Free Rabbit Food (and People Food): Oxeye Daisy

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Leucanthemum vulgare is an iconic perennial flowering herb that is native to Europe but can be found all over the world. It’s also called the dog daisy, common daisy or moon daisy and can be seen in fields, woodlands and along roadsides. It has serrated to dentated dark green leaves and spreads via rhizomes.

I have a large patch of this in my rabbit forage field and the bunnies always go for these juicy stalks first when they get their daily bundle of wild grasses. The dead nettle has died down for the most part and so the oxeye daisy makes for much of their non-grassy forage this time of year, now that it is getting hotter.

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The young leaves of this herb can also be used in salads, and the dried leaves have a bitter and tingling flavor similar to that of valerian. The immature flower buds can be marinated and used like capers, which is what I’m preparing today. They have a unique, delicate sweet and spicy flavor that complements many dishes such as smoked fish, salads, pates and sauces.

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You must select tightly closed flower buds to ensure the best flavor and that no bugs have made their way in. Then take 1/2 cup apple cider or wine vinegar and 1/2 cup water mixed with 1 tablespoon sea salt and use to cover your flower buds in a glass jar or ceramic crock. Refrigerate and they will be ready to use after three days but will keep in the fridge much longer than that.

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Wild Edibles: Dame’s Rocket

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These flashy little plants showed up in my bee yard completely out of nowhere. I’m sure nobody planted them but I have seen them growing in my neighbor’s yard a couple of houses down. A quick search shows it to be an invasive plant, but it’s also edible and has medicinal qualities.

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The bitter, pungent leaves, which are high in vitamin C are great in salads as the plant is closely related to arugula. The flowers are aromatic, but only in the evenings. It is purported to induce sweating, promote urination and loosen a cough. When in flower, it is said to be a gland stimulant and aphrodisiac.  It’s also a great nectar source!

New Dehydrator!

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My old cheap, round white dehydrator from Canadian Tire served me well for a few years, but the plastic trays finally crumbled and fell apart and it needed to go. I do a fair bit of dehydrating and decided it was time to invest in a better quality model, so I went with the 3900B 9-Tray Deluxe Excalibur.

I’m not sure why a plastic box with a heat element, thermostat and fan is so expensive, but all dehydrators of this size and quality seem to be comparable in price. At least this one has lots of great reviews. It’s definitely got a lot more capacity than my tiny round one did, and it’s a bit easier to clean. So far here’s what I think of it:

Pros:
-Large drying capacity
-Square, easy to store and easier to arrange items
-Seems fairly durable
-Adjustable thermostat
-Relatively easy to clean*

Cons:
-Expensive
-No timer
-Tray are a bit flimsy
-Door does not latch shut
-Large footprint
-*Still annoying to clean

The door just hangs on the front which would be fine if I didn’t have cats and often dry meats. This means if I’m not supervising I have to put something heavy in front of the door to deter cat theft.

They say you can wash the trays in the top shelf of your dishwasher IF you take them out before the drying cycle. I don’t know about you, but me and my dishwasher don’t really know each other all that well and I’d rather not take the risk of melting my trays. This means I have to scrub the 14″ square trays in my sink and well, they just don’t fit. It’s awkward, water gets everywhere, and I hate it. At least I can dry the trays when I’m done right in the unit!

If I had wanted to spend another $40 to $50, I could have purchased a model with a timer. However, I can just buy a timer for $10 and plug into that if I need one. I think I would rarely use one anyway, and the built-in timer only goes to a maximum of two hours, which generally isn’t enough time for what I’m drying. It’s also just one more thing that can break on the unit, so I decided to go without. Looking forward to drying lots of garden herbs and vegetables this year!

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Wild Edibles: Fluted Black Elfin Saddle

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I took the dog on a nice long hike today, and we came across some edible mushrooms I hadn’t seen before. Helvella lacunosa or fluted black elfin saddle.

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Here in the Pacific Northwest we have a lot of mushrooms this time of year, but the edible ones near trail edges tend to get scooped up rather quickly. I think these ones had been left alone because they are a rather unusual-looking species.

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The only other species that looks close is the hooded false morel, which is poisonous, but does not have the characteristic fluting in the stem. Although the fluted black elfin saddle is considered edible, they must be either cooked or dried first in order to dissipate the monomethylhydrazine they contain, which is a toxic substance.

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I shall enjoy them with quail breasts and wild greens as my dinner tonight!

Trying Seal Meat

DSC_0014My lovely boyfriend who has been working in Nunavut for the past four months recently came home for a much needed visit. It was a great opportunity to try the seal meat that he sent me that has been patiently waiting in my freezer… Although seal meat never quite freezes solid as it is permeated with a thin oil throughout.

DSC_0015DSC_0019We decided we wanted to try it raw first for a comprehensive experience. It was a rather large vacuum-sealed slab weighing around 3 lbs that had set him back $26 at a country food shop in Iqaluit. We think the species might be ringed seal.

Looking at the frozen slab, I could see light areas as well as very dark, almost black sections. Upon defrosting, I could see that the light areas were a thick layer of fat covering one side, while the dark areas were the meat itself. I also noticed that there was a section of ribs included, a lot of blood and a watery-thin oil slick sitting on top of everything.

DSC_0021When the package was opened, there was a faint fishy/ocean smell. I sliced some very thin pieces of meat for trying raw, then briefly sauteed some small steaks in butter with grey salt and pepper. I also prepared some small chunks of the fat and browned them on all sides. Looking back, I don’t think the butter was necessary as the fat and oil should have done the job nicely.

DSC_0022The raw meat had a very rich, gamey flavor, reminiscent of quail. There is also somewhat of a metallic hint that you might compare to liver or filet mignon. I think this is due to the high iron content. It has a slight fishiness and would not be out of place on a sushi platter. Blindfolded, I’d compare it to a nice piece of tuna with a more slippery and firm texture. It should also be noted that the thin oil coats your hands when prepping seal and makes them feel very soft and smooth.

DSC_0026Once the meat has been seared, the fishy flavor seems to disappear entirely. What you’re left with is a very tender, juicy and delicious rich steak flavor. It basically tastes like the finest aged beef tenderloin. The chunks of fat brown very quickly but stay white and soft on the inside. They disintegrate in the mouth with a floral creaminess and a slight fishy aftertaste.

My conclusion is that seal is super delicious and probably some of the best meat I’ve ever tried. The “fishy” flavor I keep describing is really more of an “ocean” flavor, which is very hard to describe. It fills your nose in a different way than actual fish. It reminds me of being on a tiny boat in a storm fishing for salmon.

I’ll probably use the rib section for a pie or a stew, and I will likely eat the rest simply seared like a steak. There is a substantial fat layer covering one side that I’m not entirely sure what to do with, but I would like to attempt turning it into fermented seal oil, which is a common seasoning in Inuit culture.

DSC_0029If you ever get the chance to try seal meat, don’t pass up this unusual vittle. You’ll be glad you didn’t!

Perfect Rare Roast Beef

DSC_0037When I think of roast beef, I imagine rare, juicy, perfectly seasoned slices. Too often the commercially available reality is a dry, overcooked, under-seasoned disappointment.

Making the perfect roast beef isn’t difficult, but requires a few important steps. First, select a small, long thin roast, 2-3kg. Rub your roast with a generous amount of kosher salt and spices the night before and allow it to sit uncovered in the refrigerator for 24 hours. This will help dry out the roast a bit to ensure a good sear and allows the seasonings to penetrate the roast properly. If you season immediately before cooking you’ll end up with a bland hunk of meat and an over-seasoned exterior. The salt will also help draw the flavorings into the meat.

Let your roast come up to room temperature by allowing it to sit out for 1 to 2 hours before cooking. This is very important for getting it to roast evenly. Sear each side well in a heavy skillet over high heat and then finish in a 425F oven. Finally, allow to rest before carving to allow the juices to redistribute.

The earthy seasonings used in this recipe are in my opinion, absolutely perfect. They are minimal but effective, allowing the flavor and texture of the meat to shine through.

Perfect Rare Roast Beef Rub

1 small roast, 2-3kg
2 T kosher salt
2 t fresh black pepper
2 T mustard powder
1 t celery seed
1 t ground rosemary
1 t ground thyme
1/4 cup olive oil

Mix all ingredients and rub into roast. Allow to sit uncovered in fridge for 24 hours. Allow to come to room temperature for 1-2 hours. Sear each side in hot oil over high heat until well browned. About 4 minutes per side. Warning – this step will smoke up your kitchen if you’re doing it right. Transfer to a 425F oven and roast for 4 minutes per 500g. Remove, cover with a foil tent and allow to rest for minimum 20 minutes to 1 hour. Slice and serve, hot or cold.

The Trick to Easy-Peel Quail Eggs

DSC_0025Anybody who has ever tried peeling a hard-boiled quail egg knows that it’s a tedious chore, at best. Anybody who raises their own quail knows that fresh quail eggs are next to impossible to peel cleanly.

The solution? Never boil another quail egg. Steam them.

Simply use a vegetable steamer in a pot with about an inch of water and a tight fitting lid. Turn the heat up to maximum and when the steam starts coming, set a timer for six minutes.

After that, rinse your eggs well in cold water and let them sit in the water for a few minutes.

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This egg is so fresh it was actually laid today, not bad huh?

Then peel. Quail eggs have a thin shell and a thick membrane, so pinch through the membrane at the fat end of the egg, where there is an air pocket, to make sure you get a clean removal.

Of course, this method also works for fresh chicken eggs. Steam them for about 12-15 minutes. You’ll be amazed!