Sunday, February 20, 2011

The Rescue: Bacon-Wrapped Venison with Warm Potato Salad and Hearty Baked Beans

This one nearly gave me my first ever Cooking Nick's Books panic attack. I'd had a little 2 lb. venison roast in my freezer for a few weeks; it was the last one our local butcher had in stock. I'd never cooked venison before, and I was a little scared to even buy it, much less cook it. I didn't want to skip this one, though; when Taylor cooks venison for Denise in The Rescue, he's just returned from a hunting trip that he took with his buddies without telling her because their relationship is starting to get serious and he's scared and doesn't want to deal with it and he knows she's gonna be mad as a hornet when he gets back--he didn't have a cell phone, don't ya know; when this book was published most people didn't own one--so to try and make amends he shows up at her house with some fresh deer meat and cooks it up for her along with some baked beans and potato salad he's either made or bought, in hopes that she'll forgive him. (Read more about Taylor and Denise's story here.)

For the last month or so I've been looking at that frozen piece of meat and pondering ways I might try and prepare it. Joe says he's cooked venison before, back in the days when he used to go hunting with his dad and his brother. He took some venison steaks and marinated them and grilled them--but not too much, because you have to be careful not to overcook them. That was the same advice I got when I had a conversation with someone on Twitter who knows how to cook deer meat. (What would you call a Twitter conversation, anyway? A chirp session? Twitter chat? Cheeps with peeps?) Since I didn't have steaks, I thought of slicing the roast (or maybe it was a tenderloin. I have no idea) into cutlets and grilling them like steaks, but in the end I decided to risk cooking it whole. Since I love bacon, this recipe looked like just the thing:

Sweet Bacon-Wrapped Venison Tenderloin
2 lbs venison tenderloins (a single deer loin or Moose or Elk or Pork or Beef)
1/2 lb bacon (Plain, thin-sliced Bacon is best)
3 cups dark brown sugar
2 cups soy sauce (Regular NOT low-sodium. You'll want the saltiness)
1/4 cup white sugar (Optional for added Sweetness)

1 Mix brown Sugar and Soy sauce together in a bowl. They should combine nicely into a soupy soy liquid.

2 Put Deer Loin in a cooking tray and pour Brown Sugar/Soy Sauce mixture over loin. Roll tenderloin over in mixture, completely covering it.

3 Let meat marinate in mixture at least 3 hours or overnight in fridge. It's best to marinate for 8 hours if you have the time. Also GREAT to use a Food Saver or other Vacuum device to Vacuum pack/seal the meat with Marinade. With this method, you can achieve Overnight-level marinade in just a couple hours!

4 Remove loin from tray, and place on a slotted bake sheet with a drip pan or aluminum foil below to catch dripping. Don't throw away marinade.

5 Wrap a piece of bacon around the very end of the tenderloin, securing the bacon strip with a toothpick.

6 Repeat this process until the entire loin is wrapped in ten or so bacon "loops." The tenderloin should look like an arm with a bunch of wrist watches on it, the watches being the bacon strips.

7 Drizzle remaining marinade over deer loin. You can continue to baste the loin with the marinade throughout the cooking process with either a brush or a turkey baster.

8 Place on center rack in oven and bake at 350°F for 30-40* minutes. *This should cook the meat to about Medium. For those of you who prefer rare meat (like me), cut the time to 25-30 minutes and then follow with the "OPTION 2" step below regarding searing.

9 OPTION 1 - with about 10 minutes of cooking time left, you can lightly dust the top of the loin with white sugar. This creates a sweet crust on top of the bacon. Might be too sweet for some. Try doing it on just HALF of the loin to see if you like it!

10 OPTION 2 - For a crispier crust and crispier bacon, remove Loin from oven and place the Loin(s) directly on a Grill over medium-high heat to sear the bacon and outer loin. (Thanks to all of you reviewers who taught me this. It's a great step for those of us who like a cooked crust and a pink center).

11 Remove from oven and place on cutting board. Using a knife, cut the loin between each strip of bacon so that you have many pieces of meat, each with their own toothpick.

12 You can eat these pieces directly from the toothpick (I don't think this would have worked with the cut of meat we had; it was too big around) or remove the toothpick and eat like steak. You can thank me later.

13 The next day, try the leftovers on a wheat bun with spicy BBQ Saucefor an awesome leftover sandwich.

I put the venison in the marinade early that morning, and then the adventures began...

Potential Panic Attack Trigger No. 1: Curly had basketball practice that night (a Sunday) and I had it all planned out that I would start preparing this meal at a certain time and be ready to eat at 5 so he could be at practice by 6. When we put the kids in the car to go to Mass that morning, we discovered a nail in one of the tires and that I'd have to take it to the tire place to be replaced. I figured, OK, I'll start cooking by whatever- o'clock and Curly should still be able to make it on time. The tire replacement took twice as long as we expected, of course, so by the time I got home I was really on a time crunch.

Potential Panic Attack Trigger No. 2: I realized after getting started that I didn't have any toothpicks. This didn't seem to be a problem, though; the bacon stayed wrapped around the loin pretty well without them.

Potential Panic Attack Trigger No. 3: Worrying that I would overcook the meat and it would be a complete disaster, or that by trying NOT to overcook it I wouldn't cook it long enough and therefore give everybody some fatal sickness like deer trichinosis or some such horrid disease.

Fresh from the oven. I chose Option 1 from the recipe above.

The Good News: Joe said I cooked it perfectly. He and Larry loved it. He said if it had been freshly killed instead of farm-raised and frozen it would have been even better, but that it was neither undercooked nor overcooked and it was delicious.

The Bad News: Curly, Moe, and I, who had never eaten venison, realized something about ourselves: We can't stand the stuff. I mean, I could barely swallow my first bite and didn't try to eat any more of it.

This has nothing to do with the recipe, or how I cooked it, or anything; in fact, Joe can vouch that if you like venison, he would DEFINITELY recommend this recipe. I don't think I would have liked it no matter how I tried to cook it. So no, it was NOT an epic fail, quite the contrary; it turned out quite well. If you like venison. And really, I think the recipe I chose WAS just the thing: I had fun preparing it and it got a thumbs-up from my husband. I couldn't ask for more than that.


I recently took a trip to my aunt's house in North Carolina to attend my cousin Greg's funeral. Aunt A. had been in the process of purging her house of dozens upon dozens of cookbooks she had accumulated over the years. Her dining room table was covered with them, and she insisted to everyone who came through the door that we look through them and take whatever we wanted. (By the way, do you know what else Aunt A. has in her house? A framed picture of herself, her daughter and her granddaughter, and they're grinning from ear to ear because the fourth person in the photo is Nicholas Sparks! They had gone together to one of his book signings in Charlotte a couple of years ago. I'm positively green with envy.)

One of the books I chose was this one:

A McCall's cookbook published in 1963. Since I made potato salad for our fall picnic I decided to try a different recipe, and turned to this book for one.

Potential Panic Attack Trigger No. 4: As I was sitting in the tire repair shop I realized that in order to make the potato salad, I would have needed to cook the potatoes enough ahead of time so as to allow them to cool first, and there was no way I would be able to do that now. I ended up choosing a different recipe from the same book, one that could be served warm. Once again, a disaster was averted.

SAVORY HOT POTATO SALAD 3 lb medium potatoes 1 1/2 teaspoons salt 1/8 teaspoon pepper 2/3 cup chopped onion 1/2 cup sliced radishes 1/2 teaspoon celery seed 2 tablespoons chopped parsley 9 bacon slices, finely cut up 1 tablespoon flour 1/2 cup white vinegar 2 tablespoons sugar

Cook unpeeled potatoes, covered, in boiling water just until tender--about 30 minutes. Drain potatoes; cool; peel, cut into cubes. (To save time, I did not peel the potatoes) Toss lightly with salt, pepper, onion, radishes, celery seed, and parsley. Saute bacon in skillet, over low heat, until crisp; remove from heat. With slotted spon, remove bacon; add to potatoes. Drain from skillet all except 1 tablespoon bacon fat. Stir in flour until smooth. Gradually add vinegar and 1/2 cup water. Stir in sugar; bring to boiling point, stirring. In serving bowl, toss lightly with potato mixture until combined. Serve warm. (from the1963 McCall's Cook Book, p. 496)

This version was good, but to be honest, I personally prefer my potato salad cold with mayo and all the traditional potato salad trimmings. (Click here and check out the much yummier one I made for our fall picnic.)


The baked beans were my favorite part of the meal, and they were the easiest to prepare:

BARBECUE BAKED BEANS (from the 1963 McCall's Cook Book, p. 572) 2 meduim onions, coarsely chopped 1 clove garlic, finely chopped 2 tablespoons salad oil (I used extra-virgin olive oil) 4 cans (1-lb size) baked beans, undrained 1/4 cup light molasses 1/2 cup catsup 1 cup grated sharp Cheddar cheese 1/2 cup packaged dry bread crumbs (I made my own with stale bread in my food processor) 2 tablespoons melted butter or margarine

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. In 2-quart top-stove casserole (I don't even know what that is. I used my favorite pot, the one that I often substitute for a Dutch Oven, since I don't have one of those either) saute onion and garlic in hot salad oil until golden and tender--about 5 minutes. Remove from heat. Stir in beans, molasses, and catsup. In small bowl, toss together cheese, bread crumbs, and butter. Spoon over bean mixture. Bake, uncovered, 30 minutes, or until mixture is bubbly and top is browned.

My Favorite Pot

Since Moe is allergic to dairy, I mixed the bread crumbs and butter together, covered the top of the beans with it, and sprinkled cheese over half.

Curly ended up grabbing a snack before practice, and ate his dinner afterward, so this was the first Cooking Nick's Books meal that we didn't sit down to eat together. We would have, were it not for that danged nail...

It sure did look delicious, even if not everyone found it so. The beans were the yummiest! There is one more meal from The Rescue that I want to make for this blog, but I'm saving it for the late spring or early summer. That one will involve digging our electric ice cream maker out of the attic and making sure it works. In the meantime it's on to Nights in Rodanthe, and a roast chicken dinner that Martha Stewart would be proud of. See you soon!


  1. This looks delicious. Too bad you didn't enjoy it but it looks like you did a great job!

  2. Thanks, Justin! I had fun making it, despite the stress involved! :D