Venison & Beef Burgers

This biog often extols the virtues of venison as a lean, healthy meat, but there’s one thing it cannot do alone: be a burger.

Venison-beef burgers
Venison-beef burgers

For that, you need to blend the ground venison with another meat. I have previously tried to bind ground venison into burgers using beaten eggs, but they fell apart while cooking.

Someone already took a bite of this burger
Someone already took a bite of this burger

For our first foray into mixing ground venison, we opted for ground beef chuck with a 85/15 ratio for added fat. As for the amounts of each meat, I just used 1 pound venison to 1 pound chuck. In a large mixing bowl, I combined the meats with a single beaten egg, 2 tablespoons truffle oil, a sprinkle of dried thyme and a combination of garlic salt, onion salt, Cajun seasoning and black pepper. I had wanted to add Worcestershire sauce, but did not realize it was hiding in the refrigerator.

Set aside burger toppings
Set aside burger toppings
venison beef burgers
Seasoned burger patties before grilling

To make the blending easier, whisk the egg separately, then pour over ground meat. Mix everything together with your hands. Form patties and place them on a casserole dish. Disclaimer: I cannot tell you exactly how my boyfriend grilled them to perfection because this task was performed outside while I prepared a green bean salad. As for the green bean salad, this is a classic cold salad with red wine vinegar. Trim the ends of your green beans and cook them, either by steaming in a pot or nuking them. I did the latter, and followed the instructions on the bag for the beans. You want them to be cooked, but retaining a little crisp bite. While the beans are cooking, peel and dice 2-4 cloves of garlic.

green bean salad
Getting ready to add garlic and vinegar

Once the beans are done, placed them in a covered dish with the garlic and an ample dousing of vinegar. Keep covered in fridge. This green bean salad can last for days and only gets better on day 2 and 3. Another complementary side for burgers is a classic: pasta salad. This is buttermilk bowtie pasta black bean salad offers a nice tang and is supremely simple to make.

INGREDIENTS
Half a box of mini bowtie pasta
1 can Bush’s black beans
Half a large red bell pepper
3-4 green onions
Huge handful fresh cilantro
One lemon, two limes
Cup of buttermilk
Couple tablespoons mayo
Heaping tablespoon Dijon mustard
Cajun seasoning, fresh ground black pepper and pink salt

If you don't like cilantro, use parsley instead
If you don’t like cilantro, use parsley instead

Cook pasta according to box directions. Chop pepper, green onion and cilantro. Then, mix buttermilk, mayo, mustard and citrus juices and set aside. Drain cooked pasta and place bowties back in pasta pot. Drain black beans in the same colander. Put everything in the pot and stir. Season to taste.

What is best about this style of cooking, besides the amazing flavors, is how relaxing it is to prepare. After dinner, we can curl up on the couch and watch the dog watch for possums. The possums walk (or run) atop the back fence almost every night, providing entertainment for The Sage Leopard.

The Sage Leopard awaits a possum crossing
The Sage Leopard awaits a possum crossing

After all, he needed a distraction from the wafting scent of venison-beef burgers. Please enjoy the recipe and your evenings too.

Cheers,

The Sage Leopard

 

Raclette Grilled Chicken with Salad Greens

This summer’s dinners are going to often be salads, especially now that we are growing our own lettuce and other veggies. This salad is prepared with a raclette grill and is based on a grilled salad we were introduced to over a Fourth of July celebration. The original salad featured veggies charred in a sauce pan. It’s a little difficult to clean a charred pan and I don’t like the burnt flavor.

granite chicken
Grilling chicken on granite

Instead, I put our raclette grill into action. The grill has a granite top as well as an aluminum nonstick grill top. For this, I pulled out the granite. Here are the ingredients and instructions.

Ingredients:

  • 1 red pepper, sliced
  • 1/4 red onion, sliced
  • 1 bundle of asparagus, washed and trimmed*
  • a couple of slices of cheese (raclette cheese is an option)
  • 1 package of chicken tenders
  • fresh lettuce (we culled some from our garden)

Directions: To “trim” the asparagus, hold a spear’s end in between a thumb and index finder, and with the opposite hand, push down on the stem toward the flowery end with your other index finger. The spear will naturally snap at its break point. Discard the ends. Start the raclette grill. I put the granite top on medium-high heat. Once hot, spray with olive oil spray and place asparagus, onion slices and bell pepper slices on the grill top.

Granite is a great surface for grilling veggies without burning them
Granite is a great surface for grilling veggies without burning them

Turn your attention to the chicken. I bought a package of already cut chicken tenders to expedite dinner. I placed the chicken in a mixing bowl with a healthy sprinkle of Velata garden dill rub and a drizzle of olive oil. I hand tossed the chicken to evenly spread the oil and spice rub. As the vegetables finished grilling, I removed them and put them on a small platter. Once all the veggies were cleared off the grill top, I put the chicken pieces on. As the chicken browned on one side, I put the cheese in the raclette pans. Now, for the lettuce. We planted some from seeds and now the garden bed is full of lettuce heads. We better eat this lettuce like it’s going out of style. I washed and dried it before putting it in a large salad bowl.

Putting it all together
Putting it all together

Then, add the grilled veggies. Once the chicken is cooked, add it to the salad bowl atop the veggies. Take the raclette pans and pour the melted cheese over the chicken. Salt and pepper to taste. Toss the salad with your favorite dressing. I used olive oil and cider vinegar. Serve in big pasta bowls. Enjoy!

Cheers,

The Sage Leopard

Salmon, shrimp & Mexican corn

Summertime means grilling and that’s not negotiable. You can pull together a gourmet meal in short order. Fish is an excellent and traditional choice for a Friday night dinner. Your local grocery store may even stock fresh fish for Friday dinners. Pick out what simply looks good and is reasonably priced. Salmon is often the best choice. For this blog’s recent meal, we enjoyed salmon and Gulf shrimp with grilled corn and steamed cauliflower (cooked in the microwave). We live near the Texas Gulf Coast so fresh Gulf shrimp is always an option.

salmon
Grilled salmon, shrimp and corn

For the sides, my man had suggested cooking the corn in the microwave but I insisted we grill the ears for a nice char. While he worked the corn on the grill, I made the dressing for it: a heaping tablespoon of mayonnaise and the freshly squeezed juice of two limes. Sprinkle into that mixture some chili power and a little cayenne pepper. When it came time to put dinner on the table, I used a silicone brush to spread the dressing over the corn. Finally, it was sprinkled with shredded Manchego cheese and freshly chopped cilantro.

cilantro
Set aside fresh chopped cilantro and shredded Mexican cheese while the corn is grilling

This was served with two other sides: cauliflower and leftover cucumber salad (which tastes better on the second day). For the cauliflower, I cut off the florets and places them in a small casserole dish. I sprinkled it with garden dill spice rub and drizzled on a little olive oil. That cooked in the microwave on our machine’s setting for cooking vegetables.

grill corn
grill corn

That’s all the cauliflower needed. In no time, I had corn, cauliflower and cucumber salad on the table. While I worked the vegetables, my boyfriend grilled wild salmon as well as fresh local Gulf of Mexico shrimp. Before setting on the grill, he sprinkled on his spices (secret ingredients) and brushed on melted butter to keep the seafood moist while it cooks. This meal was fresh while satisfying but not overfilling. The corn and cilantro with the lime-mayo dressing was refreshingly zesty. Best of all, the fresh salmon and Gulf shrimp were delicious. Although casual, this dinner also felt elegant in is simplicity. Pair with a white wine and enjoy your weekend!

Cheers,

The Sage Leopard

Mimosas, Texas Sage and Garden Musings

This morning I stepped into the thick sauna of the backyard garden to steep for a moment in the semi-tropical paradise my boyfriend has planted in his slice of Texas heaven. He is planning to put in another mimosa tree next to the patio, which will be so lovely.

mimosa
The mimosa flowers are brightly colored

The one we already have is something I enjoy simply staring at with its fluffy pink flowers and green fronds. It’s been raining here for weeks, spurring full-throated chortles after dark from happy toads and frogs. After a full day, watching a rosy sunset and then nightfall drop over a big palm in the distance always calms me. The garden soothes me at any time of day: with morning coffee, under the full sun (but not too long), and especially as the lazy rays of late afternoon take their dance before the onset of twilight. I’m not Southern, but I love living in the South/Texas (the latter being its own category). I love warm winters, the food, the expressions, the friendliness (yes, Northerners are friendly too, with different accents). I love the plants: hibiscus, dogwood, Texas sage, mimosas, bougainvillea, etc. When I was a kid, visiting my paternal grandparents in South Carolina was such an adventure because they had alligators, Spanish moss, cypress trees and palms as well as grits and, of course, a stack of Southern Living magazines. Now, I have lived in southeastern Texas for 10 years and it love its lushness. Well, it has been rather lush due to a rainy spring. A few years ago, we endured a drought, which inspired the planting of many drought-tolerant, native plants. The local fauna and flora are very different from the hardwoods and mammals of my New Jersey youth. Here we regularly see armadillo, toads, lizards, etc.

Elephant ears give the garden a tropical vibe
Elephant ears give the garden a tropical vibe

On hunting trips in various parts of Texas, I have seen astoundingly beautiful birds, including roadrunners, Harris hawks, caracara, great horned owl, turkeys and, one memorable afternoon, even at least 20 red-bellied woodpeckers all at once deep in East Texas woods. Our dog Higgins, a.k.a. The Sage Leopard, has an amazing eye for spotting creatures (squirrels, of course). On one early morning walk, he floored me by guiding me toward the sound of a great-horned owl. It was at least a quarter-mile from where we had originally been standing and Higgins pulled me in the right direction. When we drew close, or about 50 yards away, he nudged my sight line upward by pointing with his snout. There, on a power line pole, was the perfect silhouette of the owl. Another time, we had a great-horned owl hanging out in the trees behind the house for several nights and the hound was going bonkers. I was just relieved the dog is big enough to not be lifted by an owl.

Echinacea flowers are very happy looking and attract butterflies.
Echinacea flowers are very happy looking and attract butterflies.

Higgins loves the garden just as much, if not more, than his human. He runs around and round the garden beds and sniffs plants. He watches butterflies, doves and mockingbirds. For some reason, he won’t chase the black birds. He likes to walk the parameter, guarding his domain and checking on his favorites, including lantana and echinacea. To keep the butterflies coming, my boyfriend planted a bed exclusively devoted to milkweed. The milkweed actually hides the air conditioning unit, which hums softly near the mimosa tree. The mimosa grew to create a gentle canopy, keeping that corner of the yard in its sweet embrace.

Go outside and admire at least one flower before the sun goes down.

Cheers,

The Sage Leopard

Chester, Hold Us a Spot in Heaven

Chester B. joined Molly Mae in heaven yesterday and our hearts are heavy. They’re heavy because they are so filled with the endless love this generous soul always gave us. Byron in 2008 adopted Chester, already a mature dog living at a rescue ranch.

dog adoption
The day they met in 2008, Byron signed on to be Chester’s human.

The intent was for Chester to be Molly’s companion but he was a friend to everyone he met and the steady rock of Byron’s home. He was a lot like Byron: caring, kindly, gracious, nonconfrontational, loyal, quiet and loving. Chester really liked to give hugs. A little over a year ago, he was given 30 days to live without medical intervention and Byron elected to give him chemotherapy. The dog went through chemo twice but it stopped working this April, when he was already over 13 years old. The past couple of months he didn’t show he was still suffering as it quietly reemerged. Instead, Chester enjoyed life per usual, and by that, I mean making the most of everyday. Each morning, Chester liked to enthusiastically start with a healthy breakfast before a snuggle session. He would stretch and hug and stretch more. Then hug again. Chester absolutely loved hanging out in the garden and backyard to watch the world go by. He was known to occasionally bag a dove (sneakily).

dog
Chester B. enjoying the outdoors

He acted very casual but he was serious about being steadfast. Between Molly and Higgins both being bossy boots, he stoically put up with a lot of nonsense. He would walk up to his humans and gently nudge for a little gratitude and petting. He also kissed when he felt appreciative. Chester was extraordinary with children. He was so loyal it felt as if he would be with us forever. Yesterday, he suddenly suffered from brain swelling and he was brave. He was able to say good-bye to many medical caregivers who got to know him. His grace was widely felt. Now, he truly is with us forever as our guardian angel. We love you, Chester, and are eternally grateful.

Love, Katharine & Byron

The Sage Leopard

Rosemary & Garlic Roasted Venison Tenderloins

Good eating is not confined to weekends. The Sage Leopard’s motto is reclaim your quality time, craft your own happiness. My happy place is sautéing garlic in olive oil on a weeknight. As the aroma wafts through me, the stress of the day melts away. Here’s a weeknight dinner that combines the tradition of meat and potatoes with refreshing salad and the bright tanginess of buttermilk. The menu is followed by the directions.

  • Twice-baked potatoes with buttermilk, butter, chives, cheese and paprika
  • Venison tenderloin: olive oil, crushed fresh garlic cloves, rosemary sprigs, twine, Dutch oven
  • Tangy salad: romaine, cucumber, red onion, sliced radishes, cherry or grape tomatoes; buttermilk dressing: buttermilk, mayonnaise, fresh lemon juice (1 lemon) and chopped fresh chives, salt and pepper.

The baked potatoes: Here’s where Chef Mike really is an outstanding helper. Wash off two potatoes, prick them with a fork and place in microwave. Mine actually has a setting for baking potatoes. If not, cook on high for 3 minutes, flip and cook again for 3.5 minutes. Let potatoes cool so you can hold them. Slice in half lengthwise. Slice into potato meat to make cross hatches and then scoop out middles to make potato boats, placing potato scoops into bowl. Before mashing potato, drizzle on buttermilk, a tablespoon of butter and 1/3 of cup of sour cream and/or shredded cheese. Then, mash it all together. Scoop potato mixture back into skins. Sprinkle with paprika. Put in preheated oven at 375 degrees. Warm through.

To soften up the potato before scooping, cross-hatch it with some butter.
To soften up the potato before scooping, cross-hatch it with some butter.

Salad: Clean and chop romaine leaves; Peel and chop cucumber; Thinly slice red onion; thinly slice radishes, cut tomatoes in half. Place cut veggies in a salad bowl. In a bowl or large glass measuring cup, mix one part buttermilk to one part mayo (1/4 cup each), juice of one freshly squeezed lemon and whisk. Add chopped chives, salt and pepper. Place dressing in fridge.

romaine salad
Season tomatoes before adding to rest of salad

Venison medallions: Go hunting, have your own meat in the freezer, etc. A few hours before dinner, remove previously prepared venison medallions from meat freezer and place vacuum-sealed package in sink to defrost. If you are going to be at work all day, move meat from freezer to fridge before you leave the house. Upon your return, soak meat package in hot water while you prepare other parts of the meal. Once defrosted, place meat in a mixing bowl or other deep dish with copious amounts of fresh minced garlic. Cut sprigs of rosemary from the garden (preferable to store-bought). Drizzle some olive oil over meat and massage it in with the garlic. Tie rosemary springs to meat with cooking twine. In a Dutch oven, such as a Lodge cast iron one, brown the meat on the stovetop. After browning, cover with lid and place in 375-degree oven.  and check on it in about, say, eight minutes. It depends on how thick the medallions are. You want to be careful with venison cooking time. It is very, very lean and will dry out if cooked too long. The olive oil and covered Dutch oven should help the meat retain moisture.

Venison medallions wrapped in rosemary sprigs
Venison medallions wrapped in rosemary sprigs

Once the meat it ready to eat, toss the salad with buttermilk dressing and set up dinner plates with venison and potatoes. Place plates on dinner table and set the salad bowl down in the middle. Dinner is served!

The Sage Leopard

Buttermilk recipes and other impromptu cooking moves

It all started with a bottle of frozen buttermilk. My philosophy with cooking is to work with what you got, when possible. My mother always says you should plan a menu based on what you see is fresh at the store. Borrowing from that idea, I try to plan based on what is on hand at the house. On the flip side, I tend to go to the store armed with a list inspired by two or three recipes I want to try and have prepared over the next few days or week. As for the buttermilk, before our last trip, I put the milk in the freezer.

cornbread
Buttermilk plays a key role in my Vermont-Texas cornbread recipe

Today, which I think is several weeks later, I opened the pantry, fridge and freezer – in that order – to see what was available. Spying the frozen buttermilk, I was immediately inspired. What if I made mashed cauliflower with buttermilk? And, of course, I can bake buttermilk cornbread. Check, check. Plus, we had asparagus in the fridge. Suddenly the following menu was born:

  • Garlic buttermilk mashed cauliflower
  • Sautéed asparagus with raclette cheese and tomatoes
  • Maple Texas buttermilk cornbread

Here’s how I went about it, one dish at a time.

Cornbread:

Before pulling out all the ingredients, preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit with cast iron skillet inside. Ingredients: Lamb’s Stone Ground Yellow Cornmeal (1 ½ cups), combined with ½ cup bread flour, 4 teaspoons sugar, 3 tsp. baking powder, ½ tsp. salt, 1 cup buttermilk, ¼ cup oil, 2 eggs and a 1/4 cup of real maple syrup.

cornbread
Cornbread baked in a cast-iron skillet

Directions: Simply put all the ingredients in one big mixing bowl and combine with a spoon or spatula. Pull out preheated skillet and place on stove top. Spray skillet with canola oil spray. Pour cornbread batter into greased skillet and place in over. Bake for 25 minutes or until golden brown. Place on stove top to cook. The bread should easily pop out of the skillet when cooled.

Mashed cauliflower: Ingredients to have on hand: one head cauliflower, garlic cloves, buttermilk, butter and olive oil. Break apart cauliflower and put florets in a microwave-safe dish. Add two cloves of peeled garlic (I initially used four cloves and it was, ahem, a bit too much).

Reducing the mashed cauliflower over low heat in a large saucepan
Reducing the mashed cauliflower over low heat in a large saucepan

Cook according to your microwave’s instructions for cooking vegetables. My Chef Mike actually has a specific setting for cooking vegetables and amounts by cups. Then put cooked florets in a large food processor. Add a tablespoon of butter, an ample splash of buttermilk, cover and crank it up. Open the top that allows the addition of further ingredients and add more buttermilk and drizzles of olive oil until combined. As it turned out, my batch had too much buttermilk so I ended up heating it on low in a saucepan to reduce the liquid. Later, I added some shredded Parmesan cheese.

Asparagus: Rinse asparagus in a colander, snap off ends, then snap into little pieces (1.5-2 inches). Saute in a nonstick pan. Once nearly cooked, add salt and sliced grape tomatoes. Finally, add some cheese. I used a raclette cheese, which is soft and strongly aromatic. Grind on black pepper.

Asparagus meeting up with tomatoes and cheese, always a great combination
Asparagus meeting up with tomatoes and cheese, always a great combination

This all came together and was served with venison steaks. It was a nice Sunday dinner and a good way to wrap up the weekend. It also was a great way to use the buttermilk that had been waiting in the freezer to be loved. I may just go get another piece of cornbread now.

Cheers,

The Sage Leopard

Meyer Lemon Chicken Salad

Why buy chicken salad from the store when it is easy to make it yourself? When it comes to anything with mayonnaise, such as tuna or chicken salad and potato salads, I prefer to make it myself. This chicken salad recipe incorporates something from our garden: Meyer lemon juice.

Just a small part of the Meyer lemon harvest
Just a small part of the Meyer lemon harvest

When the lemons are ready, we are overwhelmed with lemons. I give many away and am still overstocked. The solution is to squeeze most of them and freeze the juice in small containers. This way, I have a year-round supply of Meyer lemon juice. And a lot of it. Here are the basic ingredients, to which you can add or subtract. (For instance, some people cannot eat raw red onion.)

  • 1 cup Meyer lemon juice
  • three chicken breasts
  • celery (a few stalks for the poaching liquid & a few for the salad)
  • spices for poaching liquid: handful of pink peppercorns, handful of dried thyme, a bay leaf or two. Anything else you like.
  • 1/4 cup red onion, diced
  • 2 tablespoons (at least) of chopped, fresh parsley
  • Mayonnaise (I prefer Duke’s or Blue Plate)
  • Tabasco sauce
  • tablespoon or two of fresh Meyer lemon juice
  • salt and pepper, to taste
The finished chicken salad
The finished chicken salad

To Make: First of all, I don’t do everything at once. For example, I was hosting a ladies lunch on a Saturday, so I poached the chicken Friday night and put it in the fridge overnight. In the morning, I placed the cooked chicken on a cutting board and sliced, then diced it before placing in a large mixing bowl. To get started, fill a large pot about two-thirds. Pour in lemon juice and add celery, bay leaves and spices. Bring to a boil and place chicken breasts into the rolling boil. Keep it relatively high heat and cook for 3-5 minutes. Turn off the heat, cover and let sit for 15 minutes. Then, remove the chicken with tongs and place in a Tupperware or similar storage container and place in fridge overnight. Discard celery and bay leaves, and pour spicy, lemon water down drain. It may even deodorize your disposal! When you are ready to make the chicken salad, place the diced chicken in the bowl and add the diced red onion, freshly diced celery stalks and freshly chopped parsley. Place about a tablespoon of Dijon mustard in the bowl and about a quarter-cup of mayonnaise. Sprinkle or grind on salt and pepper. Stir it all together with a big spatula until really well combined. Cover bowl and let it sit in the refrigerator for a few hours before serving. The serving options are endless. I baked crescent rolls and also had a loaf of store-bought Sourdough bread on hand. The guests were choosing both options. The other fun thing about chicken salad is you can add or substitute ingredients, such as slivered almonds and/or red grape halves. A wonderful accompaniment to chicken salad sandwiches is fruit salad.

watermelon
Cutting up watermelon for fruit salad

For this ladies lunch, I served two different fruit salads: one was watermelon, pineapple and cantaloupe, and the second one was raspberries, strawberries and blueberries. Rather than put all the fruits in one bowl, I gave the option for the guests of taking either or both. Some people cannot eat seeds, so you want to keep certain berries out of the fruit salad. Another nice thing to serve at a gathering like this is pasta salad.

Velata garden dill
Velata garden dill artisan spice rub goes well with pasta salad

I had made one the night before with orecchiette (little round pasta), chopped arugula, diced red pepper and a dressing that was half Meyer lemon juice and half olive oil. The added special ingredient was a garden dill artisan spice mix. It tasted great the next day. I love entertaining by giving my guests delicious, fresh and colorful foods. I also love being able to do so in a way that doesn’t involve extensive work. Instead, we got to enjoy girls time, eat yummy food and drink Prosecco! I hope you like the Meyer lemon juice poaching idea and the ease of this chicken salad recipe.

Cheers,

The Sage Leopard