A Summer’s Day in Montana

What is it about summer that is sooo busy? I am in awe my “summer” is half over and it feels like it just started. Yes, half over, since spring semester ended the first week of May and I’m back to school the 26th of August. We can’t argue the truth on July 1. I was expressing to my husband just last night my frustration I have so many in-house projects I wanted to do this summer, but all I want to do is be outside and soak up this gorgeous weather. If you don’t happen to live in Montana, every season brings its own beauty and grandeur. I love spring for its warming days and the change of new life and green pastures, planting flowers, the promise of so much beauty. I enjoy autumn for its vibrant colors and cooling days, the rush of being back in school and harvest season. Winter is gorgeous with the snow covered mountains, and includes my favorite season of Christmas and time with family. And then there is summer — lazing in the sunshine at Flathead Lake, the smell of fresh cut grass, clean crisp rains on a summer’s night, and all the ways we can enjoy the warm days whether floating the river, hiking the trails, or just enjoying the patio in the evening with a roaring fire and s’mores.

patio at night
A summer’s night on the patio
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Le Cordon Bleu Tops the Chart!

What was my favorite part of our trip to Provence, France and Geneva, Switzerland? Hands down, cooking school! Within the first week, we spent 2 1/2 days in Paris, primarily eating very well, doing the tourist thing and revisiting sights we have seen a half a dozen times during our seven years living in Europe. It simply felt good (and comfortable) being back on the continent as we remembered what we most enjoyed during our travels. Before heading south to Lyon for the Rhone River cruise, we spent the morning at Le Cordon Bleu Paris making chocolate macaroons.

The class began by selecting from the 12 cooking stations and getting dressed in our aprons and hats. Chef Eric Verger demonstrated the mixing and baking process, to include using a pastry bag to press the cookie dough into perfectly round half dollars. The most important instruction was to not overmix the dough or the cookies will crack during baking. I took copious notes during the demonstration, intending to get this right the first time.

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Rainy Day Comfort

It has been raining for 3 days straight and there doesn’t seem to be reprieve in the near future. What is it about dreary, cold weather that tends to inspire a bit of comfort food? Pasta almost always fits the bill, and is a good compliment to most any protein – chicken, beef, veal, or pork. While I hope to complete a post very soon for homemade pasta, there’s nothing wrong with simplifying your menu with a store bought fresh pasta. For this recipe, I decided on a spinach and ricotta ravioli from Giovanni Rana along with their marinara sauce to pair with chicken tenderloins.

Baked Chicken & Ravs

Baked Chicken & Ravioli

Serves 3-4

3/4 lb. chicken tenderloins
1-2 tsp. Alpine Touch seasoning
1/2 tsp. pepper
1-2 tsp. Divine Inspired seasoning

10-oz. package Giovanni Rana Spinach & Ricotta Ravioli
15-oz. container Giovanni Rana Marinara Sauce

3 tbls. cream cheese, cubed
1/2 tsp. dried thyme
1/2 tsp. dried basil
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
1/2 tsp. dried parsley

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Butter Pecan “Caramel” Rolls

Over 28 years ago, I became “Best of Friends” with a cookbook. It was a wedding shower gift from my mother-in-law and is the single cookbook I gravitate toward first, especially when planning a holiday or family gathering. I have discovered so many favorites between the two covers, recently they had to be laminated and re-bound. Countless pages are stained from nuggets of goodness being dribbled or splattered upon them. The good news is there are two additional editions from Darlene Glantz Skees; Best of Friends, Too! and Best of Friends, Festive Occasions. Unfortunately, all editions went out of print following Darlene’s death in 1998. A few copies can be found online using the second hand market. I know this because several times I have considered buying spare copies, concerned my books will become un-usable and then, what? I said they were my favorites!

I want to share Darlene’s absolute best recipe for “caramel” or butter pecan cinnamon rolls! It is a recipe I have perfected over the years, often keeping a dozen rolls in the freezer, specifically for guests or to share as a hostess treat when we travel to the homes of friends & family.

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Easter Sunday Dinner… memories and treats to share

When you are 14 years old and incredibly self-conscious, even a 6am Easter Sunday Sunrise Service warrants a finished hair-do and makeup. It was practically the only day of the week I could sleep until 7am, so I wasn’t exactly thrilled at the idea. I grew up attending Sunday School and church every single Sunday, in a family church dating back to our family’s German immigrants, so it wasn’t like I was protesting attending church on one of the busiest Sundays of the year – it was all about the hour! And watching the sunrise at the same time was not exactly what I would consider necessary, or even all that special. The sun rises every day! Interestingly, this year, we actually considered attending a sunrise service, which made me chuckle just a bit thinking back to those least favorite Easter memories.

For me, Easter is about family. It is a day to celebrate the resurrection of Christ. It is a season of rebirth, spring, sunshine and white shoes. I was raised on the family farm and every Easter Sunday started with an extra special gift my father would bring home from my Grandmother. After feeding the cattle, he would stop into my grandparents home to say ‘good morning’ and chat for a few minutes, and on this particular day, she would carefully cover and hand over the basket painstakingly decorated and filled with chocolate marshmallow rabbits and eggs, solid chocolate eggs, and pastel colored m&m’s. My sister and I could hardly wait for the basket to arrive on this one day each year, diving into it as soon as it landed on the kitchen counter. When my children were growing up, I took great pleasure in filling their baskets with chocolate treats, a new outfit, a toy, video or in later years, gift cards for their favorite stores.

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Happy Birthday Babe!

My husband is an identical twin born in 1969. If I’m counting right, that means he is 50 years old now. While I have no problem whatsoever with his age, the passage of time does have me thinking about the fact I’m not too far behind him and that does bother me. I know that 50 is the new 40, or is it 40 is the new 50? Well, whatever the phrase is supposed to be, I am pretty sure someone is trying to convince us it is not really a whole half a century OLD. Since I don’t ‘feel’ nearly 50, I am not even sure how we got this old. Regardless of how we feel, look and behave, it sounded like a good reason to host a party and even though he would have been content with a quick trip to the brick oven pizzeria, I had to have a little fun.

Theme is always my first step to planning a party. He’s a guy, a 50 year old guy at that and what is his greatest vice? BEER. I don’t remember beer being such a significant staple in our home until we lived in Europe for 7 years. All of a sudden, he was a self proclaimed expert on craft beer, Belgian beer, US beef, pale ales, stouts, lager, pils, you name it, there was beer involved. So, the theme was pretty darn easy.

Cheers & Beers, Here’s to Brett’s 50 Years….

Theme in hand, I could also quickly decide on decorations. Since beer cans stack pretty easily, I scoured Google and Pinterest for quick ideas for creating a beer can tower. Easy, peasy, 50 cans of three different beers (one per level), I was on a roll.

I thought about how I have cooked with beer sufficiently before, so what if I build a menu around beer as the ingredient? Now, if you know me, you know I don’t drink beer. Not a drop! I never have and I seriously doubt I ever will. So, some will think this was quite a stretch for a non-drinker, but it’s really not much different than cooking with wine. I can’t taste it, and the best part is you definitely cannot smell it, and that is usually what sends me to the hills. Keep in mind, my father has grown malt barley for Budweiser for over 30 years and my husband and son drink probably more beer than water but I don’t even like the smell of it. Just like you, the internet and my collection of cookbooks served me well as I set out to select my menu. I can’t take credit for any of the creative genius, merely the pairing and delivery.

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