YouCopia SpiceSteps 4-Tier Cabinet Spice Rack Organizer

Many years ago, when I first started my quest to learn how to cook, my cabinet was fairly bare.  I started with the true basics: salt and pepper.  I also had a few other beginner seasonings or spices: lemon pepper, garlic salt and powder, onion salt and powder, Italian seasonings, and cinnamon.  At the time, I didn’t even have a spice cabinet, just a cabinet and it was filled with my meager amount of spices and lots of dried pasta.

As I learned more, an actual spice cabinet began to develop.  I added the base spices that combined to make Italian seasoning: basil, oregano, rosemary, and thyme.  I got a little wild and purchased some crushed red pepper flakes and nutmeg, which I had no clue what it should be used for.  I also got the base spices for developing a flavorful chili: cumin, chili powder, and coriander.  I had moved from a cabinet of some spices and dried pasta to a cabinet shelf dedicated to spices only.

Everything in the spice cabinet completely changed once I started cooking with wild game.  The cabinet went from basic, everyday spices to a giant messy collection of every spice under the sun: sage, marjoram, mace, mustard seed, white pepper, dill, tarragon, celery seed, turmeric, caraway, fennel seed.  The list could go on and on!  The cabinet was stuffed full of bottles and tins all stacked upon each other in order to make room.  And forget convenience, as finding anything in there requires pulling out, and probably spilling, most of the contents on the shelf.

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A peek inside my spice cabinet. As you can see, there are piles of spices tossed in there. The back row is actually stacked two tins high. You can forget reading labels or conveniently finding anything in this mess!

When I received the opportunity to review the spice steps from YouCopia, my first inclination was to reject the offer.  I didn’t see how a review for a cabinet organizer would be beneficial to my readers.  However, I opened my cabinet and immediately the mess made me change my mind.  No matter how much wild game I cook, it is never the same experience twice.  I use so many spices because I work with a variety of meats: elk, deer, pronghorn, turkey, pheasant, fish, even crab!  And I figured if my spice cabinet looked this way, other sportsmen are probably experiencing the same dilemma.  So I decided to give the review a shot.

The four-step spice step holds up to 24 spice bottles and includes pre-printed labels for bottles (which just a note: bottles are not included) and also blank labels for creating your own  It measures 10.8″ deep x 11.4″ wide x 3.7″ high.  There is no assembly required, and set-up simply requires pushing down the little wire kickstand on the back of the unit and sliding it into the cabinet space.

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The YouCopia SpiceSteps 4-Tier Cabinet Spice Rack Organizer
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The only thing you have to do to get things started is flip the little wire kickstand on the back of the unit and slide it into the cabinet. Easy enough, I think.

The size of the shelf I use for my spice area is 11.5″ deep x 19.75″ wide x 7.5″ tall.  So, the spice step does not fill the entire area, and instead leaves an area of open space that is a little over 8″ wide.  This was fine with me because I could use the space for some of the taller and bulkier items, like the giant tin of Cajun seasoning I have.

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I have a mixture of both spice bottles and tins.  The first thing I learned when filling the cabinet back up was the step does not accommodate both the tins and the bottles together very well.  The bottles are too tall and completely cover the tins.  This does not make anything any easier to see in the cabinet or to remove from the cabinet.  So, I would say that it is not a great option if you are looking for something that will hold both of these items in one area.

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Mixing spice tins and bottles is not the ideal use of the spice step. The tins are short and when placed behind the bottles they are not visible. I would not recommend using the spice step for both tins and bottles.

That being said, the step works great for stacking either just tins or just bottles. Since I have more spice tins than I do bottles, I started with organizing those first.  As you can see in the picture, the tins are still a little bit difficult to read past the first shelf, but I could at least make out the top of the word and get an idea of what I was looking for.  Pulling a desired tin out from the cabinet was easy and I didn’t have to move anything in order to get what I wanted out.  I also used the four sections to organize my spices.  The first step has my most used cooking spices.  The second I put baking seasonings like ginger and cinnamon.  I put the rest on the back two steps.  All-in-all, it isn’t the perfect set-up for spice tins, but it is much better than what I had before.

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Spice tins on the spice step. The step will hold about eight tins per step for a total of 32 tins!

In my second organization attempt of the cabinet, I used the spice step solely for bottles.  This is definitely the best and most efficient use of the step.  I used the labels that were included and I was able to easily read and locate any spice I wanted.  The pre-printed labels actually covered most of the spices I had in my cabinet. There were blanks to fill in the ones that were a little more uncommon, such as mace.  Also, the labels don’t really work on bottles with a metal screw on lid because there isn’t quite enough room on the lid for the label.  I didn’t actually find that to be much a problem because I just put those bottles down front.

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Pre-printed labels are included with the spice step. They fit on the lid of most bottles and make locating spices easier. There are also blank labels included for the less common spices you might have in your cabinet.
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The spice step works best with bottles. Once the labels are applied to the lids, it is easy to see and locate all the spices in the cabinet.

So, to sum things up, I am pretty pleased with the spice step.  It is a relatively inexpensive ($15.99 on Amazon.com) way to organize all the bottles and tins in the spice cabinet.  The step is constructed from solid plastic that is easy to clean.  The wire kickstand is tightly secured and there was no wobble or swaying as I started to place the bottles on the step.  Everything feels very sturdy and secure.  It did make the cabinet much more organized and easy to use.  If you are interested in purchasing a YouCopia Spice Steps 4-Tier Cabinet Rack Organizer, visit the following link: http://www.youcopia.com/products/24-bottle-spicesteps

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this YouCopia SpiceSteps 4-Tier Cabinet Spice Rack Organizer free from YouCopia as part of a fuelmyblog.com review campaign. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I also do not receive any type of compensation for using the link included on this review or for purchasing a YouCopia Spice Steps 4-Tier Cabinet Rack Organizer.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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Pheasant Meatballs with Brandy Apples and Onion

brandypheasantingredientssmall“When he was young, I told Dale Jr. that hunting and racing are a lot alike. Holding that steering wheel and holding that rifle both mean you better be responsible.” ~ Dale Earnhardt

As I sit here about to write-up this recipe for pheasant meatballs with sweet apples and onions in an apple and brandy sauce, the one who made this all possible is curled up right on top of my feet.  I call her my puppy, but she is no longer a puppy.  She is a seasoned, seven year-old chocolate lab with a passion for pheasant hunting named Sienna.  I am not a bird dog trainer.  To be honest, I am not even much of a day-to-day discipline dog owner.  Sienna knows a few simple commands, like sit and lay, and she is probably the best heeler I have ever met.  I didn’t teach her that though, she just kind of naturally decided that her place when walking with you is pressed against your right knee.  And like I didn’t teach her to heel, I certainly didn’t teach her to hunt.

I have only been bird hunting for a few years, and Sienna has been hunting even less than that.  She spent her first five or six seasons wandering around through the reeds, most of the time behind you, smelling everything but bird scent.  I had actually given up on pheasant hunting trips being anything more to her than just walks through horribly thick vegetation.  I was trying to learn the ins-and-outs of pheasant hunting myself, I certainly didn’t have time to learn how to train a very unenthusiastic chocolate lab.

Three seasons ago, something changed in that little chocolate lab that I can’t explain.  She was wandering around, sniffing at her leisurely pace, lackadaisically pushing reeds and brush out of her way.  Our hunting group ignored her as usual and continued on our way.  She jumped a bird, and no one even took a shot because of the shock of the entire situation.  She jumped three more that day, and left the field a new girl.

This season was a very uneventful one.  In three weeks, we jumped one bird, which of course we missed. There just wasn’t anything out in all the usual places.  Sienna seemed bored while we were hunting, returning to her old habits of smelling flowers instead of working. I complained a lot about carrying my shot gun and having to walk through such rough terrain.  It was a disappointing season, which resulted in a sour attitude.

I had given up on the whole idea of even trying to hunt anymore when the closing day arrived.  I’m sure everyone has experienced that feeling.  You go out into the field, it is empty and lonely.  That desolate atmosphere makes you think life must not even exist in this area because there aren’t even bugs.  You dramatically decide to give up hunting forever.  And then the closing day arrives, and you can’t ignore the nagging desire to go out just one more time, just to make sure there really is no hope.  I had hit that point.  I thought Sienna had as well, but I was wrong.  Closing day of the season was one of the best hunts ever.  Sienna was jumping roosters and hens, tracking them down, retrieving, flushing.  You name it, she was doing it.  It just goes to prove, you never know what is going to happen out there in the field.

In honor of a memorable closing day to the 2016 pheasant season, I decided to make a pheasant dinner for everyone out in the field with me and my splendid chocolate pooch.  One of my favorite methods for preparing pheasant breast is to grind them, straight from the bird with no added fat or other meats, and make them into a flavor packed meatball.  I used the same meatball base for this recipe as I did for pheasant marsala meatballs.  The recipe can be found for those at this link: Pheasant Marsala Meatballs.

To start, cut two pheasant breasts into large chunks and drop them straight into your meat grinder. I use the 3/8″ hole meat grinder plate when I make meatballs.  It is also a good idea to have the meat at a relatively cold temperature when grinding.  This will help to prevent the machine from pulverizing the meat, or as some people term is “mashing” the meat through the plate.  A lot of people even partially freeze the meat before grinding it.

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Preheat the oven broiler to high.  To the ground pheasant, add panko bread crumbs, parmesan cheese, fresh chopped parsley, a dash of nutmeg, salt and pepper, milk, and a beaten egg.  Mix everything together, and my suggestion is to use your hands for this part.  They let you really get down in there and work everything together.  Another suggestion I have when making meatballs is to not take the recipe word-for-word.  For example, it says to use a cup of panko and two tablespoons of milk per pound of ground pheasant, but you might want your meatball a bit drier or a bit wetter.  Also, the moisture level of the meat can play into how dry or wet the meatball turns out.  When I am making meatballs, I always start at a base point of one cup panko and the two tablespoons of milk, but if the meat isn’t rolling into nice balls that hold together well, I will add more panko or milk slowly until they start to form the way I want.  Also, you can roll the meatballs into whatever size you want, but for this recipe I used about a tablespoon of meat mixture per ball.

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Place the meatballs on an ungreased baking sheet and put in the oven for five to seven minutes.  They will not be cooked all the way through, but that is okay. They will finish cooking in the sauce.

While the meatballs are broiling away in the oven, it is time to start on the brandy apple and onion sauce.  Slice the apple into wedges about a half to an inch thick (be sure to remove the core first).  Cut the onions into long, slender slices. To a large skillet, add a tablespoon of cooking oil, I used olive but you could use canola or vegetable if that is what you have on hand.  Heat the pan to medium high heat and drop in the onion slices.  Allow them to cook for two to three minutes and then add in the apple slices.  Season with salt and pepper, sprinkle in the minced rosemary and cinnamon, and cook for five minutes more.  If you like a little heat to your dishes, add a pinch of crushed red pepper flakes.

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Once the apples and onions are starting to soften, and the room should be filling with the rustically sweet smells of cinnamon and apples, deglaze the pan with a half cup of brandy.  Brandy is a fruit-based wine that is distilled into a liquor and the taste varies depending on the fruit used.  I think the subtly sweet fruit flavor of brandy really highlights the apple and onion flavor in this dish, and nothing can compare to the aromas that brandy adds to a dish.  The house smells great at this point!  Let the apples and onions simmer in the brandy for two or three minutes.

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Next, add two cups of apple cider and two cups of chicken broth to the pan.  In a small cup, mix a tablespoon of cornstarch with two tablespoons of water.  Mix until the cornstarch is broken down and there are no chunks.  Add the cornstarch mixture to the pan and stir.  Bring the pan to a light boil and then let it simmer for about five minutes.  The sauce should start to thicken and become glossy.  After five minutes, add the meatballs to the pan, coating them in the sauce, and let the entire beautifully orchestrated dish simmer for an additional five minutes.  The flavors will really start to develop, with strong tastes of sweet apples and onion, and the meatballs will be cooked perfectly.

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I served the pheasant apples and onions over simple white rice.  If you are someone that likes a little more hearty dish, a great substitute would also be a mashed sweet potato or russet potato.  The sauce created from the brandy, cider, and stock really soaks up well in some type of a meal base, but if you were so inclined you could also just eat the meatballs straight-up.  Garnish with some nice fresh minced parsley.

Pheasant, apples, and onions are a tasty combination!  Pheasant is actually quite a mild meat, so it really pairs well with robust flavors like apple and onion.  The brandy also adds a new depth to the sauce of this dish and really kicks up the rustic flavor of the apple cider and hint of cinnamon.  This meal is perfect for a quick meal during the week, but it is also a great one for introducing friends and family to pheasant.  Enjoy!

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Happy Hunting!

Pheasant Meatballs with Brandy Apples and Onion

Prep Time: 10 minutes

Cook Time: 20 minutes

Total Time: 30 minutes

6

Pheasant Meatballs with Brandy Apples and Onion

Ingredients

    For Meatballs
  • 1 pound ground pheasant breast
  • 1 cup panko bread crumbs
  • 1/2 cup shredded cheese (I used parmesan)
  • 1/4 cup fresh chopped parsley
  • 1 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 2 tablespoons milk
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • Salt and pepper to taste
    For Sauce
  • 3 red apples (I used macintosh), cored and sliced into wedges
  • 3 onions, thinly sliced
  • 1 tablespoon cooking oil
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh rosemary
  • 1 teaspoon cinammon
  • 1/2 cup brandy
  • 1 tablespoon corn starch
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • 2 cups apple cider
  • 2 cups chicken stock

Instructions

    For Meatballs
  1. To the pound of ground pheasant, add the panko bread crumbs, parsley, shredded cheese, nutmeg, milk, and beaten egg.
  2. Using your hands, thoroughly incorporate all the ingredients. If the meat seems to dry, add another tablespoon of milk. If it seems to wet, add more panko.
  3. Roll about a tablespoon of the meat mixture into balls and place on ungreased baking sheet.
  4. Cook under broiler on high for seven minutes.
    For Sauce
  1. To a large skillet, add a tablespoon of cooking oil and heat over medium high heat. Add sliced onions and cook for two minutes. Add apples, rosemary, cinnamon, salt and pepper. Cook an additional five minutes. Apples and onions should be starting to soften.
  2. Deglaze the pan with the brandy. Allow apples and onions to cook in brandy for two minutes.
  3. Add apple cider and chicken stock to the pot.
  4. In a small cup, mix together the corn starch and water. Add this to the pan and stir. Increase the heat until sauce starts to lightly boil. Allow the sauce to simmer for five minutes. It should start to thicken and become glossy.
  5. Add meatballs to the pan and simmer in sauce for additional five minutes.
  6. Serve meatballs, apples and onions over rice or mashed potatoes.
  7. Enjoy!
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Chicken Cordon Bleu: Fancy Dutch Oven Dinner!

 

img_0236“In France, cooking is a serious art form and a national sport.” ~ Julia Child

I live in a rapidly evolving tourist town. People visit from all over the world to river raft, mountain bike, off-road, canyoneer, base jump, and rock climb. I grew up here, and watching the explosion of visitors, hotels, stores, and restaurants has been overwhelming at times. However, growing up here also allowed for an ample of opportunities to work in a variety of fields.

My brother worked as a river guide for years, leading rafts full of adventurers through the rolling waves, dramatic drops, and whirlpools of white water rafting. He mostly worked overnight trips, which required him to not only be the raft guide, but also a hiking guide, chef, medic when necessary, and camp host.

Even though the river trips carried participants to the deep backcountry of southeastern Utah, the meals served on the trips were always first-class fine dining (with unfortunately maybe a little beach sand). My brother cooked extensively in a Dutch oven on the majority of these trips, and he has shared many of those recipes over the past few years with me.

The first Dutch oven meal he taught me was chicken cordon bleu. This dish was one of the most anticipated meals of the trip.  The flavors developed in the Dutch oven make this decadent meal even better tasting then when prepared at home in a traditional oven. I think this meal is a great first-timer Dutch oven meal because it is really, really hard to mess up. And while it is great for the Dutch oven newbie, it is also so amazingly fantastic that it is the perfect meal for impressing your guests with. Sitting around the campfire with a plate full of roasted chicken and ham, melted cheese, and creamy sauce will make even the most cynical camper love the outdoors!

As always, start with getting the coals ready.  This meal will need about a total of 35 coals, so I always do a couple extra because some burn down to unusable during the heating process. To heat my coals, I purchased my charcoal chimney at the Sportsman’s Warehouse for about $20.00 and it was worth every penny. All you do is crumple up a few pages of newspaper and stuff them under the base of the chimney, add your coals, and light the paper. You don’t need lighter fluid or even the match light coals. Initially, the chimney will set the coals on fire, much like the barbeque pit. After a few minutes, the coals will go down and they will start to ash over. It takes about ten to fifteen minutes for the coals to be ready. I usually pull mine from the heat when the top ones are half grey and half black. If you wait until the top ones are completely grey then the bottom ones are almost gone. A reminder I ALWAYS need when cooking with my dutch oven is to remember to not set up my dutch oven just in the dirt. The dirt will extinguish the coals (I know, common sense should take over here, but I do it all the time!) I usually set my dutch oven up on a flat rock, but you can also buy metal pans that make the process even easier!

While the coals are heating, prepare the cordon bleus.  I bought the boneless skinless chicken breasts.  If you want to save a little money, you can get the breasts that still have the rib meat or skin on and clean them yourself; however, when working in the outdoors I try to eliminate as many steps as possible. The breasts need to be flattened out a bit in order to achieve proper rolling of the cordon bleus.  I placed my breasts into a gallon size Ziploc bag and then used a coffee cup to pound them down. When I am at home, I just lay plastic wrap over the breasts and then use a rolling pin to do this part, but when camping I do not bring a rolling pin….and the Ziploc seemed like a safer idea for protection of my chicken breast from dirt and bugs and other outdoor hazards.  Anyway, the point is to find something flat and heavy and whack the crap out of the chicken breasts until they are a half or quarter inch thick.

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On top of the flattened breasts, add a few slices of deli black forest ham (or whatever your favorite ham is).  I suggest just buying a pre-sliced deli packaged ham because, again, it eliminates the step of thinly slicing a chunk of ham. On top of the ham, lay down your favorite piece of white cheese. Traditional cordon bleu uses Swiss cheese. I went a little wild this time and used Havarti. It was a really nice substitution.

Roll the chicken into little bundles and secure using two toothpicks.  The cordon bleus are now ready for breading.

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So, the next step in the process is to cover the chicken bundles with breading. Typically at home, I set up a breading station: a plate with flour for the first coating, a shallow dish with a beaten egg, and a plate with the breading. I work through each station and drop the cordon bleu into a pan at the end. For camping, I used Ziploc bags to help simplify the process. The bags were convenient for each station, also created a transportation container for the flour, and made clean-up a breeze. So, before I left I home, I filled a gallon freezer bag with about a cup of flour, and also grabbed two more gallon bags.  Once cooking, I cracked an egg and added a bit of water to the second freezer bag, and also filled the third bag with Italian bread crumbs.

To bread, drop a chicken bundle into the flour, seal the bag, and give it a good shake, making sure to coat the entire bundle.  Remove from the flour bag and drop in the egg bag. The final bag is the breading bag, making sure once again to the coat the entire bundle. Repeat with remaining cordon bleu bundles.

Place the cordon bleu in a single layer into the Dutch oven. Set the oven over 10-12 coals and then place 15-20 coals on the top. The chicken needs to cook at about 350 Fahrenheit. I also like to check the temperature of my oven by using my hand to guesstimate where things are at. I read this online, and while it isn’t a fool proof method, I have found that it has not failed me yet. So, place your hand about 6 to 8 inches above the dutch oven. You should only be able to hold it there for about five seconds. If you can do this, you are at about 350 degrees, which is what this chicken needs to cook at. If you can hold it there longer, say ten seconds, you are more around 250-300 and you need to add more coals. If you are only able to hold it there for a second or two, you are too hot, more around 400, and need to remove a couple of coals from the bottom! Like I said before, this is a really great starter meal because it isn’t super temperature dependent. If you are too hot or too cold, you most likely won’t destroy the meal.

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Let the chicken cook for 30 minutes.  During this time, prepare the sauce. I just have to add that this sauce is so good. I wanted to keep eating it, but all good things must come to an end. So, for the sauce, in a large mixing bowl whisk together a can of cream of chicken soup, half cup of sour cream, half a cup of milk, and a tablespoon of Dijon mustard.

cordonbleusauce

After the chicken has been cooking for 30 minutes, pour the sauce over the top of the chickens. Allow them to continue cooking for an additional 10-15 minutes.

Plate those beautiful melted bundles of cordon bleu, drizzle with extra sauce from the pot, and serve alongside a simple salad. Camping meal fit for royalty!

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Happy Hunting!

Chicken Cordon Bleu: Fancy Dutch Oven Dinner!

Prep Time: 5 minutes

Cook Time: 45 minutes

4

Chicken Cordon Bleu: Fancy Dutch Oven Dinner!

Ingredients

    For Cordon Bleu Bundles
  • Four boneless, skinless chicken breasts
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tablespoon water
  • 15 ounce can Italian style bread crumbs
  • 1 package deli ham (black forest)
  • Havarti pre-sliced cheese
    For Sauce
  • 10 ounce can cream of chicken soup
  • 1/2 cup sour cream
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

Instructions

  1. Heat about 40 coals in charcoal chimney until ashed over, about 15 minutes.
  2. Pound chicken breast flat, to about a quarter to half inch thick.
  3. Place a slice of deli ham and slice of cheese on top of chicken breast. Roll into bundle and secure with two toothpicks.
  4. Create breading station in gallon size freezer bags. First bag should contain cup of flour, second bag should contain beaten egg and tablespoon of water, and third bag should contain bread crumbs.
  5. Place chicken bundle in flour bag and coat entirely in flour. Move to egg bag and coat entirely. Finish in the breading bag. Repeat with four remaining chicken bundles.
  6. Place bundles in single layer in Dutch oven.
  7. Place Dutch oven over 10-12 coals on bottom and 18-20 coals on top. Allow chicken to cook for 30 minutes while preparing the sauce.
  8. For the sauce, whisk together cream of chicken soup, sour cream, milk, and Dijon mustard.
  9. Add sauce to Dutch oven at 30 minute mark.
  10. Continue to cook chicken bundles and sauce for additional ten to fifteen minutes.
  11. Enjoy!
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Whiskey Elk Backstrap Steaks

henrymountainswebsize“You know what my drink is? Jack Daniel’s. Yes, that is a wild man drink. That should come with bail money, you know what I’m saying? Because on Jack, you don’t know where you’re going to end up, but you know when you get there, you won’t be wearing any pants.” ~ Dave Attell

You know that wonderful feeling when you pull out a coat or pair of pants you have not worn in a really long time and find money stashed in the pocket? You can pull out a $20 and you are on top of the world, or even pull out a $1 and think, “It’s gonna be a good day!” I love that feeling. I can’t accurately put into words how excited I get finding money in long forgotten places.

I had that feeling last week.  But it wasn’t evoked by a crumpled old bill hiding in my pocket. It was from the freezer. I was feeling a bit overwhelmed trying to figure out something to make to eat. Sometimes that happens. I am in the mood for something different, but nothing quite seems right or everything sounds too hard to make. I usually end up getting flustered and in a frantic attempt to pull myself out of my indecisive state end up making grilled cheese. That didn’t happen this time. Instead, when I opened the freezer sitting on the top shell, somehow forgotten, was a pack of elk back strap. I could not believe it had been missed! I thought all that was left was roasts or large chunks suitable for sausage or stews.

It was exactly like finding that $20 bill in a pair of old jeans.

And instead of having a dinner of canned tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwiches, I sat down to a fantastic, on-top-of-world feeling, perfectly marinated and cooked elk back strap steak dinner. It was a good day!

I was lucky to find my hidden elk back strap to use for this recipe, but deer or antelope would also work for this dish. Also, if you don’t have back strap on hand, probably because you are like me and ate it all immediately, other cuts that would work great for this recipe include: tenderloin (if you have that on hand, which I never do because it is always my first meal after my harvest and I always make a simple steak and eggs meal to share with everyone who helped me during the hunt), top sirloin (which is found in the hind quarter of the animal), and the flank steak (which is also called the infraspinatus muscle, and I think is greatly under-utilized).

While this is an easy meal to throw together, it does require a little bit of pre-planning in order to properly marinade the meat.  The meat needs at least four hours to sit in the marinade. To make this sweet and smoky whiskey flavored marinade, grab a medium-sized bowl and whisk together 1/2 cup of your favorite sipping whiskey, 1/2 cup of soy sauce, 1 tablespoon of olive oil, a heaping tablespoon of Dijon style mustard (I always cheat and add a little more when I use Dijon mustard because I love that tangy flavor it adds), a quarter cup of honey, 2 cloves of minced garlic, and some fresh cracked black pepper.

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Lay the steaks into a large shallow pan and pour in the marinade. Throw a little plastic wrap over the dish, and toss that baby in the fridge. After two hours, flip the steaks over so both sides can enjoy equal time bathing in that delicious marinade.

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Once the steaks are done marinating, pull them out of their soaking bath and let them rest on a plate for ten or fifteen minutes. This creates a little more even cooking of the meat if the temperature of the steak is consistent throughout. Also, I like to let the marinade dry out a bit on the surface of the meat, as it creates a bit more of a sticky or somewhat crunchy texture to the outside of the steak.

Get the grilling pan nice and hot. You want the steak to make that beautiful sizzling sound when it hits the pan. You know that sound, that sharp crackling sound when the steak hits the pan and then steam immediately flows off the steak. (Love that moment!) I usually test if my pan is hot enough by sprinkling a little bit of water on the pan. If it starts to sizzle upon contact, I know the pan is hot enough.

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Drop the steak into the preheated pan and allow it to cook for six to eight minutes on the first side. Try not to move the steak immediately after it first touches the pan. In that first minute or two, the meat tends to grab onto the hot pan and will tear if you try and move it. Once the first side of cooked, flip the steak and cook the second side an additional six to eight minutes. This should result in a medium rare steak. If you are more of a medium to well-done steak person, add a few minutes to each side. If you are a fan of the rare steak, subtract a minute or two per side. Transfer the steak to a plate and allow it to rest before slicing for about five minutes. Allowing the meat to rest is important because it creates a juicier and tastier slice of meat. Also, when it is piping hot and you cut into the steak it really just tears the whole thing up and makes things look not so pretty.

whiskeysteakfinalplate

Well, that is it for this super amazing meal! I served my steak with a side of grilled asparagus. Other fantastic sides would include potatoes, green beans, corn, a simple salad, crusty bread, wild rice, or whatever else your imagination can come up with.

Happy Hunting!

Whiskey Elk Backstrap Steaks

Whiskey Elk Backstrap Steaks

Ingredients

  • 4 elk back strap steaks (about eight ounces each)
  • 1/2 cup favorite whiskey
  • 1/2 cup soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • pepper to taste

Instructions

  1. In large, shallow dish lay out steaks.
  2. In medium bowl, whisk together whiskey, soy sauce, olive oil, Dijon mustard, honey, garlic, and pepper. Pour over steaks and cover with plastic wrap. Allow at least four hours in the refrigerator, flipping the steaks half way through.
  3. Remove steaks from marinade and allow to rest at room temperature for fifteen minutes.
  4. Heat grilling pan over high heat.
  5. Add steaks to pan and cook 6 to 8 minutes per side.
  6. Let meat rest for five minutes before slicing.
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Elk Shepherd’s Pie: Dutch Oven Style

shepherdspiescoop
That is shepherd’s pie in all its glory right there: meat, veggies, potatoes, and ooey, gooey cheese!

“I do hunt, and I do fish, and I don’t apologize to anybody for hunting and fishing.” ~ Norman Schwarzkopf

I never had shepherd’s pie as a kid.  My mom never made it. No grandmother on either side of my family passed along their secret ingredient that made their shepherd’s pie a family favorite, requested for any special occasion.  Growing up, the closest I had to shepherd’s pie was when my mom would split a hot dog in half down the center, place it on a baking sheet, pile on a mound of mashed potatoes, sprinkle on cheddar cheese, and melt it under the broiler.  Not exactly shepherd’s pie, but I see some similarities I guess: meat, potatoes, cheese.

I wasn’t introduced to shepherd’s pie until I graduated high school.  Over a college break, I stayed with a friend’s family and we had it for dinner.  I immediately was a fan of the gravy soaked beef with vegetables under a dome of potatoes and cheese.  I was informed then that this meal was a family favorite, ever requested by aunts, uncles, and cousins when they came to visit.  I was secretly a little angry at my own family for trying to pass off hot dogs as an acceptable substitute.  Trust me, aunts and uncles weren’t requesting hot dogs as a special treat when visiting my home growing up.

Since then, I have prepared shepherd’s pie many times and experimented with different flavor and texture combinations.  I have used different meat bases: elk, deer, pronghorn, beef, lamb, buffalo.  I have manipulated the gravy from cream-of-this to cream-of-that or even gone broth or wine based.  I’ve switched up the vegetables: corn, celery, carrots, maybe a little cubed sweet potato.  Once, I even used mashed turnips in place of the mashed potatoes to see if anyone would notice.  For the record, they did, and not really in a good way.  The only thing I always keeps the same is a big pile of cheese to finish everything off.

This recipe is a double bonus; it is a wild game dish, and it is a dutch oven recipe that is perfect for your hunting camp!  To start, light your coals.  I use a charcoal chimney when I am camping.  They heat the coals quickly, and the chimney is easy to use.  Simply pour the desired number of charcoal briquettes in the top, wad up a few pieces of newspaper, stuff them under the chimney, and light the newspaper.  The chimney should start to smoke and the coals should be ready in about 15 minutes.  You can tell they are ready to go when the top layer of coals start to turn to ash around the edges.

shepherdspieelkFor this recipe, I used a 12″ oven, but a 14″ would also work fine.  Place the oven over a fairly large number of coals, like 20 -25.  You want to get the oven as hot as you can in order to fry the meat.  You could also use a gas camp stove for this part, which would save on the number of coals needed for the entire recipe.

Drop in a pound of ground elk meat to the oven.  I used my homemade elk burger for this recipe, which is simply a 1/4 pound of bacon ends ground with 3/4 pound of elk.  I like the bacon because it adds a hint of bacon flavor to the burger but still the perfect amount of fat.  Brown the meat, which takes about five to seven minutes.  About half way through the meat cooking, throw in the diced carrots, onion, and celery.  You want them to cook until they are soft.  Once the vegetables are soft, add two or three tablespoons of tomato paste.  Season the pot with salt and pepper to your liking.

shepherdspievegetables

Okay, it is now gravy time!  With the pot still hot, pour in a cup of red wine.  You can use whatever type of wine you prefer or have on hand.  I used pinot noir this time because I wanted to have a glass of that wine with my dinner, but merlot or cabernet would also be great.  Let the wine reduce down by half and then add two cups of beef stock to the pot.  Continue to cook over medium high heat and allow this to start to reduce down, which can take around ten minutes.

shepherdspiecheeseWhile the beef stock is reducing, in a large pot of water boil two pounds of potatoes.  I used a Yukon potato, but you could use russet or red potatoes too.  Another great option when camping would also be the boxed instant mashed potatoes.  These would eliminate the need to boil a pot of water and cook the actual potatoes.  Boxed instant potatoes simply require adding boiling water to dehydrated potato flakes.  Another option would be to make the mashed potatoes at home and just bring them along.  You will heat them up when you melt the cheese, so this option works just as well as any.

To the potatoes, add a quarter cup of butter and a quarter cup of milk or cream.  You could also add a couple tablespoons of sour cream, if you so desire.  Be sure to salt and pepper the potatoes.

Once the stock has reduced down, pour in the can of corn.  Spread the mashed potatoes over the top of the elk mixture, making sure to reach all the corners of the pot, and sprinkle on a cup of the cheese of your choice. I tend to use cheddar cheese when I make shepherd’s pie, but I went with a Monterey Jack for this recipe, thinking it would pair better with the red wine.  If you are cooking over coals, remove about half the coals, leaving behind 12-14 on the bottom.  If you cooked your meat over a camp stove, set out 12-14 coals for your oven to now sit on.  Place 15-20 coals on the top of the oven.  Let the shepherd’s pie cook for fifteen minutes, giving enough time to melt the cheese, heat the mixture thoroughly, and soften the corn.

shepherdspiefinalplate

Shepherd’s pie is comfort food at it’s best, and this dutch oven version allows you to bring comfort food straight to the outdoors.  Perfect for sharing around the campfire, this meal is hearty with fluffy cheese covered mashed potatoes, and a little bit sweet from the carrots, corn, and touch of red wine.  The elk definitely shines as the star of this dish!  Enjoy!

Happy Hunting!

Elk Shepherd's Pie: Dutch Oven Style!

Elk Shepherd's Pie: Dutch Oven Style!

Ingredients

  • 1 pound ground elk
  • 2-3 stalks celery, diced
  • 2 carrots, diced
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 1/4 cup tomato paste
  • 1 cup red wine
  • 2 cups beef stock
  • 2 pounds potatoes
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 1/2 cup milk or cream
  • 1 can corn
  • 1 cup shredded cheese of choice

Instructions

  1. Start coals for dutch oven.
  2. In large pot add potatoes, cut into quarters, and boil.
  3. In dutch oven over medium-high heat, cook ground elk.
  4. Add diced celery, onion, and carrots, cook until soft.
  5. Add tomato paste and stir. Season with salt and pepper.
  6. Pour in red wine and reduce by half, about five minutes.
  7. Add beef stock and continue to reduce, about ten minutes.
  8. When potatoes are soft, about 15 minutes, mash and add butter and milk. Season with salt and pepper.
  9. Once stock has reduced, add the can of corn.
  10. Spread mashed potatoes over elk mixture, covering completely. Sprinkle on cheese.
  11. Cook in dutch oven over 12-14 coals on bottom and 15-20 coals on top for 10 minutes, until cheese has melted.
  12. Enjoy!
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Top Ten Upland Game Hunting Blogs!!!

The opening day of pheasant season did not turn out as I expected.  It was cloudy and cold.  And it rained!  And the rain turned those beautiful slough areas I like to visit during my hunting season into giant mud mosh pits.  My dad always says that on a rainy day you enter the pheasant grounds with hope and optimism, but you leave the pheasant grounds birdless and seven feet tall from all the mud and clay gathered to the bottom of your boots.  Needless to say, my day went similar to my dad’s experiences on rainy days and I gained a good inch in height.

Returning home with empty hands, I decided to lift my spirits I would visit some of my favorite upland game hunting blogs and see how their seasons were going.  My most frequented upland game blogs are full of expert tips and tactics, beautiful photography and other art, and also have great stories.  They truly capture the upland game hunting experience.  So, whether your opening day was promising and plentiful, or a bit disappointing like mine, check out these great blogs and learn a thing or two for your next trip out!  Enjoy and Happy Hunting!

Top 10 Upland Game Hunting Blogs!!!!

Fred Bohm

fredbohm

In 2014, Fred Bohm was struck with a sudden awakening: “We are all in this together whether we know it or not.”  This seemingly simple but complex realization led to Fred’s self titled blog.  In the pages of his blog, Fred shares hunting stores about the “people and creatures I love.”  Fred shares upland bird, as well as wild game, hunting tips, tricks, and techniques through the unique forum of beautiful, rich photographs and a story-telling style.  Each of Fred’s blog posts are not only visually stimulating through his use of photos, but he also keeps things interesting through great stories.  I could sit at my computer all day and read story after story shared by Fred.

Website Address: http://fredbohm.com

The Grouse Father

thegrousefather

Upon meeting the “Grouse Mob” behind The Grouse Father, you are quickly introduced to Giuseppe “The GrouseFather” Papandrea, Sam “The Knows” Glasbergen, Michael Richard Thompson “UPLANDISH,” Andrew M. Wayment “Andy,” Landon “The Main’ah” Knittweis, and Archy “THE WISE” Wiseman.  A proper introduction of the six “Grouse Mob” members gets you familiar with their hunting styles, their guns of choice, and their faithful canine hunting companions.  The blog shares great tips and tricks for hunting grouse and woodcocks, great stories, gun information, and musings and information about hunting dogs.  There is also a unique section on the blog dedicated to outdoor art and literature.  The writing on this blog is enjoyable and readable, making it a great blog!

Website Address: http://www.thegrousefather.com

Upland Utah

uplandutah

While mostly following the hunting trips of Brett in the fields of Utah, the Upland Utah blog offers up great hunting tips and tricks that can be implemented anywhere.  Brett says bird hunting is his second biggest passion, falling only behind his passion for family.  His stories of dogs, hunting, and experiences with those he meets along the way are easy to read and full of great information.  There are also some really wonderful product reviews on the site.

Website Address: http://uplandutah.blogspot.com

Mouthful of Feathers

mouthfuloffeathers

Mouthful of Feathers is one of the more unique blogs in this list.  The blog has a diverse collection of authors and calls itself a more of an example of the “how-not-to,” as opposed to the “how-to.”  The site really peers into experience of hunting, and why people spend so much time trekking through unbeaten path in search of possibility.  I find the blog to be full of humor, wit, insight, and, of course, a little bit of “how-to.”  Don’t miss the photo gallery when visiting this site; it is filled with beautiful photos that capture the essence of the upland game hunting.

Website Address: http://mouthfuloffeathers.com

Pheasants Forever

pheasantforever

The Pheasants Forever site opens the front page with its mission statement: “Pheasants Forever is dedicated to the conservation of pheasants, quail and other wildlife through habitat improvements, public awareness, education and land management policies and programs.” And when exploring the site, you see it does just that.  There is information about pheasant and other upland game habitat and conservation efforts, how to get started in pheasant hunting, youth involvement, recipes, and product reviews.  The site is a one-stop shop for everything pheasant!

Website Address: http://www.pheasantsforever.org

Upland Ways

uplandways

Follow Andy and Shawn as they explore the uplands! The photography alone on this blog can easily tell a story.  You can breeze through an article, looking at only the stunning photography captured by Andy and Shawn, and take in an entire hunting experience.  However, I have to say, don’t miss the writing because the stories are great and well written.  Looking for a little perspective in life while also learning about upland game hunting?  This blog is the place to stop by and have a look around.

Website Address: http://uplandways.com

Upland Addictions

uplandaddiction

This blog’s tagline is “Cut the dogs loose. Wear out a pair of boots. Make some memories.” The author says they started this blog in hopes of capturing the good and bad memories and thoughts with their bird hunting experience.  I love this blog for the writing.  The stories wrap you up and for a while you get to leave your computer and follow the author through the hunting field.  Each article also has great accompanying photos.

Website Address: http://uplandaddictions.com

Red Legg’ed Devils

redleggeddevil

If you are looking for a site with true, pure upland game hunting tips and tactics, Red Legg’ed Devils is a great place to visit.  The author sets out on foot in pursuit of birds and he knows his stuff.  The site is full of information and is incredibly well-written with stunning photography as well.

Website Address: https://red-legged-devils.com

Chukar Hunting

chuckarhunting

This blog has it all, reliable product reviews, delicious recipes, videos, tips and tricks, great photography, excellent writing.  It has it all! I could spend all day cruising and exploring this blog, and still not read it all.

Website Address: https://chukarhunting.net

A Bird Hunter’s Road

birdhuntersroad

Follow Jay Hanson as he navigates across the Midwestern and Western United States in search of upland game.  This blog is fantastic because the author visits so many different states that you really get a feel for how different bird hunting is across the country, from Montana and South Dakota, to Utah, Wyoming, and Oregon.  Jay has put some serious miles in searching for birds, and the stories are shared in the pages of this wonderfully written and beautifully photographed blog.

Website Address: http://mtbirdhunter.blogspot.com/

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Dutch Oven Pineapple Upside Down Cake

pineapplecake“The world is wrong side up. It needs to be turned upside down in order to be right side up.” ~ Billy Sunday

Sometimes at home, I will pull something out of the oven and be pleasantly surprised with how beautiful it turned out.  The glistening golden brown skin of an oven roasted turkey, a buttery caramel-colored cake top, bubbly, slightly browned mozzarella melted over lasagna, all those things cause me to pause, just briefly, and think, “Huh, that turned out pretty.”

I can’t say that happens when dutch oven cooking.  Usually, I open the lid, steam comes rushing out, and once it is cleared I think, “Well that looks like a disorganized pile in a pot.”  I’m not saying it doesn’t look delicious, just beautiful never comes to mind.

Pineapple upside down cake in the dutch oven is a different story.  I lifted the lid and smells of sweet pineapple and rich cheese cake filled the air.  I thought, “That smells fantastic and looks delicious.”  But then I flipped the cake over, and it was a melted blend of rich reds, and golden yellows and oranges from the pineapples, cherries and brown sugar.  It looked like a little watercolor painting sitting on a plate.  It was beautiful.

I passed the plate around the campfire and told everyone to look how beautiful our dessert was.  “Almost to pretty to eat,” my dad said.  “Almost.”

He was right.  While it was a passing moment of admiration, the cake was gone with no leftovers, not even crumbs on the plate, in a matter of minutes.

To start this beautiful dessert, line a 10″ dutch oven with foil.  Foil is helpful for a few reasons.  First, it keeps the dutch oven cleaner.  Sugar can really bake down deep into the cast iron and can be difficult to clean-up.  Second, it helps with flipping over the cake.  Finally, the aluminum helps keep more delicate foods, like cakes, breads, and biscuits, from burning to the bottom of the oven.

pineapplefoillined

After you line the oven, start the coals.  I use a charcoal chimney when I am camping.  They heat the coals quickly, and the chimney is easy to use.  Simply pour the desired number of charcoal briquettes in the top, wad up a few pieces of newspaper and stuff them under the chimney, and light the newspaper.  The chimney should start to smoke and the coals should be ready in about 15 minutes.  You can tell they are ready to go when the top layer of coals start to turn to ash around the edges.

In the foil lined oven, melt a stick of butter.  Once fully melted, spread it to the edges of the oven and then sprinkle a light coating of brown sugar.  Lay the pineapple slices and maraschino cherries into the buttery sugar mixture.

pineapplecherries

In a large bowl, pour in a box of cake mix.  I used a mix specifically made for pineapple upside down cake, but a yellow, white, or even angel food cake would be a nice alternative.  Normally, at home, I would say to make a cake base from scratch, but this is outdoor cooking and delicious but simple is the name of the game.  To the cake mix, add four eggs, a box of cheesecake flavored instant pudding, 1/2 cup oil, and the juice from the pineapple can.  Mix everything until the lumps are gone and the batter is smooth and silky.  Pour the batter over the pineapples and cherries.  Evenly spread the batter over the entire oven.

pineapplebatter

On a solid surface, like a flat rock or metal grate, place 12-14 coals and set the oven on top. Place about 15-20 coals on the top of the oven. I also like to check the temperature of my oven by using my hand to guesstimate where things are at. I read this online, and while it isn’t a fool proof method, I have found that it has not failed me yet. So, place your hand about 6 to 8 inches above the dutch oven. You should only be able to hold it there for about five seconds. If you can do this, you are at about 350 degrees, which is what the cake needs to cook at. If you can hold it there longer, say ten seconds, you are more around 250-300 and you need to add more coals. If you are only able to hold it there for a second or two, you are too hot, more around 400, and need to remove a couple of coals from the bottom.

pineappledutchoven

This cake takes about an hour to bake.  At around the 45 minute mark, I start to hang out much closer to the dutch oven.  As soon as I smell the unmistakable scent of pineapple and cheesecake, I check the cake.  To see if the cake is ready, first do a touch test.  Lightly press on the top of the cake in the center, if it is finished baking it will lightly spring back when pressed on.  Second, you can insert a tooth pick in the center of the cake and it should come back out clean.  The top will have a light brown color.

To make this cake truly upside down, use the foil to pull the entire cake from the oven.  Set the cake on a flat surface and place your serving plate on top of the cake.  Gently slide your hand under the cake, place the other hand on the plate, and flip.

pineapplefinal

Interested in other dutch oven desserts?  Try apple pie, baked pears and dried cherries, and banana upside down cake!

Happy Hunting!

Dutch Oven Pineapple Upside Down Cake

Dutch Oven Pineapple Upside Down Cake

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup butter (1 stick), melted
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1 jar maraschino cherries
  • 1 can sliced pineapple, 20 oz
  • 1 box cake mix
  • 4 eggs
  • 1/2 cup oil
  • 1 box cheesecake instant pudding, 3.4 oz box

Instructions

  1. Start dutch oven charcoals in chimney.
  2. Line a 10" dutch oven with aluminum foil. Melt stick of butter in oven and sprinkle cup of brown sugar over butter. Place pineapples and cherries in butter-sugar mixture in single layer.
  3. In large bowl, mix together cake mix, eggs, oil, cheese cake instant pudding, and juice from the pineapple can. Mix until batter is free of lumps, and silky smooth.
  4. Pour batter over pineapples. Spread batter evenly over entire dutch oven.
  5. On a flat, hard surface place 12-14 coals. Set oven on top of coals. On top of dutch oven add 15-20 coals.
  6. Let cake cook for one hour.
  7. Cake is ready when toothpick comes out clean. Flip cake and enjoy!
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