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.

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