Friday, January 21, 2011

Why Wild Game is the Healthy Alternative

Sure, it's easy to drive ourselves to the grocery store to buy a package of plastic-wrapped, Styrofoam-backed ground beef for a dinner of greasy burgers. But why? Allow me to make a short case for why wild game is the best alternative for store-bought meat - it might go deeper than you think.

I'll start simply with an (obvious) observation: hunting is hard work and burns calories. Compared to pushing a grocery cart around, hunting expends more energy and increases cardiovascular health. A 200-pound male hiking up and down moderate to steep hills for 90 minutes burns about 1,000 calories. Okay, you can take that fact as far as you want to go. I told you I would start simply.

Secondly, wild game meat is healthier than beef or pork (or in some cases chicken). According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), the following is true for a 3-ounce serving of meat:

  • Beef - 259 calories, 18 g. fat, 7 g. saturated fat
  • Pork - 214 calories, 13 g. fat, 5 g. saturated fat
  • Caribou - 142 calories, 4 g. fat, 1 g. saturated fat 
  • Deer - 134 calories, 3 g. fat, 1 g. saturated fat
  • Antelope - 127 calories, 2 g. fat, 1 g. saturated fat
  • Elk - 124 calories, 2 g. fat, 1 g. saturated fat
  • Moose - 114 calories, 1 g. fat, 0 g. saturated fat
From the above, I infer two things: if I ever get the chance to hunt for a moose, I will, and the deer in my freezer is about two times better for me than the ground chuck I can buy down the street. 

Additionally, bison, which isn't on the list above, is often referred to one of the best foods for women because it is high in iron, low in fat, builds muscle and promotes weight loss. In fact, bison has less fat and less cholesterol than skinless chicken. 

Elk, in particular, is low in sodium and a good source for niacin, Vitamin B6, Vitamin B12 and Zinc. 

But here's where I may suggest something a little removed from the typical "wild game is better..." argument. Suppose we who eat what we hunt do so almost exclusively. What I suggest is that because we source our meat in large stocks, up to a couple hundred pounds at a time if we're lucky to get an elk, doesn't mean that we need to eat excessive amounts of it. 

If our freezers run empty of game meat, perhaps we not "supplement" with store-bought meat and come up with some creative alternatives. I'll be the first to say that in my home we do not necessarily eat meat at every meal, but I love when we do have it. Of course, people in different areas have either more or less access to wild game, but I have many trustworthy friends who have read the book, The China Study: The Most Comprehensive Study of Nutrition Ever Conducted and the Startling Implications for Diet, Weight Loss and Long-term Health, and they have shared with me its insights on reducing or cutting out all meats from one's diet. Although I'm not ready to go "meat-free," I am ready to go "mostly-local." Exceptions are occasionally eating out at a restaurant or when eating at a friend's house. 

This is just something to think about. 

Also, if you would like a recommendation for a vegetarian cookbook, the most used in our home is Clean Food: A Seasonal Guide to Eating Close to the Source with More Than 200 Recipes for a Healthy and Sustainable You. We easily rely on it for 2-4 meals a week. 

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Moonshine for Meat, and for Me!

Over the holidays I traveled with my family back to east Tennessee, where I spent most of my teens and where I went to college. While visiting, we had a "white Christmas," which is rarity for the Southeast, but I welcomed the blanket of snow. It reminded me of what I had left here in Montana. The snow also made a nice backdrop for the hot tub at the cabin we rented near the entrance of the Smoky Mountain National Park. Jealous? You should be.

During our stay, we took our daughter to the Ripley Aquarium of the Smokies in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. It had been over 10 years since I visited Gatlinburg, and I thought the town had cleaned itself up a bit - not as many "touristy" t-shirt shops and cheap souvenir stores. The Aquarium was terrific - I highly recommend it. Before we left Gatlinburg, my sister asked if I had heard about Tennessee's first legal moonshine distillery, and I had not. But there at Traffic Light #8 was Ole Smoky Distillery serving up free samples of their 100-proof White Lightenin', Moonshine Cherries and famous Corn Whiskey from their 100-year-old recipe. My sister and I had grown up hearing stories from our mother about how she was responsible for helping our grandfather run a moonshine still in South Carolina in the 50s, and I've always been intrigued with this uniquely American (and Southern) pastime. So after a thorough and thoughtful sampling of their products, I settled on the original White Lightenin' and brought that back with me to Montana.

After I got home, I still had two weeks of hunting whitetail does in a late season for which I had archery tags. Although I wasn't lucky (or warm) enough to bag some additional meat, my friend got a few with his muzzleloader. The does in this particular area are just as good as being farm-fed, and I've never tasted any deer as good as these. They're plump and tender, and they actually have meat on their ribs. So to honor my winter travels, my grandfather's history and my friend's bounty, I present to you a recipe for Moonshine BBQ Venison Ribs. Let me know what you think!

Moonshine BBQ Venison Ribs
4 lbs. venison ribs
1 lemon, cut in half
Salt and Pepper

For BBQ sauce:
1 c. diced yellow onion                                  
1 Tbls. chopped garlic
1 Tbls. chopped horseradish
1/2 c. 100-proof Moonshine (you can substitute Vodka if you must)
4 c. diced pineapple (canned is fine, but fresh is best)
4 c. diced tomatoes
1/4 c. molasses
1/2 c. apple cider vinegar
1/4 c. honey
1/2 c. brown sugar
1 Tbls. dried mustard powder
2 Tbls. dried oregano
3 bay leaves
1/2 c. Worcestershire sauce
4 c. ketchup

To initially prepare venison ribs, rinse under cold water, wipe dry with a paper towel, then rub with lemon halves and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Coat a roasting pan with cooking oil, place the ribs in the pan and roast in an oven at 450 degrees for 30 minutes, turning once. 

To prepare Moonshine BBQ Sauce, saute onion, garlic, and horseradish over in a saucepan over medium-high heat. Then add moonshine and scrape the bottom of the pan to deglaze. Next, add the pineapple and tomatoes to the mixture and bring to a soft simmer. Simmer for 10 minutes, then add molasses, vinegar, honey, sugar, mustard powder, oregano, bay leaves, Worcestershire sauce and ketchup. Allow this to slowly simmer for up to two hours.

Now for the fun part. After the ribs have cooked at 450 degrees, remove from oven and reduce the temperature to 325 degrees. Pour about half of the BBQ sauce over one side of the ribs and bake uncovered in the oven for one hour. Then remove, flip and spoon about another half of the BBQ sauce over the other side of the ribs. Be sure to save some sauce for dipping! Bake uncovered for another 45 minutes. Let it rest before cutting into individual portions and serving with your favorite sides (like corn on the cob, mashed potatoes and collards!).