Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Morel Bacon Chowder

Since moving to Nebraska and discovering morels, spring just isn't complete without some morel hunting. I had been moping around this spring because Rick and I moved about two hours south from where we were living in Norfolk. We ended up renting a cute farmhouse out in the country, which came to us by mere chance, right before we were about to sign a lease on another cramped apartment. It was a rush move. I was recently promoted to associate editor at NEBRASKAland Magazine and Rick was starting a new job at Bass Pro Shops. It's nice living out in the countryside, but it was a lot of work, which left no time for hunting of any kind. The house needed a lot of work when we got here. And it took us two U-Haul trips on our end

We've been absent because of the move and because we still don't have any internet. Please be patient-- we're still here, just been busy. Check back from time to time, or sign up for updates on the right to receive recipes by email. We are also looking to move our website soon to accommodate our new book, but we'll let you know when that happens.

Bekah hunting for  morels with her niece.
Back to the morels-- after I had resolved to not go mushroom hunting this year, my friend Bekah took me to her grandparents' property in northeastern Nebraska to pick some morel mushrooms after work one day. It was a beautiful property, the sun was shining and the ground was freshly moist with rain. A prime location for morels, Bekah found 12 pounds the weekend before and was kind to share your spoils with me. It was getting towards the end of the season in Nebraska, but I found about a pound, enough for two meals!

Here's a simple recipe, in case you're craving for something warm, creamy and savory. It's a basic chowder recipe. We hope many of you had the chance to look for mushrooms this year!

Servings: 4
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cooking Time: 1 hour and 30 minutes
- 6-10 4-inch morel mushrooms or equivalent
- 1 tablespoon of butter
- 3 strips of thick-cut bacon, chopped
- 1 small onion, chopped
- 2 ribs of celery, diced
- 1 carrot, diced
- 2 1/2 cups of Yukon gold potatoes, peeled and diced
- 32 ounces of chicken broth
- 1 cup of water
- 1/2 cup of dry white wine
- 2 cups of half and half
- 3 tablespoon of corn starch
- 1 tablespoon of flat leaf Italian parsley, chopped
- kosher salt and freshly cracked pepper, to taste

1. Cut mushrooms into bite-size pieces. Run under cold water to wash away dirt and debris, then drain. 

2. Render fat from bacon over medium heat. Remove bacon pieces and set aside. Turn heat to medium-high and add mushrooms with a pinch of salt. Cook until mushrooms give up their juices and brown slightly. Remove mushrooms and reduce heat to medium.

Add butter, onion, celery, carrot and a pinch of salt, and sweat vegetables for 5-7 minutes. Do not burn.  
3. Add white wine to vegetables and allow it to reduce by half.

Next, add potatoes, the rendered bacon, cooked mushrooms, broth and water. Cover and simmer for 30-45 minutes, or until potato is cooked through. Then add chopped parsley. 
4. Heat half and half until steamy, but not boiling. Whisk in corn starch and try to get rid of as many lumps. Mix heated half and half mixture into soup. Simmer soup, uncovered, for another 15 minutes to allow it to thicken. 
5. Taste to check for seasoning. Add freshly cracked pepper. 
Serve with more fresh parsley sprinkled on top and crusty bread.


Sunday, April 5, 2015

Venison Cabbage Rolls

Cabbage rolls are common in several cuisines, including the Balkans, Central, Northern and Eastern Europe, and even in West Asia. There are many Germans and Eastern Europeans in Nebraska, and although I have never had the pleasure of having it authentically prepared-- because no one has invited me over to dinner at their oma or babička's house yet (hint, hint!)-- I thought the idea was basic enough and a good way to use up some venison scraps in the freezer. Though I can't claim that these are "authentic" by any stretch, I did opt to simmer the rolls in a tomato sauce, which does point to an Eastern European persuasion. In other parts of the world-- cabbage rolls in Finland and Sweden are often served with sweet and tart lingonberry jam. And in Lebanese cuisine, they are like the shape of cigars and served with yogurt, olive oil and lemon juice.

The cabbage rolls I made here are stuffed with freshly ground venison, bacon and long grain Jasmine rice. And because I spent so much money on a jar of saffron, I try to use it whenever I can. Plus, it's a great addition to anything that is tomato-based; I believe the Greeks use saffron in their cabbage rolls. To add a salty touch, a sprinkle of Parmesan cheese finished the dish-- I probably broke some rule there, but it was so good! I bet Feta cheese would be awesome. All-in-all, this recipe turned out quite tasty. I hope to be able to eat real cabbage rolls one day to compare. 

Servings: 4-5
Prep Time: 45 minutes 
Cooking Time: 1 hour and 30 minutes
- 1 pound of venison roast meat, cubed and partially frozen
- 3-4 ounces of bacon, chopped and partially frozen
- 1 head of cabbage
-  1 tablespoon of fresh Italian parsley, chopped
- 1 teaspoon of kosher salt, plus extra
- 1 teaspoon of garlic powder
- 1 egg
- 1/3 cup of uncooked long grain white rice 
- 1 large onion, sliced
- 1 tablespoon of olive oil
- 1 tablespoon of tomato paste
- 2 1/4 cup of crushed tomatoes 
- 1 14-ounce can of low-sodium beef broth
-  3 sprigs of fresh thyme
- 1 pinch of saffron
- freshly cracked pepper 

Weston Pro Series Electric Meat Grinder
1. To grind meat, make sure its partially frozen to allow the grinder to do its job more easily. Bacon, especially, catches on cutting blades if it's too soft. Run the cubed venison and bacon through the course grinder once. 

We love our Weston Pro Series Electric Meat Grinder

2. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Combine ground meat with chopped parsley, 1 teaspoon of kosher salt, garlic powder and freshly cracked pepper. 
Then mix in the uncooked rice and egg. Set meat aside in the refrigerator, covered.
3. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Discard discolored or dried out outer leaves of cabbage. Core out the cabbage. This will allow you to easily detach the leaves later. 
 4. Place the cabbage in the boiling water, turning it occasionally. Allow it to cook for 2 minutes, then check to see if the outer leaves are pliable and can be easily peeled with tongs. 

Peel off leaves as they become more pliable, run under cold water and drain. You should end up with 12-15 leaves. 
5. With a small knife, shave away part of the lower rib on leaves to make the leaves evenly flat. 
Next, place about 2 tablespoons of ground meat towards the bottom of the cabbage leaf. Fold in the two side, the bottom and then roll it all up. Repeat until you run out of ground meat. 
6. In a French or Dutch oven, heat 1 tablespoon of oil over medium heat. Add the sliced onion and sauté with a pinch of salt until translucent, about 5-7 minutes.

Add tomato paste and stir for another minute-- do not burn. 
Pour in crushed tomatoes and beef broth to the onion.
Add thyme sprigs and a pinch of saffron. Bring sauce to a simmer. 
7. Finally, gently lay rolls in the sauce in one layer, seam side down. Sprinkle lightly with more salt and pepper. Ladle some sauce over rolls, cover and bake in a 350 degree F oven for 1 hour and 20 minutes. 

Check halfway through to make sure sauce doesn't reduce too low. If so, add more stock. 

Check to see if meat is thoroughly cooked. Sprinkle freshly chopped parsley on top of the rolls. 
Serve warm with sauce and onions. If desired, sprinkle Parmesan or Feta cheese on top. 

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Braised Venison Neck with Cream Cheese Polenta

One of Rick's favorite dishes is braised beef shanks. It's part of my repertoire of go-to recipes, one that I can whip up with just a few ingredients-- vegetables, red wine, stock, and beef. When shanks are on sale, I stock up and stick them in the freezer. Basic ingredients like onions, carrots, celery and beef/chicken stock are always in our pantry. And we drink wine fairly regularly, so there's usually a bottle around. This is such an easy, foolproof recipe. You will end up with flavorful, tender meat every single time, and it works just as perfectly with venison neck. After braising for two and a half hours, all the sinew and fat in the neck melts to become as tender as any pot roast you've ever had. This is a hearty meal that's a great way to utilize venison neck meat. 

What's been going on with us? The edits for our book Hunting for Food have been sent in, and we've been enjoying the nicer weather. The last couple weeks have been characterized by temperatures in the 50s, 60s and even 70s , which has been a relief after February's frigid temps. All the ice has melted and our ponds and lakes are open. Last week Rick and I were able to take out our kayaks for the first time this year-- which was way earlier that we expected. We did a little bit of fishing, though we had no luck. 

Green grass is also beginning to pop up. Before I moved out here, I never-- in my wildest dreams-- thought that I would ever get excited over watching grass grow. Though it has gotten cooler this week, we did get some nice rain yesterday, which we desperately need because we had a very dry winter. Here's to hoping that we don't experience another drought this year... 

Servings: 2
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cooking Time: 3 hours
- one side of boneless venison neck
- 1 tablespoon of olive oil
- all-purpose flour
- salt and pepper
- 1 large onion, chopped
- 3 large carrots, chopped
- 3 ribs of celery, chopped
- 1 cup of red wine
- 2 cans of beef broth
- 3 sprigs of thyme, fresh or dry
- 1 sprig of rosemary  
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 cup of yellow cornmeal
- 4 1/2 cups of water
- 4 ounces of cream cheese (or goat cheese)
- 1 tablespoon of butter
- chopped parsley for garnish

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Heat 1 tablespoon of oil in a Dutch/French oven over medium-high heat. Rinse venison neck under cold water, pat dry with paper towels. Liberally sprinkle salt and pepper on both sides, dredge in flour then brown in the oil on both sides, 3-5 minutes each side. Set browned neck aside. 
2. Add more oil if necessary to the pot. Lower heat to medium then add chopped onion, carrot and celery, along with a pinch of salt. Sweat vegetables and sauté until onions turn translucent, 5-7 minutes. 
3. Add the wine and scrape the bottom of the pan. 
Add the venison back to the pot, then pour in 2 cans of beef broth. Add thyme, bay leaf and rosemary. Cover the Dutch/French oven and braise in a 350 degree F oven for 2 1/2 hours, or until neck turns fork tender. 

4. Flip the neck halfway through and check to make sure that the liquid has not evaporated too quickly. If so, add more broth to keep meat from drying out and burning.

After 2 1/2 hours, the meat should be fork tender. Shred venison neck into smaller pieces. Taste for seasoning. Discard thyme, bay leaf and rosemary sprigs before serving.  
5. To make polenta, bring 4 1/2 cups of water to a boil. Whisk in cornmeal and a generous pinch of salt, no lumps, then cover and simmer for 10 minutes. Once polenta is cooked, mix in cheese, butter and more salt, if necessary. 
6. Spoon polenta into a bowl then ladle braised venison and vegetables on top. Garnish with parsley. 

This post sponsored by:

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Weston's PRO 1100 Vacuum Sealer

Trying out our new Weston PRO 1100 Vacuum Sealer with a smallmouth bass.
Introducing the Weston PRO 1100 Vacuum Sealer-- our new shiny kitchen toy. :-) Weston sent it to us recently and although we're in that limbo stage of no hunting, it has been warm enough to get out to do a little fishing. I went out last week to fish with a friend. He caught this nice smallmouth out of the Missouri River and gave it to me. When I brought the fish home and Rick saw it, his mouth fell to the floor after seeing how big the fish was. Apparently, smallmouths usually don't get this big, but we decided to keep it whole for grilling later on. 

Our first impressions of the Weston Pro 1100 is that it's extremely heavy duty, efficient, powerful and is more adjustable than other vacuum sealers we've used. The most surprising feature is that you can manually adjust sealing time and vacuum pressure to seal different types of foods, soft or hard. The bag roll holder is located on the back and is capable of holding a giant roll, and the cutter conveniently right in front of it. Because it is a little heavy, this vacuum sealer feels more commercial and is suitable for sportsmen looking for a permanent addition at their game cleaning station. It's not something that you would want to unpack, pack and then put away and then unpack again to use.

We look forward to using this vacuum sealer more during hunting season and giving you a more detailed report.We wonder how it will handle vacuum sealing large amounts of meat at one time, especially if we are able to shoot a deer or hog this season. Less heavy duty vacuum sealers fail at multiple uses. They overheat and stop working, which makes for a very long night, especially after a long day of hunting. We are confident that the Weston PRO 1100 will perform well.

Thank you Weston Products for giving us the opportunity to try out their new vacuum sealer! It's a beauty.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Book Update: Hunting for Food

Yes, it's been a month since we've blogged. Sorry, but February temperatures really sucked. And we thought it would be best not to whine about it all over our blog. Though, we really hope you still missed us. :-)

Although we haven't been cooking as much as we'd like, we've been busy with our upcoming book!! Titled Hunting for Food: Guide to Harvesting, Field Dressing and Cooking Wild Game, our book will be released on July 15, 2015 by F+W Media, Inc. The cover will look more or less like the one on the left. It will be 175 pages long and will include step-by-step photos on how to hunt/catch, clean and butcher 13 different species, including deer, wild hog, rabbit, squirrel, wild turkey, quail, dove, pheasant, waterfowl, game fish, turtle, frog and crayfish. Cooking tips and some recipes will be included at the end of each chapter. 

We had 9 months to write this book, and it was one of the most challenging, stressful and frustrating projects we have ever taken on in our lives. We had to photograph most of the book, and when the animals don't cooperate when you hunt them, they most likely won't cooperate when you want to take their picture! Considering the limitations we had with staying within legal hunting seasons and our deadline, there were moments when we wanted to rip our hair out. We worked right up to the deadline, and we were still trying to get the right photographs and game with only a few short weeks left. There were lots of hours on the road, blood, sweat, tears and late nights, that I can't tell you the ecstasy I felt when we finally turned in our full manuscript to the publisher last fall. Although Rick did not feel the same way, I had no desire to go hunt or fish for weeks after that. Honest to God, all I wanted to do was go to the mall.

Going out to catch crayfish in central NE.
We turned in our manuscript in October, then it became a waiting game to get the proof back from our publisher. I told Rick, "This is either going to be really cool, or it's going to suck." He grimly agreed. The whole thing passed like a whirlwind that it left us a little stunned and wondering whether we put enough time into it. Did we rush it? Will a non-hunter understand this book? Will hunters appreciate it? This was our first book, and the last thing we wanted was for it to sound like a joke.

But then it happened. Late last month, our editor Chris Berens sent us the proof of Hunting for Food in its entirety, that he and his team have been quietly, diligently piecing together. When we opened that e-mail to view the files, a second sigh of relief came-- one of great joy and pride. The editing and the layout was everything that we had hoped for. And thank goodness! The book reads like we know what we're talking about. Writing a book is much like a roller coaster with its highs and its lows. The first high was receiving the offer, and now the second was seeing our work come together in one cohesive piece. At that moment, all that time and effort we put into writing and shooting this book last year was worth every happy and disappointing moment.

Sneak peek at a couple pages from Hunting for Food.
Right now, Hunting for Food is in the author correction process. We are going through the proof for any mistakes and need for clarification. This is a very exciting time for us, and the anticipation of being able to share our book with everyone keeps building and building. In addition to Gun Digest Store and F+W Media, Inc. partners, our book will be available through major book retailers including Barnes and Noble, Amazon and many hunting and sporting good-related stores. For autographed copies, we plan to create a separate website to fulfill orders. Hunting for Food will also be available in digital format.

We believe that you will like this book. It's got hunting/fishing tips, full color step-by-step photos of how to field dress and butcher each species, cooking tips and a couple recipes at the end of each chapter. Hunting for Food focuses mainly on hunting, cooking and eating from the resources that may be found around you. It's short and sweet, not long-winded, and will serve as the perfect field guide to throw into your camper or pack when out and about. The book will make a great gift for beginner hunters or experienced hunters who need cooking tips and ideas. We can't wait for you to see it. 

Thanks to all those who have been following and supporting our blog. We couldn't have done any of this without your enthusiasm, because it's you that inspires us to continue cooking and writing. 

Best regards, 

Rick and Jen 

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