Friday, January 28, 2011

Chillin' with Chilindron

After searching the interwebs for a good venison stew recipe, I decided to go with one called "the ultimate wild game stew" by a blogger I enjoy following.  This stew is called chilindron, a Spanish recipe composed of roasted red peppers, tomatoes, onions, wine,  various herbs, and plenty of garlic and paprika.  The name of the stew is supposed to be borrowed from the name of the large heavy pot that it was cooked in.  Chicken or lamb is the most common protein, but apparently the recipe can accommodate a wide range of meats by varying the wine type involved.

I started by dicing and browning the meat.  I used some random cuts from a hind quarter of Queen Mother that I had bagged up and froze for stew.  After trimming out the silverskin and such I cut them in bits about an inch square and then browned them in olive oil in a large pan.

Venison always looks so awesome.
I removed the meat from the pan and added coarsely sliced onions and coated them well in the pan juices.
I then added chopped fresh mushrooms, minced garlic and bacon cut into squares of about an inch.  The recipe called for dried mushrooms but I couldn't find any on short notice.

This on its own would have been tasty :)
I then added the venison back to the pan and poured in a good bit of red wine and simmered it on high to reduce.  At this point the aroma was heavenly.

After reducing I removed this mixture to a large pot, and added the seasoning (paprika, rosemary, bay leaf) and beef broth, then set it on low to simmer away.

Too cute.  Bay leaf from my own tree, btw.
I let it bubble for a good four hours, turning it off before I went to bed (yeah, it was always destined for leftover status, but I find most stews are better that way).  I'm enjoying the results right now at lunchtime over some white rice, very delicious.  Its not nearly as spicy as I imagined it would be, but it does have a strong red pepper taste.  I'll most likely make this again when the hubby returns from his overseas trip to visit his family.  I gave some of it to a friend of mine who is a natural-born foodie, I'll be interested in his opinion.

Last peek before bed


Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Braisin' 2: Julia and Me

For my next act, I decided to revisit the braised shoulder, this time adhering closely to the recipe detailed in  "Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Volume 1" by Child, et al.  Really, I didn't deviate far, basically just omitting celery from the marinade because I was too lazy to go to the store to get some and then adding pearl onions and carrots directly in the braising liquid with the venison instead of preparing them separately.  I won't go into every detail, but the new elements for me were marinating the shoulder 24 hrs in the fridge in a mix of red wine, diced carrots, thin cut onions, bay leaves, and some other stuff I forget right off the bat.  The meat was then well-dried and browned on all sides over fairly high heat.

The marinade was then reduced, and went into a pot over low heat with the meat and a few cups of beef broth.  I added larger cuts of carrot and pearl onions about an hour later.

This bubbled away for about four hours (Julia Child recommended baking in the oven but I though stove top heat was fine).  Meanwhile, towards the end of the braising I prepared rice using some beef broth I reserved and some salted butter.  When the meat was done, I removed it from the pot and pulled it apart.  The stock I further reduced with some butter.  I was supposed to add a thickener but I didn't feel it even needed it.

This is actually the next-day version, great for leftovers.

I'd say that of the non-grilled venison, this was the best so far.  Possibly even 1st place overall.  The vegetables were just as good.  Its hard to believe that some people consider the shoulder only fit for grind.  But then again, I'm sure the animal makes a big difference, all my personal experience so far is with a sample size of two muley does, I have no idea how versatile a whitetail buck will be.

I pulled a bag of random bits from the hindquarters out to thaw for a stew, not sure where I'm going with it yet.  I probably won't cook it until the weekend, so I have time to research.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Future Ratatouille.

I started some more tomatoes sets last night, hopefully to be ready to go into the beds outside sometime in early march.  I'm planting some new-to-me varieties from several commercial sites, as well as some seeds I saved from last year.  One of the saved varieties I have some hopes for, it came from a tomato that came up in my compost and then was given to a friend of mine.  It actually produced fruit in the heat of summer, which is almost unheard of for anything besides a cherry tomato around here (they usually burn out from heat and disease in late June or so).  

Purple Tomatillo, Black Icicle, Carbon, Black Sea Man, Silver Fir Tree, and Moonglow.  I like the flavor of the "black" tomatoes, so I tent to gravitate towards experimenting with them. 

I just have a small garden patch behind the house, and it doesn't really get as much light as it should (about 5 hours direct instead of 8).  My tomatoes tend to get a little bit leggy but they do produce, and quite well at times.  In the winter months, greens like collards and mustard do really well, if they get enough water.  Beans and southern peas tend to do well also (I'm breeding my own strain of crowder pea, pretty cool the variation I'm seeing after a few years).  Squash do OK, but they have a lot of issues with vine and fruit borers, the exception being Seminole pumpkin, which is adapted to FL and does a great job.  Corn, unfortunately, is right out, I've tried but it just won't go.  This year I'm remaking the garden into raised beds, hopefully it will be quite spiffy when completed.  There is also a greenhouse in the works, but right now its just a giant erector set layed out in the converted carport. 

One day in May, I hope to do a nice venison shank braise with a side of ratatouille.  Stay tuned.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Steak, My Deer.

I've been reading the book Steak:  One Man's Search for the World's Tastiest Piece of Beef by Mark Schatzker.  So far it has exceeded expectations, what seemed at first as simply the account of some guy traveling the world to compare steak (nice work if you can get it) has turned into a quite informative and at times very reflective work.  However, after a couple hundred pages of reading about steak, I just had to have one!  And why waste money on beefsteak when I've good backstrap in the freezer?

Not a whole lot to this recipe, in fact all I did was salt and pepper a nice piece of backstrap after I lightly coated it with olive oil and grill it over natural charcoal, essentially as I've described before, and served it with a baked potato and side salad (from my garden).  But I was really ready for some red meat! 

Charcoal charging up
Ahhhhhh jus, that's right.

Can you tell I like sour cream?

This is actually the first piece of backstrap we've eaten from Queen Mother, and the taste was perfect, dark and meaty, with just enough of a something to let you know that it was wild.  Which brings up a point addressed at length by Mr. Schatzker in his book:  The USDA grading system places great emphasis on youth and fat (when it comes to beef carcasses, I mean, not Americans in general, but sometimes you can't tell that).  If this deer was beef, it would have received very low rating marks, as it was lean and from an older animal.  Just goes to show, marbling ain't everything.

Even though technically we have another seven days of deer hunting here locally, I'm not sure I'll be doing any as my hunting buddy just had a baby and I have life matters of my own to attend to.  Hopefully it will pan out that we can go symbolically for a couple hours on the last day.

I'm already thinking about local hunting next year, I have a great offer to go on 120 acres just to the east of town.  The property owners there sincerely want the deer population down, as tick numbers were incredibly high last summer and a few cases of Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever were reported from the general area.  There are basically two schools of thought around here on tick protection, those who cover every inch with clothing in hopes of keeping the ticks off and those who wear as little as practical, expecting to see and feel the ticks before they can attach.  I'm of the later school, and it works for me but it does require constant vigilance.  Hopefully being in a tree stand might help.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Big 4-0

Is here.  I turn 40 years old at 10:05 AM this morning.  Funny, I don't feel like someone who could technically have grandkids...

Found this on my desk when I got in to work, present from my hunting buddy John.  He knows me quite well at this point :)

At this rate I could be passed out by 11 am.

My present to myself is en route, scheduled for delivery later today:  A 1970's vintage Ben Pearson Mustang 7258 recurve bow, AMO 58 inches, 45 lbs. @ 28 inches.  As much as I could tell from the photos for the auction, it looks like it should clean up nicely.  For some odd reason someone bolted a Whisker Biscuit arrow rest to it, they are mostly used for compounds but maybe he knew something that conventional wisdom doesn't.  I'll have to get bow string, arrows, etc., but I'll be sure to post practice pics.

Photo from eBay auction.  Yes some damn fool put a Whisker Biscuit on it, poor thing!

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Myakka and Cascadura

I went down south last weekend for what has become my traditional annual solo overnight backpacking trip in Myakka River State Park.  This is the fourth year now that I've trudged out across the prairie to sleep in a palmetto and pine island, miles from anywhere.  For those not familiar with Florida ecosystems, we do indeed have prairies here, but they are of a very different type than those found out west.  Near my home in Gainesville there is Payne's Prairie (also a state park), which is a wet prairie that has a karst origin.  Down at Myakka there is a dry (typically) prairie that is in essence a flatwoods environment without the woods.  Its mostly stunted saw palmetto and shrubs in the blueberry family, with lots of clump grasses and flowering perennials thrown in the mix.
Florida Dry Prairie (pic from the 2007 trip)
Florida dry prairie is an endangered ecosystem, a lot of it was fundamentally altered for ranching, farming, and subdivisions in the last several decades.  Even at Myakka a cattle ranch once existed.  Much work has been done to reintroduce the natural burn cycle that keeps the prairie healthy and free of overgrown woody plants.  There are, of course, areas of the park where trees occur naturally, including Panther Point, the "island" where I camp, as well as Bee Island, an oak hammock surrounded by wide-spaced mature South Florida slash pine.
Panther Point in the morning mist.
South Florida slash pine near Bee Island.
Yes, the splendors of Myakka are many, even though it was overcast the entire time I was there this trip.  Probably for the best, it would have been hot otherwise and drinking water was limited due to the drought the state is in.
Gratuitous 'gator shot, for those of you who don't have the option of seeing a giant carnivorous reptile any day you feel like it.  Yawn.

"But!" you might interject "What has this wonderful place to do with hunting or eating of game flesh?".  Very little, says I, but I found a way to tie it in, kinda.  As I mentioned, the place is super dry right now, and surface water is rare away from the actual river.  I passed one of the few pools remaining on my walk out, and saw plenty of evidence the piscivorous denizens of the prairie have been partaking mightily of the stranded fishes.  Most of the fish were of a type new to me:
Little lacking in the fresh department.
I did recognize them as an armored catfish, and some searching online today brought up their identity.  The fish in question are a non-native species, here called the Brown Hoplo (Hoplosternum littorale).  The FWC thinks little of them, being another of the many invasives transforming the Florida ecosystems.  However, they note that people with cultural ties to Trinidad value the fish as fine eating.  I found a blog post with an excellent (if slightly creepy) photo of cascadura (as they are often called) cooked up in a curry.

In as much as I like catfish in general (they were the main fish we consumed growing up) I'm interested in finding some fresh cascadura.  The FWC website noted they are typically caught with a net, and indeed there were people fishing with a cast net off the bridge over the river in the park.  I wonder if this is what they were after?  Knowing what I know now, I wish I'd stopped to ask.  Next year, I may have to bring a cast net down and see what I can catch.
Set up for the evening.  That ain't iced tea!  Cheers!