Two winters ago, I wrote a series of blog posts all featuring ground venison, since I’d been given 6 pounds of it from my dad. According to my first post in the series, my plan was to write a different recipe for each of the 6 packages, but somehow I fell off after three. I can’t recall what I did with the other 3 pounds, but I’m guessing it’s pretty likely there was at least one batch of chili in there.
Chili is probably the most common dish made with ground venison- I suspect some people turn to it because the powerful seasonings can mask the venison’s taste, but that hasn’t been a problem for us since my dad’s deer always taste great with no “off” or gamey flavors. We just make it because it’s easy and we tend to have most of the ingredients on hand. However, I never really considered my usual chili (which consists primarily of chopping onions and garlic and opening a bunch of cans) to be worthy of writing down a recipe.
Folks, this batch is a different story. I did rely on a couple canned ingredients, and this is still squarely in the camp of weeknight fare (even with the experimentation factor and my own slow-pokiness, it only took me an hour and a half from start to finish) but the flavors are richer, deeper and, dare I say, more sophisticated than your run-of-the-mill chili. Marvin may have to make good on his mention of taking up hunting himself in order to keep us stocked with sufficient quantities of venison, because rather than quell my cravings, this just made me hungry for more. Continue reading
Everywhere I turn- on Facebook and Twitter and even *gasp* real-life conversations (remember those?)- people are, to put it gently, lamenting spring’s tardy appearance this year. Don’t get me wrong, I’d love to ditch the scarf and gloves, and temps in the 60s would feel balmy right about now, but I try not to dwell on that which I cannot change. Instead, I’m trying to transition as best I can, by cooking foods which satisfy both the craving for something warm and hearty, and the desperate longing for something green.
When I prepared my prosciutto leg in January, I had a fair amount of meat (and bone; see above) left over from the trimmings. I took some out of the freezer a couple weeks ago to make a Oaxacan pork stew. I’m sure the very word “stew” conjures rib-sticking, squarely winter food, but bear with me. The dish incorporates plenty of green things like tomatillos and squash and an herb purée that gives it a lively perk and, when stirred in, turns the color from olive-drab to a brilliant emerald. The stew’s heat (both temperature and spice-wise) will fend off these last bouts of winter chill, while the vegetables and herbs will prime your palate for green things to come.
I served this one night to my friend Amanda, wh0 has visited Oaxaca with her Mexican beau, and she said it was very similar to something she had tried there. I wouldn’t expect anything less of a Rick Bayless recipe- this one comes from his book Rick Bayless’s Mexican Kitchen. The only change I made was to use zucchini in place of the chayote because the market was out of it that day, but I think it’s a fine (if less authentic) substitution. I also used frozen green beans because I prefer them over the somewhat large, tough specimens that are found in stores this time of year.
If you still think that stew is too much of a winter dish, I would humbly remind you that in Mexico it is MUCH warmer than it is in most parts of North America, and they eat stews like this all the time! I won’t preach to you about not being deterred by the long ingredients list or prep time; this is unapologetically a recipe for those who may actually enjoy spending an afternoon in the kitchen. Might as well, since it’s still too cold to go outdoors.
2 lbs boneless pork shoulder, cut into 1 ½-inch pieces
1 lb pork bones, cut into 2-inch pieces
2/3 cup dried navy beans
4 garlic cloves, whole and unpeeled
4 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
1 medium white onion, diced
1 lb medium tomatillos. husked and rinsed
fresh green chiles to taste- about 2 jalapeños or 3 serranos
½ tsp cumin, preferably toasted and freshly ground
½ tsp black pepper, preferably fresh ground
pinch of ground cloves
1 ½ Tbx lard or vegetable oil
2 medium (1 lb total) chayotes, peeled, seeded and cut into ¾-inch chunks, or substitute 1 lb zucchini (do not peel)
1 ½ cups (about 6 oz) tender young green beans, trimmed and cut in half, or substitute frozen if no good fresh beans are available
2/3 cup fresh masa, or generous ½ cup masa harina mixed with 6 Tbs hot water
about 2 tsp salt
4 large sprigs flat-leaf parsley, plus additional for garnish
2 small sprigs epazote (or 5-6 sprigs of cilantro if unavailable)
2 leaves hoja santa (or 1 cup roughly chopped fennel fronds)
Place the meat and bones in a large Dutch oven or cazuela and cover with 3 quarts water. Bring to a boil, skimming the gray foam that rises to the surface. When no more foam surfaces, add the beans, minced garlic and onion. Partially cover and cook at a gentle simmer until the beans are cooked and the meat is tender, 1 ½- 2 hours. Add any water as needed during cooking to keep the beans and meat covered.
Meanwhile, roast the tomatillos on a baking sheet 4 inches below a very hot broiler until soft and blackened on one side, about 3-5 minutes; turn them over and blacken the other side. Transfer tomatillos along with any juices to a blender or food processor. Heat a cast iron skillet or heavy griddle over medium heat. Roast the chiles and unpeeled garlic in the dry skillet, turning frequently, until soft and blackened in spots. (Note: I found it helpful to keep the garlic on the outer edge of the pan to avoid burning.) Peel the garlic and roughly chop it with the chiles. Add to blender along with the cumin, cloves and pepper, and purée until smooth.
When the meat and beans are tender, pour them into a colander set over a large bowl or stockpot. Remove the bones, picking them clean of any remaining meat and adding it back to the colander. Set colander aside. Skim the fat from the top of the broth. Wash and dry your Dutch oven or cazuela, set over medium heat, and add the lard or oil. When hot, add the tomatillo purée- it should sizzle sharply (test a drop first). Stir constantly for about 5 minutes to thicken. Add 4 cups of the pork broth, partially cover, and simmer over medium-low heat for 15 minutes, stirring regularly. Add the chayote or zucchini and green beans and cook 5 minutes longer.
In a small bowl, whisk 2/3 cup broth with the masa mixture, mixing well to remove lumps, then whisk into the stew base until thickened. Return the meat and beans to the stew pot. Season with salt to taste, usually about 2 teaspoons. Let the stew simmer gently while you prepare the herb mixture.
Purée the herbs with 1/3 cup broth in a blender until smooth. (If you are short of broth, you can use water.) Stir the puréed herbs into the stew. Add broth or water as needed to achieve a medium-thick consistency. Ladle into wide soup bowls, garnish with additional parsley, and serve immediately with warm corn tortillas. If not eating all of the stew immediately, stir a spoonful of herb mixture into each individual serving rather than the whole pot, reserving the remaining mixture to add to the stew when reheating it.
On the weekends, I am all about those hours-in-the-kitchen types of dishes; trying new things; looking at cooking as a “project”. During the week, however, because of my schedule, I’m lucky if I can make myself a big salad or scramble a couple eggs and call it dinner. Much has been made lately over “having time” to cook- Michael Ruhlman wrote an op-ed in the Huffington Post “calling bullshit” on people who claim not to have the time, and others have been recycling the quote (I think it was originally attributed to Marcella Hazan) that “saying you don’t have time to cook is like saying you don’t have time to bathe”. I could go on at length about this topic*- the short version being that I mostly agree with Ruhlman but think he comes off as elitist and unrealistic (uh, he’s a writer, he makes his own hours, most of us do not!). But instead, let me tell you about someone who does live up to what I’ll call “the Ruhlman Standard”.
My friend Amanda is a role model for all of us who would aspire to prepare homemade meals on weeknights. Despite having two jobs (a full-time office job AND giving music lessons after work in the evenings), she manages to put together amazing weeknight dinners on a regular basis. Take Monday night, for example. She invited me for dinner and I was treated to a simple but amazingly flavorful dish of chorizo and potatoes in a garlicky, sherry-spiked broth. A salad, bread and good cheese rounded out the meal, and a bottle of rosé from Provence was the perfect foil to the spicy chorizo.
As if this all wasn’t enough, she was generous enough to let me take some home! I hadn’t brought my camera to her house so I have no shots of her lovely table with the cheeses, salad and wine, but I got to snap a few shots of the leftovers- I love the way the creamy potatoes look in the bright red sauce, with a scattering of cilantro for contrast of flavor and color. If you’re in need of an uncomplicated but decidedly un-boring after-work recipe, look no further: all you have to do is chunk up some potatoes, chop a little onion, and you’ll have this simmering on the stove in no time.
*Anita over at Married with Dinner had a very thoughtful response to this which pretty much sums up my feelings. She is doing a series called Dinner on a Deadline, in an attempt to provide realistic solutions for people who want to find time to cook after work. Hop on over there for more ideas. I also have a Fast and Easy category here where you might find inspiration for after-work meals.
Chorizo & Potatoes in a Sherry Broth
1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped
4 oz bacon or pancetta, cut in small strips or cubed
12 oz Mexican (fresh) chorizo (see note)
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 bay leaf
1 cup dry sherry
1 ½ lbs small waxy potatoes, scrubbed and skin-on, halved or quartered depending on size
4-5 cups boiling water (a tea kettle is handy for this)
salt and pepper to taste
chopped fresh cilantro (if you can’t abide cilantro, substitute parsley)
Note: This recipe was originally intended to be made with Spanish chorizo, a cured, dry sausage. However, Amanda made it with fresh, and as fresh chorizo is much more easily obtained (not to mention less expensive) here, I have adapted the recipe accordingly.
Directions: Preheat the oven to 400°. Put water on to boil. Heat a Dutch oven or other large oven-safe pan over medium-low heat. Add the bacon or pancetta and cook until it begins to render a bit of its fat. Add the onion and garlic. Continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion has softened.
Raise the heat to medium-high and add the chorizo by squeezing it out of its casing in bite-size pieces (think small meatballs/coins). Let the pieces of sausage “set” for a moment so they don’t break apart when you stir them. Cook for another 5 minutes, stirring gently. Add the bay leaf, sherry, and about 1 tsp salt; stir. Add the potatoes and pour over enough boiling water to cover the potatoes about ¾ of the way.
When the liquid has come to a simmer, put the dish, uncovered, in the preheated oven and cook for 30 minutes. Check it half way through that time to make sure it hasn’t dried out too much, and give it a stir (if the liquid looks low, add another splash of water and sherry).
Remove the dish from the oven and taste the broth. Season with salt and pepper if needed, or if it tastes at all watery, you can further reduce the cooking liquid by simmering on the stovetop. You’re not really looking for it to be a soup, but you definitely want several spoonfuls of the flavorful broth with each serving. Ladle into 4 shallow bowls, and garnish with some chopped cilantro.
Last year I had the rather brilliant (if I do say so myself) idea to host a soup swap for myself and some girlfriends. The concept was simple: do the work of cooking one soup, but wind up with a fridge full of 4 or 5 different soups. This was mostly born from the fact that while I love to cook big batches of things to take in my lunch for the week, I don’t exactly want to eat the same thing 5 days in a row. So, in what I hope will become an annual tradition, we got together and traded soups (and stories of youthful indiscretions, but that’s for another blog… or not!).
Once again I made two soups, this Cheese Soup with Caramelized Onions & Cumin (sooo good!!), and an “African-inspired” carrot soup from Moosewood Daily Special that had peanut butter, lime and chili sauce. The carrot soup sounded like a good idea at the time, but I had to majorly tweak it to get it to taste good to me. I added a pretty significant amount of brown sugar, upped the peanut butter, and also added coconut milk. It ended up tasting like peanut satay sauce, which I guess was not a bad thing, but the fact that I altered it so much makes it pretty impossible to give a recipe. (But make the cheese soup- that turned out great!)
This year’s batch of soups were no less delicious and satisfying than last year’s. So without further ado, here are my “tasting notes”. For the recipes, just follow the links.
French Lentil Soup
First of all, the “French” refers to the type of lentils used, not the style of the soup, so don’t worry- it’s not some heavy-cream-and-butter bomb! French green (Puy) lentils are so great in soup; they are much firmer than regular brown lentils and have a nice chew to them. This soup is seasoned with mint and cinnamon, among other things, which gives it a delightful Middle Eastern feel. There is an optional garnish of thick Greek yogurt. I would up the suggested salt content a tiny bit, but other than that I found it to be just right as-is. Oh, and there are greens in it too so it’s super healthy. Thanks Kate, this is definitely going into the rotation!
Caldo Tlalpeño (Chicken, Chipotle & Chickpea Soup)
The soup for those who like to eat alliteratively! Amanda says she makes this for weeknight suppers on a pretty regular basis, and it seems pretty straightforward and simple. The only thing that might throw you off is finding fresh epazote, but I believe she made this batch without and it was still delicious. I tend to prefer dark meat so I would probably sub out an equal weight of bone-in, skinned chicken leg quarters, but that’s just a personal preference and it was certainly good (and probably a bit healthier) with the breast meat. Although it’s not in the recipe, I couldn’t resist adding some chopped cilantro when I reheated mine.
Shrimp & Corn Chowder with Fennel
Shrimp, corn, fennel, bacon… what’s not to like about this soup? Some of the commenters on the Real Simple site (where this was taken from) were pretty harsh, saying it was very bland. I could definitely picture a dash or two of Tabasco, and just a wee bit more salt, but it was far from being as bland as they implied! (You’re probably starting to think I’m a salt freak at this point, but a pinch of salt can be the difference between bland and just right. Taste and add as you go… everyone’s taste buds are different!) Michelle made this with the suggested (optional) bacon and I would too, but I would maybe crumble it in just before serving. The only other tweak I would consider is adding a bit of cornstarch to give it a thicker, more “chowdery” feel (dissolve cornstarch in cold water before adding to the soup).
African Curried Coconut Soup
This vegan soup was delightful and looks really easy to make. The rice is listed as “optional” but I would definitely include it- not only does it make it a bit more filling, but it’s beneficial to eat rice and legumes together, especially for non-meat eaters. Sarah added some spinach at the end of the cooking (not in the recipe) and it was a nice touch.
Thanks again, ladies… Can’t wait for our next swap!
This dish has been a long time in the making… some of you may remember that I mentioned Marvin’s mom making a version of it for Christmas Eve in ’08, and I’ve been wanting to try it ever since. She uses ground beef in her version, but I rarely ever cook with ground beef. However, I do have a freezerful of ground venison courtesy of my dad, and have been looking for different ways to use it. So far I made a really good venison & porcini mushroom ragu, and I’m sure there will be a batch or two of chili, but I wanted to be a bit experimental and I’ve been wanting to cook with yuca for quite a while now, so this casserole was born. (See this post for more about yuca.)
I call the dish “shepherd’s pie” because that’s the closest thing I’m reminded of, with the seasoned ground meat being cooked under a layer of starchy veg. The yuca is quite a bit different than potato in that it is very dense and has a lot of “chew” to it. When you mash it, it holds together almost like dough, and when it’s baked, the top gets a nice crunchy texture. Even if you don’t follow this recipe, I would encourage you to play around with yuca because it’s a fun and unique starch. My photos were not taken in the greatest lighting, so this may not look like the most attractive dish, but it’s easy and homey and familiar yet exotic all at once. By all means, if you’re not a fan of venison, use ground beef like Marvin’s mom does; my use of venison was just because that’s what I had.
This was also the fist time I had used achiote (aka annatto). I used the whole seeds to flavor some canola oil, which I then used to saute the vegetables and meat. To make achiote oil, just warm some neutral oil in a skillet (I prefer a silver skillet so you can see the color). Add some achiote seeds and gently swirl the oil until it reaches a deep orange color and becomes fragrant. Don’t let the oil get too hot or the seeds will burst and become bitter. Strain the oil before using.
Yuca Shepherd’s Pie
For the yuca layers:
For the meat layer:
1 lb ground beef or venison
2-4 Tbs achiote oil or vegetable oil
1 large white onion, diced
3-5 cloves garlic, minced
1 medium carrot, peeled & diced small
2 jalapenos, minced (remove pith & seeds for less heat, or sub 1/2 a green pepper for a non-spicy version)
2 Tbs tomato paste
1 tsp ground cumin
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
salt & pepper
Put a large pot of well-salted water to boil. Cut the yuca lengthwise and then into chunks of roughly equal size. Add the yuca, garlic, onion, and a few grinds of pepper to the water. Let simmer, covered, for an hour. Check the yuca by cutting or smashing a piece- it should be a pale yellow and have no opaque white spots. You may need to cook the yuca for up to 90 minutes to get it fully cooked through. When the yuca is done, remove with a slotted spoon and discard the garlic, onion and cooking water. There will be a tough stringy core in the center of the yuca that you should easily be able to remove with your fingers. Place the yuca in the bowl of a stand mixer and use the paddle attachment to mix the yuca into a smooth paste, adding the olive oil in a thin stream. Start with 1/4 cup and add more if needed, based on the taste and consistency of the yuca. Taste for salt, adding if needed.
While the yuca is cooking, prepare the meat: Heat 2-3 Tbs oil in a large skillet over medium heat. When hot, add the onion, garlic and carrot. Cook for a few minutes until the onion & carrot begin to soften; then add the peppers. Cook for a minute longer and add the meat, cumin, 1 tsp salt and a few grinds of pepper. If you’re using venison you may need to add a bit more oil to prevent sticking. Cook the meat, stirring frequently, until it is fully browned and cooked through. Stir in the tomato paste and cilantro. Taste for salt and adjust as necessary.
Preheat the oven to 350. Spray a 9×13″ lasagna pan or other casserole dish with cooking spray, or brush with olive oil. Spread about 1/3 of the yuca over the bottom of the pan using a spatula
(if that’s not enough to cover the bottom you can use a little more; just make sure to reserve more than half for the top layer because it’ll be harder to spread). The yuca will be very sticky so it may help to lightly oil the spatula. Dump the meat in a layer over the yuca (if using beef, you may want to use a slotted spoon to drain off some of the grease). Spread the meat in an even layer, pressing it into the yuca. Take the remaining yuca and spread it over the meat. You may need to use your hands to spread and press it down; if so, you’ll want to oil your hands first. (Looking at my photos, you can see it was a challenge to get the yuca all the way out to the sides!) Lightly brush the final layer of yuca with olive oil.
Bake the casserole for about 30 minutes or until the yuca starts to become crisp and brown. If after 30 minutes the yuca is not browning, you can run it under the broiler for a minute or two to get a nice crunchy top. If you have any cilantro left over, you can use it as garnish.