During the filming of this video, I was fortunate to be joined by Robert Koopmans, local writer and host of The Outdoor Narrative Podcast, and a fellow outdoor hunting and fishing enthusiast. We have been able to exchange stories of our individual experiences of outdoor adventures, and it was great to have him up to the cabin to share in a meal and have him experience a moose heart steak. He commented that even seasoned hunters are not used to harvesting the organ meats from their animals and will often leave them behind in the bush. That’s not a problem as nature will take care of things and nothing goes to waste there. It’s more a comment that we, as a society, are very removed from the days of using all that we can. For some people, the thought of eating organ meat is a mental block they can’t get past. Some of us have grown up with it as a normal part of our diet and others of us have been exposed to the practice, either through friends or trying new dishes through our travel experiences. I think that we’re all looking forward to the day that we can travel again, whether it be within our province, nationally or internationally. Until then we’ll have to enjoy and explore our local environments.
Robert shared how important it is to him, not just the appreciation he has about the outdoor experience in his life, but also that he feels so strongly that a connection to outdoors is crucial to our overall well being; so much so, that he has turned down some work opportunities in big cities because they would require that he and his family move farther away from the chances to regularly connect with nature. We noted that with all the drawbacks that the covid pandemic has brought to society, one silver lining is that more people have embraced venturing into the outdoors in a variety of ways to find a positive avenue to bolster health and well-being.
For the dishes I cooked in the video, I used cast-iron frying pans over a wood fire. I love cooking with cast-iron as the pan retains the heat and using multiple pans means I can move the items around as needed. So when one dish is cooking a little faster, I can move it more towards the edge of the grill. It’s the pioneer way of turning down the element. Also, cast-iron pans last forever. A couple of the large ones I use came from my wife’s grandmother and they have seen a lot of service over the years. Another point to note when cooking over a fire; I have said before that using welding gloves are my favorite kind of oven mitt for outdoor cooking especially when reaching across the grill. You will notice in this video that butter plays a prominent role in most of the dishes. That’s not always the case, but for this meal, the flavor it imparts makes it an integral ingredient.
I really enjoy cooking over a wood fire. The meat gets a smoky char flavor that is different than when using a conventional barbeque. One thing that is difficult to do is to give instructions for how long to cook something over a wood fire compared to a barbeque or stove element as so much depends on the ambient temperature of the day. Cooking over a wood fire in the middle of winter is not the same time frame as cooking in mid-May. It is a learned process, but an enjoyable one!
The first side-dish is mushrooms with garlic chopped up to a medium-fine texture – with lots of butter. These are store-bought mushrooms, but locally harvested ones would taste wonderful as well. These are cooked over a medium heat.
The moose heart is from a friend and was frozen. Many people are under the impression that the organ meats need to be used immediately or close thereafter after harvesting; however, this is not the case, and like all meats, they can be frozen and used later. The heart is cut into steaks and is very much in consistency like a cut of sirloin. The simple but delicious marinade for the steaks consists of pineapple juice, brown sugar and soy sauce. I marinade meat for at least four hours, but it can be prepared up to twenty-four hours in advance. The pineapple or any citrus acts as a natural meat tenderizer and imparts a nice flavour. The steaks are completed with a whiskey butter sauce. This sauce is great with any kind of meat. I start by putting about a 1/4 cup of butter in a cast iron skillet. Then I add in one onion, chopped medium fine. This browns up really well. I add in a couple of ounces of whiskey. You can use Tennessee whiskey or rye whiskey. The alcohol will burn off, but it adds so much flavour. Then about 1.5 teaspoons of Worcestershire sauce and a spoonful of Dijon mustard that acts as a binder. Let it cook and reduce to a sauce consistency.
For the ‘smashed potatoes’, I boiled up on the stove, large Yukon Gold potatoes – skin on. Once cooked and cooled somewhat, I use my hand to press down on them and ‘smash’ them down. They are put into another skillet to brown in butter, and I add in whole cloves of garlic to cook along and impart flavor over a medium-high temperature. They will be flipped in order to make sure both sides of the skin crispen up nicely.
The vegetables – zucchini, peppers, asparagus, and corn – are tossed and coated with olive oil, oregano and garlic powder. These go on the grill, except the asparagus which goes into a metal pan to be cooked. They are turned and moved as needed and make a tasty accompaniment to the meal.
Despite the snow/hailstorm, it was a great time to be cooking outdoors (as it usually is!) and really nice to share company and ideas with Robert. Hopefully in the coming months we will all be able to spend more time – much needed and wanted – with friends and family. Stay safe and well!
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Nothing says summer like fresh sockeye salmon. Top it off with citrus fruit salsa and you have a winning combination.