Posts Tagged With: Food

The Gamey Taste of Game Meat, Part I

Every so often I publish a blog post either about hunting or with a picture of an elk steak in it.  Usually after this I get at least one or two questions about how to prepare game meat so that it doesn’t taste so “gamey.”  I hear lots of people saying they would hunt but they don’t like the taste of the meat, or that they just don’t know how to cook it. Likewise, whenever we serve game to friends and family, we get lots of surprised comments about how flavorful and good the meat is, not at all gamey as they expected.

Since hunting season is just around the corner for many parts of the country, and since our family mainly eats game meat, I thought I’d share a bit about how we process and cook the meat, and how we deal with the “gaminess” of venison and other meats. Over the next couple of weeks I plan to publish a series of hunting related posts, including recipes for cooking wild game.

Making wild game into a delicious meal was learned through trial and error over the last nine years of cooking and processing game.  We’ve made some discoveries that have really helped us.  When people refer to venison as gamey they are either speaking of the toughness or dryness that often occurs when cooking the meat, the distinctly wild flavor, or both.  It’s a bit backwards but I’m going to talk about cooking game meat first.  This addresses the toughness and dryness of venison.  In part two, I’ll talk about harvesting and processing game and how that directly affects the taste of your meat.

Eye fillet of grass-fed beef.

Eye fillet of grass-fed beef. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Venison is not beef.

It might seem obvious, but deer, elk and antelope are all very different from cattle.

When you cook beef, the fat and marbling you should look for when buying a steak keeps the meat moist, tender and flavorful.  A delicious juicy steak depends on it’s fat.  Nicely marbled beef can be tender and choice even cooked past medium.  This is because cattle is mainly fed corn to fatten them up (literally, to fatten them).

If you’ve ever cooked grass-fed beef, you know what I’m talking about.  Grass-fed beef is leaner than conventional corn-fed beef.  Often grass-fed beef is “finished” on corn (meaning the last few weeks of it’s life it gets corn to add in some fat).  And even if it is not, grass-fed beef still has more fat than venison.  Cows are bred to stand around and eat.  Cattle ranchers make an effort to keep their cattle from using their muscles.  Even if not confined, they don’t want them running around.  They want lazy, fat, contented cows.  They want tender muscle.  1,400 pounds of well-marbled, tender muscle.

We all know a muscle that is exercised gets harder, tougher, stronger.

Elk fillet, same cut as beef shown above.

Deer (and certainly antelope) don’t just stand around all day filling their stomachs.  They live their lives using their muscles.  They have to keep on the move, running and jumping, staying away from predators.  They have to search out water and food.  Their food is not usually a lush field of grass or corn (unless they are Nebraskan whitetail).  It’s often patches of under-brush, sage and other soft-wooded plants.  Deer eat twigs and bark and shoots.  They are nearly fat-free beings, trim at 150 (or perhaps 400 for an elk) pounds, with the hardened muscles of athletes.

This means you can not cook venison the same way as you cook beef.  While you might like your beef steak medium- to medium-rare, your venison needs to be much closer to rare, else it becomes shoe leather.  It generally should not be cooked well-done or it will be ruined, dry and tough.

Likewise, grouse, pheasant and duck are not chickens.  You must add fat when cooking grouse and pheasant.  Duck is an entirely different bird and it’s breasts can be treated as red meat, cooked to medium-rare or medium.

How to cook wild game:

To start with, use thick cuts of meat.  If you get your game processed by a butcher, ask them to cut your steaks an inch thick or thicker.  Or if you process your meat yourself, use a ruler or make yourself a template when cutting, so your steaks don’t end up too thin.  The idea here is to preserve moisture as much as possible and not over-cook the meat.  Deer and elk steaks are going to be smaller than beef steaks anyway, so if your steaks are thicker, you have more leeway with this.  Remember, you can always cut your meat thinner if you need to later, or for other uses as you get used to cooking your game.

Venison greatly benefits from a marinade.  Most of the time we, at the very least, drizzle our elk, deer or antelope steaks with olive oil and let them sit in it for 20 minutes to half an hour before we cook them.  Olive oil, crushed garlic and thyme is a great, simple combination.

Before cooking we also add fat to the pan (or grill).  Heat your pan and add a bit more olive oil.  Then cook the steak, flipping once, being careful not to over-cook it.  Remember that venison is smaller and less forgiving than beef, so keep a close eye.

Bacon grease and lard are delicious, traditional ways to add fat to your venison.  A lard-seared elk steak, to die for.  Onions sauteed in bacon grease,  the perfect base for a venison stew.  Or keep it simple with olive oil.

After cooking, let your venison steaks rest for up to ten minutes, covered, before serving.

Notice that I didn’t mention salt?  This is because salt draws moisture from meat.  When cooking venison, salt should be added just before serving.

Important to remember here is that you can’t just take a beef recipe and make it into a venison recipe without accounting for the leanness of the meat.  You want to do your utmost to preserve the meat’s juices and moisture.

If you enjoy stir-fry and fajitas, I recommend using a flank-type steak, cooked whole to medium-rare and then thinly slicing.  Only add the sliced steak into the pan for the last few seconds (if at all).

Check out websites like Field and Stream’s The Wild Chef blog or Hunter-Angler-Gardener-Cook for lots of delicious, trusted game recipes.

If you’ve enjoyed what I’ve posted about cooking wild game so far, please subscribe to have my future posts shown in your RSS feed or emailed directly to your inbox by using the form in the sidebar at the right.  Thanks for reading.

About these ads
Categories: Food, Hunting, Recipes | Tags: , , , , | 25 Comments

Bee Birthday and Easy Mason Jar Drink Lids (with Tutorial)

This weekend we celebrated C’s first birthday.  I ordered cupcakes from a wonderful, local, all- organic bakery that makes a to-die-for flavor called “Bee-titude.”  It’s a lavender cupcake with honey-lemon butter cream frosting, and it was the inspiration for C’s party theme: honey bee.  The party colors were yellow and lavender, and it turns out that this was a really fun theme to put together.

I also made a few discoveries for decorating this party that eased the green-guilt that sometimes comes along with me decorating.  I found spools of colored tulle at the craft store that I can easily roll up and reuse for another occasion instead of the crêpe paper streamers I usually use.  And I bought two yards of inexpensive broadcloth for the table-cloth that would match the party theme.

I used various glass plates and jars to decorate and filled a vase with lavender and chamomile flowers.

I have a gorgeous bee skep-shaped drink dispenser that my mom bought me for Christmas last year and I filled it with honey-lavender lemonade.  I was surprised that the lavender flowers turned the lemonade pink!

And I used my canning jars as glasses.  Pints for the adults with ribbons and tags to write names on, and half-pints with lids for the kids.  And here was my eureka moment.  Ball jelly jars are durable and their lids don’t leak.  And I used a HOLE-PUNCH to make them into drink lids.

Here’s how:

First I traced old jar lids onto patterned paper and then cut out the circles.

I used double-sided tape to stick the paper to the top of the lid.

Then I used a regular old hole-punch to punch holes in the tops of the lids.  This was surprisingly easy.  I did it with one hand and minimal effort.  The punch still worked great on about twenty paper tags after punching six lids.

I used a cheapy plastic straws with about an inch cut off the end to make the kids’ tumblers complete.

Not a single jar got broken between six, three- to seven-year-olds.  They even took them outside.  I wrote each kiddo’s name on the top of their jar, so there were no mix-ups.  It was really easy and completely free, since I had all these supplies lying around the house.  Henry even helped cut out the circles.

I plan to just swap out the paper circles and straws for the next party.

Categories: DIY, Simple Living, Thrift | Tags: , , , , , , | 14 Comments

When to Harvest Garlic

If you follow me on Facebook, you know that last week I harvested our garlic.   This was our second year planting garlic and it has become on of my favorite crops to grow and harvest.   Garlic is so incredibly easy.

In the fall, you plant your garlic cloves, cover them and then just wait.  When spring hits, your hardnecks will send up scapes.  Cut those babies off; they make a delicious dish, and cutting your scapes will force the garlic plant to put its energy into making a bulb instead of a flower.  Trust me.  Cut the scape.  This year, I missed about three scapes, and here are the garlic heads to compare.

These two heads of garlic are the same variety.  The one on the left had the scape cut off, but the one on the right got overlooked during scape cutting time.  Amazing difference, isn’t it.

Last year I harvested my garlic in a fit of nesting during the pouring rain, a mere week before C was born.  I was insanely driven to pull all the garlic right then.  It couldn’t even wait the extra day to let the soil dry from the rain.

But if you are not nesting a week before your labor, how do you know when your garlic is ready to harvest?

By looking at the leaves.

When the leaves at the bottom of the garlic plant start to turn brown and dry, your garlic is ready.  As you can see from this picture, my leaves are almost all brown.  I probably could have harvested a week or so earlier than I did, but as you might guess from all the weeds, I was sort of neglecting the garlic beds.  Not to worry, garlic will usually keep as long as it’s not an overly soggy summer.

This year we planted three different varieties of garlic; a mystery variety that I’ve been saving from our CSA farm share (Monroe) for the last couple of years, Georgian Fire, and Erik’s German White.  Judging by size alone, you can guess which has made me happiest.  I’ve yet to do the taste test.

Categories: Food, Garden | Tags: , , , | 9 Comments

Dried Sour Cherries

Last weekend while at my in-laws’ house, I noticed that my mother in-law’s very ripe cherry trees had not been picked.  Lucky me, she told me to have at it!

Rick’s younger brother, was there and he helped us pick.  The cherries were so ripe that some were almost sweet.  As we all picked, the adults all remembered being kids, waiting for the cherry trees to ripen (we had cherries at the house I grew up in too), thinking that this year, this year, the cherries would be sweet.  I always expected them to taste like a maraschino cherry.  Of course, they never, ever did. They were always sour and I was always disappointed.

As a child, I assumed that these small, sour fruits were not real cherries.  That they were just for birds and to look pretty.  I didn’t know how good they really were. Rick, on the other hand, had some home-made pies and jams made from his backyard trees, but still most years the harvest went to the birds and squirrels, and his largest memory of the trees was putting the pits to use in his sling shot.

Maybe that’s why he never thought to mention to me that his parents still had the cherry trees.  Most years, my mother in-law said, they let a passing neighbor pick the trees.  (!)  I had been considering going to a pick-your-own orchard this year to buy some, when I noticed her trees.

We didn’t even pick half of the two trees, yet we came home with an incredible haul of gorgeous sour cherries.

My younger self would be so jealous of me now.  Now, I know how to turn these babies into the sweet, delicious fruit that I always hoped they’d be.  See sour cherries (sometimes called tart cherries) are also know as PIE cherries.  (Once I tried making a pie from bing cherries.  Yeah…. horrible).  Sour cherries will give you a pie to die for.  We ended up with eight pounds – PITTED.

After washing and pitting them, I immediately put six cups in the freezer for a pie.  The rest I divided between the jamming pot and the dehydrator.

Dried sour cherries are pretty expensive to buy in the store.  But they are delicious in baked goods, rice, salads, sauces, over pork, granola and trail mix, or just plain as a snack.  We hope to dip some in chocolate for Scott as a thank you for helping us pick.

Drying the cherries was incredibly simple.  Just wash and pit the cherries, and then spread them on the rack of your dehydrator.  make sure they each have a little room so they don’t end up stuck together.  I tried to pick the best, most perfect cherries to dry.  Any squashed or under ripe ones, I tossed back into the bowl to be made into jam.  Our food dehydrator puts out quite a bit of heat, and since it has been so hot here, I set it up on an old plywood table on the back porch to do its thing.  I set the dehydrator for 135° and let them dry for about 24 hours.

We dried about three pounds of pitted cherries and ended up with just about a pint after they were dry.  You have to watch them towards the end of the drying; you don’t want them to get crunchy.  They should still be soft, kind of like a raisin.  Yum.

Categories: Canning and Food Preservation | Tags: , , , , | 17 Comments

What I Made This Week: Turnip, Pea & Kohlrabi Stir-Fry

I published a post today on our CSA’s blog, Monroe Organic Farms.  Just a quick one with a stir-fry recipe at the end.

If you’re here from the Monroe blog for the first time, feel free to look around and see what crazy farm-style hijinks we are up to here in the city… bees and chickens and garden, and a few other odd projects.  Plus green cleaning, clothes lines and other green-style stuff.  Welcome.

Also – there are a couple of days left to vote on this… Pick me!

Categories: Community, CSA, Food, Recipes | Tags: , , , | 7 Comments

Garlic Scapes Two Ways

Last spring we harvested our first crop of garlic.  At that time I knew that we should cut the scapes, the flowering shoots that hard-neck garlic sends up in the spring, off of the plants so that my bulbs would reach a good size.  Once I cut them though, I didn’t quite know what to do with them.  I had heard that they were edible, but I was really uncertain on how to use them, so I ended up putting them in a vase to let them keep curling and eventually open up.  They were striking, my sister even asked to take some home.  But this year, none will be in vases.  My pallet is no longer a garlic scape virgin, and there is no going back.

I did a quick search and decided t try a couple of simple garlic scape recipes.  They are, honestly, amazing.  Checking in my cupboard, I realized that I had all the making of pesto.  I was inspired by this recipe, but used 12 scapes and added a bit of lemon juice and ground black pepper to mine.

It is honestly the best pesto I’ve ever tasted in my life.  I used my food processor, and chopped it pretty fine.  H helped me add ingredients to the food processor.  I also have to add that the olive oil we recently bought (3 gallons of it) is very fruity and I think it made a big difference in the quality of our pesto.

We used some of the pesto last night to make pasta.  I ran to the store to buy these curly-cue noodles in honor of the scapes, specifically for this.  For the sauce, I whisked together a good, large dollop of the pesto with about 1/3 cup crumbled feta and half a cup of the hot pasta water until it was fairly smooth.  Then I just tossed it over the pasta.

It had an initial garlicky bite that quickly mellowed and was quite delicious.  Even C loved it.  Tonight, I plan to use the pesto as a base for some homemade pizza.

Since I already had the food processor out, I decided to whip together a quick hummus.  I didn’t even clean it out, I just added more scapes, a can of rinsed chick peas, salt, juice from the other half of the lemon, and a bit more olive oil.

It is insanely good.  I don’t know if it really qualifies as hummus, it doesn’t have tahini (which I don’t care for much), but it is so good.  I hope I can make some for a party or, crossing my finger here that I still have scapes, our next potluck.

The garlic flavor is such a highlight.  It is much more mellow than using a garlic clove, but still strong, and the color is so beautiful.

I really think garlic scapes would make an awesome addition to guacamole.  Today, I think I’ll try making a batch of garlic scape pickles.  Just the thought has me salivating.

Garlic Scapes Two Ways on Punk DomesticsGarlic Scape Hummus:

In a food processor blend:

12 garlic scapes, roughly chopped
1 can garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed
juice from 1/2 a lemon
salt to taste

When everything is well combined, add 1/3 – 1/2 cup olive oil in a thin stream while the food processor is running.

Pasta with Feta-Garlic Scape Pesto Sauce:

1 lb of pasta
1/3 to 1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese
1/4 – 1/3 cup garlic scape pesto (link above, made with lemon juice)
salt

Cook pasta in salted water according to package directions.  Reserve 1/2 cup of the pasta water before draining.  In a bowl, whisk together the hot pasta water with the feta and pesto until smooth.  Toss over drained pasta and serve.

*Any leftover pesto or hummus (yeah, right) can be frozen.  Simply put pesto in ice cube trays or a freezer bag (flat).  Defrost hummus in fridge overnight and stir in a little olive oil to bring back the creamy consistency.

Categories: Canning and Food Preservation, Food, Garden, Recipes | Tags: , , , | 24 Comments

Thinking Outside the [Ice] Box

Someone recently asked me how the fridge experiment was going, and I realized that I missed the anniversary of when we first unplugged!  To me, that’s a pretty good sign that the project is going well.  The anniversary came and went totally unnoticed.  I imagined (a year ago) that I’d want some sort of fanfare or some official celebration, but I realize that it is better this way.

Running our home without a fridge has become so much a part of our lives that it’s almost mundane to us.  I forget about it completely until someone asks.

Changing ice jugs is routine.  Although we eat mainly fresh food, I don’t shop daily as many people have asked (I have three kids, people, are you nuts!??!), we love dairy (we regularly have milk, yogurt, cheese, half and half and butter in there), and none of us have suffered from Listeria.

Is it for everyone?  Well… I think that if we can do it with three children, probably most other families could too, certainly most single people.  But I realize that living without a fridge in 2012 is pretty far on the other side of the extreme line for many people.  It hasn’t really been an inconvenience for us at all.

I think the key to making it successful for us has been thinking outside of the box.  Many people we’ve talked to about it say they like the idea, but they could never do it because they prefer fresh food too much or that it’s not possible in an urban environment.  We are doing it in Denver and eating fresh foods (including meat and dairy)!  It is basically like using a cooler when camping. We’ve even gone out of town and left it.

Of course it would not be practical for us at all if we did not have the freezer in the garage where we could regularly get ice jugs.  But we run the freezer regardless.

So how long will we keep going?  Right now, we don’t see a reason to stop.  The only question now is what to do with the refrigerator?  Use it for storage for things prone to pests, like flour?  Make a pantry out of it?  A china cupboard? Long-term food storage area for the zombie apocalypse?  Fireproof safe?

We’re currently taking suggestions on that one.

Categories: Food, Sustainability, Unplugging the Fridge | Tags: , , , , , , | 19 Comments

Spicy Hot Lava Cakes

Over the last few months, I’ve been on the quest for the perfect brownie recipe.  I love rich, fudge-y (not cake-y) brownies, with dark chocolate, that can be made in under half an hour prep time.  In other words, they need to be amazing at the spur of the moment for that night’s dessert.  This has been a delicious quest which my husband is truly appreciating.

During my search, a few weeks ago, I came across a molten chocolate cake recipe.  It was pretty good, quick and easy, but after tinkering with it a bit, and applying some of the techniques and twists I’ve acquired during my perfect brownie search, I think I came up with the best molten chocolate cake recipe ever.

Step one:  preheat the oven to 400° and butter and dust your muffin tin with cocoa powder or granulated sugar.  My only muffin tin has 12 cups, but you need only six for this recipe.

Now, in a double boiler, melt butter and dark chocolate chips together.  Just so you know, with a double boiler, the boiling water should not be touching the bottom of the upper pan.

Also, I added chile powder, because I’m addicted to chocolate and chiles. And chiles in all their forms are just awesome.

If you don’t have a double boiler, you can use a heat proof bowl set over a pan of boiling water.  But the bowl should not be in the water – just over it.

After everything is all melted and mixed together, pour it into a mixing bowl with 1/3 cup brown sugar.  Whisk the chocolate mixture with the sugar, and then add three eggs, whisking well.

The chocolate mixture will get all gloopy and shiny looking.  At this point, mix in flour and a pinch of salt.

Then fill up your muffin cups.  Go ahead and fill them to the top, they don’t rise much.

Then set the muffin tin on a baking sheet and put them both in the oven.  This is actually kind of important.  It’s not to contain the mess or anything (there’s no mess), but I think it insulates the bottom of the muffin pan.  When I tried not using the baking sheet, the cakes came out too well done at the bottom.

Anyway.  Bake them until the tops are set.  For me this is 12 minutes.  It might be more or less for you, keep an eye on them.  You only want them set, not cooked through.  Like this:

Let them rest in the pan for ten minutes.  Set your timer and read a blog post, answer some email, wash up your mixing bowl.  Whatever.

Then plate them up hot and enjoy…

Spicy Hot Lava Cakes

1/4 cup unsalted butter
1 cup bittersweet chocolate chips
1 TBS hot Chimayo chile powder (or other New Mexican chile powder)
1/3 cup brown sugar
3 eggs
1/3 cup flour
1/4 tsp salt

butter and cocoa powder or sugar for dusting muffin tins

Preheat oven to 400°.  Butter and dust 6  muffin tins.  In a double boiler or a heat proof bowl set over (not in) boiling water, melt together the butter, chocolate and chile powder.  When melted and combined, whisk chocolate mixture into brown sugar.  Beat in eggs.  Combine the flour and salt and fold into the chocolate mixture.  Divide batter between the prepared muffin cups.

Set muffin tin on a baking sheet, and bake for approx. 12 minutes, just until the top is set.  Remove from oven and let stand 10 more minutes before serving.  Enjoy hot (and spicy).

*Note: for my friends who like it on the milder side, you can use less chile powder or none at all, and they still turn out scrumptious.

Categories: Food, Recipes | Tags: , | 19 Comments

Proudly powered by WordPress Theme: Adventure Journal by Contexture International.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 3,425 other followers

%d bloggers like this: