Thursday, May 29, 2014

Pheasant and Kale Gnocchi Soup

This dish is inspired by the Chicken Gnocchi Soup at the Olive Garden. Gnocchi is a type of pasta usually made of potato. It's kind of like a small dumpling, and when you cook them up, they turn into these fluffy pillows of goodness. You can make them homemade, but I don't know how to do that, nor do I have the patience. I found these ready-made at the local Walmart, and I have found them to work just fine. 

The Olive Garden makes their soup with spinach, but we substituted with kale. Kale is more flavorful, I think, and also holds up better than spinach. Made with lots of half and half, this dish is creamy and hearty, made savory by the celery, carrots and onion that is cooked with it. If you don't have pheasant, chicken-- of course-- was made for this dish, and wild turkey would be perfect, too. Spices and herbs include nutmeg, thyme, coriander and fresh parsley. Make this dish. It will become a favorite!

Servings: 6-8
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cooking Time: 30 minutes
- 2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
- 1 tablespoon of butter
- 4 pheasant breasts
- 1/2 cup of diced celery
- 4 medium carrots, diced
- 2 cloves of garlic, minced
- 1 quart of half and half
- 1 can of chicken broth (14 ounces)
- 1/4 cup of flour
- 1/4 teaspoon of dried thyme
- 1/2 teaspoons of ground coriander
- 1/2 teaspoons of nutmeg
- 1 tablespoon of fresh parsley, finely chopped
- 2 cups of kale leaves, ribs removed, roughly chopped
- kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

1. Rinse pheasant under cold water and pat dry with paper towels. Sprinkle salt and pepper on both sides then pan sear until cooked through in 1 tablespoon of oil. Set aside.

2. In a medium pot, heat 1 tablespoon of oil and butter over medium heat. Add onion, celery, carrots, garlic, a pinch of salt and cook until onions are translucent, about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. 

3. Whisk in 1/4 cup of flour and cook for 1 minute, stirring constantly. 
4. Lower heat to medium-low and whisk in 1 quart of half and half. Make sure to stir well to get rid of any possible lumps from the flour. Simmer until thickened, about 10 minutes.
5. Next, stir in one can of chicken broth and simmer until thickened again, about 10 minutes. 
6. Then stir in kale...
And parsley, coriander, thyme, nutmeg and 1/4 teaspoon of salt. 
Shred the pheasant breasts and add them to the pot. Simmer for 5-10 minutes, or until everything is heated through and the kale is tender. 
7. Meanwhile, follow package directions to cook gnocchi then add it to the pot. 

Before serving, taste and add more salt if needed. 
8. Ladle into bowls, sprinkle freshly cracked pepper on top and serve. This soup reheats pretty well-- slowly simmer and don't let it come to a rolling boil to prevent curdling and separation. 

Serve with garlic bread!

Monday, May 12, 2014

Venison Round Steak with Morel Mushrooms Sautéed in Cognac

This was one of the best meals we've ever had, hands down. We had always hoped to go morel mushroom hunting one day and our wish finally came true last week thanks to our good friend Mark Davis, a photojournalist at the Omaha World-Herald. Mark hunts mushrooms religiously each spring and was so kind to share this experience with us. He taught us where to look and how to correctly extract them from the ground. It was an experience that we both relished. 

Although it was hot, the ticks were everywhere, and the brush was thick and unforgiving, we were able to find enough mushrooms for two hearty meals. Lucky us! In some areas, morel mushrooms can go for as much as $40 a pound. And it's no wonder. These meaty, tender mushrooms have a deeply earthy taste that is unrivaled by cultivated mushrooms found in stores. Morels are expensive because they can only be found in the wild, "popping" up in the spring when the weather warms. It also takes a bit of time, hard work and a keen eye to collect this delicious fungi. 

There's nothing new about steak and mushrooms, but instead of cooking our mushrooms in wine, like most, we decided to go with cognac because after all, morel mushrooms are most prized in French cuisine. We find that cognac helps to accentuate and complement the mushroom's earthy flavors. We hope that you all will get a chance to try morels sometime. All the tick bites and being punctured and slashed by thorns in the woods was well worth it! 

Servings: 3-4
Prep Time: 1 hour
Cooking Time: 25 minutes
- 1 large, whole venison round from a deer's hind quarter
- kosher salt and freshly cracked pepper, to taste
- 3 tablespoons of butter
- 1 teaspoon of extra virgin olive oil
- 1 pound of morel mushrooms, halved, quickly washed and drained
- pinch of dried thyme, or fresh (use more)
- 1 teaspoon of chopped fresh parsley
- 1/4 cup of cognac, or whiskey
- 2 shallots, thinly sliced

1. Thoroughly clean venison round. To make cuts from the hindquarter tender, it is important to remove all silver skin and fat. Wash under cold water, then dab dry with paper towels. Sprinkle salt and pepper on both sides and allow the meat to come to room temperature for an hour. Do this by leaving the meat on the counter. Cover to keep the flies out. This helps the meat cook evenly. 
2. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. 

Then heat an ovenproof or cast iron skillet over medium-high heat and add 1 tablespoon of butter. Dab steak dry with paper towels again and sprinkle some more salt and pepper just before cooking. When the skillet and butter are hot, sear both sides of the steak until browned and crusted, like in the photo, about 2 minutes each side. 

3. Once the other side is seared, place the skillet in a 375 degree F oven to finish cooking. Cook for about 12 minutes for medium-rare-- we had a fairly large round from a big doe. Cooking time will depend on the thickness of your steak. 

4. Meanwhile, heat another skillet over medium heat. Add 1 tablespoon of butter and 1 teaspoon of oil to the pan. Add shallots and cook until just turning brown, stirring often. 
5. Then add morel mushrooms and a pinch of salt. Cook until mushrooms give up most of their moisture, stirring frequently. 
They will give up a lot of moisture, especially since you had to wash them. To avoid overcooking the mushrooms, momentarily take them out of the liquid and place them into a colander. 
Allow the liquids in the skillet to evaporate almost completely, then place the mushrooms back into the skillet. 
6. Then carefully pour in 1/4 cup of cognac into the pan and allow it to reduce until it's almost gone, which should only take a few seconds. 
Remove mushrooms from heat then stir in the last 1 tablespoon of butter, thyme and parsley. Add salt and pepper to taste. Add any juices that collect from the meat after resting to the mushrooms for more flavor. 
7. Once the venison is cooked to your liking in the oven, remove it from the skillet and allow it to rest for 5 minutes, tented with foil. 

Then slice steak against the grain and serve with the sautéed morels. Yum!

* * * 

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Saturday, May 3, 2014

Squirrel with Salsa Verde

This is our first squirrel recipe and it turned out way better than we thought it would. The rich flavor of the squirrel slow cooked in homemade salsa verde, the fragrant cilantro-lime rice, the crumbled queso fresco cheese and avocado slices served on the side (forgot to put it on the plate when we photographed) created a great flavor combination that said "Mexico." It is one of our more complete dishes and we're quite proud of it. I think Chipotle should put this on their menu. Seriously. 

Servings: 2
Prep Time: 30 minutes
Cooking Time: 5-1/2 hours
- 2 squirrels, broken down
- 2 tablespoons of butter
- kosher salt and freshly cracked pepper
- 1 cup of chicken broth
- queso fresco cheese
- 1 large avocado, sliced
Tomatillo Salsa Verde:
- 8 medium tomatillos, husked and rinsed
- 1 to 2 jalapeño peppers, stems removed
- 4 large garlic cloves, peeled
- 12 sprigs of fresh cilantro, roughly chopped
- quarter of an onion, chopped
- 1/2 cup of water
- 1 teaspoon of kosher salt
Cilantro-Lime Rice
- 1 cup of uncooked long grain rice, rinsed
- 2 cups of water
- 1 tablespoon of olive oil
- zest of 1 lime
- 1/2 teaspoon of kosher salt
- 3 tablespoons of chopped cilantro

1. To make salsa verde, place tomatillos, jalapeños and garlic in a rimmed baking pan. Roast them below a hot broiler until jalapeños are roasted, garlic is browned and tomatillos turn a blotchy black. Garlic will brown faster-- take it out before it burns. 
2. Allow ingredients to cool, then add tomatillos (and their juices), garlic, jalapeños, salt, cilantro and 1/4 cup of water into a blender. Pulse until smooth, then pour into a bowl. Mix in chopped onion and set aside. Check seasonings. 

3. Dab squirrel pieces dry with paper towels, then season with salt and pepper. Melt butter in a skillet over medium-high heat and brown both sides. You don't have to cook the meat through. 
4. Move browned pieces of squirrel into a slow cooker. Pour in the chicken stock and 3/4 of the salsa verde, reserving the rest to serve on the side or for chips. Cook on low for 5 hours, until squirrel is tender. 

Serve the squirrel over cilantro-lime rice, queso fresco cheese crumbled on top and fresh avocado slices on the side. 

5. To make cilantro-lime rice, combine rice, water, oil and salt in a heavy pot. Boil on high uncovered until the water reduces down to skim the top of the rice, then reduce heat to low and cook covered about 15 minutes. Then take off heat and keep covered for an additional 5 minutes. Finally, toss in cilantro and lime zest. 

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