Speckled Hen innkeeper wins B&B cook-off

Gotta love those Thanksgiving leftovers. Turkey soups, pot pies and casseroles stretch one bird into many meals.

Thanks to the Wisconsin Bed and Breakfast Association, we also have tasty ways to savor leftover cranberries – and good reasons to buy additional bags of the tart fruit. Nobody grows more cranberries than Wisconsin, which harvests more than one-half of the nation’s crop.

The cranberry was a mandatory ingredient during the association’s first members-only recipe contest. Being a judge with travel writer Beth Gauper (www.midwestweekends.com) and cranberry expert Lorry Erickson was one of the more enviable jobs that I’ve had this year.

Lorry is director of the Cranberry Discovery Center in Warrens, a great field trip for families to foodies. Learn about our state’s cranberry heritage and harvest, then sample and shop for cranberry products.

“Crazy About Cranberries,” monthly cooking classes at the center, are educational entertainment. The cost is $10 for a 2.5-hour session. Upcoming topics and dates: cranberry appetizers, Jan. 10; pastry and pies, Feb. 14; cranberry salads and salad dressing, March 14; and preserving cranberries, April 11.

The B&B cooking competition was tough, and we judges had spirited discussion before awarding first place to Pat Fischbeck of the Speckled Hen Inn, on 50 acres just west of Madison. She and husband Bob have turned their 4,000 square foot home into a luxurious, rural getaway.

Guests are near the capital city but closer to Cherokee Marsh and other conservancy acreage.

Check-in instructions include how to put a log on the soapstone wood burner, and the makings for s’mores (the chocolate, marshmallow, graham cracker treat) are available. So is a projection TV with 100-inch-wide screen – perfect for watching a Packer game or movie from the DVD library.

A glass of the house wine, Prairie Fume from Wollersheim Winery, is complimentary – but the Speckled Hen also has a wine license, so guests can buy and sip from the Fischbecks’ extensive collection before heading to bed (there are the four guest rooms).

Expect to see chickens everywhere. Figurines, paintings and other images of the bird define the décor; “thousands of chickens have come to roost here,” Pat says, and she no longer has room to display all of her collection at once.

Happy, a friendly 14-month-old Goldendoodle, also lives at the Speckled Hen. In the cozy library – which overlooks the family’s menagerie of other pets (horses to llamas) – are shelves filled with cooking and gardening books (two of the innkeepers’ passions).

Behind pasture is a woods of pine and spruce, home to deer and wild turkey, and Stark Weather Creek. “It’s great for snowshoeing” or hiking, Pat says.

Expect breakfast to be served by candlelight. “We use familiar ingredients in unusual ways,” says the innkeeper. One example: curry-cumin popovers, filled with scrambled eggs, plus a hash of sausage, sweet potatoes and apples.

Everything in the Speckled Hen’s winning contest recipe can be a “made in Wisconsin” ingredient. That includes the spice blend, which comes from Wauwatosa-based Penzeys Spices (www.penzeys.com).

We judges loved this combo because it is creative and portable, making it easy to eat and run in the morning.

WISCONSIN BREAKFAST PANINI

8 slices Italian bread
8 thin slices baby Swiss cheese
8 slices apple wood smoked bacon (cooked until crisp)
1 large, red, crisp apple (cored, thinly sliced)
4 tablespoons cranberry-cherry chutney (recipe below)
Melted butter, for grilling

Assemble sandwiches by stacking ingredients in this order: 1 slice bread, 1 slice cheese, 2 slices bacon, apple slices, second slice cheese. Spread 1 tablespoon chutney on final slice of bread, and place it chutney-side down on the sandwich.

Repeat the process for the other 3 sandwiches. Brush outer side of bread slices with melted butter. Place in panini press or heavy skillet; grill until bread is golden brown and cheese is melted.

Cut sandwiches in half or in quarters. Serve warm, with additional chutney, if desired.

CRANBERRY-CHERRY CHUTNEY

1 cup water
1 cup sugar
12 ounces cranberries (fresh or frozen)
1 / 2 cup cider vinegar
1 cup chopped, dried Door County cherries
1 teaspoon Penzeys Baking Spice (a blend of cinnamon, cassia, anise seed, allspice, mace and cardamom)
1 peeled and cored apple (diced)

Bring water and sugar to boil in a medium saucepan. Adding remaining ingredients and return to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for about 15 minutes, until the apple is tender and cranberries have popped. Cool and refrigerate.

The runner-up recipe, from the Old Rittenhouse Inn, Bayfield, was served impressively with the strip steak of bison raised near Rice Lake.

WISCONSIN CRANBERRY ‘BORSCHT’

2 1 / 4 cups rich beef, veal or bison stock
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 1 / 2 cups peeled red beets (cut in small wedges or diced large)
1 carrot (peeled and diced large)
1 1 / 2 cups fresh cranberries
2 tablespoons sugar
1 cup finely shredded cabbage
Kosher salt and freshly ground white pepper (to taste)
4 tablespoons butter

In medium saucepan, bring stock, vinegar, beets and pinch of salt to boil. Simmer over medium heat until beets are tender, about 25 minutes. This recipe can be done a day in advance, up to this point, and brought back to a simmer at service time.

Add carrots; simmer 5 minutes more. Add cranberries, sugar and cabbage; simmer 3 minutes more. While simmering, swirl in butter, taste and adjust with more sugar, salt and/or pepper. Spoon borscht onto center of each plate. Arranged cooked meat slices on top. Add a scoop of mashed potatoes.

In third place was the Westby House Victorian Inn and Restaurant, Westby. Make your favorite waffle recipe and add this yummy topping.

CRANBERRY WAFFLE TOPPING
AND CINNAMON CREAM SYRUP

1 cup fresh or frozen cranberries
2 cups tart apples (pared and diced)
1 1 / 2 cups sugar
1 / 8 teaspoon cinnamon
1 / 4 teaspoon nutmeg
1 / 8 teaspoon ground cloves
1 / 2 cup water (divided)
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1 / 2 cup coarsely broken walnuts (for garnish)
1 cup whipping cream (for garnish, optional)

Combine cranberries, apples, sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and 1 / 4 cup water in a medium-size saucepan. Heat, stirring constantly, to boiling, then cook for 5 minutes. Smooth cornstarch and remaining 1 / 4 cup water into a paste in a cup; stir into cranberry mixture. Cook, stirring constantly, until mixture thickens and boils 3 minutes. Divide evenly on 8 waffles.

For syrup:

1 cup brown sugar
1 / 2 cup light corn syrup
1 / 4 cup water, divided
3 / 4 cup evaporated milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 / 2 teaspoon cinnamon

In a medium-sized saucepan, combine the brown sugar, corn syrup and water. Bring to a boil; stir for 2 minutes or until thickened. Remove from heat, stir in evaporated milk, vanilla and cinnamon. Serve with waffles and cranberry topping.

Honorable mention went to the Augusta Victorian Rose B&B, Augusta. The jam comes from a local and family-owned company (www.gingerbreadjersey.com), which also produces cheese. Orange supremes are what remains when the rind and white pith are removed from an orange; hold the orange in your hand and run the blade of a knife down each section to retrieve the supremes.

SUNSHINE WAFFLES WITH MY EASY CRANBERRY SAUCE

For waffles:
1 cup orange juice
4 eggs (separated)
1 cup flour
Dash of salt
1 tablespoon sugar
1 1 / 2 teaspoons baking powder

Preheat waffle iron. Beat orange juice and egg yolks. Stir together dry ingredients. Beat egg whites until stiff. Combine juice/yolk mix with dry mix, until well blended. Gently fold in egg whites. Pour batter into waffle iron and heat until golden brown. Serve hot.

For sauce:
1 jar Gingerbread Jersey Cranberry Apple Jam
Zest from 1 orange
Supremes from 1 orange
1 / 4 cup sugar (to taste)
1 teaspoon freshly grated ginger (to taste)
1 1 / 2 cups fresh or frozen cranberries

Mix all ingredients in a saucepan and heat on medium-low heat until the cranberries are cooked through. This is excellent when made the day before serving.

For more:

Speckled Hen Inn, 5525 Portage Road, Madison: www.speckledheninn.com, 877-670-4844.

Old Rittenhouse Inn, 301 Rittenhouse Ave., Bayfield: www.rittenhouseinn.com, 888-611-4667.

Westby House Victorian Inn and Restaurant, 200 W. State St., Westby: www.westbyhouse.com, 800-434-7439.

Augusta Victorian Rose B&B, 306 Baldwin St., Augusta: www.augustavictorianrose.com, 715-286-5719.

Wisconsin Cranberry Discovery Center, 204 Main St., Warrens, www.discovercranberries.com, 608-378-4878.

Wisconsin Bed and Breakfast Association: www.yestobliss.com, 715-539-9222.