Monday, January 23, 2012

Winter? Weather

     Over the years I've heard a lot about the global warming phenomenon. Having spent a good amount of my time outdoors, in all seasons (no pun intended), I've pretty much discounted the theories of how the earth is warming up. One day in a duck blind in January will have anyone who is adamant the global temps are rising second guessing themselves real quick. This year I've begun to think a bit differently, as here in Massachusetts we've been having an extremely warm winter. This warm winter, is of course, great for things like dog training. Not so good for things like tracking deer. The snow has arrived, and the temps have dropped, so it seems the party is over. The dog training continues, none the less, as the depth of the snow fall has even necessitated the use of my snow blower, yet. Here are a few dog training pics from a recent pre-snow session. Enjoy.
**Photos by Junko Nakao Rich

Monday, January 9, 2012

Fagiolo Con Coniglio

            The winter months in much of the north country is the season of the hound. The crunching of the snow beneath your feet, and the bay of a pack in hot pursuit are sounds perfectly suited to the winter whites clinging to the trees, and covering the brush piles. Shotguns, snowshoes, wool coats, and beagles mean that many tasty rabbit meals are on the horizon. After a day of baying hounds and frenetic chases nothing is better than fork tender rabbit or hare to make one appreciate the chase, and accompanying tradition.

            Rabbit is one of my favorite game meats. It’s subtle, sweet flavor is far better than all domestic meats, and more suiting to the traditional Thanksgiving trimmings that any turkey ever will be. Handled correctly, rabbit is the game with which to initiate the uninitiated. Here is a handling tip I came across recently, and a pairing based on traditional Italian cooking that puts rabbit in bed, or on the plate, with ingredients it deserves.

            Handling game can be tricky, and rabbit and hare especially so. Their tender flesh readily absorbs, and holds blood after they’ve been shot. As with any game, blood in the meat can change the flavor profile, and rabbit having such a light flavor can easily take on the iodine profile of the blood. A trick I learned recently is to fully submerge the skinned and cleaned rabbit in a pot of cold water. You then want to place this pot in the sink, allowing it to soak overnight in cold water, while you allow a small trickle of cold water to run from the tap into the pot. This will do two things; it’ll allow a fresh supply of cold water to keep the rabbit cool, while flushing the blood to run out of the pot and down the drain as the pot over flows. True, this isn’t the best method if you’re concerned about water conservation, but the water really only need be run at a trickle. In the morning your rabbit should be a clean pink/white color, and ready to be cooked.

            Boiling a rabbit can further remove any remaining blood from the meat. Rabbit being as lightly flavored as it is, can be boiled, and later added to any dish you chose to use it in. This will prevent it from being over powered by spices later, and retain its natural sweetness. To do this I quarter the rabbit, and boil it. As the rabbit boils the water may change colors, or remaining blood may rise to the surface. Skim the foam created by the blood off the surface, and if you think the water has become too dark, change the water. The goal is to boil the rabbit until the meat can be easily pulled from the bones. How long this takes depends on the size of the rabbit, but 2-3 hours at a light boil should do the trick. Depending on the recipe you’ll be making you may want to boil until the meat just comes off, especially if you’ll be stewing the meat and want it to take in some of the flavors around it.

            Some things naturally go together better than others, and the classic Italian dish Fagiolo All’Uccelletto is the perfect back drop for rabbit prepared as I’ve outlined. I call this dish Fagiolo Con Coniglio, Beans with rabbit. I hope you enjoy it.

You’ll need:

 1 can of cannellini beans

Olive Oil

2 cloves of garlic

1 Sprig of sage, or basil

4-5 Tomatoes, peeled, and chopped

1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar.

1 rabbit, prepared as outlined above

            Drain the beans, and begin to heat at a simmer with 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Simmer until well heated, about 1 hour.

            In another sauce pan add the garlic and sage to about 3-4 tablespoons of olive oil. Over low heat allow the flavors to infuse into the oil. After the flavors have infused, add the tomato and rabbit, and allow to simmer for 10 minutes. Remove the sage and garlic.

            Next, add the beans to the tomato and rabbit, and allow to simmer for another 10 minutes so the flavors come together. Finish by adding the balsamic vinegar. Serve with ravioli, pasta, or polenta.

            Customize the recipe as you feel is necessary. If you’d like the dish as a side, use less tomato, and allow the liquids to evaporate before you serve. If you’d like this to be more like a sauce, use more tomato, or more olive oil. I prefer to skip the sage, and add basil at the end. The choice is yours, and I present this to you as a starting point, rather than a finish line. The important thing is enjoying your rabbit, and honoring it by cooking it as best you can.


Friday, January 6, 2012

Happy New Year. 2011 In Review

Happy New Year!! Yup. Another year has passed. In many places, another hunting season has passed with it. It's pretty much over here. Small game, upland, and deer seasons all closed in November and December. There is still some waterfowling that can be done, and of course some predator hunting, too. I figure I've got a few days of marsh shivering in my future, and as I've been interested in tipping a coyote over for some time I just might give that a try as well.

The year has been an interesting one, and if you'd have asked me last year what I thought 2011 would have been like I would have been way off. I'd had plans for the year, but mother nature can be a bitch some times, and I basically had to call an audible. If you've been a regular reader you'll know that it was around this time last year that I was dealing with painful lameness in my setter, Austin. Ultimately this lameness, in the form of cancer, took my pal. I found myself dogless for the first time since 1993. But things have a way of working out, and I quickly found a litter of Springer pups, and brought Ginger home. These events proved to be both surprise #1, and surprise #2, and have been a portal to new friendships, and the spaniel communities in the US, Canada, and Britain.

Bringing a pup home, and training it to perform in the field is time consuming. With no remorse intent, I will state now that the time I invested in dog training took away from time afield. I spent less time this year hunting, fishing, shooting, and partaking in any manner of outdoor activity. And none of this lost time is begrudged. Dog training is an investment in the future, and I am certain that it will payoff in spades in the future. Having a high performing dog is important to me, and next season, because of the time I've invested in 2011, that's what I'll have. So, in short, 2011 was the year of the dog. Or at least the year of dog training.

Looking forward I'm planning 2012 carefully. Again I expect the year to be dominated with dog related events. Right now we are continuing our training, and preparing for a field trial in February. I'm certain there will be other field trials and some hunt tests on the calender too. As I've mentioned, I suspect I'll give coyote hunting a try over the winter. The wood lot where I deer hunt has a healthy population of yotes, and a few have been dragged out over the years.

I'm looking forward to being a regular fixture at skeet and sporting clays again, and with Ginger's training coming along so well, I feel I can begin to take a day or two each week for myself. I owe George (remember George? Read Streamside With GW) a few days on the river, and I've been feeling the need to knot up a few leaders with my lousy casting. As for big game hunting; I'm uncertain as to what I'll do this year. Naturally I'll participate in our annual deer drive. This is an event held each December during the muzzleloader season where a contingent from our rugby club, and a few other surley characters get together. Good fun.

No doubt there will be lots of grouse and woodcock hunting. In fact I'm well on my way to having secured the month of October, and half of November free from work. Having a bit of seniority equates to having a bit of vacation time, and I'm lining it up. Preliminary plans see me hunting The Great North Woods for at least a week, and upstate NY for a few days. But this isn't the only travel in the works. I'm trying to arrange to spend a couple weeks in March in Japan. Though I'll need to spend most of my time in the Tokyo/Yokohama area I'm hoping to bring a flyrod along for the trip. There are quite a few good trout streams over there. At a minimum, I'll be bringing a good pair of hiking boots. And, in case you were unaware, there are a few birddog clubs in Japan. I'll be trying to getting touch with them, too, and try to get out to see a few dog training sessions.

I'm sure you've noticed by now that I haven't yet mentioned food. Well I haven't forgotten about food, and I'm planning to bring a few new recipes to ASO. Expect to be challenged, as I throw down some game prepared with a French flare, and maybe even some traditional Indian spices.