By Haley Faith
Summer is an often anticipated season for many people. It is filled with pool parties, beach days, and fun in the sun. What I really love most about summer though is the FOOD! Nothing screams summer to me more than the smell of a grill or smoker heating up. Grilling wild game, while surrounding myself with my closest friends and family, are moments I live for on warm summer nights.
For a lot of hunters, summer is that time period where they are anxiously awaiting fall. Hunters are counting down the days until they can get back out in the field to harvest some more wild game. From our Canada goose opener on September 1st, until the end of our spring turkey season in May, my husband and I are out in the field trying to stock our freezer for the year. I pride myself on living a field-to-plate life style, where my husband and I eat primarily what we harvest in the field ourselves.
Our “off season” offers us something else that we love though…. FRESH PRODUCE! The warmth months mean that we can go out and pick the freshest ingredients from our garden that will pair perfectly with our wild game. I am always ecstatic when I am able to cook an entire meal with ingredients that we have either harvested or grown ourselves. I love eating seasonally and loading up on fresh vegetables in the summer. Simple, refreshing, and healthy meals are always at my fingertips. One of the greatest things about living in the “Garden State” is that if we aren’t growing something, we can go to a local farmer down the street and still be able to get the freshest produce available.
One thing that often disheartens me is when I hear others make comments about wild game being disgusting, or refer to some animals like geese as “trash.” I am a hunter, a conservationist, and an animal lover at heart. Both my husband and I respect the animals we harvest, and only take what we need. We LOVE to cook, and most of all we LOVE to eat. I love concocting new recipes and being able to share with others how to live the field-to-plate lifestyle. I have found some people do not enjoy eating wild game because they simply do not know how to cook it, or do not know what to do with it. For these reasons, I wanted to compile some of my favorite summer time wild game recipes! Some recipes are quick, easy, flavorful, and allow you to know exactly what is going into your body. In an effort to shed light on how delicious wild game can be, and provide a resource for NEW ways to prepare your wild game, I’ll be sharing recipes regularly on the Girls with Guns blog.
To kick things off, I want to share my super simple Backwoods Burger recipe!!! For this dinner, I paired my venison burgers with grilled Jersey sweet corn, my “healthified” caprese salad, and string beans. Why so many vegetables you ask? After picking up some corn, my husband realized our garden finally had enough string beans to pick for dinner. We were dying to see how they turned out, and we figured too many vegetable never hurt anyone!
The only produce that didn’t come from our garden was the sweet corn. We grew our own onions, tomatoes, basil, romaine (for my lettuce bun), and green beans. I did, however, get the corn from the cutest little Italian lady that owns a farm stand right down the road. When I stopped one day to get corn, I started talking to lady about farming. I tend to small talk all too often. When she found out that my family was the one that owns Faith Flower Farm NJ, she explained that sunflowers are one of her favorite flowers. I, of course, had to drop some sunflowers off the next time I stopped at her stand. In return, she sent me home with some ears of corn! It doesn’t get much better than supporting your local and small businesses, and exchanging goods with other farmers!
-1 lb of ground venison
-1 tablespoon of COLD salted butter
The best thing about this burger recipe is that everything is to taste. On a low sodium diet? No problem! You can simply emit the salt. Don’t like the taste of onion? Leave out the onion powder! You can leave out any ingredients you don’t like, and add any ingredients you do like!
In a bowl, combine the ground venison, salt, pepper, garlic powder, onion powder, and Worcestershire sauce. I’ve never been one to measure out ingredients when it comes to cooking. (Baking is a different story.) Some people need a little guidance though. If you are not sure how much of each ingredient to add, I have a simple method to seasoning that has never failed me. I put the pound of ground meat in a larger bowl. I then sprinkle the salt, pepper, onion powder, and garlic powder over the meat until it is coated. That’s it! I then take the Worcestershire sauce and shake a few drops in. For this last batch of burgers, I only put 4-5 drops of sauce on the meat to add a little moisture.
It’s mixing time! Your hands are your best friends when it comes to ground meat. Use your hands to make sure all of the ingredients are incorporated. Once you are satisfied with your mixing abilities, pat the meat down into the bottom of the bowl.
Time to make the burgers! With 1 lb of meat, I opt to make quarter pound burgers. I will occasionally make sliders though. To make 4 quarter pound burgers, I simply use the edge of my hand to make a + sign in the meat. I take the 4 sections that I created, and roll the meat into balls. I then take each ball of meat and flatten it into a round patty. I like to make my burgers pretty flat because they tend to plump up on the grill. I will also take a trick that I learned on a cooking show, and use my thumb to make a little indent in the center of the patty.
Add a little fat! This is where the butter comes in. Make sure your butter is cold, and cut it into tiny cubes. I honestly don’t measure out a tablespoon of butter. Sometimes I use a little less when I am trying to be healthy. People often talk about venison needing pork because it’s such a lean meat. I don’t agree though. Instead, I listen to the Burger Master Bobby Flay. When I watched him make burgers on one of his grilling shows, it changed my burger making experience for life! He took really cold butter, cut it into little cubes, and added that to his ground meat. I do things a little different. Once my patties are formed, I take the little cubes of butter and press them gently into the patty. I make sure to use my fingers to try to cover up the tops of the butter. (If that is too much work, you can definitely just dump the cubes of butter into the ground meat before you mix it. If you opt to add the butter before the patties are made, just make sure not to over handle the meat. The heat from your hands will start to melt the butter cubes).
Once the burgers are formed, I have found parchment paper to be my best friend. I stack each burger on the parchment paper, similar to how frozen burger patties come packaged. This makes throwing the burgers on the grill a piece of cake.
Once I’ve done the “dirty work”, I usually let the hubby man the grill. He pre-heats our grill for about 10 minutes on high heat. These burgers can be made ahead of time or thrown right onto a hot grill. He usually grills the burgers for about 3-4 minutes per side, depending on the thickness. He wanted me to point out that he normally closes the lid while he is grilling. Once he flips the burgers, he adds the cheese. Once the cheese looks bubbly and delicious, it is time to chow down!
Like I mentioned earlier, the best thing about this recipe is that everything is to taste. You can do ANYTHING with your venison burgers. I prefer mine topped with American cheese, while my husband loves a mild cheddar cheese. I go for a low carb option by placing my cheeseburger on a piece of romaine lettuce. I also top my burger with ketchup, mustard, diced onions, and a slice of jersey tomato. My husband is all about the carb overloading and slides his venison patties onto a big ‘ol potato bun. He is a traditionalist though and typically just tops his burger with ketchup.
Make your burger your own though! Whether you are feeling a bacon cheddar burger, a Caprese burger topped with a smoked mozzarella, or even a pesto burger, the options are endless!
“Healthified” Caprese Salad Recipe
-1 large Jersey tomato
-fresh basil leaves
It honestly doesn’t get more simple and refreshing than this salad (if you can even call it a salad). I slice a nice plump tomato into about a ¼ inch slices and lay them on a plate. Sprinkle the tomato with a little salt, and lay a leaf of basil over the top. Drizzle balsamic glaze over the tomato, and sprinkle that little beauty with some feta cheese.
A traditional Caprese salad is made with slices of fresh mozzarella. That would be delicious in this dish as well. I refer to my salad as “healthified” because I read that feta cheese is one of the best cheese options to eat. Feta is lower in fat and calories than other cheeses like mozzarella. After discovering feta, I find myself putting the cheese crumbles on everything.
I am surprised at how many people ask me about balsamic glaze and where to find it. A balsamic glaze is simply balsamic vinegar that has been reduced. You can make this yourself by heating up balsamic vinegar in a small sauce pan over a low heat. You heat the vinegar until the mixture is thick enough to coat your spoon. You can do the “finger test” to see when the glaze is finished. When you run your finger along the back of a wooden spoon, and the balsamic mixture parts like the Red Sea, you know your glaze is complete. I, however, choose the lazy route. I buy my balsamic glazes on the dressing/condiment isle in the grocery store. =)
My husband and I used to boil our corn, until we discovered the power of grilled corn. Some swear that you need to soak your corn husks before putting them on a hot grill, but we literally do NOTHING. We leave the husks of the corn on the corn and just remove some of the “hair” from the top of the ear. Once our grill is heated, we throw the corn on right before we start grilling the burgers. We typically grill our corn for a total of 10 minutes, and simply roll the ears around the grill a few times. This ensures the corn cooks evenly. Simple, I know! Sometimes, at the very end when the corn is almost perfect, my husband uses his super power fingers to peel the hot husks off the corn. He then throws the ears of corn back on the grill to give it a little extra charred flavor! =) A little butter and corn is the perfect finishing touch for any fresh corn.
I’m not sure if anyone needs instructions on how to cook green beans, but I figured I’d throw in these simple steps for those that may fear their kitchen or spends little time cooking! I threw my green beans into a small pot, added enough water to cover the beans, and added a sprinkle of sea salt to the water. I turned the burned on medium-high heat. Once the water came to a boil, I cooked the beans for about 10 minutes. The same instructions can be applied to fresh broccoli or cauliflower.