Friday, September 16, 2016

Elk Hunting

I have been dreaming about this day for almost 30 years. This dream started at my Grandparents cabin when I watched Jeremiah Johnson for the first time on their brand new VCR. Jeremiah Johnson for those that don't know is a movie with Robert Redford and is the story of a man who leaves the East for the adventure and lifestyle of the Rocky Mountains. It is one of my favorite movies and has been  one of the primary influences in my hunting and cooking.

From the very moment I saw the movie I have wanted to hunt Elk in the Rockies with a Hawken rifle, .50 caliber or better. I am finally going to make that happen. With one small exception, I am bow hunting and not using my black powder rifle. I don't know what has taken me so long to finally make this happen but last year I made a commitment that I was going this year no matter what. Along with 3 of my old Army buddies we are heading out to the Zirkel Wilderness area in Northern Colorado for a seven day backpacking Elk hunting trip.

I have been doing everything I can think of to get ready for this trip. Eating right, running a lot and becoming as proficient with my bow as I possible can be. I have studied maps and researched gear and of course have planned a menu that will be both nutrient dense and delicious. I know that the odds of getting an Elk are against me and that is ok. I am completely prepared to come back from this trip without an Elk. My wife just said to me last night that she is worried that I went through all this preparation and am going to come home disappointed. I don't think it is possible to come home disappointed from this trip.

I'm not going to lie and say that I don't care if I get an Elk because nothing would be greater on this trip than shooting a nice bull. But this trip isn't 100% about getting an Elk, its about heading off for the Rocky Mountains for an adventure that with or with out and Elk is going to fulfill a life long yearning. There is a line towards the end of Jeremiah Johnson when Bear Claw asks Jeremiah if it was worth the trouble and Jeremiah responds "What Trouble". No matter the end result of this hunt, all the preparation and time and money that have gone into it, I can already tell you that it wasn't any trouble at all.  I will be back in 10 days and I guarantee you I will have stories to tell.

Friday, September 9, 2016

Pickled Chicken of the Woods

Last weekend I was lucky enough to be one of the Chef Instructors at something called Chef Camp. It was the very first Chef Camp and from my stand point one of the best experiences I have had. Over the weekend I did two classes, one on foraging and the other on making Risotto over a camp fire. We were lucky enough on our first foraging class to find lobster mushrooms and black trumpet mushrooms and used them in our risotto. One of the mushrooms I was hoping to find while we were out there was the Chicken of the Woods mushroom. We found a couple that were very old but didn't find any worth eating.

One of the many reasons I like the Chicken of the Woods mushroom is that it is easily identifiable and usually when you find one that is all you need. I found this one yesterday and in total got 7 pounds of mushroom from it. That is enough to cook with and preserve for later. Preserving mushrooms is something that I am pretty new at. Last year I dehydrated a lot of mushrooms and tried my hand at pickling mushrooms for the first time. Those pickled mushrooms turned out to be some of the best mushrooms I have ever had. The original recipe came from a Chef named Alan Bergo who is doing some pretty amazing things with foraged foods.

One of the revelations I had while at Chef Camp was that I needed to figure out a way to work wild foods into cocktails. As part of my class I had made a Sumac Lemonade cocktail with bourbon and Herbsaint. It occurred to me after watching a demonstration put on by some folks From Bittercube that I have been missing out on some really tasty cocktails and that the wild world needed to be incorporated into some cocktails.
Years ago my Unlce had turned me on to pickled mushrooms in my dirty Martini's and it was the only way I would drink them for a while. So it seemed like a natural fit for my Pickled chicken of the woods mushrooms. I personally prefer Gin for my Martini's but all I had in the house this morning was Vodka so a Vodka Martini is what I had. I am not big on vermouth so I used some of the pickling liquid instead and a couple ounces of Vodka. The pickled mushrooms tasted as if they were made for this drink. I could have easily had 4 or 5 of these this morning but opted to wait until I could get a bottle of Gin. 

For the Pickled Mushrooms
Makes 4 pints of pickled mushrooms
3 pounds of Chicken Of the Woods Mushrooms (broken up into bite sized pieces)
4 cups of distilled water
1 1/2 cups of White wine vinegar
1/3 cup of sugar
1/2 cup of Pickling salt
Habanero Pepper
Combine the water, vinegar, sugar and salt in a pan and bring to a boil. In each Sterilized Pint jar place a stem of rosemary, 2 sprigs of thyme, one clove of garlic and half of a habanero. pack the jars with the mushrooms and then pour the brine over the mushrooms. leaving a half inch space at the top. Seal the jars and process in a water bath for 15 minutes. Let the Mushrooms sit for about a month before opening and enjoying. 

Monday, September 5, 2016

Puffball Mushrooms

Of all of my outdoor skills foraging is probably my weakest. If you have ever thought you knew a lot about foraging take a group of people out into the woods and you will quickly be reminded about how little you actually know. When I walk through the woods I am looking for certain mushrooms. Mushrooms I can say with 100% certainty are safe to eat. A lot of the time I don't even pay attention to other mushrooms because I don't know what they are. But when you are taking a group of people out into the woods with you they ask about every mushroom. I had read somewhere that there are around 3 million different kinds of mushrooms in the world. Even if it were my full time job I don't know if I could memorize that many mushrooms.

 Being asked to identify mushrooms is very humbling. Fortunately I carry a couple of mushroom guides with me to help with this dilemma. Mushrooms of the Midwest  by Therese Marone and Kathy Yerich is my favorite. What I love about this book is that is was written by two women from Minnesota and designed to help people in this area. I have a number of other books that are full of great information but not all of it pertains to me. Finding a good regional guide for mushrooms is a must and will be the most helpful tool you can find.  

One of my favorite mushrooms to go get is the Giant Puffball Mushroom. They are easily Identified and are a very easy mushroom to cook with. I will warn you that they are not the most flavorful mushroom and the bigger they get it seems the less flavor they have. When I find them I like to keep the mushrooms that are about the size of a softball or slightly bigger. When they get to big they change colors on the inside to a gross looking green or brown.  They also get buggy and when you cut them open they can be full of worms and sow bugs and centipedes. 

Puffballs should be cooked before eating them and you can cook them in many different ways. Hank Shaw recommends that you use them like you would tofu as they have a very similar texture. I like to dehydrate them and then pulverize the dried mushrooms into a powder so I can add the mushroom powder to soups or pastas or risotto. This recipe is actually a recipe for tofu that I substituted the puffball in for.

Crispy Baked Puffball with Soy, honey, Ginger Sauce

1 softball sized puffball Mushroom
1/4 cup cornstarch
3 tablespoons honey
3 tablespoons soysauce
1 tsp fresh grated ginger
1 clove garlic, minced
Chili sauce and green onions to garnish

Cut the mushroom into 1 inch cubes and toss with cornstarch to coat the squares. Bake the mushrooms in the oven for 40 minutes at 400 degrees flipping them over once about half way through. When you have about 5 minutes remaining add the honey, soy, ginger and garlic to a small sauce pan and heat until combined when the mushrooms are done place them in a bowl and pour the sauce over the mushrooms. Toss to coat and serve with Sriracha or any other chili sauce and green onion.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Thai Curry Salmon Patties

I love a good salmon burger and over the last few years have tried them every way I possibly could. Then I cam across this recipe for a fish burger that is heavy on the Thai flavors. The original recipe called for cod or some other white fleshed fish but since I have a ton of salmon in the freezer I wanted to try it with salmon. What caught my interest about this recipe was the use of red curry paste and fish sauce. They are two of my favorite ingredients and any opportunity I get to use them I jump at. 

There isn't to much to this recipe and you don't add anything as a binder so the patties are little loose. I think if I make them again I will add a little coconut flour or maybe even an egg to help bind them together a bit. I would also like to try this on a toasted bun but my wife has me on a diet currently that doesn't allow breads. The other thing I kept thinking was how good this salmon mixture would be in a fried wonton. So stay tuned you might be seeing that soon.  If you like curry and you like salmon burger you have to give this a try.

Thai Curry Salmon Patties

1 lb. boneless, skinless cod fillet, roughy chopped
14 cup thai red curry paste
2 tbsp. finely chopped cilantro
3 tbsp. roughly chopped roasted, salted peanuts
2 tsp. Kosher salt
2 tbsp. olive oil
2 tbsp. granulated sugar
1 garlic clove
2 tbsp. fish sauce
zest of 1 lime plus 1tsp. of lime juice

Mix the ingredients together and form into patties. I pan fried mine in coconut oil for 3 minute preside.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Buffalo Steaks with a Mushroom Port Sauce

I was sitting down to dinner the other night and had made one of my all time favorite dishes. Steak with a mushroom port sauce. It doesn't matter what kind of steak, although I used Bison steaks this time, this sauce is so good it works with any kind of steak. As I was eating, it dawned on me that I have never written about this recipe. how I managed to over look that is beyond me.

It is one of the first things I learned how to make way back in 1998 when I returned home from the Navy. I saw Emeril Lagasse make it on one of his TV shows and ran out to buy everything I needed. I didn't have any venison or wild game at that time to use so I bought strip steaks at the grocery store. I love Port wine and always have a bottle on hand for drinking. The first time I tried this with venison I was sold and it is one of the dishes I make sure to serve to anyone who claims they don't like venison. I made it for my mother-in-law and she told me that this sauce would make cardboard a delicacy.

It goes like this, salt and pepper your steaks generously. Then melt a couple of tablespoons of butter in a pan over medium high heat. Sear the steaks for 2-3 minutes per side until you get a nice crust. Remove the steaks and set aside.

Add another tablespoon of butter to the pan and add minced garlic and shallots. season with salt and pepper and cook for 1 minute. Dump in the mushrooms (I like to use hen of the woods mushrooms for this but I also will use a wild mushroom blend that I get at the grocery store) and cook for 4-5 minutes. Pour in the broth, port, Worcestershire and balsamic vinegar and continue coking until the liquid reduces by half. whisk in 2 more tablespoons of butter. Return the steaks to the pan and cook for 2-3 minutes. To serve Place the steaks on the plate and spoon the mushrooms and the sauce over the steaks.

Its not a bad Idea to have some good bread on hand to soak up the sauce. Otherwise you will end up licking the plate and nobody wants to see that.

Mushroom Port Sauce

8ounces of fresh mushrooms, stems discarded and caps sliced thin

2 cloves of garlic minced
1 shallot finely chopped

1 cup chicken stock
1/2 cup Ruby Port

3 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
Salt and pepper, to taste
2 tablespoons chilled butter. 

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Poor Man's Lobster (Version 1)

Last month I said I was going to start making some of the different versions of Poor man's lobster that I have heard of. If you are unfamiliar with poor man's lobster click the link and catch up. If you are familiar with it then this one might sound familiar to you. One of the old Vets I took care of at the VA told me this one and I figure it was a good place to start.

The recipe goes like this, Cut up pieces of northern pike and soak them in white vinegar for 2-3 days. then boil the pieces of fish in sugar water and dip in butter I used a half cup of sugar for about 4 cups of water. Seems reasonable I suppose, the vinegar would soften the bones and the sugar water would make it sweet and it should be just like lobster. Well some of that it true. Yes the vinegar soften the bones and yes the sugar water made it sweet but it in no way tasted like lobster. I soaked the fillets for 3 days and I am certain that is to long. Not only were the bones soft but the whole fillet was soft. The only way I can describe it is that it had the texture and flavor of pickled lutefisk if pickled lutefisk existed. The over all wasn't horrible but I certainly wouldn't want to sit down to a meal of it anytime soon.

I had said that I was going to try and make each version in a couple of ways. Served with butter and then in a lobster roll. That wasn't possible with this recipe the fish was so mushy and soft that it would have turned to paste if I tried to stir in mayo. So as far as this version goes I can say that it doesn't at all remind me in any way of lobster. I may try it again if I get really bored and only soak the fillets in vinegar for a day at the most. I don't know if that will be enough time to soften the bones or not but maybe the fish will have a better texture.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Pike For Breakfast

I know most people don't immediately think about fish for breakfast but lately I have been loving it. On one of my last fishing outings I was on a lake that has high numbers of Northern Pike and they have special regulations. They want you to keep the smaller pike and encourage you to let all the bigger pike go. (over 24 inches) That wasn't a problem for me because I personally believe that any pike between 20-24 inches is the perfect eating size. It didn't take me long that day and I had my limit of pike in the live well.

I have quite a bit of pike in the freezer now and have been slowly making my way through it. I love eating pike because of its firm texture and mild flavor. It holds up well to a variety of cooking methods and goes well with anything. For breakfast I like to toss it in a little flour with Cavender's Greek seasoning and fry it in butter served alongside some fried eggs and charred tomatoes. It is one of my favorite breakfasts. I like to dip the fish in the runny yolks.