Cider-Glazed-Brussel-Sprout

Wow!! Fall came on fast and hard! We’ve had really mild temperatures the last few weeks, at least during the day. Even the nights haven’t been too bad, but just the other day Fall decided to make its presence known. Not that I’m complaining. I love this weather. The best part is lazy weekend mornings when I can wrap up in my bathrobe, toss my slippers on and just chill out for an hour or 2 before I start my day. Okay, that may not be the best part of Fall, but it sure ranks up there.

I was going to post about our adventures last weekend but I realized that I hadn’t bothered to take any pictures and a post without pictures or a recipe would be pretty boring. So, sorry for not writing up a full post, but I still want to quickly relate our adventures from last Saturday. I was a beautiful Fall day and my wife wanted to surprise me with a drive through Amish country, so we hopped in the car and headed over to Columbia County. I was a great drive, like the ones I remember from being a kid when taking a “Sunday” drive was a popular pastime. You know the kind of drive I’m talking about, ones where the trip is as important and even more so than the destination. Once we hit Columbia County we quickly ditched the main roads for some of the smaller county roads in order to enjoy the Fall color and catch a glimpse or 2 of the Amish working the fields. It wasn’t long before we came upon a gentleman plowing up his field with a team of 6 horses. My daughter was thrilled as she had never seen anyone work a field with a team of horses.

Little did I know that my wife had a rough agenda planned out, and soon after that first encounter we made our fist stop, at Salemville Cheese Factory, which makes a couple of my favorite blue cheeses, Amish Blue and Salemville Gorgonzola. The factory is a co-op that provides many of the local Amish farmers with a quick way to sell their milk. The best part is how much of the process is still done by hand and it shows in the quality of product they produce and sell. If you haven’t ever had the chance to try their cheese it is well worth trying to track it down.

As we continued to tour the back roads of Wisconsin we hit a number of farm stands, most run by the Amish, although not all were. The next important stop was Pleasant View Bakery and one of my new favorite places. Just outside of Dalton, WI, a small, unassuming sign let’s you know you’ve found the right place. A large field/parking lot filled with buggies (belonging to the workers) and cars, greets you. As you walk towards the main house the lack of any electrical or telephone wires announces that you are indeed on an Amish property. The bakery is around the side of the house and down a small incline, but chances are you will be stopped quite a ways before you reach your final destination due to the line of people, all waiting for a chance to scoop up some the culinary delights of this bakery. Yes, you are going to wait, as the retail outlet can only hold about 10 people at a time. Luckily the line moves rather quickly, and the aromas coming from the bakery seem to draw you in. We waited almost an hour, and in my opinion it was well worth the wait. The small, basement retail shop is dimly lit by a couple of kerosene lanterns, and is packed with bakery goods of all descriptions. While it would take way too much space to list all everything they offer, a rundown of our purchases that day will give you a good idea of everything they make. We bought 2 loaves of bread, 1 white, 1 onion-cheddar, 1 pecan pie, 1/2 dozen fresh donuts (some sugar coated some glazed chocolate), a giant soft pretzel, and some kind of donut topped with fresh cherries (for my daughter). While I could only see part of the bakery beyond, from what I can tell everything is completely handcrafted without the convenience of electric mixers and if the constant smell of burning wood was any indication, everything was baked in wood fired ovens.

I had brought my camera with me, but the day was just so laid back and enjoyable I just never seemed to bother to pick it up and shoot and pictures. Columbia County is a beautiful place this time of year and well worth the trip. You can find Salemville Cheese Factory and Outlet at:
W4481 County Rd. GG
Cambria, WI

Pleasant View Bakery is located at:
N9543 Kiefer Rd.
Dalton, WI

With winter coming on Pleasant View scales back their hours of operation to Fridays and Saturdays only.

I leave you today with a great Fall side dish. Wanda picked up a stalk of Brussel Sprouts the other day so I whipped up this recipe to accompany Oven Roasted Chicken. It’s quick and simple and loaded with Autumn goodness.

Cider Glazed Brussel Sprouts
serves 4

1-1 1/2 pounds Brussel Sprouts
3 slices Bacon, preferably thick cut
3/4 cup Cider
2 Tbl. Cider Vinegar
2 Tbl. Maple Syrup (the real stuff not pancake syrup)
salt
pepper

Clean and trim the Brussel Sprouts and cut in half.

Brussel-Sprouts-cut

Chop the bacon and in a large sauté pan, cook until brown and crispy. Remove the bacon, leaving the rendered fat behind and add the Brussel Sprouts. Saute, tossing occasionally, until the sprouts begin to carmelize

.

Brussel-Sprouts-Caramelized

Add the cider, syrup, and vinegar, along with 1/4 cup of water, cover and cook for 5 minutes. Remove cover and continue to cook until most of the liquid evaporates and the sprouts are nicely coated in glaze.

Brussel-Sprouts-Cooked

Add the reserved bacon, along with salt and pepper to season and serve.

It’s been a long, hard couple of weeks the last few weeks. Work has been difficult as I’ve had supervisor out sick so I’ve been covering her shift, along with all of my work. It finally culminated on Friday when I had to let go of one of my supervisors. While normally I have no problems firing someone (because most often it has been because they weren’t doing the job and I have no tolerance for that kind of thing) this one was different as she had been doing a good job. Unfortunately, a drop in revenue made it necessary to eliminate a position. While the rational side of me knows I had no choice as I had to do what was best for the company, and for my remaining staff (if I didn’t lay off one then they would all have had to go to part time) the emotional side of me was wrecked over this difficult task. Unfortunately, this scenario has been playing out way too often in the recent years. Too many people I know have lost jobs due to downsizing or loss of revenue. I feel lucky that I still have a job, but my heart goes out to the many that have been unemployed for months and months. It is my hope that our elected officals can come together, put their petty partisan politics aside and come up with a solution to help the economy and the American people get back on their feet.

While I could go on and on about politics and the crappy weeks I’ve had, that’s not what you are here for so I should probably bring it back around to food. In my last post I promised a number of beet inspired dishes so today’s offering is a wonderful Autumn time side dish, Roasted Beets. Add to those beets some onion and a few cloves of garlic and you have a dish that delights both the sense of taste and smell.

While this recipe works well with red beets, I prefer to use golden, Chioggia, or candy stripe beets. These beets tend to bleed off less color than your standard red beets, keeping the onions and garlic from taking on a pinkish hue. If that doesn’t bother you or you can’t find anything other than red beets go ahead and use the red.

Roasted Beets with Garlic and Onions
serves 4

2 pounds beets (I used a mixture of golden and Chioggia beets)
1 large onion
8-12 cloves garlic
3-4 small sprigs rosemary
3 Tbl. extra virgin olive oil
salt
fresh ground black pepper

Preheat your oven to 350°F. Peel the beets and cut into 1-1 1/2 inch cubes. Place in a baking dish. Peel the cloves of garlic and place in a bowl. Peel the onion and cut into bite sized wedges and add to the garlic. Add the olive oil to the garlic and onions and toss to coat. Season with salt and pepper then pour over the beets. Add the sprigs of rosemary to the baking dish then cover the dish with aluminum foil and bake. After 45 minutes minutes remove the foil, increase the temperature to 400°F and continue to cook, stirring occasionally until the vegetables are tender and slightly browned (approximately another 20-30 minutes). Serve immediately.

Not too long ago I made my last trip of the season to The Little Farmer. For those of you who read this blog regularly, you know this is one of my favorite places in all of Wisconsin. Well, they will be closing up for the season here in the next week or two. I had to stop by though and pick up a couple gallons of cider, one for drinking now and one to freeze to use for hot spiced cider over the Christmas holidays. I also wanted to pick up some apples to make apple butter.

Apple butter is one of those foods that seem so daunting to those not in the know, but really apple butter is very easy to make. Nor does it take a lot of “special” ingredients. I’ve even made passable apple butter using store bought applesauce as the base, though starting from fresh apples will give you a much better product.

While apple butter is time consuming to make-it cooks for a couple of hours over low heat and needs to be stirred regularly or else it will burn-it also is very easy. So easy, in fact, that you don’t even need to peel or core the apples. Both peels and cores provide a good amount of pectin, which helps your apple butter to set up.

When making apple butter, I usually like to use a variety of apples to round out the flavor. At the very least, I like to use 1 tart variety of apple and one sweeter variety of apple. Often though, I will use 3-4 varieties. While their subtle nuances will be lost in the long cooking process, their more general attributes provide a great complexity of flavor.

You should get 10-14 1/2 pint jars of apple butter. More than enough to last throughout the year, with plenty left to use as gifts for the holidays.

Apple Butter
8 pounds apples (try to use at least 2 varieties)
2 cups water
4-5 cups granulated sugar (more or less depending on your yield)
1/2 cup cider vinegar
2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 tsp. ground ginger
1/2 tsp. ground clove
1/2 tsp. ground allspice

Cut apples into medium sized chunks, core and all. Place in a large, nonreactive stock pot along with water and cook over medium high heat until the apples turn to mush.

Place cooked apples in a food mill and force through, discarding peels, cores and seeds.

Measure apple puree and add 1/2 cup of granulated sugar to every cup of puree. Place apple and sugar mixture back into nonreactive stock pot, along with vinegar and spices. Reduce heat to medium low and cook, stirring often, until done (about 2 1/2-3 1/2 hours). To tell if apple butter is done place a small plate in the freezer to chill. Test the apple butter by placing a dime sized mound of apple butter on the frozen plate and return to the freezer for 4 minutes. Apple butter is done if the mound holds its shape and no water separates from the apple butter forming a thin ring around the mound. At this point apple butter might not be completely smooth. I prefer it smooth so I then blend the mixture with a wand blender, cooking for another 10 minutes after blending to force out any air I might have added to the mix through the blending process.

While apple butter is cooking sterilize 12-14 1/2 pint canning jars, lids and rings. When apple butter is done, ladle into canning jars, leaving 1/2″ head space. Add lids and secure with rings. Process in boiling water for 10 minutes. Remove to a rack and allow to cool. It any lids don’t seal after 2-3 hours place the unsealed jars in the fridge and use up within a week.

Apple butter has many uses, from glazing carrots and winter squash, to becoming the base of a wintertime BBQ sauce, to accompanying a cheese course or as a filling for a tart, but my favorite way to enjoy apple butter is just to spread it on a hot biscuit that has first been smeared with butter. There’s nothing better!!!

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Fall is in full swing and I am thrilled! This is my favorite time of year. The crisp, cool air, the sharp scent of burning leaves and fireplaces, the beautiful autumn colors as the trees change, and of course, the food. As the weather starts to turn cooler I leave behind the thoughts of light, refreshing meals and start thinking about warmer, heartier, more comforting types of foods; soups, chili, stews, pastas with rich, hearty meat sauces, and slowly braised or roasted meats. Fall also means many of my favorite fruits and vegetables are being harvested. Apples immediately come to mind as they are my favorite fruit, but also mushrooms, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, mushrooms, winter squashes and many root vegetables. Fall also means the opening of one of my favorite places, The Little Farmer. Technically, they open in summer, early August to be exact, selling early season apples and peaches they bring in from a friend of theirs, in Michigan. I admit, I take my first trip out there, soon after they open, to pick up one of their apple muffins, which are to die for, and for which I usually start craving by mid July. Arriving at The Little Farmer in the midst of the summer heat seems wrong, but I need my muffin fix so you’ll find me out there either opening weekend or the week after.

After that first, initial fix, I usually wait until the weather starts to change and they start to harvest the later varieties of apples.
Little-Farmer-3229

Some of the varieties they grow and sell are Cortlands, Russets, Jonamac, Honeycrisp, Duchess, Paula Red, Ginger Gold, McIntosh, and Empire. They also grow and sell pumpkins, so there is usually a trip out there with the daughter to pick pumpkins for Halloween.
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You can choose any of the many hundreds of pumpkins they have already harvested or you can head out to the fields and harvest your own.

But if you think that The Little Farmer is just a roadside stand and U-Pick farm you would be missing out. It has become a one stop shopping adventure. A place to get out, enjoy the weather and a little rural fun. There are hayrides to be taken, a corn maze to navigate, freshly dipped caramel apples to be eaten, goats to be fed, and a fantastic playground with a twenty foot tall mountain of hay bales to be climbed. There is also a craft barn filled with seasonal bricabrac. The main apple house itself is filled with more knickknacks.
Little-Farmer-3209

But this is where you can buy many of the food stuffs either prepared right on the premise or manufactured for them. All the wonderful baked goods, including the aforementioned apple muffins are produced on site, as is the cider, while many of the pickles and preserves are manufactured for them, according to their specifications.

Once Labor Day arrives, the place gets busy on weekends and they often offer entertainment or events throughout the autumn, including a Dog Walk, when people can bring their dogs for the day. And what would any weekend event in Wisconsin be without brats. Each weekend The Little Farmer allows a group to come in and do a brat fry to raise money for their group or charity.

My wife laughs at me, but I bet from the time they open, in August to the time they close in mid November, I venture out there at least 6-7 times or more. But I love the place! It reminds me of days gone by when we, as a nation, were much closer to our agricultural roots. I also like to help out local farmers and businesses, and it doesn’t hurt that I really like the product they produce!

If you are interested in visiting The Little Farmer, they are located on Hwy. 151 about 10-15 minutes north of Fond du Lac, Wi, on the east shore of Lake Winnebago, in Malone, WI. You can find them on the web here. If you are in the area stop by and, at least, grab an apple muffin.

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