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?

Six Pack Beefaroni

While summering in the Finger Lakes region of New York last year, I was introduced to Beefaroni- a classically amazing pasta dish I had somehow never had before. (Among other life-changing things I was introduced to in the Finger Lakes were the Finger Lakes, wine tasting, and dry Rieslings.) The cheesy, saucy deliciousness took my idea of comfort food to a whole new level. I’m pretty sure I had three bowls full just to make sure it was real.

Upon arriving home and back in the real world, I began toying with ways to lighten up this dish and make it into something I could eat all the time. Here is what I came up with.

Makes 6 servings

Ingredients:
1 medium sized spaghetti squash
1qt. tomato sauce
extra virgin olive oil
ground turkey or lean ground beef (I have also used venison and bison, which are both fabulous lean options)
sea salt and pepper to taste

optional twists:
1/2 lb shell or elbow pasta
1/2 lb firm tofu (diced small)
parmesan or romano cheese to sprinkle

Baking the squash
Preheat your oven to 350F. Cut the spaghetti squash in half length-wise and scrape the seeds from both sides. Sprinkle each half with sea salt and pepper, then drizzle with olive oil.

baked-spaghetti-squash

Wrap both halves (separately) in tin foil and bake for 45 minutes. The squash should be very tender and string easily when scraped with a fork when done. The flesh color will turn a brighter yellow. Test both sides before you take it out of the oven. Remember it will continue to steam in the tin foil as it cools. Set aside. Once cool, scrape the insides of both halves to make your “spaghetti.” If you bake the squash ahead of time this is a quick meal to throw together during the week.

In the meantime, heat up a saute pan and toss in your ground meat or tofu when hot. If using tofu, add a tbsp of olive oil to the pan before adding it. Season with salt and pepper to taste. After it browns, cover with tomato sauce and simmer on med-low for 10-15 minutes. If you are cooking pasta as well, put it onto boil as well.

To serve, start with your spaghetti squash, (pasta if using it) and then top with meat or tofu and sauce. I especially love this meal because it’s easy to make a clean veggie meal, and add the meat and pasta to keep everyone in the house happy. Both versions are tasty, satisfying, and make great leftovers.

spaghetti-squash-tomato-sauce-beefaroni
Meat version on left, veggie version on right