Saturday, May 28, 2016

Tasteful Voyages Visits The Butter Churn - Recipes Included!

The Butter Churn, a charming locavore grocery located in Woodhull, Illinois - site of my very first Tasteful Voyages Event!
Partnering with businesses is a great way to promote a travel business.  I have a friend who opened an AH-mazing locavore grocery called The Butter Churn last July, which includes a kitchen space for rent - and it was here that I hosted a cooking demonstration featuring recipes I've learned in my travels.

The Kitchen at the Butter Churn - yes you may rent it!

I spent five hours on Friday prepping for my demonstration - and it was so much fun hanging out at the shop with Roxie and Joni and meeting the regulars who stopped by during the day.  I planned three recipes:

  • "Meatless Meatballs" a/k/a Polpettini Cacio e Uova (Little Meatballs of Cheese and Egg) learned at the fabulous Palazzo Tour D'Eau in Carunchio, Abruzzo, Italy;
  • Roman Meatballs a/k/a Polpette de la Nonna (Grandma's Meatballs) learned at Cooking Classes in Rome with chef Andrea Consoli;
  • Hot Smoked Salmon, originally from Cooks Illustrated, but using Sitka Salmon available for purchase at The Butter Churn, and reminiscent of the King Salmon we caught last year during a fishing excursion from Sitka, Alaska.  

A visit to this Trabocco, or Fish House, on the Adriatic Sea, is one of the highlights of a week spent at Palazzo Tour D'Eau

Yours truly with a 12 pound King Salmon caught off the coast of Sitka, Alaska
First up was the meatless meatballs.  I sliced the peppers and onions for the very simple sauce, then cut the crusts off of some Italian bread and chopped the soft white part up in a food processor.  Mixed the bread with grated cheese, eggs and parsley, then formed them into "meatballs" (really dumplings) which were then sauteed in olive oil until browned on both sides.  They are finished off in the tomato - pepper sauce (although the dumplings are very tasty as is just after the initial saute.)  Roxie typically prepares soups and casseroles in the shop for sale which are VERY popular; it made me feel good as people came into the shop and asked Roxie "What's cooking?  Smells GREAT!"  Taking a cue from the countless TV chefs I've watched, I prepared everything up to a point so that I could demo the beginning steps and then whip out another batch already prepared.

Sliced peppers

crustless Italian bread, chopped in a food processor

Saute of peppers and onions before adding canned tomato puree

The polpetti sauteeing in Olive Oil

Polpette being finished in the tomato-pepper sauce
Next up was the Roman meatballs.  These are seriously the tastiest meatballs I've ever had.  They are made with a beef/pork mixture and I used the beef that's locally produced and sold at The Butter Churn, along with fresh oregano and parsley also from the Churn.  These meatballs have cheese - Italian cheese as well as Edam, so I substituted locally produced Gouda.  The ground meats are mixed with egg, more bread crumbs soaked in milk, and the cheese, and finally rolled in fine breadcrumbs before being sauteed in olive oil.  They are finished off by being simmered in white wine with the fresh oregano also in the wine and the aroma they give off while cooking is heavenly.  

Shaped "meatless" meatballs and Roman meatballs before being sauteed

Roman meatballs simmering in white wine with fresh oregano and garlic

My final Friday prep was to prepare the brine for the salmon, and get it marinating.  The brine is a simple salt/sugar blend melted in water which both flavors the fish and prevents it from drying while being grilled. 

I must admit prepping these dishes took five hours, and I was a bit nervous about the two hours scheduled for my Demo on Saturday.   Would there be enough time???

Saturday morning I took the brined salmon to the home of Bill & Sherry, which was equipped with the necessary charcoal grill.  Sherry helped remove the pin bones from the salmon before we grilled it.  Smoking the fish is quite easy - the grill is set up for indirect heat (in other words, the burning charcoal is piled on one side of the grill) and a packet of heavy-duty foil with dried wood chips inside is set right on the coals.  The fish (on oiled heavy duty foil) is placed on the "cold" side of the grill, and the grill is covered so the smoke can circulate around the fish.  

Sherry using needle-nosed pliers to pull the pin bones out from the brined salmon filets

The finished product; these small thin filets were done after only about 35 minutes on the grill.

Once the fish was done, I headed back to Woodhull to prepare for the big event.  Roxie had set up chairs for our guests, as well as small plates and cups for sampling.  I had my recipes for distribution, as well as promotional material from Tauck and Tour de Forks for our guests.  (I had on hand First Timer's Guide To River Cruising from Tauck, as well as fliers from Tour de Forks describing 4 of their domestic culinary travel adventures.)

Folks started to arrive a few minutes before the start time, and we started with an audience of over 20 guests!  I'm happy to report that things went very smoothly - the advance prep work was well worth the effort and our guests enjoyed sampling the food and had good questions, both about the food preparation and travel.  

Our audience starting to arrive

The talented Roxie B

Hands on - mixing the meatballs

Audience Participation!  His wife and daughter could not believe it!!!

At the conclusion of the demonstration

I did it!  First travel event / food demo under my belt!

All in all it was a fun event and I felt comfortable and prepared.  I was not nervous about anything except the time scheduled for the class - and as it turned out my cooking demo took only 90 minutes. I hope that I've whetted your appetites, both for cooking and cooking while traveling - and that you'll think of me when planning your next trip!  And now for those recipes...


Polpette della nonna (Grandma’s Meatballs)
8 Servings

Meatball Ingredients:

1-½ pounds ground beef
½ pound ground pork
- 2 eggs
- 2 cups grated Parmesan or Pecorino Romano cheese
- 8 Oz Grated Edam cheese (soft, mild cheese - American cheese may be substituted)
-2 cups milk (for soaking bread)
- 1-cup fresh unseasoned breadcrumbs
- 1 loaf Italian bread, soaked in milk (remove crust, use only the soft part of the bread)
- 1 tbsp. salt
- Pepper

Sauce Ingredients:

- 10 tablespoon of Extra Virgin olive oil
- 2 cloves garlic (remember to keep the skin on as it contains all the nutrients)
- Fresh herbs from the garden (sage, rosemary, bay leaves, marjoram, thyme, etc.)
- 1 ½ cups dry white wine (Trebbiano or Chardonnay recommended)


To make the Polpette (meatballs:)
Soak the bread in the milk.  Mix the ground beef and pork in a bowl, Add the grated cheeses, eggs, soaked bread, salt and pepper. Mix it very well, powerfully, and set aside for a good half an hour to let the flavors develop.  Shape into meatballs, about 1 inch each, and roll them into the breadcrumbs.

To Cook and Create Sauce:

In a large frying pan over low heat, heat the olive oil, then add the whole, unpeeled garlic cloves and cook until the garlic cloves start to brown. 
Raise the heat to medium high, and add the breaded meatballs to the pan.  Cook until brown outside but still undercooked in the inside. Add the wine and fresh herbs, increase the heat to high, cover the pan and cook until the wine evaporates.  (This will cook the meatballs all the way through.) It will take about 10-15 minutes (depending on the size of the meatballs, making sure they will not have undercooked pork while serving.) turn the meatballs carefully once or twice while cooking in wine. . If the meatballs seem too dry, add a little water to the pan. Season with salt and pepper and serve hot.

Wine Pairing: Dry white wine, such as trebbiano, sauvignon Blanc, chardonnay


(Abruzzo Style Meatless Meatballs)
4 servings


6 eggs
1/2 pound of day Old Italian bread, crusts removed, grated
1 pound grated, mixed Parmesan and pecorino cheese
Chopped parsley
Salt & pepper
 4 cloves garlic, chopped fine
Olive Oil for Saute’

Mix the above ingredients (except olive oil) together in a bowl until fully blended.  Form by hand into compact ovals or rounds.
Saute’ the dumplings in the olive oil until lightly browned.  Remove from oil and drain on paper towels while preparing sauce.

 Olive oil for sauté
1 medium yellow onion, sliced
2 medium bell peppers, red and yellow, cut into strips
2 cloves of garlic, minced
2 28-ounce cans of chopped tomatoes
Salt & pepper
Bay leaf

Saute’ the onion, garlic and bell pepper in the olive oil until soft.
Add the tomatoes and salt and pepper.  Simmer 45 minutes until the oil shows on the top of the sauce.  If the sauce seems dry, add some water and bring to a boil.  Drop the browned dumplings into the sauce. Cook and turn gently, taking care to avoid the dumplings sticking in the bottom of the pan.  They are finished when they are spongy.  (About 45 minutes)




1/2 cup kosher salt (or 1/4 cup table salt)
1 cup sugar
1 skin-on salmon filet (about 2 ½ pounds)
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 ½ teaspoons sweet paprika
1 teaspoon ground white pepper
2 Cups Hot Water
5 Cups Ice Water

1.                 Heat 2 cups hot water in small saucepan.  Add salt and sugar and heat until dissolved.  Carefully pour this mixture (Brine)  into a gallon sized zipper lock plastic bag.  Add 5 cups cold water and salmon, seal bag, and refrigerate until fish is fully brined, about 3 hours.

2.                 About 45 minutes prior to cooking, open bottom grill vents and ignite about 4 quarts of charcoal in pile on one side of grill; burn until completely covered with thin coating of light gray ash, 20-30 minutes.  Meanwhile, assemble wood chip pouch by wrapping 2 cups wood chips on 18 inch square sheet of heavy duty aluminum foil; seal to make pouch.  Prick top of pouch at least 6 times with knife tip to allow smoke to escape; place on top of ash covered coals.

3.                 Meanwhile, remove salmon from brine and, using paper towels, blot completely dry.   Place filet, skin side down, on a 30-inch sheet of heavy duty foil.  Rub both sides of filet, especially skin side, with oil.  Dust fillet top with paprika and pepper.

4.                 Set grill rack in place; open grill lid vents and cover, positioning lid with vents opposite wood pouch to draw smoke through grill.  place foil with fillet still on it onto rack opposite fire so that the long side of the fillet is perpendicular to the grill rods.  Barbecue until cooked through and heavily flavored with smoke, about 1 ½ hours. 

5.                 Carefully remove foil and salmon from grill.  Serve either hot or at room temperature, cutting through flesh but not skin to divide into individual portions and sliding spatula between flesh and skin to remove individual pieces, leaving skin behind.  (can be wrapped in plastic and refrigerated up to 2 days.)

1 comment:

  1. Loved it! The samples were so delicious, and what a great venue for this!!!!