Remodeling Crouton’s Kitchen

Over the next few days (weeks?) we’ll be experimenting with a new look for Crouton’s Kitchen. There’s a lot to like about the current design, but it’s time for something different. The kitchen will remain open, but there may be some construction dust … please pardon the inconvenience.

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Venison Chili à la David Rainier

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The Cannolis, Ditalini’s sister Gina and her husband Lengua, visited over Christmas, bringing with them venison from deer hunter country, upstate Michigan. The other day I pulled out a package of ground venison out of the freezer and decided to do something with it. Chili sounded about right, and I quickly found an interesting recipe on the net, attributed to an Alabama man named David Rainier.

His recipe called for four pounds of ground venison and the other ingredients were scaled accordingly, making a big batch of chili to serve 10-12. I had about a pound and a half, so I scaled everything back. His version called for liquid crab boil … that’s what caught my eye, by the way, and I’m glad it did … but all I had was a can of powdered Old Bay seasoning, so I substituted. What follows is my version of Mr. Rainier’s recipe, tailored to the ingredients I had on hand, which makes enough to serve 4-6.

Venison Chili à la David Rainier

  • Servings: 6-8
  • Time: 3 hours
  • Difficulty: easy
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Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 lb ground venison
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 1 green bell pepper, diced (optional)
  • 1 can diced tomatoes
  • 1 can tomato sauce
  • 2 cans kidney beans
  • 3-4 tbsp chili powder
  • 1 dash cayenne pepper
  • 1 tsp Old Bay seasoning
  • salt to taste
  • 1/2 tsp garlic salt
  • 2 bay leaves

Directions

Heat olive oil in a heavy cooking pot and sauté garlic, onions and pepper until tender. Add venison and brown for 10 minutes over medium heat. Add tomatoes, tomato sauce, kidney beans, chili powder, cayenne pepper, Old Bay, salt, garlic salt. Mix together and add bay leaves. Bring to a boil and simmer uncovered for 2-3 hours.

This chili is surprisingly rich. Not sure if it’s the Old Bay or what, but it was great, even if far from traditional. We served it with cornbread made from the standard recipe that comes on the cornmeal box, improved upon with diced Hatch chilis and shredded cheddar added to the mix just before baking.

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Crouton’s Better Package Cornbread

When Ditalini and I make chili, we make cornbread. When we have the time and the ingredients, we make fancy cornbread (check the recipe index for some recipes). When we don’t, we use the package recipe on the side of the cornmeal box, improved with added ingredients.

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Cornbread w/Uncle Art’s Chili con Carne (see recipe index)

This recipe is the basic package one, with added diced Hatch chiles and shredded Cheddar cheese, and is pretty damn good with any kind of chili.

Crouton's Better Package Cornbread

  • Servings: 6-8
  • Time: 30 min
  • Difficulty: easy
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Ingredients

  • 1 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup corn meal
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1 small can diced Hatch chiles
  • 1 cup shredded Cheddar cheese

Directions

Heat oven to 400°F. Grease 8-9″ pan. Combine dry ingredients. Stir in milk, oil, egg, chiles, and half the shredded cheese, mixing just until dry ingredients are moistened. Pour batter into prepared pan and sprinkle the rest of the shredded cheese on top. Bake 20 to 25 minutes or until light golden brown and wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Serve warm (butter & honey optional but encouraged). Makes enough for 9 servings.

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Bacon-Wrapped Venison Backstrap w/Garlic Cream Sauce

Ditalini’s sister Gina Cannoli visited over the holidays, accompanied by her husband Lengua. They brought along several frozen packs of dressed venison from a recent hunting trip. Two of the packages contained backstrap, the tenderloin of a deer, a highly-regarded cut of meat. The other day I thawed out one package, which contained four cuts of backstrap, and went looking for a good recipe. This is the one I found and adapted.

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Bacon-wrapped venison backstrap ready to roast

Bacon-Wrapped Venison Backstrap w/Garlic Cream Sauce

  • Servings: 2-4
  • Time: 1 hr 30 min
  • Difficulty: medium
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Ingredients

  • Venison:
    • 4-8 slices thick-cut bacon
    • 4 pieces venison backstrap, cut in 3″ to 4″ lengths
    • olive oil
    • onion powder
    • kosher salt
    • ground pepper
  • Garlic cream sauce:
    • 1 1/2 tbsp butter
    • 8 mushrooms, sliced
    • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
    • 1 tbsp green onion, chopped
    • 1/2 cup heavy or whipping cream

Directions

Venison:

Preheat oven to 375°F. Place bacon on a slotted baking pan, bake 6 minutes until partially cooked but still soft. While cooking, brush venison w/olive oil and sprinkle w/onion powder, salt, pepper.
Wrap venison in bacon, place in roasting pan and return to the oven. Roast until bacon is browned and meat reaches 145°F, about 45 minutes.

Garlic cream sauce:

Melt 1 1/2 tbsp butter in saucepan, add mushrooms and garlic and sauté until soft. Stir in green onions, pour in cream. Cook while stirring until sauce is hot, serve with or over the venison.

Serving Suggestion

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Bacon-wrapped venison with sautéed Swiss chard and potatoes

The Swiss chard is one of Ditalini’s recipes, which I have not yet shared here, but since it includes bacon (and feta cheese), our hunter’s feast was a heavy on bacon … which is a good thing, especially if you want your guests to think you were the hunter! The potato recipe is here.

Venison always seems to cook up dry, and that was our experience with this recipe (the bacon wrapping and cream sauce are clearly meant to ameliorate that, and definitely help). It was tasty and I would try it again, but since only one package of venison backstrap remains in the freezer, I’ll use a different recipe next time and post the results here.

Happy hunting!

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Ditalini’s Dutch Baby

Later this morning I’m going to photoblog the deMenthe family’s 4th of July feasts. That, along with this entry, will (I hope) signal an end to my long absence from Crouton’s Kitchen.

A long time back I promised to post Ditalini’s Dutch Baby recipe. Dutch Baby is a form of pfannekuchen or pancake, but this recipe is, I believe, simplified and Americanized. Ditalini would like me to note that she learned this recipe from a friend, Melanie Martin.

With this recipe I’m adding a breakfast category to the recipe index. In time I’ll add more breakfast recipes. But enough about that. Let’s get to the Dutch Baby!

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Dutch Baby fresh from the oven

Ditalini's Dutch Baby

  • Servings: 4-6
  • Time: 30 mins
  • Difficulty: easy
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Ingredients

  • 1 cup flour
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1/3 cup butter

Directions

Preheat oven to 450°F. Put butter in a 9″ by 12″ casserole, briefly place casserole in oven to melt the butter, remove from oven. Using a blender, mix the flour, milk, and eggs. Pour batter on top of the melted butter in the casserole (do not stir). Put it back in the oven for 25 minutes. The finished Dutch Baby should be golden brown and lumpy.

Serve with anything you’d normally put on pancakes: powdered sugar, syrup, butter, fruit, etc. You can also mix blueberries or apple slices into the batter before baking.

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Hasenpfeffer

Hasenpfeffer is also known as braised rabbit in spiced red wine sauce, but the literal translation is “peppered hare.”

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Hasenpfeffer ingredients

We made this dish often when we were first married. That was more than 40 years ago, and rabbit was not as hard to find as it is today. We found some at a local butcher shop, but it came frozen from China, so we took a pass. About a week later, Ditalini found what we were looking for—cut up and frozen rabbit, raised in America—at a high-end grocery store, and we were in business.

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Hasenpfeffer cooking in the casserole

Hasenpfeffer

  • Servings: 2-4
  • Time: 2 hours
  • Difficulty: medium
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Ingredients

  • 1/2 lb bacon, chopped
  • 1 5-6 lb fresh or defrosted frozen rabbit, cut in serving pieces
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp ground black pepper
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped shallots (or substitute onion)
  • 1/2 tsp finely chopped garlic
  • 1 cup dry red wine
  • 1 cup chicken stock
  • 2 tbs brandy
  • 1 tsp currant jelly
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1/8 tsp dried rosemary
  • 1/8 tsp dried thyme
  • 2 tsp lemon juice

Directions

Cook bacon until crisp in a large heavy casserole. Remove the bacon and let it dry on paper towels. Put the casserole with the bacon fat aside.

Wash & dry the rabbit, sprinkle with salt & pepper, then dip the pieces in flour. Heat the bacon fat in the casserole on high, then brown the rabbit in the fat, a few pieces at a time. Transfer browned rabbit to a plate. Pour off all but 2 tbsps of bacon fat. Cook the garlic and shallots in the remaining fat. Pour in the wine and chicken stock and bring to a boil, stirring in any brown bits sticking to the casserole. Stir in the brandy, currant jelly, bay leaf, rosemary, and thyme, and return the rabbit and any juices on the plate to the casserole. Add the bacon, cover the casserole, and simmer over low heat for 1 1/2 hours.

Just before serving, remove the bay leaf and add the lemon juice. The sauce should be peppery; you can add more pepper if necessary. You can dip the rabbit and sauce out of the casserole or arrange the rabbit pieces on a platter and pour the sauce over them.

Note: if you have to use smaller pieces of rabbit they will cook faster, so check for tenderness after 1 hour. We were able to find a chopped-up 5-6 lb rabbit, as per the recipe, and we cooked ours the full 1 1/2 hours.

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Hasenpfeffer on the plate (the sauce went well with the potatoes, too)

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Braised Beef Short Ribs w/Fingerling Potatoes & Green Beans

The deMenthes dined tonight on braised beef short ribs with fingerling potatoes and sautéed green beans. Cooking the ribs is an all-day affair, but not really all that much work. If you put the ribs in the oven first thing in the morning they’ll be ready by dinnertime, and you can prepare and cook the potatoes and green beans during the last hour.

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Braised beef short ribs with fingerling potatoes and sautéed green beans

Braised Beef Short Ribs

  • Servings: 6-8
  • Time: 12 hours
  • Difficulty: medium
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Ingredients

  • bone-in beef short ribs
  • onion & garlic, chopped
  • salt & pepper
  • 1 can beef stock
  • 1 cup red wine

Directions

Season the ribs with salt & pepper, then brown them in a frying pan. Place browned ribs in a deep cooking dish and set aside. Sauté chopped onion & garlic in a little olive oil, then add beef stock & red wine and reduce. Strain the liquid over the ribs, cover with foil and bake in oven at 200° for 11 hours (in by 7:00 am, ready by 6:00 pm).

Fingerling Potatoes

  • Servings: 6-8
  • Time: 30 mins
  • Difficulty: easy
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Ingredients

  • small bag of fingerling or new potatoes
  • garlic, finely chopped
  • parsley, finely chopped
  • butter

>Directions

Clean the potatoes (leaving the skin on), boil for 20 minutes, drain. Place boiled potatoes back in the pot, add a couple of tablespoons of butter, the chopped garlic & parsley, and sauté on medium heat for about 10 minutes.

Sautéed Green Beans

  • Servings: 6-8
  • Time: 30 mins
  • Difficulty: easy
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This recipe has appeared before on Crouton’s Kitchen, but I do it a little differently each time, so here’s tonight’s variation:

Ingredients

  • 1 bag green beans
  • 3 slices bacon, chopped
  • 1/2 onion, chopped
  • 2 tbsp water

Directions

Brown bacon and onion over low to medium heat in a frying pan. Add beans & water, toss all, sauté for 10 minutes or until the beans are tender.

Serve with crusty French bread. You can probably make a gravy from the remaining juice after the ribs are cooked, but we found them to be plenty tender, juicy, and tasty right out of the cooking dish.

Let me tell you, it’s as good as it looks! Slow cooking? I’m sold.

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Crouton’s Fortress of Smoke™

I’m starting an equipment & technique section on this blog. This post is the first entry for the new section … the subject is Crouton’s Fortress of Smoke™; specifically some techniques for setting up and using a Weber Smoky Mountain cooker.

In the past Ditalini and I have smoked and devoured salmon, turkey, chicken, duck, and goose, but today I’m smoking a beef brisket and two racks of pork back ribs. My method of setting up the smoker has, so far, always been the same. Here’s the step-by-step:

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Lighting the charcoal

To start, it’s necessary to take the smoker apart to get at the charcoal rack in the bottom section. I use a chimney-style charcoal lighter: you wad up 4 sheets of old newspaper and stuff them in the bottom, then fill the top with charcoal, then light the paper. I place the lit chimney on the charcoal rack in the bottom of the smoker and allow half an hour or so for the charcoal to light up and get hot enough to use. It’s quite smokey until the newspaper burns out, so don’t do this by any open windows or doors.

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Charcoal ready

When the charcoal’s hot and just covered with light gray ash, I dump it from the chimney onto the rack in the bottom of the smoker, making sure the three vent doors in the bottom of the smoker are all the way open. Then I start putting the smoker together, wearing oven gloves as I work, since the charcoal is really hot.

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Water pan

I rest the empty water pan inside the barrel of the smoker, then place the barrel onto the bottom, over the hot charcoal. I fill the water pan with hot water.

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Bottom rack with brisket

Using oven gloves, I lower the bottom smoking rack into place and put whatever I’m smoking on the rack. This is our beef brisket, which I coated with dry rub two days ago and have been storing in the refrigerator.

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Upper rack with ribs

Still wearing the gloves, I lower the top rack onto the top of the smoker body. I’m using a rib rack today to hold the ribs upright.

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Wood chips on the charcoal

Now I put the lid on top of the smoker, making sure the vent on the lid is all the way open. I then open the side door on the body of the smoker and toss some damp wood chips onto the charcoal. The wood chips have been soaking in a bucket of water for about an hour at this point.

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Fortress of Smoke™ in operation

We’re smoking. As you can see, I try to keep everything I’ll need close at hand: a bin of charcoal with a scoop, more wood chips, a comfy chair, oven gloves, long-handled tongs, and a meat thermometer.

I’m not a scientific smoker. I don’t check the internal temperature of the smoker or strive to keep a set temperature by regulating the opening of the vent doors. I’ve found that most everything smokes up just fine without all that, and I always leave my vent doors, top and bottom, wide open.

My beef brisket and ribs will probably need between three and four hours on the smoker (four to five hours if it’s windy, which is not a factor today). I check and replenish the charcoal & wood chips every hour, and add hot water to the water pan every two hours. I don’t lift the lid unless I’m replenishing the water or poking a thermometer into the meat to check for doneness. Here’s the schedule I’m working with today:

  • 0950: assemble & prepare equipment
  • 1020: light the charcoal
  • 1050: meat on the smoker
  • 1150: open side door, add 12-16 charcoal briquets, more wood chips
  • 1250: open side door, add 12-16 charcoal briquets, wood chips; open lid, pour more hot water into water pan
  • 1350:  open side door, add 12-16 charcoal briquets, more wood chips
  • 1450: open lid, check ribs & brisket w/meat thermometer; if more cooking/smoking is necessary, open side door, add 12-16 charcoal briquets, more wood chips

Voila! Crouton’s Fortress of Smoke™!

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Crouton’s Cafeteria Chili Mac

Ditalini put me in charge of the kitchen last night, so I decided to indulge myself in some good old comfort food. We’ve both been away, things have been hectic and disorganized, and a simple one-dish hot meal seemed like just the thing. Remember the chili mac they served you in the school cafeteria? Here’s my version, something even the most backward, kitchen-averse husband can handle:

Crouton's Cafeteria Chili Mac

  • Servings: 4-6
  • Time: 30 mins
  • Difficulty: easy
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Ingredients

  • 1 lb ground beef
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 5-6 cloves garlic, sliced
  • 2 cans diced tomatoes
  • 2 tbsp chili powder
  • 1/2 tsp cumin
  • 1/4 tsp cayenne
  • salt & pepper to taste
  • green scallions, chopped, for garnish
  • 1/2 lb pasta, your choice

Directions

Brown & crumble ground beef in large frying pan, drain, add onion & garlic. Add diced tomatoes with liquid. Add chili powder, cumin, cayenne, salt & pepper. Mix well, cover and cook on low for 15 minutes. Stir in the uncooked pasta (the beef/tomato mixture should still have plenty of liquid; if not add some water), cover and continue to cook on low another 10 minutes. Check that the pasta is cooked, sprinkle with scallions, and serve. We like it with grated Parmesan cheese on top.

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Crouton’s Off-the-Shelf Navy Bean Soup

I’m going to make an exception here and put in a recipe from a package of dried navy beans, modified only by the addition of a smoked ham hock. I love this particular navy bean soup, and if you haven’t tried it, you should.

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Dried navy beans typically come with one of two recipes on the package. One calls for cooking the beans with water only, the other calls for cooking them with water and milk. I’ve found that the second recipe makes a tastier soup. If you have a package of navy beans with the water-only recipe, don’t worry, you can still make them with water and milk. Here’s how:

Ingredients

  • 20 oz package dried navy beans (Hurst HamBeens brand, w/flavor packet)
  • 1 smoked ham hock
  • 3/4 cup celery, chopped
  • 3/4 cup onion, chopped
  • 3/4 cup carrots, chopped
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1-2 lbs lean cubed ham

Directions

Place washed beans in pot w/8 cups water and the ham hock, boil covered 50-60 minutes. Chop vegetables & cube ham. Add vegetables, ham, milk, flavor packet to beans. Simmer 45 minutes.

It’s really good with biscuits.

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