Tag Archives: Guest Blogger

Weekend Cooler Challenge Recipe: Venison

I’m a big fan of healthy food you can take on the go, especially since Thadd and I are pretty active. And, he needs hand-held foods for lunches because he’s often eating it while running between classes.  Empañadas are perfect, and this recipe is one I plan to try out as soon as my nephews get me some more venison (hey, guys, if either of you two are reading, this is a hint!). Take it away, Gaylin!
Venison, Wild Mushrooms, and Caramelized Onion Empañadas
My husband’s family is big on hunting for several reasons. Foremost among them, however, is our ability to control our source of meat and how it’s processed. Almost all the red meat in our house comes from deer we’ve taken off his family’s ancestral farm. Last year’s harvest included two good-sized bucks and we still had some of the ground bits left (the tenderloins were the first eaten, of course). I caramelized a white onion that I’d diced up, though that onion had seen better days and really needed to be used. To this, I added several cloves of mince garlic and the venison for a quick fry. The meat cooks alarmingly fast because of how lean it is. We still had some of the mushrooms left from the other dishes I cooked, so I added those to the pot too.
Now this is where my amounts get a little iffy. I’ve cooked a dish like this since before I was married many years ago, so I don’t really know the exact amounts, but I can tell you roughly what else it has. The venison needed a little sauce to really keep it from being dry in the meat pies. I cast about in the fridge and found a lonely little bottle of homemade stout beer that a friend had gifted my husband with and it bravely sacrificed itself to the cause. To this, I added a goodly splash of soy sauce and another goodly splash of some homemade white vinegar I had on hand. Spices added included a large quantity of black pepper, but also a dash of cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamon, long pepper, cubebs, and salt. All this simmered away merrily at medium low heat until the liquid had turned to a thickened gravy and everything was nicely coated.
 This is where I used Shawn’s awesome crust recipe using some of the last of the homemade apple sauce I had on hand.
The flour was the whole wheat flour I had from Hampshire Farms. I love this crust because it behaves so very nicely to everything. My next goal with it is to roll it thinner. I am so glad Gaylin liked this crust, though I really can’t take credit for it personally. Vegetarian Times really hit a winner with this one. We make it in triple batches, freeze it with the banana-black bean filling they have in their recipe, and freeze them for snacks and lunches. They come out perfectly every time, and it’s nice that we have a use for any extra applesauce we make and don’t get eaten!
After the mixture had cooled to room temperature, I separated the pie crust into 6 good sized chunks, rolled them out into thin ovals, set the filling in the center and rolled them up, crimping the edges. These went into a 350F oven for about 45 minutes until the crusts had browned nicely and I was confident that the filling was hot through. Onto a rack to cool completely and then I packed them away from the trip, layered between wax papers just in case there was any residual moisture that leaked. I didn’t want them to stick together.
These would likely work with beef, too, and I may give that a try soon since I doubt I’ll get any more venison before winter (since it is, after all, illegal to hunt them at the moment). Tomorrow, the finishing touches, and a wrap-up of how this whole thing worked out!

Weekend Cooler Challenge Recipe: Spring Rolls

I love spring rolls. They’re a great way to make salad an on-the-go food, for one. But, they’re also versatile and beautiful. I suggested them to Gaylin in my menu ideas, and she thought it sounded like fun. Since she’d never used the rice wrappers before, I mentioned that I often double them up to keep them from ripping open (they’re fairly delicate, so if you’re using anything that has sharp edges, like carrot sticks, this can happen fairly easily).

Fresh Vegetable Spring Rolls

I have to confess the idea of using rice paper wrappers terrified the bejezus out of me when this was first floated as a possible recipe. I mean rice paper? It’s tissue paper delicate, right? My big fumbly fingers can can chop and dice with the best of them, but I am not a decorative cook by any means. And rice paper wrappers look…elegant. Delicate. Special. When I went to my favorite little Asian market near my house, I made the mistake of walking down the wrapper and noodle aisle (yes, they have a whole aisle dedicated to this!). And when I saw the neat little packages of square wrappers next to the round ones, I thought “Well, if it’s square, then it’s more like origami, right?” And into my cart went the packages. I’m so glad I did. These were my favorite dish of the whole trip.
The filling was key here.
I started with the last of several small containers of grains that I had gotten as gifts from people who know my love for trying new things (otherwise I would have used the grains from Hampshire Farms). Most of the grains had very little left in their containers, so I mixed them all together in an effort to clean the cupboards. In the end, the mixture included black rice, red rice, brown rice, purple barley, hulless barley, and rye berries. It was about two pounds of dried grains. I put these in our fuzzy logic rice cooker (one of the best high-cost items I’ve ever gotten for my kitchen), followed the directions for mixed grains, and let it work its magic while I was cooking the rest.
But here’s a little secret. Before I closed the lid on the rice cooker, I nestled 5 raw eggs still in the shell onto the mix. The rice cooker fit them all quite comfortably and when the grains were done cooking, I had 5 already hard-boiled eggs that didn’t require yet another pan on the stove. I use this trick almost every time we use the rice cooker because hard-boiled eggs are a go-to protein source for our household, whether they end up getting used on salads or simply eaten out of hand when we’re rushed for time and on the go.
While the grains were cooking for the filling, I sliced up some of the lion’s mane mushrooms we’d soaked ahead of time, adding both those and some red onions to my frying pan in some olive oil over medium-high heat. I wanted the onions to soften, but not to brown. As these were cooking, I defrosted the last of last year’s pea harvest (so happy to have found these lurking in the freezer). Once the mushrooms and onions were done, I tossed them together and let things cool for about ten minutes, then added a goodly amount of leaves and stems of sorrel that we needed to harvest before we left on the trip. The plant was already starting to bolt and we needed to use it up or lose it. The already green sorrel turned a lovely bright green when tossed with the rest of the ingredients. A splash of white balsamic vinegar, a quick adjustment of salt and pepper spices to balance the flavors, and this all went into the fridge.
The grain mixture cooked along its merry way and when it was done I spread it all out in a large baking pan and let it cool completely. This went into the fridge with the rest of the filling. Once everything was good and cold, I pulled out the grains, oiled my hands with a little olive oil, and broke up the large chunks of grains that stuck together, coating each of the grains in just a little oil. Into the oiled grains I tossed the mushroom mixture and mixed everything together completely, checked the seasonings again, and then got to work rolling them in rice paper.
Spring rolls make a great appetizer, lunch, or snack, and are so quick and easy. They keep in the refrigerator for several days, too, so you can make a bunch up ahead of time for cool summer snacks (try them with fruit salad, they’re great!). 

Weekend Cooler Challenge Recipe: Squid Ink Pasta with Fresh Spring Veggies

If you’ve been following for the last week or so, you know my regularly-scheduled blog posts have been preempted for a this series of recipes and how-to tips on eating as local as possible for an entire weekend vacation from a cooler and one tote. Our Weekend Cooler Challenge continues with this mouth-watering recipe from guest blogger Gaylin at More Than Just the Food (her text is in black):

Squid Ink Pasta with Fresh Spring Veggies

I’ll confess that the idea for this recipe came from a few wrinkly carrots that had seen better days. I hadn’t used them last season before they started to wilt, so I shredded them at that time and soaked them in water until they gained a bit of life. Firmer, I drained out all but enough water in them to barely cover them in a freezer bag. Sealed and laid flat on a cookie sheet, they  froze up nicely until I figured out what to do with them.

When it came time to make this dish, started some lion’s mane mushrooms covered and soaking in the hottest water that comes from my tap. The night before, I’d set the carrots in the fridge to defrost, along with a cup of frozen peas that we’d blanched and somehow not finished. On cooking day, these got set aside to drain while I was boiling the water for the pasta. This is the water I’d saved from making the gnocchi, and since it was already hot, it came back to a boil very quickly even after I added a bit more water to the appropriate level for boiling pasta noodles.

The noodles themselves were an impulse buy that The Big Guy bought at one point on an unsupervised trip to the grocery for beer. What he came back with was a lovely squid ink fettuccine, made by a pasta producer not terribly far away from our home, one I’d not heard of before, Al Dente Inc. (http://www.aldentepasta.com/) of Whitmore Lake, Michigan.

As with the gnocchi, the freshness of this pasta made it cook very quickly. Once at the boil, I added pasta and cooked it for exactly three minutes, tossed in about a cup of the peas that had defrosted overnight, cooked for one minute more, and then drained everything (again saving the water). To stop the cooking, I ran cold water over the noodles and peas, drained them completely, and poured them into my largest mixing bowl. I added the defrosted and pre-shredded carrots to the bowl and then set this aside.

In my largest frying pan again over medium low heat, I  added about a tablespoon of oil and 1 cup of chopped leeks (whites and light green only). These cooked until they were softened. As a few of the edges started to turn golden, I added the mushrooms that I’d soaked overnight after I’d squeezed them and chopped them. These got cooked up until the last of their moisture was gone and they too started to crisp lightly around the edges (it didn’t take long, mere minutes). I set these aside to cool completely.

While everything was cooling, I mixed up a quick, lemony yogurt dressing. It took about 1/3 of a cup of the yogurt I had left in the fridge, 3 teaspoons of olive oil, several tablespoons of lemon juice, salt, pepper, fresh tarragon and chives from my garden, and about 1/2 teaspoon of Charley’s Ballpark Mustard, the last of the container. Charley’s is a wonderful local mustard maker that’s a mainstay among Detroit Tigers baseball fans. It was one of the first mustards available locally that I could find and I keep going back to it, even though I’m perfectly capable of making it on my own. We’re growing our own mustard this year to make some of our own gourmet mustards because there’s just no one doing it locally that we can find (well, that and we just want to make our own mustards!).

Dressing, noodles, and veggies all got tossed together and placed in the fridge to mellow. It really does improve overnight in my experience. And no, the pasta doesn’t taste like squid.

The weekend food journey continues through this week, with a final round-up o the experience Friday. And, if you live in MI and love gnocchi, here’s where Gaylin got it (I’ve also linked it on the gnocchi recipe itself, along with their Facebook page)!

Weekend In a Cooler: Guest Blogger Challenge!

Why is my text blue? Is something wrong with your eyes, or perhaps WordPress went wonky? No, dear reader, everything is just as it should be. My text is blue because I need to differentiate it from my guest blogger’s. Yep, a guest blogger! So, for the next week-and-a-half or so, my text will be blue, and my guest blogger’s will be black. It’ll keep things a bit more organized. Who, you ask, is this mysterious guest blogger? Well, settle into your comfy chair, grab a cold glass of hibiscus lemonade, and read on…


My friend, fellow foodie, and fabulous cook, Gaylin over at More Than Just the Food, sent me an email a few weeks ago with a link to this article from Cooking Light1 Cooler, 1 Weekend Getaway.” They created 5 meals for a weekend that fit into just one cooler and a tote. Since she was taking a Memorial Day trip herself, this caught her attention. Both of us are local, real food nuts (I mean that in the fondest possible way), and while the authors of this article did a great job, she was pretty sure she could go one better and use a lot of local, seasonal foods. She asked if I was interested in helping put this together. Let’s see..a good friend and great cook who shares my love of real food proposes an interesting challenge. How could I say no? In addition to the rules set in Cooking Light, which we wanted to follow, she had some challenge condition of her own, too (remember, Gaylin’s posts, text, and comments will be in black for the duration of this series).

  • The food has to survive travel well.
  • In general, I’d like it to consist of what’s in season and even highlight it.
  • I’d rather use stuff I can get at my farmer’s market if possible.
  • I’d like it to be cost-friendly, but my definition and other people’s in this arena are different. Food costs money. Crap doesn’t.

We live several states apart, so most of our planning was going to be via email; but, we decided to do the initial bit via phone. The first order of business was to figure out what ingredients she had to use up:

shredded broccoli
shredded zucchini
leek–maybe 4 x 5″chunks
3 eggs
frozen vegetables
frozen fruit
Nutella (homemade from toasted almonds!)

We had to plan on the hotel they were staying in only having a microwave, and everything had to be easily assembled or pre-cooked. With all this in mind, it was on to the brainstorming, which yielded all kinds of ideas—some usable, some not. We needed 3 dinners, two lunches, three breakfasts, desserts, and drinks. And it all had to fit into the cooler. Of course, as she said, “It really is a big damned cooler. Coleman Xtreme, 70 quarts or some such.” which made things a bit easier. We hung up, and each got to work planning healthy, local, seasonal menus:

My Menu

Dinners: 3
1. Zucchini gnocchi with light lemon cream sauce, and broccoli slaw.Uses: zucchini, gnocchi, cream, leeks, brocoli. Other: olive oil, dressing, carrots.
2. Venison/chicken/lamb tikka masala.Uses: meat of your choice, cream/yogurt, rice, any vegetables. Other: spices, onions, garlic
3. Dinner salad with salmon.Uses: salmon, salad fixin’s. Other: homemade vinaigrette.

Lunches: 2
1. Bacon Salad Rice Wraps. Uses: spinach, asparagus, zucchini, sorrel, boiled egg. Other: rice wraps, mushroom, red onions, red wine vinegar.
2. Turkish lunch. Uses: cooked salmon, olives, leeks (caramelized), iced fruit salad. Other: bagels, hearty bread, or crackers, good cheese.

Breakfasts: 3
1. Yogurt with granola. Uses: raw yogurt, granola, fruit.
2. Hot cereal.Uses: granola, raw milk, fruit.
3. Whole grain pancakes with berry filling. Uses: berries, grains. Other: flours/grains, spices.

Desserts: 3
1. Nutella filled pastries with fruittopping.Uses: nutella, fruit, puff pastry.
2. Balsamic strawberry shortcake. Uses: balsamic vinegar, sugar/honey, strawberries. Other: cake/shortcake/etc. Additionally, strained/Greek yogurt is an awesome addition to this.

3. Cardamom Indian Rice pudding.Uses: raw milk, yogurt, or cream, rice. Other: raisins, spices, saffron, sweetener (I like honey). Rose water optional.

1. Chili, black sea salt, and lime roasted garbanzo beans
2. Salted nut mix
3. Empanadas and/or zucchini personal pastries
4. Assorted cheeses & sliced hard meats
5. Cinnamon and vanilla nuts or chai-coco roasted (pecans, almonds, walnuts work well)
6. Boiled eggs with Indian bbq rub

1. Coffee
2. Mudled strawberry mojitos
3. Strawberry martinis
4. Strawberry lemonade squishes
5. Rhubarb spritzer (do you have rhubarb there yet?)
6. Sangria!

Gaylin’s Menu

1. Thai couscous vegetable wraps. Uses broccoli, zucchini, sorrel, eggs, mushrooms, peas (I found some!), couscous. I was looking for something light to eat the first night, and if I make some extra, we’ll have some to pass around as a dish while visiting.
2. Spinach gnocchi with bacon and roasted asparagus tips. Uses gnocchi, bacon, leeks, asparagus.
3. Venison, mushroom empañadas with chard and spinach salad. Uses venison, mushrooms, swiss chard, spinach, some fruit for dressing.

1. Turkish lunch. Salmon as the centerpiece, zucchini galettes, cheeses on the side. Hearty bread. Capers, olives a must. Maybe boiled eggs. Figs (we have some) and dried apricots.
2. Cold noodle primavera. Uses mushrooms, asparagus, peas, leeks, bacon.

1. Yogurt with granola. Uses raw milk, granola, fruit.
2. Breakfast scones with fruit sauce and almond butter. Uses grains, fruit, and the almond butter that slipped to the back of the fridge.
3. Make-ahead fruit smoothies. Uses yogurt and fruit and the last of the homemade peach ice cream in the freezer.


1. Mini fruit-filled pastries. Uses nutella, fruit, puff pastry. Maybe enough to share with others.
2. Balsamic strawberry shortcake. Because hot damn that sounded awesome.
3. Nutella brownies. Uses nutella and nuts. Another dish to eat and to pass.

1. Coffee. I’ve confirmed an in-room coffee maker.
2. Muddled strawberry mojitos.
3. Bloody Marys. Our bloody mary mix is the best and it’s made right here in town!
4. Sangria.
5. Bottled wines.

Gaylin took a look at all the factors, from time to cost to cooler fit, and came up with the final menu:

  • A selection of hard cheeses from the farmer’s market and grocery. My favorite was the truffled white cheese from Farm Country Cheese House in Lakeview, Michigan.
  • A selection of mixed, brined and spiced olives. We can’t get olives at the farmer’s market, so I get mine from our little locally owned grocery store, Holiday Market, in Royal Oak, Michigan. I can ride my bike there from our house.
  • A selection of hearty bread rolls from the farmer’s market. We got the rolls from Herman’s Bakery, one of the last and most dependable local bakeries around. They sell at the market, but their actual store front resides in the oldest commercial building in the downtown area. Every time I buy from them at the market, they ask after “The Big Guy” and send along a special treat for him.
  • Dried Figs and Apricots. I get these from the heart of Detroit just across the parking lot from the longest running open air market in Michigan, Detroit’s Eastern Market. The company is the Rocky Peanut Company. Until we’re able to grow our own figs, we’ll likely buy them from the twins grandsons that run the nut counter here. Charming gentlemen willing to talk for hours about their products. I love that.
  • Zucchini Galettes. This was such a fantastic way to use up a large amount of last year’s harvest.
  • Spinach Gnocchi with Asparagus and Peppered Bacon. We ended up eating this cold because there was no microwave at the hotel and it was still incredibly good.
  • Squid Ink Pasta with Fresh Spring Veggies. Don’t make the face about the squid ink; it just makes the pasta beautifully black in color. It tastes nothing like squid nor ink. The light lime cream sauce really tied everything together. This was some of the best primavera I’ve ever made.
  • Vegetarian Spring Rolls. These were hands down my scariest and favorite dish to make.
  • Venison, Wild Mushroom, and Caramelized Onion Empañadas. We harvested the venison ourselves.
  • Rawmilk Yogurt. I love how hands-free this recipe is.
  • Clean the Cupboards Granola. A favorite of ours because it uses up so much stuff.
  • Bloody Mary’s made with our favorite locally made mix from McClure’s Pickles (run, don’t walk, and buy anything they sell) and vodka from a new locally sourced spirits vendor, Valentine Vodka (we admit we bought it for the label first and the local sourcing and flavors after we realized how good it was). They use all Michigan grown grains!
  • Frozen Fruit Booze Smoothies. All those last little bags of berries and stone fruits that weren’t going to get made into baked goods went into this drink. And I finally used up the last of the rediscovered homemade peach ice cream.
  • Faux Nutella Cake Brownies. I made the nutella-substitute from roasted almonds, again from Rocky Peanut Company.
  • Wine. More wine. And more wine. So many bottles of wine they took up their own travel case. We had an amazing party around the hotel’s swimming pool.
  • Coffee. Yes we really brought our own once we confirmed the in-room coffee maker. Ours doesn’t come from a local roaster because we’ve not yet found one that sources ethically. Until we do, we’ll continue to get ours from the Caribou Coffee down the street from our house because we can guarantee that it’s not only organic, but ethically harvested and certified by the Rainforest Alliance.

I know, makes you hungry just reading it, doesn’t it? Aside from getting her the empanada crust recipe and some quick tips about using rice wraps, my part was done for the moment. It was on to preparation, and while I was there in spirit, her and her Chef’s Jacket did the hard work without me (not that I wouldn’t have loved to have pitched in, but a 14 hour drive stood between me and mixing empanada dough). 

How did it go? In the next several days, you can read for yourself. Gaylin will be doing most of the blogging, so feel free to ask any questions or leave comments in the comments section. There will be recipes, food porn,, thoughts on local ingredients and where to find them, and comments on the challenge from both of us:

Feel free to chime in and let us know what you like, or what you’d have done differently.