If you’re like me then this time of year is all about bow hunting. Whether it’s a buck in velvet, a rut frenzy, a thanksgiving turkey or a doe on late season food sources, If I’m not working, I’m hunting! However, I’ve learned over the years that there are many other gifts from God out there that go quite well with any wild game harvest, especially deer and turkey. When talking about mushrooms, many people (Including myself for many years) tend to think of spring when it comes to seasons. Although there are some really delicious and plentiful species in the spring season, there is usually a greater chance of success with larger hauls in the fall for me. Cooler weather mushrooms tend to be meatier as well, which I like for cold weather food. There are a number of mushrooms that grow well into November here in Missouri, making them prime candidates for spotting while deer hunting.One of my favorites and one of the easiest to find/identify is the Hen of the Woods mushroom. They usually grow on the base of oak trees and tend to grow on the same tree year after year. They have been known to get as large as 25 lbs and have a strikingly close resemblance to the breast of an old hen chicken. Although they can get very large, I’ve found that the ones about the size of an actual chicken breast are the best. Another favorite of mine this time of year is the oyster mushroom. Like the hen the oyster is associated with growing on trees but rather up in them instead of at the base. I've seen these delicious beauties all through the winter and have even found them in the snow. There are many other species this time of year including the lion's mane, coral mushrooms, chicken of the woods and many varieties of boletes to name a few. It is very important to properly identify any mushroom harvested in the wild. This step MUST be followed as there can be deadly consequences if not. That said, many of these are easily identified and have no dangerous look-alikes. Just be cautious! One of my favorite dishes to make when I have successfully harvested a deer along with some wild mushrooms is a venison wild mushroom stroganoff. I either take cubed backstrap or ground venison along with the mushrooms and pair it with onions, garlic, stock, red wine, cream of mushroom soup and finish with a little sour cream. I like to eat it over a hearty egg noodle but rice or mashed potatoes works well too. So, whether you're out bowhunting, cool water fishing or just enjoying a scenic hike…be on the lookout for some tasty treats! As always, please email with any questions, content suggestions or for any recipes at firstname.lastname@example.org. EC
The final piece of this trio is the timeless art of drying meat…making jerky in today's terms. I suspect the process of drying and preserving meat has probably been around about as long as fire. However, we have definitely come a long way over the centuries! Making venison jerky is one of my favorite ways to process and consume my harvest. The flavor combinations are endless, pretty much any muscle meat on a deer can be used to make it and it keeps for a long time lol. Combine that with mobility and it’s just downright delicious and nutritious and you have my dilemma each year….how much of the harvest do I devote to jerky? When using the off, tough cuts and you tenderize them, you get a really nice piece of jerky. If you use any portion of the hind quarter, a more tender cut…it goes next level! And I don’t know about anyone else, but I love to snack lol. So I can really put away some deer jerky in a hurry and just using the lesser quality pieces of meat just isn’t enough lol. Once all of that is sorted out, there are many more decisions to make in this process lol. Smoke the meat, use a dehydrator or an oven (if a consistent temp of 165-170 can be reached) and the flavors and seasonings are quite endless. To some, there may be only one way to do it and others (like myself) usually don’t do it the exact same way twice. That said, I definitely have my tendencies and preferred methods. In recent years I’ve pretty much moved to using a dehydrator most of the time. I do like to use the smoker though if work and time allow. It doesn’t take anything fancy with a dehydrator, but I will say you get what you pay for with these. An electric smoke could essentially be a smoking dehydrator as well if capable of holding the lower temps. Those tend to be quite a bit pricier though. I’ve found you can get a quality dehydrator for around $100. Possibly cheaper if you time a sale. As for marinades and seasoning…as I’ve mentioned, the possibilities are endless. However, one of my favorite base marinades is:
I usually like to marinade for about 36 hours or so. Balance is definitely key when making jerky though. When pulling out all the moisture in a piece of meat, it will concentrate any flavor that has been absorbed. So, if you use anything salty or strong in flavor, it has the possibility of being overpowering if not diluted at least slightly as well as if soaked for too long. I always set my temp to 165F at the minimum when dehydrating, thus ensuring any bacteria will be killed. The temperature danger zone for any perishable food is 41F - 135F with an emphasis on 70F-135F. I definitely eat medium rare venison, don't get me wrong. In this application though, it’s important to follow this if preservation beyond a day or two is desired. If making large batches, I like to keep all but a couple of days' worth in the fridge in Ziplock or vacuum sealed bags. If you're interested in more recipes or have some you would like to share, email me at email@example.com. EC
Since the last article summarized the benefits of processing your own game meat, I wanted to dig a bit deeper into a couple of the cuts of venison I like most as well as how I like to process my venison. All of the examples I give here have been done with White Tail Deer, however, this can be applied to most big game animals. One of the most famous and sought-after cuts of any big game animal would have to be the backstrap. This is the equivalent of a striploin or strip steak with beef. This is one of the least worked muscles on an animal with little fat or connective tissue, especially with wild game…. resulting in a very tender cut of meat. It is also one of the easiest cuts to remove and process as well as cook, if done correctly. I pretty much only do two or three things with a backstrap. Once fully trimmed of all silver skin and fat, I like to cut into 1-inch-thick steaks and grill to medium rare or cut into chunks for steak tips/kabobs. I also like to slice steaks about half an inch thick, pound it out to a quarter inch and then bread and fry as country fried steak served with biscuits and gravy and fried taters. I call it my redneck benedict. It is important to not overcook the backstrap though. With the lack of fat and connective tissue, the meat will dry out quickly if cooked too long.
Another prized cut for me is the heart. This tends to not be as glamorous to the masses as the backstrap, but it is as good if not better in my opinion. Once trimmed, split in half and rinsed thoroughly, I like to simply season and grill it or chunk it and make stew. I will typically make stew with it for the first night’s dinner after the harvest. Aside from the tenderloin (which is located just behind the ribs up against the spine on the underneath side) every other piece of usable meat usually gets turned into ground or jerky meat. I will occasionally keep a roast, but we use more ground than anything else by far. I will note here though, it is important to treat the meat going into the grind pile as good as you would the back strap or tenderloin. I make sure to trim away all silver skin and fat from all meat before processing or cooking. This is one of the main reasons commercially processed game meat tastes “gamey” resulting in a not so enjoyable meal. That being said, when stripping the meat of all fat, the fat really needs to be replaced when grinding. It will result in a moister and more flavorful end product. It can definitely be done without doing so but I prefer to add some in. You can use most any fat of your choice…I like to use a good pork bacon, preferably from a farm raised (not commercial) hog. I will typically do a ratio of 4 lbs of venison to 1 lb of bacon. If it is a really old buck or the deer was not killed cleanly, I will do a 3/1 ratio. When grinding it’s important to cut the meat and fat into suitable size chunks for your grinder as well as keep it all very cold right up until running through the grinder. This will result in a much better grind and texture. Hopefully if you don’t already process your own game meat, you will decide to give it a try this upcoming season. It’s easier than you may think, and the effort is most certainly worth it! As always, any questions or comments shoot me an email firstname.lastname@example.org Good luck and Good eatin! EC
With big game archery seasons as close as a month out in some states, I thought now may be a good time to touch on processing a big game harvest in house rather than taking to a processing plant. With a pretty reasonable upfront cost and a little bit of research, processing your own big game harvests can take the table fare from mediocre to crowd pleasing in no time. Not to mention, once set up…it requires very little upkeep cost year after year. I must say though, I do understand there are many people who take their deer or elk or whatever they harvest to their favorite butcher/processor and love every ounce of the meat they receive back. I’m just not one of them. All I’ve known since being a child is everything, we harvested being processed in-house…”trigger to table” if you will. I think it definitely makes a difference in the quality of the end product as well as costs less. But I primarily do so because it’s just all I’ve ever known. Plus, there is just something special about harvesting an animal and then making food with it all in the same day. Processing the meat also allows you to thoroughly trim away all unwanted fat and silver skin. Resulting in a much less “gamey” product than when mass processed. I’ve successfully served venison to a number of people who swore it off just by thoroughly trimming and properly preparing the cut.
It honestly doesn’t take much to get started processing your own big game and the equipment needed largely depends on what your end goal for the meat is. Many people tend to like having processed products made from their harvest such as jerky, summer and smoked sausages and meat sticks just to name a few. Others tend to lean more towards ground meats and steaks/roasts. Regardless of the desired outcome, it is all easily achievable. I would say the summer and smoke sausages would be the most labor intensive and require the most equipment but it’s still pretty simple. My family tends to eat more ground venison than anything else but we also do a fair amount of jerky and steaks. Aside from a designated place to hang, skin and quarter my deer, the only equipment I use are my knives, a meat grinder and a vacuum sealer for the actual processing and packaging of the meat. I will say, having a good cool dark dry place to age your venison for a few days is very ideal. However, coolers will do if that's not doable. As the meat ages, it begins to break down, thus tenderizing the meat as well as developing flavor. I always age my venison a minimum of 5 days and have done so for as long as 21 with great results. That's it….pretty simple. And honestly, I used only Ziplock bags for many years. I just recently started using the vac sealer. I will note that with those pieces of equipment I mentioned, it does not take the best piece money can buy but you do get what you pay for. I generally like to go ahead and pay a little extra for a midrange option which seem to bring the most longevity for my dollar. As always, any questions, comments or further detail, email me at email@example.com. Be safe this upcoming season! EC
If I’m being completely honest, I would have to say summer is my least favorite of the four seasons God created. Over the years I’ve learned that I much prefer cooler weather over warm every day of the week. Don’t get me wrong, there are many summertime activities or products that I dearly enjoy and are seasonal to only the summer. Gooseberries, blackberries, many garden crops, various fish spawning and so on. One of my favorites is the pre-spawn for channel cats. I’ve actually planned my daughter and I’s summer vacation around it for the past three years. We take a 5-day camping/cat-fishing trip the week of Memorial Day. That week usually lands us smack in the middle of the spawn. Male channel cats begin coming in to find nests at about 72-degree water temp. Channel cats will spawn in large rock columns around bridges, muddy banks with holes, hollow logs or anywhere there is shelter and a crevice. Once the nest has been found the male will lure the female in to lay eggs. The female quickly gets run off and the male begins his 3–4-week journey of hatching and protecting the fry. It is very important to note though, male channel cats will not hunt or feed during that time. They will only attack if threatened. With the males not feeding and the females being run to deeper water…. fishing can get tough post spawn. That’s why it’s important to watch the water temp and hit pre-spawn and spawn as soon as it begins if possible. That time is almost always that week of Memorial Day for us. We have usually had many warm rains also, allowing for rising water. I’ve noticed I catch more cats when there is more water, and it is not falling drastically. We will usually track down to the bridge by the campground we use and set up shop on one particular side that has a channel break out in front of it. We will fish under a cork about 3 to 4 feet with a #5 circle and either worms, leeches or shiners. This year we brought back 19 with the most and biggest (10lber) to my daughter Alinea. This year she learned how to cast, hook and reel in all by herself. If you can catch it at the right time…the early catfish spawn is amazing…hit it too late and you will be singing summertime blues!
As I have aged and evolved in my outdoors experiences, I have really grown fond of what may be one of the most overlooked gifts from God when it comes to harvesting food from the wild. Foraging…..whether it be for mushrooms, berries, greens, shoots, tubulars, nuts, saps/syrups and so on. I absolutely love to forage at this point in my outdoors career. I don't know, there's just something very satisfying about going out and just by walking God’s earth, finding delicious food to eat. A wide range of it too in most areas. When I slated this series originally, I was going to run this segment solely on mushroom hunting but decided to broaden it some. That being said, mushrooms are my favorite thing to forage. Unlike most hunting or fishing these days, foraging requires very little equipment or cost. Armed with a few handy low cost tools and accurate identification ability, a person can find very tasty (and nutritious) fare for the table in every season in most regions of the US. The best part is, it really doesn’t take much more effort than a simple walk in the woods.
This time of year is probably my favorite when it comes to foraging. Early spring is the most popular with most people due to the short season of the coveted Morel mushroom. It grows in every state I believe, but for a very short period of time. Usually just a matter of weeks.Thus creating much interest in hunting for them when the time gets right. I agree with most, morels are delicious and something to get excited about. However, I’ve learned there are many other varieties of mushrooms that are equally as good (if not better) that grow for months and in mass numbers if the conditions are right. My number one pick by far would be Chanterelle mushrooms. There are several varieties of Chanterelles and all are easily identified as well as delicious. These tasty little morsels are usually a pale yellow all the way to a orangish color and have a slight peppery taste with a hint of apricot some say. I love to put them with pasta, eggs or in sauces for meats. One main perk about the chanterelle is there is really only one look alike (in my area) that is poisonous and it is not fatal. It can cause mild to severe abdominal pain. In my experience, mushrooms that are easily identifiable with few or no fatal imposters are the ones most enjoyable. That goes for anything I forage honestly.
The absolute most important thing when it comes to foraging for anything in the wild in my opinion is, if you are not 1000% sure of what you are harvesting/eating….DO NOT do so. There are certain very common mushrooms here in the midwest that one cap eaten can kill a grown man. It is definitely not something to take lightly. However, with some proper education and experienced friends/teachers, a person can really take their harvests from the wild to a new level. The second biggest rule for me in my foraging is to not introduce more than 1 maybe 2 new species per year into my repertoire. In my experience, it can be very easy to misidentify something when my whole basket is full of things I have not positively identified and personally eaten in the past. I realize this makes it much slower of a process in learning what mother nature has to offer but for me, its the safest and only way to go. We certainly do not stop at mushrooms in our family either. We love to forage for gooseberries, blackberries, wild asparagus and watercress to name just a few. So regardless of your preference on what to forage, with a little knowledge and some good walking shoes….you could be taking your vittles from great to EPIC!
Spring is a very special time of year. First and foremost, we celebrate the resurrection of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. While I try my best to have a daily relationship with Christ, it certainly intensifies throughout this season. Along with such, comes the opportunity to get out and connect with Christ in His creation. Some of my most spiritual, direct moments with the Holy Spirit occur out in the wilderness as I’m hunting, fishing or just taking in the beauty of God's creation. One specific opportunity in the spring that stands out among the rest when out in the woods during spring is spring turkey season. An unmatched, unique and heart pounding experience. There’s just something about getting into the woods while it’s still asleep, tucking up against a tree and watching your surroundings come alive. The cricket choir begins to fade, the birds awake with their song and the dark transitions to light while waiting to hear the first turkey of the morning. I can't help but get a little anxious as I sit, listening and anticipating hearing the first gobble of the morning.
I have to confess though, I’m certainly not the most avid turkey hunter there is. I have harvested many over the years, but very few have been as a direct result of me locating and calling a bird into range right off the roost. Lots of my encounters have been of the right place, right time variety. That said, there is something very special about hearing a mature tom’s fist gobble upon waking and then proceeding to call him within range.. If you’re really lucky, it will happen in a manner that you’re able to watch the bird strut and strum into your setup from a distance. That is truly an incredible display of God's splendor and if it all works as planned, the bird will stroll within range. Achieving this can be an intimidating task though, no doubt. There's so many calls, set ups, decoys, and so on to choose from as well as mastering the calls and equipment you choose.
I’ve found that the more simple I keep it the better off I am. As I stated already, I’m not an expert so I tend to keep it pretty basic. One mouth call, and maybe one box call. A decoy, proper clothing for the current weather and my crossbow. That's about it besides my pack gear. If I’m being honest, it has been a few seasons since I harvested a spring turkey. I’ve had many close encounters but haven’t sealed the deal. When I am blessed to harvest a bird, I like to skin it like a deer (with different cuts of course) rather than pluck it. I’ve found this much easier and just as effective. I love fried wild turkey breast and morels! It’s truly a luxury in my opinion! The dark meat sections I like to marinate and slow cook then shred or dice up once off the bone. It’s great for soup, casseroles, stir fries or pastas and can be frozen and pulled out for a quick meal starter.
Few things can match that of a crisp cool morning atop a foliage shedding white oak, tucked away in my camo and ladder stand….bow in hand. However, a cool brisk morning, birds chirping, sunny blue skies, my favorite spinning real and a river stacked full of pre-spawn white bass is one of those things. Pound for pound, white bass are one of the hardest fighting and most fun fish to catch in my opinion. These little boogers hit hard and then run like they stole it! Also, more times than not, if you catch one…..there are many more to follow. This is one of my favorite times of the year to share the sport of fishing with my daughter and other young fishermen. It is a relatively predictable season of fishing along with great potential for catching large amounts of fish. Couple that with the intense fight these little guys put up and the need to primarily cast and retrieve to catch said fish and you have yourself the makings of some very memorable outings with the littles.
I think it can be important to consider the variables when taking youngsters out fishing. Depending on the age, some scenarios can be better suited for some than others. Generally speaking though, fishing for a species of fish requiring little presentation skill, a constant need for movement and one that can be caught in the masses is a safe bet. For me, the white bass spawn run is that time. Provided it, it will require the willingness to tie on what feels like 1000+ jig heads but the trade off is well worth I think. There is nothing more rewarding than have a couple young fishermen on the river bank reeling in fish so fast, you can’t even get a hook in the water. I personally don’t think there are many ways better for successfully passing on a love for fishing than fishing for white bass during the spring spawn. Some of my favorite memories over the years, both as a child and parent/mentor are during this time.
Another benefit to seizing this seasonal opportunity is the amount of tasty vittles that can be put in the freezer and atop the family dinner table. For us, the actual harvest and food put on the table is equally as important as the experience. I hear varying opinions regarding the quality of white bass meat. However, for myself and those whom I typically feed, it is a delicious harvest. When preparing the meat prior to cooking, it is quite important to not cut corners in the process though. I do cut away the red meat strip that is on a white bass filet, however I do not waste it. I’ll touch on that ahead but once fileted, I will separate the red meat from the white and soak both in a strong saltwater solution for at least 48 hours. Changing the water once every day. You can go up to 4 or 5 days if you wish. The longer it soaks, the more firm and cleaner it will become. The salt draws out a lot of the “fishiness” that can be associated with white bass. Once soaked, the white filets can be breaded and fried or baked/grilled with your favorite seasonings. I prefer breading and frying in Andy’s Red mix with some additional Cajun seasoning added. For the red meat, I like to dice that into half in cubes and marinate in a Mexican spice blend for a few hours. Then sauté in a hot skillet until cooked through and use to make fish street tacos. A warm flour or corn tortilla, a pickled slaw and some cilantro lime flavored sour cream and you have quite the tasty meal. Any fish caught above what can be eaten before spoiling, I package in Ziplock bags filled with 10 filets and water and then freeze. Freezing in the water puts a solid 3 months to the freezer life of the meat….if not longer. To sum it all up, if your looking for an opportunity to harvest lots of fish and have a blast while doing so, white bass fishing may just be your ticket. Have questions regarding anything mentioned in this blog or if you have material, recipes or techniques you would like discussed, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org I would love to hear from you!
What is EPIC Chef…..That’s a question I’ve been trying to answer for many years and continue to do so now. What I do have is the name…. Educational Private In-Home Cooking Chef. The name is actually all I’ve had for over a decade up until here just recently. I’ve toyed with various concepts over the years but have never put anything into action. Infact, it originally began as Exceptional rather than Educational and was intended to be restaurant grade food cooked within the home as would be if going out to a brick-and-mortar place. While that could still happen at some point, EPIC Chef has shifted to combine my love for being a Chef, sharing & teaching cooking and God's beautiful creation. Thus, the creation of this blog. I intend to challenge myself and hopefully you all, with striving to take back more control over our food, how we get it, where it comes from and what is in it. And most importantly admiring the one who Created it all along the way!
As for the content….I will be covering the seasonal outdoor opportunities to fish, hunt and forage here in my local area as well as the preparation/cooking of the harvest. This will all be driven by mine and my daughters' experience for each different season. The next 3 months will be a 3-part series of Fin, Feathers & Fungi. They will each be posted roughly a month after, as I will mostly be writing about our experience this season. March is when the crappie and white bass begin getting hot here on a local lake we fish most often. April is a great month here in Missouri also. The crappie and white bass are still going plus it becomes time to begin chasing that beautiful sound of a spring gobbler courting his lady. That's an experience unlike any other in God's creation and one I look forward to every year. It’s also the month of my sobriety date (which could possibly be discussed more in the future but not at this time) this year will be my 11th year…..praise God! Late April early May opens the way to the spring mushroom season here. Morels, boletes, ceps, coral and many many others begin to flourish amidst the warmer nights and spring rains. Leaving a unique opportunity for vittles if each separate season has been successfully harvested. Nonetheless, whatever the activity and success level, I greatly look forward to sharing such experiences through this blog. Reach out with content requests or suggestions. There will be an EPIC Chef email coming in the very near future.
My journey in the outdoors started over 3 decades ago, right here in Southwest Missouri. In the form of a wobbly two year old, a fishing pole as long as I was, a small tackle box, a box of worms and an ever so patient grandfather. As I grew and we fished, those times paved the way for my love of Jesus and everything outdoors. I spent many a day riding to the local fishing spot in that old blue 81 custom deluxe short bed chevy that my grandpa “Papa” bought specifically for us to go fishing in. As the years have gone by the gear has changed, fishing holes have come and gone as well as the people I have shared it with. One thing will always remain though, the foundation that was laid in those early days paved the way to my deep love for God’s creation as well as the creator Himself.
In 2016 I graduated school in May and in June I started with a contract food company as an Executive Chef for the dining facility at a nearby university. Over the years I have learned many different skills and techniques that have helped along my outdoors journey. However, it hasn’t been until recently that I really began focusing on merging my career as a Chef and my passion for hunting, fishing and foraging. I love to test and try new recipes, come up with ways to simplify meals and just about anything else that could involve cooking and/or the outdoors. Alinea and I hunt a variety of game from squirrels and rabbits to Whitetail and Turkey. We also love to fish for crappie, walleye and particularly love catfishing. Whether it be light gear on a spinning rod or running bank lines, chasing cats is among our favorites for sure.
If we are blessed to harvest game animals, we are a true trigger to table family. I am very adamant on processing everything ourselves. I was taught from a very young age that this is where the majority of people get lost when it comes to not liking wild game meat. As I’ve moved through my adult life and career as a Chef, I have learned this to be absolutely true. Proper handling, aging if appropriate and fabrication are essential. And if not done, it puts it at a great disadvantage before any cooking even begins. Cooking wild game can be tricky at times but is extremely rewarding. It’s a great thing to know exactly what is in the food you provide your family as well as where it came from.
The only thing I can say I love as much as what I have mentioned above, is sharing such with others. As God unfolds this new journey of combining my career as a Chef and passion for the outdoors, I look forward to sharing all that I can with others. Whether it be recipes, cooking techniques, butchering processes, foraging the great outdoors or anything else, I’m excited for this opportunity to explore yet more gifts the Lord has placed in my life.