A bird in the hand…

Pheasants are not the sort of thing most people keep in their freezers and we wouldn’t have them either if it weren’t for Steve’s Dad’s love of hunting and his generosity. He’s given us more game meat than we know what to do with and we may need to purchase a larger freezer next year when he retires. Of course, we also need to invite more of our friends to dinner so they can help us get through our frozen cave of meat. It sounds like it’s time to plan a dinner party!

Pheasants are not the easiest birds to cook with. In fact, wild pheasant is a pain in the ass to prepare well. They’re wild birds with very lean meat, lots of bones and leg meat that is virtually impossible to separate from the dozens of tiny tendons holding the bird’s drumstick together. Steve took most of the meat he could get off the bones and put it in the food processor along with a variety of herbs and spices. He chopped the mixture into a course, fresh sausage and browned it in olive oil. The large cooked crumbles of “sausage” dotted the pizza crust accompanied by thin slices of fennel, chopped kale and a generous scattering of goat cheese.

The next day, Jason took what was left of the pheasant meat and bones and made a nice pressure-cooked stock. We read the Cook’s Illustrated suggestion of finely chopping the vegetables in a food processor, and also grinding the meat, before making stock. Modernist Cuisine, the new six-volume cookbook by Nathan Myhrvold, suggests using a similar method of pressure-cooking stock. It was time to give it a try. So, after chopping the vegetables and then grinding up the pheasant meat, Jason browned the bones in the pressure cooker with a little olive oil, tossed in the meat to cook a little, then added the vegetables and enough water to cover everything. He sealed the lid and for the next 45 minutes, that familiar little ssssss from the pressure cooker was music to his ears. After cooking was complete, he turned it off and let the whole thing cool down before unsealing it. The stock was clear and beautiful. A very nice consommé.

Preparing to make the stock.

He also tried this method with the left over veggie clippings we keep in the freezer, and the carcass of a rotisserie chicken from a recent dinner out. We had the pleasure of dinning with our good friend Kathy the other night while she was in town and took her to Limon Rotisserie, one of our favorite restaurants in the city. Not only is the restaurant’s food excellent, the staff of hot guys serving would make any gay man, or straight woman, blush and flirt, but we digress. Anyway, asking to keep the bones from the chicken carcass isn’t a common request at the restaurant. We usually only keep them when we get take out. The owner, who was waiting on us, looked a little perplexed by our request to box up the bones until Jason mentioned that we make a great chicken stock with them. With all the herbs and spices rubbed on the chicken before roasting, it would be a waste to just throw the bones away without getting all that flavor from them.
The Limon chicken stock turned out very nicely in the pressure cooker too, and it took a lot less time than boiling everything for hours. The stock was a little cloudy though and we think the vegetable clippings absorbed a lot of the water. We didn’t finely chop the veggies before adding them to the pot. No matter, the stock has a lot of great flavor and we have a rich stock for the next great soup or sauce.

Pizza Dough

Pheasant Sausage

Leftovers are just as good.

1 tsp fennel seeds
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp dried sage
1 tsp dried oregano
½ tsp red pepper flakes
1 tsp fresh ground black pepper
1 tsp salt
1 lb pheasant meat
3 tbsp olive oil

Heat a small sauté pan over medium flame, add dry spices and carefully toast until fragrant. Do not let them brown. Remove from heat and pour into a mortar. Add salt and grind mixture into a fine powder.

Add pheasant and spice mixture to the bowl of a food processor and process with the chopping blade until ground into a fine mince.

Heat a skillet over medium flame and add olive oil. Once oil has heated, add pheasant “sausage” to the pan and cook while breaking the mixture into small pieces. Cook, stirring frequently, until pieces begin to brown. Remove from heat and set aside to use or to cool before refrigerating.

Assemble Pizza

3 tablespoons olive oil
1 garlic clove, rough chop
1 small fennel bulb, thinly sliced with a mandolin
1 small bunch kale, any variety
4 ounces goat cheese, crumbled into large pieces

In a small sauté pan gently heat the olive oil and garlic until starting to sizzle. Remove from the heat to cool.

After stretching the dough to fit onto a baking sheet, brush with the garlic infused olive oil. Equally distribute the fennel slices, topped by the kale, then the pheasant sausage and goat cheese. Bake in a 450-degree oven for 12-15 minutes or until lightly browned on top and bottom.

Pheasant stock

2 pheasants, bones and leg meat
1 medium onion
1 large carrot
1 large celery rib
1 bay leaf
½ tablespoon whole black pepper corns
¼ teaspoon salt

Remove as much meat from the bones and pulse in a food processor until the consistency of ground meat. In a pressure cooker add the oil and heat the pan. Add the bones and brown. Add the ground meat and cook stirring constantly, until browned. In the food processor add the onion, carrot and celery. Pulse until finely chopped. Add to the pan along with the bay leaf, pepper corns, salt, and enough water to cover. Place the lid on the pressure cooker and under low pressure cook for 45 minutes. Allow the to cool before removing the lid. Strain the stock and refrigerate for up to 1 week, or freeze for two months.

Chicken & Veggie Carcass Stock

4-6 cups chicken bones and/or veggie scraps
bay leaves
whole peppercorns

We’ll collect chicken carcasses and veggie clippings in the freezer until the container is overflowing. Once the container is full, about four-six cups of whatever items you have, add to the pressure cooker and cover with water. Add a large pinch of salt, a small palm full of black peppercorns, and a few dried bay leaves. Cook with low pressure for 45 minutes and than let cool without releasing the pressure. Strain the stock and refrigerate for up to 1 week, or freeze for two months.

The pressure is on

Wonderful flavors of orange, rosemary, and red wine are perfect for a weeknight Valentine's day dish.

With so many new kitchen gadgets coming onto the market these days, it’s easy to understand why home cooks feel overwhelmed by the expanding kitchen toolbox on offer from our favorite retailers. We thought it would be nice to take a step back in time by returning to a classic, trusted device we’ve come to love – the pressure cooker. As we write “trusted,” our thoughts turn to our mothers and their fears of exploding lids, shattered glass and hot molten food blown all over ceilings and walls. Some love these things, some hate them, and some don’t know what the hell we’re talking about. Read on, we’ll explain.

Pressure cookers are stove top pans with locking lids on them that use steam and pressure to cook food very, very quickly. Think of it as a sort of precursor to the microwave that hisses but doesn’t emit electromagnetic waves (or reheat coffee). There are so many great uses for the pressure cooker it’s a wonder why there aren’t more of them in U.S. households. But when we bring up the joys of the pressure cooker to our moms, we can see shrieks of terror in their eyes. Modern pressure cookers are infinitely safer than those our grandmothers used to put up preserves. With built-in safety features that prevent explosions even under the most negligent use, these cookers provide the perfect solution to the home cook who wants to prepare slow food quickly. Slow cookers, used for long braising of roasts and all-day simmering of stews, certainly have their time and place in the kitchen, but when you want to cook a stew or beans extra fast there’s only one device that will get the job done and it isn’t your microwave oven.

If you’re in the mood for a hardy yet elegant dish for Valentine’s day, without all the stress, may we suggest that you try epicurious.com’s Lamb and Shitake Mushroom Stew in the pressure cooker. The wonderful thing about this recipe is that you can substitute  almost any meat for the lamb (our latest version made use of wild elk). You can  use button or portabella mushrooms in place of the shitake if you don’t like the shitake’s slippery texture.  It’s even better made a day or two ahead and reheated, served over buttered noodles, orzo, polenta, rice, or simply in a bowl with a nice piece of baguette on the side to sop up the delicious sauce. So there’s no need to stress over what to cook on Monday night’s romantic dinner if you’ve planned ahead, just reheat and serve.

Pressure cookers are safe and easy to use. They’re also energy efficient. So put away any fear of catastrophe inherited from the cooks in your family and invest in a tool you’ll love the very first time you put it to use. You can spend a little or a lot on a good pressure cooker. Our suggestion is to start modestly. Our pressure cooker was a gift, but we suspect it wasn’t a bank breaker. We don’t need a lot of bells and whistles on a pressure cooker – quick pressure release, low pressure settings, etc. We’ve experimented with ours and know how to get the best out of it. With a little time, you’ll get there too.

This Lamb and Shitake Stew recipe makes use of some of our favorite flavors – red wine, rosemary, orange and salty Kalamata olive. Use grass-fed beef if you can’t find good lamb. You’ll still be pleased by the results. In the pressure cooker, all those great flavors come together in minutes. Enjoy!

Pressure Cooked Meat and Mushroom Stew (aka Lamb and Shitake Stew)
Can be doubled and frozen for a quick dinner later in the month

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 lb. lamb shoulder meat or chops, beef, elk or pork roast cut into 3/4-inch cubes
6 ounces fresh mushrooms, shitake (stemmed), button, or portabella mushroom cut into 1/2-inch pieces,
1 large onion, coarsely chopped
2 3×1/2-inch strips orange peel (orange part only)
2 large garlic cloves, minced
2 teaspoons chopped fresh rosemary
1 14 1/2-ounce can diced tomatoes in juice
1 cup Chianti, Sangiovese, or other fruity red wine
10 Kalamata olives or other brine-cured black olives, pitted, halved

Heat oil in a pressure cooker pot over high heat. Sprinkle lamb, or whatever meat you are using, with salt and pepper. Add the meat to pot; sauté until light brown, about 5 minutes, you may need to do this in two steps to avoid overcrowding the pan. Add the next 5 ingredients; sauté until onion is golden, about 5 minutes. Add tomatoes with juices and wine; bring to boil. Put the lid on top of the pressure cooker and reduce heat to medium-low for about 10-15 minutes. Remove from heat, release the pressure and stir, checking to make sure that the stew does not burn on the bottom of the pan. If the sauce is still too thin then put the lid back on, bring back to pressure and cook for another 5 minutes.

Add olives to stew and season with salt and pepper. (Can be made a day or two ahead. Cool slightly. Refrigerate uncovered until cold, then cover and keep refrigerated. Rewarm over medium heat, adding water by tablespoonfuls to thin sauce if desired.) Serve with orzo, buttered noodles, or rice as the base for the stew.