Fat Tuesday Finger Food

Three “Big Easy” Appetizers 

Our family is not great about observing Lent, but we LOVE celebrating Mardi Gras. We usually forget about Friday being meat-free [hello, bacon], and cave on our abstentions around week two. When asked why they missed so many days of Sunday School in the winter, our kids told their teachers that “everyone knows you get powder day exemptions” November to March. Don’t know if the Pope’s approved that one, but it works for us. One year, the boys decided to ‘give up’ donuts for Lent, completely undermining the only bribery that had ever worked for getting them to Mass in the first place. They are a couple of clever whippersnappers, those boys. I’m so proud.

My gal Sazerac and her yummy etouffee.

My gal Sazerac and her yummy etouffee.

But back to Mardi Gras. I’m writing a piece about The Sazerac—one of my all-time favorite cocktails—for cityhomeCOLLECTIVE , so enlisted a specialized crew of my friends to help me out with an early photo shoot last week. I’m not gonna lie, it’s a little freaky planning my holiday life about three weeks earlier than I’m actually ready for Mardi Gras, but what’s a gal to do? Well, in this case, keep the food as simple and easy to throw together as possible, with a minimum of fuss and clean-up to boot. I’m swimming in backyard eggs from my hens, so making Southern-style deviled eggs with homemade pickled okra garnishes was an easy pick. I also snagged a big ‘ol wedge of Cajun-spiced  goodness crafted by one my favorite Utah cheesemakers, Beehive Cheese, which ended up as part of an addictive filling for mushroom caps finished off in the oven right before the party. I love the savory-sweet combo of traditional Devil’s on Horseback, but changed them up a bit with Southern flavors: dates stuffed with smoked oil-packed jalapeños I put up last fall, watercress goat-cheese filling, and topped with locally-made Creminelli salumi. I’m tellin’ ya: Holy goddamn yum, y’all.

My gal Sazerac [from last Halloween’s Poison Apple party] brought fixins for crayfish etouffee and flash-fried grit cakes. She swears she just Googled “easy etouffee” and “Emeril,” and ended up with the recipe that she used and “tweaked it, maybe a little.” Well, we’re too polite to pry, but I’ll get to the bottom of this secret if I can. Oh, what I do for y’all in the name of research.

Laissez les bons temps rouler!

Crawfish Etouffee

Crawfish Etouffee


Big John’s Cajun Stuffed ‘Shrooms 

Big John's Cajun Stuffed 'Schrooms

Big John’s Cajun Stuffed ‘Shrooms

These were the hands-down hit of the party. Even my man, who never eats mushrooms, scarfed down about five of these bad boys. I’m going to start making them all year ‘round, they are that good.

24 oz. baby portabella mushrooms, cleaned and stems removed

4 oz. cream cheese, softened to room temp

6 oz. Beehive Cheese “Big John Cajun,” finely shredded [divided use]

2 scallions, minced

¼ cup minced fresh red or orange bell pepper

½ tsp. kosher salt

¼ tsp. celery salt

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Spray a large rimmed baking sheet with cooking spray. Meanwhile, combine cream cheese, 4 oz. of the shredded cheese [save about 2 oz. for topping the mushrooms], veggies, and seasoning in a bowl using a fork to smash or in a food processor using quick on/off pulses. Divide filling between all the mushroom caps evenly, adjusting for size of the mushroom as needed. Sprinkle each cap with a bit of the remaining 2 oz. shredded cheese. Bake on the middle rack in the oven until cheese is slightly browned and filling is bubbly, about 15-20 minutes. Serve warm.

“Big Easy” Stuffed Dates

Dates with smoked preserved jalapenos, goat cheese-watercress filling, and Creminelli's "Campania" salami

Dates with smoked preserved jalapenos, goat cheese-watercress filling, and Creminelli’s “Campania” salami

I usually use some of my home-cured wild goose or antelope andouille to top cheese stuffed dates, but am plum out right now. We are huge fans of locally-made Creminelli artisan salami, and their slightly smoky spiced uncured “Campania” variety married wonderfully with the sweet dates, tart watercress, and creamy goat cheese. The smoked preserved jalapeños [from Hank Shaw’s fantastic blog] are completely optional but highly recommended.

5 oz. goat cheese, room temp

2 oz. cream cheese, softened to room temp

½ bunch fresh watercress [about ½ cup packed]

4 dozen large dates, split down one side to open and pits removed

3-4 oz. Creminelli “Campania” salami

2-3 oz. smoked preserved jalapeños, chopped

To a small food processor add cheeses and watercress, combine until smooth using on/off pulses. To each date, stuff first with a few pieces of smoked jalepeno, add about 1 tsp. [or slightly more, depending on the size of date] cheese filling. Slice salami into thin rounds, then cut each round again into 3-4 strips. Top each date with a strip of salami. Refrigerate for up to 24 hours or serve immediately.

Campania, Goat Cheese & Watercress Stuffed Dates

Campania, Goat Cheese & Watercress Stuffed Dates and Devilish Eggs with spicy okra

Devilish Eggs

Y’all know how to make perfect hard-boiled eggs with no grey ring, right? Place eggs in a shallow pan, cover with water, and bring to just a bare boil. Boil gently for one minute, then immediately turn off the heat and put a lid on the pan. Let eggs sit in the hot water for 12 minutes. Pour out the hot water, then cover eggs with cold running water and a few cubes of ice until cool to touch. Keep refrigerated until ready for use. 

Backyard Chicken Eggs. Good work, ladies!

Backyard chicken eggs make for the most gorgeous yolks!

Keep 'em coming, ladies!

Keep ’em coming, ladies!

6 eggs, hard boiled, peeled, and cut in half [reserve yolks in a separate bowl]

3 heaping Tablespoons mayo

3 heaping teaspoons country Dijon or coarse-grained Cajun mustard

Sliced rounds of pickled okra and red pepper for garnish

A few dashes of Louisiana hot sauce, optional

Smash egg yolks with a fork until fine grained and evenly crumbly. Mix in mayo and mustard, smash to combine well. Fill egg whites equally with yolk mix. Can be covered and refrigerated for up to 12 hours. Just before serving, garnish with pickled okra and pepper rounds, and a couple of dashes of hot sauce.

Devilish Eggs

Devilish Eggs


Cranberry Nation

Cranberries Three Ways: in an Old-Fashioned, Sugared, and in a Cranberry-Rum ginger jam that is amazeballs instead of that jiggly canned shit served at Thanksgiving.  Trust me.  It’s also delightful stirred into rum cocktails, or into club soda with a dash of bitters for a gorgeous spritzer.

Cranberry-Clementine Old Fashioned.  Mid-century style (photo by Tristan Shepherd).

Cranberry-Clementine Old Fashioned. Mid-century style (photo by Tristan Shepherd).

My super-hip friends Fat Tire Ale and Cosmopolitan recently asked me to curate—which it seems is a fancy-schmancy word used everywhere now for ‘make shit up’ as opposed to the ‘curatorial’ work I did in museums, anyhoooo—the cocktails for a holiday party they hosted recently at their gorgeous mid-century modern house.  I was MORE than happy to do so, and even more excited about the substantial research and testing needed to get the job done.  I suffer for y’all.  Really I do.

For the past couple of years, I’ve been experimenting with making a cranberry jam.  Cranberries are perfect for canning projects: they are easy to process (no peeling, seeding, etc.), take on flavor well, and already have a lot of natural pectin, which means they gel delightfully well.  As I often do, I referenced the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving (ed by Judi Kingry and Lauren Devine) to make sure my acid levels would be appropriate for canning to avoid the cooties.  In case you hadn’t heard:  Botulism sucks. Avoid it.  If you are a beginning canner, or just want to have pretty much The Bible of Canning on hand, THIS, my friends, is the book for you.   Here are the recipes I came up with, based very loosely on the Ball book’s Cranberry Rum Sauce.

Cranberry-Clementine Old-Fashioned

My buddy Ramos Gin Fizz and I, all fancied up.  Classic polaroid.  (photo by Cody Derrick)

My buddy Ramos Gin Fizz and I, all fancied up. Classic polaroid. (photo by Cody Derrick)

For the full story on my Old Fashioned experience, see the piece that I wrote for CityHomeCollective this week.  Apologies in advance to my in-laws: they are wonderful, talented, loving people.  They are just not-so-great bartenders.  

Rub ½ of the rim of a lowball glass with ¼ of a Clementine wedge;

dip the citrus-coated rim of the glass in turbinado sugar to coat.

To a short glass add:

juice of ¼ Clementine wedge (drop it into the glass, if you want to be like Don Draper’s daughter)

3 dashes bitters

½ tsp. cranberry jam (or cranberry sauce)

½ tsp sugar

Stir with a spoon until sugar dissolves.

Add 2 oz. bourbon

3-4 cubes ice

Top with an optional tiny baby splash of club soda.

Stir gently to combine.

Garnish with 2-3 sugared cranberries*.

Cranberry Jam with ginger and citrus.  If you have a few tablespoons left from canning, it's terrific on toast, or mixed into a rum-citrus cocktail with a little ginger beer floater.

Cranberry Jam with ginger and citrus. If you have a few tablespoons left from canning, it’s terrific on toast, or mixed into a rum-citrus cocktail with a little ginger beer floater.

Cranberry-Rum Jam with ginger and citrus

Makes nine or ten 8oz. jars

3 lg. (6”) cinnamon sticks, broken into 2” pieces

12 whole allspice berries

9 whole cloves

4 ½ cups granulated sugar

2- 2/3 cups water

12 cups fresh cranberries

3 large apples (sweet or tart, or a combo), peeled, cored, and chopped

1 ½ cups rum

2 Tbs. fresh grated ginger

Zest of 1 orange

2 tsp. vanilla extract

1 envelope liquid fruit pectin

Prepare canner, jars and lids for water bath canning.

My Canning Bible.

My Canning Bible.

Make a spice bundle with a large square of cheesecloth: add cinnamon sticks, allspice, and cloves.

To a very large non-reactive saucepan, add sugar, water, and spice bag.  Bring to a boil, and stir constantly until sugar dissolves.  Reduce heat, and boil gently for 5 minutes.

Add cranberries and apples, and return to boil.  Boil on med-low gently, stirring frequently to avoid scorching, for about 15-20 minutes, or until cranberries have burst and the apples are very tender.

Remove the spice bag, and remove pan from heat.  Add the rum to the pan.  Purée until smooth using an immersion blender (or in batches- careful!!!- in a regular blender).  Add the ginger, orange zest, and vanilla extract. Stir to combine.

Bring to a high boil that cannot be stirred down (as for jam), add the liquid pectin, and stir constantly to avoid scorching.  Boil hard for one minute, then remove from heat.

Ladle hot jam into jars leaving ¼” headspace.  Wipe rims, add new sterilized lids and clean rings.  Tighten to fingertip tight.

Process in boiling water bath canner for sea-level baseline 15 minutes (adjust for altitude wherever you are!).  Turn off the heat, and remove canner lid.  Let jars sit in canner 5 minutes.  Remove jars, cool, and store for up to one year.

Sugared Cranberries

To make sugared cranberries:  whisk together 1 egg white and 1 Tbs. water in a medium bowl until frothy.

Throw 1 cup cranberries in the egg-water and toss to coat; shake off the excess egg by letting it drip through your fingers.

Immediately toss the cranberries with 1 cup turbinado or sanding sugar until evenly coated.  Set out in a single layer on a rimmed cookie sheet to harden for 24 hours.  Store for up to one week on the cookie sheet or in a vented container (if it’s sealed tightly, the sugar will melt).

Green Tomatoes: Fried, pickled and in Salsa Verde

We’ve got snow!  Time to pull in all the harvest, my friends, if you haven’t already.  We’re eating green tomatoes for days here.  My friend White Lightin’ Lemonade FB messaged me recently, “I would love to have your green tomato salsa recipe if you’re willing to share.”  Sure!  I’m going to do that, and more for this week’s H.O.A.G.Y (Help Out a Gal/Guy, Yeah?)  We’re having them fried, pickled, AND in salsa verde.

Here’s how to do ‘em up right:

Fried Green Tomatoes with Chili Sauce

Fried Green Tomatoes with Chili Sauce

Fried Green Tomatoes

Use only entirely un-ripe firm green tomatoes for this dish.  Some of my friends prefer a buttermilk/egg coating to the tomatoes before the dredge, but I like the crisp crunch of very lightly battered tomatoes.

4-5 large green tomatoes, sliced crosswise in ¼” thick rounds (discard both ends).

1 cup white flour

1/3 cup cornmeal

1 tsp. each salt, fresh ground black pepper, and Cajun seasoning

Combine flour, cornmeal, and spices in a shallow bowl.  Coat tomatoes entirely in flour dredge, tapping lightly to remove excess dredge.  Fry in a cast iron skillet coated with a scant 1/8” deep hot vegetable oil or bacon grease, over medium-high heat.  Reduce heat to medium if your oil starts to smoke and burn the tomatoes.  Fry tomatoes until golden brown on each side, and just slightly softened through (about 7-10 minutes per side).  Remove to a plate covered with paper towels to drain; sprinkle hot tomatoes with a little kosher salt. Add more oil or fat to skillet as needed.  I like mine served with a little hot/sweet chili sauce.

Spicy Pickled Cherry or Pear Tomatoes

Use only entirely un-ripe firm green cherry or pear tomatoes with no cracks in the skin.  Those cute little 4 oz. or short wide-mouth 8 oz.  jars work great for these pickled beauties.  Use them as a spicy change up from olives in your dirty martini!  Makes about 2 pints total

Spicy Pickled Cherry Tomatoes - ready for brine and the canner!

Spicy Pickled Cherry Tomatoes – ready for brine and the canner!

1 cup white vinegar1 cup water

1 tsp. pickling salt

2 lbs. small green cherry or pear tomatoes

Prepare brine: combine vinegar, water, and salt in a saucepan.  Bring to boil, reduce to simmer.

Prepare canner, and heat jars.  Sterilize lids and rings.

Pack hot jars to within ½” of rim with tomatoes.  To each 8 oz. jar (halve for 4 oz. jars), add:  1 small clove garlic, ½ bay leaf, 10 black or mixed peppercorns, ½ tsp. dill seeds.

Ladle hot brine into jars, completely covering tomatoes, leaving ½” head space.  Remove air bubbles and adjust for headspace with more brine if needed.

Wipe jar rims, place lids and rings.  Tighten to fingertip tight.

Process completely covered with boiling water in canner for 15 minutes (at sea level; adjust for altitude).  Remove canner lid and turn off heat.  Wait 5 minutes, then remove jars, cool to room temp, and store for up to 1 year.

Green Tomato Salsa Verde

Green Tomato Salsa Verde

Green Tomato Salsa Verde

I volunteer at my kids’ school garden, and we had a TON of leftover green tomatoes this year.  I made this salsa verde (usually made with tomatillos) with produce from the school garden and am planning to give it as thank you gifts for garden volunteers and teachers.  It’s super tasty with tortilla chips, but I like it best with cheesy scrambled eggs and tortillas for brunch.  Makes about 10 half-pint jars.

8 cups finely chopped green tomatoes (I leave the skin on)

5-10 (about, to taste) chopped hot peppers; jalapeños, Serrano, whatever you’ve got!

1 very large red onion (2 cups), chopped

4 cloves garlic, minced

½ cup lime juice

¼ cup agave syrup or nectar

¼ cup tequila

½ cup chopped cilantro, loosely packed

2 tsp. ground cumin

1 tsp. Mexican oregano (dried)

1 tsp. kosher salt

2 tsp. coarsely ground black pepper

Prepare canner, sterilize jars, lids, etc.

Combine all ingredients in a large non-reactive saucepan.  Bring to a boil, reduce to just bubbling, and cook for five minutes, stirring constantly to avoid sticking.  Remove from heat.

Ladle hot salsa into hot jars.  Leave ½” headspace; tap gently to remove air bubbles.  Wipe rims, place lids and rims to fingertip tights.

Process completely covered with boiling water in canner for 20 minutes (at sea level; adjust for altitude).  Remove canner lid and turn off heat.  Wait 5 minutes, then remove jars, cool to room temp, and store for up to 1 year.

Simple Syrup in a FLASH!

Mmmm - smells like fall in here.  And booze.

Mmmm – smells like fall in here. And booze.

We’re taking a quick break from our tour of my tiny household and how I can get ‘er done in the midst of harvest, canning, etc.  Are y’all as crazy as I am this time of year?  Fortunately, The Macallan built some handy new shelves in the cellar for me – it’s a perfect temp year ’round for my various brewing, fermenting, and infusing projects.  Let’s just hope the cable guy doesn’t need to get to those wires behind my cider any time soon….

This week’s H.O.A.G.Y (Help Out a Gal/Guy, Yeah?) comes from a friend who needed to make simple syrup LIKE RIGHT NOW in preparation for a cocktail party, because the stuff she’d made a week earlier had already developed a Kombucha-like sugar mother alien thing and she was scared to use it.  I’d be scared, too.

So, here’s how you make simple syrup in under 30 minutes:

Four steps to FAST simple syrup

Four steps to FAST simple syrup

1 – into a pint Mason jar, fill half-way with sugar (your choice)

2 – fill with boiling water up to 1″ from the rim of the jar, stir to dissolve

3 – add ice cubes to the rim of the jar, gently stir to dissolve and cool

4 – place a lid on the jar and the jar in an ice-water bath

It will be ready in 15- 20 minutes.  Enjoy!

Ratatouille. Or, How Thomas Keller Made My Life Hell

Ratatouille: The case for Smell-o-vision

Ratatouille: The case for Smell-o-vision

Ratatouille.   Conjured in savory memories, it’s a fragrant eggplant-basil-and-tomato-y meal, served with crusty bread and a big glass of house red wine at a laid-back Montmartre bistro.  It’s 1987, and I’m with my girlfriend Woodford Reserve (on the rocks with a splash of spring water) knocking around Paris.

Me (far right) with my gal Woodford Reserve's parents (Bob & Penny Miller) and their famous friends: Paul Levy, Michael Holroyd, Margaret Drabble, and Georgia Levy. England, summer 1987

Me (far right) with my gal Woodford Reserve’s parents (Bob & Penny Miller) and their famous friends: Paul Levy, Michael Holroyd, Margaret Drabble, and Georgia Levy. England, summer 1987

We were in France and England during the summer between high school and college, and thanks to her parents’ superb restaurant picks, progressive ideas and generous wallet we travelled, and ate, and drank very well on our jaunt.  Well, better than I did for many years to follow, anyway.

Paris, 1987.

Paris, 1987.

Fast forward to 2007.  Over 20 years, I’ve finally (in my humble opinion) mastered a pretty kick-ass ratatouille in my home kitchen, a fact of which I’m inordinately proud.  I revel in finding the perfect glossy eggplant, the juiciest yet firmest plum tomatoes, and most gorgeous zucchini my garden or the market has to offer.   It’s wonderful atop a graceful swirl of pasta or buttery mound of polenta; or served as I remembered it in France, sopped up from a shallow bowl with generous crusts of bread.  For the longest time, my kids thought it was just another chunky pasta sauce; and until Sprite started eating only white food in first grade, both boys ate it all the time without question.

And then along came Thomas Fecking Keller.  Mastermind chef behind the food styling for Disney/Pixar’s 2007 film Ratatouille.

Ratatouille "All Stacked Up" in the movie.

Ratatouille “All Stacked Up” in the movie.

Don’t get me wrong.  I will eat Keller’s food whenever I get the chance.  And, I LOVE this movie.  I love the theme behind it; that “anyone can cook.”  I love the message—even preschoolers get it—that great soul-and-body nourishing food is about balance and flavor and freshness, not about how fast you can get it from a cardboard container into your mouth.  I love that drinking the occasional glass of wine by reasonable adults is neither demonized nor glorified; it’s just part of enjoying a great meal.  I love that the main female character is a culinary badass and has short hair, clogs, keeps her clothes on for the entire movie, and does NOT sing a goddamn peep.

And I loved hearing my children say as the credits rolled, “Mom, let’s make ratatouille!”

I spent all day with them making it: chopping, then individually sautéing each vegetable until just al dente.  We gently folded each perfectly cooked vegetable into an enameled Dutch oven, then covered it with parchment paper and slowly roasted it at a low temperature for most of the afternoon.  My boys took one look at the glorious results and said, “what’s THAT? ”

They were expecting Thomas Fecking Keller’s version:  as they call it “Ratatouille, all stacked up.”  Which I eventually figured out how to make, and it’s also pretty kick-ass.  But now they expect EVERY thing in our tiny kitchen to come out plated as beautifully as a goddamn Bon Appétit feature spread.  When I told this story to my buddy French 75, he said “what did you expect?  You brought this shit down on yourself.”

And I totally did.

I entirely support the notion that you eat with your eyes first, and that a beautifully composed plate should be at every meal served at our table.  It really doesn’t take that much longer to orient your vegetables attractively and put a little saucy swirl and some herbs on the plate, and I think in the long run it makes great food more attractive, accessible and approachable for more people.  Especially the shorties.

I just wish I didn’t feel backed into a corner to do so by a little rat named Remy, who’s possessed by a plating genius.  Fecking Keller.

Thomas Keller (left) constructing the ratatouille dished used for the film.

Thomas Keller (left) constructing the ratatouille dished used for the film.

Ratatouille “All Stacked Up”  (serves 4)

Keller’s version is a gorgeous layered casserole, which he then deconstructs for plating.  That’s beautiful and awesome, and is a great way to make this recipe, too.  I use 4” round mini springform pans with removable bases to bake the vegetable layers in, which the kids love to pack themselves for individual flavor preferences.   I also add mozzarella cheese and sometimes a sprinkling of Panko to this dish, even though it’s not at all authentic (hell, nothing about this is authentic, so why stop there?)   It just makes it more gooey, crunchy, and yummy.

4 Tbs olive oil (plus more for drizzling)

3 cloves garlic, sliced

1 medium eggplant

1 medium zucchini

1 medium yellow squash

3-4 plum tomatoes

1 red bell pepper, cored

1 medium onion

2 medium balls fresh mozzarella (or 1 cup shredded mozzarella)

1 small bunch basil leaves (12-16 large leaves)

½ cup Panko (Japanese bread crumbs) – optional

Ratatouille towers, ready to go in the oven (I hadn't added the Panko yet).

Ratatouille towers, ready to go in the oven (I hadn’t added the Panko yet).

Slice the eggplant into very thin (as thin as possible) rounds.  Spread in an even layer on a rimmed cookie sheet and sprinkle generously with kosher or sea salt (about 2 tablespoons).  Let sit for about 20 minutes, then turn over the eggplant slices and sprinkle with a bit more salt.  Let rest for another after 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, slice all of the remaining vegetables cross-wise with a very sharp knife or mandolin, making your rounds as thin as possible.  Sprinkle all of the vegetable slices with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper.  Slice the mozzarella balls into thin rounds (or crumble) if using fresh cheese.

Preheat an oven to 350 degrees.

Remove the eggplant slices from the rimmed cookie sheet, and squeeze gently to remove as much liquid and salt as possible.  Don’t worry about completely removing the salt from the eggplant slices, it will add great flavor to your dish.   Wipe all the excess liquid from the cookie sheet.

In a large cast iron skillet, heat about 2 Tbs. oil over medium heat.  Add garlic slices and stir constantly to avoid burning; when the garlic starts to soften and brown (but not burn!) remove it from the oil with a slotted spoon and set aside in a small bowl.   In batches of 3-4 slices of eggplant per time (so as not to crowd your skillet), add eggplant to the oil and cook gently until slightly softened on each side and just starting to brown.  Repeat with remaining eggplant slices, adding more oil if needed.

Slightly oil the rimmed cookie sheet with olive oil.  Place four 4” mini springform pans WITH THE BASES REMOVED on the sheet pan, spacing equally.   Starting with a slice of eggplant on the bottom, fill each pan (or stack) with equal parts of each vegetable type and basil leaves, alternating layers of each type of veggie, and layering about halfway through with half of the cheese.  Put more cheese near the top layer, and press down gently as you go to compress the layers as much as possible.  If using springform pans, really pack those suckers full, the veggies will cook down quite a bit.  Drizzle the top of each tower with about 1 tsp. olive oil, the reserved garlic slivers, and sprinkle on top about 1 tablespoon Panko if you like a little crispy accent.

Place on the center rack of your oven and bake for 35-40 minutes, or until brown on top and bubbly.  Remove from oven and let cool for about 5 minutes to let layers settle.  To plate, slide a wide spatula underneath the tower (or underneath the edge of the pan), gently wiggling to make sure the eggplant is not stuck to the cookie sheet.  Run a small sharp knife around the inside edge of the springform pan to prevent sticking, then gently slide the spatula-laden tower to your serving plate; pull the spatula free from under the tower, then pull the springform pan straight up to release that baby onto your plate.  Garnish with a drizzle of oil from the pan and a sprig of basil.

Now grab a big glass of wine – you deserve it!

Guinness & Game Pot Pies

Guinness & Game Pot Piesantelopepotpie557K

Yup – it’s still winter here in the Wasatch Mountain foothills.  I don’t know what that Pennsylvania rodent predicted for the Eastern Time Zone, but we’ve still got it goin’ up in here in the Mountain West.

For me and mine that is a million kinds of awesome.  We love the mountains, the snow, and the big spring melt that brings great fishing come summer.   But our winters are BUSY, my friends.  My older son, Tim Collins, has slalom and GS ski races at Snowbird this weekend.  Our young ‘un, Sprite, has the parent-flattening triumvirate of hockey game, birthday party/sleepover, and ski lessons all within 24 hours heading straight at us.

In preparation for this winter onslaught, I’m making my easy do-ahead hearty stew.  It can be assembled any time in the afternoon within a half-hour or so, then set to simmer for an indefinite period of time.  Serve it with salad and biscuits and you’ll be universally lauded.  To make it even more appealing for visiting friends, pop a prepared pie crust sheet on top of the reduced stew in the Dutch oven while you are assembling appetizers and cocktails après ski, and bake it until crispy for a rustic Shepherd’s Pie.  Or, up the ante even more and scoop it into individual oven proof crocks and top with pie crust rounds.  So little time on your part, yet so much praise will come your way.

I used wild antelope scraps from last year’s hunt for this recipe, because that’s what I have on hand and need to clear out of the freezer.  It’s also very good with elk, deer, or your grocer’s “beef for stew.”  It is superlative (really folks, make this for your St. Pat’s dinner) made with lamb trimmings.

Guinness & Game Stew (or, base for Shepherd’s pie and pot pies) – 6 generous servings

½ cup flour

1 tsp. kosher salt

1 tsp. fresh ground black pepper

1 Tbs. bacon fat (or vegetable oil)

1 lb. antelope (or other red meat) cut into ½” cubes

2 Tbs. vegetable oil

2 Tbs. flour (reserved from dredge)

1 – 14.9 oz. can Guinness Stout beer

1 medium onion, chopped

2 medium carrots, chopped

8 oz. brown mushrooms, cleaned and quartered

2 cups small yellow potatoes, scrubbed and cut in ½” cubes

1 cup green beans, cut in 2” lengths (fresh or frozen)

2 cups strong game or beef stock

1 cup fresh or frozen sweet green peas

For Shepherd’s pie/pot pies

1 prepared pie crust (homemade or pre-packaged)

1 egg, slightly beaten and mixed with 1 Tbs. water

1)      In a medium bowl, combine flour, salt and pepper.  Dredge meat in the flour mixture.

2)      Meanwhile, melt bacon fat in a large cast-iron Dutch oven over medium-high heat.  When hot, shake excess flour off of ½ pound of the meat and add to the hot pan, making sure there is room between pieces.  Turn meat a few times to ensure all sides are completely browned.  Remove from pan with a slotted spoon, then repeat with the remaining ½ lb. of meat, adding more bacon fat if needed.

3)      After all meat is browned and removed from the Dutch oven, reduce heat to medium-low.  Add 2 Tbs. of vegetable oil and sprinkle 2 Tbs. of remaining flour-salt-pepper dredge over the hot oil.  Use a wire whisk to combine the roux.  Keep over low heat for about 20 minutes, whisking occasionally to prevent burning, until mixture smells nutty and is a pecan-ish brown color.

4)      Turn off the heat on the pan.  In a slow steady stream (keep back and watch your eyebrows!  – this gets steamy!) pour in the beer while steadily whisking the roux.

5)      When the roux-beer mixture is combined and smooth, return heat to medium.  Add all remaining ingredients – browned meat, veggies, stock—to the Dutch oven EXCEPT the peas (they’ll get mushy if you add them too soon), and the pie crust, etc (you’ll need that for the pie, silly!)

6)      Bring to a low boil, then immediately reduce to low heat, simmer, and cover.   Simmer for at least 1 hour, covered, for stew.  A couple of hours will have your meat meltingly tender; add peas 5 minutes before serving to cook through.

If this is your stew, enjoy!  If you are soldiering on for the big fancy finish, here goes!

Makes 4-6 generous servings

7)      You now have a fabulous velvety stew (or leftovers of it, which you are now going to convert to fabulous pot pies).  If you want to make Shepherd’s pie or individual pot pies, finish with the following steps:

8)      Uncover stew and cook over medium-low heat for ½ hr. to reduce and thicken sauce, stir often to keep from sticking.

9)      Preheat oven to 375*

10)   For pie crust, you can either use your own crust, or use a pre-prepared roll out crust.  In either case, mix one beaten egg with 1 TBS. water to brush on top of the crust(s) for crisp and shine

11)   Either put then entire pie crust on top of your stew in the Dutch oven, brush on egg glaze, prick a few times with a fork to vent, and bake the entire pot in the oven on the middle rack for 30-40 minutes or until browned


12)   Cut out four 5 ½” pastry rounds with a small bowl or cutter.  Tear remaining scraps into long pastry strips.  Ladle stew into four oven-proof soup crocks.  Top with pastry rounds; roll excess scraps into long strands and use to make extra ‘crusty edges’ around the top edge of the crocks.  Cut a small “X” in the middle of the crust to vent.

13)   Brush with egg/water mixture

14)   Place crocks on a rimmed baking sheet (you will have spillage!)

15)   Bake at 375* for 45 minutes, or until crust are browned.

YUM.  All of the above preparations are fantastic with a hearty Cabernet.