In Interrupt This Blog to Bring You the Hunting Season

Sometimes I feel like I lead a double life. Part of me, the part I’ve known for longer, is horrified by the idea of meat production. She likes bunny rabbits, cute cuddly things, animal adoption and wildlife rehabilitation. She became a vegetarian and enjoyed that it made her conscious about eating every single day. The other part of me, the newer part that I understand better, watches in fascination as a deer is butchered on her kitchen table. She takes pictures so she can write about it, and eats venison sliders hot off the stove in the same room with the butchered carcass. She recognizes that a squirrel with a broken leg left to the coyotes in the woods is not a total waste. She knows that nature can be as brutal as humanity. She is more sure of this lifestyle than any that has come before.

I admit it, the shock value of eating squirrel or trying a little bite of deer heart (because why not?) have long since gone for me. Things I never even knew were a part of life have become common place, and living with a hunter has been a huge part of that. This elicits mixed responses from the people in my life who know me best. They still can’t believe it. I still can’t believe it. I just know it’s right.

The thing is, at this point in my life I have a hard time even picking up a package of organic chicken at Whole Foods without wondering how many miles away that chicken was slaughtered, or why it’s wrapped in so much plastic. I have no reservations, however, about the fresh and “free range” meat in my freezer. Since I have made the decision that I am ultimately a meat-eater, I might as well know everything about it and understand exactly where it comes from. For a while I thought I couldn’t handle that, that I just didn’t want to know about or experience most of the lifecycle of these animals. That’s not the case any more. Knowing is the only way I can do it.

As a bonus, all of the wild game I cook is incredibly lean, lending itself well to the culinary experiments of a clean eating blogger. This brings me to the newest freezer challenge: 30lbs of ground venison and about 30+ more pounds of steaks and stew meat.

freezer-full-of-venison-and-other-wild-game

I think I squeezed in a few frosty beer glasses and an ice cube tray on the freezer door, but other than that there is not much else in there. Well, there also might be a pheasant and/or a snow goose. I’m really not sure.

What did we cook first, you ask? Read on my friends, read on.

Conclusion of the Freezer Challenge

This day has been marked on my calendar for weeks. Today is the day that I conclude the Freezer Challenge by reporting on my results. Yet, for the first time since starting this blog, I am not excited to write or post.

For most of the month I was doing good, I mean really good. At no point was my freezer wasn’t empty, but I’m pretty sure about 75% of its contents were replaced with fresh things. As a reminder, here is what I set out to use up:

a-diagram-of-my-freezer

freezer door diagram

When I was on a roll, here’s what was going down in my kitchen:

  1. Ezekiel Bread– defrosted for mid-morning snacks of PB & banana or fruit spread at work
  2. Homemade ravioli– brought back to life by sautéing with garlic and olive oil, made a few lunch portions
  3. Naan– quick and easy pizza base, topped with sliced tomatoes and whatever other veggies were in the house
  4. Turkey sausages– simmered in tomato sauce with veggies and served over spaghetti squash
  5. Pizza dough– topped with veggies and freezer tomato sauce, grilled on barbeque
  6. Black bean soup– lunch for work
  7. Chicken chili– lunch for work
  8. Cod fillets– I’m allergic to fish and didn’t eat these, but they disappeared none the less
  9. Edamame– steamed and enjoyed with a pinch of sea salt
  10. Blueberries– mixed with plain greek yogurt
  11. Venison steaks– used for Slow Cooker Pulled Venison

Everything else fell victim to Hurricane (Superstorm) Sandy when I lost power for four days. I do not mean to complain. Most people I know had harder time lost much more than I did. It is just that when the power came back on, and I had to toss almost everything in the fridge and freezer, it was so very sad. We tried to eat as possible before the storm and put a bunch of things into a cooler, but I ended up throwing out a full (and very heavy) garbage bag of food.

Overall, a few important things came out of this challenge. I trained myself to open the freezer and survey the stockpile before running to the store to buy more things. This saved time and money (very precious resources for me these days), and also forced me to get creative and create meals around ingredients by combining them in new ways. You will see a few more of these recipes here in the near future. For now, I need to go figure out what is for dinner tonight.

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.

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?