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Garden to Table Dinner Taps the Locovore Within

February 12, 2012

Wisconsin Public Television has been putting on its annual Garden Expo for the past 19 years. Being nascent home gardeners, we had never before attended it. This year, when WPT added its first Garden to Table dinner event this past Saturday at the Alliant Energy Center, it touched our inner locovore and caught our attention.

A locovore is someone who makes an effort to consume locally produced foods for social, economic and health reasons. That’s something we try to do whenever possible and have been members of the Harmony Valley community supported agriculture (CSA) group for the past four years. In addition to eating healthy, organically produced foods, we’ve found it was a great way to try new things. (Nettles, for example.) We were happy to see that Harmony Valley, along with Sartori cheeses and Wollersheim Winery, was one of the dinner’s key providers.

The WPT fundraiser in the Alliant Exhibit Hall Atrium offered four courses of locally grown foods under the direction of Alliant Chef Travis Tauscheck, with music provided by the classical Kat Trio and the producers of WPT’s “Wisconsin Foodie” show on hand for entertainment. For the most part, the meal worked exceptionally well, although a little fine-tuning may be in order for such banquets in the years to come.

We opened with a soup made of Harmony Valley beet greens and golden beets accompanied by basket of Batch Bakehouse demi-baguettes and Organic Valley butter. Beet fans relished in the deep red, albeit tepid, mixture of greens and beet chunks, while those ambivalent toward the root vegetable may have found it a bit too “beety.”

A small salad consisting of Chioggia radicchio, red watercress and frissee, pickled radishes and Uplands Pleasant Ridge Reserve cheese dressed in a white balsamic and Gentle Breese honey vinaigrette followed, accompanied by a Ray’s Hickory Nut crouton baked into the shape of a candy cane. The salad was a delightful, savory blend of taste, texture and colors that left us wanting more.

The entrée offered two choices. A roast Ruegsegger Farms chicken breast came stuffed with wild rice and pine nuts and was accompanied by Driftless Organics mashed potatoes blended with Organic Valley pasture butter and Troy Gardens fresh chives, Organic Valley cream and Sartori SarVecchio Cheese, and braised collard greens with Cudahy Farms bacon. There also was a vegetarian option consisting of Driftless Organics cabbage leaves stuffed with wild rice, carrots, fennel, apples and pine nuts, then topped with Organic Valley cream and Sartori SarVecchio Cheese, and served with Driftless Organics roast potatoes and garlic, winter squash ragu.

In both cases, the fully flavored food was enjoyable and filling. Nothing stood out, but everything worked well together.

We ended the evening with Wisconsin Apple Orchards Bavarian apple tartlet and a cup of now tepid Alterra coffee. The pairing provided a nice end to the evening.

WPT’s Garden to Table Dinner is off to an excellent start, and we’re looking forward to next year’s offering. A little more care in the kitchen and the inclusion of some unique standout ingredients might help ramp things up to an even higher level.

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