Venison Steak, Red Beet-Cranberry Purée, and Country Fried Potatoes

As we’ve eaten our way through the deer I killed last fall, I’ve started cooking some of the backstraps, those beautiful 20+-inch-long pieces of loin. I’m thrilled to say that this is without a doubt the best venison steak I’ve ever eaten, and it has totally justified spending three days in a tree strand. The meat is both pleasantly gamy and butter-tender, thus surpassing beef filet mignon. And unlike restaurant servings that often consist of one tiny little medallion, for once quality comes with quantity! 

Summer may just have started, but read this post again in a month when the temperature hits 100 F and your AC breaks down. Imagine yourself in your mythical Russian dacha in the fall. After a fructuous hunt some previous day, you decide to hit the woods again to look for mushrooms after last night’s storm, and fill a basket within a few hours. You happen to walk by a cranberry bush on your way home, and fill another basket, patting yourself on the back for never leaving the house without two empty baskets. Before going into the kitchen, you stop in your garden, where, of course, you always grow beautiful red beets. And you still have potatoes from the last harvest. Skipping the part where you milk the cow, you collect the cream and make butter, you contemplate nature’s bounty as you pause between two chapters of The Omnivore’s Dilemma, and you notice, almost in passing, that you now have all the ingredients for a dish that combines the five tastes: steak that will be properly seasoned with salt, a beet-cranberry purée that’s acidic, bitter, and sweet at the same time, and umami-packed mushrooms.

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Russian Fritto Misto with Cucumber Ketchup

On the heels of yet another recent trip to Pulaski, I went fishing with Captain Troy and came back home with two walleye. Walleye is the North American cousin of European pike-perch, a species found throughout Eastern Europe in places such as the basins of the Danube, the Black Sea, and the Caspian Sea. And so, my catch begged for an Eastern European recipe, such as… fritto misto.

Walleye

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Nesselrode, Part 2: the Restaurateur, the Old-Timers, and their Pie

You might remember the story of the Nesselrode Pudding; or, how Paris’ best pastry chef created a dessert for the Russian occupants while working for that turncoat Talleyrand. But perhaps your senile great-grandparents have fondly reminisced about a popular dessert of their New York youth, a symbol of a bygone era, in a slightly different format: the Nesselrode Pie.

I haven’t yet found any solid information on how the delicious chestnut pudding crossed the Atlantic to eventually become a classic New York pie. What I do know is that the pie, as older locals used to know it, was popularized by restaurateur Hortense Spier…

Nesselrode Pie

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Marinated Wild Mushrooms

Just like picking fruit and making preserves, gathering mushrooms and marinating them is a Russian classic. The weekend pastime harkens back to a time when communist citizens were free from the dictatorship of consumerism and social networks, and Muscovites could enjoy the simple comforts of their suburban datchas without spending hours in traffic jams and taking out half a dozen bank loans.

This recipe is loosely adapted from Anya von Bremzen’s Please to the Table. I like my marinated mushrooms with a relatively low level of acidity so I can still taste the mushrooms. The downside is that the brine probably isn’t suited for long-term preservation, so be sure to eat them all within a few days. Regular readers of this blog won’t be surprised to see me using wild mushrooms. Porcini work great, and can be coupled with other spring vegetables. Chanterelles are equally suitable, and it seems that they’re available year-round nowadays, most likely as imports from all corners of the world.

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2014′s Spring Turkey, and Wild Turkey Emulsion Sausages

During deer hunting season last fall, when Huntsman Stan mentioned that he’d had a success rate of 100% during the 2013 spring turkey season, I was a bit skeptical. I’ve seen firsthand how hard it can be to find those gobblers and bring them into gun range, and yet there was Stan, telling me he guided for turkey in multiple states for three whole months, and got at least one bird with every single one of his clients.

I had to find out for myself if he could really pull that off, or if he was just bragging. So the first weekend in May, off I went, all the way up to Pulaski for the fourth time in the last eight months (read about my previous jaunts here, here, and here). Guess how it went:

Turkey Hunting - New York

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Yellow Perch Cutlets, Artichoke Varenyky and Morel Sauce

So spring is here (sort of — it was still 35 F in upstate New York yesterday). While I still have dozens of yellow perch from a recent ice fishing trip, I’m starting to see spring vegetables here and there. As the freezer must be emptied and the vegetables consumed in the name of seasonality, I wanted to create a dish to celebrate the transition from winter to spring.

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Blueberry Pie with Sour Cream and Vodka Chiboust Cream

The idea to make a blueberry pie started with a rather prolific day of blueberry picking last summer at Fishkill Farms, which left us with way more berries than we really needed to make preserves. Having found a recipe for blueberry pie filling, I decided to give it a try.

It didn’t strike me, then, how misguided this solution was for the original problem. First off, we ended up with even more jars than we would have if we’d just done a bunch of preserves, and these jars further reduced our usable refrigerator space, sitting next to my bric-a brac of wine bottles, sausage casings, and onion jams (a piece of advice if you ever make onion jam: no matter how good it tastes, you probably won’t eat quite so much of it). Second, my regular readers — and WordPress tells me they really do exist! — will probably have noticed that opening a jar, pouring its contents into a store-bought crust, and calling it a day isn’t exactly the style we go for on this blog.

Blueberry Pie with Sour Cream and Vodka Chiboust Cream

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Venison and Root Vegetable Tourtière

Some readers may remember the tourtière du lac from M. Wells Steakhouse, a debauchery of game meat encased in pie crust that fits quite well with my somewhat idealized conception of Eastern European cuisine — the one wherein everyone hunts for their own food, and then spends their days making excessive yet elaborate recipes overflowing with meat, root vegetables, rich sauces, and pie crust.

As much as I loved the idea, I was a little disappointed that the various meats in M. Wells’ version were hard to distinguish from one another and suggested offering fewer meats, with variations on texture instead. Putting my money where my mouth is, I started working on my own venison-centric version.

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Venison and Beet Sausages

I’ve already posted recipes for goose sausageslake trout sausages, salmon sausages (with beef fat). With two deer in the freezer, venison sausages were the natural thing to do next, and I might very well come up with more than one version. Today’s venison sausages are made with beets.

Beets contain a flavor compound called geosmin that’s responsible for their earthy taste. In fact, the word geosmin comes from “earthy smell” in Greek. This is the same compound that you find in red wine with earthy notes, and fish with a muddy taste (more on this here). I couldn’t find a list of the flavor compounds in venison, but in my sausages, the smell from the beets serves as a subtle reminder of the deer’s natural habitat. While you can’t really pinpoint the beet flavor in the final product, you do taste something that complements the flavorful venison meat.

Venison Sausages

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Lake Ontario Yellow Perch Ukha, Perch Fritters, and Perch Roe Croutons

Russian Cuisine - Perch Ukha

When I posted about my recent yellow perch frenzy on Lake Ontario, I forgot to mention one important fact that connects my ice fishing endeavors to the theme of this blog: yellow perch is closely related to the European perch, which is very popular with anglers in Eastern Europe.

In kitchens back in Mother Russia, perch is often smoked, fried, baked, or boiled, and served with all kinds of vegetables and mushrooms. It’s often the fish of choice for making ukha, a Russian fish soup that’s almost as thin as a broth.

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