Wild Turkey Chili: A One Pot Delight!


“When turkeys mate they think of swans.” ~ Johnny Carson

I am always amazed how different wild turkey is from farm-raised turkey. With my first wild turkey harvest, I plucked the entire bird and roasted it in traditional Thanksgiving style. I was so excited for that dinner. I was having Thanksgiving in May complete with mashed potatoes, wild turkey gravy, cranberries, and stuffing. I love the smell a roasting turkey fills the house with, and this wild bird was no exception. Somehow the day was transformed from a typical May evening with sparse clouds, a warming breeze, and blooming flowers to a fall evening, with crisp leaves, a chill in the air, and that beautifully roasting turkey. As I pulled the turkey out the oven and let it rest on the counter, I was bursting with excitement and anticipation of the delicacy before me.

My family sat around the table, and we even shared a few hunting stories about past bird hunts. It was a so much fun! And then we started eating the turkey. It was dry. Really dry. Like chewy, can’t swallow, force a bite down and chase it with a giant gulp of water, dry. I was heartbroken. It had appeared so perfect, the skin was lightly browned and glistening, and it smelled so great. It even felt tender and juicy to the touch while I carved it, but it did not taste that way.

No one really said much about the turkey until long after dinner.

“That turkey was good,” my dad ventured. “But it was, kind of, I don’t know…”

“Dry,” I unenthusiastically replied.

“Yes,” he concurred.

Not only was I disappointed in the turkey dinner itself, as I had tried so hard to roast it at just the right temperature for just the right amount of time, but I felt like I had wasted the bird. I felt bad that I had prepared it so poorly, and I felt basically disrespectful.

After that first turkey experience, I decided to prepare subsequent harvests with more thought and planning. I got creative with how I used my bird, and this also led to using more of the bird efficiently, such as the legs. Typically, the legs are very, very tough and basically inedible on a roasted wild turkey. I make wild turkey and dumplings soup with my legs, and it is easily one of my favorite meals.

So far with the breasts, I have only experimented with grinding. Both of these meatball based recipes were made with pheasant, but they would work really well with turkey too: Marsala Meatballs and Brandy Apples and Onions. I plan on spending this spring working with some other types of recipes with different preparation methods for the breast.

For this chili recipe, I started the same as the meatball recipes by running the turkey breasts through my meat grinder. I used the 3/8″ hole meat grinder plate. 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.

After running through the grinder, I drop the meat directly into my ceramic dutch oven, which I just have to quickly add that I love it because it is wonderful for both the stove top and putting directly into the oven. Anyway, I start browning the meat over medium high heat and while it is cooking I dice up a large onion, chop the bell peppers, mince four to five cloves of garlic, and chop up one jalapeno. If you like a lot of heat in your chili, leave the seeds in the jalapeno. If you are not that big of a fan of hot and spicy foods, then I would suggest removing the seeds before chopping up the pepper. Add those ingredients to the turkey and cook until the meat is browned and the onions start to soften, about eight to ten minutes.

On a quick side note, did you know you can freeze your peppers from the garden hole and they are great for use in soups, sauces, stews, and chili’s all year!  Yep, those are frozen peppers in the picture.

To the cooked turkey, add chili powder, cumin, oregano, and coriander. A little tip for quick measuring when cooking is to use your hand instead of measuring spoons (although be sure you washed your hands good before this because nobody wants to eat from a dirty palm!) The rough estimate way is done by filling the base of your palm for a tablespoon and the small little cup in the center of your palm for a teaspoon. Since everyone has a bit different size of hand, the best way to find out what this means for your hand is to take a tablespoon and fill your hand with a scoop of something. Make a mental note on how where that fills to on your palm. Do the same for a teaspoon. This is just a little trick I learned from a cooking show, and it just helps save on dirtying measuring spoons, which makes more dishes, which I hate!

For the tablespoon of chili powder, I roughly estimate it in the palm of my hand. It fills basically the entire base of my palm when a slight cup is made with the hand.
For the teaspoon of cumin, oregano, and coriander, I also measure in my hand. A teaspoon fills the base of the little cup your hand makes when slightly cupping your palm.

I also like to add a pinch of nutmeg when I make chili. So, throw that pinch in there, season the pot with black pepper and salt, and drop in three bay leaves. Give everything a quick stir and coat the turkey and onions in all those delicious spices. Add three tablespoons of tomato paste, stir, and let the pot cook for one minute.

After the minute, pour in the red wine. I tend to use a merlot when I make this chili, but any dry red wine will work, such as a pinot noir or cabernet sauvignon. You could also use chicken stock if you are not a wine drinker. The pot should be hot when the wine hits the pan, and it will make this glorious sizzling sound. You want to stir the turkey mixture at this point and break up all the bits and pieces from the bottom of the pan that the wine has helped release. This adds flavor to the dish!

Next, add in the tomatoes. I use my home-grown garden tomatoes. During the summer, I harvest tomatoes and fill a quart size bag with them. I cut the stem and a little bit of the core out of the tomato, but I don’t remove the skins or do any other prep work. I simply place the bag in the freezer and then dump the entire bag into any soup, stew, or chili that calls for a 28 ounce can of crushed tomatoes. It is easy and tastes great! If you don’t have home preserved tomatoes, you just add a 28 ounce can of crushed tomatoes at this step.

I have to preface this caption with the fact that this picture is UGLY! I actually went back and forth quite a few times on if I should use it because the tomatoes look…well…gross. In the end, I have decided to stick it on here because I want to show how I literally cut the quart size bag off from around the tomatoes and drop the entire blob into the dutch oven. I don’t even take the time to thaw it.

Finally, it is time to add the beans. I use three 15 ounce cans of beans when I make chili. The type depends mostly on what I have in the pantry at the time, and it generally includes pinto, red kidney, and black beans. But you can add whatever cans of beans you prefer. If you are simply a black bean fan, just use three cans of those babies. If you like a variety, add all three types. Or get crazy and drop in a can of great northern beans or navy beans. It’s totally up to you!  Be sure to drain the beans before adding them in.

Bring everything to a boil, cover the pot, and then drop the temperature down to a low simmer. Let the dutch oven simmer for one hour, stirring every once in awhile. During this time, the flavors will really start to develop and blend together. This chili is a very hearty dish, but because of the wild turkey, it is not a greasy dish. It offers up a beautiful mixture of tomatoes and chili flavor with the hints of cumin and oregano jumping out. And as with most chilis, it is even better the next day!

For serving, pile on some cheddar cheese, maybe a few fresh chopped onion pieces, and a dollop of sour cream. I also enjoy a corn bread muffin for soaking up those juices on the bottom of my quickly emptied bowl. Enjoy!

Happy Hunting!

Wild Turkey Chili: A One Pot Delight!

Prep Time: 10 minutes

Cook Time: 1 hour, 15 minutes

Total Time: 1 hour, 25 minutes

8

Wild Turkey Chili: A One Pot Delight!

Ingredients

  • 1 - 1.5 pounds ground wild turkey
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 2 red bell peppers, chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 jalapeno pepper, diced (with or without seeds depending on desired heat level)
  • 1 tablespoon chili powder
  • 2 teaspoons cumin
  • 1 teaspoon oregano
  • 1 teaspoon coriander
  • 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 3 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1 and 1/2 cups dry red wine
  • 28 ounce can crushed tomatoes
  • 3 15 oz. canned beans, drained
  • salt and pepper to taste

Instructions

  1. In a large pot, such as a ceramic dutch oven, brown ground wild turkey over medium high heat.
  2. While the meat is browning, chop and dice up peppers, onions, jalapeno, and garlic. Add to the pot as you chop. Cook until meat is browned and onions and peppers are soft, about eight to ten minutes.
  3. To the turkey meat mixture, add chili powder, cumin, coriander, oregano, and nutmeg. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Drop in tomato paste and stir. Let cook for one minute. Add in bay leaves.
  4. Pour the wine into pot and stir, releasing bits and pieces from the bottom of the pot.
  5. Add crushed tomatoes and canned beans.
  6. Bring pot to a boil, cover, and reduce to low heat. Simmer the pot for one hour.
  7. Serve chili topped with chopped onion, cheddar cheese, sour cream!
  8. Enjoy!
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Tips for Duck Hunting Beginners: Like Myself!!!

My duck retrieving side kick!

“Be like a duck. Calm on the surface, but always paddling like the dickens underneath.” ~ Michael Caine

When I was little, every Saturday morning I crawled out of bed just before the sun came up, poured myself an oversized bowl of cereal, parked myself in front of the television, and watched Saturday morning cartoons. Those were good days! Anyway, after the three to four hour cartoon marathon ended, my dad would plop himself on the couch and watch the weekly morning outdoor show that came on.  Sometimes I hung around and watched, other times I got distracted and wandered off.

One of the things I do remember about that Saturday morning outdoor show was the duck hunting episodes.  The host would be dressed head-to-toe in multi-colored camouflage, complete with face paint.  He would have a disguised duck blind semi-buried in the ground overlooking a large lake, and a large Labrador by his side.  After a brief explanation on the area and the ducks he was looking for, he would crawl into his hiding spot and wait.  Soon, a flock of ducks would come flying over, cackling and honking, and skid to a stop on the lake.  The host would pop out of his hiding spot, start firing and knock down a few ducks, and then his lab would leap into retriever action.  I have ALWAYS wanted to do a duck hunt like that.

Now that I am older and learning to duck hunt, I am discovering that duck hunting is definitely a learning process. You don’t just hide in the ground, pop-up, and viola ducks are on the dinner table.  There is a lot to know, and so many different ways to do it.

I was lucky enough to spend the first day of the new year duck hunting.  It was a great way to spend a Sunday, and I already have learned a ton about duck hunting, which I am now going to share here.  So, here are a few VERY beginner tips for duck hunting.

Know the Licenses that You Need!

I know that sounds simple, but it really is the first place to start.  Ducks are classified as a migratory bird.  Other waterfowl falling into the migratory category, in most states, include geese and swans.  Most states have extra criteria you have to meet in order to hunt migratory birds.  I have included a brief description for several states here, as well as a link to their department of wildlife websites for waterfowl management.

Colorado – you will need a small game or combination license, and a $25 Federal Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation Stamp (which are available at the post office and some field offices), as well as a $5 Colorado State Waterfowl Stamp.  In order to purchase a small game license in Colorado, you will first need to purchase a $10 Habitat Stamp as well, which is good for one year.  A HIP number (which is a Migratory Bird Harvest Information Program number) must also be obtained. Duck hunting areas are defined to seven different zones: Central Flyaway Northeast Zone, Central Flyaway Southeast Zone, Central Flyaway Mountain Zone, Pacific Flyaway Western Zone, and Pacific Flyaway Eastern Zone. The three Central Zones have a daily limit of six ducks with a possession limit of 18, and the two Pacific Zones have a daily limit of 7 with a possession limit of 21. Limits are different for mergansers and coots, as well as special limits within the defined duck limits so be sure to read up the specifics. Duck season starts dates vary depending on the zone so consult the guidebook for information on dates. 2017 Colorado Waterfowl Guidebook

Idaho – you will need a small game or combination license, a HIP number (which is a Migratory Bird Harvest Information Program number), and a $25 Federal Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation Stamp (which are available at the post office and some field offices). Idaho divides duck hunting areas into two separate units: Area 1 and Area 2. Duck season in Idaho for 2016-2017 is follows: Area 1 October 1, 2016 – January 13, 2017 and Area 2 October 15, 2016 – January 27, 2017. The daily limit for ducks is 7, and possession is 21. Limits are different for snipes and coots, as well as special limits within the defined duck limits so be sure to read up the specifics. 2017 Idaho Waterfowl Guidebook

Montana – you will need a small game or combination license, a Conservation License, a HIP number (which is a Migratory Bird Harvest Information Program number), a Montana Migratory Bird License, and a $25 Federal Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation Stamp (which are available at the post office and some field offices).  Montana divides duck hunting areas into three separate units: Central Flyaway Zone 1, Central Flyaway Zone 2, and Pacific Flyaway. Duck season in Montana for 2016-2017 runs as follows: Central Zone 1 October 1, 2016 – January 5, 2017, Central Zone 2 October 22, 2016 – January 17, 2017, and Pacific Flyaway October 1 – January 8, 2017 and then January 14 – 18, 2017. The daily limit for ducks is 6, and possession is 18. Limits are different for mergansers and coots, as well as special limits within the defined duck limits so be sure to read up the specifics. 2017 Montana Waterfowl Guidebook

Oregon – you will need a small game or combination license, a HIP number (which is a Migratory Bird Harvest Information Program number), and a $25 Federal Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation Stamp (which are available at the post office and some field offices). Oregon divides duck hunting areas into two separate units: Zone 1 and Zone 2. Duck season in Oregon for 2016-2017 is follows: Zone 1 November 2, 2016 – January 29, 2017 and Zone 2 November 30, 2016 – January 22, 2017 . The daily limit for ducks is 7, and possession is 21. Limits are different for snipes and coots, as well as special limits within the defined duck limits so be sure to read up the specifics. 2017 Oregon Waterfowl Guidebook

Utah – you will need a small game or combination license, a HIP number (which is a Migratory Bird Harvest Information Program number), and a $25 Federal Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation Stamp (which are available at the post office and some field offices).  Duck season in Utah for 2016-2017 runs October 1, 2016 – January 14, 2017. The daily limit for ducks is 7, and possession is 21. Limits are different for mergansers and coots, as well as special limits within the defined duck limits so be sure to read up the specifics. 2017 Utah Waterfowl Guidebook

Washington – you will need a small game or combination license, and a $25 Federal Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation Stamp (which are available at the post office and some field offices).  You will also need a Migratory Bird Authorization and Harvest Report Card if you are hunting Sea Ducks. Duck season in Washington for 2016-2017 is October 22, 2016 – January 29, 2017. The daily limit for ducks is 7, and possession is 21. Limits are different for snipes and coots, as well as special limits within the defined duck limits so be sure to read up the specifics. 2017 Washington Waterfowl Guidebook

Pick out Your Gear

Gun – Shot gun preference is definitely a personal choice.  There are several different gauges to choose from, and the most popular are 10, 12, 16, and 20.  When looking at the different shotgun gauges, the lower the gauge number, in this case 10, then the heavier the gun to carry around and also the harder the recoil (i.e. that kick your gun likes to give you in your shoulder).  The most popular shotgun is the 12 gauge, and it is a great all-around use gun.  However, as a beginner and starting out with hunting, I have used a 20 gauge.  I used a 12 gauge for my first turkey and the kick was so shocking to me that I dropped my gun (I may, just may, have cried a little…but that’s just me). I switched to a 20 gauge and it really helped me settle into using a shotgun, and also wasn’t so heavy to carry around.  Now that I have practiced more, I can use a 12 gauge.

Shot When hunting migratory bird, federal regulation requires the use of non-toxic shot. What does this mean? Basically, you have to use a shot that if the bird ingests the shot, it will not get sick or die. So, this outlaws the use of lead based shot. Two non-toxic federally approved shots include bismuth and tungsten matrix, but basically just look for the shot that says non-toxic on the box.  Please note that you will need to shoot a couple of rounds of the non-toxic shot if you are transition from the lead used in upland game as the pattern and range is significantly different.  The next major choice is the shot size.  It depends on your setup, expected distances, and type of bird you are hunting, but I have found a shot size of 4 to be a good all around choice.  Finally, select your choke.  My husband set me up with a modified choke because my accuracy is less than perfect, but he always shoots a full for waterfowl.  Again, much of this depends on your setup and what you are hunting.

Camouflage – ducks have great vision, especially for picking out hunters! They also tend to flock towards areas where you have to cross openings to reach them.  Camouflage does help when duck hunting.  The pattern and colors really depend on the area you are hunting. I was out in more a desert area, so I went with a lighter color. Also, it is cold during duck season, and you tend to get wet, so purchasing waterproof and warm camouflage is definitely beneficial.

Decoys and Calls –  This is one area I have not familiarized myself with yet, so any tips would be appreciated in the comments.

Boats – Another topic beyond my experience that I am open to discussion on.  I am thinking about doing a float trip down the Colorado River in a kayak.  Any tips are appreciated.

Find the Ducks!

For a newbie’s point of view, this definitely the most difficult part of duck hunting. I would assume a more seasoned hunter would say that creating tactics for actually getting into shooting range for the ducks is the most difficult, but that is a blog for another day, when I am not such a newbie duck hunter. So, a couple of tips I have for finding those little buggers include: know where there is open water in your area. I stress open because remember, it is December and January, many of the ponds where you think “I see ducks there all the time” are frozen over. I like to hit the river when it gets cold enough that most ponds are frozen over. Also, a great time to head out is actually mid-day because the ducks are sunning themselves. Look for the spot where you would like to be sun bathing in 32 degree weather and there is a good chance the ducks will be gathering here!

Jump shooting is another beginner activity that allows one to avoid all of the intricacies of calling, decoys, camo, etc.  If you are lucky enough to live in an area with vast public lands, grab your dog and your gun and head out to an area with water holes spread out or drive a river and try to sneak up on the ducks using the terrain.  You only get one quick burst of three rounds and the hunt is over for that spot though.  So make sure you have lots of spots to pop up on or your hunting day will only last a minute.

Finally…

Remember you are out hunting and how lucky you are.  I didn’t have a super successful Sunday of duck hunting, but it was still an amazing day. I saw bald eagles that are here to nest for the winter, bucks and does in search of winter feeding grounds, wild turkey out playing in the sun, and got to spend the day with my canine buddies, playing in the mud and water.

How can you say “no” to a day out with that face?

Happy Hunting!

 

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Happy New Year 2017!!!!

Happy New Year to all my family, friends near and far, and everyone stopping by a 12 Gauge Girl at huntingandcooking.com!

Make it a great one!

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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.

copiaspicerackshelf

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.

copiaspicerackcombination
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.

brandypheasantgrinder

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.

brandypheasantmeatballssmall

brandypheasantmeatballscookedsmall

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.

brandypheasantonionsmall

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.

brandypheasantmeatballscookingsmall

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.

brandypheasantmeatballspansmall

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!

brandypheasantfinalplate

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.

cordonbleuchicken

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.

cordonbleurolled

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.

cordonbleufrying

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!

cordonbleufinalplate

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.

whiskeysteakmarinade

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.

whiskeysteakmarinating

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.

whiskeysteakcooking

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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