Friday, July 31, 2009

Cherries, zucchini, and wheat

There's lots of zucchini popping up now. Which is a vast understatement -- as I write this, I have three 2-pounders sitting on my kitchen table. So I am on a quest to discover every tasty zucchini recipe.

I ran across the idea for this cherry, zucchini, and and wheat combination on the Chocolate and Zucchini blog. Although, surprisingly, there are not many zucchini recipes on this blog, the ones there are fabulous -- expect more reports on these later.

I was considering what local foods would go together in a salad like the one Clotilde showed, and I came up with a mixture of Montana Wheat wheat kernels, Flathead cherries, and of course the prolific zucchinis that are growing by the foot in my garden even as I sit here typing.

Any precooked grain would do, I think, but I have almost as many wheatberries as zucchini, so that was my natural choice. I sprouted some kernels to add to a future salad, so think about doing that with the grain you use. Also, try to cook up a big batch, freeze what you don't use right away, and dig into that frozen supply when you need it again.

As for seasonings, you can look at Clotilde's recipe for suggestions. I like mine rather plain like this, with just a dash of balsamic vinegar and some salt and pepper.

Cherry Zucchini Salad

1 cup cooked wheat kernels (or other grain)
About 15 cherries, pitted and cut in half
About 1/2 cup grated zucchini
1 tablespoon oil
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Toss together all ingredients and serve at room temperature or chilled.

This makes enough for 2 smallish side salads or 1 large main dish.

Next time I'll add grated carrot and radish. There are lots of possibilities for this salad.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

County fair

County fairs throughout Montana highlight the best of what the area has to offer and showcase what lies nearest the hearts of those who live there.

Today I visited our county fair. Naturally, I found the food section first, where entries took up a long table and included canned plums and peaches, applesauce, apricot jam, banana bread, cookies, and 5 plates of chocolate-covered Rice Krispie treats. The treats were made by the elderly folks in long-term care at the county hospital and looked delicious. On Friday night, they and all other entries throughout the fair will be auctioned off to the public. I suspect the Rice Krispie treats will go quickly. Although I must say the lemon/raspberry cake was the most beautiful entry.

When I examined the garden produce (see top photo above), I realized I could have entered my 10-inch, 2-pound zucchini -- and won! Compared to a dime, that baby is huge! Next year . . .

Other fair entries included chickens (below you see "Soots" and her very noisy chicks), large animals, quilts, furniture by high school woodworking students, and informative displays by 4-H kids. Did you know bandages and piano keys can contain sheep byproducts?

I will close with this first-place winner by a young artist. My photo does not show the glitter, but this portrait is still something to be proud of.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Manhattan market

This evening the Manhattan farmers market was in full swing. For a town with a population of about 1,500 people, this market is really impressive. The name of the town reflects the early influence of Dutch settlers. The countryside around here is full of neatly kept farmsteads (often with bright red barns and shining white fences) tucked between rolling green hills. Very scenic.

On average, like today, there are 20 vendors, 50 percent of whom sell produce. There were all kinds of veggies and fruit, including large Walla Walla sweet onions, tulip onions (see photo above), lettuce, beets, rainbow chard, snow peas, herbs . . . and locally grown strawberries!!!

When I got home, I took a photo of the box. Another use for duct tape!

Just a side note: This park is where many of the vendors for the annual Potato Festival set out their wares. I highly recommend this festival, which is a celebration of a truly local product. Manhattan grows very tasty potatoes, and you can find plenty of them at this festival.

Manhattan Farmers Market
Railroad Park, on West Main
June 17 - September 9
Wednesday, 4:30 pm - 7:30 pm

Manhattan Harvest Market
October 17

August 15, 2009

Monday, July 27, 2009

I never saw a purple pizza . . .

. . . until now. I've even eaten it, and it's delicious.

It all started when I bought some beets at the farmers market. I had wanted to buy spinach to make spanakopita, but you can only buy what's there, of course. So I took home beets, wondering what to use them for.

You can roast them, you can put them in soup, you can stir-fry them with potatoes and make red flannel hash. But then I remembered an Idaho blogger who used beets in pizza dough. Her photo is way better than mine, so be sure to go there and be truly in awe.

This dough is lovely to work with, very soft and pliable. The recipe makes two 12-inch pizzas, so I've saved the second bit of dough to play with another day. Purple calzone, anyone?

purple dough is a-risin'

If you don't have a mixer, you can make this pizza dough by hand. To replace steps 3 and 4, put all ingredients in a large bowl, mix until blended, then put dough on a lightly floured surface; I used a pastry cloth. I had no trouble with stains, but you do want to be careful since beets can stain some surfaces. Knead until dough is satiny, about 8 minutes, and pat into a ball shape. Then go on to step 5.

To cook the beets, I washed them thoroughly, trimmed off the leaves, leaving about 2-inch stems, wrapped them in foil, and baked them in a 400-degree oven for about 40 minutes. I was cooking something else, so this worked well. You can also cook them in the microwave, I suppose (I don't have one), steam them, or even use canned beets.

For the puree, I used a blender, so bits of beet were still evident. If you are cooking for a child, I'd recommend using a food processor (or smash blended beets through a strainer) to get a good smooth puree.

You don't taste the beets in the crust, so this is perfect for children. The taste of the sauce really comes through more than anything, especially if you make it with fresh herbs; I used some power-packing basil from my garden.

Be sure to go to the notes at the end of the original recipe and make the sauce. You don't cook it, which is a great timesaver. Also check out the grilling tips in another note. I used a pizza pan with sides, but it probably would have been much better on a pizza stone.

I did use pineapple bits and some Tillamook cheese, but the Canadian bacon is from a local national-award-winning meat processor. The flour, of course, is Wheat Montana. So considering I wasn't really trying (I was simply craving a pineapple-bacon pizza), I didn't do too badly eating Montana-made products today.

Note: I advise you to eat anything made with this dough within 24 hours or so. After that it turns a rather unappetizing brown color. It still tastes OK, but it's not that pretty purple you started out with.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Gooseberry jam

As promised, I experimented with the gooseberries I got at the Roundup Saturday Market. Yum!

Cooked gooseberries do not taste anything like raw ones. The added sugar improves them quite a bit. The cooked jam has something of a plum-like taste, with a tart/sour nuance that is very pleasant.

Christa Phillips, who gave me the recipe, was a bit vague: simmer gooseberries with brown sugar, add vanilla extract or bean, or cinnamon, and serve. She recommended a crockpot but said a pan on low heat and watched very carefully would work, too.

My version of what Christa told me follows.

To prepare the gooseberries, pull off stem and flower end. (The berry on the top is ready to go.) This process is tedious, so settle down with a good TV show or a contemplative view of the garden.

Gooseberry Jam

brown sugar
vanilla or cinnamon

For every cup of berries (stems and flower ends removed), use 2/3 cup brown sugar and 1/2 teaspoon vanilla or 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon.

Put berries and sugar in a crockpot or a noncorrosive pan.

You'll have to do your own experiment with the crockpot, but in the pan, over lowest heat on my stove, I simmered the berries and sugar together for 2 hours. After 1 hour, I gently mashed the berries with a fork. Other than mashing the berries, I left the pan alone. [Note: If you are making a tart, take the pan off the stove after an hour and don't mash the berries.]

Take pan off heat (or turn off crockpot), let cool, and then stir in vanilla or cinnamon. The jam will thicken as it cools.

Put in a jar and keep in the refrigerator.

1 cup berries makes about 1/2 cup jam.

In the German fashion, Christa eats this jam on bread that has been covered first with sour cream. She also suggested using it in a tart with layers of: shortbread crust, vanilla pudding or custard, gooseberry jam, and whipped cream.

I tried it on an English muffin I bought at the Billings farmers market, and I can say my attitude toward gooseberries has improved considerably.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Billings, Roundup markets

The drive to Roundup was flat and tree-lined. It's definitely cow country, but a different sort than elsewhere in the state. Roundup itself is a pleasant, nondescript town, but when I saw the sign proclaiming "Flea Market" pointing toward my destination, my heart dropped.

But that goes to show that you never know what you'll find. Peggy Jones, who runs the market, says she prefers to call it a "Saturday Market" rather than a farmers market so that anyone can join in and sell things.

Their one produce vendor wasn't there today because the vegetables are behind schedule. But I did find cookies, herbs, and gooseberries. Unfortunately, I'm not terribly fond of gooseberries. The ripe ones taste just like the unripe ones, in my opinion.

I took a few photos and began driving out of town. But then I stopped and turned around. This was the only time I've seen 50 pounds of gooseberries for sale, and I thought there must be some sort of story to get out of it.

Sure enough, Christa was eager to share her recipe (more on that after I've made it . . .) and talk about how to enjoy gooseberries. She likes eating them right off the bush, but since her recipe makes a sort of jam, she also enjoys them on toast (first slathered with sour cream; it's a German thing, Christa explained) and in a tart that includes a layer of vanilla pudding and whipped cream.

After she poured about 1 pound of berries into a bag for me, I asked how much I owed her. "Oh, nothing," came the reply. And that, friends, is what it's like to visit a small-town farmers market.

On to Billings. I visited the Billings Farmers market last fall, but since it was on the way home from Roundup, I stopped in again today.

Billings is the big city in these parts; the biggest in the state, in fact, with just over 98,700 people living there. So of course the farmers market is big, covering about 5 blocks with every sort of food you can imagine.

I like it because I get to eat eggrolls! You can buy whole Asian meals to go, or tamales, or just a cupcake. You can also buy lots of vegetables, from Hutterites, from children, from women who like to dig in their back yards. You can listen to classical music or original pieces played rhythmically on overturned buckets. You can rent a small red wagon from the West High Majorettes so you can enjoy a carefree stroll, pulling your precious possessions behind you. The gals will even help you carry things to your car if you ask them.

It's a fine market to spend a morning in.

The following are a few photos I took.

And by the way, my last stop was at the cupcakes. I said I wanted to try each of the four flavors (vanilla, chocolate, pumpkin, and strawberry), and Carmelita said she'd give me two of each for the same price. She had sold many during the day, but as it neared noon she just wanted to get rid of the rest. And that is what you might experience even at bigger markets here in Montana.

Billings Farmers Market
Downtown, under the Skypoint
June 18 - October 3
Saturday, 8:30 am - noon
In August (5th - 26th)
Wednesday, 4:30 - 8 pm

Roundup Saturday Market
Busy Bee parking lot
May 23 - September 26
Saturday, 9 am - 1 pm

Friday, July 24, 2009

Kountry Korner Cafe

On the way back from Big Sky last night, my friend and I stopped at an old-timey cafe called Kountry Korner.

You wouldn't think to look at its simple exterior, but it has some really great food inside. Being too busy eating, I didn't take a photo of my chef's salad. It was mostly chopped toppings (tomatoes, eggs, ham, 2 kinds of cheese, and I forget what all), with the minimal lettuce foundation being a wonderfully up-to-date mixture of many exotic salad greens.

The cafe has been in the area for years, and the friendly waitress made sure I saw all the interior highlights, including an old stove used as part of the salad bar and a very old bar located in a large dining area in back.

When I exclaimed over the cute menu covers, hand-colored by children, the waitress explained that they encourage young customers to color in a seasonal picture, and the results are inserted into the menus. Before I knew what was happening, she had whipped out some crayons for me and away I went. I think I even stayed in the lines.

Kountry Korner Cafe
Four Corners
81820 Gallatin Road

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Big Sky market

Big Sky is a ski resort southwest of Bozeman. Its condos and amenities spread out for many miles. But in the middle is a retail area called the Town Center, and here you find the farmers market.

About 4,000 people live in Big Sky year round (with 15,000 estimated to be there on any one day during peak season times). I was impressed with the 100 or so vendors who showed up on this second day of the market, which is in its first year. Most towns this size boast a top 10 vendors, so you have to be in awe that the market coordinators, Wendy and Ryan, have done such a great job organizing all this.

There wasn't much produce, but anyone shopping farmers markets in eastern Montana this time of year doesn't really expect it. I saw herbs, onions, lettuce, radishes, spinach, rainbow chard . . . all the usual early crops.

Most vendors sold prepared food (jellies, granola, bread, brownies, etc.) or wonderful handcrafted items, including pottery, jewelry, furniture, and woven scarves.

There were even some alpacas from Manhattan, Mont., along with items made from their lovely wool.

There was some good cooking going on in one area of the market, with many dishes to choose from. The most popular seemed to be pizza from a real wood-burning oven that was cleverly contained in a large trailer.

The market only lasts 2 hours, from 5 pm to 7 pm, so it seems to me that every minute must count for these vendors as well as their customers. Thus it was disappointing to see a storm move in at about a quarter to 7, with high winds that blew merchandise around and had everyone scurrying for cover when the rain started falling.

Still, it was an enjoyable way to spend the evening. The market is timed to coordinate with an outdoor concert (not sure how that went in the storm tonight!) and even package deals for spending the night or weekend in Big Sky. You can really make an event of visiting this particular market. Even if you come only for the market itself, the drive there is spectacular along Highway 191.

Fire Pit Park, Town Center
July 9 - September 17
every other Thursday, 5 pm - 7 pm

Monday, July 20, 2009

Living in abundance

The same Kimberlee who generously drove me into Missoula for the Clark Fork River market, not only dances but is also an amazing gardener and cook.

She takes a pile of vegetables (often from her garden), maybe some rice, maybe some beans, perhaps a nice piece of salmon, almost anything edible, and turns them all into a one-of-a-kind dish that is a delight to eat and lives happily in your memory.

I spent the weekend with her and Darl in their warm home on the Bitterroot River. Now in fact it was cool inside because Darl has a clever way with air conditioners, but the house is situated in a greenhouse, so its stays especially warm in winter. But of course I meant "warm" in the sense of "hospitable." Both Kimberlee and Darl are generous in so many ways.

Darl's dad built the house and surrounding greenhouse, and there is lots to enjoy. The following is a brief pictorial tour of inside and outside this unique structure.

The front entrance; up the steps to the right and into the house.

Grapes are everywhere.

Tomatoes are getting ripe inside.

The eating area is outside, yet inside.

Outside the greenhouse, raspberries ripen.

Kimberlee's abundant garden grows right by the river.

You can see the indoor garden pressing against
the windows that overlook the riverside garden.