Deer, beer and wild 'shrooms 

Secrets to serving up a Montana-style spread

When you put together the list of all the things you're grateful for this Thanksgiving, a few of the usual suspects are sure to appear: family, friends, health, the invention of Snuggies—stuff like that. But there's one thing you should add to your list, regardless of what else is on it: Missoula's increasingly bountiful local food system. Every year, there's more and more emphasis from local restaurants and groceries on educating the public about cooking with and ultimately serving up locally sourced ingredients. It's not always the easiest route, especially during Montana's winter months, nor is it necessarily the cheapest option, but cultivating our homegrown culinary creativity does an immeasurable job helping to define our sense of place.

In that spirit, we're keeping the focus firmly on hometown fare for our annual food issue. We asked four chefs known for their commitment to area foods (and one organization known for harvesting area meat) to provide hyper-local, Montana-inspired recipes for an epic Thanksgiving feast. The results are inventive, simple to execute and almost entirely reliant on ingredients found right here in western Montana, and that's something we think all of us can be thankful for this holiday season.


Autumnal Beet and Apple Salad

Rain Smith, pantry chef, Biga Pizza

What you'll need:

1 bunch red Swiss chard

1 bunch purple kale

3 large Lifeline Farm beets, roasted and cubed

2 Bitterroot honeycrisp apples, sliced

Lifeline Farm's Feta-U-Betta, crumbled

Roasted spiced pumpkin seeds from a Clark Fork Organics pumpkin

For the pumpkin seeds:

2 tablespoons of olive oil

1 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon garlic powder

1/4 teaspoon paprika

1/4 teaspoon chili flakes

1/4 teaspoon chili powder

1/4 teaspoon turmeric

For the apple-ginger-chili vinaigrette:

1/2 cup Swanson's apple cider

2 tablespoons lemon juice

1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard

1/4 cup jalapeño jam from Mountain View Jams

1/4 cup apple cider vinegar

1 teaspoon minced fresh ginger

1/2 teaspoon allspice

Pinch of salt

3/4 cup vegetable oil

click to enlarge PHOTO BY CHAD HARDER

How to make it:

Place the beets in a roasting pan or Dutch oven with 1 1/2 inches of water. Roast at 400 degrees for 90 minutes or until tender. Remove from oven and allow to cool (Chef's note: cold water can be used to expedite this). Gently squeeze beets to remove skins.

Store-bought pumpkin seeds are fine, but you can also roast your own. You'll need to halve 1 pie pumpkin and remove seeds. (Chef's note: You can also roast the pumpkin, face down, with the beets for an hour and use it for a pie, pasta, soup, etc.) Rinse the seeds with cold water and strain, then toss in a bowl with the olive oil. Coat the seeds with the salt, garlic powder, paprika, chili flakes, chili powder and turmeric. Place seeds on lined or oiled baking sheet and toast at 350 degrees for 10 minutes or until golden.

To make the apple-ginger-chili vinaigrette, place all of the ingredients into a blender—except the vegetable oil. Blend. As the blender is moving, add in a slow stream of the vegetable oil.

Once your components are prepared, wash, dry and julienne the chard and kale. Toss the chard and kale with vinaigrette, then top with beets, apples, Feta-u-Betta and roasted pumpkin seeds.

A word from Biga owner Bob Marshall:

Our restaurant's specials are inspired by what's available that week, and this autumnal salad calls for a number of easily accessible seasonal ingredients.

At Biga Pizza, we pride ourselves in bringing a first-rate level of quality to our menu by using as much local food and as many local services as possible while maintaining a fair price to our customers. We accomplish this by incorporating local, organic foods that are harvested at their prime, and working with local farmers such as Montana Flour and Grains, Clark Fork Organics, Lifeline Farms, Farm to Market Pork, County Rail Farms and others through the Western Montana Growers Co-op.

In Missoula, we are fortunate to have many wonderful organic farmers who have honed their seed selection and farming practices to maximize our short, intense growing season. The produce we receive from them is usually harvested the same day and didn't spend time/fuel getting trucked in from 2,000 miles away. Most importantly, when we purchase meats, flour, produce and other items from local growers, the revenue stays in Montana. It helps them support their families and enables them to have money to spend in our vibrant local economy.

Side dish

Confit of Matsutake Mushrooms

Adam Cooke, executive chef, Resort at Paws Up

What you'll need:

2 pounds matsutake mushrooms (Chef's note: you can substitute bolete/porcini, king trumpet, crimini or shiitake; soft mushrooms like morel or chanterelle are not recommended)

12 cippolini onions, peeled, left whole

1 head of hardneck garlic, broken apart but left in the skins

1 handful each of fresh thyme and rosemary (Chef's note: Blue Willow Farm from the Bitterroot grows insane rosemary)

1 gallon of blended olive oil or half-gallon of grapeseed oil and half-gallon virgin olive oil (Chef's note: yes, this is a lot, but you can repurpose the olive oil for other meals)

Maldeon sea salt

click to enlarge PHOTO BY CHAD HARDER

How to make it:

Using a soft toothbrush or kitchen towel, gently remove all dirt from the mushrooms. Use the back side of a paring knife to scrape the outer skin from the stem of the mushrooms and then trim the base of the stem and discard. Leave the mushrooms whole.

Fetch a pot large enough to hold all ingredients (Dutch ovens or cast iron soup pots work great). Spread the herbs across the bottom of the pot and add the onions, garlic and mushrooms, and cover with oil. Gently heat the pot to 200 degrees and hold at that temperature until all ingredients are tender and just cooked—or place entire pot in an oven at 200 degrees and cook for approximately 45 minutes.

The mushrooms and other vegetables should be strained from the olive oil and served with a sprinkle of sea salt.

If you have extra, it can be stored in Mason jars in the fridge for a very long time. The onions and garlic are just as delicious as the mushrooms and all are great served on hamburgers, panini sandwiches and omelets, or grilled or roasted with chicken or meat roasts. There's really no limit to the uses.

A word from the chef:

A confit is a preserving method traditionally done with duck legs to keep them through the winter. The legs would be slowly cooked in duck fat and then held submerged in that same fat. The same method can be applied to most any vegetables using olive oil as the cooking medium. If available, beef or duck fat can be used to preserve and add flavor to these vegetables, but I've left the recipe vegetarian here as I think it's a more versatile preserve.

Montana is rich in wild mushrooms for short periods of time throughout the year and this method is useful in lengthening the shelf life of a hard-earned pile of 'shrooms. Please note that many varieties of wild mushrooms are not edible and it is recommended that you hunt with a professional mycologist.

Side dish

Amber Ale Gratin

Billy Pipinich, head chef, Tamarack Brewing of Missoula

What you'll need:

2 tablespoons butter or 2 tablespoons margarine

6 small potatoes, peeled and sliced

2 carrots, peeled and sliced

2 onions, diced

2 sweet potatoes, peeled and chopped

2 parsnips, peeled and sliced

1 garlic clove, minced

1 cup of Tamarack's Yardsale Amber Ale

1 cup cream

2/3 cup Parmesan cheese, freshly grated

2 tablespoons Italian seasoning

click to enlarge PHOTO BY CHAD HARDER

How to make it:

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Spread butter in a 9-by-13-inch pan. Arrange vegetables in pan and set aside. One note: Feel free to cut the vegetables any way you wish. The best part of this dish is it will always come together.

Pour beer into a different pan and bring to a boil for two minutes. Reduce heat and add cream. Season to taste.

Pour the sauce over the vegetables. Bake for 35 minutes and test the vegetables before serving—you'll want them to be soft. Sprinkle with cheese and bake for 5-10 more minutes, until cheese is crisping.

A word from the chef:

At Tamarack we believe in two things: Every customer should be treated like family and beer should always be involved in a meal. We strive to do both every day using the freshest and most local ingredients available. While some may say that in Montana this is not only a challenge but near impossible, we strive to show that anything can be done with the right ingredients, the right people and the right beer.

This dish is a perfect winter comfort food that can be made using local vegetables available this time of year. It's also easy to prepare, easy to cook, easy on your wallet and delicious. This way you have more time to enjoy your friends, family and, of course, your beer.

Main course

Marinated Venison Steaks

Steve Decker, vice president of marketing, Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation

What you'll need:

1 1/2 cups olive oil

1/4 cup Worcestershire sauce

2 1/4 teaspoons salt

1/2 cup wine vinegar

2 cloves of garlic, crushed

3/4 cup soy sauce

2 tablespoons dry mustard

1 teaspoon pepper

1 1/2 teaspoons dried parsley flakes

1/2 cup lemon juice

Choice cuts of venison

click to enlarge PHOTO BY CHAD HARDER

How to make it:

We'll keep this one simple. Mix ingredients in a bowl. Submerge selected cuts of locally harvested venison in marinade. Let sit, the longer the better—refrigerate overnight, if possible. Grill venison to desired temperature.

The story behind the recipe:

This recipe is the product of a long-running challenge between two brothers, both members of the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, aimed at designing the ultimate wild game marinade. Over the course of nearly two decades, the brothers sent each other a variety of concoctions each had made up, some better than others, until the day that one sent this particular recipe to the other. Upon trying it, the challenge was deemed complete. The ultimate wild game marinade had been found.

An RMEF headquarters staffer later introduced the recipe to fellow coworkers at a Christmas party several years ago and the status of the now-legendary marinade only builds. To this day, the recipe remains popular in the halls, and especially sizzling on the barbecue grills, of RMEF staffers.


Bitterroot Mac Apple Tart

Kim Batchelder, head chef, The Buttercup Market & Cafe

What you'll need:

3 apples peeled, cored and thinly sliced

3 tablespoons Wustner Brothers Honey

1 teaspoon cinnamon

2 teaspoons lemon juice

1 tablespoon Montana Flour and Grain unbleached flour

For the dough:

1 1/2 cup Montana Flour and Grain unbleached flour

1/2 cup confectioners' sugar

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 stick, plus 1 tablespoon of very cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces

1 Bitterroot Heritage Farm egg

click to enlarge PHOTO BY CHAD HARDER

How to make it:

To make the dough, place the flour, sugar, salt and butter in the the bowl of a processor or just a bowl, and pulse or mix with a fork until crumbly and the pieces are no bigger than a pea.

Lightly beat the egg yolk and slowly add to the mix until it starts to form a ball. Turn out onto a board and knead briefly to incorporate all the bits and flour. Wrap and refrigerate for 20 minutes to let the dough rest. Divide into four pieces and roll or press each one into a circle about a 1/4-inch thick.

To make the filling, mix the honey, cinnamon, lemon juice and flour in bowl. Toss in the apples to coat. Arrange inside an 8-inch circle of rolled or pressed out pie dough and fold up the edges about a 1/2-inch all around to keep the apples inside, but still exposed. Place on a cookie sheet or an oven-proof fry pan.

Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes, until the crust is golden brown and the apples are tender.

There are a number of possible variations to this recipe. Try using a mix of different apples, such as Macs, Sweet 16, Liberties or whatever needs to be used up. Use apple brandy or a different liquor in place of the lemon juice, or substitute apricot jam. Add a 1/2 cup of fresh or dried cranberries. Or make a light egg wash with one yolk mixed with a teaspoon of water, and brush on top for an even more golden crust.

A word from The Buttercup owner Molly Galusha:

The Apple Tart is a favorite of ours in the fall and winter because of the abundance of great apples grown down the Bitterroot, in the Flathead and around Missoula, and all the possibilities of dressing it up or keeping it simple. The recipe is basic and doesn't require fancy pans or equipment or long hours to prepare or cook. Change it up by using a mix of apple varieties or a different flavor of honey, like knapweed or clover. You can also add other flavors such as a liquor or jam, or additional fruit like cranberries or pears. Serve it with a scoop of Big Dipper Cardamom Ice Cream or a slice of Lifeline Cheddar. It is a great canvas for creativity and local ingredients, quick to assemble and nearly foolproof.

Located at 1221 Helen Ave. in the heart of the University District, The Buttercup prominently features local ingredients in all of its savory and pastry creations. Kim, our premier chef who got her cooking start when 1221 Helen was the old Freddy's Feed and Read, uses local produce and Montana meats sold in the market to prepare all her delicious meals.

Where’s my turkey and stuffing?

If you’re looking for more Thanksgiving dishes, check out the Indy’s blog at for dozens of other recipes from past food issues—including ideas for your beloved turkey and stuffing.

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