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Elegant Pumpkin Soup… It’s Time!

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Halloween is over and Thanksgiving is almost here.  I know I’m not the only person around who still has several decorative pumpkins artistically placed around my home and, yes, even at the hunting ranch.  I do this every year.  They represent my favorite time of year, autumn.  And they seem to last FOREVER!

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This is the one that adds an air of autumnal elegance to the ranch house.

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You can see how it spruces up the space!

After they have served their aesthetic purpose, I roast the flesh, package it up, and freeze it to use in my best loved pumpkin recipes.  This gorgeous soup is one of my favorites.  It is elegant, rich and hearty without being heavy, and EASY .  I have made up batches, poured them into mason jars for transport, and  taken them to the hunting camp.  It would also just as easily be an elegant first course for any Thanksgiving dinner.

Elegant Pumpkin Soup

1/2 onion, chopped                                                1/8 tsp. ground ginger
2 carrots, chopped                                                 2 tsp. brown sugar
2 stalks celery, chopped                                        1 1/2 tsp. salt
olive oil                                                                  1/4 tsp. black pepper
32 oz. chicken stock                                              1/8 tsp. cayenne pepper
2 cups cooked pumpkin                                         1/2 cup whipping cream (optional)
1/2 tsp. cinnamon                                                  dollop of sour cream or greek yogurt                                                                                                                         salted roasted pepitas*

*pepitas are shelled pumpkin seeds

In a large soup pot, saute onion, carrots, celery in olive oil until tender. Add chicken stock and bring to a boil. Simmer for about 15 minutes until veggies are tender. Add pumpkin and spices. Puree with immersion blender. Continue to simmer for a few minutes. Add whipping cream if you want extra richness. Stir in. Complement with stirred sour cream or greek yogurt thinned with a bit of milk so that it can be drizzled artistically (and stirred in more smoothly).  Sprinkle with salted pepitas.
Serves 6-8

 

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Faux-so Buco

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This picture was staged as a single serving.  Far from it! It served two with extra for leftovers.  The single glass of wine, not so much.

I’m always looking for new wild game recipes and methods for cooking the meat that fills my freezers, particularly at this time of year when I’m trying to finish up last year’s harvest. Sometimes I stumble upon a fabulous recipe that’s just exactly what I’m looking for, just what the doctor ordered, so to speak.  More often than not, though, I have to adapt a promising recipe to fit my needs, skill set, grocery list, and/or level of motivation and/or stamina.  I’m guessing that most of you do the same thing.  That’s why you’re reading this post. 

Most recently, I’ve been enamored of the sous vide cooking method because of the way it can be used for preparing all cuts of venison, elk, and nilgai from tender pieces that require a precise 131 degrees fahrenheit for a perfectly medium rare presentation to tougher cuts that must be cooked for a long time to allow the tough sinew to break down into  tender, gelatinous, USABLE meat.

I came across a number of recipes for tougher cuts that required 24-48 hour cooking times using the immersion method (sous vide) but I was reluctant to try them.  I have to admit that I was skeptical.  Would the longer cooking time actually be a time saver if I had to check in on it periodically?  Would it produce the “fall off the bone” result that I was looking for?

I relied on David Draper’s  Venison Osso Buco for guidance regarding the 24 hour sous vide cook time, adapted it to suit my level of expertise (none) and difficulty.  The recipe called for shanks, cross-cut into one-inch sections (the picture looked like 2-3 inch chunks, but never mind that).  I had lots of shanks in the freezer.  However, I wanted a recipe that allowed me to use whole shanks without having to cut them into rounds. So, technically, what I intended to make wasn’t osso buco since “osso buco” translates to “bone with a hole” or marrow bone which is acquired by the cross-cut shank.  In an attempt to make the recipe a bit easier to put together, I wanted to see if it would work with whole shanks.  A single shank with sauce on a bed of pasta would serve at least two people.  While an authentic osso buco with cross-cut shanks creates a stunning presentation, ease of preparation certainly has its place in the wild game culinary realm.

I followed Mr. Draper’s recipe for the sauce, adding a bit of oregano, thyme, and salt to taste.  I prepared the recipe twice, the first time with two smaller shanks and the second with one larger one, tweaking my method along the way. The smaller shanks and sauce were divided and fit easily into 1 gallon zip bags which I attached to the side of the pot with clothespins after the water had reached 176 degrees fahrenheit.   My second attempt used a larger shank was too long for a one gallon zip bag.  I had to use a vacuum bag custom-cut to the length I needed for my shank plus the sauce.  Rather than heat-sealing the vacuum bag, I pushed most of the air out of it, folded over the end, and taped it closed using packing tape.  I attached the bag to the side of the pot with plastic clips, once again after the water had reached 176 degrees fahrenheit.

Using the immersion method for such a long period of time presented a problem with evaporation. During my first attempt, the water level dropped several times, causing the machine to turn off.  Luckily I caught it before the water temperature had dropped so much that cooking stopped.  I tried to balance the lid atop the pot, using a potholder to tip the lid so that collected water was redirected back into the pot.  I still needed to check the water level and add water two times.  For my second try, foil was placed over the pot with the center of the foil slightly punched down to redirect condensation back into the pot.  I still had to add water a couple of times.

A great thing about using the sous vide method is that it’s incredibly forgiving.  I knew that the meat wouldn’t be overcooked, dry, or tasteless.  The long cook times for tougher cuts to fall off the bone are approximate, even within a few hours.  I began the shanks the evening before I was to serve them.  Because I was new to the long  overnight cook time, I was apprehensive so the “ease of preparation” aspect didn’t pan out. I think I will become more comfortable with practice. The result was wonderful, though.  The meat fell off the bone!

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Also tried it with a shoulder!  Gorgeous!

Honestly, I felt the the whole shank, bone-in, made an impressive presentation in and of itself. 20191014_1147031024931814.jpg

Over all, I would recommend the sous vide for shank and other cook-all-day cuts of venison, elk, nilgai, etc.  There are specially made sous vide containers on the market that have lids that fit around the device preventing evaporation. They are available online and at restaurant supply stores. I will probably be picking one up.  This method enabled me to prepare a recipe that I would otherwise have overlooked until much cooler weather had I required a long cook time in the oven.

Go for it.  Save those shanks this season.  Let me know how it goes.

 

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How to Do a Birthday Cake at the Hunting Camp

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The Deerslayer family recently converged at the ranch to celebrate two birthdays, Deerslayer’s and one daughter’s who drove in from college. Don’t forget that it’s been hotter than stink in Texas and the thought of heating up the cabin by baking a cake didn’t appeal to me one bit. I love my family dearly but no one wanted birthday cake if it meant that our one room camphouse/sleeping quarters would become too warm to, well, sleep in.

I solved the problem by baking my cake at home before we headed up to the hunting camp. I cooled the two layers of the chocolate cake, wrapped them in cling wrap, and froze them.

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I packed the ingredients that I needed to assemble the cake on location: blackberry filling (aka blackberry jam), prepared (store-bought!) dark chocolate icing, sliced almonds (not shown above) and a cake carrier to be used to cart the left-over cake back to college with my Junior Deerslayer.

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first layer, thawed, with blackberry filling ready for the second layer and frosting. 

The frozen layers of cake were packed in our Yeti 65 cooler with the other foods that I cooked ahead of time and froze for the trip to cut back on on-site cooking time. Because everything that went into the cooler was already frozen, it was easier to keep everything that way for the 8 hour trip.  I chose the Yeti 65 because it’s just the right size to hold frozen evening meals for 4 people for several days.  The frozen foods plus frozen cake leave just enough room for a 10 lb. bag of ice.

Good meals, good cake, cool camp house.  Priceless!

If you have any tips on transporting yummy desserts for hungry hunters, please share.

 

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How to Keep it Cool When It’s Sooo Damned Hot!

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Photo by Adrianna Calvo on Pexels.com

It’s already been established in my last post that it’s hot as hell in the Texas Hill Country (as usual)! It doesn’t change the fact that there’s plenty of work that’s got to be done to get ready for the upcoming hunting seasons. Staying cool when there’s so much to do is a top priority. I don’t need to tell any of you that you need to stay hydrated, wear light colors, and use plenty of sunscreen. We take our Yeti Roadster cooler in the truck to carry cold drinks and some chilled fruit when we’re working on feeder pens and hunting blinds.

Of course, everyone will also need to eat and they will want to eat well after all the hard work they’ve done. Nobody, however, wants the stove or oven to heat up the camper, cabin, or ranch house no matter how delectable the meal. That’s why the meals should be carefully planned so that the indoors stay as cool as possible.  Using the stove heats up the quarters less than using the oven.  If you must use the stove, be sure to take hot skillets or pots outside after they’ve been used so they don’t continue to radiate heat.  An even better alternative is to set up an outdoor propane stove, like the Camp Chef, Browning, or Coleman, so that all the heat stays outside.

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This camp stove is from Browning.  It’s almost identical to the Camp Chef and costs much less.  This one came from Bass Pro Shop several years ago.  I purchased the griddle, separately, from Camp Chef. It fit perfectly! I absolutely love it.  In addition, I bought the zippered carrying bags for the griddle and the stove making it easier to keep the components together and haul around.

When planning for breakfast, always make arrangements to have the accoutrements for coffee! There are several ways to prepare coffee for the hunting camp.  See them here.  Milk or cream, raw or white sugar, and artificial sweeteners. Recently, since it’s just Deerslayer and myself heading out to work,  we’ve been going pretty light for the morning meal; cereal, fruit, breakfast muffins, and of course milk, juice, and coffee. A heavy meal in the morning before working in the hot sun can lower one’s productivity.

Everyone is usually ready to come in for lunch early because of the heat and I’ve been serving sandwiches (BLTs, ruebens, sliced turkey or venison), cold watermelon, and some chips or soup.  I will usually cook up bacon ahead of time and bring it with me.  Reheating it for sandwiches requires much less time at the stove than cooking it as needed.  Don’t forget to take the skillet or griddle outside as soon as you’re finished with it if your aren’t cooking outside!

For dinner, I’ve come to rely on my sous vide cooker pretty heavily. Check here for more info about how it works.   I can actually set it up before we head out to work in the afternoon. I use it for chicken and venison, preparing more than we need for our meal.  The leftovers can be used the next day for tacos, tostadas (sometimes called chalupas), or hearty sandwiches. My next post will include instructions for using the sous vide to get several meals with leftovers.

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The key is in the planning.  I plan my menus out before we get to the ranch.  That enables me to have what I need for my recipes (which are pretty simple) and make a grocery list.

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This is an app that my daughter put on my phone called “Keep Notes”.  I love it for all kinds of lists including dates that we fill feeders and how many bags of feed we used and/or need.

Like most hunting ranches, ours is out in the middle of nowhere.  A trip to the grocer would be more than an hour.  Nothing is worse than planning and looking forward to wonderful Bacon, Lettuce, and Tomato sandwiches (BLTs) only to discover that there’s NO “L”!

As all the deer slayers and their wives know, this time of year can be brutal.  But the reward will be great.  Stay tuned for some recipes and prep tips.

Please share any tips of your own and your thoughts.

 

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My Favorite Yeti (the 105)

It’s still the hottest part of the summer in the Texas Hill Country.  However, there’s plenty for hunters to do in the sweltering heat.  The feeders have to be filled. The overgrown roads need to be cleared.  In many cases, hunting camp trailers, cabins and ranch houses need to be cleaned up and prepared for the upcoming season.  This particular season, we have the additional work  of righting three of our blinds and removing dozens of downed trees after a big storm that blew through a few weeks ago.

It’s my job to bring enough food and cold beverages to keep my deerslayer up and running to get the job done.  I like to start with food from our fridge at home, using produce and perishables that would, um, perish if we left them at home.  My favorite cooler for packing food is the Yeti 105.  It’s large capacity (21.8 gallons) and tall interior (14 usable inches when closed) make it perfect for most of the chilled food that I need to take. It is tall enough to hold a gallon of milk (or juice) with room above it for the wire rack that comes with it.

I discovered that a 5 gallon bucket from Home Depot or Lowe’s fits perfectly in one side of the cooler.  When fitted with a kitchen trash bag, I can fill the bucket with produce,  cheese, lunch meat, etc., anything that needs to be chilled but that I don’t want to become waterlogged as the ice melts.  Heaviest or less delicate items like cabbage or blocks of cheese can go on the bottom. Easily bruised produce and other delicate things can rest up top.

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Once the cooler is full, pack ice around milk, other beverages, and between the bucket and the walls of the cooler but not into it. The items in the cooler should stay chilled for a number of hours.  Extra ice can be added as needed.

As much as I LOVE our Yeti coolers, one of the only issues that I have with them is that they are HEAVY.  Even empty, they weigh quite a bit.  A solution that I found for moving them around the house easily for packing is to set them on small moving dollies that we purchased from Harbor Freight.  The dollies allow me to roll the coolers freely around the kitchen and out to the truck for loading.  I purchased two extra ones to keep in our hunting cabin.  I can use the coolers when I need them and push them conveniently out of the way when I don’t.

Fix good meals, work efficiently, get stuff done!  Hunting season will be here before we know it! Embrace the Hunters’ Lifestyle!

 

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Have what you need or have a sense of humor

 
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Posted by on April 12, 2019 in Uncategorized

 

Camp Coffee 4 Ways

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Those of you who partake of God’s greatest gift, the coffee bean, truly understand that all of God’s wonders are made more spectacular by the smell of fresh coffee brewing. Mornings and coffee go together. Mornings at a hunting camp absolutely MUST include steaming cups, mugs, or insulated carafes of coffee.

If you can be the one who provides the goods to bleary-eyed hunters, you will surely be crowned “Caffeine Queen”, “Empress of the Life-Giving Serum” or some other appropriate moniker. Who wouldn’t want that?

No matter what the circumstances or conditions at your hunting camp or ranch, it’s always possible to have a steaming cup of joe on hand for yourself AND for the sad-eyed hunters who didn’t bring their own. Basically, all you need is a heat source, a receptacle, good water, and ground coffee.

If you have power available at your hunting ranch or camp, you can set up any standard drip coffee maker, espresso machine, or whatever floats your boat. I have to admit that I have difficulty considering an espresso machine or Keurig to be in the spirit of roughing it at the hunting camp but that’s just me.

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This poor relic was one of eight that were found at our ranch when we purchased it. All were working order! Apparently left by various hunters. We donated the others after cleaning and sanitizing them.

There are times when electricity may not be readily available, though. This is where you will need to be creative. Percolator coffee is one great alternative for a larger group of coffee drinkers. A propane camp stove or even a campfire will provide enough of a heat source for a good-sized pot. Percolators come in a variety of sizes to accommodate small to larger numbers of cups. I’ve purchased several. It’s worth spending a little bit more for a better quality one. The inner workings can be quite flimsy in the cheaper ones. Percolator coffee will take a while.

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A French press is another choice that works if you don’t have access to electricity. It can produce several cups of coffee using just a heat source to boil water (propane stove or camp stove, or a campfire). It works by steeping the grounds in boiled water for two or three minutes in a carafe, usually glass or plastic, and pressing a plunger down through the water, separating the brewed coffee from the grounds. I like this method because the apparatus is relatively small and easy to transport. It makes about three cups of coffee. It doesn’t take much time, just enough time to boil some water (You will need a different pot in which to boil the water) and about 2-3 minutes to actually brew the coffee. A glass carafe may be difficult to lug around because it’s fragile. Look for one made of stainless steel if it’s a concern.

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Finally, I found this little guy at World Market. It collapses flat when not in use, uses a small cone paper filter, and only requires the amount of time that it takes to boil enough water for a cup of joe! It’s a nice alternative to a Keurig. It’s a great way to prepare one cup at a time if you’re the only coffee drinker in camp. I love mine and use it all the time. Deerslayer doesn’t drink coffee so it’s perfect for our outings when it’s just the two of us.

Collapsible Coffee Dripper

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It seems funny to me that, after years of participating in the hunting camp tradition, one or two hunters will wander up, bleary-eyed, looking sad and lost, with an empty coffee cup in hand. I am always glad to fill a cup for the poor souls. I have started to keep all the accouterments on hand (sugar, raw sugar, artificial sweeteners, Half n Half in tiny little prepackaged one-serving containers that don’t need to be refrigerated, as well as powdered creamer). I always have milk as well in the cooler or fridge. I try to keep insulated cups with lids on hand that hunters can take with them out to a blind. Yeti has really good ones that keep coffee hot for several hours. Other companies have jumped on board with less expensive, perfectly good models. Glad to help.

 

 

 

 

 

 
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Posted by on March 24, 2019 in Uncategorized

 
 
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