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GOOD COOKING

Stew of Kings

January 27, 1994|ABBY MANDEL

Seasonal ingredients are the key to good cooking even in winter, when produce bins offer less variety.

Consider the following menu, which features ingredients typically associated with winter--venison, root vegetables and oranges.

Venison has in recent years become increasingly popular because it's lean and flavorful. It has long been considered the meat of kings.

Though many home cooks think game is difficult to prepare (mainly because they have had little experience with it), it's as easy to cook venison as corresponding cuts of beef, with perhaps an even quicker cooking time for tender cuts. For example, the venison stew meat is from the shoulder; it cooks exactly the same way and for the same time as beef stew meat. In fact, you can substitute beef for the venison.

The venison ragout with red onions, dried cranberries and mushrooms is lightened with a combined cooking liquid of ruby Port and beef broth. It's a winter dish that is hearty without being heavy. Served over a pillow of pureed roots--celery root, potato and parsnip--the dinner plate has a great homey appeal.

A bright, refreshing dessert is in order. Orange slices are the base of a sundae with scoops of frozen vanilla yogurt, cloaked with a caramelized orange sauce.

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Ragouts are thick, well-seasoned stews. Here, the ragout is a tart-sweet mix of venison, ruby Port and dried cranberries, perfect seasonal dinner party food. Stewing beef can be substituted for the venison.

VENISON RAGOUT WITH RED ONIONS, DRIED CRANBERRIES AND MUSHROOMS

1/4 cup flour

1 1/4 teaspoons salt

Freshly ground pepper

2 pounds venison stew meat, trimmed, cut into 3/4-inch cubes

2 tablespoons butter

Oil

1 large red onion, thinly sliced

2 large cloves garlic, minced

1 1/4 cups ruby Port

1 1/4 cups beef broth

1 cup dried cranberries

1 1/2 teaspoons sugar

Dash allspice

1/2 pound small mushrooms, trimmed, quartered

Combine flour, salt and pepper in plastic food bag. Pat meat dry with paper towels. Toss meat with seasoned flour until evenly coated, shaking off excess flour. Remove meat and put remaining seasoned flour into 1 1/2 quart casserole.

Heat 2 teaspoons of butter and 2 tablespoons oil in 12-inch non-stick skillet. When very hot, sear meat in 2 batches on all sides, about 1 1/2 minutes, adding another 2 teaspoons butter and oil as needed. Transfer seared meat to casserole. Toss meat with flour in casserole.

Heat 2 more teaspoons of butter and 2 more teaspoons oil in same skillet over medium high heat. When hot, add onion and garlic. Cook until onion is tender, about 4 minutes. Add Port, beef broth, dried cranberries, sugar and allspice. Bring to boil. Pour over venison. Toss to mix well.

Bake, covered, on center oven rack 1 1/2 hours at 350 degrees. Add mushrooms. Mix well. Continue to bake, covered, until meat is tender, about 30 to 60 minutes longer. Adjust seasonings to taste. Can be made day ahead and refrigerated or frozen up to 3 months. Reheat gently. Serve hot, spooned over mashed root vegetables. Makes 6 servings.

Each serving contains about:

396 calories; 769 mg sodium; 84 mg cholesterol; 15 grams fat; 13 grams carbohydrates; 27 grams protein; 0.76 gram fiber.

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A simple blending of celery root, potatoes and parsnip makes these mashed root vegetables as smooth as silk without much fat. The russet potatoes have just the right starchy texture to thicken the mixture. Celery root browns quickly once its surface is exposed to the air, so have the salted water boiling, ready for the peeled celery root and potatoes.

MASHED ROOT VEGETABLES WITH SWEET GARLIC

2 medium celery roots, peeled, cut into 2-inch chunks

2 large russet potatoes, peeled, cut into 2-inch chunks

1 large parsnip, peeled, cut into 2-inch chunks

1 1/2 quarts boiling salted water

4 large cloves garlic

1 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter

3/4 teaspoon salt

3/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

Freshly ground pepper

Plunge celery roots, potatoes and parsnip into pot of boiling water. Cook 10 minutes. Add garlic cloves. Cook until vegetables are tender, about 10 minutes more. Drain vegetables.

Put hot drained vegetables, butter, salt, nutmeg and pepper into processor fitted with metal blade. Puree mixture until very smooth, stopping to scrape down sides of bowl, about 1 to 2 minutes. Adjust seasonings to taste. Transfer to greased 5-cup capacity baking dish. Cover dish with foil. Can be made several hours ahead and kept at room temperature.

To serve, bake at 300 degrees until hot, or reheat in microwave oven. Spoon hot mixture onto 6 heated dinner plates, dividing evenly. Ladle hot venison ragout over, again dividing evenly. Serve immediately. Makes 6 servings.

Each serving contains about:

147 calories; 416 mg sodium; 8 mg cholesterol; 3 grams fat; 28 grams carbohydrates; 4 grams protein; 2.21 grams fiber.

SUNSHINE ORANGE SUNDAES

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

1/2 cup sugar

1 cup orange juice

2 tablespoons orange zest, removed with zester or grater

Dash salt

1 tablespoon cornstarch, mixed with 1 tablespoon water

4 large navel oranges

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