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No, I Didn’t forget Whitewing Season!

I know my readers are thinking, “What the heck?  Where’s the post heralding the beginning of Bird Season?”

 Well, fear not!  Bird Season was celebrated with much hoop-la down in these parts.  The sporting goods stores were packed to the gills with hunters, feverishly purchasing all things camo, shotgun shells, decoys and, this year, mud boots.  A tropical disturbance dumped a butt-load of rain in these parts, making the fields almost impenetrable.  Up until the opening day, no one was really sure whether or not the hunts would even take place.

We watched forecasts  with trepidation.  Members of the Deerslayer clan and close friends were scheduled to arrive from far and wide for two days of hunting.  Parts of South Texas received several inches of rain while other parts (just down the road) had considerably less.  Luckily, with mud boots all ’round, the hunt took place.  Birds were plucked and gutted.  Beer was drunk. The traditional meal of whitewing  with rice and peas was served.

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Is it gross that the junior doveslayers thought it was funny to make smiley faces on their hands while they plucked and gutted birds?

 

Plucking and gutting whitewing is a long, tedious, hot, and steamy task in South Texas.  It’s a task that is taught to junior doveslayers for obvious reasons.

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This is a small sample of the birds that had to be cleaned, packaged and frozen.

Packaging and Freezing Birds

After many years of packaging and freezing birds, Deerslayer (doveslayer) and I have come up with a method that not only protects the birds from freezer burn, but also allows them to be stored and stacked in the freezer to make the best use of space.

Rubbermaid makes a 6×10 container that will hold 12 birds and giblets.  I like this size because it fits nicely in the freezer and because 2-3 birds per person is just about right for our family.  The next larger size of container, 9×13, will hold about 18 birds.

First, place the birds in the container and freeze for several hours.  Then, add enough water to fill container up about an inch.  The reason for this is that the birds will float if too much water is added at once.  Return the container to the freezer.  After water has frozen, top off with enough water to cover birds and return to freezer.

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 After birds are covered with ice, place lid on them, label the package with number of birds and the date.  The containers can then be stacked.

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Generally my OCD wouldn’t allow for a messy label such as this. However, we had a ton of the free address labels that come in the mail. I took advantage. Don’t judge. It won’t happen again. It’s really freakin’ me out!

 Freezing and Reheating Cooked Birds

Each year, Deerslayer’s uncle flies down for the hunt from Colorado.  As a special treat, I make up a batch of whitewing doves and gravy for him to take back home.  After the birds are cooked and are quite tender, I remove them from the gravy and allow them to cool somewhat.  I place them in a Rubbermaid 6×10 container.  After the gravy has also cooled, I pour it into a zip-lock bag and place it into the Rubbermaid container too.  I attach the lid and freeze the whole lot.  Wrapped in newspaper and placed in a zippered, insulated bag, the birds have always made it to Colorado just fine.

To prepare the frozen birds, thaw them out along with the gravy packet.  In a cast iron skillet, pour in the coagulated gravy.  Turn heat to medium, add a little chicken stock and stir with a whisk until smooth and hot.  Add birds.  Continue to heat with a lid on until birds are heated through and gravy bubbles happily.

 

 
 

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Faux Barbacoa (Nilgai or Venison)

faux bbq, fawns, mary's bday, alamo, tower 054Living in South Texas is unlike anything else in the world!  There are daily experiences that one would expect  to find only in more remote regions of Mexico.  For example, dodging crates of cactus pads that have covered the street after falling from an overpacked pickup, swerving to avoid onions and pineapples littering the road, hearing the screeching of flocks of parrots long before they fly over.  More recently, the sounds of Homeland Security and Border Patrol helicopters have become commonplace. In our  part of the world, everyone samples the produce in the grocery store before they buy it (or don’t).  Cars frequently are seen heading the wrong way into oncoming traffic to avoid the necessity of making the block.

While I’d be perfectly happy to live without any of those experiences (and plenty of others), one thing that I absolutely love about South Texas is barbacoa.  Barbacoa is traditionally made from the head meat of a cow or goat, sometimes just the cheek, either buried in the ground or cooked in a pit until the meat falls away from the bone. This lengthy process is the reason that barbacoa is usually only available on weekends in many restaurants and the focal point of many family gatherings.

I have to admit, it was years before I was willing to try this dish just knowing that it was made from the head of a cow.  After being a wife and mother, I’ve experienced many disgusting things.  Beef head is no longer on the list.  Once I finally tasted it, I was in heaven.  I never realized that the most succulent, tender meat comes from the head.  The members of the Deerslayer household eat barbacoa as often as possible. (Don’t forget that my junior deerslayers are hunters and not put off by the origin of meat the way I used to be.)

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I stumbled upon this recipe quite by accident.  I needed a quick dinner and had some “cook-all-day” nilgai packaged into one-pound portions in the freezer.  It really saved the day.  I’d say it was a 30 minute meal, start to finish since I added Mexican rice, which took 20 minutes to cook, and some bean soup that I simply had to thaw and reheat, as well.

Faux Barbacoa

1 lb. “Cook-All-Day” Nilgai or Venison

Beef Stock

Comino (Cumin)

Tommy’s Salt and Pepper Mix

 

Chop and shred meat into a cast iron skillet.  Add enough beef stock to cover meat and simmer on low.  Add ½ to 1 teaspoon of comino and stir.  Season with salt and pepper mix.  Allow stock to reduce by about a third.  This is a perfect time to prepare Mexican rice. Serve with fresh corn tortillas and pico de gallo.

Sometimes the easiest recipes surprise us.  The Deerslayer clan really enjoyed the meal and it was pretty effortless thanks to a little advanced preparation at the start of the season.  Beans with wild pork shank are as easy to prepare in large quantities as it is small.  Frozen in bags and stacked in the freezer make it a great go-to.  I usually add extra beef or chicken stock since the deerslayer clan likes their been soupy.  A little garnish of fresh cilantro adds flavor and flair.

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I added some beef stock, some kosher salt, pepper, garlic powder (Tommy’s Secret Mix) and a little comino (cumin).

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I simmered the meat for about 20 minutes until some of the juices thickened.

Everyone in the family agreed that the texture and flavor of the meat was very much like barbacoa.  The rib meat has a great deal of connective tissue that, when cooked all day, breaks down into sticky, deliciousness.  While most of my readers may not have access to nilgai, venison would certainly suffice for this recipe.  Any sinewy parts like shank or rib meat would cook up the same way.

Just one more recipe for meat that most hunters throw away or grind.  Yay!

 

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Stupidly Easy Venison and Veggie Soup (with Noodles)

DSC_0048Back when I was a young deerslayer’s wife, I honestly didn’t have a lot going for me from a culinary point of view. I hadn’t cooked much and had no experience at all with wild game. Luckily, I was younger, less affected by gravity, if you catch my drift.  Deerslayer (bless his heart!) was willing to overlook the minor chinks in the armor.  Actually, the chinks were pretty substantial. Looking back on it, the way I treated God’s bounty, proudly brought to the table by my faithful deerslayer, was criminal.  I had no knowledge of how to prepare wild game.  Thank God I looked decent in a pair of jeans.

Recently, one of the junior deerslayers asked why I hadn’t made Venison Soup for such a long time.  I stammered.  I hadn’t prepared Venison Soup since I looked good in jeans.  It was one of my first attempts at a wild game recipe.  Granted, it was prepared to mask a botched Venison Roast attempt.  It was kind of like hiding the evidence from a murder.  Cut up the pieces really small and disguise them as something else…in this case, a tomato-based soup with veggies and shell noodles.  It was actually pretty damned tasty.  Why HADN’T I made it for so long? I guess that, as I started to stretch my culinary wings (is that a thing?), I kind of blotted out a couple of flukes that really were pretty good.  I think the junior deerslayers remember a few of these recipes with a nostalgic warm spot in their hearts.  Others, not so much.

Remember not to judge and remember my entry level of expertise.  Use what’s in your pantry, fridge and freezer.  This has, on occasion, included squash, okra, cabbage.  You get the picture.  It’s pretty forgiving.

Stupidly Easy Venison and Veggie Soup (with Noodles)

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I forgot to include the peas. So, here they are.

a splash of olive oil

one onion, chopped

two cloves of garlic, finely chopped

two carrots, sliced

two stalks of celery, chopped (greens included)

32 oz. beef stock

1 can of any cheap variety of spaghetti sauce (not chunky)

1 bay leaf

1/2 can (from the spaghetti sauce) of water

about a cup of frozen peas

1/2 can of corn

1/2 lb. of medium shell noodles

about 1/2 pound leftover venison*  cut up into chunks

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salt and pepper to taste

a splash of worcestershire sauce

In a large soup pot, heat a splash of olive oil.

Saute onions until translucent.  Add garlic, carrots, and celery.  Stir around a bit.

Add beef stock and bring to a boil.  Add bay leaf.

 Boil until veggies are just softened.

Add canned sauce and water.

Add peas and corn (or not).

Return to a boil.  Add noodles and cook until noodles are done (according to package directions).

*Add leftover venison.  This can be from a roast, seared backstrap or tenderloin or even ground meat.

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Heat through.  Don’t overcook at this point.  The meat will get rubbery.

Season with salt, pepper and a splash of worcestershire to taste.

Serve with fabulous homemade bread.  Thank you, Junior Deerslayer!

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Put on a nice pair of jeans.  Relish the moment!

 

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All Cooked Up and Nowhere to Go?


eggs, graduation, quail, nilgai ribs 096Last week, during an unexpected (and appreciated) cool spell,  I took advantage of the opportunity to cook up fifteen pounds of Nilgai rib meat, using my “Cook-All-Day” recipe.  From meat that many hunters would toss out, I produced five delicious meals, right off the bat, and packaged up and froze several 1 ½ pound bags of succulent, cooked meat that will be used in quick meals  during the hot months of summer.

I love cool days that allow me to prepare “cook-all-day” meats.  There’s such a sense of satisfaction that comes from creating delicious meals from cuts of meat that would otherwise be considered unusable.  First of all, the whole house smells wonderful!  The Deerslayer clan has taken to just grazing from the pan of freshly cooked, fall-apart meat on that first night, with a side of rice and perhaps some peas.  The “au jus” can be drizzled over the rice as is or thickened in a cast iron skillet with a slurry of butter and flour.  That was Day One.

Day Two brought  warmed, shredded meat served with homemade flour tortillas with lettuce, vine-ripened tomatoes, and avocado slices.  I provided a side of beans & smoked wild pork shank that had been prepared previously and frozen.

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Day Three.  I adapted my venison marsala recipe. Since the meat was already cooked, I cut it into bite-sized pieces and added it to the sauteed mushrooms and sauce, and served it over fettuccini with a side of steamed broccoli.  Done!

Day Four allowed me to pull up a family favorite from the recipe archives; Enchiladas with Creamy Poblano Sauce. Deerslayer absolutely loves these.  I served them up with the leftover beans and a side of Mexican rice.  It doesn’t get any better!

2013-02-21 094By Day Five, I feared that I was treading on thin ice by continuing to concoct recipes with the nilgai rib meat of which I was so proud, so I shredded it, tossed in some commercial BBQ sauce and served up some fabulous BBQ sandwiches with coleslaw.

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That evening, feeling content that I had once again fulfilled my role as the Deerslayer’s/Nilgai slayer’s wife, patting myself on the back, if you will, I donned a stunning pair of red pumps and pearls. I had successfully provided the clan with wild gamey goodness for an entire week with meat that might have left for the coyotes. Then I packaged up the remainder of the cooked meat and knew that all was right with the world because the Deerslayer/Nilgaislayer household would make it through the hot months of summer without having to sacrifice any delicious wild game meals!

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Is Rib Meat Worth Saving?

Tim's Nilgui 1-18-14 008As most of my readers know, Deerslayer and I were blessed with a harvest of South Texas nilgai back in January.  Other than elk, it provided more meat than anything I’ve ever encountered.  With careful packaging (and three freezers) we were able to accommodate ALL of it.  I’ve always felt very strongly about using as much of a harvested animal as possible which is why we grind our own meat, cut our own steaks, roasts, and scrap that can be cooked all day until it falls apart into deliciousness that can be used in countless recipes.

Tim's Nilgui 1-18-14 018We’ve never bothered with venison rib meat, though.  So little meat, so much work.  With nilgai, however, it was a different matter.  Clearly, there was enough meat between the ribs that I didn’t want to waste it.  Fifteen pounds, to be exact.  Deerslayer was happy to cut the meat from the ribs so that I could package it up into three 5-lb. packages. The amount of connective tissue surrounding the muscle prevented it from being used for anything other than “cook-all-day” applications.

There is a distinct difference between venison and nilgai meat and the processing thereof.  Of course, quantity is the most obvious difference.  But we were surprised by the difference in the amount of connective tissue.  From skinning the critters to separating the muscle, nilgai is MUCH more difficult than venison because of the amount of fascia, silver skin, etc.  It just seems to adhere more than venison.  There was no pulling the skin from the muscle during field dressing.  It required cutting with a very sharp knife every inch of the way.  The preparation of backstrap has required more labor-intensive removal of fascia and silver skin, as well.  Don’t get me wrong!  The extra work involved has definitely been worth it!  The meat is delicious and worth every minute of extra labor required in prep time.

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I grabbed my labelled packages from freezer and set them out to thaw.

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Notice the large amount of silver skin on the meat.

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All fifteen pounds went into my turkey roaster, liberally seasoned with my go-to salt, pepper, garlic powder mix and into a 350 degree oven for about six hours, checking for liquid and turning the meat periodically.

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Tender, flavorful, gooey, pull-apart, melt-in-your-mouth heaven-on-earth!

 

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Where Cavemen Dwell (There is no Joy)

File:Caveman 5.jpgLet it be known that there is a disturbance in the Force at the Deerslayer abode, a tear in the fabric of our lives, if you will.  It has shaken me to my very core!  Deerslayer, much to my chagrin, has decided to make a lifestyle change.  I can tell that many of you shifting uncomfortably in your chairs, trying to decide how well you really need to know the Deerslayer Clan. To put your minds at ease, I’m referring to a culinary lifestyle change.

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For the most part, our household has become a “Paleo” palace; a place where gluten, grains, and all things worth living for no longer exist.  For those of you who are still in the dark, the Paleo Diet works off the premise that, if we eat what the cavemen ate, we will lose weight and be happier.  They didn’t harvest grains so we don’t eat pasta, bread, or things of that nature.  Nor did they eat corn, apparently, so we don’t eat tortillas.  Or anything that can be made from milk, except for butter from grass-fed cows.  Go figure. The way I look at it, the cavemen were lacking in creativity and not very enterprising in the culinary realm. Ever see a sketch of a smiling caveman?  I rest my case!

Needless to say, I’m not a fan.

It was important that I be supportive, so I ate all the pasta, potato chips, tortillas, tortilla chips, and cookies in the house so that they wouldn’t provide any unnecessary temptation.  The junior deerslayers have shown no interest in supporting the lifestyle change.  The other evening when Deerslayer went to visit some friends, there was a veritable pasta, cheese, and bread orgy the likes of which have never been seen before in this paleo cave.

Luckily, cavemen hunted.  We have three freezers full of harvested meat.  Breading will be in the form of almond and pecan meals. Gravy thickeners will come from arrowroot.  Garlic mashed potatoes?  Not in this cave!  Tears are welling up just writing about it.  Looking at it objectively, however, how could anyone NOT lose weight on this diet (excuse me, with this lifestyle shift)?

I’ve begun to read up on the topic, though.  I’ve had some success with some recipes and continue looking for others.  This is a journey that I will take with my Deerslayer.  I will grumble and pout along the way.  And I will share.

If any of you know of good Paleo cookbooks or recipes, please share.  I’m not yet a team player.

By the way, Happy Mothers’ Day!

 
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Posted by on May 11, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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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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