Wednesday, December 04, 2013

Recipe: Deer John's Christmas Chili

For Christmas the past few years, the guys in our family have each gotten two containers of chili from me.  I use the RubberMaid TakeALong 2-cup Twist and Seal containers.  It's just the right amount for a hearty lunch portion.  They freeze well and are microwaveable.  Enough of that - here's the recipe:

1-2 pounds deer meat cut into 1/2" cubes
   (a 10-12" section of backstrap or one of the bigger hind quarter roasts will do the trick)
Marinade (I use Allegro Hickory Smoke marinade)

3 cans Fire Roasted Tomatoes
  (OR 2 cans Fire Roasted Tomatoes, 1 can Rotel tomatoes with green chiles)
3 cans dark red kidney beans
  (OR 2 cans kidney beans and 1 can black beans)

2-3 cloves garlic, diced
1/2 yellow or purple onion, diced
1 bell pepper, chopped
1 stalk celery, chopped
2 cans beef broth
1 package chili seasoning (regular McCormick, or whatever)
1-2 tablespoons chili powder
1/2 tablespoon ground cumin

Prepare the meat.  Cube meat and cover with marinade.  Allow 2-6 hours to marinade.

Combine tomatoes, beef broth, beans, chili seasoning pack, chili powder, and cumin in a large pot and begin to simmer.

Saute the bell pepper, onion, celery, and garlic in a pan until the onions are translucent.  Add to large pot.

Cook the meat in a hot skillet (cast iron works great for this) until about medium rare (it will finish cooking later).  Immediately drain excess juices.  If you have a lot of meat and a small pan, you may have to do this part in batches.

Add the meat to the large pot.  Cover, leave on low heat for several hours.  Be careful that the flame is low enough that you don't scorch the chili on the bottom of the pan!  Nothing tastes worse than burnt chili.

Serve with a cold beer and corn bread.  Watch people laugh, cry, and slap their mamas.

1.  The reason I don't just use two packages of chili seasoning instead of 1 package + the extra chili powder & cumin, is that the packages of chili seasoning tend to be a bit salty.
2.  You can also add a can of sweet corn in with it.  Adds a nice flavor.
3.  A touch of liquid smoke also adds a nice flavor.
4.  Be careful not to overcook the deer meat.  It will taste like liver! 
5.  I tend to use closer to 2 lbs of meat.  That means you should probably have a little too much, so you can sample it often while cooking.  :)

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Recipe: Hunter's Pie

Hunter's Pie is my variation on the old favorite, Shepherd's Pie. As you might guess, the main variation is venison instead of ground beef. I also top mine with coarse-smashed potatoes with the skins on (instead of whipped potatoes like Mom makes). This is a very quick-fix meal and is a good staple year round. Enjoy!

1 lb venison, cubed in 1/4" cubes
1 half bell pepper, diced
1 half small onion, diced
1 can sweet corn, drained thoroughly

Smashed potatoes:
3 medium Russet or red potatoes
6 oz grated cheddar cheese
2 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup sour cream

garlic powder
olive oil

Baking dish: I use a baking dish that is about 6" x 9"x 2 1/2". You could probably use a wide bread pan, a 1 1/2 quart casserole, or some similar dish. As long as you don't go too much larger on the size, you should be fine without modifying the recipe. At most, you may need to add another potato to the recipe.

Prepare the meat, seasoning with salt, pepper, and garlic pepper. Brown in a skillet using a small amount of olive oil. In a separate pan, saute the onions in a small amount of olive oil until they begin to clear. Add the bell pepper and continue to saute until the peppers soften. Mix meat, onion, bell pepper, and corn together in baking dish.

Smashed potatoes:
Cut potatoes into 1"- 2" cubes, leaving the skins on. Boil in a large pot until they begin to soften. Drain water and return to pan. Add butter and sour cream. Smash potatoes, leaving large lumps, using a potato masher, large fork, or large spoon, making sure butter and sour cream are thoroughly mixed.

Top filling with the smashed potatoes. Top with crushed black pepper. Cover with grated cheese. Place in 350-degree oven for 20 minutes. Serve!

Substitute corn with peas and carrots
Saute 1/2 stalk celery with onions and peppers.
Use your favorite marinade on meat (anything with hickory smoke tastes great!)
Use 1/3 cup whipping cream in place of sour cream.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Recipe: Deer-os

This one is a play on the Greek Gyros (pronounced "yee-rohs"). I'll make this recipe as simple as possible, then describe some ways to extend it.

1.5 lb hindquarter roast
Cavender's Greek Seasoning
olive oil
1 cucumber, peeled, seeded, and chopped
1 bell pepper, sliced
1 medium yellow onion, sliced or diced
Sour cream or Greek yogurt
Feta cheese
Pita bread

Prepare the meat.Slice the meat into thin slices, cutting across the grain. Cover the bottom of a baking dish (like a 9x13" pan), laying the meat flat. Season with the Greek Seasoning. Continue adding layers and seasoning with the remaining meat. Cover with stretch wrap and place in the refrigerator for 2 hours.

Saute onion and bell pepper in a little bit of olive oil until both are softened. Cook meat in a separate pan, only cooking enough to cover the bottom of the pan without crowding the meat. Continue until all meat is cooked.

Heat pita bread in oven or lightly oiled pan. Assemble deer-os pita bread by adding meat, onion, bell pepper, cucumber, and sour cream (or yogurt). Serve!

That's really it! If you want to get fancier about it, replace the sour cream with tzatziki sauce (see recipe below). You can also put chopped tomato, black olives, or whatever your heart desires! Just have fun with it. Yell, "Opa!" and throw something. Just make sure to eat the deer-os.

Tzatziki Sauce:

16 ounces plain yogurt
1 medium cucumber, peeled, seeded, and finely chopped
Pinch kosher salt
4 cloves garlic, finely minced
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 teaspoons red wine vinegar
5 to 6 mint leaves, finely minced

Place the yogurt in a tea towel, gather up the edges, suspend over a bowl, and drain for 2 hours in the refrigerator.

Place the chopped cucumber in a tea towel and squeeze to remove the liquid; discard liquid. In a medium mixing bowl, combine the drained yogurt, cucumber, salt, garlic, olive oil, vinegar, and mint. Serve as a sauce for gyros. Store in the refrigerator in an airtight container for up to a week.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Recipe: Basic (Awesome-tasting) Venison Steaks

I'll start off the recipes with this basic steak recipe. This is a great way to introduce yourself or a friend to venison. This is a can't-go-wrong way of cooking steaks, it's as easy as it gets, and will make the eyes of everyone at your table roll to the back of their heads.

1 section of backstrap or 1 hindquarter roast
Allegro Hickory Smoke Marinade (or substitute your favorite marinade)
olive oil

Prepare the meat. Cut into 1 1/2" steaks. Tenderize. Cover in marinade for 2 hours. Remove from marinade, salt and pepper to your liking. Cook on hot charcoal or gas grill, George Foreman grill, or hot cast iron skillet until medium rare. Remove from heat. Drizzle a small amount of olive oil on each steak. Let sit for 3-5 minutes before serving.

Serve with: Salad, baked potato, fresh aparagus, a good beer or red wine (merlot or shiraz), good friends.

Never cut a steak to see if it's done. This lets all the juices run out and you'll end up with dry meat. Learn to gauge doneness by the finger method (how tender it feels tells how done it it) or using a meat thermometer. Thermometers are cheap and will help you make perfect steaks time after time.
The olive oil drizzled at the end will help make up for the lack of fat inherent in venison. Don't drown the steak, just a drizzle will do.

Keep any leftovers (if there are any!) in a baggie in the refrigerator. Saturday morning, cut the leftovers up into small cubes, toss them in a pan with a little bit of oil to heat them back up. Put them in an omelet with sauteed mushrooms, bell peppers, onion, and cheese.

Venison, Part 3: Getting it ready to cook.

At this point, we have some meat in the freezer or fridge. Let's cook it! Right? Well, not just yet. We have to get it ready to cook. There are a few things I do every time I cook venison to make sure it tastes good and is tender. I never skip this part. Again, everyone has their opinions about whether to do this and how to do it. This is what I do and it works for me.

First off, if the meat is frozen, thaw it out in the fridge (should take a day, sometimes two). Now that you have the meat thawed out, you're going to soak it overnight in salt-water in the refrigerator. This will draw most of the remaining blood out of the meat. I know lots of people who soak it overnight in milk, wine, brine, etc. Personally, I think it's a waste of good milk to soak it in milk, brining is useful only for certain recipes, and wine can be a great marinade once the meat has been soaked overnight in salt water. Again, that's just me - but it works.

Using a large bowl or pan that is large enough for the meat to get lost in, make a solution of salt water. This doesn't have to be salty enough to be considered brine. I will typically use a large mixing bowl for smaller cuts or a 5-quart pot for larger cuts. I'll add about 3 tablespoons of salt in the mixing bowl and about 1/3 cup or so to the large pot. Then fill it with water and stir until the salt is dissolved. Soak the meat, completely submerged, in the salt water overnight in the refrigerator. The next day, take the meat out of the salt water and dry it out a bit by squeezing the water out (your hands are clean, right?) and patting it with paper towels.

At this point, we're on to seasoning and tenderizing. I have one of these handy (but somewhat scary-looking) gadgets shown to the right. It's a Nor Pro Grip-Ez Professional Meat Tenderizer. You can buy them online or at some of the big kitchen stores at the mall. When you push it down on the meat, all of those nail-looking things go into the meat. This helps break down some of the connective tissues and any tough muscle tissues, making the meat tender. There are other types of tenderizers that work similarly, using "nails" or blades to puncture the meat. I do not use the hammer-type tenderizers unless the recipe calls for the meat to be beaten down to a wafer-thin slice.

If I'm cooking a roast whole, I'll use the tenderizer on all sides to make sure I've tenderized the whole thing all the way through. If I'm cooking steaks, I'll usually cut them a little thicker than I want, because using the tenderizer will smash them down a little bit. If I'm cooking the meat in small chunks or cubes, I'll first cut the meat into steaks, tenderize them, then cut into the chunks or cubes.

Now, the meat is ready to be seasoned or marinated. There are lots and lots of marinades available. Lately, I've been using the Allegro marinades which come in a lot of different flavors, including original, hickory smoke (my favorite), raspberry chipotle, teriyaki, etc. You can make your own marinades using olive oil, liquid smoke, balsamic vinegar, salt, pepper, cajun seasoning, etc. Be creative and experiment. In general, your marinade should have oil (because venison is so lean), acid (like the vinegar - don't use too much) to help further tenderize the meat, and seasonings for flavor. Go online and see what others are using. You can even use regular ol' Italian salad dressing. And you don't have to marinade venison overnight! A couple of hours is more than enough. All those little holes you poked in the meat when you were tenderizing it, became little channels for the marinade to seep into.

Before getting into specific recipes, I want to say something about cooking the venison - venison is NOT beef; don't cook it like beef! One of the most common mistakes is overcooking. You want to shoot more towards the rare side of medium rare. Don't shoot for the well done side of done. Overcooking venison makes it tough and nasty-tasting. If you want your venison to taste like liver and turn people off from eating it, skip all of the above steps and cook it until it's well done. However, if you want to impress people and hear them say things like, "!", then properly prepare the meat, soak it, tenderize it, flavor it, and cook it like venison.

Ok, NOW I'm getting hungry!

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Venison, Part 2: Cleaning and butchering

I could write pages and pages on cleaning and butchering the deer. Instead, I'll just add my comments to the already pages and pages (and videos and videos) out there. Do a quick search, read, and watch some videos. These are just some additional notes that I feel are important:

The deer is down. Now what? The important thing here is to get the temperature of the meat down below 40 degrees as soon as possible. If you don't live near where you hunt, that means you really should field dress the deer. Again, there are lots of videos and articles on the web. It's probably best to check it out before pulling the trigger.

Gutting / Field dressing: Regarding gutting the deer, there are several methods, mostly boiling down to the preference of starting at the middle and going to the back, or starting at the back and going to the middle. It really doesn't matter. I actually use both methods and haven't found that one is particularly better or faster. The important thing here is to try, as much as possible, to be clean about it. That mostly means, try to keep the nasty insides of the organs away from the meat. Clean it out with a water bottle or hose right after gutting, keep grass and mud off the exposed meat.

Aging / Hanging: You'll hear people talk about "aging" meat. I've done some digging around to find out just what that means and why you want to do it. Basically, aging the meat involves keeping it above freezing, but below 40 degrees (to avoid spoilage), in order to allow rigor mortis
to resolve. Rigor mortis will typically resolve in about 72 hours. Aging the meat longer (up to a couple of weeks) allows further breakdown of the meat from enzymes. Personally, I shoot for about 3-4 days. You can age the meat in a cooler, a bathtub full of ice, or a refrigerator, if the outside temperature is above 40. If using ice, try to keep the meat from sitting in the water as the ice melts (keep the ice bagged and set the meat on top). Otherwise, you can just hang the carcass from a tree, in a barn, from the swingset, etc. for a few days. The important thing here is temperature and cleanliness.

Butchering: Most hunters I know take the field-dressed deer to a butcher/processor to have it all cut up and packaged. I actually enjoy doing it myself and like knowing the quality control at each step in the process. Again, there are some good videos out there. If you want to butcher and process your own deer, I recommend watching this guy's 4-part series on "How to butcher a deer at home". You can get some really fancy, expensive equipment to get the job done. I do mine with just a 7" knife and a hacksaw. At this point in time, I don't own a grinder, so I won't talk about making sausage or ground meat. But that's coming soon... The main thing to keep in mind during the butchering process is, again, cleanliness. Use CLEAN countertops, tables, knives, etc. Be meticulous about this!

I did want to say something about butchering the hind quarter. When you're looking at the whole quarter, you notice that it's a bunch of muscles. When you buy different cuts of beef, they come from different muscles. It's the same thing here. If you pick one of the large muscles, and start working your hand into the seams the separate it from the other muscles near it, you can start to work it away. Use your knife to cut the connective tissues away while you're separating the muscles. I prefer to keep each one of those muscles intact until I'm ready to use it. I just label them as hind quarter roasts. If I want steaks, I cut them up when I pull the roast out of the freezer. I just find that it leaves my options open for what to do with the meat when I'm ready to use it.

Important!!!! Beef gets its flavor, juicyness, and tenderness from the fat. Deer fat is NASTY tasting and gets a really rancid flavor when it freezes. Be meticulous about removing all of the fat before you freeze or cook the venison. Trust me on this one!

Wrapping / storing: People, again, have different opinions about what works best. Some like to vacuum-seal the meat, others use just freezer paper, others use just Saran wrap. I talked with my local butcher and here's what he recommended. It's how I do it, and it seems to work well (last year's meat lasted a year in the freezer without freezer burn or spoilage).
  • Wrap once with Saran wrap. Completely seal everything.
  • Wrap a second layer with freezer paper.
  • Wrap a third layer with Saran wrap.
That third layer actually makes a huge difference - it adds about another 6 months to how long you can store it. Before you put that last wrap on it, go ahead and write on the freezer paper. I put the date and what's inside (roast, backstrap, etc.). Since I haven't quite memorized the different cuts of meat, I'll sometimes even write myself a note on the wrapping, "Smoke whole", or "Use for steaks." I'll even label the scrap meat, "Scrap" with other notes, like "Needs a lot of work" or "Ready for chili" depending on how much more work I need to do to it (removing connective tissue, etc).

Now that all of that is out of the way, I can get on to the fun stuff - cooking and eating!

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Venison! (Part 1)

Vegans beware...

Hunting season is coming to a close and I am glad to say that I have stocked up the freezer for the year. For me, deer hunting is not so much about the "sport" as it is about the meat. Last year was a bit of an experiment to see just what we could do with venison and whether or not the family would like eating it. That last part is important - it's not just enough to tolerate food, our family really likes to cook and eat good food. I'm happy so say that we have just about quit purchasing beef altogether. There are times when I just want a good rib eye steak and there's nothing you can do to venison to make it taste like that. But for just about every recipe that calls for beef, I'm slowly, but surely, learning how to replace it with venison.

I decided to run a series of blog posts talking about how I prepare and cook venison. I've heard so many people say, "I don't like venison. It tastes "gamey." Most of them don't know what "gamey" means, they just know that they've tasted something in venison that they didn't like. I'm pretty sure I know that it is, and I'll talk about that later. Everybody that has eaten venison that I've cooked has liked it - including people who said they don't like venison! I don't think there's anything magic in what I'm doing; I've just developed a system that works for me. So, in the coming days, I'm going to discuss:
  • Cleaning and processing a deer (or, "I have this deer I just shot. Now what?")
  • Preparing and storing the meat
  • Preparing for cooking (yup, I don't just thaw it out and cook it)
  • Recipes!
The recipes part will be fun. I know lots of folks just cook deer meat battered-and-fried or put in a crockpot for stew. I'll give you my own personal recipes for steaks, chili, kabobs, deer-o's (my play on gyros), fajitas, shepherd's pie, breakfast casserole, ... oh, it just goes on and on. Tonight, I'm trying yet another new experiment - lasagna! My mouth is watering already.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Colder than a...

... well, you fill it in. It's cold out there. And windy. But I committed to a ride - and I'm announcing it here for the whole world to see, so that tomorrow, when people are saying, "Hey, John, how was the ride?" I won't respond with something like, "Well, you know, it was a little cold outside, and I hadn't seen the latest episode of LOST, so I just stayed in and kept warm." Nope - I'm going to do it. Hold me to it.

Here's another one - I'm officially on a diet. For two years now, I've been saying that I need to lose 20 pounds. This time, it's happening. Hold me to it as well.

By the way, did I mention that it's cold out?

In other news, Sara's fundraising is going great (click that link over there on the right to go see for yourself). People are generous and never fail to amaze me. She's getting really comfortable on her new bike as well. We'll be setting her clipless pedals up this week, then I won't be able to catch her. :)