Posts Categorized: Food

Local Chefs

Compiled by Allison Croat

While we here are Inspire(d) love cooking local, visiting the Farmers Market, and, of course, eating, we’re no experts (well, except maybe for the eating part). So we asked five regional chefs to give us THEIR local food expertise, first with these three questions:

1. What do you love about cooking locally in the Driftless Region?

2. Do you have a favorite local summer ingredient? Why? (Note: Wow, do these folks LOVE tomatoes!)

3. What’s the first question you would ask your farmer at the local farmer’s market?

And then we requested a favorite summer recipe to share with you all. We know our mouths are watering. How about yours? Season’s Eatings!

Justin Scardina
La Rana Bistro & Driftless Food & Catering • Decorah, Iowa

1. Well I have been cooking in the Driftless Region for nearly 10 years now and I cannot explain enough how gifted we are with all these fantastic farmers and ranchers who produce AMAZING products each and every season. I would have to say that our produce and products rival that of California and other warmer weather climates. Granted no one is growing citrus but I do know one farmer that will have fresh ginger this year! Also every year brings in more and more farmers growing more diverse crops…. fresh sprouts, heirloom everything, mixed greens year-round! I love this region so much that I named my catering company Driftless Food & Catering.

2. I guess I really can’t narrow it down further than the nightshade family, which contains tomatoes, potatoes, eggplant, etc….  Those are the real bounty of the summer months. Plus the whole family is made to be cooked together…and who doesn’t love tomatoes and potatoes?

3. Usually the first question is what is good today/what is new? All the farmers are always trying new seeds and crops and the season for some items comes and goes in a blink of an eye. Usually tomatoes are only around for maybe a month but last year I was still buying tomatoes in late September because of the wonderful weather.

Sicilian Caponata
I thought since I talked up the nightshade family so much I’d feature Sicilian Caponata, basically a sweet-sour eggplant dish. This can be served hot, room temp, as a side, over rice as a main or on top of a bruschetta

1 eggplant, large Italian globe variety, cut into a 1/2″ dice
4 tomatoes, cut into 1/2″ dice
1 large sweet onion, cut into 1/2″ dice
2 cloves garlic, minced
4 T capers, rinsed
5T Parsley, finely minced
3T Basil, chiffonade
1/4 C Red wine vinegar
4T sugar, or honey
1 C Good Olive oil
Salt
Pepper

In a large sauté pan, heat 1/2 c of olive oil over medium heat. Add Eggplant and sauté until soft and slightly brown, about 5-8 minutes. Remove from heat and reserve in a bowl. Using the same pan, sauté over medium heat the onions and garlic until soft, about 4 minutes. Add tomatoes and continue to cook, stirring every so often. After the tomatoes have released their juices, add the eggplant back into the pan and continue over low heat for 10-15 minutes. Add red wine vinegar, sugar, oil and capers and simmer over low heat for 20 minutes, stirring every once in a while. Add parsley and basil and season to taste with salt and pepper. Makes great leftovers!

Stephen Larson
Quarter/quarter Restaurant • Harmony, Minnesota

1. Since my wife Lisa grows organic produce for QUARTER/quarter on our farm, I would have to say the thing I love most about cooking locally is our soil. Our area is blessed with some of the richest soil in the world, and if we care for it as Mother Earth intends, it will reward us with spectacular produce for generations to come.

2. My favorite summer ingredient has to be heirloom tomatoes. They offer such a diversity of colors, flavors and textures that make then so versatile in the kitchen. Since my culinary focus at the restaurant is globally inspired comfort food, heirloom tomatoes offer an abundance of inspiration because they are very important to many ethnic cuisines.

3. The first question I ask from a purveyor at a farmers market is; “How did you get into this business?” The stories you get in response are fascinating and often unexpected.

“Panzanella” – Tomato and Bread Salad
Makes 4 entrée size or 6 side dish size servings

For the croutons:
4 cups 1-inch diced bread cubes (crustless, cut from a sturdy loaf)
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

Preheat an oven to 350º F. Put the bread into a mixing bowl and drizzle the oil over the top. Mix well to coat. Spread the bread cubes out in a single layer on a baking sheet. Place in the oven and bake for 20 to 25 minutes until golden brown. Leave out at room temperature to cool until needed.

For the dressing:
1 small clove garlic
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup shredded fresh basil

Peel and mince the garlic. Sprinkle the salt over it and grind into a paste using a smearing motion with the flat of a wide bladed knife. Put the paste into a large mixing bowl with the oil, vinegar, and pepper. Whisk to blend. Stir in the basil and set aside until needed.

For the salad and to finish the dish:
2 cups large diced ripe heirloom tomatoes (a mixture of colors is nice)
1 1/2 cups finely chopped any one, or mixture of: bell peppers, fennel bulb and/or cucumbers
Dressing
Croutons

Toss everything together and mix well to coat croutons. Leave at room temperature, stirring often, for 30 minutes, then serve.

Tom Skold
Albert’s Restaurant/Tap Room, Hotel Winneshiek • Decorah, Iowa

1. I like the seasonal aspects of cooking in this neck of the woods. The dramatic change of seasons makes people get hungry for certain foods.  It’s an anticipatory thing – once it starts getting warmer outside people start asking for things like cold cucumber soup . . . in the autumn they might start thinking about sauerbraten. They’re living ahead of the seasons, and that adds a certain tension to the air and it shows up in their appetites.

2. Corn is my favorite because it is something I absolutely do not eat unless it’s fresh and local. I love to boil the cobs and make a broth of them for soup once I’ve trimmed the kernels out. For instance I might add sweet and hot green and red peppers and tortillas, etc. to the soup. The things that we enjoy exclusively locally tend to become our favorites.

3. What do you think you’ll have ready next week? And I always ask about varieties (in a nerdy sort of way), especially if I haven’t used a particular one before. There are so many tomatoes, for instance, of varying colors and flavors to choose from. I tend to use flavor profiles and combinations that have spent years in my repertoire – I recombine and find deeper places for them in my cooking. It’s an evolutionary process. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve combined something like bleu cheese and sage, bleu cheese and walnuts, cherry vinegar and the sweet nightshades . . ..

Italian Potato Salad with Fresh Mint
3 lbs. new potatoes, cooked, cooled, quartered
1/2 red pepper, fine diced
1/4 C capers, rinsed, drained
1/2 large red onion, diced fine
2 T fresh mint leaves, chopped fine

Vinaigrette:
1/4 C white balsamic vinegar
3/4 C extra virgin olive oil
8 cloves garlic, minced
salt and fresh ground black pepper, to taste

Mix together potatoes, red pepper, capers, red onion, parsley and mint. In another bowl mix together vinegar, olive oil, and garlic for the vinaigrette. Season the dressing to taste. Dress the potato mixture with the vinaigrette, then adjust the seasonings after taste-testing a potato.

Tessa Leung
Sontes Restaurant • Rochester, Minnesota

1. The wide variety of vegetables and fruits the land and soil can support is amazing. From hot hot peppers to cool cucumbers to tender juicy lettuce leaves… it is almost like a different present is available at the Farmers Market every week.

2. Tomatoes!!!! There is nothing tastier then a tomato that is picked fresh and warm from the sun. They can be delicate, or bold, juicy or dry… their versatility is endless too. Raw, canned, salsa, sauce, salads, stuffed, soups, juiced, deep-fried or grilled… the possibilities are endless… and good for you too!

3. What is the best way to store this item, how long will it usually keep, and of course do you have any special way you like to prepare your produce?

Chef Bryce Lamb’s Thai Omelet with Summer Vegetables
1 large egg
1 tsp fish sauce
2 garlic chives, minced
2 T. butter
1 pinch sugar
(Makes one omelet)

Whisk egg, sugar, fish sauce and chive until well mixed. Heat omelet pan, add butter and let melt. Once butter is melted pour egg mixture evenly into pan. Cook until egg mixture is set and has a nice light golden color. Remove and let chill on a plate in the fridge. Repeat process until you have made the number of thin omelets you desire. (Omelets will hold for about two days covered in fridge). Fill with desired vegetables and roll up like a fruit roll up.

For the filling, you can use an assortment of vegetables from the farmers market such as radishes, baby carrots, bok choy, cabbage and/or leaf lettuce. For crunchier vegetables such as carrots, blanch in boiling water and then shock in an ice water bath. Radishes can be thinly sliced. You can also mix an assortment of summer vegetables into a salad and toss with light dressing of citron vinegar, olive oil, salt and pepper before inserting into the omelet roll up.

Gina Prange
People’s Food Co-op & Hackberry’s Bistro • La Crosse, Wisconsin

1. I?love cooking for the Co-op deli because I?have the freedom to choose the freshest ingredients. We have a brilliant organic produce manager, Roger Bertsch, who has established long-term relationships with several local farmers and producers that has resulted in a wealth of quality produce available to us. I?love cooking for a receptive audience; our members know the importance of and appreciate great food!

2. Locally grown, just-picked heirloom tomatoes – any kinds… all kinds…Sun Gold, Brandywine, Amish Paste, and so many more. Seed Savers Seed Exchange in Decorah has an infinite variety of tomato varieties. The taste difference, I think, is really striking between the complex flavor blast and refined texture of an in-season tomato and a mealy, hard, off-colored, out-of-season one. Tomatoes are so versatile too, from ratatouille to BLTs to a thick slice with only balsamic, salt, and pepper, they are as easy or as complicated as you want them to be.

3. What’s especially good right now?

Quinoa Salad with Asparagus &?Cherry Tomatoes
2 cups quinoa, cooked – rinse quinoa first. Bring it to a boil in 5 cups of water and allow it to boil for about eight minutes. Drain the water off and return it to the pot. Cover it and let it sit off the heat for about 10 minutes.

Prepare as directed and toss together:
1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved
1-1?2 cups fresh asparagus, cut in 1-inch pieces and blanched in boiling water for 2 minutes, drain, and rinse cold
1?2 cup red onion, diced
1 small cucumber, peeled, seeded, and diced
1 cup toasted almonds
1 cup crumbled feta (leave out for vegan option)
1?2 cup fresh basil, julienne
1?2 cup fresh parsley, minced
1?4 cup fresh mint, julienne

Whisk together until emulsified:
1?2 cup extra virgin olive oil
Juice and zest of one lemon
1?4 cup red wine vinegar
1?2 T. black pepper
1 t. salt
1T. fresh garlic, minced

Toss everything together and dress. So easy, so fresh – enjoy this perfect summer dish!

Kick It Up With Kickapoo Coffee

18

By Aryn Henning Nichols
Originally published in the Feb/March 2010 Inspire(d) Magazine

The room is literally abuzz. If caffeine were palpable, you could carve your initials in the air at Kickapoo Coffee headquarters in Viroqua, Wisconsin. Cups line a shelf, half-filled, grounds stuck to the lip after a morning cupping session.

Caleb Nicholes and TJ Semanchin, co-owners of Kickapoo Coffee along with Denise Semanchin, are busy tasting espresso. A basket (or gruppa) of ground espresso beans is thrust under my nose, “Smell like blueberries?” Caleb asks. He moves on like a mad scientist, working quickly and making plenty of noise as he grinds, whirs, and thwacks the various tools it takes to make the perfect cup of coffee. Oh, that elusive perfect cup.

 

“We totally geek out on coffee,” says TJ. “The other day we used the same type of beans, brewed the same way, but with three different kinds of water. And the coffees were all completely different from each other.”

Therein lies the most difficult aspect of the Kickapoo crew’s – and any other coffee roasters’ – trade. The bean is merely an ingredient to be properly prepared, like asparagus or sweet corn. It’s sometimes compared to the nuances of wine grapes: the origin of the bean, growing and cultivation practices, and ways it’s dried, stored, and roasted are all of utmost importance. Every coffee-producing region makes a different tasting bean and every roaster processes it in its own unique way. But the finished product, the cup, is not up to any of this. It’s up to the barista or the mere at-home-coffee-drinker to heat the (right) water correctly, grind the beans to the perfect consistency, and steep it not too long, but not too short. It’s not bottled and corked with an “open on” plan.

“You send the coffee out and trust that the consumer will prepare it properly,” TJ says. “There are so many variables.”

But Kickapoo closely controls the variables on their end to help you start with the very best ingredient. That begins for these roasters with a melding of Fair Trade AND great-tasting beans. And they’re quick to note these things are not always synonymous, although they’re striving to make it more so.

“The Fair Trade price is just the floor – it only covers the cost of farming,” TJ explains. “We want to do better than that, treat the farmers better, and we want to help them learn that if they put a little more work into the quality of their beans it will really pay off.”

They became owner-members of Cooperative Coffees to help further this cause. A fair trade importing business owned by 23 like-minded roasters, Cooperative Coffees sets the bar higher for the fair trade world. According to the Kickapoo website, the Coop’s pricing minimum is 10 cents above fair trade standards at $1.61. (“A price that in practice we routinely exceed,” Kickapoo says.) They also offer farmer-partners pre-harvest financing. Kickapoo imports more than 80 percent of their coffees through this avenue.

As Kickapoo and the other Cooperative Coffee partners grow in popularity, it’s the hope that consumers will realize these beans are not just good politics, but are the best-tasting as well.

“It’s about getting those two things to combine and cross. It’s at the core of what we do,” TJ says. “And we do it for our own sake too – we love to drink a good cup of coffee.”

This commitment has helped get their business buzzing (pun intended). Kickapoo Coffee was named 2010 Micro Roaster of the Year by Portland-based magazine, Roast, and has received favorable nods from Consumer Reports and Coffee Review. In just over four years since their first roast in November of 2005, they’ve grown Kickapoo to produce 1700 pounds of coffee each week – and last year they even saw a profit: no small feat for any new business. It seemed that fate led them all to the tiny Wisconsin town of 4,400 people.

With Organic Valley headquartered in La Farge, Wisconsin, just 15 miles from Viroqua, many locals were knowledgeable about what they put in their bodies and where it came from. TJ, originally from Buffalo, New York, came to know Viroqua through his work with Minneapolis-based roaster Peace Coffee, where he pushed for social change in the industry for years, spurred on by his travels in Latin America that focused on sustainable development. He was convinced that fair trade, organic coffee farming could change the face of rural Latin America. When he and his wife, Denise, were planning on expanding their family, they also planned on a move.

“I didn’t see myself in a city long term. Viroqua was on the radar for a long time,” says TJ. “It’s a hotbed for organic farming. We planned to move here and start our own roastery.”

Unfortunately – or so it seemed – someone had “beaten them to the punch.”

Caleb had begun Kickapoo Coffee with his sister, Haley Ashley, after having roasted coffee at home for the past five years. Originally from the West Coast – Oregon and then Idaho – Caleb has spent most of his life dedicated to food and drink, including three years as a boutique European wine importer. This work took him all over Europe, but it was family that brought him to Southwest Wisconsin.

When TJ decided to introduce himself to the new Kickapoo Coffee roasters, it appeared Caleb’s talented palette was a perfect match for TJ’s years of experience.

“I knew right away we could work well together, so I asked if they wanted to join forces,” TJ says. It turned out there was nothing unfortunate about the combined Kickapoo team. They all bring various talents to the table: Caleb is the head roaster, in charge of roast profiles. Denise, currently taking a leave to be a stay-at-home-mom, maintains marketing and outreach. Hallie is the office manager, doing much of the business-end/paperwork-side of things, and TJ is a self-proclaimed “Jack of All Trades,” being able to pinch hit in any of the positions should it be needed.

“No one’s really sure what exactly I do around here,” he says, joking.

The roastery is housed in Viroqua’s old train depot, a formerly vacant historic building that Kickapoo restored. The restoration process, like their business, was focused on sustainability. They reclaimed studs, salvaged trim and wainscoting, installed efficient heating and recycled insulation, and sourced local carpenters for their custom storage bins and cabinets.

The result is a bright, warm space that has a comforting feel and retro appeal. The vintage 1930s German roaster (that even runs on handmade Amish belts!) and complementary mint-green vintage canner help this aesthetic along, and the sustainable good looks continue with their packaging: reusable, recyclable steel cans containing 80 percent post-consumer recycled steel that bear the artwork of Viroqua-based woodcut artist. And their one and five-pound coffee bags are biodegradable.

(UPDATE: Kickapoo has moved on up! Their new (and gorgeous) headquarters are located at 1201 N. Main St., Suite 10, Viroqua. They host public cupping events regularly, so like them on Facebook to get the next one on your calendar!)

Although they ship coffee all over the county, they’ve also gained local popularity. The bulk of their beans is hand-delivered or shipped within a 200-mile radius.

These smart business practices don’t stop with their roastery; they also strive for a sustainable home life, working just four-day weeks so they can spend time with family.

“It’s kept us really efficient,” TJ says. “I don’t think we’d get any more work done even if we spread it out over five-days.”

Of course, it makes sense. Family values fit right in with the laudable vision that has made Kickapoo Coffee what it is.

“We’ve been very clear about what we set out to do,” says TJ. “Having and staying true to that vision makes it easy to make decisions in our business. We know what the right thing to do is before the question is even asked.”

Find lots of great information about coffee, Fair Trade, Kickapoo and more at www.kickapoocoffee.com

Aryn Henning Nichols spent many mornings attempting to achieve the perfect cup of coffee after this interview. She was successful about half the time. Must be something in the water…

Where to get Kickapoo Coffee in the Driftless Region:
Decorah: Oneota Community Co-op, Magpie Coffeehouse
Winona: Mugby Junction Café, Bluff Country Co-op
La Crosse: Pearl Street, People’s Food Co-op, Root Note, Sip & Surf
Viroqua: Chilito Lindo, Driftless Fair Traders, Harmony Valley Farm CSA, OZone, Viroqua Family Market, Viroqua Food Co-op

Below is a run-down on the best brewing and storing practices, directly from the coffee masters themselves (see more info at www.kickapoocoffee.com).

Brewing is a critical aspect of making great coffee. It is extremely important to follow a few basic guidelines related to water quality, temperature, equipment and grinding. Below is a list of general coffee brewing principles. For more specific brewing recommendations, please click on one of the brewing icons.

WATER
Excellent coffee requires excellent water ­– there’s no way around it. Do not use distilled water; instead use filtered water, spring water, or Artesian well water. Minerals are important for coffee flavor so reverse osmosis water, while filtered, will not yield optimum results.

TEMPERATURE
Coffee tastes best when brewed between 195 and 205 degrees Fahrenheit. Most drip coffee makers don’t quite hit this temperature. You can achieve this range on your stove by bringing water to a boil and letting it rest for a minute or two. Do not use boiling water – it will cook the nuances out of the beans.

 GRIND
For best results, we recommend a burr grinder because it produces a much more consistent grind (though a blade grinder is still preferable to pre-ground coffee). As a general rule, coffee should be ground finer for quick extractions like espresso, medium for the auto-drip method and coarser for slower extractions like the French press. Measure your coffee first before putting it into the grinder and only grind as much as you need per brew. Once the coffee is ground, its flavor will immediately begin to deteriorate.

 STRENGTH
A general rule of thumb is 2 rounded tablespoons, or 8 to 10 grams, per 6 ounces of water. If you like a weaker or stronger cup, adjust the amount of coffee you use, not the grind of your coffee. A grind that is too fine under a long extraction period will taste bitter and over-extracted, while a grind that is too coarse will taste weak and diluted. Remember that the full expression of the coffee will become most evident as the coffee reaches lukewarm temps, so drink slowly and appreciate your brew as it cools off. If it is too strong, or too weak, this is when you will taste it most.

 STORAGE
Coffee should be stored in a dark, cool, dry place (like a kitchen cupboard). Our coffee cans are ideal storage vessels so feel free to use them throughout the season. The only time storing coffee in a freezer is appropriate is when you have more than a few weeks’ supply. If you do use the freezer make sure to put the coffee in an airtight container.