Wild Food: Italian Panfish Chowder.

Monday night I had some thawed panfish on my hands, and few ideas. I wanted chowder again but not cream based. I found this recipe and tweaked it a bit. Mostly, less fish and I used concentrated turkey stock I made a while back and added some clam juice.

GE

Pile o' fish skins.

Pile o’ fish skins.

GE GE GE

It came out spicier than I intended, mostly because I added way too much red pepper. However, a piece of bread or some avocado cooled it down pretty nicely. I would definitely love a chance to make this with some cod or halibut I caught myself. A girl can dream. Maybe I can catch a burbot (lawyer fish or eelpout) someday.

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Wild Food: Spicy Venison Chili.

Friday of last week rolled around, and I was finally making a trip to the grocery store. For the first time in probably 3-4 weeks. Needless to say we were out of a lot of really basic stuff. I shouldn’t procrastinate like that.

Anyhow. I wanted to make something on Friday to carry us through the weekend with leftovers. Hank Shaw’s Venison Barbacoa has been calling my name since he posted it. However, I wouldn’t be returning from the store until close to 3pm. I wouldn’t have time to both thaw and cook a shoulder roast, and be done at a normal dinner hour. I did, however, have some stew meat. Debating with a friend of mine who also happens to be a classically trained chef, I settled on Barbacoa-inspired chili.

That touch of barbacoa came mainly in the form of the seasonings I used- the same ones in similar amounts to Hank’s recipe there. I also used his idea of a lime, the juice of which I added right at the end of the cooking process. However, I love peppers. Love em. So, I added more of those to my chili. I ended up with jalapenos, serranos, and pasillas in addition to the chipotles in adobo.

I started this chili like you would a stew- dredging the meat in flour and browning it in oil, removing the meat and cooking the relevant veggies (onions in this case). Then I deglaced with some beef broth (next time I will use venison stock), and stirred the crusties off the bottom of the pan, and stirred in the rest of the ingredients. I added a can of tomato paste about halfway through.

It had plenty of good heat to it. I cool mine with avocado, since my lactose intolerance rules out the sour cream or cheese Matt prefers. That pot of chili lasted me until Monday- I had the last bowl of it for dinner. I used to make my chili in the slow cooker, but as I’ve mentioned, a snapping turtle killed mine. I have yet to replace it. This method produced a better chili, in my opinion. And it was red- my chili in the slow cooker would turn out a very dark brown. They’re both good, but I like browning it in the pot and simmering it. However, if I had to work all day or something, crock pot is the way to go.

I also made our meals for Saturday from it- I just spooned chili over a piece of cornbread on a piece of foil, wrapped it, and heated it up over the Mr. Heater. Nothing fancy, just shanty leftovers.

Wild Food: Crappie Miso Soup and bonus Venison Fried Rice.

While Matt was cleaning those crappie from Saturday’s fishing trip, I had a seedling of an idea. I asked him to let me have them, that I wanted them for something. As he often does,  Matt looked at me like I was a crazy person. Perhaps I am a little bit, wanting to keep fish heads and skeletons.

GE

Well, that seedling of an idea was to make fish stock. But it quickly blossomed into something more than simple fish stock. I wanted to make miso soup. From scratch. With fish I helped catch.

First things first: miso soup needs a base of dashi stock. This is made from dried konbu seaweed and dried, shaved bonito- a fish related to mackerel and tuna. Their meat is somewhat dark in color, and they’re an ocean fish. My little crappies are very lean, light freshwater fish. If I’ve learned one thing being a person who 1. tends to do adventurous cooking when it’s late at night and cold and who 2. doesn’t always plan ahead and sometimes hates leaving the house, it’s that if you’re going to be making wild substitutions, you’d best be sticking firmly to the technique. So I took the crappie carcasses I kept and cleaned (beheaded and gutted) and a couple fillets and stuck em in my dehydrator. They’d take roughly 3 hours to get good and dry, so I headed out into the cold on Sunday to procure some exotic supplies I didn’t have to hand.

We have a wonderful chain of employee-owned grocery stores in northern Illinois and Wisconsin called Woodman’s. They carry allllll kinds of food and tend to be enormous, with excellent east Asian/Indian/Kosher/Hispanic food sections. Well, I got some tofu there, and the fixin’s for some fish tacos, but it turns out mine carries neither konbu nor shiro miso paste. So I did some quick google-fu on my phone, and found that there was an Asian grocery nearby. I gathered my courage and headed over. Unable to read the characters of any Asian language, Chinese, Japanese, Thai, Vietnamese, or otherwise, I proceeded to get very lost in the Asian supermarket. The very, very kind owner eventually helped me out, but now I know where to go if I ever want beef tendons in bulk, dried jellyfish, or copious amounts of wonderful, wonderful snacks and Aloe Drink.

Shredded konbu, slightly different than the sliced, dried squares

Shredded konbu, slightly different than the sliced, dried squares

Delicious, delicious miso paste.

Delicious, delicious miso paste.

So I returned with my haul, and got to work. Dashi is a much simpler process than I realized- you boil the konbu in the water, and once the konbu is soft, you add the fish and kill the heat. While the water and seaweed heated, I pulled the fish off the dehydrator.

Crispy dried crappie

Crispy dried crappie

I shredded that, and once the konbu had softened a bit, tossed it all in and killed the heat. I then let it sit till mostly cooled, and strained it into a container. It was already night time, and the rest of the soup making would wait until Monday afternoon.

Dried fish in the konbu tea.

Dried fish in the konbu tea.

A little over 50 oz dashi

A little over 50 oz dashi

GE

The next day, I got it out, and began heating it on the stove. While I did that, I sliced some green onions and began working with something you seldom see in my kitchen.

Hard to open packaging.

Hard to open packaging.

It's just. So. Weird.

It’s just. So. Weird.

They call it bean curd. You know what that means? Cheese made from soymilk, basically.

They call it bean curd. You know what that means? Cheese made from soymilk, basically.

Cubed pressed soy cheese curd and sliced green onions.

Cubed pressed soy cheese curd and sliced green onions.

So, once the dashi boiled, it was time to add the miso. The side of the miso package said one tablespoon for every 3/4 cup soup desired. After some math, I came up with approx 8 tablespoons, but that sounded like a lot. I put in 4, tasted it, and put in a 5th tablespoon. Perfect. Time to simmer slowly for a bit, then add the tofu.

Beautiful.

Beautiful.

At this point, I would have really liked some dried mushrooms to reconstitute in the soup, but you recall my troubles in the Asian market. “Dried black fungus” in bags wasn’t the most helpful thing in the world. Maybe next time I’ll be brave in the name of fungi.

I could find only shredded konbu, remember. It tasted the same still.

I could find only shredded konbu, remember. It tasted the same still.

Green onions went on in the bowl. And the taste? This could have been made in a Japanese restaurant, except I pulled part of the original ingredients out of a frozen lake with my own two hands.

I had this for lunch, but it made such a big batch I had some with dinner. Dinner was venison fried rice.

A wild meal: Crappie miso and venison fried rice.

A wild meal: Crappie miso and venison fried rice.

The high today in southern Wisconsin was -16. Near -40F with the wind. A steaming bowl of miso soup was just the thing to warm up with.

 

 

 

Wild Food: Slow-Cooked Venison Soup

So, when you fail miserably like I do, you need something warm to come home to. Since I didn’t start a dinner on Saturday, since we were going to be gone all day and I didn’t want to burn the house down, I threw this together Sunday afternoon before we went out.

There wasn’t any recipe, just a template- I started like you would a stew. I forgot to 1. take pictures of the hurried process, and 2. dredge the venison in flour before browning. So, it didn’t thicken as hoped. Since my slowcooker bit it this summer, anything I slow cook now is done in my enameled, cast iron dutch oven (a Christmas gift from Matt last year). So, I browned the meat in some oil, and then all the veggies. In this case, peeled, cubed sweet potatoes, carrots, onions, garlic, and mushrooms. I put about half a teaspoon of beef base in the measuring cup of water I used to deglace the whole mess. Then I added another cup and a half of water, and a healthy glug of my blackberry wine. Once I added the liquid, I heated it until it was steaming and just barely simmering. Then I put it in a pre-heated, 250F oven, where it stayed for the next 3-4 hours. I also measured out some barley, and the correct amount of water, and let it begin to soak on the stove, to go into the stew when we got back. I tossed it in once I shucked off all my cold weather gear, and it only took about fifteen minutes to cook tender.

Warm, fortifying, comforting. Pairs well with bitter tears.

Warm, fortifying, comforting. Pairs well with bitter tears.

Wild Food: Fish Chowder.

Another late October day, another day called off work. After some internal debate between staying home and accomplishing things, or going hunting, staying home won out. I was going to cook dinner, but I was also indecisive about what to set out. Last night was chicken, and I didn’t have enough time for a venison roast to thaw. Fish it was.

GE

I was originally going to just scale the little guys and bake them whole, but Matt dislikes most bone-in meat. There isn’t much to them, so, chowder it was. I found this recipe for fish chowder after a bit of searching. Of course, I ended up modifying it. I used Yukon gold potatoes from my garden, I added sweet corn, I used a little bit of chicken base instead of clam juice, and obviously, I used bluegill/pumpkinseed in lieu of cod. I was also minus the cream called for in the recipe, so I whisked a few spoonfuls of sour cream into the lactose-free 2% milk I did have. Filleting the fish proved challenging, given how small they were.

Tiny bluegill fillets

Tiny bluegill fillets

Cooking the potatoes after making roux, while Matt and I filleted fish.

Cooking the potatoes after making roux, while Matt and I filleted fish.

 

Fish skins.

Fish skins.

It came out really, really well. Not too thick, either. There wasn’t much fish in it, given how small the fillets were. But the sour cream and sweet corn really rounded things out.

I also made biscuits from scratch.

I also made biscuits from scratch.

Fish, potatoes, and corn.

Fish, potatoes, and corn.

I also made some apple crisp bars with a dash of bourbon in the filling. They also came out well.

GE

And we still have lots of bluegills and pumpkinseeds left from that big trip up north in August.

 

Two Birds With One Stone (If only it were so easy!)

So, I got called off work on Tuesday evening. This meant basically a day of errand running- I made it for a real grocery trip for the first time in weeks, I got cat food and shampoo, a new garbage disposal at Menard’s to replace the one that jammed, oh, a year and a half ago or so, and I made a special trip to pick up apples (for both fresh eating and pie making) and unpasteurized cider from an amazing local orchard- so many varieties of apples. They also raise sheep- black Welsh mountain sheep, and they sell both their wool and meat. I nearly bought a rack of mutton, but it was a bit more than I wanted to spend just then. I did drive to the upper orchard and sheep pasture to pet them.  It made my day.

Getting the night off also meant being able to cook dinner. It was a rainy, misty day. Until late afternoon, it was a bit on the cool side, too. So, I decided dinner would be soup. Duck soup. I was going to make a Wild Food post about it, but soup is a pretty simple deal. Particularly broth soup. I even started it before seeing if my new cookbook had any insights for me. It did, but I’d already started the soup, it was too late.

I chuck everything in the pot at once. The book recommends doing the bones first, and then adding things in order of cook time, longest to shortest. Whoops.

I chuck everything in the pot at once. The book recommends doing the bones first, and then adding things in order of cook time, longest to shortest. Whoops.

It also says not to allow the stock to actually boil, so it's clear. Whoops.

It also says not to allow the stock to actually boil, so it’s clear. Whoops again.

I added the wild rice last, and added a slice of fried polenta for more heartiness.

I added the wild rice last, and added a slice of fried polenta for more heartiness.

I’ve made this soup two or three times before- it’s literally no different than, say, chicken noodle or chicken and rice. The broth just comes out darker, and I put a healthy dose of white wine in mine. I also have dessert- butternut squash pie.

So, on to that second bird- our plans re: this terrible, awful, no good very bad luck we’re having hunting. Basically, neither Matt nor I has had any kind of luck since the day we both missed. I’ve read here and there about some October lull in deer hunting, and I’d be willing to believe it. If it were not for the sheer amount of foot traffic this land gets. The deer more than likely get pushed up and back- up the hill and off the back and sides of the property. So. It’s a bit late to be scouting new hunting ground, as much as I might want to. We’re deciding to switch things up a bit, and begin hunting the wooded sections of the land. I’m pushing for hunting the oaks- they’re finally dropping their acorns, and the farmers have to be cutting their crops any day now. I’ll need to get a climbing stand.

In addition to trying to formulate a new plan, we’re trying to see when, if at all, deer are coming to the fields we currently hunt the edges of.  We’re up to five trail cams now, and we put some up over the weekend/Monday evening when I went out with Matt. Maybe we’ll get images, maybe we won’t. Matt plans to pick them up today. Then we’ll try to figure out what to do next.

On top of all that, we finally got our first frost last Sunday night. Most of the nights this week and weekend are forecast to be cool- probable patchy frost for most of them. The days are going to be in the low 50s. Up north will be colder. We’re hoping that this gets the ducks and geese moving- we aren’t even seeing Canada geese flying yet. We’re also hoping it gets the deer on their feet a bit more. But at least we’re within reasonable distance of the rut now.

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.

dranks

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.