Pulled Venison (or Elk)

(Fair warning, this is somewhat of a novel-length post.)

In case you are overwhelmed with posts for cookies, fudge, egg nog, hot chocolate, and gingerbread houses, here’s a nice healthy entrée to get you through the season. Better yet, it’s made in the slow cooker so you can continue your holiday baking extravaganzas knowing there’ll be a savory dinner at the end of the day.

With M’s prolific hunting seasons, our freezers (yes, plural) are not often empty. Even in light years he harvests an ample amount to last the next year, and more often than not we are eating meat from a couple of seasons prior. Last to go are always the roasts. Although I do enjoy pot roast, it is something I tire of relatively quickly and as a result, the occasions M makes it for dinner are plenty for me. As a result, we typically have more deer and elk roasts on hand than I really know what to do with.

Pulled Venison {{Baking Bytes}}

Pulled pork is possibly one of my favorite meals, and I’m thrilled every time it shows up at a barbecue or on a menu. However, as many of you can probably guess, I never make it myself because we really don’t buy meat beyond bacon and the occasional sausage (although with this year’s experiments and an extremely fun class from Chef Nic of Grotto Meats, sausage will likely become our own too.) As such, when a potluck this summer had pulled elk as an option, I made a point to seek out the cook for some tips and tricks. Even better, he was more than willing to share his methods with me.

Having previously tried pulled elk once or twice, it just never quite got to the “pulling” stage as well I’d have liked it. Given how much less fat is in an elk or venison roast, I was pretty sure there was something extra required to get it to work. Potluck guy shared that he slow cooks it in “a lot of lime juice, and some water, but really a lot of lime juice” and that acidic component helps to break down the meat. He then pours out that liquid, shreds the meat, and carries on with a sauce as normal. With my mind officially blown, I set off to try my own version.

pulled_deer1

I mixed “a lot of lime juice”, some apple cider vinegar, and water into the slow cooker and then added my roast. Slicing the roast into 2-3″ chunks gives it more surface area to cook, and I think results in a more even texture. After letting that go for eight or ten hours, I poured it out and added my own chipotle concoction. A short simmer later, and my Mexican-inspired pulled elk was delightful atop salad, tacos, or scrambled eggs.

While this method does require an extra step compared to your standard pork options, it is a wonderful way to use game meat and requires less than twenty minutes of active cooking time. Even better, you can easily double it and make more than one sauce (transfer one flavor to a saucepan to simmer together) giving you multiple options in the same amount of time.

pulled_deer3

As a side note: I also discovered that, for me, slow cooking during the day is too long because I’m often gone for 12 hours on weekdays, especially in the summer. Instead, I do the first cook overnight, let the sauce simmer while I’m getting ready for the day, and then store it in the fridge. That way it just needs to be heated for dinner since it’s all cooked and ready to enjoy.

This method works equally well with either venison or elk roasts, and as mentioned it’s easy to increase the amounts for extras. Either make multiple flavors (as shown from my pictures) or just shred one of them and store it in the freezer. Then you can simply pop the shredded meat into some sauce and you’re ready to go once it’s warmed through.

pulled_deer2

This would be a great holiday dinner, either for the big day or for one of the days after when the excitement wears off and the exhaustion sets in and everyone is like “holy crap where did 2018 go?” I don’t know where it went, but I do know I can enjoy some tasty dinners while I try to figure it out.

Pulled Venison/Elk

Makes one 3-4lb roast1

Ingredients

3-4 lbs venison or elk roast
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
1/4 cup lime juice (or lemon, but I prefer lime)
1 – 1 1/2 cups water

Chipotle sauce (great for tacos!)
1/2 cup tomato sauce
1/2 cup water
2-4 Tbsp lime juice
2 Tbsp olive oil
1-2 chipotle peppers in adobo
2 cloves garlic
2-3 tsp chili powder
1-2 tsp oregano
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes

Apple cider sauce (great for winter salads!)
1 bottle hard apple cider
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp cayenne (for a little kick)

Directions

  1. Turn slow cooker to low and mix together vinegar, lime juice, and 1 cup of water.
  2. Slice roast (the short way) into 2-3″ wide chunks, and gently place into the liquid mixture.
  3. If necessary, add additional water. The meat does not need to be completely submerged but it should be mostly covered.
  4. Cook on low for 8-10 hours, or until it shreds easily.
  5. Remove meat from crock, and pour out the liquid. Be sure the outside of the crock is wiped clean then return it to the heating element.
  6. Shred the meat and put it back in the crock.
  7. Mix the sauce ingredients (use a blender for the chipotle sauce) and then stir into the meat. (Or use 8-12oz of your favorite sauce.) If it’s too thick, stir in additional water; mixture should be loose but not super watery.
  8. Continue to cook (can bump it to high if you are in a hurry) until the sauce is heated through and most of the liquid is heated through, at least 30 minutes.
  9. Meat is great for sandwiches, tacos, salads, toast, scrambled eggs, or just straight out of the pot. Freeze or refrigerate leftovers.

Notes

You can easily double the recipe to feed a crowd or put some in the freezer for later. Start with one recipe of liquid and twice the meat first as you may not need fully double the amount of the initial cooking liquids.

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[Slow Cooker] Easiest Fajitas Ever

As the weather warms there is a tendency to put the slow cooker away in favor of barbecues and chilled salads. While I am 100% in favor of both those items, I also think summer and winter can share the slow cooker equally well. Hawaiian meatballs and enchilada quinoa are both delightful summer meals and the slow cooker not only presents its usual ease of use, but also saves you from standing near a hot oven or stove.

[Slow Cooker] Easiest Fajitas Ever {{Baking Bytes}}

This week we can add a recipe to your summer repertoire with another Mexican favorite: fajitas. Possibly my favorite dish at Mexican restaurants, fajitas are consistently delicious and even more consistently rarely contain ingredients I don’t like. As someone with a strong aversion to raw tomato and cilantro, and a mild distaste for avocado, dishes from south of the border can be a bit challenging. (You can only tell the waiter to leave so many things off your tacos before they give you The Look.) Fajitas and enchiladas are my go-tos there, and these are a new go-to at home.

[Slow Cooker] Easiest Fajitas Ever {{Baking Bytes}}

With just a few simple ingredients and most of the prep time involving slicing meat and veggies, this recipe comes together in minutes and can be left to its own devices all day long. Up the heat with additional peppers or spices, or leave them out for an extra mild version. I like to use a variety of bell peppers to add some flair, but any of the colors will do. Make a batch of this DIY fajita season or use a store-bought version – whatever makes sense to you. I like to whip up my own so I can up the garlic and lower the salt, but any fajita or taco seasoning will do just grand.

[Slow Cooker] Easiest Fajitas Ever {{Baking Bytes}}

Tender meat and plenty of peppers fill out a tortilla with lots of flavor – I like to use a corn/flour blend but any fajita-size tortilla is great. These are perfect just as is, but I like to add some spinach, salsa, and sour cream for a few toppings. Sprinkle with hot sauce for an extra kick!

These make a lot which is great for a crowd or for meal prep. M liked these so much for lunches he requested them two weeks in a row. For a man who rarely gives me feedback beyond “it was pretty good”, this is praise of the highest order. As a bonus, they are super easy for me to throw together while I prep my own lunches for the week. Pack a container of meat, whichever toppings you like, and a couple tortillas and you are set for an easy lunch to reheat. For the low-carb crowd, serve over a bed of cauliflower rice and greens for a fajita-bowl instead.

[Slow Cooker] Easiest Fajitas Ever {{Baking Bytes}}

Slice up some meat and veggies and all you have to do in the morning is stir it and go. Plus, coming home to pre-made fajitas gives you plenty of time to blend some margaritas on the side – Fajita Friday anyone?

[Slow Cooker] Easiest Fajitas Ever

Adapted from Fit Slow Cooker Queen
Serves 6-8

Ingredients

15 oz can tomato sauce
2 jalapeños, diced (or two, 4 oz cans)
2 Tbsp fajita seasoning (below, or use your own)

3 lbs steak, thinly sliced (I used deer)

3 bell peppers, thinly sliced
1 large onion, thinly sliced

Fajita seasoning
2 Tbsp chili powder
1 Tbsp cumin
1 tsp salt
1 tsp pepper
1 tsp oregano
1 tsp paprika
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp red pepper flakes
1/2 tsp onion powder

Directions

  1. In your slow cooker, stir together tomato sauce, jalapeños, and fajita seasoning.
  2. Add steak and stir until well coated.
  3. Top with onion and bell pepper (or leave out until 1 hour from serving if you prefer them crispier.)
  4. Cook 6-8 hours on low (or 3-4 hours on high.)
  5. Serve hot with fajita-sized tortillas (I like a corn/flour blend), with plenty of salsa and sour cream for topping. (And a handful of spinach is never amiss!)

Chickpea Coconut Curry

I don’t know about you guys, but Montana just got some Serious Winter Weather over the past couple of weeks. I had several runs below zero or in moderate blizzards, and I must say it was a blast. I love to have some properly cold runs to remember when the summer heat gets unbearable. There’s just something about a run where your eyelashes frost over to make you feel like a total badass.

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Last year during Meatless March, I was forced to discover a new entree at a go-to local Thai restaurant. My previous favorites all centered around meat and rather than try to make them vegetarian, I opted to just choose an inherently vegetarian meal. In this way, I discovered the yellow curry with fried tofu is quite delightful, and have even ordered it of my own volition since.

Chickpea Coconut Curry {{Baking Bytes}}

I saw this tasty looking recipe from Le Creme de la Crumb on Pinterest, and knew it’d be a great addition to my lunch and dinner repertoire. Since I nearly always make vegetarian lunches for myself, I opted to tailor this to fit. I increased the portions a bit and substituted chickpeas for chicken, and ended up with a wonderful vegan dish that is great for the chilly months.

Chickpea Coconut Curry {{Baking Bytes}}

I keep my curries pretty mild, as I’m a bit of a sissy when it comes to spice, but by all means up the ante with additional cayenne or a bit of red curry paste. This dish is warming both in flavor and temperature, and very filling to boot. It also reheats very well which makes it ideal for leftovers or meal prepping. I like to serve mine with a few salt and pepper cashews and a scoop of jasmine rice.

Chickpea Coconut Curry {{Baking Bytes}}

My not-so-secret love affair with sweet potatoes inspired me to use them here, and I think they blend beautifully with the yellow curry and coconut flavors. However, M meal-prepped his own carnivorous version alongside mine, making use of red potatoes and steak, and his dish was excellent as well. It’s a great way to use up whichever vegetables you have laying around even if you don’t have the same ones I used.

Chickpea Coconut Curry {{Baking Bytes}}

Chickpea Coconut Curry

Adapted from Le Creme de la Crumb
Serves 6-8

Ingredients

2 Tbsp (garlic) olive oil
3 carrots, grated
2 bell peppers, thinly sliced
1 large sweet potato, diced2
1 medium onion, diced

4 cups vegetable broth
3-4 Tbsp curry powder
1 1/2 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp cayenne (to taste)
1/2 tsp salt

1 or 2 (14.5 oz) cans full-fat coconut milk
1 small zucchini, diced
1 can chickpeas, drained

1/4 cup cornstarch
6 Tbsp cold water

Directions

  1. In a large pot, heat oil over medium heat.
  2. Add carrots, peppers, potato, and onion, and sauté until onions are softened and translucent.
  3. Stir in 3 Tbsp curry powder, broth, and remaining spices; bring to a boil and then simmer 10-15 minutes, or until potatoes are fork-tender.
  4. Add zucchini, chickpeas, and one can of coconut milk, and stir until combined. Taste, and add additional spices or coconut milk if preferred.
  5. If a thicker consistency is desired, whisk together cornstarch and cold water, then stream into pot. Return to a boil, and simmer until thickened, about 10 minutes.
  6. Simmer gently until ready to serve. Top with a scoop of rice, cashews, and/or freshly ground pepper.

Notes

I like to use one each red and green for extra color.
Also delicious with a regular or red potato, if you prefer.

{Slow Cooker} Chai Butternut Squash Soup

With more than two weeks of traveling and a semi-unplanned fitness and blog hiatus behind me, I’m ready to jump into the new year. I am still working on my 2018 goals for all areas of my life, but rest assured that my biweekly schedule here is unharmed. I’m excited to share new recipes and cooking adventures with all of you, and have some fun series planned throughout the year. (If there’s something you’d love to see featured, let me know!)

Chai Butternut Squash Soup {{Baking Bytes}}

Winter hit Montana in full force while I was in much wetter parts of the country, but I welcome the cold and white climate of this time of year. Skiing and crisp winter runs are sure to be abundant over the next couple of months, and like any sane person I love coming home to a nice warm soup.

Chai Butternut Squash Soup {{Baking Bytes}}

This recipe is souper easy (ha) and extremely tasty. Thick and filling, it warms you from the inside out with its cozy spices and sweet squash flavor. Start a batch before you head out on your winter adventures, and within 20 minutes of getting home you’ll have this deliciousness ready to eat.

Prep time is minimal, but if you want to speed things up a bit I definitely won’t judge you for buying pre-diced squash. Since the soup is pureed anyway, I don’t bother peeling the carrots or apple but you can if you wish. This soup is also very forgiving, so if you have space in the slow cooker feel free to add a few additional carrots or apples to the mix.

Chai Butternut Squash Soup {{Baking Bytes}}

The chai spice mix is very simple and allows you to tailor it to your preferences. Raise or lower the proportions to suit your tastes, or ditch certain spices entirely. I made this mix for the soup, of course, but it’s also delicious in oatmeal, smoothies, milkshakes, lattes, hot chocolate, or anything you can dream up. It keeps just as long as any of your spices would, so don’t be afraid of the excess. I used closer to two tablespoons for a nice strong spice flavor, but I recommend starting with half the amount so you can find your perfect balance.

An immersion blender makes quick work of pureeing, but you can use a food processor or regular blender if you are careful. Work in small batches and allow the soup to cool briefly before blending.

Chai Butternut Squash Soup {{Baking Bytes}}

Warm in both flavor and temperature, this soup is great on its own or alongside a nice crusty bread and a light salad. The leftovers reheat well which makes it perfect for meal-prep, presuming it wasn’t all scarfed up the first day.

Chai Butternut Squash Soup

Adapted from Give Me Some Oven
Makes about 6 quarts

Ingredients

1 large butternut squash (3-4 lbs), peeled, seeded, and diced
2 medium carrots, diced
1 large apple, cored and diced
1 medium onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1-2 Tbsp chai spice (below), to taste
1/4 tsp cayenne, to taste
2-4 cups vegetable stock

1 (15oz) can full-fat unsweetened coconut milk1
salt and pepper, to taste

Directions

  1. Add all ingredients (start with 2 cups broth) except coconut milk to large slow cooker and stir gently to combine.
  2. Cook on low 6-8 hours or on high for 3-4 hours, or until squash is tender.
  3. Use an immersion blender to puree the soup completely (or carefully use a regular blender and small batches.)
  4. Stir in coconut milk (you can start with just half of it, if you prefer) and additional spices as necessary. Add more vegetable broth to thin soup to your ideal consistency.
  5. (If you added more spices, allow to simmer for about 10 minutes.)
  6. Serve warm, topped with additional coconut milk and chai spices, if desired.

Chai Spice Mix

Adapted from A Dash of Megnut

Ingredients

1 Tbsp cinnamon
2 tsp cardamom
1 1/2 tsp ginger
1 tsp allspice
1/2 tsp cloves
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper

Directions

  1. Combine all ingredients in a small jar and shake or whisk until well combined.
  2. Store in an air-tight container until ready for use.

Notes

If you are not vegan and not a fan of coconut milk, you can substitute half and half instead. Start with 1/2 cup and increase as desired.

[Slow Cooker] Bacon Bean Soup

There’s something about bean soup that just feels cozy: nice and filling, warms you up on a cold day, and requires fairly minimal effort on the cooking front. I made this soup last year and then the springtime weather promptly returned with no time for me to post another wintery item.

[Slow cooker] Bacon Bean Soup {{Baking Bytes}}

With a recent cold snap here, I decided to resurrect this recipe and share it with all of you. Full of veggies, easily made vegan, and quick to throw in the slow cooker, this is a great meal for a busy week. Ditch the bacon (or use pre-cooked crumbles) and there’s almost no hands-on time other than chopping some veggies. I like to prep the veggies the night before, dump everything in the crock pot in the morning, and come home to delicious aromas and a hot meal. A quick puree with the stick blender and a side of bread and/or a vegetable and you’re good to go.

[Slow cooker] Bacon Bean Soup {{Baking Bytes}}

This soup is one I like to describe as comfortable. Nothing too snazzy with the flavors but it tastes great, fills you up, and is a healthy way to end the day. It keeps for at least a week and reheats well in the microwave, so don’t be afraid of a large batch even if you’re on your own to finish it off.

[Slow cooker] Bacon Bean Soup {{Baking Bytes}}

I personally nixed the celery in favor of zucchini, but if you have celery on hand throw it in there too. With it all pureed together at the end the flavors meld into one instead of a more traditional and chunky vegetable soup. It turned out fairly thick, great for topping with extra bacon, cheese, chives, or whatever else you like to throw on there.

Warm yourself from the inside out with a healthy and filling dinner, then maybe splurge on dessert.

Bacon Bean Soup

Adapted from Emily Bites
Makes about 2 quarts

Ingredients

8 slices bacon1

3 (15oz cans) Great Northern beans, rinsed
1 can butter beans, rinsed
6-8 carrots, diced
1 onion, diced
1 medium zucchini, diced (optional)
4 stalks celery, diced (optional)
4 cloves garlic, minced
32 oz chicken or vegetable broth
1-2 bay leaves
1 Tbsp parsley (fresh or dried)
1 tsp thyme
1/2 tsp sage
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes

salt and pepper, to taste

Directions

  1. Fry bacon or bake for 15-20 minutes at 400 degrees. Allow to drain, then crumble into small pieces. Set aside.
  2. Add half the bacon and all remaining ingredients (except salt and pepper) to a slow cooker and stir gently. Cook on low for about 8 hours, or on high for about 4 hours.
  3. Use an immersion blender to puree at least half the soup (I did all of it, but you can stop whenever you like the texture) in the crock pot, or carefully remove 3-4 cups of soup to a blender and puree, then stir back into the crock pot.
  4. Taste soup and add salt and pepper if necessary. Top with remaining bacon and serve hot. Also delicious with a little grated cheese!

Notes

It would also be great with cubed ham. Great way to use those leftovers! Or nix the meat entirely for a vegan/vegetarian option, it’s delicious that way too.