This column was originally going to focus on looking ahead to Thanksgiving holiday desserts, but after some thought, I decided everyone should just make and eat their favorite pie for Thanksgiving. Let’s not overthink things. Thanksgiving desserts should be pies, so enjoy those mouthwatering pumpkin, apple, pecan and peach pies.

Looking at my calendar, I’m reminded that Wisconsin’s gun deer season opens on Saturday, Nov. 23. I know this is a really big deal for many, almost like a holiday, so my new topic is deer camp recipes.

I laughed a little too loud when my first online search for “deer hunters food” turned up tips on planting turnips and radishes for deer and how-to videos on making deer feeders and mixing deer feed. I had to refine my search a bit.

When I was growing up, deer hunting season meant company came to the farm with visions of chasing the big buck out of any existing corn still in the fields or out of the brush on the ridge top above the barn. My mom made a big pot of chili and had it in a slow cooker in the farm shop, ready when the cold and hungry hunters trudged out of the woods.

For some hunters I know “deer camp” is their actual destination; it may be a camper or a rustic cabin-type place where the hunters camp for days, tell stories, coordinate drives and tell even more stories. They also have to eat.

The type and variety of food on a hunter’s menu will of course depend on availability of a kitchen and the hunter’s cooking ability and desire. Sending prepared food along in coolers may be the best answer, so make that big vat of chili and pack the sausage log and block of cheese. A pan of bars or a bucket of cookies will be appreciated, as well as some trail mix to stick in their pockets as they head out.

If there is a working stove and oven available, send a prepared lasagna along for an evening meal and several dozen eggs, bacon or ham, potatoes, cheese and a green or red pepper along for a quick morning skillet. The makings for a savory stew, burgers, brats, pancakes, tacos or enchiladas or even a roast in a crock pot will travel well and come together quickly to fill hungry stomachs.

Hoping the hunters have success, make memories and eat well this season.

Thomas can be reached at

Bigos (Polish Hunter’s Stew)

2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil

1 lb pork stew meat (best from a pork butt)

1 lb good quality kielbasa, quartered (it gets sliced at the end of the cooking process)

¼ lb thick cut bacon, cut into half inch strips

3 C yellow onion, diced (about one very large onion)

2 C carrots cut into half circle slices, about ½ pound

1 lb baby bella mushrooms (cremini) sliced

3 Tbsp fresh garlic, chopped

6 C shredded cabbage (about one small head)

1 C red wine, such as Burgundy or merlot

3 14.4-oz cans sauerkraut, drained

1 14.5-oz can diced tomatoes in juice

1 qt beef broth

1½ tsp dry thyme

1½ tsp dry marjoram

1 tsp allspice

1 bay leaf

2 Tbsp paprika

1/8 tsp cayenne pepper

1 tsp caraway seeds

½ tsp kosher salt

½ tsp freshly ground black pepper

1 C pitted prunes, quartered

Rye bread for serving

In a large 5- to 6-quart Dutch oven, heat oil over high. Pat the pork stew meat dry and fry half to sear both sides, about 4 to 5 minutes per batch. Remove to a bowl and reduce temperature of pot to medium high.

Add the four Kielbasa quarters and brown all sides, about five minutes. Remove to the same bowl. Add bacon and onions and sauté for three minutes. (You do not want the bacon crisp.)

Add the carrots and sauté two minutes. Add the mushrooms and garlic and sauté two minutes.

Add the cabbage and cook two minutes. Add the wine and scrape up brown bits from the bottom, if any.

Add the drained sauerkraut, canned tomatoes, beef broth, thyme, marjoram, allspice, bay leaf, paprika and cayenne pepper. In a mortar and pestle, place caraway seeds with the salt and pepper and crush until the seeds are fine, then add to the mixture. Add the seared pork and Kielbasa.

Raise the heat to high, then, once bubbling, reduce to low and cook partially covered for 90 minutes, stirring occasionally to make sure it doesn’t stick. Remove four whole pieces of Kielbasa to your cutting board. Remove and discard bay leaf. Add the prunes and simmer ten minutes.

Slice the kielbasa into bite sized slices and add back to pot and serve in bowls with the rye bread.

Store leftovers in the refrigerator. Great reheated the next day. Makes 10 to 12 servings. Recipe and photo courtesy of

Dutch Oven Mountain Man Breakfast

2 lbs sausage

2 lbs frozen hash brown potatoes

8 eggs, beaten with 1/4 C water

Salt and pepper, to season

2 C cheese, grated

In a 12-inch camp Dutch oven over a full bed of hot coals, fry and crumble sausage. Remove cooked sausage and drain on paper towels. 

Using the sausage drippings in the pan, brown potatoes and spread them evenly in bottom of Dutch oven. Place cooked sausage over potatoes. Pour eggs over sausage layer. Season with salt and pepper. Sprinkle top with cheese. 

Cook with 8 coals underneath Dutch oven and 16 on top for 20 to 25 minutes, until eggs are cooked. Recipe and photo courtesy of

Pride of Deer Camp Barbecue Sauce

1/2 C dark brown sugar

1/2 C Worcestershire sauce

1/2 C prepared mustard (Yellow ballpark style) 

1 C Ketchup

2 Tbsp freshly cracked black pepper

2 Tbsp crushed red pepper (less if you prefer)

1 Tbsp dark molasses

3 C red wine vinegar (other vinegar works well, too)

2 C water

1 C white wine

1/2 C salt

Mix together in a non-reactive pan (stainless steel or an enameled pan) and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer and simmer, covered, thirty minutes, stirring now and then.

Notes — This is a thin, vinegary and potent barbecue sauce best stored in glass containers. The mixture will separate upon standing; just shake back together. Recipe and photos courtesy of

Sausage, Pepper and Rice Skillet

1 1/4 C white rice

2 tsp olive oil

1 12-oz package smoked sausage

1/2 red bell pepper, sliced

1/2 yellow bell pepper, sliced

1 small white onion, quartered and sliced

4 cloves garlic, minced

1/2 tsp kosher sea salt

1/2 tsp ground black pepper

5 Tbsp tomato paste

1 1/4 C low-sodium chicken broth, divided

1 tsp paprika

1/8 tsp cayenne pepper

1 1/2 Tbsp chopped parsley

In a small saucepan, cook rice according to the package’s directions. Place a large cast iron skillet over medium-high heat. Once the skillet is hot, add the oil. After the oil shimmers, add the sausage and cook until browned on both sides, about 5 minutes. Remove from the pan and set aside.

Add the peppers and onion. Saute for 4 to 5 minutes. Add the garlic, salt, and pepper, cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Remove from the pan and set aside with the sausage.

Add the tomato paste and about 3/4 cup of chicken broth, whisk to combine. Allow the mixture to simmer for 1 minute, then add the paprika and cayenne.

Stir in the cooked rice, sausage, remaining chicken broth, pepper and onions until combined. Garnish with chopped parsley, serve immediately. Recipe and photo courtesy of

The Best Slow Cooker Venison Pot Roast

2 to 4 lb venison roast

Salt and pepper

2 Tbsp olive oil

1 small onion, diced fine

1 large carrot, peeled and diced fine

1 large celery stalk, diced fine

2 Tbsp tomato paste

2 C vegetable broth

½ tsp dried thyme

1 tsp dried marjoram

½ tsp dried rosemary

1 bay leaf

1 Tbsp cornstarch

Chopped fresh parsley for garnish

Season the roast well with salt and pepper. Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium high heat.

Add the meat to the pan and sear it for 4 to 5 minutes or until well browned. Turn the meat and sear the other side. Continue until all sides are well browned. Remove the roast to the slow cooker.

In the same pan, add the vegetables and cook, stirring often with a wooden spoon until they have softened, about 5 to 6 minutes. While the vegetables cook, use the spoon to scrape up any browned bits left from cooking the meat. Stir in the tomato paste until well blended and cook for 1 to 2 minutes.

Add the broth and all the herbs, except parsley to the pan and stir well, scraping the pan. Remove from heat and pour the mixture over the roast. Cook on low for 6 to 8 hours, or until meat is tender.

Once cooked, remove the meat from the slow cooker and slice. Pour the remaining juice from the slow cooker into a small sauce pan over medium high heat and whisk in the corn starch. Allow the mixture to bubble and thicken. Transfer the meat to a serving platter, and pour the thickened gravy over the top. Recipe and photo courtesy of

Venison Cheesesteak Sloppy Joes

1 lb ground venison meat

8 slices thick-cut bacon, cut into ¼-inch pieces

1 Tbsp flat-leaf parsley, minced

1 Tbsp Worchestershire sauce

2 tsp onion powder

2 tsp garlic powder

2 tsp fresh ground black pepper

1 tsp salt

1 C yellow onion, diced

1 C green bell pepper, diced

1 1/2 C beef broth or vegetable broth (no salt added)

2 tsp corn starch

1 Tbsp ketchup

1 Tbsp butter

6 oz extra sharp Cheddar cheese

4 hamburger buns

In a large skillet over medium heat, cook bacon until done. Transfer bacon and half of the fat to a heat-proof bowl to cool slightly

Break up venison in bowl. Add onion powder, garlic powder, 1/2 tablespoon Worchestershire sauce, bacon and fat, and parsley. Mix together until well combined. Let rest in the fridge for 20 minutes. Remove from fridge and let sit out for 10 minutes

Melt butter in the skillet over medium heat. Add onion and saute for 2 to 3 minutes until translucent. Add bell peppers, and saute for another 3 to 4 minutes, until slightly softened.

Push vegetables to the side of the skillet, and add venison mixture in the middle. Cook for about 5 minutes until meat is just browned through, mixing everything together. Add ketchup, 1/2 tablespoon Worchestershire sauce, salt and pepper, and stir to combine.

In a separate bowl, whisk cornstarch into the broth and add liquid to skillet. Allow broth to absorb, stirring occasionally. You don't want it to completely absorb, or it won't have the traditional "sloppy" texture. You want it to absorb about 75%.

Melt the cheese in the microwave for 15 to 20 seconds at about 70% heat level. Portion sloppy joes onto buns, and add melted cheese on top of each sandwich.

Notes — Game meat is extremely lean, so it needs help from proper seasoning and added fat. Don’t cook down the sauce too much or you will lose the trademark “sloppy” texture. It’s better to have a little too much sauce than not enough. Don’t mix the cheese into the sloppy joes while in the skillet. You won’t be able to see it. Instead, melt the cheese in the microwave and add it to the sandwich just before serving. Use extra sharp shredded Cheddar for great flavor. Makes about 4 servings. Recipe and photo courtesy of

Overnight Breakfast Enchiladas

2 C ham cubed

3 C shredded cheddar divided

1/4 C chopped green onion

1/4 C minced onion

1 tsp garlic salt

8 flour tortillas medium size

6 eggs

1 1/2 C half & half or whole milk

Spray a 9x13-inch baking dish with nonstick cooking spray and set aside. In a large bowl, combine 1 1/2 cups of shredded Cheddar, ham, green onion, minced onion, and garlic salt.

Mix well and set aside 1/4 cup for topping.

Starting with one tortilla, add 1/4 to 1/3 cup of the ham mixture into the center and roll. Place seam side down into the prepared dish. Repeat with remaining tortillas.

Whisk together eggs and half & half. Pour egg mixture over rolled tortillas and then top with reserved 1/4 cup of ham mixture. Cover with foil, and refrigerate overnight or at least 4 hours.

Bake at 350 degrees for 30 to 40 minutes until eggs are set.

Remove the foil, top with remaining 1 1/2 cups of shredded cheese, and bake until cheese is melted. Recipe courtesy of