Last weekend I bought a cow. Not a whole cow. And no, I’m not keeping the cow out back – I bought the meat. I was lucky enough to be included in a group of people who bought a half-share of a sustainably raised grass-fed cow. My friend Kirstin, a frequent commenter here on the blog, hooked me up with the group. The beef came from White House Meats, a DC area company that helps bridge the gap between farm and consumer by bringing locally raised meat to market. Read more about them and what they do here.
Our prized steer was one of the cows in the photo above; although we never found out which one, exactly. All told, the half-share came in around 120 pounds and with a variety of cuts, including ribeye steak, roasts, hanger steak, sirloin, hamburger meat, flat iron steak, liver, short ribs, marrow bones, and even the tongue. This is what we had to choose from:
Since it was the first time buying such a large share, the organizer of our group enlisted nine people to divide up the meat. This made the size more manageable and also provided an easy way for the group to particpate in the nose-to-tail, farm-to-table process. We divided up the meat through a draft – it was just like a fantasy baseball and tons of fun. Kirstin and I were stuck with a middle number, which wasn’t ideal, but we had a good strategy: pick the best cuts on the board with the most weight. That way, we could maximize the quality of our choices even if the options were limited because of our draft position. It worked well and I walked away with a couple of ribeye steaks, sirloin tips, a chuck roast, a good-sized piece of mock tender, a package of hamburger meat, and the prized liver and tongue. Prized in the sense that I was the only one that would take it. But I’ve got plans for those, don’t worry.
The meat had been butchered the day before we picked it up and was about as fresh as it could be, so I had to cook up one of the ribeyes on Saturday night. How did it taste? It was great. I kept the preparation simple with a seasoning of salt, pepper and thyme, and cooked the steak in a cast-iron skillet to medium rare. Many steaks can be bland and fall flat in terms of delivering a clear steak flavor, but this grass-fed steak had a very distinct flavor profile. And while I hate to sound hokey by saying that the steak tasted “of a certain place” or had a “nice terroir,” it was clear that the way in which the cow had been raised had imparted a unique flavor profile that set it apart from a conventional steak. Combined with the knowledge and appreciation of the fact that the cow had been sustainably raised adds another layer of satisfaction too.
This isn’t to say that I don’t like a well marbled steak and the flavor that comes with it – I do. But I think grass-fed can have a well-deserved place at the table as well. And from a personal perspective, supporting sustainably raised meat is important to me.
I don’t normally talk about my job here on the blog, but a few months ago my work life started to line up more with my personal interests in food and food issues. In January, I began working as the Washington Representative for the Food & Environment program at the Union of Concerned Scientists. UCS is a leading science-based policy organization with a 40-year history of working for a healthier environment and a safer world. In my new position, I’m responsible for managing the policy and legislative advocacy side of my program’s work on issues related to sustainable agriculture and promoting a safer food system.
Which brings me back to grass-fed beef. Grass-fed directly intersects two issues that I now work on at UCS – reducing agriculture’s contribution to climate change and eliminating the unneccessary use of antibiotics in farm animals. Grass-fed beef scores high marks in both regards. On the first, it’s widley known that the agriculture system as a whole contributes signifcantly to global warming. Unfortunately, it often goes unnoticed. But recently, one of my colleagues at UCS put out a great report, called Raising the Steaks, that examined beef production’s contribution to global warming and, more specifically, how pasture and grass-fed beef can be a big part of the solution.
As for antibiotics, limiting their use in farm animals is incredibly important for protecting public health from the threat of antibiotic resistance. All told, agriculture is responsible for the consumption of 80 percent of all antibiotics sold in the United States. This is due to the fact that our industrial scale agriculture system is largely unsuitable for properly raising animals for meat. So they pump them full of drugs. But that comes at a cost. Higher antibiotics use leads to antibiotic resistance and superbugs that can spread to people on the farm and through our food. That’s bad news bears, especially if you get sick due to an antibiotic-resistant bacteria infection, which is much more difficult and costly to treat. Lately I’ve been spending much of my time pushing for legislation that will require the FDA to limit this unnecessary and dangerous use of antibiotics in farm animals.
So that’s what I do. And luckily for me, my grass-fed cow was antibiotic free and climate friendly, so all the more reason to buy grass-fed beef!
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To bring it back to the beef, please do check out White House Meats. In addition to beef, they sell pork and poultry products as well. The prices are great too – around $9/pound for beef and $5/pound for pork. Shares in various sizes are available through their draft events, which are held a couple of times a month, and you can also arrange for a custom order. The drafts and pick-ups take place on scheduled dates at A.M. Wine Shop in Adams Morgan, Christ Church on Capitol Hill, and Cross Fit in South Arlington. Click here for more details on how to purchase.
There’s nothing better than returning home to the smell of freshly baked bread. You just don’t notice it as much if you stick around while the bread is baking. So after I popped this loaf in the oven, I went out for a quick run. It was a cold day too, so returning to an oven-warmed apartment that smelled of bread was a major bonus. It always reminds me of close family friends – their house is always filled with the smell of bread, pie or whatever delicious baked good they have whipped up. They also keep a very well-stocked cellar with shelves and shelves of canned goods and preserves, but that’s for another post.
In the French toast post from a couple of weeks ago, I mentioned that I had made the sandwich bread myself. Here’s the recipe. I recommend using the bread as soon as you can, ideally while still warm. Two days at most.
Sandwich Bread Recipe from How to Cook Everything Makes 1 loaf
3 1/2 cups flour 2 tspn salt 1 1/2 tspn instant yeast 1 TBSP sugar or honey 2 TBSP neutral oil or softened butter, plus more for the bowl and pan 1 1/3 cups cool milk
Using a stand mixer with the dough hook, combine 1 3/4 cups flour, the salt, yeast and sugar in the bowl. Turn the machine on low and mix together for 5 seconds. With the machine running on low speed, add the oil or butter and milk. Increase to medium speed and mix until the ingredients form a smooth mixture. Reduce speed to low and slowly add the remaining flour. Return to medium speed and mix until a sticky ball forms and it pulls away from the side of the bowl.
Knead by hand on a lightly floured surface for one minute and shape into a ball. Grease a large bowl with a little oil, add the dough and turn until coated. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let the dough rise until it doubles in size, about 1-2 hours.
Punch down the dough to release any gas. Again, working on a lightly floured surface, shape the dough into a ball. Cover and let rest for 15 minutes.
Using just enough flour to prevent the dough from sticking, flatten the dough and shape it into a rectangle. Fold the long sides of the dough to the middle and pinch together with your fingers. Fold under the ends of the loaf as well.
Grease a 9 x 5 inch loaf pan with oil or butter. Put the loaf in the pan, seem side down, and flatten with the back of your hand. Cover and let rise until the top of the dough is nearly level with the top of the pan.
Heat the oven to 350 degrees.
Brush the top of the loaf with water and place in the oven. Bake for 45 minutes. Remove from the oven and cool the loaf on a wire rack.
One of my New Year’s food resolutions for 2011 is to make more bread. While I mentioned keeping a sourdough starter going throughout the year in the resolution, the general idea is to focus more on yeast breads. And with a new KitchenAid stand mixer now firmly positioned on my countertop (partly because there’s no where else to put it and mostly because it’s so heavy), prepping bread dough is now a whole lot easier.
A couple of weekends ago I decided to try my hand at a loaf of sandwich bread. Plain old sandwiches weren’t my main objective, although I did make myself a mean grilled PB & banana sandwich at one point. No, I had bigger plans in store – namely French Toast. For most people, I think, French toast and waffles sit on a lofty perch reserved for the breakfast entrée elite. They’re the special breakfast dishes that your parents would make on lazy weekends or the every so often calorie loaded brunch binge. And while I’m sure there are firmly established camps on both sides of the French toast and waffle divide, I’ve always been in the middle. Deciding between the two usually comes down to whatever I’m craving at the moment. And once I decided to make sandwich bread, I knew I wanted to make French toast.
The recipe for this French toast is fairly traditional and comes from the Joy of Cooking. I added the walnuts and bananas, which are a perfect match with French toast and something of a standard option on the brunch circuit. On related of a side note, I highly recommend reading the chapter from Molly Wizenberg’s A Homemade Life that tells of her father’s version of French toast. It’s a great read and not just for those that love French toast.
French Toast with Bananas and Walnuts Adapted from the Joy of Cooking Serves 4
2/3 cups milk 4 eggs 2 TBSP sugar 1 tspn vanilla extract 1 tspn rum 1/2 tspn cinnamon 1/4 tspn salt 8 slices sandwich bread 2-3 TBSP butter 2-3 TBSP vegetable 2 bananas, sliced 1 cup walnuts Maple syrup for serving
In a bowl, whisk together the milk, eggs, sugar, vanilla, rum and salt. Fully soak the bread slices in the mixture one at a time and reserve on a cooling rack set over a baking pan.
Heat a large skillet to medium-high and add equal amounts butter and oil, about 1 tablespoon each. Once the butter foams, and working in batches as needed, add 3-4 slices of bread to the pan. Cook until nicely browned on each side. Repeat with the remaining slices, adding butter and oil to the pan as needed.
Meanwhile, toast the walnuts in a pan over medium heat, tossing frequently for about 5 minutes.
Serve two slices of French toast per plate and top with the banana slices, walnuts and maple syrup.
Year in and year out, the month of March delivers on several fronts after a long winter. Daylight savings time and the arrival of spring are the highlights for many. But equally, if not more important, is the arrival of March Madness and Saint Patrick’s Day. Luckily, both fall on the same day this year. And no, that lame excuse of a revamped first round that started yesterday doesn’t count. No no, the real first round of this year’s NCAA tourney starts on Thursday. As though millions of office dwellers and tourney pool participants didn’t already have a reason to slack off from work, now they can add pints of Guinness and shots of Jamesons to their afternoon “working lunches.”
After reading about the 100 Ways to Cook with Guinness over at Endless Simmer last week, I got inspired. With spring and warm weather around the corner, I opted for an ice cream recipe. It’s an excellent way to get your daily intake of Guinness. Just like the famous poster says: “Guinness For Strength.“
As ice cream recipes go, this one is fairly straightforward. A vanilla base is simply flavored with reduced Guinness. The stout flavor comes through nicely, but doesn’t overpower. It’s almost like hazelnut. The recipe could easily be altered too, depending on your tastes. Add chocolate chips, nuts, caramel bits, swirl in chocolate fudge, or use it to make a Guinness float. Either way, it’s Guinness ice cream. And “Guinness Is Good For You.“
Guinness Stout Ice Cream Adapted from this Emeril recipe on FoodNetwork.com
2 cups heavy cream
2 cups whole milk
3/4 cup sugar
1 tspn vanilla
6 egg yolks
12 ounces Guinness Stout
In a medium saucepan, combine the cream, milk, sugar and vanilla. Bring to a gentle boil and remove from the heat.
Beat the egg yolks in a bowl. Whisk 1 cup of the hot cream into the egg yolks, 1/4 cup at a time and whisking constantly to bring the egg yolks up to temperature. Slowly add the egg mixture to the hot cream. Cook over medium heat, stirring often, until the mixture thickens enough to coat the back of a spoon and reaches 170 degrees, about 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and pour into a container. Cover with plastic wrap, pressing down on the surface of the liquid to keep it from forming a film. Chill in the refrigerator until completely cool, 2-3 hours.
Meanwhile, in a saucepan, simmer the Guinness until reduced by 3/4 in volume, about 8 minutes. Pour into a small bowl and chill in the refrigerator.
After the cream mixture and the Guinness reduction have chilled, combine and whisk together until well blended. Pour the mixture into an ice cream machine and follow the machince’s instructions for freezing. It usually takes about 30 minutes. Transfer to a plastic container and freeze until fully set.
As I mentioned in this week’s Meatless Monday post, I made a batch of naan bread to go along with the chana masala. It was surprisingly easy to make, which is probably due largely to the fact that the bread only takes 5-6 minutes to bake in the oven. The recipe for the dough is similar to most yeast breads, but it’s wetter with the addition of yogurt and milk.
Naan is best served fresh, when the bread is still warm and puffed up. It’s similar to pita bread but the naan is lighter and has a softer texture. It’s a great with Indian dishes or served with yogurts and chutneys.
Naan From How to Cook Everything
Makes about 12 naan
2 tspn instant yeast 2 TBSP milk 2 TBSP yogurt 1 TBSP sugar 3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour 1/2 cup whole wheat flour (or just use a full 4 cups all-purpose flour) 1 egg 2 tspn salt Neutral oil Melted butter for serving
Stir together the yeast, milk, yogurt and sugar in a bowl and reserve. Combine the flour, egg and salt in a mixer (or a food processor). Turn the machine onto a low-to-medium setting and pour in the yeast mixture. With the machine running, slowly add 1 1/2 cups water until the mixture forms a ball that is slightly sticky to the touch. If the ball is dry, add a little more water. If too wet, add more flour a tablespoon at a time.
Roll the dough onto a floured surface and knead by hand for a little bit to form a smooth ball. Put the dough in a lightly oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap and let rise until the dough doubles in size, about 1-2 hours.
Put a baking stone (or a baking sheet) on the lowest rack in the oven and heat to 500 degrees.
Punch the dough down. Using enough flour to keep from sticking, roll the dough into a long snake and cut into 12 equal balls. Cover and let rest for 15 minutes. Using a lightly floured pin, roll the balls into an oval shape, about 6-8 inches long and 3-4 inches wide.
Open the oven and toss the naan onto the cooking stone, working in batches and baking as many as will fit on the stone at one time. Close the oven door and bake for 3 minutes. Flip the naan and bake for another 2-3 minutes. The naan is ready when it’s puffed up and browned around the edges.
Store the naan on a tray and wrapped in a kitchen towel to keep warm. Serve as soon as possible, with one side brushed with melted butter.
Another option for finishing the baked naan is to heat the bread over an open flame until lightly blackened. You can do this on a grill or just over a stove top burner, using tongs to hold the naan. It will end up looking like this:
Just eating a salad would probably be the easiest way to participate in Meatless Monday. But that’s boring and not very adventuresome. In reality, salad is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to going meat-free (pun intended, unfortunately). More and more, I’ve found myself turning to stews or one pot recipes for meat-free meals. Usually these dishes are made with beans, legumes, grains or rice, and the end product is always more filling than a salad. And once you start exploring the different ways to cook with these ingredients, you’ll find the options are endless and the results can be quite delicious.
Another way to mix up a Meatless Monday meal is to go outside the typical American-style comfort zone and try ethnic recipes. Throughout this past winter, I’ve been cooking more and more Indian dishes like curried lentils or a veggie stew flavored with garam masala. These one pot meals are wholesome, full of flavor and there’s always plenty of leftovers. For this week’s Meatless Monday, I decided to spice things up with a pot of Chana Masala – a fiery chickpeas dish that you can serve with jasmine rice and yogurt. I also made a batch of naan bread to serve on the side, which I’ll try to post later this week.
Chana Masala Recipe from Smitten Kitchen and Food.com Serves 4-6
Vegetable oil 2 medium onions, finely diced 3 cloves garlic, minced 1 green chili pepper, finely diced 2 tspn fresh ginger, grated 1 TBSP ground coriander 2 tspn cumin 2 tspn paprika 1 tspn turmeric
1 tspn garam masala 1/2 tspn cayenne pepper
1 15 oz. can diced tomatoes 1 cup water 2 15 oz cans chickpeas, drained and rinsed Juice from 1 lemon Salt
Bring a large skillet or dutch oven to medium heat with 1-2 tablespoons oil. Add the onions and sweat for 5 minutes. Add the garlic, chili pepper and ginger and cook for another 2 minutes. Add the coriander, cumin, paprika, turmeric, garam masala and cayenne, stir until the onion mixture is fully coated and cook until fragrant, 1-2 minutes. Stir in the tomatoes and water and heat through, 3-4 minutes. Add the chickpeas and simmer uncovered for 10 minutes. Stir in the lemon juice and season with salt.
Serve with jasmine rice and naan bread.
Even though the annual release of Bell’s Hopslam Ale was just two months ago, you’d be hard pressed to find a bottle of this extra hopped-up IPA anywhere at this point. In fact, it’s nearly impossible. Stores sell out of the stuff the day it hits the shelves. Many even have wait lists. And it’s all too common for bars to tap out a keg in less than an hour.
Which explains why I’ve had a few bottles of Hopslam lingering in the back of my fridge for the last five weeks – until last night. It’s not a beer to be wasted and I’d been rationing a six-pack since I tracked it down in late January. One a week, at most. And I wasn’t all too willing to share, either (you’re a lucky man @wesmorgan). Cause if you miss out or, even worse, waste it on some unappreciative sucker, it’ll be another year before you see it again.
I was lucky to even find a six-pack when I did. Hopslam had been sold out for nearly two weeks. But I had a hunch that one of my local liquor stores, which shall go unnamed, might still have it in stock. So I stopped by one night after work, hoping against hope that I’d find the prized Hopslam in the cooler. I looked in every cooler door twice. Nothing.
Head down, I started for the door. But I must have lingered long enough to catch the attention of the cashier (soon to be my best friend). When he asked if I needed any help, I reluctantly told him what I was looking for, assuming there was no way they’d have any left. If they did, it would be in the cooler. Hopslam sells for $25 a six-pack, why wouldn’t they have it on display?
He didn’t respond at first; he just stood there and sized me up. Then, almost in an attempt to make sure no one would hear, he quietly said he might have some in the back and told me to wait. A few minutes later he appeared at the register with said Hoplsam. He quickly bagged it up and processed my credit card as though he didn’t want anyone to see the transaction go down. It was thrilling. Kinda like scoring drugs in an alleyway. Well, at least that’s what I assume it would feel like if I actually hung out in alleyways to score drugs (and I’m not just saying that because my parents read my blog).
I hurried home with the goods in hand, eyes wide and a huge grin on my face. But I didn’t open a bottle that night. I couldn’t. Drinking it right away might ruin the reward. Didn’t I need to do more to earn it? So I waited. And then, one at a time over the last 5 weeks, I let myself indulge.
Needless to say, Hopslam is a beer to be savored and appreciated. At 10 percent alcohol, it’s not a beer to be underestimated either. I’ve been slow walking my last bottle for two hours. It’s a dream for hopheads. Right from the start, you know it’s going to be epic. The aromas are strong – as in standing four feet away strong – and hop heavy. It delivers big grapefruit flavors, stone fruit and a bit of spice. Honey notes help add a smoothness on the front that masks the alcohol. But then the alcohol comes in big and the hops linger for a nice long finish.
And now it’s gone. Probably not to be seen again until next year. But if you earn it, it’s worth it.