Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Deer Liver Pâté

This post is for those who like liver. The rest of you can just leave-- Hey, I'm kidding. 

Rick isn't a big fan of liver, but he'll eat this. If you recall, our Tagliatelle with Rich Three Meat Sauce recipe also had liver in it, and he happily ate it all up. I think it all depends on how you prepare liver. If someone gave me a hunk of it on a plate, I wouldn't eat it neither. But dress it up a bit, and this under-appreciated organ turns into something completely different. I grew up eating pâté  so it's nothing new to me. 

While I was sautéing the ingredients, I was afraid that the finished product would retain too much of its livery, gamey smell. The liver we pulled from the whitetail Rick recently shot was extremely bloody. (Don't freak out if your kitchen looks like a murder scene after you're all done.) I wondered if it mattered that the liver came from a wild animal because pork or chicken pâté you get from the store really doesn't smell like liver at all. It smells-- nice, actually. But here's what we discovered. The secret to smoothing out liver's strong gamey smell and taste is brandy. That's right! Alcohol fixes everything. Spread the pâté on crackers; use it as a condiment in sandwiches; serve it with capers or even jellies and jams. I love it with crackers and a tiny dollop of boysenberry preserve on top. 

So the next time you field dress a deer, save the liver instead of leaving it for the coyotes. You may be surprised by what you can actually do with it. If you still absolutely don't like liver-- well then, forget all I just said. We promise the next recipe won't have any liver in it. 

Servings: 16-20 ounces 
Prep and Cooking Time: 2 hours
Set time: 3 hours (in refrigerator)
- 1 venison liver (about 1.5 lb)
- buttermilk (for soaking liver)
- 1 1/2 tsp. of juniper berries, finely crushed
- 2 tbs. of shallots, chopped
- 1/4 cup of onion, chopped
- 2 cloves of garlic, sliced
- 2 tbs. of unsalted butter
- 1/3 cup of brandy (plus extra in case if mixture is too dry)
- 1/4 cup of whipping cream (plus extra)
- 1/8 tsp. each of ground nutmeg, cinnamon, coriander, cloves and cracked black pepper
- 1 tsp. of fresh thyme
- 2 tsp. of fresh rosemary, roughly chopped
- 1/2 cup of melted unsalted butter
- kosher salt, to taste

For those who don't hunt, this is what a deer liver looks like. It was red fresh out of the deer, but after spending a few days in an ice chest, some of the blood has oxidized, turning the liver rather dark. 
1. Remove any veins, dark spots and tough outer film from the liver. Cut into 1/2- inch pieces. Run under cold water to wash as much blood away as possible. 

See? What'd I tell you about it looking like a murder scene? 
Then, put the pieces in a ziplock bag. Submerge with buttermilk and refrigerate for at least one hour. 
After the hour, drain the liver and discard buttermilk. Rinse under cold water. Dab dry with paper towels. Set aside.
2. Melt 2 tbs. of butter over medium heat in a sauté pan. 
When butter stops foaming, sauté liver, shallots, onion, garlic, rosemary and thyme until livers are just stiffened but still rosy inside. About 5-8 minutes. Slice one open to test.
Then mix in ground juniper berries, nutmeg, cinnamon, coriander, cloves and cracked pepper. Take off heat. 
3. In a small saucepan, reduce 1/3 cup of brandy to 3 tablespoons. 
In a food processor, combine liver mixture, reduced brandy and whipping cream. Blend until smooth. Then pour in 1/2 cup of melted butter and blend to combine.  If it's too thick, add more brandy(no need to reduce) and/or whipping cream. 

Hey Jamba Juice, we have a new smoothie idea for you!
4. Place a bowl underneath a fine mesh sieve. Pour liver mixture into the sieve. With a spatula, push and scrape the mixture through the sieve. This helps to get rid of stray rosemary bits to make your paté smooth. 

Add salt and pepper, to taste.
5. Pack the pâté into any jars or containers you like. Then chill for at least 3 hours. 

**Note: Since making this, we learned that packing the jars as best you can with no air bubbles (unlike the photo) will help to prevent early spoilage. Sealing the tops with melted butter will also help keep air out.**
You can also give them as gifts. Just tie a bow around it. Bring paté to Christmas dinner instead fruit cake this year... ;-)

We hope you enjoy this recipe! 

Monday, November 26, 2012

Deer Hunting in Nebraska, 2012

After spending 10 days in Nebraska, Rick and I are now back in California with a freezer full of wild game and fish.  It was Rick's turn to shoot this year; he hasn't shot a deer in 2 years! Other than that, we didn't really see much. Whitetail populations were super spotty this year in Lancaster County due to EHD. Still, we are extremely thankful for what we were able to bring home.

On an entirely different note. This trip was special. Although I didn't get to shoot anything this year, I came back with a new job! So I will be moving to Nebraska in January to become NEBRASKAland Magazine's new Regional Editor. I tell people and they're like "what?!" I'm guessing you're doing the same thing, too. But more on that later. 

After my interview with the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission, Rick and I continued on to cousin Tyler's 15 acres of woods for deer camp. This year was different from the last. Rick's cousins were invited to hunt in Ord, so we were going to be hunting and camping on our own for most of the week. I took this photo from Tyler's property. 
At deer camp, Tyler and his kids Emily and Joe joined us. Cousins Pete and Colton also stopped by. That's Emily and me in the photo. Her mom Chrissy helped me get the job with NEBRASKAland. For a 10th grader, Emily is one busy girl! I was never that busy in high school. 

It was fun just hanging out and enjoying the nice weather. But we heard that a storm was brewin' that weekend. We were due for high winds, rain, possible snow, hail and lots of cold weather. People were worried for the Nebraska game the next day. Me, I had no idea what to expect. I'm so used to mild California weather. 

Brian, a family friend, brought his new dog. She was only 6 months old and a Chesapeake. She had the cutest, brightest eyes. 
That night, we had deer brats. They were delicious! Really hit the spot. 
Then Chris came by and asked about my interview. She was super anxious and excited for me, being the one who started this whole thing... sending me an application and all. We talked around the fire until Chris had to take Emily home. 

The next morning, Rick, Joe, Tyler and I saddled up for opening day.
All was quiet when we got into our deer stand... and it stayed pretty quiet throughout the entire day. We only saw one buck that morning, which didn't do us any good since we bought antlerless tags. He came up so close, literally 5 feet away. I could've reached out and poked him with my rifle... but I thought better of it. Could you imagine the look on his face if I did? Poke!
Joe, Tyler's son, did get a doe that morning. Some guys were walking around on the adjacent property, scaring this doe right up to where Joe was sitting. 
Then it got dark that Saturday night. The weatherman said the storm would blow through any time now. It started to sprinkle. Uh-oh... we thought. Tyler and Rick started putting everything away in the tent trailer. We got our trucks and vans prepared, in case if we had to bail. 

That night, we ate pickled asparagus, cold sandwiches and beer. There's Tyler, having dinner from his shirt pocket. 

As we finished our beers and climbed into our sleeping bags, the wind gave a moanful cry outside. The trees and leaves shook. Our tent trailer trembled with unease. Then we heard lightning and thunder. Rain poured from the skies. I curled up in my bag and listened to the sound of hard rain hitting canvas.  

I was kind of scared, having heard the weathermen talk up this storm like they did--- the last thing I wanted to do was sleep in a cold, old van when Tyler's tent trailer gave out, then having to clean everything up the next day. I had no idea when I finally fell asleep. 
We woke up the next morning to silence and cold frost shimmering on the ground. The tent trailer was still standing. We were still alive and well. Everything was in its place. 

The weatherman lied! There was no hail and no snow. Apparently, the rain didn't even last that long. But, we were due for a very cold week, and I believed it. 
Tyler also left us that afternoon. Joe had already gone. We wished Tyler good luck in Ord. Then it was just the two of us, me and Rick at deer camp. Rick has never been left alone by his cousins before. He's never field dressed a deer by himself. With my being a newbie, I wasn't much help. But Rick looked forward to it. It would be a learning experience for the both of us. 

And we had fun! We're by no means new to camping or roughing it. Compared to what we usually do, this was the Hilton!

But it was cold. The lowest we experienced that week was 15 degrees. Our bottle of Hawaiian Punch  froze solid almost every morning after that. So did our toes. 

Mmmmm... deer burgers. But we didn't starve, that's for sure!

After lunch on Sunday, Rick and I went out for a walk on Tyler's property. We talked about where the deer might be bedding, where they might be going and where we should hunt that night. We decided to hunt where Joe shot his deer the day before. It gave a open wide view of much of Tyler's property. Tyler took his pop-up blind to Ord, but we thought we'd just sit on buckets and be as still and quiet as possible. (Sometimes, that's impossible for me.)
We went out that evening, to that very spot. After only 30 minutes, here came a little buck trotting up to us. 

"Dang!" I thought. "Not another--" 

Before I could finish my thought, I saw an an antler-less trotting right behind. I looked over at Rick, wild-eyed and excited. But we had to steady ourselves, because we couldn't shoot in certain directions where houses stood beyond. Rick and I whispered quietly, and decided that he would be the one to shoot. The second deer passed the buck, to eat grass in a little clearing. I anxiously watched Rick shoulder his rifle, praying that his shot be true. I waited for what felt like an eternity. "Shoot it! Shoot it!" I thought to myself. Unlike me, Rick is a very careful and thoughtful hunter. Then I heard it. The sound of his .30-06 rang throughout the forest.  It was like the sound of utter silence suddenly being cracked. 

Startled, the buck bolted out of there, leaving his friend behind. We watched the little deer stagger and crash upon the ground. It wasn't long before its heart gave out. 

Wasting no daylight, Rick quickly whipped out his knives. We flipped the deer over and to both our surprise, what we thought was a doe had balls! Rick rubbed his forehead and felt little nubs underneath its skin. 

Having never field dressed a deer by himself before, Tyler stayed on the phone with us the entire time to give Rick direction when he needed it. Certain parts were a little gross, but he got the job done quickly enough. After removing the organs, Rick dragged the deer back to camp where we hung it up a tree to age. 

A few days later, we took the same deer back to Tyler and Chrissy's house to process. With our little Havalon knife, we got down to business and was able to get a ton of meat off of that little deer. I don't much like field dressing, but I do enjoy processing and butchering. It's so interesting to see how all the muscles, bones and tissues connect, then carefully dissecting it all. It's always an eye opening experience to see what food looks like before it becomes food. 

That Wednesday night, I saw this sunset while sitting in Tyler and Chrissy's house. Wearing only a thin shirt, I ran outside to get this shot. I came back in feeling like a popsicle. Then my phone buzzed. It was Jeff Kurrus, the Associate Editor of NEBRASKAland Magazine. He told me that I got the job. I think I stopped breathing at that moment, but I thanked Jeff and told him that I'd get back to him as soon as possible. After I got off the phone, Rick came into the room. I told him the good news and he swooped me up and gave me a big hug. From that moment on, we knew that our lives were going to change. Then Chrissy walked in, after having come home from work. She let out a cry of excitement and jumped up and down from where she stood. Then I called my parents back in California to tell them what had happened. I told my west coast friends through Facebook. A million thoughts entered my mind. The moment passed by me like speeding subway cars in an underground station. All I had to do was jump on. 

The next day, I met Jeff at his office in Lincoln. I told him that I'd take the job. At 22, I feel so thankful for the opportunity that has just fallen on my lap. I also have to give a special shout out to Chris Thody. Without her, none of this would've happened.

I think that was when Rick and I decided to call it quits at deer camp. After days of not seeing anything, we figured that we got as much out of the land as it would give us this year. The best thing to do was to be thankful. That morning, Rick and I drove back to Tyler's property to pack up camp. It was sad, but the extra time would also give us a chance to explore Lincoln like we never did before. Years past, it was all about hunting. This time, we get to enjoy being tourists, at least for a couple days before flying back to California.

Rick and Chrissy are huge Michael Forsberg fans, an nationally acclaimed photographer from Nebraska. Chrissy told us that Mike would be giving a talk in Lincoln about his new documentary Great Plains: America's Lingering Wild that Thursday. On his website, you'd see that he refers to his work as "conservation photography," and it's exactly that. Mike works with scientists, students, volunteers and conservationists from all over the state and beyond to help better understand and protect the animals of the Great American Plains.  I'm proud to say that Mike used to be on the NEBRASKAland Magazine staff; he still contributes to it. Now, he spends most of his time chasing animals, carrying out his own conservation efforts and writing beautiful books. It was a pleasure meeting Mike. I hope to learn from him in the future. Two awesome books to buy:

BUY Great Plains: America's Lingering Wild on Amazon

So we went back to cousins Keith and Jo Ann's house in Lincoln. Keith went goose hunting that morning and got a couple of nice Canadas. I got so excited when Keith said that he'd give them to us. Canada geese are amazingly delicious. They taste just like roast beef, but with wings! 

Keith also took us out to Cracker Barrel, which was a must for me! I've been looking forward to Cracker Barrel all year, since we don't have them here in California. Of course, I had the same thing I did last year, because I'm "the usual" kind of person: Grilled Rainbow Trout, Turnip Greens, Fried Okra and Corn. Yum! I was in heaven. Now that I will be living in Nebraska, maybe I'll venture out and order something else in the future. 

There's Keith, frying up some fish for tacos. Keith and Jo Ann always make the best food. 

Keith showed me how to make this special sauce he loves to put on fish tacos. Simply mix together a third cup of mayo, a third cup of sour cream and a third cup of The Art of Chipotle: Sweet Heat Addiction Sauce

Mmmmm.... the flavors were just right! 

Before leaving Nebraska, Rick and I had to walk over to UNL's Dairy Store. They make all their own ice cream, cheeses and sausages-- many flavors only found there. 

I had a scoop of their Meadowlark Medley. It was made with blue raspberry ice cream, white chocolate and caramel swirls. Different, but delicious! 
Rick had their expresso ice cream, which was served with a whole shot of expresso. 

After 10 days of spending time with family, great friends and good hunting, it was time to head home. Before driving us to the airport, Keith took us to Baker's Candies in Greenwood, Nebraska, where they make the best chocolates. Then he took us to Cabela's, because I've never been to one. Greg McCubbins of LTD Outdoors also came out to meet us. We've been corresponding with Greg over the past few months on Twitter and Facebook. It was a pleasure to finally talk face to face.  It was a shame we did not get to catch up with Chris from Big Red Outdoors, but there will be time for that later. 

Before I left, I told Keith's retired hunting dog Leia to stop getting so old. She's about 80- years-old in people years by now, but still loves to play catch. I love her!

At the airport, Rick and I said our farewells to Keith, but it won't be long until we meet again. Keith told me that he and Jo Ann would take good care of me when I come out in January. Rick and I look forward to seeing them both again! Nebraska, see you soon. 

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Roasted Acorn Squash with Venison Sausage, Wild Rice, Pinon Nuts and Apple

Photo and Recipe By: Neal Zeller, Recipe Contributor 

Servings: 4
Prep and Cook Time: 1 hour
- 1 medium acorn squash (green, yellow or orange)
- 1/2 lb. venison or elk sausage, bulk. (I have already burned through my bulk sausage so I removed the casing from two venison sausages and and used that.)
- 1/2 cup cooked wild rice
- 1/2 cup roasted, shelled pinon nuts. (I'd bet chopped walnuts, pecans or hazelnuts would work as well.)
- 1 medium apple
- olive oil
- apple cider
- maple syrup
- salt and coarsely ground black pepper

1. Cut raw acorn squash into 3/4" slices/rings across the flutes or bumps to create the cavity for the stuffing. Remove the seeds and membrane from each slice. Lightly coat all surfaces of the squash with olive oil. Place squash in a shallow roasting pan and roast in a 350 degree oven for about 20 minutes or until softened. Poke a fork or toothpick in the flesh of the squash to determine if it has roasted long enough. When cooked, remove pan from oven then set aside.

2. In a heavy bottom pan, saute the venison sausage over medium heat until it is nicely browned. Break up the sausage fairly fine. Deglaze the pan with a little apple cider. You can deglaze with a number of acidics including wine, balsamic vinegar, whiskey, orange juice or beer. As I'm using apples in this recipe, I figured apple cider made sense. Drain browned sausage on paper towels.

3. Lightly coat the pinon nuts with olive oil. Place in a heavy bottom, oven-proof pan and roast in a 325 degree oven for about 15 - 20 minutes. Stir the nuts often. Pinon nuts contain a lot of resin and will burn easily so keep a close eye on them. You can also pan saute the pinons on the stovetop as well. You want a light golden brown color when they're done. Remove from oven or stove.

4. Peel, core and dice 1 medium apple into pieces about the same size as the browned sausage and pinons. I used a Honeycrisp apple, but Granny Smith or other baking apples will do fine.
Mix cooked sausage, roasted pinons, apple and cooked wild rice in a bowl. Season to taste with salt and pepper. The sausage already had enough salt and plenty of black pepper, so I didn't add any additional seasoning at this point.

5. Fill each ring of squash with the sausage mixture. Do this on the same roasting pan. Press firmly into the cavity with the back of a spoon. Drizzle a little maple syrup over each filled squash and return to a 350 degree oven for about 15 - 20 minutes.

Remove from oven and with a thin spatula, carefully slide each stuffed squash to a warm plate. Drizzle a little more maple syrup for garnish and dig in.

About Neal Zeller
There's not a lot I can add to what others, far more eloquent than I am, have written about hunting.

I hike, backpack, cycle, run, fish and hunt. And although all of these recreational pursuits - even that term falls short - add something to my life, none of them contribute more than hunting does. No other experience engages more of my senses and amplifies my life as time spent pursuing game. Animals who have spent their lives in remarkable landscapes, eluding harm, and eluding me, deserve my respect. And they have it.

I hunt, and I also eat. It's important for me to be at least partially responsible for the deaths that sustain my own life. We all owe that, at a minimum, to our food sources.

I worked in the food and beverage industry throughout high school and college, both in the front and back of the house. Wait staff and line cook. The level of craft, skill and passion by real food professionals is astonishing. And it's really hard work. There are plenty of parallels between chefs and hunters.

So when I can combine hunting, food preparation, cooking... and eating, I'm all over it.

[Photo: Arizona, Unit 24A Javelina Bow Hunt. 2011.]

* * *

Like us, Neal Zeller is a regular guy who loves to fish, hunt and cook. If you have a great fish or game recipe you'd like to submit, send it to 
Thank you Neal for sending in this wonderful recipe!

Friday, November 16, 2012

Apricot Wild Duck with Swiss Chard and Goat Cheese Polenta

Sorry to keep you all waiting on this post. Rick and I have been deer hunting in Nebraska, which left very little time for blogging. But, better late than never, as they say. We are still in NE and having a whirlwind of a time! Deer camp has officially closed down for us, so we will be back in California shortly.

I thought of this dish after thinking about braised short ribs. Apparently, it's become rather fashionable to serve short ribs over polenta, and rightly so-- It's freaking delicious! And I thought, "Hmmm... how to recreate this?" Short ribs come from cattle... which aren't exactly wild. So I ran out to the freezer and saw that we had one package of wild duck left. Suddenly, the idea popped into my head. Braised duck served over sauteed swiss chard and goat polenta! Those familiar with my eating habits know that I'm not fond of wild duck, but I figured the long braising wouldn't be so bad. Cooked in red wine, chipotle pepper and apricot preserves, you will be pleasantly surprised by its sweet and spicy taste. Pair it with goat cheese polenta, it's a match made in bird heaven! Because all birds come from heaven, you know. Except California pigeons. They eat stale french fries.

Servings: 2
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cooking Time: about 2.5 hours
Braised Duck
- 2 wild duck breasts
- salt and pepper
- 1/3 to 1/2 cup of all purpose flour
- 2 tbs. of olive oil
- half an onion, finely diced
- 3 shallots, finely diced
- half a carrot, peeled and finely diced
- 1/4 cup of whiskey (optional)
- 1 cup of dry red wine
- 1 chipotle pepper in adobo sauce, minced
- 1/3 cup of apricot or peach preserves
- 2 cups of beef broth
- 2 sprigs of fresh thyme
Goat Cheese Polenta
- 1/2 cup of yellow cornmeal
- 2 1/4 cups of water
- 1 tbs. of butter
- 2 ounces of goat cheese
- salt, to taste
Sauteed Swiss/Rainbow Chard
- 1 large bunch of swiss/rainbow chard
- 1 clove of garlic, sliced
- 2 tbs. of olive oil
- salt, to taste

I. Braised Duck

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Cut duck breasts into 1 inch pieces. Dab dry with a paper towel then season with salt and pepper.
Lightly coat each piece with flour. 
In a Dutch oven, heat 2 tbs. of olive oil over medium high heat. Cook duck in batches until sides are browned. Remove meat and set aside. 
Reduce heat to medium. Next, add diced onion, shallots, carrot and a pinch of salt to the pot. Saute until onion turns translucent, about 5-7 minutes. Stir frequently. 
2. Then turn off heat and carefully pour in 1/4 cup of whiskey. Turn heat back on to medium and allow whiskey to evaporate almost completely. 

Return duck to pot. Add 1 cup of red wine, 1 chipotle pepper, 2 sprigs of thyme, 2 cups of beef broth and 1/3 cup of apricot preserves. Boil for 5 minutes.
Add salt and pepper, to taste. (All ingredients should be submerged.)

Cover and bake in a 350 degree F oven for 2 hours, or until tender.

II. Goat Cheese Polenta

1. Bring 2 1/4 cups of water to a boil. Slowly whisk in cornmeal to avoid lumps. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook for 10-15 minutes, or until polenta turns creamy and soft. (Add more water if polenta is too thick.)
2. When polenta is cooked, stir in 1 tbs. of butter and 2 ounces of goat cheese. Take off heat. Add salt, to taste. Done! 

III. Swiss Chard
1. Rinse swiss chard thoroughly. Cut off the toughest third of the stalk. Cut chard into inch wide strips. 

2. In a saucepan, heat 2 tbs. of olive oil over medium heat. Add sliced garlic and saute until slightly golden. Add chopped swiss chard leaves. Cover and cook for 5 minutes.
Then, flip the leaves over all at once. Cover and cook for another 5 minutes. Taste to check for doneness. Add salt to taste. 
In the end, everything comes together. Serve with red wine and enjoy! 
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