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What’s Not to Love?

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When we’re in the throes of hunting season, all eyes seem to be on the more carnivorous endeavors.  With what will we fill our freezers?  That’s pretty much what’s on our minds and on the minds of my readers. Once the freezers are full of venison, wild pork (and this year, nilgai), how will God’s bounty be prepared and presented to the hunters’ families?  All valid concerns, for sure.

DSC_0027aMore than once, since the season ended, Deerslayer and I have been out and about and spotted a beautiful full moon or brilliant, colorful sun rising in the eastern sky.  “Sure wish we were at the hunting camp.”   Without actually saying it, we understood the full meaning to include, “sitting around a campfire, with a refreshing beverage, listening only to the sounds of the birds and coyotes, and no concerns of everyday life.”  Even now we dream of living on a few hundred acres, with beautiful views, the sounds of nature instead of the drone of the TV that never really seems to have anything on worth watching, and a fire pit to sit around while we tell stories or just sit and watch the flames until well into the night.  Will we ever retire to our acreage?  Who knows? But dreams like these have kept our marriage strong for almost 30 years.DSC_0024

 

 

 

Don’t get me wrong, when we’re out at the hunting camp, the beauty of the wilderness is not overlooked.  Early every morning, while Deerslayer is sitting in a blind, I’ll get a text from him telling me to look at the sunrise.  Of course, I’ll already have my perked coffee in hand (and my camera) to witness the glorious colors that only God can create.  (Now, granted, the whole idea of receiving a text message takes away from the rugged back-to-nature feel of being in the country.  If the same effect could be accomplished with a string and two cans, I’d be all over it.  However, that’s not the point.)  Deerslayer, sitting quietly in his blind, and I, in my camp chair with my steaming cup of coffee and camera are marveling at  the same amazing sunrise.

DSC_0077The reality is that “hunting” is just a word that has come to encompass so much more for the Deerslayer’s Wife, and hopefully countless more deerslayers’ wives, girlfriends, and significant others who may not have considered themselves to be “outdoor types”.  There is such a rush that has come from allowing myself to step outside my comfort zone for the ones I love.  It has allowed me to see beauty and peace that I otherwise would never have known.

It’s been a journey worth taking, a process that required many lists, experimentation, self-analysis, and wine to come to terms with the fact that even I can find a niche in the great outdoors.

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Deep Sigh!

Grinding Wild Game at Home

marmalade, grinding meat, empanadas, 2014-2-16 018Well, hunting season is over.  The freezers are full of meat. For the most part, most of the hunting stuff has been put away. Life is good. And yet… it’s kinda sad.  The Deerslayer clan is all about hunting.  It’s a weird feeling on a Friday evening not heading out to the hunting camp.  It’s time to get down to the business at hand…grinding up the meat that was tossed into gallon bags and frozen to be ground at a later date.  Well, the later date is NOW.

 Throughout the season we’ve packaged up and labeled our meat according to how it will be used.  The scrappy, sinewy bits like forequarters that have been set aside for grinding were packaged up in gallon-sized bags of approximately 5 lb. each.  Now is the time that we collect all of those bags in order to grind our wild game at home. Each year we try to grind about 60-70 pounds of venison (and this year, some nilgai) that will be used in any recipes that would call for ground meat.  Lasagna, tacos, picadillo, meatloaf, burgers, soup, or chili would be such recipes.

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Look at the difference in the fat content of our ground wild pork compared to the nilgai and venison.

At this time, I always hope that there is some wild pork to grind as well.  It can be mixed 50/50 with the venison to stretch it.  It adds a nice depth of flavor and a little extra fat that many people like.  Last year, we had lots of wild pork and not as much venison as we wanted.  This year, since we have plenty of venison and nilgai, I’m opting to save the scrappy bits of ground pork for maple breakfast sausage.

When we first started processing our own meat, we asked for a hand-crank grinder for Christmas. It was so retro and “off-the-grid” and cheap. After much grinding (get it?) and gnashing of teeth (and cursing) we gave up.  We didn’t have much success with it.  It was really labor-intensive and it kept clogging up with the fascia and sinew.  Finding a means to stabilize it was another issue.  While there are usually places in the garage that a grinder can be clamped or immobilized, the sanitary environs of the kitchen are really the best bet.

marmalade, grinding meat, empanadas, 2014-2-16 017In 2002, we decided to invest in an electric, professional-grade meat grinder.  Deerslayer found one online from Northern Tool.  It was pricey at around $300 (which has increased quite a bit since then to $579) but when we weighed in the cost of having meat professionally processed, the security of knowing that OUR meat was what we’d be getting back, as well as being in control of the cleanliness of the equipment, well, it was priceless!

 Our grinder has a 3/4 horsepower motor that gets the job done.  Since 2002, the only problem we’ve had is that, once, the on/off switch did need to be replaced but Deerslayer was able to do that pretty easily.  The unit came with a couple of  blades and two grind discs, one fine and one coarse. I do understand that the cost is pretty daunting.  Ours has paid for itself many times over since we bought it.   Hunters might consider going in with another hunting buddy to split the cost of a good, commercial-grade grinder.  We’ve checked into purchasing foot pedal from Cabela’s for hands-free operation.  I’ll keep you posted.

Grinding the Meat

I would recommend  waiting until the end of the season so that all of your potential ground meat can be processed at once.  We polished off about 50 lbs. in one evening after Deerslayer got home from work but it took a couple hours of prep time by the deerslayer’s wife (me) before he arrived.

First, several hours before you’re ready to begin or the previous night, set out the meat you want to grind.  Leave it in the bags, set it in coolers and let it thaw PARTIALLY.  It needs to still be partially frozen when you grind it.  That prevents any sinew or fascia from clogging the mechanism or grind discs.  It also prevents the meat from being too slippery and floppy when feeding it into the grinding tube.

Sanitize the area, all detachable parts of your equipment and any parts that will come in contact with the meat, a large cutting board, a large serrated knife or meat saw, and containers for moving meat from one station to another.  I recommend having two stations (and a worker for each), one grinding station and one packaging station.  The grinding/cutting station will be pretty spread out, loud and busy.  It works better to set up a packaging station in a different part of the kitchen or at least on a different counter where the scale, bags, sharpie, large container of meat, and filled bags can be arranged.

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We bought two of these at Sam’s Club for moving meat from the “grinding station” to the “packaging station”

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Meat should be semi-frozen when it is ground. It needs to be cut (with a serrated knife or meat saw) into pieces that will easily fit into the grinding tube.

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The semi-frozen slices of meat are ready to be ground

Once you are ready to begin the actual grinding, the process really goes quickly.  It’s best to have 10-15 pounds of meat ready to go at a time.  A large bowl or other clean container that will fit under the exit tube should be ready to receive the meat

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We used an enamelware metal bowl to catch the meat.

Once the bowl is full, transfer the meat into a larger container that can transport it to the packaging station.

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I package up the ground meat in quart-sized zip-lock freezer bags.  I weigh it out in one-pound packages, enough for any of my recipes.  More guests?  Two bags.  Easy Peasy.

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Weigh, label, date, flatten.

Usually, I label and date all my bags with Sharpie before I fill them.  I noticed, however, that I neglected to do it in the photo above.  It’s easier if you do it befor the bags are filled.

Finally, flatten the bags full of meat to remove most of the air and to make them easier to store in the freezer.  Take several flattened bags of meat, lay them in a single layer on a cookie sheet and place them in the freezer.  It flash freezes the meat, prevents the bags from sticking together, and allows the bags to stack nicely in the freezer.

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The metal basket fits nicely on the freezer shelves and holds 14 lbs. of packaged-at-home ground venison, pork,  and nilgai.

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Beautifully organized!

 

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Timely, no. Tasty, yes.

Roasting Fresh Pumpkin

Uncle richard's 2014 party, pumpkin 007I’ll bet you didn’t know that pumpkins purchased in October to be used for autumn decor will last until past the end of February!  Don’t ask me how I know that. I’m a little embarrassed to admit that my family has been enjoying a beautiful assortment of Thanksgiving pumpkins, Christmas pumpkins, New Year’s pumpkins, and Valentine’s Day pumpkins.  Enough was finally enough.

I was ready to take my pumpkin to the next level.  Roasted pumpkin is part of my recipe repertoire with pumpkin empanadas, elegant creamy pumpkin soup with pepitas, pumpkin creme brulee, pumpkin waffles, pumpkin biscuits.  Did you guess that I’m a fan?

 Just for the record, pumpkins, when kept relatively cool and dry last a long damned time.  The flesh can then be roasted, packaged, and frozen in zip-locked bags with relatively little work.  Depending on the size of the pumpkin, take a large butcher knife or extra long, serrated bread knife to cut through.  Use a spoon to scrape out seeds and stringy bits.  Cut again to fit onto a cookie sheet. Arrange, skin side up on the cookie sheet.  Place in a 400° oven until the skin begins to wrinkle and a fork inserts easily  into the flesh.

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After roasting, these pumpkin bits have been flipped over to cool before scraping the flesh from the skin.

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Additional stringy bits can be removed easily once it has been roasted.

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The roasted flesh can easily be scooped out of the skin.

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I always transfer the roasted pumpkin into a 2-cup measure before transferring it to a zip-lock bag and labeling it.

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Labeling the package with the contents, amount, and date is helpful when pulling from the freezer for a recipe. Flattening out the contents before freezing allows for easy storage. Freeze flat on a cookie sheet then stack after contents are frozen. That prevents bags from sticking together during freezing.

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I set aside a little to make this wonderful batch of empanadas.

 
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Posted by on February 26, 2014 in Recipes, Side Dishes, Sweet Things

 

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Cooking Nilgai vs. Venison

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I have to admit, the title is a little misleading.  It’s like determining the superiority of champagne with raspberries or strawberries. Gene Kelly or Fred Astaire (not in champagne, just dancing!).   Both are outstanding in their own right.  Don’t make me choose.  While I have come to discover that the meat harvested from nilgai and venison are both superior in my book, there are a few subtle differences.

Tim's Nilgui 001I’ve absolutely enjoyed experimenting with all my favorite venison recipes, applying them to our newly acquired exoitc meat.  The first application that I tried was seared tenderloin.  Deerslayer (a.k.a. Nilgaislayer) brought the most impressive tenderloin that I’ve ever seen back to our hunting camper.  It was huge.  Therein lies the first difference between the nilgai and venison; the size.  Venison tenderloin is barely a delectable morsel for two.  Clearly, the nilgai tenderloin feeds several.  In order to serve it at its best (rare to medium rare) I sliced down the length of the muscle and then cut it into lengths that would fit into my skillet which enabled me to get a good sear on all sides.

christmas 2013, apricot cake, pan-fried heart 087More muffins 4-11-13 012     

 

 

 

 

 

I’ve also used some of the hindquarter muscle to prepare chicken-fried steaks and pecan-crusted steaks.  Both turned out beautifully, with no adjustments necessary to the recipe or cooking time.  When the muscle is pounded out rather thin, the cooking time (frying time) will not be affected.  

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We ground our first batch of nilgai this past week.   I say “first batch” because we only ground up about 50 pounds and still have quite a bit of “scraps to grind” left in the freezer. The amount of fat in the meat appears to be the same with venison and nilgai both (almost none)!  My family prefers it that way.  Others may wish to add in some pork or beef.  We’re just purists, I guess.  We enjoy allowing the flavor of the meat to shine through.  In previous years, however, we’ve stretched our venison by adding wild pork that we had in abundance.  The meat was good, while fattier, but the complexity of flavor was nice.  I’d do it again if necessary.  Given the choice, though, I’d save the pork to grind by itself for pan sausage.

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I’ll be posting photos and our procedure for grinding meat  later.

As I continue to use the nilgai meat, the differences I’ve noticed are few, but noteworthy.  I noticed right away that the smell of the uncooked meat differs slightly from  that of venison.  Don’t be put off by it.  The connective tissue, silver skin, or fascia adheres to the muscle much more than with venison.  The removal of these layers and bits is definitely more time-consuming.  Lastly, when cooking whole-muscle recipes, like backstrap, tenderloin, or a roast, it’s important to realize that the muscle is denser than venison, which will, in fact, affect cooking time.  More time will be needed in the oven at a lower temperature (say 300°).  How much time will depend on the size of the meat.

Over the next few weeks, I’ll continue to use the nilgai and document my progress.  I’d appreciate any input from my hunting friends who may have experiences to share.

 

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More Snakes! Grab Those Fabulous Snake Boots!

jerky, rattlesnake, roasting pumpkin 012In the two years that we’ve been hunting at the ranch in South Texas, Deerslayer has killed 4 sizable rattlesnakes, the one pictured being the smallest. Living with snakes is just part of life down here.  It was after finding the first and largest rattler that the fine line between fashion and function became blurred to include Cabela’s jaunty and ever-so-chic snake boots.  I’ve come to appreciate the rich earth tones, the fashion-forward suede and zippered accents, the fact that I can walk through the grass and not be killed by a snake bite..

IMG_1974The largest rattlesnake that we’ve seen on the ranch was as long as Deerslayer is tall, about 6’5″.  The shortest was about my height, 5’4″.  Spotting a venomous snake really brings to mind  thoughts of instinct, self-preservation, and survival of the fittest. The heart starts to pound.  Breathing becomes fast and shallow.  I found myself sputtering things like, “Run over it with the truck!  Run over it again!  It’s still moving.  Shoot it. Squash it with a rock.  No, use a stick.  Don’t get close.  It’s still moving!  Run over it again.  Shoot it again!  It’s still moving!”

 I suspect that in earlier times, I wouldn’t have been considered one of the “fittest”.  

Back to our most recent encounter, before Snakeslayer placed the slithering monster in the back of the truck, the head was removed. While I’m sure everyone knows this already, it bears repeating:  A dead snake is just as dangerous as a live one as long as the fangs are intact.  People have suffered serious injury and, I’m sure, even death as a result of snake bites from snakes that were already dead.  Don’t mess with the head of a venomous snake even after it’s dead.  The mouth can still open of its own accord.  Nasty business, just don’t!  That said, let me continue.

 The rattler continued to writhe and thrash about, headless, for at least an hour and a half. With the tailgate down, it slithered off the back of the truck.  When Snakeslayer decided to save the skin, there was quite an episode.  The decapitated snake thrashed, and wrapped itself around my beloved’s arms as it was being “dispatched”.  My job in the proceedings was to gesticulate wildly and suggest poking it with a stick or perhaps run over it with the truck, or shoot it again.  

It made for interesting stories to share at the hunting camp that night. I was asked by several of the other hunters whether I was going to cook up the snake.  I guess I better start looking for recipes.  Everyone had their own stories to tell.  Eyes got big, smart phones were brought out and pictures passed around.  Arms stretched in all directions to indicate size and length.  When referring to snakes, I guess size really does matter.  There’s just something about big snakes that reminds us of our place in the grand scheme of things.  Thank God for snake boots!

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Wild Game Jerky

jerky, rattlesnake, roasting pumpkin 020Wild game jerky is awesome!  The Deerslayer clan loves it.  There are several types; whole muscle jerky, some that is made from extruded ground meat (pressed out, ribbon-like,  through an implement that looks like a caulk gun) and some that is pressed into casings like Slim Jims.

I’ve only made one type, whole muscle jerky.  Since it’s what my family prefers, and doesn’t require too much extra equipment, it seemed like the logical choice.  I’d recommend starting with a prepared curing mix to start with.  It will allow you to learn the ropes and adjust the mixture later on according to your preferences.  The mixes are readily available at hunting/camping/outdoors shops and online.  I’ve used Hi Mountain brand and, after a few adjustments, have been quite pleased. I was able to use the oven rather than a dehydrator.   The jerky ends up softer than other brands I’ve tried, which I liked.  It was also very flavorful.   I used the original blend and thought that it tasted like what jerky is supposed to taste like.  There are 21 jerky flavoring blends available,  including teriyaki, hickory, bourbon, Cajun, and others.  So there is a flavor to suit every taste.

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Very thorough instructions are included in the package as well as a package of cure, seasoning, and a shaker.

jerky, rattlesnake, roasting pumpkin 003The most important thing to remember when making whole muscle jerky with wild game is to start with a large enough muscle that can easily be cleaned of as much sinew, silver skin, and fascia as possible.

 There are several large muscles in the hindquarter of large game animals that lend themselves nicely to this process.  Smaller muscles will often have sinew, silver skin, and fascia that marble through the meat creating an unpleasant “flossing effect” when trying to eat the jerky.

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This is a venison hindquarter muscle that I’d use for jerky. All white membrane would need to be removed before slicing.

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Another hindquarter muscle that would be nice for this purpose. Once again, all white membrane would need to be removed.

This is one more reason I was so excited about having a nilgai in the freezer!  The hindquarter muscle is so large it provides an exquisite “canvas” on which to work.

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This is 1/2 of a large hindquarter muscle from a nilgai. It’s the same muscle as the venison shown above but twice as large.

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– This is one gorgeous piece of meat. The other half of the muscle is gonna make fabulous steaks! It helps the process to toss the meat in the freezer for 30-45 minutes before slicing. I use a serrated bread knife or a filleting knife for the thin slicing.

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I cut the meat 1/4 inch thick and sliced the wider slabs into more slender bits. I cut some of the meat along the grain as the directions suggest. Some, however, I cut across the grain, as an experiment. It worked just fine and didn’t require as much effort to tear off.

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I mix my cure and seasoning in a jar rather than the shaker.  It gives me room to shake and mix (and perhaps dance just a little bit.)  I decided to use 1 1/2 to 2 times the amount recommended in the instructions.  It allowed me to thoroughly coat the meat and end up with a more flavorful end product.

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According to the directions included in the Hi Mountain Jerky mix, I used a maximum of only four pounds of meat (after trimming) for my batches.

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The thinly sliced meat was liberally sprinkled on both sides with the cure and seasoning mix

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Cure and seasoning were “massaged” into the meat before it was put in a zip bag and left in the fridge overnight.

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Slices were arranged on two cooling racks and placed in a 200 degree oven for approximately 1 1/2` hours. The lower cooling rack was placed on a cookie sheet to catch drips. The oven door was held ajar with a wooden spoon. The four pounds of meat actually required 4 racks and two oven’s full of cooking. 

The dried meat that results is flavorful and pleasant to eat.  It must be placed in plastic bags and refrigerated or placed in the freezer. 

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Apricot Brandy Cake

christmas 2013, apricot cake, pan-fried heart 028Valentine’s Day is upon us.  Actually, it’s been lurking in the stores since Thanksgiving. Junior Deerslayer refers to it as “Singles Awareness Day”.  Everyone in our family has decided that it would be a sneaky move for all of us to secretly decide to celebrate Valentine’s Day on February 16th instead.  All the cards, flowers, and candy will be 1/2 off.  The restaurants will have put away their “special occasion menus”… the ones that feature only a couple of entrees that cost about four times the regular price. There are 364 days a year that my dearly beloved can show me how much he loves me.  He lavishes me with tokens of his affection every day.  Okay, most days, pretty often, often enough. No need to run these things into the ground.

 For anyone who succumbs to societal pressure and feels the need to come up with SOMETHING before February 16th, try this delicious cake.  Save the $6 for a card, $100 for flowers, and $200 for dinner out.  Prepare this wonderful cake.  prepare a small personal note, and fix a nice dinner at home.  Priceless!

 Apricot Brandy Cake Ingredients
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cooking spray with flour
1 cup chopped pecans
1 cup dried apricots, chopped
1 package yellow cake mix with pudding in the mix
3 eggs
1/2 cup cold water
1/3 cup cooking oil
1/2 cup apricot brandy
Directions:
Sprinkle nuts and dried apricots over bottom of a 10 inch tube pan or 12 cup bundt pan that’s been liberally sprayed with cooking spray w/ flour.smoked pork shank, rum cake, tamales, dance, christmas 048
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Stir together cake mix, eggs, water, oil and apricot brandy.
Pour batter over nuts.
Bake at 325 in oven for 1 hour or until knife inserted half way between center of tube and edge comes out clean..
Cool 10 minutes in pan.
Invert onto serving plate with a lip around the edge (to collect glaze) and prick top with skewer or knife so that glaze can soak it.
Glaze
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1/2 cup butter
1/4 cup water
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup apricot brandy
  1. Melt butter in saucepan.
  2. Stir in water and sugar.
  3. Boil 5 minutes, stirring constantly.
  4. Remove from heat.
  5. Stir in apricot brandy.
  6. Brush glaze evenly over top and sides of cake. (It’s pretty tasty! You might want a sip or two.)
  7. Allow cake to absorb glaze.  As glaze collects in serving plate, I pour it back into the pan and reapply until fully absorbed.
  8. Repeat until glaze is used up.

This cake is even better the second day.  Good luck with that, though!

 
8 Comments

Posted by on January 31, 2014 in Recipes, Sweet Things, Uncategorized

 

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