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Posts Tagged ‘venison’

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I love game — venison and the like — but I have zero clue where my affinity for it comes from. My family was into watching MTV or sitting on the flagstone patio eating Carvel ice cream while my dad puffed on a pricey cigar. We were not and are not sportsmen. Living a mile from the Atlantic, we were more inclined to have our bare feet in the sand, not in camo boots and sitting in a deer blind*.

The craziest thing I used to eat at as a grade-schooler was snails. Escargot. I genuinely have no idea what compelled me to order them at a restaurant; I wasn’t exactly an adventurous kid. But I adored them.

My mom couldn’t stomach the thought of game. Just the mention of it made her turn a delicate shade of chartreuse. Once I ordered pheasant at a French restaurant and she practically retched right there on the 400-thread-count white tablecloth. I’m not ashamed to say that was part of the fun of ordering pheasant in the first place. And it was pretty tasty to boot.

Since then I’ve had alligator sausage in Florida, moose and elk burgers in Colorado and most recently, venison here in the great state of New Jersey. Loved it all. The gamier, the better. My cousin’s husband is a fervent hunter and fisherman, and we barter deer meat and striped bass for baked goods.

Again, I really need to emphasize that most people here don’t go looking for their food anywhere that doesn’t feature rewards cards. Many wouldn’t even venture to a farm — and this is the Garden State, no less. When I told my friend Brian that I buy eggs at a farm, he reminded me that Wegmans sells eggs, too.

I recently came into an old edition of Joy of Cooking that includes recipes and directions for large and small game. (The copyright page is missing; the publishing date is unknown. But in true Don-Draper fashion, the book’s first chapter is Drinks and it unironically offers several recipes for canapes, so it’s likely mid-century**.) And there are six pages devoted to game. They feature rabbit and deer along with opossum, muskrat, boar’s head, woodchuck, porcupine, beaver, raccoon, peccary — which, as everyone knows, is also called a javelina or skunk pig — and bear. There is also a page and a half devoted to airy and casual discussion of eviscerating the above, as if it’s something you’d mosey out to the woods and do before Don Draper’s cocktail party at six.

Never have I done this; never have I even seen this done. I was so unnerved at the thought of dissecting my fetal pig in Bio 101 that my college prof did it herself. But I am transfixed reading these directions.

Every piece of meat we omnivores eat comes from the big-box store’s refrigerator, wrapped in Styro and celluloid. Where is it from? Under what conditions was the animal killed and processed? We don’t know; we don’t want to know. We pluck chicken thighs from the fridge bin as dispassionately as we choose paper towels or shampoo. We cook and eat it the same way. From a connection standpoint, it couldn’t be farther from the source if was FedExed from Jupiter’s 37th moon.

Maybe explaining how to process and prepare an animal as something you and I can do, something people have always — directly — done, feels like reconnecting ourselves with our food.

Maybe — and I know I’m going into fraught territory here, but I’ve come this far — processing and preparing meat ourselves is the most honorable way to eat meat.

I came by this venison secondhand. But I can tell you eating it feels profound, even with that one degree of separation. I am reminded with every bite of its provenance. It feels right and proper. The gap closes.

As far as the pot pie recipe goes … there isn’t one. I winged it. To the farm carrots I froze last September I added potatoes and red onion. Found some wild chives on a walk to the lake and tossed in some dried wild purslane, also squirreled away from last summer. Browned the meat partway. Made a thick gravy with chicken broth, Worcestershire, malt vinegar, and hot pepper flakes. I loaded up my mom’s little 1970s earthenware pots, topped them with my pie dough, and baked them for half an hour. She’s nauseated, looking down. But I had a great, and grateful, lunch.

*Just Googled ‘hunting hideout.’ Do you sit in a deer blind or behind one? Are camo boots even a thing? I know my hunting prowess is shining right through. I’m practically Artemis.

**It’s apparently also a book that Point Pleasant Borough High School librarians have been missing for 24 years. I won’t name the perp, but I will say his homeroom was Room 207. Doing you a favor, Mr. 207. Shirley Jones’s Marian would have been all over Robert Preston’s case.

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Two upper-classman girls helping a freshman into her costume belt.

I’ve worked with kids for half my life, usually nursery school kids, and usually in the classroom. About 10 years ago I started working with teenagers in theatre. Then things got a little nutty. I mean, I stopped getting barfed on*, but I inadvertently added in drama onstage, drama backstage (if you want real drama), and much illumination.

Adults like to moan about the shortcomings of kids, and teens in particular. This is nothing new. Back in 20 BC Horace was kvetching to the same tune, and it hasn’t stopped yet. Yeah, there’s vanity and techno obsession and laziness among teens. But so is there among adults. I’ve worked with both backstage, and quite honestly? If I were to assemble a dream team of ideal colleagues**, the scale would tip heavily in favor of the teens. In my experience crewing roughly four shows a year, they’re the reliable, enthusiastic, and hardworking ones. Most consistently.

They’re also fascinating—wonderfully, sometimes heartbreakingly, candid. I like to engage them, and am humbled to be rewarded with a lot of trust.

Everyone wants to feel seen.

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Actors waiting on stage right for their entrance cue.

Story time. Seriously, I have tons. And I haven’t forgotten this is primarily a food blog. Don’t worry; food and teenagers are inextricably linked.

…There was the boy who spent most of his time grinning and jumping off things—easily the most high-octane kid I have ever worked with. Once, after he told me about a beef stir-fry he’d made and was very proud of, he revealed to me—still grinning—that he was a hemophiliac. He hated feeling captive by it and knew risking injury was stupid, but said it kept him sane—like giving the disease the middle finger from time to time.

…Seeing two freshman girls reassure, and embolden, and wipe the tears from an eighth-grade girl’s cheeks when a classmate had said something mean to her.

…The girl who loved acting but became almost paralyzed with stage fright. She said once she got out there, she would forget her nervousness and enjoy herself. So every night at places, she would come to me and I would say, ‘You just have to make it for 10 more minutes. In 10 minutes you’ll be fine.’ A year later I bought a ticket for the winter show, which she was stage managing for the first time. I went backstage to see her because I knew she was nervous. When she spotted me she squealed, ‘OH IT’S MARISA OH I’M SO GLAD YOU’RE HERE!’ And I reminded her that she’d be golden in 10 minutes.

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Lest they forget.

…The boy who raced down the hallway with a pan of brownies, stopped in his tracks, held the pan out to me so I could pull off a piece, then kept going. He didn’t speak because his mouth was stuffed.

…The girl whose mother died just a few days before the run of the show. I was stunned when she arrived to rehearse. The staff said she did not want to talk about her mom yet, but just wanted business as usual. And every single kid in the show respected it. Every now and again I’d see one of them walk past and squeeze her shoulder, but not say a word.

…Once I brought in a big box of homemade cookies, and another day a bigger box of chocolate truffles. I have no pictures because crumbs and empty candy cups dusted with cocoa powder don’t make stellar shots.

…I asked two students what topics they chose for their senior theses: (1) the history of the transgender movement; 2) the wisdom—or folly—of knowing the future, with citations from the movie Dune and Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five). How cool is that, really?

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Costumes for set dressing.

…I asked an actor where he was from, and he told me Virginia. A few minutes later he asked what my last name was. I told him, and asked why he wanted to know. He said he wasn’t sure what he should call me. I assured him he could call me by my first name. He grinned a sheepish grin and fidgeted a little, and said he thinks he’d feel better calling me Ms. Procopio. This was new. Then I remembered: he’s southern. 🙂

…One actor confided he wasn’t sure he wanted to go to college, and was on the outs with his family about it. He also confided an injury, and when he came up with a new way to dance that kept him from pain he was so excited to share it.

…I learned that the kids who are the shining stars, the most charismatic, the most beautiful, need more TLC and a shoulder to lean on more often than the average kids.

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My most recent crew kids liked to mark the number that was next up so they could look ahead to their cues. They were new to crewing, and I’ve never seen this idea in action before. It’s a good one.

…Asking a sound tech who studied in Spain for a year to tell me what he ate there. His eyes lit up as he told me about octopus eaten at every meal, about fresh anchovies skewered in fire and smoked, and how they charred, and crackled in his teeth. He was from Oklahoma, though I couldn’t tell from his accent (though it explains why he called me ‘ma’am’ when he first met me). He spoke glowingly about game-hunting and how he can tell from the taste of the venison if the deer nibbled trees a lot: ‘It tastes twiggy.’

…High-fiving an actor every night when he came off stage for not incinerating the building in a scene in which he held a Zippo up to a travel-sized can of hairspray. An admirable accomplishment.

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Actors will be actors. Dressing room tidiness.

…When I complimented another kid, from Korea, on the stones it takes to go to school halfway across the world when you’re only 14, and asked why he did it, he said, ‘Do you want the brutal truth?’ I said yeah. And he replied that kids in his home country were expected to study 8-12 hours a day, and by going to school in the U.S. he could do ‘all this,’ and waved his arms across the stage. ‘It’s much better,’ he said. A little later he went to the concession table, bought two Sprites, and gave me one.

…The crew girl who hurdled actors and set pieces to make her cue on time. She lost her house in Hurricane Sandy and was displaced for a year while her family built a new house, but was unfailingly upbeat and worked just as hard as she ever had. She would be on my dream crew.

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A crew girl waiting, tie line in hand, to pull at her cue.

*To be fair, that only happened to me once. Poor kid.

**Because regardless of age, that’s what they are, since we’re all working toward the same goal: a good production.

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I love game. Let’s get that out of the way right up front, or this post won’t make any sense.* Elk, deer, alligator, goat, pheasant, moose, buffalo—love it all. Bring it.

It should be noted I did not grow up eating game. But I started reading pretty early, and was and still am a wild devotee of the Little House books by Laura Ingalls Wilder. So from very early on, the notion of preparing and very much enjoying meals that included game has never struck me as anything but normal. When I had the opportunity to try game for the first time, the luscious Game Pie filled with rabbit, duck and venison at Colonial Williamsburg’s King’s Arms Tavern, sweet Jesus I hope they never stop making it, I went for it. Rich rewards.

I say all this because game freaks out a lot of people—at least many I know. I’m not entirely sure why, although I suspect Madison Avenue’s been whispering Glade Bali Bloom air-freshened propaganda into our ears, making us believe game like rabbit is for lesser humans.

And if I can be frank, and I can since it’s my blog, that thinking is awfully short-sighted. Unless those critics’ descendants were Inuit or from an island where there aren’t any miniature mammals, they probably ate rabbit. Which means they’re alive on this planet because of it, so they should please check their snooty at the door.**

Those I know who will admit to eating game will say they’ll eat it as long as it doesn’t taste ‘too gamey.’ That’s their prerogative, but for my money, the gaminess is exactly what’s good about it—that non-homogenized pungency, that flavor that just insists its way onto your taste buds.

I chose this recipe as a part of my cooking project, detailed here. It’s courtesy of Johnnie Walker, purveyor of hot sauces and jellies (Two Mile Creek Specialty Foods), and resident of Colorado. He says, “I visited with my mom and pop…they ate lots of rabbit as kids during the Depression. In fact, my pop says that he ate so much rabbit as a kid, every time a dog barks, he JUMPS!!”

The trick, in a beach town, is getting hold of a rabbit. The only guns we fire around here are Nerf Super Soakers, and I’m happy to challenge the local status quo about lots of things, but not about this.

I called a local specialty butcher, who ordered a rabbit for me from upstate. It was a fattened, pen-raised rabbit which cost as much as a semester at Cornell, so if you’re a hunter or know an obliging one and can get your hands on a wild rabbit, go that route. It will likely be even more flavorful and less fatty (read: less tender), but no worries. It should still work with this recipe, since it calls for baking in a sauce in a covered dish. This will help to hold in juices in this very simple, home-style meal.

Stuff I did:

-Bought my supermarket’s best candidate for a ‘bold beer mustard’: Inglehofer Stone Ground Mustard, with ‘FULL STRENGTH’ wrapped helpfully around the lid three times.

-Used carrots as my root vegetable. Seemed a natural with rabbit 🙂 And used thyme for the poultry seasoning.

-Didn’t use any booze, just chicken stock. Don’t let me stop you, though.

As good as this was after it came out of the oven, I must admit I liked it even better cold and sliced for lunch. Scrumptious.

I was surprised, even after the liberal dousing of habanero jelly and mustard, that the dish wasn’t ablaze; it was very flavorful, but mellow (at least to my taste). If it’s not enough heat for you, slap on more of the jelly or mustard as you eat. Scroll down for the habanero jelly website.

TMC (Two Mile Creek) Baked Rabbit with Mustard and Habanero Glaze

1 whole rabbit, cut up
A breath or two of white wine (like 4-6 oz.) or a nice light beer (like half a bottle), plus a tbsp or two of chicken broth to deglaze
1/3 c butter, softened
1/3 c TMC habanero hot pepper jelly with whiskey-infused apricots
3 tbsp mustard (a good call here would be a bold beer mustard)
1 tsp salt
1 tsp pepper
½ c all-purpose flour
1 tsp poultry seasoning
1 tsp sweet paprika
Shortening, vegetable oil, bacon grease or duck fat for frying
Root vegetables like onions, leeks, carrots, baby red potatoes, etc. cut into chunks

Mix the butter, the jelly and the mustard together in a bowl. Set aside. In another bowl, stir together the dry ingredients.

Heat enough oil in a frying pan (or better yet, an oven-friendly frying pan!) to brown the rabbit pieces.

Dredge the rabbit pieces in the flour mixture and brown in the hot oil. Cook on each side for 1-2 minutes—less time for less crisp pieces and longer for a nice crisp piece of rabbit. Set the browned pieces aside.

Deglaze the frying pan with the wine, beer or chicken broth, or a combo. Scrape all of the bits up with the extra deglazing liquid. Set aside.

In the bottom of a casserole dish or Dutch oven, arrange your vegetables. Salt and pepper lightly. Take the deglazed bits you saved and pour this over the vegetables. Now place the rabbit pieces on top of the vegetables. Spoon or brush the butter/jelly mixture over it.

Cover the dish and place in a preheated 350 degree oven for 45 minutes. Remove the lid from the dish. You can flip the rabbit pieces at this time, if desired, and continue cooking for another 15-20 minutes or until the rabbit is tender and around 160-165 degrees.

When you plate the rabbit and the vegetables, pour the bottom juices and drippings in a gravy bowl or such style container for extra sauce.

Serves 3-4 city folks or 1-2 hungry Logan County farmers. You can substitute chicken or pheasant or even farm-raised goose for the rabbit. Squirrel is good too…cooking time will be less, though.

****************
Johnnie Walker
Logan County, CO
USA

twomilecreekspecialtyfoods.com

Thanks, Johnnie!

*Like I have such a track record for plausibility. Now isn’t the time to start making guarantees.

**Here in New Jersey people won’t eat rabbit but they’ll eat pork roll***.

***To non-residents of NJ: Pork roll is a very popular breakfast and sandwich meat of questionable origins. Then the manufacturers add salt and nitrates.

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Crayfish and shrimp stew.

Last weekend I drove down to Ellicott City, MD to my college roommate’s house, jumped in the van with her, her three girls and the dog, and continued down to Colonial Williamsburg.

I’m not a serious history buff—I don’t know the Hawley-Smoot tariff from a hole in the ground (it might have been, for all I know)—but I’m one of those people who loves historical places, thinking places, and beautiful places. Factor in good food and we’re golden.

I love that you can wander around most of Colonial Williamsburg and don’t have to pay to do it. I love that the original plank floors in the King’s Arms Tavern are still there, worn and smooth and grey, and that George Washington’s boots crossed them more than once. I love that the place has been so authentically restored that if Thomas Jefferson were beamed back from the dead and dropped onto Duke of Gloucester Street, barring us with our fanny packs and our iphones, he wouldn’t see a thing different than he ever knew.

When I travel I make a point to eat something that the region is known for. Lunch at the Shields Tavern offered some tasty southern/colonial choices. Lordy, how I do love Carolina pulled pork, and I was tempted to get it, but pushed the envelope and ordered crayfish and shrimp stew. Described as an 18th century recipe, it includes tomatoes, vegetables, sherry and seafood. But the addition of that sherry plus a splash of cream really made it a bisque, and it truly lived up to that name: velvety, rich and savory. It was full of calories and full of flavor, and I didn’t care about the first part.

Tender Sally Lunn bread, watermelon-rind relish, those addicting ginger cookies that are sold on the street under awnings—these are the flavors of long ago, carefully recreated to give visitors a genuine taste of the cooking of the area’s English-Scottish settlers. Tasting it is a trip anyway, but if you’re used to Hot Pockets and Yoplait for lunch, it’s even trippier. My favorite dish is Game Pie—rabbit, duck and venison under a crust. Just the description makes my mom squinch her mouth up like Wile E. Coyote when he’s standing immobile just over a cliff and holding a sign that reads ‘Help’, but I adore it. And Colonial Williamsburg’s root beer—sharp on the tongue and intensely flavored—is a standout drink. Not for wusses, and I wish I’d bought a case of it to bring home.

After lunch we did what Colonial Williamsburg is best for: wandering. Photo opportunities are endless for normal people who like to take shots of trees or architecture or an errant fife and drum procession as well as for less-than-normal people who like to take pictures of rusty things and bricks. Three guesses which category I belong in.

Rusty padlock.

Path and boxwoods.

Sleepy ewe.

Bricks in stages of curing.

18th century fence.

Portrait.

Moss and lichen.

Magnolia blossom.

Peeling shutter.

Lightfoot.

Portrait.

Swiss chard.

Hitching post and elm.

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