Porcupine Meatballs

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This article appeared in the September 14, 2016 edition of the Seward Journal Newspaper, and has been heavily edited.

In Alaska, hunting and fishing permeates our various cultures, whether you’re an Anchorage dwelling vegan or a whaling captain out of Utqiaġvik. This becomes profoundly obvious during the summer and fall months, even in the most concrete urban corner of Anchorage, when folks are heading out to fill their freezer. Over the past two weeks, Moose hunting season launched, and as is usually the case during hunting season, the only Moose I’ve caught sight of are limited to the antlers from a successful hunt tied to a camouflage four-wheeler, strapped to a trailer, hitched to a truck driven by someone who hasn’t showered in a week.

Earlier this week, I was having a conversation with a co-worker about our respective dinner menus and she mentioned she was having porcupine meatballs. As you might imagine, my first question was not, in fact, “What’s a porcupine meatball.” Rather, my inclination was to ask her what porcupine tasted like and where she got it. Instead, I decided to act as though I already knew everything there was to know about meatballs, porcupines and where to get them, and what they taste like, and every which way porcupines might be rendered into meatballs and cooked. I went with the very safe “Oh, that sounds good,” before she went on to describe the recipe in some fuzzy detail. The key ingredient was not, as I’d assumed, porcupine. It was hamburger.

The lack of porcupine meat in the meatballs should have been obvious, but I just figured that I had a skewed opinion after so many years working for Fish and Game. One of the things you learn working for an outfit like that is that anything containing fat or protein is a possible menu-item. Around the point where we’d gotten around to the merits of using wild rice, another one of our coworkers approached. Now, it’s important to note that this particular coworker is from somewhere in the deep south and is not a hunter. His response, in tones suggesting he had never been one of these folks, was “Oh, sounds like when folks would cook opossum back home.”

At this point, my coworker having porcupine meatballs had to clarify that they are porcupine meatballs not porcupine-meat balls. We all had a good chuckle and went home and I spent my commute wondering what porcupine-meat balls would taste like. I don’t know if I’ll ever find out, but on the bright side, I can always have porcupine meatballs, and if you’re one of the lucky un-showered hunters or spouse of said un-showered hunter, you can use ground-moose -After you’ve had your shower.

Update April 14th, 2017

I returned to my post at the Alaska Department of Fish and Game in late November, 2016. Shortly after my return, we had a luncheon pot-luck, and I decided to make porcupine meatballs. As with my initial reaction, everyone expected it was made of porcupine and was extremely disappointed when they found out I’d used boring old ground turkey.

What you need:

  • 1lb ground meat (not necessarily porcupine)
  • 1/2 C. Raw rice
  • 1/2 C. Milk
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 3 Tbsp. Italian seasonings
  • 3 Tbsp. chopped onion
  • 1/2 C. chopped Mushrooms
  • 1 Can condensed tomato soup
  • 1 Can water

Preheat oven to 350F. Mix the hamburger, rice, milk, salt, pepper,
Italian seasoning, onion, and mushrooms. Shape into about 9 balls and
place in a 9x9x2” baking dish. In a small bowl, mix soup, water & a
bit more salt. Pour the soup evenly over the meatballs and place in
the oven for 1 1/2 – 2 hours.

Pancakes and Opinions

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Somewhere earlier this year, I committed myself to writing a post a week on this site and also having guest blogs. Guess what I haven’t done? Why? No idea. None whatsoever. I write an article every week for the Seward Journal newspaper. It would literally take me an extra 2 minutes to paste it on to the website and share. Anyhow. I’m totally ready to fix that, starting TODAY! I’ll start by going back, at least as well as I can, to some of the recipes I’ve sent into the Seward Journal and to other random crap I’ve cooked up.

So, what is today’s adventure in undernourishment? How about something totally beyond mundane… Pancakes. Pancakes are easily recognized as one of the main staples in the standard dad cooking play-book. As such, we’ve all got pretty specific ideas about how to cook pancakes. There are two basic approaches, mine, and everyone else’s, which might possibly be like mine, in which case it’s correct. To start, the right way NEVER involves oil. None at all. Oil and pancakes are like oil and a grease fire. You would not add oil to a grease fire, so why would you add it to pancakes?

The best part of cooking pancakes like this is that it’s dramatically cheaper than cereal & milk. I think we’re pushing $5/box for the good stuff? Sure, you can get the cheap stuff for, um, cheaper, but the problem with that is that the cheap stuff tends to be less filling and so your children eat more, which more or less negates the cost savings. Plus, you can’t get around the volumes of milk needed to drive a cereal breakfast. If you triple this batch and refrigerate the results, it’ll keep three pre-teens fed for at least a week. Instead of spending $20 on three boxes of cereal and a gallon of milk, you’ve spent probably a total of $5 for the week.

What you need:

  • A pinch of salt, like less than 1/8th tsp.
  • 1 egg
  • Splash of vanilla extract
  • 1 C. milk
  • 1 ¼ C. unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1 egg

Directions:

Mix the wet and dry ingredients separately with a whisk, then whisk them together. It’ll be a bit lumpy and that’s fine, so long as it’s not too lumpy.

Pour 1/8th-1/4 C. mix on to a hot, ungreased, non-stick grittle. I do mine at a medium-low, but it’s going to depend a lot on your stove top. Cook until the edges are dry and the bubbles on top are starting to pop, then flip. Cook for another minute or so. That’s it. You’re done. If the tops are too dark when you flip, turn the heat down, if they’re too pale, turn the heat up.

 

Some Kinda Chicken Thing

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I’m starting to think that Sunday is really the only day I’ve got the stomach or attention span to cook. Not that I don’t have the stomach or attention span to eat the rest of the week, it’s just that when you’re in a household with children and two working parents, there just isn’t time to enjoy cooking, or cook, or think about what to cook. Most days you roll in the door at quarter after 5, and set to getting something resembling a meal on the table by about 6. That’s like 45 minutes to actually prepare. I’m not even sure you can routinely get a batch of hamburger helper to cook up in that span of time. Do people still eat that? It was basically a child-hood staple for me and I haven’t eaten it in over 20 years.

I can almost always have dinner on the table when it’s plain noodles – which my children and wife are generous enough to allow me to pass off as a perfectly acceptable option. It gets dicier when I try to get fancy. In the summer, I’ve got the luxury of tossing some chicken on the grill and nuking some canned green-beans, that goes over reasonably well because I can alternate between barbecue sauce, various non barbecue marinades, or olive-oil and spices. Winter is a little more difficult. I can still get away with chicken in the oven, but it takes a lot longer and roughly 94.2% of the time, I’ve forgotten to either pull the chicken from the freezer or ask my wife to before she leaves for work. Without defrosted chicken, it’s either Dave’s special ‘Damn-near everything from a can’ tacos, or plain noodles, which you can only do once a week each.

Last week was no exception to this rule. I cooked ham on Sunday, spaghetti on Monday, fast-food on Tuesday, Wednesday was crock-pot day, so my wife threw leftover ham and beans into the crock-pot, and Thursday I didn’t even bother with a meal. So, today, I decided that we needed something approximating nutrition, or at least a dinner that resembled a home-cooked meal. Unfortunately, I also wanted to wallow in self-pity over my failure to get a book published, avoid house cleaning, and play a bit of classic video games. The obvious way to manage all of these, and still end up with good food at the end, is the crock-pot. I selected a recipe from the chicken book, modified it to include only ingredients I have on hand, adding a few others for good measure, and converted the whole thing into a crock-pot meal. Here is what I came up with:

Ingredients:

  • A bunch of chicken (I used like 5 Thighs and about as many drumsticks)
  • 3 cans of Diced Tomatoes
  • 1 medium yellow onion (diced)
  • 2 Tbsp Italian seasoning
  • 1/2 cup pitted & quartered kalamata olives
  • 2 tsp garlic powder
  • 1/4 cup wine (use a nice one, I prefer Black Box)

Directions:

Throw all that stuff into the crock pot, I didn’t even bother defrosting the chicken. Cook on low for 7.5 hours and serve over jasmine rice. That’s it. It took longer to work out what ingredients we had than to prepare and cook it. Cheers!