This past weekend, I trekked eight hours up to San Angelo, Texas with one goal in mind; to replenish my supply of goat cheese. I could’ve just ordered some on the internet, but I’d heard that my “goat-cheese lady” had gotten some “new stuff”. I just had to try the new queso fresco! Dr. Hinkle makes the best goat cheese that I’ve ever tasted. There’s absolutely nothing to compare from a regular grocer. I use her cheeses exclusively in my venison neatloaf with goat cheese recipe as well as my goat cheese-filled venison meatballs (recipe to come).
This time, I purchased the garlic & herb, rosemary & garlic, Vietnamese Chili, feta, and of course, the queso fresco, I don’t mind really stocking up since these cheeses freeze beautifully. As I mentioned before, all of these varieties plus several others are available online at www.elcaminodelascabras.com. This is not a paid advertisement. I really love to promote locally made products and have a special place in my heart for a Texas A & M graduate woman who has established a successful business that creates stuff that I love!
Don’t pass up an opportunity to check out the website and try the calamata olive cheese and the others, as well. If you’ll excuse me, I’m off to get some crackers!
This is OPENING WEEKEND of deer season and, needless to say, we’ll be out at the hunting camp. It’s surprising how much I’m looking forward to it, the cooking, planning, packing, and the trip to the camp. My deerslayer seems like a different person at this time of year, happier, more kid-like. He likes to plan, too. But he really likes BEING out at the hunting camp with the family. He grew up with several generations of deerslayers pulling campers into a circle around a great campfire like covered wagons in an old western. When the deerslayer and I met and had been dating for a while, I was invited to participate in this ritual. I have to admit that I hated it. It was totally foreign to me…. and wayyyyyyy too rustic. I moped and was sucked dry by mosquitoes. I was not willing to be seen in clothing that would keep me warm enough to enjoy the experience and keep the bugs at bay. My sinuses exploded and I was a virtual sneezing, dripping mess. Flexibility was not my middle name. Looking back, I’m surprised he was willing to marry me.
Over the years, my attitude has changed. Hunting is such a huge part of who my deerslayer is that I had to make some changes in the way I looked at the hunting experience. I realized that I had to put up a good front so that our future deerslayers would grow up to be exactly that. It would break my deerslayer’s heart if his daughters were as wimpy as their mom! After a few hits and misses I discovered that it’s all in the planning. For example, if an allergy sufferer heads out unprepared (no meds, no tissues) all is lost regarding a positive experience. Bringing plenty of books, magazines, games, journals, yummy snacks (and wine) and well-planned meals can ensure a great hunting experience even for the “hunting challenged”. I made sure that my girls were appropriately clothed and snacked. It seemed to work. I discovered that there were foods that could be prepared ahead that would provide a wonderful, home-cooked environment. I’ve already mentioned in my last entry that Bean Soup and Fresh Cornbread will make any deerslayer’s wife the “belle of the ball” if you will. I learned how to percolate coffee with the best of ’em. (If any of you would like a tutorial, just hollar!) A steaming pot of coffee and real cream can’t be beat. Cream is much more do-able now that Land-o-Lakes has come out with “Mini-Moos”; individual serving sizes of half-and-half that don’t have to be refrigerated. Another trick that I have learned is to cook thick-cut, maple bacon ahead of time and toss it in the skillet at the camp to heat and crisp it up. Talk about wonderful smells wafting from the tiny kitchenette of the camper! The veritible Chanel #5 of hunting camp.
I always prepare my bacon on a cooling rack set over a foil-lined cookie sheet. I can usually cook as many as 10 slices at a time. I put the cookie sheet in a pre-heated 400 degree oven for approximately 20-30 minutes depending on the oven and the thickness of the bacon. The bacon doesn’t even have to be flipped over. Sometimes, though, I lay strips of foil over the ends of the bacon to prevent them from cooking too quickly. After I’ve cooked up several batches of bacon and left them to drain on paper towels, I place them in gallon-sized plastic zip bags and refrigerate until the trip. When I’m ready to prepare the bacon, I simply heat a skillet and warm the bacon. The camp smells great and everyone is happy! Don’t forget that Bacon, Lettuce, and Tomato Sandwiches are easy and wonderful, too.
As the years went by, I discovered that my deerslayer genuinely appreciated my effort, no matter how pathetic it seemed. I also discovered that it really didn’t matter if I was freshly coiffed, my attitude was what made the difference.
I also discovered that a person’s threshold for pain and grossness increases with each child one bears. Now, I will sit around the campfire wrapped in a tablecloth or quilt, or dirty tarp with a scarf encircling my entire head except for a small opening for a sip of wine periodically. I know that my deerslayer loves me no matter what. Perhaps even a little bit more if I’m not quite as concerned about my appearance and can laugh at the often-told stories and jokes since I’m comfortable and warm in front of the fire. Don’t get me wrong! I’m very excited about some awesome new “hunting” boots that my deerslayer bought for me. When I told him that they were going to be “my new hunting boots” he knew better than to laugh, but he smirked pretty visibly. These new boots are damned cute and I do, in fact, look like I just stepped out of an Eddie Bauer catalog. I may have to dedicate an entire entry to them!
Cool weather is finally making its way to South Texas. It’s about freakin’ time. We’ll be bundling up and drinking hot chocolate in temperatures that we’re hoping will range from 78 to lows in the 50s. Brrrrrrr.
Whenever it starts to get cold in this neck of the woods my thoughts turn almost immediately to beans and cornbread. A huge, honkin’ pot of beans and a cast iron skillet full of crisp, fragrant cornbread (made with bacon drippings). Isn’t there a time when everyone’s thoughts turn to beans? Is it just me? In Texas, when beans are referenced, it’s a given that pinto beans are the thing. The beans that my deerslayers love are more of a bean soup than just beans lying without much purpose on a plate. Beans need to be served in a bowl. I throw in lots of veggies and ham or wild pork and lots of broth. My latest batch was made with wild pork shank (shin and forearm bones). It was one of the best recipes I’ve prepared in recent memory.
Beans bring people together. A huge pot can be prepared just as easily as a small amount. It only takes as much forethought as sorting, rinsing, and soaking the beans a day ahead. I always prepare more than I need for a meal (and yes, I serve them as a “one bowl” meal) since they freeze so nicely.
Beans that have been frozen are perfect for taking to the hunting camp. I pack the beans in one-gallon bags which I lay out on a cookie sheet in the freezer until ready to stack. The frozen, flat packages of beans will easily thaw and reheat. Don’t forget to take a nice big soup pot to the hunting camp. Cornbread can be prepared ahead or baked fresh and hot if you have a cabin or camper. There are even ways to prepare it using the campfire (I’m not there, yet!). I’ll include the recipe for the beans but the wonderful thing about this dish is that you can use many combinations of veggies and meat to create a hearty, healthy meal.
Bean Soup with Wild Pork Shank
1 lb. of dried pinto beans
2 chopped onions
2 chopped carrots
2 stalks celery, chopped
5 cloves garlic, chopped
2 chopped, fresh jalapenos
1 can diced tomatoes
2 32oz. boxes chicken stock
2 wild pork shanks
1 bunch cilantro, rinsed and chopped, stems removed. Reserve some for sprinkling.
2 tsp. black pepper
2 tsp. kosher salt (added at the end to prevent beans from being tough)
If you’ve never prepared pinto beans before, you need to know that all dried beans must be sorted through to remove any rocks, dirt clods, and nasty beans. (You’ll know them when you see them!) Then the beans should be thoroughly rinsed, placed in a large pot, and covered with twice as much water as will cover them. Let them sit overnight. The beans will expand, absorbing a good deal of the liquid.
The next day, rinse the beans, add enough water to cover the beans and bring to a boil. Add all veggies except cilantro, add chicken stock to cover, return to a slow boil and leave on heat for about 1 1/2 hours. Stir and add pork shanks at this point, add additional chicken stock to cover if necessary.
Return to a boil until pork falls from the bone, about 1 1/2 additional hours. Add salt and black pepper to taste and chopped cilantro. Serve with hot cornbread. Sprinkle with extra cilantro. Enjoy your new favorite comfort food, hunting camp food, autumn food.
*Just as a side note- Many things affect the cooking time for beans. Altitude, age of the beans, differences in cook-tops, length of time the beans soak all can make a difference. Within the past year, I discovered that adding salt early in the cooking process will result in tough beans. This is a bigger issue if you decide to use bacon or salt pork in your recipe, both of which I sometimes do.
Once, my deerslayers and I headed to Colorado for a family ski trip. There were approximately 40 extended deerslayers in attendance. I volunteered to make a huge honkin’ pot of beans (my specialty) for all the in-laws. Sadly, the beans I purchased were old (I presume), we were at a frightening elevation, and I apparently added all kinds of salty goodness to my beans early on in the cooking process. The beans were not ready in time for dinner, nor were they ready the next day after cooking overnight. Someone ended up taking them home, cooking them for an additional 24 hours and reported that the beans were delicious. Strangely, with all the delectible recipes that I am able to prepare, the “bean debacle” is still mentioned at family gatherings after 10 years. Go figure!
We have a pretty normal, laid back household. I homeschool my 13 year old daughter. My adult daughter lives at home and is a published writer. Maybe not so normal, but pleasant and productive. So does it mean that I’m a bad mother because we hustled through our lessons so that my daughters could dress as the undead and scamper off to the “Frankenstein” and “Bride of Frankenstein” double feature at our local theater? I mean, really, who could possibly pass up an opportunity to see the best of horror in black and white? The lighting! The camera angles! The artistry of leaving just a little bit to the imagination! There is truly nothing to compare with the vintage films.
I’m looking forward to the discussions we’ll have. I’ve always insisted on my kids seeing films that I feel have impacted society. Casablanca, The Maltese Falcon, The Sound of Music, anything with Gene Kelly (Okay, that’s a personal preference), To Kill a Mockingbird. The list goes on and on. Nothing can change the fact that we are greatly affected by the silver screen. The sad thing is that, from what I’ve seen, the artistry is just not there anymore. Certainly, it can be argued that there are a few good movies still being made, but not necessarily ones that are appropriate for my family! There isn’t a film star out there who can compare with Boris Karloff, Elsa Lanchester, Audrey Hepburn, Gregory Peck, John Wayne, Bela Lugosi, Spencer Tracy either in talent or class.
So am I a bad mother because I took pictures of my girls in their black lipstick and Frankenstein fan club attire? Hopefully not. I’m just grateful that they weren’t in their Britney Spears or Linsey Lohan outfits!
What does this have to do with being a Deerslayer’s wife? Perhaps my undead junior deerslayers will be in the mood for totally dead venison meatloaf or some VERY rare seared tenderloin. (See recipes) I think that a family that loves old movies together and hunts together is just pretty damned great.
My new favorite recipe is for venison tenderloin (or similar cut*). I sear the tenderloin in a hot skillet with a little olive oil after liberally seasoning the meat on all sides first. Then place the tenderloin in an oven-proof pan and cook at 350 degrees for about 10 to 15 minutes tops. Backstrap can also be used in this recipe. It will take a little longer to take on the gorgeous deep brown sear that you need to hold in the juices during baking. It’ll also take the full 15 minutes in the oven. You’ll want it rare to medium rare. While it’s resting for the required 10 minutes, toss some asparagus with olive oil and salt & pepper mix and put it on a cookie sheet under the broiler for those 10 minutes. While the asparagus is in the oven, pour some balsamic vinegar into the skillet in which you browned the meat. Use a whisk to scrape up the crusty yumminess that was left behind. If you’re using a balsamic glaze, you’re ready to go with an elegant sauce for your meat. If you’re using balsamic vinegar, heat the sauce until it reduces and thickens. After you slice the meat, add the remaining meat juices to the sauce. Sometimes, I prepare a side of quinoa, also. Very elegant, kid-friendly, and super fast. Hunter-friendly and fabulous, too!
Serves about 2 people unless you use backstrap, then about 3 or 4
1 venison tenderloin or backstrap *
salt & pepper mix
Balsamic vinegar or balsamic glaze
1 bunch asparagus
* any muscle of a similar thickness and length can be doctored up to create a cut of meat that will substitute nicely. Just make sure that you carefully remove all sinewy bits and silvery skin from the muscle. I use a fish-fileting knife. It slides easily under the stuff that will make the meat tough and chewy. Within the next couple weeks, I will be providing photo tutorial on meat preparation.
Being a homeschooling mom and being at a point in my curriculum where my junior deerslayer is studying Texas History, it was hugely important that last weekend was the anniversary of the date during which the Texian citizens of Gonzales decided to hold on to the cannon that had been given to them by the Mexican government as protection against hostile Indians, and refuse to give it back to the aggressive army of Santa Ana. “Come and Take It” was their reply along with enough gunfire to push back the Mexican army.
Our trip to Gonzales, Texas was the obvious choice for an extension of this lesson. Three generations of women (my mom, my two daughters, and myself) loaded into my SUV supplied only with a cooler of Diet Cokes and headed toward the unknown. We got to town just in time for the parade. Small town parades are different than city parades. Every kid in town is given an opportunity to be a star for a day. Football players, cheerleaders, 4-H members, band members, dance team, and all the queens, princesses, and junior princesses of the various courts of the region including the watermelon queen, strawberry queen, turkey queen, etc. I chuckled over it until I realized that there were so many opportunities for all small town kids to shine. When the color guard marched by, people stood up. My mom clapped enthusiastically and called out her thanks to the Veterans of Foreign Wars. There was a lesson to be learned here; another lesson for my homeschooler that I hadn’t intended; the pride for our state, our country, and the people who defended them, both in those early days and still today.
Our three generations drove from one venue to the next, sometimes making wrong turns, sometimes getting distracted and detouring off to the gourmet kitchen shop (The Hearty Gourmet! Awesome!) or the beautiful historic homes but always keeping our sense of humor and remaining positive about the day. Traveling with women is different.
“Anybody want to look at these gorgeous old homes?”
“Anybody want to stop and get a soda?”
“Anybody want to walk around this beautiful old park?”
“Anybody need to go to the bathroom?”
You get the idea. Traveling with guys doesn’t always run so smoothly. While we had a vague idea of what we wanted to do when we got to Gonzales, we did everything on our list and more. The museum and original cannon that the citizens of this town, so many years ago were willing to fight for were inspiring. The reinactment of the battle that set the stage for Texas independence from Mexico was better than any textbook or worksheets could ever be. Today was a day that my family was very proud to be Texans.
I was struck by the daily lives of these Texian people. The women of those days were amazing ladies. They were able to get by with what they had brought with them from their previous lives. There was no UPS man to deliver a new Silpat or rolling pin. They fed their families with what they grew themselves, what they were able to can and with what their deer/pig/bird/coonslayers brought home. By comparison, I am pretty damned wimpy. I have always fantasized about being able to churn butter, bake bread, make cheese. But in these dream sequences, I don’t participate in these noble endeavors without the use of air conditioning or pest control. While I could never stack up to my early Texas ancestors, I’ve tried to instill in my daughters an understanding of where our food comes from, an appreciation for God’s bounty, the importance of being able to get by during difficult times. We roast and freeze pumpkin, can veggies, make jerky, bake bread and eat exclusively wild game. I’ve taught them how to prepare cuts of venison that most people discard, that there are many other muscles that, when processed correctly, will cook up like a backstrap or tenderloin.
My entire family knows the good feeling that comes from a pantry full of healthy foods and a couple of freezers full of healthy, hormone- and antibiotic-free meat.
WHAT TO DO WITH FORE QUARTERS, NECK MEAT, AND OTHER SCRAPS
Cook-All-Day Venison and/or Wild Pork
It has always been important to me that we use as much meat as possible from an animal that my deerslayer has brought home. That’s what it’s all about after all! This simple method, while requiring a lot of time, will provide you with five pounds or more of tender meat that can be used in any number of recipes like stews, soups, enchiladas, shredded bar-be-que sandwiches, carne quisada, etc
Approximately 5-8 pounds of forequarters, neck, and scraps of venison. All sinewy bits can stay. They break down completely during the cooking process. Just about any cut can be used for this process but I can find other uses for hind quarters, backstrap, and tenderloins.
1/2 pound of Crisco or Lard
Beef stock or water as needed
Any seasoning salt you choose
A large turkey-roasting pan with a lid
Set oven to 350 degrees. Arrange meat to cover the bottom of the roaster. I’ve used bone-in fore quarters before. By the time the cooking process is over, the meat falls from the bone. Season meat liberally with the seasoning salt of your choice. I usually use Tommy’s Secret Salt and Pepper Mix (See recipes). I’ve also used special blends from the market that feature chili powder, cumin, and/or onion powder. Dab shortening or lard over meat. Add about an inch of stock to pan. This is not intended to cover the meat. Cover with lid and place roaster in 350 degree oven.
After the first hour, turn meat with tongs so that exposed sides will now be submerged in stock and meat juices. You may add additional seasoning at this point. Cover and return to oven for another hour. Repeat this process (omitting the seasoning) each hour, checking to see that there is enough liquid in the pan. Add extra stock or water as needed each hour to maintain at least an inch depth. After four hours, see if meat is pulling apart easily. If a fore quarter is used, it should have completely fallen off the bone. If meat is not yet tender enough, repeat the process and add another 1/2 hour or so. Keep in mind that ovens and temperatures vary so it’s important to keep that in mind.
The house will smell wonderful. Since this method provides enough meat for several recipes, be prepared. Your family will want to eat it right out of the pan. You can throw in some potatoes, carrots, and onions during the last hour of cooking for an easy meal. Be sure to save all the stock and meat juices for other recipes and/or gravy. This meat can also be frozen for future use. Enjoy knowing that you are now a deerslayer’s wife and have at your disposal an arsenal of wonderfully tender meat which can be used in countless delectable recipes from otherwise unusable bits. Your deerslayer will love you for it.
When I decided that I was willing to consider embracing the lifestyle of “Deerslayer’s Wife”, I received a recipe for Venison Carne Guisada from my dearest friend in the world, Lisa. I truly believe that her input at this juncture in my life was an integral part of my destiny. If I had not received her recipe and if it had not been so popular among my many family members, I may not have chosen this path. Thank you, Lisa. For years, I have taken batches of this recipe on our yearly camping trip. It freezes and reheats beautifully. Do everyone a favor and purchase the flour tortillas that you cook yourself. These, too, can be frozen and thawed for later use. They are available in the dairy section of many grocers, near the English muffins and biscuits. Once you’ve had fresh, hot flour tortillas, there’s no going back!
Venison Carne Guisada
2 lbs. venison stew meat, cut up (sinewy cuts are okay for this recipe)
2-3 Tbsp. bacon grease (Most venison recipes require the addition of some extra grease or fat since the meat is so lean.)
3 Tbsp. flour
1 green or red bell pepper, diced
1 onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 Tbsp. cumin
1 tsp. black pepper
1 8 oz. can tomato sauce
1 10 oz. can tomatoes (with or w/o chilies to taste)
2 tsp. garlic salt
½ cup water
Brown meat in bacon grease in heavy cast iron skillet w/ deep sides. Add flour and brown. Add remaining ingredients and simmer 1 to 2 hours until tender and cooked down to thick gravy. Stir periodically to prevent sticking to pan. Serve with flour tortillas, salsa, grated cheddar, sliced tomatoes and avocado. Enjoy
There are few things that make the house smell as inviting as a venison meatloaf. Sure there are countless sweet things that are baked with cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, and don’t forget pumpkin. But when a deerslayer walks in the front door after a hard day at work, venison meatloaf with goat cheese is what makes me a popular member of the family. Ground venison is an easy way to ease into wild game cooking. I actually prefer ground venison or elk to ground beef. There is virtually no fat to skim off. It’s a delicious, healthy choice for anything that can be made with ground meat; tacos, lasagna, etc.
All of the less desirable cuts of meat are perfect for ground meat; neck meat, fore quarters (front leg), shank (meat from between the knee and ankle), flank (meat along the abdominal wall) and other small scraps of meat. I’ve always enjoyed knowing that my family is able to benefit from every part of the animal.
1 lb. ground venison (or elk, or nilgai)
2 medium carrots, chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped
1/2 onion, chopped
3/4 cup spaghetti sauce plus 1/2 cup more (any brand is fine, no chunks)*
1/2 cup seasoned bread crumbs
1 tsp. kosher salt
1/4 tsp. red pepper flakes
several oz. goat cheese
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a food processor, finely chop carrots, celery, and onion. In a large bowl, add veggies to venison. Add 3/4 cup spaghetti sauce and remaining ingredients (except goat cheese) to mixture. Press half of the mixture into a regular loaf pan.
Add a layer of goat cheese by crumbling it over the surface of the meat. There are many excellent varieties of goat cheese available. My favorites are sun-dried tomato, garlic and herb, and vietnamese chile. I purchase my goat cheese from El Camino de Las Cabras. You can order from their website at: www.elcaminodelascabras.com. Candace Conn runs the place and is always coming up with wonderful new flavors! Add the remaining meat and press into the loaf pan. Invert the loaf pan onto a foil lined baking sheet by laying the baking sheet on top of the loaf pan and carefully flipping the entire contraption over. This will require some finesse but, hey, you’re a deerslayer’s wife! You can do anything! Sometimes, the meatloaf creates a bit of a suction that can be easily released by inserting the edge of spatula at the side of the loaf. After the beautifully layered venison meatloaf is ready to go into the oven, pour the remaining 1/2 cup of spaghetti sauce over the top. Bake for 50 minutes to 1 hour. Let rest for 10-15 minutes before cutting into it. It’ll make the house smell great!
* Venison has virtually no fat but lots of water in it. Because of this, it is important to moniter the amount of fluid that goes into the meatloaf, even in the form of chunky tomaoes that are found in many sauces. So don’t expect the meatloaf to be the same texture as beef. This recipe is pretty versatile and VERY healthy. It’s just about 50% veggies. And every deerslayer loves it.
I love autumn so much that I figured it deserved a second entry and maybe a third and perhaps a fourth. I also felt that I didn’t clarify how my love of autumn, pumpkins, soup, and homemade bread meshed with being the wife of a deerslayer. Part of the excitement that comes with cooler weather is knowing that the beginning of deer season is about to begin. With that, a great deal of preparation becomes part of our daily lives. All things camo must be found and distributed to various sizes of deerslayers. Guns, ammo, binoculars, camp chairs, coolers (lots of coolers. You can never have too many coolers!), and cans of Ranch Style Beans are thrown onto piles. It is my job to make sure that the cans of Ranch Style Beans are never opened! My own “hunting list” includes but is not limited to: wine, pots & pans, wine, goat cheese & gourmet crackers, wine, several nicely tailored and flattering courdaroy shirts, wine, magazines, books, and wine. I like to think of myself as a valuable part of the hunting experience. An integral cog in the works, if you will, of the effective hunting party.
It is my job to have at my disposal all that is necessary to prepare the celebretory feast for my deerslayers if they drag some of God’s bounty into camp. Our traditional meal includes chicken-fried deer heart or backstrap, garlic mashed potatoes with cream gravy and something in the vegatable category. (Use your imagination and the preferences of your deerslayers!) In addition to my previous list of requirements, I always have on hand:
flour, Tommy’s secret salt & pepper mix*, cooking oil, eggs, fresh garlic, butter, potatoes, milk or cream, salad or some other vegetable, paper plates, disposable plastic plates, meat mallet, potato masher, whisk, steamer basket, a cast iron skillet, 2 pots, one with a lid, and a small saute pan.
Deer heart is really cool but not to everyone’s liking. The meat is rather “to the tooth”, if you know what I mean. If cooked too long it can become rubbery, but is similar in texture to chicken giblets. (In my neck of the woods, this is pronounced “jiblets”.)
My junior deerslayers love to clean the heart in the sink squeezing water through the ventricles and squirting it out. (Excellent lesson for homeschoolers!) The heart should be sliced about a 1/2 inch thick. The top 3/4 inch or so is tough and can be thrown away. Create a work station with a paper plate that has a couple of scoops of flour in it. I keep flour in a mason jar out at the lease for these joyous occasions. The flour can also be used for pancakes. Next to that, whisk a couple of eggs in a pie plate or a disposable plastic plate with deep sides. Sprinkle the remaining slices of heart with salt & pepper mix and dredge in flour. I usually use disposable plates to ease the clean-up. Even the deerslayer’s wife needs a little bit of a break! Dip in egg mixture. Dredge in flour again. These coated slices of heart can be set aside on a cutting board, foil, or other surface. Heat some cooking oil in a cast iron skillet, just enough to cover the bottom. The slices of heart can then be fried in the hot oil until each side is nicely browned, about 4 to 6 minutes per side depending on how hot the oil is.
Once the steaks are ready, you can prepare the gravy by pouring out most of the oil, leaving a couple of tbsp. and the crusty bits in the skillet. Whisk about a quarter cup of the flour that was left over from the meat preparation into the oil mixture until it is the consistency of thick paste. Return to low heat and add enough milk and continue whisking until the mixture is thickened and bubbly. Add salt and pepper (or Tommy’s secret salt & pepper mix) to taste. We like lots of course ground pepper in our gravy!
We always accompany our chicken-fried game with garlic mashed potatoes and the aforementioned cream gravy. See below.
Oh, yeah! Don’t forget a green veggie or a great salad.
The only thing better than a productive hunt is sitting around a camp fire after dinner. That’s one of my favorite parts of the hunting trips. Everyone is well-fed…… thanks to the fabulous deerslayer’s wife. When there are young deerslayers (and even when there aren’t) this is a great time to bring out some marshmallows to roast. I’ve always been a purist. A perfectly roasted marshmallow is hard to beat in my book. But I have to admit that home-made marshmallows are the best things i’ve ever experienced. I found this wonderful recipe from Mary Jane Butters. You can change it up by adding cocoa powder, peppermint oil, coconut!!! Better than the marshmallows, the wine or beer, are the stories.
They always start like this: “Do you remember when we were hunting over Thanksgiving in Uvalde and it was pouring rain and the Airstream leaked right over the stove and it dripped on Mom the whole time she was trying to fix Thanksgiving dinner?” Rhetorical question. We all remember very well. It brings grins to every face, even mine. It’s funny how even stories like this seem not as horrific as they did at the time, when I was trying desperately to make a good impression on my mother- and father-in-law. Even I chuckle now. I’ve finally come into my own as “the deerslayer’s wife”. But there’s more……… “Do you remember when Dad ran over the rattlesnake on the way to the lease? And he threw it in the back of the pick up, and when he got to the hunting camp draped it across the step to the Airstream and sent Uncle David to get something out of the camper?” Once again, rhetorical but very, very funny since no one was bitten or had a heart attack.
Chicken-Fried Deer Heart or Backstrap
1 deer heart, tenderloin, or backstrap (Other cuts of meat can be substituted for the tenderloin or backstrap. Most people simply don’t know how to process the meat so that almost all of the meat can cooked and enjoyed as much as the more commonly used tenderloin or backstrap. I will provide instructions later in the season.)
flour, several scoops
Tommy’s secret salt & pepper mix*
2 eggs, lightly beaten in a pie plate or deep-sided plastic plate
Backstrap should be cut into 1/2 inch steaks and pounded thin with a meat mallet. I usually place a couple of steaks in a gallon sized zip-lock bag to prevent meat bits from flying. Steaks should be seasoned liberally with salt & pepper, dredged in flour, egg, flour again, and set aside. Heat enough oil in a skillet (preferably cast iron) to cover the bottom. Fry steaks long enough to brown evenly on both sides just about 3-4 minutes per side. It’s fine for the meat to be medium to medium rare. Venison has little fat and quickly becomes tough and dry. Set aside and prepare gravy.
Skillet with crusty bits from frying steaks
3-4 tbsp. cooking oil from frying steaks
flour (left over from dredging meat)
Tommy’s Secret Salt & Pepper Mix
Pour out any remaining oil except for 3-4 tablespoons and leaving crusty bits add a little flour and combine with a whisk to create a roux (paste). Slowly add milk, whisking all the while until gravy becomes smooth. Heat on medium until gravy begins to thicken and bubble. More milk can be added if necessary. Add salt & pepper to taste.
Garlic Mashed Potatoes
One red potato per person plus one extra, cubed
fresh garlic cloves (one per potato)
1 tbsp. butter per person
1/2 cup cream (more or less depending on desired consistency)
salt & pepper
I usually prepare one red potato per person plus one extra. These are washed but not peeled. I hate peeling potatoes, so I just never do it. It creates a rustic, down home meal! Coarsely chop the potatoes and boil until the potatoes are soft. Drain and add two tablespoons of butter. Mash as you wish. Some people prefer creamy mashed potatoes. I, on the other hand, go the rustic route, as previously mentioned. I have to admit, this is my favorite part. At this point, you should just go ahead and pour yourself a glass o’ wine and savor the moment because this is the point where you peel two or three cloves of garlic, chop them finely. Toss them into a little skillet with some butter and saute the hell out them. The hunting camp will smell wonderful. Everyone will love you! But I digress. Don’t get too caught up in the moment or the garlic will burn. Add it (and the extra butter) to the mashed potatoes and pour in some cream until you reach the desired consistency. Season with salt & pepper (or Tommy’s mix). If you REALLY want everyone to love you, add some bacon bits, chives, grated cheddar. The sky’s the limit.
I love autumn. It’s always been my favorite time of year. I love the colors of fall. The oranges, browns, yellows. In South Texas, temperatures dip below the century mark and the humidity drops as the winds begin to trickle in from the north. I always bring out my sweaters and boots. When the thermometer heads south of 80 degrees, I’m there with turtlenecks and snuggly socks. My favorite part of autumn, however, has always been having an excuse to cook up soups, breads, and anything made out of pumpkin. Pumpkins make me happy. I’ve accumulated an impressive collection of sweet and savory recipes that feature my beloved squash.
The first day of fall is just around the corner. However, I told my girls that once Labor Day has passed, we will no longer wear white shoes and we will begin eating pumpkin! We have already savored the cinnamony wonders of pumpkin waffles, pumpkin creme brulee, pumpkin empanadas and pumpkin soup. You see, we are dipping into our coveted reserves that were painstakingly roasted and frozen in 2 cup amounts from last year’s bounty. Pumpkins are part of my decor from the first of September until after Thanksgiving…… quite a bit after Thanksgiving if you must know. Pumpkins can be kept until February or mid-March. Don’t ask me how I know! They are so easy to roast and freeze, there’s really no good reason to buy the canned stuff.
I’m gonna share a couple of my favorite pumpkin recipes.
16 oz. cooked mashed pumpkin
1 cup light brown sugar
1 tbsp dark rum (optional, but why not!)
1/4 tsp. ground cloves
1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp. ground allspice
1 tsp. cinnamon
4 packages, rolled pie crust dough (2 crusts per box)
1 egg (beaten) or half and half
turbinado sugar for sprinkling
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Mix pumpkin with brown sugar, butter, rum and spices in a blender
. Divide each pastry crust into 6ths (in half, then in 3rds).
Roll each portion into a ball and flatten into a small circle, about 4 inches in diameter.
Spoon 2 tbsp. of the pumpkin filling into the center of the circle.
Fold to form a turnover and seal the edges with the tines of a fork.
Cut vent in top to allow steam to escape. Brush with beaten egg or cream and sprinkle with sugar. Bake empanadas on a greased baking sheet (or use a Silpat). Bake for 30 minutes or until nicely browned. Cool on wire racks.
Elegant Creamy 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
1/2 tsp. cinnamon sour cream, salted pepitas
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. Stir. Complement with sour cream and pepitas.
Pumpkin Creme Brulee
2 cups low-fat milk
1/2 cup pureed, cooked pumpkin
1/2 cup brown sugar (plus extra for caramelizing)
4 eggs, lightly beaten
2 tbsp. vanilla
1 1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp. ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp. ground ginger
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Combine milk, pumpkin, brown sugar, eggs, vanilla, and spices. I use a blender so the pumpkin is smooth and I can just pour directly into 6 dessert cups Place in a 9 x 13 baking pan. Pour hot water into the pan so water is halfway up the cups. Bake for 45 to 50 minutes. Remove from the baking pan and let cool. Chill for 4 to 24 hours. Sprinkle each with a spoonful of brown sugar. This is where it gets fun! If you have a culinary torch, then torch the sugar until it bubbles. This can also be accomplished under the broiler. Watch it closely so it doesn’t burn! Nothing is better than breaking through that delicious crust of caramelized sugar to reveal the cool spicy layers of pumpkiny goodness. The custard should create several different layers. It’s all good!
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