July 29, 2012
I killed a rabbit with my bare hands. And then I ate it.
But before we get to that, I’d like to reflect for a moment on food. I truly believe that there is nothing more important than good food; but unfortunately, most people tend to take eating for granted. These days, every type of produce is available year-round, ingredients lists are getting longer, and let’s not forget about a tasty little something called Pink Slime.
Mountain Dew Code Red, Chicken McNuggets, Blazin’ Buffalo Ranch Doritos… this stuff isn’t food.
I do not want or need to go into too much detail here about what we believe is going on with the politics of our food system. But if you stand back and look at the systems objectively, it’s easy to see that the people who are putting countless farmers out of business by establishing massive monoculture GMO crop factories and encouraging us all to go to Wal-Mart to buy chemical-laden produce and Diet Coke are the same people who stand to profit when we develop cancer or diabetes from all of the shit that they are feeding us. It’s not a pretty picture or something that’s pleasant to think about, so most of us choose to remain totally oblivious to it all.
Bettie’s: A Prime Example
This past January, I was hired as the new head baker/decorator/kitchen manager at Bettie’s Cakes: A Cupcakery Café. I’ve never been a fan of cupcakes, but I needed a job. Initially I was told that I had complete control over products and flavors, but that turned out to not be the case whatsoever. Even if you take away the passive aggressive and completely unprofessional ownership as well as the unbearably annoying and apathetic twats working the counter, it is still the most toxic environment that I have ever been in.
You see, Bettie’s Cakes prides itself in having 77+ flavors of cupcakes (they also claim that their cupcakes are “all-natural” and “use only real ingredients” with “no preservatives”) but what that basically means is that there is a shelf in the kitchen with 77 different bottles of artificial chemical flavoring and 77 different shades of food coloring. The raspberry lemonade cupcake consists of a neon yellow, artificially flavored lemon cake topped with a hot pink, artificial raspberry flavored buttercream. The watermelon cupcake is a vanilla cake, dyed bright green, topped with an artificial watermelon flavored buttercream in a shade of bright pink that I can’t even begin to describe. Did you know that artificial root beer flavoring comes in quart-sized bottles? The same thing goes for artificial maple flavoring. Oh yes. Bettie’s also boasts a blue raspberry Jolly Rancher flavored cupcake (I literally gagged while making the frosting) and a cotton candy cupcake (yes, artificial cotton candy flavoring is a real thing). I could go on, but you get the idea. And every time that I mentioned the possibility of using real ingredients instead of unnatural chemicals, artificial flavors, and colors, it was not up for discussion. Pure flavor extracts and real fruit cost more money. Profit is the only thing that matters. Plus, people have been brainwashed into thinking that this stuff is a delicious treat.
The saddest thing for me was watching the customers. People LOVE this garbage and they have no idea how harmful it is to them and their children. Once I had to make 6 dozen cupcakes for a child’s birthday party, 6 different flavors, but all dyed bright blue. Artificial coconut flavoring, imitation vanilla extract, etc.- the manufacturers are not required to list any of the ingredients that give artificial flavorings their flavor. And this is probably because the words are all impossible to pronounce. Yet parents and children would line up everyday to spend $3 a piece on these cupcakes.
One day while walking through the food court (yes- I was working at Bettie’s Cakes in a MALL FOODCOURT) on my way to use the restroom, I walked past a table of four extremely morbidly obese teenage girls eating a fast food lunch. I used to be heavy and know how hard it can be, so I cast no judgment, but it made me sad. A few minutes later on my way back from the restroom, all four girls had a Bettie’s signature cosmopolitan cupcake in hand; artificial cherry and lime, hot pink and lime green. My heart sank. I felt so responsible. Yes, individuals need to be held accountable for their actions. But how can they if they don’t know any better? I just couldn’t be a part of that system anymore. It felt so completely dishonest; we moved up here to devote our lives to raising and growing the best food imaginable, and I was spending 50 hours a week poisoning people with products that can’t even be described as food. I gave my notice shortly thereafter.
I am not standing on a pedestal or trying to preach—deluxe nachos and ice cream are two of my favorite things. But the moral of the story is that our food system is totally screwed up. Do your part by shopping at farmer’s markets, eating organic foods when you can, buying produce that hasn’t been sprayed with harmful chemicals, buying directly from the farmer whenever possible, planting a garden, and eating meat that has been pasture raised, grass fed and finished, and humanely processed. Good food is important and fun. It should be enjoyed and appreciated. We all take far too many things for granted. So slow down. Turn off the TV. Go outside. Cook a meal of real, good food and enjoy it with loved ones.
You may recall that Bunty gave birth to her first kindling of bunnies back in early May. One was sold as a pet, one was kept to become our second breeding doe (we named her Mackenzie Phillips, for obvious reasons), and the others were raised for meat.
They spent their lives outdoors, with a full supply of handpicked grasses, lettuces, and wildflowers in addition to their bunny food; and their two-room wire-bottomed rabbit hotel was moved daily to ensure that they always had a fresh bed of grass. Because we knew from Day 1 that we would be eating these rabbits, we did not name or cuddle with them, but we did our best to enjoy, appreciate, and nourish them.
Well the time came for them to, in turn, nourish us. The original plan was to take them somewhere to be processed, but we liked the idea of doing it ourselves. And after a few minutes of research, realized that this was totally doable. We immediately thought of our friend Beth Beverly. Because of the ethics that she maintains surrounding her work as a taxidermist as well as a consumer of animal products, this seemed like a perfect collaboration. (Beth’s blog, Skinned Deep, is sensational. In a post from a few months ago entitled Beating the Meat, she beautifully and articulately outlines her thoughts on meat consumption in this country and how it relates to her career. I hope you’ll take the time to read it).
After much discussion and research on how to humanely dispatch rabbits, Beth and I decided that we were most comfortable with the control that would come with breaking the neck with our bare hands. We set up our processing area away from all the other animals, picked out our rabbits, and thanked them for their lives. We took a moment to calm the rabbits and really connect with them. Then we faced one another, got our hands into position, took a deep breath, and counted to three.
I didn’t know how I would react. I have killed many chickens, but only to put them out of their misery. Killing something that is very sick or seriously injured is completely different from killing something that is perfectly alive and healthy.
Beth and I remained calm and collected. We were in control. When it was finished, though, we both needed to take a second to catch our breath. It’s difficult to describe what I felt; it was kind of surreal and I felt like I was floating, while at the same time I felt totally grounded and alive. We looked at each other and hugged.
Surprisingly I felt no guilt or sadness, but a strong desire to soak in this moment and an eagerness to proceed. It was time to start making dinner. And we agreed that regardless of how it turned out, it was going to be the best and most satisfying meal that we’d ever had.
We watched THIS tutorial on how to skin, gut, and butcher, and we found it to be invaluable. In her recent post on Skinned Deep about the whole process, entitled Meeting my Meat, Beth does a wonderful and tasteful job explaining and photo documenting the next few steps. Between Beth’s experience with animal skinning and my culinary training (no, animal disassembly isn’t covered in pastry school, but it helped to have some knife skills), we made a pretty good team.
I’m looking forward to the day when all the meat we cook with is from our farm. But that’s not commonplace yet, so I wanted this meal to be extra special. I searched far and wide for the perfect rabbit recipe. We let our rabbits get a few weeks past the ideal processing weight, so grilling wasn’t the best idea because the meat was likely to be a little tough. But stew wasn’t quite special enough. Finally, I found a recipe for Elizabethan Rabbit that was adapted from Cooking With the Two Fat Ladies. I tweaked it quite a bit myself, based on our personal tastes and what ingredients I knew I would be able to find.
With an Elizabethan theme in mind, I set out to create the perfect menu. I discovered that honey was commonly used during the Elizabethan era because all sugar was derived from sugar cane at the time, and only the very wealthy could afford the luxurious export. Herbs and flowers were eaten quite a bit, as were nutmeg and other such spices. I had some leftover French onion soup in the freezer that I wanted to feature (See Section 3: Tip 2 in The Lost Art, Part One), so I decided to venture out of England and over to France for the soup and dessert courses. Our dinner was as follows:
Salad: herb and flower salad with fresh homemade chevre and honey-lemon dressing
Soup: french onion soup with gruyere crostini
Entrée: elizabethan rabbit over herb and goat cheese mashed new potatoes
Dessert: frozen honey mousse and spiced walnuts atop broye du poitou
And here are the recipes…
Herb and Flower Salad with Honey-Lemon Dressing
I did not use any exact quantities for the salad and I did not take notes, but here is the general idea
- 1 big handful arugula
- a bunch of leaves each of bloody sorrel, sage, mint, purple basil, lemon verbena, and lamb’s ear, chiffonade
- 1 stalk each of rosemary and thyme, leaves from
- a generous clipping of bronze fennel
- 2 radishes, sliced very thin (with a mandolin, if you have one)
- 1 handful of cherry tomatoes
- 2 tbs. honey
- 2 tbs. olive oil
- 1 lemon, zested and juiced
- sea salt and cracked pepper, to taste
- edible flowers (I used pansies, nasturtium, and marigold)
- chevre (I’ll share the recipe for this at another time)
1. Combine arugula with herbs, radish, and tomatoes
2. Combine honey, olive oil, lemon juice and zest, and S & P
3. Toss together
4. Divide onto chilled salad plates
5. Top with cheese and flowers
6. This salad is best enjoyed while speaking in a British accent
French Onion Soup
I made French Onion Soup for the first time back in May. I used THIS recipe, following it pretty much exactly. I doubled it, added extra wine, and used homemade chicken broth instead of beef broth. It was perfect. I froze the leftovers. To thaw them, I simply moved the container to the refrigerator the day before and then slowly heated the soup in a little pot on the stove. French onion soup takes a lot of patience, but is worth it.
This made enough to feed about 8 people.
- 3 sprigs parsley
- 3 sprigs thyme
- 2 sprigs rosemary
- a few sage leaves
- 2 bay leaves
- 2 rabbits, cut up
- 1/2 cup bacon fat (or butter)
- 3 large onions, chopped into medium sized chunks
- 4 carrots, slices
- 1 bottle red wine
- 3 apples, chopped
- 1/2 cup dried dates
- zest and juice of one orange
- 1 1/2 cups chicken stock
- sea salt and cracked pepper
1. Preheat oven to 350 F
2. Tie the first five ingredients together with kitchen twine or bundle them into some cheesecloth
3. Toss the rabbit chunks in the flour to coat
4. Heat the fat (or butter) in a Dutch oven
5. Brown the rabbit, then remove it and set it aside
6. Add the onions and carrots, cook them until they are a little tender and beginning to caramelize
7. Pour in the wine, turn up the heat a bit, and let simmer until it reduces by at least half a cup
8. Return the rabbit to the Dutch oven
9. Add the herb bouquet, apple chunks, dates, orange juice and zest, and stock.
10. Place the lid on your Dutch oven and pop it in the oven for 2 1/2 – 3 hours
11. Season with S&P
Herb and Goat Cheese Mashed New Potatoes
I did not use a recipe. I simply boiled potatoes, with the skins on, until they were tender enough to be easily pierced with a fork. Then using a hand mixer, I whipped them up with a stick of butter, a generous splash of fresh goat’s milk, a glob of fresh homemade chevre, sea salt, and some thyme. They were a little runny, a little chunky, and a lotta perfect.
Frozen Honey Mousse
This is one of my absolute favorite recipes in my repertoire. I like to freeze it in parchment-lined entremets rings, then unmold and let thaw in the fridge for at least 30 minutes, then sit at room temperature for a few minutes before serving.
- 4 egg yolks
- 4 oz honey
- 1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
- 2 tbs. water
- 1 tsp. granulated gelatin
- 2 cups cream, very cold
1. Stir the gelatin into the water, let bloom for a few minutes
2. Place the yolks, honey, and vanilla in a stainless steel bowl set atop a pot of simmering water, and whisk until the mixture thickens and lightens in color (about 5 minutes)
3. Melt the gelatin and whisk it into the honey/yolk mixture
4. Let the mixture cool to room temp. It will get quite thick.
5. Whip the cream to medium peaks (preferably by hand- it takes longer, thus creating more air bubbles and a more stable whipped cream)
6. Take 1/3 of the whipped cream and whisk it into the honey mixture to thoroughly combine. Carefully fold in the remaining cream. Keeping it a little streaky and under folded is better than over folding.
7. Enjoy right away or divide into molds or little dishes and refrigerate or freeze until ready to serve.
This recipe is loosey-goosey. Experiment and throw in whatever you want
- 1 tsp. freshly ground nutmeg
- 1 tsp. ground ginger
- 1/4 tsp. ground cloves
- 1 tsp. ground cinnamon
- 3 turns on the pepper mill of cracked peppercorns
- 1/4 cup sugar
- 1 pinch sea salt
- 1 tsp. dark brown sugar (I never use light brown sugar for anything. ever)
- 1 little sprinkle of habanero powder
- 1 egg white
- 2 cups walnuts
1. Preheat oven to 350 F
2. Whip egg whites to frothy
3. Toss nuts to coat
4. Add everything else and toss to coat
5. Bake on a pan lined with a silicon baking sheet or parchment paper for about 10 minutes
6. Let cool and enjoy
Broye du Poitou
This is a French butter cookie. It is traditionally baked as one big cookie, then placed in the center of the table for all of your guests to reach in a break off a piece. It is crispy and crumbly on the outside, and soft and lovely on the inside. I found the recipe in Dorie Greenspan’s cookbook, Around My French Table. Bailey bought me this book when I finished pastry school. I bought it for my mother for her birthday last year. And I strongly suggest that you buy it for yourself right now. Dorie refers to these as Salted Butter Break-Ups. I would type out the recipe, but someone has already done it HERE.
It was an extraordinary meal to end an emotional day. We enjoyed good food with good drinks among good friends. I’d like to end with a quote from our beloved Beth Beverly:
What I do want for myself, and for you and everyone you love, is to be aware. Think. Just think the next time you sink your teeth into that chicken sandwich, about the bird and where it came from. Was it [bred] to have such large breasts it couldn’t walk? Does the burger pattie on your grill contain more pharmaceuticals than any of us might consume in a lifetime? If this is OK, fine, eat it. Just know. I think if we all took a little more time to connect with where our food comes from, the results would be resoundingly positive.