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. 

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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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