Friday, January 29, 2010

A Year of Deer, Episode 3: Venison Cheeseburgers

Wednesday evening's commute home was, in three words: long, tense, tiring. So, imagine my relief and delight when, after spending nearly two hours in the car, I arrived home to my husband, who'd prepared a cozy, candlelit apartment and 4 venison cheeseburgers, with all the fixin's, ready to be consumed as dinner. Here's a pic of the burgers and the handsome man who prepared them:

The Verdict: Venison burgers are good! Travis made these with a couple shakes of minced onion, some burger seasoning, and an egg (to help the lean meat stick together). Topped with some extra sharp cheddar, they were extra tasty!

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

The Culinary World Tour Continues: Ireland

Now, Travis and I had both tried Irish food before, so Friday's date night dinner at Molly Malone's Irish Pub in Forest Park wasn't to check another country off the list so much as it was to enjoy some good food, give us a chance to talk, and use a gift certificate I'd purchased from

Travis had the corned beef and cabbage, pictured below. I had the cobb salad, which, not being particularly Irish, did not warrant a photo.

And, what's an Irish meal without some Guinness? Cheers!

Monday, January 18, 2010

A Year of Deer, Episode 2: Slow Cooker Lasagna

My second foray into cooking with venison happened yesterday. The absolutely delicious end product increased my affinity for both venison and my crock pot. The meal was Slow Cooker Lasagna (a big thanks to Allison for giving me the recipe) and I simply substituted a pound of ground venison for the ground beef the recipe calls for.

The ingredients: ground venison, onion, garlic, crushed tomatoes, tomato sauce, salt, oregano, basil, crushed red pepper flakes, ricotta cheese, mozzarella cheese, no-cook lasagna noodles, and Parmesan cheese. 

The finished product: 


The verdict: If I hadn't previously received assurances and glowing reviews of this recipe from Allison, I would have been pretty skeptical that the sauce, noodles, and cheese that went into the crock would come out as a bona fide lasagna four hours later. But it did, quite beautifully, and it was GOOD. The recipe, which I made in my 6 quart oval crock pot, yielded 6 very generous servings. This is one of those meals where the leftovers are really something to look forward to! It's definitely going on our "favorites" list.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Random Moments in Married Life

I'm standing at the kitchen counter in my PJs, putting together a PB&J waffle sandwich for Travis' breakfast, having just rolled out of bed moments earlier. Travis comes up behind me and wraps me in a hug. He asks, "Was this a dream, or were we awake for a while really early this morning, telling 'What do you call a man with no arms and no legs...' jokes in bed?" Giggling, I respond, "Yes, that happened. You woke me up by laughing in your sleep. Confused, I woke you up and asked what was so funny. You told me about the dream you'd been having, which involved a man with no arms and no legs. Then we told a few jokes and went back to sleep."

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Design a Sign

Thanks to The Nester (who posted a giveaway contest today about this very thing) I've discovered the Danielson Design Studio by  Their tagline is "Custom Design So Simple It's Stunning." And it's true! They have all different kinds of layouts and designs for plaques, frames, signs, etc., and you can choose whichever format and design you like, fill in your own names, quotes, dates, whatever, and the result is a beautiful, professionally crafted personalized piece for your home...or the home of a lucky friend or family member might receive a stunning gift! My mind is already whirring with gift giving occasions for which a piece like this would be perfect...a friend's wedding coming up soon, my niece or nephew who's due in June, a friend who just purchased their first home...   Yes, I think I'll be bookmarking the design studio and spending some time there again soon!

For now, here's what I came up with (for myself, naturally) after playing around on the site for a few minutes:

Date Night at the Depot Diner

For date night this past Friday Travis surprised me (he loves planning surprises) with dinner at The Depot: An American Diner (located at 5840 W Roosevelt Rd in Chicago, just minutes from where we live). We learned about the place a while ago from Travis' dad, who called to tell us about it after seeing it featured on Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives (or "Triple D," as I've learned fans refer to it) on The Food Network (watch the Depot feature on YouTube).

The Depot's draw is classic diner fare done well, prepared by a five-star chef who used to work in places like The Signature Room in the Hancock building downtown. The restaurant is humble in size and appearance; the 5 booths were occupied when we arrived, so we sat on stools at the bar. Our server, a friendly and enthusiastic kid in his late teens, seemed to genuinely enjoy his job, which is always refreshing to see. Travis had the pot roast sandwich, which was topped with fried onions and served with gravy-laden fries, slaw, and pickle.

I had the open-faced turkey sandwich (as featured on the show), accompanied by gravy-laden mashed potatoes, cranberry relish, slaw, and pickle.

For dessert we shared (and very much enjoyed) five freshly fried donut holes, rolled in cinnamon sugar, dusted with powdered sugar, and served with a mocha dipping sauce and a dollop of whipped cream.

The entrees served up at the diner certainly aren't gourmet, but they're not trying to be. This is standard diner fare, with no pretense of being anything else. Accordingly, the prices on most menu items are reasonable. (Though I don't know why anyone would pay over $3 for a wedge of melon.) From the way the food tastes, you can tell tell the ingredients are fresh and the dishes are prepared by someone who knows what he's doing. (However, please do not be misled by the lady in the feature who declares the food here "the best thing I'd ever eaten." She clearly needs to get out more and diversify her palate.)

Given the not-so-healthy factor (i.e. gravy-laden, fried), we won't be visiting the Depot too often, but it's nice to know it's nearby. We'll be sure to visit with my in-laws the next time they're in town. And, in the meantime, when my sweet tooth calls, those donuts would answer nicely.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

A Year of Deer, Episode 1: Hunter's Venison Stew

As I mentioned in an earlier post, Travis went hunting while we were in Michigan for Thanksgiving and shot a good-sized doe. We dropped the deer off to be processed before we left for home at the end of that weekend, and Travis' parents collected it from the butcher and kept it for us until last week, when we were able to take it with us at the end of our brief post-Christmas visit.

So, my freezer is now full of venison in various forms (ground, steaks, and chops). Monday night I caught Travis opening the freezer at least 3 times, just to gaze with satisfaction on the meaty bounty within. Not very energy-efficient, but rather endearing. I love that man.

Since we'll be eating our way through that stash over the coming year, I've decided to chronicle our meals here on my blog, under the heading "A Year of Deer." Last night's dinner was my first foray into cooking (and eating) the stuff. I made "Hunter's Venison Stew" from the cookbook Travis picked up in Michigan last week, called I'm Hooked, I'm Game. (The left side of the spiral-bound cookbook is all recipes for fish, while the other side has recipes for venison, pheasant, goose, duck, rabbit, etc.)

The ingredients: the stew consisted of cubed venison steak, carrots, potatoes, onions, and stewed tomatoes. I served it with fresh-baked crescent rolls and a bottle of White Merlot.

The finished product:

The verdict: Had I followed the recipe exactly, this would have been a pretty bland concoction with overcooked meat and very undercooked vegetables. The cooking time required to get the vegetables to the point where they were just right was about 20-25 minutes longer than the recipe suggested. So, because I got a late start on dinner to begin with, and the prep also took longer than the recipe stated,  it was after 9:30 by the time we actually ate dinner. Oh well. The recipe also didn't call for any spices other than salt and pepper, but I threw in some garlic powder and several shakes of an Italian seasoning blend, which gave it good flavor overall.  The good news: the stew was very tasty, and it turns out I LIKE VENISON. This is a relief, given how much of it I'll be eating this year. Travis, for his part, was rendered speechless for a moment or two as he cradled his bowl of stew in two hands, tasted the goodness of meat he'd provided, and considered the wife who'd lovingly prepared it.

And thus begins our year of deer.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Our First Christmas

Getting married in October ushered in a whole new era of firsts. While last Christmas was our first as a couple, this was our first Christmas as husband and wife--sharing a home, establishing new traditions, and reveling in being our own little family unit. Here's our home, decorated for the holidays:

Travis was a really good sport about letting me deck out Brutus for the holidays.
He even helped hang the ornaments from the antlers!

We spent Christmas Eve and Christmas day here in the Chicago area. On Christmas Eve we enjoyed dinner out with my Dad's side of the family, then my aunt had everyone over for dessert and games. Three of the six cousins on that side of the family got married this year, and it was fun to see how Travis and my cousin's husband liven up our family gatherings. Now that all of the cousins are adults, and the rest of the "adults" are seniors (sorry Mom and Dad, but it's true!), our get-togethers have a new feel. I think there's a greater appreciation for the value of family, and the ability to relax a little and not take ourselves so seriously (which does not come naturally for Swedes). It was a great night.

Christmas morning dawned cold and clear. My family would be coming over early afternoon for Christmas dinner. After sleeping in a bit, Travis I got up and discovered the contents of our stockings, which we had filled for one another the night before. Then we got the turkey in the oven and started in on prep for the rest of the meal. The turkey was primarily Travis' domain, while I took charge of the side dishes. Dessert was a gorgeous (and delicious!) Caramel Apple Pecan Pie, which I ordered from my friend Charity's newest endeavor, Pie Notes. The turkey turned out well, the mashed sweet potatoes were a hit, and much to Travis' delight, we had lots of leftovers. The day after Christmas we used our new Cuisinart Griddler (a great appliance!) to make Turkey-Stuffing-Cranberry Sauce Paninis on Swedish limpa bread. Best sandwich I think I've ever made. Travis snapped a pic: