Stacy Harris, author of two great cookbooks and founder of Game & Garden, grew up in central Alabama in a family that enjoyed scads of fresh vegetables and fruit each year, so it’s no surprise she still reaps the benefits of a big garden every summer.
Savory herbs growing in planters on her back patio lend a cool look to the Harris’ beautiful home. She can step out of her back door and pluck a few bits of rosemary, basil and others to add to soups, stews or venison dishes.
In their garden you’ll find everything from heirloom tomatoes and crookneck squash dating back decades. Corn, beans, peas … all the good ol’ Southern staples. They also have fruit trees, fig trees, blackberries (which their chickens love!) and blueberries. Harris incorporates these fruits, herbs and veggies into outstanding dishes that often accompany wild game including venison, waterfowl, turkey and fish her husband and sons bring home. Just about everything you’ll find on her website is somehow related to her home and garden.
One of Harris’ favorite things to make is a vegetable venison soup. It’s easy, doesn’t take long and is something that can be enjoyed year-round.
“Cooking soup reminds me of my grandmother,” she said. “It’s a lot of fun to cook soup because it’s easy and very good for you.”
Last year we spent some time with Harris for this great DVD and while filming, I took a few notes on highlights for one of her favorite recipes, Vegetable Soup with Venison, that could help with your cooking:
— This is a great meal for anytime of the year, but it’s also great for ‘scrap’ meat trimmed off the deer. Instead of grinding everything into burger meat, trim off the silver skin and clean up these cuts for soup. Braise it over medium heat in liquid for about an hour so the meat is tender.
— Dry your venison (with a towel) before browning anything. If you don’t then the moisture from the meat steams it, and you don’t want that. If the meat is dry then it’ll brown and that’s what you want to lock in the flavor before adding the meat to soups or stews.
— Spread out the venison (chunks) in the pan so they’ll brown and don’t let them clump up. Keep them separated. Use only a little bit of oil and brown them for just a couple of minutes, turning to get each side browned.
— Sweat your diced onions to release more flavors and make them sweeter, to bring out the flavor of the onion. It’s OK if you get them a little caramelized but not too much. You don’t want to burn them.
— You also can add celery while doing the onions. The flavor will not be as intense if you don’t sweat the celery. It makes soups more flavorful. It only takes a few minutes on medium-high heat. If you’re using minced garlic it only takes about 30 seconds or so or it will burn if you don’t add a little liquid. Burned garlic isn’t good.
— If something gets a little dry, just add a little bit of olive oil but not too much. Olive oil never hurt anyone.
— Lemon is a great addition because a little bit of acidity helps make every part of the dish come alive. Don’t forget the lemons. Fresher is better, of course. Seed them after cutting it in half and squeezing the juice.
— Cast iron skillets do a better job of dispersing heat more evenly for whatever you’re doing.
1 lb. venison, stew meat
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 onions, minced
1 celery stalk, finely sliced
2 carrots, finely diced
1½ cups butter beans
1½ cups corn
2 small potatoes
2 small zucchini, finely diced
6 tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and finely diced
1 cup shelled or frozen peas
2 quarts water, or just above vegetables
A handful of spinach leaves, cut into thin ribbons
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Sprigs of fresh basil, to garnish
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 cup (packed) basil leaves
8 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
8 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
4 tablespoons pine nuts
Hint: If you need dinner in a hurry and have a pressure cooker, cover the stew meat about 1½ inch with beef stock, onions and ½ tablespoon of salt. Once the pressure cooker reaches a boil, turn it down to simmer and cook for about 15 minutes. Release the pressure and add the contents to the soup. This dish serves eight.
1. Place garlic, basil, Parmesan cheese, and pine nuts in a food processor and process until smooth, scraping down the sides once. With the machine running, slowly add the olive oil through the feed tube.
2. In a stew pot, brown venison stew meat. Remove from pot.
3. Heat oil in a large saucepan. Add the onions and cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, until they are beginning to soften.
4. Add butter beans, corn, potatoes, zucchini, tomatoes, peas, and meat to the pot with two quarts of water. Bring to a boil then lower to a simmer for one hour or until the vegetables and meat are tender.
5. Add the spinach leaves and cook five more minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Add lemon juice of one lemon. Serve with pesto and Rustic Bread. Garnish with a sprig of basil.
Yes, These Make Fantastic Christmas Gifts
The whole family will enjoy the fantastic dishes and preparation tips found in Stacy Harris’ great cookbooks and DVDs, which will arrive in time for Christmas if you order now.
— Gourmet Venison with Stacy Harris DVD is packed with tips and 15 recipes, and enjoyable to watch as she describes in detail what she is using, preparing and serving.— Happy Healthy Family: Tracking the Outdoors In is her first book and has recipes that use nutritious wild game, fish, and vegetables that are exceptionally delicious and surprisingly easy to prepare.
— Recipes and Tips for Sustainable Living has 80 recipes and more super preparation tips in this 144-page cookbook, her most recent.