Within Brent Burns' 420-acre Texas ranch are many lessons he's passing onto his children through the caring of dozens of animals, from chickens to deer to zebras.
One of the most important messages to come out of the daily chores at their summer home is an appreciation of where their food comes from, particularly the eggs and the game meat that he, his wife Susan, their son Jagger, and daughter Peyton harvest as a family.
"In deer season, it's always nice to have that time with my kids and my wife and harvest a deer when we're together," the San Jose Sharks defenseman said. "It makes every meal from that animal special. I think we've learned a lot about different cuts and using everything and we take pride in that. It's a big thing for us. We enjoy that time and I've learned a lot from doing that."
Peyton was a slow, picky eater when she was younger, and changing her relationship with food began with their chickens. It's the kids' jobs to clean the chickens' coops, feed them, make sure they have water, and collect their eggs.
"We saw in her right away that once she felt responsibility with that and learned what comes from the chicken, that sustenance was a big thing," he said.
That appreciation extended to the larger animals they consume, like axis deer and antelope, which Brent prepares using his favorite ready-made dry rubs in his smoker, Kamado-style ceramic charcoal grill, or cast iron skillet.
He likes being able to get a low and slow, consistent temperature in the smoker, but also likes the high heat from the grill, and the ability to sear in cast iron.
He does vegetables the same way. Balsamic-glazed asparagus with garlic, brussels sprouts with bacon, and broccoli with sea salt are among his favorite sides to cook up.
One of his other specialties is his spin on jalapeno poppers, which are stuffed with venison and wrapped in bacon.
Brent's passion for animals began when he was young, and he once had aspirations of running a zoo, so it was a natural progression for him to buy the ranch in Texas, where Susan is from and where he played one season for the Houston Aeros of the AHL. He also developed an affinity for the mustard from Texas-based fast food chain, Whataburger, that he still buys by the bottle.
On the ranch, he has several ultra-exotic animals whose populations are endangered. He acquires them to care for and breed them with the help of a caretaker. The Sharks featured the Burns family and their adventures on their ranch in a three-part video series called, "Brent Burns Texas Life" in the offseason.
Brent's respect for animals and the lean and clean food he fuels himself with as a professional athlete are deeply intertwined, but his family's life on the ranch all comes down to growing with each other.
"It's a lot of our family time that we enjoy, watching animals, spending time outdoors together," he said.
Brent Burns' Bacon-Wrapped Venison Jalapeno Poppers
16 jalapeno peppers, halved lengthwise and seeded
1 pound venison, ground or minced
2 tablespoons cooking oil of your choice
Salt and pepper
4 oz cream cheese, softened
16 slices bacon, cut in half
32 toothpicks (optional)
Heat the oil in a pan over medium heat and brown the meat until cooked through. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Remove from heat and let cool.
Spread cream cheese in jalapeno pepper halves. Top with meat. Wrap each popper with half a slice of bacon to seal in the filling. Secure the bacon with a toothpick if desired.
Grill the poppers on high heat until the bacon is crispy.
If using an oven, bake the poppers on a rack or a sheet pan for 30 minutes at 400 degrees.