Saturday, June 20, 2009

Save the Best for Last

It’s hard to believe that we only spent five days and six nights in Billings.

We packed so much fun and so much food into such a short time. In addition to giving us a tour from a bluff overlooking the city to suggesting a tour of the Moss Mansion, Mike and Joanie provided us with views of the city from both afar and up close.

The Moss was magnificent. The Mansion’s original draperies, fixtures, furniture, Persian carpets and artifacts were displayed in the 1903 red sandstone structure. Window shades were down to prevent further sun damage so the rooms were rather dark, and photographs were not permitted. Suffice it say that this home, featured on A & E Network’s America's Castles and the National Geographic Guide to America's Great Houses, is a must-see when visiting Billings.

To wrap up our stay, let us tell you about the two evenings that we spent with Mike and Joanie in their beautiful and comfortable home. Situated so that the front porch looks over a large field with the Beartooth Mountains visible on a clear day, their home combines all of the convenience of a new and modern home with all of the warmth and comfort of an older home.

The first night, as Joanie put the finishing touches to our dinner and Chuck almost consumed an entire bag of sea vegetable chips by himself, Mike mixed a batch of his special blended margaritas. (I do remember another batch being made and consumed as the evening progressed.) Now before anyone goes yuk about the sea vegetable chips, they are delicious, and I am carrying the empty bag around in my purse while haunting health food stores looking for them.

The smells coming from the kitchen were marvelous and my mouth was watering when we sat down to enjoy a southwestern inspired dinner. The first course was a tomato, chili, and lime soup that contained: poblano and jalapeno chilies; onions, garlic, cumin, oregano, thyme, and cilantro; vegetable stock, chopped tomatoes, and lime juice. With the soup, Joanie passed a bowl of chopped avocado to mix into the soup. The soup had just enough punch from the peppers and cumin to make things interesting without burning out one’s taste buds. I make a lot of homemade soup for us and there are days when we have eaten out for lunch and don’t want--or need-–much for supper. Joanie was kind enough to give me the recipe and this will become a regular at our table.

The main course was a wonderful chicken verde – poached/stewed chicken served in its cooking juices with green chilies, onions, tomatoes, garlic, and seasonings. Thicker than a soup and thinner than a stew – oh heavens, I am channeling Rachel Ray. (Chuck cringes every time Rachel says: “It’s thicker than a soup and thinner than a stew, it’s a stoup.”) With the chicken verde, Joanie served steamed flour tortillas, perfect for dipping in the cooking juices, perfect for cradling morsels of chicken. In fact, the whole dish was perfect. All of this was accompanied by tossed salad.

Two desserts were served that evening. I have this bizarre allergy to oranges, so I was not able to partake of Joanie’s homemade gluten-free cake with coconut ice cream and homemade fruit compote topped with sliced bananas. So I have asked Chuck to describe the various tastes and textures. To quote Chuck: “It was very good.” (Now you know why I write about the food.) Mike and I had lemon sorbet topped with mixed berries (blueberries, blackberries, and strawberries) and topped with shaved chocolate. This was light and refreshing, but I did keep eying Joanie’s and Chuck’s desserts with great envy.

On our final night in Billings, we were again their guests for the BEST BURGER IN BILLINGS. This evening, Mike mixed his special industrial strength Long Island Ice Teas, and we spent some time relaxing on their back porch.

Chuck is "lawn guy," who diligently cares for his lawn, including mowing in four different directions in successive mowings. He was so impressed with Mike's thick, weed-free lawn that he wanted a picture of me in my socks on the lawn.

Then it was time for the burgers to hit the grill, and we learned the secrets of Mike’s Bodacious Buffalo Burger.

When I wrote about my buffalo burger at Our Place in Cody, I mentioned that buffalo is a very lean meat and can be very dry if not cooked right. Mike’s secret is to mix a small amount of ground beef and egg into the ground buffalo meat, then add chopped onion, garlic powder and Cajun seasoning, and then grill the patties to medium rare to medium. Soon the most wonderful aromas were wafting over their back yard, and the yard next to them, and the yard behind them. The burgers were first rate and only needed a little pepper jack cheese and chopped onion. Mike’s “twists” produced a buffalo burger that had Chuck confiding in me later that he might have to reevaluate his opinion of buffalo burgers--if they were done Mike’s way.

The night was beautiful and perfect for dining al fresco on the back porch. With the burgers (served on toasted buns no less), Joanie served three wonderful cold and healthy salads (photo above). One was a mixture of wild rice and figs with chopped red onion. The crunchy texture of the rice was wonderfully balanced with the soft chewy texture of the figs. Another was a salad of sweet potatoes roasted in olive oil with nuts. Before our travels, I thought that sweet potatoes were always served as a puree, often topped with miniature marshmallows. This is Joanie’s own creation based on a salad she was served in a restaurant, and the chef there could not have done it better. I have now learned that frying/roasting peeled sweet potatoes allows the sugars to brown with an entirely different taste. The third was an excellent slaw made with shredded cabbage and carrot that is based on her mother’s slaw recipe.

After all of this, we decided that a break before dessert was in order. While Joanie and I visited, Mike challenged Chuck (or did Chuck challenge Mike) to a game of horseshoes. Who won? Well, youth will have its day--and its night too. Enough said.

Time for dessert. Bless Joanie’s heart. Knowing that we have developed a real fondness for huckleberries, she special ordered a huckleberry pie from Stella’s Kitchen and Bakery and got Wilcoxson’s vanilla ice cream to have with it. Our last real meal in Billings, and it couldn’t have been better. Great food, great company, we rate our meals at Mike and Joanie’s and their hospitality over those five days to be a true 5.0 Addie experience.

Coming tomorrow…
It has been one year and one week since we left Pennsylvania on our great journey. So it is time to wrap up the year with the “Best of Addie.” For those of you who are new to our blog, let me explain the Addies. Our rating system was named in honor of Adler the Cat (who was named after Irene Adler, the villainous femme fatale in the Sherlock Holmes mysteries, aka “that woman”). Addie is the hardest-to-please cat, she never wants to be touched and yowls loudly if she is and always has a discontented look on her face.

I say usually. Here is a contented Addie, winking as she washes up after dinner at Mike and Joanie’s.

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