Thursday, July 28, 2011

Food Safe Families Enjoy More Summer Fun

A new national campaign developed by the Ad Council and several federal agencies has some great advice for families who area headed outdoors this summer. Food Safe Families aims to raise awareness about the risks of food borne illness and to help consumers, especially parents, to take specific actions to reduce the risks to themselves and their children.

In the US, approximately 1 in 6 Americans suffer a food-related illness, sometimes called food poisoning, every year. Food-related illnesses tend to increase during the summer months for several reasons. Family vacations and hot weather are both contributing factors.

More families eat outdoors - everywhere from backyard picnics and national park campgrounds to hiking trails and motorboats. Special effort is also necessary to keep cold foods cold in summer weather. Unfortunately, many Americans do not take enough personal responsibility for keeping food safe to eat after they buy it at a supermarket or grocery store.

Every one of us can take simple steps to be food safe every day. Preventing food borne illness is a farm-to-table process. It begins where food is produced and continues through everywhere it is processed and marketed. Consumers also play a critical role in food safety by properly handling, preparing, and storing food everywhere they eat.

Food Safe Families recommends four basic steps to follow anytime, anywhere you shop, cook, or eat:

  1. CLEAN: It’s always important to clean kitchen surfaces, dishes, and utensils while preparing food. One of the most basic, easiest ways to prevent illness is to wash hands thoroughly before, during, and after cooking.
  2. SEPARATE: Cross contamination can occur from bacteria on raw foods to ready-to-eat items. Separate raw meat, poultry, and fish from other foods - in grocery bags, the refrigerator, and camping coolers.
  3. COOK: A small digital thermometer is essential for safely cooking inside and outdoors, especially when grilling meat and poultry. A $10 to $15 investment in a kitchen thermometer can prevent expensive illnesses.
  4. CHILL: Special attention is necessary to keep foods cold in summer’s heat. All perishable items must be kept in a fridge or cooler until time to cook or eat. Cooked foods should be kept out no longer than 2 hours.

Montanans can find all the most current food safety information online, and the MSU Extension site ( have tips, guidelines, and even videos.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

5 Easy Ways to Enjoy a Green Farmers’ Market Visit

1. Bike, walk, carpool, or take the bus.

For a true enviroshopping experience, use energy efficient transportation to and from your local farmers’ market. Walking and biking (with a backpack for your produce purchases) use no fossil fuels - and they improve your fitness along the way. Carpooling helps reduce air pollution, saves on gas money, and gives you time to chat with family or friends!

2. Bring the whole family for food, fun, and fitness.

Farmers’ markets have become much more than simply a place to buy delicious, local fruits and veggies. Many offer ready-to-eat food booths with a variety of tasty ethnic options for breakfast and/or lunch. Some have music and dancing, while others offer family-friendly entertainment and special events. Many are near a park or trail, perfect for a weekend walk.

3. BYOB (bring your own bags - or coolers).

Many farmers rely on their customers to bring reusable bags for their purchases. The most environmentally responsible choice is to carry a canvas, mesh, or heavy plastic tote that can be washed after multiple uses. Many stores and farmers’ markets now offer enviro-bags for sale. If you plan to buy meat or dairy products, be sure to have a cooler to keep them safe.

4. Be spontaneous (but only buy what you can use).

While a list is the most cost-effective way to shop for groceries, it’s better to be more flexible at a farmers’ market. Produce will vary from week to week during the season and it’s hard to predict what the best buys will be. If you don’t know how to prepare something, ask the grower for suggestions. Be careful not to over-buy; the cost of wasted food adds up quickly.

5. Buy from local, sustainable farms and ranches.

A major benefit of these markets is that you can build a relationship with the hard working farmers and ranchers who till the soil, feed our families, and maintain our agricultural heritage. There’s no need to rush through the booths like you would a supermarket. Take time to talk with the vendors and to thank them for contributing to the local economy.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Summer Berriness in Montana ... Part 2

Huckleberries are the best known of Montana’s edible wild fruits, as well as the state fruit of Idaho. (I have been unable to find a state fruit for Montana.) Unlike their botanical cousins blueberries and cranberries, huckleberries have never been domesticated. Their color ranges from deep crimson to eggplant purple, while their pungent flavor (and odor) are among the strongest in the berry world.

Huckleberries grow best at higher elevations on sunny slopes. They ripen in late July through August, depending on the weather and rainfall. Since bears – brown, black, and grizzly – are adept at finding the very best berry patches, it’s smart to be on the lookout and avoid picking berries in the early morning or late afternoons.

For centuries, Native Americans used huckleberries as both food and medicine. As some have discovered for themselves, ripe huckleberries can have a strong laxative effect, while huckleberry juice is said to heal bleeding gums and mouth sores. Since huckleberries are excellent source of vitamin C, this may be true. The latest research into blueberries also shows that this family of fruits may contain the same disease-fighting polyphenols those found in red wine.

In terms of how to enjoy huckleberries in modern times, they can be used in any berry recipe – that is, if you can resist eating them in the wild! They are especially delicious in pancakes and, as I have mentioned previously, on top of ice cream.

Chokecherries are, by far, the most common and abundant wild berries in our part of the world. In 2007, they were even designated as the state fruit of North Dakota. Chokecherries grow as shrubs and small trees, in grasslands, along roads, and on stream banks in lower mountains and up into the Ponderosa pine forests. They are often a pioneer species in abandoned field and cut-over lands.

The value of chokecherries was well known to native peoples and to the European settlers. In fact, they were the most commonly consumed wild fruit in the northern plains and Rockies. For the Blackfeet and Cheyenne tribes, chokecherries were so central to the food economy that it were known simply as “berries.” The bark of the root was also used to ward off colds, fever, and stomach problems. Care should be taken with chokecherry leaves and other plant parts, since they contain prussic acid (a cyanide compound), which can be toxic to humans, horses, and cattle. (Since there seems to be conflicting information about the toxicity of chokecherry pits, I would avoid consuming large quantities of those as well.)

Today, as in the past, chokecherries make wonderful preserves, jelly, and syrup, as well as wine in some kitchens. The amount of sugar and tartness of chokecherries can vary significantly from to season to season, plant to plant, and even batch to batch. As my friend Teresa, who I call the ‘queen of the chokecherries’ says, you never know whether you’ll end up with jelly or syrup when you cook up some chokecherries. In the end, it may not really matter – since both of them are delicious on top of pancakes, waffles, or (again) ice cream. Chokecherries can also be dried and made into flavorful fruit leathers.

Sweet, succulent Wild Strawberries are small, delicate versions of their garden cousins. They ripen earlier in the summer (late June–early July) than other berries, but can be easy to miss when hiding under their wedge-shaped leaves. Often the best way to spot wild strawberries is by their creeping runners. Strawberries grow almost anywhere, including forests, fields, forest edges, trailsides, roadsides, and streamsides.

If you can get to the elusive wild strawberries before the forest creatures do, they are scrumptious eaten immediately – especially when they have been warmed by the summer sun. If somehow you hit the berry jackpot and have enough to take home, they are wonderful sprinkled on fruit salad, mixed with other berries as a dessert, or put on top of you-know-what.

For more details on Montana edible berries and other plants, visit the online guide at Each presented species has its own page with pictures, a full description and, where applicable, information about edibility, medicinal and poisonous properties.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Summer Berriness in Montana ... Part 1

This article appears in the July 2011 issue of Magic City Magazine. Since the magazine is not currently online, I wanted to share the info with you here ... along with a couple of gorgeous photos by my daughter, Rebecca Bredehoft.

For Montana locavores, the wild summer berries of our beloved mountains are the crown jewels of local foods. With their brilliant colors, intense sweetness, and nutrient richness, Montana berries have all the benefits of those exotic super fruits from faraway jungles (without the excessive carbon footprint necessary to transport them here!).

And then, there is the joy of berry picking. Buying berries in a supermarket pales in comparison to the delights of a sunny afternoon in a wild berry patch. Since they were old enough to walk, I have hunted wild berries with our children on the trails and hillsides around East Rosebud Lake. I will always treasure those hours of talking and eating – and, with any luck, taking a few back to top a bowl of ice cream.

I must admit that my personal favorite among the berries of Montana are the Wild Red Raspberries. After the 1996 fire at East Rosebud Lake, the raspberries flourished in the newly burnt areas. Their rapid re-growth and brightly colored berries were a reassuring sign that the hillsides would return to their previous glory. They have – and we have had some spectacular raspberry years, sometimes with enough berries to make a pie or cobbler after feeding our faces along the trail.

Like all the berries in this article, wild raspberries were extensively used by Native American tribes, as a medicine, food, and ingredient for pemmican. Not surprisingly, pemmican with berries was highly prized and used mostly for weddings and other ceremonial purposes. The leaves and roots were prized for their anti-inflammatory, decongestant, and stimulant properties, and were thought to have agents that promoted healing for diseases of the eye and labor contractions in pregnant women. Personally, I have never been willing to ‘waste’ my raspberry treasures to create a face mask, reportedly used by native women.

If you do get any wild raspberries home, they can be used in any way that you would use their cultivated cousins. Personally, I think that their delicate flavor is perfect sprinkled on a salad of baby greens, especially baby spinach. Nutritionally, they are an excellent source of both vitamin C and fiber. They also contain 10 times more antioxidants than broccoli or tomatoes, including some unique compounds that are not found in any other produce items.

Watch for Part 2 ... with delicious chokecherries, huckleberries, and more!

For more details on Montana edible berries and other plants, visit the online guide at Each presented species has its own page with pictures, a full description and, where applicable, information about edibility, medicinal and poisonous properties.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Delicious Ways to Prepare Fish Quickly and Healthfully

In Montana, fish and summer go together naturally. Whether you eat your fish in the campground or back at home, here are some tips for delicious, quick, and health-smart fish meals.

Fish is done when the color turns from translucent to opaque (white) or has reached 140 degrees F to 145 degrees F internal temperature. Do not overcook.

Grill it!

The best grilling fish are sturdy and fattier, such as grouper, salmon, tuna, swordfish, and trout. Use a very clean, lightly oiled grill or a cedar plank (presoaked in water). For delicate fish, use a grill basket or two layers of foil. Remove fish from the basket or foil as quickly as possible so it doesn’t stick. Most fish will cook in 4 to 6 minutes per side.

Bake it!

Heat oven to 450 degrees F. Spray a baking sheet or shallow dish with nonstick cooking spray. Place fish in a single layer; season as desired. Bake 10 minutes per inch, uncovered or until fish is done. Fish also bakes in parchment paper (folded over and sealed with a few cherry tomatoes, fresh herbs, a little wine, and green onions) for about 20 minutes.

Sauté it!

Three tips can sauté fish perfectly every time: (1) Use just a bit of olive oil; (2) make certain the pan is thoroughly preheated; and (3) do not overcrowd the fish. Sauté thin fillets over medium high heat for 2-3 minutes; then turn, cook 1 to 2 minutes more. Remove pan from heat and let the residual heat cook the fish. Sauté thicker fish 4 to 6 minutes per side.

Poach it!

Poaching is a cooking method that involves hot liquid, this case milk. Put a firm fish fillet, such as haddock, cod, or salmon, in a small baking dish and cover with non-fat milk. Sprinkle the top with some seasoned bread crumbs and grated Parmesan cheese. Bake fish at 400 degrees F for about 20 minutes, depending on the thickness of the fillet.

Microwave it!

Spray a microwave-safe dish with nonstick cooking spray. Cut fish in half and arrange in dish so thick center portions are to outside; place fish in a single layer and do not crowd. Microwave on high 5 to 10 minutes, depending on amount and thickness. Make sure to rotate the fish halfway through the cooking time so the fish cooks evenly.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Take MyPlate Camping

The new USDA healthy eating icon,, can also help your family enjoy high energy, great tasting meals on all your camping adventures.


Preparation at home makes things much easier around the campfire. By pre-cooking and packing at home, you’ll have more time for hiking, fishing, canoeing, and relaxing. Planning ahead also means you won’t have to haul lots of kitchen equipment around.

  • Slice, dice, spice and FREEZE: Meat and poultry are easier and safer when the prep work is done at home. Cut into suitable serving sizes – and trim away excess fat and skin. Add herbs, spices, or marinades – and freeze in leak-proof bags or plastic containers. Frozen meat will also help your cooler stay cold.
  • PRE-MIX as many ingredients as possible: Pre-mixing saves time and reduces messy camp cleanups (reducing hungry animal visitors too!). For example, mix all dry ingredients for pancakes or cornbread (baked in a Dutch oven) together and store in a plastic bag. Add water, milk, or eggs when it’s time to cook and throw the bag away.


  • Get colorful with fruits and veggies: Fresh or dried fruit makes perfect snacks, with no refrigeration needed. Fill baggies with your family’s favorite flavors and make sure they always have one handy in a pocket or pack. For MyPlate veggies, bring pre-mixed salads and plenty of ready-to-eat options like baby carrots and sliced peppers.
  • Go hearty with whole grains: MyPlate suggests making half your grains whole, which is easy to do at any camping meal. Oatmeal is a wonderful way to start the day, with lots of energy for hiking and boating. Whole grain breads make delicious wraps and sandwiches at lunch time. Toasted whole grain buns are just right with burgers!
  • Pump up camp dinners with lean protein: Hot dogs are high in sodium and low in protein. To get plenty of MyPlate lean protein, grill lean beef, poultry, fresh fish, or wild game. Quesadillas are easy to create in a heavy pan with whole grain tortillas, low-fat cheese, grilled veggies, and sliced chicken or pork (pre-cooked at home).


Treat your family to some new flavors in your camping meals this season. And always remember to be food safe by keeping hot foods hot and cold food.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Celebrate SUMMER with a MyPlate Picnic

The new USDA healthy eating graphic,, is a simple guide to smart meals anywhere. You can use MyPlate to quickly and easily plan healthful meals at home and on the go. MyPlate is perfect for summer picnics, since many picnic plates are already divided into sections!


The KISS Principle (Keep It Super Simple) is a delicious way to make picnics popular with people of all ages. Choose a limited number of foods (no more than 4 to 5 items) that can all be served at the same time. Make the meal fun with a simple theme - like red, white, and blue foods for the 4th of July or an all-kebob meal on small skewers.

  • Plan picnics for the yard, park, or lake: A picnic can make any meal special. Use beach towels for lunch in the backyard or pack a weeknight dinner to the park.
  • Plan to keep picnic food safe: Always keep cold foods cold and hot foods hot. Frozen water bottles and juice boxes can do double duty as drinks and as chill packs.
  • Plan active fun with your picnic: Plan to play before and/or after you eat. Bring along a Frisbee® or two. Pack some balls (or water balloons when it is really hot).


  • Go fresh with fruits and veggies: Summertime is a very tasty time to follow the MyPlate tip to fill half your plate with fruits and vegetables. Farmer’s markets and supermarkets have local produce at great prices. It’s easy to prepare simple tossed or fruit salads at home. Or take a bag of baby carrots and slice a melon once you arrive.
  • Go hearty with whole grains: Sandwiches, wraps, and pita pockets are perfect for picnics. MyPlate says to make half your grains whole, like whole wheat bread for sandwiches. Whole grains (cracked wheat, barley, brown rice, and the exotic quinoa) also make delicious cold salads, with chopped veggies and light dressings.
  • Go smart with protein and dairy: MyPlate suggests protein and dairy foods at every meal. Protein can be tuna in a sandwich or a cold salad with black beans or chickpeas. Serve well-chilled plain or flavored milk (fat-free or 1%) or refreshing drinkable yogurts. String cheese is always popular with kids and easy to carry along.


Treat your family to regular picnic times this summer. Everyone can enjoy time to eat in a relaxed and casual setting. Just remember to keep fun on the menu!!