Saturday, December 29, 2012

Food for Hunters: End of the Year Update

Hi everyone! Hope you all had a wonderful holiday. We're sorry about being a little MIA, but we barely had a chance to get into the kitchen these past couple weeks. After visiting all sorts of family, relatives and friends, and having all that ham, prime rib, tamales and egg rolls, little time was left for cooking. And you know you can't leave a dinner party without taking leftovers home. We love the holidays, but we're also glad it's over. I think I gained a few pounds... oy! Time to hit the gym again. 

I know Christmas isn't about presents... but I made out pretty good this year! Since everyone knows I'm leaving for Nebraska very soon for my new job with the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission, I feel like I've been showered and blessed with so much love and kindness this season. Knowing that I only have 2 weeks left with my parents, my brother Ngoc, my best friends Briana and Stephanie, and Rick... I'm pretty scared. So I made everyone promise to visit me in Nebraska. 

Yesterday, the moving truck came. The plan is to ship all my furniture and half of Rick's out to Norfolk, Nebraska. That way, Rick and I can enjoy a more leisurely road trip, to meet the moving truck at my new apartment once we get there. Along with Rick's brother Bob who came to help, we spent the entire day wrapping furniture, packing things in boxes and trying to fit it all in a 5 foot space. Aside from breaking a bit of sweat, everything went quite smoothly. 

The plan is to leave Anaheim, California on January 9th. Because we're taking my little Honda Civic, we'll be taking the scenic route, through Flagstaff, Gallup, Amarillo, Oklahoma City and then straight through Kansas to Nebraska. Yesterday, Rick and I were on Yelp, looking up all the local eateries we should hit for meals. We're going to eat our way to Nebraska! (So much for the holidays being over...)
Rick and I will be tweeting and posting about our drive to Nebraska starting January 9th, 2013. If you haven't yet, you can follow us here on and

Many of you may be wondering what will happen to Food for Hunters after January 13th, which is the last day I'll see Rick for an entire year... (I feel sick just thinking about it.) I'm crossing my fingers that it will be less than a year-- I told him that he has until the second Hobbit movie hits theaters. Anyway, rest assured that Food for Hunters will still be alive and well, just different. Expect to see Rick write more. Since we'll be apart, we will take turns cooking each week. I'm excited to have Rick offer his voice more often to Food for Hunters. 

We also hope to move our blog from Google blogger to We have been pondering this move for a long time. After seeing how great our friend Will Jenkin's new website looks at The Will to Hunt, I think it's about time to make the leap. It's just finding the time to actually do it. 

With my new job, I hope to be able to share with you some of my adventures as I discover the state of Nebraska on my own. 

Needless to say, there will be many changes in this upcoming new year. We can't exactly say what it has in store for each of us yet, but we're excited to see how things will unfold. As we enter our next year of blogging, we are delighted to see that our readership continues to grow, and that so many of you are interested in what we're doing. Without you, there wouldn't be a reason for this blog.

Tonight, Food for Hunters will be back in business. I've invited my friends over for dinner. Rick and I will be cooking up a Bison Pot Roast with baby bella mushrooms, carrots and potatoes. 

And if things go according to plan, we'll also be making a roast goose tomorrow. Cousin Keith gave us an entire Canada goose while we were in Nebraska. We're both super excited to see how that will turn out. Never ever cooked a whole goose before. Stay tuned!

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Green Shawarma Wiper

"Shawarma" is a kind of Arabic meat preparation, when marinated meats such as lamb, beef or chicken are placed on a vertical spit to be grilled for long periods of time. 

We can't say that we've ever seen fish on shawarma menu before, but it works. You still get all the Arabic flavors and smells, without all the waiting. Just marinate the fish, stick the pieces in a fish basket and grill! It should take you no more than 10 minutes. Many of you are probably confused by the photo... Yes, that's a tortilla; we didn't have any pita bread. And right next to the wiper is Mexican rice. Why? Well, why not?! An important lesson to learn in the kitchen is improvisation. Learn to use what you have on hand. With Rick being half Mexican, we always have tortillas and rice on hand. You can have the fish by itself, or with anything you want. As long as it tastes good to you, who cares?

Have you seen The Avengers? Now every time I hear the word "shawarma," I'm reminded of the end credits scene, when they're all tired and broken after saving the world. 
Bahaha! Wasn't that funny? Anyway, if you don't like fish, try this sauce with your favorite meat. 

Servings: 4
Prep Time: 30 - 60 minutes
Cook Time: 5 - 7 minutes
- 24 ounces of wiper filets
- 1 cup of fresh cilantro, chopped
- 7 tbs. olive oil
- juice of one lemon
- 2 garlic cloves, chopped
- 1 tsp. ground coriander
- 1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
- 1/2 tsp. ground nutmeg
- 1/2 tsp. ground ginger
- kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

If you can, always use fresh herbs. 
1. Purée cilantro, oil, lemon juice, garlic, coriander, cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger. 
Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper, to taste. Pour the sauce into large bowl or ziplock bag. Set aside. 
2. Rinse fish filets under cold water. Shake off any excess moisture. Remove the dark parts from the fish, like what you see in the photo. You'll get cleaner tasting fish if you do. 

Lightly sprinkle both sides with salt. Marinate the fish in the green shawarma sauce for at least 30 minutes, but up to 2 hours. 
3. Prepare grill. Place marinated fish into a fish basket. Grill until fish is just cooked through, about 3 minutes each side. Of course, it depends on the thickness of your filets. 

Serve with pita bread, salad and/or couscous. Or tortillas and Mexican rice... :-)

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Destination: Catalina Island

Recently, Rick and I took a trip to Catalina Island. It's an island off the coast of Southern California. It's 22 miles long and 8 miles wide. We traveled via the Catalina Flyer, which shuttles back and forth from Avalon and Newport Beach. Thanks to Groupon, we went for half off. Typically, a round trip ticket will cost you 70 bucks. 

For breakfast, we had sugar donuts and hot chocolate on the boat... breakfast of champions!

Rick seemed to know every single boat on the water. He likes to tell me stories of his past voyages at sea, catching giant tuna, wahoo and dorado...which make me jealous. After awhile, I just tell him to be quiet.  

The water was flat that morning, so the ride over was quite smooth. After a little over an hour, we arrived at Avalon, which is the main "city" on Catalina Island. Charming houses dotted and lined the hills, appearing sort of mediterranean. 

We got off the boat and headed straight for the tour agency. Rick and I hoped to catch the earliest tour out to see the interior, which I have never seen. I was itching to see a big ol' bison. 

Did you know that Catalina Island was originally owned by the Wrigley family? Yes, the chewing gum. 

In 1972, the family transferred all ownership to the Catalina Island Conservancy. 

We meandered around town before leaving for our tour. Shared a sandwich at Vons Express, which is only half a Vons. The island is so limited on space that they can't hold an entire grocery store. The other half is located on another part of the island. 

We found a bench that overlooked the ocean and decided to have our lunch there. Then, we saw him... the fattest seagull in the world. He waddled over to us, with his rotund belly swaying from side to side, watching us eagerly while we ate our sandwiches. So, Rick decided to make him more fat by giving him some Fritos.

Sea stuff... for first time tourists. 

Really. Where would you put these things anyway? You know they don't match with anything you have in your house. 

Tour time! Good thing about going to Catalina Island on a Friday, in the Fall, is that you don't have to deal with annoying crowds. We shared the tour bus with only 4 other people. Rick and I spent the entire trip hopping from seat to seat. 

The bus driver was an entertaining crack up. I don't remember his name, because I'm horrible. But he told us not to tell anybody he did this, so it all works out. Anyway, since we were such a small group--and because we're special-- we went on a detour to this awesome lookout point. It offered fantastic views of the island below. Too bad it was so cloudy that day. -_-

See? Pretty... 

I was so surprised at the size of the island. I've only visited Avalon in the past, and being the dumb tourist that I was, I sorta thought that was it. Apparently, there's some great deer hunting on Catalina...

Buffalo chips! Is there bison nearby? 

There's one! In the distance. Do you see him? Sorry, I don't have a long telephoto lens. 

Click on photo to enlarge. 

Having a great time!
While we continued along, I saw a couple of buffalo not too far away. Rick and I shouted "buffalo!" It was so cool to see them. 

Story has it that 14 bison were brought to the island for a film. They ended up not making it into the film, but filmmakers decided to leave them on the island. After only a few years, the original 14 proliferated into the hundreds. They caused so much stress on the land that the population had to be reduced. Unlike the goats, the buffalo had it easy. The bison are just captured and ferried out once they pass their carrying capacity on Catalina, to return to the Indian reservation where the original 14 came. The goats were shot down from helicopters. Now, there are no goats on Catalina, because they caused so much soil erosion. So did the pigs. Mind you that none of these animals are native. They were brought over by unknowing travelers. 

Today, the bison has become a symbol for Catalina Island, and are very well protected and loved. Yet, buffalo meat is popular on Catalina menus. The bus driver assured us that all the buffalo meat found on Catalina are shipped in, and that none on the island are harmed. Which doesn't really make sense to us... won't they receive the same fate on the Indian reservations? 

Except this one. 

Up at the airport, we grabbed snacks and souvenirs at the little shop. 

There were hummingbirds everywhere. 
Catalina's ecology reminded me of a combination of Southern California sceneries. In some places, it looked like a familiar California chaparral, with small, low dry bushes and cactus dotting here and there. And at other places, you'll see rolling grasses and plains, much like in San Diego. 

Ahhh... paradise.

On the way back, the same two buffalo we saw earlier were still there. Except they moved a little. All they seem to do is lay around. 

Our bus driver introduced us to two very interesting island characters, Edgar and Allan. As our bus made its way down the mountain, these two ravens followed alongside, from post to post, tree to tree. And the story unfolds as so...

One day, a local resident of Catalina Island opened up his door to find 3 baby ravens sitting on his doorstep. Not knowing what else to do, he decided to raise them himself. He called them Edgar, Allan and Poe. 

Once they were old enough, the man decided that it was best to free them. He took them to a different part of the island and let them go.

When he drove away, the birds followed him, just to make sure that he made it back home okay. 

Today, the ravens have learned that if they follow certain buses, they get a cookie. Our bus driver told us that Poe is gone and dead, but Edgar and Allan still carry on their tradition. Other ravens have also caught on, copying the duo. But the only way to tell between Edgar and Allan from the rest is that they always stop at the post sign that says "Yield to Bus." That day, the two that followed alongside us did, telling us that they were the originals. After they got their cookies, they were off... to wait for another bus. 

After the 2 hour tour, we were starving. So, we had burgers and a couple beers. I aptly got a buffalo burger. 

:-) Always nice to spend time with my favorite person. 

Then, it was time to leave. More people left the island than arrived that day. They were probably overnighters. 

Who knows if I'll ever step onto Avalon again. 



Friday, December 14, 2012

Chili Sugar Cured Duck

Photo and Recipe By: Neal Zeller

Brining poultry is a good way to maintain and enhance natural juices and moisture. Here's a dry-cure prep that does that and adds some additional sweet and spicy flavors. Grits are a staple item, but here in Arizona, we jazz 'em up with smoked tomato and bacon. Finally, finish the dish with a savory sweet corn sauce.

Prep Time: 45 minutes
Cook Time: 60 minutes
Servings: 4
- 4 boned duck breasts, leave skin on
- 1/2 cup granulated sugar
- 1/4 cup mild or medium chile powder
- 1/4 cup kosher salt
- 2 tbs. coarse ground black pepper

Tomato Bacon Grits
- 1 cup yellow grits, uncooked
- 1 cup low sodium chicken broth, or duck stock
- 1 tbs. minced garlic
- 1/4 cup cooked and chopped bacon
- 1/4 cup finely diced white onion
- 2 tbs. chopped fresh sage
- 1/2 cup whole milk
- 1/2 cup smoked tomato purée (I'll smoke some slices of tomato when I'm smoking other meats and save them for later dishes. You can use tomato paste with some liquid smoke for a similar taste.)

Corn Sauce
- 1 cup + 1/4 cup sweet corn kernels
- 1 tbs. unsalted butter
- 1/4 cup cold unsalted butter, cut in cubes
- 2 tbs. minced shallots
- 1/2 cup dry white wine

1. In a large flat dish or bowl, mix the sugar, salt, chile powder and black pepper. Score the skin of the duck breasts diagonally in two directions to create a crosshatch pattern. Dredge the duck in the sugar chile cure, coating both sides well. Mound any additional cure over duck. Cover dish and refrigerate. Cure the duck for at least 2 hours but no longer than 4 hours. 

2. Bring the chicken broth to a boil and add grits. Reduce heat to simmer. Add the garlic, white onion and sage, then cover and simmer for about 10 minutes. Stir in milk, chopped bacon and tomato purée. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Cover and keep warm.

3. For the corn sauce, heat the 1 tablespoon of butter in a heavy bottom sauce pan over medium high heat. Add the 1 cup of corn kernels and shallots. Sauté until the shallots become transparent, about 2 to 3 minutes. Reserve the 1/4 cup corn kernels for plating garnish. Add the white wine and cook until the wine has reduced by about half. Allow the sauce to cool slightly then purée in a blender or food processor. Add the cold butter cubes one at a time while blending. Season with salt to taste and keep warm. 

4. Remove duck from the cure and brush off excess curing mixture. Place duck skin side down in a cold heavy pan or skillet. Heat the duck over medium high heat for about 4 minutes or until the skin has crisped. Turn the duck over and cook another 2 to 3 minutes. Next, place the pan (with duck skin side up) in a preheated 400° oven for 4 minutes. Remove duck to a cutting board and let rest for 5 minutes. 

5. Slice duck on the bias. I molded the grits during plating but you can spoon the grits in the center. Place sliced duck, shingling the slices around grits. Spoon sauce around the perimeter. Garnish with the remaining corn kernels and dig in!

About Neal Zeller

There's not a lot I can add to what others, far more eloquent than I am, have written about hunting.

I hike, backpack, cycle, run, fish and hunt. And although all of these recreational pursuits - even that term falls short - add something to my life, none of them contribute more than hunting does. No other experience engages more of my senses and amplifies my life as time spent pursuing game. Animals who have spent their lives in remarkable landscapes, eluding harm, and eluding me, deserve my respect. And they have it.

I hunt, and I also eat. It's important for me to be at least partially responsible for the deaths that sustain my own life. We all owe that, at a minimum, to our food sources.

I worked in the food and beverage industry throughout high school and college, both in the front and back of the house. Wait staff and line cook. The level of craft, skill and passion by real food professionals is astonishing. And it's really hard work. There are plenty of parallels between chefs and hunters.

So when I can combine hunting, food preparation, cooking... and eating, I'm all over it.

[Photo: Arizona, Unit 24A Javelina Bow Hunt. 2011.]

* * *

Like us, Neal Zeller is a regular guy who loves to fish, hunt and cook. If you have a great fish or game recipe you'd like to submit, send it to 
Thank you Neal for sending in this wonderful recipe!

Monday, December 10, 2012

Venison in Chimichurri Sauce

Chimichurri originated from Argentina, where it is used as a sauce or marinade for grilled meats. Today, it is used in all kinds of cuisines. Countries like Uruguay, Southern Brazil, Bolivia, Ecaudor and Mexico all have their own versions of chimichurri. The sauce is simply made with oil, vinegar and a combination of common herbs and spices like cilantro, garlic, jalapeno and parsley. Because of its acidic element, it makes the ideal marinade for tenderizing tougher cuts of meat. While everyone hails over venison inside straps and outside loins, leg meat is often under-utilized, to be thrown in the hamburger or jerky pile. But if you
take enough care and time to properly separate all the different leg muscles on a deer, you will find that you can get some pretty decent pieces for grilling. We like to cut them up to get little steaks, like so. Oftentimes, they prove to be just as tender as any backstrap. 

Servings: 2
Marinade Time: 1 hour
Cook Time: 5-8 minutes
- 1 lb. of venison, whatever cut you like
- 2 cloves of garlic, minced
- 1/2 cup of cilantro, chopped
- 1/4 cup of flat leaf parsley, chopped
- 1/4 cup of onion, chopped
- half a jalapeno, seeded and finely chopped
- 1/4 cup of red wine vinegar
- 1/2 cup of olive oil
- 1 tbs. of dried oregano
- 1/4 tsp. of kosher salt, plus more

1. In a large nonmetal bowl, combine 1/4 tsp. of salt, red wine vinegar, garlic, jalapeno and onion. Allow ingredients to marry for 10 minutes. 

Next, stir in cilantro, parsley and oregano. With a fork, whisk in oil. Remove some chimichurri to a small bowl to reserve as sauce. Season with salt, to taste.
2. Remove all silver skin and fat from venison. Season lightly with salt, to taste. 
Give the chimichurri sauce another quick whisk. Add venison to the bowl and coat thoroughly. Marinate covered for at least 1 hour.

Our meat was cold. We marinated for 1 hour at room temperature so the meat would be immediately ready for the grill. If you plan to marinate longer or ahead of time, stick it in the fridge.
3. Once marinated, grill venison over direct heat for 2-3 minutes each side for medium-rare. Don't overcook. 

Allow meat to rest for 5 minutes. The smell will be fantastic!

We served our venison with hasselback potatoes, which is the swedish version of a baked potato: Preheat oven to 425 F. Scrub potatoes, but leave skin on. Cut potatoes almost all the way through. Drizzle with olive oil, butter, salt and pepper. Stuff sliced garlic between the intervals of potato. Cover in foil and bake for 45 minutes to 1 hour, or until tender. Open up foil at the end to allow skin to crisp.
Spoon reserved sauce over grilled venison. Enjoy!
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