Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Cooking a la Karen

Those of you who have known me for many years, know that cooking is not my best quality.  Growing up, my Mom did all the cooking.  It never occurred to me to help out in the kitchen to learn and, hey, she didn't ask.  Bless her heart.

So I go off to college and there's this great option your parents can purchase where someone else cooks 3 meals a day for you in a cafeteria.  Awesome.  Count me in.

After I moved off-campus and got my own microwave, I quickly became friends with Budget Gourmets (remember those?) and cereal bars.  There was always cheap fast food for lunch.  See?  Who needs cooking? I'm over 21 years old at this point and I haven't seen a need for it yet.

In my first job out of college, I learned about business lunches.  I was making money and spending it at restaurants.  That became a way of life . . . and I liked it.  I still had the occasional heat-n-eat, but I preferred restaurants.  Nice ones.

As part of the business world, Jeff and I traveled a good bit.  We dined at some fabulous places and, let's just say, we were a little spoiled.

Fast forward to Agriana.  Did I mention we live in a rural area?  Even if we had all the restaurant offerings of Baton Rouge or Lafayette, we are still 10 miles from the nearest small town (St. Joseph),  35 miles from the nearest fast food place, and an hour and a half away from any sizable restaurant.  I don't mind telling you, I was a little panicked.

It was touch-and-go at first.  As an example, I will share with you our first Thanksgiving up here.  For just the two of us, I decided on a turkey breast rather than a full turkey.  I didn't notice it was already cooked.  Trust me, you can't add flavor to a store-bought, already cooked, generic turkey breast.  I found a sourdough and sausage dressing recipe . . . doesn't that sound good?  I used venison sausage and was so excited about making this dish (the excitement was before I knew the turkey was precooked).  The recipe called for something like 3 teaspoons each of fresh sage and thyme and something else.  Did you know that if you didn't have fresh herbs (which I didn't find at the local grocery), you could use dried . . . in about a third of the amount?  A THIRD.  Yeah, well, I didn't know that.  I dumped 3 teaspoons of each dried herb in there.  It was horrible.  I tried to fix it but it only got worse.  It was inedible.

And it's not like I could easily run to the store for more supplies, or to a restaurant for take-out.  We suffered through it, and I got a new attitude about cooking.

Cooking is on my terms.  Not some recipe.  I've decided that recipes are only suggestions.  I was never good at following directions anyway.  I'm definitely one of these "a little of this, a little of that" cooks.  I buy lots of cookbooks and magazines and scan them for ideas.  Then I improvise with what I have on hand.  And so far it's working for us.

Our freezer is full of venison.  We plan ahead and season it when we package it, so it's ready out of the freezer.  I have a vacuum sealer, so I may buy several rotisserie chickens at a time to pick and seal . . . I have seasoned chicken ready out of the freezer for gumbo or soup or whatever.  I also have sealed packages of creole seasoning (chopped onions, celery, bell pepper and garlic) to pull out as needed.  And when I cook, I cook big batches . . . then vacuum seal portion sizes for dinners later.

So I'm figuring it out.  And actually enjoying it.

One friend asked for a recipe . . . I can't give you exact measurements, but I can give you my suggestions on venison spaghetti:  I start with browning my creole seasoning in olive oil.  I like to leave the bell peppers in larger slices for spaghetti.  Then I add my Italian venison (1/3 ground pork, 2/3 ground venison and Italian seasonings) to brown it.  Sometimes I do it in small meatballs, sometimes just bulk.  I gave up on sauce . . . too heavy.  I use a big can of diced tomatoes and a little tomato paste with water.  After tasting it, I generally add a little garlic powder.  Spaghetti needs garlic!  I've been known to add a little Tony's, too.  The lighter sauce brings out the flavors of the seasoning and venison more.  A friend taught me that.  I let it all simmer a while in my big cast iron pot and serve over pasta.

Not bad for someone who never learned to cook :)


  1. It's actually incredible food. After a couple years of what can only be called gluttony since retiring up here, I am finally scaling back my portions. But it's been and incredible couple years of culinary indulgence. Just incredible.

    And it's more than just the eating. Making our own sausage has been a real adventure. For example when Karen says we include pork she means we include lean pork - not fat. And the key to outstanding venison is aging it. We age ours for three weeks. After three weeks of hanging in a dry cooler it slices like it has become another species. And it retains only the best part of venison flavor.

    1. My wonderful husband . . . always gracious and loving! I am quite proud of my cooking accomplishments these past few years, and I am thankful he always made it fun . . . even the Thanksgiving fiasco. I forgot to mention dessert that day. I made flan. It turned out okay, even though one substitution I made was a little strong. Jeff smiled at me and told me it was the best flan he ever had in his entire life.

      Yeah, you guessed it . . . he had never had flan before :)