Sunday, October 4, 2015

Roasted Elk loin with Sumac, Cocoa and Coffee Rub

I have been obsessed with Sumac as of late. This summer while on vacation in Northern Minnesota I tried a sumac lemonade for the first time and was instantly hooked. I had never really thought about using sumac in any way. I was pretty sure that it was poisonous. When I discovered that most sumac is edible and can be used in dozens of different ways. I have been playing with it ever since.

It should be noted that there is one type of sumac that is poisonous but from what I can tell it looks nothing like the other varieties of sumac and is easily identifiable. Most of the sumac we see has a cluster of red berries the poisonous variety is white or gray.

Sumac has a lemony citric quality and when and when you soak the red clusters in luke warm water for about 30 minutes and then filter and sweeten with honey or sugar it makes a brilliant summertime drink. It reminded me a lot of a raspberry lemonade, add a little bourbon and a spritz of pernod and it made a delicious cocktail.

Sumac is used a lot in middle eastern cuisine and is one of the main ingredients in a spice blend called Za'atar. Add Za'atar and a few other herbs to some ground venison and you end up with a perfect venison kebab. Processing the sumac berries into a spice powder is pretty easy to do for a complete tutorial click here.  Otherwise you can buy sumac in some specialty stores now. I found it at Penzey's and have been using it in just about everything I can. sprinkle it on salads or mix it with chili powder and some salt to make a nice dust for the rim or your Bloody Mary. I found a recipe for a spice rub that called for sumac and played with it a little bit until I came up with this rub that is perfect on red meat. this is an elk loin that was given to me by a friend of mine and it was amazing.


Roasted venison loin with Sumac, Cocoa and Coffee Rub

2 pound piece of venison loin
1 tsp dried sumac powder
1 tsp salt
1 tsp cocoa powder
1 tsp coffee
½ tsp garlic powder
Combine the salt and the spices. Pour 2 tablespoons of olive oil over the loin and then dust the loin with the spice blend. Let sit in the fridge for 30 minutes before grilling. Over a hot grill place the loin and grill for 5 minutes per side. Checking the internal temperature. Pull the loin off the grill when the internal temp hits 130 degrees. Let the loin rest for 5 minutes before slicing.  

Wild Rice and Beet Salad

2 cups cooked wild rice
1 can of beets cut into ½ inch dice
1 cup of roasted corn
¼ cup chopped parsley
½ cup crumbled goat cheese
¼ cup pine nuts
For the Dressing

2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 clove of minced garlic
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

¼ cup olive oil
Pinch of salt
Black pepper to taste 

IN a mixing bowl Combine the vinegar, garlic, mustard and salt and pepper and drizzle in the oil while whisking to combine.  Mix all the other ingredients   then pour the dressing on and toss. Serve alongside any grilled venison dish.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Chicken of the Woods Asian Lettuce Wraps and Cardamom Grape Jelly

September has been a great month, it has been one of my best foraging months ever. It started early with wild grapes and I played around with a new grape and cardamom jelly that will be one of my mainstays from now on. Then I got into the elderberries and the sumac which were both new to me but I quickly found ways to use them. I made a cocktail with elderberry syrup and elderberry ice cream it has been a delicious month.

As the month progressed I found some puffball mushroom and a giant chicken of the woods that I made beautiful Asian lettuce wraps with and tried making pickled mushrooms for the first time. The pickled mushrooms are really good and I can't wait to try them with some venison.

Speaking of venison I got out one day to go bow hunting for deer and within the first 30 minutes I was out there got surprised by a doe that snuck up beside me. I was completely unprepared for her and my bow was still hanging up so when I tried to reach it I spooked her and she ran off. I grabbed my bow and got settled back in and saw another doe about 20 yards off in the woods. She walked out into a clearing directly behind me and I thought I might get a shot at her as she passed behind me. As she got out into the opening I notice d she still had a very small fawn with her so I had to let her go.

Later that day I had three does come directly in on me and had a beautiful 10 yard broadside shot. I was using my longbow and right before I shot said to my self, "aim low". Clearly I didn't aim low enough and shot right over her back. No venison on my first trip out but still an eventful day.

The next day I headed out to do some squirrel hunting and spent the entire day out there. I managed to get 4 squirrels and came across another first for me. A giant Hen of the woods Mushroom. It must have weighed ten pounds and I was able to bring most of it home with me. I dehydrated half and then froze the other half. I really can't wait to use that up.

My September ended the way all Septembers should in a swamp in Wabasha for the duck opener. It wasn't the best opener I have ever had but it wasn't the worst either. My buddy Eric and I managed 9 wood ducks over the weekend and I am really looking forward to cooking those.

Tomorrow is October 1st and I have a lot planned for the month of October. Hopefully it will be as bountiful as September was, but even if it isn't it will be a lot of fun trying.

Wild Grape and Cardamom Jelly

4 cups of wild grapes (stemmed)
2 cups of water

Cook the wild grapes and water in a sauce pan over medium high heat for 15 minutes and then use a potatoes masher to release the juice from the grapes.
Let the grapes cool off and then strain the grapes through cheesecloth or a fine mesh sieve and collect he juice. Reserve 2 ½ cups of grape juice.

            2 ½ cups wild grape juice
            4 cups of sugar
            ½ tsp cardamom seeds (finely ground)
            1 packet sure jell Liquid pectin

Stir together the juice and the sugar and bring to a boil over medium high heat, stirring to until all the sugar is dissolved.  Add the cardamom and bring to a rolling boil. Add the sure jell and bring back to a rolling boil for one minute. Turn off the heat and pour into sterilized half pint jars. Seal with new lids and place in a water bath canner for 15 minutes to complete processing

Chicken of the Woods Asian lettuce wraps

1 head of Butter Lettuce
1 pound of Chicken of the Woods Mushroom cut into ¼ inch dice
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons oyster sauce
1 tsp sesame oil
1 tsp sugar
1 tsp cornstarch
½ tsp white pepper
1 egg beaten
2 tablespoons canola oil
2 small shallots, minced
1 tablespoon minced ginger
3 cloves of garlic
1 can minced water chestnuts 
¼ cup toasted pine nuts

Green onions 

Whisk together the soy sauce, oyster sauce, sesame oil, corn starch, sugar, white pepper and egg and set aside. Heat the canola oil in a pan over medium high heat. Add the garlic, ginger and shallots and sauté for 2-3 minutes until soft then add the chicken of the woods and continue sauté for 7-10 minutes until the mushrooms are starting to brown. Stir in the water chestnuts and toasted pine nuts. Add the sauce mixture and continue cooking for about five minutes. When the cooking is done spoon the mixture onto lettuce leaves and top with hoisin sauce and green onions. 

Friday, September 18, 2015

Tomatillo Salsa with Smoked Chili's

I had another bumper crop of tomatillos this year. This years tomatillos are actually the result of last years. Early this spring I noticed dozens of small green plants poking up through the dirt and was tempted to pull all of them thinking they were weeds but I had heard that tomatillos will reseed themselves if left alone. My had done that and I got another years worth of tomatillos. 

Last year I must have gotten 15 pounds of them from three plants so this year I only kept to plant growing. I still ended up with about 8 pounds of tomatillos. With the abundance I had last year I tried several different ways of using them and what I found was that a combination of all of them was what I like the best. So I mashed up several recipes from different folks and came up with my own tomatillo salsa.

What I like about this is the smoky flavor that I get by smoking the chili's for a couple of hours over hickory. I also like a bit of heat in my salsa and this year just happen to get a good crop of habanero's. My habanero's are awesome and have that blast of heat I really like. I had enough habanero's that I was able to throw together a habanero hot sauce as well. For that I used a recipe from Rick Bayless and it is absolutely worth trying if you have some peppers. I added a more garlic and a full tablespoon of sugar and love the results.

I think what I like best about this tomatillo salsa is that it is perfect with some chips and a cold beer but it can also be added to beef to make shredded beef for taco's or added to a stew. I also like it over an omelet. I made a pork stew with some of this and some hominy that was out of this world and if all goes well on the duck opener I am going to try that stew again with duck, we will see.

Tomatillo Salsa

3 pounds of tomatillo's (husks removed)
4 Anaheim peppers
4 poblano peppers
4 jalapeno peppers
2 habanero peppers
3 cups chopped cilantro
10 cloves of garlic
2 tablespoons kosher salt
1 1/2 cups cider vinegar
2 tsp ground cumin
Black pepper to taste.

Cut all the peppers in half lengthwise and de-seed  them, then put them in your smoker at 275 degrees for 2 hours. I used hickory but use your favorite wood. When the peppers are all smoked work in batches and puree all the ingredients together in a blender or food processor. When everything is pureed pour it into a large pot and bring to a boil over medium high heat then turn down to a simmer and cook for 30 minutes covered. Pour into sterilized jars and process in a water bath for 15 minutes.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Crayfish Wild Rice Soup

I have cooked for my sister before and she has cooked for me. But I have never really cooked with my sister. In the last week of August that changed. My sister, Raechel and her family along with my family had rented a couple cabins at Moore's Lodge on Leech Lake. Raechel and I had grown up there at our grandparents cabins and have always loved it up there so every summer we try to spend a week up there.

This year we ran into some bad weather and it was cold and rainy and not conducive to lake activities. We had gone into Bemidji for the day and had stopped at a roadside store that was selling wild rice. We decided that we were going to try and make a wild rice soup when we got back to the cabin. I had also been trapping crayfish that week and the idea of a crayfish wild rice soup sounded like fun.

I boiled up about 8 pounds of crayfish and recruited Reachel and her husband Matt to help peel the tails and gather all the meet for out soup. With the three of us working on it we had a pound of tail meat in no time flat and were able to just eat a bunch along the way. Little by little we started working on our soup and adding things here and there. Starting with the carrots and onions and some garlic and then the stock and the rice and then Raech thought she would like corn. We spent the whole afternoon making this soup and sipping on Sumac lemonade cocktails.

It was a really nice afternoon. The kids all watched shows and behaved themselves for the most part and my wife took notes and pictures through the whole process just in case someone wanted to right a blog post about it later. By the time the soup was done we had, in my opinion the most beautiful crayfish wild rice soup ever made. (possibly the only one ever made in northern Minnesota). As kids Raechel and I didn't always get along but as adults we seem to make a pretty good cooking duo. Hopefully we will be able to collaborate on something else sooner rather than later.

Crayfish Wild Rice Soup

3 cups cooked wild rice
1 cup chopped celery
1 medium onion, diced
2 large carrots, diced
3 cloves of garlic minced
1 red pepper, diced
1 1/2 cups corn
1/4 cup butter,
1/4 cup olive oil
1/3 cup flour
8 cups vegetable stock
1 pint of half and half
1 pound cooked crayfish tail meat
salt and pepper to taste

Heat the butter and oil in a large stock pot and start sauteing the vegetables starting with the carrots as they will take the longest. then add the celery, onions, pepper and garlic. Add the flour and stir to combine, add the wild rice and the stock and stir together. bring to a boil and simmer for 20 minutes. Add the corn and the crayfish and then stir in the Half and half. Bring back up to a simmer for 10 minutes and season with salt and pepper. 

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Puffball Mushrooms

Chances are, if you have spent any amount of time in the woods as a child you came across and large white ball on the ground and couldn't resist the urge to run up and give it your best Charlie Brown kick. What you might not have known at the time and should know now, is that big white ball is a Puffball mushroom and is really quite delicious.

The Puff ball is one of the easier mushrooms to identify and when cared for properly and cooked just right, can make any meal great. With a texture like firm tofu and a brilliant earthy flavor that only wild mushrooms can have the puffball is a wonderful mushroom for adventurous cooks who are willing to try them. Mostly because there aren't any poisonous look alike mushrooms and they are fairly easy to find. One of the things I like to do right after I find one is to cut it open and inspect it for bugs or worms. The puffball should be solid and white all the way through and if they aren't or you find large discolorations or critters inside them it is usually best to throw those out. 

Puffballs aren't specific to any type of growth area and can pop up anywhere. I have found them in the woods out on prairies and this one I actually found out behind one of my neighbors houses in a small strip of woods in the middle of Apple Valley, MN. Puffballs do like the late summer and early fall time of year to appear but outside of that they are to picky.

When Cooking puffballs make sure you cut the outer skin off and cook them thoroughly. I like a couple of different preparations, first I mix a little all-purpose seasoning like a lowry's seasoned salt or Penzy's seasoned salt with flour and then cut the mushroom into fries and roll them in flour. Then I fry them in butter and serve them with a nice steak sauce. What you end up with is a beautiful mushroom fry that is lightly crisped on the outside and soft and creamy on the inside. The other way I like them is cut into small cubes and fried in butter with some Cajun spice. then you can add them to a burger or with a grilled duck breast or like I used them, in a breakfast omelet with a little white cheddar and chives.

Just a side note from my friend Rick "Just a minor note that some immature amantias have been reported to be mistaken for puffballs in their egg state. Some of my books recommend slicing to look for developing typical amantia fruiting bodies." You have been warned.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Leech Lake Crayfish

I have been going to Leech Lake in northern Minnesota my entire life. My grandparents had cabins next door to each other and that is where my Mom and Dad met. It has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. For almost as long I have seen and caught crayfish up there. When I was little we would swim in the shallow rocky areas out in front of the cabin and catch them and put them in buckets. I would always ask if somebody would cook them for me and it never happened. Every year I go up there I tell myself I am going to catch a bunch and cook them up. Several years ago I bought a crayfish trap with the intentions of catching them and cooking them and then I forgot the trap at home or I lost it in a move. For one reason or another I just couldn't seem to make it happen. This year, I made it happen.

I remembered to bring the trap with me and was able to set it out for a couple days in a row and fill a cooler with rusty crayfish. The first day I got there I didn't have anything to bait the trap with so I used a hotdog. The hotdog brought in a few crayfish and I put them on ice to purge them. Then I caught a few fish and had some fish carcasses to use as bait and over night filled my little crayfish pot. the pot was so full the crayfish were hanging on the outside trying to get to the fish carcass. I left it out one more night and was shocked and horrified to find a small mink in my trap. The poor little guy must have seen all the crayfish and thought he was in for an easy meal but got stuck inside the trap and never made it out. After that I had filled my cooler with crayfish and figured it was time to cook.

I made a very simple boiling liquid consisting of lemon, garlic, onion, bay leaf, salt and pepper. it didn't take long and the first batch was all done. I serve it up with a little drawn butter and got to picking. I had enough crayfish that I was able to recruit my sister and her husband to help and we ate some tail meat and saved up a bunch to use later. The meat was sweet and tender and I am still kicking myself that I hadn't done this before. Next year when I head up there I am bring more traps and I am going to catch as many of those little buggers as I can.

Leech Lake Crayfish Boil

2 gallons of water
1/2 cup of salt
5 bay leaves
2 lemons cut in half
1 onions roughly chopped
1 head of garlic
2 tablespoons black peppercorns
1 can of Hard cider

Put all the ingredients in a large pot and bring to a boil. Boil for about 5 minutes and then start adding the crayfish in batches, cooking for about 5 minutes each batch. Enjoy your crayfish with a cold beer and some melted butter.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Pickled Duck Gizzards

It's a perfectly dreary day on the shores of Leech Lake and I have been inside all day with a couple 6 year old girls and my 4 year old son. Not a whole lot to do, but luckily my wife was thinking ahead and brought a craft box and some games for us all to play. After braiding everyone a paracord bracelet and playing some letter sequence everyone is down for a nap and I have a few moments to think about what I want to do. It is raining and there is a steady 25 mile per hour wind out of the west so unless I want to get wet and frustrated, fishing is out of the question. So I poured myself a glass of bourbon and thought I would write a blog post. 

I have been saving this one for a rainy day and here it is, Pickled Duck Gizzards. If there is one thing that I usually have on hand in the freezer it is duck gizzards. My friends usually save all of them for me and I end up with several large bags of duck gizzards. In the past I have used them to make confit and I made some decent spring rolls with them as well. I was thinking about how else to use them and was listening to the Meateater Podcast and heard Steve Rinella talk about pickling gizzards so I gave it a shot. 

There isn't a whole lot of info out there on how to pickle a gizzard so I kind of had to make this up as I went. I had made Pickled deer heart a while back and figured I could use a similar technique for the gizzards. the only different is that gizzards if not cooked correctly can turn into small little meat rocks as hard as a golf ball. I ended up simmering these gizzards for almost two hours to make them tender. I served them up with some of my pickled pike and a radish and kohlrabi quick pickled. Paired with some crusty bread and some whole grain mustard it made for a nice afternoon snack. 

This pickling recipe is a two part process, first you have to cook the gizzards and then you can pickle it. This is for one pound of gizzards.

for the cooking liquid I used

4 cups water
1 sprig rosemary
1 small bunch of thyme
5 juniper berries (crushed with the side of a knife)
4 cloves of garlic, crushed
1 bay leaf
2 tablespoons of salt
1 tsp black peppercorns

Simmer the gizzards in the cooking liquid for about 2 hours or until they are tender.

for the pickling liquid

1 1/2 cups of apple cider vinegar
1 tsp black peppercorns
10-12 allspice berries
2 tablespoons honey
4 juniper berries
2 cloves of garlic

bring the cider vinegar and remaining four ingredients to a boil, while that is cooking place the gizzards into a 1 pint jar with 1/4 of a thinly sliced red onion, 1 sprig of rosemary and 2 sprigs of thyme.  Pour the hot liquid in to the jar and seal.  boil in a water bath for 10 minutes.  Let the mixture sit for a couple of days before diving in.

Depending on how many gizzards you have you may need to use multiple jars if so just double the pickling liquid.