Monday, October 20, 2014

Grouse Hunting Part 2

 
The second half of my week long grouse3 hunting adventure was just as great as the first. It was filled with lots of good food and many firsts for me including my first sharp-tailed grouse and my first Sand hill crane. It started out last Wednesday morning at 0330 when I left my brothers and headed to Warren, MN where some old family friends live and farm. I arrived around 0900 and met Scott Oberg in one of his fields. Scott gave me a quick refresher on which fields I could hunt and where he had been seeing some birds. I set off and walked a few areas around a large swamp that sits in the middle of his property but saw no birds of any sort.
 
I had seen a group of sand hill cranes in one of the fields and thought I would make my way over to them to see if I could get a shot a one. I had never hunted sand hills before and know almost nothing about them except that they are delicious. I was given a crane breast by a friend of mine and really enjoyed it. I figured they were like other birds and if you  could be someplace they wanted to be I might get a passing shot at one. I wasn't sure if you could stalk up on them or not so I gave that a try first. The group of cranes I had seen were sitting in a picked corn fields about a 100 yards from the small dirt road that ran by it. The back portion of the field was still standing corn and a drainage ditch ran behind that. I figured I could walk down that drainage ditch sneak through the corn and possibly get a shot a bird.
 
I was wrong about that, after walking about a mile down this ditch I came to the end of the corn and tried to sneak a peak at where the cranes were. They had moved down to the far end of the field back near where I started. So I walked back down the ditch and tried to come at them from that side. When I got down there they had moved again about half way down the field. I walked into the corn about 6 rows in from the open field and slowly walked down to about 200 yards away from the cranes. I got comfortable and waited to see if they would move again slowly getting closer and closer. The wind was blowing pretty strong and was covering up any noise I was making but even 6 rows into the cord that was at least 7 feet tall I must have done something because all at once they jumped and flew away never flying close enough to get a shot.
 
After a brief break for lunch I headed back out for grouse and found an area that looked promising. A large Wildlife Management Area surrounded by sunflowers with equal amounts grass and small willows and red brush. It didn't take long and Kona had flushed 3 grouse all at once. I am embarrassed to admit that I emptied the gun and didn't hit a single thing. Something my brother likes to call "shoot and release". Grouse don't take off like pheasants do, a pheasant will take off and fly up for a second and then fly away. These grouse seemed to just take off and with the wind that was blowing pretty hard they were gone. All of that is just an excuse for my bad shooting of course. Kona flushed 11 grouse and I shot probably 18 times before I finally connected and figured out how to lead them. The next two after that were spot on and before I knew it I had downed three birds.  The sad part of that is that we only found two of them. Kona and I walked the area for about 45 minutes and couldn't find that lost bird. I am convinced that I didn't hit it very well and that it ran away because if it was dead Kona would have found it.
 
Kona with my first Sharp-tailed Grouse
 
The next day I was up early and out in the corn again hoping to get a passing shot at a crane. Like the day before I had the same result. While I was sitting there I did have a number of grouse fl within  range and I would have taken a shot but I was afraid the 3 1/2 inch 12 gauge shell with BBB shot would be to destructive. The morning passed and I was tired of sitting around so I headed out to try grouse hunting again and went back to the spot I had success at the day before. Initially Kona and I didn't see anything but we came out of some willows into a field of alfalfa and I saw a grouse about 80 yards ahead. I knew that if Kona saw it she would run right at it and I wouldn't get a shot so I called for her to come back and when I called the entire field erupted and there must have been 30 grouse that all took off and flew away from me. It was quite an amazing site to see all those birds at once.
 
Scott wanted to give grouse hunting a try and we had arranged to meet in one of his fields and walk a bit of brush that looked like it might hold some grouse. Scott and I have walked piece of land several times in our life but always in pursuit of deer. We have always flushed grouse out of it and figured it would work. As we started out I said "I wouldn't be surprised if there were a few right in the grass on the edge" and no sooner did I say than a grouse jumped up and I missed. We walked through the brush and ended up flushing another grouse and both Scott and I missed that one as well. As we walked the edge of the brush Scott pointed to the sky and I saw that 4 Sand hill cranes were flying low right over us. As a general rule I always hunt with steel shot for instances just like this. I took a shot and down came the crane. It hit the ground with such a thud that it sound like someone getting tackle in football. I was shocked that the bird actually came down and shocked again at how big they are.

 
 
In all my life I have never had the time to just go hunt for a whole week. This week was a great time and I hope that I get to do it again. I got to hunt with my Brother, my mom and an old friend. I drove over a thousand miles walked about 70 miles shot 3 ruffed grouse, 3 sharp-tailed grouse one crane and finished everyday with a nice glass of whiskey. A special thank you to Scott Oberg and his lovely family for all there generosity, without Scott the second half of my trip would not have been possible. 
 

 

 



Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Grouse Hunting Part 1


I have done a lot of hunting in my life, but in all the time I have been hunting I have never had an entire week off to go do nothing but hunt. Most of my trips are very quick turn around trip driving all night to get somewhere and then quick hunt for 2 or 3 days and then quick drive home to get back to work. This year I planned to take a whole week off to go do nothing but hunt. I planned my trip in two phases and the first phase is coming to an end today and tomorrow I will start phase two.  

The first few days of this trip I have been up near Brainerd, MN staying with my brother and doing some grouse hunting. I don't usually hunt grouse but I used to 20 years ago and always enjoyed it. Last year I went out with Kev and got back into it and thought I would give it a try again this year. Instead of just taking a weekend though I am going to take the whole week and see how it goes.  My first day here I headed out on my own and walked about 12 miles of trails trying to find some grouse. I didn't see any grouse but I did come across a porcupine hanging out in a tree. I don't know if grouse are anything like pheasants but that first day was windy as hell and I wonder if that keeps them hunkered down because I didn't flush a single grouse all day and that seemed odd to me. 


Day two got a little better, Kevin took the day off and went out with me. There was no wind but it was raining all day. Not a hard rain but a light mist that never went away. The first spot we chose to hunt seemed promising, as soon as we got out of the truck we heard a grouse drumming of in the distance and set off into the woods. Not long after we got in to the woods Kona (my dog on loan from a friend) got all birdy and took off into the woods. She flushed a grouse and it flew past us and landed not far from where we were standing. Kevin walked down the trail to see if he could flush it again and it jump up right at his feet and flew off into the woods. Kev and I joked that whenever we reflush a bird we should just walk to where we saw it land and then shoot at our feet because that is where the grouse always jumps from. 

We took a little break for lunch and then headed off to anther area I wanted to try. We weren't even 200 yards into that spot and flushed a grouse. We walked about four miles of trails and crossed a swamp that I ended up waist deep in and flushed 5 more grouse on that trail. We missed all of them, at that point I was feeling a little wet and cold and ready for some bourbon. Then I flushed a woodcock, I shot and it dropped. I saw right where it went down and took off after it. When I got to the spot I saw it go down it jumped up and flew away. I saw where it flew to again and walked to that area, Kona flushed it again and I missed another shot. I chased that woodcock across the woods and flushed it 2 more times before I lost it. I was so excited because I have never shot a woodcock before and I still haven't. That was the end of that day and I needed some bourbon to console myself.


Today looked like a perfect day to be out hunting, no wind, blue skies and our Mom was going to join us. We headed out early and got off to a good start. The first grouse walked out in front of us and we were able to shoot it with out a problem. Then Kona got all birdy again and took off into the woods. I followed behind her and flushed another bird, it took two shots but I drop it on a fairly long shot. A few hundred yard down the trail Kona did it again and I shot my third grouse of the day. Officially making today my best grouse day ever. Then I took us down the wrong trail and got us into a swamp that was some of the hardest walking I have ever done. I was certain it would come out on a trail and loop us back around to where we parked but I was wrong. We walked for about an hour and finally got out of the swamp and woods. By the time we got back to the truck I had wasted what started as a great morning. Mom was tired out and we called it a day after lunch. 


We got back to Kev's house and I had some plucking to do. All three birds were shot pretty good and the breasts and legs were in great shape. I can't wait to get home at the end of the week and start cooking with them. I have three more days left to hunt and am going to head further north and west to hunt for sharptail grouse, a different variety of grouse that I have seen while deer hunting but never shot. I might even get lucky and down a couple of sandhill cranes while I'm up there. I am sure you'll hear all about it if I do. 



Thursday, October 9, 2014

Chicken of the Woods

 
You know that old saying, That even a blind squirrel finds a nut every now and then. This week I was that blind squirrel. I can't say that I have spent a lot of time out in the woods this fall looking for mushrooms but I have been out a handful of times without any success. The most success I have had has been by pure luck. I was at the archery range back in early September and found a very nice puff ball and also found a nice looking puffball in the woods across the street from my house. Both were a little wormy to eat so I haven't had any wild mushrooms to cook with this fall. Until the other morning when I looked out the window of my house and noticed something odd looking growing on my neighbors willow tree.
 
 
It looked a lot like Chicken of the Woods and I immediately went out to get a better look. It was a Chicken of the Woods and was in fairly good shape so I asked my neighbors if they would mind if I cut it down and ate it. They had no objections so I cut it down and brought it inside. The outer part of the mushrooms was a little leathery so I thought I would try a trick I had read about to soften up older mushrooms. I put the shroom in a plastic bag and added a couple sheets of damp paper towel and put it in the fridge over night. By the time I was ready to use it the next afternoon it was perfect.

 
I was looking for recipes to use on this mushroom and came across one for creamed mushroom with toasts. It looked really good so I threw it together and was amazed. Chicken of the Woods is a firm textured meaty flavored mushroom and holds up to cooking really well. I added some cremini mushrooms as well just to reach the the four cups. The creamed mushrooms were delicious they were really a perfect fall appetizer.
 
 
Creamed Mushrooms with Toast
 
 
4 cups wild or store bought mushrooms
1 cove of garlic minced
1 small shallot minced
4 tablespoons of unsalted butter
2 tablespoons sherry vinegar
2 teaspoons freshly chopped sage
2 tablespoons parsley
1 cup of  heavy cream
salt and pepper to taste
 
1. In a large pan melt the butter over medium high heat. Add the shallots and garlic and saute until soft.
 
2. add the mushrooms and cook over medium high heat for 8-10 minutes add the sherry vinegar the sage and parsley and cook for about a minute.
 
3. Stir in the heavy cream and cook until the cream thickens and coats all the mushrooms.
 
4. serve with any kind of toast.
 
Note: If you have never eaten wild mushrooms fry a small amount in a pan and try just a little bit before you make a whole recipe. Some mushrooms that are safe to eat can cause some gastric issues in some people. Always exercise caution when picking and eating wild mushrooms. 

Friday, October 3, 2014

Duck Hunting Opener and Duck Breasts



Last weekend was the Minnesota Duck hunting opener and as usual I was down in Wabasha, MN with my buddy Eric. Opening weekend is very rarely about killing ducks but we have had a a couple of entertaining openers. This year was going to be more about hanging out with Eric and his family than it was going to be about duck hunting. The forecast for the weekend looked beautiful, if you were planning on having a weekend barbecue. highs in the 80's and sunny don't make the most comfortable hunting conditions. Especially when you're wearing waders.

Eric and I were going to be hunting the Wisconsin side of the river and Wisconsin 's season didn't open until 0900. Eric felt that if we want ed to get a decent spot we were going to have to be out there early. We got up at 0200 and were out in the swamp by 0300, the first spot we went to already had hunters in it. Because the weather was so warm there were hunters that opted to sleep in their boats and stay out all night. There were even a few hunters that set up a full camp site out in the swamp to stay there all  weekend. As soon as the sun came up we saw lots of ducks moving around and could here a good amount of shooting coming from the Minnesota side of the river. Minnesota opened their season 30 minutes before sunrise. The duck activity slowed a bit and then right before 0900 we had one wood duck set in over our heads and land In a spread of decoys right in front of Eric's brother and Dad. It was still before legal shooting time so they had to just watch it for a while and then it flew away. That was about all we saw for the rest of the morning, by 1100 it was so warm we were ready to head in.


 Day two was more of the same, we headed out early this time to a spot in the woods with a few potholes of water. We were mostly hoping to get a few wood ducks out of the morning. We saw some ducks flying high over the trees but nothing came down into the woods right away in the morning. Hunting little pools of water in the woods can be a bit sporting because the wood ducks will fly right through the woods and you will never see them coming until they appear for a couple of seconds and then disappear again into the woods. That is what happened with the first ducks that came through. they flew right over Eric and he saw them and took a shot before I even noticed they were there. The second set of duck came in while I was watering a tree and never even saw them either. That was about it for the day, we headed in and back to Eric's place and his brother Mark had shot 3 wood duck that morning so we did have a few duck to cook up. 


Wood ducks are in my opinion the best tasting ducks there are you really don't need to do anything to them. I like to cook them with a little salt and pepper and fry them in butter for a couple of minutes on either side just so they are medium rare. With  these breasts I also made a peach-habenero bourbon sauce to pour over them and I served them up on some blue corn grits and garnished with some soured corn. It was amazing, I only wish I had more duck to work with. The good news is the season just started and I am sure that more ducks are in my future.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Salmon Meatballs with a Maple Teryaki Sauce

 
 
Whenever possible I always try to use as much of a fish or animal that I hunt or catch. Usually that involves using the offal or the bones to make stocks. While watching an episode of The Mind of a Chef, I saw April Bloomfield do something that I thought was pure genius. Using a spoon she scraped the spine section of a salmon and was able to get a good portion of ground salmon off of it. Shortly after seeing this I had gone over to Lake Michigan salmon fishing and was intent on saving all the spine sections to give this a try. The first time I tried it I had made some Salmon burgers that turned out amazing and I have been saving the other spine sections to try a salmon meatball. I finally got around to doing that the other night and the results were as good as I imagined they would be.  

 
Looking back on that salmon fishing trip I was thinking what a waste it was as I sat at the fishing cleaning station and saw all the spine sections from other peoples fishing being fed into a large grinder to be sold as fertilizer to local farmers. If I ever get another chance to go fishing over there again, I may have to ask all the fisherman if I can have there spine sections. I am guessing that if I were to sit there for a couple of hours I could probably collect 15-20 pounds of minced salmon and who knows what I could do with all that, I am thinking salmon hot dogs.

 
These meatballs were about as easy as a meal can get. I took the salmon that I scraped of the spine and pulsed it in a food processor a few times just to break up the bigger pieces of meat. After that I mixed in all the other ingredients by hand and formed it into small ping pong ball sized meatballs. When they were done cooking I tossed them with some homemade maple teryaki sauce. Not a bad meal considering all I used was fish that would have normally gotten thrown away.
 
 
Salmon Meatballs
 
1 pound of fresh salmon
1 egg
1/3 cup panko style bread crumbs
1 tsp sesame oil
2 tsp soy sauce
1/2 tsp fish sauce
1 tablespoon fresh chives finely diced
2 cloves of garlic minced
1 tsp minced fresh ginger
1 tablespoon Sriracha (optional)

Combine all the ingredients and let stand in the fridge for 30 minutes or so. Form your balls and cook on medium high heat for about 1 minutes per side in a little canola oil. Transfer the meatballs to a baking sheet and place in a 300 degree oven for 8-10 minutes. While the meatballs finish in the oven make your teryaki sauce in the same pan you seared the meatballs in.

Maple Teryaki Sauce

3 tablespoons Mirin
3 tablespoons soy sauce
3 tablespoons sake
3 tablespoons maple sugar
2 teaspoons cornstarch mixed with 2 tsp of water.

Stir together the Mirin, soy, sake and maple sugar until well combined and pour into the hot pan you seared you meatballs in. Bring to a boil and add the cornstarch and water and stir until thick. Toss you meatball in the sauce and enjoy.


Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Tomatoes and a Golden Tomato Bisque

 
I was gone on vacation for a week and when I came home I was very excited to go see my garden hoping that it would be full of vegetables to harvest. I sort of got my wish, most of my zucchini and cucumbers plants were rotten, so they had to be pulled. I did get one massive green zucchini fro the one plant that still looks alive. There was a pound and a half of beans to be picked  and all my tomatoes were fall over. The cages and everything had been pulled over by the weight of to many tomatoes and some heavy rain. I started cutting the plants back and trying to salvage as many tomatoes as I could and ended up getting a nice harvest of tomatoes. Many of the pear and cherry tomatoes were to small and green so I was just going to throw them out but then reconsidered and decided to pickle all of them. I will let you know if they turn out in about a month. 

 
I had plenty of ripe red tomatoes and was planning on making sauce so I went to the store and bought a tomato pulper. Easily the best 50 bucks I have ever spent. It turned a 2 hour job into a 30 minute job and was easy enough that my daughter was able to help. It got a little messy but was worth every penny. We juiced and pulped all the tomatoes and had about two gallons worth.
 

 
After several hours of simmering the tomato sauce I ended up with almost 10 pints of sauce. This is the most basic sauce it is just tomato sauce and then to each jar a put a couple of basil leaves in the bottom and sealed them. I absolutely love using this sauce in the fall and winter months is tastes ten times better than anything I have ever bought at the store.
 
 
 I had all these yellow pear tomatoes which have been my favorites so far. I have been making some pretty awesome tomato salads with them but thought I would make a nice tomato bisque with this batch. The recipe is a version of Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstahls and really couldn't be any easier.

 
You can use any type of tomato for this recipe as long as you have about two pounds. Put the tomatoes in a baking dish with a splash of olive oil, some garlic cloves and some oregano. Then roast the tomatoes in a 350 degree oven for about 50 minutes. When they are done roasting run them through a juicer or chinois and reserve the pulp and juice. Add to this 2 cup of light chicken stock of vegetable stock and begin to simmer. Cook for about 15 minutes uncovered and then add 5-6 rice cakes and a 1/2 cup of heavy cream. Put in a blender or use a wand blender to mix in the rice cakes. Right before you serve it add a splash of sherry vinegar a few croutons and enjoy. I drizzled a little olive oil on mine, it was a perfect late summer lunch. 


 

 

 

Friday, August 15, 2014

Thin Fried Catfish

 
There are good days of fishing and there are great days of fishing. I have only had great days of fishing with Eric Passe. Not everyday has produced a live well full of fish but everyday has produced a great time with a great friend. My last outing with Eric was a couple of weeks ago and he took me out on the Mississippi river fishing for whatever was going to bite. Within minutes of arriving at the first spot Eric had already hooked a very nice 21 inch walleye that went right into the live well. Shortly after that he hooked another only this time he was a little more excited. Eric has a very unique ability to tell what kind of fish and about how big that fish is before he even gets it into the boat. After about 15 minutes of fighting the fish I netted it and it was this beautiful 29 1/2 inch walleye. He put that one back in the river. 

 
 
I have been fishing with Eric for 12 or 13 years now and we do a bit of duck hunting together as well. I am not lying when I say that I could sit in a boat drinking Busch Light with him all day and just watch him fish. He has fished a part of the Mississippi river his whole life and has gotten to know it so well that going out with him isn't really fishing, its more like stealing from nature.
 
I didn't get any walleyes that day but it seemed like I was catching fish left and right, mostly sheeps head and small bass with the occasional sun fish mixed in and then I got a very strange bite. It felt very much like something was just gumming my worm. I let it have a little line and then wham, set the hook and was into something good. Eric could tell by the way the fish was heading up river and by the way it was tugging out line that it was probably a catfish. I know some people aren't found of catfish but I love everything about them. They fight like nothing else and if you take care of them after you catch them they are delicious.
 
 
I don't get the opportunity to clean catfish very often but there is something about cleaning cats that I really like. I like to rip all the skin off and then cut the two big fillets off each side, if done correctly I can usually come away with boneless fillets. Caring for your fish starts before that, Eric and I filled the live well with ice and then all the fish we are going to keep go on ice as soon as they are caught. This helps prevent the fish from getting to warm and breaking down. Sometimes in the summer months the water in the live well can get pretty warm and if the fish are in there for a long time it can make the meat a bit mushy.It also has the added bonus of meaning you don't have to drain the live well after your done fishing.
 
After filleting them I placed them in a 1 gallon Ziploc bag with a teaspoon of kosher salt and then covered the fillets in water and let them sit in the fridge overnight. I find that this step removes some of the fishy taste that can sometimes be off putting . 


 

I caught two catfish that day and they were probably in the 6-8 pound range, perfect for eating. I had watched an episode of the PBS series "The Mind Of a Chef" where they were eating shaved catfish. Shaved catfish is basically just a fillet of catfish that has been sliced thinly, breaded and fried. A quick google search said that it originated in the depression when they were trying to maximize the amount of fish they had. I can see why it worked, the one fillet I used, sliced into 6 thinner pieces and fed my family of 4 no problem.

The process was pretty easy I marinated the fillets in buttermilk for about 30 minutes then tossed them in flour dipped them in egg wash and gave them a coating of corn flour and corn meal. They fry up pretty quickly and come out in these magnificent sheets of fried goodness. I gave mine a sprinkle of salt and Old Bay seasoning and they were delicious.