Culinary Endeavors of the Game Kind

Spiced Pear Scones from this morning

I have a great uncle that frequently reminds me of what knowledge has been lost in as little as one generation.  He remembers a time of eating only what you had grown/put up for winter/hunted/fished.  He remembers things that would blow my mind to have to endure but were as commonplace to him as our trips to the grocery.  While we certainly have it easier, I sometimes wonder if we really do have it better today.  I know that there was a large portion of my life that I didn't think twice about the fact that I could get strawberries in February or that meat all came from a styrofoam container with plastic wrap over it with the weekly special price stickered on it.  

Then I caught the slow food bug and started to wonder about the actual source of all of this "easy food".  Meat had stopped tasting like meat, fruits and vegetables all had a similar blah flavor just with different textures, and I stopped feeling good after I ate.  I started becoming aware of the research.  It was really disheartening and I wondered how we had come to this as a civilization.  I won't bore you with a soap box today, but it will be close to the end of the world before I eat big farm pork, grain fed beef, or hormone injected dairy again.  It really isn't a mystery why our 8 year old girls are sprouting breasts and having periods years before they should or why our breast cancer rates have skyrocketed in the last two decades.  

In my quest to be better connected to the food that I eat and endeavor to challenge myself as a cook, I have begun to look at sourcing game meats.  There is something really grounding about having to pull fur off of meat so fresh it had a heartbeat two days ago.  There is a respect for the whole process that you can't help but have.  I have cooked venison several times in my day when a friend or family member ended up with more ground than they knew what to do with, but I wanted to try my hand at more cuts and types of game than that.  I have recently found a source for quail and am really excited about it being on my Thanksgiving menu this year.  While I am not to the "pluck your own chicken" place yet, I like learning more about butchering meat and sourcing unconventional types.  I frequently find myself wanting to know how to do more things that some might call "artisan".  The internet loves to refer to it as "Homesteading".  I like to think of it as just knowing how to do stuff.  It is becoming more important to me the more I find out about everything I eat.  

This bucket is full of 7.5 pounds of duck fat.  I know, I swooned too when it arrived.  I have been researching lots and lots of recipes for venison, rabbit, and quail and the meats are all so lean that they require some high fat help to keep them from drying out during the cooking process, thus turning into inedible leather.  Pork would work, but I wanted a more "game" flavor.  Duck fat is such an exotic fat to me.  Whenever I eat it, I am transported to England and the Crispy Aromatic Duck that I had the pleasure to experience there at a Chinese restaurant in York.

A cold and blustery day, we had stopped to have dinner at a Chinese restaurant.  My companion said that we had to order the duck using "life changing" in there somewhere, I believe.  It came steaming to the table- a whole, spice rubbed, deep fried duck.  The waiter shredded the meat and crispy skin for us table side and we ate it wrapped in rice flour crepes with julienned spring onions and a plum sauce that I could've put a straw in to drink it was so delicious.  Duck will forever be imprinted in my brain from that small restaurant, the grease from the duck on my hands and lips, tired from the walking, slightly buzzed from the good food and wine, truly present in a moment in time. 

I happened upon some uber fresh venison and seared the tenderloin (otherwise know as backstrap- I'm learning more all the time) in that luscious duck fat and finished it in the oven with wild mushrooms and red wine.  It was the best cut of venison I have ever eaten and if you didn't know better when you sat down, you would have no idea you were eating deer.  Tender enough that when I was butchering it, it was cutting like butter.  Just a beautiful thing.  I have a ham (think the deer version of Boston butt- shoulder area) that is so huge I had to break it down just to get it in the fridge.  I am very excited about cooking that soon.  I'll keep you posted as to how it goes.  I anticipate a success helped along by that gorgeous duck fat. 

Those lovelies above are a Roasted Spiced Pear and Chocolate scone.  They were inspired from the Smitten Kitchen this week.  Steven is our scone making genius here so we did not use her recipe for the dough, as messing with perfection is just bad juju in the kitchen.  I spiced the pears with 1/2 tsp of Cinnamon, 1/2 tsp of fresh grated Nutmeg, and 1/4 tsp ground Allspice before roasting.  Steven thinks the pears should have been added before the kneading to incorporate them better and balance the sweet chocolate with the spiced pear in each bite.  Regardless, they were divine.  We served them with Pear Butter and ate them in front of the fire this morning.  Perfect.  In every way.

The weather is back to normal although we may see some winter weather from Hurricane Sandy this week.  Snow on Halloween would be a riot.  It was 84 degrees just 7 days prior.  Crazy.  Bundle up, friends, and cook on through the madness!   I'll holler when I'm cooking that ham.  You can bring the wine.

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