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  • Written by Madelaine Bullwinkel


Bison Short Ribs1

My first encounter with a live American Bison was up-close and personal.   I in my car and a huge bison, weighing easily as much, were both headed for the same parking space in front of a guest lodge in Yellowstone Park.  It was clear from its nonchalant manner that this beast had no respect for anything on four wheels.  I could have beaten this slow moving giant to the space, but of course, I hit the brakes.  That was thirty years ago, and I remember it as if it were yesterday.

This continent's largest land mammal is still at risk in the wild.  We should have learned that after having almost hunting them to extinction in the 19th century.  Their current enemy is local ranchers who each year force a cull of the Yellowstone herd that still is allowed to roam at will.   They fear that vagrant bison will infect their cattle with brucellosis although there's no record of any such transmission. The ranchers imagine that a randy bison will mate with their cattle (offspring, if any, from such a match are sterile).  

The American bison also has a champion.  Two decades ago, CNN founder Ted Turner came to their rescue.  He single-handedly turned bison into a crop.   Bison now graze over lands he owns across 17 states and in Argentina.   In 2002 he and his partners opened the first Ted's Montana Grill. There are now 44 of these restaurants in 16 states serving bison raised on his ranches.    

Ted’s Montana Grill has a slogan: "Eat great, do good".  I would add 'eat healthy, be thrifty'.  Bison's dark red  meat is lean and flavorful from a diet of grass.  It's iron-rich taste reminds me of the beefy, butcher cuts the French love like tri-tip, hanger and flatiron steaks that are regarded as a budget cuts in the States.   

In winter, bison short ribs are also an inexpensive treat: out-sized, generously padded with meat and with surprisingly little fat.   My current preparation is adapted from Bruce Aidell's Great Meat Cookbook.  He calls it Lazy Man's Short Ribs because it has no marinade, fewer ingredients, fewer steps and takes less time to cook than his other recipes.  It’s a slow simmered dish with vegetables, wine and stock, a lot like a French stew.  I'm all for that.

This is a comforting weekend dish to serve in the doldrums of winter.  When I cook other meats and poultry, I don’t think about their origins.  Bison stir my imagination.  As the scent of wine and onions fills the house, I conjure the image of bison standing out on the Montana plains their great humped hide so thick that late winter snow doesn't melt on it.  It’s their link in the food chain that sustains me.

Bison Short Ribs 2










  • Written by Madelaine Bullwinkel



We decided to forgo the 926 mile trip to New Orleans for Mardi Gras again this year.  We did what we always do: create our own special carnival experience up here in the cold, grey Chicago.  It's easier than you might think.   First, get out your beads, strew some pirate doubloons on the dining table with a few fancy masks and put on carnival music. Then go into the kitchen.  Mardi Gras is not just about parades with confetti. It's about the food!

A group of celebrants proved this point on a weekday morning recently in Allie Field's spacious Downers Grove kitchen.  I provided the ingredients for a classic New Orleans meal. There was crabmeat and Creole spice for our starter course, round steak with its 'holy trinity' of vegetables (onion, celery, green pepper) for our Cajun grillades and the stale round of French bread for a rich, lemony bread pudding.  The jar of brandy, sugar and spices was there to flame the Cafe Brulot.  The recipes were all there for a reason.


The Crabcake recipe came from Chicago's popular Shaw's Crab House where I spent a morning learning how to cook crab with executive chef Ives Roubaud.  The N'Awlins Remoulade that's paired with it was adapted from Susan Spicer's book Crescent City Cooking.  A meal at Susan's restaurant  Bayona is a must when I visit New Orleans.

When I first began collecting recipes for Mardi Gras, I contacted my college classmate and New Orleans native Jane Mathes.  She recommended a spicy braised round steak dish, Grillades, which is served with Grits at a Sunday Sinners Brunch she attends with her husband Earl before Fat Tuesday.  It's relatively easy to assemble and tastes better with each reheating.  It's become a staple.


The Lemon Bread Pudding was my own invention.  A rich custard pudding is classic fare at the end of a festive meal.  Instead of folding in chocolate or serving the traditional whiskey sauce I prefer a refreshingly tart lemon curd and sour dried cherries combination.  It always ends the meal on a bright note.

Where's the gumbo, you ask?  Well, as a matter of fact, we're going to be preparing Mr Paul's Duck, Sausage and Oyster Gumbo this Saturday at Read It and Eat on North Halsted in Chicago.  Join us as we let the good times roll once again!

Links to the recipes:

Crabcakes with N'Awlins Rémoulade

Grillades and Grits

Lemon Bread Pudding with Dried Cherries

Café Brulot

*A special thanks to Allie's sister, Amy Tripple, who took the photographs of our menu.  Amy is a most talented professional photographer of children and familys.  She was kind enough to take pictures as she cooked.  You can see her work at:

Amy Tripple Photography






  • Written by Madelaine Bullwinkel


Campbells Soup

Grocery shopping was a lot easier when we innocently pulled a familiar brand off the shelf.  Today  packages claiming its contents are fat-free or gluten-free or non-GMO give us choices we may have never before considered.  Some day you may need to bring a magnifying glass to the store to read the detailed disclaimers on food labels. Surely I exaggerate.  Two recent stories in the news suggest otherwise.

Just after my last post, Campbell Soup announced it will soon disclose the presence of genetically altered ingredients across all its brands which include Prego and Pepperidge Farm.  It's the first giant food company to break the code of silence since the FDA made GMO disclosure voluntary.  In a challenge that's sure to resonate in the food additive industry, Greek yogurt maker Chobani has begun a market campaign that mocks Yoplait and Dannon for their use of additives in competing 100 calorie products.  Those are fighting words.

Campbell Soup's step toward transparency is partly a response to the success of the Non-GMO movement whose voluntary verification project insignia appears on foods that contain 5% or less genetically altered ingredients.  It also heralds the arrival in July of a Vermont law requiring manufacturers announce the presence of GMO ingredients on their product labels. Since there is presently no federal law to serve as an umbrella, imagine the chaos and expense it will cause if this law is passed in some states and not in others. Studies have revealed that consumers do want to know if products have been genetically altered, but there's little research on how that information will effect sales.

 For the record, Monsanto has been selling corn and soybean seeds with an added gene that allows them to produce their own insecticide and herbicide. Since 1999 these have been planted over millions of acres worldwide.  Large scale growth of GMO crops now include canola, sugar beets and cotton. Interestingly enough, Monsanto continues to sell the same insecticides and herbicides transgenic seeds were intended to eliminate. Nature still manages to keep the upper hand.

My point is that none of us are GMO virgins. It's too late to ask whether the addition of one or two genes among thousands that make up a genome presents a threat to our health. The FDA's scientists say that it's not a problem, for now.  Meanwhile the technology that permits splicing and gene insertion is becoming more sophisticated making it likely that more transgenic foods will come up for approval in the future.

When consumers do read food labels, half the ingredients are most likely a mystery to all but the chemists. The FDA has approved what amounts to a food additive cabinet of more than 3000 synthetic chemicals.  Gutsy little Chobani had the temerity to malign two additives used by its giant rivals knowing it would alarm consumers. Sure enough, General Mills Corp. Yoplait's parent company and Danone that owns Dannon brand slapped Chobani with "cease and desist" orders for false advertising.

The additives in question are: potassium sorbate (in Yoplait) which retards spoilage but has been used to kill bed bugs, and sucralose (in both brands), a generic form of Splenda. Sucralose contains three sweetness-enhancing chlorine molecules that allegedly pass through the body without a caloric effect.  Chobani's ad implies that even their presence is dangerous.  No harm done? Maybe not.  But if Chobani can make a six ounce container of yogurt with 100 calories and without additives who needs the additives?  Oh, it's not sweet enough for you? Ahhh. That's a topic for a future blog.

Chobani Yogurt