Slowly Inching Forward

Two things for this post today. First: we finally have a dedicated smoker.


Gotten at Sears on a really good sale. Smokers of this size at just about every store, whether electric, propane, or wood-fired run about $115-$150. I got this one for $80. This one is propane, and hopefully we’ll be able to make a couple venison sausages soon, and smoked trout if we can catch a couple more. No more attempting to smoke things in the grill with the smoker attachment. It never, ever came out right for me, even when watched like a hawk.

Thing two: Matt’s got the beams for the engine cavity of the boat cut out and resined.



If the weather dries out this weekend, he hopes to be laying a few pieces of fiberglass mat on the interior of the hull, and double checking each of the patches before we begin to lay down the floor supports.

I suppose a third thing could be that the exterior of the gas tank is done. Now we just need to treat and seal the interior of it.


Matt ground off all the rust, and then painted it with the Rustoleum made for grills and other high-heat, high-durability applications. Not that we think the gas tank will need to withstand fire (we hope). We used this on our actual grill, and it’s kept that from rusting, in spite of sitting out in all 4 seasons.


Wild Food: Barbecued Venison Ribs

I haven’t written a post in over a week. With most of the seasons we’re interested in closed, and weather that’s making getting out on the ice to at least chase panfish seem iffy, we’ve spent the last weekend or two mostly relaxing and starting to get the house in order.

Case in point- I spent Saturday scooping all the dog poo out of the back yard (two hours and 5 garbage bags. yikes), and then Tuesday afternoon cleaning up the front yard and porch. Random litter, sticks, sweeping, and everything else I could manage with the ground being pretty frozen still. With a wedding in Minnesota to attend this weekend, I don’t really know how much else we’ll get up to.

I set out a side of venison ribs Tuesday afternoon for dinner. Believe it or not, we’re getting down to the end of our venison. There’s a few steaks left, two football roasts, and two more packages of ribs, in addition to some packages of bones to make into stock. I’ll have to start stretching the venison with store bought chicken, pork, and maybe even beef.

The ribs I intended to grill. I figured they’d be tough, though, so I cooked them in foil in the oven for a few hours first. I made a short marinade inspired by a recipe for Korean beef short ribs. They were only in that for about 30 minutes before I sauced them with some altered barbecue sauce (Ray’s with some “Saipan Sizzle” nonsense Matt had lying around, some ginger, and sesame seeds). They cooked for a good long time in there until I had coals in the grill (2-3 hours), then another hour in the packet on the grill, and then I sauced them some more, and let them char a bit over the coals.

In the end, they were pretty tasty. But the next incarnations of deer ribs, I will be sure to trim every bit of fat off- it definitely has an off flavor, even in small amounts. I’ll also wrap it in some bacon ends before cooking. But it did look pretty impressive on my plate. These were from the smaller, younger doe so they were still pretty small. The ones from the bigger doe will be larger and meatier.

Verdict: Barbecued deer ribs will make you feel like a cavewoman (or man).

On Wood Heat

A month ago, I didn’t have a pen or paper to hand, much less the will to sit up in the dark, fumble with the lantern, and wake up my boyfriend. I also haven’t taken the chance yet to sit down and write anything about it. But I started this October tenth, around 9:30 or 10 in the morning. I’ve cleaned it up about as much as a post this length could be. We also just had our first good freeze last night- it dipped into the 20s. This week won’t break out of the 40s. Our (gas) heat’s been on for over a week now. This seems appropriate.

It was late. We’d just arrived back at the cabin after eating at a bar in town, gotten a fire going, and blown out the Coleman lantern. I was lying in the bunk, inside my sleeping bag, waiting for sleep to come. The smell of dry firewood catching in the wood stove permeated the cabin as the fire crackled and popped into life.

Plenty to keep warm.

Plenty to keep warm.


It isn’t just campfires that spring to mind when I smell wood smoke. Or grilling, though both of those things are there in the background. The house I grew up in had central gas heat. But we never really used it. In fact, sleepovers at grandma’s, or at friend’s houses, my mom would warn us to pack sweatshirts and thick socks with our warm jammies. We wouldn’t be used to the 50-60 degree temps in houses warmed by electricity or gas. Our house was a steady 75+ degrees. And dry. We never had a problem with mold or mildew, especially in the basement.  That’s a problem I’m still slightly perplexed by it when it happens. The floors were always warm. The smoke stained the walls, though.

My grandfather lived in the hills in Kentucky in the warm months. It was the middle of nowhere. He had electricity that he used sparingly, and no plumbing. He loved it. But as he got to be an older man, he couldn’t get around as well in the winter. Never even mind that George had smoked Lucky Strikes like a chimney for 30 years after leaving the Army once World War Two was over. He had emphysema to boot. So, in winter, he would spend time at his daughters’ houses in Illinois. When he stayed with us, he didn’t mind taking the spare bedroom in our unfinished basement in the least. It was warm as could be down there.

Our house wasn’t big, fancy, or all that pretty. My hometown had been a coal mining town when it was founded in the 1800s. The mines had been just outside of town, though town would eventually grow up around the mine shafts when they closed. In fact, just down the road from us, one of my childhood friends grew up on Shaft Street, which had one of the only steep hills in town (Illinois, remember)- it was a boarded up, back-filled mine shaft entrance. It was fun to ride our bikes down. Our house had been a coal miner’s shack. Only the kitchen was original; it had had a basement dug underneath it, and the livingroom, bathroom, and two bedrooms added onto it.  It was sided in pebbledash stucco. The front porch was a concrete slab that was slowly collapsing.

My parents bought that little house when I was two, right before my younger sister was born. It was on a double lot- right around an acre of land, even though we were in town. The house came with a tree trimming and felling business. A big, yellow, aluminum Morton building at the back of our yard housed an old, white GMC boom truck; an ancient International dump truck and the industrial sized, yellow Eureka wood chipper it pulled parked in front of the shop. Dad would add to the collection of Stihl chainsaws and old dump trucks, eventually purchasing two smaller trucks: an old red Ford that ran like hell, when it wasn’t running entirely too rich, and an old red Dodge, which had a gas tank so rusted on the interior that my dad and his crew would take extra fuel filters with them on jobs outside of town, and swap them out on the side of the road.  He got the dump trucks from salvage, making them run again with trial and error and memories of high school auto shop. He also maintained the old GMC and the International. He could stand up inside their engine cavities to work on them. We joked that they were all Flintstone trucks- the floorpans of the cabs were rusted through in places, and when we begged my dad to accompany him when he dumped the wood chips and mulch, we could see the road passing underneath us as we drove down the road. He would let us control the hydraulics of the truck beds at the dump sites sometimes, too. I learned to steer sitting on his lap in those big old trucks.

The wood Dad hauled home from other peoples’ yards in those ratty old dump trucks was our heat. The tree trunks that were straight enough came back intact, and dad would sell them to a guy with a mobile saw mill. But the branches and other assorted chunks would be chopped to heat the house in cold weather and be grill wood in summer. Large branches and chunks were placed on the diesel log splitter, and once they were more manageable, Dad split them by hand with his maul.

I can remember playing outside in the Fall and Winter, out of sight of Mom in the house, behind the International and the yellow building. Dad keeping an eye on us while he chopped- set the piece upright, wood grain perpendicular to the ground, lift the maul overhead, pause, swing, chop, thunk. The two smaller pieces would fall to either side. Helping him to stack it into piles. Covering it with tarp. We would run after or alongside him in the afternoons and evenings to stack firewood into the beat up old steel wheel barrow, and try to keep up as he pushed it, bumping along, up to the house and carried the wood downstairs. I remember him building the fire up to burn through the night, and I remember hearing him waking up before dawn every morning, starting coffee and clumping downstairs to build the fire back up. Through the floor and register: the creak and groan of the stove door opening, the clunk of firewood being tossed onto the coals, and another creak and groan before the door banged shut. He remembered getting up as a child to go milk cows in the winter, without having a fire going yet. He hadn’t liked it.

We would come in from playing in the snow: snow suits, boots, mittens, socks all soaked. The wood stove was tucked into a corner behind the wooden staircase for the basement. We’d leave all our wet clothes on the steps in front of the furnace. They would be dry in an hour. Sometimes, we’d have weenie and marshmallow roasts in the middle of winter over the fire. At Christmas, my parents put our letters to Santa into the furnace, telling us they flew up the chimney and to the North Pole. We were gullible kids. Most winters, the snow within two feet of that corner of the house and the chimney melted away to bare ground.

Our favorite wood to burn in the winter was dense, hard oak and hickory. I can still pick out oak and hickory smoke when I catch a whiff of it. Someone on our street here in Madison has a wood-fired stove, too, and sometimes they burn oak. That chilly October night up in the Northwoods of Wisconsin, 419 miles from where I grew up and lived most of my life so far, we were burning oak and hickory. The sharp, clean smell of the dry wood burning tripped old memories in that hazy space between wakefulness and sleep. I was warm, and my wet clothes were drying on the steps near the stove.


Awesome Dinner, Great Book, Friendly Author.

I picked up the cookbook at the restaurant.

I picked up the cookbook at the restaurant.

I mentioned about a month ago that I had made reservations for the Duck, Duck, Goose book tour. That was this past Sunday night.  I got back from Illinois early enough in the afternoon to get cleaned up and ready. The last time we’d been out anywhere fancy for dinner had been in June to the local Brazilian steakhouse with a bunch of Marines from Matt’s first deployment in Iraq.

Anyhow. Our reservations were for 6:30, at the bar at Forequarter, 708 East Johnson Street in Madison. Matt grumbled that the dinner was making him miss deer hunting, and it had better be good. The place didn’t have much of a sign, but I’d found it on Google Street View. We parked about a block away, and walked on over. It was already pretty busy, and the relatively small space was pretty full. We sat at the bar, and ordered drinks.


Matt got a brandy old fashioned, sweet, and I got an apple-pear cider. Matt didn’t care for his old fashioned- he makes his without any pulp, and this place is uber-crafty- it had a leaf in it that I couldn’t identify, in addition to what looked like preserved black cherries (instead of maraschino) and the standard orange. Mint maybe? My cider was tart-sweet, and fizzy. I liked it.  Then we got down to the ordering. Everything was a la carte.

I got three items- the pear and frisee salad with smoked duck liver vinaigrette, a watercress and shaved carrot salad with jalapeno salt and duck jerky, and then the duck steak- done rare on a bed of broccoli rabe, garnished with a deep fried chicken foot. Matt had the fermented duck sausage served with radishes and green onion. He even ate the vegetables (he’s a corn-and-potatoes-only sort of person). It was excellent. The duck liver vinaigrette was probably the best salad dressing I’ve ever tried, hands down. The duck jerky was good- I would like to try and make duck or goose jerky at home. The duck steak was best part though. Good, meaty flavor, with the cap of skin and fat on it to add richness. It was an awesome meal, no question.

Mr. Shaw was also making the rounds that night- he wanted a chance to talk to everybody, and he made his was around the bar to us. He grabbed me a copy of the book, and talked to us about the menu a little bit. Then we got to brass tacks- we were of the handful of hunters-and-eaters in the establishment. We talked for a bit about duck hunting and the varieties found here in the Midwest, and on the California coast. We even talked about burgoo stew and squirrel hunting for a little while. He let us work on the duck steak when it arrived. After we finished up, I decided to get the book right then, and asked him to sign it for me as I told him that his video on dry plucking waterfowl was how I learned to do it myself. He obliged.

To Amber- A fellow duck chaser and lover of burgoo and other awesome, if mysterious, foods. Hope you get years of fun cooking from these pages. Enjoy!- Hank Shaw

To Amber- A fellow duck chaser and lover of burgoo and other awesome, if mysterious, foods. Hope you get years of fun cooking from these pages. Enjoy!- Hank Shaw

As to the book itself- I’ve read through the first 25 pages or so- the Basics section on handling your birds in the field, domestic breeds, wine and beer pairings, plucking, gutting, the whole nine yards. I haven’t quite gotten to the recipes section yet, though. But I plan to make a few of the recipes with the ducks we currently have. We had our first frost Sunday evening- maybe the more seasonable cool weather will get the birds up and moving, and we can shoot some more. Or I can check Madison’s Farmer’s Market for ducks.

Wild Food: Smoked Goose

Back in February, I made those smoked ducks. I opted for a long, slow smoke because the first time I had waterfowl had been smoked. Another reason was that last year in December, my dad had been up for a visit. I had wanted to make a nice big dinner, and we had the larger of the two geese from last year in the freezer. I brined and roasted it. Only, I was used to cooking domestic turkey and chicken. I figured that, like poultry, it had to be done to 165F to be safe to eat.

Matt and my dad were really good sports about the whole thing. This in spite of the fact that I basically served them jerky still attached to a skeleton.  So, I smoked those ducks and they turned out well. We needed some room in the freezer, so I pulled that goose out Sunday to thaw. I brined it as well, since geese are typically lean and this one was no exception.

The brine ingredients

The brine ingredients: a small onion, half a lemon, bay leaves, salt (lots), pepper, lemon thyme

The goose breast down in the brine

The goose breast down in the brine

People brine chickens over night, and turkeys for a day. This goose just brined for about 4 hours yesterday afternoon. Could it go longer? Probably. I let it sit while I did some cleaning and yard work. Then I got the fire going. While it had been brining, I had picked up some apple wood chunks to cook it over. My fire was a blend of plain charcoal and apple wood. Once it had burned down a little bit, I set the brined goose on the grill to one side of the fire to cook slowly.


Then I closed the lid and the chimney cover to let it puff away. It still ran a little hot, so I made sure to open the lid and vent the heat now and again, and I monitored the internal temp a bunch. Overall, it cooked for about two and a half hours.

I had mine like this. For Matt, it went back on the grill for a while.

I had mine like this. For Matt, it went back on the grill for a while.

It turned out very well. Much more firm than chicken or turkey, or even the ducks. But the brine helped it stay juicy, as did a quick bacon grease coat I gave it halfway through cooking. The flavor was good, too, even with how simple I kept the herbs and seasoning. I served it with baked red potatoes and summer squash from my garden, both done on the grill.

Wild Food: Grilled Venison Tacos

To make up for this weekend’s mishap with the venison burgers, I decided I was making some sort of venison something tonight. On top of that, I have to be at work pretty dang early tomorrow, so I wanted something to post late this evening. Midway through my lunch shift, it hit me. Venison tacos. On the grill.

Whenever we were butchering up our deer quarters, I took a couple parts of all 4 haunches and butterflied them out as thinly as I could, so that it was something akin to flank steak. Now, this is way more tender than flank steak, but I had something exactly like this in mind.

I ran to the store to get the fixings for tacos. I made the cashier and the lady in line behind me extremely hungry. Once I got home, I got my marinade together

That is, zest and juice of one lime, olive oil, garlic, cumin, salt, red pepper flakes, paprika, dried pasilla peppers

That is, zest and juice of one lime, olive oil, garlic, cumin, salt, red pepper flakes, paprika, dried pasilla peppers, and oregano.


Like I’ve mentioned, I only measure when I’m baking. But it was a healthy dose of all the seasonings and spices. I also made two foil packets. One was corn- I used a can of DelMonte SummerCrisp, which I like because it’s packed in very little water. I mixed the corn with paprika, cumin, butter, garlic, and red pepper. The other was just a can of refried black beans. I think they go better with venison, and I use them when I make venison chili. I rubbed the venison down with the marinade, and let it do its thing. Then I lit the grill and scrounged up a margarita.



While I was letting the foil packets steam away, and the meat marinade, Matt called to tell me he’d be later getting home than expected. I told him I’d save a plate, but it was too late to turn back now. Once the coals were good and hot, I slapped the meat on, careful not to leave it unattended within canine reach.

DSCF5308 DSCF5309


When everything had cooked as much as I wanted it, I removed it from the heat, and took it to the safety of the kitchen counter. The corn turned out exceptionally, if spicy. DSCF5313 DSCF5315

A very nice medium.

A very nice medium.

Now, I’m lactose intolerant (and yes, yes, I live in Wisconsin, it’s weird). A great cheese sub is avocado, which I can eat plain with a spoon. I piled my taco fillings on a plate, and took that and the corn tortillas back outside to the grill. Then I put the tortillas over the coals. After that is was merely the natural progression of such things. 


Taco one

Taco one

Taco Three. I was a little too busy to photograph taco two. Taco four was an afterthought.

Taco Three. I was a little too busy to photograph Taco Two. Taco Four was an afterthought.



Wild Food: Finally Got Some Venison on the Grill

Last night, I cooked dinner for the first time in a month or more. I work nights, and we are pretty busy on the weekends. Luckily, we’re just two young folks, and we can get by on cold sandwiches or whatever else we find.

But somehow, it got to be late May, and I still hadn’t grilled any venison. Wild meat requires a kiss of the flame from time to time, I figure. So, I rubbed some of my Wisconsin Strip Steaks with salt, pepper, olive oil, and garlic and let them rest while I got some yard work done and started the grill.

Once the coals were ready and the potatoes had been on for a while, I slapped the steaks onto the hot grate. As usual, mine were intended to be more rare than Matt’s. His got to be medium well, and mine about medium rare. I would have preferred a bit more rare, but charcoal doesn’t have  a dial to control the heat as much. They got some really nice grill marks on them, and the smoke flavor was great with the venison.

DSCF5232 DSCF5233

Those shots are a bit too rare, even for me. This is the finished products.


Wild Food: Smoked Duck in Late Winter

I recently found out I’ll be having a bit more free time in the evenings. At least, for a month or two. When that happens, I like having more time to actually cook rather than eat cold sandwiches at 9pm because I got off work late and so did Matt. So, today, I made something rather ambitious, which I hadn’t done in a while. I decided I wanted to smoke some duck.

Something about snow on the roof and a fire inside

The old grill hasn’t been touched since probably early October.

So, last Fall, Matt and I took on both of our first waterfowl seasons. Duck and Canada Goose. There was definitely a learning curve. I never did shoot any birds, as my shotgun is completely unmodified. It’s a little grouse hunting gun. So my pellet spread is… wide. I think I took maybe three shots in three months of bird hunting, knowing I wasn’t going to hit anything. It worked great with a slug for deer hunting. Not so much with bird shot. Matt, however, borrowed, and then bought, a very nice 12 gauge from someone he knows. He put a full choke on it, and actually hit a couple birds. I think in total we got 4 ducks, 2 geese, and maybe 5 or 6 coots. Not bad for first timers on their own, hunting literally within city limits.

Anyhow. I’d made the first two ducks we got right away- two little green-winged teal. They’re small birds, a little smaller than the cornish game hens you can buy at the grocery store. They were great. And I made the bigger of the two geese when my dad came to visit. No one told me goose, particularly wild, does not need to be cooked to 165F like chicken and turkey. It was… dry. And chewy.

So, today, when I was deciding what to do with my ducks, I opted to go for the way I’d first had duck ever: smoked. A friend of my dad’s when I was little was a big sportsman. My dad only hunted deer, but this guy hunted everything. Much like me and Matt. He brought us some smoked duck and goose, and it was heavenly.

Gettin' 'er goin'

Gettin’ ‘er goin’

So, I stuffed my feet into some snow boots, tromped on over to Menard’s, and picked up some lump hickory charcoal and apple wood smoker chips. I came back home, got the grill set up, and the charcoal chimney lit. I came back inside, and started to prepare the ducks.

Here's the rub.

Here’s the rub.

I mixed up a rub to go on the duckies. I am horrible at measuring when I’m winging things and not baking. So, it was a good deal of sea salt. Maybe 1/8 inch of it in the bottom of that little white container you see on the counter. Plenty of black pepper, plenty of red pepper flakes, a few (2-3) half-spoonfuls of minced garlic (I use the stuff in a jar because I’m lazy, and I can only fit half of a spoon in the mouth of the jar), and then a good spoonful of Thai/Vietnamese garlic chili sauce. The hot stuff that’s like chunky Sriracha. I also put in a touch of dry rubbed sage. I mixed all that mess up into a paste, and I added 3-4 spoonfuls of “robust” molasses. I mixed that together and then set it aside. While that sat and kind of melded, I took some more salt, probably a teaspoon poured into the palm of my hand per duck, and rubbed it into the skin of the ducks to dry them out a bit faster. Ducks and geese have a lot of fat in their skins- more than chicken- and drying out the skin and salting it will help make it crisp.  Then I set them aside too, and went to check the grill.

Salty birds

Salty birds

After I dumped the now-white-hot coals, I rubbed the rub into the ducks, and let them chill out some more while the grill got hot.

Rubbed up ducks

Rubbed up ducks

Once everything was going the right temp on the grill- about 200-250, I set the ducks on the grill to cook for about 2-2/12 hours.


I checked the grill every 20 minutes or so to make sure it was the right temp. The birds were to one side of the heat so it was indirect. Which was good, since I couldn’t keep it below 300F. After about an hour, at 120F, they looked like this:



I had to spread the coals out a bit to cool it down from 350, then I left everything go some more. I came in and put together a potato to bake for Matt, a sweet potato for me, and some pasta salad. I left them go for another hour to hour and a half. And then. Then.

Delicious smoked ducks

Delicious smoked ducks

The skin didn’t crisp as much as I’d hoped, but they were done through, and I learned the hard way not to over cook wild fowl. It was delicious. Duck and goose both are all dark meat. Which on birds is my favorite kind. The longer, slower cooking process really let the fat in the duck skin render out into the meat, keeping it pretty moist. And it was tender.

With the breast sliced out.

With the breast sliced out.

There’s still a good deal of meat on the carcass. I like to keep small carcasses like this to make soups and broth out of. Duck noodle soup is excellent, especially in winter. These were two mallard drakes that we got in October and early December respectively, that we plucked and cleaned, then froze. They’re mid-sized as far as ducks go, but we never did see any of the bigger ducks, like pintails or canvasbacks. So mallards are about as large as we’d get here.

Have you ever had duck or goose before? Much less wild fowl?