Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Real good Mexican food

Since 1963 the Torres Cafe has been providing delicious Mexican food to the lucky people living in or passing through Billings.

I can't say enough good things about this family-owned restaurant. The waitresses are happy and friendly, the service is fast considering that everything is made from scratch, and the food is absolutely, mouthwateringly, delicious.

On my first visit I had the midweek pork carnitas special, which includes 3 small corn tortillas (handmade in the kitchen) and a pile of shredded seasoned pork. Today, having learned my lesson that eating a lot of good food can sometimes be too much, I ordered a moderate-size taco bowl, shown in the photo. Just right in every sense.

In the photo you can also almost see a bottle of Jarritos soda made in El Paso, Texas. This comes in several flavors, and I chose my waitress's personal favorite, mandarin. It is a refreshing not-too-sweet beverage made from cane sugar. I was sorry to learn that it no longer comes in watermelon or tamarind flavors, so I think I'll try lime next time.

I was also a bit sad to learn, after talking to one of the family owners, that Torres will probably die with the current generation. The younger members of the family, who literally grew up in the restaurant, are all too aware of the work hours that go into such a business. They prefer to spend quality time with their families and have chosen other professions.

But meanwhile we can all enjoy this fabulous food. Go, go, go to Torres and eat your fill!

And in addition to the food, there is plenty of visual entertainment. Hanging on the walls and from the ceiling are many interesting Mexican items, including bullfighters painted on velvet, wooden carvings, pinatas, and cooking utensils.

If you're small enough, a ride on a bucking bronco is well worth the price.

Or try your luck with the Fun Chicken. I have no idea what's in any of those eggs, but why not find out for yourself?

If you're in a more serious mood, perhaps needing peace and quiet or even spiritual guidance, you can stop for a moment in the meditation room, which opens right off the dining area. The owner's mother donated one Catholic statute many years ago, and the collection grew from there.

To find the cafe, go to the Kings Avenue exit (exit 446) and turn south, then west onto Frontage Road. Look for all the cars of eager customers.

6200 South Frontage Road
Billings MT 59101

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Merry Christmas!

I hope you have a day filled with joy, with lots of good food and memories, and everything that is happy and good.

Merry Christmas to all of God's creatures.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Whoop it up for Thanksgiving!

There are a whole lot of ways to celebrate Thanksgiving, but traditionally the feast includes pumpkin pie or pecan pie -- or both -- for dessert.

This year I made Gingerbread Whoopie Pies: delectable cream cheese filling sandwiched between whole-wheat gingerbread yumminess.

To make your own, go to the fabulous King Arthur Flour blog. Note that my own pies don't look exactly like the photo on the blog. No big deal, they were delicious anyway!

And whatever you serve at your table, give thanks!

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Treat yourself at the Big Timber Christmas bazaar

Many people look forward to the annual Big Timber Woman's Club Christmas Bazaar, the first holiday event of the area. Vendors expect to sell a lot of their products, the Woman's Club raises money for their philanthropic activities, and customers have many wonderful items to look at and buy.

The bazaar is so big that it fills both the Big Timber civic center and the American Legion. The season's first snow began falling today, but that didn't stop the shoppers.

This year there were several fundraisers going on. The Friends of the Carnegie Library in Big Timber offered a cart of book selections, along with an abundant table covered with handmade cookies and candies.

The First Congregational Church also had a table with tempting homemade goodies.

The Big Timber chapter of an organization called PEO was raising money to provide scholarships to help women of all ages get the education they need. Their lovely slogan is: "Women helping women reach for the stars." Along with a pile o' yummy homemade foods for sale, they were raffling off a dollhouse made by a member's father. I hope they raised a lot of money from that raffle because the house was amazing. I just wanted to stand there drooling over the detail.

And no event in Big Timber seems complete without the Sons of Norway selling lefse and Norwegian cookies. I've said this before, but I really think they should change their name to Daughters of Norway because I've only ever met the hardworking women.

Nor does any event seem complete without a few regular vendors, among them one of my favorites, Jolie. She usually has her handmade lollies for sale, but unfortunately she didn't have enough time to make them this year. So the choices on her table were lefse, cookies, and caramel corn. Good choices, of course, but we want your lollies, too, Jolie!

Another vendor I look for each year at this bazaar is Liz with her Windy Wheat Bakery inventory. I was especially looking forward to the Buckeyes, but Liz said they hadn't been selling well, so she skipped that this year. Buckeyes were new to me the first time I tasted them, but then they became a top hit in my book. Who can resist peanut butter and chocolate? Next time you see Liz (the rest of the year she's making great-tasting lattes at the Crazy Bean in Big Timber), tell her we want our Buckeyes!

Another ever-present and much welcome vendor anywhere there's a food event is Tumblewood Teas. Riza has some clever new products that would make nice gifts.

Her new line of tea accoutrements includes wooden-edged tea strainers and honey stirrers, all made of cherry wood. I really like the honey stirrers, which are a small size (most are too big for the little taste I usually want) and have holes in them the shape of the comb. "Bee-friendly," Riza calls them.

She also now offers honey sticks, which will be sold in a high school fundraiser later in the year.

There were a few new products, including truffles by 70-year-old Norie, who makes them by hand in Belgrade. You can also find Norie's Candies at her new shop near Albertsons, 7001 Jackrabbit Lane, Suite D, Belgrade. Norie has been making these candies all her life, but successfully went commercial 4 years ago.

Jill Gibbs of Billings was kind enough to remember that dogs like treats, too. You can buy her Jillcookies online via Facebook: facebook.com/pages/Jillcookies.

And last here in the list, but not at all least, was a fun find: Dalonda's Western Country Gift Baskets. Her table was a feast for the eyes, with baskets bursting with all sorts of delightful treats. Many items could be bought separately, of course, and I zeroed in on the red velvet cake pops and brownie bites. From what I've been reading on the Internet, cake pops are quite popular now (with special thanks to Bakerella), but I'd never tasted them. Verdict: red velvet cake pop is yum!

Another item was Dalonda's homemade dip mixes and beverage mixes, including one for bacon cocoa. Dalonda explained this mix has bacon powder in it. I haven't tasted it yet, so I'll have to give a report in a later blog.

Well, there was a whole lot more to eat and look at. You're just going to have to come and check it out yourself next year -- the first weekend of November, 9 am to 5 pm.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Molt breakfast with a touch of Bailey's

Today's journey began a couple of years ago, after I first moved to Montana, when someone told me to "have breakfast in Molt." I have long forgotten who that was and anything else they told me, but I have been planning to eat breakfast in Molt ever since.

Friend Kathy did the driving, but I felt a bit tense, wondering what we would actually find in Molt. I didn't even know the name of the restaurant . . . would we find it? would there still be a breakfast served? But Kathy, who loves road trips that don't take you anywhere in particular, was cheerful about the adventure.

Molt was easy to find: drive north past Laurel for about half an hour. And we soon saw the restaurant was not only visible -- make a quick right on Wolfskill Road as soon as you hit town -- but very obviously in business as evidenced by the many cars (the only cars in town) parked around the building.

Molt is very small, and although there are a few buildings in current use, the nearest one to the cafe, besides the post office, was this house:

But the Prairie Winds Cafe was jumping.

The moment we entered, I knew this was a really, really cool place. Bluegrass music, tons of people, plates piled high with delicious-looking food, walls lined with full shelves from the building's days as the area mercantile. So many things to look at, listen to, savor.

We stood in line for a few minutes, then saw two empty places at a table nearby. Four other people at the table were already devouring pancakes and eggs. With permission, we sat with them. And that's a really nice feature of this place: you get to meet other diners.

In fact, things got so friendly that our table companions asked if we'd like some soy milk, which they were passing around in a green metal beverage container and pouring into their coffee. One of their party was lactose intolerant. When we learned there was Bailey's Irish Cream liqueur in the container, too, we suddenly realized we shouldn't be drinking so much milk and we accepted the offer. I'll have to say that Bailey's really livens up a cup of hot chocolate!

It really livens up conversation, too. In between laughing and sipping our "coffee," we were told the hash browns were made from fresh potatoes, and that you get tons of food, so don't order too much. Apparently, they have very tasty pie, too, but I ordered a cinnamon roll to take out. (Don't do this yourself; I don't know what it would have tasted like if I'd eaten it right there, but it was plenty dry by the time I got home. Next time I'll take home a piece of pie.)

We found out that a lot of people drive here or cycle from Billings, which is about an hour away, and as we were eating I saw a young woman from Japan walking around taking photos like any tourist. Or, perhaps, she has a blog, too. But it's obvious this cafe's reputation has traveled far and wide.

If you arrive when the cafe opens at 8:30 am, there will be a huge crowd, but at our arrival time of about 10 am, the crowd was thinning considerably.

Do not expect fast service. This is a leisurely experience that should be savored as much as the food. For when our food did arrive, I suddenly understood exactly why that long-ago unknown person told me to "have breakfast in Molt." The ambience is terrific and you should definitely go if only for that, but the food!! Delicious!

Of course the photo does not do justice to my meal, but it gives you an idea of how high the food is piled on. Although you can see the English muffins and a corner of my omelet, the plate was mostly covered with hash browns, and I can highly recommend them.

A repeat customer told us that if you go during the week, there might be one other person sharing the room with you, and there won't be any live music, but it would be a good time to taste lunch items.

Another repeat customer summed up the entire experience: "You always leave with a pep in your step," Although I must add the disclaimer here that she was the one who had brought the, er, soy milk.

I didn't get much practical information about the cafe, such as when it opened ("a few years ago," according to our table mates) or when it is open for business. But just keep in mind that on Saturday, you should arrive between 8:30 and 10:30 to sample the breakfast menu. I believe someone said the cafe closes at 3 pm on Saturday.

Call the cafe to get answers to your other questions: 406-669-3857.

But whether or not you remember to call ahead, do visit Molt on a Saturday morning. I'll share my table with you!

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Lots of produce at Bozeman winter market

The Bozeman Winter Farmers Market began today in a big way. It is indoors, so photos are iffy with my simple camera, but I hope you, er, get the picture.

If you wanted tomatoes, there were lots!

In fact, fresh produce of all kinds was in abundance. I learned that area farmers use hoop houses and low tunnels (also known as row covers) to prolong the growing season. While this may have been the last market day to find so much fresh produce, there will be hearty vegetables -- like onions, potatoes, beets, carrots, and winter squash -- all season, and we'll see greens appearing early next spring.

I also learned that occasionally a vendor will resell grocery seconds, so be alert. One tip for assuring you get fresh locally grown produce at any farmers market: Look around at what most vendors are selling. If you see one with an out-of-season item or something that is only on their table, ask where they got it.

Laurie of Crazy View Farm near Wilsall explained to me that greens are in fact hardy even in Montana. They love cool weather and thus will bolt and die in August heat. But if you keep them watered and trimmed, you can have fresh greens into autumn.

You will always see piles of luscious greens at Laurie's table. She also makes beautiful chard bouquets!

Along with fresh vegetables, some processed foods were available. Zeynep of Z's Old World Foods was offering free samples of her menu items that she will be selling in her new shop, Z's Meza Market, which will open soon on S. 19th in Bozeman near Main.

I have long enjoyed Z's hummus, which you can buy at area supermarkets, but I was overwhelmed by the tastes of Turkish-style tabouli, dill and garlic labne (similar to Greek tzatziki), red lentil soup, stuffed grape leaves (dolmi), Turkish eggplant . . . and more.

I sat at a table with six other tasters, and judging by the murmur of comments in between bites, Z is already successful: "Really good." -- "Yeah, really good." -- "Wow!" -- "The grape leaves are to die for!" -- "Every single one of them is fabulous." -- "It's definitely a restaurant I'll be visiting."

In the photo, Elizabeth and Matt, newcomers to Bozeman, are savoring a shared plate. They didn't say much; they were too busy eating!

I'll be writing more about Z and her culinary adventures, so stay tuned!

Meanwhile, back at the market . . . there was so much to see and buy I couldn't get a photo of everything.

One thing I especially enjoyed about today's market was the number of vendors promoting other area food producers.

I bought some lovely and delicious tiny cakes from Rendezvous catering, a company that proudly uses Montana products.

Their tower of goodies was spectacular. You can see why I couldn't resist one of each to take home.

The Cutest Business Logo award unofficially goes to One More Bite.

This business sells tasty chicken nuggets and veggie burgers, the latter made from grown-in-Montana lentils.

While I'm handing out awards, I have to say that Melissa, who was selling onions and eggs, was definitely the happiest vendor today. What a smile!

And Amaltheia Organic Dairy might have the state's best goat cheese. Now I haven't tried *all* the goat cheese in Montana, but I think the rest of the producers are going to have to try extra hard to impress me now that I'm enjoying Amaltheia. Be sure to look at their website for photos of darling goats.

Hyalite Farm was offering some tasty fudge made from goats' milk. Fudge is so rich and chocolatey anyway that I couldn't really tell it was any different, but it's a fun treat. They also were selling their Humble Bee Honey and goat's milk soap.

All in all, it was a very enjoyable morning. Be sure to visit this winter when you are in Bozeman. Hey, why not go out of your way to get there?

Emerson Ballroom, 111 South Grand Ave.
October 22, 2011 - April 28, 2012 (see website for exact dates)
every other Saturday, 9 am - noon