The Gleeful Gourmand: August 2015

Friday, August 21, 2015

Crispy Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies

My Mom firmly believed in encouraging me in every project I wanted to tackle in the kitchen from the earliest age. Her Mother had been the type of woman who loved cooking, but didn't want anyone helping, or tasting, or judging. Everyone had to stay out of the kitchen...until it was time to clean up, that is. Mom, therefore, was a self-taught cook who found her way, one recipe at a time. Everyone was welcome in my Mom's kitchen, and if you wanted to help, all you had to do was grab a spoon.

I can remember stirring things from a very early age, asking questions, and having her explain things to me as I watched her. As soon as I was tall enough to clear the counter and handle a knife, she gave me her old 1950s Better Homes & Gardens Junior Cookbook to look at. I loved that book, and tackled a couple of recipes from it one at a time. Easy recipes like an Apple Crisp (if you haven't been reading this blog for very long, I have to interject a funny story about that I've told before: In the cookbook, it ecstatically boasted that if you gave Dad a wedge of cheddar cheese with his Apple Crisp, you'd get a pleased smile and a hearty thanks. Or something. Well, that sounded good to me, but I had no idea why, and had no good hunk of cheese lying around. So I served my Dad his slice of Apple Crisp with a Kraft Singles slice. I didn't get a pleased was more like bewilderment until I showed him the book. Then he laughed. A lot.). There were super easy cookies to make in that book, salads, drinks, casseroles that required no real work...kid stuff.

But what I really wanted to do was move past the easy recipes and try my hand at what I thought was a complicated recipe. My Mother, for as long as I can remember, had been making these Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies that were exquisite. Crispy on the outside, but just slightly chewy on the inside, they're the kind you can't stop eating. The kind that makes you want to take the dough, bowl and all, into the next room and devour as you watch movies. The kind that when we had a young Parisian family friend stay with us for 3 months, the first thing he would do each morning was sit in front of the cookie jar and eat a stack of them (I wasn't his Mom, and he was 20, so who was I to interject? Live and let live, is what I say. As long as it's not my kid. But I digress). This recipe had real measuring requirements going on, which is why I thought it was so complicated. It had all sorts of terms I didn't know about: What did it mean to cream the butter? Why did you have to mix the dry ingredients separately? Why did it even matter if the dry ingredients were added to the wet, instead of just tossing it all in at the same time?

I very vividly remember trying to measure things out, and stay on top of the recipe's steps, all the while shouting for my Mother's help as she sat in the family room, no doubt trying to relax. I haven't asked her, but I can surmise that she was probably thrilled that I wanted to make cookies for the family, and was eager to give me a project so she could put her feet up. Too bad, Mom. Because I had questions about everything. But she was very firm that she was not going to sit in the kitchen with me. I had to figure some of this stuff out for myself. That was the beginning of my love of baking right there - knowing what an exact science it was, and trying to figure out what went wrong when it turns out less-than-perfect.

If memory serves, the cookies came out pretty well that first time, if not slightly burned. Mom swore she loved the burnt ones. What a great teacher she was (and still is). I made a lot of things over the years, but this recipe was the one I kept coming back to, trying to make it better each time. Today, they are my family's favorite cookie. They make a tremendous amount (10 dozen) so they are my go-to for taking down to the Beach, or whenever anyone needs a big batch of cookies. My kids have helped me countless times to make them; and I love that someday, when they're ready, they might make this the first recipe they try all on their own.

The recipe originally came from Southern Living in who knows what year, but my Mother modified it quite a lot to make it her own.

Crispy Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies

• 1 cup butter, softened
• 1 cup sugar
• 1 cup brown sugar, firmly packed
• 1 egg
• 1 cup vegetable oil
• 1 tsp. vanilla extract
• 3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
• 1 tsp. baking soda
• 1/2 tsp. salt
• 2 cups regular oats, uncooked
• 1/2 a bag of mini chocolate chips 

1) Cream butter; gradually add sugars, beating well at medium speed.

2) Add egg and beat well; add oil and vanilla, mixing well on medium-low speed.

3) Combine flour, soda, and salt; add to creamed mixture, mixing well. Stir in oats and chocolate chips.

4) Shape dough into 1-inch balls. Place on ungreased cookie sheets, and flatten each ball gently with tines of a fork (I don't flatten completely, just a smidge).

5) Bake at 325˚ for 15 minutes. Cool slightly; remove from cookie sheets and cool on wire racks.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Venison Meatball Subs

I'm excited to have my husband, Buck, as my guest blogger this week! With Fall right around the corner and our venison supply dangerously dwindling, we thought it was time to get all you hunters and game lovers excited with one of our favorite dishes. I'll admit it, sometimes I get a little exasperated at hunting season. Buck tries to go hunting during the week as much as he can (that's easy to do when you own your company!) but it takes him away from us on weekends too. With three young kiddos, it's not always my favorite pastime of his. But it's hard to stay exasperated when he comes home with enough meat to fill a freezer, and then takes that meat and makes us gourmet meal after gourmet meal. Honestly, it's a win/win situation for me! Without further ado, here's Buck:

I guess with a name like "Buck," it was inevitable that I would one day I would become a hunter. The fact is that growing up in L.A., it wasn't something I was exposed to until well into my teens, and even then it wasn't for the whitetail deer that are so plentiful here in my "home" state of Virginia. But since transplanting and making myself at home in the Old Dominion, there's no season of the year that I look forward to with more excitement and anticipation than hunting season... and seeing as how we're right on the transom of that wonderful time of the year (urban archery starts in September... yeah!), Jenna asked me to write about one of my specialties: Venison Meatball Subs!

Capturing the Meatball Sub process.
First of all, I want to address something that I hear all the time whenever I tell folks that I'm going to be making venison. I'm constantly asked, "doesn't it taste kind of gamey?!"  When it comes to a "gamey" taste to venison, or any number of other wild meats, I think it's important to point out that the meat itself does not have that kind of taste. However, unlike domestic beef, pork or other meats that are slaughtered and processed in a very contained and consistent environment, when it comes to wild meat, there are a HUGE number of factors that can influence the flavor of the end product. Where was the animal shot? Was it cleaned properly/quickly? How warm was the weather and how quickly was it processed and refrigerated? Trust me, I've seen guys who shoot a deer and then leave it out all day in the sun on days not cold enough to keep it properly preserved - in my mind, it's a complete waste because the meat, while it might still be safe to eat, isn't going to taste nearly as good as if they'd immediately cooled it, cleaned it, and taking it for professional processing. So when you do come across "gamey" tasting deer, elk, or moose, don't blame the animal...blame the hunter who didn't treat it properly!

So with that rant out of the way, here's how I make my delicious venison meatballs. As I said the other day - only realizing after the fact what a seemingly bawdy statement I'd just made - "My meatballs are so good, I'd put them up against anyone else's!"  Well, there's no need for us to mash our meatballs, but I do think you'll be extremely surprised to taste just how flavorful and satisfying these meatball subs are.

Venison Meatball Sub

1 lb venison sausage
1 lb ground pork
1 green pepper (diced)
1 yellow onion (diced)
1 box of mushrooms (sliced)
3 cloves of garlic (chopped)
1 bottle marinara sauce (whichever you prefer)
1 egg (beaten)Spices, including ground pepper, garlic salt, and Creole spice blend (we use a brand called Tony Chachere's... it's outstanding!) to taste
1 cup shredded Parmesan cheese1 cup Italian bread crumbs
4 Tbsp. of butter (divided in half)
Olive oil (3-4 Tbsp.)
Sub or Hoagie rolls
Sliced Provolone cheese

• Sweat the onions over medium-low heat in 2 Tbsp. butter and 2 Tbsp. olive oil. Once they start to turn clear, add your garlic and green peppers. Cook until the peppers soften a bit, then add the mushrooms. After about 2-3 minutes, pull the sauté pan off the heat and pour your marinara sauce into a medium pot. Add all of the cooked veggies to the sauce and heat over a low temperature.

• Take your venison sausage and ground pork and combine them in a large mixing bowl. Add the breadcrumbs, spices, and beaten egg, mixing very thoroughly (I do this by hand, but I suppose it could be done in a mixer as well... but what fun is that?!). Once you've got everything well mixed (you can tell the pork from the venison as the latter is quite dark, while the pork is very want to make sure each meatball has about an equal amount of both to get the right flavor and fat ratio), start to form the meatballs. You want them to be small enough to fit into the palm of your hand and as close to equal size as possible so that they will all cook at a consistent rate.  

• Heat up a large pan (I prefer a cast iron skillet) over medium-high heat. Add 2 Tbsp. of butter. Once you see the butter bubbling, add in the meatballs. Brown the meatballs on all sides so that they are brown all over. Once browned, remove pan from the heat.

• Slice your rolls and "hollow" them out a bit by removing some of the bread on the inside - you want to have plenty of room for the meatballs to sit inside the bread (much like a "toad in the hole" sandwich). Depending on the size of your rolls, you should be able to get 2-3 meatballs per roll. Pour some of the marinara and veggie sauce on top, then place the Provolone cheese on top. Put the rolls on a baking sheet and pop them in the broiler for about 2-3 minutes.  Once the cheese starts to brown on top, you know they are ready.  

Slightly spicy, loaded with veggies and provolone - what's not to love?

Grab yourself a cold, frosty beverage and dig right in... they're delicious, I promise!! You just need to be "game" to give 'em a try!

(and Buck)