21 June 2011

what the h-elk!?

I have an uncle Vinny.  He raises horses, has taxidermy around the house, and is a hunter.  I don't really know anything about hunting as I myself, am not a hunter and have never been hunting.  Uncle Vinny on the other hand, is a pretty avid hunter.  I remember growing up and coming back from a visit to their house with venison - sausage, steaks, jerky but always some form of a deer.  I recall eating venison meat when I was a young child (always the adventurous eater) and not really being phased by it.  It wasn't something I would eat everyday, but I ate it without complaint.

As I grew older, my curious palette grew even more curious and there was nearly nothing that I wouldn't try at least once.  On my quest for new cuisines, and the boom of locavores and farm-to-table menus, I found game meats coming into play and onto my plate more and more.  I love the taste of lamb and duck, a wild boar raggout or rabbit stew.  So earthy and classic, these meats add so much richness to my favorite homey, hearty meals.  But other than my St. Patty's Guinness Lamb Stew, I've never cooked with any of these woodsy proteins.  They're usually a little more expensive than your basic chicken or beef and I wouldn't really know where to begin with a recipe.  But then Uncle Vinny came along with two hefty elk steaks.  That's right, I said elk.  Yup, I meant this kind of elk -

What the hell h-elk was I supposed to do with these?!  They were absolutely beautiful bone-in steaks that would probably be amazing on the grill but, alas, I have no grill and anyways, no one in my home is really a big steak eater.  We like meat but even more so, we love meat slathered in gravy, so I started working my brain on a stew.  Since I've been craving my amazing mashed potatoes (seriously, my potatoes are out of this world; just ask Jenessa,) lately, a variation of the traditional shepherd's pie came to mind.  I know what you're thinking, 'Jillian, why would you make such a wintry, hot, comforting meal in the middle of June?'  Because I have a great crisp, cooling cross breeze in the apartment and I love comfort food; that's why, dammit!  

I started by slicing the steaks off the bone, cubing the meat and pounding it into tender, woodsy goodness.  I gave them a little coat of flour, herbs de provence, fresh ground salt & pepper before they were tossed in a lightly oiled, super hot crock to brown.  I added some fresh garlic, chopped onions, and a mix of sliced baby portobello, shitake, and oyster mushrooms.  Once everything had a nice roasted look to it, I added a few cups of water mixed with a little mushroom and onion soup mix and let it all simmer.  Between the adding of a few sprigs of fresh parsley, thyme and rosemary filling the air with a rustic and delicious scent, and the summer breeziness that forced me to put on a sweater, I was transported back to Autumn a few months early.  

While the pot bubbled and thickened, I cut up some celery, yellow and orange carrots, and yukon gold potatoes.  The potatoes got tossed in a pot of salted boiling water until they were tender.  As soon as the were ready, I drained them and tossed them back in the pot with some milk, butter, salt, pepper, fresh chives and sour cream and mashed it all together.  My mashed potato taste test turned into a mashed potato binge-fest and I realized that I had eaten half the pot.  Thankfully, they were just a topping and I didn't need as much as I had originally made.  

After about two hours of simmering, the carrots and celery got tossed in and, once cooked to tender perfection, I turned off the heat.  I let it set and thicken a little before transporting the stew into a casserole dish and then topped it all off with the mashed potatoes and put it into the preheated oven to brown and set.  The crisp, golden brown mashed topping was perfect and I was ready to dig in.  It was hearty, rustic, warm, and just what a comfort craving gal like me was in the mood for.  Paired with some simple salad greens and a glass of wine and my cool night was set.  

So thanks Uncle Vinny, for forcing me to experiment with my carnivorous culinary creations instead of just ordering the wackiest thing on the menu.  The elk steaks added just the right amount of gaminess and originality to a classic meal.  Year round yumminess!

*a stew recipe has a lot to do with the taste you want to achieve and the amount of meat and veggies that you decide to use.  same goes for the mashed potatoes - they're all about personal taste and proportions.  i've listed all the ingredients within this post for you to follow as you'd like.  if any of you dear readers would like a proper recipe, let me know... i'd be more than happy to send my secrets your way! 

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