Need ideas for unusual recipes with pedestrian ingredients!

My dedication to cooking has been much revered by my in-laws, who now look forward to my meal-planning and cooking on vacation. I am happy to oblige but for the fact that many, many ingredients are just not available in the middle of Wisconsin. While they have great meats and vegetables, any interesting spices, vinegars and flavor-adders (like capers) are no where to be found.

Any ideas for culinary brilliance with simple ingredients?



AntoniaJames July 5, 2011
wssmom, if you do take a vacation there, let me know and I'll get more specific information on the local beers, good watering holes for sampling them, as well as some recommendations for great eats in Madison. (My son is a student there!) The farmers' market is one of the best in the country, especially for the non-produce items, as noted. You want good fresh cheese? Sausage? Maple syrup? Honey? It's all fantastic.People drive 2+ hours from elsewhere in the state to shop there. I certainly would. ;o)
sandy G. July 4, 2011
Don't know where in Wisconsin, but I was amazed to see an entire aisle of ethnic ingredients in Sheboygan, WI. Also some Asian stores-there's a big Hmong population there.
wssmom July 4, 2011
@AntoniaJames@sam1148 ... you have just given me some fabulous ideas for our next vacation!
uws80 June 29, 2011
Sometimes the specialness is in the presentation. I think one of the prettiest and unusual dishes I ever made was turnip chrysanthemenums. My recipe was from a Japanese cookbook but a quick google search bought up this You don't really need the kombu, and I used the cutting technique with small beets as well -- perhaps other veg might work also. Could be a splashy garnish/side to your thai dish.
Sam1148 June 27, 2011
bklynchef73: That said, I might pack some fish sauce with my cosmetics!

Check out a local camping store and look for leak proof squeeze bottles. I'll take soy, Worcester sauce, oil and vinegar in my checked bags for those. Ziplocked for added protection due to air-pressure. Look for bottles with the 'fold down' nozzle as the snap on ones can unsnap, leave some headroom in the bottle too because of air-pressure in cargo holds. I also find the pre-packed pepper mills sold in the spice section have pretty good pepper. The camp store will also have little snapclosed things--about the size of a old film canister or less. For packing salts and spices. Heck..a old school photoshop probably still has those.
AntoniaJames June 27, 2011
Just about everywhere I go that involves a stay with family for a vacation of one sort or another ends up being in a place with very limited choices at the local groceries. I take with me a good supply of yeast, my baking chemicals (baking powder and baking soda, and salt), peppercorns in a small mill, a good chunk of fresh ginger, a good chunk of Italian parmigiano, and a dozen or so spices and/or good dried herbs. Then I have a lot of fun meeting the challenges of a less well-equipped kitchen and limited ingredients. Yes, I mean, "fun," because I make it fun. The Thai-style chicken sounds like an excellent choice! I've heard from reputable sources, by the way, that the local beer that you can get only in Wisconsin (because they keep it all to themselves) is truly outstanding. ;o)
BklynChef73 June 27, 2011
Thanks for the ideas everyone! Unfortunately we will be nowhere near Madison (but yes, that farmer's market is amazing), as that is a pretty cosmopolitan town. We settled on a Thai-style chicken dish, as peanut butter, soy sauce and red pepper flakes are pretty ubiquitous these days, even in a resort town in the woods!

That said, I might pack some fish sauce with my cosmetics!
amysarah June 26, 2011
Have you checked out local farmer's markets? I can highly recommend the one in Madison - one of the best and oldest in the country - but there are many others all over WI. Lots of small producer smoked meat and sausages (German roots), artisan cheese makers (way beyond cheddar), honey, great produce - including a big variety of mushrooms and herbs...not to mention microbreweries every which way. In other words, we ate very well there.

Maybe this will help:
latoscana June 26, 2011
Can you get to the farmer's market in Madison? It's outstanding: They claim to be the largest market in the country.
Sadassa_Ulna June 26, 2011
Your in-laws are some lucky folks! Some random thoughts (even though culinary brilliance is not my forte): homemade aioli (see the contest), getting "ingredients" from the liquor store, bringing a few things in your suitcase, homemade ricotta, hardlikearmour's pickled prunes (might pack some spices for that?), grilled fruit... this is off the top of my head but if I think of anything I will add more. This is a fun question!
pierino June 26, 2011
Got to think that Wisconsin must have great sausages---where there are butchers there is almost always forcemeat stuffed into casings.
drbabs June 26, 2011
If they have great vegetables, do they also have fresh herbs? I think that fresh herbs make everything taste special.
Sam1148 June 26, 2011
Try looking at some Southern recipes. Gulf Coast or New Orleans style.
They use simple ingredients.

French Country Cooking could offer the same type of wonderful departure from their normal meals. Bonus: Wisconsin has great cheeses and meats.

Bring some simple things with you: some of the harder to find spices, capers, olives, good vinegars, etc, and a selection of good salts to leave with them.
Verdigris June 26, 2011
Actually this sounds like an excellent opportunity to show case those great meats and vegetables. Think of was to present those items in their nakedness. It's amazing what a bit of salt, pepper, garlic, apple cider vinegar, lemon juice, brown sugar, butter, fresh cream can do to help reveal the sensuousness of the mundane.
pierino June 26, 2011
How much more pedestrian can you get than the "dirt water dog", , right off the streets of Manhattan.
Recommended by Food52