Venison Roast with Caramelized Onion Couscous

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VenisonRoast1

I know it’s been a while since I’ve posted, but as it can happen, life got a little crazy for a bit. Many of you are already aware that my Grandfather passed away recently which caused things to get a bit crazy and a lot of time was spent with him at his nursing home over the course of his final days. With that being said, sometimes the best way to deal with heavy life events, is to get into the kitchen and let the therapy of culinary exploration work it’s magic.

A few months back, I received a hefty amount of venison from one of my uncles. Venison is a protein that I was totally unfamiliar with in the kitchen. I’ve eaten it. I had a rudimentary understanding of how it should be prepared, but I’d never actually had the opportunity to work with it. So, to help take my mind off of things, I pulled a venison roast out of my freezer and went to work.

The dish turned out great. I’m not exactly up for writing the recipe because frankly, I was mostly on auto-pilot, but in the end, despite the fact that I cooked it a little bit more than I would’ve probably liked, it turned out very moist, juicy, and extremely flavorful. I wanted a nice mid-rare, but instead got a pretty steady medium. What can you do?

I initially wanted to do a red wine redux, but I realized I didn’t have any red wine at home, so I improvised. Instead, I sauteed some mushrooms in the left over drippings from the roast and then built a sherry-cream pan sauce with a hearty amount of black pepper, which actually paired pretty nicely with the roast.

I put the roast on top of a caramelized onion couscous, which is pretty much as it sounds. I caramelized some onions while I prepared a basic couscous. When everything was complete, I tossed them both together with a little added olive oil and a sprinkling of sherry vinegar. For garnish, I shredded some scallions and just laid them on top.

I think for a beginners venison dish, this one turned out pretty well. I think Jamie Carlson from You Have to Cook it Right would’ve been proud! Anyway, I’ve got another roast in my freezer, so next time I’ll probably make a dish closer to what I actually wanted to do, but again, sometimes the best way to take your mind off of a crappy situation, is to just let loose in the kitchen.

More medium than I wanted, but #$%^ it.

More medium than I wanted, but #$%^ it.

 

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A Trip to Chicago equals visits to Blackbird and Girl & the Goat

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OctopusChicago is always a pleasure to visit, but frankly, I’m torn on whether or not it’s a city I could see myself ever living in. There’s a great food culture there, obviously, but is it as good as the one we have here in the Twin Cities? In a lot of ways, yes it is, but still, for the time being, I think it’s a city best left for visiting – perhaps with a little more frequency.

I was in Chicago for a work thing and while there, I knew I had to make a least a few stops to some places to help gain a better understanding of the gastro-world around me. A quick peek at OpenTable showed me that the legendary Blackbird had a last minute, late night reservation, so I quickly snatched that up. Blackbird is the flagship restaurant of renowned chef Paul Kahn. The last time I was in Chicago I stopped by Kahn’s newest restaurant at the time, The Publican, and I had a great time there. Blackbird is more on the fine dining side of the food world than The Publican is and I was eager to really see what Chef Kahn was all about.

A Little BedDespite the fact that I had reservations, I opted to grab a seat up at the bar, because really, when dining alone, it’s the best place to be. The bartender was an excellent host and really fun to just chat with. I started the evening of with a cocktail in an effort to get a feel for their overall bar program and to see just how well this chatty bartender could mix one up. He absolutely delivered. The cocktail was called A Little Bed and was a mixture of Johnny Walker Red, Lephroige 10yr, lemon, simple syrup, a hint of an apricot liquor and hellfire bitters. It was an incredibly well balanced mixture of sweet, smokey, spicy and fruity and really helped to setup the meal.

Tempura PerchAfter my cocktail, I was treated to an amuse-bouche from the kitchen which consisted of a lightly tempura fried perch, some kind of maple based emulsion and a leaf of crispy fried kale. The sweetness from the fish and the maple played extreamly well with the earthy flavors from the kale and the crisp, light batter.

Instead of ordering an appetizer and entree, I opted to go with several small plates to try and get a better feel for the restaurant as a whole. I feel like the best way to get to know a chef is try a variety of their smaller dishes. You get a good feel of their range in technique and composition this way, although next time, I’ll definitely hook-up with one of their full entrees based off of my experience.

The first dish I ordered was an confit octopus on a puree of parsnips drizzled with a touch of pomegranate molasses. The dish was masterfully garnished with pomegranate seeds, toasted garlic and a little mixed herb salad. This dish was easily one of the best composed dishes I’ve had in a really long time. The rich flavors from the octopus played extremely well with the decedent creaminess of the parsnip puree and both elements were elevated by the sweet molasses. The pomegranate seeds added a nice crunch, as did the toasted garlic which also added a mildy spicy, earthiness to the dish. The addition of the herb salad though is what really sealed the deal. The parsley and dill mixture added a freshness that the dish could not have done without adding in a bouquet of floral notes that brought the entire ensemble of ingredients together.

SweetbreadsNext up on my tasting adventure were the sweetbreads. I love sweetbreads and this was a fairly pleasant interpretation, although I feel like it wasn’t as well composed as the octopus plate. Before this plate was served, I let the bartender mix me up a bourbon concoction of his choosing and I’m really glad that I did. It was a fairly simple drink consisting of bourbon, a blood orange liquor and bitters, but the way it enhanced my dish really helped to highlight the conceptual shortfalls of the plate.

The sweetbreads came lightly fried with a freekah salad on a puree of kohlrabi. The dish was garnished with thinly sliced grapes. All of the elements worked nicely together, but it felt as though something was missing, fortunately that missing element came to light as I sipped my cocktail. The orange flavors from the blood orange liquor really took the dish to the next level making me think a little bit of orange should have been incorporated somehow, even if it was just garnished with a little zest. The brightness from the orange in the drink really helped the sweetness in the grapes pop, which brought the entire dish up. This just goes to show you how a good cocktail can really help a meal.

SucklingPig

The last plate on my Blackbird expedition was a suckling pig served on a celeriac risotto and was garnished with hazelnuts, granny smith apples, and black truffle. Oddly enough, this dish seemed to be the least well executed dish of the bunch. The risotto had kind of an odd starchy texture that made it almost gummy (you can kind of tell from the photo) and the raw julienne of apple overtook everything. The pork itself was luxurious. The crackling was perfect and the meat was succulent, but in contrast with the raw apples, which were exceptionally tart, kind of got lost. In theory, this flavors are all natural pairings. Pork, hazelnuts, apples, root vegetables, and truffles so this should have been a slam dunk. Unfortunately it just didn’t come together the way I would’ve expected and it mostly can off as a jumbled, oddly textured dish.

With all of that being said, the food was still largely excellent, despite my criticisms, and I will absolutely return to Blackbird, but I’ll probably hit up Avec next time just to round out the Paul Kahn trifecta.

Of course I couldn’t just end there. I still needed dessert, so I decided to wonder down the street to visit Girl & the Goat. This turned out to be a lot of fun too. I again sat at the bar where I had a great, chatty bartender and the people around me were also into chatting and having a good time. Also, James Franco was having dinner directly behind me, which was kind of neat in it’s own way.

For my “dessert” I ordered the wood-grill roasted pigs face. Sure, it’s not your traditional dessert, but I’m not really one for sweet things, especially when the option of pigs face is also on the table. This dish was a decedent spoof on breakfast and was rich as hell. The meat from the pigs face is slow roasted and then shredded, formed into a patty, and seared. That get’s topped with fried shoestring potatoes and a beautifully cooked, sunnyside up egg. The dish is dressed with tamarind, a cilantro oil and a red wine, maple sauce. This is exactly the kind of thing I wish I could eat for breakfast everyday, but it also made for a fitting dessert to end my Chicago trip.

PigFace

 

Well, Chicago turned out some fun eating and I’m really looking forward to my return, which will hopefully be sooner than later. I think I say that every time I visit, but this time; this time I think I really mean it.

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Weekend Eats 02.07.2014

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Well folks, here’s some photos from my weekend of serious eats. See food from the newly opened Rookery in Robbinsdale, MN, The Strip Club in St. Paul, MN, and Smack Shack, The Chatterbox, and Pho 79 in Minneapolis. I dare you to not get hungry!

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Because Tacos

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Taco!

We all know that tacos are awesome. To try and deny this fact is to deny… well, I guess anybody can deny anything these days, so let’s just gone on and skip ahead.

Sometimes the best thing you can do for a quick meal, is to throw some stuff into a pan and make tacos. This weekend turned out to be one of those “sometimes”. A quick meal was needed, so into the pan went diced onions, a can of hot green chilies, and diced red peppers. The vegetables were simmered together in butter and olive oil and once everything was good and tender, in went paprika, cumin, oregano, and thyme. As the spices cooked into the vegetables, I pushed everything off to the side of the pan and added in some cubed beef to brown. Once browned, everything was combined and allowed to cook together over medium low heat for about 15 minutes. The mixture was finished off with a handfull of chopped cilantro, green onions, and lime juice. Once the filling was complete, it went directly into soft flour tortillas with fresh diced onion, tomatoes, jalapenos, sour cream and salsa. The end result was a wicked delicious, quick taco dinner. Please read that last sentence again, but this time use your best Boston accent (think Ben Affleck in Goodwill Hunting).

Seriously, what else could you possibly need?!

So please, everyone, let’s not worry about the origin story behind the taco, let’s just except that they’re awesome and make some more.

Like right now.

Do it.

What are you waiting for?

GO!

Beef Tacos

Ingredients

  • 1/2 diced onion
  • 1 can hot green chillies
  • 1 roasted red pepper
  • 1 1/2 lbs cubed beef (1/2" cubes)
  • 1/4 cup chopped cilantro
  • 1/4 cup chopped green onions
  • 1/2 juice of one lime
  • 1 tablespoon paprika
  • 1 tablespoon cumin
  • 1 tablespoon dried oregano
  • 1 tablespoon dried thyme
  • Butter
  • Olive Oil
  • Salt
  • Taco condiments of your choice
  • Tortillas (corn or flour, you're call)

Cooking Directions

  • Heat butter and oil in a pan over medium high heat
  • When butter turns white and frothy add in onions and cook until translucent
  • Add in chillies and diced red pepper and stir to combine
  • Add in spices
  • Push mixture to the side of the pan and add in cubed beef to brown.
  • Once beef is browned, stir to fully combine mixture and reduce heat to medium low
  • Simmer for approx 15 minutes
  • Finish with salt, cilantro, green onions, and lime juice
  • Add about 2 tablespoons of the filling to a tortilla and top with whatever condiments you want
  • Eat the tacos

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Soft Scrambled Eggs with Chorizo Sofrito

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Soft scrambled eggs with a chorizo sofrito

Soft scrambled eggs with a chorizo sofrito

Eggs; sometimes they just go above and beyond what I want them to be. They have this tendency to transcend themselves into a realm that is beyond that of the written word. Eggs can transform any meal into a luxury while simultaneously hitting all of the same notes you would want from your favorite comfort foods. The egg is both truly incredible and edible.

Having come into some good quality chorizo, I decided I wanted to venture into the world of Spanish cuisine. Originally I was thinking about a dish that would make a great tapa, but that branched out into the incorporation of eggs. I mean seriously, it’s hard to go wrong with a dish composed of eggs and sausage. The final dish I settled on would indeed be a great tapa recipe, but it also works well for a full sized meal – and a hearty meal at that!

I decided to build the foundation around a soft, creamy scrambled egg which I would top with a rich, chorizo sofrito utilizing onions, green chilies, and tomatoes. The trick here is to make sure the eggs turn out perfect.

:::Insert rant about properly scrambled eggs below:::

 For some reason scrambled eggs give people a hard time and the results are often grainy and dry. In order to make sure your eggs turn out perfect, use a good medium-low heat and take your time. If it’s moving too quickly, remove the eggs from the heat and continuously fold the cooked eggs back into the egg mixture. Do not beat the crap out of your eggs. I repeat; DO NOT BEAT YOUR EGGS. You want them to retain their moisture and their fluffiness. If you over work them, you’ll wind up forcing all of that goodness out and that is NOT what you want. In the end, your eggs should be light and fluffy. Don’t over cook the eggs either; you’ll want to leave them slightly runny. Since you’re cooking them slowly over low heat, the eggs will be cooked, but leaving them a little runny is akin to the eggs having a built in hollandaise sauce, especially if you use enough butter. The egg mixture should thicken much like you’re making a custard and lightly dress the fully cooked, set eggs. The end result will be the sexiest, silkiest scrambled eggs you’ve ever had and they’ll make the perfect accompaniment to a wide variety of toppings or garnishes.

Here’s a little pro-tip I learned from Heston Blumenthal; to make your eggs EXTRA special, once the eggs are perfectly done and scooped onto your plate, drizzle with just a little bit of sherry vinegar. The vinegar helps to cut through the richness and pulls out some of the natural sweetness in the eggs.

:::End of egg rant:::

As for the sofrito, start by simply sauteing your onions. Once they start to go a bit translucent, add in your chorizo and cook until everything starts to caramelize and then add in your tomato and your peppers and cook until everything comes together. Use the mixture to top your eggs and garnish with thinly sliced jalapenos and radishes. A little cilantro would also be nice if you have it as would some thinly sliced Spanish cheese, like a manchego.

If you want to create the dish exactly as I did, I’ve included the recipe below. Enjoy!

Eggs and Chorizo_3

Soft Scrambled Eggs with Chorizo Sofrito

Ingredients

  • 5 large eggs
  • 1/4 cup of milk or cream
  • 3 tablespoons of butter
  • 1/2 cup of grated cheddar cheese
  • 1 lbs of sliced chorizo
  • 1 large yellow onion
  • 1 cup of diced tomatoes
  • 1/4 cup of diced green pepper (or mild chilies)
  • 1 jalapeno thinly sliced
  • 1 - 2 radishes thinly sliced
  • Olive Oil
  • Sherry Vinegar
  • Salt & Pepper

Cooking Directions

  • Add 1 tablespoon of olive oil and a tablespoon of butter to a large saute pan. Once butter has melted into the oil, add in onions and cook until translucent.
  • Add chorizo to the onion mixture and cook until the chorizo starts to color and the onions start to caramelize.
  • Add in tomatoes and chilis along with 2 teaspoons of sherry vinegar. Cook until tomatoes break down and the sauce thickens.
  • Remove from heat and set aside.
  • In a medium sized mixing bowl, add the cracked eggs, milk, and salt and pepper. Beat the eggs until the yolks, the whites, and the milk are fully incorporated.
  • Add 2 tablespoons of butter to a medium sized sauce pan over medium-low heat. Once melted and frothing, add in the eggs.
  • Using a plastic spatula, gently fold the egg mixture into itself. If the eggs are setting too quickly, remove from heat as needed.
  • When the eggs are about 50% complete, add in the cheddar cheese and continue folding.
  • The eggs are done when the cheese is melted and the eggs are 98% set. Leave the eggs slightly runny to achieve optimum flavor and texture.
  • Add to a plate, sprinkle with about a teaspoon of sherry vinegar, and top with sofrito mixture.
  • Optional: garnish with thinly sliced jalapenos and radishes. Other garnishes could include Spanish cheese, cilantro, capers, or olives.

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Duck Soup; First dish of the New Year!

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Duck Noodle Soup

A new year should always yield new adventures and it’s in this spirit that I decided to attempt something that I had never tried before. For those of you that know me, you know that I have more than a slight obsession with Pho. It’s one of my top comfort foods and I’ve always wanted to try and make it from scratch. I’ve also always wanted to try it with duck instead of beef, so as my first dish of the new year, I offer to you my take on Duck Pho (I’m sure there’s a more accurate name for this dish, but I have no idea what that would be).

Basically, I had a duck and I wanted a way to utilize all of the different bits in a variety of ways. In the end, the soup seemed like the best way to allow me to utilize the bird in it’s entirety while allowing me to use a variety of techniques for the various parts.

I started the process by simply butchering the duck, something I had also not done before. Taking apart a duck is not the same as a chicken as the anatomies are not exactly the same, so there was a learning curve involved. In the end I wound up with all of the pieces that I wanted looking the way I wanted them to look and a carcass that was relatively free of excess meat. I’d call it a successful first time out.

I then roasted the carcass along with the wings and the neck meat on a high temperature for about 45 minutes. While the carcass roasted, I removed all of the large amounts of excess skin from the duck and I pan fried them until crispy and set them off to the side. Then came the cooking of the breasts. I only wanted to par cook them, so that I can easily finish them off at the very end. I seared the skin crispy and then I flipped them and allowed the other side to cook for a minute or two and then I set them off to the side. The legs and thighs also got the sear treatment, but after the carcass had finished roasting, I added the legs to the oven to allow them to continue to slow cook.

Once the carcass was ready, I added it to a stock pot with onions, shitake mushrooms, ginger, fish sauce and soy sauce and covered the whole thing with water. I brought it to a boil and added in a handful of cilantro stalks and let it simmer until the broth was decedent and rich with duck flavor.

Once the stock was done, I had some helpers shred the legs and thighs and pick off all the meat that had been simmering away in the stock. The breasts were finished in the oven with a basting of hoisin.

The finished soup was served with rice noodles and was garnished with chopped cilantro, green onion, jalapenos, lime and the shredded duck, the crispy skin, the succulent glazed breast slices, and a poached egg (of course!).

I hate to toot my own horn, but my first meal/dish of the new year was a total home run. I’m looking forward to a whole lot of experimentation this year as it’s a goal to get myself back into the kitchen more often. I mean seriously, I can’t just let skills like these go to waste now can I?! ;)

Duck Pho_edited_side_FINAL

Duck Soup

Ingredients

  • 1 whole duck - quartered, skin on
  • 2 onions, sliced
  • 1 cup shiitake mushrooms, sliced
  • 1 2 inch piece of ginger, peeled and sliced
  • 1/4 cup soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons fish sauce
  • 1 bunch cilantro
  • green onions, chopped
  • jalapenos, sliced
  • hoisin sauce
  • sriracha

Cooking Directions

  • Remove wings, breasts, legs and thighs of duck and remove all excess skin. Set skin to the side for frying
  • In a 450 degree oven, roast cleaned carcass, wings and neck bone for about 45 minutes
  • In a skillet on medium high heat, sear duck skin until crisp on both sides, set aside
  • Remove some of the excess duck fat from the skillet saving about 4 tablespoons worth and add in breasts, skin side down. Sear until golden brown and crispy and flip. Cook for about 2 minutes and remove and set aside
  • Again, remove some of the excess duck fat from the skillet and set in leg and thigh pieces and sear until skin is crisp and golden brown. Flip and add into 425 degree oven for about 15-20 minutes.
  • In a large stock pot, pour in reserved duck fat and saute onions until tender. Add in ginger, soy sauce and fish sauce. Add in wings, neck and carcass and fill with water to just cover everything. Bring to a boil and add in stalks from the cilantro. Reduce to a simmer and cover for 45 minutes.
  • To finish breasts, baste with hoisin and place in a 425 degree oven for about 5-10 minutes, or until hoisin is caramelized. Remove from the oven and rest.
  • In a bowl, add rice noodles and cover with boiling water. Let sit until softened.
  • When stock is finished, strain. Add just the stock back to a pot and set back on the stove. Pick the bones clean and shred the meat from the legs and thighs, discard everything else. Add 2/3 of the pulled meat back to the stock and bring to a simmer. Reserve the other 1/3 for garnish.
  • Add your softened noodles to large bowls and cover with the broth. Garnish with cilantro, green onions, jalapenos. Dice crispy duck skin in to small pieces and garnish the soup along with the shredded duck and sliced pieces of duck breast
  • To make it extra luxurious, add in a poached egg

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