Tag Archives: beef

Ethical Omnivores

I started writing this post as a means of explaining what I’ve learned about cooking with sustainably-raised meats since November, when we butchered the pigs and also purchased 1/4 of a cow.  However, this post turned into a discussion of our food choices, and I’ll write about the changes I’ve made to my cooking in a future post.

A few years back, I started realizing that there were major problems with the meat industry.  I remember watching news reports about E. coli outbreaks and seeing the disgusting conditions in the processing plants.  I felt like my only choices were to buy the conventional meat at the grocery store or become a vegetarian.  However, I now understand that becoming a vegetarian is not the only answer to solving the environmental and ethical problems associated with eating meat.  In fact, I prefer to vote with my dollars by buying meat that is produced according to my values.

As a life-long animal lover, I absolutely believe that the animals we choose to eat should be treated humanely, even loved by their owners, and I know that is not the case with industrially raised animals.  Therefore, we choose to eat animals that we know have lived under humane conditions.  We trust the labels at the grocery store less and less, and instead prefer to trust people we know.

I’ve developed a set of ethics for our meat choices, based on our own values.  This isn’t so much a heirarchy, but more a set of guidelines that I like to follow.

  1. Raised, caught, or hunted by family or friends.
  2. Locally and sustainably raised.
  3. Raised without hormones or antibiotics.
  4. Use the whole animals, since that will translate into fewer animals overall.
  5. Limit meat to one meal each day on most days.

Ed and I are true omnivores, meaning that we eat a wide variety of foods, including many different kinds of meats.  These are the choices we make, based on location and availability of each of the following meats.

Fish and Shellfish

  • Clams and Oysters- Ed’s brother’s aquaculture business makes this one easy.  They raise clams and oysters, or will dredge for wild clams.
  • Scallops and Lobster- We have friends in Maine who are fishermen, and when anyone from Ed’s family visits them they bring home lobsters and scallops.  We have some scallops in the freezer, but eat the lobsters fresh a few times each year.  I’m allergic to lobster, so that limits how often Ed eats them, but I’m always happy for scallops.
  • Fish-  Ed and his brother love to go salt water fishing.  They’ll catch a surplus in the summer and we fill our freezer with blackfish, porgies, sole, flounder and other fish from the Sound.  I’ve cut back on the amount of fish I eat since taking my course on Long Island Sound and learning that women of reproductive age shouldn’t eat too much of these fish due to possible contamination with mercury.  I do love fish, however, so we make sure to eat low on the food chain and limit fish to no more than one meal per week, often less.
  • Other seafood- We rarely eat other fish or shellfish, since we don’t have a local or sustainable source for them.  We will eat wild Alaskan salmon a few times a year when it’s in season, and Ed will eat shrimp (I’m allergic to them, too) around the holidays when shrimp cocktail is at all the parties.

Poultry

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  • Turkey- Ed’s family has started raising turkeys this year, and I’m excited to have a local source of turkey that was raised humanely and ethically.
  • Chicken- Chicken has been our big problem.  We don’t know any local chicken farmers and haven’t seen it at any of the local farmer’s markets.  I buy the store brand chicken that is raised without hormones and antibiotics, because this is the best option available to us right now.  We eat chicken about once each week.  I try to buy the whole bird since the price is much cheaper, or I buy bone-in, skin-on breasts, thighs and legs, and often save the bones for stock. 
  • Other poultry- We will have cornish hens rarely, maybe once each year when I see them on sale in the grocery store.

Pork

  • This is an easy one.  Ed’s family raises pigs, and we have a bunch of pork in our freezer.  The bone-in pork chops are amazing and taste nothing like the bland white ones I used to buy in the grocery store.  The big change for me has been learning to cook the different roasts, sausage, bacon and ham.  As I write this I think of all the ham in the freezer that I’ll need to use up by next November.  Anybody have some ideas for good ham recipes?

Beef

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  • We got 1/4 of a cow from Ed’s cousin and split it with Chris and Melissa.  We bought this meat because we know how the cows were raised.  Like with the pork, I’ve been learning to cook different cuts of meat that I never made before.  Ground beef recipes, since that was what we got the most of, have been staples around here.  Stews, roasts and soups have also been weekly regulars.  The round eye roast in the slow cooker right now was the inspiration for this post.  I’ve realized that the NY Strip Steaks and Rib-Eye steaks Ed loved so much before aren’t the best choice for sustainability, since they represent only a small fraction of the cow.

Dairy and Eggs

  • Milk- I buy a brand from a co-op of Connecticut family farmers who do not use hormones or antibiotics.  I am most comfortable with pasteurized milk, so that is what I buy.
  • Cheese- I love to get cheese from the farmer’s markets.  The cheddars, ricottas, and fresh white flavored cheeses are delicious but also expensive, so I’m learning to make my own cheese.  So far, I’ve only mastered ricotta, but I’m hoping to learn more as time goes on.  I’ll also buy cheese produced throughout New England at the regular grocery store.
  • Butter- I choose to buy butter from a New England company.
  • Yogurt- Ed loves to take yogurt with his lunch, but I buy a big container of antibiotic and hormone free yogurt instead of the one-serving containers to limit plastic waste.
  • Eggs- Ed and I have put our plans for chickens on hold until next year, since his schedule now that clamming season is back in full swing doesn’t allow for a lot of time to build a coop.  I buy eggs from the same brand as the milk we get, and they’re from family farms in Connecticut.  I love their dark orange yolks, but they fly off the store shelves, so when they’re not available I buy eggs from the traditional farm in the next town over.

Other Meats

  • Venison and Fowl-  We will occasionally eat deer, moose, caribou, or any type of fowl that has been hunted by Ed or a family member or friend.  This is a rare occasion now, but in the past Ed used to hunt more often. 
  • Going Out- When we go out to eat (which is pretty rare!) or to a friend or family member’s house, we tend to drop the rules.  I try to eat what’s in season and fresh, but sometimes we just get what we get.

I hope you enjoyed reading about our choices for eating meat in a humane, sustainable way.  I am sure that there are plenty of people that don’t agree with my choices.  The important thing to me is that we are all able to make our own choices.  I understand that this is a controvercial topic, but I hope that we can have a respectful conversation about it.  Please share your choices in the comments.

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Food Budget Update and a Quick & Easy Pantry Recipe

Today, I did my shopping for the week.  By participating in Crunchy Chicken’s Sustainable Food Budget Challenge, I’m trying to keep our food costs for the month of April to $323

We do focus on preserving foods, and so we have started with beef, pork, fish, scallops, chicken stock and lobster stock in the freezer.  I also have flour, sugar, cornmeal, yeast, jams, maple syrup, honey, and various canned items in the pantry.

I started the day’s shopping at the Dudley Farmer’s Market, which is held on the first Saturday of the month in the off-season.  I was disappointed that NOBODY there had any vegetables at all, and since I know one of the growers has a greenhouse, I was hoping for lettuce.  Oh well.  I did buy a baguette and a carrot-cake muffin for Ed, for a total of $4.25.  Since I couldn’t get much there, I had to go to the grocery store.

At the grocery store, I bought pears, carrots**, potatoes, lettuce**, lemons, onions, chicken**, sandwich bread**, milk*, eggs*, buttermilk, butter**, cream, canned tomatoes**, tomato paste, cheese, yogurt**, canola oil**, brownie mix**, coffee, canned soup, cereal**, granola bars**, rice**, and Pirate’s Booty**, enough to last us approximately a week and a half to two weeks, depending on what I decide to cook. (*=local, **=sustainably raised and/or organic and/or eco-farmed and/or natural).  I bought extras of the dry goods and canned goods to try to stock the pantry.  Unfortunately, I forgot to buy the penne that I planned to make for supper, but we were headed out anyway so I ran in and grabbed a couple boxes.  The total from the grocery store came to $132.95.

That brings me to a total of $137.20 spent on food today, which leaves only $185.80 for the rest of the month.  I really don’t think we’ll make the goal for the month, but keeping track of spending is an interesting exercise.  I’d like to try this again in the summer when our garden is producing, my family is is growing many different fruits and veggies, and Ed’s family is fishing and shellfishing.  I have a feeling our grocery budget will really drop then!

And now for the recipe promised! Last night, we were running low on food but I didn’t want to order out or go to the store.  I thawed out a pound of ground beef, and then did a food network search for Rachael Ray recipes with ground beef, since she’s so creative and often has recipes to use items from the pantry.  I was inspired by her Mexican Deep Dish Pizza with cornbread crust, and made my own version.  It was really yummy, and great comfort food.  Here’s my version.

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  • double batch Johnnycake cornbread batter (my recipe)
  • 1 lb ground beef
  • 1 1/2 cups salsa
  • 2 cups shredded pepper jack cheese

Preheat oven to 350°F.  Prepare cornmeal batter and pour into a buttered 12″ cast iron skillet.  Bake for 20 minutes until almost cooked through.  Meanwhile, brown ground beef in a skillet, then mix in the salsa and heat through.  Take the cornbread out of the oven and pour the beef on top, spreading it evenly.  Top with cheese and bake 10-15 minutes more until the cornbread is completely cooked and cheese is melted.  Note: you can reduce the cornbread to a single batch if you don’t want it as thick.

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Beef Vegetable Soup

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I made a delicious pot roast on Monday in the slow cooker using Laura’s recipe for Carbonade de Boueff à la Flamande, substituting rump roast for chuck roast.  While I can’t pronounce that name, it sure looks nicer than what I’d call it: rump roast cooked in beer with onions, and it was really good and tender.  I wonder if it was the beer? I’ve never cooked with beer before, but I figured it was worth a try, and it turned out really good.  There was no taste from the beer (good… since I HATE the smell and taste of alcohol), the meat was just really tender. 

However, Ed and I can only eat so much pot roast, so there were quite a bit of leftovers.  I was so sick and tired of being cold that I decided to make some homemade rolls and beef vegetable soup.

It was really easy.  I cubed up the cooked roast and put that in a pot with the juices I saved from cooking it.  I then added diced red potatoes, chopped garlic cloves, a 12 ounce can of crushed tomatoes and water to cover it.  I would have added carrots but I’m out, since I’ve been feeding them to a certain special horse lately.  I let the pot simmer for about 30 minutes, then added in some thawed corn and green beans that I froze last summer and brought it back up to a simmer for another 30 minutes, then seasoned with salt and pepper.  I can see myself using this recipe a lot, with whatever vegetables I have on hand.

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Beef Stew with Dumplings

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Beef Stew

  • 1″ thick beef chuck steak cut into 2″ chunks, or 2 lbs stew meat
  • 2 Tbsp flour
  • salt and pepper
  • 3 peeled and crushed garlic cloves
  • 3 sprigs of thyme
  • 4 cups water
  • 1 Tbsp Worcestershire sauce
  • 4 medium potatoes, peeled and cut in cubes
  • 3 carrots, peeled and cut into chunks

Coat the beef in flour and sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Brown over medium heat in a large Dutch oven.  Add the garlic cloves and thyme leaves, then pour in the water and Worcestershire sauce.  Bring up a simmer while scraping the browned bits off the bottom of the pan.  Cover and put in a 300°F oven for 1 hour.  Remove from the oven and add potatoes and carrots.  Stir and put back in the oven for another 2 hours, until the meat is tender and the vegetables are soft.

Dumplings

  • 1 cup flour
  • 1/2 Tbsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 2 Tbsp melted butter
  • 1/2 cup milk

Combine all ingredients.  Drop by rounded tablespoon into the simmering stew, then cover and bake for another 15 minutes.

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Christmas Eve Prime Rib

rib roast

I used to be really intimidated and think that prime rib was very difficult to make.  When I finally made it, I was so surprised by how easy it was.  Now, this is our traditional meal for Christmas Eve, when we celebrate with my parents, brothers, and grandmother Mema.  Technically, this is a beef rib roast, as the “prime” cuts all go to restaurants and we buy “choice” from the butcher, but we call it prime rib anyway.  I figured I’d post the recipe a little early, since people might want to try it for the holidays, and since I wanted to refresh my memory of how to cook it for when I go shopping this weekend.  A rule of thumb will be one rib to feed two people, but I know the big guys in my family like a rib each, so I bought a 5 rib roast last year.  There were plenty of leftovers and the dogs loved the bones.  (A good rule is to not give them more than one.  Last year the dogs were sick all over our very new house on Christmas Eve).

Beef Rib Roast

  • a 3 or 4 rib roast, 6-8 lbs
  • 5 smashed garlic cloves
  • 1/2 cup prepared horseradish
  • 1/2 cup sea salt
  • 1/4 cup cracked black peppercorns
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 2 halved garlic heads
  • 2 carrots, cut in large chunks
  • 2 parsnips, cut in large chunks
  • 1 halved red onion

Lay the beef, bone side down, in a large roasting pan.  The bones will act as a rack as it roasts.  Mash together the garlic, salt, pepper, horseradish and oil.  Rub this mixture all over the roast.  Scatter the garlic heads, carrots, parsnips, and red onion all around the roast.  Roast at 350°F for 20 minutes per pound until the internal temperature is 125 in the middle for medium rare.  Remove the roast to a large cutting board and let rest for 10 minutes.

To carve, you can cut off all of the ribs and slice, or slice and serve with the bone.  This roast is especially nice served with horseradish sauce (combine equal parts sour cream and prepared horseradish), sauteed mushrooms, roasted carrots, mashed potatoes and creamed spinach.  This makes a very special meal for Christmas Eve, Christmas, New Year’s Eve, or any other special occasion.

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A Look in Our Freezer

christmas-tree-006When we bought a new freezer this fall, I was worried that it was way too big and we’d never fill it, even though the freezer of our refrigerator was full with veggies, homemade stock, and fruit waiting to be baked into pies.  In the last two months, we’ve filled it up the new freezer quite a bit. 

We have fish that Ed and his brother Chris caught over the summer.  We both love blackfish, and that’s mostly what’s in the freezer.

We have 3/4 of a pig.  We just got back the smoked hams, bacon and sausage, in addition to the pork chops, roasts, ribs and tenderloin.

We have 1/8 of a cow (we split 1/4 with Chris and Melissa).  Lots of ground beef and some roasts and steaks are just waiting to be thawed and cooked.  We just got the beef from Ed’s cousin John and his wife Kris.  They moved from Ed’s hometown to upstate NY to try to make a go at raising beef.  Ed and I are really happy that we got the beef from them because now we know where more of our food is coming from and we’ve gotten away from industrial beef.  Not to mention the fact that we’re supporting a small family farm.

In the future, we hope to be able to get even more of our food locally.  My family and our garden are able to supply almost all of the produce we need.  Ed and I are also planning to plant some fruit trees in the spring.  Ed’s family is planning to get more pigs next year and add turkeys into the mix.  Ed and I are even discussing getting some laying hens someday when we build our barn.  I’m not a big fan of chickens, but I do like eggs.  We’d also like to build a small greenhouse off of our barn for me to start seedlings and grow even more fresh veggies all year.  We can dream, right?

I’d love to hear about changes you’ve made (or traditions you’ve continued) to eat locally.

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