New Protein

Duck season is upon us!!

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A successful harvest so far this season means that I’ve had a fun chance to do something new with a protein I’ve never used.  I’ve had restaurant duck plenty of times, and it’s always been delicious.  But wild duck is a whole different animal, and it really puts a whole new spin on it when you can take something all the way from harvest to plate.

In addition to eating we also have some wings stashed in the freezer for a taxidermy/biology lab style display I want to do for the upstairs loft.  I’m thinking something along the lines of displaying the wings with little tags and their Latin names.  It’s a nice way to blend hunting with science in a stylized way, and it will feature the prettiest part of the birds….in my opinion.  Using as much of what we bring home as possible is something I really put a lot of focus on, The Engineer might say too much focus….but he usually goes along with my ideas! 🙂

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The most shocking part of duck season so far is how strongly Madam Roo has taken to the whole situation.  My usual timid, perpetually nervous girl has taken to charging right through The Engineer when he arrives home that she can go investigate what he’s brought home every morning.  Poor guy just wants to say hello to her, and she can’t even be bothered until she’s accessed the daily harvest.

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I’ve shared this already on Instagram, but it’s just too good and too cute!
“The Stay at Home, Delicate Duck Hunter”

I have grand cooking plans for all sorts of wild game, so I tend to get a bit bossy with home the birds should be cleaned.  Sadly, it’s been a bit too early in the season to pluck a bird for roasting.  They have all been about halfway between their summer feathers and having their dense winter, downy feathers grow in.  This has just led to a mess of plucking, so sadly I haven’t had a bird yet for roasting with my canned apple chutney.  That will come with time I’m sure, but I am antsy to try that and let you know how it goes!

While we patiently wait for the birds to fully plume for winter, and hopefully cleaner plucking, we’ve been breasting out the birds.  I tend to be a bit more skilled than The Engineer in that capacity, so bird cleaning as really become a whole family affair.  We usually try and keep Scout in the house while the knives are flying, but she’s taken to crying like she’s being beaten if we are out with the ducks without her, so we usually cave about halfway through.

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Ummm excuse me iz trying to investigate pleez!

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Pleez do not mind while I investigate these ducks pleez….

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My very first adventure into cooking duck was Spicy Thai Duck Burgers curtesy of From Field to Plate.  I’ve used other From Field to Plate recipes before, and I’ve always had really great results.  I really can’t say enough good things about his lime and tequila turkey marinade!  The burgers were alright, but I would defiantly tweak the spices and flavors next time we make them.

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I think I’m just not a huge fan of cinnamon paired with meats.  I know that it’s a normal flavor profile in some Eastern cuisines, but it’s just not my favorite flavor.  Also, I didn’t find it all that spicy, and even The Engineer thought it was too mild.  I will say I did half the jalapeño in the slaw, but usually a single jalapeño is all The Engineer can tolerate spice wise.  It’s so hard to know especially because every pepper is a little different, but it could have used way more oomph.

I would definitely remove the cinnamon and amp up the spice for round two.  Also, I don’t like peanut sauce and it was a Wednesday night, and I was feeling lazy…..so I cheated and bought some peanut sauce for The Engineer.  The From Field to Plate homemade version is probably much better.  If you’re into peanut sauce and give it a try let me know!

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High on list of things you don’t want in your burger patty…..

This week we were a bit crunched for time, so instead of trying a new recipe we went to an old fall back.  Friday night duck taco and nacho night with margaritas was exactly what this week called for!  Just treat it exactly the way you’d use regular ground beef, and no one will even know you’re sneaking waterfowl into the dinner rotation!

I do a bit feel like I’m not really using the ducks to their full flavor potential, and it’s making me a little bummed.  I’m not really in love with the texture of ground duck….it’s a bit soft.  More on the side of ground turkey or chicken then say ground beef or deer.  It defiantly goes better, in my opinion, with something crunchy….slaw or tortilla chips.  But, at the end of the day, it’s all getting gobbled up and that’s really what counts.

Meals do really mean more when you know the time and sacrifice that have been put in to make them happen.  So many people have moved so far away from knowing where their food comes from.  Nothing that arrives on your table arrives by magic, and I’m glad that in this house we are active participants in at least some of the meals that arrive on the dining room table.

Bonus points for not having any shot end up in the taco meat!  I’ll take that as my major victory for the week!!

Cleaning out the Freezer and Hauling in the Veggies

Hunting season has started in states all over the country, and you know what that means?!  You need to get all the old meat out of your freezer before you start adding fresh stock!  Annoyingly, The Engineer and I didn’t draw any deer tags this year.  Frankly we should probably be hoarding our meat for the upcoming winter, but I guess if we have to go vegetarian over the winter that’s what happens.

To go along with our meat, we suddenly had a small surplus of fresh tomatoes out of the garden.  Late summer is a strange time like that.  Surpluses of fresh veggies, fruits, and herbs are all at your disposal, but you freezer might be less with just huge roasts and some less than stellar cuts of meat.  Since discovering that my Kitchenaid is more than capable of grinding up a large elk roast, we’ve become less worried about using up all our pounds of burger meat….we just make more!

I decided it was time to whip up a new recipe, and I really couldn’t have been happier with how things turned out.  It seemed like it had been weeks since I’d spent anytime in the kitchen making dinner, so I decided to really do it up this week!  Due solely to the fact that I don’t every decide to do things until late, prepping dinner actually took 2 days!  Don’t panic, it’s not hard nor does it take that long….I just didn’t have a plan going into things!

STEP 1:  Homemade Spaghetti Sauce

I had probably around 2  or 2.5 pounds of large tomatoes out of the garden.  We have two heirloom varieties, Cherokee Black and Siberian Prince, and they seem to have suddenly kicked production into high gear.  I simply blanched the tomatoes whole until the skin started to split and then peel and rough chop.  I didn’t bother to deseed the tomatoes, I just tossed the rough chunks into a medium sauce pan.  If you don’t have access to fresh, garden tomatoes, start with a quart of canned tomatoes.

To my quart of tomatoes I added:

  • Half a yellow onion, chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves, chopped roughly
  • 2 tablespoons each fresh minced thyme and oregano
  • 1 tablespoon dried basil….our basil plant had a rough go of things this summer 😦
  • Salt and Pepper

Cook on medium until just before boiling before dropping the temperature to low.  Let simmer for 20-30 minutes.  If you’re going to eat it immediately, you may want to let it simmer longer…..longer is always better!  I of course started this whole process around 9pm….so after it simmered I placed it into the fridge for use later!

STEP 2: Elk and Herb Meatballs

I didn’t have a plan for using my tomato sauce when I made it, I just didn’t want that many tomatoes to go bad before I had a chance to use them!  The next night I was sitting around thinking….and it occurred to me….we need meatballs!  After consulting a variety of cookbooks I had laying around I settled on a variation of  Anthony Bourdain’s recipe of meatball sandwich meatballs and Steven Rinella’s recipe for wild game meatballs.

Anthony recommends a blend a veal, pork, and beef….and while I’m sure that makes a delicious, more traditional Italian meatball….those aren’t the meats I have hanging out in my freezer.  Steven’s recipe calls for raw onions and milk soaked breadcrumbs in your meatballs, but Anthony says to sweat the onions and add dry crumbs…..so I sweated some onion and added crumbs and milk!

In a small pan heat a drizzle of olive oil over medium heat and add:

  • Half a yellow onion, chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves, chopped roughly
  • 2 tablespoons each fresh minced thyme and oregano

Sweat the onions, garlic, and herbs together until the onions to translucent and soft.  Set aside and allow to cool slightly.  You’re maybe sensing a theme here, but trust me you really can’t over do the Italian flavors!  See what I mean when I say if I had planned this out better…..just chop double once and you’ll be able to whip up meatballs and sauce together in no time flat.

In a large bowl add:

  • 1 pound ground elk
  • 1/2 cup breadcrumbs
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 milk
  • Cooled onion and garlic mixture

Mix lightly until everything seemed combined and the herbs, onion, and garlic seem evenly sprinkled throughout.  Form into golfball sized balls and set on a lightly greased baking sheet.  I got 13 meatballs from the pound of meat.  Also, I know it’s probably slightly controversial…but I didn’t add any fat to my meat mixture.  I still think they turned out great, but I feel I’m making Italians grandmas the world over shudder in terror!

My next step might also be slightly controversial…..but just stick with me.  We weren’t going to eat the meatballs that night because once again in was much later than one should be making meatballs.  Third day simply had to be the charm for enjoying this meal so I decided I would toss the meatballs and sauce in the slow cooker so everything would be ready to enjoy right after work.  Sounds fine, but I was suddenly overcome with fear that my glorious, raw meatballs would dissolve in the crockpot and leave me with a delicious meat sauce.  Meat sauce after I had ‘slaved away’ making meatballs wasn’t something I was willing to risk…..so I broiled my meatballs!

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IT WORKED GREAT!

Simply turn your broiler on Low and give your meatballs 8-10 minutes for form a nice crust.  Turn them every couple minutes to prevent burning and provide an even caramelization.

I put a thin layer of sauce down in the bottom of my crockpot, layered in my meatballs, and then tossed the whole thing back in the fridge.  The next morning I topped them with the remaining sauce and set them to cook on low while I went to work.  8 hours later I came home to delicious smells and a crockpot full of happy meatballs and a sauce that had slow cooked to thick, robust perfection.

Serve with your favorite noodles, or in my case spaghetti squash from the garden, and enjoy.  I added cheese, a hefty slice of garlic bread, and a class of wine.  Perfect easy dinner to come home to, and I promise it won’t take you 3 days to get there!

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Paint and Pie

IT’S FINALLY FALL!

It seemed like cooler, sweater weather would never arrive, but I guess good things come to those who are patient!  With the changing of the seasons comes my deep burning desire to spend time cleaning, organizing, and crafting in my garage.  Things that have been laying around all summer I suddenly have a burning need to organize.

The first craft of the fall was trying out chalk paint on some metal decor.  A few months ago I purchased a metal candle holder from Hobby Lobby.  While I do like the original color of the candle holder, it wasn’t really the right shade of blue for my house.  What better to do than throw some chalk paint on it and see what happens?!

Overall, I would say the mini project went well.  The only thing I would change was maybe the amount of distressing I did before I waxed the piece.  The paint chips off rather easy, so in buffing in the dark wax, several extra chunks of paint went flying off.  I’m not sure that in this case the candle holder could be “over” distressed, and since I didn’t have a specific outcome in mind….all is good in the chalk painting hood!  If you were going for a lighter distressed look, I might actually skip the initial distressing step.  Apply your wax, and then if you feel like you need a little extra maybe distress with sandpaper as a final step.

Another glorious part of the shift in the weather is a change in nightly meal choices!  I’m not one of those people who can eat soup and casseroles with its 100 degrees outside, so as the temperatures have been cooling I’ve been ramping up the oven!  Last night I tried out a new recipe…..shepherd’s pie!  I had never had a shepherd’s pie before, but The Engineer has had them and was having a craving.  Coupled with the fact that we watched Gordon Ramsey make some on Kitchen Nightmare meant that I needed to try my hand.  All in all, I think it turned out pretty well!  Used up a bunch of leftover veggies, and anything with cheesy mashed potatoes is a good life decision!!

Shepherd’s Pie

  • 2 pounds ground meat
  • Onion, chopped
  • 3 large handfuls of baby carrots, chopped
  • 5-6 stalks of celery, chopped
  • 1ish glass of red wine
  • 6 Tbs worcestershire sauce
  • 5 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1-12oz can of tomato paste
  • 3 cubes of chicken bouillon
  • Salt and Pepper
  • 6-12 oz of water
  • 3 Tbs thyme
  • 1/2 12oz bag of frozen corn
  • 1/2 12oz bag of frozen green beans
  • 1 cup of parmesan cheese
  • 2 pounds of potatoes, peeled
  • 5 Tbs butter
  • 1/2 cup of milk

While I do understand that this isn’t a traditional shepherd’s pie as it doesn’t contain lamb, I’m pretty confident that this recipe would work with any red meat.  The most important quality of the meat, according to Gordon, is that it’s well drained and free of grease.  Elk, for all intensive purposes, is basically grease free and I have a freezer full of it now, so that’s what I used.  If using any wild game meat, remember that you will probably need to add some olive oil to your pan before adding in the meat.  Brown the meat and toss in all the fresh veggies, onion, and the garlic.  Continue cooking until you’re sure the meat is completely cooked, and the onions have gone slightly translucent.

Dump in the worcestershire, tomato paste, wine, bouillon and water.  You could also use any stock you have laying around the house, I just had the cubes to use.  Add salt and pepper to taste, and the thyme.  I used several fresh sprigs from my garden, but dried would also work just fine.

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When you use fresh herbs and your fancy starts showing!

Simmer your meat mixture until the carrots and celery become tender and the mixture thickens….about 45 mins.  Stir often so that the bottom of the mixture doesn’t scorch to the pan.  While that’s simmering, rough cube the potatoes and add them to a pan and boil until fork tender.  Drain and add to a mixing bowl with the butter, cheese, and milk. Basically, just make mashed potatoes the way you always would….only with the addition of cheese.  Maybe you make them with cheese all the time…..I don’t, so that was a little upgrade!

Add your frozen veggies and just let them warm up a couple minutes.  Pour the mixture into a 9×13 baking pan.  The entire mixture didn’t all fit in my pan, in hindsight it would have, but I made a small, additional baking dish and threw it into the freezer for later.  Top the mixture with the mashed potatoes and bake at 350 degrees for about 20 minutes.  If the top isn’t as brown as you’d like, turn the broiler on and babysit your pie carefully until the desired level of golden brown is achieved.  Dish up and enjoy your meat, potatoes, and veggies!!

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I raked my potatoes with a fork before baking and topped them with extra black pepper because it’s The Engineer’s favorite!

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PIE!