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When Erik goes out of town there is one thing I do immediately after the door has clicked shut…

Dance naked.

Ha! Just kidding, nothing that daring.  Actually, I do probably the least sexy thing ever.

I make spaghetti.  Not ordinary spaghetti, though.  Technically it is a pasta with bolognese (because I don’t use spaghetti noodles, but that sounds too fancy).   I prefer to use rigatoni or penne, because I find the shape does better with a chunky sauce, and boy, do I like my bolognese chunky.

Stand-a-fork-up chunky and just-short-of-sloppy-joe meaty. It needs to be thick, tangy, meaty and salty.

Ah, my comfort food.  Someday I will share my throw-together method.  It usually takes me 45 minutes to prepare and results in a sauce that makes me happy.  But, yesterday, I looked up a recipe by Christopher Kimball in The Cook’s Bible, that took a bit longer. The whole process, start to finish, was closer to two and a half hours, but the hands on time was only about a half hour. The recipe claimed to produce a silky bolognese, by adding milk and cream to balance the tomatoes, and it was not wrong.  I wanted mine tangier, so I changed the recipe a bit.  I only used beef (because I didn’t have any pork defrosted); added tomato paste and the liquid from the canned tomatoes; and omitted the nutmeg, mace and the cream.

I had some for breakfast lunch (who eats spaghetti for breakfast? surely not me!) and it tasted even better today than it did last night – even cold, straight from the refrigerator (obviously, not at eight in the morning with a cup of tea).

Silky Bolognese
2 strips of bacon
1 tbls olive oil
1 tbls butter
1 onion, diced
2 carrots, peeled and diced (actually, I just scrubbed mine because I am lazy)
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 lb ground beef
1/2 cup of white wine
1 tsp of salt
2 tbsp tomato paste
1 tsp (LESS TO TASTE) of red pepper flakes
1/2 tsp dried basil
1/2 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp of sugar
2/3 cup of milk
1 29 oz can of whole tomatoes, chopped but with juices
1/4 cup of heavy cream (optional – I didn’t add it)
salt and pepper to taste

Okay, so brown the bacon over medium to medium-high heat. Once the fat is rendered, remove from pan and set aside for separate use. Dump all but 1 tbsp of grease (I actually didn’t need to dump the pan), add olive oil and butter. Next, add onions and carrots, cook for 8-10 minutes, until softened, but not browned (turn down heat if necessary). Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute, constantly stirring. Turn down the heat to med-low and add the ground beef and cook for 3-4 minutes. Once starting to brown, but still pink, add the wine and salt. Continue to cook for five minutes, stirring occasionally. Next, add the tomato paste, red pepper flakes, basil, oregano, sugar and milk. Cook for 15 minutes.

Add the can of chopped tomatoes and bring to a simmer (mine was on level 2 of my stove, more than low but far away from medium). Continue cooking for 1 1/2 hours. Taste for salt and pepper and stir in the cream.

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Sometimes, when I don’t update the ol blog, it is because I am eating out. A lot. Sometimes it is because I haven’t been cooking anything good or locally grown. Lately, I can not rely on the over-used excuses. I cook a ton and get the majority of my food at the farmers’ market. What gives? I think it might be a little thing called summer. Ah. Summer. You see, in summer, there is a thing called the sun. And if you live in Oregon it really only comes out a few months of the year – and every day is full of happiness, rainbows and miniature ponies. Apparently, I would rather be enjoying it than writing the blog.

But, since I do cook sometimes, I have been stock-piling things to share. I made some Asian-style short ribs recently that were fantastic. Usually I make a version that is a little more traditional, but I needed something with more zing for the warmer weather.

I searched the internet for options and found this recipe from Emeril. I changed it a bit, but I kept the core of his recipe by adding hoisin sauce, ginger, and orange juice to the braising liquid. Makes for a yummy combination.

Emeril suggested serving this over rice, but I chose a horseradish mashed potato (to make, just add a couple tablespoons or prepared horseradish when mashing).

The end result has a distinctly lighter flavor than my traditional, heavier short rib recipes – which means you can eat it in the summer while enjoying the SUN!

Asian-Style Short Ribs (Serves 6)

4 pounds beef short ribs, cut into 4-ounce portions
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup rice wine vinegar
3 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
3 (5-inch) stalk lemongrass, halved and smashed
2 Tbsp grated ginger
1/4 cup light brown sugar
2 cups of water
1/4 cup sliced green onion bottoms, white part only (save green parts for final presentation, if desired)
1 tsp hot sauce
1/4 cup fresh orange juice
1/4 cup hoisin sauce
2 Tbps fresh lemon juice

Preheat the oven for 350 degrees. Pat dry and then sprinkle the short ribs with salt and pepper. Heat the 2 Tbsp of oil in a heavy-bottomed pot (that can go in the oven) over med-high heat. Brown each side of the short ribs, turning after three to five minutes (be sure not to crowd the pan too much). After browning, combine soy sauce, vinegar, garlic, lemongrass, ginger, brown sugar, water, green onions, hot sauce, and 1/2 the orange juice into the pot and cover tightly. Place in the oven for about 3 hours, or until the meat falls off the bone.

Take the pan out of the oven and turn the heat up to 425. Remove the short ribs from the pan, but keep the braising liquid. Pour off the fat and place the rest of the liquid on the stove on medium-high. Add the hoisin sauce and bring to a boil until the liquid has reduced to about a cup. Discard solids and stir in the remaining orange juice and lemon juice. Return the meat to the pan, toss and heat in the oven for about 10 minutes.

Spoon meat and a little juice over a pile of mashed potatoes – adding the green onions if you wish.

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And now for the cow portion of our tour…

In my last post, I talked about how the chickens at Full of Life Farm are raised on fresh pastures, closely following the cattle who were there just days ahead of them, eating grass and being cows.

Farmer Bernard showed us six cows that had been mowing down the grass in a paddock for that day.

He moves the cows daily, to make sure they are eating the grass at the peak of its growing cycle and not over-indulging so that the grass can continue to grow.

His process to get the cows to move to a new field was a little shocking.

He takes down the wire that separates the paddocks, walks over, and says, “Come cows.”

“Come cows!”

And just like that, they walk over and start eating.  I have met dogs worse trained than those cows.  They probably know that the good grass is just on the other side of the fence, so are always willing to try out a new field.

Speaking of the greener grass, throughout the tour Bernard kept asking us to compare the portion of the field where the chickens were roosting to the cows side.  Their farm land had previously been leased to a non-organic nursery.  Traditional farming often creates very little humus in the dirt and when it rains the ground doesn’t hold the water – instead creates muddy pools, useless to the growing grass. He referred to the chicken side as a “desert,” which I thought to be a little extreme, but you can definitely tell a difference. Take a look at a picture from that side…

And then again at this side…

The “cow side” has been in the cattle/chicken rotation for a year, the “chicken side” for only a few months.  It is dramatic how much healthier the grass is, no? He said by next summer the land will be replenished and lush, full of nitrogen rich droppings and the grazing-cow benefits.

For the final portion of the tour, we were shown a cattle dog demonstration.  These dogs were obsessed with getting the cattle to the right place.

And, you’d think since the cows are so big and the dogs are so small they would have a hard time getting those cows to go the right way, but no-sir.

The cows do whatever those dogs say.  “Oh, you want me to go this way now. Ok. Don’t fear Master Dog. I will do whatever you want.”  I wonder if the dogs could get the cows to do other things… Like my laundry and clean my kitchen!

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On Saturday, I got the chance to visit Full of Life Farm, one of the farms where I like to buy meat. They had an open Farm Day – complete with tour, cattle dog presentation, and picnic (plus some meat-buying). Mostly, I went for the tour, because, though I have read a lot about pasture-based farming, I have never actually seen it in real life.

This post will just be about the chickens, and, boy, were there a lot of chickens.

On a farm that raises animals on pastures, these chickens play a vital role.  They have the important job of “cleaning” up the fields after the cows have moved.  The chickens eat larva planted in cow pies (gross) and fertilize the grass with their nitrogen-rich droppings (no one said farming was all pretty).

This is the Egg-Mobile, where the laying hens hang.

The Egg-Mobile, where the hens lay their eggs and the roosters crow, is conveniently set a few feet off the ground so that the manure drops through and no one has to clean it. Plus, it is easy to get at the eggs and put them in those convenient egg cartons I take home weekly.

The chickens, not surprisingly, were less than thrilled about having hordes of people staring in their house. In fact, some of them escaped out the back…

“Escaped” may be the wrong word, since the chickens can choose to go wherever they want. Instinctively, they come back in the evenings to roost.

Next, we moved on to where the “other” chickens live, you know, the ones that end up in my belly.  There are multiple chicken houses for birds in different stages of their lives.

Personally, I like the ones with the littlest chickens best.

They live in these little huts which keep them safe from owls and other predators, but allow them to get the most from the grass and outdoors. Every day, the huts are dragged a few dozen feet to a new part of the pasture. Where the eating gross maggots and fertilizing the field starts all over.

These chickens are a little older, but will be full grown in a few months and will be slaughtered immediately. They eat a non-organic feed, just a soy/corn/grain based nibble, because going organic would make the cost per animal too high.  They already cost $11 in feed per chicken life and that doesn’t count the cost of the four hours of man labor it takes to care for the chickens per day.  I would prefer organic, but once he had his chickens and organic chickens from Whole Foods and Fred Meyer tested in a food lab – his chickens were four times higher in Omega-3s.  The outdoor life suits them.

And I accept the compromise – happy chickens at a higher price, but not astronomical.

Interested in Full of Life Farm products?  They have an online store and regularly attend a bunch of farmers’ markets.

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I love dinner parties.  Meal planning, getting the house ready, setting the table, spending all day cooking – all of it.  I love it.  I have spent more than one birthdays hosting my own party – just so I can cook for people. I am one of those weird hosts that gets mad when people ask to bring extra dishes. I spend days planning my menus and I can’t have someone throwing off the balance with too many spinach dishes.  It is a little ridiculous, I know, but there are few ways I feel okay letting control-freak side out and this is one of them.

Unfortunately, it seems that other people don’t share my enthusiasm for spending a bunch of money, stressing out all day, and inviting people over to judge your skills in the kitchen.  But, the other day, my luck changed.  My long-time friend and former roommate, Lindsay, and her boyfriend, Ben (also my friend), invited Erik and I to dinner.  I was thrilled.  One reason I was excited was so I could use this picture I took of them in my grandparent’s house on the way to my family’s cabin.  I love the way they wore their headlamps like we were already camping… Even though we were obviously sleeping in the basement of a cold house.  On the floor.  In sleeping bags.  Huh, maybe it was like camping.

But, the real reason I was excited was because we all share a love of good food.  The four of us could talk about food for hours – actually, we did talk about food for hours.  I knew that they would serve us something delicious.

I was not wrong.  We had a simple salad, mushroom and leek strudel, grilled shrimp, and grass fed steak with a compound butter.  Freaking delicious.

I liked everything we had, but I have been thinking a lot about compound butters.  Mostly, because I love butter and want to eat more of it.  The one Lindsay created used butter from grass-fed cows and really complimented the perfectly cooked steak. She used lemon thyme from her garden, flat-leaf parsley, lemon juice, salt and pepper. A great way to step up your every day meat.

Who else wants to invite me to dinner and teach me something new?

Recipe

Lemony Compound Butter

1 stick of butter, softened
1 T chopped lemon thyme
1 T chopped flat leaf parsley
1 T lemon juice
1/8 t of ground white pepper
salt to taste

Combine all ingredients with an electric hand mixer or by hand. Adjust salt to taste.

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Way too often around here, I make three or four times too much food for dinner.  I don’t know what is wrong with me, but cooking for two is just not something I am good at doing.  When ever I do cook the correct portions I am worried throughout the entire cooking process and meal that my dining companion is not going to get enough to eat.  Have you ever served dinner and not fed people enough?  It feels like you have failed, no matter how good the food was the people will only remember that were still hungry.

Anyway, a few weeks ago I made some meatloaf and as I was putting it together realized that I had WAY too much meat for the two of us. So, I decided to freeze a couple for a rainy day.

This week, it might have well poured… I came down with a stupid cold and did not feel like cooking much of anything.  One of the downsides to being a locavore is the lack of easy foods.  You know how nice and simple a bowl of macaroni and cheese would have been to make? Or soup from a can?  But, alas, I remembered I had those mini meatloaves in the freezer and all I had to do was defrost and bake them.

This picture doesn’t have to do with anything, but my nose is dripping and it makes me feel better.

Anyway, the mini meatloaves are from a recipe I found in Cooking Light years ago.  The mini-ness makes sure that there is lots of the yummy crust, a moist, flavorful interior and lots outside area to put a yummy ketchup based sauce.  Because, it wouldn’t be meatloaf without some ketchup.

Recipe (trying out something new here, let me know if you guys like the recipe in the post or always as a downloadable link…)

Mini Meatloaves
Serves 4

1/2 cup of ketchup
2 T Dijon mustard
1 t of Worcestershire sauce
1 lb ground sirloin
3/4 finely chopped onion
1/4 cup of seasoned breadcrumbs
1/2 t salt
1/2 t dried oregano
1/4 t ground black pepper
1 large egg, lightly beaten

First, preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  In a small bowl combine the ketchup, mustard, and Worcestershire – reserve 2 1/2 Tablespoons. Mix the remaining ketchup mixture with the beef, meat, onion, breadcrumbs, salt, oregano, pepper, and egg, stirring until combined. Form four mini meatloaves and place on a parchment paper-lined, silpat-lined, or greased cookie sheet.  Spread the remaining ketchup mixture on the loaves.  Bake at 400 for 25 minutes or until done.

Here is the downloadable recipe:
Mini Meatloaves

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The number one question I get when a friend hears about me eating locally is, “But, how can you afford it?” They know I am a little strapped for cash these days and just about everyone I know is keeping their spending down. I wish I could say that I am saving tons of money by changing my life, but the truth is, it isn’t cheap.

For me, I just made it a priority. I made sacrifices in my life (like buying dresses once a month) and expect to pay a tad more for groceries.

And, I look for recipes that will stretch my local dollar. Shredded pork is one of those meals. First of all, it is delicious. Second, did I mention that it is delicious?  Third, it is fun to think of all the different ways I can incorporate the meat into new dishes. I think the fact that I find incorporating leftovers into new meals fun sort of pathetic. But, what can I say? My life is full of thrills.

I bought this local pork (seen here with the marinade that will smother it) for $13. The tortillas, cilantro, onions, garlic, and limes I used to make the tacos costs about $9. That is a total of $22 – for at least 10 servings of pork.

This recipe, which I adapted from The Pioneer Woman has a savory blend of vinegar, sugar, spices, and heat, and is good enough to eat straight from the pan. More important for leftovers, however, it is exceptionally versatile. We eat it with tacos, on salads and sandwiches, in soups, and, the favorite leftover recipe, in enchiladas.

Next time when someone asks me how I afford it, I think I might answer, “Deliciously.”

Recipe
Shredded Pork

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Hey there!  Remember last week when I made a pork stir fry and mentioned that I used a peanut sauce on my leftovers?  The time has come to talk about it.

Or… What is left of it.

I love peanut sauces and have always wanted to try one at home.  I wanted to create one that is spicy, salty and a little sweet – just like Pok Pok chicken wings! (Except, not brilliant and I haven’t dreamt about this sauce the way I do about their wings.)

I made this peanut sauce first, before the original stir fry, and basically worked backward in order to find a vehicle to carry my concoction.  THAT is how strongly I feel about peanut sauce.

A base of radishes and carrots added a good crunch to the wrap (and balance to the all-important peanut sauce).

The biggest problem, as usual, when it comes to rolling things up in a burrito, is my tendency to over stuff my wrap.

I couldn’t even set it down to take this picture.

Luckily, it was stuffed with peanut sauce and my taste buds didn’t care at all that I had to eat the bits that fell on the plate with my fingers.

Recipe
Asian Wrap with Peanut Sauce

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My sister, Allison, told me the other day that she determines her mood based on a Yahtzee game.

Every morning, she plays an electronic game of Yahtzee and if she has a good game, she knows it is going to be a good day. If she has a game where she makes a bunch of mistakes, she figures she should be extra alert that day so she doesn’t screw anything up. And if the game smites her with terrible dice? Obviously, her day is full of bad luck and she might as well get started at being in a bad mood.

I would laugh at the Yahtzee Theory, but I have my own such rituals. If I see a hawk, perched on a pole or tree, I know that I am going to have a good day. No matter what mood I was in before, I am immediately happier. The other day, even, I was crossing a bridge and noticed one seagull sitting on each of the street lights – each either facing the bridge or the water, in a remarkably ordered pattern. Even though I had a headache and was running an annoying errand, I knew that I was lucky that day.

Apparently, Allison was telling her Yahtzee Theory to our other sister, Lindsay. She mentioned that she thinks that her mood may not be determined by the Yahtzee gods, but just on the fact that she decided what kind of day she would have before stepping foot outside of her house. (And millions of self-help books would probably agree.) So, from then on, she would just decide she would have a good day regardless of what the all-powerful Yahtzee game told her.

Lindsay tried this theory just the other day – she decided before leaving that today was going to be a good day and nothing could stop her from being in a good mood. Not the 4 inch puddle of melted snow she stepped in as she left her house, soaking her shoe. Definitely not that fact that she missed her train and was late to work. But, when she got a call from her landlord saying her apartment flooded, she gave in. Today, is in fact a BAD day. As she rushed home, she texted Allison to say her f*!@#g plan did not work. With dread, she opened her apartment door, expecting the worst – water pouring out her door, furniture ruined, her shoes soaked in inches of water. But, she walked in to find nothing. Everything was just as she left it, dry. Her landlord had confused her unit number with another tenant.

At the end of the day, she decided maybe it WAS a good day after all.

Now what this has to do with Asian stir fry, I don’t know… They just seemed related. Plus, I thought a story might distract you from the fact that I used snow peas from California and rice noodles from god knows where.

Oh, and the fresh ginger I bought? Came from Hawaii. The stupid winter is killing me! I want my CSA box already…

The one thing I DID NOT buy was the garlic at New Seasons – from Argentina. Super close, right? I found some at City Market the next day from California.

Regardless, the dish was yum-town. It had some nice GREEN things in it, which will keep away the scurvy I would get if I would only eat locally (with my poor planning). Plus, I used the leftovers to make a wrap which I will highlight soon. A wrap that included a homemade peanut sauce – yum.

Having a reason to make peanut sauce means it is, indeed, a good day.

Recipe
Asian Pork Stir Fry

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Do you know how it feels to wait for news that could be great or soul-crushing? And, the whole day you osculate between being hopeful and positive and then the tiniest setback or challenge can make you feel like the world is about to end?

Yeah… That is me today. Life, please don’t bring me a sudden change in dinner plans or a set of lost keys (and in NO way can I deal with an actual problem, so don’t even try.) Today is not the day. Maybe tomorrow, but today, universe, just leave me alone with my beef and barley soup. The soup that gave me no problems to cook, even though I didn’t follow a recipe and had never made it before. These are the sorts of things that lead me back to happiness.

I got to use some local ingredients I have been hoarding in my kitchen while searching for the perfect recipe.

Draper Girls Pearl Barley I found at the farmers’ market.  People are always asking me how I can afford to eat locally. Do you see how much this two pound bag cost me?  5 American Dollars. And I used a 1/2 cup.  This barley is going to be with me for a long time.

These monster short ribs? I got them from the farmer I meet in a dark parking lot.  This was the meatiest short rib I have ever seen.  No complaints, here.

And this is how it looked when I was about to step away for eight hours.   All thanks to this handy device…

I don’t utilize its sous chef abilities near enough.  Nothing better than making dinner in the morning, knowing no matter what mood happens during day dinner will be waiting for you when you get home.

Recipe

Beef and Barley

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