Happy New Year to all my family, friends near and far, and everyone stopping by a 12 Gauge Girl at huntingandcooking.com!
Make it a great one!
Many years ago, when I first started my quest to learn how to cook, my cabinet was fairly bare. I started with the true basics: salt and pepper. I also had a few other beginner seasonings or spices: lemon pepper, garlic salt and powder, onion salt and powder, Italian seasonings, and cinnamon. At the time, I didn’t even have a spice cabinet, just a cabinet and it was filled with my meager amount of spices and lots of dried pasta.
As I learned more, an actual spice cabinet began to develop. I added the base spices that combined to make Italian seasoning: basil, oregano, rosemary, and thyme. I got a little wild and purchased some crushed red pepper flakes and nutmeg, which I had no clue what it should be used for. I also got the base spices for developing a flavorful chili: cumin, chili powder, and coriander. I had moved from a cabinet of some spices and dried pasta to a cabinet shelf dedicated to spices only.
Everything in the spice cabinet completely changed once I started cooking with wild game. The cabinet went from basic, everyday spices to a giant messy collection of every spice under the sun: sage, marjoram, mace, mustard seed, white pepper, dill, tarragon, celery seed, turmeric, caraway, fennel seed. The list could go on and on! The cabinet was stuffed full of bottles and tins all stacked upon each other in order to make room. And forget convenience, as finding anything in there requires pulling out, and probably spilling, most of the contents on the shelf.
When I received the opportunity to review the spice steps from YouCopia, my first inclination was to reject the offer. I didn’t see how a review for a cabinet organizer would be beneficial to my readers. However, I opened my cabinet and immediately the mess made me change my mind. No matter how much wild game I cook, it is never the same experience twice. I use so many spices because I work with a variety of meats: elk, deer, pronghorn, turkey, pheasant, fish, even crab! And I figured if my spice cabinet looked this way, other sportsmen are probably experiencing the same dilemma. So I decided to give the review a shot.
The four-step spice step holds up to 24 spice bottles and includes pre-printed labels for bottles (which just a note: bottles are not included) and also blank labels for creating your own It measures 10.8″ deep x 11.4″ wide x 3.7″ high. There is no assembly required, and set-up simply requires pushing down the little wire kickstand on the back of the unit and sliding it into the cabinet space.
The size of the shelf I use for my spice area is 11.5″ deep x 19.75″ wide x 7.5″ tall. So, the spice step does not fill the entire area, and instead leaves an area of open space that is a little over 8″ wide. This was fine with me because I could use the space for some of the taller and bulkier items, like the giant tin of Cajun seasoning I have.
I have a mixture of both spice bottles and tins. The first thing I learned when filling the cabinet back up was the step does not accommodate both the tins and the bottles together very well. The bottles are too tall and completely cover the tins. This does not make anything any easier to see in the cabinet or to remove from the cabinet. So, I would say that it is not a great option if you are looking for something that will hold both of these items in one area.
That being said, the step works great for stacking either just tins or just bottles. Since I have more spice tins than I do bottles, I started with organizing those first. As you can see in the picture, the tins are still a little bit difficult to read past the first shelf, but I could at least make out the top of the word and get an idea of what I was looking for. Pulling a desired tin out from the cabinet was easy and I didn’t have to move anything in order to get what I wanted out. I also used the four sections to organize my spices. The first step has my most used cooking spices. The second I put baking seasonings like ginger and cinnamon. I put the rest on the back two steps. All-in-all, it isn’t the perfect set-up for spice tins, but it is much better than what I had before.
In my second organization attempt of the cabinet, I used the spice step solely for bottles. This is definitely the best and most efficient use of the step. I used the labels that were included and I was able to easily read and locate any spice I wanted. The pre-printed labels actually covered most of the spices I had in my cabinet. There were blanks to fill in the ones that were a little more uncommon, such as mace. Also, the labels don’t really work on bottles with a metal screw on lid because there isn’t quite enough room on the lid for the label. I didn’t actually find that to be much a problem because I just put those bottles down front.
So, to sum things up, I am pretty pleased with the spice step. It is a relatively inexpensive ($15.99 on Amazon.com) way to organize all the bottles and tins in the spice cabinet. The step is constructed from solid plastic that is easy to clean. The wire kickstand is tightly secured and there was no wobble or swaying as I started to place the bottles on the step. Everything feels very sturdy and secure. It did make the cabinet much more organized and easy to use. If you are interested in purchasing a YouCopia Spice Steps 4-Tier Cabinet Rack Organizer, visit the following link: http://www.youcopia.com/products/24-bottle-spicesteps
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this YouCopia SpiceSteps 4-Tier Cabinet Spice Rack Organizer free from YouCopia as part of a fuelmyblog.com review campaign. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I also do not receive any type of compensation for using the link included on this review or for purchasing a YouCopia Spice Steps 4-Tier Cabinet Rack Organizer. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”
Yesterday while driving around on the mountain in search of deer, I started thinking about how much I just plain love fall. I find myself actually anticipating its arrival, which is such an abstract idea. I am anticipating the arrival of something that has no official starting date or time. I mean sure, there is the autumnal equinox, which this year falls on September 22nd, and that is the first day of fall by a calendar standard. But just because September 22nd happens doesn’t mean fall has officially started. There have been year’s here in Southern Utah where it is still 95 degrees out, and that doesn’t feel very fall like, if you ask me.
Anyway, I think fall is upon us, and this got me thinking about all the things I love about fall. There are the obvious ones: the leaves melting from green to brilliant shades of red, orange, and yellow; the temperature dipping from hot to cool and leading to evenings where a jacket is necessary when venturing outside; the start of a new school year.
And then there are all these other loves I have for fall, like pumpkins and pumpkin style food and drink, fall fruit harvests like apples, peaches, and pears, warm pots of soups and stews and chili, backyard fires with marshmallows melting on sticks, pulling out fuzzy socks to cover my cold toes, and elk bugling! It is just a beautiful time of year.
For this hearty chili, I used pronghorn, but elk or deer would be excellent as well. I took a package I had labeled as “sausage cuts” and ran it through the grinder. When I am cleaning my animals, I package steaks, roasts, and scraps all separately. Scraps, or sausage cuts as I labeled it this time, are those small pieces that might have too much tendon for a roast or be too small for a steak but are worth keeping. Chili is a great utilization of these types of cuts. I don’t even bother to remove the tendons since I am grinding the entire piece. I also didn’t add any extra fat to the mix, as I would if I were grinding burger or sausage. I like leaner meat for my chili. I ground up about a pound of meat.
In a large skillet over medium high heat, I added a tablespoon of olive oil and started to saute my onion and garlic. You can use whatever type of oil you want (vegetable, canola, etc). I only added the oil to keep the onions and garlic from burning to the pan. Cook the chopped onion and garlic for two or three minutes, just enough to soften them up.
To the onion and garlic, add three diced bell peppers. Usually when I make chili, I like to add yellow, orange, and red bell peppers to the pot. I do this because I believe of you eat as much with your eyes as your mouth, and the colors the peppers add are very visually appealing. I also like the slightly sweet flavor that the vibrant colored peppers add to the dish. This time, I went against my norm and used green bell peppers. My garden has been doing incredibly well this time, as opposed to the previous years where it has mostly died, and I have an overload of green bell peppers. And while I love the addition of the colored peppers, nothing can beat throwing in a homegrown ingredient! So, I used six of my garden peppers because they are a bit smaller in size than what one can pick up at the super market. Cook the peppers and onions for another three minutes.
Next, add the pronghorn to the pan. Cook for five to seven minutes, until the meat has browned. I also added a half teaspoon of salt and pepper to the mixture at this point. After the meat has heated through, turn the heat up to high and pour in an entire bottle of pumpkin ale beer. The beer will not only add flavor to the mixture, but also will deglaze the pan, allowing you to stir up all the goodness from your meat and onions that is starting to stick to the bottom of the pan. Stir the beer around for about a minute, and then drop the heat down to low.
In a large crock pot, add three cans of drained beans. You can add three of the same type or mix it up. For this batch, I used two cans of black beans and a can of red kidney beans. You could also use pinto, navy, or chili beans. You also might be someone that enjoys a lot of beans in your chili, and if you are then go ahead and drop in another can. This is chili, you can’t go wrong!
To the beans, add a can of pureed pumpkin, chili powder, cumin, oregano, coriander, salt, Worcestershire sauce, and some tomato paste. Give all that a little stir and pour in the meat, pepper, and onion mixture. If you like chili with a little kick to it, then you can also add a tablespoon of hot sauce. You could also mince up a jalapeno and add that. Things are sounding good, huh?
Alright, let’s continue with developing the flavors of this pumpkin themed chili! So, normally tomatoes are added to chili. Most recipes call for a 28 ounce can (the big boy cans!) of crushed tomatoes. That is a great way to go. But like I said before, my garden is doing really well this summer. I have been processing a lot of tomatoes, and it is super easy. I literally go out and pick a dozen or so tomatoes, squish them up, pack them into a quart sized freezer bag, and stick them into the freezer. I then have garden tomatoes all winter long for soups and chili. When the time comes to use them, I don’t even bother to defrost the bag. I break the bag off from around the tomatoes, and drop the entire block into the crock pot. It works super great, adds amazing depth of flavor to the chili, and I get a little moment of satisfaction in using something I grew myself (I am not much of a gardener, so these moments are rare and I must savor them to the fullest).
So, after the tomatoes have been added, it is time for the secret ingredients: cinnamon and nutmeg. I know, I know, cinnamon in chili sounds a bit weird. And nutmeg sounds just plain wrong! But this isn’t traditional chili; this is pumpkin chili. And cinnamon and nutmeg go hand in hand with pumpkin. The pumpkin adds a really subtle sweet flavor to the hearty, savory flavors of the chili and the cinnamon and nutmeg help develop and build this sweetness. So, drop in that teaspoon of each.
Set the crock pot to low and let it go for six to eight hours. If you are a little short on time, you could also set it on high and it will be ready in about four hours. Don’t forget to get some grated cheddar cheese, sour cream, chopped onions, and whatever else you like for chili toppings. Oh, and of course corn bread makes a great side for dunking into a hot, steamy bowl of this chili!
Imagine now it is six to eight hours later, and you come home from work to a house smelling just like fall, with the sweet hints of cinnamon, nutmeg, and pumpkin. Mmmm…sounds good right? You better get started on this chili!
“The life of man is of no greater importance to the universe than that of an oyster.” ~ David Hume
I just finished what is quickly becoming a yearly trip to Washington state. Last year, I visited the San Juan Islands and fished Haro Straight, located along the western border of San Juan Island. This time, I stayed with my sister who just purchased a house along the shorelines of south Puget Sound. And like my last excursion to the Pacific Northwest, the fishing did not disappoint.
Being from the desert, Washington is like visiting a foreign country. There are monstrous trees towering over salty blue water. The weather can only be described as refreshing, and it is a much appreciated break from the arid 100 degree days of the southeastern Utah desert. Heading outdoors is an unfamiliar experience: all the animals and plants are basically strangers.
While at my sister’s, we caught salt water fish, a far cry from the lake trout I am accustomed to. The first fish pulled onto the boat was a dogfish. The dogfish is definitely an inappropriately named creature, as it is actually a shark. This “fish” definitely has the teeth of a shark, so it is not a hard animal to identify. But like I said, pulling that onto the boat was a very different experience from reeling in a rainbow trout.
As with visiting any foreign place, not only were the animals and plants different, but the food was also a completely different experience. I don’t often get to experience seafood, much less fresh seafood. Sure, I have had my share of shrimp, most of which are farm raised. Our super market also carries a variety of fish, such as salmon, tilapia, and cod. As with the salmon, most of these are farm raised and have been frozen for a significant amount of time. I still partake if a sale is happening, but not often. And those frozen, farm-raised fish can not compare to the fresh, catch of the day fish I experienced while visiting Washington.
One of the more unique dishes I tried was the Kumamoto oyster. The Kumamoto oyster originated in Japan, but somehow my sister has them growing right in bay in her backyard. When the tide was low, we ventured out into the muddy bottoms and dug clams and oysters. Kumamotos, known for their surprising sweet flavor and beautifully sculpted shells, are one of the most popular oysters for eating. I have tried oysters in restaurants before, and I was very hesitant to give them another chance. I would best describe them as, well, for lack of a better word, snot. I was not a fan of the taste, texture, or even sight of the oysters from my past dining experiences.
As I am the first to admit I am not a fan of oysters, I will also be the first to admit that I have misjudged the Kumamoto based on my prior experiences. I have stereotyped all oysters to be disgusting and that was not fair of me. Kumamoto oysters are simply fantastic.
Before shucking the oysters, allow them to sit covered in salt water. You can do fresh water, but you should not soak the oyster for more than 20 minutes since the fresh water will kill them. I know that sounds counter-intuitive, as you are going to be eating the oyster so why do you care if it dies, right? In order to preserve the flavor of the oyster and to keep them from drying out, you don’t want them to be dead before consuming them. So, back to cleaning the oysters! Cover them with salt water and allow to soak. I let mine soak for a couple of hours. During this time, the oysters will filter water through their bivalve system. This filtration process is how the oyster eats. He pulls in lots of sand and filters out microorganisms for dining on. This process is also why oysters and clams are very sandy. Nothing is worse than biting down on a gritty, sandy oyster! By placing the oyster in a bucket of water, the creature will filter like it normally does but without the ocean bottom to take in, it will eventually filter all of the sand out. It works amazing and is a step worth taking when preparing clams and oysters.
Since this was my first time preparing fresh caught oysters, I had to learn how to shuck them properly. It isn’t too difficult, but practice definitely makes it easier, so does a shucking knife. Having only shucked two oysters at this point in time, I think this link provides a better tutorial on how to get your oyster on the half shell for eating: How to Shuck an Oyster!
While the Kumamoto is a fantastic tasting oyster, this slightly spicy sauce was what took the culinary experience from fantastic to phenomenal! In a small bowl, mix together a tablespoon of each of the following ingredients: sriracha, lime juice, minced garlic, minced shallot, rice wine vinegar, and soy sauce. This will dress a dozen or so oysters, but you can make as much or as little of the sauce as you need, just follow the simple rule of equal proportions for each ingredient.
Drizzle the sauce over the oysters on their half shell, add a few thin slices of green onion, and slurp that baby down! The combination of the slightly spicy vinegar sauce and the sweet piece of oyster is perfection. They texture of the kumamoto is tender, but not chewy. The sauce creates this beautiful balance of spicy and sweet, but there is also a salty element created by the ocean water in the oyster. It is one delicious bite. And I followed it with just a few more!
Happy Hunting! (And Oyster Harvesting)
No story is more circular than that of the salmon. Salmon begin their life in the freshwater streams that flow from high, crisp mountain tops to the vast ocean. After emerging from their tiny sacs, some will spend a year or more journeying the course of the fresh water towards the ocean, using the shadows of foliage, boulders, and logs to hide from the numerous predators they encounter along the way. Their bodies mature from one that thrives in freshwater to an ocean worthy, fully-scaled body. Once their evolution is complete, the salmon emerge into the ocean. Depending on the species, they live at sea anywhere from eighteen months to over eight years. No one is sure how or why, but after their stint at sea, the salmon suddenly become homeward bound, returning to their natal stream. Their sleek, silver frames transform and the males develop vibrant colors and grotesquely hooked jaws. Upon returning to their birthing grounds, the females build small gravel nests while the males engage in battles, hoping to win the opportunity to mate with females. Once the new fertilized eggs have been laid, the salmon die. Their bodies feed and nourish the stream bed sheltering their next generation of offspring. The cycle begins again.
I love the story of the salmon. Their life cycle truly reflects that life is short, but that there is a purpose for everything we do during and at the end of our life. While we were fishing in the San Juan Islands this summer, I was able to see pink salmon, locally referred to as humpies, in the different phases of their maturation. Some of the fish we pulled from the ocean were small and covered in silver scales. Their shape was very linear and clean, and their jaws were small. Others were building into their final fight bodies, with their backs swelling into large humps and bottom jaw curling up almost over their snout.
Unlike some of the other salmon types, the humpies have a very short life cycle. Upon emerging from their egg sac, they immediately work towards the sea and spend very little time in freshwater. They mature in the ocean for a short eighteen months and then make the long, final trek back up their natal stream. In the islands, this means the humpies make a “run” every other year. You can still catch some humpies during the even numbered years, but the odd numbered years are when the fish are hitting hard and often.
Directly before the pink salmon return to streams, they quit eating. This may not seem like an important detail, and I guess when talking about fishing it isn’t really important but it is interesting. I point out that the humpies quit eating because it begs the question: “Then how do you catch one?” When fishing, we tend to think about what would be appetizing to the fish. What is just going to get his belly rumbling. But the humpies aren’t eating, so nothing should be appetizing to them, right? Right. However, they are in a very aggressive state, and they are looking to fight. So, when fishing for humpies, you want to use a bright pink lure because apparently they despise pink lures and instantly want to attack it, or so the tale goes. My recommendation is the pink buzz bomb.
The man at the store directed me on the best kind of line, a monofilament with 8 pound test, barbless hooks, which are required when fishing in the San Juan Islands, and the pink bomb. He said, “If nothing else, grab a handful of pink bombs and the humpies will hit all day.” I grabbed two from the shelf and was on my way.
I went fishing for salmon in a lake boat. Normally I would never recommend taking a Sea Ray lake boat out on the ocean, but the San Juan Islands are protected from the open ocean, and while the currents can get nasty and you have to watch the wind kicking up, it is very similar to jetting around on a lake, a very large lake, but a lake nonetheless. While waiting for the down riggers to get set-up, I threaded on my pink buzz bomb and lazily casted from the side of the boat. Within a few minutes I had a bite! And within another few, I pulled in a humpy! He was small, but he was a humpy! We trolled the rest of the day with both down riggers out and with hand-held poles. Both set-ups were successful, but I have to admit, the down rigger brought in a bit bigger fish. It also brought in a beautiful ocean rock fish, which we released since you are not able to keep them.
The daddy fish of the day was a nice seven pound humpy that was starting to mature for heading to freshwater. His jaw was starting to curl and his back was swelling into a noticeable hump. Coming from an area where the big fish is considered two or three pounds, this was a treat to reel in. The humpies put up a great fight all the way to boat, and the play you get using light tackle makes the fight that much more exciting.
Well, I better get started on smoking some salmon now! It is calling my name!
Coming out of winter hibernation can be both overwhelming and difficult. The days have been short, it has been cold, and snow and ice have covered the ground. As spring comes, the days slowly, almost achingly, grow longer. The temperature will get a little warmer, only to be sent back into a surprise freeze warning moments later. The snow and ice comes and goes, and then comes and goes. I find myself very confused. At the first sign of warmer weather, I usually put away my winter snow shoes and pull out my summer sandals. I then find myself walking around town in a half inch of snow in those same summer sandals, people staring and wondering why I am putting my toes through torture. Like I said, spring is an overwhelming and difficult time of year. Besides wanting to change shoes to quickly, I also want to participate in summer activities too soon, like swimming and water skiing. I always test the water too soon.
One thing you can do in the early spring though is northern pike fish! Northern pike are a cold water fish, and as soon as the ice melts from the lake they are ready to feast. Having spent a long winter in the dark, ice covered lake, pike are ready to hunt down shallow water fish along the edges of the lake. May is the best time to test your luck pike fishing because they are quite hungry after they finish their spawning period.
Found predominately in the northern United States and southern Canada, there are pike found in a lake north of the southern Utah town of Blanding. We took our boat down the first week in May after the banks were free of ice and went out for a day of early spring fishing.
Since pike have large teeth for a fish, most websites will recommend using a heavyleader, as pike can bite through your typical monofilament line. For our set-up, we used nothing more than a repala lure and trolled. My particular repala was the scatter cranck.
Some other gear to remember that is thoroughly important with pike is a net for pulling them out of the water, a pair of pliers, and somewhere to keep them, whether it is a cooler or a stringer. As I said previously, pike have large teeth and can bit you pretty good. You don’t want to be sticking your fingers in their mouth…and, in general, keep them away from your face in case they get the urge to grab on to something, say your nose. Pike are also VERY slimy, so you will want a net to help get them out of the water.
Pike are an ambush predator. They hide in rocky caves or tall, camouflaging plant growth and then rush out and snag fish. Their bodies, a light olive green color with small black spots and white bellies, are made to hide in the many colors found under the lake’s surface. They are also a highly aggressive fish that can quickly change from sitting patiently waiting to tearing through the water for food. For these reasons, we decided to troll the edges of the lake, especially near the rocky dam. The fishing was great. The moss was not.
I don’t know if other pike fishing is like how it is for me, but I have to say they are the most disappointing fight out there. I would have thought with this prehistoric, angry-looking, dinosaur fish predator I would receive a battle similar to, I don’t know, a shark. Instead, pike rush over, grab on to your lure, and then…..they sit there. If you miss the hit, you may not even know you have a fish on the line, as I did several times. Once I pulled my line out because I thought we had run through a mossy area and there was a pike on the end. He didn’t make a single movement as I pulled him to the boat.
A lot of people catch and release when they are pike fishing. People find, because of the Y bones, that cleaning pike is more trouble than the reward of eating them. I have practiced cleaning pike a few times and actually find them easier to clean than other fish because you don’t have to remove the scales. I also really enjoy pike. It is a great fish that doesn’t taste, for the lack of a better word, “fishy” and it has a great texture for barbecuing.
You know something I really, really hate? Having to pee on a boat. As a girl, it is especially difficult. Especially in the spring when the water is around 50 degrees and there is no option of taking a quick dip. For this reason, I try to limit my beverage consumption while boating. I like to stick to water, but I still wanted an adventure pairing for this outing. Beer was out of the question, even though I know fishing and beer go together like peas and carrots. I decided to go with a bottle of coke and some Jack Daniel’s whiskey. It is important you make sure to grab a 20 oz bottle of coke and not a can. Why? Because then you can add your whiskey to your coke and slowly, VERY SLOWLY, turn your coke over once or twice for mixing. No need for a glass or a spoon! For a snack, I had to go with my all time favorite boating snack, summer sausage and cheddar cheese! I love that stuff! Happy Hunting!