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Buffalo Steak and “You have got to be kidding me”! Pie

Steak & lamb PieWhat is better than pastry, savory gravy and beef together with winter vegetables? I put herbs and spices in my pastry crust when making a meat pie or pasty.  This addition really makes for a tasty savory crust.

The old world classic “Steak & Kidney Pie” popped into my head one day when making a pot pie for dinner.  An instant later, so did my very unpleasant experience with Raw Buffalo kidney, of which turned me off to eating kidney (possibly for life).  In 2018, I was helping Sidney Fitzpatrick, the Commissioner of Big Horn County with the annual Feast he and his wife Janet puts on during the Big Horn Native American Crow Fair.


This annual Pow Wow event draws up to 50,000 participants and spectators from all over the United States and internationally to the largest Pow Wow in the US. It was the 100th year for this annual event taking place the third weekend in August near Hardin Montana along the Little Big Horn River. The event is less than a mile from the site where Major Armstrong Custer foolishly split his troops and went up against approximately 11,000 Lakota Sioux, Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes. The Crows were a nomad peace-loving tribe during the Indian wars, and did not participate in the “Battle of the Little Big Horn” on June 25, 1876.

DSCN0536The scene today, as one looks down from the hill above the little Big Horn River may be as astonishing as the view Custer had on the day he died, yet today not in any way threatening.  During the Crow Fair, Native Americans set up fifteen to eighteen hundred Tee Pees surrounding a large Arbor where differing customs of every tribal nation are recognized and celebrated. “It takes a Village” really does apply to Native Americans, where immediate and extended families are known as “Clans”. Sidney and his wife speak the Crow language to each other and work to keep their language and customs alive. A respected elder of the Crow tribe, Sidney (Chipper) Fitzpatrick’s Sir name came from his Irish Great Grandfather, who fell in love with a Crow woman and married into the Crow tribe in the late 1800’s.

I have helped with the commissioner’s annual Crow Fair feast for the past six years and have gotten to know my Native American friends well.  They have welcomed me each year as family, and in 2017; I was adopted into the Fitzpatrick Clan, and given a Crow name

The annual feast is elaborate with meat, fish, and shrimp cooked on grills under the Fitzpatrick Clan’s personal Arbor.  Sidney’s wife Janet works hard wrapping corn on the cob for grilling, along with many other wonderful side dishes. Family members and friends bring deserts of all kinds.


My raw kidney experience happened during the 2018 feast.  I was preparing raw Buffalo kidneys for grilling with my seasonings.  A young Crow woman came up to me and asked for a slice of raw kidney.  She told me Crow braves would eat raw liver, heart, and kidney dirrectly out of wild game after a successful hunt; and that she liked Kidney better raw than cooked.  I thought “okay, I will give it a try”.  I was unaware that the Buffalo kidneys had been previously frozen and thawed. Perfectly safe to eat after cooking, yet because they were not fresh out of the beast, as I found out the hard way, not a good idea to consume raw.  I ended up very sick during the night, and for two days to follow.

Kidney, cooked or raw, will probably never again cross my lips.  However, the experience did give me the name for my Old European inspired “fractured classic” recipe: Buffalo Steak and “You Have to be Kidding Me Pie”.

Buffalo Steak and “You have got to be Kidding Me” Pie

2 -pounds cubed Buffalo Steak

4- Tablespoons light olive oil

1-cup chopped onions

3-carrots (sliced)

1-cup diced white potato or parsnips

2-cups mushrooms cut in thick slices or quarters

3-cups Beef stock

Salt & pepper to taste (end of cooking)

3- Tablespoons all-purpose flour

1-Tablespoon tomato paste

2 -Tablespoons Worcestershire

1-Bay leaf

1- recipe Sundress Chef ™ Savory pie crust

1- Egg (beaten for pastry top)

3 -Tablespoons butter (unsalted)

Add 2 Tablespoons of olive oil to a medium sized fry pan.  Add Buffalo meat, and season lightly with salt and pepper.  Fry until well browned. Remove the meat into a bowl.  To the fry pan, add the remaining olive oil.  Add the onions, carrots and potato. Sauté over medium high heat just long enough to soften meat drippings.  Add veggies to the bowl with the Buffalo meat. Add the 3 Tablespoons of butter to the pan and 3 Tablespoons of flour to make a roux.  Stir until lightly browned. Add beef stock, tomato paste, bay leaf and mushrooms. Add the bowl of carrots, onion, potato, and beef. Bring to a simmer.  If ingredients are not completely covered with stock, add enough water to cover.  Add the Bay leaf, and cover frying pan with a vented lid. Simmer for approximately one hour.  Simmer uncovered a little longer if not thick enough.  If too thick, add a little water while cooking. Taste for seasoning.  Add Worcestershire and salt and pepper to taste.  Take off the heat, and allow to cool down before spooning into crust. Any left-over filling may be eaten as stew.

Sundress Chef ™ Savory Pie Crust

2 ½-Cups All-purpose flour

2 teaspoons Sundress Chef Salsa Seasoning

3-teaspoons sugar

2-sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter (frozen)

6-Tablespoons ice cold Tequila

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees

In a medium size bowl, combine flour, salsa seasoning, and sugar.  Make a well in the center of dry ingredients, and course-grate in the frozen butter.  With a pastry blender, or food processor, incorporate butter until mixture resembles coarse meal. Make a well in the mixture again and sprinkle the 6 tablespoons of water evenly.  Toss with your fingers or pastry blender.  Do not over work, as this will cause gluten to form, making your crust tough.  The dough should not be sticky.  If sticky, work in a little more flour. Form into a flattened ball, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes along with the rolling pin and rolling surface (if possible).  Divide dough in two.  Roll dough out to fit a 12 inch pie dish. Spray non-stick spray onto the sides and bottom of pie dish.  Fit in bottom crust.  Spoon cooled filling into crust.  Roll out the second portion of dough. Trim to one inch over the sides of dish.  Flute crust. Cut several small steam vents in pastry.  Brush with egg wash. Bake until bottom and top crust is golden brown. Approximately 45 minutes.  Allow to cool fifteen minutes before cutting.

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True Grits & Glory Gravy

True Grits & Glory Gravy

Every once in a while I have a real hankering for grits.  Even though my North Carolina grandmother moved to Montana as a young girl, she learned to cook southern style from her mother and older sisters.  I remember her cooking grits two ways.  Grits served with salt and real butter, or grits topped with bacon drippings gravy. “True grits” in the south are served with salt and butter only.  It is almost a religion, and I remember an old saying that goes something like:  “Grits brings out the glory in a man”.  Although adding toppings, like gravy, or sprinkling grits with sugar, may be considered “sacrilegious” in the south, being the rebel that I am, and a born and bred Yankee, I most often eat mine with milk gravy.

Grits are one of those “love or hate” foods.  It seems they have to grow on you, if you did not grow up eating them.  I loved grits from the first spoonful, yet it was my grandmother’s biscuits that stole the show for me. And her crackling biscuits were to “die for”.

My grandparents raised and butchered their own pigs. One of my first memories was of walking down the road from my parent’s cabin to see grandpa.  I rounded the corner of the pig shed to see a huge swine strung up by its back legs with throat cut from ear to ear, blood all over the ground, and grandpa in the process of performing a disembowelment.  I was only three or four years old, yet it has remained embedded in my mind.  The memories that tend to make lasting impressions for the long-term, seems to be either traumatic, or having to do with comfort food.  In the case of this swine, he “became” comfort food.

Grandpa would butcher a pig, and then grandma would take the pork butts, side pork, shanks and hocks, smoke them, and hang them in the cellar to dry.  As with the depression generation, nothing was wasted. The organ meats were cooked and eaten right away.  The hog head was boiled and turned into head cheese (homemade luncheon meat).

Rendering lard was an arduous task, performed outside over an open wood fire in a huge cast iron pot. What was left over at the very bottom of the pot, after hours of stirring to melt hog fat off of the pig’s skin, were delectable chunks of crispy pig candy which grandma called “cracklins’!  Eating these bits of pig candy out of the pot, must be where the origin of the cliché “being in hog heaven” came from.   Cracklings were strained out of the lard, chopped and stored in a cool place to use for seasoning vegetables (like home canned green beans:) and to make my favorite childhood comfort food “cracklin biscuits”.  Made with fresh eggs, lard, and homemade buttermilk; there was no other “Southern comfort” food that compared to grandma’s flaky crackling-studded homemade biscuits.

Every spring, grandma hatched around two hundred chickens in the attic of their log home.  After a couple of weeks, the chicks were moved out to a large chicken coop.  I remember watching 8 mm home movies showing grandma throwing out chicken feed to ravenous red hens.  Grandma Bina would use her “egg money” from selling eggs to neighbors, for buying luxury items such as  candy, cocoa, coffee or yarn.  Every weekend, she would spend a whole day, chopping off chicken heads, singing off feathers, plucking, and cleaning chickens to take into town and sell to the local store.  So, most often, Sunday dinner was southern-fried chicken, homemade cracklin’ biscuits, and bacon-drippings chicken gravy, that although humble fare, could only be described as “glorious”!

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Stalking the “Fish Whisperer” on the Elk

via Stalking the “Fish Whisperer” on the Elk

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Stalking the “Fish Whisperer” on the Elk

The Elk River is famous for some of the best dry fly fishing in North America.  Fly-fishers come from all over the world to cast a line in this largely undiscovered river as it flows through the majestic Canadian Rockies from melting glacial ice high above Elk Lakes Provincial Park some 90 miles North of Fernie British Columbia.

The ElkThe Elk River and its tributaries are home to native wild Westslope Cutthroat and Bull Trout. Large numbers of Kamloops Rainbows can also be found in streams flowing into the Elk, and are considered to be the highest jumping trout in the world.

The Elk has great hatches, so a day’s Cutthroat fish count can be high on dries. The excitement of reeling in a fifteen inch wild Cut can end up  as your “fish tale” to take back home. Often times a huge Bull will seemingly come out of nowhere to swallow your trout whole, and you have an entirely different fight on your hands.  Bull Trout are roving predators of clear, cold water lakes and rivers of the Northwestern United States and Canada.  That orange gill wild Cutthroat jumping on end of your line, is a carrot on a stick to one of these fresh water sharks, which can reach lengths of over three feet.

Growing up in a little Montana town just eight miles south of the Canadian border, I made many trips as a child, with my parents, to the picturesque alpine style village of Fernie BC. Most often these trips were made to visit the dentist.  Dental work was, and still is, much less expensive in Canada than in the states.  Now, the weekly allowance  I invested in those two-for-a-penny bags of candy in my youth, had matured into a two-for-the-price-of-one root canal.  So decades later, on a gorgeous Indian summer day in early October 2012, I am on my way to Fernie, driving past boats of fly-fishers as they drift lazily along the Elk River, casting to greedy West Slope Cuts through clouds of Caddis flies.  I can’t help thinking, the two hours of torture I am paying big bucks for in the dentist chair; are almost equivalent to the cost of two full days in a drift boat.

Missouri Guides (2)The sun is almost dead-center in a clear cobalt blue sky as I walk out of the dentist office dabbing drool from the corner of lips that feel the size of baseball gloves.  Since I had to drive back over the border, I was required to wait in Fernie until the novacain wore off. Lunch was out, so I decide to drive down to a nearby Elk river access to watch fly-fishers drift by.

I walked through a parking lot and down to the river’s edge.  The Elk is quite shallow here with nature’s cobbled freestone rock bed clearly visible from where I stood.  The pleasant aroma of vanilla pipe tobacco came to me first, drifting on the ever so slight crisp fall breeze, before I spotted a pipe-smoking fly-fisher, almost knee deep in crystal clear water halfway off shore.  The fisherman with the pipe clenched firmly in his mouth, was watching for the slightest rise, with a relaxed yet intent focus. This scene combined for what I thought would be the perfect subject for an Elk River blog page, and I excitedly pulled my camera out of my shoulder bag.

Fish WhispererMy subject had a concerted clench on his pipe, while at the same time ever so softly and perfectly presenting a dry fly up-stream. I did not want to interrupt his concentration to ask consent for a photo, and started snapping shots.  He remained totally unaware of my presence as I followed him along the river bank.  Suddenly, I was startled by a woman’s rather blunt questioning voice coming from off my left shoulder. The question “are you stalking my husband?” caught me completely off guard, and I spun around to stare speechless for a few seconds.  Through still numb swollen lips, I slurred an apology, and went on to explain that I really was not a stalker; just an amateur photographer, who works as a chef, booking fly-fishers into a lodge just south of the border.

She smiled, and told me she and her husband lived in Georgia, and as he was an avid fly-fisher, many of their vacations were planned around fly-fishing destinations.  She would spend her time shopping in nearby towns, or as on this day, reading in the shade, while her husband was fishing. We talked for several minutes, then she asked me to follow her, and took me down to the river’s edge, where she cupped her hands to her mouth, and yelled to her husband “Rick, catch a fish for this lady, she would like to take your photo!”

I took another series of photos, yet now, as somewhat posed for; they did not turn out as well as my previous “stalking” shots.  After a half dozen casts, resulting in a nice cutthroat, Rick reeled in, and took the pipe out of his mouth,  With a pleasant smile on his face, he waded out of the river. Rick chuckled when made aware of his wife’s and my stalker confrontation on the river bank.  I showed Rick the results of my unintentionally illicit photos, and he requested copies to be sent to his email address.  His email username “The Fish Whisperer” became the perfect theme name for my Elk River fly-fisher, so intently and serenely, involved in guiltless “catch and release” stalking of his own.  We exchanged contact information and parted with the promise to connect the next time they visited the Northwest.

Fishw whisperer 4










Before heading back across the border, I had one stop to make.  Although cringing a little at the thought of eating anything sweet, now that my Novocain had worn off; I made a stop at the duty-free store, to purchase a bottle of 100 percent pure French Canadian maple syrup. A sweet guilty pleasure, that to me, although expensive, there is no substitute for.

For 6am breakfasts at fishing lodges, I came up with inventive ways to save time by prepping the night before.  My loaf pan pre-made “slice and grill” method of making French toast, added an extra half an hour of time to my seasonally sleep- deprived, internal clock.

French Canadian French Toast 1A Piece of Cake Canadian French Toast

A Piece of Cake” French Canadian Toast


4 large eggs

2 cups heavy cream

1/3 cup packed brown sugar

2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

1 teaspoon maple extract

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 Tablespoon Saigon cinnamon

1 Tablespoon butter or margarine

18 slices day-old bread (be sure the slices are the same width as your loaf pan). Slices from a standard loaf of bread fit perfectly, or you may trim larger bread slices to fit.


2 Tablespoons brown sugar

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

¼ cup melted butter

1/4 cup sliced almonds or pine nuts (optional)

Cooking time: 40 to 45 minutes


Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees

  • Beat eggs well. Whisk in cream. Add brown sugar, cinnamon, vanilla and maple extract.  Beat with a wire whisk until the batter is smooth and lump free. Pour into a shallow bowl, large enough to fit bread slices.
  • Spray the bottom of a 9 inch by 5 inch loaf pan with non-stick vegetable spray. Cut parchment paper to fit a large loaf pan (bottom only). Butter or spray the bottom and sides of pan.
  • Dip slices of bread in the French toast batter, one or two at a time (coating well). Do not saturate the slices until soggy.  If you do not have slightly dried out bread, you may dry it out in a 200 degree oven for 15 minutes. Stack bread slices in prepared loaf pan (as illustrated). Depending on the thickness of your bread slices, you may need fewer slices to tightly fill the pan.
  • Mix brown sugar and cinnamon topping together and sprinkle over the top of the loaf.  Drizzle on butter. Top with sliced almonds or pine nuts.
  • Cover with aluminum foil and bake for twenty minutes. Remove foil, and bake an additional 20 to 25 minutes. Test the center of cake with a knife. The knife should come out clean.

Let the loaf of French toast cake cool in the pan to room temperature. Invert on a cooling rack and remove paper. Wrap the loaf and refrigerate. This loaf may be kept for two to three days in the refrigerator. After it has cooled in the refrigerator, the slices may be sliced, wrapped, and frozen for later use.

When ready to serve, brown French toast slices in a lightly sprayed skillet or grill on medium high heat. Serve hot with butter, real maple syrup, and if desired, fresh seasonal fruit.

copyright P.J. Burgess/Sundress Chef


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The Last Mango in Paradise

Just floating through life

Drifting off in Paradise

The idea of paradise is different for everyone.  For many, picturing a day in paradise conjures up images akin to sitting under a colorful beach umbrella, with some kind of fu-fu cocktail in hand, while watching the sun sink slowly into the ocean.

Periodic gratis days of drift boat fishing is one of the perks I enjoyed while working as a lodge chef.  For me, just kicking back in a drift boat under the big sky, near the town of Paradise Montana on the Clark Fork River, is my idea of total serenity.  It is early afternoon on a late spring day, with the light musky smell of the river, and sun-touched evergreens in the air.  The slight nip of cold coming off the river is off-set by intermittent warm caresses as the sun slips in and out between puffs of wispy white clouds, and the gentle rocking of the boat is enticing me to drift off into “la la land” for a well deserved mind  colloquium with mother nature.

Is this lowly lodge chef wondering where the rich fly-fishers are at the moment?  No, not at all!  It doesn’t matter if we are rich or poor. In this vast country where we are lucky enough to live, we can travel freely from state to state unrestricted by borders. We fish the same rivers, and enjoy the same beauty. We each have the same chance to catch the same fish.

We are all equal through the eyes of a trout, and a fish with a brain the size of a pea, has better than a fighting chance of not ending up on a hook. Since fish depend mostly on instinct, they can not be fooled by words created through intelligent thought which mankind uses to fool each other. As soon as a fish takes an invertebrate impostor into its mouth, by instinct, it knows an imitation when it feels it, and automatically spits it out.

Fish in the water are in their element. The best we can do with a line and a fly, is to learn presentation well enough to trick a trout for a split second, and be fast enough to set the hook. Instinct was around long before homo sapiens came on the scene thinking themselves superior because of creative intelligence, yet natural instinct seems to regularly outsmart man’s superior intelligence on the river.  Human kind, with just enough added intelligence and dominion to be dangerous; has the ability to form matter into a realistic facsimile of an insect to mimic nature, yet does not have the divine ability to duplicate natural creation.

So no matter how hard a fly-fisher tries to outsmart fish, these simple minded creatures, armed with not much more than basic instinct, usually have the upper fin in the water over fly-fishers with all their fancy equipment.  If trout have any emotions at all, they are probably laughing their way all the way back to the river bank

The first lodge where I worked during the summer of 2009,  was located halfway  between Saint Regis and the tiny town of Paradise Montana.  This rustic lodge was truly off the grid with large solar collector fed batteries, and a back-up propane generator.  The only store within thirty-five miles was a small mom and pop grocery with a very limited selection of meat and fresh produce.  When fly-fishing clients booked in without an advance reservation, I would have to plan the evening’s menu while in the store, based on what was available that day.

Over the years, I have honed the skill I call “making do in Montana” utilizing whatever I am able to get my hands on. Since I love to come up with destination dining recipes with a rebel twist, I decided on one occasion, to fracture the heavenly classic Crème Brulee..

I scanned the isles, and small selection of fresh fruit, waiting for something to call out to me that would work with my Paradise Montana theme.  In the small fresh fruit section, sitting alone in a woven plastic basket was a single fresh mango and the name for my decadent destination dessert popped instantly into my head.

“The Last Mango in Paradise” Crème Brulee

Last Mango in Paradise


1 quart (4 cups) Heavy Cream

1 teaspoon pure vanilla

1 cup white sugar

¼ cup honey powder or raw sugar

6 large egg yokes

1 large fresh mangos (ripe yet firm)

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F

Place the cream into a large saucepan over medium high heat.  Add the vanilla and bring the cream to a simmer.  Remove from the heat, and cool for ten to fifteen minutes.

In a large mixing bowl, beat together ½ cup of sugar and egg yokes until mixture starts to lighten.  Add the warm cream a little at a time, stirring constantly.  Pour the mixture into six 8 oz ramekins. Place ramekins into a cake pan.  Fill the cake pan with hot water until ramekin dishes are halfway submerged.  Bake just until the crème brulee is set, yet not quite firm in the very center (approximately 45 min.).  Remove ramekins from the hot water and refrigerate for at least two hours.

Remove the ramekins from the refrigerator a half hour prior to browning sugar on top.  Divide the remaining sugar between the six ramekins of crème brulee, sprinkling sugar equally on top.  Using a torch, melt the sugar to form a golden crystallized top.  Peel, and slice mangoes into thin wedges. Place two of the reserved mango slices on the center of each crème brulee.  Sprinkle a little of the honey powder, or raw sugar onto the mango slices and torch just enough to melt the sugar. Allow the crème brulee to sit for a few minutes prior to serving. Add additional garnish touches as desired.

copyright PJ Burgess  Sundress Chef ™


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Bison Taco Flowers

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Destino Latino Cuisine and Tours

Source: Destino Latino Cuisine and Tours