an explorer's club of Wisconsin foods and recipes

For the College Student or “First Apartment” Person On Your List…

© Maksim Pasko |

© Maksim Pasko |

We all have to start somewhere with our eating and cooking habits as a young adult.  More often than not, you learn by living on popcorn in college or in your first apartment.  So why not give the person on your holiday gift list a few food gifts to make the ordinary a little more special?

Here’s a couple of pairing ideas to insert a little “gourmet” into a few lives. The first:  Fireworks Popcorn, Port Washington and Century Sun Oil, Pulaski.

popcorn and oil

Fireworks Popcorn is a family-owned company run by Wayne Chrusciel since 2007.  Their URL, aptly titled, displays the company’s and employees’ passion for popcorn.  Their site shares the story of Wayne’s search for the best type of popcorn:  “Most Americans ate popcorn that came from ‘big yellow’ kernels, which were the standard choice of most major commercial popcorn brands.  Researching and comparing the different heirloom popcorn varieties led to the discovery of their unique flavors, colors, sizes and textures.”

Small farmers throughout the Midwest grow popcorn exclusively for Fireworks to produce 9 different gourmet popcorn varieties:  Wisconsin White Birch, High Mountain Midnight, Savanna Gold, Red River Valley, Autumn Blaze, Orchard Blossom, Harvest Blend, Baby White Rice and Sunset Fire.  No dyes or GMOs are used.  Fireworks says:  all our “popcorn kernels have very tender hulls, which shatter when popped. Our smaller kernels also have a deeper, richer corn flavor.” 

Pair it with Century Sun Oil, which is certified organic, fresh-pressed sunflower oil.  Dale and Pam Johnson founded Century Sun Oil in 2009 on their 130-year-0ld family farm just outside Pulaski.  They partner with nearby organic dairy farmers and have repurposed the Johnson farm’s dairy buildings for oil production.  The Johnsons provide the high oleic sunflowers seeds to the area farmers and both monitor the crops.  They also provide a high protein meal that can be fed back to the farmers’ cows for improved milk production and better health.

What’s “high oleic?”  The Johnsons describe it as a type of healthy fat found in sunflower oil.  That begins with the highest quality seed which, in turn, produces the best ratios of Omega 3, 6 and 9 fats.  It’s healthy because it’s the main fat found in our skin and adipose tissue, according to Century Sun Oil web site.  Because it’s fresh-pressed — or cold-pressed — it preserves all the natural vitamins and minerals.

The added plus to sunflower oil is that the Johnsons are constantly reviewing the oil and have changed methods of productions for optimal taste and high cooking temperatures (smoke point).  Sunflower oils, along with peanut and soybean oils, can reach a higher temperature than regular oils — from 350-450 — allowing for deep frying and/or great popcorn!

Here’s where to buy Fireworks Popcorn and Century Sun Oil.

Another pairing suggestion:  wrap up a gourmet breakfast that doesn’t take much effort.  Try The Great American Pancake Co., Cashton and County Line Sugar Bush Syrup, Wausau.

pancake mix and syrup use

Start with one of the gourmet pancake mixes made by Bruce and Judy Springer at The Great American Pancake Company.  They have 10 different pancake mixes that Bruce and Judy:  “hand make every bag of Great American Pancakes using only the finest, freshest ingredients so they are, ‘Perfect every time.’ … all of our pancake mixes can be made as waffles. Just use a little less water & follow the instructions of your waffle maker.”

Try out any of these flavors:  Cider Cakes, Peanut Butter, Simply Cinnamon, Gingerbread, Chocolate Chip Cookie, Cinnamon, Buttermilk, Brown Sugar & Oatmeal, Angel Cakes and 5-Grain Flapjacks.  The mixes come with directions — and some tips on the web site.  Just adding an egg, butter or oil and water to the mix makes it easy — and great tasting — for anyone.

You can buy them in 20 oz. mixes or, if you really want to make sure your giftee is fed – 4 lb. buckets.

There are plenty of Wisconsin maple syrups to pair with the mix, but I’m suggesting a Wisconsin Bites favorite:  County Line Sugar Bush.

Wisconsin Bites Favorite

Wisconsin Bites Favorite

Selected by the Wisconsin Bites tasting panel in March 2013,  they found the syrup “very fragrant, with a wonderful caramelized sugar scent,” and “easily has the most aroma.”  As far as taste – they said its “velveety smooth maple flavor that wraps around the tongue.”    Ultimately, it was picked as favorite because of its medium-thick consistency and  “smooth texture, pleasant aroma and more defined flavors.” County Line Sugar Bush has been produced by the Ollhoff family for four generations and have received numerous awards.

You can buy County Line Sugar Bush syrup here and The Great American Pancake Co. mixes here.

What’s your favorite gourmet pairing?  Share your ideas with Wisconsin Bites followers!

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