Critiques, Cravings and Conundrums From the Madison Food and Dining Scene
May 11, 2011
09:56 AM
Small Dishes

Change You Can Believe In

Change You Can Believe In


Sometime in Wisconsin the change of seasons is more a state of mind than a date on the calendar. Spring this year has been disappointing; wet and wishy-washy; big on hope but short on substance. Harbingers of warmer weather can be misleading:  I’ve seen robins in the snow and shorts on State Street when it’s barely above freezing.  So, what are the sure signs that warmer weather is truly here to stay…at least until October (or hopefully, September)?


Sorrel.  Most likely found in the backyard, I’ve spotted this spring herb at Metcalfe’s Market and occasionally at the Farmers’ Market.  Finding it is well worth the effort. Sorrel has a flavor similar to spinach but much sharper.  Like rhubarb leaves, it contains oxalic acid which is great for polishing copper but poisonous.  Fortunately, you’d have to eat a wheelbarrow full of the stuff to do yourself in.  Sorrel pairs phenomenally with cream and is most often used to flavor soups or sauces.


The Betty Lou sets sail. Our very own booze cruise navigates both Lake Monona and Mendota seven days a week.  Both scheduled and private sailings are available, featuring cocktails, brunch, lunch or dinner as well as themed events.


The Farmers’ Market. We’re fortunate to have many farmers’ markets in the area, but the granddaddy of them all is the Dane County Farmers’ Market that takes place on our Capitol Square each year between late April and early November.  But, a sure sign that temperate weather really has arrived coincides with the first produce:  lettuce, spinach and asparagus.


Harvest Asparagus Dinner. This six-course feast take place the first week of June and lauds what is indubitably our state’s favorite spring vegetable. The fixed price menu comes with specially paired wines and tickets must be purchased in advance.


Pimm’s Cup. If you’re not familiar with this old English concoction, I wrote a whole blog about it a couple of years ago—here is the link.  Long associated with the advent of summer in England (or what passes for it there), it’s become popular in the U.S. as well.  After the mint julep, it’s now the most popular drink at the Kentucky Derby.  Traditionally in this country, the recipe is Pimm’s No. 1 Cup and 7-Up or ginger ale over ice, garnished with an orange and cucumber slice, sometimes mint.  Another option is to use a little undiluted frozen lemonade concentrate and club soda as a mixer.  It’s my own toast to the first perfect day in May when I know I can safely put away the snow shovel. (A perky variation that I recently discovered is adding a shot of Effen cumber vodka.)


Morel mushrooms. No doubt half the appeal of this unassuming fungus is its brief season and difficulty to find and therefore high price. Morel aficionados idolize them no less than some fans do rock stars.  Again, I’ve blogged about them at length the past—here is the link. I discovered the joy of morels—both searching for them and eating them—as a small boy in Indiana. After a spring shower, when the sun would come out and the day turned sultry, friends and family would head for the woods.  Now, I just hope someone will give them to me, or if that fails, I buy them at the Willy Street Co-op or Jenifer Street Market.   


Return of the smoker.  I’m not talking about someone addicted to cigarettes, though it is my own addiction I admit. I love smoking food—ribs, pulled pork, brisket or just about anything—even Vidalia onions and garlic! I’m a purest and use a charcoal-fired smoker with a water pan and soaked hickory.  By design, it only works when the temperature outside is above 55 degree.  Well meaning friends bought me a thermal blanket to put on the smoker’s exterior, supposedly so I could “successfully smoke even during the coldest weather” (obviously, the person who made this claim was not from Wisconsin). I admit I should have read the directions before I put it on—there’s a door on the smoker’s front so you can tend the fire and unfortunately I covered it up.  After taking the insulated sheath off—much more difficult than putting it on—it was a little worse for wear.  Finally, getting it back on correctly, it seemed to work … the first time.  Shortly thereafter, it rained, then snowed and got very cold.  For the rest of winter my smoker resembled an r2d2 snowman.

             But, I could care less today since the sun is shinning and I’m even contemplating turning on the a. c. Next on my agenda is my shopping list for my first 2011 adventure on the smoker.



Lamb Chops with Sorrel and Mint


2 tablespoons unsalted butter

2 tablespoons olive oil

8 rib lamb chops, about 1-inch thick

½ cup dry white vermouth

1½ cups shredded sorrel (approximate)

1 tablespoon fresh mint leaves, chopped

½ cup heavy cream

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste


Put the butter and oil in a large heavy skillet and set over medium high heat.  When the butter foam begins to subside, add the lamb chops to the skillet.  Cook for 3 minutes; then turn.  Cook the lamb chops for 3 minutes on the other side; then remove to a hot platter.


Pour the fat out of the skillet; return pan to the heat; and add the vermouth, sorrel and mint.  Increase heat to high and cook, stirring, until the vermouth is reduced by half.  Add the cream and continue to cook, stirring, until the sauce thickens.


Salt and pepper the lamb chops and cover with the sauce.


Serves 4.



Smoked Sweet and Spicy Chicken Wings



2½ tablespoons ground black pepper

1 tablespoon onion powder

1 tablespoon chili powder

1 tablespoon garlic powder

1 tablespoon seasoned salt


Sift the pepper, onion powder, chili powder, garlic powder, and seasoned salt into a bowl to blend.


5 pounds chicken wings, rinsed and dried



1 cup honey

½ cup hot sauce (Panola Cajun Sauce Piquant preferred)

3 tablespoons apple juice


Place the chicken wings in a large zippered plastic bag. Pour in the dry rub and shake to coat the wings well. Marinate for at least 30 minutes at room temperature, or preferably, overnight in the refrigerator.


Prepare the smoker and soak the wood chunks.  Smoke the wings for 25 minutes. Turn the wings and smoke for another 20 to 25 minutes.


Meanwhile, mix the honey, hot sauce and apple juice together in a small saucepan. Cook over medium heat until warmed through.


Place the wings in a disposable foil pan and pour the warm sauce over the wings. Toss to coat evenly. Cover and smoke for another 20 to 30 minutes, stirring occasionally, until nicely glazed. Serve with blue cheese dressing as a dip if you like.


Serves a large crowd.

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About This Blog

Dan CurdI found my interest in writing by accident. My training and first job was as a graphic designer. Unemployed, the only employment I could find in advertising at that time was as a copywriter. Somehow, I convinced Richard Newman & Associates to hire me. Later I learned they were desperate. Madison has been my home off and on since 1957 (nonstop for the past 31 years). I write about food, which I love. – Dan Curd

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