happy thanksgiving from my family to yours

My sister, who lives in Helena, Montana, is as different from me as this turkey is from this hat.  But she recently judged a chili cook-off competition, and made these treats out of cookies and candy with her twin boys.  Could we be expecting a Culinaria Helena spin-off blog soon?

Hope you all find the day sweet, filled with creative glories, and full of family and laughter.


stuffed elk tenderloin and visions of meatballs dancing in my head

We were treated to stuffed elk tenderloin by my brother-in-law when we were in Montana.  This method is courtesy of BIL’s mother, trying to keep up with a family of hunters.

Elk is a rich-textured, bright red, mild-flavored game.  Procuring your meat from hunters with good kill skills is crucial.  We talked about how the meat was skinned and hung to age it.  I realized that I shouldn’t complain about my husband’s bike paraphenalia ever again when I heard that carcasses are a frequent occupant in Montana garages in the fall and winter.

You probably won’t be able to buy wild elk at your local restaurant, even in Montana, because laws prohibit, or at leas inhibit, its use in culinary settings.  So when you see elk on the menu of your favorite restaurant, know it’s usually from somewhere like Canada or…egads…New Zealand.

Wild elk, meanwhile, proliferate in the Western ranges.  They can be quite canny, we learned from the ranchers at my recent conference.  They herd up with cattle against predators, and seeking out pastures carefully prepared for cowfood instead of the rougher, less-maintained mountain grasses.

But even with their mad skillz, elk are very lean, and you have to be careful not to overcook the meat, especially a tender cut like a tenderloin.

The tenderloin is smaller than a beef tenderloin, so butterflying it is difficult.  We tried to slice it open as evenly as possible.  Once butterflied, we marinated the meat in a mix of soy, worcestershire sauce, beer, pepper, salt, and spices.  As it marinated, I minced a couple of cups of little shiitakes, onions, and garlic.  These were sauteed in butter and a bit of truffle oil, then mixed with breadcrumbs and parsley.  We stuffed the tenderloin (I’d use fewer breadcrumbs and less stuffing altogether next time) and secured it en triage: kitchen twine and toothpicks.

The rolled tenderloin was quickly seared on a hot cast iron pan, then popped in a 350 degree oven for just a few minutes to medium rare.  We used the drippings from the searing, extending them a little with some wine, as an “au jus” just before serving.

As delicious as it was, the best thing was that my BIL sent us home with 5 lbs. of elk meat hamburger.  I’m planning to use Hunter Angler Gardener Cook Hank Shaw’s swoonworthy moose meatball recipe, maybe for an upcoming very special birthday party?  (Yes, mine.)

Speaking of Hank, I am so privileged and excited to be attending his wild foods dinner at Castagna on Sunday. It will feature foods foraged on a hike on Saturday.  The hike/dinner celebrates his excellent new cookbook, Hunt Gather Cook.  Can’t wait!

culinaria eugenius in montana: ride ’em, cowgirl!

When last we heard from Culinaria Eugenius, she was in Spokane, missing one husband and headed off to the Big Sky Food and Agriculture conference in Missoula, MT.

The husband, Retrogrouch, showed up a day early after biking from just outside of Walla Walla, WA to Missoula…just in time for a rather glorious cajun dinner at the Dinosaur Café.

If you find yourself in Missoula, be sure to check this place out.  It’s in the back of a dive bar called Charlie B’s on the main drag.  You order everything from gumbolaya (gumbo on top of jambalaya, pictured here behind a boneless rib special plate) to crawfish etouffée to alligator-pork sausage po’ boys to red beans and rice.

A reader suggested the excellent and more genteel Caffé Dolce, and we were very happy to partake in a smoked salmon omelet and (pictured) crab and spinach eggs benedict just before we left town.

The waters were high in Missoula.  The Clark Fork river was lapping the outside deck of the restaurant at my hotel, and like Eugene, the rains just kept comin’.  I was really impressed by the still-spring flowers, especially the lilac trees everywhere in bloom.  I shouldn’t have been surprised, given Montana has a 45-day growing season, with frost danger even during the season.

The conference itself was quite good, with interdisciplinary panels and workshops on all aspects of food production and consumption. Some of the highlights for me: a panel featuring some of the great work OSU Extension does in their Small Farm program, a talk on foodways on the Oregon Trail, a panel on Japanese instant ramen and Singaporean cookbook rhetoric, and a workshop on food pedagogy for undergraduates.

Above is some of the group off on a tour — talking about ranching at Rolling Stone Ranch in Ovando.  We were hosted by the owner of the ranch, and he discussed his work with the Blackfeet Challenge group that brings together environmentalists and ranchers to mediate solutions that would work for the majority of the constituents in the community.

We also had a roundtable (tour was sadly canceled due to flooding and rain) at a ranch that had sustainable aspects to it, including the discovery of a new market for Montana beef: relatively wealthy, food-conscious liberals (like me!) who want their cow fed on grass and far removed from Big Ag systems of finishing and slaughter.  The Mannix Bros., who have been ranching for well over a century in conventional methods, have the property pictured above.

The Mannixes are taking the lead in providing what they call “grass-finished” (versus “grain-finished”) beef to local markets.  To a Eugenius, this may not seem very innovative, given our meat CSAs and demand for more sustainable everything, but it’s big news among Montana ranchers, who see almost all their beef go off to the Midwest at the end of the season for grain finishing and slaughter.  The Mannix family is keeping it small but the percentage of their herd and labor devoted to completely grass-fed beef: they started with about a dozen cows several years ago and are up to over a hundred this year.

Rather grim to see that only one market and one restaurant feature local Mannix beef in Missoula.  There’s real resistance to perceived lack of flavor in grass-finished beef.  I had some at Scotty’s Table, a local/sustainable joint in Missoula, in a “beef duo” of hangar steak with a carrot-caper sauce and short ribs on a carrot purée.  It was very good, and knowing the cow hadn’t been shipped back from Nebraska was even better.

It was a real pleasure to talk with the ranchers.  I asked one of the Mannixes about Extension, and how UM was involved with educating the community about food preservation and the like, and I may have inadvertently set myself up to come back to Missoula and teach pressure canning meats!  (It would be a pleasure.)  They said that they’d love to teach the skills, but no one was able to give canning classes.  I find this very hard to believe, given that it’s been a farming community since Lewis and Clark, but who knows. After all, this was our lunch on the tour (not provided by the ranch):

Ruffles, ham sandwich, cookie, and candy.  Mountain Dew or Pepsi to drink.  I don’t mean to sound ungrateful, but it really signals a tragedy in the local infrastructure if this is what the community relies on for sustenance when there’s so many natural resources, from grain to greens to fish to cattle.  Where, for example, is a cottage dairy industry?  Pulses?

It’s difficult not to be outraged by the resistance to change in Montana foodways, but progress is being made.  We learned, for example, that the Blackfeet community ranchers had successfully negotiated a purchase of developer-owned land in their valley, preventing more McMansion development, as we saw rife in Helena (above) after the conference.  There seems to be a deep, deep federal pocket for conservation efforts in Montana, and I’d love to see more.

I understand, however, that Montana has its hands full with tea party nonsense.  I quite enjoyed this veto branding billboard in the Governor’s office in the State Capitol building in Helena (which heads up this post).  My sister and I wandered in as tourists, and saw all kinds of fascinating things, from working legislative offices to an old Supreme Court chamber.

But back to Missoula.

The food at the conference was excellent, and attended to with much devotion by the UM catering staff.  Providing local vegetables in Montana in June is not easy, but the rolling hills grow all manner of grains, so we ate all  kinds of grainy things.  Every meal had bread, and lunches featured things like wheatberry salad with winter squash, forbidden rice salad, and quiche.

The conference banquet was a “Montana Feast,” featuring elaborate sets and actors dressed up in regulation gear, like this fly fisherman below, who parked his canoe under the table to fry up some rainbow trout for conference attendees.  Behind him, a river made of blue cellophane paper with duck decoys and paper fish ran through it.

Another station (manned by ranchers, I guess), featured smoked flank steak, cowboy beans, and a delicious leek “fondue.”

An imported herb garden by the banks of the river was actually more impressive than some of the other stuff to me.  How did they get that box of dirt and plants into the student union ballroom?

Once the conference was finished, we took off to see my sister and her family for a couple of days.  Next up: a recipe for stuffed elk tenderloin!

some like it hot: a canning tradition

Seems I always/only have time + excess produce during the one week of summer that the Oregonian deities deem Let’s Scald the Lily White Flesh of Those Fragile Mud Creatures with Scorching Temperatures after a Year of Rain Week.  So let’s just make it a tradition: I can when the temps hit the 90s.   If I lay these plans bestly, maybe they will go awry?

So this time, I managed to snap up some achingly fresh, machete-cut fat asparagus spears and a lug of apricots on special at a glorified farm stand, pickle and chocolate factory, tamale and salsa industrial complex, and tourist mecca in Eastern Washington — Country Mercantile, off I-395. (Their line of preserved foods is impressive — I almost succumbed to the Old World Cabbage pickles and a big jar of preserved mixed fruit, given their rarity, and I tasted about 2 dozen fresh and canned salsas, each excellent.)

That meant I had 5 pounds of perfect asparagus and 20 pounds of perfect apricots to dispatch with…and quickly.

I’m down to 0 pounds of asparagus, thanks to my lightening speed pickling skillz, and 7 pounds of apricots, thanks to the powers of jam and tarte.  Will post more later.  Produce, like all ripe bodies, on the rot.  With miles to go before I sleep.

But before I get back in the saddle, check out this awesome vintage can lifter I bought in an antique store in Helena, Montana.  One-handed lifting, bitches.  I’ll never use one of those clunky two-handed Kerr things again.  If you find one, pick it up.  Highly recommended.

culinaria eugenius in montana: a cool one

We left our heroine in Wallace, Idaho, where she was contemplating buying three milkshakes at once just to see the old Hamilton Beach tri-head mixer do its thing.  Instead, she duded up and rode off into the sunrise to Montana for a long July 4th weekend.

We partook in a bison sirloin steak with a merlot glaze and blue cheese butter (sadly, the photos look disgusting) at a fancy steakhouse in Helena, but the chow was otherwise humble.  We canned some dilly beans, grilled burgers, and made excellent margaritas at my sister’s place.  Then we headed over to Livingston, until recently the home of my brother, whose digital archiving skills were used on a collection of historic photos that now hang in The Mint bar, above, among other places.

Bars and drinking are a theme in Montana, as you might imagine.  It’s usually hot and dry in the summer, and pains are taken to properly hydrate.  One can drink in many ways:

1) Teabagging at the Livingston Parade under a big Coca-Cola ad.

2) Fresh well water pumped by my nephew at a day camp site as we boated through the Gates of the Mountains, so named by Lewis and Clark in 1805 as they journeyed through the limestone cliffs that channelled the Missouri River.

3)  Using plastic water bottles as targets for skeet-shooting practice.  Take that, California!  (Retrogrouch managed to get one pellet from a shotgun in this rara avis as it flew through the air.)

3)  I made mincemeat of this soda can on behalf of all sustainable food practitioners everywhere (also hit the bullseye, please note, bottom right: yeehaw!)

4)  Miller Lite in the back woods after our gun battle in the mountains outside of Helena (re-creation). Montana finally joined the rest of the Union by instituting a no open alcoholic beverage containers law in vehicles a couple of years ago.  Local custom, however, dictates a cold one after a shoot.

5) Or, if you prefer wine: Merlot on the rocks at the Livingston Rodeo.  N.b., they also serve a mean G-n-T.

6)  Yep, there are plenty of ways to get your beverages.  If you want whiskey, check out one of the many saloons in the two-block town of Livingston depicted immediately above and in the first shot of this post, that is, if you can get past the guy protesting our socialist government by handing out free fake money to children on the Tea Party float.

Don’t worry, I got the situation covered.

7)  Even American film director Sam Peckinpah drank up in Livingston, when he lived in the town for a decade in the 1970s and 80s.  You can still see the bullet holes he shot into the ceiling of his suite in the 1904 grand Murray hotel while on a bender.

8)  Luckily, all is not Tea Party and drunken shooting in Montana, however.  This lady looks like a transplant from Eugene, reminding us all to recycle our beverage cans.  Even if they’re shot full of holes!  This means you, furface:

Don’t drink and drive!  With that rig, he obviously hasn’t been following changes in the law.  Nevertheless, as you can see, a great time was had by all. Thanks, Montana, and thanks, family!