Date night meals have been unique and even innovative for a lot of folks during the pandemic, mostly because instead of jumping in the car and heading for the nearest $$$$ restaurant, we’ve been forced to plan, create, and cook (clean up/boohoo) at home. Ordering food online or even shopping only once a week to limit time in stores means we must think ahead, deciding on a menu and making sure all of the ingredients are available, ready to use, and even thawed. (I hate thawing.) Not only that, there’s setting the table. Locating a bottle of wine. Turning on some decent music. Maybe finding a movie you haven’t seen. Getting out of your pajamas for dinner. Or not.
That was then…
And this is now:
I’ll admit I do always set the table –I know it isn’t set in the above photo — but it also doesn’t look like the photo below every time — though it will be tres lovely for Valentine’s Day. Yes, you might have to remember to order flowers. You, your partner, and your table deserve them. Come on. Even if you live alone, spring for a tulip or two and make things look beautiful for yourself.
Cooking for one? Halve this recipe and make it in a 4-quart slow cooker. Share with a friend.
One of my favorite ideas for a great date night at home is to make use of the SC (slow cooker). If you’ve read the blog long, you’ll know I’m not a SC queen; I like dutch ovens and I like ovens period. But there are days when that countertop workhorse simply makes the most sense because you can then concentrate on other things. Reading instructions for a new game. Washing the good wine glasses that haven’t been used in a few months. Reading a book. Going on a hike together. “Making dessert,” she said with a smile. Baking bread. You get it.
For this elk stew, as with many stews, I like cooking a day ahead, refrigerating it overnight to marry flavors, and then reheating for date night. While elk isn’t in every little grocery in the U.S., it is in some and it’s in other specialty or meat shops if you haven’t got a personal supplier like my good friend Lee Lehmkuhl, our favorite local hunter. Last year, I needed ground elk for meatballs (special request for a funeral I catered) and, lo and behold, our local King Soopers (KROGER) actually did carry it. So look around and see what you can find and, if not, this recipe will work for venison, moose, lamb, or even beef. Still not buying? Here are couple of other SC date night possibilities from the blog:
Meanwhile, if you’re in for elk stew — not so different from beef stew, but healthier, silkier in texture, and perfectly suited to a long, sweet simmer for a special occasion — here are three ideas that help make it even better. This isn’t a dump and cook meal, but it’s worth these few extra steps:
First, marinate the meat in my Mustard and White Wine Marinade overnight in the fridge or for an hour in the morning.
Second, use the bone from the roast plus a few vegetables to make a quick elk stock instead of opening a carton of beef or chicken stock, which you can do if need be, of course. You can let the broth cook overnight in the SC or make it in the morning while the meat marinates depending on what’s easiest in your kitchen. Yes, this is worth it. You control salt and everything else, too.
Third, just before serving — either for the last half hour in the SC or as it heats the next night — pull a bœuf bourguignon (beef burgundy) — and add cooked bacon and mushrooms to the pot for that last little umph that takes this stew right over the top. Plain old button mushrooms are fine here, but use what you like. Just make sure and cook the bacon first so you can sauté the mushrooms in its grease. You knew that.
By now you’re ready to figure out how to cook my stew. And I thought it’d be fun to give you a close-up of what it actually looked like when I put on the table and grabbed an iPhone photo in the candlelight. (The top photo is taken in the morning using lots of time, with a great colorful bowl, beautiful napkin and placemat, and in natural light.) The iPhone pic didn’t come out too badly after all, though. Whatever–try this:
Slow Cooker Elk Stew
- 2.5 – 3.5-pound bone-in elk rump roast, boned and cut into 1 ½ – 2-inch pieces
- Mustard and White Wine Marinade-see recipe below
- ¼ cup olive oil
- 2 quarts Quick Elk Stock- see recipe below — can sub beef or chicken stock
- 4 leeks-sliced and well-washed (white and light green parts only – use dark leaves for stock or freeze for making stock later)
- 1 medium yellow onion, cut into small dice
- 3 tablespoons all purpose, unbleached flour
- 2 cups dry red wine
- 4 medium carrots, trimmed, peeled, and cut into ½ inch slices
- 2 medium russet potatoes, peeled, and cut into ½-inch pieces
- 1 EACH: medium turnip and rutabaga, trimmed, peeled, and cut into ½ inch pieces
- 2 medium parsnips, peeled and sliced 1/4-inch thick
- 3 tablespoons tomato paste
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 teaspoon each dried thyme and rosemary
- 2 strips thick bacon, diced, and fried to a crisp (added at end or next day while heating)
- 4- ounces about 1 ¼ cups diced button mushrooms, fried in the bacon fat (added at the end or next day while heating)
- Kosher salt and fresh ground pepper to taste
- Minced fresh parsley +/or sliced scallions for garnish
- Marinate the meat in the Mustard and White Wine Marinade for an hour at room temperature or covered overnight in the fridge. A 9-inch square glass casserole works well for this. If there isn’t enough liquid to come to the top of the meat, add a little more wine.
- Remove meat from the marinade ¬— reserving marinade — to a plate lined with paper towels, and adding another layer of paper towels on top, pat the meat dry. Heat olive oil over medium flame in a large, deep skillet. When hot, add half of the elk in an even, spaced layer. Brown, turn, cook the other side, and remove to a bowl. Repeat with the rest of the meat, adding a little oil if you need to. When you turn the last of the meat, add the leeks and onions, and cook 4-5 minutes. Return the cooked meat from the bowl into the pan, stir, and sprinkle with flour. Cook, stirring, two or three minutes, and pour in reserved marinade. Simmer another two or three minutes, scraping the bottom of the pan. Carefully pour or spoon the meat and vegetable mixture with the cooked marinade into a 6-quart slow cooker.
- Add the wine to the skillet and heat through, scraping the bottom of the pan once more, and simmering a few minutes until reduced a bit. Pour the wine into the slow cooker on top of the meat and vegetables. Stir in the elk or other broth. Add the carrots, potatoes, rutabaga, turnips, parsnips, tomato paste, bay leaves, thyme, and rosemary. Stir well. Taste and adjust salt if needed. At this point, the stew should still be fairly brothy. If it appears thick, add another cup of broth or water. It will thicken as it cooks.
- Set slow cooker to cook on low for 8 hours, stirring once halfway through cooking if possible.
- If serving that night, add cooked bacon and mushrooms for the last 30 minutes of the cooking time. Taste and add salt and/or pepper as needed. Serve hot garnished with minced parsley and/or scallions.
- If serving the next night: Cool, carefully pour into an 8-quart soup pot, and store covered in the fridge overnight. The next night, add cooked bacon and mushrooms, heat slowly over medium-low flame, stirring regularly until hot and bubbling. Serve hot garnished with minced parsley and/or scallions.
- Leftovers will keep in the refrigerator for 3-4 days tightly covered or in the freezer for 4 months.
• ¼ cup olive oil
• 3 tablespoons Dijon-style mustard
• 3 cloves garlic, peeled, and chopped roughly
• 2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley
• 1 teaspoon kosher salt
• ½ teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
• Pinch crushed red pepper Whisk marinade ingredients together in the bottom of a glass 8-9 -inch casserole or container you’ll marinate the meat in. QUICK ELK STOCK: To a four or six-quart saucepan, add the bone from the roast — it should have a bit of meat on it — along with any extra pieces of meat you’re not going to cook. Cover it with water plus an inch or two. Add a tablespoon each kosher salt and peppercorns, a small handful of parsley or parsley stems, a skin-on onion cut in half, along with a stalk of celery and a carrot cut into pieces. You can also add some of the greens (chopped) from the leeks, chopped and well-washed. Bring to a boil, reduce to simmer, and cook for an hour or so, skimming the foam off the top as needed. Pour the stock through a fine mesh strainer into another pan, discarding solids. COOK’S NOTES: Need a quicker method for making the stew? While I like the first few steps of browning the meat (please do that no matter what), cooking the leeks and onions with the marinade and then simmering the wine a bit in the skillet, you could certainly simplify it and only brown the patted-dry meat in oil with the flour, adding all else to the slow cooker, stirring well before cooking. Do cut down the wine to perhaps only a ½ cup (increase stock/water by 1 1/2 cups) as wine doesn’t evaporate in the slow cooker like it does stovetop. If you try this, I’d like to know. Happy slow cooking!
CHANGE IT UP: Root vegetables are interchangeable and/or expandable. Sub more potatoes and carrots for the parsnips, turnip and rutabaga if that’s all you have. Add sliced fennel. Use all onions and no leeks. A few frozen or fresh green peas stirred in for the last few minutes would add a pop of color as they do in the spring stew below. A 14.5 oz can of chopped tomatoes could replace the tomato paste and/or the wine.
WINE: And when you’re done cooking, and have tasted the stew for the last time and are satisfied, you’ll need a bottle of red wine to go with this bowl of goodness. Don’t overpower it with a big gun, high-alcohol Cabernet Sauvignon or Bordeaux; this calls for a something down a peg or two, a more complimentary and balanced wine. We liked a California red rhône (think Syrah blend), but I think a Barbera or a French red Burgundy/American Pinot Noir would go down a treat, too.
SIDES/DESSERT? Do you need other things? This is totally a one-dish meal and you’re good to go with just the wine. But some crusty bread for dunking and swiping up the last dregs in the bowl is awesome and human. So is an ice cold salad with a lemony vinaigrette that you can serve with a Sauvignon Blanc for a first course. Dessert? You don’t need much, but you know it’s fun on date night. How about this:
If you liked this, you might like my SPRING ELK STEW
MORE INFO THAN YOU WANTED:
COOKING WILD GAME by Zack Hanle (copyright 1974–used copies available)
LIFE GOES ON:
There’s little better than getting up early enough to see the sun rise at our house.
I get my first Covid-19 vaccination this Thursday. Life really is going on.
Stay warm and celebrate Valentine’s Day however you can,
All photos: Alyce Morgan, 2020. All rights reserved.