Fresh eats 

Some of Missoula’s newest restaurants help prepare a heaping holiday feast

If you read enough cooking magazines or watch your fair share of the Food Network, certain culinary buzzwords start to seep into your vocabulary. Locavore. Farm-to-table. Fusion cuisine. Blah blah blah. It’s useless trying to keep up with all of them. But when it comes to good food, there’s one buzzword that never falls out of flavor, er, favor: fresh.

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  • Cathrine L. Walters

That’s why we decided to focus the Indy’s annual holiday food issue on some of Missoula’s freshest restaurants. The Garden City has been fortunate in recent years to see an influx of exciting new eating establishments. We asked six of them—as well as Missoula’s first microdistillery—to help us put together the ultimate Thanksgiving feast, from main dish to after-dinner cocktail, and everything in between. The result leaves us grateful for our area’s bountiful restaurants and their creative chefs—and bacon, because my goodness there’s a lot of bacon in these recipes.


Braised beef short ribs

Walker Hunter, Burns St. Bistro

Braised dishes are an excellent choice for the holiday season because they are not only delicious and seasonally appropriate, but are also best prepared a day in advance. This helps cut down the distractions on the holiday itself, and starts the gauntlet of cookery with a delicious smelling house.

The Bistro chefs chose this short rib recipe to highlight some of the spectacular fall foods Missoula makes available, as well as our great local beer. Celery root, plentiful in this season, adds a nice sweetness to the dish. Other beef cuts can be used if short ribs are unavailable or too expensive. If you’re looking for alternatives, choose a good braising cut, such as chuck or brisket—or tongue or cheeks if you’re more adventurous.

Oh, and feel free to call the Bistro if you get into trouble with the recipe. Seriously, we’ll do our best to help.

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  • Cathrine L. Walters


5 pounds beef short ribs, brightly colored and clean smelling. (We like the ones from Big Sky All Natural Beef, which are often available at the Missoula Food Co-op next to the Bistro.)

1 cup of flour

Canola oil

2 medium yellow onions, rough chopped

3 medium carrots, rough chopped

1 celery stalk, rough chopped

1 small celery root, rough chopped

2 garlic bulbs, halved crosswise

3 dry or 2 fresh bay leaves

5 hardy sprigs of fresh thyme

A few black peppercorns

Small can of tomato paste

A growler of your favorite cooking beer (We suggest something medium-bodied and not too bitter, like Kettlehouse Cold Smoke or Draught Work’s Gwin Du Stout)

Beef stock (Your own or low-sodium canned)

Red wine vinegar


Salt and pepper

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  • Cathrine L. Walters


Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

It’s best to remove the short ribs from the fridge an hour before, to let them come up to room temperature. Season generously with salt and fresh ground pepper. Heat a thin layer of oil in a large saute pan or skillet over medium high heat. Dredge the ribs in flour lightly and sear on all sides. You’re looking for a good brown crust. Remove from pan and place bones down in a large roasting/braising pan.

Add vegetables, thyme, bay leaves and black peppercorns to skillet and sauté, stirring only occasionally. Once the vegetables have taken on some color and softened, add the tomato paste and continue cooking for a few more minutes, stirring frequently.

Add enough beer to cover the vegetables halfway and stir to remove any food from the pan. Reserve the rest of the beer for personal amusement while waiting for the meat to finish. This step often takes three hours, so you may want to plan accordingly when shopping at the brewery or beer aisle. Reduce only slightly, then add enough stock to cover the vegetables. Bring to a boil.

Carefully pour the liquid and vegetables over the ribs. The liquid should come halfway up the ribs, though a little more is not a problem. Cover with parchment paper laid flat across the surface or loosely fitted foil. Place in center of oven. Have a beer. You can check the ribs after a few hours by inserting a skewer or similar probing device. When it comes out easily without lifting the rib out of its braising liquid, it’s done.

Cows are their own people, and their ribs unique to them. We’ve seen some ribs take upwards of three hours to cook. When you are satisfied they are finished, remove from oven and cool. Set it outside if it’s cold and there aren’t hungry dogs, as to avoid steaming up your fridge. Once cool, refrigerate overnight. You can do this up to two days in advance if you really want to get ahead of things.

Day of, remove ribs from the braising liquid, which may be quite stiff. Reheat in a warm oven with beef broth. Meanwhile, strain your braising liquid into a pot, add a splash of red wine vinegar and reduce over high heat, scraping down the sides as you do, until it’s thickened to a glaze that coats the back of a spoon. Taste for salt. If you are plating these yourself or otherwise serving immediately, finish by whisking in some butter. If you plan to set this out for a while, ignore the last step.

Serve with damn near anything.


Baby spinach salad with warm bacon vinaigrette, fried pork belly, blue cheese and spiced walnuts

Erin Crobar, Top Hat Lounge

This salad is one of the small plates served daily at the new Top Hat Lounge, and it’s seasonally appropriate for a Thanksgiving feast. The overall theme of this dish, from the spices to the warm bacon vinaigrette, says fall to me.

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  • Cathrine L. Walters


For the dressing:

13 ounces sherry vinegar

½ cup honey

3 ounces shallot, minced

1 ounce garlic, minced

1.5 ounces ground black pepper

2 cups cooked bacon, crispy and chopped

1 quart canola oil

For the spiced walnuts:

1.5 cups white sugar

½ cup water

½ teaspoon each cinnamon, smoked paprika, kosher salt

¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper

1 pound walnuts

You’ll also need some bacon or pork belly

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  • Cathrine L. Walters


To make the dressing, add all ingredients to blender except for oil and one cup of the bacon. With blender running, slowly drizzle in oil to emulsify. Once well emulsified, add remaining cup of bacon and pulse blender several times to chop up bacon into small pieces. Warm dressing on low before adding to salad.

To make the spiced walnuts, add sugar and water to large skillet, turn heat on high and cook for 10 minutes (use timer) without stirring. Add spices, stir gently, and quickly add walnuts to sugar mixture. Remove from heat, stir nuts vigorously until sugar crystalizes. Dump nuts onto parchment-paper-covered cookie sheet to cool.

Since most people don’t have access to pork belly, a nice thick cut of bacon will work. Cut bacon into small pieces and fry until done.

To assemble the salad, dress the spinach with desired amount of vinaigrette and garnish with fried bacon, blue cheese crumbles and candied walnuts.

Serve and enjoy.


Apple pumpkin bacon soup

Benjamin Sokoloski, Market on Front

This soup is an all-encompassing melody of the flavors people think of during fall. Apples, pumpkin and bacon are very flavor-forward ingredients yet play harmoniously well together.

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  • Cathrine L. Walters


For the apple butter:

6 Granny Smith apples, cubed and peeled

2 cups unsalted butter

2 tablespoons maple syrup

2 tablespoons honey

½ cup brown sugar

For the soup:

15 ounces canned pumpkin

5 cups chicken or veggie stock

3 cups cream

1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice

5 apples

½ pound bacon

Entire batch of apple butter

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  • Cathrine L. Walters


First, make the apple butter. In a large pot, boil cubed apples until they’re soft enough to mash. Strain excess water. In a large mixing bowl, add unsalted butter, maple syrup, honey, brown sugar and apples. Mash the mixture thoroughly. Keep mashing. Mash one more time. Then refrigerate for 8 hours.

To make the soup, start by cooking the bacon until crispy. Drain excess fat and pat dry with a paper towel. In a large pot, simmer pumpkin and stock, and whisk. Add heavy cream, pumpkin pie spice and apple butter. Simmer for 20 minutes. Add apples, bacon, salt and pepper to taste. For less sweetness, add only half of your apple butter. To increase awesomeness, add more bacon.


Naughty cranberries

The Independent staff

Let’s get one thing straight: If you’re serving cranberries out of a can, you’re doing it wrong. For whatever reason, this traditional Thanksgiving dish gets relegated to an afterthought, with some kooky aunt dumping a cylindrical glob of red stuff on a dish and calling it good. Not here. Our version gets its name because it’s stupid easy to make (even for a bunch of journalists) and because it’s sinfully delicious to eat (mmm, sugar). Plus, in keeping with this year’s holiday food theme, it celebrates fresh ingredients—unlike some gunk that comes out of a can.

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  • Cathrine L. Walters


1.5 cups of sugar

1 navel orange

½ teaspoon ginger, grated

4 cups cranberries

½ cup toasted pecans


Grate the orange peel and add it to a pot with sugar and ginger. Squeeze orange and add juice to the pot. Simmer over medium heat until sugar dissolves. Add cranberries and cook until they pop, about 5 minutes. Pour cranberries into a serving dish and top with toasted pecans. Let cool and serve.


Roasted cauliflower gratin

Derrick Wcislak, Riverside Cafe

Thanksgiving has always been hosted at my parents’ house. Our overly extended Polish family would gather potluck-style, and turn my folks’ kitchen counter into a smorgasbord of Polish delights. This is one of my favorite contributions—and my relatives’ favorite—to this delectable holiday gathering.

To me, the dish epitomizes decadence. The caramelized onion, cauliflower and bacon all have a hearty presence with deep flavors. Toss in the freshness of parsley, the crunch of some almonds, then blanket it with a cheesy béchamel, and you have a dish that is rich and filling, and perfect for a meal surrounded by loved ones.

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  • Cathrine L. Walters


For the cauliflower:

1 head cauliflower

½ pound butter

1 teaspoon each ground allspice, clove, cinnamon, nutmeg

For the caramelized onions:

2 large onions, sliced thick

2 sprigs thyme

½ cup white wine

6 cloves crushed garlic

3 bay leaves

3 tablespoons butter

2 teaspoons salt

For the gouda béchamel:

2 cups whole milk

¼ pound butter

½ cup flour

¼ teaspoon each ground allspice, cloves

1 bay leaf

½ onion, whole

1 cup gouda, grated

For the gratin:

1 cup toasted almonds, coarsely crushed

1 bunch parsley, leaves picked

1 cup crispy bacon bits or lardons (optional)

½ cup sliced chives

And, of course, your roasted cauliflower, caramelized onions and gouda bechamel

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  • Cathrine L. Walters


To make the roasted cauliflower, preheat oven to 425 degrees. Place butter and spices in a small sauce pot over low heat. Heat until butter has melted and spices become fragrant. Place the head of cauliflower on a rack, over a sheet tray. Stir together the butter and spices with a brush and baste the head of cauliflower with the mixture. Salt. Roast in oven until well caramelized, approximately 45-60 minutes. Baste with the melted butter every 10 minutes or so. Pour a little water into pan and wrap with foil. Steam the cauliflower for another 10-15 minutes. Cool and cut cauliflower into florets and chunks. Note that the stalk usually gets tender enough to use.

For the caramelized onions, start by melting butter in a medium sauté pan over medium heat. Add remaining ingredients except for the wine. After sweating for 10 minutes, turn heat down to low, and slowly cook until well caramelized. If the pan begins to dry out, deglaze the pan with a little wine. Cooking the onions over a low flame is important for flavor development and texture. It allows the onions to slowly release moisture and caramelize, without overcooking them and causing them to become completely mushy.

To make the gouda béchamel, melt butter in a small saucepot over medium heat. Whisk in flour. Continue cooking, whisking frequently, until flour has reached a light brown in color. Whisk in the milk, and add the bay leaf, spices and onions. Turn heat to low and simmer for 20-25 minutes, or until the flour taste has cooked out. Whisk frequently. Remove the onion and bay leaf. Then whisk in grated gouda and stir until melted.

To assemble the gratin, start by preheating the broiler. In a bowl, toss together all ingredients except for the béchamel. Check for seasoning. Place the mixture into a casserole dish and pour the béchamel over the top. Broil for 15-20 minutes or until the top is golden brown and vegetables are heated through. Serve.


Goat cheese and beet terrine, with roasted coffee bean and carrot vinaigrette and corn bread biscotti

Chris Peterson, Plonk

We chose this dish from our Plonk menu because the presentation is dynamic and the preparation is straightforward. It’s a perfect addition to a holiday feast.

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  • Cathrine L. Walters


For the terrine:

3 golden beets

3 candy stripe beets

3 purple beets

1 pound goat cheese

For the vinaigrette:

12 carrots, peeled

¼ cup apple cider vinegar

6 ounces coffee beans

1 teaspoon agar agar (a vegetarian gelatin substitute)

For the corn bread:

2 eggs, beaten

1 cup of cream

¼ cup butter, melted

¼ cup honey

1 cup flour

1 cup cornmeal or polenta

1 teaspoon salt

¼ cup sugar

1 tablespoon baking powder


For the terrine, roast each type of beet separately at 400 degrees for 45-60 minutes, or until cooked through. Let cool enough to handle, then peel, keeping each type still separate. Slice on mandoline to approximately 1/8-inch thick. Line 4-inch half pan with plastic wrap. Layer golden beets, overlapping like scales, until bottom is covered. Crumble goat cheese in thin layer over beets. Sprinkle a little salt. Add layer of striped beets, one more layer of goat cheese, sprinkle salt. Finish with layer of purple beets. Cover with plastic wrap and press. If beets are still warm, more color will bleed into cheese.

For the vinaigrette, cover a half pan with layer of coffee beans. Place carrots on top. Cover with foil and roast at 325 degrees for 90 minutes. Cool in pan, then juice carrots. Weigh juice. For every 275 grams of juice, use 1 teaspoon agar agar. Simmer juice and agar agar for 5 minutes, then pour into container to cool. When cool, cut into bits and put in blender with a little vinegar. Blend and push down product, adding very little vinegar until smooth, but still thick enough to smear. Salt to taste.

To make the corn bread, start by mixing the honey with the melted butter. Add all liquid ingredients and mix. Combine dry ingredients in a separate bowl and mix. Add liquid to dry ingredients and stir until barely mixed. Divide between two greased loaf pans and bake at 400 degrees, turning every 5 minutes, until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.

Serve terrine and corn bread on plate along with the vinaigrette.


Bonita Applebum

Ryan Montgomery and Tad Hilton, Montgomery Distillery

This Bonita Applebum captures the crisp and cozy perfection of fall in the Five Valleys. Head bartender Tad Hilton obtains our cider from Swanson’s Mountain View Orchards in Corvallis, then reduces it to a luxurious syrup. Combined with the botanicals in our Whyte Laydie gin, cardamom bitters and citrus, this cool cocktail reminds us of standing around the cider press in big sweaters. The crisp apple garnish floats drowsily under a dusting of cinnamon like an autumn sunset. Bonita Applebum—you gotta put me on!

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  • Cathrine L. Walters


1.5 ounces gin

1 ounce apple cider syrup (½ gallon Swansons cider reduced down over medium heat to 2 cups)

.75 ounce Curaçao

.75 ounce lemon juice 

4 drops cardamom bitters 


Stir all ingredients in a mixing glass over ice. Strain into chilled coupe glass and garnish with a cinnamon-dusted apple slice.


Winter squash mini fritters

Stephanie Lubrecht, Treasure State Donuts

At Treasure State Donuts, we love to work with the fantastic fresh ingredients available to us locally through the Western Montana Grower’s Co-Op. We had been tinkering with local roasted pumpkin donuts when Stefan at the Co-Op suggested we try some local butternut squash too. We thought we’d be crazy not to try it! What came out of our squash experiments were these butternut squash fritters, which we dip in a local Wustner Brothers Honey glaze for the perfect balance of sweet and savory. 

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  • Cathrine L. Walters


For the filling:

2 cups or 20 ounces peeled and roasted winter squash,

roasted pumpkin or leftover yams and sweet potatoes

¼ cup brown sugar

1 tablespoon pumpkin pie spice or cinnamon

For the dough:

1.5 cups whole milk

2.5 cups all-purpose flour (plus more for dusting your work surface)

2.5 cups bread flour

1/3 cup butter at room temperature or vegetable shortening

2 large eggs

¼ cup granulated sugar

1.5 teaspoons sea salt

4.5 teaspoons instant yeast

1/3 cup warm water (95-105 degrees)


In the bowl of your stand mixer, place both flours, shortening or butter, eggs, sugar and salt. In a separate, small bowl, mix the yeast with the warm water and let the mixture sit for 5 minutes.

Add the yeast to the stand mixer bowl with remaining ingredients and mix on low speed with a dough hook until dough becomes moist. Raise the mixer speed to medium-high and mix until dough comes together and pulls away from the sides of the bowl. 

As soon as the dough mixes into a workable ball, stop the mixer and turn the ball onto an oiled bowl or sheet pan. Cover dough loosely with plastic wrap or a damp tea towel. Allow dough to rise in a warm, draft-free area for 1 hour or until it has doubled in size.

As dough rises, prep your filling. Cut your peeled, roasted squash or yams into ½-inch cubes and toss them in the brown sugar and pumpkin pie spices to coat evenly, and set aside.

Once your dough has doubled in size, turn it out onto a well-floured surface and gently roll it to ½-inch thickness. Pour all of your filling onto one half of the rolled-out dough and sprinkle about 4 tablespoons of flour over the top of it. Fold your dough over the top of the filling to encase it in the dough. Next, take your knife and cut the dough into 1-inch strips vertically and horizontally to create a checkerboard of dough and filling chunks. (Note: This will be messy!) Fold the dough and filling together again, and continue cutting, folding and adding flour as necessary until the chunks begin to form a cohesive, sticky mixture. 

Create your fritters by pulling or cutting golf-ball sized pieces of dough-squash mixture, patting them into small mounds with floured hands and placing them onto a lightly floured sheet pan. Cover fritters loosely with plastic wrap or a damp tea towel and allow them to rise again for 45 minutes or until they have doubled in size.

While your fritters are rising, prepare your cooking oil. Fill dutch oven with about 2 or 3 inches of oil. Slowly heat the oil over medium heat to about 350 degrees. Please exercise caution while cooking with hot oil! 

Once fritters have doubled, and oil has come to temperature, use a metal spatula to lower the fritters a few at a time into the hot oil. Use metal tongs or wooden chopsticks to flip fritters over when they have browned nicely on the bottom. Cooking time should be about 60-90 seconds total depending on the size. (It’s best to fry one or two “testers” and find what time works best for you.) Remove fritters from oil using tongs or a slotted spoon and place on a paper towel. Once fritters are cool enough to comfortably touch, dip them in a simple vanilla glaze, warmed honey or cinnamon sugar.

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