Monday, March 26, 2012

Bakewell Tart

sweet pastry...raspberry jam...almond cream...mmm !

Bakewell Tart. No, I'm not singing my own praises...that's the real name of this delicious and oh-so-easy sweet treat. Named after a small town in Derbyshire, England, this is an old-time recipe, for sure...the story goes that in about 1820, a cook at the White Horse Inn in Bakewell was told to make a  pudding with jam and almonds, but accidentally layered it instead of mixing it together. The crowds went wild, and a star was born ! Well...not so fast, maybe. In reality, this sort of tart dates back to medieval times, when almonds and almond-based dishes were extremely popular.

I had actually never heard of this tart (I know, I couldn't believe it either !) until I was surfing the interwebs over the weekend and, as is my wont, checked in on the awesome Smitten Kitchen. SK has this neat little feature where links to the dishes from the past few years around the same date are shown - and it said that two years ago at this time, there was Bakewell Tart. The only "Bakewell" I had ever heard of was Bakewell Cream, which is a special baking power they use in Maine, and I couldn't figure out how the heck you'd make a tart out of that stuff. So I had to click...and once I saw what it was, I knew I had to make it for Mark. Mark is a nut about anything raspberry, and is a big fan of almond pasty-type items too.

SK recipes are always awesome and work perfectly, but I knew I'd be tweaking this one a bit - way more raspberry for the raspberry fiend, a few other tweaks to get the type of almond filling (or frangipane) I wanted...and a much easier tart shell. SK's was based on a Dorie Greenspan recipe, and even Dorie herself says that pressing the tart shell is perfectly fine and less fussy. I don't mind rolling dough, of course...but it cuts way down on the prep time if you can just press it in and avoid all the extra chilling. I promise, it comes out just as good this way...and gets you to the tart-enjoying much quicker :) Don't stress about the tart pan, can actually usually find surprisingly decent ones at a well-stocked supermarket. You could also probably use a springform pan - if that's all you have - instead. The tart pan does make it look all cool and professional, though !

My only regret here is that I didn't photograph along the way...I will definitely be making this again (possibly with a change in jam...blueberry, for me !) and promise more pictures.

Bakewell Tart

Based on a bunch of sources, though mostly Smitten Kitchen :)

1 Super Easy Sweet Tart Shell, partially baked in a 9-inch removable bottom tart pan (at least 2" deep)

1 cup almonds - skinless, and preferably blanched (slivered, chopped, or whole all work)
1 1/2 tablespoons all purpose flour
3/4 cup sugar
9 tablespoons (1 stick plus 1 tablespoon) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 eggs
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
Zest of 1 medium lemon
3/4 cup raspberry jam
Slivered or sliced almonds and powdered sugar , for garnish (optional)

If your almonds are not already chopped, chop them well in the food processor. Add flour, and finely grind the mixture. Mix in sugar, then butter, extract and zest. Blend until smooth, then blend in eggs. Transfer filling to medium bowl. Cover and chill at least an hour .

Position rack in center of oven and preheat to 350°F. Spread jam over base of tart shell. Dollop the almond filling all over, then spread it carefully with an offset or small metal spatula (do not mix into the're going for layers here). If using slivered or sliced almonds as garnish, sprinkle them over the top. Bake tart until golden and tester inserted into center of filling comes out clean, about 45 minutes. Cool tart in pan on rack. Sprinkle with powdered sugar.

To serve, push pan bottom up, releasing tart from pan. Cut tart into wedges and sprinkle with additional powdered sugar, if desired.

Super Easy Sweet Tart Shell
Makes enough for one 9-inch tart crust

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup confectioner’s sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 stick plus 1 tablespoon (9 tablespoons; 4 1/2 ounces) very cold (or frozen) unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1 large egg, with about half of the egg white separated out (save the white if you are fully baking shell)

Pulse the flour, sugar and salt together in the bowl of a food processor. Scatter the pieces of butter over the dry ingredients and pulse until the butter is coarsely cut in. (You’re looking for some pieces the size of oatmeal flakes and some the size of peas.) Stir the egg yolk (just to break it up and mix the bit of white in), and add it a little at a time, pulsing after each addition. When the egg is in, process in long pulses–about 10 seconds each–until the dough, which will look granular soon after the egg is added, forms clumps and curds (it will look like wet, clumpy sand). Turn the dough out into the buttered tart pan.

Press the dough evenly along the bottom and up the sides of the pan. Freeze the crust for at least 30 minutes, before baking.

To fully or partially bake the crust: Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 375. Prick holes all over the crust with a fork. Butter the shiny side of a piece of aluminum foil (or use nonstick foil) and fit the foil, buttered side down, tightly against the crust. If you have pie weights or beans, use them here as well…just added insurance against it puffing up too much. Put the tart pan on a baking sheet and bake the crust for 20 minutes. Carefully remove the foil (and weights, if using). If the crust has puffed, press it down gently with the back of a spoon.

To fully bake the shell, brush with remaining egg white and bake about 10 - 15 minutes longer, or until it is firm and golden brown. To partially bake it, brush with the egg white but only bake an additional 5 minutes. Transfer the pan to a rack and cool the crust to room temperature, and proceed with the rest of your recipe

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Restaurant Review - Paisano's, Waltham MA

Pepe Boquitas
I can't even believe it's taken me this long to get to Paisano's. It's not my fault,  though ! I definitely plan to make up for my neglect in the future.

Paisano's ( )  opened in 2006, replacing a Southwestern-type place called Buckaroo's (where Steven Tyler was known to breakfast occasionally, back in the day). The menu is billed as "Mexican-Guatemalan", though there are some Salvadoran dishes as well. This place is maybe a half mile from my house, and that's only assuming I don't cut through any yards - we walk right by it on our way to Moody Street (Waltham's "Restaurant lucky am I that I can walk there ?? ) . When we first moved to the neighborhood many years ago, we used to eat at Buckaroo's occasionally...somehow the quality declined the longer they were there, though, and eventually they closed.

When Paisano's opened, my guys and my inlaws checked it out a few times, and came back with pretty consistent reviews..."that place SUCKS". "McMexican", they called it - bad Mexican fast food. Worse then Taco Bell. So I've stayed away all these years...though on summer walks to Moody Street, I'd look longingly at the outdoor tables, filled with happy smiling margarita people being serenaded by a mariachi band. "Is it really that bad ?" I'd ask...and the answer was always "yes !".

Cut to a few months ago. Mark ended up stopping at Paisano's bar with a friend, and was a little hungry...he decided to be brave, and order ceviche. (That took some balls - I definitely would have not ordered raw seafood at a questionable joint !) . Thinking it would be just a small, so-so bite, he was astounded when he was served a giant, oversized margarita glass, piled high with some really amazing, fresh, absolutely delicious seafood. Paisano's, it seemed, had kicked it up and started making actual food.

Since we've been having summer in March this week in Boston, it seemed a perfect time to do one of our walks to Moody Street....which meant walking right by Paisano's. This time, the happy smiling margarita people won (too early in the year for the band, I guess) , so we took a seat...and I am so, SO glad we did !

We started out, of course, with margaritas :

Black Raspberry and House Margaritas
These were some fine, fine margaritas - plenty strong, and I loved the black raspberry option. House was stock, but good. Chips were hot, salsa was fresh...oh yeah, definitely see more of this in my future.

Next up was the Pepe Boquitas (pictured at top of post). Boquitas are basically a Central-South American version of tapas...little bites to have with drinks. Our super smiley, cute-as-a-button, fantastic waitress warned us that it was huge...we should have listened, as this would have served a few people for dinner. A giant platter, chock full of steak, carne adobada (marinated, grilled meat), grilled chicken, shrimp, cassava, fresh cheese, and fried plantains, garnished with grilled scallions, grilled jalapeno peppers and cilantro. Beautifully seasoned (but not overly so), perfectly cooked, absolutely delicious. We ate a small portion and brought the rest home, and I have to tell you - I am eating a bowl of it now, and it is still awesome. So hard to tear ourselves away, but we had entrees to try - and at this point, based on what we had had so far, we couldn't wait !

Parrillada Chapana 

The entrees did not disappoint. Mark ordered the Parrillada Chapina, which is billed as "the perfect dish if you want to try a variety of Guatemalan flavors". Basically a Guatemalan mixed grill, this one included chicken, carne adovada, churrasco, and chorizo. Garnished with scallions and cilantro, served with fluffy corn tortillas - this was a definite win.           

Enchilada Del Mar

My entree - the Enchilada Del Mar - absolutely rocked. Stuffed with shrimp and sauteed onions, peppers and tomatoes, and napped in an utterly amazing chipotle cream sauce. Not a sour cream, but possibly crema-based...whatever it was, it was totally addictive and I could not stop eating it !

This is definitely a place I plan to go back to often - I should add that the prices are super reasonable, at least by our standards :). The only cons would be that if you eat outside, be prepared for a lot of street noise - High Street is a very busy street. It's also across the street from Calvary Cemetery. If those sorts of things bother you,  definitely eat inside (it didn't overly bother us, though). Otherwise, prepare for absolute Culinary Orgasm !

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Sláinte !!

Ed. note - last in a series of St. Pat's-related re-posts. Enjoy !

Apple Crisp with Irish Oatmeal topping and Whiskey Whipped Cream
Our annual St. Patrick's Feast was held this past weekend, and a grand, super, brilliant time it was, too. We somehow crammed 14 people in our tiny apartment for the usual Irish-American spread of corned beef and cabbage, potatoes, turnips and other various and sundry vegetables, apple crisp, and of course, plenty of beer and whiskey !

plenty of wet whistles !

Recipes at the end of the entry...

First, a word about the meal itself. Corned beef is actually not really a particularly Irish dish. Much more popular in Ireland is Boiled Bacon and Cabbage - but you need real Irish bacon for that, not always available here. The dinner we served is actually pretty much a New England Boiled Dinner...except that often is made with a picnic shoulder instead of corned beef, and has more vegetables. Confused yet ? You should be !!

Here's a bit more on corned beef, from Wikipedia : "Despite being a major producer of beef, most Irish...did not regularly consume the meat product in either fresh or salted form. This was due in large part to its prohibitive cost in Ireland, the fact that the beef cattle were owned by the British colonisers and not by the Irish, and that most if not all of the corned beef was exported. Despite the popular assumption in North America that corned beef dishes are typical of traditional Irish cuisine, it was not until the wave of 18th century Irish immigration to the United States that much of the ethnic Irish first began to consume corned beef. In Ireland today, the serving of corned beef is geared toward tourist consumption and most Ireland Irish do not identify the ingredient with native cuisine. The popularity of corned beef over bacon to the immigrated Irish was likely present due to that fact that corned beef in their native land was considered a luxury product, but was cheaply and readily available in America". Pretty interesting stuff !

Back to our spread...first, we started with a selection of Irish cheeses (two farmhouse cheddars and a Cashel Blue, which is an Irish blue cheese ..very delicate and sweet. )

Next up, the main course :

Here's the Beef !

Vegetables, Soda Bread

Mark's Corned Beef is really amazing. He adds a secret ingredient to the boiling water : grapefruit juice. I'm not 100% sure what it really does in there...I know it's a natural enzyme, so it makes things more tender. And I know that whatever it does, his is the best corned beef I've ever had and the only one I'll usually eat.

My Irish Soda Bread was written up a few months on the link for the details. This meal is really when I get into it...made six loaves this year, and they ALL went !!

The dessert for this meal - Irish Apple Crisp with Whiskey Whipped Cream - is really just amazing. I've been making apple crisps for years, of's one of my family's favorite desserts. I have two that I make - one with a flour and sugar crust, and one with an oatmeal topping...I wanted something Irish, so Irish Oatmeal it was. The whiskey whipped cream is something I saw mentioned years ago in connection with another recipe, which I thought might work here...and oh, baby, does it work. Something about the whiskey, the oats, the apples and the spices all combines for, well, a Culinary Orgasm :

starting the topping

finished product
After all this feasting, of course, all we really wanted to do is sit around and drink whiskey. Good thing we had plenty !

a few of my favorite things...
Another year, another amazing dinner party...seriously, I love my family and friends. Sláinte to you and yours...and may you be in Heaven a half hour before the devil knows you're dead !!

Mark's Corned Beef

Mark says "If you can find a whole brisket, buy it - that way you get the point and flat at the same time, and some people prefer one or the other. The corned beefs made from eye of the round are also great, as they don't shrink and have less fat. On gray vs red...go with your personal preference. Gray is tougher and saltier, but more traditional in New England."

Recipe is given for one whole brisket...adjust accordingly. It's corned beef, pretty hard to get the proportions wrong !

1 whole corned beef brisket
water to cover (will change once)
2 cups grapefruit juice (unsweetened - 100% juice)
1/2 tablespoon pickling spice (if the beef comes with a packet, great !)
1 tsp whole peppercorns
3 medium onions, skinned but left whole
6 lbs small whole white potatoes (leave skins on)
2 whole yellow turnips (good sized)
2 pounds carrots, peeled
2 heads cabbage, cut in eighths (leave a bit of the core on to hold it together

Rinse meat and put aside spice packet. Place in pot with water to cover. Bring to a low boil, and let boil for about 30 minutes. Drain and change the water in the pot, adding the grapefruit juice, onions and spices to the meat. Make sure you have enough liquid in the pot to add some vegetables later. Boil for about 2 1/2 hours. Add the potatoes and turnips at about the 2 hour 15 minute mark. Pull the beef out and cover (leave the potatoes and turnips in), and add the carrots and cabbage. Boil the vegetables for another 15 minutes, or until tender.

Apple Crisp with Irish Oatmeal

6 cups apples -- peeled and sliced
3 teaspoons cinnamon (or more to taste), divided
1 ½ teaspoons nutmeg (or more to taste), divided
Half a lemon
1 cup rolled oats (McCann’s Quick Cooking is best)
3/4 cup all purpose flour
3/4 cup brown sugar (I usually do light, or half light half dark)
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, room temperature

Heat oven to 375 degrees. Place apples in ungreased 2-quart rectangular baking dish or pan. Toss with 2 teaspoons of the cinnamon, 1 teaspoon of the nutmeg, and the juice from the lemon half.

In large bowl, combine remaining ingredients including rest of cinnamon and nutmeg; mix with pastry blender or fork until crumbly. Sprinkle crumb mixture evenly over apples. Bake 25 to 35 minutes or until apples are tender and topping is golden brown. Serve warm with cream, ice cream or whipped cream...or, to really do it right :

Whiskey Whipped Cream

1 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons powdered sugar
2 tablespoons (or to taste) Irish whiskey (recommended : The Knot)

Whip the cream until it begins to form soft peaks. Add the sugar and whiskey and beat until stiff peaks form. Cover and chill until needed. 

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

a full Irish Breakfast, Culinary Orgasm style

Ed. note - second in a series of three St. Patrick's Day reposts this week...stay tuned for Corned Beef tomorrow !!

just a small part of the spread

I really love having people over for breakfast. Well, really, I love having people over for any meal, but breakfast is just fun. And Irish breakfasts are especially satisfying...just the thing for a day's hard labor. Or, in our case, a day's hard pub crawl (our traditional activity on St. Patrick's Day proper....we are lucky enough to live within crawling walking distance of some fine'll have to check Facebook for those photos though ;) ).

We are also lucky enough to live within easy shopping distance of everything you need for a full Irish - and this year we put on a real winner. Whole Foods carries fantastic bangers (Irish sausages) as well as clotted cream, and this week had some of the best strawberries I have ever eaten in my life (which is why we needed clotted cream !) . Russo's has rashers (Irish bacon), and black and white puddings, which are also forms of sausage, using oatmeal as filler. White is pork meat and fat, and black is a blood sausage spiced with clove. I know what you're thinking...but calm down and try really is delicious ! Corned Beef Hash from the boiled dinner leftovers of course, and Irish Brown Bread to round out the meal (with some amazing blood orange marmalade from Stonewall Kitchen). Oh, and eggs...keep reading for the eggs.

Rashers, Black and White Puddings
Corned Beef Hash
oh, those strawberries !!
Irish Brown Bread

Mark did a fantastic job with all the meat, and his Corned Beef Hash is killer - it's the only time I actually eat turnips !

The eggs, though...that was my department. The problem with serving eggs at a big breakfast is that they're not the easiest thing to make in advance, especially fried eggs which are the most traditional in a full Irish. I could have done a mess of scrambled eggs or something, but that seemed kind of boring. However, Mark had given me a cookbook years ago as a Christmas gift (I sort of collect them), and it had a Baked Eggs with Creamy Leeks recipe that I'd always wanted to try. The perfect thing about them is you bake them all at once and just serve them up...exactly what I wanted. Besides, I seriously love soups, roasted, steamed, sauteed....any way you cook them, I want them. I adapted the recipe quite a bit - really, it was just the general idea that I liked - and oh my god, were these insanely good. So luxurious, and yet soooo easy. Definite Culinary Orgasm !

Leek-y goodness
Filling the cups
Finished product
Baked Eggs with Creamy Leeks
Heavily adapted from "The Ultimate Christmas Cookbook"

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, plus extra to grease custard cups
3 medium leeks, white and tender green only, cleaned and thinly sliced (see note)
2 - 3 shallots, thinly sliced
3/4 cup heavy cream
salt, pepper, and ground nutmeg to taste
12 eggs

Preheat oven to 375. Grease bottom and sides of 12 custard cups or other small ovenproof cups. Melt the 2T of butter in a frying pan, and saute the leeks and shallots until soft (not brown), about 10 minutes. Add 1/2 cup of the cream and cook over low heat for about 5 minutes, stirring, until cream thickens a bit. Add salt, pepper, and a pinch of nutmeg to taste.

Divide leek mixture among the cups (which you have placed in a large roasting / baking pan), and carefully crack an egg into each one. Drizzle the remaining cream on top of the eggs, and season lightly with additional salt, pepper, and nutmeg (go easy with the nutmeg or it will try and take over !) Fill the pan with hot hot water until it reaches halfway up the cups, and place the whole pan in the oven. Bake for 10 - 15 minutes, or until the eggs are done to your liking.

Note : to clean leeks - cut the leeks in half lengthwise, and rinse well (leeks trap mud like crazy). Soak for 15 minutes in a bowl with water to cover, to which you have added a tablespoon of cider vinegar. Lift leeks out (leave sand in bottom of bowl) and proceed.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Irish Soda Bread

Ed. note - this week, I will be reprinting my favorite St. Patrick's Day entries, in preparation for the big day on Saturday. Here's the first of the three. " May you have warm words on a cold evening, a full moon on a dark night, and the road downhill all the way to your door !"
grand, super, brilliant !

First off, a shout out to Culinary Orgasm's new official main photographer...#1 Son Alex. Alex took all of the pictures in this entry with his new Nikon Coolpix, and he's done a great job - see the end of this entry for more of his work. Much easier having someone else wield the camera !

So...Irish Soda Bread. I cannot make this bread without thinking about Uncle Ed. Growing up, I spent every summer with Uncle Ed (great uncle, technically) and Narn (my great aunt Alice, who everyone called "Narn"). Uncle Ed was a textbook Southie guy, an Irish American war vet with a gruff exterior covering the biggest heart of anyone I've ever known. Uncle Ed took to retirement in Maine with gusto - dog food in his pockets everywhere he went, a fixture on his benches waiting for the mail, reading his Herald, listening to the Sox or just watching the world go by. He doted on his nieces and nephews, and no birthday was ever complete without Uncle Ed calling and singing "Happy Birthday" in his trademark vibrato-filled baritone. Lord, I miss that man.

In any event, as much as Uncle Ed loved Maine, he was always so happy when folks came down from Boston - especially from Southie, and especially if they came bearing Irish Soda Bread for him to have with his beloved tea. His eyes would light up, and he'd make that stuff last as long as he possibly could. But it was only when I married a part-Irishman and learned to actually appreciate a good corned beef dinner that I even thought about making it myself. It took a few tries, but now I really have it down...I think Uncle Ed would have absolutely loved this, and that is saying something. I only wish I had made it for him when he was still alive...don't put things off, folks. Do things for the people you love now. I promise you, you'll both feel better for it.

A few notes about the calls for two ingredients you may not have around the house, buttermilk and Golden Cane Sugar. Golden Cane Sugar is a very light brown natural sugar with a fantastic flavor - like brown sugar but not quite as much molasses flavor. I use it in all sorts of things so usually have it around - but you can very easily substitute one tablespoon of regular brown sugar and one of white sugar with no ill effects. The buttermilk, though, really is essential. The slight acidity of the buttermilk reacts with the baking soda to make your final bread super light and moist (the bane of many soda bread recipes is that the loaf is heavy and dry). If you are absolutely in a bind, add two tablespoons of white vinegar to the 3/4 cup of milk and let sit at room temperature for 10 will work, but really not as well as real buttermilk. Buttermilk is sold right next to the regular milk at my trusty Stop + Shop, so it's not hard to find...this bread - and Uncle Ed - are worth the real thing.

Irish Soda Bread

2 cups flour
2 tablespoons Golden Cane Sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons butter
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons buttermilk
1/2 cup currants

In a bowl combine flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Cut the butter into the flour mixture with a pastry blender or two knives. Add the buttermilk and mix thoroughly into a soft dough. Add the currants. Knead the dough lightly on a lightly floured board for 3 minutes or until smooth. Form the dough into a 7 inch flat round, and place in a lightly oiled cake tin. Cut a cross about 1/2 inch deep in the center of the round. Bake in a 375 oven 40 minutes, and cool on a wire rack.

dry ingredients waiting for butter (double batch)

mix until it's a soft dough

kneading in the currants (my bowl is huge so I can do it right in the bowl)

cut a cross into the top

out of the oven

perfect !!

don't you want some ?

Monday, March 5, 2012

Crab and Shrimp Risotto with Herbs

Oh man, do I love me some risotto. I've written about my mushroom risotto before - a luscious, unctuous concoction that is heaven by itself but makes sweet, sweet love to things like lamb. Can't always make the same old thing, though...and one of the great thing about risotto is that it really gets along well with pretty much anything you want to mix into it. This weekend, we decided that a seafood risotto would pair perfectly with our stuffed peppers - so seafood it was. The one slight difference with a seafood risotto is that traditionally, Italians don't put cheese in it. (I won't tell if you do, go ahead and maybe stash some on the table just in case :) ).

Any type of seafood would probably work here - scallops, squid, lobster...whatever you like. Just make sure it's cooked before you stir it in, since you're not really cooking it in the rice.

Enjoy !

Crab and Shrimp Risotto
loosely based on a Williams-Sonoma recipe

1 large garlic clove, finely chopped
6 Tbs. olive oil
3/4 lb. small or medium shrimp, peeled and deveined
3/4 lb. fresh-cooked crabmeat, picked over to remove any shell fragments
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
2 cups seafood or fish stock 
4 - 6 cups chicken stock
3 shallots, finely chopped
1 tablespoon butter
2 cups medium-grain rice (arborio or carnaroli)
1/2 cup dry white wine (warmed)
1/4 cups chopped fresh herbs -  flat-leaf parsley, basil, chives pictured...or use your favorites !

In a saute pan over medium heat, sauté the garlic in half of the olive oil, stirring once or twice, until the garlic is fragrant, 1 to 2 minutes. Add the shrimp, season with salt and pepper and cook, stirring, until the shrimp are just about done, 3 -4 minutes. Gently stir in the crabmeat, and set aside.

Mix the broths together in a saucepan, and bring just barely to a simmer.

In a large saucepan or risotto pan over medium heat, warm the remaining oil along with the butter until the butter melts. Add the shallots and sauté until tender and translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the rice and cook, stirring, until the kernels are hot and coated with oil, about 2 minutes. Add the wine and continue to cook, stirring often, until the liquid is absorbed.

Add the broth a ladleful at a time, stirring constantly and making sure the liquid has been absorbed before adding more. When the rice is about half cooked, stir in the herbs, salt and pepper and lower the heat a bit. The risotto is done when the rice grains are creamy on the outside and firm yet tender to the bite, 30 - 40 minutes total. Rice varies, so you may not need all of the broth. 

Stir in the shrimp and crabmeat and cook, stirring gently, just until heated through, about 2 minutes. Taste and adjust the seasonings.

Remove the risotto from the heat and serve immediately.

Serves 6 to 8.

Trencher Venison Stew (crockpot)

I're sitting there asking yourself why on earth deer would wear trenchcoats. Or why I just didn't call this "Venison Stew in Bread Rolls". Blame George R.R. Martin, that's what I say.

First, a history of trenchers. Trenchers are not, in fact, coats. They are basically a sort of plate, made from stale bread, that were popular in medieval times. Bread for trenchers was specially made to be very sturdy, with a substantial crust - and then allowed to go stale, forming the perfect base for the stews, roasted meats, etc that were a staple of medieval cuisine. Feasts for the wealthy would feature fresh trenchers for each course - even dessert ! The bread could of course be eaten, but was often given to the poor or thrown to the dogs as a sort of status symbol - "we're so rich, we can even throw away bread...Sir Donald of the Trump got nothin' on us !"

And now, enter ol' George R.R. For those who don't know, George R.R. Martin is the author of the "Song of Ice and Fire" series of books - better known to TV types as "Game of Thrones", though that's really just the name of the first book. The novels are of the "epic fantasy" genre - sort of a cross of "Dune" and "Lord of the Rings". The HBO series is fantastic, and after watching the first season we promptly ordered up the book series. I haven't finished the first one yet, but my guys are already on the fifth and latest - and are absolutely hooked. One of the recurring themes in the books is food - plenty of feasting and all, described to the last detail. The setting of the books is pretty much are the feasts. And with a freezer still stocked with venison...and a visit from the bread fairy...a little tribute to my guys, and their literary obsession :).

Trencher Venison Stew
Can easily be served over egg noodles, if you prefer - or even made with beef...

2 1/2 - 3 pounds venison (or beef), cut into chunks
2 cups beef stock
1 cup chopped onions
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 1/2 cups chopped carrots
1 1/2 cups chopped celery
2 (15 ounce) cans fire roasted diced tomatoes, undrained
2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
2 teaspoons fresh thyme, stripped from stems
1 bay leaf
salt and pepper to taste
1 loaf sturdy bread (French, sourdough, or whatever you like), stale if possible, cut into very thick slices OR 1 pound wide egg noodles, cooked

3 tablespoons butter and 3 tablespoons flour (optional - for thick gravy)

In a large slowcooker, place the venison cubes, stock, onion, garlic, carrots, celery, tomatoes, Worcestershire, thyme, bay leaf, salt and pepper.

Cover and cook on HIGH for 4 hours, or low for 7-8 hours. Serve over bread slices (or wide egg noodles, if you prefer !)

OPTIONAl : If you prefer a beef stew with a thick gravy, about 20 minutes before you want to serve turn the crockpot to HIGH. Melt the butter in a small saucepan and whisk in the flour. Whisk in the broth from the crockpot, a ladleful at a time, until you have a nice thick gravy. Whisk this back into the crockpot, and let cook another 15-30 minutes or so.