Category Archives: recipes

Comfort Food: Deerburger Bowls

In what promises to be a neverending winter I’ve been working my way through the 2017 deer season’s venison supply (although as I write this, a cold March rain riding on the back of a blustery late-winter wind is decimating the snowpack at the end of my driveway).  This past November, the two camps I hunt out of managed to harvest four deer, and since we’ve got to split that meat between up to a dozen hunters, I’ve been stretching what I’ve got as far as possible.

To that end, I’ve started making one-bowl dishes that incorporate venison at their base before I add in other ingredients that I really enjoy.  One of my go-to meals is what I call a Deerburger Bowl; it starts with seared ground venison and then I add in whatever I like and have at hand.  This dish is rich, moderately spicy, and like most preparations of wild game, if treated simply and cooked properly it is ridiculously delicious and ultra-healthy.  The recipe below packs nearly 70grams of protein into a single bowl, is low in fat, and has all the ‘goodies’ inherent in quickly searing raw asparagus and leaving it crunchy. I imagine this would be all the better to the enterprising forager that procures some wild asparagus this spring uses it in making this dish. I’ve also used other seafood and greens, but this is my standard.

Deerburger Bowls

(Makes 8-10 servings)

  • 3lbs of ground venison
  • 2lbs of 26/30 size (extra-large) shrimp, de-veined and peeled
  • 40 stalks of asparagus, trimmed and chopped into 1 ½ inch pieces
  • 1/8 cup of water
  • 5tbsp olive oil
  • 3tbsp sambal hot sauce
  • Salt & pepper to taste.

Using a deep, heavy pan or a deep wok over medium-high heat, heat 3tbsp of olive oil.  Add the ground venison, salt and pepper to taste, and increase the heat to high.  Brown the venison quickly and thoroughly before removing it to a separate bowl using a slotted spoon.

Add 1tbsp of olive oil to the same pan and add the shrimp.  Cook over high heat until they are firm.  Remove to the same bowl as the venison and mix the two together.

Add the remaining olive oil to the same pan and add the chopped asparagus.  Sear the asparagus and toss to ensure even browning; it should be hot but still crunchy because no one in their right mind likes stringy, overcooked asparagus.  Once the asparagus is seared, add the water and mix in the hot sauce, browned venison, and shrimp. I stir this over high heat for a minute or two more to coat everything with the hot sauce before I pour the whole thing into bowls for storage for the week.

These bowls are great underneath a couple of sunny-side up eggs for a quick hearty breakfast, or heat one up for lunch or dinner (or both!) and serve it over wild rice before pouring yourself a cold beer.

You’ve earned it.

Fear, Self-Loathing, and Internet Trolls

This week I decided to do something miles away from my comfort zone.

Explaining something…

Since 2011, this little webpage has acted as an insulating buffer between myself and the reader.  My ‘voice’ was expressed through typeface and I had the benefit of time, editing, and occasional proofreading to refine my ethic and message dozens of times before I put it out there. I’ve had all the control so that on the (rare) occasions that hateful or crude comments show up that revile me for being a hunter, or poke holes in my logic, or (to directly quote one aggrieved reader) deride me as just some “city boy pretending to hunt”, I simply delete the offending statements and move on my merry way. Unsolicited hate mail gone forever, just like that.

But this week, I lacked that luxury.  This week I did a television shoot, and went from ‘single voice among thousands of outdoors websites’ to ‘single voice talking straight into a television camera’. Those experiences are fundamentally different, and the public perception of those things are equally divergent.

For context, I was approached by Sang Kim, who is an author, chef, and television personality to talk about hunting and guns, as well as to cook my favourite wild game dish, which in this case was a wild turkey leg confit. I of course jumped at the opportunity because those are things I love talking about and things I love to do. But it did lead me to an existential crisis, and when I’m in an existential crisis, I write about it so here we are.

You see, there’s a chance I might be cast in the all-too-bright light of “expertise” which has always made me uneasy and self-conscious.  For whatever reason, even though televised media (even internet-based televised media) is ubiquitous, there still exists a sense that those with a mass-media platform have expertise. So, by way of full disclosure, here’s what I’m expert at.

  • I’m an expert at sharing my opinions.
  • I’m an expert at shoving delicious wild game into my face.
  • I’m an expert at trying new things with little forethought for how the external reaction is going to be.

And that’s where my head was during the shoot.  I offered opinions and statements on what I thought to be pertinent or what I believed to be valid on a variety of topics, some of which I was prepared for and some that I was not.  But nothing is off limits to me, so I gave it the old college try.  The demographic is non-conventional from a hunting perspective, the platform is non-conventional to typical media, and if anything, I’m not the typical ‘hunter’ stereotype (I think).

Some of what I said and believe will be unpopular with non-hunters and non-gun owners.  Some of it will be unpopular with hunters and gun owners. But all of it sits well with me which is what matters I guess.

Also, there’s that lingering and perverse fear that I have where people are going to ridicule and hate and mock me in a very public forum.  All the tough guy attitude, spunk, and bravado available to me still aren’t going to stop trolls and keyboard-social justice warriors, and other “better” hunters who might feel more representative of the tradition from trying to make me their whipping boy on YouTube.  But I guess that’s their prerogative and not mine.

Of course I’m not looking to be a martyr for the cause (although I would be if I had to I suppose) or for personal sympathy, or kudos, or bland affirmations.  Nor is this a pre-emptive disclaimer begging for kindness, forgiveness, or understanding because I waived rights to those things when I opted into this opportunity.  I’m mostly just going through prose therapy or literary diarrhea or whatever this actually is.  But at the heart of the matter, I’m writing this to clarify my hopes.

I’m hoping that I wasn’t too far off the mark in my opinions, hoping that I was representative of my personal ethics, and hopeful that my turkey calling was at least passable; the birds seem to like it anyhow.  I’ve yet to see the finished, edited product yet but the hope (there’s that word again) is that the passion and the simple message I have does not get lost in translation or flogged to death in a comments section.

Having a chuckle.

In all, the only thing I want is to represent hunting and the outdoors and my passion for both of them respectfully, humbly, and clearly. I also liked that I got to get myself a tidy new branded t-shirt with shiny dome fasteners out of the deal.

There were things that may end up on the cutting room floor.  There were things I desperately wanted to share that just never came up. Thankfully, I can honestly say that I never had a moment in the whole shoot (which was amazing by the way and an experience absolutely worth any stress or backlash that may come out of it) where my internal monologue went “Uh-oh, don’t answer that” or “This sounds dumb” or “This whole premise is ridiculous and going to negatively represent hunting and hunters”.

Still, it’s over now and nothing can be done about it anyhow, even if I had contributed something incredibly stupid to the record.  I knew the ‘risks’ about taking it on and did it gladly, because declining this would have led to regret and I like to live with a “what-the-hell” mentality. At best I like to think my opinions and contributions are benign and conciliatory.

Confit Wild Turkey Leg with Morels and Grilled Scallions

For Lucas Hunter, Chef Sang Kim, my family, TagTV and all those that supported this, I quite literally cannot thank you enough.  This was a once-in-a-lifetime thing and I’m truly glad I did it.  For those that want to actually see it, we’ll post the details once they come available.

Doing Unhealthy Things With Ducks

So in the world of blogs, Instagrams, and tweets, I’ve found a disturbing trend afoot…people are actually exercising in preparation for hunting, and they are actually adjusting their diet accordingly to be lean and trim for hunting season.  I hear it called “Hunt Fit” and it is appearing in hashtag after hashtag.  Now this is all well and good if you are going to go chasing elk or sheep or Rocky Mountain goats at high altitude, but otherwise, to me it smacks of a little too much preparation.  Now the hardcore fitness fanatics may instead refer to it as dedication, or motivation, or some other “-ation” and that is fine….I’m not here to disabuse anyone of their right to do whatever it is that they want to do.

But what I want to do is shoot my own dinner and then make it as decadent and over-the-top enjoyable as I can.  Because I #HuntFat.

So in that spirit, here is what I did with some ducks that I had on hand two nights ago.  I can’t describe how good it was, so I’ll just tell you how I did it and then if you want to try it, you can.  This is how I made what I call pan seared duck with mushroom-tarragon cream sauce with a side of mushroom-cumin risotto.  I’m not much for weights and measures, so you may want to read this whole thing first and come up with a plan of attack to make sure it all comes together at the same time.

The Risotto:
Take a standard package of sliced mushrooms and simmer them in a pot with some salt, pepper, and four cups of water.  Why standard store-bought mushrooms?  Because foraging the ones in my suburban backyard seemed like a bad idea.  Don’t boil them, just let them sort of become a hot broth.  This is the stock for the risotto.  I’ll tell you what to do with it later.

Put an 1/8 of an inch coat of olive oil in a pan over medium-low to medium heat and add one diced onion and three minced cloves of garlic.  Do not brown these, just keep them moving until they are soft.  Once soft add the arborio rice.  It absolutely must be arborio rice…why?  Because that is what risotto is made of.  If it isn’t arborio, it is just a rice dish.  But I digress.  Add about a large handful of rice for each person you are cooking for.  The above measurements for mushrooms, onion, and garlic are based on about three large handfuls of rice.  Stir the rice with the onion and garlic until the rice is coated with oil and everything is getting along nicely.  Again, don’t brown any of this stuff.  At this point I also added some ground cumin because it is kind of rustic and smokey, and I like that.

Take a splash of white wine and throw it in the pan with the rice, onion, and garlic.  Not too much, maybe half a glass.  Throw some more wine into yourself if you feel it is necessary.

Once the rice is reduced a bit, turn your attention back to the simmering, hot mushroom broth.  Ladle a few splashes of it into the pan with the rice and then just simmer it until the rice absorbs it.  Once the amount of liquid in the pan starts to get low, throw some more in.  If some of the mushrooms you made the stock with happen to fall in, so be it.  They’re going to go in there eventually anyhow.

Keep doing this until you either run out of stock (you could top up with equally hot water, but why would you?) or until the dish is creamy, but not mushy.  Risotto is funny that way…just keep in mind that you aren’t trying to make rice porridge.

Put in the mushrooms you used for the stock and then add some kind of dairy.  I’ve used cream cheese, heavy cream, and all varieties of cheese.  Friday night I shredded half a block of six-year-old sharp white cheddar and stirred it through the dish.  Parmesan is the standard though.

Once the cheese is melted, I added a bit of chopped basil and then I was very happy with myself.

The Duck:
First things first.  Shoot a duck; a couple of them if you can.  Do this in advance of starting the recipe.

Take said ducks and pluck them.  Skin on is critical to this (in my opinion) so later season ducks with few to no pin-feathers is ideal.  Now butcher the ducks, this recipe is just for the breasts so take the breasts of the ducks and get them as dry as possible.  Braise, slow-cook, or otherwise love the legs; but that’s for another post.

Pre-heat your oven to 450 degrees.  Score the duck breasts (that is cut a checkerboard or cross-hatch pattern in the skin), then put them, skin side down, in a hot pan over medium-high heat.  I put just a little bit of oil in the pan to help the browning along.  Sear the skin side until it is a deep gold-brown colour, then flip them over.  By now, your oven should be heated.  Take the pan (did I mention it should be oven safe?  Okay now I have.) and put it in the oven for about fifteen minutes.  After fifteen minutes take the meat out of the pan and cover it in foil for five to ten minutes.

Slice against the grain into pieces about a 1/4 inch think.  Pour the sauce over it.

Wait, you haven’t made the sauce because I haven’t old you how?  Right.

The Sauce:
Take the pan drippings from the duck and add a splash of whatever liquid you like.  I used white wine (since I had some open) but you could easily use red wine, whiskey, cognac, or any kind of stock (if you have any mushroom stock left, as I did, you could add that too, which I added as well as the wine.)  Just add enough to get the brown bits on the pan to dissolve.  That’s duck flavour and you do not want to waste it.

Once I had all the brown bits off the bottom of the pan, I added some heavy cream to thicken it and a bit of chopped tarragon.  Basil or parsley or oregano would work here too.  Or no herbs.  Whatever.

Reduce this until coats the back of a spoon (or really reduce it into a near syrup) and add just a bit of butter to make it rich.

Drizzle this over the duck meat, or do what I did and float the duck meat in it.  Don’t judge me.

Vegetables:
There are none.  Don’t be ridiculous.

Libations:
I served this with a double dram of Forty Creek Confederation Oak Reserve rye whiskey in a nice glass.  You’ll drink what you like with it, just make sure it is alcoholic so you can really feel like a debauched, well-fed epicurean.

So there you have it.  It might sound a bit too over the top when compared with the simple pleasures of a roast mallard or a smokey stick of Canada Goose jerky, and while those are good too, sometimes it is just nice to really spoil yourself, eat 1000 calories in a single sitting, and not really give a damn about how many sit-ups you’ll have to do in repentance for enjoying the bounty of the hunt.

Because if you are hunting and not eating it, then you are missing out on the best part, friend.

A Tradition of List-Making

For those of you who know me and my family you will be aware that we have a quirky little idiosyncrasy of no determined origin; we are known to make lists.  My Dad does it, my brother does it, I do it, and to a lesser extent, my immediate family of uncles and cousins on my paternal side do it as well.  This post is but one of many examples of list-making that will grace the virtual pages of this blog, as is this earlier post.
If anything, lists serve as a jumping off point for conversation, and many a rollicking deer or duck and goose camp conversation has sprung up around the topic of such lists.  These can be lists of any sort in a hunting camp: favourite foods, favourite types of foods (soups, pies, fruits, vegetables, cuts of meat, etc), favourite hunting seasons, preferred times of year and weather, least favourite rifle calibres, most-respected ancestors, funniest comedians, and so on in perpetuity.  I find nothing more entertaining than seeing the passion with which grown men will work themselves into while extolling the virtues of minestrone soup, or bisque, or why the autumnal equinox is so damn awesome in relation to the vernal equinox.  These are memories to cherish, and for the uninitiated, a bizarre ritual of bonding.
I firmly stand by the belief that this proclivity to catalogue and have debates about the order of things with others is what drove me into historical studies as a younger man.  It also drives my lifelong affinity with learning and trying out new experiences both in hunting, and in my limited life outside of the sport.  This is why I compete in calling contests, read a wide variety of books, the reason that I now own seven harmonicas (and hopefully…soon…a banjo.)
In a semi-corollary vein, something near and dear to my heart and the ultimate goal for me when hunting, is the capture of wild game for consumption.
For those of you who have not tried wild game I can only say that you may be missing out on one of life’s finer pleasures.  For the readers who simply say that you “don’t like” wild game, I may posit that you just have not had it properly prepared for you.  If you think wild game is one-dimensional, strong, without subtlety of flavour, or something otherwise unappealing, I would direct you to read anything by Gene Hill, a wordsmith and hunter who had the ability to simultaneously paint vivid scenes of the wilderness while also describing supra-palatable culinary adventures in wild game.
So in an unholy marriage between my appreciation for the cooking and consumption of wild game and my compulsively twisted and uncontrollable need to organize things into lists, I give you my top five favourite game meat dishes.  One of these is something I’ve had only once, and I long for it again.  Others are treats, while a couple are staples at hunting camps or in my suburban kitchen.  All the preparations are simple and straightforward.
Bon appetit!
1.      Pan Fried Ruffed Grouse
I’ll start with this because it is my absolute favourite wild game treat, and it is exceedingly simple to make.
Take a grouse that has been field-dressed (also an extremely simple process) and cut the breasts into medallions.  Melt as much butter, oil, or other delicious fat as you like in a pan (but not too much, this isn’t deep frying, here…although that would be good too.)
Pat the grouse medallions dry and dust them lightly with flour.  In a small bowl or shallow plate whisk two eggs, and in another bowl have some bread crumbs ready (I actually prefer to use soda-cracker crumbs, but to each their own I say).  Dredge the medallions in the eggs and then in the crumb coating.  Add them to the pan and cook over medium heat until slightly browned and just cooked through.
These can just be eaten straight away as a finger food, but I also find them good in a sandwich with some mayo, ball park mustard, lettuce, and cheddar cheese.
2.      Deer Heart
Not only does someone shooting a deer in November mean that I’ll be getting some venison for the winter, but it sometimes means that we’ll be enjoying deer heart for lunch or dinner that day.  Those who dislike organ meat should probably move on to recipe #3.  Those who do like organ meat, well, it just doesn’t get any fresher (or more ‘organic’ than this).
Soak the heart in cold water for a few minutes to make sure all the nooks and crannies are rinsed out, then (starting at the top of the heart) cut it horizontally into ½ inch thick ‘steaks’.  Dust these in flour and pan fry in the same way as in the grouse recipe above.  I do recommend that heart be cooked to slightly more ‘well-done’ state…no, I don’t have a specific temperature to tell you.  When it is cooked through, give it another minute or two in the pan.
3.      Pit Roasted Bear Shoulder
I’ve only had this once and I don’t have the recipe specifics, so I’ll just try to explain the basic method and what it tasted like.
At the end of winter up on the Bruce, some of my friends and acquaintances have a bit of a party to celebrate the close of their winter coyote hunting.  In 2009, someone at this (aptly named) ‘coyote party’ brought a bear shoulder roast, put it in a roasting pan, dug a hole in the ground, put the roast pan in the hole and then covered the whole thing with hot coals.  And I mean hot coals.  I don’t know what they spiced, rubbed, or marinated this cut of meat with, and I have no real clue how long it was in the ground, but they did keep piling coals onto it for a good while.
When this meat came out of the ground, a large group of men chased the aroma into the cabin, and I can say that this bear roast did not last 15 minutes from carving to total and absolute consumption.
Think moist, tender, flavourful, cooked to just a hair beyond medium, and with a texture that was ‘beefier’ than beef.  I’ve heard some hunters say that bear meat is only good if it is ground up and masked with fillers in the form of sausages or pepperettes.  After this preparation, I would beg to disagree.
If I ever get a chance to have it again, I will ensure that I get the full recipe and share it with my readers.
4.      Dry Roasted Venison aux Poivre
This is a concoction of my own design, and it is based on Steak au Poivre.  It is pretty rich, but I enjoy it as a comfort food and I personally would rather have this than venison tenderloin (sacrilege, I know).  Moose, elk, sheep, or any other big game animal for that matter could be substituted for the venison.
In a heavy, dry skillet toast some ¾ cup of whole peppercorns until they are aromatic.  Remove the peppercorns and set them aside to cool.  Once they are cool, put them in a plastic bag and beat the bejesus out of them with a mallet or rolling pin until they are crumbled (not a fine grind, just rustic looking).  Add a bit of salt to taste and then pour the whole thing onto a sheet pan.
Preheat your oven to 400° F.
Take the venison roast (I prefer shoulder or neck, although some like a shank) and let it thaw to room temperature.  In a heavy skillet bring a mixture of vegetable oil and butter to a high temperature (be careful of grease fires!).  Sear the roast on all sides and then roll it around on the sheet pan of salt and smashed peppercorns until the roast is coated on all sides.  Put it back on the heavy skillet and put the whole thing in the oven until a meat thermometer inserted in the middle of the roast indicates the doneness you desire (I prefer a perfect medium of 145° F; others may like it more or less done).  Wrap the meat in tinfoil and let it rest for 15 minutes.
While the meat is resting add a cup of red wine (of your choice) to the skillet and reduce it vigorously over high heat while scraping all the brown bits off the bottom of the pan.  Once the wine reduces by half, cut the temperature to low and add 1/3 of a cup of heavy cream while continuing to occasionally stir.  Also, optionally, you can add a handful of whole peppercorns and salt to taste.  Once this sauce reaches your desired thickness you can just keep it warm on the back burner.

Carve the roast and dress with a spoonful or two of sauce.  This is great with grilled asparagus, garlic mashed potatoes, and heavier red wine (Shiraz, Dornfelder, or red Zinfandel)
5.      Rory’s Goose Camp Rolls
Although this is last on my list, it would not be a complete “Top 5” without this little dish.  This is ideal for early season geese that may not have a good layer of fat on them.
Remove the skin from the breasts, and then remove the breasts from the goose (don’t forget the tenders!).
Take a goose breast and cut it into thin, flat strips.  Marinate these for a couple of hours in a bottle of your favourite vinegar based salad dressing.   I am partial to Balsamic vinaigrette, but sun-dried tomato, Greek, or plain old Italian style vinaigrette works in a pinch too.
While the goose is marinating, soak a bunch of heavy wooden skewers in water for about an hour.
Once the marinating is done (after say a couple of hours), lay some bacon out in flat strips and then lay the goose strips on the bacon.  Roll them up like a cigar and hold them together with the skewer.  Fire them on the grill until the bacon is crisp and the goose strips are cooked until they just barely pink in the middle (I would not recommend eating this dish any less done than medium…I’ve had rare goose…the outcome was unpleasant).
This dish is great because unlike something that is bacon-wrapped, these bacon-rolled pieces have crispy bits of bacon throughout.  The vinegar in the salad dressing helps to tenderize the goose meat, and it also adds flavour.  One side note for this dish.  Historically these get eaten quickly, but they are also pretty heavy and very easy to over-indulge in.  Consider yourself warned.
So that’s my top five.  There are countless honourable mentions including braised goose legs, deep-fried wild turkey, a variety of chilli permutations, and plain old roast mallard.  I’m sure that this will not be the last post on the subject of food and recipes I post though, so stay tuned.