Monday, January 5, 2009

Venison and Butternut Squash Stew with Dried Cherries over Quinoa

I haven't posted here for a while as I have been eating through the last few months of frozen food to make room for the 1/2 hog that I am splitting with my uncle (so that's 1/4 hog... good thing Marquita mailed us BBQ sauce for a Christmas present). So as a heritage hog somewhere in Lancaster County whiles away his last free-ranging days (perhaps occasionally looking over his shoulder) I'm back with some more recipes.

Speaking of free-range, my uncle also recently brought over a few pounds of venison from his wife's nephew in Virginia. Some people may blanch at eating Bambi's mother, but hunted meat is probably the most humane solution to "the omnivore's dilemma." I won't subject you to further ranting on the subject (that's Ted Nugent's job) but I will share an easy slow-cooker recipe.

The ingredients, if not the preparation, are based on a wonderful meal I had in New Orleans in November of 2004. My wife and I got tip from a staffer at Tipitina's to go up the street to this Dick & Jenny's. We arrived at the tucked away clapboard restaurant just as they were opening. Jenny led us to a pine table with mismatched wrought-iron chairs. Dick was in the kitchen. They had a few New Orleans-themed dishes on the menu but it was a cold night and I ordered the special, a seared venison loin over acorn squash with a cherry wine reduction.

Our meal arrived on mismatched plates with a cruet of wine, and I was so engrossed in my meal's surprising melding of flavors that I did not notice the crowd forming in the waiting area, a shed/indoor patio packed with folks on lawn chairs drinking wine and having a good time. Apparently Dick and Jenny's was a poorly-kept secret among the locals and they didn't take reservations, so we were lucky to get there early. Dick and Jenny apparently sold the place soon after the flood. Some say the magic is lost. (For all you Philadelphians, think Django).

Recipe: Venison and Winter Squash Stew over Quinoa (six servings)

Long hours in the slow cooker make the venison fork tender and the squash nearly falls apart. That, along with the dried cherries and spices, makes the dish reminiscent of a Moroccan tagine, so I served it over quinoa, a super-healthful whole grain that cooks up very similar to cous cous and stands up to a heavy sauce better to boot. Those without a slow cooker can instead use a dutch oven or a deep skillet with a tight-fitting lid. Just put it in the oven at 225 and check it a few times and add some water if needed. Even more than other stews, this tastes better the next day. In fact, I got a late start so the meat in mine was still a little tough at bed time Sat. night. I was too tired to let it cool long enough to put it in the fridge, so I just left it in the pantry overnight (this being winter, my unheated shed pantry was 34 degrees).

Ingredients: 1 1/2 lbs. venison roast, 1 butternut squash, 1 red onion, 1 apple, 1/4 lbs. raw sage breakfast sausage; 1/4 cup dried cherries, 1/2 cup port; a 2" cinnamon stick, 2 tsp. dried thyme, 1 tsp ground allspice, ; 1/2 tsp paprika, 1 tsp. salt.
1 1/2 cups quinoa, cooked with dried fruits (cook like rice - use 1:1 ratio of quinoa to water on stovetop, 1:3/4 in a rice cooker)

  • Peel squash, cut in half, scrape out seeds and slice into pieces about a half inch thick and one inch long and toss in the crock.
  • Slice onion coarsely and toss that in too, along with the cherries, port and seasonings and toss .
  • Cube the venison and place on top of the vegetables. Break up the sausage and put it on top
  • Chop venison into 1" pieces and put it on top of the squash (don't stir it in).
  • Break up the sausage and crumble over the venison and. Cut the apple in half and put both halves on top, skin up.
  • Cook for 6 hours on low, 2 hours on your slow cooker's highest no-stir setting (the long, slow heat cooks the meat, while the squash requires higher heat). When done, the squash should be almost falling apart and the meat fork-tender
  • Salt to taste and serve over cous cous or quinoa. When cooking either one, toss in a few more dried cherries for added yumminess.
Notes and Substitutions:
  • If nobody has hunted you some venison lately, you have two choices. You can spend a little extra to buy some from a tempermental man with antelope blood on his apron or you can use stewing beef or lamb from the store. In either case, if the meat you buy has fat, you may want to then omit the sausage - it's needed to provide to baste the venison, which is quite lean from running around the forest, not often a problem with farm-raised meat. Add some more of the herbs and spices to compensate for those in the sausage though.
  • If you don't have any port, any light-bodied red wine (like pinot noir or Beaujolais) will work with a tsp. of sugar. You could even use Manischewitz (without the added sugar!).
  • Dried cherries are hard to find and rather pricey, but their deep flavor and tart nature are worth it. However, you could substitute other dried fruits such as prunes, currants and raisins.
  • Many slow-cooker recipes ask you to brown the meat and sometimes saute the veggies before placing in the slow cooker. However, simply keeping the meat on top of the vegetables in the crock serves much the same purpose without dirtying another pot.
  • By the way, although it would be a very different dinner, a can of chick peas (liquid and all) could actually substitute for the meat and make this vegetarian.

Frugal Factor: The venison was free for me, but supermarket chuck roast is running $3.29/lbs at the right now so let's say $5 (I have no idea what Sonny's charging). The squash could have been got cheaper but it was $2 at the co-op where I also spent $5 on a bag of cherries and used about 1/4 of the bag, so that's $1.25. Everything else I already had, but I would overestimate the cost at $2.50 for the apple, onion, port, quinoa and spices. At six servings, that's $1.79/serving (or $0.96 with the free meat).


mzungolo said...

Sounds lovely. With Bambi in the freezer and butternut on the counter it would be irresponsible not to try it.

Larraine said...

So when do we get an invitation to dinner?