Slow Cooker Wild Rabbit with Mushroom Sauce

This afternoon Joe & I went out on to the Shoshone National Forest to get our Christmas tree. For a $8 permit, we can go out into the forest and pick our own, which is even more exciting since this is the first tree of our own, ever! The past two years our rental was too small, and the three years before that we lived at Brooks Lake Lodge and got to enjoy the Lodge’s tree, but not one in our house.

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Despite the fact that is was only 7 degrees with a wind chill of -18, that has been the norm around this part of Wyoming since last Tuesday. Several days it never got above 0. Two mornings this past week we woke up to the house thermometer reading 46 degrees. Yeah…a bit chilly once the woodstove dies, even with the electric heat on. Anyway, we found a nice tree that we were able to get to through knee-high snow, and were only a short walk from the pick up.

On the way home, we called ahead for permission and stopped at a friend’s ranch to hunt for dinner for the evening. I have never eaten rabbit before, and Joe decided it was time that I tried it. After a five minute walk around the ranch’s scrap yard, one appeared. Joe has a lifetime small game license, so rabbit hunting can be done on the spur of the moment, like today. After harvesting the rabbit with his .22, he quickly gutted it and we headed home with the tree and dinner in the back of the truck.

From start to finish, here is how to do it yourself:

Slow Cooker Wild Rabbit with Mushroom Sauce

Serves 2

  • 1 cottontail rabbit
  • 1 can Campbell’s cream of mushroom soup
  • 1/2 cup water
  • ~1/2 tsp. Garlic Salt
  • ~1/2 tsp. Chili Powder
  • ~1/4 tsp. Cayenne Pepper
  1. Skin, gut, butcher, and clean rabbit so that you have separated the front legs, back legs, and back strap.
  2. Place into slow cooker.
  3. Pour cream of mushroom soup over rabbit.
  4. Season with a few good shakes of garlic salt and chili powder, and a smaller shake of cayenne pepper. (I did NOT measure my spices, so please adjust according to your taste.)
  5. Pour 1/2 cup water over top.
  6. Cook for 4 hours on HIGH until meat is fork-tender.
  7. Serve with sauce from the crock pot over top.

Skin and gut the rabbit: First, remove head. Begin skinning by making an incision by the hock on the back feet and peel away fur downward toward neck until it is removed. 

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Once skinned, proceed to gut the rabbit like you would a large game animal, starting by making a cut through the center of chest cavity. Once animal is gutted, head home to prepare for cooking.

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Butcher the rabbit and separate it into pieces so that you have the rear legs, front legs, and back strap. Wash with cold water to remove any fur.

???????????????????????????????Place rabbit in slow cooker and top with can of cream of mushroom soup.

DSC01515Season with a good shake of garlic salt, chili powder, and smaller shake of cayenne. Add 1/2 cup water.

DSC01517Cook on HIGH for 4 hours. Serve immediately with mushroom sauce from slow cooker over top. 

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I though the rabbit was very good overall. It was also extremely fresh, and a nice meal for a Sunday dinner. The back strap was just a little bit chewy, but the back leg was very tender, like chicken, and I picked the bone clean. The mushroom sauce was flavorful but not overwhelming. For my first experience eating rabbit, it was a good one. 

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Hope you have a relaxing Sunday evening.

I would also love to hear from you if you have ever eaten rabbit, and if so, how you prepared it!

Making Your Own: Bacon Infused Ground Elk + Camp

This fall Joe and I went (bull) elk hunting for a couple nights in the wilderness, where we set up camp and could day ride to scout and hunt for elk. While the weather patterns, and therefore the elk’s migration schedule, did not cooperate with our timing for the hunt this year, it was still so refreshing to get out into the backcountry on horses, see some elk, and spend time in camp. Joe did later fill his cow elk tag though, which was just in the nick of time, as we were down to our last two packages of burger from last year. These pictures tell the story:???????????????????????????????

Riding Slim out the first evening to go scout.

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The stove was a great deal from an estate sale!

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Kitchen

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View of steep, rocky bowl over Taz’s neck where a small herd of elk were, waaaay up at the top. Getting an elk packed out on the horses would not have been possible so we passed.

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Sunset from our evening spot.

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Morning of our final day. Last year at this time there was about a foot of snow in this spot.

After one week of hanging, it was time to butcher Joe’s cow. There are many reasons why I like processing our own meat, and I am thankful we have the space and supplies to do so at the family shop.

One thing I like about processing our own meat, in addition to the price, (manual labor is good for us all) is that it enables one to fully experience the hunting process. Once the fun adrenaline from the mountain has worn off, and before the meat is prepared and consumed, there is that important middle step of processing. Bone, trim, cut, repeat.  The rewarding, although at times monotonous job, is such an important part of making a meal from the mountain. I don’t feel like the experience of hunting is complete until one takes part in the meat processing.

It would be great for our society if more Americans could experience the processing of their meat and food, in order to really understand the sacrifice of an animal, see exactly where their food is coming from, and understand just how that piece of meat on their plate got there. When I eat the elk Joe shot this year, my mind is like a film reel, remembering the location where it was harvested, what the weather was like while gutting and loading it (awful), and my arm cranking of the meat stuffer as we packaged the burger.

Finally, processing our own meat allows for a little creativity in trying new things. When we make our ground elk burger, we usually mix in a little beef fat that we get from the local butcher with the elk meat, which makes for great tasting and still very healthy meat.

This year, Joe decided to make about 15 lbs. of “specialty” elk burger with his cow elk. While at Smith’s last week, I bought a 3 lb. package of bacon end and pieces at his request. Instead of using beef fat, the bacon its place.With a 5:1 ratio of elk meat to bacon, and after grinding the meat twice, the texture of the burgers turned out really good, and the bacon bits throughout the meat are tasty. Joe feels that a second packge of bacon could be added for those bacon-lovers out there.

Bacon Infused Ground Elk Burger:

If doing the processing yourself, you will need:

  • 15 lbs of elk meat
  • 3 lbs bacon ends and pieces (could go up to 6 lbs.)
  • Game processing bags for ground meat– 1lb. capacity
  • Clean plastic tub or gallon ziplock bags
  • Mixer & Grinder, plus a stuffer with burger attachment (LEM brand is what we use)

1. Grind 15 lbs of elk meat into burger and place into plastic tub to hold.

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2. Grind up the 3 lbs. of bacon ends and pieces.

3. Combine ground elk and ground bacon in mixer grind a second time together. Now, you can either continue on and bag your burger, or place it in the plastic container or ziplock bags and refrigerate/freeze until you are ready to bag the meat.

4. Pull out the game processing bags and tape or ties to seal them.

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5. Place meat into stuffer with burger attachment and and stuff meat into bags, tape closed, label, and freeze.

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6. Thoroughly clean all meat processing attachments and counter top.

And remember, everything tastes better with bacon ; )

Spinach Artichoke and Venison Sausage Alfredo

Wishing You a Happy Easter

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This wreath is the perfect blank canvas, an all-seasons wreath. It is perched outside my front door, and I change the decorations on it with the seasons and holidays. Both the wreath and this vintage egg-flower Easter basket (with 1968 handwritten in marker on the bottom!)  came from the Opportunity Shop, the local thrift store that uses the money it makes to provide grants to local non-profits. Pretty neat, truly passing the buck and creating opportunities for many people in many different ways.

On to the meal. With Spring Break upon us, it has been nice having some time in the evening to cook when I get home and not relying on the crockpot or piecing together meals with random leftover–not that random leftovers are bad, but regularly grazing on leftovers is not really a good habit to get into. With a large bag of fresh spinach and venison breakfast sausage that needed to be cooked or else, I came up with Spinach Artichoke and Venison Sausage Alfredo. The venison sausage is breakfast sausage, made from ground deer, ground pork butts, and this Breakfast Sausage Seasoning Kit. For more information on making your own breakfast sausage, check out this post.

Serves 2

  • 4 oz. dry spaghetti
  • 1 cup cooked, crumbled vension breakfast sausage
  • 2 Tbsp. diced green onion
  • 1/4 cup chicken broth
  • 1/4 cup half and half (I use fat free)
  • 1/2 cup parmesan cheese
  • 6 oz. quartered marinated artichoke hearts
  • 2 tsp. margarine or butter
  • 2 tsp. olive oil
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 3 cups baby spinach, packed
  • salt and pepper

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1. Melt butter and olive oil in frying pan. Add in green onion, spinach, artichoke hearts, and garlic. Season with salt and pepper. Saute on medium heat until vegetables are tender, about 2 minutes.

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???????????????????????????????The green onions are from the garden last summer. After harvesting them, I cleaned and roughly diced them, and then put them in the freezer in an empty pop bottle. Throughout the year when I need to use them, I just shake them out frozen. Thank you, Pinterest!

2. Meanwhile, cook spaghetti according to package directions. Drain water and rinse. Then add 1/4 cup of the parmesan cheese to the pasta, saving the remaining 1/4 cup for later. ???????????????????????????????

3. Add chicken broth and half and half to the frying pan with the vegetables and cook on medium-low for another 2-3 minutes to make a sauce.

4. To the skillet, add crumbled breakfast sausage. I had cooked my sausage the day before because I was worried that it was going bad. If you need to, cook and crumble the sausage in a small frying pan at this point.

5. Now add the pasta into the skillet with the vegetables. Sprinkle the remaining 1/4 cup parmesan over top and stir gently to combine???????????????????????????????

Scoop up a bowl and enjoy!  ???????????????????????????????

I like to know how what I am eating stacks up, so here are theNutrition Stats according to Livestrong. This recipe makes 3.5 cups.

Per 7 oz. (almost 1 cup) serving: http://www.livestrong.com/recipes/spinach-artichoke-elk-sausage-alfredo/

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Making Your Own: Elk Summer Sausage + Antler Christmas Tree

I had never eaten summer sausage until five years ago while cooking for a packtrip, when my boss had thrown in some of his venison sausage for our guests to try. Since then I have really grown to like it, and it has become a staple snack in our house. A slice of sausage, chunk of hard cheddar cheese, or even better–salami cheese from Wisconsin thanks to friends Dave & Clare–and ritz cracker makes a great snack between meals or while out in the field.

Jalapeno Elk Summer Sausage

This year, Joe and his Dad made 55 lbs of jalapeno summer sausage with about 38 lbs of my elk using a Jalapeno Summer Sausage Seasoning kit from LEM, which is a meat processing equipment company. The kit, along with other cured seasoning, can be found on this page: http://www.lemproducts.com/product/4655/cured_seasonings.

The summer sausage was made by mixing approximately 70% elk to 30% pork. We use pork butts that we buy, trim, and grind ourselves. For 55 lbs. of sausage, we used roughly 38 lbs ground elk (70%) combined with 16 lbs of ground pork (30%). To the meat we added in the Japapeno Summer Sausage Seasoning kit, mustard seed, and an additional 2 cups of diced fresh jalapeno. The sausage is then smoked for 6 hrs. in a smoker until it reaches a temperature of 160 degrees Farenheit (test the temperature using a meat thermometer, and test more than one stick). We then vacuum-sealed the sausage in 3 lb. sticks and froze them to enjoy throughout the year. Once you open one stick, refrigerate and it will stay good for about 2-3 weeks or longer. FYI- When it starts to go south, it will lose its normal smell and possibly mold. If it does not do either of these, it is probably still ok to eat, even after 2 weeks.

DSC00969-1As I write this post, I am sitting next to our Christmas tree, which I am quite proud of if I must say so myself. While we do not have room in our house for an actual pine tree, we do have room for a huge pile of shed antlers that have been collected over the years. I have no idea how many deer and elk sheds are in the pile, but it makes quite a stack in our living room corner, and when re-arranged right, they make a beautiful Christmas tree! After surviving the Jenga-like experience of re-stacking them into tree shape, I decked the tines and lit it up! Merry Christmas!

Making Your Own: Venison Breakfast Sausage

What can I say, nothing beats homemade breakfast sausage that tastes as good or better than the storebought variety. While I know it is not always possible to do for a variety of reasons ranging from cost to time to lack of space, I also really appreciate being able to be a part of the entire hunting process, from the harvest to the processing to putting the meal on the table. Yesterday Joe and I made 18 lbs. of venison breakfast sausage with his late whitetail buck. He is a very nice older deer who will eventually have a place on our wall, and as such, we decided not to just cut steaks or make burger (which we have enough of from my elk to get us through the year), but to make sausage.

Using this kit, the Mountain Man Original Breakfast Sausage kit from Hi Mountain Seasonings, we used 12 lbs of venison that we had already previously grinded, and added in 6 lbs of grinded pork. For the best flavor at a cost-effective rate, we typically buy pork butt roasts (“Boston butts”) to add in with the venison when making summer sausage and breakfast sausage.  We bought 4 pork butt roasts from Smith’s during our trip to the big city last weekend using my Smith’s card, and after trimming them of excess skin, ground them up for a total of 22 pounds of pork for right around $50.

We added in both of the included pouches of seasonings into the vension/pork meat mixture and combined them together in the electric mixer for about 5 minutes. Last year when we followed the instructions pound-for-pound using a different flavor, we found our sausage to be very bland, and this year it is perfect, so I would recommend adding in a little more seasoning than is called for to get the best results.

Let the photo above be a reminder of how important it is to label what you process because even though you think you will remember the difference between the white bags and white with black bags six months from now, there is a good chance you won’t. Same with steaks and such– I opened an unlabelled vacuum-sealed package a few months back to find that it wasn’t leftover ground bratwurst as I had planned, but unknown-species steaks!

Typcially the game processing for us goes something like this: let meat hang in shop, butcher, wrap steaks using vacuum sealer, process immediately or freeze remaining meat to grind and then process later (1 week- 1 month later) into one of the following: burger, breakfast sausage, summer sausage, snack stick, trail bologna, and this year even pepperoni,which I cannot wait to try! Homemade pizza recipes to come!

If you have the resources available or can team with someone else who does, I highly recommend making some of this breakfast sausage. Also, slowly adding to your meat processing equipment year by year is a good way to gradually build up, without breaking the bank. A vacuum-sealer one year, grinder the next, etc. will go a long way toward enabling you to process your meat yourself. We are fortunate to be able to team with both sets of parents in sharing equipment, so that everyone benefits in the end. If your family lives close, meat processing equipment makes great gifts, just a thought for those holiday shoppers out there!