Milwaukee’s Best

Man, is this shaping up to be one of the best summers ever, or what? Sure, it’s hot practically everywhere, but last time I checked summers are supposed to be hot. So I won’t complain about it, and instead I’ll say that I’ve enjoyed almost every single drop of sweat that’s dripped down my leg these last couple of months.

Especially from this past weekend. Who doesn’t like to sweat beer?

And have pretzels eaten off your necklace? That’s how Milwaukeeans roll, apparently. Following the awesome concert on Friday that was Bon Jovi (& Kid Rock, who really was awesome too although I hated to admit it), we awoke, hit up the Dunkin’, and high-tailed it up I-94 to Rach & Andy’s new digs.

Word on the street is Milwaukeeans cringe when someone calls their city a “miniature Chicago”, but I’m gonna have to agree with whoever started that metaphor because it’s true. Lake Shore Drive, neighborhood variety (even an Evanston-like suburb), enough greenery to briefly forget about the city, Lake Michigan, and plenty of great food, these are just a few things that remind me of Chicago. Of course, there’s also the affordable housing, two-second parking, no waiting at restaurants (even if you make a reservation one hour ahead of time), and serenity that is a road without honking horns that immediately remind you that you are definitely not in Kansas Chicago anymore, and those are things that undoubtedly go straight to the top of my “pro” list after living in this big ‘ol place for 6 years (as of this week!).

In short, I can easily see why Rachel & Andy are happy to call Milwaukee their new home. If it isn’t your home though, I should add that it’s a great summertime road trip if you’re in the Midwest.

The highlight of our short weekend in Milwaukee was the “1st Annual Brew Fest”, which was held in McKinley Park. Forty bucks at the door gets you in for 4 hours of unlimited sampling of local (and no so local) breweries, people-watching galore, and a long line at the facilities. Of course, since this was the “1st Annual Brew Fest”, there were some kinks to iron out, such as the fact that all but 2 breweries literally ran out of beer, and the other obvious issue was the port-o-potty shortage – a 30 minute minimum wait in line, while everyone else (well, everyone not in line) drinks the quickly diminishing beer supply. Overall, it was a great event, and given the 90-minute drive to Milwaukee from Chicago, I’m guessing we’ll be back next year.

By the way, is Rachel gettin’ frisky up there?! Shame on her.

Aside from Brew Fest, we kept leisurely busy by eating, drinking, and drive-by checking out a few breweries and museums as potentials for the next trip. I probably drove Rachel crazy by saying the following exactly 1,000 times, “Wow, you don’t get this back home!”. Usually, this was because we literally walked up to multiple outdoor eateries (in fact, we ate outdoors everywhere we went) at various times (brunch, lunch, and dinner) and were easily able to snag a table for 4. Don’t get me started on the ease of sliding into a parking spot a block away and Andy asking, “Do you mind walking a block?”, as if he never ever set foot in Chicago.

Hubs was oohing and aahing when we stopped by the Harley Davidson museum, but he must not want one as bad as he thinks because my “a puppy for a motorcyle” compromise was laughed off for a fifth time, after an obvious roll of the eye followed by a vehement shaking of the head. Meanwhile, I almost lost my marbles during one of our drives north of Milwaukee when hearing the price tags for the houses up there, realizing again how outrageous the Chicago market is, and how one smallish condo equals one whopping mansion elsewhere. Bleh.

What we both agreed on is the food – plenty of great restaurants offering all kinds of local, seasonal choices, not to mention custard that rivals Goodberry’s, Milwaukee is certainly on my “to do again” list. Of course, with Rach & Andy there, we’d go back even if we hated it, but nonetheless, we didn’t.

The following are some points of interest from our trip (food included, of course). We didn’t go to any breweries this time, what with a festival full of beer at our fingertips, but if you’re in the neighborhood they are certainly worth a visit.

Water Buffalo, 249 N Water St
Alterra Coffee, 1701 N Lincoln Memorial Dr (but multiple locations throughout Milwaukee)
Cafe Hollander, 2608 N Downer Ave
Buckley’s Kiskeam Inn, 801 N Cass St
Kopp’s Frozen Custard, 5372 N Port Washington Rd, Glendale WI (other locations as well)

Sights, etc.
Historic 3rd Ward Neighborhood
Milwaukee Art Museum, 700 N Art Museum Dr
Milwaukee Brew Fest (annual event), 1600 N Lincoln Memorial Dr
The Pabst Mansion, 2000 W Wisconsin Ave
Miller Brewery, 4251 W State St
Harley Davidson Museum, 400 Canal St

Of course, after all the eating and drinking, we entered the Windy City with a relatively tiny appetite, and a salad seemed like the perfect light dinner, not to mention the fact that there was no cooking and relatively little prepping involved. A pit stop at the Whole Foods remedied that situation, and this salad was whipped up in no time and even though we weren’t really hungry, we ate it as if Rachel’d starved us. Hungry or not, this is a great summer salad that hits all the right spots – sweet & salty, chewy & crunchy, you’ll wonder why you don’t eat peaches with prosciutto all the time.

As for summer, we have a whole lot of it left, even though it doesn’t seem that way! I’ll try to share more about our upcoming vacay real soon, because we are ready for suggestions from ya’ll! As for the rest of you, what’s headed your way for the rest of the summer?

p.s. – if you’re a Facebooker, don’t forget to sign up for my new page!

Prosciutto & Peach Salad
Unadapted from Cooking Light, August 2010 (although I won’t pretend that I measured anything); serves 4

printable version

2  T  fresh lemon juice
2  t  honey
1/4  t  freshly ground black pepper
1/8  t  salt
2  T  extra-virgin olive oil
1  T  finely chopped fresh mint
1  (6.5-ounce) package sweet butter lettuce mix
2  large ripe peaches, cut into wedges
3  oz  very thin slices prosciutto, cut into 1-inch pieces
3  oz  ricotta salata cheese, divided into 4 equal pieces
2  T  dry-roasted sunflower seed kernels
Small mint leaves (optional)

Combine first 4 ingredients, stirring with a whisk. Gradually drizzle in olive oil, stirring constantly with a whisk. Stir in chopped mint.

Combine lettuce mix and peach wedges in a large bowl. Drizzle lettuce mixture with dressing; toss gently to coat. Arrange about 2 cups salad in each of 4 bowls; top each serving with 3/4 ounce prosciutto, 1 piece of ricotta salata, and about 2 teaspoons sunflower seed kernels. Garnish with small mint leaves, if desired.

picture descriptions
food: Water Buffalo black bean burger, Cafe Hollander coffee, Water Buffalo salmon burger, Alterra honey latte, Cafe Hollander breakfast tostado special, Buckley’s Kiskeam Inn restaurant sign, Kopp’s Frozen Custard cows, Water Buffalo side salad, Milwaukee Brew Fest beer glasses

sights: 3rd Ward neighborhood, Milwaukee Art Museum, harbor view, view from park, the Wisconsin Club, view of Miller Brewery, Miller Brewery sign, Harley Davidson museum, Pabst Mansion

Millions of Peaches…Well, Just 4

grilled peaches
Oh my. I realized I forgot to talk about dessert from Saturday. Remember – it’s been a long week and I haven’t been thinking quite as clearly as usual. But still – you thought it was just pork chops and chile rellenos? Meh – you have no faith.. I mean, not that I made pie or oreos or baklava (yep – post coming soon!), but I did make a tasty treat. I can’t invite guests over and leave them without dessert – that’s just bad press. And it’s not nice. I’m nice. Most of the time.

Way before dinner on Saturday, my buddy Jennifer and I were at Green City Market. I didn’t have anything exciting to purchase, but could probably go just to gawk, hoping to run into a famous chef and/or sample all of the peaches and plums, most any weekend. She, on the other hand, had a mission: blueberries. Oh, and the Floriole Bakery scones. Damn they’re good. Blueberry this time. You remember those strawberry scones I made from my blogger buddy‘s site? Mmmmm….. I want to make them with blueberries now, and think I just might with some of those frozen berries from the other weekend. But this isn’t about blueberries. It is about fruit though. Peaches, if you were wondering. Millions of ’em. [Although FYI: I did pick up some lovely green zebras too. Stay tuned!]

grilled peaches

Ok no. Not millions. Although they did have millions at the market – near ’bout. Who knew peaches came in so many flavors! We’d been waiting for those Michigan peaches at the market for a while. I’ve already packed some away in a jar for safekeeping, but I was feelin’ the need for some fresh ones. Some grilled fresh ones. To follow protocol, we first made a bee line to the scones and then wandered around comparing peaches & berries (and prices, of course – gots to find the bargains!) until we decided on Ellis Farms for her berries and my peaches. Of course, Jennifer had some stock in the peaches too, since she was going to partake in their after-dinner glory.

I think people really started grilling like mad this year. I’ve seen a lot of posts about grilled fruit, especially grilled peaches. And although we grill a decent amount of things, I’m afraid my peaches have never really made it to the grill – they made it in my belly though, which is all that matters. But to stick with the grilling theme of the night, I figured why not join in on the fun? And I just happened to have some mascarpone cheese in the fridge. What? You guys don’t keep that stuff hanging around?! Oh snap… Ok – me neither. I had it for Battle Fig but ended up cutting corners and using made-in-baking-class-(frozen)-eclair-shells for another recipe. It was for the best – these peaches were begging to have some of that cheese slapped on them, and otherwise I honestly would not have had that stuff in the fridge.

peaches with mascarpone

I’ve seen a decent amount of grilled peach recipes, from blog posts to cooking magazines and even on NPR. For whatever reason, I didn’t feel like using any of them. I think the premise is pretty simple and you can sorta make whatever you want, but if you choose to use a recipe, you might consider using this one because well, quite frankly, it’s delicious. De-li-cious. yes.

peaches half-eaten

Grilled Peaches w/ Mascarpone & Thyme-Balsamic Sauce
Original recipe; serves 4

Grilling peaches brings out the lovely sweetness of the fruits which pairs perfectly with the slightly sweetened mascarpone cheese for a great taste all on its’ own. But try the sauce with it for an added tanginess. The thyme infusion adds another level of flavor that makes the dessert unique and special. I’m sure this same recipe would be great with figs or other fruits, and I’m sure you could also substitute the thyme with other herbs, like rosemary or my favorite, basil.

4 fresh peaches, washed, halved and cored (peel only if you want – I don’t)
evoo for brushing peaches
1/2 c mascarpone cheese
2 T honey
1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
2-3 T brown sugar
2 sprigs fresh thyme plus some for garnish

Brush peaches with oil. Preheat grill to med-hi. While grill is preheating, prepare cheese and syrup. Mix mascarpone and honey together in small bowl and set aside. In a small saucepan over medium heat, add balsamic vinegar, brown sugar, and thyme springs and let reduce for about 10 minutes, until thick and syrup-y consistency. Remove from heat and let cool somewhat.

Grill peaces for about 3-5 minutes on each side. Add a dollop of cheese mixture into each cored out peach half and drizzle with syrup. Eat peaches in their entirety and then lick syrup from plate. Don’t worry – it’s in the recipe – so you can do it 🙂

Love in a Bottle

fresh blueberries

Chris & I suddenly found ourselves without plans this past weekend and, after a somewhat relaxing weekend prior to this one (other than standing in the cold pouring rain at the opening night of Lollapalooza) it seemed like a good idea to hit the road and head over to the other side of the lake.

I’d already planned to take the day off on Friday, so Chris took it off too and off to Michigan we went. I mean, it is blueberry and peach season after all, and the folks from the lower peninsula AKA “the mitten” sure know how to farm. Turns out, they also know how to harvest some grapes.

me in the apple orchardchris picking blackberries

Our little venture was perfect. We got lucky and scored a cute little B&B in Harbour Country for one night. We used the majority of Friday and all of Saturday to taste wine (and of course buy it, again managing to procure almost two cases despite our two case + purchase in Napa earlier this March), drive the roads that instead of the smattering of skyscrapered skylines are always comforting with their heavy peppering of corn fields and pastures, and get our pick on for some dirt cheap seasonal fruit.

The wineries in southwest MI are refreshing. They aren’t snooty about their wine, but they’re proud and rightfully so. While nowhere near the complexity and richness of the Napa grapes, the MI vintners have a way of making quality varietals at reasonable prices. Our favorite place is Karma Vista and their Stone Temple Pinot (yes, the name isn’t bad either!); I will say we also went to quite possibly the weirdest winery ever and hands down the second cookiest place I can remember (the first being a tired trophy shop on the west side of Chicago – Cheryl and I decided we’d never be the same after that experience). Nonetheless, we loaded up and even discovered some new varieties including Traminette, Bonamego & Chambourcin.

bucket of blueberries

When we weren’t partaking in the grapes of Michigan, we were tackling some of the local fruit and produce farms. Having cleared out some freezer space, I was looking forward to loading up and having some good fruits in the middle of winter. I also wanted to try my hand at making preserves, and had a hankering for a blueberry buckle I’d recently read about. If truth be told, you just can’t get enough of the fresh seasonal fruits, especially if you can pick them yourself and save a little cash. We spent plenty of time at various farms: Lemon Creek for nectarines, Crane’s for peaches, the B&B for wild blackberries, and Earl’s for blueberries. I’m already thinking about how to weave a trip over for Honey Crisp apples and some pears come Fall….

preserve making

Aside from the wine, the mounds of cheap blueberries, peaches, nectarines, and wild blackberries, the real treat of the weekend was the quality time I got to spend with my favorite person. Sure, we live together and see each other every day, but the little road trips, the moments of silence in the car other than Wilco in the speakers, those are the instances I appreciate us. Those are the times I really take it all in, that’s when I sit & think, realizing I am so crazy in love. And so peaceful, so content and so downright slap-happy.

I want to take those memories, all of them, and bottle them up. I want to remember them when times get tough, if they get tough, so that we never forget those moments and so that we use them to build our relationship up rather than to ignore them and break it down. I want us, unlike so many others, to survive. I want us to be this happy forever – just from picking berries, together, in the hot August sun.

These days, love isn’t always enough. Being married isn’t always enough, and seeing each other every day surely isn’t always enough. But being in love, being in love is always enough.

bottled uppreserves

Fruit Preserves
each recipe makes 2 pints

Preserves are downright awesome. It’s a great way to make use of fresh, local fruits. And when you pick them yourself, a great way to preserve the memory as well. If you follow the canning instructions below, the preserves will last up to 1 year. The recipes can be easily modified, but do NOT try to double them as the pectin won’t work with large quantities.

I made three types of preserves: Peach-Cardamom, Blueberry-Lemon Verbena, and Blackberry-Sage.

6 cups of fresh fruit
additional flavorings (for spices/dried herbs I’d recommend 1 t; for fresh herbs 1 T)
1/4 cup fresh lemon or lime juice
sugar to your liking (I used 1 cup sugar, 1 cup Splenda but I saw some recipes that called for 4 cups of sugar; you can also use honey or other sweeteners)
pectin (measure according to package instructions; I purchased pectin for lower or natural sugar jam that also used calcium water that was provided in the package)

special equipment
a large pot for processing canned fruit
another large pot for making preserves
a medium pot for keeping lids warm
something to grab the hot jars (tongs or a special canning tool)
canning jars with sealable lid (has gummy lining) and ring (two pieces)
funnel, optional if you’re neat

Wash the fruit. Peel any peaches, nectarines, etc. Measure 6 cups fruit and place in a large bowl. Mash fruit to desired consistency (based on whether you like your jam chunky or smooth). Mix lemon or lime juice in with fruit and any other flavorings.

In a separate bowl, combine your sugars. Before you start making the jam, make sure you’ve cleaned/sanitized the jars (dishwashers are great here; keep the door closed so they stay warm) and have put the lids in a pot of simmering water (to soften the sealant) and brought another large pot of water to boil for processing.

In a large pot (I used dutch oven), combine the fruit mixture and heat to boil. Add pectin and about 1/2 of the sugar. Mix to dissolve and bring to boil again. Add remaining sugar and dissolve. Let the mix boil rapidly at least 1 minute.

Check the consistency. The jam will ‘gel’ more once it cools, so take a cold spoon and spoon out a little. Once it cools, see if the jam is to your liking in terms of consistency. If not, add in a little more pectin, 1/4 t should work and bring to boil again.

Once the jam is ready, place funnel (if using) atop warm jar and ladle jam into jar leaving 1/4 inch (or more) space. Place seal and ring atop jar and close. With tongs or other device, lower the jar into the large pot of boiling water, making sure it’s submerged fully, and leave for ~10 minutes. (The measurements should make about 2 pint sized jars of jam.)

Remove jars and cool completely, upright and in draft-free space. At some point, you’ll hear a popping sound. If you hear it once, it means the jars sealed successfully. If you keep hearing it, that’s bad and you’ll need to re-process with warm lids.