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I love game. Let’s get that out of the way right up front, or this post won’t make any sense.* Elk, deer, alligator, goat, pheasant, moose, buffalo—love it all. Bring it.

It should be noted I did not grow up eating game. But I started reading pretty early, and was and still am a wild devotee of the Little House books by Laura Ingalls Wilder. So from very early on, the notion of preparing and very much enjoying meals that included game has never struck me as anything but normal. When I had the opportunity to try game for the first time, the luscious Game Pie filled with rabbit, duck and venison at Colonial Williamsburg’s King’s Arms Tavern, sweet Jesus I hope they never stop making it, I went for it. Rich rewards.

I say all this because game freaks out a lot of people—at least many I know. I’m not entirely sure why, although I suspect Madison Avenue’s been whispering Glade Bali Bloom air-freshened propaganda into our ears, making us believe game like rabbit is for lesser humans.

And if I can be frank, and I can since it’s my blog, that thinking is awfully short-sighted. Unless those critics’ descendants were Inuit or from an island where there aren’t any miniature mammals, they probably ate rabbit. Which means they’re alive on this planet because of it, so they should please check their snooty at the door.**

Those I know who will admit to eating game will say they’ll eat it as long as it doesn’t taste ‘too gamey.’ That’s their prerogative, but for my money, the gaminess is exactly what’s good about it—that non-homogenized pungency, that flavor that just insists its way onto your taste buds.

I chose this recipe as a part of my cooking project, detailed here. It’s courtesy of Johnnie Walker, purveyor of hot sauces and jellies (Two Mile Creek Specialty Foods), and resident of Colorado. He says, “I visited with my mom and pop…they ate lots of rabbit as kids during the Depression. In fact, my pop says that he ate so much rabbit as a kid, every time a dog barks, he JUMPS!!”

The trick, in a beach town, is getting hold of a rabbit. The only guns we fire around here are Nerf Super Soakers, and I’m happy to challenge the local status quo about lots of things, but not about this.

I called a local specialty butcher, who ordered a rabbit for me from upstate. It was a fattened, pen-raised rabbit which cost as much as a semester at Cornell, so if you’re a hunter or know an obliging one and can get your hands on a wild rabbit, go that route. It will likely be even more flavorful and less fatty (read: less tender), but no worries. It should still work with this recipe, since it calls for baking in a sauce in a covered dish. This will help to hold in juices in this very simple, home-style meal.

Stuff I did:

-Bought my supermarket’s best candidate for a ‘bold beer mustard’: Inglehofer Stone Ground Mustard, with ‘FULL STRENGTH’ wrapped helpfully around the lid three times.

-Used carrots as my root vegetable. Seemed a natural with rabbit 🙂 And used thyme for the poultry seasoning.

-Didn’t use any booze, just chicken stock. Don’t let me stop you, though.

As good as this was after it came out of the oven, I must admit I liked it even better cold and sliced for lunch. Scrumptious.

I was surprised, even after the liberal dousing of habanero jelly and mustard, that the dish wasn’t ablaze; it was very flavorful, but mellow (at least to my taste). If it’s not enough heat for you, slap on more of the jelly or mustard as you eat. Scroll down for the habanero jelly website.

TMC (Two Mile Creek) Baked Rabbit with Mustard and Habanero Glaze

1 whole rabbit, cut up
A breath or two of white wine (like 4-6 oz.) or a nice light beer (like half a bottle), plus a tbsp or two of chicken broth to deglaze
1/3 c butter, softened
1/3 c TMC habanero hot pepper jelly with whiskey-infused apricots
3 tbsp mustard (a good call here would be a bold beer mustard)
1 tsp salt
1 tsp pepper
½ c all-purpose flour
1 tsp poultry seasoning
1 tsp sweet paprika
Shortening, vegetable oil, bacon grease or duck fat for frying
Root vegetables like onions, leeks, carrots, baby red potatoes, etc. cut into chunks

Mix the butter, the jelly and the mustard together in a bowl. Set aside. In another bowl, stir together the dry ingredients.

Heat enough oil in a frying pan (or better yet, an oven-friendly frying pan!) to brown the rabbit pieces.

Dredge the rabbit pieces in the flour mixture and brown in the hot oil. Cook on each side for 1-2 minutes—less time for less crisp pieces and longer for a nice crisp piece of rabbit. Set the browned pieces aside.

Deglaze the frying pan with the wine, beer or chicken broth, or a combo. Scrape all of the bits up with the extra deglazing liquid. Set aside.

In the bottom of a casserole dish or Dutch oven, arrange your vegetables. Salt and pepper lightly. Take the deglazed bits you saved and pour this over the vegetables. Now place the rabbit pieces on top of the vegetables. Spoon or brush the butter/jelly mixture over it.

Cover the dish and place in a preheated 350 degree oven for 45 minutes. Remove the lid from the dish. You can flip the rabbit pieces at this time, if desired, and continue cooking for another 15-20 minutes or until the rabbit is tender and around 160-165 degrees.

When you plate the rabbit and the vegetables, pour the bottom juices and drippings in a gravy bowl or such style container for extra sauce.

Serves 3-4 city folks or 1-2 hungry Logan County farmers. You can substitute chicken or pheasant or even farm-raised goose for the rabbit. Squirrel is good too…cooking time will be less, though.

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Johnnie Walker
Logan County, CO
USA

twomilecreekspecialtyfoods.com

Thanks, Johnnie!

*Like I have such a track record for plausibility. Now isn’t the time to start making guarantees.

**Here in New Jersey people won’t eat rabbit but they’ll eat pork roll***.

***To non-residents of NJ: Pork roll is a very popular breakfast and sandwich meat of questionable origins. Then the manufacturers add salt and nitrates.

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Gonna be even purtier when they’re tipsy.

The first thing I want to say is WOW, and the second thing I want to say is grazie. You sent recipes from as close by as across the lake and as far away as South Africa. I selected 25 of them. Stoked doesn’t come close!

I chose the recipes for this project after having exhaustively researched the origins and ingredients for each, creating a map across my studio wall with pins stuck in various countries, burning up Google, and whipping up a spreadsheet outlining…okay, no, that never happened, it’s more like I was just mouth-open intrigued by every one. That’s pretty much all of the rhyme and reason involved here. Some recipes are ones I’ve never tried before and have always wanted to, some are ones I’ve never heard of, and some are classics. And I’ve never made any before, which was a major selling point. Some of you sent more than one recipe. That’s cool. I’m a game kind of girl.

As I make each recipe I’ll be documenting the whys, wherefores, and holy-craps here. Along those lines, come on and cook one recipe or all with me. When you do, write in and tell me how it went. I think one of the best ways to get under the skin of a country and its people is to taste its native cuisine. Food and the stories that accompany it can be transporting. They can carry us to another time and place as well as or even better than an airplane can—or in some cases, a time machine.* Your kitchen is your cockpit. This will be an education for all of us.

I’m still waiting on an official go from some of you, and some I’m not sure I can swing,** but here are my choices.

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Soft-Boiled Eggs with Dippy Soldiers

Curry-baked Chicken with Vegetable Curry and Green Pea Rice

Jenny Davies

jennyeatwellsrhubarbginger.blogspot.co.uk

*

Melon Jam

Peach Jam with Ginger

Octopus with Pasta

Katerina Papaspiliopoulou

Athens, Greece

*

Sauerbraten

Kay Coppola

West Long Branch, NJ

USA

*

Fried Zucchini Flowers with Mozzarella and Anchovy

Daniela Cassoni

Rome, Italy

*

Eggs Daffodil

Louis Rousseau

Santa Cruz, CA

USA

*

Toad of Toad Hole

Cheese Marmite Muffins

Mike Batho

Manchester, England

*

Applesauce Cake

Plum Pudding sauce

Kim Raynor

Wanamassa, NJ

USA

*

One-Gallon Daviess County Kentucky Burgoo

Mary B. Goetz

Owensboro, KY

USA

*

Oatmeal Cardamom Chocolate Cookies

Anita Burns

Corona, CA

USA

*

Homemade Maraschino Cherries

Linda Lavalle

New York, NY

USA

*

Rose Liqueur

Ladyfingers

Letizia Mattiacci

Umbria, Italy

*

Turkish-Inspired Leek Meatballs

Liz Reuven

kosherlikeme.com

*

Cornbread with Warm Buttermilk and Honey

Constance Moylan

USA

*

TMC Chicken POMOrado with Habanero

TMC Baked Rabbit with Mustard and Habanero Glaze

Johnnie Walker

Logan County, CO

USA

*

Grilled Pimiento Cheese

Sarah Lansky

Sarasota, FL

USA

*

Malva Pudding

Sauce

Richard Key

Ocean Basket N1 City Mall

South Africa

*

Hoppin’ John

Weena Perry

Keyport, NJ

USA

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Oh, and…

If you or any home cooks you know have authentic recipes from Asia, Australia, South America or other parts of Europe or North America, please hit me up at mcproco@gmail.com. The thought of cooking myself around the world gets me really jazzed. And I think we established long ago that I’m just a mite cracked in the head, so I might as well give in to it.***

*It’s true, but it’s also a gratuitous Doctor Who reference. So you know.

**Whether I will make the rose liqueur, for example, depends on whether I can find a sweet-tasting, unsprayed bush. And it has to be on public property, because making the recipe after having avoided a felony charge will only make it that much more enjoyable. I’ve tasted petals from about six different wild bushes that range from neutral tasting to bitter. Cross them fingers for me.

Cropped beach rose

Lettucey. Bummer.

***Two concussions strong!

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Last summer my neighbor, a lovely English lady, flattered me by asking if I would edit her family recipe for Traditional English Christmas Cake. She considers it an heirloom; and in the hopes that her children and grandchildren would make and enjoy it for years to come, she wanted it to be as clearly written as possible. I edit recipes often for the magazine I work with, but the prospect of doing this gave me chills—good ones.

Start with the fact that I am an Anglophile who has seen many recipes for this iconic cake but have never tasted it. Next, add in the fact that my neighbor is a graduate of London’s Cordon Bleu; she actually made Coronation Chicken for ambassadors and dignitaries for the Queen’s coronation in 1953. Wow. Lastly, throw in the history of the recipe, which goes back centuries. (To give you an idea of how far back I’m talking, a variation calls for 12 marzipan balls to be placed on top, and some historians believe they represent the 12 Titans.) This recipe is a piece of living history, and I was offered the chance to be a part of it. I couldn’t wait.

My neighbor asked that I get the edited recipe back to her sometime in the fall, so in early October I delved into it. She was very happy with my edits and reformatting. Last week she gave me a slice of the fruitcake, which she had made for a garden club holiday party. It was like nothing I have ever tasted, surprising and complex. And a couple of days ago, I made the cake for myself—a little version of it.

The recipe predates refrigeration by hundreds of years, back when brainy and resourceful women figured out how to make food last. This is an example of what they learned. We know adding alcohol to foods preserves them. Here, the extra addition of a double layer of icing to the cake acts as a yummy edible Saran Wrap, helping it to stay fresh for a good month.

Which brings me to my next point, which you were waiting for. The traditional holiday fruitcake is much maligned, and generally I’ll agree it’s well deserved. Store bought fruitcake can be leaden, tough to swallow and moreover dangerous to drop even at short distances. But a homemade fruitcake, made with care and beautiful ingredients? I wanted to see if it was worth making, whether it’s been passed down for so many generations for a good reason, one this generation has missed.*

The first thing you do is roughly chop up dried fruits, like fancy raisins, cherries and unsulfured apricots, and soak them in brandy overnight. Or you can use fruit juice. The next day you make the cake batter and mix the fruit into it. My neighbor said to use only dark colored fruits because it’s supposed to be a dark cake (hence why I used unsulfured apricots), and indeed it is; the addition of brown sugar and a bit of molasses to the batter helps keep it dark, too.

Once baked and cooled, you release the cake from the pan and put it on its serving plate, tucking strips of parchment underneath. This way, after you’ve iced it, you can pull the strips out and discard them. Your plate stays clean as a whistle.

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Next you roll out some marzipan (I used my own, but a good quality store bought brand like Odense works, too) that you’ll use to cover the top and sides of the cake. Set it aside for a minute. Then put some apricot jam and a little water into a saucepan and heat it up so the jam loosens and becomes syrupy. That gets brushed on top of the cake, then you cover it with your marzipan. Here’s how mine looked. It’s a bit of a patch job, but this is home cooking. And Martha I ain’t.

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Royal icing comes next. I have never made it before and was amazed at how easy it is. You put a couple of egg whites into a bowl, beat them a bit, then add confectioners’ sugar spoonful by spoonful until you get the consistency and amount you like. That’s it. If it gets too thick, add a little lemon juice or milk. Mine was almost as gooey as honey, thin enough to pour. I used an offset spatula to coax it down the sides and made sure all surfaces were covered.

Royal icing dries at room temperature, or I should say the top of it dries to a delicate crispness, like the top layer of newly fallen snow. Underneath it stays a bit creamy and soft. Luscious stuff.

If you come from the south of England, you decorate this cake with lots of Christmasy embellishments. If you come from the north, you decorate sparingly or not at all. My neighbor friend is from the south, so I followed her lead.

Below is the cake just after I put on the icing. I put the little bottle brush trees on at this point so their bases would stay affixed to the top of the cake.

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I added tiny pine cones around the perimeter, then while the icing dried I made two rabbits, a fawn and a squirrel out of more marzipan tinted with gel paste. (If I added the animals before the icing dried, their color would stain the icing.)

I’ve been making marzipan animals for years, but they’re always somewhat stylized, less realistic. They’re also quite a bit larger. I have never worked so small as I have here: the largest figure is 1.5″ and the smallest is just 3/4″. But when I started thinking about how to decorate the cake, the thought of making this little woodland scene jazzed me. I loved the challenge, and I love working with my hands. This is something I really needed, especially after the grueling past couple of months. Made me feel human again, like myself again.

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This morning I had a little piece of the cake. The allspice, cinnamon and freshly grated nutmeg are what come through first, heady and wonderfully fragrant. I didn’t taste a whole lot of the alcohol, but that might be because I have a dopey oven, and when I turned the temperature down from 325 to 295 as the recipe instructs, the cake finished baking before it made it to 295. So most of the alcohol probably burned off, and the cake was less moist than it should have been, but I still love it. I was worried that the marzipan and royal icing that covered the already sweet cake would make it molar-looseningly cloying, but I was surprised to find that they were less sweet than the cake, and actually mellowed it.

And it was a little piece, not a big one. My neighbor tells me another reason why Americans aren’t fond of fruitcake is because we’re used to cutting cake in large slices and eating the whole fat slice. But this cake is very rich, very intense. It is not meant to be cut the way you would a Bundt cake. It is meant to be cut in what she called ‘fingers’, in inch-long lengths, the way my mom cuts a slice of banana bread into fifths. That’s all you want at one time from this cake; a little goes a very long way. Which is good because you’ll want the cake made from this ancient recipe to last, you’ll want to have some to nibble on each day as you watch the sky darken, as our ancestors did before us.

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*Guess the answer 🙂

Post script: This is my 100th blog post! Thank you for reading, and I’m looking forward to playing with my food, with you, as long as I can.

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About a week ago at the farm I bought the last of the freshly-dug carrots. And instead of just snacking on them bunny-rabbit style as always, I got curious (as bunny rabbits are also wont to do) and wondered how they would taste grated up inside a carrot muffin. I’ve always been a nut for carrot cake,* with extra cream cheese frosting (priorities first), and of morning glories and basic carrot muffins, but have never tried making them with anything other than store bought carrots.

At the farm I pulled off most of the carrot tops and brought them out to the goats, who predictably acted like goats with them. If you ever find carrots with the tops still attached and don’t know an obliging goat, chop the tops off as soon as you get home. Keeping them on sucks the life out of the carrots and makes them limp and wibbly-wobbly.**

I found a recipe online that called for yogurt in the batter, which delivers tenderness, and no raisins. I love them, but didn’t want anything to distract from the flavor of the carrots. Baked up the muffins. Verdict: just as you’re imagining. The fresh carrots packed more intense flavor, noticeably different from those that were picked in Iowa and have been sitting on a shelf playing the harmonica for two weeks until purchase. And I was lucky to find small ones, which were really wonderfully sweet. No dryness or bitterness at all, which can often happen in store bought carrots. The muffins pulled apart like the softest ever angel food cake.

It’s so much easier to make the transition from summer to fall when it can taste as good as this.

*Course there was a pun intended.

**For all of you Dr. Who fans.

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Crayfish and shrimp stew.

Last weekend I drove down to Ellicott City, MD to my college roommate’s house, jumped in the van with her, her three girls and the dog, and continued down to Colonial Williamsburg.

I’m not a serious history buff—I don’t know the Hawley-Smoot tariff from a hole in the ground (it might have been, for all I know)—but I’m one of those people who loves historical places, thinking places, and beautiful places. Factor in good food and we’re golden.

I love that you can wander around most of Colonial Williamsburg and don’t have to pay to do it. I love that the original plank floors in the King’s Arms Tavern are still there, worn and smooth and grey, and that George Washington’s boots crossed them more than once. I love that the place has been so authentically restored that if Thomas Jefferson were beamed back from the dead and dropped onto Duke of Gloucester Street, barring us with our fanny packs and our iphones, he wouldn’t see a thing different than he ever knew.

When I travel I make a point to eat something that the region is known for. Lunch at the Shields Tavern offered some tasty southern/colonial choices. Lordy, how I do love Carolina pulled pork, and I was tempted to get it, but pushed the envelope and ordered crayfish and shrimp stew. Described as an 18th century recipe, it includes tomatoes, vegetables, sherry and seafood. But the addition of that sherry plus a splash of cream really made it a bisque, and it truly lived up to that name: velvety, rich and savory. It was full of calories and full of flavor, and I didn’t care about the first part.

Tender Sally Lunn bread, watermelon-rind relish, those addicting ginger cookies that are sold on the street under awnings—these are the flavors of long ago, carefully recreated to give visitors a genuine taste of the cooking of the area’s English-Scottish settlers. Tasting it is a trip anyway, but if you’re used to Hot Pockets and Yoplait for lunch, it’s even trippier. My favorite dish is Game Pie—rabbit, duck and venison under a crust. Just the description makes my mom squinch her mouth up like Wile E. Coyote when he’s standing immobile just over a cliff and holding a sign that reads ‘Help’, but I adore it. And Colonial Williamsburg’s root beer—sharp on the tongue and intensely flavored—is a standout drink. Not for wusses, and I wish I’d bought a case of it to bring home.

After lunch we did what Colonial Williamsburg is best for: wandering. Photo opportunities are endless for normal people who like to take shots of trees or architecture or an errant fife and drum procession as well as for less-than-normal people who like to take pictures of rusty things and bricks. Three guesses which category I belong in.

Rusty padlock.

Path and boxwoods.

Sleepy ewe.

Bricks in stages of curing.

18th century fence.

Portrait.

Moss and lichen.

Magnolia blossom.

Peeling shutter.

Lightfoot.

Portrait.

Swiss chard.

Hitching post and elm.

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