Saturday, October 15, 2016

Lake Trout Brushed with Dijon Mustard and Fried in an Herb Breading

My garden didn't really produce mush this year, at least not compared to years past. The one thing I did have plenty of were my herbs. I had a tone of chives so much so that I had to find other ways to use it, like chive oil. I have been told that you can dry your herbs for later use or freeze them in little cubes of olive oil but neither of those options really amused me. A number of years ago I cooked some salmon that was rubbed in Dijon mustard and then rolled in fresh herbs. I remember eating it thinking that the flavors were all there but the herb didn't really stay on the fish and the whole thing seemed to be missing something.

As I was thinking about making the dish again it occurred to me that what the salmon dish was missing was a texture. And that texture could be accomplished by adding bread crumbs. By pulverizing the herbs with bread crumbs and then breading a pan frying the fish you would get all the same flavors but also have that nice crisp crunch that many of us enjoy with our fish. When I went to the freezer to get some salmon I found a perfect lone fillet of Lake Trout that just looked like it wanted to be bathed in Dijon and breaded.

The Dijon makes add a very subtle flavor and help the breadcrumbs stick and all the herbs in the breading come through to give this dish a tremendous flavor. Lake trout has a really great texture and has a firm meat that held together quite well. As I ate this it reminded me a bit of Schnitzel I served it along side some wilted sorrel that gave me that lemony acidity that goes so wonderfully with fried foods.

Lake Trout with a Dijon and Herb Breading

Lake trout fillets
2 tablespoons Dijon Mustard per fillet
1 cup plain bread crumbs
1/2 cup of chopped herbs (use what ever herbs you like, I used rosemary, thyme, parsley, sage and chives)

Oil for frying
 In a food processor combine the bread crumbs and the herbs and pulse until the herbs are finely chopped. Brush the fillets with Dijon until completely coated. Roll in the bread crumbs until coated then fry in a large pan with a quarter inch of oil. If you don't have sorrel to use serve with a wedge of lemon and squeeze over the fish.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Roasted Hen of the Woods Mushroom with Lemon Garlic Aioli

One of the things I have noticed about foraging for mushrooms is how easy it is to find the second one. I have spent whole days out looking for mushrooms and not found anything and then I see one. After I pick It I start seeing them everywhere. Last year was the first year I had ever found a hen of the woods mushroom. What I had read about Hens is that they tend to grow back in the same spot for several years in a row. I kept track of the date I found that one last year and headed back to the same spot this year to see if it was true.

With very little effort I walked right to the same spot this year and there she was a nice Hen of the woods mushroom ready of r the picking. As I walked out of the woods My eye was Immediately drawn to the mushroom you see in the picture at the top. I was about 60 yards away and there it was plain as day. I came home that day with about 12 pounds of Hen of the woods. ( also known as Maitake)

Then a couple of days ago I was out squirrel hunting with a friend of mine. As we were walking up the hill on the back side of his property I walked right into and old oak stump with a giant Maitake hanging off the side. Now that I have seen them and found a few I feel like I could go out and find them anytime.

The Maitake is a great mushroom with a great texture and many uses and when you find one you usually have plenty to use and store for later use. I like to dehydrate some and freeze the rest. When I freeze them I pack the mushrooms into one quart freezer safe container and then cover them with water and a teaspoon of salt. Then when you thaw them out to use them the water you put in has magically turned into a mushroom stock of sorts. 

As far as using them goes I like to add them to soups and stews and I am currently working on a batch that I will be using as a tamales filling. When they are fresh and you have picked them over a little I like to roast them and serve them as an appetizer with a lemon garlic Aioli.

Roasted hen of the woods

1 pound of Hen of the woods cleaned and picked over
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons bacon drippings
3 sprigs of thyme
salt and pepper to taste

Toss the mushrooms with the oil, bacon drippings, salt, pepper and thyme and then bake in a 325 degree oven for 50-60 minutes.

for the Aioli

1/2 cup mayo
juice and zest from one lemon
2 cloves of garlic finely minced
salt and pepper to taste

Serve the mushrooms with the aioli and enjoy.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

What is a successful Hunt?

How do you define a successful hunt? This is a topic I have talked about a lot in the last week. For many a successful hunt is when you fill your tag or shoot your limit. Its true that being out in the field and finding the animal you are after and killing that animal is a success. But I don't think that has to be the only type of success you can have. Over the last couple weeks I was fortunate enough to make my way from Minnesota to the North central part of Colorado for my first elk hunt. I knew going into this that the odds of getting an elk on my first trip and on public land were not in my favor. For the area I was hunting last years success rate was 15 %. That is for the whole elk season including archery, muzzle loader and rifle. Knowing that I was still all in.

I was heading out with three of my old Army buddies Ben Pena, Mike Keller and Andrew Merryman. Of all of us only Ben had been to this area and had an idea of what we were getting into. We didn't have horses so we were going to need to pack a weeks worth of gear and food about 9 miles back into the wilderness. Going in we ran into several groups of muzzle loader hunters who had varying success. We ran into one group out of Kansas that had managed to tag 3 out 5 of their tags and that seemed promising. As we hiked in it became very clear that we were the only ones going in and of all the people we ran into we were the only ones on foot. Everyone had horses and after a week in the wilderness I can certainly see how they would have been helpful. 

The first several days we were out there the weather was absolutely gorgeous. We saw lots of good elk sign and were very hopeful that we were going to get a chance at an elk. On our third day in we saw what would turn out to be the only elk of our trip. We bumped it while walking along a ridge about 40 yards away. It was a small bull that wouldn't have been a legal bull to shoot but it was the first elk we had seen and got us all pumped up for the possibility of getting one. After seeing that one it made everything seem that much more interesting. Every twig that snapped or leaf that rustled could be an elk and had me in hyper alert mode. On a couple of occasions I was sitting in the woods waiting and would hear something that I was certain was going to be an elk only to find out it was a mule deer or a squirrel.

That kind of excitement and anticipation is something I haven't felt in a long time. I had a picture that my daughter had drawn me that I brought out with me and I would look at this picture and absorb the area I was in and try to imagine how big and wonderful the Rocky Mountains would seem to a 7 year old. Or how excited my son would get if he saw a deer standing 8 yards away from him. In those moments I would hear another twig and it would center my focus in whatever direction the sound came from and I would be zeroed in waiting for an animal to appear. On occasion an animal would appear but it was never the animal I was after.

When I went into this trip I had a few goals. One of those goals was to see some very specific animals. I wanted to see a Dusky grouse, a bear, an elk, a moose and a big ass mule deer. I was fortunate enough to see all five. My other goal was to be able to make it through the whole week without quitting. What I mean by that is I didn't want my stamina to be a problem. Starting back in January I started running, and I ran a lot. There is an old saying that, "legs feed the wolf". I am very happy to say that is very true. All that running paid off and at no point and time did I feel my legs or my lungs were over worked. When I do this again I will keep training the same way with one addition. There is no substitute in the gym for carrying a 70 pound pack. So when we do this again I will add a couple hikes a week carrying a heavy pack to my training. 

Towards the end of the trip I was a little concerned that I wasn't going to see a bear while up in the mountains but luckily for me on the hike out towards the end of the trail we saw a bear on the trail about 80 yards ahead of us just strolling down the trail. I was soaked with rain and worn down after a week in the mountains. After walking 9 miles in the mud and rain I saw the bear and was instantly recharged and excited. It was awesome.

I really like the picture above for two reasons, you can't see them but there were trout in this little pool which were really cool to see. The other reason is we came across this pool after 3 days of hiking around the mountains and I was getting a little ripe at that point. As soon as I saw that it was about 2 feet deep in the middle I stripped off all my clothes and strolled in. It was cold, but it felt so good. After that I was ready for 4 more days of hard work.

We hiked to the top of a couple of peaks to see if we could spot anything and even though we didn't see any animals we were treated to some of the best views I have ever seen. These pictures don't quite do them justice. The whole week as I hiked it seemed every fifty feet I went was a better view than the last. At one point when walking into an Aspen grove there were all these ferns that seemed to be glowing a brilliant golden color. 

So back to my original question, What is a successful hunt? In my opinion this was one of the most successful hunts I have ever been on. I didn't bring home an Elk but I brought home an experience that will help shape the way I hunt in the future and a new drive to get back out into the mountains as soon as I can. 

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.