Welcome to the Speckled Hen Inn

Eating Fresh, Eating Local in April

April 10th, 2013 by Pat Fischbeck

Eating fresh, local produce begins to become a real possibility now that the snow has melted away from the garden beds and wooded hillsides of our Madison Wisconsin Bed and Breakfast.  We look forward to serving fresh nibbles from our greenhouse pots and outdoor herb beds sometime in early April.

Already the pea shoots in the greenhouse are ready for snipping to add flavor and fresh color to breakfast plates.  They were so easy to grow.  Just simply pushing a pea seed down into a small container of potting mix rewarded us with quickly growing pea vines.  We may start more this week to keep a supply going until time for the outdoor gardens to supply us with more.

Chives in The Garden at THe Speckled Hen Inn in Madison WI

Chives in April

A few warm days will awaken our chive plants and then guests at our breakfast table can look forward to Wisconsin Cheddar and Chive Biscuits to accompany their farm-fresh scrambled eggs.

The ramps will be popping up in the woods behind the house soon too.  Ramps, also known as spring onions, ramsom, wild leeks or wood leeks, and wild garlic are an early spring vegetable.  They are a perennial wild onion with a garlic-like scent and a pronounced onion flavor.  They have become very popular with many local farm-to-table chefs and you will find dishes featuring ramps on many of their April menus.  We like to serve them fried with potatoes and bacon or sauteed and creamed to tuck into puff pastry shells then filled with scrambled eggs.

Here is a little tidbit for our Chicago guests:  The city of Chicago takes it’s name from the native tribe’s word for the ramps that were found growing in dense clusters near Lake Michigan.  They called the plant “shikaakwa” (chicagou).  The ramp is also considered by many folk medicine practitioners to be a Spring tonic.

We will also be watching our garden beds for the first shoots of asparagus.  What we find in the local markets now is tempting but just can’t begin to compare with eating fresh local asparagus especially when it comes right from our garden to our kitchen.  I’m dreaming of asparagus with poached eggs and lemony hollandaise sauce and bacon wrapped asparagus.

The first fresh local fruit of the season will also appear in April.  Hidden under the quickly melting snow we discovered that our rhubarb plants were all ready to unfurl their crinkly leaves and send up those tart juicy stalks.

Wisconsin Wildflowers at The Speckled Hen Inn

April 7th, 2013 by Pat Fischbeck

In spring the native Wisconsin wildflowers at the Speckled Hen Inn are amazing.  The property has a wide range of growing conditions from the hillside covered with oak, hickory and hackberry trees to the marshy grasslands that border the banks of Starkweather Creek.  Spring has finally arrived in Madison Wisconsin so the snow is slowly melting into the earth and soon we will be marveling at how quickly things seem to pop up.

Wildflowers at The Speckled Hen Inn in Madison WI

Bloodroot Blooming at The Speckled Hen Inn

One of the very first wildflowers we expect to see are the Bloodroots.  I’ll notice little clusters of white flowers on the hillside in the wooded areas.  If you break the stem on the flower, you will see where it gets it’s name.  The red-orange sap is quite bright.  There is a nice cluster of these that are really happy to be a part of one of the flower beds just outside my office window.  The soil must be pretty fertile there because these are always quite a bit larger than the ones up in the woods.  The flowers open fully on a sunny day and close at night or if it is really cloudy.  Sometimes I will notice tiny little black bees collecting the pollen from the flowers.  The length of time that the flowers last depends largely on the weather.  If it is cool, they will stick around for a couple of weeks.  The clusters of leaves last much longer.  But, eventually they just disappear into the overall carpet of green.

The next wildflowers we will notice come quickly.  Suddenly we will notice Spring Beauties, May Apples, Bell Wort, and Jack in the Pulpits popping up everywhere in the woods.

May Apple wildflowers at the Speckled hen Inn in Madison WI

Emerging May Apples at The Speckled Hen Inn

The May apples will look like little green thumbs poking up out of the ground when we first notice them and than before you know it you will notice and entire bed of little green umbrellas.  Under the umbrella there will be a single white flower that will develop  into the “apple”.  Large areas of the woodland floor are covered with patches of these plants.

Not all of our wildflowers are welcome even though they may be pretty.  We have to battle the invasion of garlic mustard and dame’s rocket just like most of our neighbors.  We try to encourage the native wildflowers to flourish and ban the non-native flowers that threaten to overtake the native guys.  It is a never ending battle although every year we hake a little progress.

The very first wildflowers we discovered on the property are the State Wildflower of Wisconsin.  Soon after we purchased the land we were exploring the areas along the un-named creek and found several clusters of wild violets.  We have, since that time, found them all over the property.  The seem to have a pretty good tolerance for a wide variety of growing conditions because we find them in the dry shade on our wooded hillside and also mixed with the wild sedges along the creeks.  They thrive in my rock garden.

Trillium wildflowers in bloom at The Speckled hen Inn in Madison WI

Trillium at The Speckled Hen Inn

 

Spring Break Getaway Road Trip

March 26th, 2013 by Pat Fischbeck

Spring Break time has finally arrived and the innkeepers at The Speckled Hen Inn Bed and Breakfast in Madison WI know you are just dying to get out of the house and enjoy some sunshine and fresh air.  What better way to do this than to take a little road trip.

Less than an hour’s drive out highway 12 from Madison you will find Wollersheim Winery in Prairie du Sac, WI.  Their winery is open daily from 10-5 and the historic winery offers tours, tastings and fun shopping and sight-seeing on any early spring day.  Select a few bottles to take home with you or become a member of their case club.

Carr Valley Cheese

Carr Valley Cheese

What pairs better with wine than cheese?  And right across the river in Sauk City you will find a Carr Valley Cheese store.  They are producers of some of Wisconsin’s finest Artisan Cheeses made from cow, goat, or sheep’s milk or combinations thereof.  Try a sample and ask about pairing a cheese or two with the wines you just purchased.  Your innkeepers will happily provide you a board, cheese knife and some wine glasses when you return to relax at the Inn.

 

 

 

But first, while you are in the area head back in to Prairie du Sac and make a stop at the Ferry Bluff Eagle Council Overlook to see the American Bald Eagles.  The overlook is just 2 blocks south of the Highway 60 and Highway 78 intersection in Prairie du Sac, right along the Wisconsin River.

What a great way to shake off the winter blahs and get out to enjoy some of the Best of Wisconsin.

February + Chocolate = Love

February 1st, 2013 by Pat Fischbeck

February is finally here and we are looking forward to putting something chocolate on the breakfast table at The Speckled Hen Inn every single day this month.  Our very first offering this month will be our Mexican Hot Chocolate Cream for desert after breakfast.  This little bit of comfort food provides just the right touch of chocolatey goodness to put a sweet finish on our bountiful breakfast.  A slightly larger portion would make a decadent desert after dinner or a late night chocolate splurge.  We serve it warm so the consistency is somewhere between thick sipping cream and a spoonable chocolate mousse.  Garnish the little cup of cream with a bit of lightly sweetened whipped cream and a sprinkle of chocolate or cinnamon.

Mexican Hot Chocolate Cream from the kitchen of The Speckled Hen Inn

3 Egg Yolks

February Desert

Mexican Hot Chocolate Cream for Desert

1/2 cup Sugar

2 cakes of Ibarra Mexican Chocolate chopped into pieces

1 cup Whipping Cream

1 cup Milk

In a medium saucepan whisk together the yolks and sugar.  Add cream and milk and begin cooking over medium heat whisking constantly.  As the milk begins to warm add in the chopped chocolate and continue cooking and stirring until the chocolate has melted and the mixture thickens to the consistency of thick cream. Do not allow to boil.

Serve warm topped with whipped cream and shaved chocolate or cinnamon sugar.

Serves 10-12 (demitasse cups)

The 12 Treats of Christmas – #4 Spritz Butter Cookies

December 9th, 2012 by Pat Fischbeck

These pretty little cookies are second only to cut-out Christmas cookies in being the cookie that will really dress up a holiday cookie tray.  They are quick to make and only need a few sugar sprinkles or a candied cherry in the center to make them sparkle.

This recipe is a bit less sweet than most spritz cookies and the finely ground almonds make them very tender.  The almond and butter flavors develop as the cookie is stored so they really are one cookie that isn’t at it’s best just out of the oven.  Give them a day or two and they will be heavenly.

I used a cookie press to make mine.  They can also be piped through a bag with a tip.  I think that the press is easier.  Cookie presses are inexpensive but seldom used except at Christmas time.  You might want to borrow one from a family member, friend, or co-worker just to save storage space.  My mom is the only person I know who actually wore one out!

Cookie Press Christmas Cookies

Cooling Spritz Butter Cookies

Spritz Butter Cookies

1/2 cup blanched almonds

3/4 cup sugar

1 cup unsalted butter

1 large egg

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1 teaspoon almond extract

2 cups all-purpose flour

pinch of salt

 

In a mini food processor chop the almonds to a fine powder.

Soften the butter slightly and place in the large bowl of an electric mixer with the almonds and the sugar.  Cream these three ingredients until fluffy.  Add the egg and extracts and beat until blended.  On low spead, gradually add the flour and salt and mix until incorporated.

Spoon the dough into the cookie press and following the manufacturers directions form the cookies using your favorite Christmas Cookie shape template.  I used trees and rosettes today.  Space the cookies about 2 inches apart on ungreased baking sheets.

Decorate your unbaked cookies with glace cherries, sugar sprinkles, or dragees.

Bake for about 10 minutes at 375 degrees or until the cookies are a pale golden color.

Remove from the baking sheet, cool, and store for at least a couple of days before enjoying.

The 12 Treats of Christmas – #3 Rosettes

December 8th, 2012 by Pat Fischbeck

We saw a few flakes of snow this morning and more is predicted tomorrow…finally!  It wouldn’t be Christmas in Wisconsin without snow and it wouldn’t be Christmas at The Speckled Hen Inn without a batch of Rosettes on hand to garnish the morning fruit plates.  We make them to resemble snowflakes but dust them with spiced sugar to pair nicely with winter fruits.  We always have to save a few for our friend, Jay.

Making Rosettes does require some special equipment.  You will need a Rosette Iron.  They come in lots of fun shapes but the snowflakes are my favorites.  You can find them at specialty cookware stores especially in areas that have a Scandinavian heritage population.  You can also buy them online at Fantes.  Rosettes are fried in oil so having a deep fryer with a thermostat to keep the oil at a constant temperature is important.

It does take a bit of time to make a batch of Rosettes.  So, put on some Christmas carols and some comfy shoes and let’s get to work.

Rosettes

Rosette Snowflake Cookies

Rosette Snowflakes

1 cup flour

1/2 cup evaporated milk

1/2 cup water

1 teaspoon sugar

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 egg

Mix milk, water, sugar, salt, and egg together with a whisk until the sugar has disolved.  Sift in the flour gradually whisking frequently (Yes, it would be nice to have 3 hands).  Let the batter rest for an hour or two in the refrigerator.

Heat at least 2 inches of oil in a fryer or pan to 365 degrees.  Place the rosette iron in the heating oil so that it seasons and gets hot too.  Lift the iron out, shake off the excess oil.  Dip the iron into the batter but only until it covers 3/4 of the iron. (Do not cover entire mold with batter…there won’t be a way to remove it from the mold!)  Hold the iron in the batter for a few seconds, lift it out and shake off any excess batter.

Dip the batter-coated mold into the hot oil.  As soon as the Rosette begins to brown slightly, lift the mold, and let the Rosette drop gently into the hot oil.  If the batter sticks (and it probably will the first time) try using a wooden chopstick to “help” it release.  Turn the rosette over to cook for an extra few seconds.  Using tongs or a spider lift the finished rosette out of the oil and let it drain on paper towels.

While the Rosettes are still warm, sprinkle with a mixture of 1 cup granulated sugar and 1 teaspoon of Penzey’s Baking Spice or just cinnamon.  Let cool completely.  Store in air-tight containers.

The 12 Treats of Christmas – #2 Mexican Wedding Cakes

December 7th, 2012 by Pat Fischbeck

Think about Christmas foods and the first thing that pops into your mind is a Christmas cookie.  Sweet, buttery, nutty, chocolate bites that transport us to our childhood days and fill a kitchen with the smells, sights and sounds of holiday preparation.  The great personal reward for a busy day of shopping, wrapping, or making last minute gifts is a cup of tea and a couple of cookies.  The perfect thank you gift for a holiday hostess is a tray of cookies.

Cookies come from the heart and the hearth.  Some are treasured family recipes, reminders of holidays at Grandma’s house.  Others are from ratty looking clippings from a newspaper or magazine that sits in the recipe file until December every year.  Or they may be a healthy bite filled with the trendiest ingredients to keep you fueled through the holidays.  Whatever your idea is of a perfect cookie and IF you need an excuse to tie on an apron, Christmas time just has to be the time to preheat the oven and create some cookie magic.

Here is my recipe for Mexican Wedding Cakes.  They also go by many other names.  You will recognize them when you see them.  These small powered sugar covered, tender discs are so worth the minimal effort required to produce them.  The recipe calls for toasted pecans but I’m going to experiment with making them with the black walnuts that we collected from our land this year…I’ll let you know how it goes.

Russian Tea Cakes

melt-in-your-mouth Mexican Wedding Cakes

Mexican Wedding Cakes

1/2 cup pecan halves

1 cup powered sugar

pinch of salt

1 cup unsalted butter

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour

1 1/2 cups powered sugar for topping

Place the pecans on a cookie sheet and bake, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes or until lightly browned.  Cool completely.

In a food processor with a metal blade, process the sugar with the pecans and salt until the pecans are powder fine.  Cut the butter into a few pieces and add it to the work bowl.  Process until smooth and creamy.  Scrape the sides of the work bowl.  Add the vanilla and pulse in.  add the flour and pulse in until the dough starts to clump together.

Scrape the dough into a clean bowl, cover tightly, and refrigerate for 1 to 2 hours.

Measure the dough into 1 -inch balls and roll between the palms of your hands.  Flour your hands lightly of necessary.  Place the balls 1 1/2 inches apart on ungreased cookie sheets.  Bake for 15 to 20 minutes at 350 degrees or until the cookies barely begin to brown.  Rotate the cookie sheets if necessary to assure even browning.

 

Cool the cookies on the sheets for 2-3 minutes.  Using a small metal spatula, lift the cookies from the baking sheet and roll them in powered sugar while they are still hot.  Roll them several times to achieve an even powdery coating.  Place the cookies on a wire rack to cool completely.  dust again with powdered sugar and store in a airtight container at room temperature.  They will keep for about a month (but they probably won’t last that long!)

The recipe makes about 4 1/2 dozen cookies.

The 12 Treats of Christmas – #1 Caramel Peanut Butter Popcorn Balls

December 6th, 2012 by Pat Fischbeck

Back in the days when middle school “Family Living” class was a little more like my high school home-ec class, my daughter came home with a recipe that has become a family favorite during the Holiday Season.  I’ve made these special popcorn balls for family Christmas stocking-stuffers, for holiday fund-raising auctions, and for the treat bowl at The Speckled Hen Inn.  I hope that you enjoy them as much as we do.

Popcorn Ball

Our Favorite Popcorn Balls

Caramel Peanut Butter Popcorn Balls

10 cups of popped plain popcorn

12 caramel candies unwrapped

24 regular marshmallows

1/4 cup peanut butter

1/4 cup butter

Pop the popcorn and keep warm on a non-stick rimmed cookie sheet in a 250 degree oven.

In a large saucepan melt butter, peanut butter and caramels together over low heat stirring constantly.  When the caramels are almost completely melted add the marshmallows and stir until melted.

Pour the caramel mixture over the popcorn and mix together.  Oil your hands and shape the mixture into 8 round balls.  Be very careful.  The caramel mixture is very hot and will stick to your hands.  I’ve found that wearing food-service gloves sprayed with Pam works very well for this task.  When the popcorn balls are cool, wrap individual balls in plastic wrap tied with holiday ribbon.

Enjoy and check back with us for 11 more Christmas Treats.

 

 

Madison’s Top 10 Things to do in Fall and Winter

October 26th, 2012 by Pat Fischbeck

Yahara Channel in Winter

The Yahara River in Winter

Madison Wisconsin is a lovely place for a spring or summer getaway but don’t forget just how charming this city can be in the cooler, even frigidly cold, months of the year.  Here is a list of the top or first 10 things that the innkeepers at The Speckled Hen Inn recommend to their visiting guests.

1.   The Dane County Farmers Market  The largest producer-only farmers market in the nation is a year-round affair.  In mid-November the market moves indoors to the Monona Terrace Convention Center and then after Christmas you can visit the market at the Mifflin Street Senior Center.  You will be amazed at the bounty of the market while the gardens sleep.  The markets just before Christmas are a wonderful source of supplies for decorating, gift-giving and holiday feasts.

2.   Madison’s Restaurant Scene  Creative chefs, farm-fresh ingredients, and the quirky spirit of Madison combine to present a dazzling variety and abundance of really fine eateries.  Visit one of the tiny ethnic cafes on State Street or one of the big boys with stars after their name and you will be very well fed.  This is why we always ask guests what they want to eat before we start recommending restaurants.  Guests could starve to death before we get to the end of the list of Madison’s great places to eat.  A favorite dining scene for us is a window seat at a restaurant on the capitol square on a snowy evening.  It’s pure magic.

3.   University of Wisconsin Campus  UW keeps things lively in the winter seasons with their sports and cultural offerings.  Take in a basketball or hockey game, men’s and women’s for both.  The Hall of Fame in the Kohl’s center is worth a visit even if the team is on the road.  Recitals, concerts, and theater really get going in the winter months and Sunday afternoon at the Chazen Museum is a seasonal delight.  Stroll through the galleries while listening to the live music performed in the atrium.  That famous ice-cream is available all year round at Babcock Hall or the Memorial Union.

4. State Street  Madison’s well-known pedestrian mall that connects the capitol square with the UW campus is always a lively place to enjoy a cup of coffee, ethnic dining, or browsing the bookstores, boutiques and galleries.  During the holiday season it twinkles with thousands of white lights.  State Street Posters is one of our favorites and is the source of much of the art work in the Madison Lakes room at the Inn.

5.  University of Wisconsin Arboretum  1,200 acres of nature right in the center of the city provide residents and guests with ample space to walk off some of that fine dining.  The prairie and woodland areas and Lake Wingra attract abundant wildlife.  Occasional night-walks conducted by the naturalists on staff introduce participants to the wonders of nature that we seldom experience during our daylight encounters with the world.  Can you identify an owl by its hoot?

6.  Madison’s City and County Parks  Golf, picnics, and tennis give way to sledding, skating and skiing in the coldest months.  Most parks remain open in the winter and are a great spot for walking and admiring the city without the crowds of summer.  The lakeside parks are occasionally decorated with nature-made ice sculptures and the ice-fishing huts on the lakes themselves are, at the very least, a photo-op that proves how crazy those folks in Madison really can be.

7.   The Lakes  There are 5 of them here.  Two of the largest are right in the center of the city and we managed to just squeeze the downtown area between them and then spread the rest of the city around the perimeter of them.  What is more relaxing than watching the sunset across the water?  Hearty fishermen bobbing about in their boats under the sometimes stormy fall skies amaze us.  Ice boats flying across the frozen lakes are awesome.  Locals judge the ‘coldness’ of the day by the width of the open water under the Yahara River bridge on the Beltline Highway.  The waterfowl there are beautiful.

8.  A Wright Place  Frank Lloyd Wright spent much of his youth in Madison and designed a Convention Center that was the inspiration for the one that the city actually constructed years after his death.  Wright also designed the Unitarian Society Meeting House, which is open for tours, and several area homes.  A concert at the Unitarian Society Meeting House is a treat for the senses.

9.   Wisconsin State Capitol  It’s simply a must see.  The architecture, the art, the history, or even the grandeur would be reason enough to go.  Tours are free and leave on the hour from the visitor info desk in the rotunda.  The tour guides have the keys to take you into the Supreme Court, The Legislative Chambers, and the Governor’s Conference Room but most importantly, they know all those fun little stories that bring the building to life.  Before the holidays local choral groups perform around the holiday tree in the rotunda.  The tree is lovely as it rises up three or more stories high and the acoustics of the performing musicians will give you goose bumps.

Overture Center in Madison WI

10.   Madison Civic Center  This is the Cesar Pelli designed home of the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art and the Overture Center for the Performing Arts.  It seems like there is always something going on.  The museum has rotating and visiting nationally acclaimed exhibits (and a very nice gift shop).  The Overture Center hosts everything from Broadway Shows, The Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, and opera to brown bag lunch performances.

The End of Another Season

October 26th, 2012 by Pat Fischbeck

Dane County Farmer's Market supplies The Speckled Hen Inn

Dane County Farmer’s Market

There are only three more Saturday Farmer’s Markets before the market moves indoors for the cooler months.  Now is a great time to stock up on all the great winter squash and pantry staples to see us through the winter months.  My fall shopping list always includes honey and baby rice popcorn even though I know I can buy those in the later months.  This just seems like the right time to stock up and fill the shelves.  It is also the time of year when I feel the need to put together a hearty soup and let it simmer in the slow cooker while I tend to clearing off gardens and composting leaves.  But the project du jour is going to be a potato and leek tortilla.  Leeks should be harvested well after a frost to allow their natural sugars to develop.  The best way to test this is to make something delicious.  So, I guess our guests now know what will appear at the breakfast table at The Speckled Hen Inn tomorrow morning.