El Sarape’s House Salsa

El Sarape's House Salsa Fresca | Culinary Compost Recipes

This is my version of a popular salsa fresca served at El Sarape Mexican Restaurant, in Green Bay Wisconsin. Through experimentation, I’ve deduced they use two signature ingredients which puts their salsa in a class by itself. Control the heat by seeding the jalapenos — their version however, is quite spicy, which is how I like it.

On a side note, El Sarape is one of only two restaurants in the area serving authentic Mexican cooking. Their two-pound burritos are epic. Enjoy!


1 10.5 oz. package cherry tomatoes
2 large jalapeno peppers (core and seed them if you want to control the heat)
1 small white onion, diced
2 large cloves garlic, crushed
1 green stalk onion (scallion) roots trimmed, with greens
1.5 cups loose-packed fresh cilantro leaves
1 tsp. ground Mexican oregano
1.5 tsp. salt, to taste


Reserve the salt for the last step*. Prep and wash everything and place in a food processor with the ground oregano. Pulse until a fine texture is achieved (you may need to scrape down the work bowl with a spatula.) Carefully remove the cutter blade and salt to taste. Mix well and let stand ten minutes before serving.

Makes about 3 cups.

*NOTE: Salt wreaks havoc on your food processor blade, dulling it very quickly. Add it last to avoid this issue.

Due to the large volume requirement, I suspect El Sarape’s salsa is processed in a blender. I prefer to present mine with a little more texture, using a fine-cut food processor pulse blade.

Blueberry Dump Cake

Blueberry Dump Cake | Culinary Compost Recipes
A confession for my fellow foodies — I’m here to talk about dumps. Specifically, dumps that make people sniff, stand up and take notice. Dumps surreptitiously snuck in at the last minute of a highbrow dinner party, completely sideswiping hapless guests… Dumps that effortlessly upstage that atrocious concoction your Aunt Edna hastily left after the annual booster’s club meeting.

Dumps that make you question yourself “Holy Crap, why didn’t I think of that before I tried my half-assed attempt at a dump?!!?”

In retrospect, it’s hard — I’ll admit I’ve tried to make a few epic dumps and sadly, they fell short of achieving their intended effect — be it stress, public interruption, lack of focus or creative endeavor. Invariably, I was flushed with envy. However, I finally got my **** together and never looked back.  (Hey, what passed in the past is in the past.)

Trust me… try this foolproof recipe (if you can actually call it that) and guests will run to you, screaming “Who just made that %#€@&!$ Dump?!!?”

It’s a Wisconsin classic. Enjoy—



1 16.5 oz. box of yellow cake mix
1 21-oz. can of blueberry pie filling
1 20 oz. can of crushed pineapple, drained
1 cup fresh blueberries
1 stick of butter
1 Hail-Mary, hoping this half-assed podunk culinary hack will actually work



Preheat oven to 375° F.  Dump the can of blueberry pie filling on the bottom of a 9.5 x 13 cake pan.  Spread out with a spatula. Dump and spread the crushed pineapple over the pie filling and top with 3/4 of the fresh blueberries. Evenly sprinkle the dry cake mix over the top of the fruit. Melt 3/4 of the butter stick and drizzle over the cake mix.

Cube the remaining butter in 1/8″ chunks and place over any remaining dry cake mix.
Sprinkle the rest of the fresh blueberries on top of the cake mix.

Bake for 40 to 45 minutes, or until the cake topping is golden brown.

Remove from the oven, let stand five minutes and serve warm over vanilla ice cream.

Serves 4-6

Rye Whiskey Old-Fashioned Cocktail

Here in Eastern Wisconsin, there is no cocktail more popular than the classic Old-Fashioned. Walk into any supper club, and your barmaid will immediately serve you one made with Jero® Old-Fashioned mix and Kessler’s® rail whiskey. I’m convulsing as i write this; in my opinion, it’s an instant fail — shame on the restaurant or bar for trying to cut corners to save some time and money with a subpar product. Make yours with authentic bitters and a premium bourbon or rye whiskey. You’ll immediately be impressed by the difference in quality.

This is my version of a classic — enjoy among friends.



2 oz. premium rye whiskey or bourbon (I prefer Michter’s US No. 1 Rye)
1/2 tsp. packed brown sugar
2 dashes Angostura® bitters
1 orange peel
1 lemon peel
Ginger ale (by volume to taste)
2 Maraschino cherries (or, for the classic Wisconsin garnish – two olives and eliminate the brown sugar)
2 ice cubes

Cocktail glass and toothpick



Using a chilled cocktail glass, add the brown sugar and bitters. Run the lemon and orange peel around the rim of the glass and drop them in. Add two ice cubes, the bourbon or rye and ginger ale, by volume, to taste. Stir gently with a spoon and add your garnish on a toothpick.

Optional:  Add a splash of the liquid from the Maraschino cherry jar.

Makes one drink – wasn’t that easy?

Cherry Bourbon Bounce

door county cherry bounce - culinary compost food blogThe end of July heralds the start of cherry-picking season in Door County Wisconsin — the boozy recipe featured here is classic Americana, dating back to the time of George Washington. This was one of his favorite indulgences brought from England; it is reported that Martha would always pack a decanter of Cherry Bounce for him when he traveled. It was traditionally made with fine French Brandy and crushed cherries with pits. Knowing that cherry pits and other orchard fruit pits contain trace amounts of hydrogen cyanide, I prefer to leave them out. (I suspect it’s also the reason our first President had wooden teeth.)

The cherry crop in Door County has been decimated by bitter cold the last two years in January. Many trees have succumbed to the -20°F prolonged killing temperature, adding to market demand. I was lucky enough to find a quart of whole tart cherries from Robertson’s Orchard at a farmer’s market in downtown Green Bay last weekend. I quickly put them to good use.

My alcohol vice — 100-proof bourbon. This recipe is also stellar with brandy, rye whiskey, rum, vodka, and even tequila. Let it happily infuse until Christmas — then share with friends by making Manhattans, and serve the halved cherries in the drinks as a garnish, or over ice cream. Enjoy!



1 quart whole tart Door County Wisconsin cherries, with pits (halve and discard pits)
4 cups bourbon, or your choice of liquor
1/2 cup white sugar



Purchase the freshest cherries you can find. Whole tart cherries work best because you are going to be adding sugar to the infusion. Select a two-quart glass container with a sturdy lid. Wash the container and lid in hot, soapy water and dry thoroughly.

Using a colander, wash the cherries thoroughly in cold water. Drain.
Using a sharp, thin paring knife, slit each cherry around the circumference and discard the pit. Add to the glass jar. Pour in four cups of bourbon and then the sugar.

Seal the jar. Invert and stir gently, then let sit in a cool, dark closet or basement. Invert the bottle and stir weekly so the sugar infuses. Open no sooner than Christmas-time.

Serve the liquor in traditional Manhattans.


door county bourbon cherry bounce

Wash the cherries, pit, and then add to the jar.
The jar shown is an antique 1/2-gallon milk container made in 1954.


Use your favorite alcohol — it also doesn’t have to be expensive;
shown is mid-priced Bulleit bourbon.

Door county cherry bounce

I purchased a premium cork stopper from Portugal, which matched the diameter of the opening on my antique glass jar. I then sealed it with melted natural beeswax.

Culinary Compost - Cherry Bounce Bourbon Manhattan

A proper Manhattan made with Cherry Bourbon Bounce. For this cocktail, I used dry vermouth, due to the amount of infused sugar in the bounce liquor.

Simple Dill Pickles

This is an old recipe found in my grandmother’s recipe box. Her handwritten notes state is was taken from The Wisconsin Farmer.


1 quart vinegar
2 quarts water
1 teacup salt (a British teacup is 6 ounces)


Bring contents to a boil and stir to dissolve the salt. Keep ready at a simmer.

Pack cucumbers and dill in sterilized jars and pour the hot brine up to the rim of the canning jar until just overflowing.
Seal hot.


Mike’s Wisconsin Batter-Fried Bluegills

This recipe takes me back thirty-five years to my childhood in northern Wisconsin. My grandmother would fry up 60 fresh-caught bluegill fillets in a large black cast-iron skillet for the family. There is no better home-cooked meal – period. I hope you enjoy this special recipe as much as I do.


30 bluegill fillets, cleaned and rinsed in cold water
1 quart vegetable oil
8 oz. buttermilk
2 eggs, beaten
1-1/4 cups flour
1 tsp. paprika
1 tsp. garlic powder
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. fresh-ground black pepper


Preheat a 5-quart cast-iron dutch oven over medium-high with the vegetable oil. The oil will be ready for deep-frying when a drop of water sizzles on contact.

Place the buttermilk and egg in a wide, shallow baking dish. Whisk thoroughly. Place the bluegill fillets in the dish and coat evenly.

Prepare a two-quart plastic food storage bag with the flour, salt, pepper, garlic powder and paprika. Shake well.

Shake off the fillets and add to the bag, about eight at a time. Coat evenly and transfer to the dutch oven; frying in batches. Deep fry until just lightly golden-brown. Ensure that the bluegill fillets are not overcooked. Using a Chinese spider strainer, remove and transfer to a heated platter with paper towel to absorb the excess frying oil.

Serve immediately with lemon wedges and tartar sauce.

Serves 4-6.

Wisconsin Beer Batter for Fish

This is a great recipe for true Wisconsin-style battered fish. This recipe will work well for two pounds of fish – whether it be fresh-caught bluegills or walleye pike. You can also double the recipe, but make sure to mix in TWO separate bowls (don’t combine in one bowl) or it will not come out right. My choice for beer — Leinenkugel’s Red Lager.

Don’t forget to let the batter sit for one hour before using.


2 lbs. fish – your choice
1/2 cup flour
seasoned salt to taste
1 tbs. melted butter
2 eggs, beaten well
1/2 cup Wisconsin beer


Sift the flour and salt, add the butter and egg; add the beer gradually, stirring only until smooth.

Let stand for one hour at room temperature.

Dip fish in batter and fry in hot oil. Larger cuts of fish can be quartered into 2″ chunks for even cooking. Remove when golden-brown and the internal temperature of the fish reaches 145° F.