I started writing this post and realized- for once, I don’t have a lot to say. But that’s OK; the following is all you need to know: A small venison roast, some local root vegetables from the farmers’ market, some homemade stock, and a weekend day with enough time for a long braise can yield the following:
I don’t often get roasts from my dad, usually his venison is in burger form, so this was a first. I just treated it like I would any other tough cut of meat, braising it for a while in the stock at a low temp and then adding the vegetables later so they didn’t cook to mush. The result wasn’t earth-shattering. but it was homey, comforting and hearty, which was just what I was going for.
Venison Stew with Root Vegetables
1 small venison roast (about 1.5 to 2 lbs)
a few Tbs bacon fat
2 cups stock, preferably homemade: beef, lamb or chicken will work (mine was actually turkey, leftover from Thanksgiving)
aromatics: a couple of bay leaves, some peppercorns, juniper berries, or a couple sprigs of rosemary or thyme would all work
2 large carrots, peeled and cut into large chunks
1 large or 2 small parsnips, peeled & cut into chunks
5-6 small shallots, peeled & trimmed
4 small potatoes, scrubbed and cut in halves or quarters
1 celery stalk, trimmed & cut into ½-inch pieces
salt to taste
Preheat oven to 225°. Warm the stock on the stove in a heavy lidded pot large enough to accommodate the meat. Rinse the venison and pat dry; lightly salt the meat and rub all over with the bacon fat. Add venison to pot, cover, and braise in the oven for 2 hours. You can turn the meat halfway through, but it’s not strictly necessary. Meanwhile, prep the vegetables. After the initial 2 hours, lightly salt the vegetables, add to the pot, cover, and cook for another hour or until vegetables are tender.
If the meat comes easily off the bone, feel free to serve your roast as-is; if meat is a little tough, you can either braise a bit longer, or do what I did: Remove meat from pot until it cools enough to handle, remove from the bone and cut into bite-sized pieces; return to pot to warm through. Taste for seasoning, adding salt and pepper if needed. If desired, serve with chopped parsley as a garnish.
A few weeks ago, a Facebook acquaintance posted something about how she “doesn’t celebrate Thanksgiving”. I replied asking why on earth one would abstain from Thanksgiving- it has all the fun aspects of Christmas (family, food, leisure, more food…) with none of the frantic, harried running around. I don’t think I’ve ever had to set foot in a mall to buy anything for Thanksgiving. And it’s always a four-day weekend… not even Christmas can guarantee that!
It’s not that I don’t enjoy the gift-giving tradition of the Christmas holiday, but sometimes it seems to eclipse everything else. As long as I can nave a nice meal and a lot of lazing around afterward, I’m pretty content. This Thanksgiving was exactly that- outstanding culinary contributions from the whole family (I really think it gets better every year), great company, and a little Dance Dance Revolution after our food had settled and everyone had had enough wine not to care if they looked silly.
My mom surprised me with an early birthday cake and gift since she won’t be here on my birthday. She made a scrapbook with tons of old childhood photos, all with clever captions that must have taken her many, many hours to put together. Looking through it, and looking around me, I couldn’t help but be a bit melancholy that this would probably be one of the last holidays we’d all celebrate with the entire family. With siblings getting married and being pulled in different directions, we’ll have to start taking turns with what in-laws to visit and inevitably not everyone will be able to come to each gathering. I know it’s just a fact of growing older but for a close knit family like ours, it will be a difficult transition.
That said, I am ready to embrace life’s changes rather than dwell on what has passed. Marvin and I will be moving into our new home in the next month if all goes according to plan, and we hope to host next year’s Thanksgiving celebration (or maybe even Easter, who knows!). Although change can be stressful at times, I look forward to all the new joys and challenges that will come with combining our households.
One thing I definitely look forward to with having our new house is not having to travel for every get-together if we get to host! This year, I had to work Wednesday and get up early Thanksgiving day to drive, so in lieu of cooking something I made a big fancy salad. I combined wintry flavors of radicchio and pear, with pistachios to give extra color and crunch. Like any composed salad, I think it looks prettiest and is easiest to serve on a platter so that you can distribute the ingredients more equitably and don’t end up with, say, all the nuts at the bottom of the bowl.
I stuffed myself silly on homemade bacon-wrapped “poppers” (see below) for an appetizer, mac and cheese, the best collard greens I’ve ever tasted, and the usual suspects like stuffing, potatoes, turkey and gravy. I know I’m forgetting some items but it’s been two weeks already (when you read my next couple posts you’ll understand why it’s taken me that long to finish this)! To top it all off, my brother made a pecan pie, a pear and almond galette, and pumpkin empanadas. My mom also made a pineapple upside down cake, which was a childhood favorite of mine, for my birthday.
If you feel full just reading that, this salad makes a nice light supper to help balance out any holiday indulgences.
Note: First two photographs by Marvin Shaouni
Winter Salad with Pears & Pistachios
1 head red leaf lettuce
1 large shallot
½ a head of radicchio
2 Seckel pears or 1 ripe Bosc or Anjou pear
⅓ cup unsalted pistachios
1 tsp Dijon mustard
3 Tbs olive oil
1 Tbs Champagne vinegar or quality white wine vinegar
sea salt and freshly ground pepper
Notes: I prefer Seckel pears because they slice into perfect bite sized pieces, but feel free to substitute another pear variety. Because many people expect a cheese in their composed salads, I did serve some crumbled blue cheese on the sde, but the salad has a nice character without it.
Slice the shallots, not too thin. Soak them in a bowl of ice water while you prep other ingredients- this will make them nice and crunchy while also removing a bit of their sting. Wash and dry the lettuce. Toast the pistachios over medium-low heat in a dry skillet, shaking occasionally, until fragrant; set aside to cool. Remove the core from the radicchio and slice into thin shreds. Core and slice the pears. If doing this in advance of serving, toss the pears with a little of the vinegar you are using so they don’t turn brown.
In a bowl large enough to hold the lettuce, make the dressing: Add the olive oil, then the mustard, and whisk until incorporated; then add the vinegar (you may want more or less to taste) and whisk again until emulsified. If the quantity of dressing looks too small for the amount of lettuce you have, tweak it by adding proportional amounts of oil and vinegar. Add salt and pepper to taste- don’t be shy with the salt, as you are effectively salting the whole salad, not just the dressing. Toss the lettuce in the dressing to coat.
Transfer the dressed lettuce to a platter and scatter over the radicchio, pears, shallots (drained), and pistachios. Serve immediately.
I own a lot of cookbooks, so it takes quite a bit for me to become so enamored with a cookbook that I make several recipes from it within the span of a few months. But that’s exactly what happened when I purchased All About Braising by Molly Stevens a couple years ago. The fact that I haven’t written more about it here is partly due to “blogger backlog” and partly because I made some of the recipes before I started blogging. Please believe me when I say, though, that this cookbook ranks in my top 5 for many reasons, not least of which is this cabbage. I first made it for a St. Patrick’s Day potluck, partly because cabbage is traditional but also because I was kind of broke and cabbage is really cheap! To my surprise, the dish went over like gangbusters- who knew?! I had never heard cabbage described as “amazing” before; I even had a professed cabbage-hater tell me they liked it. Long braising makes the cabbage melt-in-your-mouth tender, and a blast of heat at the end of cooking caramelizes the dish and brings out all its mellow sweetness.
I’ll go on a little bit of a tangent here to tell you about the other reasons I love All About Braising, since I probably won’t ever get around to giving this book its own separate “review” entry. First of all, the recipes are solid. I have made five or six of them and not had any duds or problems whatsoever. Secondly, it’s very eclectic- there’s a great variety of recipes inspired from all over the world. I’ve made the Chicken Do-Piaza, Chicken with Star Anise, and Goan Chicken, and all were stellar. (Yes, I do eat meats other than chicken; I also used Molly’s recipe as a guide when making these oxtails.) The only recipe I didn’t absolutely love was an Indian-style braised cauliflower (I found it to be a little lean), but that could also have something to do with the fact that cauliflower is not a favorite of mine.
Back to our cabbage- this is one of those dishes that you make and think to yourself “Why have I not been cooking this for years?” I made a roast chicken the other day and, along with some leftover butternut squash & sage risotto, this was a perfect rustic side dish. If you’re having a big holiday spread, this would be a great addition since it only takes a few minutes active prep, yields a lot, and works out to about 25¢ per serving (take that, Wal-Mart!). I wanted to post it before Thanksgiving and didn’t have time, but really it’s a good side dish for any winter meal.
The only deviation I have made from Molly’s recipe is that I don’t bother turning the cabbage over halfway through the cooking time like she does. The first time I made it, I forgot to do it, and found that it made no difference whatsoever; the cabbage was still perfectly cooked throughout. Seasoning on both sides prior to cooking also eliminates the need to flip.
1 green cabbage, approx. 2 lbs (ok if it’s over)
1 medium to large onion (about 8 oz.)
¼ cup olive oil
¼ cup chicken stock (use vegetable stock or water for vegan version)
sea salt, pepper, & dried red pepper flakes
Preheat oven to 325°. Core your cabbage; if it weighs over 2 lbs, remove a wedge or two and reserve for another use. Cut the remainder into 8 wedges. Peel carrot and cut it into coins. Peel and slice the onion into ¼-inch-thick rings.
Brush a 9 x 13 baking dish with a little of the olive oil. Season the cabbage wedges with salt & pepper on both sides and place into the baking dish, overlapping them slightly. Scatter the carrots and onions over the top. Sprinkle with red pepper flakes. Drizzle the remainder of the olive oil over the vegetables, and pour the ¼ cup stock or water into the bottom of the dish, tilting slightly to distribute. Cover tightly with foil and bake for 2 hours. Check after an hour or so to make sure the pan is not dry; if it is, add a small amount of water or stock.
After 2 hours, remove the foil and increase the heat to 425°. Bake for an additional 15 minutes or until the cabbage begins to caramelize and brown a little on top. Sprinkle a little sea salt on top (I like to use the chunky kind) and serve.