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Tim Mandese

Eating Wyoming: Wyoming Elk. It’s What’s For Dinner

in Eating Wyoming/Column
14373

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By Tim Mandese, Cowboy State Daily

Did you hear there’s a meat shortage? Of course you didn’t, you’re in Wyoming. 

One thing you can say for Wyoming: nothing stands in the way of filling a freezer with meat and elk is the go-to game for hunters across the state. 

With the primary firearms elk season running from Aug. 31 to Jan. 31, there’s still plenty of time bag that buck.

Once you have your game processed and packed away in the freezer, though, how are you going to enjoy it? Elk isn’t like other meat. You can’t just grab a package of elk meat cook it like you would beef. 

So here are a few of my tips for preparing a delicious elk dish.

If you have never cooked elk before, the first thing you’ll notice is how incredibly lean the meat is. That poses a small problem with the meat drying out because it’s easily overcooked. 

It is recommended that elk be cooked to an internal temperature of 130 to 140 degrees. After 150 degrees, the extremely lean meat will begin to dry.

So hot and fast is the best way to impart flavor and not risk drying things out. This works great for steak cuts or searing a roast. 

Burgers are a bit easier to work with, because most people have their ground elk mixed with things like beef fat or even pork to add moisture. 

Ground elk like this is not just for burgers though. Chili is amazing with this versatile Wyoming staple. In short, you can use it any way you can use regular ground beef.

Now that we have our cuts and temperatures worked out, what should we cook? I’ll admit, I’m a bit of a newbie when it comes to elk. 

First, maybe I should tell you that I spent 20 years as a butcher in my father’s meat market. I was used to getting game meat from hunters and cooking my fair share of if, but that was wild hog, and tiny little Florida deer. Elk is a bit different, to say the least.

Recently, one of my neighbors was moving and offered to give me the elk he had in his freezer — ground elk as well as steak and roast cuts.

The ground elk made a most wonderful spaghetti. 

Now I wanted to try a roast cut. I know with a lean roast, there are two methods for cooking. One involves using a meat thermometer and bring the internal temp to the 135 degrees. I ended up tackling the second method, a slow braise.

With a camping trip to Vedauwoo planned, what better time to serve a Wyoming meat. The roast I was give, appeared to be a blade cut and was, as expected, quite lean. 

With the braising method, I would let the meat cook slowly all day, and when I was ready, it would be fall-apart tender. 

Since I planned to cook this in a cast iron Dutch oven, I began by bringing my iron up to a searing temp. Using a gas burner, I allowed the Dutch oven to heat up. Using few tablespoons of flour, I lightly coated the meat. The flour would help thicken the juices while cooking.

After the Dutch oven was up to temp, I added the a few tablespoons of cooking oil to the vessel and seared the meat on all sides. After the sear, I lowered the burner’s flame as low as possible. At this point, I coated the top side of the roast with a thin layer of tomato paste.

Normally a braise requires a liquid and you can use just about anything. I was going to use beef stock, but on this trip, one of my camping friends brought some home mademead. Mead is a fermented spirit made with honey. Depending on the brew master, mead can be sweet or dry. I thought this dry mead would be just like using a good red wine to braise with, so in went about a cup.

Since this was basically a pot roast style cook, I added a variety of vegetables. This is what I used, but feel free to use your favorites:

4 peeled and halved potatoes 

2 cups of carrots (pealed and cut for camping convenience.)

2 onions halved

3 stalks of celery

2 cups of sliced mushrooms

2 couple of cloves of garlic

2 bay leaves

and 

Couple of handfuls of Brussels sprouts

Your quantity can vary, depending on the size of your Dutch oven. 

Now that the veggies are in place, hit everything with a generous amount of salt and pepper, just pop on the lid and wait. How long? Well, a long time! This isn’t the exact science part of the recipe.

Being on a low heat, you can literally let it cook all day. Like turning on the crock pot before you leave for work. In this case, I took a long hike around Turtle Rock, which was about three hours, and I still had time to kill.

After about five hours had passed, I popped the lid off, and WOW! The first thing that hit me was the aroma. OK, OK, I was hungry after the hike, but I swear this was heaven! 

Now we come to the easy part. I take out all the vegetables and put them in bowl so I can get to the meat itself. 

The meat had a mild, almost sweet flavor. As expected, it barely resisted my fork and it was as tender as you can get.

The hardest part of this recipe was telling everyone on this camping trip, that they had to be patient as I took photos for this article. There were no other complaints in the camp, and plenty of thumbs up!

All of this was just my method cooking elk, but what I really want to know is, how do you cook it? With elk being so widely enjoyed here in Wyoming, I’m sure there are hundreds of family favorites out there.

Please, if you see this article on Facebook, let me know in the comments you would improve on my preparation. Or just share a different recipe altogether. 

I’m looking forward to learning from you all, and quite possibly trying something different next time I cook elk.

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Broncho Grillhouse: Southern Cooking In The Middle of Wyoming, Made The Right Way!

in Eating Wyoming/Column
12109

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By Tim Mandese, Cowboy State Daily

I have only been through Torrington once, and that was while trying to get around the traffic jam following the Great Eclipse of 2017.

I never really had a reason to stop … that is, until now.

While visiting friends in Goshen County, I had a chance to visit Torrington. This time I wanted to to do more than just find a quick way through town — like find an outstanding restaurant for a bite to eat. 

Like most small towns in Wyoming, there’s more to Torrington than meets the eye.

Doing a little research, I found out that Torrington has a golf course that’s been around for more than 60 years. The Cottonwood Golf Course was created in 1959, and is an 18-hole course, with a particularly challenging back nine.

Torrington also has an abundance of parks and a 1.5-mile walking path for you to stretch your legs on. There’s also the Goshen County Homesteaders Museum, featuring a wealth of information on genealogy dating back to the area’s first settlers in 1834.

Housed in the historic Union Pacific Depot, the museum even has the county’s very first automobile on display. The museum is open Monday through Friday, from 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Admission is free.

All that activity will surely work up an appetite, but where to eat? I had gotten many recommendations.

However, while looking up directions, I noticed that most places to eat were listed as “near Broncho Grillhouse.”

Ok, that piqued my interest.

If a restaurant is known well enough to be used as a landmark for other restaurants, it has to be good.

Finding my way over to 1918 Main Street, I headed inside to see what they had to offer. The Broncho is owned and and run by Tiffany Leslie, a Torrington resident who became the owner in 2019, four years after the restaurant opened.

The restaurant is associated with the Broncho Bar, a Torrington staple for decades that is also owned by Leslie.

“I worked my way up through the steps,” Leslie said. “I started out as a bartender in the bar side in 2010, and worked my way up from there.”

Walking in, I notice the place was packed! That’s a good sign is you want good food.

I don’t mind a wait if it’s worth it, and plenty of people there seemed to agree. My wait wasn’t long, as a hostess had me seated right away, a server approached my table and my drinks were set in front of me before I knew it.

Looking at the menu, I see there are the requisite burgers — a Wyoming staple — as well as appetizers and even breakfast served until 1 p.m. There’s even a salad bar, with an all-you-can-eat option. 

In the menu, under the heading “Put On The Feed Bag,” I noticed “Chicken Fried Chicken.” The description read “Breaded chicken breast served with mashed potatoes and country gravy.”

Now, having grown up in the South, I know what country gravy it. It’s normally a sausage gravy, the kind served with biscuits and gravy. 

I should stop here and say that I have been to a lot of places in Wyoming that claim to make sausage gravy, and many times, I’ve been disappointed.

Normally I get back a gloopy white paste that someone put sausage on top of, or worse yet, no sausage at all. But I keep searching for someone in the state that can make it the way they do south of the Mason-Dixon Line.

You might say that sausage gravy is my white whale. When asked about the gravy, Leslie gave all the credit to her chef.

“He’s been working in a kitchen since it was 16 years old, and he came to me one day and said ‘Let’s give this a try,’ and people love it,” she said. “Our chicken fried steak is hand breaded daily and the same gravy goes on top.”

That settled it. I had to try the chicken fried chicken. However, I swapped my mashed potatoes for onion rings.

After a short wait, out comes my meal, and it looks promising. I can already see the sausage IN THE GRAVY! It smelled wonderful too. 

On the side of the chicken cutlet smothered in gravy were, as promised, golden fried onion rings, and next to that, green beans. Oh, but these beans weren’t fresh from a can, they were fresh from the farm!

There’s a huge difference between canned or frozen and fresh, and these fresh green beans were cooked perfectly. Nice crunch and not overdone and soggy.

As I tucked into my lunch, I look over at my friend’s lunch, a thick Ruben sandwich. Like my search for perfect gravy, his must-have item, when on the menu, has always been a Ruben.

This Ruben was loaded with lean corned beef, sauerkraut and served on marbled rye. All I heard was “Mmmm!” so I assume it was to his liking. But back to my country classic.

From the first bite, it was obvious this was a winner. The chicken was tender, the breading was crispy and what can I say about the gravy? It was, as promised, REAL sausage gravy. Not too watery and not gloopy. It wasn’t overly salted and it had just the right amount of sausage flavor. 

The size of the chicken cutlet alone made this a good value and the addition of the fresh sides made the meal worth every penny.

Leslie tried to sway me toward the burger for my next visit.

“We’re best known for our Cowboy burger and our Texan, which are fresh, hand-made half-pound patties,” she said. “The Cowboy is topped with barbecue sauce, onion rings and bacon, and the Texan topped with barbecue sauce as well, with cream cheese and jalapeno.”

So now that I have stopped in Torrington, I will be back — if for no other reason than just to eat at the Broncho.

If you find yourself on Torrington’s Main Street between the hours of 9 a.m. and 10 p.m. Monday through Friday, or as early as 7:30 a.m. on the weekend, stop by and give The Broncho Grillhouse a try. 

Maybe you’ll find that classic you’ve been looking for.

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Tim Mandese: “So NOW You Like Spam?”

in Column/Food/Tim Mandese
3792

By Tim Mandese, Cowboy State Daily.

WARNING!! I’m going to use A LOT of exclamation points in this article!!!!

Are you self-isolating? Quarantined? Social distancing? Hunkered in the bunker? If so, then I can understand the toilet paper hoarding. We all need TP. Maybe not 1,200 rolls though! 

But which one of you bought up all the Spam? I only know three people who eat it, including myself. So where did it go? I imagine pantries full of Spam, those cans sitting in the back being saved for a last resort.

If you are going to hoard it, use it! Bring those cans to the front and put that macaroni helper in the back! I’m here to tell you Spam is the new filet mignon! 

Wait, Wait! Come back! I mean it! You’ll see. 

You might ask first, what is Spam? Spam has been around since 1937 and is eaten worldwide. In the U.S., its biggest fans are found in Hawaii, where 7 million cans are consumed annually!! What do they know that we don’t? 

What is Spam? According to the website, it is made up of “pork with ham, salt, water, modified potato starch, sugar, sodium nitrite.” So what are you afraid of? As long as I can remember, I’ve always been told that the word “Spam” is short for “spiced ham.”

Modern Spam is much more diverse than the product you remember your grandma cooking. Now it comes in 15 different flavors, like bacon, jalapeno, teriyaki, and my two favorites, garlic and chorizo!

It’s not so hard to believe that the recipe options are endless! The Spam website has a page with 100-plus Spam recipes! Getting excited now?

There are classic like Spam omelets, wild and wacky creations like a “Spam and Ramen burger“, the “Spamalicious Jalapeño Cheddar Biscuits,” (  ) and my favorite, “Spicy Spam Rice Bites“.

So if you are self-isolated, going stir crazy, and feeling like Spam in a can (pun intended), get that canned goodness out of the back of the pantry and use it! Because I know it was you who bought it all! 

One more thing. While you are on the Spam website, check out the store page. All kinds of Spam accessories for your Spamming pleasure. 

I want the Spam lunch box! 

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