Friday, March 26, 2010

A Year of Deer, Episode 11: Azorean Spiced Venison Stew

For this meal I once again turned to my slow cooker, magnificent appliance that it is, and used another recipe from Stephanie O'Dea of A Year of Slow Cooking and Make it Fast, Cook it Slow.

What initially made this recipe jump out at me as I flipped through my cookbook was Azorean in the name. My dad was stationed in the Azores while serving in the Air Force, so the word stood out to me and reminded me of a conversation he and Travis had a while back about his experiences there. My dad shared that he didn't really sample much of the local cuisine while there...mostly he just ate whatever the military provided. Well, after making this stew, I can tell you he definitely missed out. If this stew is indicative of the flavors and spices found in other Azorean dishes, then they have some very tasty cuisine over there.

The second thing that intrigued me about this recipe was just that--the interesting combination of flavors and spices. Garlic? Cumin? Allspice? Cinnamon? All together with meat and veggies? That I just had to try. And so last night we did, and here's what it looked like:

The Verdict: WOW. First of all, when I popped off the lid to check on the meat after I got home yesterday (after 10 hours of slow cooking on low), all it took was a little nudge for the meat to fall apart. It was SOOOOO tender. Then when I sneaked a taste, I found that the meat was thoroughly infused with the spices. The broth was the kind of spicy that sneaks up on you...packs a punch of flavor, then hits the back of your mouth with an explosion of subtle heat. The broth was a bit too salty, I thought, so next time (oh yes, there will definitely be a next time) I will probably omit the salt up front and only add some after cooking, if necessary. It turned out I didn't have any bay leaves, so I wasn't able to include one. We'll see what kind of a different that makes next time.

When Travis took his first spoonful, he was rendered speechless, reduced to groans of deep satisfaction for the next few minutes. He had polished off his bowl before I was half done with mine. Needless to say, we're very excited about having the leftovers tomorrow.

Tonight, we continue our culinary world tour with a visit to Noon-O-Kabob, a restaurant that serves Persian food.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Suz's Rad Stuff: Galena Garlic Co.

Just when you thought I was about to post about venison again*, it's time for another installment of Suz's Rad Stuff! (You're on the edge of your seat, right?)

When Travis and I were in Galena for Valentine's weekend, one of the many shops we wandered into as we strolled along Main Street was the storefront for Galena Garlic Company. I asked the young woman working there if the garlic is actually grown in Galena, and she told me that indeed it is. I'm not sure where I'd gotten the idea from (because I don't recall ever really having a conscious thought about where garlic is grown), but when confronted by the truth that garlic grows quite well in Galena, I realized that for some reason I'd assumed garlic must be grown somewhere warm and exotic. Guess not.

Anyway, garlic is just one of the many products offered by Galena Garlic Company. They also have rubs and seasonings, flavored sea salts and sugars, vinegars, and olive oils (the components for most of those, however, are imported).

While in the store we sampled a few of the balsamic vinegars, and decided to purchase a bottle as one of our souvenirs from the weekend. We decided on Cinnamon Pear Balsamic Vinegar, and I am featuring it here in Suz's Rad Stuff because it is CRAZY good.

So far I've only used it to make a vinaigrette for spinach-apple-gorgonzola-and-whatever-else-I-feel-like-throwing-in-there salads, but I have a feeling it's going to be slammin' when used for other purposes, such as drizzling on strawberries (so excited for those to be in season soon) and maybe glazing some chicken.

*In case you were a bit disappointed not to see another episode of Year of Deer, not to worry...tomorrow night we're having Azorean Spiced Venison Stew! Stay tuned for the verdict!

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Food for Thought: Lent

"Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we are an imperishable... I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified." 
1 Cor. 9:25, 27 ESV

"LENT is a time of year to remember that God has seen fit to make us not airy spirits but embodied human beings living in a beautiful, material world. The soul fills the body the way fire fills a lump of coal, and what the body learns, the soul absorbs as well. Spiritual disciplines such as fasting are analogous to weight-lifting equipment. One who uses them in a disciplined way will be stronger, not just when he's lifting weights, but also for every situation he meets."
- Frederica Mathewes-Green

Friday, March 12, 2010

The Round Cake 2010 Challenge

Back in January I attended the wedding of my dear friends Eunice and Jon. Their ceremony was outside (yes, in Chicago, in January--it was quite lovely, actually) and their reception was an intimate affair with family and a few close friends in their home. At some point in the evening (I'm a little fuzzy on the details of exactly when and how it came up, but it was likely prompted by Eunice & Jon's baking of their own wedding cake) my friend Bonnie and I got to talking about how we'd never baked and frosted a round layer cake ourselves. And that was the impetus for what we decided to call the "RC2010 Challenge," which basically entailed a promise from each of us that at some point during the year we would attempt such a feat.

Well, not a month later I learned that Bonnie had already cranked out TWO layer cakes (I got to enjoy the second one) and the challenge was ON. This week I decided it was time to get in the game. When an invitation came from my sister-in-law for dinner at her house tonight with my in-laws, I jumped at the chance to say, "I'll bring dessert!" And so, here is my first go-round at the heretofore unattempted round layer cake. It's a vanilla "funetti" cake with vanilla frosting and sprinkles, all components a la Pillsbury.
Things I learned in round one:
  1. My brand-spanking new round cake pans are 9-inchers. When using a boxed cake mix, this results in two very shallow cake layers. The frosting conceals the layers in the photo, but trust me, there really are two layers in there. 
  2. Just because two containers of Pillsbury frosting say "Vanilla," it does not mean they'll be the same color. The vanilla frosting that came with the sprinkles had a decidedly yellow hue, while the frosting in the other canister was definitely closer to white. I'm very glad I decided to buy that extra canister of frosting at the last minute, however (during the same emergency shopping trip required by the discovery that I only had two and not three eggs in the fridge), or my cake would have been half-naked, and that's just embarrassing. 
I cannot yet vouch for how the cake tastes (that will be left to my in-laws this pressure) but I am pleased that at the very least it looks pretty, in a boring-cake-redeemed-by-spring-inspired-sprinkles sort of way. 

Friday, March 05, 2010

A Year of Deer, Episode 10: Burgers, Revisited

This past Wednesday we enjoyed venison burgers for the second time. Burgers are Travis' department, so he was in charge of the mixing, forming, cooking, etc. This time around he used the same seasoning mix (we bought a large shaker at Costco, so we'll be seasoning burgers with that stuff for a LONG time to come), but instead of the dried minced onions he added last time, I suggested he throw in some chopped green onions, since we happened to have some in the fridge (hence the green speck you see in the photo). We also topped them with provolone instead of cheddar...again, because it's what we had. The sound bite of the night came while Travis had both hands deep in a bowl of ground venison, mixing everything together. He looked at me with a grin and said, "This is like playdough for men." Classic.

While husband worked on the burgers, I peeled and chopped and seasoned some potatoes for oven fries. (This was after husband went into the pantry and discovered that over half the potatoes in the bag, which I'd recently purchased, had turned into nasty oblong pockets of potato pus, barely contained by their rotting skins. Sorry, I know that description is gross, but so were those potatoes! I've never had that happen before...perhaps I should google "potato pustulence" to research what went wrong. Do any of my readers have insight on this? Leave a comment!) Anyway, after cleaning up the mess and picking out the few unaffected potatoes, I finally got the potatoes prepped and in the oven.

Sometimes when cooking, I have the good fortune and foresight to time everything just right so that every dish is ready at the same time. Not so Wednesday night. We ate our burgers, and then about 20 minutes later, the potatoes were ready. Oh well. I spun it as a "two course meal" and in the meantime we watched some of the over 30 hours of Olympics coverage we have on the DVR.

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Adios Paloma. Bienvenidos El Cuervo.

Although I am 29 years old, I rarely feel as "grown up" as my teenage self imagined I would when I got to this point in life. Back in my teens, I had this romantic notion that, simply as a bi-product of adding years to my life, I'd somehow absorb and possess all of the knowledge and know-how required for adulthood. Instead, I've discovered that life is something a person figures out as they go along. Sure, we can (and hopefully do) learn and benefit from the wisdom and experience of those who have gone ahead of us--sometimes decades ahead, sometimes just a few months--but life largely consists of rising to the occasion and figuring things out as the tasks of life come along. And every once in a while, we are called upon to undertake one of those tasks that feels unmistakably adult-like.

This past weekend, husband and I bought a car. Researching the various makes and models, analyzing reliability reports and fuel efficiency, considering usefulness for our current and future life situations (i.e. transporting potential offspring - egads!), and then signing papers that committed us to this one vehicle and paying off the thousands of dollars we borrowed, all made me feel very grown up. And admittedly, a little weary. A difference Travis and I have discovered between us...he feels energized and excited by challenges like this, while I tend to feel stressed and burdened. Needless to say, I was very glad to have him on my team when the time came to replace my dear Paloma ("dove" in Spanish), the white 2000 Chevy Malibu my parents helped me purchase mid-way through my senior year of college (which is why I'd never done this whole car-buying thing on my own). I think some of the weariness also comes from the sadness of saying goodbye to my first and only car to date...a car that carried me to many places beyond to work and back every day. What I need to do is separate the memories from the vehicle. I get to hold on to the memories and drive off with them in a shiny new car (a black 2008 Pontiac Vibe I've dubbed El Cuervo, or "the raven"), while I let someone else deal with my geriatric, noisy, increasingly broken and unsafe 140,000 mile road-weary vehicle, for which they actually gave me a pittance of money. It's a pretty good deal, really. :)

And so, Paloma, here's a look back on the many places we traveled together:
  • to Taylor and back, before and especially after graduation, for visits to see Josh perform in plays, for Ollie's memorial service, for Homecoming where I ran (well, jogged) my first 5K; and last summer for the 3G reunion
  • to and from and all over Columbus, OH, where I lived with Allison's family while working at the Easton B&N
  • to and from weddings--so many weddings!--in Ohio, Indiana, Wisconsin, and all over greater Chicagoland
  • to and from Menomonie and Madison and Baraboo, WI for visits and rendezvous with Allison
  • to the north side of Chicago and back to the western suburbs (a 50+ mile loop) while Travis and I were dating
  • to and from Michigan for holidays and visits with Travis' family
  • and many more meaningful destinations that aren't coming to mind right now
Yes, Paloma, we had a good run. El Cuervo, we're excited and thankful to have you, and eager for the many miles of adventures that lie ahead...

Monday, March 01, 2010

A Year of Deer, Episode 9: Three Bean Venison Chili

Sunday evening we had Allison & Alex over after church for dinner and The Amazing Race. For this episode I fell back on one of my tried and true recipes (Three Bean Turkey Chili) and just substituted ground venison for the ground turkey. The venison tasted right at home among the tomatoes and spices. True to prior experiences with this recipe, the chili was incredibly tasty. (I think I mention this every time, but this chili recipe is also ridiculously quick and easy, which is why it's one of my favorite go-to meals.) I used medium instead of mild salsa this time, and upped the spices a little, so it had a bit more kick than usual. I also added some water to thin it out a bit, since I made it on the stove before church and then put it in the crock pot on warm for a couple hours before we ate. I forgot about snapping a few photos until after we'd started eating. I was done with my salad and on to my chili when I remembered. Here's my bowl (empty salad plate above!), and our friends:

A Year of Deer, Episode 8: Slow-Cooker Cider Venison Roast

This past weekend we dipped into our venison stash twice for the purposes of entertaining. Saturday evening our good friends Nate & Bethany came over for dinner. They're newlyweds like us.

For this episode, I prepared the last of the roasts by slow-cooking the meat with veggies and a host of flavorful accompaniments.

The Ingredients:
  • 1 venison roast (3 - 3 1/2 lbs)*
  • 2 Tb flour
  • 2 Tb butter or margarine
  • 1 cup coarsely chopped celery
  • 1 coarsely chopped onion
  • 5 medium carrots, cut into 1"slices
  • 4-5 all-purpose potatoes, cut into 1" chunks
  • 1 cup apple cider
  • 1 cup beef gravy
  • 1 tsp thyme
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp pepper
*I used two smaller roasts that added up to just over 3 lbs

The Directions: 
Place the flour in a gallon-size plastic bag. Place the venison roast in the bag and shake to coat the roast with flour. Melt the margarine in a skillet. Saute the venison until lightly browned on all sides. Place the browned venison in a 6-quart slow cooker. Add the celery, onion, potatoes, and carrots. In a medium bowl, mix the apple cider, gravy, thyme, salt, and pepper together. Pour the mixture over the other ingredients in the slow cooker. Cover and cook on low for 8-10 hours.
Here's the happy sight of dinner, ready to eat after slow cooking for 10 hours and permeating the air in our apartment with delicious aromas.
 Here's my plate.

And here's Travis with our friends, all of whom were too wrapped up in the deliciousness of dinner to pay attention to me and look at the camera.

The Verdict: This dish might just be my favorite out of all the episodes so far. The meat was so tender, the flavors so rich, the veggies perfectly cooked. This recipe is definitely a keeper. Since we've run out of venison roasts, I'll probably try it with beef next time, which I imagine would be similarly tasty.