Venison Meatballs

Here in Kansas, deer season can result in some pretty tasty venison, if you happen to know someone who hunts.  Luckily, we do.  While Chris grew up eating venison (although mostly in summer sausage or chili form), I came to venison eating later in life and quite enjoy it.  As with any game meat, it can vary in flavor and intensity depending on the specific animal, but the meat we used for this recipe was quite mild.  If you’re sensitive to gamy flavors, you have a couple of options.  You can either try to cover up the meat flavor with spices, at which point you might as well just skip the venison and use beef, or you can use intensely savory flavors for the sauce (as we did here) that actually pair well with a slightly gamy flavor.  The seasoning options presented here are only a guideline-take this any direction that suits you. They would play equally well as a Swedish meatball, or as a standard red-checkered tablecloth spaghetti and meatball.

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Ingredients

2 lbs ground venison

1 lb ground pork (80% lean)

3/4-1 cup breadcrumbs

2 eggs

2/3 cup parmesan (in the can, yes I know. Shameful, but it’s the best for meatballs. I’ve tried putting the good stuff in there instead, but it just doesn’t work as well.  Must be the cellulose).

1 tbsp Italian seasoning (use your favorite-we used a bread dipping mix I grabbed at a local spice shop)

1 tbsp steak seasoning or season salt

1 tsp ground pepper

1 tsp salt

Dash Worcestershire sauce

 

Method

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.  In a large bowl, combine all of the ingredients by hand until well mixed.  If the mixture is too sticky, add more breadcrumbs until the meat mixture sticks to itself, not to you.  On an oiled baking sheet, roll out your desired size of meatball.  I like the 2-3 tbsp size range, so I ended up with about 50 meatballs from this mixture.  Bake for 25 minutes. At this point you can either use them in a dish, or cool, then stash in a freezer safe bag until you have a hankering for more venison.

For the red wine mushroom sauce in the picture, I’m afraid I don’t have an exact recipe for it, but I can provide some general guidelines.  We used our standard roux based sauce method, where we make a roux, when it starts to darken, add the veggies (onion and mushrooms here).  Sauté off for a few minutes, then deglaze with some booze (we started with marsala, but ran out.  oops).  2-3 cups of mixed meat broth then goes in, along with garlic, parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme.  We let it simmer covered for a few minutes to let the mushrooms give up their juice, and then added some Shiraz we had open (along with a shot of brandy, because at this point, why not?).  Meatballs went in, and we simmered it for another few minutes to warm the meatballs up again, and to let that flavor mix with the sauce a bit.  I wasn’t really keeping track of the amounts of anything we used, but that’s the joy of cooking for fun.

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Weeknight dinner rolls

I am going to start this post with an entirely banal statement.  Homemade bread is amazing.  I know I’m not staking out a highly contentious position with this, but I feel like I need to make my position on this topic clear from the beginning.  Unfortunately, good yeast breads tend to take longer than I want to devote to cooking on a week night, so I’ve been relying on the take and bake loaves of bread from the local Kroger.  These are all well and good for the crusty bread fix, but there’s nothing quite like a fresh pan of rolls.  On a whim, I looked around on Pinterest and found a one hour buttermilk dinner rolls recipe and decided to try it out last week.  The results were promising, but a little dense and pale in our oven. I made the recipe again yesterday with a few tweaks, and we have a winner.

Buttermilk dinner rolls

Buttermilk dinner rolls

 

Ingredients

  • 4 cups AP flour
    • (EDIT: For wheat rolls, use 3 cups AP flour, 1 cup whole wheat flour)
  • 3 tbsp sugar
  • 1/2 tbsp salt
  • 1 tbsp rapid rise dry yeast
  • 2/3 cup buttermilk
  • 4 tbsp butter
  • 3/4 cup water

Method

In the bowl of a stand mixer, add all of the dry ingredients (including yeast), and stir briefly to combine.  In a microwave-safe container, mix the buttermilk, butter (sliced into smaller pieces) and water.  Heat until butter is melted.  With the dough hook attached and mixer running, slowly add in the liquid mixture to the dry ingredients.  When combined, turn speed up to medium low until dough comes together and pulls away from the sides of the bowl.  If it’s too dry after a couple of minutes, add another tablespoon of buttermilk, and if it’s too wet, add some flour.  It is better to err on the side of sticky.  When the dough has had about 5 minutes on the mixer, remove the hook, cover the bowl and stash in a warm place for 10 minutes.  This allows the dough to relax a little bit before you shape the rolls.  While you’re rising the dough, preheat the oven to 170 degrees F, or as low as it will go.  After your 10 minutes are up, turn the dough out onto an oiled board, and shape into rolls (I like breaking it into twelve rolls).  Place rolls in a greased 9″x13″ pan, turn OFF the oven, cover the tray and allow the rolls to rise in the oven for 20-25 minutes. When the rolls have risen, remove them from the oven (VERY IMPORTANT) and preheat to 400 degrees F.   Bake the rolls for 20-25 minutes, covering them loosely with aluminum foil if they start to brown too much.  Remove from the oven and allow them to cool as long as you can before consuming in a frenzy of butter and crumbs.

 

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While they do take a little longer than an hour with these modifications (about 75 minutes), the results are worth it.  These are light, fluffy rolls that are great with dinner, or as rolls for sandwiches.  This is definitely going to be entering our bread rotation in a big way.   It’s also a short enough process that I can make the dough, and let them rise and bake while we’re working on the rest of dinner, which makes these absolutely manageable as a weeknight bread option.

 

Mushrooms on Toast

Several years ago, Chris and I would trawl youtube for the British episodes of Kitchen Nightmares (this was before the American version existed).  One of the restaurants featured was a cute little vegetarian cafe in Paris that had some major issues (obviously), but what really stuck out to us was the gorgeous mushrooms on toast that Gordon Ramsay (or his helper chef, I can’t remember at the moment) made.  It had huge, beautiful mushrooms on a generous piece of toasted brioche.  It looked like mushroomy joy on a plate. Since then, every once in a while we’ll remember that mushrooms on toast exist, and make some.   Because this was for dinner, I cooked a couple of eggs over medium (because runny yolk makes everything better), and added a little bit of Swiss cheese to the toasts.

Mushrooms on toast.

Mushrooms on toast. So much mushroom.

Ingredients (serves 2)

1 lb mushrooms, sliced (a mixture is good-we used some oyster, cremini and button mushrooms)

1 tbsp butter

2 shallots, diced

1 clove of garlic (or roasted garlic paste, if you have it)

1/2 cup white wine

1 tbsp chopped fresh herbs (I used thyme and chives, but parsley would be a nice addition as well)

1-2 tbsp heavy cream

4 slices of french bread, no more than 1″ thick (if you’re using a baguette, you’ll want 6 slices of bread)

2-3 slices of Swiss cheese (or gouda) (optional)

3-4 eggs, cooked as desired (optional)

Salt and pepper, to taste

Method

Melt the butter in a heavy skillet over medium high heat and when it starts to brown, add your shallots. Sauté for a couple of minutes until those start to brown, then add your garlic and herbs.  Sauté another 30 seconds or so and dump in your mushrooms.  I recommend adding some salt at this point, and sauté until the mushrooms start to brown slightly and soften, another couple of minutes.  Add your white wine, stir, then lower the heat and cover for another 5-10 minutes.  When the mushrooms are cooked through, remove the lid and add your cream.  Bring back to a gentle simmer to reduce the sauce.  Adjust your seasoning, and if you want to, refresh your herbs.

For the toast, I recommend preparing them in the oven with the broiler. I lightly brushed one side with butter, toasted it, then flipped the bread over and put just enough Swiss cheese to cover the toast.  I put it back under the broiler until melted.

To serve, put the toasts on the plate, dump half of the mushroom mixture over it, then top with your eggs (if desired).  It makes a ridiculously quick and filling weeknight meal, and can be scaled very easily if you’re serving more people. It is also very flexible on the liquid used.  If you don’t have a bottle of white wine open, you could use your favorite stock (especially with a tablespoon or so of brandy).

Cherry Pie

Chris’ favorite pie is pumpkin.  Without question, if I offer to make a pumpkin pie, he is on board with that idea.  His second favorite is cherry pie.   I always had reservations making a cherry pie, because most of the time, cherries weren’t in season, pitting cherries is a pain anyway, and the only other available option was the bright red canned cherry pie filling.  Also, most of the other fruit pies I have made end up being fruit soups.  Not anymore. We have started going to Sam’s Club regularly for some basics, and while browsing their freezer section one time, I saw huge bags of frozen sweet cherries.  Thinking in terms of smoothies, I grabbed a bag, and then promptly forgot about it in the freezer for 4 months.  Oops. Eventually, I found the cherry pie recipe here.  I decided to make it for Pi day, and wow.  We both loved the results. It has a very straightforward cherry fruit flavor, and is not nearly as cloyingly sweet as most of the canned fillings.  You also get more fruit, which is always nice in a fruit pie.  Unfortunately, the first time I made it I didn’t remember to get a photo of it for the blog.  So I made it again today.  Now, I cheated and used store-bought pie crust, but if you have a fantastic pie crust recipe, feel free to use that.

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Ingredients

Pie crust (enough for 1 double crust pie)

48 oz frozen dark sweet cherries (if you can find tart cherries, that would be better, but those are hard to find here)

3/4 cup sugar (a little less if you want a less sweet pie, down to 1/2 cup, or more if you’re using tart cherries-up to 1 cup)

5 tbsp corn starch (may need a little more, depending on how juicy your cherries are) (tapioca can be used as well, just use 1 tbsp less than the corn starch)

Pinch of salt

Splash of vanilla (optional)

1 tbsp butter

1 egg, for egg wash

Method

Prepare your pie crusts according to your recipe, or buy them.  Set them aside while you mix the cherries (still frozen is fine) with the sugar, salt, vanilla and cornstarch.  It will look something like this.

Mmm...crunchy.

Mmm…crunchy.

Set the bowl out for an hour and let the cherries thaw and soak into the starch.  If you’re impatient (like I am), then pull out a medium saucepan, pour the whole kit and caboodle into that and bring to a simmer.  It will start out looking cloudy

Foggy liquid

Foggy liquid

Once is comes up to a simmer, let it simmer gently for 5 minutes or so.  It should thicken and clear, looking something like this.

Steamy, but clearer.

Steamy, but clearer.

Let it cool while you deal with the crust.  Preheat your oven to 425 and roll out your bottom crust.  This is enough filling for a deep dish 9″ pie pan, so plan accordingly.  Once you have your bottom crust in place, pour in the filling and dot the top of the filling with the broken apart butter.   Top the pie with your second crust (I like lattice, but you can use a full crust if you like, just remember to leave some vent holes).  Brush the entire crust with egg wash, and bake at 425 for 15 minutes. Remember to put a tray under the pie pan-it may drip a little bit.  After 15 minutes, turn the oven down to 375 and bake another half hour.  The filling should be bubbling gently.  Remove and let cool for several hours, until fully set and at room temperature.

Mmmmmmm. Pie.

Mmmmmmm. Pie.

Serve with vanilla ice cream, if you must, or just enjoy a piece unadorned.   At some point, I am going to try this same method with a blueberry pie, or a peach and blueberry pie. When I do that, I will report any positive results here.

Chili con carne (lazy weekday version)

This is something I intended to post a couple of weeks ago, but just didn’t get around to it (oops!).  As the title of the post implies, this is another fast evening meal that will give you a big bang for your buck.  We used it to top stacked enchiladas, and then topped that with an over medium egg, but you can go nuts. Put it in burritos, make tacos, put it on salad, ice a cake with it…ok, maybe the options aren’t endless, but you get the idea.

Hard to see, but it's under the egg!

Hard to see, but it’s under the egg!

Ingredients (serves 4)

1 lb ground beef (I used 90% lean-you’ll add some oil to it, but it will be easier to control the fat)

1 large white onion, finely minced

1 tsp garlic paste

2 tbsp canola (or more, as needed)

3 tbsp flour

1 can (10 oz or so) enchilada sauce

2 tbsp chili powder

1/2 tsp cumin powder

2 tbsp tomato paste

1 tbsp oregano

1 tsp thyme

Salt, pepper to taste

Method

Brown beef in cast iron skillet over medium heat. If using lower fat beef, add some canola, then sauté onions.  Once onions are cooked, add more oil if needed, and make a roux with the flour.  Once the flour has toasted, add the enchilada sauce and about a can’s worth of water.  Add the garlic paste and additional seasonings and stir to combine.  Let it come up to a simmer, and add the tomato paste.  Stir to combine and adjust seasoning.  Use as desired.  The leftovers keep fantastically, if you have any.

Baked Banana Oatmeal

I enjoy a nice bowl of oatmeal in the morning.  What I don’t like is getting hungry at 10 because I just had one of those instant oatmeal packets instead of something more substantial. Since I tend to be a bit of a zombie most mornings, these baked oatmeal recipes are definitely the way to go during the work week.  They keep me full until lunch, they taste way better than the packets, and I can even successfully reheat a bowl before I have coffee.  When I made this recipe, I had two brown bananas and a plantain that was getting long in the tooth as well, so that’s what I used.  The plantain didn’t mash as neatly as the banana, but I do like the bites of fruit that survived.  If you don’t typically have plantains, just stick with bananas.  I also decided that you really can’t have too much banana flavor, so I added the 99 bananas (banana liqueur) to amp up that aspect.  You can leave that out, or add some banana extract instead.  Once I had pulled out the 99 banana, I also grabbed the dark rum, because why not make this taste like bananas fosters?

It tastes like oatmeal mixed with bananas fosters. Mmmm

It tastes like oatmeal mixed with bananas fosters. Mmmm

Ingredients (serves 8)

3 bananas, very ripe

2 eggs

1 3/4 cup milk

2 tbsp 99 bananas

2 tbsp dark rum

1/3 cup brown sugar

2 3/4 cup instant oatmeal

1/2 tsp baking soda

1/2 tsp baking powder

1/4 cup oat flour (optional, I like a firmer baked oatmeal)

1/2 tsp cinnamon

2 tsp vanilla

grate of nutmeg

1/2 tsp salt

Method

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Mash bananas, add the rest of the wet ingredients.  Add sugar and spices and stir to combine. Add dry ingredients, mix, and pour into a greased 8″x 8″ pan.  Bake 45 minutes, or until set through.  Remove and cool slightly.  Can be served warm with milk, or you can stash it in the fridge and reheat it throughout the week.  I like adding about half a cup of milk and zapping it in the microwave for a minute. I have also reheated a bowl with a handful of fresh blueberries mixed it.  It helps mix things up and keeps it from getting too boring.  If you need something sweet, chocolate chips, peanut butter chips or butterscotch chips would go well.

Sausage, Kale and Potato Soup

One of the soups we regularly make is this sausage, kale and potato soup.  It’s pretty similar to the Zuppa Toscana at a certain major chain restaurant, but now that we can make it at home, we have no really incentive to go to said chain. I have found many variations of this recipe all over the internet, and after several repetitions and fine tuning, this is the version that we prefer.  It’s a very easy soup to season, as most of the seasonings come from the sausage itself.  We have made this with both fresh and frozen kale, and it’s good with either.  Also, I typically make this with russet potatoes, but we had some red skinned potatoes I needed to get rid of, so that’s what I used for the photo.  The recipe is pretty flexible.

Soup!

Soup!

Ingredients

1 lb bulk Italian sauce (I use hot, if you don’t want it spicy, stick with mild)

1 large white onion, chopped

2 bunches kale (or one 10oz bag of the pre-cleaned kale in the produce section, OR one similarly sized bag of frozen kale)

8 cups chicken broth (low sodium, or homemade)

2 cloves garlic

3-4 russet potatoes, halved, sliced and split, or 6-7 red skinned potatoes

1/4 cup heavy cream

Salt, pepper and red pepper flake, to taste

Method

Heat a large soup pot or dutch oven over medium heat, and brown the sausage.  Once the sausage is brown, add the onions and let them cook for about 5 minutes, or until translucent.  Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, another 30 seconds or so.  Pour in the stock or broth.  If you have bunches of kale, clean, stem and rip the kale into bite-sized pieces.  Kale can be a gritty, sandy veggie, so be sure you wash it well.  Add your kale to the broth and stir it in.  It may seem like your kale is exploding out of our cooking pot, but don’t worry.  It wilts quickly, and you will suddenly have a lot more room for more kale.  Once the kale is in and wilted, add your potatoes and a good pinch of salt.  If you are using mild sausage and want a little bit of heat, or are using spicy and want a lot of heat, add in a pinch of red pepper flake at this point.  Lid the soup and allow it to come to a simmer.  Once your potatoes are cooked, add the cream and adjust your seasonings.  Serve with crusty bread.

Edit January 2016:  I find that this soup is improved by cooking the potatoes about 90% of the way before adding the kale the soup.  Then, add kale, wilt and allow to soften, 15-25 minutes, depending on your kale.  Finish with cream, adjust seasoning and serve with bread.