Wisconsin Weekend: A Culinary Tour Of Lake Michigan

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The shorelines of Lake Michigan offer natural beauty, exciting towns, quaint villages, plenty of recreational opportunities, and of course, delicious food. On this edition of Wisconsin Weekend, our guest takes us on a culinary tour of Lake Michigan, from Door County fish boils to Milwaukee bratwurst, and how to recreate some of the Third Coast’s most iconic dishes at home.

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  • A Culinary Tour Of Lake Michigan's Shoreline Towns

    Food writer Amelia Levin grew up in Chicago. But some of her earliest memories involve visiting Wisconsin’s Door County: jumping off docks, swimming in the lake, frequenting the local fish boil.

    “These are really nostalgic memories that I had,” Levin said. “And I figured, there’s gotta be a way I can capture these somehow.”

    In adulthood, Levin’s visits to the area have helped her see it in a new light: as a culinary landscape defined, in many ways, by the lake it sits along.

    So in a new cookbook, “The Lake Michigan Cottage Cookbook,” Levin is documenting the delicacies of the cities and towns that dot the Lake Michigan shoreline — from Door County, down to Chicago, and all the way around to Michigan.

    “The lake is really the glue that holds everything together,” she said.

    There are, admittedly, some similarities in towns that mirror each other across the lake. For instance, Door County is known for its cherries, and by extension, its cherry pie.

    But the Michigan city virtually directly across the lake from Door County, Traverse City, is also known for its cherries, even hosting an annual National Cherry Festival.

    Just don’t make Levin choose which city’s pie tastes better.

    “If you ask somebody from Door County whose pie is better, they’re gonna say ours, and if you ask somebody from Traverse City, they’re gonna say theirs,” she said. “Cherries grow in those two areas because they’re literally in the same latitude north of the lake, and it’s the same type of climate, and there’s a lot of similarities.”

    Notably, the cherry pie recipe in her book is named for Door County, modeled after her favorite at Sweetie Pies in Fish Creek. It features an all-butter crust.

    “I really like this version of this pie because it’s not overly sugary and sweet,” she said. “But you really taste the tartness of the cherries that come through here without overdoing it on the sugar.”

    Beer-Braised Bratwurst and Onions. Photo courtesy of Storey Publishing

    Further down the lakeshore, when it came to Milwaukee fare, Levin went with the classic Milwaukee bratwurst. She worked with Dave Swanson, owner of Milwaukee restaurant Braise, to develop a recipe to make your own bratwurst.

    But for the less ambitious, she also includes a recipe for preparing purchased beer braised bratwurst. Although even that can be controversial, she laughs.

    “The idea of bratwurst is very politically charged. You either grill it or you braise it or you don’t braise it or you have to grill it,” she said. “You can do what you want with it, but in the book I did include a recipe for braising it, so people might be like, ‘What? How dare you.’”

    Whitefish Tacos with Pickled Red Onions, Red-Hot Aioli, and Guacamole. Photo courtesy of Storey Publishing

    In some cases, Levin took a classic Third Coast comfort food and gave it a slight twist. While she does include a recipe for the classic Door County white fish boil, she also includes one for white fish tacos, inspired by a few she tasted at Wickman House in Ellison Bay.

    They’re a Door County version of classic California fish tacos.

    “White fish can have sort of a plain taste, so the pickled red onions and the heat from the aioli, they really offer a nice balance,” she said.

  • [RECIPE] Door County Cherry Pie

    Door County Cherry Pie

    Excerpted from The Lake Michigan Cottage Cookbook © by Amelia Levin. Used with permission from Storey Publishing.

    A staple in this part of the country (and in Traverse City, Michigan), cherry pie makes for a delicious dessert, afternoon pick-me-up, and even comforting breakfast treat. Traverse City folks will tell you their cherry pie is the best. Door County residents might beg to differ. I’ve found joy in both versions. Some are more crumbly, some are sweeter, others are more tart. Everyone seems to have his or her own nuanced variation. I modeled this recipe after the one from Sweetie Pies in Fish Creek, Door County, but I use an all-butter crust instead of shortening for an even richer, flakier consistency.

    Prep time: 20 minutes

    Chilling time: 40 minutes

    Baking time: 1 hour 30 minutes

    Serves 6–8

    For the pastry 1¼ cups unbleached all-purpose flour ½ teaspoon salt ½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into pieces, cold

    3–5 tablespoons ice water

    For the filling

    ½ cup sugar

    ¼ cup unbleached all-purpose flour

    4 cups well-drained bottled tart Montmorency cherries in unsweetened cherry juice (see Note)

    1 tablespoon unsalted butter, cut into small pieces

    For the topping

    1 tablespoon whole milk

    1 tablespoon sugar

    Note: Save the juice from the bottled tart cherries for poaching pears.

    1. For the pastry, combine the flour and salt in a medium bowl. Add the butter and use a pastry blender or two knives to cut in the butter until it is the size of coarse crumbs. Drizzle 3 tablespoons of the ice water over the top and stir with a fork. Gently knead the mixture with your hands until the dough holds together. If it is dry, add more ice water, 1 tablespoon at a time, and knead until the dough holds together. Shape into two oval disks, wrap each in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least 40 minutes.

    2. Roll one of the chilled dough disks on a lightly floured surface to ¹ ⁄ 8-inch thickness and about 11 inches in diameter. Gently roll the pastry around the rolling pin and transfer it to a 9-inch pie pan or dish. Without stretching the dough, fit it into the bottom and up the sides of the pan.

    3. Preheat the oven to 325ºF (160ºC).

    4. For the filling, combine the sugar and flour in a large bowl. Add the cherries and mix well. Spoon the mixture into the pie shell and top with the butter.

    5. Roll out the remaining dough disk to 1/8 inch thick and about 11 inches in diameter. Drape the dough over the cherry filling. Fold the edges under the bottom crust and flute attractively or use a fork to press down the crust. Cut several slits in the center of the pie to allow steam to escape during baking.

    6. For the topping, brush the milk over the top and sprinkle the sugar evenly over the pie.

    7. Place the pie on a rimmed baking sheet and bake for 1 hour 30 minutes or until golden brown. Let stand on a wire rack for at least 1 hour before serving

  • [RECIPE] Beer-Braised Bratwurst and Onions

    Beer-Braised Bratwurst and Onions

    Excerpted from The Lake Michigan Cottage Cookbook © by Amelia Levin. Used with permission from Storey Publishing.

    Bratwursts in Wisconsin are so much more than just German sausages. Aside from cheese, they’re the signature food of the state, and people have strong beliefs about how they should be prepared. For this recipe, I tried a combination of both braising in beer and grilling. If you’re feeling ambitious, try making the brats yourself.

    Prep time: 3 minutes

    Cooking time: 15 minutes

    Serves 4

    1 (12-ounce) bottle German-style beer or light lager (such as New Glarus Spotted Cow)

    2 tablespoons butter

    1 large yellow onion, thinly sliced

    4 pork bratwurst links

    4 bratwurst buns

    2 tablespoons grainy mustard

    Sauerkraut, for serving (optional)

    1. To cook on a grill: Prepare a gas or charcoal grill for medium-heat grilling. Place the beer, butter, and onions in a heavy-duty foil pan, set on the grill grate, and bring to a simmer. Nestle in the bratwurst and simmer, covered, until the onions are tender and the bratwurst reaches 160°F (71°C), about 15 minutes. Remove the bratwurst from the pan.

    2. Grill the bratwurst on the grill grate until browned on both sides, turning once, about 4 minutes. Grill the buns during the last 1 to 2 minutes to toast them lightly.

    3. To cook on the stovetop: Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onions and cook until just caramelized, about 10 minutes. Pour in the beer and bring to a simmer. Nestle in the bratwurst, cover, and continue to simmer until the bratwurst reaches 160°F (71°C). Remove the bratwurst. Increase the heat to high and simmer the beer and onions until most of the liquid is absorbed and the sauce has a syrupy consistency, about 5 minutes longer. Finish bratwurst by grilling them on an outdoor grill or cast iron grill pan over medium heat until browned, turning once, about 4 minutes. Toast the buns lightly, either under the broiler or in a ridged stovetop grill pan.

    4. To serve, spread the buns lightly with mustard. Place the bratwurst in the buns, and top with the onions and the sauerkraut, if desired. If not serving right away, return the grilled bratwurst to the pan with the beer to keep warm.

  • [RECIPE] Whitefish Tacos with Pickled Red Onions, Red-Hot Aioli, and Guacamole

    Whitefish Tacos with Pickled Red Onions, Red-Hot Aioli, and Guacamole

    Excerpted from The Lake Michigan Cottage Cookbook © by Amelia Levin. Used with permission from Storey Publishing.

    Most Midwesterners are used to eating flaky whitefish served simply with boiled potatoes, incorporated into chowders, or fried up with tartar sauce. But in taco form (akin to the beachside delicacy from Baja), we’re reminded of its freshness and mild, clean flavor, amped up here by some spicy aioli and tangy onions.

    Prep time: 20 minutes

    Standing time: 1 hour

    Cooking time: 6 minutes

    Serves 4

    For the pickled red onions

    1 large red onion, very thinly sliced

    ¼ cup apple cider vinegar

    2 teaspoons honey or agave syrup

    1 teaspoon kosher or coarse sea salt

    For the red-hot aioli

    ⅓ cup mayonnaise

    1–1½ tablespoons sriracha sauce, as desired

    For the guacamole

    2 Hass avocados, pitted, peeled, and diced

    1 jalapeño, seeded and minced

    ¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro

    2 teaspoons fresh lime juice

    1 garlic clove or roasted garlic clove, minced (optional)

    ¼ teaspoon salt

    For the fish tacos

    1 tablespoon vegetable oil

    1 pound skinless, boneless whitefish fillets, cut into 1½-inch pieces

    1 egg, beaten

    ¾ cup panko

    8 corn or small flour tortillas, warmed

    Chopped fresh cilantro, for sprinkling

    Lime wedges, for serving

    1. For the pickled onions, bring 4 cups water to a boil. Separate the onion slices into rings and place in a colander in the sink. Slowly pour the boiling water over the onions and allow to drain. Whisk together the vinegar, honey, and salt in a medium bowl. Add the drained onions and mix well. Let stand at room temperature for at least 1 hour, tossing occasionally. Mix well and place in a glass jar or container. Cover and refrigerate until serving time.

    2. For the red-hot aioli, combine the mayonnaise and sriracha sauce in a small bowl. Cover and refrigerate until serving time.

    3. For the guacamole, mash together the avocados, jalapeño, cilantro, lime juice, garlic, and salt to the desired consistency. Taste and add additional salt if desired. Chill for 15 minutes to blend the flavors. The guacamole may be prepared up to 2 hours before serving, but if waiting longer than 15 minutes to serve, drizzle the lime juice over the guacamole at the end and place a piece of plastic wrap directly on the surface to prevent browning. Stir well before serving.

    4. For the fish, heat the oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Toss the fish pieces with the beaten egg to coat well. Place the breadcrumbs in a shallow bowl and add the fish, stirring to coat. Add the fish to the hot oil in one layer and cook for 3 minutes. Turn the fish over and continue cooking until the fish is opaque, about 3 minutes.

    5. Spoon the fish into the warmed tortillas and spoon the aioli over the fish. Place some pickled red onions and cilantro in the tacos and serve immediately with the lime wedges and guacamole.

Episode Credits

  • Kate Archer Kent Host
  • Chris Malina Producer
  • Amelia Levin Guest

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