“It’s the last package of elk meat!” My husband laments as he pulls it from the freezer.  “Boo hoo.” I say.

My husband enjoys hunting from time to time which is great because we love natural grain-fed, hormone-free meat!  It’s both nutritious and delicious. The elk, however, was a gift from a friend hunting in Utah last year and his freezer would only hold so much so we were the lucky recipients of the overflow.

The weather is warming up so this would be our last stew until cooler temperatures return. We always use our ancient crock-pot for stew as we like cooking it low and slow to get the meat tender.  Not to mention how that smell wafting through the house just teases our appetite all day long.

My husband is in charge of the stew on this particular day and he begins by browning the meat on all sides in a little oil in our big, heavy fry pan.  Next he adds chunky-chopped onions, the larger pieces hold up better in the crock-pot.  After everything is a nicely browned he may use a good red wine to clairfy the pan but this day he chooses a Guiness Stout beer.  The heartiness of this beer and slight bitter flavor at the end holds up well against the richness of the wild game.

The browned meat, onions and beer go into the crock-pot.  A few hours later the meat is tender and now come all of the veggies such as potatoes, carrots, celery, parsnips and anything else that sounds good.   He adds additional liquid as needed at this stage which may include beef broth and/or water and more Guiness.

This continues cooking on low until veggies are just done.  He whisks together a little milk and flour and adds to the stew to thicken it up to his liking.  Dashes of salt and fresh ground pepper finish it off.

A good stew needs a good bread, right?   There is nothing better than Irish Soda Bread with a hearty stew!  I only started to make this recently after watching an old PBS show with Julia Childs cooking with Marion Cunningham.

This bread is so easy with only four ingredients – flour, salt, baking soda and buttermilk, that’s it!  The dough I formed by hand into a round loaf.  The buttermilk combining with the baking soda creates the lightness in this quick bread.

Once out of the oven I cover my warm bread with a clean, damp dishtowel.  When cooled I keep the towel on it even in the bread bag for a day as this keeps the bread moist and tender.  The bread is also great toasted with lots of butter and jam.

Isn’t this a lovely bread?  Hmmm…..I have to pick up a few groceries this afternoon and I’ve just added buttermilk to the list.  Just one more time before summer arrives!  Enjoy!

Marion Cunningham’s Irish Soda Bread

Ingredients: 4 cups of unbleached all purpose flour, 1 teaspoon of baking soda, 1 and 1/2 teaspoons of salt, 2 cups of buttermilk

Instructions: Grease an 8 inch glass pie plate and set aside. Preheat your oven to 375 degrees F and put the rack in the middle of the oven. (I used a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.)

Mix all of the dry ingredients together in a mixing bowl and add the buttermilk. Stir until everything comes together and then turn the dough out on a floured surface. Knead the dough for only a minute resisting the urge to do more. The dough should not be overworked. Form the dough into a disk about 6 inches across.

Place in your greased pie dish. The dough won’t touch the sides. Cut a cross in the dough about a half in deep all the way across and then bake for about 50 minutes until the slash widens and the bread is a nice golden brown.

Cool the bread on a wire rack until it is completely cool before slicing. Wrap the bread in a moist towel until ready to serve. You can keep this bread for a day wrapped and at room temperature but by the end of the day even the little amount of fat in the buttermilk will cause the bread to become pretty hard.

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