truck, we’ll have a pot roast at the brick and mortar," Barnes said. "We’re gonna run the menu there similar to the truck, where we have stuff that’s always on the menu and we change specials weekly."

    That means ramping up their orders from the area farmers the Kangaroostaurant has dealt with. Barnes added that they, much like the loyal fan base, are excited about the opportunity to provide more products from their farms to your tables.

    The building has a full liquor license, which Barnes says they will maintain by offering beer and wine. Much like the food, those offerings will have a distinct Wisconsin flavor, within reason.

    "Our goal is always to stay in the state of Wisconsin. It’s easier with the beer, because when we mention wine in Wisconsin, we have a little bit of negative feedback from people who like wine," said Barnes.

    The planned hours of operation are Tuesday thru Thursday 11 a.m. until 7 p.m., Friday 11 a.m. until 9 p.m., Saturday 6 a.m. until 2 p.m. and Sunday 7 a.m. until 2 p.m. The Kangaroost will be closed on Mondays.

    "I think breakfast is going to be huge for us, one of our beliefs is that there really isn’t a great breakfast restaurant in the valley," Barnes said. "There are a lot of good restaurants, but they seem to be the same kind of ‘diner fare’ you get everywhere else."

    In the end, Kelly and Jay Barnes are happy that they will have a permanent place to call home for their small business.

    “We can’t wait to be able to get into the restaurant and do some of that stuff. We don’t have to stick to certain hours, we can use the kitchen whenever we can and be able to provide what we feel is great local food,” said Jay Barnes.

    You can follow the progress of The Kangaroost's opening, along with specials and other info on Twitter and Facebook.

  • Ruling Their Own Roost: Part One

    Posted by Jeff Flynt

    The following that Fox Valley food truck "Kangaroostaurant" has had is getting really excited about the move to their first brick and mortar home.

    As reported in the Appleton Post-Crescent last week, owners Jay and Kelly Barnes will open the doors in the former Plum Hill cafe at 313 Dodge Street in Kaukauna on February 19th.

    It'll be called the "Kangaroost".

    I spoke with Jay and Kelly by phone today and here are some of the interesting tidbits I discovered about the seismic shift in their small business.

    The Barnes' say it all started with reading the P-C and finding out about the closing of Plum Hill. That's when they tried to make contact with the building's owner Dave Klister. But they were given a bad phone number.

    Not long after, Klister's daughter wanted to book the Kangaroostaurant to cater her wedding, but they had another commitment. But that got the conversation to move to getting their foot into Plum Hill's door.

    After a meeting with Klister, set up by his daughter, both sides came to an agreement.

    "He liked our local beliefs, he’s very much excited and on board with the restaurant," said co-owner Jay Barnes.

    It turns out that this relationship got off to a great start, because this winter has not been kind to the food truck.

    "One night we were wondering if we were going to make it through the winter on the truck, and the next night we had a restaurant, and we decided to open it 3 weeks later," said Jay Barnes. Kelly added, "It’s really hard to be a food truck this winter, it’s really killing Jay and I."

    The Kangaroostaurant will run on Wednesday, then once more on Valentine's Day at the Death by Chocolate event in Appleton. After that, the truck will get a short hiatus, in order to get the brick and mortar off the ground.

    And that means job creation.

    "We’ll look at hiring up to 20 people to staff the truck, restaurant and catering events by the summer,” said Kelly Barnes. 

    Coming up tomorrow, check out Part 2 of this interview with the Kangaroostaurant gang. What will the menu will be like, what they may or may NOT feature when it comes to drinks and a twist on the weekends.

    You can follow Kangaroostaurant for menus, locations and updates on Twitter and Facebook.

  • Stepping Up Your Game: Drinks

    Posted by Jeff Flynt

    This is the final day in my ramp up to Super Bowl 47 with helping you step up your game to host the best football party of the year.

    Today I'm tackling drinks.

    Mixology has become such an art form and so intricate, that bartenders are more and more becoming chefs with a different kitchen.

    But since this year's Super Bowl is in New Orleans, I believe a tip of the hat is due to the host city. One of the official drinks of New Orleans is the Hurricane.

    This is a recipe for a Hurricane from Epicurious.

    A couple of notes I would suggest about the recipe and how it may be adjusted for improvement.

    First of all, getting passion fruit sorbet is likely the best option. The goal of this drink is to keep it cold, and without needing more ice, you can substitute the sorbet for the frozen slush consistency. 

    Sugar is fine, but simple syrup made ahead means you don't have to worry about stirring before shaking the drink. You could also use Agave Nectar for a different profile.

    If you only want to buy one kind of rum, and want a substitute, I happen to like Southern Comfort. That would replace the dark rum. I would stick to dark for dark and light for light.

    (Photo by Kimberly Sentner)

  • Stepping Up Your Game: Desserts

    Posted by Jeff Flynt

    This is day 4 in my ramp up to Super Bowl 47 with helping you step up your game to host the best football party of the year.

    Today I'm tackling desserts.

    Most of us have a sweet tooth, and no matter how good we want to be if we are on a diet, or swear to ourselves not to touch any sort of dessert, you end up doing so. 

    Especially while attending a Super Bowl Party.

    Desserts for your big game bash range from cakes, candies and ice cream to brownies, fudge, cookies and other goodies.

    For something a little different, this is a recipe from Epicurious for Chocolate Dulce de Leche Bars.

    It's a fairly simple preparation with not a lot of ingredients needed. But the key ingredient is the dulce de leche.

    You can now buy dulce de leche already prepared (best idea) or you can make your own like this.

    Make something that is definitely a fan favorite, as opposed to the old, "buy a bag of candy and let the monsters tear it up," method.

    (photo by Quentin Bacon)