Monday, July 14, 2014

I Love My Garden, I Think?

I am not a very good gardener, the fact that I have been able to plant and raise anything is pretty much dumb luck. This is the third year with my garden and every year so far it has gotten bigger. This year was no exception, I expanded this year not with more raised beds but with large half barrel planters that I have my carrots and butternut squash in. My main bed is filled with mostly green beans which year after year seem to be the only thing I can grow consistently. Except for two plants that a small, big eared creature has eaten down to a nub all of the beans I planted are thriving and I show get my first harvest of beans this week.
In the main bed with the beans are three small purple tomatillo plants that were planted from seed as well. I am really surprised at how well these are doing, I got them in late and wasn't sure I would get any results but they are thriving and this week I can see several small tomatillos starting to form.

I have never had any luck planting tomatoes so I just don't do it. This year however my mother had given me three of her heirloom plants each with a long odd name that I don't remember. I somehow managed to keep them alive and transplanted them so I thought I would go get a few more plants and try tomatoes again. as you can tell from the picture above and below all of my tomato plants took off and next to the beans I think I will have a bumper crop of tomatoes. 

Assuming I don't do anything foolish and kill them all off I am really looking forward to making tomato sauce and canning diced tomatoes. I promised my five year old that we would make ketchup with some of them and I have been trying to find a good recipe for ketchup. If anybody has one let me know because I am going to be over run with tomatoes pretty quickly.

I had planted beets and radishes this year but none of the beets came up. All of the radishes did but they have been eaten already and I had an empty box so I bought some sorrel plants at the farmers market and transplanted them. I had never had sorrel before and after tasting it for the first time was amazed at how good it is. My kids are in love with it as well and whenever we are outside playing it is all I can do to keep them from eating all the sorrel leaves right out of the garden. In the rest of the box I thought I would try something I had never done before and planted strawberry popcorn. I have no idea if it will work but the shoot have started popping up and maybe I will bet lucky and be able to make some carmel corn for Halloween.

My wife wanted strawberries so I got june bearing strawberries. We won't be getting any berries this year but hopefully next year and several years after that we will have fresh strawberries to make jam with. 

My zucchini and cucumbers are not doing well so far I have gotten one limelight zucchini and my cukes don't appear to be climbing. I have planted both in this box before and have had good  results but they aren't doing to well this year. Some kind of white fungus has started on all the leaves and I had read that chamomile tea would help but it didn't really do anything but make my plants smell like tea.

My carrots and butternut squash were planted in these half barrels. The idea was that the squash would grow out of the barrel and then I would be able to train them to grow in the fence and keep the squash up off the ground. So far so good but we will see what happens. I am terrible about thinning out plants that I start from seed and never really culled any of the carrots. I guess I figure as long as they keep growing why interfere. If all goes as planned I will have two types of carrots this fall and all I have to do is dump the barrels out into my beds and pick up the all the carrots. 

I have really found my garden to be a relaxing end to my days. when I get home from work I like to go check out the progress and then water everything. It is always amazing to me how much it changes everyday. I just wish I had more time to learn how to do it properly.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Buttermilk Pie

My wife makes fun of me because every now and then I get a wild hair to try something new and just have to make it. Usually I see something on TV or read about it on some blog somewhere and am obsessed with it until I make it and get it out of my system. I know that most of what I do here has something to do with wild game but there are some things that just look to good not to try. So when I saw buttermilk pie I was instantly hooked and have been thinking about it for about two weeks now. I finally got some free time and here it is, a surprisingly easy and magnificent custard like pie that I will be making over and over this summer. 

I was watching The Mind of a Chef with Sean Brock and they were discussing southern favorites. I had never heard of a buttermilk pie but apparently they are pretty common in the south. A little bit of research showed me that pies like this are usually made when there isn't any fresh fruit to make pies out of. This episode also inspired me to try and make my own pie crust. I never make pie crusts, I always buy them frozen and ready to go. Sadly I have been under the misconception that the store bought ones are just as good and that homemade crust is to difficult. I was wrong.
Pie crust is surprisingly easy to make. I remember making them in the past and the not being this simple so I gave up on them all together. When I sat down to make this buttermilk pie I decided to give it a try again using a new technique and recipe for pie crust. It was so simple and turned out so amazing that I will probably never buy another crust. For my pie crust it is just 2 cups of flour, 12 tablespoons of cold butter, 1 teaspoon of salt, 1 1/2 tablespoons of maple sugar and 2-3 tablespoons of water. Stir together the flour, salt and sugar then cut the butter into small chunks. Using your hands just pinch the butter into the flour and continue working the flour and butter until all the large chunks of butter are broken up and the flour looks sandy. When you grab a handful and squeeze it, it should hold together. work the mixture into a ball and add a little water until everything is incorporated and the pie dough is one smooth ball. Refrigerate the crust for at least 30 minutes before using.  That's it, it really is that simple.

The rest of the pie is just as simple you just mix all the ingredients in a bowl and pour into you pie crust. After the pie bakes you end up with a beautiful custard like pie that despite being made with buttermilk, eggs and butter is light and refreshing. Amazed at how good the pie was and my wife took back her ridicule as well after tasting it. If you're in the mood for a real treat give it a try.
This is the recipe from Lisa Donavan the pastry Chef at Husk
Buttermilk Pie
1 9 inch pie crust
3 cups of sugar
6 eggs
1 1/2 cups buttermilk
1 stick melted butter
scrape the seeds from half a vanilla bean
1/2 cup flour
juice and zest from half a lemon 
Whisk together all the ingredients leaving the buttermilk for last. then pour the filling into the pie crust and bake at 350 degrees for 50-60 minutes or until the center of the pie is set. Let the pie cool and then enjoy.



Thursday, June 26, 2014

Venison and Green Chili Empanadas

I like to keep a little black book with me at all times, not because I am keeping numbers or picking up girls, because I write down food ideas that pop into my head. The idea came to me last year when I had a brilliant thought for a blog post and then forgot it. I remember that it was going to be incredible and probably would have changed my life but I forgot what it was. Ever since then whenever I have a thought about a new dish I'd like to try or a meal I would like to try making using wild game I write it down so I don't forget it. A lot of the recipes you see on this blog originated in that little book.  
This recipe for empanads is no different, I love recipes that use ground venison and have always enjoyed empanadas but have never made them. I figured it was time to change that. I had made empanadas a couple of years ago but they were vegetarian and the dough I made wasn't very good so I never returned to them. I am a different cook now, then I was a few years ago and figured I would give it another try. I searched all over the Internet for a good empanada dough recipe and found so many different varieties that I just decided to mix a couple together and see what I got.
My problem with the last dough I made was that it didn't have much flavor and it just seemed to take away from the empanadas filling. Its was to thick and doughy and really took away from the filling. So with this batch I really wanted to make a dough that had a lot of flavor but wasn't to over powering. After all I really wanted the venison filling to be the star of the show. After reading all the recipes I came up with a recipe for the dough that I think really worked well. I have no idea if it is a traditional dough or not but it was pretty freakin tasty. 


Over all I really liked how these empanada's turned out, the filling was delicious and my wife and kids really liked it. I would have preferred a little more heat to the filling but then the rest of the family probably wouldn't have like them.

Venison Empanada's

For the Dough

2 cups all purpose flour
1 stick of butter
1 tsp of salt
1/2 tsp ancho chili powder
1/4 cup of milk

whisk together the flour, salt and chili powder then cut in the cold butter mashing it with a fork until you have a Sandy consistency. add the milk and form into a ball. If the sough it to dry and crumbly you can add a little water or a little more milk until you get a nice ball of dough.

Place the dough in the fridge for at least a half hour. when ready to use the dough divide the dough into 12 equal portions and roll them out into 1/4 inch circles about the size of a small saucer. Place the filling in the center then brush the edges of the dough with a little melted butter and fold over into half circles. use a fork to crimp the edges and transfer to a baking sheet. Brush the empanada's with butter and bake at 350 for 35-40 minutes until they are golden brown.

For the filling

1 pound ground venison
1 small onion, diced
2 cloves garlic minced
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp ancho chili powder
1/4 tsp chipotle chili powder
1 4 ounce can diced green chili's
1 14.5 ounce can of diced tomatoes
1 tablespoon chopped fresh oregano
2 tablespoons of olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

Heat oil in a large skillet and add the onions and cook until transparent then add the garlic. stir in the venison and cook until all the pink is gone. add the cumin and the chili powders and cook for 2-3 minutes. then stir in the green chili's and the tomatoes and cook until all the fluid is gone. add the oregano and season with salt and pepper. then fill the dough.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Rhubarb and Lilac Fool

I made it out to my first farmers market of the year this last Sunday and was somewhat underwhelmed at the selection of produce. I know we had a hard winter and a late spring but there was almost nothing out there. the only two things that looked worth while were some asparagus and some rhubarb. I ended up buying 2 pounds of each and that was it. The asparagus ended up on the grill with some chicken and one pound of the rhubarb is destined for a nice rhubarb crisp. The other pound of rhubarb I used in a very successful experiment. 

I have been watching a lot of Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstahl's River Cottage on TV lately and in one of the episodes he made a gooseberry and elderflower fool. For those unfamiliar with what a fool is, it is traditionally a chilled mixture of stewed fruits and custard. In the episode I was watching Hugh used heavy whipping cream beaten to stiff peaks in place of a custard and then stewed the gooseberries with a little sugar and the elderflower. It looked beautiful and the idea of a rhubarb and lilac fool just popped into my head.
I have been using lilacs to make jelly for a few years now and since the gooseberries that I can pick won't be ready until later this summer I thought of rhubarb as an equally tart substitute. The end result was a simple but gorgeous combination of tartness from the rhubarb mellowed by the sweetness of the whipped cream and just a slight hint of floral beauty from the lilacs. As a whole I would say the dessert was a success although my daughter thought it was just a little to tart. Nothing a little honey could fix.

Rhubarb and Lilac Fool 
1 pound of rhubarb
1/4 cup sugar
3-4 lilac clusters
2 tablespoons of water
1 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons of sugar
1. cut the rhubarb into 2 inch chunks and put in a large sauce pan with sugar lilac and water.
2. cook the rhubarb for 15-20 minutes over medium heat or until the rhubarb becomes a soupy
3. using a chinois or mesh sieve press the rhubarb mixture through until you get all large
    chunks out and end up with a think rhubarb soup, set aside and let cool
4. whip the heavy cream and sugar until stiff peaks form
5. fold the cooled rhubarb mixture into the cream until well incorporated
6. pour into serving dishes and then chill in the fridge for at least 2 hours.
I served these in stemless wine glasses and there was enough to make four good portions

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Dry Cured Deer Heart

I am a huge fan of deer heart, it is one of my favorite parts of the deer to eat, the only downfall is that a deer has only one heart. That is why I have asked some of my friend to save the hearts of the animals they shoot so that I can enjoy heart in as many ways as I can think of. Earlier this year I made a heart pastrami that was amazing. I had been given four hearts from a friend so I used three of the hearts to make the pastrami but kept one heart aside to try something different.

I am no stranger to dry curing organ meats, last year I cured an antelope liver and really enjoyed that. I figured if it worked with liver why wouldn't it work with heart. My only fear with the heart was that the cavity inside the heart might not dry out evenly and I might end up with a rotten piece of meat. I made sure to pack the inside of the heart with the cure mixture to try and avoid that. I let the heart sit in the cure for 5 days and then dusted the outside with white pepper and hung it in my mini fridge for the whole month of May. The end result is pure awesomeness. I may have let it dry a little to long but if slice it thin enough it is just a mouth full of happiness.

When I tried to slice it with my slicer I was hoping to get a nice ring that would show the inside and out of the heart. The ring above is the only one I got that was whole, as I slice further down into the heart I am sure I will get better rings but the top end of the heart was a little harder to slice. The heart started out weighing about 8 ounces and ended up around 4.5 ounces. The flavor is very concentrated and fairly intense but I really like it. I may try some of the shavings mixed with some grilled asparagus and a citrus vinaigrette that sounds like a good combination.
Dry Cured Venison Heart
1 heart
15 grams kosher salt
2 grams DQ curing salt #2
7 grams maple sugar
1/4 tsp dry thyme
1/4 tsp fresh ground black pepper
5-6 juniper berries crushed
1 tsp caraway seeds
Mix together your cure and apply to the heart making sure to get the inside chambers of the heart. Let the heart cure for 5-7 days in a Ziploc bag or plastic container turning the heart daily. Rinse thoroughly and dust with white pepper hang the heart up to dry until it loses a third of its total weight. usually about 2-3 weeks. you can let it go longer if you would like. 

Saturday, May 24, 2014


Years ago a friend of mine had heard of a small fish that runs in the Spring up the rivers and along the shorelines of Lake Superior. The fish were smelt and he had heard stories of people filling the beds of pick-up trucks with these small wonderful treats. For several years we went to the North Shore and tried to catch smelt and never had any success. Our most fruitful year we actually managed to catch 14 smelt and there were 4 of us trying. It took us a while to figure out that you can't plan a trip to go catch smelt you have to go when the smelt start running. With busy schedules that isn't always easy to do. 

This year I ran into the same problem, I was going to head up to Duluth when they started running but life got in the way. I was lucky enough to have a couple of friends who were able to make it up and they did really well filling a couple of 5 gallon buckets with these little fish. They had called and asked if I wanted some and of course I took them up on it. I have only cooked smelt once and there were only 14 of them so I wasn't really able to try a bunch of different recipes. I just sauteed them in butter and garlic and they were good but not great. My only other experience with smelt has been eating them at the State Fair and once at a VFW smelt dinner where they were battered and fried. I was really looking forward to cooking them myself to see if I could come up with something a little more interesting.
Pretty much every recipe I read suggested I should fry the smelt. Because you are eating the whole fish, frying them helps soften the bones so they are edible. I found a Greek recipe That looked pretty good and didn't call for a heavy batter, just a light dusting in flour before frying them. They turned out amazing and the fish were cooked perfectly. They had just enough of a crunch on the outside and the bones on the inside were completely unnoticeable. They were sweet and very fresh tasting, easily one of the best fish meals I have had.
I was cooking them in a Greek style so I figured I should have some tzatziki to go with them. There is a little Lebanese place near my house called Byblo's and they have some of the best food around. I went in to buy some Tzatziki and was talking to the owner and he told me about another sauce they have called Toum, which is a garlic and olive oil mixture. He let me sample some and it was amazing, I ended up taking home a tub of it as well. The owner told me that they like to mix the Toum with some lemon juice and more olive oil to thin it out and make a dipping sauce so that is what I did. I mixed equal parts Toum, lemon juice and olive oil and seasoned it with some salt and pepper to make a dressing for the fried smelt on the bed of arugula, it was incredible.

With the rest of the smelt I fried some fennel and onions and ate them with the tzatziki and some pitas. If this is how good smelt can be I now understand why someone would fill the back of a pick up with them. 

Friday, May 16, 2014

Nduja Gravy

 I have a lot of fond memories of good food that I ate growing up, hands down my two favorite things were my great grandmothers fried chicken and my grandmothers fried round steak. To say that these two women had perfected their dishes is a huge understatement. I have never had, and probably never will have any better version of these two dishes. Both meals were always served with mashed potatoes and either peas or green beans that they canned themselves. As good as the chicken and round steak were the highlight of both meals was the gravy. It was the perfect version of a gravy as far as I am concerned. Wonderfully flavorful with little bits of salty fried pan scrapings in it.
I have tried on many occasions to replicate that gravy, I make a really good gravy, but my gravy is no where near as good as theirs. When I first started making gravy I had some epic fails. I understood the basics, flour and oil make a roux add milk and you have gravy. Well, its not that simple, I remember making a pretty decent tasting paste once that probably could have been used to patch drywall. Other versions weren't flavored enough and many came out gritty.
Since I figured it out I have been making some pretty good gravy's and even playing around with some variations on those gravy's. The latest variation involves Nduja (pronounced en'doo'ya), it is a Calabrian spreadable salami. It has a very unique texture and is spiced heavily with roasted peppers. I have read a lot about Nduja but only recently got to try it for the first time. As soon as I tasted it I thought it would make one hell of a gravy. And I was right.

Whenever I am feeling like I don't know what I want for dinner,which does happen from time to time, this is one of my favorite go to meals. I fry a little steak make some potatoes and grab some beans that I canned from my garden. This happens to be some venison backstrap that I sliced about and inch thick and then pound out with a mallet. I dredge the meat in flour and then give it a quick fry in canola oil, it only take 1-2 minutes per side and they are done. To make the gravy I pour out any excess oil leaving about 2-3 tablespoons in the pan with all the tasty little bits left in the pan. I added 2 ounces of Nduja and fried it in the oil then added a couple tablespoons of flour and stir until its all mixed together then start adding milk until it reaches a consistency you like. Season with a little salt and pepper and you have one of my favorite meals.