We’re getting out our warm, cozy Midwestern comfort food recipes for fall… and we’ve got LOTS, so expect more of them as the cold hits! This is a recipe straight from Darlene Nueske, Bob’s wife, and her two sisters. We had this dish in our recipe book long before the recent Cauliflower Renaissance of the past few winter seasons. Whether it’s due to the carbohydrate reduction craze or just because of a growing general interest in incorporating more vegetables into our diets, people are warming up to cauliflower as nutritious carb substitute. This recipe sure proves that it’s a meal-worthy vegetable!
It’s nearing the end of summer up here and this means the end of Midwestern grilling season. The lower part of the country probably gets to hang on to the warm weather for a while, but in Wisconsin, we’ll be packing up the sunscreen and lawn chairs pretty quickly. We’re guessing that you’ve probably seen images of hardened tailgating Northwoods Packer fans. We hunker down in our green and gold, tending our grills in the drifting snow, wearing aprons and stocking caps at the same time. Understand that when we say “the end of grilling season”, what we mean is that we can no longer wear shorts while we cook out of doors, but we won’t let it stop us from preparing Wisconsin specialties on our grills on any day of the year.
At first glance, this recipe might look like a winter vegetable dish, but it’s very fresh with lots of bright flavors, and if you serve it cold, it would make an excellent summer picnic or potluck dish, just make sure you double the recipe if you’re serving a bigger crowd. Plus, it’s almost time to start picking those green beans out in the garden, at least if you’re in our Midwestern neck of the woods.
BLT season is almost upon us. The farmer’s markets up here in Wisconsin are starting to open and soon the market tables will be full of produce in addition to the pre-garden season tables laden with jars of local honey, last season’s salsa or pickles, and pure, golden maple syrup. Soon there will be more zucchini than any one cook can handle, golden and deep purple beets, small creamy potatoes, tall bundles of dill, and then… the reds and yellows of REAL tomatoes. Nothing you can buy at the store, no matter what the season, ever compares to tomatoes like this. Tomatoes from the garden. Tomatoes that smell like leaves of the plant they came from – you know what we mean if you’ve ever brushed up against or crushed a tomato plant leaf. There is NOTHING like it. In a state that has such an abbreviated growing season, we wait all year for this round, juicy bounty.
Another Baconfest Chicago has come and gone and let us tell you: BFC 2014 – the sixth annual – was the biggest and best Baconfest we’ve ever seen – and we’ve seen our fair share of pork parties. Three sessions comprised of over 170 of Chicago’s best restaurants competing for the coveted Golden Rasher award and serving up dishes ranging from crispy Bacon Tacos and warm Bacon Griddle Cakes to Bacon-Laced Risotto and a variety of Bacon-Infused Cocktails, there was a bacon-serenading barbershop quartet, porky costume contests, and even a spot of porcine poetry. Nueske’s was proud to supply nearly 7,800 pounds of our deeply smoky bacon to the chefs and partners of Baconfest Chicago this year.
One of the Baconfest special features nearest our heart is the Nueske’s Amateur Bacon Cookoff, featuring recipes created by individuals who are not culinary professionals. Each year, we’ve been impressed with the quantity and quality of recipes entered in the cookoff and the skill and care with which these amateur cooks create their recipes. The quantity and quality of recipes entered in the 2014 Cookoff was the most impressive that we’ve seen, to date. The level of creativity and skill surpassed what we expected from any group of non-professional cooks, even from the talented populace of Chicago.
Many amateur cooks entered, but only five earned the right to be the finalists at Baconfest Chicago. The five finalists in the Nueske’s Amateur Bacon Cookoff were:
These are one of our favorite appetizers right now because they taste like summer, especially if you can get your hands on some really good little grape tomatoes. We’ve been getting lucky and have been able to get tomatoes that don’t taste like they were grown in the deep freeze. The sweet-tart tomato, creamy-milky mozzarella, smoky bacon, and balsamic glaze all really get along and even a novice cook can probably pull this recipe off without a hitch. Here’s how to make them:
NUESKE’S APPLEWOOD SMOKED BACON, FRESH MOZZARELLA, & TOMATO SKEWERS
- 1 lb. Nueske’s Applewood Smoked Sliced Bacon
- 1 lb. container ripe grape tomatoes
- 1 lb. container of Belgioioso Ciliegine Fresh Mozzarella Balls
- Balsamic Glaze (we used Cucina Viva Traditional Balsamic Cream)
- Small Skewers or Bamboo Picks
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For those of you who enjoy a really serious breakfast, corned beef hash is about as hearty as it gets. A meal that originally arose as a frugal way to extend the last bits of cured beef with stomach-filling potatoes, it’s now a breakfast classic both here in the U.S. and across the big pond. Nueske’s corned beef hash is made with savory corned beef and tender diced potatoes. If you are currently – or have ever been – eating your corned beef hash out of a can, please do yourself a favor and try ours. You won’t go back to the tinned stuff.
Our favorite way to serve (and eat) our corned beef hash is simple (2 steps!):
A few weeks back, on Twitter, Grub Report shared what seemed to us to be a pretty good idea: They took a recent gift of Pimento Cheese, made a sandwich out of it, and fried that sandwich in Nueske’s bacon fat. People come to us with terrific ideas for our bacon – and its leavings – on a fairly regular basis, but this particular sandwich really stood out for a couple of reasons:
1) It’s straight-up comfort food. In Wisconsin, this has been a particularly wicked winter, both in terms of temperature and general cold-weather malaise. Cabin fever kicked in hard and early. It seems like – all New Year’s resolutions aside – comfort food is attractive to most everyone in our state right about now, and if it’s warm, cheesy, and wonderful, it’s a winter winner.
2) Pimento Cheese is amazing. While it’s truly a Southern thing, if you look at the ingredients, you would swear that a Wisconsinite must have created the first batch, save the more spicy elements. Shredded sharp cheddar cheese, real mayo (paramount importance!), pimentos and various other zesty, savory ingredients, like worchestershire or your favorite hot sauce, all mixed up and equaling one big, tasty amalgam of things we like to eat. There are loads of pimento cheese recipes out there but we ordered the good stuff from our friends at Zingerman’s. They make this right over in Ann Arbor. It’s worth noting that Grub Report used the pimento cheese from Zingerman’s for their sandwich, too. If you are intent on making your own, start here.
3) It’s grilled in bacon drippings. Nueske’s Bacon drippings. Since we smoke our bacon for quite a bit longer than your standard supermarket brands, you won’t see as much grease left in your pan after cooking our bacon; a lot of it cooks out in the smokehouse. If you cook up a pan or two of our smoky slices, you’ll still have enough drippings for a decent batch of these sandwiches… and some bacon to enjoy, on the side. If you really want to guild the lily, you could add the bacon slices to this sandwich, but the faint smokiness of the drippings is really enough flavor and doesn’t compete too much with the pimento cheese… but do what you will! People have long used our rich, smoky bacon drippings for popping popcorn and even basting other meats during the roasting process, but as the “butter” in a modified grilled cheese? We had to try it.
On the rare occasion that we give a special tour at Nueske’s, almost invariably the favorite thing for our guests to observe is a skilled Nueske’s team member hand-glazing our spiral-sliced hams. It involves a blow torch, our unique blend of honey and spices, and a fair amount of talent is needed to avoid scorching the glaze. We’ve even had some Wisconsin celebrities (Stephanie Klett, Kyle Cherek) try their hand at glazing a Nueske’s ham, with varied results and tons of enthusiasm.
Wisconsinites know that winter is almost upon us and we respond accordingly by pulling out our stash of warming comfort food recipes and getting things simmering on the stovetop. Here’s a list of our top three favorite winter soups. While we certainly aren’t going to dissuade you from ordering a ham or turkey just to try one of these soup recipes, a route you might want to go is order one of our Applewood Smoked Hams or Turkey Breasts for the holidays and then try your hand at making a soup recipe or two with the leftovers – if there are any.
Smoked Ham & Potato Soup (Recipe Here)
We adore dairy products and take nearly every opportunity to use our home state’s bounty of good milk and cheese. We really enjoy this soup for how hearty, simple, and satiating it is; everything we look for in a soup for the chilly winter months. We use Wisconsin Cheddar Cheese (Hook’s is a good one!), fresh butter, diced potatoes, smoky ham and green onions. This soup only takes about a half an hour to get on the table, so you can whip this recipe up after work, with no trouble.