Tag Archives: Food

Great idea: let’s eat Asian carp!

Bighead carp

Here’s an idea we’ve been wondering about: why aren’t we trying to eat those stupid Asian carp before they ruin every water ecosystem in the U.S.?

According to a story in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, that is exactly what an enterpenure in Illinois is trying to do.

The Big River Fish Co. in Pearl, Illinois is currently processing the invasive fish.  They recently signed a huge deal to ship “Wild-Caught” Asian carp to upscale restaurants in China where locally-produced fish, living in highly polluted rivers, don’t taste as good.

Apparently the Asian carp, being a plankton eater, is fairly tasty though very boney.  It is also relatively free of mercury contamination due to its diet.

Another part of the initiative to is rename the fish.  For instance, “Chilean Sea Bass” weren’t nearly so popular when it was called “Patagonian toothfish.” Hopefully the new term “Silverfin” will catch on with fish buyers.

The thing makes sense.  Humans seem to be eating themselves out of house and home when it comes to seafood but with millions of pounds of unwanted but tasty fish roaming our major rivers, perhaps simple human greed take care of a serious environmental problem.

Let them eat carp: Illinois to feed pest fish to the poor.

Chef: demand as food could solve Asian carp problem

Water, water everywhere but no fungus among us

small sponge mushroomYesterday we went mushroom hunting.  Actually, it would be correct to say that we went tromping through the mud and accidentally ran into a few tasty fungus.

With the monsoon rains concluded for a few hours, our buddy Tony and Your Faithful Servant headed out to a woodlot owned by his family.   As the woods is located well off the road and directly across from the owners house, we felt fairly certain that there wouldn’t be a problem with trespassers poaching our mushrooms.

Unfortunately, it wouldn’t really matter because what we found was perhaps worse than poachers: water, lots and lots of water.

And then we found more water.

The upland woods was wet underfoot nearly everyplace, often with muddy puddles of standing water.   Sometimes, a step would result in a foot being sucked into the muddy maw of the earth as if the silty loam soil was transformed into quicksand.

We did manage to find around a dozen small “snakeheads” between us but most appeared to have seen better days.  At the end of the day, it is obvious that a dry spell in April is tough for mushroom hunters but record rains such as we have been experiencing certainly represent the other end of the spectrum.

wildflowerIf we can avoid heavy rainfall for a few days, coupled with nice temperatures, this year has all the signs of being a fantastic season for morel mushrooms.

Let’s just hope we won’t need a personal flotation device and canoe in order to pick them.

 

A shy box turtle

morel mushroom

 

 

 

 

 

 

A terrible wrong is righted

If you visited the Indiana Canoefest the last weekend in June in Brookville, you were part of major event to right a major wrong.

During the Canoefest, organizers fried up 1,654 pounds of chicken in a bid to bring the world record for largest single serving of fried chicken back to the good old U.S.A.

Apparently, someone was asleep at the switch and allowed the Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant in Kuwait City, Kuwait, to steal the record from us.

We have nothing against the folks in the Kuwait aside from the fact that fried chicken belongs to the American Midwest.  Actually, if the reader wasn’t aware, Col. Harlan Sanders of KFC fame was born in Henryville, Indiana.  Thus the venerable chicken chain actually has Hoosier roots.

So, raise three cheers to those brave and bold Americans who thought big and brought the record for sizzling thighs and meaty breasts back to not only our country, but it’s rightful place: Indiana!

Story from WLWT.com

Photo: Flickr, Kent Wang, Creative Commons

Roasted marshmallow: the ultimate outdoor nightcap

Everyone enjoys a nightcap when camping and what better way to end the evening than with a toasted marshmallow. There are few people who don’t savor the crunchy brown treats and children put them on par with puppies and chocolate ice cream. The outdoor humorist Patrick McManus even said that the toasted marshmallow is the kid campers peach brandy.

When the nights become cold enough to warrant cuddling up next to a roaring fire, it is marshmallow season. However, building a marshmallow fire is technical craft fraught with pitfalls. The risk of failure and third degree burns is always present unless certain elements are in order. The first such component is the night.

A proper marshmallow night must be cool but not cold. If the temperature is too cold, the exercise quickly becomes a torture test without any social value. If the night is too warm, a fire becomes an annoyance instead of a centerpiece of social interaction.

Next is the fire. The bonfire should have been burning for at least an hour or two so that there is a good bed of coals. This is not so much necessary for the toasting process but rather for the ease of maintaining the fire while enjoying the company. If the fire has a good bed of coals, a log can be haphazardly thrown onto the pyre as necessary without much fiddling, allowing the fire warden to focus on important matters such as telling ghost stories.

The crowd is the next consideration. Any group of marshmallow roasters should include children, as they are usually the reason for going to the trouble of roasting marshmallows in the first place. In a pinch, men in general will work because most of us are psychologically under 16 years of age anyway.

The choice of sticks is highly important. The technologically superior will choose metal skewers bought at the camping store. These are fine except that they tend to get hot, causing the marshmallow to slide into the fire unexpectedly. Sticks torn from surrounding trees are excellent aside from the ethical and legal problem of defoliating the already-defoliated trees in organized campgrounds. If you can craft natural roasting sticks from nearby trees without inflicting unsightly or unlawful damage, you get ten bonus style points.

Perhaps the best sticks are made from 3/8 inch dowel rods bought at the hardware store and sharpened in a pencil sharpener. These are cheap, hold the marshmallow until next Tuesday and impart no nasty taste as green tree branches can sometimes do.

Once the preparations are in order, the roasting can begin. For the perfect overall brown surface, a marshmallow must be constantly rotated over a moderately hot spot in the fire. A hot bed of coals is idea but you will need to experiment on the amount of time and turning. Using the leaping flames is difficult because the fire will momentarily die down then flash without warning. One minute you have a raw marshmallow then seconds later you are flailing around with a miniature road flare.

It is important to lecture the kids on the importance of not waving the stick wildly when the marshmallow catches fire. Such fires inevitably happen and without caution, there is a strong possibility that someone will end up with a wad of confectionary-based napalm in their lap. The sticks also tend to end up in someone’s eye unless strict twig discipline is observed.

Patience is the key to proper roasting. The champion in this category was my recently departed grandfather. While the kids were running around waving their flaming sticks in the air in a futile effort to quell the flames, he would leisurely spin his marshmallow over the coals until it was a perfect toasted brown. He would then pull off the skin and repeat the process, eventually pulling off several layers like a gummy onion. His record was four such skins. I’ve never gotten beyond two.

One of the most important elements for a good marshmallow roast is talk. Once the initial excitement has passed and everyone is satiated, it is time to sit back and look into the fire, mulling answers and questions among the glowing orange caverns. Even the youngest members of the group will find enjoyment in quietly sitting back to watch the fire slowly turn wood into light and heat.

As the conversation dies into silence like the crackling wood eventually turns to coals and finally ash, stillness settles over the scene until the only things spoken are thoughtful sentences carefully deliberated. The replies are equally considered and the topics flow aimlessly like water on a glass table. It is nice to see the kids staring into the fire, listening, lost in thought and sharing wisdom beyond their years.

At least until they unexpectedly share a flaming blob of molten sugar with your face.

Time for venison stir-fry

A delicious, made-from-scratch venison stir-fry

As we endure the hellish season known as January, many thoughts turn to cooking….as my ample waistline will attest.  Though this blog isn’t devoted to cooking, don’t hold it against us if a recipe or two sneaks into the mix.

Since the red gods smiled upon us quite brightly during the deer season, we have a plethora of venison in the freezer.  In fact, even after a record-setting quantity of jerky and summer sausage given as gifts this year, we’re still not sure if we can eat all the frozen deer by next October.

That’s a great problem to have.

Anyway, the weather was lousy and we have just started our annual diet, so a low-cal and healthy meal seemed in order.  While at the grocery we gathered up the necessary provisions to whip up a batch of our favorite deer stir-fry.

Here goes:

Marinating venison

1. Cut one package of deer tenderloin or roast into thin strips.

2. Add approximately a tablespoon of minced garlic to the bowl (I used dry).

3. Splash on soy sauce as if you were a disco stud preparing for a big night on the town (that means, if you don’t participate in Saturday Night Fever, use enough soy sauce that the meat is thoroughly coated but not swimming)

4. Meanwhile, cut up a double-handful of brocoli florets and toss them into a bowl.  Add about a heaping handful of snow pea pods then wash and drain the conglomeration.

5.  In a stir-fry pan or Wok, heat up about two tablespoons of olive oil (add a healthy dollop of seasame oil if you have any on hand.  It is one of the secrets to adding a rich, smoky flavor to the dish).

raw veggies are waiting

6. Turn up the heat ALL THE WAY.  You can’t make it too hot.  Have the ingredients standing by in bowls because once the oil is heating, there is a fine line between smoking hot and flash fire.

7. Add the meat to the lightly smoking oil.  It will sizzle and spatter.  Oops!  Your forearm got burned.  Deal with it.  Stir the meat rapidly as it heats (hence the name….wait for it…..Stir-Fry!!!!!).

8.  Once the meat is thoroughly cooked (about two or three minutes if the skillet is hot enough), add the vegetables and continue stirring.  I like to add sliced water chestnuts and slivered raw almonds.  Some add bean sprouts or baby corn.  I suppose you could add brussels sprouts if you feel the need (seek immediate psychiatric care if so).

Have everything ready before cooking

9.  Once the veggies are coated with the meat gravy, pull them up the sides of the pan and cover the dish with a lid or foil.  We are now steaming the vegetables for five minutes so that they are cooked but don’t become limp.  I usually throw in a couple of squirts of soy sauce at this juncture.

10.  Once everything seems cooked, see how much ‘gravy’ is in the bottom of the pan.  If things are nearly dry, add some hot water and allow it to return to a boil.  Now add about a 1/4 cup of cornstarch mixed with water and remove the pan from the heat.

11.  Stir the  mixture quickly as it will cook within seconds.  If you did things right, you now have a rich gravy that is stirred onto the vegetables and meat.  If you didn’t do things right, you either have a burn wad of cornstarch putty or a thin, gravy-like liquid in the pan.  The first is bad, the second is fine if you cover up the thin flavor with more soy sauce.

Venison cooking...MMMmm!

12. Serve with rice, soft music, candle light and spirituous beverages.  Serves two with some leftovers for lunch.

Aw, nuts!

a handful of black walnuts waiting for hulling
a handful of black walnuts ready for hulling

NOTE: To see an updated version of this story, please visit our new website here

 
out-in-the-open-graphic

The first frost has descended upon the land and another activity stands ready to be penciled onto the already full outdoor calendar. As the days grow colder and the trees more vivid, it is time to go nuts. Actually, we are already citizens of that great mental state but we are actually referring to nut hunting.

October finds the widespread and varied assortment of Hoosier nut trees shedding their burden of treats for the outdoorsman who doesn’t mind a bit of tedious work. Include the entire family in the affair and you have the recipe for a fun and productive day spent together in the outdoors.

Indiana has several native nut trees. The most commonly found nuts are the hickory and black walnut, but butternuts and hazelnuts are sometimes encountered and highly coveted.

The black walnut is a common tree that any Hoosier outdoors enthusiast should be able to identify, especially where the green tennis-ball-sized husks litter the ground.

Hickory trees are found growing in the middle of lawns or in the deepest woods, often with squirrels dripping from every branch. The trees are straight-trunked and have a distinctive curling bark that gives them their common name: shagbark.

There are sixteen species of hickory tree in Indiana but not all of them produce edible nuts. Inedible is somewhat inaccurate; you can eat all hickory nuts but several species taste like soggy cigarette butts or industrial cleanser. This makes finding a tree that bears tasty nuts the biggest obstacle to those with a hankering for hickory nut brownies. Finding such a tree requires some trial-and-error, but the results are worth the occasional bout of gagging.

The butternut is difficult to find and is becoming increasingly rare due to a root disease that is slowly killing the trees throughout their range. Identification is no problem: the butternut simply looks like an elongated black walnut. If you have never eaten a butternut, the taste of the rich, oily nut is somewhat between the black walnut and the English walnut

Hazelnuts are borne on small bushes and usually found in fencerows but are sometimes used in landscaping. The nuts drop quickly and can be hard to find unless you happen to walk by while the green, beaked husks are still evident.

Gathering nuts is easy because the trees are so productive. The ground under a single large specimen will produce more nuts than most households will want to crack. Gathering is not the problem; processing the nuts is the tedious job. The first job is to remove the hull or protective outer layer before approaching the task of cracking the nuts.

Hulling black walnuts and butternuts is a messy procedure that stains any surface with an absolutely permanent brown dye. The easiest hulling technique is to wait until the hulls have partially rotted and are soft. You can wait until the hulls on the ground grow soft or store them in pails in your garage, depending on which is the most convenient method for you.

To clean the nuts, put on an old pair of boots and step on the hulls until the inner nut goes shooting out and can be picked up with a rubber-gloved hand. Just make sure that you are wearing old clothes.

The freshly hulled nuts should be rinsed to avoid staining problems during later processing. Remember that the wash water is a strong dye and weak vegetation killer but can also be used to bring nightcrawlers to the surface.

Hickory nuts are usually hulled at the tree by pulling the husks apart and placing the nuts in a bag. The only suggestion is to carry a small hammer or pair of pliers to sample the nutmeats of unknown trees.

Now that you have bags of cleaned nuts, you can keep them in the garage or attic for cracking at your leisure. Mesh onion or potato sacks are ideal for storage.

If you have the patience to gather a few pounds of hickory nuts, realize that many nuts will contain beetle larvae. A simple way to sort these is by putting the nuts in a bucket of water. The bad nuts float, while solid ones will sink. Don’t forget the grubs make superb ice-fishing bait.

Cracking nuts is a chore, no matter what secret technique or gizmo you use. Simply approach the task with a relaxed attitude and expectation that many nutmeats will be smashed to atoms under too-forceful blows. If the task is broken into many short sessions, gathering several quarts of nutmeats is not too much trouble.

Using the nuts shouldn’t prove difficult; the biggest problem is getting them into the kitchen without ‘sampling’ too many. I have noticed that nuts frequently vanish at our house before ever making it into baked goods. This disappearance is blamed on squirrels and unfortunately, my wife agrees.