Tag Archives: beef

a farmer’s optimism: feta and herb meatballs with roasted red pepper and chard conchiglie (as seen my my iphone)

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“The farmer has to be an optimist, or he wouldn’t still be a farmer.”           — Will Rodgers

It’s absolutely bucketing outside – the kind of rain that recalls the old ‘cats and dogs’ idiom; the sort that keeps you from attending a yoga class you’d virtuously scheduled into your day for fear of getting ‘soaked to the bone’ while racing from car to studio, and the type that commands warm socks and your favorite hoodie as the only acceptable attire.

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For those of you that do not live in Southern California, and for me, previously, at various (well, most) points in my life, this kind of rain is usually a bummer.  Maybe it’s just that you tend to remember these sort of negative things, but in my memories, heavy rain – or any bad weather, really – has an unfortunate tendency of picking up just as a plane carrying your best friend touches down for a weekend visit, or on the very weekend that you were planning a backyard fete.  You know what I mean – inclement weather always seems to happen right at the wrong time.

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But this time, that couldn’t be further from the truth.  We’re settled into our new house in Santa Barbara, the last of the scuffed-up and tape-heavy corrugated boxes have been broken down and hauled away, and we’re having our inaugural rainfall.  Not just any old rainfall though – a rainfall that has been hoped, prayed, and danced for by anyone and everyone in the state of drier-than-bone-dry-California (and my Mother, way across the country on Cape Cod, who has been anxiously watching the storm crawl across the doppler for the better part of a week!)

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Here in unusually hot and sunny California – and particularly in South – we’ve managed to get ourselves in a real predicament as far as the water supply is concerned….or complete lack thereof, I should say. Upon the first fat drops hitting the roof you could hear a collective squeal of joy, and when you live on an avocado farm – one that has become increasingly sunburnt and parched under this ultra-sunny Winter sky – a few days of much needed soaking feels like hitting the jackpot.

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Of course a few days of rain will do anything but solve the drought – it’s a huge help, that’s no question – but we are doing everything in our power to conserve, conserve, conserve around here.  That means a 5 gallon bucket in the shower to catch the first few chilly minutes (which in turn gets dumped on the roses), being aware of and reducing the flow when washing dishes and brushing teeth, setting dishwashers and washing machines to their express settings (read: faster and still totally adequate), and recalling the old hippie mantra, “If it’s yellow….”

Crunchy stuff, right?

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from pauper to prince: boeuf bourguignon with buttermilk white sweet potato smash

boeuf bourguignon with buttermilk white sweet potato smash

In a departure from some decidedly puritan vegan brown rice bowls, It’s high time to defer to something a bit more hedonistic.

boeuf bourguignon - seasoned beef

It is November – the thick of it – after all, and with the covers of this months cooking mags plastered with the most perfectly burnished and shellacked turkey specimens one has ever laid eyes on, it’s only natural that my gears are wont to shift over and down from virtuous vegetables and principled brown rice to a massive crock of something rich, dark, and utterly savory.

boeuf bourguignon - crisped up edges

Totally outside of how this boeuf bourguignon tastes (I’ll get to that in just a minute), the way it instantly cozifies your house with an absolutely intoxicating scent is almost reason enough in itself to get ye to thine grocery market to procure the items necessary to get on your merry way to Bourguignon Nirvana. (I can assure you there is such a place.)

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insignificant as they might be: old school spaghetti and meatballs and a simple tomato sauce (with lamb, pork, and beef)

the best old school spaghetti and meatballs and a simple tomato sauce, by cory at eatandrelish.com

I was all set yesterday to tell you about one of my favorite things to make and eat when  I crave something simple, nostalgic, and just so freaking tasty, but then….suddenly these meatballs just weren’t important anymore.  There is nothing more to say that hasn’t already been said about the tragic events of yesterday, and I can’t pretend to be eloquent enough to put into proper words that sick feeling we all carry in our guts, or the fiery rage we have yet to be able to direct at any one person or organization.

whol garlic ready to be minced

A marathon runner, I am most definitely am not, but being from Cape Cod, the Boston Marathon is an event that I grew up with, and one that has served as a point of pride and celebration for Bostonians and Massachusetts residents alike.  At any marathon, there are of course the elite competitors, those more casual “weekend warrior” athletes, the yearly pacemakers and medal collectors, and the slew of first-timer-gotta-knock-it-off-the-ole-bucket-list runners. There are those who come to stand on the sidelines and cheer for someone who is running to support a cause that is dear to their hearts, and those who come every year to cheer for no one in particular, but instead for everyone who impressively puts their mental and physical reserves to the test by donning a number and vowing to finish.

starting to cook down the grated onion and tomato paste

The entire event encapsulates just so much good, and encourages and fosters a strong bond within the community; on Marathon Monday, it’s not just about physical fitness and the fanfare of winning a first place medal, but about the words of encouragement, the triumphant faces of those who’ve overcome and endured a massive  commitment, and the brotherhood that comes along with sharing a struggle. Essentially, so many things that make up the Boston way. The American way. For a monster to come in and senselessly and cowardly take that away from the runners, from Boston, and from all of us….is soul crushing.

bright green parsley

President Obama said today “If you want to know who we are, who America is, how we respond to evil — that’s it: selflessly, compassionately, unafraid.” I know my hometown of Boston is woven of a strong and hardy bunch, and that they will, eventually, recover.  Even still, it’s of little solace in sad times like these, and my heart and mind, along with the rest of the country, and the world, will continue to be with the people and families who were so deeply affected by this despicable and senseless act.

always lots of grated parmesan cheese

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tried & true: rustic country meatloaf

Knowing that meatloaf has the ability to conjure up images of grey spongy mystery meat or Will Ferrell in a cheap silk smoking jacket screaming his head off, coming to you exalting it’s praises is a bit risky.  It’s also a bit risky to ask you to make a ‘loaf’ made of meat when around here lately, it’s been all about things like broccolicarrots, lentils, and tofu.

But alas, here I am doing exactly that anyway, breaking all the healthy rules that I’ve promised to adhere in the 24 days that have passed since one crystal ball dropped down in one very famous square.

Resolutions, schmezolutions.  Don’t judge me.

It’s just that it’s been cold out and, well – I really love meatloaf; that poor ill-labeled classic whose name in itself is almost hard to say without cringing.  I think whoever came up with that nondescript moniker should be fired – it leaves too much to the imagination, in my opinion.  I want to know what ‘meat’ is in my loaf.

Am I right here?

In this case, there is no mistaking the provenance of the meat: there is organic beef, organic pork, and organic veal.  Though I can’t sit here with a straight face and even attempt to tell you that something made of meat, bound with eggs, studded and blanketed with bacon, and then glazed in a salty sweet mixture of vinegar and ketchup is exactly health food, I can sit here and tell you how amazing a thick warm slice of this meatloaf tastes on a freezing cold January night: positively perfect.

This is not your average dense and one-tracked meatloaf – oh no.  This freeform meatloaf is light and airy, with grass fed beef, pork, and a bit of tender veal, and speckled with silky bits of thick cut bacon which while cooking melt into the filling and help keep it moist.  The bright orange and green specks of soft sauteed carrots and celery add flavor without any crunch, and both onion and garlic hold court in the background, neither overpowering or overbearing.

So even though we are still eating plenty of things that are green, crunchy, and saintly in their nutritional accolades, occasionally I need to revert back to something tried and true: something that makes the house smell like a home, something perfect for the family dinner table, something that lends itself to being eaten while wearing a pair of broken in slippers.  (Or, you know, a cheap smoking jacket.)

Served with a pile of mashed yams or potatoes, this is comfort food at it’s finest.

Rustic Country Meatloaf
Serves 6, heartily

I’ve been making this rustic and rich meatloaf for years, and think it strikes the perfect balance between familiar yet fresh.  The key here is to try and get good quality meat; ground beef, pork, and veal is much less expensive than whole cuts, and getting good quality organic meat will make a difference you can taste.  If you are feeling particularly inspired, you could even grind your own.

I like to put a splash of fish sauce in my meatloaf; I think it adds that certain savory-umami flavor that I love so much. If you don’t have any, you can omit it without any ill effects – it will still be absolutely delicious.

I prefer this free-form style of meatloaf; the air can circulate around the loaf ensuring it cooks more evenly, it’s easier to slice, and the fat that inevitably comes out of the loaf can come out and flow to the sides (versus sitting in the fat if it was cooked in a deeper pan).

3/4 lb ground beef (grass fed if possible)
3/4 lb ground pork (organic, if possible)
1/4 lb ground veal (organic, if possible)
6 slices bacon (thick cut if possible)
1 carrot, finely chopped
2 celery ribs, finely chopped
1 white onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 cup bread crumbs (I like to use whole wheat)
2 Tbsp Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp fish sauce (optional)
1/3 cup ketchup + additional for serving
2 tsp sea salt
1 1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 Tbsp unsalted butter
1 Tbsp olive oil

glaze
1/2 cup ketchup
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1 Tbsp honey

Preheat oven to 375°F.  Make the glaze: in a medium bowl, whisk together the ketchup, balsamic, and honey.  Reserve to the side.  Line a shallow baking sheet with rimmed sides with parchment paper (this will make cleanup much easier; you can however skip this step if you like).

In a large heavy skillet over medium heat, melt the tablespoon of butter with the tablespoon of olive oil. Cook the onion, garlic, celery, and carrot in the butter and oil, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are softened and fragrant and the onion is translucent, about 8 minutes. While the vegetables cook, take 3 of the slices of bacon and cut them into a small dice. When the vegetables are done, let them sit for a couple of minutes off the heat to allow them to cool slightly.

In a large bowl, combine the ground beef, ground pork, and ground veal, breaking each compacted ball of meat apart into smaller chunks as you place it into the bowl to make it easier to combine. To the ground meat, add in the diced bacon and cooked vegetables, and then add in the beaten eggs, the breadcrumbs, the ketchup, the Worcestershire sauce, the fish sauce (if using), and the salt and pepper.

Using your hands, gently work through the mixture to combine it; you’ll want to use a gentle hand, as mushing and mashing the meat too much will make the meatloaf dense and heavy. Work your hands lightly through until the mixture is evenly combined.

Heat the skillet that you just cooked the vegetables in over medium-high heat. Take a small pinch of the meatloaf mixture, and fry it until it is cooked through. Taste it, and adjust seasoning to the rest of the meatloaf mixture (salt & pepper) as needed. This will ensure that your end product is not an under-seasoned surprise.

In the parchment lined baking pan, gently form the meat mixture into an oval shaped loaf, about 10 inches long and 5 inches wide. Slice the remaining 3 bacon strips in half lengthwise, so that you have 6 skinnier bacon strips. Lay the bacon strips over the meatloaf in a crosshatch pattern.

Using a pastry or marinade brush, brush the reserved glaze over the meatloaf. Bake the meatloaf at 375F for 1 hour, glazing with the remaining glaze twice, until the meatloaf is cooked through and registers 155F on a meat thermometer inserted in the center.

When the meatloaf is cooked, remove it from the oven and let it rest for a few minutes before slicing. Gently remove the slices of bacon over the top, and discard (or snack on, or feed to the dog — or hovering husband). Take care when slicing – it will be on the more tender/crumbly side, and using a spatula to help you gently lift the slices onto plates is helpful. Serve immediately, with ketchup on the side.

Bake meat loaf in oven 1 hour, or until a meat thermometer inserted in center registers 155°F.

dr jekyll & mr hyde: shepherd’s pie with pearl onions, shiitake mushrooms, and an herbed potato leek mash

So its October. You know this, right? That wonderful month of pumpkin carving, candy stockpiling, cider sipping, apple bobbing, and costume fine-tuning.  Well…..this year, somebody apparently didn’t get the memo.

When Sunday evening I saw this:

I woke up yesterday morning to see this:

Over a foot of thick, white, fluffy, frozen white stuff.  Yes.  SNOW!  Don’t get me wrong – I am just as excited for winter and snowmen and ski season as the next…but just a minute! It’s only October! Fall has just barely hurdled into play, and we still have Halloween and Thanksgiving on deck before Winter can even think about weaseling his wily way in.

This frosty turn of events is hard to wrap my head around; just this past Sunday the little red LCD in our dash boasted ‘eighty-one’, setting the stage for a wonderful tee-shirt clad evening stroll to take in the fiery show that this years foliage was bestowing upon us. On Monday, we relaxed with the back door and windows open, and enjoyed a glass of wine as we raked up the fallen leaves. (And by ‘raking leaves’ of course I mean watching one husband furiously rake whilst I played hide & seek, knocking over all the piles, with one pug.) I’ll admit I wasn’t taken totally off guard; I did see those little white flakes creep ominously onto the screen in my Weather.com app, but foolishly I decided to turn a blind eye – how could it snow when I’m still sliding on flip-flops and leaving my jacket hung up in the closet?

Well snow it did – to the tune of about fifteen inches.  “Welcome to Colorado!” is the chipper response that I’ve received from the more well-worn and weathered locals, after seeing my wrinkled nose and chattering teeth. In this state, I guess we have a sort of presto-change-o weather situation to deal with; a bit of a ‘Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde’ on our hands. Whereas one day we were debating whether or not to water the still bright green grass, the next we realized that a trip to McGuckin’s was in order for a snow-shovel and an ice-scraper. The power flickered in and out for nearly 7 hours, I’m pulling on my fur-lined snow boots each time I leave the house, and the Puglet still gives me the stink-eye when she is corkscrew deep in powder as I coo sweetly “go potty Winns!” Clearly she is in for a treat this winter.

But there has been some good to come out of this storm. I gobbled down a croissant and creamy coffee this morning without feeling a shred of guilt (you know, to keep warm), scratched the gym off my schedule (you know, because it’s totally movie watching weather), and remembered that I had a behemoth platter of shepherd’s pie ready and waiting to be heated up for dinner tonight in the fridge (a permissible bit of snow-day-stick-to-your-ribs fare, if you will). Shepherds pie is something I grew up eating quite often in the wintertime, and I am quite sure that every family who ate it has their own memories of what it entails. Some would say a traditional shepherd’s pie has ground lamb, but I grew up eating a version with ground beef, and that’s still how I love it today.

As soon as I saw the flakes I knew I wanted to make something simple, but satisfying and warm – after all, at it’s roots, shepherd’s pie is a true ‘meat and potatoes’ dish. While ‘meat and potatoes’ definitely is not a bad thing, I find that if it is too basic the final product is boring, without enough layers of flavor or types of vegetables. To dress up my pie and add a bit of refinement and interest, I added in pearl onions for a nice crunch, shiitake mushrooms for their chewy rich texture, and chopped tarragon and thyme to give a bright lift to the simple sauce. In addition to some bold red wine, a healthy glug of cream sherry* gives a sweet yet slightly acidic edge to the sauce, and works really well to give some dimension.  Finally, I stirred in peas stirred to add a snappy freshness, and to top it all off, a mash of potatoes, garlic, rosemary, and leeks sauteed in butter dress up what could just be a bland mashed potato topping.

The result is something familiar – yet totally different than you remember – at the same time. It’s savory and rich from the wine, stock, sherry, and beef, but not heavy; the sauce is light, and the bright colorful veggies in each bite keep it from feeling monotone.  As so many cozy fall and winter dishes lend themselves to quite nicely, this dish is especially wonderful for reheating as leftovers throughout the week. It tastes better – richer even – each day that it sits in waiting, and still fills your home with a cozy and delicious smell each time you reheat it. I made enough for six people, and we enjoyed trudging home in the snow each night knowing that we already had something delicious waiting for supper. This version of shepherd’s pie is recognizable, yet still fancy and delicious enough to serve to company. It’s not quite as ‘Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde” as the weather here has been, but it’s definitely a close second.

Happy Weekending!

*Cream sherry is something I have started to always have on hand. It sounds fussy to go out and buy a bottle of it for one recipe, but keep one in your cabinet and add it to cream sauces, use it to deglaze after sauteing meat or mushrooms, or stir a bit into a vegetable soup just before you add in the broth – it’s very versatile and adds so much with so little.

Shepherd’s Pie with Pearl Onions, Shiitake Mushrooms, and an Herbed Potato Mash
Adapted from the Illustrated Kitchen Bible, by Victoria Blashford-Snell
Serves 6, or 2 with leftovers for days

I used Victoria’s recipe as an outline; refer to the link for the original. Some of the changes I made: I added in pearled onions, peas, shiitake mushrooms, tarragon, thyme, and cream sherry. I upped the garlic, and added garlic and the rosemary called for in the filling instead to the potatoes. I omitted the parsley from the filling, and also doubled the Worcestershire. I also found that I needed more beef stock – I ended up using 1 ½ to get the consistency I wanted.

I find it’s hard to tell how much milk you need for mashed potatoes until you start mashing them; each potato contains different amounts of starch, so start with about ⅓ cup and scale up from there, adding milk as you need to, until the mash is a nice, spreadable consistency that still has good body to it.

for the mashed topping:
2 lb baking potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks (I used Yukon Golds)
2 large leeks, white and pale green parts only, split lengthwise, sliced
1/3 cup whole milk (plus additional as needed)
4 tbsp butter + 1 Tbsp for the leeks
1 tbsp chopped rosemary
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

for the filling:
1½ lb ground beef (I used 90% lean)
2 tbsp olive oil + additional as needed
7 oz (half of a bag) of frozen pearl onions
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 carrots, sliced
⅓ cup hearty red wine
⅓ cup cream sherry
2 tbsp all-purpose flour
1 ½ cups beef stock
2 tbsp chopped fresh tarragon (a small handful, chopped)
2 tbsp fresh thyme (the leaves of approx 10 sprigs)
2 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
generous salt & pepper to taste.

tools – 1 13 x 10” baking dish, or one of comparable size

To start, begin to prepare the potato topping (you can start to make the filling while you prepare the topping). Boil the potatoes in a large saucepan of salted water until almost tender, about 15 minutes. While the potatoes cook, heat 1 Tbsp of butter and a drizzle of olive oil over medium high heat in a small skillet. Saute the leeks until they are tender and just translucent, about 5 minutes. When the potatoes are cooked (a knife should pierce them easily), drain them, and return them to the pan you cooked them in, off the heat.

Mash the potatoes with a hand masher, and add in the butter, whole milk, rosemary, and salt and pepper. When the texture of the potatoes is smooth with just a few chunks (it can be rustic, but you want a generally smooth mash), taste for seasoning and adjust the salt and pepper. Stir in the sauteed leeks. Reserve the mashed potato-leek topping to the side.

Preheat the oven to 400°F. Heat a large frying pan over medium high heat, and saute the ground beef with a bit of olive oil until it is lightly browned and just cooked through, about 7 minutes. While it cooks, season it well with salt and pepper. When it is just cooked through, use a slotted spoon to transfer the beef to a medium bowl, and pour off any fat in the frying pan.

Heat approx 2 Tbsp olive oil in the same frying pan you cooked the beef in over medium heat, add the carrots and frozen pearl onions, and cook for about 5 minutes, until the carrots are softened and the onions are no longer frozen through. Add the ground beef back to the frying pan and add in the minced garlic. Stir constantly until the garlic is fragrant and translucent, about 2 minutes (take care not to let the garlic burn).

Add in the wine and cream sherry, and increase the heat to high. Cook for about 3 minutes, or until the wine and sherry has evaporated. Sprinkle the flour over the beef mixture, and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Then, stir in the stock, tarragon, thyme, and Worcestershire sauce. Stir well until the mixture is thickened and bubbling, about 2 minutes; the addition of the flour will help to thicken the sauce, and you should notice that the mixture is thicker with an almost creamy sauce binding it together. Finally, reduce the heat to low, and let simmer for 5 minutes. Taste the mixture, and season well with salt and pepper. Make sure the filling is well seasoned, as this is the last opportunity you will have.

Spread the filling in the bottom of a 13 x 10” baking dish (or similar size), and, using a spatula, spread the mashed potato topping over the top, making sure to spread it all the way to touch all of the sides of the pan. Bake in the oven for 30 minutes; the top should be slightly golden brown. If you would like, when it has finished cooking you can turn on the broiler to high and broil for a few minutes to achieve a golden brown crust – just take great care not to walk away or forget about it and burn it (this will happen very quickly on the broil setting).

Let the pie stand 5 minutes, then serve straight from the dish.

 

 

sweet redemption: beef stroganoff

Stop it right there. I know what you are thinking.

Beef Stroganoff.  Yeesh….I don’t want to make that.

But I really think you do!  Actually….I know you do.  This is delicious.   And inexpensive.  And easy!  It’s the perfect trifecta of dinner requirements.

I understand, though.  I realize that opening your browser and seeing the words Beef Stroganoff’ probably brings back deeply repressed dark memories of overcooked beef drowning in cans of wobbly and tasteless cream-of-something-soup atop gummy, overcooked noodles.  Served to death in elementary school cafeterias all over America, it was high in fat and low in inspiration.  I would shudder each time I would see it sloshing by, pooled in it’s compartment in those primary colored cordoned off lunch trays.   It was terrible.   And that’s not really fair – because like so many things that we have developed over-processed and unhealthy shortcuts for, at its roots beef stroganoff is a seriously easy and delicious classic Russian dish.

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ode to the long weekend: seared boneless ribeye with herbed compound butter

Realizing you’ve got a three day weekend on the horizon is right up there with finding fifty bucks in last years winter jacket, getting a free upgrade to first class, or agonizing between the chocolate torte and the caramel panna cotta – only to have the waitress bring you both, on the house.

In a word, it’s awesome.

Who decided that weekends should only be two days anyway? I for one am a much happier human after three full days without an alarm clock jarring me out of a precious REM cycle.  These dual-day bookends we’ve been dealt are much too hasty in my opinion, and just don’t cut it.  We’re lucky enough to have such a three day hiatus approaching this weekend, and it’s of the especially enjoyable ‘Monday Off’ variety.  Next week when it feels like a Wednesday but is actually a Thursday, I won’t be able to help myself from doing a little jig by the water cooler in celebration of the weeks shockingly quick duration (and yes…I do work in an office where we gossip at the proverbial ‘water cooler’).

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