Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Corned Duck Gizzard Rueben Bites

Every once in a great while I get an idea that is a little out there. Most of the time I fail and it never turns into anything. But every now and again I get to stand proudly and proclaim to everyone in my house that I am a genius. My wife usually rolls her eyes and my children refuse to eat whatever it is I just created but for a brief moment I get to claim victory. My latest victory came in the form of Corned Gizzard Rueben Bites.

I have been a big fan of gizzards my entire life, only in the last 6-7 years have I really ventured out from chicken gizzards and started using all the gizzards I get from ducks and geese. I have even recruited a few of my friends to collect the gizzards from the fowl they shoot. Last year I ended up with three one gallon bags full of gizzards. That is a lot of meat that usually gets tossed out. A gizzards really is just a very dense ball of meat and most people would never eat them. If they are cooked properly they can be transformed into something very tender and delicious. As far as cleaning a gizzard you want to cut them in half and then I like to fillet the little jewels of meat away from the tough sack that hold them together. This will leave you with four little balls of meat per gizzard.

I have cooked gizzards in many different ways but my favorite way is to corn them. The corning process is just a brine that they sit in and then you simmer the gizzards for about and hour and a half. I use Hank Shaw's corning recipe and it works on everything not just gizzards. If you have never corned a venison roast or my personal favorite an antelope roast you really don't know what you're missing. I personally feel that every hunter should learn how to apply the corning process to the game they get it is as valuable as learning to field dress an animal.

After the gizzards have been corned you will know they are done when you can mash them with a fork. Let them cool and dry. then Shred 8 oz. of swill cheese and mix it with 1 cup of drained sauerkraut.

The gizzards lose some of their size during the cooking process and end up as perfect little nuggets of meats. 

Place two balls of meat on each tooth pick .

This is where the fun begins. grab a handful of the cheese and kraut mixture and try to form it around the gizzards. It requires a little packing and repacking but holds pretty well.

as soon as you get the kraut and cheese mixture to stick on the gizzards place them in the freezer for about and hour to keep the balls from falling apart.

While the gizzards are in the freezer you can mix up your rye batter for the outside. I used a mixture of corn meal and rye flour and got the perfect texture for the breading.

1 cup rye flour 
1/2 cup corn meal
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp onion powder
1/2 tsp ground caraway seed
2 tablespoons sugar
1 egg
1 cup milk

The batter should be a little thick, you want it to stick to the little pops and not drip at all.

Once they are battered drop them into the oil heated to 350 degrees for 5-6 minutes. the Rueben bites will get a little darker than golden brown and that is the color you are shooting for.

Once you pull them out of the oil you can remove the tooth picks and serve them up hot.

These little Rueben bites were amazing. I know they were amazing because my wife who normally dislikes all things offal related ate them and said they were really good. Serve them up with a little thousand Island dressing and you have the perfect appetizer and you get to shock your friends who will never believe that gizzards could taste this good. 

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Wild Offal

This is an older post that I am recycling because it looks like more and more people are getting on board with the eat everything movement. I have many recipes on this site dealing with tongues and hearts and livers and one of my favorite parts is the gizzard. Give them a try, you might be pleasantly surprised. 
confit duck gizzard parcels

When I was about five years old I lived in a small town in Illinois, the only super market in town was a Red Owl and on occasion they would have fried chicken gizzards in the deli. My father was a big fan of fried gizzards and we would eat several pints of fried gizzards anytime we could get them. The gizzards were very chew and had an odd texture but had a wonderful flavor. That is my first memory of eating offal. During that same period of my life I also remember eating liver for the first time mom would fry it in bacon grease and I would eat it with yellow mustard. Sometime after that I realized what liver and gizzards were and I was absolutely appalled that my parents would feed that stuff to me.

kidneys with mixed green and a mustard vinagrette
For some people the biggest obstacle to get over with offal isn’t that it tastes bad, it’s that they can’t get over the fact that it is an organ. They just have this mental block that says “no, I am not supposed to eat that”. For a period of my life I was the same way but thankfully I got over that and have been enjoying offal for most of my life. Offal is all of the parts of the animal that most people would never eat but if cared for properly and prepared correctly, can be just as good as the best cuts of any animal. The most important thing to remember about offal is the freshness is everything. With cuts like the heart and tongue you can get away with freezing them for long periods of time. I have found that livers and kidneys are usually best fresh especially kidneys, the longer they sit the stronger their flavor gets and that isn’t always a good thing. Fresh livers and kidneys have a very pleasant almost sweet taste and are delicious when prepared correctly.

Grilled heart with ramp and nettle chimichuri

One of my favorite things to eat is venison heart. I know a lot of people think, heart, that’s disgusting, the way I think of it is, the heart is just muscle like all the rest of the animal it just has a more intense flavor. Heart requires a little more care than the rest of the meat. First there are the arteries, they can be very chewy and are not very nice to look at. Whenever I eat heart I like to cut it in half exposing the four chambers of the heart. I then cut away any of the valves and connective fibers that are in the heart. Once that is done you end up with a couple pieces of meat that look no different than some of the other cuts of the animal. One of my favorite things to do after I get a deer is to fry the heart and serve it with some eggs for breakfast.

Roasted Beets with dry cured grated antelope liver

Livers are probably the most versatile of the organ meats, there are endless possibilities of what to do with a liver. Fresh livers thinly sliced and sautéed in butter are a thing of beauty, but you can also grind the livers up and make pates and terrines with them. A couple of years ago I came across a recipe for Mazzafagetti which is an Italian sausage traditionally made with pigs livers. It is seasoned with garlic, orange and coriander and is a brilliant way to use livers. I few years ago I dry cured an antelope liver and it was hard and had a weird chewiness on its own but when I grated it over roasted beets is was amazing.

Duck Heart tartare

Offal doesn’t just apply to big game animals it applies to birds and small game as well. Sautéed rabbit livers and kidneys are some of the best eats around. Ducks and geese provide some very good possibilities as well. Hearts, livers and gizzards from ducks and geese can be used to make some of my favorite dishes. Duck heart tartare made with fresh duck hearts is a delicacy that most people will never have but if they did there would be a shortage of duck hearts instantly. Whenever duck hunting I save all for the hearts livers and gizzards and I have a couple of buddies who save all of them for me as well. Duck gizzards are just a very dense ball of meat but if prepared correctly can be transformed into some very tender and delicious foods. I like to confit my gizzards and then serve them with good brie cheese and a basil jelly on toast. This year I did something different with my gizzards I made a Chinese five spice confit with them and shredded the gizzards up and served them in spring rolls.

As a hunter I really enjoy being able to prepare some of the odd bits of the animals I shoot. A couple of years ago I was out in one of my favorite hunting areas and found a deer that had been shot. Whoever shot this deer just left it out in the field; they removed the backstraps which are the two big loins that run along the spine but left the rest of the animal to rot out in the field. This really upset me because I feel that as responsible hunters we need to make an effort to use as much of the animals we shoot as possible. I am not saying that everybody who shoots a deer should take the organs home and eat them but to kill an animal and only take the prime cuts and leave the rest to rot is criminal.

Chinese Five Spice Confit Duck Gizzard Parcels
One pound duck gizzards (rinsed and cleaned)
1 teaspoon Chinese five spice powder
2 tablespoons kosher salt
1 quart duck fat
1 large cucumber (julienned)
1 large carrot (julienned)
Rice paper wraps
½ cup rice vinegar
2 tablespoons sugar
Hoisin sauce

1       Mix the five spice powder and the salt together and toss the gizzards with the mixture. Let sit overnight in the fridge.
2       Rinse the gizzards and pat dry
3       Place the gizzards in a heavy oven proof pan and cover in duck fat
          Place in the oven at 200 degrees for 4-6 hours or until the gizzards can be smashed with a fork then remove the gizzards from the fat and shred the meat
         Mix together the rice vinegar and the sugar and Soak the julienned carrots for at least 30 minutes
Follow the directions for your rice paper wraps then place a small amount of the shredded gizzards in the center with some cucumber and carrots and a small amount of hoisin sauce.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Public Land

I know this is a food blog for the most part but most of the food on here is wild game. That said I feel this is appropriate. I live just south of the Minneapolis area, it takes me 20 minutes to get to downtown Minneapolis and it also takes me 20 minutes to get to the nearest piece of state land that is legal for me to hunt. I hunt mostly public land for all species of animals that you have read about me cooking on this blog. There are some exceptions to this but I would say that 90% of my hunting takes place on public land. Here in Minnesota a lot of that land is designated Wildlife Management Area.

These are plots of land that have been purchased by or donated to the Department of Natural Resources. There purpose is to provide anyone who would like to get out and experience nature or wildlife an opportunity to do so free of charge. They are mostly used by hunters like my self who do not own land to hunt on. They are also used by people who want to go out and view nature. Whatever the reason for use, the people who use them are there to enjoy nature.

That is a wonderful thing, and should be treated with the respect it deserves. There are a few rules one must follow when using the WMA's in Minnesota. Do not dump trash on these areas, if you brought it out there with you then bring it home with you. Do not dump carcasses at the areas, no promiscuous shooting or target practice and do not clean you game in the parking area.

I was recently out at one of these WMA's this past week to do a little deer hunting and when I pulled into the parking area the pictures you see here are what I saw. Somebody had breasted out a bird and then left the rest of the carcass in the parking area. I like to clean a lot of my game while I am in the field, it keeps the meat fresh and improves the quality of the meal I prepare. I do not do this in the parking area. I usually do this out in the field where I shoot the animal and not where it is going to leave a mess for everyone to deal with.

The target you see here was one of three that were tape to a tree and shot up. Again right in the parking lot, but they weren't the only things that would lead me to believe someone was wasting rounds. As I hunted the area I found 5 pop bottles fit over tree branches that were completely shot up. That leads me to the last thing, the garbage that was thrown out everywhere. Yes these are public lands but they are designated for public use to enjoy the outdoors not for you to get drunk and leave alcohol bottles or soda bottles all over the place.

All of these activities are illegal but clearly no one cares. While I was out that day I saw dozens of squirrels, 2 owls and a decent but not huge 8 point buck. For the most part a good day in the woods but I am not going to get to enjoy days like that for much longer if stuff like this continues to happen. If people continue to abuse the public land that has been set aside for everyone to use the state is going to restrict access to it and we as hunters, wildlife enthusiast and nature lovers are going to lose the access we need. If that happens I say good luck trying to find a farmer who will grant you access to his land so you can dump your trash, get drunk and shoot up his land. 

Saturday, November 7, 2015

My Long Journey for Grits

 I like grits and most of the time I feel like I am the only one who does. Whenever I look for grits at the store all I can find are instant grits and that doesn't help me at all. Sure I can go online and order quality grits from Anson Mills but that would be to easy. Last year about this time, I had an idea that I would like to grow my own corn and make my own grits. I mentioned the idea to a good friend of mine and the next thing you know we were growing corn. When I say "we" I mean Rick was growing corn. He has a small hobbie farm near Cannon Falls, Mn and said he had room to put in a few rows of corn. He chose a beautiful Oaxacan Green dent corn that is supposed to be pretty good for making into meal and grits. Rick planted a lot of corn, I wasn't really sure we would need that much corn but then again we just might.

Rick's corn really took off and from very early on in the process we could tell that this was going to be good corn. There is an only farmers saying about corn, that the corn should be knee high by the fourth of July if you are going to have a good crop. the picture above is from July 7th this year. Rick is six feet tall. We didn't get any pictures of the corn before it was picked but his stalks were well over ten feet tall and most of the stalks had three ears of corn on them.

After the corn was picked came the drying phase Rick had to open up all the corn and then tie it into bundles to let the corn dry before it could be milled. It hung for several weeks before it was ready to be shelled. I had purchased a hand cranked, cast iron shelling machine that worked perfectly for removing the corn from the cob. I tried to upload a video but couldn't get it to work. I also purchased mill attachment for my Kitchen Aid Mixer so I could mill all the corn myself.

I milled three cups of corn and got about 4 cups of corn meal. the color of the green dent corn is really quite beautiful when it is milled. You would think the first thing I would have done with it was make grits but I went with cornbread instead. I followed Sean Brocks Cornbread recipe and was absolutely blown away at how good that cornbread was. I know a certain amount of it had to do with the process of getting the meal. When you put in the effort to make something like your own grits or cornmeal you can taste that. All of Rick's hard work to grow this amazing corn was worth it. Cornberad is just the beginning. I have enough corn to make everything corn related so I am going to make grits and then tamales, and tortillas and I have been playing around with a corn pudding that should be pretty amazing. So stay tuned for more corn related posts and if you have any suggestions on how I should use this stuff please share.

Monday, October 26, 2015



I have debated with myself for two weeks trying to decide if I should tell this story. I finally decided that I should because hunting isn't just about all the successes we have in the field. It is also about the failures we have. We don't often talk about the failures but it is the failures that we learn from the most.

I had a few days off in the beginning of October and had been invited up to Angus, MN by an old friend, James Oberg to do a little bowhunting. James has a bunch of farmland that he owns and has been seeing a lot of deer so I figured I would head up and sit and if the right deer presented itself I would take a shot.

The first morning out started quickly with a mom and two yearlings coming out into a clearing in front of me. I watched them for a while and then a small spike buck and equally small 4 pointer wondered out of the woods and started sparring for about 20 minutes. There seemed to be deer all around me and out walked a nice looking 6 point buck that under most circumstances I would have shot in a heartbeat. The buck walked around in front of me for so long that I almost changed my mind about shooting him. He was a big bodied deer and I kept looking at him thinking, that he would be a lot of meat in the freezer. I ended up letting him go because it was the first morning out and I had already seen a lot of deer.

The morning passed and I climbed out of my stand and spent the afternoon walking fields looking for sharp-tail grouse. I only saw one but did jump a cow moose out of a swamp about 30 yards away. When you are expecting a grouse and get a moose it comes as quite a shock. I walked a couple more field edges and then made my way down to the stand again and climbed in for the evening.

Again, right away out came a couple of fawns and a decent doe. They made there way down the field and I sat in silence for a while before seeing a couple of deer about 200 yards down the field of corn. The deer in front seemed pretty set on making its way down towards me and the one behind it was content to follow. As the first deer came within range I was able to see that it was a small 6 point buck and I was perfectly willing to pass on him. The Deer that followed was a decent 8 pointer with a tall but nice rack and would have easily been the biggest buck I had ever shot and the first buck I had ever shot with a bow. I waited and waited to see if he would walk pass and when it looked like he was going to I slowly stood up and got myself ready.

The stand I was hunting wasn't terribly high up in the tree so I was a little afraid that I was going to spook this deer. I got to my feet and the deer was about 15 yards out from my stand. As the deer walked closer and closer I was certain I was going to take the shot and drew back my bow. When the deer was directly in front of me giving me a perfect broadside shot I put my pin right behind and above the shoulder blade. I released my arrow and hit what I thought was a perfect shot. I could see blood pouring out of the deer as it ran off into the woods. After I shot I noticed some movement off to my left and about a 100 yards down the field edge was a beautiful 10 pointer. I couldn't see that deer while I was focused on the 8 pointer because of the angle the deer was coming at. James had a better vantage point of what was going on and came over after I climbed down. He said he was surprised I shot the 8 when the 10 was coming. Unfortunately I didn't see the 10 until after I had already made the shot on the 8.

When I walked over to find my arrow I was shocked to see that it was kind of an off gray color. I had hit the intestines somehow. I don't know if the deer flinched or if the arrow deflected of a rib but where I saw the arrow go in at and where it came out at the shot wasn't as good as I thought. James and I walked over to the woods to see if there was a good blood trail and there was blood everywhere. It was starting to get dark and the idea of leaving the deer for  few hours over even over night was thrown out as soon as the coyotes started howling. I was pretty certain by the amount of blood I was seeing that this deer was down. We went back to the truck and got some flashlights and started following the trail. It wasn't a hard trail to follow and there was blood on both sides of the trail. James and I followed that blood trail for two hours before we lost it.

I have no idea how that deer managed to run as far as it did. I have arrowed a lot of deer and even the ones that I didn't get the best hit on didn't go that far. As best as I could tell that deer never quit running after it was shot. The blood trail was constant and there was never a point where it looked like it had bed down or even stopped for any amount of time. I have never lost a deer before, in all my years of hunting I have followed every deer to the end. I have been told that if you hunt long enough that it will happen to everyone. I was just pretty sure it was never going to happen to me.

Over the last two weeks I have replayed that shot in my head over and over again. What if I had waited just a little bit longer and taken a quartering away shot? What if I had just taken that 6 pointer that morning? What if I had passed on that 8 pointer? I can second guess myself from now till eternity. As sure as I was that my shot was good what I have taken away from this is that when you are hunting wild animals nothing is a sure thing.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Duck Stew with Peppers and Hominy

The duck season is well under way here in Minnesota and as is my usual I was down in Wabasha hunting with my longtime friend and duck hunting guru Eric Passe. It is interesting to me how Eric and I have changed our hunting practices as we have gotten older. some of that having to do with the constantly changing rules and regulations of duck hunting. When we first started duck hunting together legal shooting hours didn't start until 9 AM so we would get up and head out to the swamp around 5 AM and try to find a spot in a very crowded swamp.

This year we could start shooting a half hour before sunrise so we wanted to get out there a little earlier. We got up at 2 AM, that may seem ridiculous to some but we weren't even the first ones out there. As we drove through the swamp there were already other hunters out there. I am pretty sure some of them went out the night before and camped out in their boats. The stretch of the Mississippi river that we hunt is a very popular spot for duck hunting. For Eric opening day is more about tradition than actually shooting ducks.

He usually picks a spot where he is pretty certain there will be some wood ducks and then treats opening day like a wood duck hunt. If he gets his three wood ducks he is done hunting for the day. That's not to say that he would take any other duck if the opportunity presented itself. He just doesn't feel the need to compete with every other hunter out there for the lone hen mallard flying way to high to shoot at anyway. It is almost a comedy show down there when a mallard or goose comes flying over. everybody is certain that their duck or goose call is going to be the one that brings tat bird in and the symphony of calling begins. What is truly funny is when the goose calls start and the whole swamp chimes in. Everybody is calling and your looking around and can't see anything and then you realize they are all calling at a high migrating flock of cormorants.

This year was a pretty good year that first morning Eric had gotten us into a great little spot and as soon as the shooting began the wood ducks started diving in there we had our wood duck limit in about an hour and hung out til about 830 just to see if any teal would grace us with their presence. The next morning was more of the same, a few less ducks than the day before but we could have easily hit our 6 wood duck limit if my shooting had been a little better. All totaled we shot 9 wood ducks over the two mornings we hunted and I had plenty of duck to try out a new stew I had been working on.

I had made this stew a couple of times with pork and it turned out wonderfully. I felt like it was only missing one thing and that was some wild game meat and duck was what I had in mind. I used the duck breasts for the meat and made a nice stock with the rest of the bodies. My pictures don't do this stew justice it was awesome. I used a tomatillo salsa that I had made, the whole stew has a nice smokeyness and just enough heat to make you happy. The hominy gives it an addition level of texture and flavor and really puts this stew at the top of my favorites list. The best part is it is done in the crockpot so you can start it before you leave for a day of hunting and come home to a hearty meal at the end of the day.

Duck Stew with Peppers and Hominy

1.5 lbs duck cut into 1 inch cubes
4 green peppers, diced
1 medium onion, diced
5 cloves of garlic, roughly chopped
2 cups of duck stock
8 ounces of tomatillo salsa (any salsa verde would work)
1 tsp chipotle powder
1 tsp smoked paprika
2 tsp sugar
1 1/2 tsp ground cumin
2 tablespoons of dried oregano
1 tsp liquid smoke
2 16 oz cans white hominy, drained
 2 tablespoons olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

Season the duck with salt and pepper. Heat the oil over medium high heat and when It starts to smoke brown the duck pieces in batches until all the duck is browned. Put all the duck in the crockpot and add the remaining ingredients. Stir to combine and set the crock pot on low for 6-8 hours. Serve over rice and enjoy.

This will work well with almost any game meat and worked well with pork and chicken also.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Wild Rice Risotto

I have had sort of a rediscovery of wild rice as of late. When I was a kid I really never enjoyed it and I have only faked my way through enjoying it since then. This summer I was in Northern Minnesota and wanted to find some wild rice. I have been considering giving the whole ricing thing a try. I really enjoy harvesting and processing my own food so I figured, maybe if I went through the whole process of harvesting and processing wild rice I might enjoy it more. What  discovered was a whole new appreciation for wild rice.

I had driven past a road side stand that advertised wild rice for $1.99 a pound. I had never seen it that cheap anywhere else so I was intrigued to find out what made this so inexpensive. What I found out inside this little shop was a little old lady who new more about wild rice than I would have thought possible. She walked me through the differences in cultivated and wild grown rice and taught me all about how to process the rice. Most of us are familiar with the black grains of wild rice that we buy at the grocery store. What most of us don't know is that wild rice is mostly cultivated and then dried over a 10-15 day process giving the rice that black color.

There is another method of processing called parching, where the rice is loaded into a half barrel or large cast iron cauldron and then set over a fire. The type of fire used is either wood or gas and believe it or not it makes a difference. The wood parched has a better flavor and lighter color in my opinion.

When I asked about the $1.99 a pound sign out front she told me that was for what they called soup rice. The rice kernels that are broken into small pieces during the harvest and parching process. This little old lady told me that it is just as good but they aren't the whole kernels that people like. I bought ten pounds of soup rice which ended up being 99 cents when you buy it in bulk.

The first thing I did with it was make a wild rice soup and it was fantastic. After that I used it to make a wild rice salad of sorts with beets and goats cheese and that was amazing. So I was on a roll with the wild rice and had found a couple of things I really enjoyed with it. I got the idea to try to make a wild rice main dish that would be the main course not just a side. I immediately thought about risotto. I wasn't sure it would work but thought I'd give it a shot anyway. Since wild rice and duck go together so well I used some homemade duck stock to make the rice. You could use any stock I imagine but the duck stock worked really well. I know I keep repeating the same thing over and over again but I am always trying new things and trying old things I didn't like. When I do I almost always find out that I have been missing out on something I truly enjoy. I served this risotto up with a fried eggplant and mozzarella sandwich and it was amazing.

Wild Rice Risotto

            1 cup wild rice
            1 medium onion, diced
            2 cloves of garlic
            3 tablespoons of duck fat (or butter)
            ½ cup dry white wine
            8 cups of duck stock warmed on the stove(or any stock you have)
            3 sprigs of thyme
            1 tablespoon fresh chopped sage leaves
            2 tablespoons of butter

Melt the duck fat in a large pan and sauté the onions and garlic until they soften then add the wild rice and stir until all the wild rice is well coated with fat. Add the white wine and stir until almost all of the wine is absorbed. When the wine is almost all absorbed start adding the stock one ladle at a time and stirring the rice until the stock is all absorbed. Once one ladle of stock is absorbed add the next ladle until all the stock is used. This can be a time consuming process, about 25 minutes. When you add the last ladle of stock and the thyme and sage and stir into the rice. When the last of the stock is almost all absorbed add the butter and stir to combine. Serve immediately and enjoy.