Wild Mushrooms – 2018

The fall season in Southern Ontario offers opportunities to get out into the wild and enjoy a number of activities, often many at the same time.  My buddy Dave and I headed out recently to take part of this seasonal overlap.  With a canoe on the roof of the car, rods and a shot-gun in the back, and a mushroom field guide-book in hand we headed out on some crown land north of Kingston.  Our aim was to target walleye early, stop periodically to see if we could take advantage of the early goose season, and walk some public land to see if we could find some edible mushrooms.

Unfortunately, the goose hunt didn’t really pan out and our fishing success was limited to one walleye and a few bass.  Thankfully the mushroom hunting salvaged the trip as we found a large number of lobster mushrooms and a few chanterelles among many other curious fungal species. Pictures have been included below for your viewing pleasure.

Cheers from the wild,

Albert

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Hank Shaw Book Tour Dinner at Antler

Hank Shaw. The man, the Chef, the culinary genius.  For those who don’t know, Hank Shaw is a chef hailing out of California, who in my opinion, has revolutionized wild game cooking.  He maintains a website that documents his numerous wild game recipes and has crystallized his extensive knowledge into several books.   Were not just talking a pot of ground venison chili either (although he has a great recipe for this in Buck Buck Moose), but elegant meals such as Duck aux poivre, venison in morel sauce and barbacoa.

Hank’s recipes exude a rare combination of worldliness and technical detail all supported by solid wild game theory.  He seems to be constantly exploring foreign cuisines and creatively merging them with wild game.  His efforts and dedication to perfection are obvious in each new recipe I attempt.  My current status of “no failed recipes” is likely due to Hank’s expertly crafted recipes more than my skills to implement them.

While cruising around on his website I noticed that his recent tour for his new book, Pheasant, Quail, Cottontail had some Canadian dates.  More importantly he was planning a book dinner in Toronto on a date I actually had a chance of making.  Even more importantly, the dinner was to be held at famous Antler Restaurant; a place I’ve always wanted to visit.  Everyone seems to know this place by its chef’s recent clashes with vegan protesters.  I imagine though that anyone who stops in soon learns that there is more behind this place than just the one dimensional media coverage it has received.  The chef, Michael Hunter, has some serious cooking chops and knows his way around Canada’s wild game species.   A simple call to Antler, and moments later I had a reservation for this event.  Now I just had to wait a few months.

The day arrived.  It was a Monday, and I had a just started a week of vacation. I left Kingston in my rear view mirror around 2 pm and arrived in Toronto an hour or so early.  I decided to kill a bit of time in the nearby bar “the Loveless Cafe”.  It was a good choice as the beverages were delicious and the decor was really getting me in the mood for the game dinner that awaited me at Antler.

The exterior of the restaurant is simple and humble.  The meal, although comprised of simple ingredients, was much more extravagant with an obvious flair that showcased species covered by Hank’s new book (Pheasant, Quail, Cottontail) and local igredients.  The menu was a combination of Hank’s and Michael’s creations and I could spend pages raving about it.  Instead I’ll let you browse the menu and give your saliva glands a workout while perusing some pictures.

(Both the terrine and duck liver mousse were light, flavorful, and worthy of praise)

(I eaten lots of rabbit before but nothing seemed to compare to the delicious Rabbit Ragu Hank and Michael pulled out of their hats for this meal)

(Much of my upland game culinary experiences have centered around grouse and woodcock.  I can honestly say that the main dish of Pheasant Cacciatore was every bit as good as the finest forest chicken I have enjoyed)

As the meal progressed, my interest in taking pictures waned and was replaced by a desire to enjoy as much of these delicious meals as possible.  You can’t eat pictures right.  Not to mention I became preoccupied with sharing hunting stories with fellow wild game enthusiasts that sat on either side of me.  In my experience, most hunters jump at the chance to tell the tale of their last seasons hunt, even if they have a full mouth and especially if they are somewhat new to the game (myself included).

To cap the experience, Hank actually made the rounds to chat with those who attended the dinner and was more than willing to share his experience and answer questions about specific meals or species.  I can honestly say I was impressed with the depth of his knowledge.  Really though, after reading so many of his articles and trying out his recipes, it didn’t really surprise me.

Thanks again to the staff at Antler and to Hank for putting on such a great event and for all the efforts put into exploring wild game and bringing it into the mainstream.

Cheers from the table,

Albert

Public Land Hunting and Fishing

Public lands are tough.  Fishing and hunting opportunities and often limited due to over use and too much competition.  Or are they?

We decided to figure this out for our selves last weekend.  Dave and I loaded up the car with the canoe, our shotguns and fishing rods and headed north of Kington to the north Frontenac parklands.  Snow had fallen in the Kingston area the day before however it had melted in the city proper.  This was not the case as we approached Parham on highway 38.  Snow had began to accumulate and it as obvious the plow had made its rounds on the roads to the north.

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The snow was a surprise although not altogether unwelcome.  Prints would be fresh and our quarry (grouse) would be more visible.  We continued on in anticipation, admiring the fresh blanket of white and the quaint architecture of small town Ontario.

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We arrived to our destination, parked the car at the trail head and began our hike.  We intended to camp that evening but decided it would be better to get on the trail early and worry about our camp later in the day.  With our hopes high we began our trek with guns loaded and eyes peeled into the mysterious Frontenac Parklands.

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The parklands have long been on our list of properties to visit.  These parklands constitute a large area north of highway 7 from Lanark county west to highway 41.  These lands are a prime example of the Canadian shield where rock outcrops and plutons are common.  Topography is highly variable and the forests contain a rich variety of conifers and deciduous trees.

These lands are also home to some pretty exquisite looking lakes containing all manner of finned creatures.  One of the more prominent of these being the brook trout.  With this knowledge in our heads, we were sure to pack our spinning rigs and so after several kilometers of hiking we stopped at one such lake rumoured to contain these desirable creatures.  To be clear, many of these lakes are put and take, as in they are stocked by the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry.  We tied on a couple of small silver spinner baits (panther martins and mepps to be exact) and took a cast into the pristine waters.

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After a few casts Dave sounded off that he had a hit, and a follow and another hit.  Seconds later he had a fish squirming on the bank and our impressions of the area grew.  Minutes later I felt a familiar tug and set the hook on a chunky little brooky.

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These creatures are impressive, for their fight, but also for their colour.  Nothing looks quite like a brook trout sporting some colour on its belly.

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After a couple fish from the first lake, we moved on in search of another quarry: grouse.  We walked for some time taking in the scenery and covering alot of ground however no grouse were seen.  The curse of public land seemed to be on us.  Although I’m not one to put much stock in the metaphysical, the curse seemed as real as the ATV tire tracks we followed along the path.

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We continued to hike along the path for several kilometers, and remained grouseless.    Discouraged we decided to change our tactic by taking a smaller path into the bush.  The path began to petered out into nothing until we ended up hiking in old logging cuts.  With all the small bushes and conifers around we were sure we would scare up a grouse.  Approximately 16 kilometres later, many of which were off the beaten path in the woods, we sluggishly stumbled upon one bird.  One bird which, we were not even close to being ready for.  It seemed we had our answer to the public land question.  We did however manage to get a couple more brook trout for the pan from another little lake, which rounded out are dinner nicely.

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We visited several different lakes in the area and drank in as much of the scenery as we could in one and a half days.  Regardless of how much this place gets hit by other hunters and trail riders, it hasn’t detracted from it’s beauty.

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It also hasn’t detracted from the deer population which seems to be thriving despite the numerous tree stands we encountered.

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North Frontenac is gem.  Its an amazing amount of land generally close to Kingston.   Although it receives a lot of pressure, it remains a great destination for many other activities.  The area boasts several campsites and lots of room to roam free on or off trail.  Bring a topo map, compass and enjoy!

Cheers from the wild

Albert

 

Ontario Craft Beer, Cheese, Liquor, and Food

The Wilderness across Ontario is my favourite thing to write about.  But a close second would have to be the province itself.  The area is rich in diversity and is currently nurturing a healthy “farm to table / locavore” movement.  For those who don’t know what I’m talking about, I’m talking about artisanal meats, cheeses, food, beer and liquor made locally with local ingredients, fostering local economic benefits.  I could go on here touting the benefits of supporting this way of life but really, what’s more beneficial than eating and drinking something that a fellow Ontarian has poured their life into?  In my mind, its a no brainer.

So how do you set about finding all these hole in the wall places? I’m sure many of you may have a favourite craft beer you like or perhaps you’ve stumbled upon a some amazing cheese that’s made in the farmhouse down the road.  That’s great.  Now imagine having access to each and everyone of these places across southern Ontario.

Actually better yet, don’t imagine.  This ability already exists in website form.  Check out the following link and discover the taste of Ontario.

https://cdn.shopify.com/s/files/1/0645/5925/files/DiscoveryRoutes_2016_Full_insert.pdf?16132010561433434178

Cheers

Albert

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Maple Syrup Season – Tapping a Crimson King

Winter is on its last legs here in South Eastern Ontario and the foraging season is steadily approaching.  Unfortunately there isn’t  ton to do outdoors if your a hunter or fisherman and many regard this transition time as down time from their busy outdoors schedules.  For me, it just means I have more time to contemplate the numerous projects id like to tackle.

One of those projects happens to be tapping trees to make maple syrup.  I’ve always wanted to make my own syrup, but without land with mature trees it can be a tall order.  About the only opportunity I have for tapping is a giant Norway Maple in my front yard., but I was never sure  you could even tap these trees.  Well the curiosity built and after a quick google I learned you can in fact tap these purple behemoths.  And according to some, the sap is actually quite good.

So I borrowed a couple taps and proceeded to tap old purple.  Fortunately for me, the Crimson King does just fine for syrup production, albeit a bit slower than a sugar maple.  Not to mention the sap tastes great!

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(The sap immediately began to flow as soon as I inserted the tap).

Now all that is left is to collect enough to make it worth boiling into syrup!

Cheers from my front yard,

Albert

Wild Duck au Poivre

Wild ducks are versatile things when it comes to the culinary world.  They make great stews, are great cured, can be pan seared on their own, and go great with a number of taste profiles and sauces.  In my opinion, there are very few individuals who understand this more than one of my favourite chefs, Hank Shaw. So whenever I am looking to try a new recipe, his website (http://honest-food.net/) is one of the very first places I look.  With inspirations from a number of international cuisines and cultures, you are guaranteed to find something interesting on his website. And if my endorsement isn’t enough to get you to try it out, consider this: The guy wrote a friggen book on cooking waterfowl titled “Duck, Duck, Goose”.  If that doesn’t give him a serious amount of street cred, I don’t know what will (Duck Duck Goose).

And so I found myself with a couple plump and delicious looking mallard breasts the other day after a hunt (Mid-Season Waterfowl) and a desire to try something interesting with them. After a brief consultation with you guessed it, the duke of duck cooking, Hank Shaw, and his handy dandy website I settled on a classic French dish, Steak au Poivre.  Or what I’ve come to call Wild Duck au Poivre. Recipe

I wont take away from Hank’s great, comprehensive instructions, so go check out his website if you want to know how to make this tasty number.

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I did make a few adjustments, mostly to accommodate the ingredients I had on hand.  Instead of porcini and bitter greens I substituted in some nice German Feldsalat which my inlaws grew late into fall.  I added a bit of a dill vinaigrette just to spice it up a bit.

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Next I decided to roast some potatoes I had grown this year in m y backyard garden.

The recipe for the potatoes is as follows:

peel and cut potatoes into coarse cubes.  Lay in a pan and cover with water, a dash of salt and a dash of chicken stock.  Bake at 400 degrees Fahrenheit until the water boils.  At which point let them simmer for around 5 minutes.  Once the potatoes start to soften, remove and Drain.  Rough up the potatoes in a strainer, coat with flour and seasonings (chives, salt and pepper), and fry in hot oil until the edges brown.  throw back in the oven at bake until crisp.

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Everything tastes better when cooked in butter.

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Voila, Wild Duck au Poivre!

 

Cheers from the kitchen,

Albert

 

Leek and Potato Soup

I’d hazard a guess that almost every leek hunter in the province has a favourite Leek and Potato soup.  Like peas and carrots, spaghetti and meat balls, the ingredients go so well together, it would almost be a crime to not make at least one batch during leek season each year.

So here is my recipe, made from some fresh potatoes and same day harvested leeks.  Its not fancy, its not haute cuisine, its just stick to your ribs good.  Just the thing to chase the chill out of your bones form the brisk spring walk required to pick them.

 

Potatoe and Leek Soup

For those who love good food pics:

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Cheers from my Kitchen

Albert