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Surprise! Buffalo roam nearby

BISON BAKE

Makes 6 servings

1 cup wild rice (or purple barley or brown rice )

2 cups water

1⁄2 teaspoon salt

1 pound ground bison

1 tablespoon olive oil

1⁄2 cup finely chopped onion

8 ounces sliced button mushrooms

1 cup chopped celery

1 cup sour cream

2 tablespoons soy sauce

1⁄2 cup slivered almonds

Cook grain in salted water until tender per package directions. Meanwhile, brown the ground meat in a medium skillet. Remove meat from the pan to a large bowl and add oil to the pan. Saute onion, mushrooms and celery until vegetables are softened, about 5 minutes. Add to the bowl with the meat. Stir in sour cream and soy sauce along with cooked grain. Add 2⁄3 of the almonds and bake at 350 degrees in a 3-quart casserole for 40 minutes, uncovered. Sprinkle top with reserved almonds and bake another 15 minutes. —Adapted from National Bison Association

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In late winter it always becomes difficult to find local products and produce at the market. to maintain my Eat Local habit.

While most of the farmers stay home to plan and plant seedlings, they have been replaced with new vendors, two of whom I recently met for the first time. The first was Lester’s Bison Farm. Bison is the original name of the largest land animal in North America but you may know them as buffalo, a name they acquired from the French traders who thought they resembled “boeuf” or beef.

If you think only of the Wild West when you hear the words “where buffalo roam,” think again. These huge yet graceful, fierce-looking yet gentle animals are grazing the organic pastures in Salem, Wis.,only an hour from Chicago. You are invited to drive up and see the herd and meet the baby calves that are just beginning to arrive. Their store is open year-round or they will ship products to you. (Lestersbisonfarm@yahoocom)

I bought summer sausage to snack on. I admired the bacon and steaks, but took home a package of ground bison instead when they recommended I try this Bison Bake recipe.

The meat is lean and flavorful but not at all “gamey.” It is high in protein and contains iron, zinc and many of the B vitamins. I made the recipe with Wisconsin hand-harvested wild rice, and loved the unusual texture and flavors.

The next week, I discovered another new vendor, Hazzard Free Farms, whose unique grains and beans are grown near Rockford. I was enchanted with some of their offerings and when I spotted the Tibetan Purple Barley, I thought it might make a great addition to this casserole, and it did (hazzardfreefarms.org)

To meet some of the area’s best and most hardworking farmers, and find out about their efforts in growing and producing good clean local food, I suggest you visit the Good Food Festival at the UIC Forum this weekend. (goodfoodfestivals.com) You will taste some incredible things and meet the people who produce them. I’ll see you there.

Local Attractions uses the best of regional produce and products and hopes you will do the same.



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