grilling

Grilled Lemon-Garlic Rabbit Wrapped in Bacon with Acorn Squash and Peas

Grilled Lemon-Garlic Rabbit Wrapped in Bacon

We have been experiencing some unseasonably warm temperatures in Eastern PA, with the high reaching 68°F just last weekend.  It’s amazing!!  The past few winters have been really rough so this is a nice break and we are trying our best to take full advantage of the mild weather.  This past weekend, we went for a family hike on the trails at South Mountain in Emmaus and then grilled some of our home-grown rabbit meat for dinner.  The last time we had this meal was in the summer and I didn’t expect to be able to break it out again until next summer.  But since we just harvested the last of our rabbits for the year, I thought I would take this chance to marinate two of them, wrap them in bacon, and grill them up.  Yum! 

 

For those of you who don’t know, we raise meat rabbits on our little homestead.  We started two seasons ago and have averaged about 12 rabbits – or 35-40lbs of meat – per season each of those years.  We’ve had a lot of learning experiences over this period and hope to be able to yield even more next year.  For example, a fun fact…I learned that a female rabbit actually has two uteruses (or uteri?) and…get this…she can be pregnant with a full kit (which usually yields about 6-8 baby bunnies) and then get pregnant AGAIN – as in AT THE SAME TIME – using the second uterus!  Crazy!  Talk about a Super Mom!  So it’s true what they say about “reproducing like rabbits”.  These things are nuts.  We have never made use of this back-up uterus because, first of all, it seems a little bit cruel and, also, we’re working on getting good at single uterus production first.  One thing at a time, please.  Even so, the same Mama rabbit can get pregnant, deliver the bunnies, and then go through the whole process again in the same season and all of the bunnies will still be full grown by harvest time in the fall.  So, we could potentially get 12 rabbits or more from each of our two female rabbits in a season.  Like I said, we’re working our way up to this…hopefully next year.  We currently have one male and two female rabbits and these are considered our breeding rabbits.  We keep these around from year to year.  We breed them in the very early spring to try and time the delivery around mid-to-late April when the temperatures are starting to warm up.  The mommies are pregnant for 30-31 days.  When the bunnies are born, their eyes are closed and they don’t have much fur to speak of so they just sort of huddle together in a big clump in the nesting box for a week or so.  In the beginning, they nurse from their mother.  Eventually, they will start to eat on their own and grow like crazy.  In just 14-16 weeks, they will be full grown and ready to harvest.  (You can continue to keep and feed them after this point and they will gain a little more weight but will also consume a lot more feed at a lower conversion ratio.)  Since we raise meat rabbits, their full grown weight will be around 5-7lbs at harvest time and will yield about 2-4lbs of meat each.  Our biggest rabbit was around 5lbs dressed, but that was an 18-month old male who we thought was a female and bit Joe’s finger when he tried to separate it from another male, earning it a one-way ticket to the freezer!

 

Here are some other fun facts (or “learning experiences”, as we like to call them) that came to light during our first two seasons of breeding and raising rabbits for meat:

 

  1. You should carefully monitor and limit the amount of breeding action, if you will, that a male rabbit experiences in a single day. Case in point…our very first attempt at breeding involved giving one of our Daddy rabbits a chance to spend some time with each of the Mama rabbits in a homemade mobile pen out in the yard.  Keep in mind that rabbits don’t care much for wooing and flowers and chocolates and making a girl feel special.  They just get right down to business and go at it over and over again for as long as you will let it continue.  So after many rounds of this breeding procedure that we came up with, we put the rabbits back into their separated sections of the main rabbit hutch.  Later that same night, the Daddy rabbit had a heart attack and died.  Whoops!  A little too much action for the big guy!  Lesson learned. 
  2. It is REALLY difficult to tell male and female rabbits apart. As young bunnies, it is nearly impossible.  But even after being full grown, it is still really hard to tell one from the other.  We had one case where we thought we had the male and female rabbits separated into their respective factions only to find that one of the “Daddy” rabbits turned up pregnant!  So either we got a really special rabbit or we messed up the sexing. 
  3. Rabbits can have a false pregnancy where they put on weight and pull out their fur to make a nest, just like they would if they were actually pregnant. But, alas, no bunnies will appear. 
  4. It’s not good to deliver babies in January, but rabbits don’t know that and will mate if you put them in the same cage in the greenhouse when trying to protect them from a -15°F polar vortex.
  5. As mentioned above, it is hard to tell male rabbits from female rabbits, and when you get that wrong and try to mate boy rabbits with other boy rabbits, they play what looks like a funny game of chase the tail, but really they are trying to castrate each other.  Yikes! They also bite really hard when you try to break them up (drawing blood through a leather glove).  And once you do break them up, they hold a grudge and will rip through wire mesh to get to their new nemesis.  Boys!  They cause such trouble!
  6. Their manure is like brown gold…full of nutrients and does not require any composting prior to adding to garden beds (unlike chicken manure, which is too “hot” with nitrogen to be directly added and requires “resting” prior to using as a fertilizer).  Also, their manure is apparently like candies to dogs…we are pretty sure this made up our dog’s primary diet for most of the summer.  Yuck.

 

So there…I hope I just told you all that you wanted (or didn’t even know that you wanted) to know about raising meat rabbits!  And, if you ever find yourself with some rabbit meat, here is our favorite way to prepare it…

 

ingredients for grilled lemon-garlic rabbit marinade marinade for lemon-garlic rabbitrabbit pieces in lemon-garlic marinade 

 

Grilled Lemon-Garlic Rabbit Wrapped in Bacon
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Ingredients
  1. 2 medium rabbits, cut into pieces (ours were about 3 lbs each)
  2. 1 handful fresh thyme and rosemary leaves
  3. 6 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
  4. Olive oil
  5. 1 lemon, zested and juiced
  6. 1 teaspoon honey
  7. 3/4 lb bacon
Instructions
  1. Using a mortar and pestle (because it’s fun) or a small food processor, grind up the fresh herbs with the garlic and lemon zest.
  2. Transfer to a small bowl and whisk in the olive oil, lemon juice, and honey.
  3. Place the rabbit pieces in a glass dish and pour the marinade over top. Cover and refrigerate all day (or as long as you have until dinner).
  4. About an hour before dinner, fire up the grill on medium heat and take the meat out of the refrigerator and remove from the marinade.
  5. Wrap one or two slices of bacon around as many pieces as you can and secure them with toothpicks. Try to at least wrap up the loin and back leg pieces. The front legs are very small and the belly doesn’t need it because it’s considered “rabbit bacon” all on its own.
  6. Grill over medium heat for about 10-20 minutes, turning often and removing the smaller pieces first as they are cooked through. The belly and front legs will cook rather quickly and the thicker pieces with bones will take a bit longer.
  7. Serve with your favorite seasonal veggies. (We used roasted acorn squash from our local CSA and some peas from a bag in the freezer section of our grocery store. Hey, we do our best but we sure love green peas and haven’t found a good way to buy, harvest, or preserve peas from a local source. It was our 4-year old’s idea to serve the peas inside of the acorn squash halves and everyone loved it!)
Notes
  1. You could also prepare this recipe in the oven at 400°F by roasting for the same amount of time. Be sure to keep an eye on the meat so that it doesn’t get overcooked. You may want to turn it a couple of times during the roasting process and you could even baste the meat with the leftover marinade.
  2. Serves: 6-8
Life From Scratch http://lifefromscratch.com/

P.S…you can find excellent instructions on how to cut up a rabbit here, if you find yourself in such a situation…

http://honest-food.net/2010/05/19/how-to-cut-up-a-rabbit/

 

homemade spinach and sausage frittata with fresh eggs from our chickens

April showers bring…Spring Recipes!!

Spring is here!  While we nearly got washed away by about 3-4″ of rain this week, we are still so happy that spring has finally sprung.  I get so excited about the arrival of spring, even more so now that we try to eat seasonally and locally as much as possible.  Even with canning and freezing as many summer fruits and vegetables as we can, we are usually tired of winter soups and stews and the general lack of fresh foods by the time March rolls around, especially after the winter that we just had.  So once the weather turns warmer, I start counting the days until we will have fresh asparagus, spinach, leeks, rhubarb….mmmm!

 

One of my all-time favorite spring recipes (or just anytime recipe, really) is a frittata.  I think the idea of a frittata is too often overlooked or underused as a family dinner.  I love to make frittatas for three reasons:  I can use our fresh eggs, the recipe is fairly simple and quick to make on a weeknight, and the recipe is super flexible and I can always come up with a yummy version with whatever I have on hand that day.  The basic steps are as follows:

 

  1. Start by cooking the meat in the pan (bacon, sausage, ham…)
  2. Remove the meat and cook any garlic, onions, leeks, potatoes, or other vegetables in the same pan
  3. Add fresh greens on top and cook gently to wilt (spinach, chard, kale…)
  4. Pour your egg mixture on top (eggs, milk or cream, cheese, salt and pepper, fresh herbs…)
  5. Top with extra cheese, if desired, and cook/bake until set
  6. Enjoy!!

 

Below is a full recipe to follow if you want to give it a try. As you can see, this recipe can be made with ALL local ingredients, which I love!!

 

Sausage and Spinach Frittata
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Ingredients
  1. *8 large eggs*
  2. *1/4 cup heavy cream*
  3. 2 tablespoons olive oil (or substitute *bacon fat* or *lard* from a local butcher or farmer!)
  4. *3/4 pound mild Italian sausages*
  5. *1/2 cup green onions (or leeks)*, minced
  6. *3/4 pound fresh spinach*, chopped
  7. *1/4 cup crumbled goat cheese*
  8. (*local ingredients*)
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
  2. Beat eggs with heavy cream until smooth. Season with salt and pepper, to taste. Set aside.
  3. In a large ovenproof skillet, heat half of the olive oil over moderately high heat. Remove the sausage from its casing and cook, breaking the sausage up into small pieces, until browned and cooked through, about 5 minutes. Transfer to a plate.
  4. Add remaining olive oil (if necessary) and return skillet to moderate heat. Cook the onions for about 2 minutes and then add spinach, tossing constantly, until softened, about 2 more minutes. Stir the sausage back in the skillet. Pour egg mixture on top of sausage and spinach and cook over moderate heat for 1 minute. Gently lift the edge of the frittata and tilt the pan, allowing some of the uncooked egg to seep underneath. Cook until the bottom and sides are barely set, about 3-5 minutes.
  5. Sprinkle with goat cheese and bake until the eggs are set and the top of the frittata is lightly browned, about 10 minutes. Slide the frittata onto a large plate, cut into wedges and serve hot or warm.
Life From Scratch http://lifefromscratch.com/

 

If you are like me, and love the fresh flavors that the new season brings, here are some other great ways to use seasonal ingredients or fire up the grill this spring. 

  •  Spring Abundance Bowl – again, this is another great basic recipe where you can substitute any seasonal ingredients that you have on hand that day – easy to make, super yummy, and can be different every time you make it! (By the way, the pickled radishes in Sarah’s post are also easy and delicious on their own. My 4-year old son helped me to make a batch for our family Easter dinner and we loved them!  Our kids have pretty diverse palettes, but even we never imagined our kids eating radishes, so you can imagine how tasty these are…)
  • Burgers on the grill – we love this simple recipe from the book, Make the Bread, Buy the Butter, by Jennifer Reese: For every pound of ground chuck, add:
    • 1 Tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
    • Pinch of cayenne pepper
    • 1/3 cup bread crumbs (more to come on how to make your own later…)
    • 1/4 teaspoon salt
    • Pinch of black pepper
    • 1 large egg
  •  And of course there is a pizza recipe…we love homemade pizza!  Here is a great one for spring…

homemade pizza with spinach, caramelized onion, and bacon

Spinach, Caramelized Onion, and Bacon Pizza
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Ingredients
  1. 1 batch of your favorite whole wheat dough recipe (I make mine in the bread maker)
  2. *6 bacon slices*, chopped
  3. *10 oz fresh spinach*
  4. *2 cups onion*, sliced
  5. pinch of salt
  6. *2 teaspoons honey*
  7. *1 Tablespoon butter*
  8. *2 garlic cloves*, minced
  9. 3 Tablespoons wheat flour
  10. 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  11. *1 cup whole milk*
  12. 1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  13. (*local ingredients*)
Instructions
  1. To prepare toppings, cook bacon in a skillet over medium heat until crisp. Remove bacon from pan and set aside. Add spinach leaves to bacon fat in pan and sauté 2 minutes or until wilted. Remove spinach from pan and try to remove any excess liquid by pressing in a strainer or squeezing in a towel, if necessary. Add onions, a pinch of salt, and honey to the pan and cook for 10-12 minutes or until golden brown, stirring frequently. Remove from heat and cool.
  2. Melt butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add garlic and cook for 2 minutes, stirring frequently. Add flour and pepper and cook, stirring with a whisk, for about 30 seconds. Gradually add the milk, stirring constantly with the whisk. Cook for 5 minutes more or until thick and bubbly, still stirring constantly with the whisk.
  3. Place pizza stone in oven (I highly recommend a pizza stone!) and preheat to 425°F about a half hour before you are ready to bake the pizza.
  4. Roll dough out on a floured surface to desired shape. Crimp edges of dough with fingers to make a crust, if desired. (Optional: I like to prebake my crust for 3 minutes before adding the toppings.)
  5. Spread milk mixture evenly over dough and top with cooked spinach and caramelized onion. Sprinkle evenly with bacon and cheese. Bake an additional 7 minutes or until golden brown.
Notes
  1. If you are not using a pizza stone, you will want to heat the oven to 475°F, spread the dough onto an oiled baking sheet, and bake for much longer, probably around 20 minutes. But seriously, the pizza stone is well worth the investment!
Life From Scratch http://lifefromscratch.com/

Every night at the dinner table, our family sings a short prayer that begins with these words: “Thank you, Lord, for happy hearts and rain and sunny weather.” In spring, I am especially thankful for each of those things. May you enjoy the spring weather and have happy hearts today and every day!