Making room for a new season of venison… and football

We know it’s hunting season when friends show up with gifts–a heart and a liver that they just harvested from a doe in our woods.  While they might normally toss them, they know that John will use them to make an amazing venison liverwurst.  The new heart and liver will join what John has in the freezer and will soon appear as John’s redneck pâté.

With bow season upon us and guys outside climbing into their tree stands, we’ve been inside noting a lack of freezer space.  We still have venison from last year.  One reason for this is that venison lends itself to stews and chilis and other slow cooking dishes that I don’t tend to cook in the summer.  However, the main reason we still have so much is because John stored it all in the man-cave freezer.  I had no idea it was down there!

Quelle bonne surprise– a freezer full of white butcher paper wrapped packages of ground meat and roasts.   Bring on the venison pasta sauce.  Let’s eat some pulled venison sandwiches. And absolutely, positively John gets busy making venison-jalapeno sausage  and Italian venison sausage.  So the freezer goes from  being full of raw venison to being full of sausage.  Not a problem.  The hunters often stop in for a beer after an evening in the woods.  A jalapeno sausage is the perfect post-hunting snack to go with a cold beer.  It’s also the perfect snack food for a Sunday afternoon Ravens game.

MomMom & little John fixing chili in their matching Ravens jerseys. Photo by Mario.

This Sunday got off to a promising start with all the kids and grandkids coming over to watch the Ravens-Eagles game.  Sixteen-month-old grandson John, whose first word was “cook,” was most eager to help whip up a huge pot of venison chili.  We were too wrapped up in the game ( and nibbling jalapeno sausage) to eat the chili until afterwards, at which point it served to console us in our loss.

Unlike liverwurst, which has a select group of devotees, chili is eaten by pretty much everyone.  It’s a good first way to get used to venison.  Substitute ground venison for ground beef and then don’t tell anyone.  They’ll love the flavor and then you can tell them what it is!

Here is one way to use up a bunch of ground venison:

Chili for a crowd

  • 5 lbs. ground venison
  • 2 onions, chopped
  • 2 large cans of dark red kidney  beans
  • 2 large cans of  diced tomatoes
  • 1 can of tomato sauce
  • 1 small can of tomato paste
  • a fistful (or two) of dried oregano, crumbled
  • chili powder  to taste (for me, that would be several  tablespoonfuls or maybe half the jar)
  • cumin to taste (a little less than the chili powder)
  • salt and pepper

Before the game starts, brown the onion and the meat in a large stockpot.  Puree one can of the kidney beans (drained first) in a food processor and add the ground paste to the pot.  Add the second can of kidney beans whole (but drained).  Stir in the remaining ingredients and let simmer until half-time.  Serve with garnishes of grated cheese and sour cream or Greek yogurt.  Eat as a dip with tortilla scoops or as a dinner with corn bread.

I personally like to add green pepper with the onion, but a certain son-in-law doesn’t eat green pepper.  (Plus I didn’t have one.)  The batch of chili I made for the pathetic Ravens-Eagles game did not use my usual spices either.  I was out of chili powder so I used Black Dust Coffee & Spice Rub that I bought at Savory Spice Shop in Boulder, Colorado last June.  The interesting combination of ingredients (coffee,  black pepper, cumin, Alderwood smoked salt, brown sugar, cocoa, mustard, coriander and chipotle) made for a mellow chili.  Wanting more zip, I added some red pepper and dried jalapeno flakes.  (Don’t tell John I used his dried jalapeno!) It still wasn’t very zippy, though, and every time Kristin came upstairs the aroma tricked her into thinking that I was baking brownies.  I should have used the rest of the jar of dried jalapeno, but I might have gotten in trouble with the resident sausage maker.

For a zippier chili, I could have used Savory Spice’s Red Cloud Peak Seasoning.  I used it Saturday night to coat a round roast.  Mmmmm.  It has hot chili powder in it, but no cumin.  But I do have cumin, so I could have added that to the chili myself.

What did I learn from today’s chili?  If you want the home team to win, don’t eat mellow chili and don’t flavor your chili with seasonings from the Denver area (as good as they may be).  From now on, for Raven’s games at least,  I’ll stick with hot chili powder from the home team–McCormick.

Stocking up for winter…

I’m almost ready to host the next big snowstorm sleepover.   The freezer is filling up with venison and turkey stock and Christmas cookies.  Add a few loaves of raisin bread and stock up the bar in the man cave and we’re good to go.
John spent all day processing his two Bambis.  After dinner  I joined in the fun of processing the ground meat and  wrapping the little roasts and stew meat.  To protect from freezer burn, we wrapped the roasts and stew cubes in plastic wrap, then a layer of freezer paper, labeled with the cut of meat and the date.  A final protection from a ziplock freezer bag and into the freezer it went.  (John did not put the year on his wrappings.  I wonder if he plans to eat that mystery meat when it is finally discovered behind a mountain of frozen pesto.)
The nice thing about John cutting the meat himself is getting what we really can use packed in  1 lb. amounts that work for us.  We often are given venision steaks, but I prefer roasts and stew meat for making crockpot meals.  And ground venison can be used almost anytime I would use ground beef.
Tonight, while John kept at his butchering, I made spaghetti with meat sauce using fresh ground venison and some of the Dan Wilson spaghetti sauce that Kristin and I made at the end of summer.  The meat from the young doe was so tender and the sauce had a lively kick to it.  Perfect on this cold, blustery night.

Dan Wilson's secret ingredient

So, here’s Kristin (before she knew she was pregnant and having a BOY!) with the secret ingredient in dear ol’ Dan Wilson’s spaghetti sauce.  We made the sauce in August just as school was starting.  I’m not going to post the recipe now because no one has 15 lbs of fresh tomatoes at the moment.   Well, if someone makes a fuss, I will.

A-Hunting They Will Come

Mike, John, and Gage with their 4 deer

     Some people think it’s lonely living in the woods.  Not so.  Especially during hunting season.  There is often someone out there in the woods and frequently they stop in for coffee (in the a.m.) or beer (after an evening hunt).  Around the kitchen table, they shoot the breeze with John and debrief from their hours in the tree stand until a text message from a wife gets them packing.

I love the messages.

“Where are you?”

“I’m near the car.”

“How near? ”

“Not far.”

“You’re in John’s kitchen having a beer, aren’t you?” 

Ooooo.  She nailed him.

     Yesterday morning, John got a text from Mike in the woods.  There were deer everywhere.  He and son Gage had just gotten two.   John needed to get out there.  So John took his shotgun, a cup of coffee, and a cigar out to his tree stand.  His unconventional strategy of smelling like normal did it’s usual trick of not alerting the deer to anything abnormal.  He shot 2 does.

     Four deer in the driveway made for a full afternoon of  guy-bonding butchering while I scooted off to Tuba Christmas downtown.  Today we will eat venison tenderloin with cranberry-dill sauce.

The deer with the dear who will cook them



This recipe is from Barrie Kavasch’s Enduring Harvests cookbook (1995, Globe Pequot Press).  I bought it because it had a venison recipe in it but found it had a lot of other great recipes, too.  And the best part was that, because they were Native American recipes, the ingredients were easy to find and inexpensive!

Venison tenderloin with Cranberry-Dill Sauce

1 cup fresh cranberries

1/4 cup red onion, coursely chopped

1/2 cup green pepper, coursely chopped

1/4 maple sugar*

1 teaspoon ginger, freshly grated or ground

pinch of sea salt

2 tablespoons fresh or 1 1/2 tablespoons dried dill weed.

Combine all but dill weed in a medium saucepan over medium-low heat.  Cook, stirring to blend thoroughly, until cranberries pop, about 10-15 minutes.

Add the dill weed. Remove from heat.  Serve hot or cold.  Flavors get even better after a day in the fridge.

*I substituted our Maywood honey and a touch of molasses for the maple syrup.