Sunday, April 13, 2014

Basic Italian Venison Meatballs

Hi everyone! We know... it's been awhile since we've posted anything. It's April, and half of our book is due at the beginning of May, so Rick and I have been mostly out in the field, trying to get the photos we need. And it's coming together, slowly. We want to make sure we get everything right. 

We are excited about this recipe because it was the first time we used our new meat grinder, the Weston #8 Pro 360 Commercial Grinder! It is a beauty and a beast, powerful, does the job quickly and is super easy to clean. 

For our first spin with the Weston meat grinder, we started off easy. Here's a basic, easy venison meatball recipe. Grinding meat is one of the best ways to use scraps and parts of the deer that is too tough or has too much silver skin running through it, like the lower parts of the quarters and the neck. Because venison is much lower in fat than beef, it's a healthy alternative when making meatballs, sausages or burgers. 

Servings: 8+ servings (about 22 meatballs)
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 20-30 minutes
- 4 pounds of venison roast/scraps
- bacon, chopped (eyeball it so that it equals about 20% of your amount of venison, but it's really up to you)
- 3 tablespoons of fresh Italian parsley, finely chopped
- 1 teaspoon of dried oregano
- 1 teaspoon of dried basil
-  2 tablespoons of garlic powder
- 1/2 cup of bread crumbs 
- 1/2 teaspoon of kosher salt, or to taste
- freshly cracked black pepper, to taste
- 2 eggs

Note: It's not necessary to remove every bit of silver skin from your venison. It can be quite a chore, considering how sinewy certain parts of the deer can be. Many people don't bother with it. But, we still like to give our pre-ground meat a rough clean before putting it through the grinder, just to ensure the best texture and a "nicer" look without bits of silver skin throughout. 

However, we highly recommend that you try to remove as much fat as you can, because it can ruin the taste of your ground meat. 

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Cut up venison into small cubes, about 1" thick. Then follow the instructions on your meat grinder and send the meat through, fitted with the course grinding plate. Catch the ground meat as it comes out of the grinder in a large bowl. 
2. Next, replace the course plate with the medium plate. 

3. Then add the chopped bacon to the bowl with the coarsely ground meat. 

For best results, the bacon should be slightly frozen. This will help the grinder cut into the meat instead of just catching inside the machine and coming out only partially ground. If you're up to it, you can do this with your venison, too, but we never had a need for it, nor the freezer space. 
4. Send the coarsely ground venison and bacon mixture through the meat grinder again, this time with the medium plate. 
5. Next, add the parsley, oregano, basil, garlic powder, bread crumbs, pepper, eggs and salt. 

We used a seasoned bread crumb mixture. If you use plain bread crumbs, you may want to add more salt. The best way to figure out how much salt you need is by cooking a small piece of the mixture in a pan and tasting it. 
6. Combine the ingredients, and mix just enough so that the ingredients are evenly dispersed. 

7. Roll ground meat into balls, about 1 to 2 inches. Grease a cooking sheet, or two, and lay meatballs in one layer, evenly spaced so that they are not touching. Bake for 20-30 minutes, or until no longer pink inside. This will depend on how big your meatballs are. 
If you're not going to eat all the meatballs at once, you can vacuum package them and freeze for a later meal. They thaw and reheat nicely.

Serve these venison meatballs with your favorite spaghetti sauce or make meatball sandwiches! 
Always remember to thoroughly clean your meat grinder before and after each use. Unlike a steak, which is only exposed to bacteria on its surface, the entire surface area of your ground meat touches the grinder. If your grinder is contaminated, your entire batch of ground meat will be contaminated. 


Saturday, March 22, 2014

Vietnamese "Shaken" Venison

This is a simple Vietnamese dish, common in most households and restaurants. The only difference is that it's always made with beef, but it's great made with venison, too. For the most part, you can't even tell the difference. 

I grew up eating Thit Bo Luc Lac, or "Shaken" Beef. It's "shaken" because of the shaking motion you make (or supposed to make) with the pan when you sauté the meat. Most people translate it into "shaking" beef, but I'm going to change it to "shaken" because "shaking" is confusing in its present tense. The meat does not actually shake while you're eating it. That would be very creepy. And because I suck at any fancy tricks in the kitchen, I cheat by using tongs to move the meat around. You can, too. I won't tell.

For my mom who had a full-time job and also had to come home and feed her husband, my brother and me, this was an easy, delicious meal that she could whip up in just minutes. The beef is marinated in a few simple ingredients, browned and then served over a bed of lightly dressed watercress and eaten with white rice. I used arugula here, because watercress is not popular in my part of the world, and because I simply do not like it. Arugula has a similar peppery taste, but without so much bitterness. If you like watercress, go for it. 

The salad dressing used here is quintessential Vietnamese, as far as salad dressing goes. It's light, slightly sweet and acidic. I hope you give this recipe a try. It's a nice change from typical venison dishes. All these ingredients can be found at any major grocery store. 

Servings: 2
Prep Time: 20 minutes to 2 hours
Cook Time: 4-7 minutes
- 1 pound of venison tenderloin or roast
- 1 tablespoon of peanut oil
- cooked jasmine rice, for serving (or your favorite white rice)
- 1/2 teaspoon of freshly cracked black pepper
- 1 tablespoon of soy sauce
- 1 teaspoon of fish sauce
- 2 tablespoons of oyster sauce
- 2 cloves of garlic, minced
- 1 1/2 teaspoons of sugar
- 4 cups of watercress(only tender leafy parts) or arugula
- 1 shallot, thinly sliced
- 1 1/2 tablespoons of unseasoned rice vinegar
- 1 1/2 teaspoons of sugar
- kosher salt, to taste
- 3-5 cracks of black pepper, to taste
- 2 tablespoons of water

1. Clean venison of all fat and silver skin, then cut into 3/4-inch cubes. In a small bowl, combine marinade ingredients. Then add venison and marinate, covered, for at least 20 minutes but no more than 2 hours in the refrigerator.

Before cooking, remove meat from refrigerator to allow it to come to room temperature for even cooking. 
2. In a large bowl, combine all salad ingredients except the watercress/ arugula. Do not toss until ready to eat. Set aside.

3. Next, heat peanut oil in a large wok or skillet over high heat. Add venison cubes in one layer, and allow it to sear on this first side for 1 minute. Then shake the pan (or flip with tongs), to sear the other sides for 30 seconds each. Cook venison for about 4 minutes total or until nicely browned and medium-rare. Then toss arugula or watercress into dressing. Add a pinch of salt and pepper, to taste.

4. Move greens to a serving dish and pile cooked venison on top. Serve immediately with jasmine rice. 

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Indian Butter Pheasant

I had Indian on the brain a couple weeks ago. I told Rick we had to go to an Indian restaurant, which we did. And then I went home and made this. Funny thing was, when I lived in California, I never really gave Indian food a second thought. I'm not sure why that was. I like to think that my tastes have changed-- matured, but I'm willing to wager that a certain Gordon Ramsay Great Escape episode is responsible for my sudden interest. As lame as it may sound, sometimes TV is my gateway to the world. 

A popular dish, butter chicken, or murgh makhani, is an Indian dish that is known around the world. This is my interpretation of India's butter chicken, except I've turned it into butter pheasant. The tomato "gravy" is the star here, a creamy, rich yet vibrant sauce that accompanies the pheasant very well. This dish is also very simple to make. Don't let the list of ingredients fool you. As long as you can find the garam masala spice, you're golden. 

For your enjoyment, here's a recent photo I took of my friend's dog "Rio." She's a young, happy pointing lab who loves to fetch birds all day long. 

Servings: 4
Prep Time: 15 minutes, plus 2 days of marinating
Cook Time: 40 minutes
- 1 pound of skinless pheasant breasts (and legs, if you have them)
- 1/3 cup of plain yogurt
- 1 tablespoon of peanut oil
- 1 teaspoon of kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon of garam masala
- 5 cloves of garlic
- 1 inch piece of ginger, peeled
Tomato "Gravy":
- 1 tablespoon of peanut oil
- 1 shallot, finely chopped
- quarter of an onion, chopped
- 2 tablespoons of butter or ghee
- 2 teaspoons of lemon juice
- 1 teaspoon of ginger garlic paste (leftover from marinade)
- 1 teaspoon of garam masala
- 1 teaspoon of chili powder
- 1 teaspoon of ground cumin
- 1 bay leaf
- 1/4 cup of plain yogurt
- 1 cup of heavy cream
- 1 cup of tomato puree
- pinch of cayenne pepper, or to taste
- salt and pepper, to taste
- 1/4 cup of finely ground cashews
- 4 servings of cooked jasmine rice

1. In a food processor or mortar and pestle, blend ginger and garlic together to make a paste. In a small bowl, mix together 2 teaspoons of the garlic ginger paste and the rest of the marinade ingredients. Put pheasant in a zip-lock bag and pour in the marinade. Refrigerate for 48 hours. Reserve the rest of the ginger paste in a small container, refrigerated. 

2. Grill or broil pheasant until browned on the outside. Don't cook all the way through. 

Cut breasts into bite-size pieces and shred meat off leg bones, if you have them. Set meat aside.
3. In a large skillet or wok, heat 1 tablespoon of peanut oil over medium high heat. Sauté shallot and onion until translucent. Then stir in butter, lemon juice, the reserved garlic ginger paste, 1 teaspoon of garam masala, chili powder, cumin and bay leaf. Cook, stirring for 1 minute. 

Then add tomato puree, and stir for 2 minutes.

Next, stir in 1 cup of heavy cream and 1/4 cup of plain yogurt. 
Add cayenne pepper to taste. Then reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes. 
4. Next, stir in 1/4 cup of finely ground cashews. This will thicken the sauce. We bought a bag of cashews and ran it through the food processor. To make it more fine, we gave the ground cashews another quick grind with the mortar and pestle.

If sauce is too thick, add more cream or water. Then add salt and pepper, to taste. 

Add the pheasant into the sauce and heat thoroughly, making sure pheasant is cooked. 

Remove and discard the bay leaf.

Finally, serve with jasmine rice. 

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Pheasant and Spinach Fettuccine Alfredo

When you're chasing light for photos, things get a "heated" in the kitchen when dishes don't turn out right the first time. This particular recipe was a bit of a nightmare, when our first two batches of alfredo sauce, made with half and half, kept curdling into a lumpy mess. What was so frustrating was that we couldn't figure out why. We checked the heat-- it wasn't high at all. We did add a little wine, but never had problems with it before. We switched skillets, thinking that it might be some weird chemical reaction to our cast iron pan, but that wasn't it.We frantically Googled for solutions, and the only thing that saved this dish was to send Rick back out to the store to buy heavy cream. But that shouldn't have mattered at all. Perhaps that particular container of half and half was bad, but I didn't think it smelled funky-- we had just bought it the day before. It remains a mystery. We're sure you won't have the same problems making this recipe.

I guess the lesson here is, when in doubt, buy heavy cream. Because calorie counting just ruins everything. 

Servings: 4
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cook Time: 20 minutes
- 8 ounces of fettuccine pasta, uncooked
- 2 tablespoons of butter
- 4 pheasant breasts
- 2 cloves of garlic, minced
- 3/4 cup of dry white wine
- 1/2 cup of heavy cream
- 3/4 cup of shredded or grated Parmesan cheese, plus extra for sprinkling
- 1 large handful of fresh baby spinach
- salt and freshly cracked black pepper, to taste
- crushed red pepper, to taste

1. Cook fettuccine according to package directions for al dente. Reserve some pasta water for later.

2. Melt 1 tablespoon of butter in a skillet over medium-high heat. Clean and wash pheasant breasts thoroughly, dab dry with paper towels, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and cook until golden brown on both sides. Cut pheasant into strips or cubes, then set aside. 
3. Add spinach to the same skillet and cook until it just starts to wilt, tossing occasionally. Remove spinach and set aside. Don't overcook the spinach. It gets mushy and loses its nice green color.

4. Add an additional tablespoon of butter to the skillet. Add minced garlic and cook for about 1 minute, but do not burn. Add wine, scraping the bottom of the pan and let it simmer for 2 minutes. Then whisk in the cream and let it simmer until slightly thickened.

Next, take it off the heat and mix in the Parmesan cheese. Add salt and pepper, to taste.
5. Add the pasta to the alfredo sauce and toss. Then add the spinach, crushed red pepper and pheasant, and toss until well combined. 
6. Serve hot with extra Parmesan cheese sprinkled on top. If your sauce gets dry, add a little pasta water.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Goose Breast with Rosemary Fig Sauce

Hi there! Sorry we haven't posted in awhile. Been working on our book and all (HOORAY!) For those who didn't catch our announcement on the Food for Hunters' Facebook page, Rick and I are in the process of writing a book with F+W Media, Inc. They're the fine folks who publish the magazines that we all know and love, like Deer and Deer Hunting and Gun Digest! The book will cover many animals and offer tips and tricks on how to field dress, process and cook wild game. We are aiming to finish our manuscript by October 2014, so hopefully the book will hit shelves in the summer of 2015. This will be our first book and we are both very excited to share it with you! We'll keep you updated as we move forward.

As for this recipe, pan seared duck or goose breast is simple, quick and classic, and hunters who are used to throwing away the skin from their waterfowl should think about quitting this bad habit. A goose or duck's skin is the best part of the animal. Its sweet, aromatic fat is what sets it apart from other wild game. To me, rendered duck or goose fat is gold, and you've never had a proper wild duck breast until you've tasted one seared in its own fat and its skin cooked to a crispy perfection. With ducks, simply pan searing works perfectly. But goose, we've found, is more easily cooked by pan searing and then finishing in the oven. Canada goose breasts tend to be very thick, so pan searing alone has often been a challenge. For a really great guide on how to pan sear duck or goose breasts, check out our friend Hank Shaw's post on Hunter Angler Gardener Cook.

This rosemary fig sauce is textbook Food for Hunters. We like to pair red wild game meats with sweet-tasting sauces best, so hence this one. It is also made with goose drippings, red wine, balsamic vinegar and butter. Give this a try. It won't disappoint.

Servings: 2
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cook Time: 30-45 minutes
- 2 Canada goose breasts, with skin
- kosher salt, to taste
- 3/4 cup of dry red wine
- 1 sprig or rosemary
- 1 teaspoon of balsamic vinegar
- 3 tablespoons of fig spread (we use Dalmatia brand)
- 1 tablespoons of cold salted butter

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
After cleaning and rinsing breasts, pat dry with paper towels. Score goose skin, but do not cut into the meat. Sprinkle salt to taste on both sides. When grilling or pan searing any red meat, remember to take it out of the refrigerator at least 1 hour before cooking to allow meat to come to room temperature for more even cooking.
2. Before cooking, pat the skin dry again to remove as much moisture as you can. This will allow skin to crisp. Then lay both breasts skin-side down in an ovenproof skillet, like a cast iron skillet. Turn on the stove to medium-low heat. This will allow fat to slowly render.
3. Sear the skin side for 5 minutes, or until it has rendered and is golden and crisp, but do not burn. Halfway through searing, tip skillet to spoon out most of the rendered fat and save it in a small bowl. Leave enough to sear other sides. If you have any wounds or bloodshot on the breasts, those parts may turn up darker on the skin. Then turn the breasts to the opposite side and cook for an additional 5 minutes.
Next, turn breasts on their thickest sides and cook for 1-2 minutes to get some color. If necessary, use tongs to hold breasts upright. For the purpose of this post, we only cooked 1 breast. If you had two breasts, you can lean the bottoms together with the skin sides facing outwards. They should stand on their own without the help of tongs.  

4. Then lay breasts skin side up in the skillet and gently blot off any excess fat. Roast in a 350 degree F oven for 7-10 minutes in the same ovenproof skillet, or until they reach desired doneness. We like to eat our waterfowl from medium-rare to medium. It may also take a little practice to recognize what exactly rare, medium-rare, medium, etc., looks like in waterfowl. We have found that wild waterfowl tends to keep its red/pink color better than beef. Even at medium, it will still look quite pink and rare, even though its texture is medium. The best way to tell is by looking at the meat's texture. Learn to recognize what raw goose/duck meat looks like and how its appearance and taste changes as it cooks. This will help prevent you from overcooking your ducks and geese in the future. In the photo above, the goose looks quite rare, but in fact it tasted closer to medium. As most duck and goose hunters know, you absolutely do not want to cook waterfowl past medium, or until its gray or brown in color. It will taste like poorly cooked liver.

5. Once breasts are cooked, remove them from the oven and onto a plate. Let them rest for 5-7 minutes, loosely tented with foil. Meanwhile, return the skillet to the stove and turn heat to medium-high. Add 1 teaspoon of the reserved goose fat and 3/4 cup of red wine. Scrape the bottom of pan and add the rosemary sprig. Allow mixture to simmer until liquids are reduced by half. 
Next, discard rosemary and whisk in 1 teaspoon of balsamic vinegar and 3 tablespoons of fig spread. Allow mixture to simmer until thickened. Remove from heat and whisk in 1 tablespoon of cold butter. You want to simmer the sauce until  just before it reaches desired thickness. It will thicken up further with the added butter and as it cools because of the pectin in the fig spread. I've often made the mistake of simmering my sauces too long and having it turn back into jelly! Before serving, make sure to taste the sauce. Tastes will vary. If it's still too tart, add more fig spread. If it's too sweet, add more balsamic vinegar. If desired, adding a little salt would also be delicious.

6. Serve goose breasts whole or sliced, skin-side up with the sauce served underneath. You don't want to ruin your crispy skin by making it wet. Bon appetit!

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