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Practise urban homesteading with rabbit stew, purple loosestrife risotto recipes

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Michelle Catherine Nelson has parlayed her passion for food and the environment into a doctorate degree and a book about urban homesteading.

“I combined the food and interest in conservation to come up with this idea of homesteading because I feel really strongly about people being able to affect conservation in a positive way and be able to affect animals in a positive way through the way that they make food choices,” she says.

Her book, “The Urban Homesteading Cookbook: Forage, Farm, Ferment and Feast for a Better World,” is full of tips to spur even the most space-challenged urbanite to try foraging, preserving and fermenting. More adventurous readers may want to try their hand at raising micro-livestock (like rabbits, quail, honeybees and crickets).

“I wanted to make it really accessible for people and show that (my partner and I are) just a couple of people trying to do this ourselves and hopefully that encourages other people to try it too.

“It might seem intimidating because the book is full of all kinds of different things. Pick one recipe that seems interesting and try it.”

Here are some recipes from the book to try.

RABBIT AND KALE STEW

Nelson and her mother created this recipe, adapted from a much-loved pot pie the family has enjoyed for many years.

“The first time we created this was after dispatching our first meat rabbits at my parents’ house with the help of my experienced and patient dad. In the end, we had a hearty meal from homegrown perennial kale and the healthy meat of rabbits we knew had lived a happy life and were humanely treated,” Nelson writes.

“We celebrated the success of our urban rabbit farming and my parents’ 40th wedding anniversary with a lovely evening of rabbit stew, red wine and family reminiscing.”

1 rabbit (about 1.5 to 1.8 kg/3 to 4 lb dressed)

15 ml (1 tbsp) salt

2 stalks celery, chopped

2 bay leaves

2 large onions

5 carrots, chopped

1 bunch kale, chopped

50 ml (1/4 cup) butter

50 ml (1/4 cup) flour

2 ml (1/2 tsp) salt

5 ml (1 tsp) Worcestershire sauce

In a large stew pot, place rabbit meat, salt, celery, bay leaves and one whole onion; fill pot with water to barely cover meat. Simmer until meat falls off bone, about 1 hour and 30 minutes.

Remove pot from heat, let cool slightly and strain solid ingredients from stock. Set aside 500 ml (2 cups) of the stock for the roux and return remainder to stew pot. Let meat cool, then remove bones. Compost remaining solids.

Chop second onion. Return meat to stew pot along with chopped onion and carrots. Simmer for another 20 minutes until carrots are tender, adding chopped kale for the last 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, to thicken stew, make a roux: In a saucepan, heat butter on medium heat and whisk in flour; cook for 2 to 3 minutes. Slowly add reserved stock, stirring constantly as it thickens to prevent lumps. Add salt and Worcestershire. Simmer for another few minutes until sauce is thickened. Stir sauce into mixture in stew pot and simmer for another 2 minutes to blend and heat through.

Makes 8 servings.

CREAMY BRAISED PURPLE LOOSESTRIFE & MUSHROOM RISOTTO

Risotto is a wonderful way to enjoy the deep, earthy taste of mushrooms combined with the green taste of purple loosestrife.

A very invasive plant in wetlands across North America, purple loosestrife is edible. The leaves cook much like spinach.

Serve this hearty recipe with a fresh kale salad.

750 ml (3 cups) chopped purple loosestrife leaves

30 ml (2 tbsp) olive oil

120 ml (8 tbsp) butter, divided

1 medium onion, chopped

2 cloves garlic, minced

Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

125 ml (1/2 cup) water

500 g (1 lb) fresh mushrooms

1.7 to 2.1 l (7 to 9 cups) Rabbit Stock (see recipe above) or quail or chicken stock, divided

625 ml (2 1/2 cups) arborio rice

125 ml (1/2 cup) dry white wine

125 ml (1/2 cup) dry vermouth

50 ml (1/4 cup) shredded Parmesan cheese

Prepare loosestrife by removing any woody stems from leaves and rinsing.

In a large pot or Dutch oven, heat olive oil and 30 ml (2 tbsp) of the butter over medium heat. Add onion and garlic and cook until translucent. Stir in loosestrife and season with salt and pepper. Add water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 3 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a large skillet, saute mushrooms in butter over medium heat until tender and beginning to brown, 3 to 4 minutes. Set aside.

Once loosestrife is tender, add 750 ml (3 cups) stock and bring to a simmer. Add rice and stir for 3 to 4 minutes. Add white wine and vermouth and stir until liquid is absorbed, about 1 minute. Continue to add stock 125 ml (1/2 cup) at a time, stirring until absorbed each time, until rice is tender but firm and risotto is creamy, 10 to 15 minutes (add sauteed mushrooms halfway through cooking). Stir in cheese, reserving some for garnish.

Transfer to serving bowl and top with shredded cheese.

Makes 4 servings for dinner.

SUN-DRIED TOMATOES WITH ROSEMARY IN OLIVE OIL

Sun-drying concentrates the essence of tomatoes and their sweetness pairs perfectly with the pungency of rosemary.

4.5 kg (10 lb) tomatoes (Roma or cherry work best)

4 sprigs rosemary

125 ml (1/2 cup) vinegar (any kind)

500 ml (2 cups) good-quality extra-virgin olive oil

Cut tomatoes in half. Place cut side up on drying tray with rosemary sprigs. Lay in a single layer on a baking dish, and cover with breathable cloth (such as cheesecloth) to prevent insects from getting at them. Place in full sun with good air circulation (on a patio railing works well). Taste periodically until fully dried, which may take a few hours to a few days, depending on temperature, humidity and thickness.

Dip dried tomatoes in vinegar, then fill 4 clean 125-ml (1/2-cup) glass jars with a quarter of the dried tomatoes and sprig of rosemary in each. Fill with olive oil. Top with seals and lids and store in a cool, dark place or refrigerator for up to 3 months.

Makes four 125-ml (1/2-cup) jars.

Source: “The Urban Homesteading Cookbook: Forage, Farm, Ferment and Feast for a Better World” by Michelle Catherine Nelson (Douglas & McIntyre, 2015).

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