Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Rabbit dogs and easy baked rabbit

30 years ago, I would have never thought I would come to love beagles so much.  I have always loved dogs and I have always been particularly fascinated by working dogs.  And it is not just one kind of working dog that I love to watch, but everything from the Alaskan huskies that run the Iditarod to the seeing eye dogs for the blind to the border collies that herd sheep.  The beagles entered my life thanks to my husband Mike.  Mike grew up on a farm in southern Ohio and as is typical for life on the farm, sons grew up hunting with their dads.  Mike always talked about a beagle that he had as a kid and how they enjoyed rabbit hunting on the farm.  So maybe 15 years ago, I bought him a beagle from champion field stock and Mike and I would take him out on the farm and hunt rabbits.  That is when I really started to become fascinated with these small hounds.  I find it totally amazing that through selective breeding man has bred a dog that will smell a very particular smell and bark at it and trail it.  While rabbit dogs do need training to listen to commands, they need no training to bark at the smell of a rabbit running on the ground.  Amazing.

That first beagle is long gone and now we have two beagles.  One is an older female named Gabby.  I picked her up at the local animal shelter about 3 years ago.  I really just wanted her as a pet, but the fact that she will hunt rabbits is a plus.  Our second beagle is a year old male named Buddy.  Earlier this year, we got Buddy from a friend of Mike's brother Mark.  I spent the summer letting the beagles run rabbits in the weedy creek bottom behind the house in order to get them ready for rabbit season.  I love just sitting back and listening to the hounds work.  It is so important that working breeds of dogs get to do what they were bred to do or if that is not possible, then they need to do something of equal importance.  I am digressing here a bit, but dealing with poorly behaved dogs every day, the number one reason that dogs get in trouble is they have way too much energy and they get way too little exercise.  And no, letting them roam by themselves in the fenced in backyard is not exercise for a highly energetic working breed of dog.

I've talked before about the importance of knowing where your food comes from.  Of course, since I raise chickens, we always have plenty of chicken in the freezer.  But we also eat a lot of wild game that comes from the farm.  Everything from deer to wild turkey to rabbit to squirrel gets eaten in our house.  Wild game is a nice healthy lean source of protein that is plentiful and doesn't require animals being raised in a large confinement facility.  Hunting also get me outdoors (which I love) and gives me a sense of being connected to nature.

But this blog is supposed to be about rabbits.  I baked a rabbit a couple days ago that probably was the best rabbit I have ever made.  The best part is that I did not follow a specific recipe, but instead, I just threw some ingredients together that I thought sounded good.  I must admit that I was looking for a way to prepare this rabbit that was easy so I did use a jar of prepared gravy from the store.  This is kind of cheating in a way, but it sure was tasty and made my life simpler.  I was so busy this past weekend that dinner prep needed to be quick and easy.  The other thing I did with this rabbit that was totally new to me was to slow cook it in the oven instead of the crock pot.  This worked very very well.

So here is my recipe for Easy Baked Rabbit:

1 rabbit cut into serving pieces
1/2 cup flour
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
salt and pepper to taste
1 thick slice of onion cut into large pieces
2 slices of maple bacon
1/2 jar of prepared beef gravy

Put the rabbit pieces in a plastic bag with the flour and shake to coat.  Transfer the rabbit pieces to an oven cooking bag and arrange in one layer.  Sprinkle the garlic powder, salt and pepper over the rabbit pieces.  Put the onion pieces over top the rabbit next.  Then lay the strips of bacon over the rabbit.  Pour the 1/2 jar of gravy over the rabbit pieces.  Seal the oven cooking bag and baked in a preheated oven at 250 degrees for around 5 hours until the meat is falling off the bone.  Remove the rabbit pieces from the bag and pull all the meat off the bones.  Scoop out the gravy, onion and bacon from the cooking bag and mixed with the deboned rabbit meat. 

This works well served over rice.  I had made some brown rice, cauliflower and cheese casserole using a green cauliflower from our garden so I served that along side the rabbit.  It sure was very tasty!

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Sustainable Agriculture

Playing a little catch up here today.  First, today was the first Countryside Conservency winter market at its new location at Old Trail School.  Mike said it was very well attended and they had a good day.  The cold tolerant crops in the garden are still doing well so we had beets, Brussels sprouts, cabbage and cauliflower to take the market.  Steve had a lot of winter squash, broccoli, potatoes and popcorn among other things.  It is very nice to see the winter market well attended.  Mike will probably be missing most of the markets as soon as the ground freezes, but so far that hasn't happened yet.  We still have some wheat flour and that will probably go to some of the winter markets and perhaps to a couple people who run wintertime CSA programs.

I spent most of the day catching up and doing chores around the house.  Finally had time to make a loaf of bread.  Making bread is definitely a wintertime activity for me.  Summer is usually way too busy.  Plus with Mike going to market every weekend, he is able to purchase bread from one of the vendor's at the market every week.  Of course, I forgot that Mike buys a loaf at market even though he has bought a loaf every single week all summer long.  So now we have two loaves of homemade bread sitting on the counter. Still, it was nice to have the smell of fresh baked bread coming from the kitchen today.

Last month, Mike wrote a blog posting about sustainable agriculture.  Well, I am finally getting around to posting it along with some pictures he (and I) took over the last couple months. Take it away Mike ...........

The license plate on my pickup truck is one of the special plates one can purchase from the BMV that cost extra. The extra money goes towards a state program that supports the driver’s pet cause. Mine supports sustainable agriculture. I would think all people in Northeast Ohio would support sustainable agriculture. Who has not seen a picture of slash and burn farming in the rainforest and cringed? But what is sustainable agriculture and what are some of the things we do to sustain our farm?

The U.S. Department of Agriculture defines sustainable agriculture as farming that:

1. satisfies human food and fiber needs;

2. enhances environmental quality;

3. makes the most efficient use of nonrenewable resources;

4. integrates natural biological cycles when appropriate;

5. sustains the economic viability of farms and

6. enhances the quality of life for farmers and society.

I recently planted cover crop on some fields where I had early crops planted. Cover crops are often called “green manures” for their use in improving soil quality. They can be used to add organic material to the soil, add nitrogen to the soil in the case of legume cover crops, improve soil microbe activity, nutrient recycling, soil aeration, weed and pest suppression and erosion control. I planted a mixture of hairy vetch, tillage radishes, rye grass and crimson clover. All add organic material, the vetch and clover will add nitrogen and the radishes have very deep roots to loosen any soil compaction. These will tolerate the cold and be incorporated into the soil next spring. Taking care of our soil is just one of the things we do to practice sustainable agriculture.

Here's Mike disking up the area of the garden where cover crop will be planted.  I must have taken this while out walking the dogs around the pasture because Mike and his tractor look so far away.

After preparing the soil, Bill came over and planted the cover crop.

Closer view of the grain drill

And a few week later, tiny little plants popping up in rows

Here's the wider view of the cover crop coming up

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Pumpkin Puree

We've had our first killing frost the first of November.  That is so incredibly late for us.  Most of the plants in the garden have died, but it takes more than a measly little frost to kill the cold tolerant plants.  We are still picking beets, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, Swiss chard, , celery and cabbage to sell.  Plus there are small amounts of things like broccoli and celery root that Mike and I can eat ourselves.  The Peninsula market is done, but the Shaker market is still going so we still have an outlet for our produce.  In addition we have a wholesale order this week for 150 bunches of beets and 150 heads of cauliflower.  Pretty sweet!

Some of you heard about the great pumpkin disaster last week.  Kay from Covered Bridge Gardens gave Mike an heirloom variety of pumpkin for me to turn into pumpkin puree to use for pies and such.  Mike got the pumpkin on a Monday, but it had to sit on the counter all week until I could find time to mess with it.  Mike was sitting in his recliner and I handed him the pumpkin so I could take a picture of it.  Neither of us realized that the pumpkin had rotted inside and while Mike was holding it, the pumpkin burst spilling all the seeds and rotten liquid all over his lap.  In hindsight, I guess I should have still taken the picture.  Instead I made him sit there covered in goo until I could clean most of the mess before any more of it dripped down into the inner workings of the recliner.  Yeah, that was fun.

So a couple days ago, Mike came home with pumpkin #2. These heirloom pumpkins are really cool looking and way bigger than a normal pie pumpkin. The pumpkin looks good in this picture, but I am thinking that a certain farmer really needs a new shirt for Christmas this year.  But on to the pumpkin puree.  It is VERY simple to make homemade pumpkin puree.  A little time and love for good homemade food is all it takes.  Oh and a pumpkin that isn't rotten in the middle.

First I cut out the stem and cut the pumpkin in half.

Next, clean out all the seeds and fibery strands of goo (that is the technical term you know).

Put the pumpkin cut side down on a baking sheet lined with foil and sprayed with just a little cooking spray.  Bake in a 350 degree oven.
Cooked it until the pumpkin was soft.  I read one recipe for homemade puree that said cook for 45 minutes.  Are you kidding me?  A baked potato takes longer than that in a 350 degree oven.  This was a big pumpkin.  It took 2 hours to bake.  Last night was a work night and the pumpkin finished baking kind of late as in after 9pm which is after my bed time.  So I just set the pumpkin on the stove top and came back to the next step this morning.

The next step was to cut the rind away from the flesh.  I put all the soft baked flesh into a big mixing bowl and used an electric mixer to whip it into a smooth puree.  A food processor would work too, but the beaters on the mixer are easier to clean I think.  Then I lined a colander with coffee filters and put the puree in the colander over a large mixing bowl.  There is a lot of water in the pumpkin flesh that needs to be drained off.  I just left this set in the refrigerator all day and when I got home from work, it was ready to pack and freeze.  Unfortunately I am out of freezer containers, so off to the store tomorrow and I will finish tomorrow.  I pack the puree into 2 cup portions.  This is the right amount for one pie or two pumpkin rolls. We will be enjoying pumpkin baked goods all winter long.