Bacon Wrapped Venison Steaks, Thanksgiving, and the Demise of Puff

These steaks were one of the best things that's happened to me for a while, but before I get to them I need to break some news.

Remember Puff, that young hen that I was so concerned about integrating into the flock just a few weeks ago? Well, "she" started crowing last week proving that she was actually a he. Unlike his brother 3 Spot, Puff was not a paragon of roosterhood. He had a crooked toe (a trait that can be passed on in a chicken's genes), a gimpy leg, and was extremely slow to develop compared to 3 Spot. They were hatched on the same day and it took Puff a good 2 months longer to start crowing than 3 Spot. The upshot of all this is that it didn't feel right to give Puff to a farm where he would have his own flock - he was just not breeding stock. Since roosters are illegal in the city my other options were to give him to someone else to butcher, or butcher him myself. I chose the second option.

We did it this afternoon. Dave and Stanley did the killing, Mom, Meg (Dave's girlfriend) and I did the plucking and eviscerating. It was quick, easy, and a bit intense. I didn't take pictures. It's nice to not have to worry about integrating the little bird anymore, or what I'm going to do with him when it gets cold. It's in the fridge now, and we'll probably make a meal of it this week. I will definitely take pictures of that.

It seems that a personal connection to the animals I eat is becoming a theme this November. It's really brought home to me the solemn responsibility I have to honor the animals I eat with the respect they deserve.

Stanley went on a hunting trip with his dad and brother last weekend, and his brother got two deer. The smaller of the two ( in the picture above) went to Stanley. His dad and brother did the butchering and it's now in my freezer.

We have a ton of venison to eat in the coming year. Our first meal was last week: venison steaks wrapped in bacon.

Here are the steaks. Small and dark red. Venison is a lean meat, high in protein, iron, and B12 vitamins.

We salted and peppered the meat liberally....

.... and then wrapped each steak in a piece of bacon (local of course!).

The steaks went in the cast iron skillet over medium heat to crisp the bacon a bit.

A local yellow onion completed the dish.

When the bacon had started to render, we transferred it all to a pan in a hot oven to finish cooking.

Every meal must have something green. We've still got this beautiful local broccoli, so I steamed some.

Don't forget the mashed potatoes.

The secret to cooking venison is to either cook it for a very short time like we did with these steaks, or to slow cook it in a crock pot or in a low oven. It's very lean, so drying it out is a real concern. The bacon added some nice fattiness, and to our delight the steaks themselves were mild, not too gamy, and quite tender.

With the broccoli and mashed potatoes this made one of the most delicious meals I'd had in a long while. I can't wait to experiment with all the rest of the venison we have in the freezer - look for many more posts to come!

Thank you deer!

Lastly, I should tell you a bit about my Thanksgiving. It was my first time home for this holiday in about 6 years. It was so nice to sit around that Thanksgiving table with my family again! We had all the traditional things - I procured the turkey and Dave cooked it and made gravy. I also made venison sausage stuffing (see my recipe at the end of this post). Mom made a carrot dish, Brussels sprouts, and her grandmother's creamed onions. My aunt Kate hosted and made a vegetarian stuffing. Erica and Ben brought mashed potatoes, dinner rolls, and a delicious squash dish. Cousin Aaron's girlfriend and Erica's parents Barry and Diane made a plethora of pies. Diane also made a delicious fresh cranberry sauce, and of course we had the traditional cranberry sauce with the ridges from the can still showing.

The turkey was a Narragansett (an heirloom breed) that I was lucky to find in a Craigslist add. Dave did an excellent job of describing all that went into the preparation on his blog, so I'm not going to go it here. It's worth checking out - it was frickin' delicious!

I will however, tell you a little about the venison sausage stuffing I made...

Since there is so much venison in my freezer, I decided it was high time that I buy a meat grinder. This was my first time trying sausage. I cut up a bunch of "scraps" from the deer, added some fatty beef, spices, and....

... put it through the meat grinder. This was so cool! I'm excited to see what fun ground meats we'll come up with this winter!

I browned the sausage with some onions and garlic, added celery, some fresh herbs, chestnuts, and cubed bread crumbs. All this went into a baking dish with some milk and melted butter and baked for a few hours. I didn't get pictures (it was a busy day!), but I can tell you, it was good. I've included a recipe below if anyone cares to know exactly how I did it.

Whew! I covered a lot of ground there! Here's a few recipes:

Bacon Wrapped Venison Steaks

Fresh venison steaks, about 6-8 oz each.
Bacon, one strip per steak
Yellow onions

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Rub salt and pepper onto the steaks. Wrap each one with a strip of bacon. Cook in a frying pan over medium heat for about 5 minutes, turning once. Toward the end add chopped onions to the pan. Transfer steaks and onions to an oven safe pan. Cook for an additional 5 minutes or so in the oven. Do not overcook!

Venison Sausage Stuffing with Chestnuts

Venison sausage
Yellow Onions
Fresh sage, rosemary, thyme, and oregano
Stale bread, cubed

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. With a sharp knife, score each chestnut with an x on it's flat side. Boil chestnuts in water just deep enough to cover them for about 20 minutes, until they are tender. Peel them (the x should peel back easily) and chop.

Brown sausage in a skillet. When it is totally cooked add onions and then celery. Continue cooking. Add herbs and chestnuts. Add bread. Melt a few tablespoons of more butter and toss it into the mixture. Lastly, add just enough milk to moisten everything. Bake in oven for at least 1 hour.
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Broccoli Overdose

I was home alone on Friday night - Dave and Stanley were both off in the woods for the the opening weekend of deer hunting (look for lots of venison posts coming soon!). I didn't know it was possible to overdose on broccoli, but I guess I was wrong.

The local brasicas and other cold weather veggies have been just gorgeous this November. It's been really mild with just enough frost to make the broccoli, cauliflower, kale, collards, Brussels sprouts, and spinach nice and sweet, but not too cold to kill them. The farmer's market has moved indoors for the winter, but you'd never know it was winter by the look of the produce. Everything is just vibrant.

I've been feeling like I can't get enough of these deep green vegetables, so I decided to take advantage of being home alone by gorging myself on broccoli. I steamed it with a little local spinach, then then tossed it with local sunflower oil and hickory nuts, and topped it with grated 2 year aged cheddar. Totally locavore - totally delicious!

It's hard to see how big this bowl is, but it's pretty big. It was just so good, I ate all of it. I can't say enough about the sunflower oil. Its got a really nice nutty flavor - "the olive oil of the Midwest" they call it, and I can't argue. The hickory nuts are delicious too, and the cheese gave it all a really nice tang.

A few hours later, my stomach started hurting. At first I thought I had some sort of food poisoning, but after doing a bit of Internet research I decided that what I was experiencing was in fact heart burn: a really intense pain starting in my stomach and branching up into my chest. I'd never had heart burn before this, but now I have a much greater sympathy for people who suffer from in on a regular basis - it was terrible! I tried to go to bed early, but it just made the pain worse to lay down. I finally fell asleep sitting up in bed. A few hours later, I was fine.

The funny thing is that the only reference I could find online about heartburn and broccoli is that broccoli is one of those foods that won't cause heartburn, or even that it can help cure it. Broccoli can cause gas, but that wasn't my problem. I guess eating too much of anything is a bad thing. I should have known that, but really? broccoli??
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The Saga of Puff

This is the sad sad tale of what can happen when a person gets too emotionally attached to a chicken. The chicken in this case is Puff, this little Black Australorp pullet I hatched in July. The person is me.

Puff is almost 17 weeks old. She's been living alone in her dog kennel home for a few weeks now, ever since her brother 3 Spot went to a farm where he can crow his little head off every morning without disturbing any neighbors. She's a mellow bird. Her left foot has a very crooked middle toe which causes her to walk with a limp, but she gets by. She's recently stopped cheeping like a baby chicken and has developed a very deep grownup chicken voice that reminds me of an old lady who's been smoking her whole life.

After 3 Spot left, I was excited to get Puff integrated with the rest of the flock. Stanley and I let her out of her enclosure for a few short sessions to see how the other girls would react. The results were not good. As soon as they noticed the little newcomer, the other chickens went into attack mode, ganging up on her and pecking her relentlessly. I've heard that this situation can get bloody and even deadly, so every time I freaked out and put her back in the safety of her little run after just a few minutes.

Not wanting to give up so easily, we constructed this little Tupperware enclosure for her. We measured Puff and the other girls and cut an opening that's just big enough for her, but not any of the older birds. A week or so ago we put her in it, took it out of her run, and left her in with the rest of the chickens. Our hope was that she would recognize that she was safe in there and have a place to run and hide to get away for the relentless pecking.

Not wanting to stick around and watch the carnage - I knew I wouldn't be able to handle it, and I wanted her to have the chance to fend for herself - we left and went for a walk in the woods. When we got back about an hour later I asked Stanley if he would go check on her first so I wouldn't have to be the one to discover a pecked to death Puff - not that I expected that, but I was well aware of the possibility. I waited in the front driveway for an all clear yell. It took a few minutes, but finally he called me over.

He was holding Puff, who was very much alive, but was visibly shaken. He had found her in the back corner of the run with her head through the wire fence, her wings extended, being pecked relentlessly by Blondy, the Buff Sussex. It seems that poor little Puff had tried to run away and get through the fence, but had found herself trapped and had given up on life. He thought she was already dead when he first saw her, and was certain that she would have been if he hadn't shown up when he did. She seemed to have no understanding that the blue Tupperware was supposed to be a refuge for her. I'm learning that chickens aren't very smart. I guess they don't call them bird brained for nothing....

Here's Blondy today, looking longingly at Puff who is safe in her enclosure. I was bound and determined to give it another try today. Since Blondy seems to be the meanest of them all I put her in Puff's enclosure by herself and put Puff out with the other girls in the safety of her blue Tupperware. Puff came out and was immediately terrorized by everyone, the Wheaton Maran, the Black Copper Marans, the Welsummer, and even the gentle Red Sussex all had a go at her. She ended up crawling under a tarp, trying to get away and clucking in sheer chicken terror.

I couldn't stand it. After about 20 minutes I gave up and put Blondy back in the run and Puff back in the safety of her enclosure.

So that's where it stands. I'm beginning to think this integration thing just won't work. Puff seems happy enough in her dog kennel and little run, but winter is coming and it doesn't seem insulated enough to withstand the cold winds. My other options of letting her live or die at the beaks of the big mean chickens or butcher her for her meat don't seem too appealing either.

On the bright side - 5 of my 6 big chickens are laying now. We've got all the eggs we can eat. If only they could learn to be nice......
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Duck, Brussels, Apples, Pumpkin, Cranberry, Fennel Feast

I went all out yesterday. It's rare for me to spend 3 1/2 hours making dinner but when I have the time and the right ingredients, I find it incredibly rewarding relaxing and fun. This Sunday I skipped the Packer game and prepared a feast for Dave, Stanley, and myself. Roast duck with apples, Brussels sprouts with cranberries and bacon, an apple fennel salad, and flan de calabaza. A perfect celebration of mid-November!

I'm going to describe it all as I made it rather that documenting one dish at a time. I'll put recipes at the end to clear up any confusion. I find it fun to put a dinner like this together - it's never just make one thing and then make the next - it's more like making everything at once, interweaving the steps..... you'll see what I mean.

It all started with this Moscovy duck. Unfortunately it's not local - I think it's from the east coast somewhere. We rarely have duck at the Co-op, and I've never cooked one, so I decided to go for it when we got these in. It wasn't too expensive: $22.00 seemed like a bargain.

I dried it off and rubbed it inside and out with some fresh sage from my sage plant, a crushed garlic clove, and salt, and let it sit for about an hour to warm up to room temperature.

In the meantime I started work on this puppy. It's a winter luxury pumpkin from the garden - a small one that never developed the same webbing on the skin as the rest. It was beginning to get soft in the middle, so I knew it was time to use it. The recipe I used was for "flan de calabaza" a calabaza is basically a Mexican pumpkin......

Beautiful! It was light, not as dense as it could be, but still very compact and a beautiful bright color. It's so rewarding to cook a pumpkin like this that I grew from seeds given to me by a friend who got their seeds from a friend. I'll have to save some seeds to grow again next year and maybe pass them on to keep the chain going.

I peeled it and chopped it into cubes. The color and texture reminded me of a very unripe ataulfo mango.... I might not known if it was pumpkin had I not known it was a pumpkin! I put the chunks in boiling water to cook.

Meanwhile, I halved a bunch of cranberries. My camera has a facial recognition feature and I was amused to notice that it kept wanting to make each little cranberry half a face..... a crowd of cranberries.

The cranberries got mixed with sugar and put over low heat to melt the sugar. The recipe I used didn't call for cranberries, but I thought they might make a really nice flavor addition.

Melting sugar is an arduous task. You have to use very low heat and stir it constantly so it doesn't burn. At first it seems like nothing is going to happen, and then suddenly it all melts and looks like this. Once it was melted I poured it into the bottom of a glass pie plate.

The pumpkin was nice and tender by the time the sugar had melted. I strained it and let it cool. An hour had almost past and it was time to prepare the stuffing for the duck.

Here's what I came up with: apples (I used some really soft jonagolds for Door Creek Orchard), fresh sage, dried cranberries (fruit juice sweetened), and onion. I tossed it with a little bit of brown sugar.

And into the duck it went! This went into the oven at 450 degrees for 10 minutes and then 350 for about 2 hours.

Back to the pumpkin. I love these winter luxury pumpkins for their incredibly smooth creamy delicious puree..... this is just those boiled chucks of pumpkin pureed for just a few minutes in the food processor. You can't get this in a can!!

To the puree I added sweetened condensed milk, evaporated milk, cinnamon, some guanabana liquor (a memento from a trip to Mexico), a little salt, and....

....eggs! I now officially have 5 chickens laying!! The most beautiful by far are the eggs of the feather footed wheaton maran. They're really big, speckled, and a gorgeous deep terracotta color. They remind me of the book How Fletcher Hatched, one of my favorites when I was a little girl.

All that got mixed in with the pumpkin, making a foamy delicious substance that could easily double as pumpkin egg nog.

I poured the pumpkin mixture on top of the cranberry sugar in the pie plate. You're supposed to put the flan pan in a larger pan filled with boiling water. I discovered (too late) that I didn't have any large pans that fit the pie plate, so I had to use a pan that was a little too small. The pie dish balanced on the edges of the pan very precariously... but it worked.

Whew! Now that the duck and the flan were in the oven, I started work on the Brussels sprouts.

These are from Jen Ehr Farm, where I worked briefly this spring.

Gotta have bacon! I'm seriously in love with this local bacon from Willow Creek Farm.

I briefly cooked the rest of my halved cranberries in the bacon grease and threw in a little brown sugar.

Mixed it all up, and into the oven it went. Couldn't be easier or tastier.

One more dish to make - a simple apple fennel salad. There's a plethora of beautiful local fennel right now, and I've been eating quite a bit of it - it makes a wonderful crisp salad and I've been trying to avoid winter cabbage salads until I don't have any other local alternative (soon enough).

The fennel stems tend to be woody so I only used the bulb and a few of the frilly tops. The rest went to the chickens.

Local honeycrisp apples from Future Fruit - these are absolutely the best fruit around right now.

A beauty heart (aka watermelon) radish for color.

Chopped walnuts. Oh yeah, and some arugula from the garden that I didn't get a picture of.

Add a little mayo, and it's perfect. Sweet apples, Crisp fennel, spicy arugula, Nutty walnuts, Yum!

We're in the home stretch!

The flan was perfectly done.....

This picture is taken from the bottom with the light shining through. The cranberries added a gorgeous color. I set it aside to let it cool until dessert time.

The perfect duck!

And just as perfect Brussels.

One of the best dinners I've had for a while. I really enjoyed the complex flavors of each dish. They all had a lot going on, but the flavors of each dish blended with the others perfectly. I don't mean to brag, but geeze this was good!

Don't forget the flan! Right before serving you flip it over so the bottom becomes the top. The sweet creamy pumpkin was just perfect with the tart cranberries. I think cranberries are at their best when paired with a desert that would otherwise just be boringly sweet.

OK, here are the recipes.

Apple Stuffed Duck

1 4-5lb duck
Fresh Sage
3 apples (whatever kind are good and local)
1 small onion
Dried fruit-sweetened cranberries
Brown sugar

Wash the duck and pat it dry. Rub inside and out with salt, sage, and 1 clove of mashed garlic. Place in a covered container and let stand at room temperature for 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Core and chop apples. Mix with dried cranberries, sage, brown sugar, and chopped onion. Stuff apple mixture into the cavity of the duck. Place duck on a rack in a roasting pan and roast in a 450 degree oven for 10 minutes. Reduce heat to 350 and roast 80 minutes to 2 hours, or until the internal temperature reaches 170 degrees.

Puncture the skin with a fork at intervals during roasting to release fat. Baste occasionally with pan drippings.

Bacon Cranberry Brussels Sprouts

1 lb or so Brussels sprouts
5 strips bacon
1/2 cup cranberries
1/8 cup brown sugar

The amounts listed above are approximate. Add or subtract as you see fit.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Cut the Brussels in half and place in a roasting pan. Cook the bacon crispy. Take bacon out of pan, chop it up, and add it to the Brussels sprouts. Add halved cranberries to the bacon grease and cook for about 2 or 3 minutes. Add brown sugar and stir to dissolve. Pour bacon grease over the Brussels and toss to coat. Roast for about 40 minutes, until Brussels are tender.

Apple Fennel Salad

3 Apples (honeycrisp or something else that is sweet, tangy and crispy)
1 large fennel bulb
1 small beauty heart (aka watermelon) radish
Arugula (about 1 cup)

Chop all the vegetables and mix with mayo and salt to taste. That's it.

Flan de Pumpkin with Cranberries

3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup cranberries, cut in half
1 1/2 pounds pumpkin (peeled and cut into chunks)
4 eggs
1 12oz can evaporated milk
1 14oz can sweetened condensed milk
1 tablespoon vanilla (I used guanabana liquor, but I doubt you have any on hand.)
1 teaspoon cinnamon

Preheat overn to 350 degrees. Melt the sugar slowly and carefully in a heavy saucpan over low heat. Stir constantly. Once sugar has started to melt, add cranberries and allow the sugar to melt all the way. Once it has melted, pour the sugar cranberry mixture into the bottom of a pie plate. Set aside.

Place the cut up calabaza in a pot with enough water to cover. Boil until tender, about 20 minutes. Drain and mash with a potato masher or (a much better option) in a food processor. Mix eggs, pumpkin puree, and remaining ingredients. Make sure everything is well combined.

Pour the mixture into the pie plate. Don't worry if the sugar has hardened. It will soften when the flan is cooked. Place the glass dish inside a larger baking pan and fill the larger pan with boiling water until the water reaches halfway up the outside of the mold. Place on the center rack of the oven and bake for 1 hour. The center should be set firm.

Allow to cool to room temperature. Flip upside down onto serving platter. Garnish and serve.

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