A Taste of Venison (Finally)

Friday, January 2, 2015

I finally found some venison in Montgomery County, Maryland! Which is annoying because we have a ton of deer around these parts despite how urban the area is. I miss venison dearly -- I first tried the other red meat back in college when a hunting friend of mine brought some meat to school for us to make burgers with at the sorority house kitchen. Since then, my meetings with venison have been very limited other than the few times I find jerky in random off-highway stores across the Pennsylvania border.

Thanks to the many D.C. area blogs I follow, I found out that the local Irish bar down the street from my apartment McGinty's was serving a special "Black Label" burger -- a venison patty topped with pork belly and caramelized onions. Boom! I was there in a heartbeat.

There she is! The burger itself was massive. I actually ended up doing away with the bun so I wouldn't feel full from the bread. The shoestring fries also went mostly untouched. Sorry, fries, I gotta have my deer meat first and foremost! The bartender/waitress suggested ordering the burger medium rare, something I normally don't do with beef patties at least. I took her word for it since she's had the Black Label special on no less than 4 other occasions. 

I was in heaven. The meat was perfectly tender and cooked medium rare as I had ordered. I've never heard of McGinty's to be known for its cuisine; it's a pretty basic Irish pub with several TVs located in the downtown Silver Spring shopping area. I would usually stop in to this place to watch a game over a beer or two, nothing more. If this place keeps this beauty on the menu though, I'll be coming back much more often and not just for beer and sports. 

Monocacy Crossing

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Decided to take the boyfriend out to a nice dinner for his birthday. Discovered through an emailed voucher deal a little restaurant off Urbana Pike in southern Frederick, MD called Monocacy Crossing. Situated in what appears to be a house converted into restaurant, the slightly more upscale Monocacy Crossing lent an unassuming atmosphere while still providing an elegant dining experience. The quality of the food and the level of customer service was well worth its modest price point (entrees vary between $20-$30+).

We split the "Bacon and Eggs" Pork Belly with Crispy Poached Egg for our appetizer. The egg was perfectly poached -- a task that a number of breakfast restos tend to get wrong. I liked how the crispy coating added a nice little crunch to the soft egg. And when paired on my fork with a slice of that pork belly...yummooo! I'm a firm believer in the power of egg yolk on everything

I selected the filet mignon (medium rare no less) coupled with seared foie gras demi glace,  mascarpone polenta, and snow peas. Filet is one of my favorite cuts of steak and this one did not disappoint compared to the offerings at steakhouses around the area. Perfectly medium rare and tender, the meat was soft and juicy and complemented by the creamy but not heavy polenta. I ate every last bite save for a few snow peas. As I ate away at my steak, I could not help but wish that red meat was a daily health staple to our diets. So good!

The SO ordered the lamb shank special with mashed potatoes and snow peas as well. I actually don't care for lamb meat all that much, but after my one shared bite off his plate, I would have eaten the whole thing if it weren't for my dish. The meat fell off the bone and though a little fatty, this also proved to be a meal worth making a recommendation back to the restaurant. 

To top off the night, we of course had to have dessert since it was his birthday after all! We shared a delightful little pot de creme. The creme was surprisingly light, like harder chocolate pudding, and it balanced out the savory entrees nicely. We hope to come back to Monocacy Crossing when we're feeling slightly fancier than date nights at home and whiskey wings Wednesdays at the local dive. Ha!

Recent Holiday Makings

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Lately I've been up to a bunch of little things during the holiday season. A sampling of my miniature makings is as follows:

Cranberry brie delights: Simply tuck some (homemade) cranberry sauce leftover from Thanksgiving into puff pastry of your choice (homemade or storebought for ease) with a piece of brie and top it with green onion. Pop 'em in the oven for an easy post-Turkey Day appetizer. I had like 4 of these suckers. Super quick and easy. 

Mulled wine: a Christmas/winter holiday/any cold day in December classic. Gluhwein is a must for wine lovers in group settings. Pour a bottle of your favorite red into a crockpot and set it to low. Drop in a couple cinnamon sticks, several whole cloves, some star anise, and a few orange slices (by happy accident, I bought and used blood oranges!). Let it simmer before pouring yourself and your loved ones several glasses of the wonderfully spiced drink.

Found these evil things on The Pioneer Woman and decided they were a must since my boyfriend's family was serving hors d'oeuvres for Christmas Day munching. Again a super easy and quick appetizer/finger food that everyone in their right mind should enjoy (unless you're a vegetarian). Clean out the membranes and seeds of the peppers to your liking and stuff each with a generous dollop of cream cheese; wrap each thing with a small strip of bacon (we sliced our bacon package into thirds) and skewer with toothpicks. Line them on a rack-topped oven pan and pop into a 375 degree oven for about 25 minutes. Remove and indulge. I ate over a third of the pan pictured above alone. No regrets, friends. 

Last but not least, I made another quick and easy holiday-themed treat for the families to pick over. Peppermint bark! So festive and sweet a treat. I melted a bag of semi-sweet chocolate chips according to the bag's instructions. I probably should've used two bags since one bag did not cover the whole baking sheet adequately. Once the chocolate is melted, stir in about a half teaspoon of peppermint extract. Spread the mixture onto a wax paper-lined oven sheet. Top with broken bits of regular candy canes (tip if you're not airheaded as I am: crush the candy canes inside a plastic baggie instead of smashing them all over your tiny kitchen counter). Stick the tray into the freezer to harden and voila! Homemade peppermint bark to complement the overwhelming amount of sugar cookies everyone else made. 

Beer Can Chicken

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

I've had beer can chicken before cooked on the grill and it was so yummy I finally decided to try cooking it at home myself. I ordered a 3.5 pound chicken from FreeBird Chicken, a family farm in the Pennsylvania Amish country that raises chickens in a humane, free-roaming and sustainable environment, through online grocery retailer Relay Foods. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. My chicken came with the neck and giblets so I had to remove those. The SO chopped off the neck as close as possible to the body and I reached my small hand into the cavity of the chicken and ripped out the giblets - fun stuff! Love getting my hands a little dirty in the kitchen. 

I rubbed the chicken inside and out with a healthy dose of kosher salt, black pepper, garlic powder and oregano. I sat the chicken directly on top of a can of beer that is 2/3 full (I used Schlitz - I've actually never had that beer before now) and placed the standing chicken into a Dutch oven. I poured about half a can of the beer into the bottom of the pot and stuck the bird into the oven for 80 minutes. About 45 minutes through, I poured in a little more beer into the pot. There she is!! Beautiful huh?

And how about these fresh collard greens from local Kirby Farm (also through Relay Foods)! In love!

Along with some sauteed collard greens and dirty mashed sweet potatoes, this was a fantastic albeit very filling Monday night meal. The beer in the butt chicken was actually a lot easier than I thought it was going to be. Added bonuses: the apartment smelled wonderful and we have leftovers for the week. The chicken was falling off the bone as I carved it (also something new I learned tonight and also easier than I thought). The skin, one of my favorite things to eat from the humble chicken, was perfectly crispy and the meat was incredibly juicy. I actually don't really taste the beer within the bird, but it definitely adds can't-miss moisture to the meat. This is going to be a go-to weekly recipe for me going forward and it should be one of yours as well!

Another Day on the Bay

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Today (Sept. 23) I went out on my third (!) excursion with the Maryland Seafood team to Hooper's Island, MD. It was a cool, breezy early autumn day and one of the last chef trips of the year for the program. I was lucky enough to snag a spot on a full trip attended by media professionals (including Fox5!), chefs and the like. These tours are always interesting and a great way to spend a weekday afternoon on the water! I give the Maryland Seafood team big props for organizing so many of these tours. I am always thankful for being invited on these trips!

Steve Vilnit, Director of Fisheries Marketing, leading the tour.

Passed by a pound net  on our way out to the island. These are used to trap and catch all manner of fish from the Bay. It is the oldest type of net used by watermen. And costly -- setting up one of these bad boys costs between $15,000 to $20,000.

First pit stop to W.T. Ruark & Co., an old crab processing facility erected in 1952.

Migrant seasonal workers on H1B visas expertly picking crabs in record time. Depending on the time of year and how "fat" the crabs are, 1 bushel can yield 2 to 4 pounds of crab meat!

The crabs at this time of the year are fattening up for winter hibernation, something unique to Maryland Blue Crabs. This imparts that sweet, full and distinctive flavor we Marylanders all know and love!

Next stop - Barren Island Oysters.

Barren Island's oysters are are carefully grown within the open waters of the Bay. Bay water is circulated through floating upwellers with multiple silos that contain oyster spat (newly settled oysters). There the oysters will continue to grow until they reach a size of about 3 inches. The oysters are periodically taken out to be chipped, shaped and sorted in a tumbler machine. These oysters are small, but convey (to me) a very mild, smooth flavor with lower-ish levels of brininess.

Perhaps the best highlight of the trip was lunchtime, let's be honest. And lunchtime has really blossomed as the chef tours have progressed over time! Pictured above are smoked salmon, "salmon candy", and blue crab bruschetta for starters. 

Main course: Grilled Spanish mackerel, flounder and rockfish - freshly caught from the pound net - topped by crab meat. All prepared by the Maryland Seafood team and the generous folks at Profish.

Between bites of fish and crab, there were oysters aplenty too! Eating this meal and as importantly, learning where it came from and how the food is produced, provided a much more intimate dining experience.

Last stop of the day (on a very full belly): Chesapeake Gold Oysters

I was reminded of some kind of mad science experiment type of movie upon entering this oyster aquaculture facility. This company receives triploid (sterile) larvae from a hatchery and raises the oysters in their "laboratory" as I'm calling it by first growing them into spat in a down welling system (water is introduced from the surface) where the larvae attach themselves to oyster shells. Here the babies are fed on the daily with algae. The oysters are then transferred to an up weller system (green jugs in picture above) where Bay water (with natural food) is pulled through the tank so that the oysters can filter the algae out of the water. 

Buy local, eat local. Maryland seafood is the best around! 

Korean Braised Short Ribs

Thursday, September 4, 2014

I broke out the slow cooker over the long weekend because it's been awhile since I last used my trusty crockpot. I settled on cooking some ribs because ribs just seemed like the kind of thing one eats over the last real weekend of summer. And I unfortunately don't have a grill so this was my next best option for cooking ribs.

The recipe was simple per usual - combine soy sauce, rice vinegar, chicken broth, some tapioca, minced garlic, chopped pear, scallions, and ginger and throw that mixture into the slow cooker. However, I was supposed to process this mixture in a food processor, but alas this amateur chef does not possess one! It's on my Christmas wish list along with a top-notch chef's knife for sure! I didn't think it was a big deal that I didn't process the mixture as the meat would absorb all the flavors regardless. I used bone-in short ribs purchased during my Whole Foods shopping trip. Separate the meat as best you can from the bones and microwave the bones for about ten minutes before throwing those into the crockpot as well. Season the meat with salt and pepper and nestle them into the pool and slow cook on low for about 9-10 hours.

I think half the reason I love slow cooker recipes so much besides their no-fuss, simple, virtually impossible to screw up qualities is the fact that it makes the apartment smell amazing. Maybe I should come up with a line of candles that smell like slow cooking meat and quit my day job.
Ahhhh so amazing! Fish out the meat as well as the bones. This was a task that proved somewhat challenging since the meat started to fall apart as soon as I grabbed it with a pair of tongs! Definitely a good sign. Normally you're supposed to let the liquid settle and spoon off the fat that collects from the surface, then spoon what's left over the meat to moisten it, but the short ribs here required no excess moisture.
With a slow cooker, you almost always achieve that melt-in-your-mouth quality with beef. The BF ranked this among his top favorite of my slow cooker recipes (not that I've made a ton in the past couple years since I've owned this crockpot). Eating this reminded me why I could never truly be a virtuous vegetarian, no harm intended. Slow cooking the short ribs imparted all the rich flavors of the soy sauce, scallions, ginger and pear (ingredients that I suppose earned this recipe the "Korean" nametag). Go forth and slow cook some short ribs!

Whole Roasted Fish

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

This past Labor Day weekend I decided on a whim to try my hand at roasting a fish whole. From the instructional videos I found online, it looked to me to be a fairly straightforward process. And quick too! I selected two European farm-raised sea bass (basses? bassi?) at my local Whole Foods.

Hello, fishies! Since this was my first time cooking a whole raw fish, I chose to keep things simple and went for a Mediterranean take. I stuffed the two guys with lemon slices and fresh rosemary and brushed on some good ole EVOO. Threw those bad boys into a 450 degree oven for 15 minutes and voila!

So easy! If it weren't for my budget-conscious wallet, I'd probably do this every week and try different fixin's for the fish. For me, this was a Saturday night dinner treat and I highly recommend you try it too! Hardly any steps to follow at all!
Of course, since the roasting only took a mere 15 minutes, I lazily cooked a frozen bag of Trader Joe's Polenta Provencal, which took 10 minutes tops. Don't judge. I'm on a budget, remember!?
Yessss. You know you want this. The meat was so tender, clean and fresh. You cannot get the same experience from frozen fish, you just can't. Of course, you gotta be wary of the bones. But eating around them kinda got me back in touch with my animalistic instincts of picking at my prey's carcass.

From farm to table to fork to this! So awesome. I definitely will keep trying this out and experimenting with different fish and various seasonings and aromatics. Please try this on your own, folks! I'd advise you to seek out only the freshest, high-quality, sustainably sourced fish. You are what you eat!

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