Monday, January 26, 2015

Red Grouse - Brined and Sous Vide

The red grouse is found in heather moorland in Great Britain and Ireland. It is sometimes considered its own separate species but usually considered a subspecies of the willow ptarmigan. Exotic Meat Market had some wild-shot red grouse from Scotland available and I decided it would be fun to try it. I've previously encountered white-tailed ptarmigan in the high mountains of Colorado and wondered what they would taste like. The red grouse would be somewhat similar.
Red grouse
Wild-shot grouse from Scotland.
The Exotic Meat Market website indicates that the "flesh is dark in color and due to the diet being around 95% heather, the grouse has an exceptionally rich flavor and is an acquired taste." That is a nice way of saying it is very gamy. A post I found on sharptail grouse called the meat "distinctive, unique - and strong tasting. It is not to everyone's taste...[S]harpies have dark meat like ducks or doves, and that meat is decidedly gamey. Almost funky. You have to either embrace it or run screaming...[T]hose of us who like our meat to taste like something can linger over the beguiling taste of this bird...The flavor is acquired, but addicting." The gamiest meat I've ever eaten is pronghorn antelope which feeds on sagebrush and I assume the sharptail grouse probably feeds it on it as well. I also assume heather is a close approximation to it. Plus my experience is that dark-colored flesh tends to mean gamy. Recently we had wood pigeon wild-shot from Scotland and it was dark and very gamy, so much so that we did not eat it all. The Exotic Meat Market site called it "deep crimson in color, and...a great depth of flavor...[A] rich taste..." 
Reddish/purple color of the grouse. 
I eat a fair amount of exotic meat and have acquired quite a large range of acceptable tastes, so when I don't really like the taste of something I assume most people would feel the same way. So given this advance warning from the sources above, I decided to do something different so that it was not another wood pigeon experience. First, I decided to brine the meat. A Field and Stream article on brining venison states that "A brine penetrates deep into meat - and carries flavor with it. The salt solution also prevents the meat fibers from toughening up as much and helps the meat retain moisture." Another benefit of brining is that it helps remove blood from the meat, particularly helpful with wild-shot game, which helps to reduce the gamy taste. I also had a couple of venison steaks that I wanted to brine, so I made a batch big enough to use for it as well. I followed the directions for brining venison at ehow.com. The article notes that it is not the contact of the brine, but the "diffusion and osmosis, or the absorption and exchange of liquid." 

First I put a ratio of water to kosher salt of 16 to 1 in a pot, which is one cup of salt for each gallon of water. I put it on the stove and added some aromatic ingredients, including several bay leaves, a few black peppercorns, celery seed, mustard seed, hot pepper seed, some dried garlic and some dried onion. I looked for some juniper berries but couldn't find them. After it boiled for a bit I pulled it off the stove and allowed it to cool. 
Brining ingredients in a pot.
The brining ingredients after they've boiled. 
After the brine reached about room temperature, I put it over the grouse in an airtight Tupperware container and put it in the refrigerator. The instructions were to brine it for two to three hours per pound and not to exceed 24 hours. Because I really wanted to impact the gamy taste I decided to brine it quite awhile, realizing that the longer it brined the saltier it would get. I brined it about 20 hours. 
The grouse in the brine in a Tupperware container.
The brine solution after 20 hours is very red, illustrating how much blood has been removed from the meat.
After it was brined, I patted the grouse dry with a paper towel and discarded the brine. I then left the grouse uncovered in the refrigerator for 24 hours. The article states that the "sodium in the meat equalizes during the rest period." 
After brining, the little pinfeathers were easier to remove.
I cut the grouse in half with kitchen shears to help it cook more evenly sous vide.
Based on the sharptail grouse post above, I decided to use smoked salt on the grouse and cook it sous vide as a way of infusing the meat with a smoky flavor. In the sharpie recipe, he used 1 tablespoon of Maine apple smoked salt for two grouse. Because I had brined the bird and only had one, I used less than a half tablespoon of bonfire salt which has a very smoky flavor which I rubbed on the bird after rubbing it with olive oil. I cooked it at 59 Centigrade (138 Fahrenheit) for one hour and 43 minutes. 
The cooked grouse after sous vide. 
The finished grouse was moist and had a nice texture. It was very smoky and quite salty, but the gaminess was mostly gone. 
The grouse was very moist and cut quite easily.
I prepared a salad with butter lettuce, a tomato, grated carrot, an avocado, brined feta cheese and two boiled eggs and added one of the grouse halves to it, cut up into thin slices. It was the perfect accompaniment, kind of like anchovies to a Caesar salad. It provided a very distinctive and good taste that stood out in the salad. 
Part of the grouse went into a salad and it added a wonderful flavor. 
If I do grouse again, I will follow the same type of recipe but reduce the brining significantly so that it is not as salty. I would probably do the brining for three to five hours. The smoky salt in the sous vide was perfect. 

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Sable Antelope

The sable antelope is found in portions of East Africa and northern southern Africa and a small portion of Angola. There are an estimated 75,000 with 50% of those on protected land and 25% on private land. A subspecies with larger horns, known as the giant sable, lives in Angola and there are only an estimated 200 to 400 of them left (they were particularly devastated by the Angolan civil war). 
A beautiful black male sable antelope.
A female in a similar pose is much lighter in color.
The sable antelope has a thick neck and tough skin, a well-developed and upright mane on the neck and a short mane on the throat. Females and young sable are chestnut to dark brown in color and males darken and turn black after three years. Some southern populations of females also turn black. They are white on belly, cheek and chin and have a black stripe down the muzzle. Both sexes have ringed horns that arch backwards that are larger in males. They look very similar to the roan antelope, particularly the females and young, but tend to be darker in color and have slightly different face markings. 
Some younger sable antelope with short horns mix with some adults.
I was very excited to see sable antelope at Fossil Rim Wildlife Center in Glen Rose, Texas. I was really hoping to see them in Kenya when we visited last year, but unfortunately did not. At Fossil Rim they were congregated in several large groups and we were not able to get any close to our car windows to feed them. 
This sable antelope was near our car but not interested in our food as it had a huge stack of hay to concentrate on.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Roan Antelope

The roan antelope is one of the largest species of antelope and gets its name from its reddish/brown color (which is called "roan"). They have what looks like a black mask, with white streaks above and to the insides of the eyes and a white lower muzzle and cheek with black nostrils. The belly is white and the mane is short and erect with the top edge streaked with varying shades of brown. They have ringed horns, slightly shorter in females, that arch backwards slightly.  
Roan antelope at Fossil Rim Wildlife Center.
The roan antelope lives in the savanna woodlands and grasslands of sub-Saharan Africa. There are an estimated 76,000 of them in a band across mid-West and Central Africa, a large clump of northern southern Africa (pieces of Angola, Namibia, Botswana, Zambia and Zimbabwe), a portion of northern South Africa (including Kruger National Park) and a large portion of northwest Tanzania. The largest populations are found in Burkina Faso and Cameroon in West Africa (7,370 and 6,070 respectively), Zambia (5,080) and Tanzania (4,310). We did not see any when we were in Tanzania. 
Roan antelope
We saw a few roan antelope at Fossil Rim Wildlife Center in Glen Rose, Texas. Unfortunately, we were not able to get too close to them or feed them. They look a lot like sable antelope, although a little lighter. 

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Cathedral Shrine of the Virgin of Guadalupe - Dallas, TX

As we walked outside the Dallas Art Museum in the Arts District of Dallas we heard some beautiful bells nearby and decided to see if we could find the source of the wonderful sound. Fortunately, downtown Dallas was not too crowded and we found a good-looking old church a few blocks away and were able to park nearby for a quick visit. The relatively plain but appealing old brick building stands as an anomaly to the tall glass-encased skyscrapers about it, a visible reminder of a more uncomplicated past and a less visible but still existent more caring present. 
Cathedral Shrine of the Virgin of Guadalupe - dedicated in 1902.
The cathedral from a different angle. 
The newer bell tower with 49 bells.
Cathedral Shrine of the Virgin Guadalupe is one of two cathedrals in the U.S. to honor Our Lady of Guadalupe, a vision of the Virgin Mary to Juan Diego at the Hill of Tepeyac in Mexico City in 1531. Guadalupe Cathedral serves the second largest cathedral congregation in the U.S., 630,000 Catholics in the nine-county Diocese of Dallas.  It also serves as the meeting place for the largest Latino parish in the U.S., 25,000 registered households. The average Sunday attendance is 11,200. Only 10% of the cathedral's congregation are English-only speakers. Most are latino. 
We visited on a Saturday late afternoon, early evening, and a mass was going on. We watched for a few minutes, but did not have time to enjoy more of it. 
The cathedral is quite simple by Catholic standards, but we were impressed by the Saturday evening crowd.
One of the entrances.
The first Catholic parish in Dallas was established in 1869 by the Bishop of Galveston, who named it Sacred Heart Church. A church was built where the current central post office is, at the corner of Bryan and Ervay Streets. Dallas was designated a diocese in 1890 and Sacred Heart Church became Sacred Heart Cathedral. The property at the current church location, at the corner of Ross and Pearl Streets, was purchased in the 1890s and the cornerstone was laid in 1898. The new cathedral was dedicated in 1902. In the 1960s and early 1970s the attendance at the cathedral decreased and a nearby parish, Our Lady of Guadalupe, outgrew its building.The bishop invited the Our Lady of Guadalupe parish to merge with  Sacred Heart in 1975 and the cathedral adopted the parish name and became Cathedral Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe in 1977. The bell tower was planned as part of the original cathedral, but not built. More recently the bell tower with 49 bells was added. It was these bells that drew us to it. The cathedral is run by Carmelite priests. 


Sunday, January 18, 2015

The Earth Cafe and Deli - Norman, OK

We were on a meat-induced bender: Bbq in Texarkana, bbq in Hot Springs, bbq in Little Rock and steak and lamb fries in Oklahoma City. As much as I love meat, my year-long stint as a vegan gave me a great appreciation and love for vegetables. The only vegetables we'd seen on our trip were onion rings, french fries, fried okra, mashed potatoes and cheesy corn. 

We'd stopped off in Norman, Oklahoma to see the University of Oklahoma campus, which is awesome. One of the more beautiful campuses we've seen. It had a distinctively English feel, until we got to the football stadium, then it was all football: 7 national championships, 154 all-Americans and 5 Heisman Trophy winners enshrined with their own larger-than-life bronzes in Heisman field. 
Evans Hall at the University of Oklahoma, the central administrative building on campus. 
The red phone booth adds to the British feel of the campus.
What I think of when I think of the University of Oklahoma.
I guess it ain't bragging when it's fact.
Billy Sims, the first of five Heisman Trophy winners all lined up across from the stadium.
Not too far from the campus and on our way out of Norman we drove past a store-front with the distinctive look and name of veggie-huggers: I've learned to recognize it - The Earth Cafe & Deli. We turned the car around, parked and ventured in. It is part-store and part-restaurant where you can buy juices, organic vegetables, healthy grains, vegan cheese and meats and grab a sandwich, some soup or a salad.  Sometimes it is really nice just to immerse in all things vegetable. 
Judy got a salad with fake cheese, avocado, sprouts, sunflower seeds and tomato. In veggie heaven it was an average salad, but in the pork and beef belt it was something to behold. Sometimes a change-up is good and this was one of those times. 
I got some cauliflower soup with curry and rye. It had a distinctive rye taste and was bland, but good on a cool day. 
I also got a cheese and veggie sandwich with veggie cheese, avocado and tomato on rye bread, along with a side salad of red-leaf lettuce. The sandwich was a little dry, but with some of the salad dressing applied to it was a nice, healthy diversion. 
Visiting The Earth seemed a little out of place in Norman, kind of like a PETA booth at the stockyards, or Lighthouse Ministries in Salt Lake City, but it was nice to be courageous for a few minutes and see what a contrasting form of life might offer.

After-the-fact, we found that The Earth had five stars, but with only two reviews on Yelp, and was ranked 23 out of 291 restaurants on Trip Advisor in Norman with 26 reviews. 

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Blackbuck

The blackbuck is an antelope native to the Indian subcontinent, which includes modern India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Nepal. Today there are an estimated 50,000 in the wild in India (up from 22,000 in the 1970s), mostly in national parks, and it is extinct in Bangladesh, Nepal and Pakistan. It has also been introduced in Argentina and the U.S. with estimated populations of 8,600 and 35,000 respectively. Blackbucks were introduced to Texas in 1932. 
Two male blackbucks at Fossil Rim Wildlife Center in Glen Rose, Texas.
A young or female blackbuck.
Female and young blackbucks have heads, backs and the outside of the legs that are yellowish/fawn colored. Male blackbucks darken with age and when older are blackish brown in the same areas, except for the nape which remains rufous/brown. Both sexes are white on the underparts, around the eyes and on the inside of the legs. The male has beautiful long spiralling horns with rings arranged in a v-shape.  
The rufous/brown nape stands out against the black back and head.
The distinctive walk with nose held high into the air.
Pointed hooves and beautiful spiral horns. Black on outer legs and white on inner legs.
White rump.
Backside view.
We saw quite a few blackbuck at Fossil Rim Wildlife Center in Glen Rose, Texas. Aside from the beautiful coloring and horns on the males, what made them distinctive was the male's quirk of walking along with its nose pointed into the air with its head held back, giving it the air of a snooty imperialist, or at least an antelope with a nose bleed. 
A young male.
A younger male and older male.
Short tail.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Gemsbok

The gemsbok looks very similar to the beisa oryx we saw in Buffalo Springs National Reserve in Kenya. However, I think the gemsbok is even more beautiful. The gemsbok has whiter legs, has a black patch on both front legs, has much more black on the legs (the beisa oryx has no black on the hind legs), has more black on the flanks, the black stripe on the face extends down below the jaw and connects with the black patch on the nose and the gemsbok has a black patch at the base of the tail. 
A forest of horns. Gemsbok at Fossil Rim Wildlife Center.
More horns
The gemsbok is native to Angola, Botswana, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe, but is now likely extinct in Angola. It is estimated that there are about 373,000 gemsbok, including those on private farms in southern Africa. 
This gemsbok got very close to our car and gave us a good look at its markings. 
I love all of the black lines.
It looks like its knees are dirty from kneeling on them.
We saw quite a few gemsbok at the Fossil Rim Wildlife Center in Glen Rose, Texas, but they were grouped together in a relatively small area. We had one gemsbok come quite close to the car, but couldn't get it to come to the car windows to eat out of our hands. 
This is the best look we got of a bushy tail.