Squirrel Salad Sandwich

squirrel-salad-sandwich

Hear me out.

The backstory: A few weeks ago I attempted to make bread for the first time. It was a focaccia. Baby steps. Focaccia is both relatively simple to create and the epitome of a savory delight. But I was nervous and had mixed feelings about the results so I didn’t post about it. I consider this a poor move, and that sort of hesitancy stops here and now. What is this blog if not a shared adventure that sometimes involves weirdness or failure?

This brings me to the squirrel salad sandwich. For college graduation I bought my boyfriend (Chris) an L.L. Bean Cookbook, which describes squirrel meat as a wild game delicacy whose flavor cannot be matched. We kind of ignored this statement for a while, until last week when he brought home a field-dressed squirrel. This was in compliance with the house rules: If something is put in the fridge as a cleaned, prepared and unrecognizable ingredient, then I will most likely accept it and turn it into a meal.

However, I was totally turned off by this squirrel. For days it was (metaphorically) staring me right in the face, forcing me into some deep and uncharted self-inquiry. I never in a million years thought I was the kind of person who would taste, never mind cook, a squirrel. Am I that person? Is this too far? What does this mean? Would I post about it? Slowly I began to wonder, what will it taste like?

If I didn’t make a decision soon it was going to spoil, and that had to be worse fate of all. It’s just meat. I’ve tried rabbit. Among meat-eaters, rabbits are generally accepted as an offbeat thing to stew or braise, and how are they actually any different? I respect belief systems, but it’s hard for me to get behind an idea with which I do not agree.

So, we boiled the squirrel, pulled the meat and I took a bite. I’m not even sure what I wanted to feel, but it was just downright tasty.  Cross my heart it tasted like the dark meat of a chicken- moist, mild, and completely palatable. Chris made the rest into a chopped salad with mayo, mustard, celery and dried cranberries to share with a few curious friends, and that was the end.

I doubt that I am going to start eating squirrel on the regular, but I am glad I cooked it and glad I tried it. There are countless epicurean adventures to be had with food and I want to make sure I approach each one with consideration, lest I miss out for no reason. I’m not sure where we go from here, but trust I will let you know.

This leaves me wondering, how do you feel about the weridest thing you’ve ever tasted?

Advertisements

Clean Venison Enchiladas

If you are anything like me, some days just make you crave a hearty, comforting meal that won’t throw you off the healthy eating track. This was one of those days, and it coincided perfectly with not wanting to create an extra dinner element for anyone who might feel they need meat to be a whole person. I feel as though I tackled this challenge with grace and ended up with quite a tasty morsel to show for it. The starting point was pulled venison I had in the fridge, and then I remembered this simply and super tasty enchilada sauce that has come through for me on a few occasions. Things just kind of took off from there. If you are having one of those days, I hope this warms your belly and puts you in a good place.

Clean Venison Enchiladas

Ingredients:
Clean Enchilada Sauce
(original sauce recipe from The Naked Kitchen)

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1tbsp whole wheat flour
3 tbsp chili powder
12 oz tomato paste
2 cups vegetable broth
1 tsp onion powder
1 tsp cumin
3 cloves garlic, minced
sea salt to taste

for enchiladas:
6-8 corn or whole wheat tortillas
1.5 lbs pulled venison (though any meat will do)
12 oz vegetarian refried beans
optional toppings: cheddar cheese, avocado, plain greek yogurt

Preheat your over to 350 F.

To make the enchilada sauce, heat olive oil in a saucepan over medium heat. Add flour and stir until smooth. Stir in chili power and cook for an additional minute.

Add the tomato paste, veggie broth, onion powder, cumin, and garlic. Cook over medium heat, stirring often, for about 4-5 minutes. Add salt to taste.

Remove from heat and set aside to cool.

Next, line a baking dish with a thin layer of enchilada sauce. If you are using corn tortillas, place them between two damp towels and microwave for about one minute so they steam and soften.

Fill each tortilla with a 1-2 spoonfuls of beans and then venison. Make sure they are not too stuffed that they don’t close! Roll them up and place them seam down in your pan.

homemade-pulled-venison-enchiladas

Pour remaining sauce over the top of the enchiladas. (Depending on how many enchiladas you end up with and how deep your pan is, you may end up with extra sauce, which freezes well.)

Cook uncovered for 30 minutes. If you are adding cheese, sprinkle it on during the last 5-10 minutes.

baked-homemade-pulled-venison-enchiladas
Top with a spoon of plain greek yogurt and diced avocado to serve. Any leftover sauce or enchiladas can be frozen.

Note: This recipe is freezer challenge approved.

Slow Cooker Pulled Venison

I love game meats, but there are a few cuts that I prefer with a bit of dressing up. So when I happened across a clean pulled pork recipe in a magazine this week, is was an opportunity I could not flip past. Out came the last winter’s venison stew meat from the recesses of the freezer to defrost overnight. The next morning it took me about fifteen minutes to prep everything for the crock pot, and I was out the door to work.

Slow Cooker Pulled Venison
(adapted from Cuisine Tonight’s Quick and Easy Menus)

Ingredients:
1.5 lbs venison stew meat, cubed
4 lbs extra virgin olive oil
3 cloves chopped garlic
1 tbsp fresh rosemary
1 tbsp fresh oregano
2 tsp sea salt
1 tsp fennel seed
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
1/2 cup chicken broth
1/2 cup dry white wine

Chop garlic, rosemary, oregano, salt, fennel seed, and red pepper flakes and mix with olive oil. Place meat and spice mixture in a plastic bag and shake until the meat is coated. In a saute pan, sear meat on all sides on medium heat.

Place meat along the bottom of a 3-4 qt slow cooker, and then add broth and wine. Cook on high for 4 hours. When meat has cooled, shred into small pieces. Use to spice up that same old lunch sandwich, for a twist in stew or even as filling for enchiladas!

slow-cooker-pulled-venison-clean-eating
Note: This recipe is freezer challenge approved.

Eggplant Parmesan, Second Generation Style

Here’s something you should know about me: I live for splurge meals. My absolute all time favorite foods usually fall into this category. In my normal routine, I try to adapt some of these recipes into clean versions, but on splurge day anything goes. Fried stays fried, pasta stands in for itself, and I put cheese on my half too.

It took me approximately 2 seconds too decide what tomato week’s splurge recipe would be. Growing up, my dad (originally from Italy) would make his eggplant parmesan maybe once or twice a year. It’s not a quick undertaking, and I knew it was a big ask to see if he would make it with me so I could blog about it. The thing is, what I really mean by “second generation style” is that I want to learn how to make this dish exactly like his, because it is absolutely perfect. The effort is always worth it. Plus, it makes your house smell sooooo good.

Best of all, eggplant is in season right now and I can’t help but pay thanks to this versatile crop. What a fine nightshade you are, eggplant. Thanks for being you.

Traditional Eggplant Parmesan
makes enough to fill 2 13×9 baking dishes, about 16 servings

Ingredients:
3 medium size eggplants
3 quart jars cooked tomato sauce
2 lbs fresh mozzarella cheese
vegetable/ canola oil for frying
2 cups grated romano/ parmesan cheese

for batter:
3 cups all-purpose flour
2 eggs
1 tsp salt
1 tsp pepper
a few cups of cold water

*Note: Since this takes a few hours, I usually make an extra batch to freeze or give away. Cut everything in half if you are only making one dish.

To make your batter, combine flour, salt and pepper in a large bowl. Add eggs, lightly beaten. Once well mixed, start adding water about a half cup at a time. The batter should be the consistency of runny pancake mix. Keep adding water and mixing until the batter is thin enough that it will run off the end of a spoon easily. There should be no lumps.

eggplant-parmesan-batter
Next, trim off both ends of the eggplants and slice them about 1/4 inch thick. Do your best to keep the thickness consistant so the pieces cook evenly.

perfectly-sliced-eggplant-for-homemade-eggplant-parmesan

Meanwhile, in a deep saute pan, heat up 3/4 to an inch of cooking oil on medium heat. Test the oil temperature with a drop of water or batter. It will sizzle when hot. If you have a thermometer, oil temperature should reach between 400-450 F.

Once the oil is ready to go, dip each slice of eggplant in the batter and just cover both sides. Let any excess batter run off, and then carefully place in the hot pan.

deep-frying-eggplant-homemade-eggplant-parmesan

When the underside becomes golden brown (1-2 min), flip them over and fry for another minute or so. When cooked, drain each piece of excess oil as you remove them from the pan.

draining-excess-oil-from-fried-eggplant-for-eggplant-parmesanAs the slices come out of the fryer, lay them on a plate covered with a paper towel to soak up extra grease as they cool.

freshly-fried-eggplant-for-eggplant-parmesan

While the eggplant is frying, grate your mozzarella and parmesan. To make grating easier, place the cheese in the freezer for 15-20 minutes first. Now is also a good time to preheat your oven to 375 F.

grated-parmesan-cheese-for-eggplant-parmesan

If there is any batter left over when the eggplant is done, you can pour it into your hot oil to make a zeppoli, or fried dough ball (more like a pancake in this case.) Cook it the same way as the eggplant.

homemade-zeppoli-frying-in-oil

When it’s done, sprinkle a little powered sugar on top and enjoy! Besides being delicious, this snack might distract you from scarfing down tons of hot, crispy eggplant as it comes out of the pan. It also might not. I usually eat both, and chase them with large chunks of mozzarella. Extras are built into the recipe to allow for this unstoppable force.

powered-sugar-covered-fresh-homemade-zeppoli

Assemble everything in a baking dish in layers. Start with a little bit of sauce on the bottom of the pan, then eggplant, mozz, parm, and a drizzle of sauce.

Repeat until your tray is full. Only use a little bit of sauce in each layer so it doesn’t become too wet.

assembling-homemade-eggplant-parmesan-layers

End with the cheese layer on top.

complete-homemade-eggplant-parmesan

Cover tightly with aluminum foil and bake for 45-60 minutes. Take the foil off for the last 10-15 minutes of cooking to let the top get crispy.

eggplant-parmesan-just-out-of-the-oven

Enjoy! Freeze whatever you can’t eat. This type of dish tastes better every time you heat it up.

detailed-image-of-homemade-eggplant-parmesan

I would also just like to thank my good friend Jennifer for shooting the amazing photos for this blog while helping me fry eggplant for hours. They have added so much to this project, and I hope this is just the first of many collaborations between us. I mean, they’re incredible. I’m not the only one drooling on my computer, right?

Squeaky Clean Loaded Sweet Potato

I came up with this recipe while trying to create a healthy, satisfying and exciting lunch that I could prepare at work from ingredients at the local corner market near my office. Since discovering it, this has been my work lunch about 1,000 times. It meets all of these criteria, with a bonus offering of providing for 2 days, not one.

Squeaky Clean Loaded Sweet Potato
best quality: can be prepared in under 10 minutes using only a microwave and a butter knife

Ingredients:
1/2 ripe avocado sliced or cubed
1 medium or 1/2 large sweet potato
1/2 cup plain greek yogurt
salt and pepper to taste
a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil

Cook the sweet potato. Oven-baked is the best but to speed things up I usually pop mine in the microwave for 5-6 minutes. Make sure to stab it with a knife or fork a few times on each side before putting it in the microwave.

Once the sweet potato has cooled slightly, slice it open lengthwise, drizzle a little olive oil on each half, and mash the insides with a fork.

Top it with your avocado, greek yogurt and salt and pepper. I like to add a dash of hot sauce too. You can use the other half of your avocado and large sweet potato for lunch tomorrow, just make sure to wrap them tightly and refrigerate  If you buy a single serving yogurt container, it can be split into two servings as well. Enjoy!

clean-eating-loaded-sweet-potato-with-avacado-and-yogurt

Introducing…The Freezer Challenge

Here is a trap I commonly fall into: I am at an exciting grocery store or farmer’s market and decide to stock up on things I can’t get (at least not at a reasonable price) at our regular Stop & Shop. Before long, bright, beautiful grass-fed meat, floury pizza dough, crisp local veggies, and anything homemade are spilling over the top of my basket, which is now breaking off my arm. I figure I’ll cook as much of it as possible this week and freeze the rest.

For some reason, I always feel a need to stockpile, like I have to make this particular trip to the store really count. When I get home, all the extras go into my neatly sorted, full of good intentions freezer. As soon as the door is shut, they are forgotten and abandoned.

Simultaneously, my boyfriend (with whom I share my freezer) is out in a forest or a marsh or a cornfield trying his best to hit the daily limit on whatever animal is in season. Any meat he brings home is cleaned, butchered, vacuumed sealed and then put you-know-where.

a-diagram-of-my-freezer
My freezer, today

We use almost everything eventually, but often things have long past the point of being interesting, appetizing or tasty. Enter the Freezer Challenge. I am on a quest to use up everything in my freezer, one recipe at a time. Then, I can start from scratch and learn how to use this space more efficiently. A few times this week I drove to the grocery store on my way home from work, and then turned around and left without going inside. There are dozens of frozen meals already at home, and figuring them out will force me to be a little bit creative.

freezer door diagram
Freezer door, today

So, it starts today. This post is proof. With hunting season and harvest season in full swing, we need to make some room.

Challenge Guidelines:

  1. I have one month
  2. Everything must go
  3. Nothing gets thrown away (well, maybe the puff pastry)
  4. Gifting is ok
  5. Pawning off crap is not
  6. I must report back on my progress one month from today

Get ready to witness some ruthless execution. Who’s with me?