Monday, February 27, 2012

Shredded Venison Tacos

A friend of mine and his son are avid deer hunters.  They live in the eastern part of the state where deer hunting season just ended a few months ago, and they killed several deer over the course of the season.  They hunt these animals for food rather than simply for sport, and they store the meat away and use it throughout the year.  I had been wanting some venison for some time, and they were kind enough to share with me.  In fact, every time I go home, they share something with me.  The time before last it was a huge bag of freshly dug sweet potatoes, and this time it was the deer and four large heads of collard greens.

I must stray from the topic of tacos for a moment to say that these friends often get things for very little or no money, and I admire their resourcefulness.  The sweet potatoes they gave me were dug from a field across from their house.  The man who owned the field had plowed and removed all the sweet potatoes from near the surface but had not dug deeper to get the ones below.  The man told my friend that, if he was willing, he could go across the road and dig the remaining potatoes.  After all was said and done, my friend made out with over 400 pounds of sweet potatoes, many small but edible nonetheless.  Don't you love people like that? 

Okay, back to the tacos.  The meat they gave me was a venison ham roast which I divided into two pieces.  I cut one half of it up into stew meat chunks which I froze, and the other half I cooked in the crockpot with taco seasoning.  After five hours on high, the roast was tender and literally fell apart with the touch of a fork.  The taco seasoning had given it just enough flavor while still allowing the flavor of the meat to come through.  It does have more flavor than beef tacos, but it is not gamey at all.   

To make this meat (which could just as easily be made with a beef roast), you simply brown the meat in a skillet before placing it in the slow cooker with the taco seasoning and a little water or broth.  Make sure to remove any silver skin and fat from the roast before cooking.  The silver skin will prevent the roast from getting as tender as you would like, while the fat carries a lot of the gamey flavor associated with deer meat.  I only cooked about 1 1/2 pounds because there are only two of us here, but you could cook more.  You may need to add a little additional water and seasoning if you increase the portion of meat you cook.

Shredded Venison Tacos- serves 4 (2 tacos per person)

For the meat:
1 tbsp ancho chile powder
1/4 tsp garlic powder
1/4 tsp onion powder
1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
1/4 tsp oregano
1/2 tsp paprika
1 1/2 tsp cumin
1 tsp salt
1 tsp black pepper
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 1/2 pounds trimmed venison roast
1 1/2 tbsp vegetable oil
1 cup water or beef broth

Additional Ingredients:
1 head of thinly sliced romaine lettuce
4 oz shredded cheddar or colby jack cheese
8 corn taco shells (I used store-bought to save time)
salsa of choice

For the meat:
Mix the first 9 ingredients together and set aside.  Combine the flour and half the taco seasoning in a bowl and dredge the meat in the mixture.  Heat the oil in a skillet on medium high heat.  Brown the seasoned meat in the skillet on all sides.  Place the roast in the slow cooker along with the remaining taco seasoning and water.  Cover and cook on high 5 hours or low 8 hours.  When cooking time has elapsed,  shred the meat with a fork and stir.  The meat will absorb any remaining water and seasoning. 

To assemble:
Heat the taco shells in the oven according to package instructions.  Fill each shell with approximately two tablespoons of taco meat, a few ribbons of lettuce, and a small amount of cheese.  Top with salsa if desired and serve.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Old-Time Peach Crumb Pudding

A few days ago I decided it would be a good idea to take inventory of the chest freezer and cabinet where I keep canned goods.  I had begun to notice that the vegetables I froze over the summer were dwindling, and I wanted to take a count of what was left. But in order to do so, I had to move bag after bag of sliced peaches.  I honestly had forgotten that I had frozen that many.  I guess my eyes were bigger than my stomach last summer which led me to purchase and preserve many more than were actually needed.  I decided that I really needed to begin using them so that when peach season rolls around again in a few months, I won't feel guilty purchasing more. 

I wanted something simple and warm, and I wanted it to taste similar to the peach cobbler-like dessert of my childhood.  You know, the one they served in the school cafeteria?  I always loved that dessert because the part of the topping seemed to get all creamy with the gooey peach filling, but the other part of the topping remained crisp.  I decided to make a recipe I have made several times before with fresh peaches but to use frozen instead.  The result was satisfying,  much like that cafeteria dessert I enjoyed as a grade schooler, only better! Taking a bite, especially this time of year, makes me long for summer and for simpler times when all you had to worry about in life was homework and playing outside with friends.  Oh, to be a kid again!

Old-Time Peach Crumb Pudding

This recipe was found in Our State magazine.  It was sent in by a reader named Margie Walker.  I am posting the recipe here, but I have not changed it except to add an additional tablespoon of flour when using frozen peaches.

4 pounds fresh peaches, peeled, cored, sliced (or 1 1/2 quarts frozen peaches)
1 cup granulated sugar
1 1/4 cups flour, sifted (plus an additional tablespoon if using frozen peaches)
1/2 cup butter, cut into small cubes

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. 

Combine 1/2 cup sugar and 3 tablespoons flour (4 tablespoons if using frozen peaches), and mix with the peaches.  Put in a 9 x 13 baking dish.  Mix the remaining sugar and flour. Cut the butter into the flour mixture until it resembles coarse crumbs.  Sprinkle the crumbs over the peaches and bake for 1 hour until lightly browned and crisp on top.  You may need to turn the broiler on long enough for it to brown nicely at the end, just be sure to watch it closely so it does not burn. 

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Vegetable Soup: Using What's Been Put Up

I had such big plans for this weekend, none of which took place due to the weather.  It has been so warm where I live (in the mid 60's everyday), and I really wanted to get out in the yard to plant a grapevine my uncle and aunt recently gave me.  Instead, a sudden drop to 30 degree temperatures along with sleet and a bit of snow kept me inside.  I spent the day cleaning around the house and cooking vegetable soup and peach crumb pudding, both with produce put up over the summer either by way of canning or freezing. 

As much as I love cool weather foods like greens and root vegetables, there is nothing like the taste of summer in the dead of winter, especially on a cold and wet day like today.  I get in the mood for this soup occasionally.  It is a blast from the past for me.  I grew up eating it on a fairly regular basis, and a bowl full of it takes me back to my mother's kitchen.  It is chock-full of vegetables...carrots, lima beans, corn, green beans, and tomatoes.  It is very versatile and adapts to whatever vegetables and quantities you have on hand.  The base of the soup may seem like a strange concoction to some, but the V-8 and condiments give it a deep, well-rounded flavor.  Admittedly, it is not a very photogenic food, so please excuse the poor quality photos.

My mother made and still makes this soup using bags of frozen chopped veggies from the grocery store, and it is perfectly delicious that way.  Now that I have a deep freezer and have been able to preserve large amounts of vegetables, I use what I already have on hand.  Either way, it is tasty.  My mother also puts ground beef in her soup, and I have occasionally put about half a pound in mine, but I find that it is equally delicious without it, so I usually leave it out.  A grilled cheese sandwich and/or a stack of saltine crackers fits perfectly alongside this no-frills soup.  I have to admit, though, that when I eat this soup, I want an old fashioned grilled cheese with white bread and American cheese rather than any gussied up version.  That is just how it was meant to be.  

If you do not have a freezer full of vegetables, you can wait until summer and use fresh ones or purchase frozen veggies from the grocery.  If you decide to purchase them, you will need a 16 oz bag of veggies for every quart bag called for in my recipe.  Remember, you can adjust the quantities as you see fit, leaving things out, adding others, or adding more of your favorites.  You really can't mess up this soup. 

Vegetable Soup-  serves 6, generously

1 quart bag of frozen corn kernels
1 quart bag of frozen, cut green beans
1 1/2 cups frozen lima beans
1 1/2 cups carrots, sliced
2-3 medium Yukon Gold potatoes (optional)
1 pint jar canned diced tomatoes in their own juices
46 oz V-8 juice
1 heaping tsp minced garlic
1 tsp A-1 sauce
a dash of hot sauce
2 tsp Worchestershire sauce
1 tbsp ketchup
salt and pepper to taste (I usually add about 1 tsp salt and 1/4 tsp pepper)

Thaw the vegetables enough to get them into the pot.  Place all vegetables in a large pot on medium-high heat.  Add the V-8 juice and the remaining ingredients.  Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer 30-45 minutes until all vegetables are cooked through and tender.  Season with salt and pepper, and adjust the taste with more ketchup or sauces if needed. 

Monday, February 13, 2012

Mini Hot Fudge Cakes

Nothing says Valentine's Day like chocolate, and there is no better way to have chocolate than in a warm chocolate cake oozing with melted goodness.  These mini cakes are the perfect dessert for Valentine's Day (or any day).  They have three main things going for them other than their rich, irresistible taste and gooey texture.  They are quick to prepare, can be mixed up and refrigerated up to two days before baking, and are relatively low in fat in comparison to other similar things you could be eating on Valentine's. 

They are definitely best right out of the oven when they are puffed and slightly crisp on top.  Once they cool, they will sink and become a little more dense, but the flavor will still be delicious.  These cakes really need no more than a sprinkling of powdered sugar and a tall glass of cold milk.  If you want to be a little more indulgent, top them with whipped cream or a scoop of ice cream.  

These cakes can be baked in 4 oz ramekins or 4 oz canning jars.

Mini Hot Fudge Cakes- adapted from Cooking Light
makes 8 mini cakes

3/4 cup all-purpose flour
2/3 cup cocoa powder
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 cup unsalted butter, softened
2/3 cup granulated sugar
2/3 cup packed brown sugar
4 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
2 1/2 oz good quality bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
2 tbsp powdered sugar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. 

Sift together flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, and salt in a small bowl and set aside. 

Place butter in a large bowl and beat until creamy, about 1 minute.  Add the granulated sugar and brown sugar and continue beating until well blended, about 5 minutes.  Add the eggs and vanilla and beat until combined.  Fold the flour mixture into the butter mixture until just combined.  Fold in the chopped chocolate.  Spoon the batter evenly into 8 (4 oz) ramekins or jars.  Place ramekins on a baking sheet and place in the oven.

Bake cakes 21 minutes until puffed and slightly crisp on top.  Remove from oven, dust with powdered sugar and serve immediately.


Thursday, February 9, 2012

Vinegar and a Challenge

This week has not been the best week for me in the kitchen.  Do you ever have times when nothing really goes the way you planned?  I am a firm believer that once things start to go south in the kitchen, it is time for me to get out of it because they will only continue to plummet due to frustration. 

I was really hoping to share my wine pound cake, but I had decided to try to adjust the recipe so that it did not make as much batter and bake it in mini muffin pans.  The image in my head was that of perfect little violet-colored cakes, domed on top and covered in a translucent glaze.  What I got on my first attempt at this new version of an old recipe were sunken little cakes which looked as if someone had poked a finger in the middle of each one.  Discouraged, I cleaned up my mess (taking several breaks to scoop cake batter out with a spoon as a snack) and decided to continue to work on this recipe in the future.  I will not give up! 

In the meantime, I wanted to update you on the vinegar-making process.  The picture quality is not great, but you can see a thin film of gelatinous "mother" floating on top.  There is also what I imagine to be an expired mother floating around toward the bottom, but I have no way of removing her at the moment so she will just have to hang out down there.  The vinegar was started in mid-January, and as of last week, I have added all of the wine called for into the jar.  Now it is time to be patient (up to 10 weeks) as the wine slowly transforms into vinegar.  I can't wait!

In addition to my progress (and lack thereof) in the kitchen, I was very excited today to see, after visiting Food in Jars, that Sustainable Eats has issued an Urban Farmstead Challenge for 2012.  It looks very informative, educational, and doable, and I am definitely going to give it a try.  It consists of eleven challenges (you get one month of reflection) beginning this month on topics ranging from gardening, preserving, and home dairy to crafting your own holiday gifts and baking with whole grains.  I have no idea if I can be successful at each month's challenge, but it sure will be fun to try!

I will keep you posted on my progress with the vinegar and the challenge, and if you decide to tackle the challenge as well, let me know.   

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Spicy Sausage, Bean, and Spinach Dip

I am a little late in posting a recipe for Superbowl Sunday seeing as the Superbowl is on my TV as we speak.  Most of you (at least those of you who like football) are probably sitting in front of your TV noshing on Superbowl snacks you prepared earlier and are not thinking about dips to be made.  I, on the other hand, don't know much about football, so while it is on the TV, I am going to take a few minutes to tell you about my new favorite go-to dip.  Now, I realize that you probably can't make it for tonight, but you can keep it in mind for other days when game-worthy or crowd pleasing food is needed.

My husband, like many football fans, thinks that Superbowl Sunday is incomplete without snacks, preferably at least one in dip form.  I usually make a very tasty spinach and artichoke dip worthy of such occasions, but today, I opted to try something different.  And I am so glad I did!  It was fantastic.  Creamy.  Spicy.  Cheesy.  Everything you could want in a dip, plus it had spinach which made me feel that I wasn't straying too far from tradition.  

The original recipe came from Southern Living magazine Dec. 2010 and is posted here.  I will also post it below.  I made the dip following most of the ingredients, but I did leave out the wine and onion.  I used a locally-made breakfast sausage.  If you have frozen spinach on hand rather than fresh, I think it could be used with no major difference in flavor or texture.  

Spicy Sausage, Bean, and Spinach Dip- slightly adapted from Southern Living

1 medium red bell pepper, diced
1 pound hot bulk breakfast sausage
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 tsp dried thyme, crumbled
8 oz cream cheese, softened
6 oz baby spinach leaves, coarsely chopped
1/4 tsp kosher salt
1 (15 oz) can pinto beans, drained and rinsed
1/2 cup shredded parmesan cheese

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Crumble the sausage into a large skillet set on medium-high heat.  Add the red bell pepper and cook until the sausage is browned, stirring frequently to break it into small pieces.  Add the garlic and thyme and cook 1 minute.  Lower the heat to medium and add the cream cheese.  Cook 2-3 minutes until the cheese melts completely.  Add the spinach and salt and stir to mix thoroughly.  Cook 2 minutes until the spinach wilts.  Stir in the beans.  Carefully pour the mixture into a 1 1/2 or 2 quart casserole dish.  Sprinkle with the parmesan cheese.  Bake for 20 minutes until bubbly and melted.  Serve with corn chip scoops, tortilla chips, or vegetable sticks for dipping.