updated 6/5/2006 12:20:59 PM ET

Food

Home on the range with Tom Brokaw’s wife
Meredith Brokaw and her friend share recipes from the American West in their new cookbook, ‘Big Sky Cooking.’ Cook up these dishes at home

Former NBC Nightly News anchor Tom Brokaw and his wife, Meredith, are originally from South Dakota. After spending many years in New York, they returned to the West. This time they bought a ranch in the Big Sky state of Montana. Meredith and her friend Ellen Wright turned their love for the region, its food, and its lifestyle into the “Big Sky Cookbook.” The women were invited on “Today” to demonstrate how to prepare some of their hearty frontier recipes, including the Perfect Bison Burger and Stetson Salad. Try these recipes and Tom's Sunset Margaritas at home:

Recipe: Perfect Bison Burgers Recipe: McLeod Hot Mustard Recipe: Stetson Salad Recipe: Easy Aïoli Recipe: Pesto Recipe: Tom’s Sunset Margaritas

Recipe: Perfect Bison Burgers

Meredith Brokaw and Ellen Wright's "Big Sky Cooking"

Serves 6

There are two tricks to making a good burger: don’t overhandle the meat, and don’t overcook it, especially if it’s bison. Bison meat is very lean — almost no fat — so it tends to overcook easily. It’s better for our health because of the lack of animal fat, but it requires understanding.

The fixings can also make or break a good hamburger. The buns need to be buttered lightly and toasted or grilled. Crispy lettuce, slices of ripe tomato, and slices of red or sweet onion are all the necessary partners for the burger’s perfection. Our McLeod Hot Mustard is a good addition, and ketchup is a must.

INGREDIENTS

3 pounds ground bison or beef

1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter, softened

6 hamburger buns (sesame seed, poppy seed, onion, or plain)

6 iceberg lettuce leaves, washed and dried

6 slices ripe tomato

6 slices onion (red, Vidalia, or Walla Walla)

Ketchup

McLeod Hot Mustard (recipe follows)

Mayonnaise (optional)

DIRECTIONS

Prepare a hot grill.

Form the meat into 6 patties, being careful not to overhandle. Place the patties on the grill rack, 3 to 4 inches over direct heat, and grill, turning once, about 2 minutes per side for medium-rare.

Spread each bun half with 1 teaspoon butter. Place the buns, buttered sides down, on the grill rack and toast briefly.

Assemble the burgers with the toasted buns, patties, lettuce, tomato slices, onion slices, ketchup, mustard, and mayonnaise (if desired).

Recipe: McLeod Hot Mustard

Meredith Brokaw and Ellen Wright's "Big Sky Cooking"

Makes 3 cups

Hands down, this is the best homemade mustard in the world. It keeps for several months in the fridge and is excellent with steaks and chops, chicken and roasts, sandwiches and hot dogs. I’m never without it.

INGREDIENTS

1 (4-ounce) container dry mustard (Colman’s is a good choice)

1 cup cider vinegar

1 cup sugar

3 large eggs

DIRECTIONS

In a large heavy-bottomed casserole over medium heat, combine the mustard and vinegar until blended. Add the sugar and eggs and cook, stirring with a wooden spoon, until the mustard thickens to the consistency of ketchup, about 7 minutes. Cool; store in a glass jar with a tight-fitting lid.

Recipe: Stetson Salad

Meredith Brokaw and Ellen Wright's "Big Sky Cooking"

Serves 8 to 10

This is a dish that can meet the needs of a few people or a crowd. It’s named after a pottery company called Stetson and has nothing to do with the cowboy hat, although it does look like a Western wagon wheel. The salad is served on a round plate of wedge-shape sections filled with healthy ingredients, such as shredded chicken, spinach, roasted corn, cheese, and currants, topped off with an aïoli and pesto dressing. All in all, it’s an unusual salad, and a winner. One of the ingredients, quinoa, pronounced “keen-wah,” is a grain native to South America and related to spinach and Swiss chard. It’s high in nutrients, especially iron and protein.

INGREDIENTS

4 cups cooked quinoa (from 2 cups uncooked)

2 cups shredded cooked chicken breast

2 cups dried roasted corn (such as JustCorn)

1 cup grated Asiago cheese

1 cup salted roasted pumpkin seeds

1 cup dried currants

1-1/2 cups chopped tomatoes

2 cups chopped spinach or arugula Stetson Dressing

2 small shallots, diced

1 cup buttermilk

1 cup Easy Aïoli (recipe follows)

1/2 cup pesto, store-bought or homemade (recipe follows)

2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

DIRECTIONS

Make a bed of quinoa on a large round shallow serving plate. Arrange the chicken, corn, cheese, pumpkin seeds, currants, tomatoes, and spinach on top of the quinoa in 7 wedge-shape sections.

To make the dressing: In a medium bowl, combine the shallots, buttermilk, aïoli, pesto, lemon juice, and pepper. You will have approximately 3 cups.

Serve the dressing in a pitcher for your guests to drizzle on their salad. Reserve the remaining dressing in a glass jar, refrigerated, for other salads.

Recipe: Easy Aïoli

Meredith Brokaw and Ellen Wright's "Big Sky Cooking"

Makes about 1 cup

INGREDIENTS

3/4 cup olive oil

1/4 cup chopped garlic

1 teaspoon kosher salt

DIRECTIONS

Combine the olive oil, garlic, and salt in a small bowl. Refrigerate, covered, for up to 1 week.

Recipe: Pesto

Meredith Brokaw and Ellen Wright's "Big Sky Cooking"

Makes about 3/4 cup

INGREDIENTS

1/2 cup olive oil

1/4 cup fresh basil leaves

1 tablespoon pine nuts

1 teaspoon kosher salt

DIRECTIONS

In the bowl of a food processor, pulse the olive oil, basil, pine nuts, and salt until combined. Refrigerate, covered, for 2 or 3 days.

Recipe: Tom’s Sunset Margaritas

Meredith Brokaw and Ellen Wright's "Big Sky Cooking"

Makes about 3/4 cup

When the sun starts to set and people are coming over to visit, Tom gets into frozen-margarita mode. He gets out the blender and starts to putter in the kitchen, knowing full well that his drinks will jump-start the evening. He says that everyone these days claims to be a margarita expert but that his recipe is the real deal. His enthusiasm is catching, and we all get to work on hors d’oeuvres to go along.

INGREDIENTS

3 to 4 tablespoons margarita salt

1 lime, cut into wedges

1 cup ice

1 (8-ounce) can frozen limeade concentrate

8 ounces good-quality tequila

4 ounces triple sec

DIRECTIONS

To prepare the glasses: Place the margarita salt on a large sheet of waxed paper. Rub the rims of 6 or 8 margarita glasses with a lime wedge. Dip the rims in the mound of salt. Place the glasses in the freezer until ready to use.

To make the margaritas: Put the ice in a blender; add the limeade concentrate, tequila, and triple sec. Blend until the ice is chopped up. Pour into the prepared chilled, salted glasses.


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