Fall Cooking

The cool, crisp air has begun to change the colors of the leaves. It smells like fall, and that smell always triggers very vivid memories for me. Growing up, the woods was where I spent a lot of my time so I became very aware of the smells of the different seasons. One fragrance in particular was the smell of wild grapes, which I was introduced to by my dad while we were upland bird hunting in the woods surrounding Lake McDonough in Barkhamsted, CT. I must have been around 10-12 years old at the time. That nostalgic scent of wild grapes always brings me right back to that point with my dad.

Fall always brought excitement for me because I hunted a lot growing up. I enjoy being outdoors in the cool weather. And, I enjoy the changing of the locally available seasonal ingredients, much like the spring brings on the asparagus, fava beans, ramps and morel mushrooms. In the fall we get apples, beets, celery root, figs, cranberries, cabbage, broccoli rabe, most other wild mushrooms (except morels), pumpkin, etc. The hearty stuff! A time for soups, stews, and foods roasted in the oven. Whether it is fall cleanup/ yard work, hunting, fishing, hiking, football or anything else done outside in the cool air, there is nothing better than that hearty meal.

One of my favorite big meals to make is roasting a whole chicken over seasoned, diced potatoes and sweet potatoes. I made this last night for my wife and I (with a little extra for the week). We also had it with a fresh, back yard-garden tomato salad…

Roasted Chicken over Potatoes

Prep Time: 15 Minutes or less

Cooking Time: Roughly 2.5 hours

Ingredients

2 Whole, Air chilled (good quality, organic, free-range) Chickens

5 White Potatoes (chopped, roughly 1 inch cubes)

4 Sweet Potatoes (chopped, roughly 1 inch cubes)

Salt, Pepper

1 Head Garlic (skinned,minced)

1 TBSP Honey

1/3 Cup Canola Oil

Herbs: Rosemary, Thyme, Dry Mustard

Method of Prep

1. Dry off chickens (inside and out) with a paper towel, the drier the better. Let sit out on the counter for about 20-30 minutes to allow the temperature to come up closer to room temp. Preheat oven to 400F.

2. Wash and chop potatoes. Put them into a mixing bowl. Add oil, honey, garlic, herbs, salt and pepper. Adjust seasoning to preference. Toss and incorporate seasoning well. Turn onto a foil lined sheet pan and spread evenly.

3. Truss chicken. If unsure how, tuck the ends of the wings behind the back pointing inward and tie the feet together with butchers twine. Liberally season on all sides with salt, pepper, and dried herbs if you like.

4. Lay the birds breast up on top of the potatoes, with the legs pointing in the same direction. Place in the oven with the legs toward the back of the oven.

5. In roughly 45 minutes or so, when the chicken begins to turn golden brown, turn oven down to 375F.

6. To check when the chickens are done, insert a thermometer into the meatiest part of the thigh between the breast and leg (you should feel the bone). Chickens are done when the thermometer will read 155F.

7. Remove from the oven when internal temp is 155F and let rest for 10-15 minutes. During this time, the internal temp will reach 165F. The resting period will also allow for the juices to settle, keeping the meat moist.

If the chickens are of good quality, this is one of the tastiest “one pot meals” simply because the potatoes end up cooking in the drippings of the roasted chicken. Good luck finding a more tasty piece of roasted potato!

Sweet Potato Soup with Crisp Bacon, Egg, and Fresh Herbs

This recipe is my variation on a pumpkin soup that was on the menu at La Locanda di Piero in Vicenza, Italy when I did my internship under Chef Renato Rizzardi.

Ingredients

8 Sweet potatoes (peeled, rough chop)
3 Spanish Onions (peeled, rough chop)
Water/ Chicken Stock to cover

Garnish

1lb Bacon (diced, rendered crisp)
Scallions (chopped fine)
2TBSP Fresh Thyme leaves (quick chop)
Extra Virgin Olive Oil (use good quality, tasteful olive oil)
Eggs
Salt and Pepper

MOP

  1.  In a large pot, just cover the sweet potatoes and onions with water or chicken stock and bring to a simmer until sweet potatoes are fork tender.
  2. While sweet potatoes are cooking, in a pan over medium heat, render the bacon until crispy then remove from pan and place on a paper towel to soak up excess grease.
  3. Mix diced scallion, bacon and thyme. Set aside for garnish.
  4. Once the sweet potatoes are done, use a blender to puree the soup.
  5. For each batch in the blender season to taste with salt and pepper as you go.  As the soup blends, slowly drizzle in the EVOO to emulsify.  (One blender batch will take about ¼ to ½ cup of EVOO)
  6. To serve, pour soup into a bowl and garnish with a poached egg, and the crisp bacon, scallion and thyme mixture.

**When the soup is done this way with olive oil, it is best done when hot right before you are ready to serve.  If you plan on doing this, try pureeing the soup before cooling and storing.  When re-heating to serve on following days, once the soup is hot, go through the same process with the blender again (for best results).  This recipe and its particular preparation is indicative of regional Italian cuisine using; water, (squash/ pumpkin), onion and extra virgin olive oil, salt and pepper. When done right and seasoned well, the simplicity of the recipe really brings out the main ingredient.

If you’re looking to make a large batch and not have to go through the blender process to eat, sub out EVOO with some cream and seasoning to taste. Either route will make a pretty tasty, soup to go with the onset of fall!

Eat your heart out!

In the mid- to late-1800s, professional buffalo hunters working on the Great Plains found that a straight diet of lean red meat led to malnutrition and painful sores on the mouths and gums. Over time, they learned to adopt the Indians’ practice of eating plenty of fresh organ meat. By consuming a variety of heart, liver, kidneys, tongue, marrow and even bile, they got the nutrients that they needed to stay healthy. While our diets are no longer strictly reliant on wild meat, edible organs still have a lot to offer. Here is my guide to four organ meats for the adventurous hunter and eater who wants to explore the wild side of wild game.

1) Heart: This is my personal favorite organ meat, by far. My father liked deer heart so much that he’d check fresh gut piles left by other hunters in hopes that he’d find one. For our own deer kills, it was a family ritual to cook the heart for a late breakfast after the morning’s hunt. My mother’s recipe is still my favorite. First, remove the ventricles and valve openings in the thick part of the heart with the slender blade of a fillet knife. It’s like hollowing out a bell pepper after you’ve cut off the stem and cap. Then wash the heart thoroughly and slice it into quarter-inch slices. Dust the slices in flour, then fry them in a heavy skillet using vegetable oil or peanut oil. Before serving, sprinkle with a bit of salt and pepper. While my father considered it to be sacrilegious, I always enjoyed mine with ketchup. I still like it that way today. 

2) Bone marrow: Not exactly an internal organ, but close enough for discussion’s sake. I came to this one late in life, after reading about the importance of bone marrow in the diets of indigenous hunters. Often, when scavengers have picked a carcass clean, the heavy femurs are all that’s left. Early humans knew that a rich and highly nutritious meal of fat and protein was waiting inside. But this treat isn’t just for cave men. Today, marrow bones are a common sight on the menus of fine dining establishments. In fact, I recently had them in a restaurant on L.A.’s Sunset Boulevard. To make your own, remove the femurs from a moose, elk or caribou. (Whitetail deer femurs work, but they are a tad small). Using a hack saw, butcher’s saw or band saw, slice the femurs into 1½-inch-thick discs. Spread a layer of aluminum foil on a heavy baking pan and stand the bones upright. Sprinkle each with a touch of salt and bake them for about 20 minutes at 400 degrees. Serve the bones on a platter with small slices of toasted baguette. Then let your guests scoop out the marrow and spread it onto the toast like butter. It’s magical. 

3) Kidney: In the spirit of full disclosure, I’ll admit that I’ve had mixed results with wild-game kidneys. There’s no way to put it delicately, so I’ll just say that some of them have had a slight urine flavor. Particularly I’m thinking about a pair of kidneys that I removed from a cow elk and used in a classic French preparation called kidney pudding. It’s difficult for me to even discuss that meal. But I wanted to give the organ a second chance, and that resulted in the most memorable meal that I’ve had in recent memory. This time, I used kidneys from a five-year-old bull buffalo to make a breakfast scramble. For that dish, I soaked the kidneys in a bowl of cold water for a night. Then I sliced them into cubes measuring about a centimeter across. Working over a campfire along the Missouri River, I sautéed a handful of the cubes in olive oil along with another handful of diced onion, garlic, parsnip and a bit of hot red pepper. When the meat was cooked and the veggies were soft, I cracked in a few eggs and stirred the whole mix until the eggs were scrambled and cooked, before sprinkling a touch of salt and pepper. Honestly, that dish forced me to reassess kidneys. It was sublime. I will be eating more kidneys during this fall’s hunting season, and I’ll be sure to report back about the results. But for now, I’d definitely say it’s worth a try if you’re feeling adventurous. 

4) Liver: I was encouraged to eat venison liver as a young boy because I suffered from mild anemia and liver is known to be a rich source of iron. Many hunters prefer livers of yearling deer and elk, as the animals haven’t been alive long enough for their livers to accumulate a lot of the substances that can give it an off-taste. However, just about any liver can be made palatable by slicing it into thin strips (a quarter-inch or less) and submerging the strips in a bowl of water mixed with lemon juice. Soak overnight, or for at least six hours, in the refrigerator. This draws out a lot of the blood and makes the flavor much milder. After soaking, fry the slices in bacon grease until they’re slightly brown and serve them with coarse salt and lemon wedges.” —This article was taken From: American Hunter, Steven Rinella, August 3, 2011,http://www.americanhunter.org/articles/edible-organs/

I posted the above for a few reasons.  As many of you may already know, I am an avid hunter (when I can make time for it) with a professional education in food, cooking and nutrition, who runs a business that promotes health and fitness.

Organ meat (when prepared correctly) is some of the tastiest and most nutrient dense food!  The pictures above are of the preparation and cooking of a (wild) deer heart.  Because most people don’t regularly have wild venison on hand, or for that matter, wild game organ meats, go to a local farm and ask for some heart!  It is relatively cheap in comparison to the skeletal muscle meat that everyone loves.  I prefer to slice fresh heart relatively thin, and, saute with high-heat in a cast iron skillet with just a little bit of walnut oil.  After placing the slices in the pan that has almost reached its smoke point, I like to sear the pieces on the first side until there is a nice, golden-brown caramelization.  At this point, I have a pat of good quality butter like Kerrygold or Plugra, which I will drop in the pan just before I turn the slices to the other side.  The butter will quickly start browning with the intense heat of the pan, as it mixes with the meat’s pan juices.  I will usually tilt the pan a bit, and spoon the browning butter over the surface of the slices of meat as it finishes cooking.  This is the same process that I use for just about every type of protein that I cook which involves a stove top, pan-sear.  It also works really well with most fish too!  Be sure to season with some sea salt and fresh ground pepper.  I like to cook it so that it is a bit rare.  (Make sure that your product is coming from a high quality, reputable source if it is not wild)  The longer it cooks, the tougher it gets…

Do you eat enough?

This little write up was sparked by a few conversations I’ve had recently with a couple different clients.  One of them had started CrossFit maybe a year ago or so, and saw quick results with weight loss and an improvement in their fitness.  However, that progress has virtually stopped.  The other, who is very fit, and has done CrossFit for quite a few years, said she had gone to the doctor and was told that her hormone levels were very, very low and she has virtually no body fat.  Both clients were avoiding most forms of carbohydrates; rice, potatoes, grains, legumes, bread, etc.

The first client who had noticed sort of a plateau with fitness and weight loss, likely experienced this due to an insufficient caloric intake to support her lifestyle and level of activity.  In cases like this, a person’s metabolism basically slows down, decreasing the RMR (Resting Metabolic Rate), and stockpiling dietary fat and calories rather than burning them for energy.  Someone who is working hard at the gym, and cutting calories (whether intentional or not) will get smaller for a while, but it will not only be fat that they are losing and they may certainly NOT be improving their health.  It seems that the “go to” type of diet for weight loss/ improvement of body composition is to just stay away from carbs, which will naturally reduce your caloric intake.  The problem is though, that by doing this, you are eliminating the most readily usable form of energy that you NEED for any strength and conditioning program, if you want t0 see optimal, long-term results.  To develop/ build more lean muscle (which is favorable, as muscle is more metabolically active than fat) complex carbohydrates are absolutely essential.  The more muscle you have, the less flab you’ll put on!  By including more carbohydrate, your strength training results will improve simply because you’ll have the necessary energy and stamina to work harder for better results!

For someone already very lean to begin with, eliminating or severely cutting carbohydrate intake because of a recommendation to only eat: meat, vegetables, nuts and seeds, and some fruit will have a very hard time meeting the demands of a strength and conditioning program and seeing long term results.  It will become extremely hard to recover from workouts if you’re even able to work at the intensity you’re capable of and because of this, your risk of injury will increase.  You will likely have trouble sleeping, though you are tired, and a difficult time waking up in the morning.  Injury is the next step, and good luck recovering from that injury when your not taking in enough energy!

The first client discussed above, calculated her macro nutrient needs and saw that she was not eating nearly enough, which is typically the case with most in this situation (that I have met with anyway).  Though the second has not yet done this, I’d be willing to bet a lot of money that she is not eating enough either (especially complex carbs) to support her daily function.  Though I believe food quality is extremely important, making sure you are taking in enough energy to support your lifestyle is equally important if you want to see long lasting, healthy results.  Calculating your macro nutrient needs is scientific, it’s proven.  For most people that are in a strength or fitness program, an intake consisting of at least 50% carbohydrate would be an easy and very beneficial approach.

 Some Complex Carbohydrate Sources:
Oats
Lentils
Quinoa
Rice; wild, brown, white
Potatoes; white, russet, sweet, etc.
Beans
Chick Peas
Amaranth
Millet
Barley
Couscous (and other pastas)