Venison, Pommes Maxim, Charred Strawberries, Blueberry Sauce

I still had one shoulder left (I used the other one here) from the deer my neighbor gave me. I wanted to use it in a preparation that capitalizes on the good berries available in stores right about now. On the Alinea-Mosaic  site I was reading about a dish they are working on and the chef incorporated strawberries, both raw and charred. They served the charred strawberries with squab, so venison made sense to me. All the preparation that the strawberries needed was to slice them, brush them with very little grape seed oil and very quickly char them in a hot pan.

The venison was done confit style like the previous one. For this shoulder I used both orange and lemon zest in the cure in addition to cinnamon sticks and brown sugar. To cook it, I rubbed it with duck fat and vacuum packed it, then cooked it sous vide at 180F for 20 hours. I wanted to melt all the collagen since I was going to use the liquid in the bag as a binder for the “venison log” later on. In hindsight, probably a bit less time would’ve been fine, closer to 12 hours. The meat was falling off the bone, so I shredded it and de-fatted the liquid in the bag. I then reduced the liquid to about 1/3 of a cup and mixed most of it into the meat. I also stirred in a few tablespoons of sherry vinegar to liven up the flavor.  The meat mixture was tightly wrapped in plastic wrap into a tight roulade and popped in the fridge to set and firm up. For service, I sliced the log into 2 inch thick slices, smeared one surface with Dijon mustard and coated it with regular bread crumbs. These disks were then pan-fried till crispy in olive oil.

For a starch I made Pommes Maxim, the recipe for these cool looking potatoes is from Thomas Keller’s Under Pressure. They are a bit tricky to make and need some patience, but are well worth it. The potato is sliced thin on a mandolin, then the slices are cut into circles with a pastry cutter. After a quick blanch in salted water, the potatoes get coated in corn starch and arranged on parchment circles in a concentric overlapping shape. These can happily sit in the fridge for a day or so now. Right before serving, I pan-fried the potatoes in clarified butter until golden, crispy and delicious. These are very delicious!

 

For a sauce I made pickled blueberries and a blueberry gastrique. The recipe is from Alinea where they serve it with bison. The berries are cooked in a mixture of red wine and sugar, then left to macerate for a couple of hours before being removed. The blueberry flavored mixture is mixed with venison stock that I made a couple of weeks ago from the same deer. That sauce is reduced to a syrupy consistency and the flavor adjusted using some of the leftover liquid from the venison bag. The sauce is a little tart, sweet and very deeply flavored.

For a slightly sharp and different flavor I made a eucalyptus pudding, again based on an Alinea recipe and is made following their standard method of setting a mixture with agar and then pureeing in  a blender for a pudding-like texture. I used a fraction of the recommended amount of eucalyptus oil and the pudding was pretty damn strong. It’s worth noting that Diana was not crazy about this component, so I am glad I only used a little bit of it as a dollop on the venison disks and a few drops as a base for the strawberries.

 

To finish the dish, I garnished it with a few arugula leaves, drops of reduced balsamic vinegar and fresh oregano leaves and flowers. This was a very tasty and wonderful looking plate of food. The tart sauce and the berries worked very well with the rich and unctuous venison. The arugula and balsamic reduction brightened the flavors even more and worked with the blueberries to contrast the richness of the dish. Did I say the Pommes Maxim were delicious already? They were and we could barely keep the kids away from eating all of our portions of what they called potato chips.

A Cake for Mom: Strawberry Ricotta Cake

The decision was made a while back by my 6-year-old that the cake for Mother’s Day will have lots of strawberries. So that was that. Diana had to choose if she wanted it chocolate mousse based or “something white and lighter”. She went for the latter choice. This delicious cake is a perfect spring time cake and a very good showcase for ripe strawberries. The recipe is from “The Pastry Queen” the book by Rebecca Rather of Rather Sweet Bakery and Cafe in Fredericksburg, Texas. That’s about an hour from Austin, in the Texas hill country. Her Tuxedo Cake, Mahogany Cake, Orange Muffins and Chocolate Chip Scones are all-time  favorites in my house. 

The base here is an angel food cake (egg whites+sugar+flour and NO fat) that incorporates orange and lemon zest and lemon juice in the mix for a good kick of flavor. I’ve baked this by itself before to eat with a dollop of whipped cream and a cup of coffee. The cake is sliced horizontally and built in a plastic-lined bowl with a filling of sweetened ricotta flavored with vanilla. I let it sit in the fridge overnight to give it a chance to “meld”, the cake gets a bit softer as it absorbs a little of the ricotta’s water and the whole thing holds together very well in a dome shape.

To finish the cake, I flipped it out of the bowl and frosted it with sweetened whipped cream. To make sure any whipped cream frosting stays put on a cake, especially if the cake is not going to be served right away, I always add a little bit of gelatin (about 1/2 teaspoon per 2 cups). It’s enough to make sure the frosting is stable but certainly not high enough to be noticable or to make the frosting rubbery. The last step is to cover the cake with rows of sliced ripe strawberries to resemble shingles on a roof. I served it with a bittersweet chocolate sauce. The cake was fantastic and mom was pleased.