Friday, June 25, 2010

Quick Fall Dinner on a Cool Summer Night

This meal had no particular inspiration, except for the preparation of one component. I'm home alone this weekend with my 15 year-old son, and I had the opportunity to cook for once. An apparent lack of ingredients rose up like a spectre to challenge me from the kitchen's depths where I've spent far too little time lately.

The whole dinner was going to center around some fresh baby beets we received in our Boistfort Valley Farm CSA this week. I couldn't see wasting all those beautiful beet greens, so I knew I was at least going to have baby beets and fresh beet greens in the dinner, somewhere, somehow.

Sticking my head in the pantry turned up little to nothing, except for one lone sweet potato that almost literally cried, "Cook me!!".  Component number two so chosen.

Then, being guys, we had to have meat.  Mrs. Grampa Bill's Son (aka @kefishbu1 aka Beth) left me with strict, detailed-to-the-point-I-couldn't-remember-them instructions. One of the instructions had something to do with a turkey and the smoker. Ah, thankfully...another component for tonight's meal. Wait--that wasn't the meat, though; the turkey needed to be brined, and I wanted something quick.  Sigh.

A trip to the basement freezer turned up another package of last fall's deer.  Not just any cut of deer, though. There were backstrap steaks!! Oh thank you hunting gods, Great Spirit, Universe, or whomever/whatever put that doe in front of my arrow! Venison steaks it would be.

So there I had it: Fresh baby beets and greens, turkey parts from the now-brining turkey, a sweet potato, and venison backstrap.  I figured the turkey broth reduction I wanted would take the longest, so I started the pot boiling.  A little sea salt, some smoked garlic, the turkey tail and the giblets, and the meal was off to the races--er, at least as much as dead turkey parts can be.

Next, the beets.  No peeling or skinning here. Just chopped the greens off, and threw the bulbs in a pot of cold water to come to a boil while the turkey was giving me broth. I scrunched up the greens and cut them in 1/4" strips on a bias. The plan was to sauté them.

Once the beets were in the pot, I wrapped the sweet potato in plastic and tossed it in the microwave for a few minutes until it was soft.  This is the preparation inspiration I owe to @SaltySeattle (thank you, Linda!). I've never made gnocchi, but I've read about it plenty of times on Linda's website, With this attempt, something tells me Ms. Nicholson is leaving some details out of the preparation, but I still turned out something edible.  (Note to self for To Do list: Find out if Linda gives gnocchi lessons.)  I riced the potato through a colander, and added "just enough flour to make a dough", rolled it, one fourth at a time, into 8-10" ropes, and cut nuggets of stiff, sweet potato dough into a steamer--over the reducing turkey broth.

Next came the venison. Now, I don't like thawing meat in the microwave, but I especially dislike disrespecting game with a lack of forethought.  I hope my doe will forgive my poor planning. Despite my best efforts, the defrost cycle still managed to cook a couple of steaks around the edges; not ideal, but it had to do. Once thawed, they got a quasi-@SavorySweetLife treatment--a little fresh ground sea salt, a little fresh ground black pepper, and extra virgin olive oil in the pan. (Yes, you read that correctly.  I said, "oil in the pan." Tonight was to be a quick dinner, so no grill involved. I will eventually recover.)  Once the pan was at searing temp, the steaks got a minute on each side, leaving them a nice, juicy medium rare.

Setting them aside, I immediately threw the beet greens in the remaining oil and venison drippings, and I deglazed the pan by adding some balsamic vinegar.  I cooked the greens until they just started to wilt, and then I turned everything off.

I plated it all, poured the reduced turkey broth over the venison and the sweet potato gnocchi, and this is what I got.

I'm not one to blow my own horn, so I won't start a new practice with this meal.  Let's just say my 15-year-old, who is not a beet fan, nor a greens fan, thought this was, "Really good, Dad."  As for me, I liked the texture variety and the color combinations.

The beets were the sweetest, most flavorful I've had in a long time. So anxious for the plate were they, that they nearly jumped out of their skins and onto the plate. The greens remained just uncooked enough to have a little snap in the bite, and the balsamic vinegar gave them a nice tangy-ness.  The venison was perfectly done--browned on both sides and heated through, but nice and red inside. I was amazed at how well the greens/balsamic combination complemented the steak.  The gnocchi? Well, it wasn't as light as I'd hoped. In fact, it was very much on the pasty/gluey side.  Fortunately, the natural flavor of the sweet potato, combined with the strong turkey broth helped to overcome my dissatisfaction with the texture.

It took me more time to write this blog than it did to prep and cook the meal, and the obvious gusto with which Callaghan ate it made cooking it less than a chore.  It turned out to be a surprisingly quick meal, if a little hearty, for yet another cool summer evening in the Pacific Northwest.

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