Driftless Iowa: Breitbach’s

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Probably the longest standing “to do” place on our list has been Breitbach’s Country Dining in Balltown, Iowa.  We first hear about the place back in 2007, before we even lived in the Driftless Area.  Breitbach’s was featured on Alton Brown’s awesome, but directionally challenged, Feasting on Asphalt: The River Run.  (I say directionally challenged because it would make so much more sense to travel down the Mississippi and end in Louisiana eating etouffee, then up the Mississippi and end with Lutefisk in Minnesota.)  Complicating our longstanding plans to visit Breitbach’s was the fact that since we heard about it, it burned to the groundTwice.  Both times it was rebuilt, however, and it is going stronger than ever.  More recently, it was featured in the documentary Spinning Plates:

 

As an aside, we’ve eaten at two of the three restaurants in Spinning Plates.  The third, La Cucina de Gabby closed down soon after the documentary was made.  Not an uncommon outcome for a restaurant to be sure, but it’s too bad the publicity from the film didn’t help them stay afloat.
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Honestly, we went to Breibach’s just intending to have some pie.  But when we got there they had just started their Saturday buffet and we quickly caved.  We started off with relish-plate-like salads of  braunschweiger, pickled cucumbers, beets and carrots.  After that, we headed for the meats: battered catfish, fried shrimp, broasted chicken, and beef short ribs, served with corn and mashed potatoes and gravy.  Nothing fancy, but very well executed.  Precisely what Midwestern country cooking aspires to.  Oh– there was soup too, but we skipped it in the interest of dessert, since pie was our whole reason for being in Iowa.  We decided to share a slice of the coconut cream pie (I’m firmly in the cream pie camp, Leslie is a fruit pie apologist).  Rather then telling you about it, I’ll just show you this:

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It was, in complete honesty, the best coconut cream pie I’ve ever had.  But if that picture doesn’t convince you, nothing I’m going to say will either.

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Contrary to how it may seem from reading this blog, we don’t just eat.  On the trip to Breitbach’s we also stopped at the National Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium in Dubuque, watched the last leg of the RAGBRAI pull into Guttenburg, enjoyed numerous views of the Mississippi River, and sampled some great honey from Cedar Creek Apiaries (oh, that’s food again, isn’t it?).

Summer Salads

Hello, how are you?  I hope that your summer has been spectacular.  In a little less than one month from today, summer will officially be over.  Keith & I have been celebrating the fine weather by travelling, kayaking, drinking mojitos, making s’mores, gardening, taking Ollie dog on extra walks (or carrying him back home because he’s too hot), hanging out with friends, and basically doing what the Italians call dolce far niente.  The sweetness of doing nothing.  Since it has been pretty hot lately, I’d like to share the three salads that have been on rotation at the Button Hill:  cantaloupe-cucumber-feta, watermelon-lime-feta, and tomato salad.

 Cantaloupe-Cucumber-Feta

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Quiche aux fleurs de courgettes

Hello everyone.  Sorry for the silence.  We have been a bit busy with life lately.  Fortunately, we were able to sneak away a bit to one of our favorite destinations, Italy.  I’m sure I will eventually get to telling you all about it.  Meanwhile, I’m so happy to be back home and to have some kitchen time.  Here’s an easy dish that I made for a wonderful young lady who took care of our Ollie dog while we were away.  I found some baby zucchinis in the garden with the flowers still attached and made a sort of variation of a stuffed zucchini flower dish I helped to make at Plum Lyon last summer.  Since I only had a bit of zucchini, I decided to make a quiche with caramelized onions, goat cheese, fresh herbs, parmigiano, butter and a bit of olive oil.

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“Drifted” Appetite: Elizabeth Restaurant, Chicago

We recently had a superb meal at Elizabeth, a restaurant in Chicago owned and operated by chef Iliana Regan.    As is often the case, our Chicago friends have written much more insightful pieces about the restaurant then you’ll get out of me.  Check out here, here, and here for an interview with Iliana.

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Playing with Violets

Because of the longer, cooler temperatures this spring, the violets have stuck around and have proliferated in lawns all over town.  For awhile now, I have been interested in foraging and eating things from the wild.  Last season, I was most proud of my plum jelly, made with wild plums I found while hiking on Merry Christmas Mine Hill. (Yes, that is really what the hiking area is called.)  My yearning to learn increased even more right after experiencing “New Gatherer” cuisine at Iliana Regan’s Elizabeth restaurant in Chicago. (Keith will post about it soon.)  I had never considered eating violets before.  All I knew was that they made a sound as satisfying as freshly cooked pasta being stirred in a pan when I went over them with our push mower!

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Birthday Cake from Enos Farms

Hello everyone, happy springtime!  It has been absolutely gorgeous here especially with the mist and rain.  The grass is finally green and sparkling with a million water droplets.  I have been checking on my garden almost everyday.  Soon there will be enough rhubarb to make my favorite rhubarb custard pie.  I’ve used chives in just about everything for a week now.  My garlic plants are fat and about a foot tall.  This morning, I spotted a patch of wild violets near my Concord grape vines.  This year, I think I will finally have a go at sugaring some violets to decorate cakes.  Speaking of cakes, I celebrated my birthday recently.  Keith surprised me with a cake made by Erin from Enos Farms.  I had never been so excited to open a box of cake.  A cake in a wooden box with a leather strap!  I seriously imagined a fluffy bunny with a half-eaten cupcake inside.

Box made by Piebox in Chicago

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The Sugar Shack at Cooks’ Woods

The first sign of spring in these parts is when there is available sustenance again, in the form of maple syrup.   This was our third year visiting Cooks’ Woods for their sugaring and open house.  Sugaring in the states can be traced back as far as the 1500′s.  The whole process always feels like visiting an old friend.  As we turned down into their driveway from Ebenezer Rd. there were the familiar rows and rows of Christmas trees (which are sold in season). When the road went up again, there was the humble sugar shack.  The steam billowed out of the chimney and carried the scent of maple syrup.  A little flag with maple leaves on it swayed by the door.  Right when we walked in, we were greeted by an even more intoxicating scent of syrup.  The massive evaporator was to the right.  It can boil off 35 gallons of water per hour.   Ten gallons of sap will make about one quart of syrup (or 2 pints).  We spotted Dave Cook, who wore a bright orange cap, chatting with visitors.

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2014 Wisconsin Grilled Cheese Championship

It’s that time of year– the snow is melting, the wind is a little less frigid, and the Wisconsin Grilled Cheese Championship is coming back.  Just about a month from now, April 27th, the 3rd annual competition will be held at Harris Park in Dodgeville.

We here at Driftless Appetite have been involved with the Championship since the beginning.  First as a competitor (Leslie) and then as a judge (Keith).  Judging at last year’s event was a blast and I was thrilled that they asked me back this year.

I believe right now there are a few slots left open for competitors, but you’ll want to act fast.  Check out the WGCC website or their facebook page for more details.

You should also check out the Wisconsin Foodie episode filmed at last year’s event (see it here).

“Drifted” Appetite: Plum Lyon Teaching Kitchen

I think we can safely say goodbye to the polar vortex now.  Happy springtime to all of you!   A lot of the ice has melted.  The nearby creek is robustly flowing.  Ollie dog and I went for a two hour ramble the other day and he got properly happy and muddy.  Some of the trees were showing off tiny yellow-green buds and it was wonderful to see bright green moss growing on rocks.  Soon the rhubarb will be popping-up its brainy heads in the garden and foragers will be delighted to have morels, wild leeks, fiddlehead ferns, and watercress to pick. Today, my favorite maple farmer, Dave Cook, said that the sap is finally flowing in time for sugaring season.  What are you excited about?

Come along with me to the beautiful city of Lyon to whet your appetite for the upcoming bountiful season.  If you have not been following the blog, check out the first part of my cooking adventure at the Croix-Rousse Market.  We spent a day shopping at the market and cooking up a multi-course meal at Lucy Vanel’s teaching kitchen, Plum Lyon.  Heaven.

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The Walker House Bakery

Keith and I just paid a visit to the Walker House for the opening day of its bakery.  For now, it will be open on Saturdays from 8 AM until noon but orders can be made and picked-up during the week.  The place was abuzz.  There were a lot of items to choose from:  elephant ears, pasties, muffins, cookies, loaf breads, peanut cake bars, donuts, coffee cakes, blueberry pie, caramel apple rolls, cupcakes, sheet cakes, and many more.  We enjoyed some coffee and a few bites of strawberry cream cheese cake.  I ended up chatting with Brooke Garrison, who was filling up the shelves with more treats.  It turns out she was the assistant baker.  She invited me up to the kitchen to meet head baker, Lisa Govier.

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