Sunday, March 24, 2013

Spring carrots

Two weeks ago there was no snow on the ground.  Two weeks ago we had a wonderful weekend with temperatures that soared well above the normal high of 48 degrees and landed at 65 degrees on Sunday afternoon.  It seemed that spring was indeed right around the corner.  I took my usual walk around the farm with the beagles and along the way I passed through the old carrot patch.  Everything that was green in the garden has been thoroughly eaten by all the deer that forage their way through the winter months.  We had pretty much written off the carrots, but as I walked across the bare dirt, I noticed something.  There WERE carrots in the ground.  Lots of them.  The tops had been eaten off and sometimes a chunk of the carrot itself had been bitten off right at the level of the ground.  I started pulling up carrot after carrot after carrot and they didn't look bad at all.  The ground had preserved them in very good condition.  It felt good putting my fingers into the wet earth and pulling out my prize.  It was like finding hidden treasure.  This time of year nearly all the vegetables we eat are ones that I have either canned or frozen from our farm.  The thought of fresh from the ground carrots was making my mouth water.  I took my prize back to the house and gave them a good scrubbing.  

Within a short time I was eating a plate full of cooked carrots seasoned with just a little butter and salt.  What a treat for this time of year.

Mike and I are still discussing if we should pick some for market.  We can certainly trim up the munched on ends, but traditionally carrots are sold with the green tops on.  I'm not sure anyone would buy them without the tops.  It seems sad that all these carrots should go to waste because the tops were there to feed the deer.

Mother Nature has decided to make sure though that we don't have to worry about harvesting carrots from the ground.  Last Saturday it snowed.  Then on the first day of spring it snowed.  And the next day it snowed more.  For going on two weeks now, our high temperatures have been running at least 15 degrees below normal.  Most of the days this past week, our high temperature did not even reach what our normal low temperature should be.  Snow this time of year is like some cruel hoax, but there is nothing to do but take a big sigh and know that spring will be here eventually.  In the meantime, the snow does make for some pretty scenery.

The big maple tree behind our house in the early morning light.

Peters Creek

Our dairy farm neighbor's granary

Wild growing apple tree looking like it was sprayed with foam

Another view of Peters Creek with our barn in the background

Monday, March 4, 2013

Rabbit Ragu

Living here on the farm, we eat a lot of wild game as part of our diet.  We have three beagles that love to chase rabbits around the farm and we have lots of rabbits that love to eat our vegetables.  And so it is that the dogs and I get some exercise during rabbit season.  I shoot a few rabbits to keep the population in check a bit and to keep some lean healthy meat in the freezer.  Truth be told, I exercise the dogs way more than I actually shoot any rabbits, but a few weeks ago the rabbits ate every last bit of our spinach and radishes that were growing in our high tunnel.   Last weekend was the last weekend of rabbit season and I thought I had better take advantage of the last opportunity to thin out the rabbit population.

Every once in awhile I come across a recipe that deserves an inclusion in the blog. I've been looking for something different to do with the wild rabbit meat I have on hand.  Seems like I've been kind of stuck in a rut ever since I came up with a rabbit and gravy recipe that I really love.  A couple months ago I came upon a recipe for rabbit ragu.  I've been wanting to try it ever since and this weekend was the perfect opportunity.  I browsed the internet for more rabbit ragu recipes and I finally settled on one from Emeril Lagasse via  It is called Rabbit Ragu with Pappardelle Pasta.  Of course I made a few minor changes, but the inspiration certainly came from this recipe.  This recipe was certainly somewhat of a labor of love and definitely not something that could be put together for a weeknight dinner, but you could certainly do the long steps ahead of time and crockpot the rest.  Today though I had some time and so this is how it went.

I took two wild rabbits and deboned the meat and cut it into chunks.  I even removed the silver skin off the loin muscle.  Probably not necessary but I did it.  Actually I have not deboned a rabbit before and I have to admit it was a bit tedious.  I think I actually like better the method of cooking it until the meat is tender and then pulling it off the bone.  But I do see an advantage of deboning first.  There were no shards of bone in the meat like there sometimes are when pulling off cooked meat.  I also did this step the day before so that was a time saver today.

Then I seasoned the meat with salt and pepper and tossed the meat in flour (sorry Emeril, I just used plain ol' all purpose flour).

Next I browned the meat in a little olive oil, about 10 minutes, until browned and nearly cooked through.  Removed the meat from the pan and set aside.

I added a little more olive oil to the pan (just enough to coat the bottom).  I find it hard to believe the recipe calls for about 1/2 cup of olive oil at this step.  Wow!  That seems like it would be an oily mess.  Whatever.  I then added the 2 cups of minced onion, 1 cup of minced celery and 1 cup of minced carrot.  Pretty colors!

This next step is definitely the "labor of love" part.  I don't think I have ever caramelized vegetables to this extent.  One time I made a deep dark caramel colored roux for a gumbo recipe and I remember that took a long time.  I read up on caramelizing veggies and it convinced me that this was a step that needed to be taken seriously.  And  so, 50 minutes later I ended up with some beautiful caramel colored vegetables.  Perfect!

For the next part I added 2 pint jars of home canned whole tomatoes with the water/juice.  I mashed them in the pan with a hand potato masher.  Add to that the 1 tsp dried oregano and about 2 teaspoons of  fresh chopped garlic (I like garlic more than 1 tsp worth), 1/2 teaspoon of dried thyme, 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper (I had no red pepper flakes), no rosemary (I hate rosemary) and no bay leaves.  I also added 1 cup of red wine and cooked this for another 30 minutes, reducing the liquid a bit.

After this, I added the browned wild rabbit meat, the tomato/veggie/wine sauce and only 1 cup of broth (I used homemade turkey broth because it is what I had on hand) and put this all in the crockpot.  30 minutes on high and then 5 hours on low.  When it was time for dinner, I got the handy dandy potato masher out again and used it to break up the chunks of meat a bit.  Served over pasta.

I really really REALLY liked this recipe.  Mike thought there was too much heat from the cayenne, but he does not like spicy food much at all.  I thought it was just right.  A slight touch of heat/flavor without being too noticeable.  Maybe next time I will try it without the cayenne, but it will need more salt or garlic or something else if the cayenne is not there.