Friday, February 26, 2010

Niterider Chili

You might be getting tired of reading about chili, but I'm not getting tired of eating it. Glendive-based Western Trails does such a good job with their mixes that I love eating those wonderful foods and then talking about them.

One thing that really appeals to me is that each label has a story on it. It's a fun read, and you get a good feel for Old West Montana. Click on the photo above for a bigger image that should be more readable.

This chili, unlike the baked beans I made in December, is hot. As I added the included spices to the beans, I noticed dozens of chili seeds. Oh, yeah, they do their job all right! If you're sensitive, you might like to take a few minutes to pick them out before throwing them in the pot. I'm going to do that next time!

The package includes beans, of course, and the spices. Along with water, I added a can of tomato paste and some sauteed onions, which made a thick, satisfying chili.

To minimize gassiness, the package directions say: "Wash beans, boil for 5 minutes in 4 cups water, cover and set aside for at least an hour. Drain beans and add fresh water and spices. Cook slowly until tender." (I cooked them for about an hour.) This could be applied to any bean dish.

I am a sucker for pretty beans. This mix uses Montana-grown pinto and great northern beans. I leave you with a photo of them as they prepared for their pre-chili bath.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Wacky cake

Kids have eclectic tastes, and we must admire them for it.

The Big Timber Grade School Cookbook (2008) is a unique collection of kid-approved recipes that you might like to try yourself even if you don't have kids. Guaranteed the kids in your life will find plenty to enjoy.

The book was compiled as a fund-raiser for the Big Timber grade school, and it is the best community cookbook I have tried. Among the classic recipes are brownies, fried bologna sandwiches, and pizza, all kid pleasers no matter how you make them.

But recipes you might not find anywhere else (or hardly anywhere else) include Vanishing Oatmeal, Sparkly Cupcakes, Dinosaur Chow, and (would you want to leave Santa out?) Magic Reindeer Food.

To give you a real taste of what this cookbook can do for you, I chose to make Wacky Cake -- or Whacky Cake, depending on which recipe you use; I combined the two recipes found in this cookbook. All you do is dump ingredients in a pan, stir a bit, and bake. If I can do it, so can you! Or at least your 5-year-old could.

W[h]acky Cake

Put in ungreased 8x8-inch pan and then stir to combine:
1 1/2 cups flour
1 cup sugar
3 tablespoons cocoa
1 teaspoon baking soda

Make three wells in the dry ingredients.

In one, place 1 teaspoon vanilla;
in another, place 1 tablespoon vinegar;
in another, place 5 tablespoons oil.

OK, this looks like one-eyed Pete, the spitting fool, but carry on . . .

Pour 1 cup cold water over all, and stir to mix all ingredients together. Do not beat.

Bake in a 350-degree oven for 35 minutes or until center springs back at a touch.

I did a slap-dash stir, which resulted in a wackier cake than the student who submitted it probably intended. Or maybe not. Make it yourself and do it any way you please.

One thing I must warn you about is that this is not a bakery shop cake. One recipe variation said: "No need to beat (this ruins the texture)." I am not sure what "texture" they are worried about ruining. It is a pretty chewy cake and even if you beat it, I don't think that will change much. But again, you be the judge in your own kitchen.

It's a nice cake, easy to make, and could be improved with a slathering of homemade chocolate frosting. (The recipe on the can of Hershey's Cocoa has been a long-time favorite of mine.) I mean, what wouldn't be improved with chocolate frosting??

If you'd like a copy of this delightful and oddly useful cookbook -- for the price of postage and a donation to the grade school (any amount) -- write a comment (I won't publish it unless you want me to), and we'll get the process going.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Is it cheez?

"We Can't Say It's Cheese" is a mouthful of a name to ask for at the store, but if you don't see this Bozeman-made Wayfare Foods product in a refrigerated case, do make an effort to find it.

This non-dairy spread is a real treat. Don't expect it to taste exactly like cheese, for of course it isn't, but it is close enough to be satisfying. And naturally, it is healthy, with ingredients like non-GMO oatmeal, pimentos, and cane juice.

There are a variety of flavors, and I can say the Hickory-Smoked Cheddar-Style Spread is, like, wow! Pictured on this blog post is the plain Cheddar-Style Spread. If you like that processed cheese spread stuff that comes in small glasses, this is similar in texture.

I bought one container, and now I wish I'd really stocked up. It's a long way to the Billings co-op, but as soon as I get a chance, I'll be on my way to pick up more of this.

I tend to be a purist, so I looove it spread on crackers or bread, but you probably can think of other ways to use it. Maybe put it between Ritz crackers and make your own cheese crackers. There are recipes on the company Web site, so check that out. For example, the Cheddar Pie Crust, filled with apples, is an intriguing idea.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Putting words in your mouth

Now that I've confessed I can't cook, I have to go on to say I really can't cook pancakes.

When in the mood, I've used a recipe handed down from my Polish grandmother -- who possibly couldn't cook pancakes either -- that calls for 1 cup flour, 1 cup milk, and 1 egg. It's a heavy-duty pancake that tastes great hot or cold, and you can't go wrong making it.

But fluffy, restaurant-style pancakes? My attempts have been disastrous. Last time I tried, I ended up crying.

But try again . . .

I was thumbing through the Eat Our Words cookbook, a compilation of recipes submitted by Montana writers, and I saw "hotcakes." I also saw a possible blog entry no matter how they turned out, so I gathered the ingredients together.

All of my baking begins with Wheat Montana flour.

The recipe says to mix 1 cup of flour, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1 tablespoon sugar together, then add enough sour milk (I used regular) to make a "smooth and rather stiff" batter. Put 1 teaspoon baking soda in a cup and then add about 1/4 cup hot water (I measured by guessing) and stir this into the batter. Then add more milk "until it will pour from spoon or pitcher or whatever you mix it in."

This is such a forgiving recipe that I'm not surprised these were the first fluffy pancakes that made me smile while I was cooking them. Here I go . . .

pour batter onto hot pan

look for bubbles to form, then turn over to cook other side

top with butter and local honey


. . . perfect!

I got so excited that I even poured batter to shape alphabet letters -- and it worked!

This recipe -- using the 1 cup of flour -- makes about 6 5-inch pancakes plus a handful of letters.

I highly recommend this cookbook not only for the pancake recipe but also for simply reading. There are excerpts from books written by the Montana authors, and even the recipes themselves are charming. The pancake recipe was recorded word-for-word from what the grandfather of the author (Maile Meloy) received from his mother after he had settled in Missoula and needed easy-to-cook meals.

The recipe for Montana Winter Casserole (submitted by Lauri Olsen) includes a description of a typical trip to town for supplies during the cold season here. You're likely to spend quite a while in each grocery store aisle chatting with folks you know. This happens to me in any season.

Then the instructions say: "Bake for 2 hours in a 350-degree oven while you're playing gin rummy at the kitchen table with Uncle Ned, Aunt Hazel, and Carl, your neighbor who stopped in to borrow jumper cables." I think I'll make this casserole next, while it's still snowing out.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Happy Valentine's Day!

If nobody gives you anything special today, treat yourself. You deserve it!

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Winter market

The farmers market season is short in Montana, and any sign of fresh local produce is a welcome one. The Bozeman Winter Farmers Market fills the gap. It all happens in the Emerson Center.

Inside you will find a variety of winter produce (such as potatoes, onions, garlic), along with other interesting and unusual food items. There is Claudia's Salsa made from cilantro and named for different Latino dances. Leckerli, Swedish cookies made from a family recipe, are available from a man who will proudly tell you their story.

And of course: chocolate! Bozeman is lucky to have La Chatelaine Chocolat. Oh, so very lucky! You can visit their shop any time, but at the winter market be sure to enjoy a cup of Parisienne-style hot chocolate (thick) or a luscious brownie (heavenly). They provide samples of their truffles -- although you'll have to get there early to try one.

I was told that greenhouse tomatoes made a rare January appearance, and that in March and April shoppers can expect to find plant starts and early greens. Local farmers are no doubt figuring out ways to supply more variety of fresh produce for next year's market.

In addition to the main hall, another hallway is filled with jewelry and crafts made by very talented local artists. The purpose of the Emerson Center is to encourage these artists, and all year you will find fine art for sale, classes, theatrical events, and even a small cafe.

I cannot stress enough that one true joy of shopping at any farmers market is to meet the producers. Claudia dances as she describes why she enjoys making her salsa. A spinner describes the wool she is working on. Everyone will beam with pride as you approach their tables.

So even if you don't plan to buy anything (but how you could resist the hot chocolate, I can't imagine), do come to look.

Emerson Ballroom, 111 South Grand Avenue
October 17, 2009 - April 24, 2010 (see Web site for dates)
Saturday, 9 am - noon

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Oh, yum, it's gluten-free!

I have friends who are gluten intolerant, and so I am always interested in testing gluten-free products.

Today I used Gluten-Free Mama's Rice Almond Blend (made in Polson) to make Honey Sandwich Bread. Doesn't that sound delicious? It is!

The flour blend is white, with the velvety texture of cornstarch. Mama uses rice, almond, and tapioca flours mixed with potato starch.

Add your own xanthan gum, yeast, honey, and butter, and the dough begins to resemble cake batter as it whips around the mixer at high speed.

This is my first loaf, but it seems that making gluten-free bread is somewhat different from creating a loaf of regular bread. Although it needs time to rise in a warm place, the dough is handled more roughly initially.

As you mix the dough, the faint aroma of almonds in this particular mix is lovely, but it disappears during baking.

When you spread the dough in the pan, the instructions say to "smooth the top." The dough is quite sticky, so I recommend wetting your fingers first so the dough doesn't stick to them. Although that isn't all bad since it is a very delicious treat to lick your fingers afterward!

This bakes up into a luscious-looking loaf with a distinctive honey taste.

It is a heavy loaf and slightly -- only very slightly -- gummy, which you would expect using these flours. But it is a serviceable bread for sandwiches, and if you cannot tolerate gluten, I think you would like it very much. I can eat anything, and I love it!

For this recipe I bought xanthan gum, which is pricey but is necessary to substitute for gluten in gluten-free baked goods, which are otherwise tough and dry. Most recipes use only about a teaspoon, so if you can get some from a gluten-free cook to try it out, do so.

I must admit I ignored the instructions that said to wait 30 minutes before slicing. I never wait until bread has cooled so long that butter no longer melts and oozes into the nooks and crannies of the first slice. I believe that is the reward of homemade bread.

I was afraid this bread would be difficult to slice when warm, but it wasn't. As always, you just need a good serrated bread knife to do the job.