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Don’t have what you need in the pantry for a certain recipe? Improvise.

Want to take a traditional recipe and modernize it? Get creative.

Can’t think of a word to describe what you’re doing? Make something up.

Those are the ideas behind a new cookbook by Livingston Chef Sarah Knecht. It’s called “Yumtwist: The Art of Spontaneity in the Kitchen.”

“Yumtwist” is a word Knecht coined herself.

“I had a dream,” Knecht explained while chatting over the phone during a shopping outing in Bozeman Monday. “I woke up and it was in my mind.”

It’s a word that describes not only her approach to cooking, but to art, events and life in general. Knecht provides a definition on the first page of the book.

“Yumtwist: To entwine with another to inspire creativity; interlace ingredients, textures, flavors, and styles. To interweave color, design into unique beauty. To add a yumtwist to something and create something new that is different than the original. To challenge someone to be spontaneous, fun, and intelligent with a new perspective.”

Want an example? Take chops — lamb or venison or elk. Grill them and add some Artichoke Pesto (recipe below). Here’s a yumtwist: Squeeze some citrus juice — lime, lemon, orange — on the chops before serving them. Another yumtwist Knecht offers is to drizzle either port wine reduction or balsamic reduction on the chops before serving.

The book, which is loaded with colorful photos, features more than 200 recipes, but the yumtwists lead to endless possibilities.

“It just goes on and on,” Knecht said. “The recipes have five to 15 to 20 yumtwists.”

Knecht grew up in the Paradise Valley and learned a lot about what she knows about cooking from her grandmother. The rest she learned in the kitchens of restaurants, hotels, country clubs and even on private yachts in Alaska.

After moving back to Montana, Knecht has used her culinary talents as a private chef, caterer and cooking instructor. Now, she focuses most of her time — when not writing cookbooks, teaching cooking classes and taking care of her two children — planning destination wedding feasts.

“I love custom-designing wedding menus,” Knecht said. “I create it from some of the bride and groom’s favorite things.”

She had to apply her yumtwist philosophy to a wedding she cooked for this past weekend, a wedding that included guests so famous they must not be named. Knecht had to veer from her original plan and come up with a backup plan at the last minute.

“I ended up working with what I had,” Knecht said. “No one realized it was different than planned, but it tuned out great. It’s all about having an open mind and being creative.”

Yumtwist is also about being spontaneous and somewhat fearless.

Want another example? After talking with the IR, Knecht ran into actor Aaron Eckhart at a store in Bozeman. Instead of asking for his autograph, she handed him a copy of her book. Now that’s a yumtwist.

Chops

Buy two lamb or venison chops per person or one elk chop per person.

Get them “Frenched” or trim the fat off the bones yourself. Salt and fresh ground pepper both sides generously. Lay chops out on sheet pan and spray with nonstick cooking spray. Heat grill to med-high, then mark both sides of chops quickly keeping them rare. Finish in oven at 425 to 450 for 3 to 5 minutes or until desired temperature.

For the Artichoke Pesto

3 cups picked spinach no stems or 2 cups frozen spinach, well drained of liquid

1 cup picked basil leaves, no stems

2 cups artichoke hearts, well drained of liquid

1 cup hard cheese reggiano

Pulse in food processor until mixed and add:

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

Salt to taste

Yumtwist

  • Citrus squeeze right before serving
  • Drizzle port wine reduction over before serving
  • Drizzle balsamic reduction over before serving

Crab Cakes

Serves 12, makes 24 mini crab cakes

Make aioli the day before you plans to serve the Crab Cakes. Make the Crab Cakes the same day you plan to serve them.

For the Tarragon Citrus Aioli

1 cup mayonnaise

Citrus squeeze from ½ to 1 lemon, lime or orange to taste

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil (Knecht recommends Sicilian Lemon Olive Oil)

1/8 cup finely chopped green onion

1/8 cup rough or finely chopped fresh tarragon leaves

Salt and fresh ground pepper to taste

Yumtwist

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  • 1 cup sour cream instead of mayonnaise
  • ½ cup plain yogurt instead of ½ cup mayonnaise
  • Fresh chopped basil leaves instead of tarragon

For the Crab Cake Mix

2 cups quality crab meat- premium lump, well drained of liquid

1 small egg

1/2 cup finely chopped green onion

2 tablespoons Tarragon Citrus Aoli

1 teaspoon citrus zest — lemon, lime or orange

1 teaspoon citrus juice — lemon, lime or orange

1/4 to 1/3 cup of bread crumbs (Knecht recommends crushed Ritz crackers)

Salt to taste (Knecht recommends lime fresco sea salt)

Making the crab cakes stay together is all about the perfect balance of moist and dry.

Test out flavor and consistency. If the cakes are falling apart and too moist — add more bread crumbs.

If the cakes are too dry — coming together sticky, they will only dry out more when cooking — add some more aoli or half an egg yolk.

Form Crab Cakes:

Make up the crab cakes into desired size and put in Tupperware, separating layers with parchment or plastic wrap. I form my pointer finger and thumb into a circle and mold them while I pack them tight on both sides with my fingers on the other hand. This step can be done up to eight hours before service.

Cooking method 1: Sear one side of each crab cake in a large cast iron pan. Once all cakes are flipped, place pan in oven and bake at 350 for 7 to 10 minutes. Top with a small dollop of aioli or tartar before serving.

Cooking method 2: Line cookie sheet with parchment paper and space crab cakes evenly, 1 inch apart. Bake at 400 for 10 to 12 minutes or until edges are just starting to crisp and the cake is heated thoroughly.

Top with a small dollop of aioli before serving

Yumtwist

Garnish on top of aioli:

  • Mango and blueberries diced fine and tossed with lime juice
  • Orange and kiwi section sections
  • Red peppers sliced into thin strips and soaked in ice water for 30 minutes until curly
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