Nov 24, 2013

Conversations Around the Table

A friend gave me a copy of Bread and Wine: Finding Community and Life Around the Table*.  I decided to use this book as a spring board to start a book club.

Seven ladies from my neighborhood met last night to share a meal from recipes in the book.  I hosted.  The evening didn't go exactly as I had planned.  

First bump in the road was my son's swim meet that went very late.  I found myself holding a heavy fussy baby while doing last minute preparations.  I felt rushed and scattered.

Thankfully a couple friends came early to set the table and various other tasks.

The main course was Steak au Poivre with Congac Pan Sauce.  And it was uh-may-zing.  Quite possibly the best thing I've ever put in my mouth.  Getting it to the table was, well, it took much longer than I planned. {Stress!}

Everyone chatted and enjoyed bacon wrapped dates (recipe also in book) while Tammy and I filled the house with smoke seared the steaks.

I felt crazy distracted wondering how my eldest was doing at the swim meet, greeting friends, making interpersonal connections for others, watching the steaks, filling glasses, and the bajillion other little tasks that are yours as hostess.  Did I mention the fussy baby?

Once sitting at the table though, my heart calmed and was flooded with gratitude.
Six friends surrounded me.  Though we don't know each other well, several had already begun sharing stories from their lives.  Some were very hard things.  We laughed.  We cried.  Burdens are easier to carry when shared with a friend. 

I'll be the first to say the food was very good.  The conversation was even better.  

Yes I felt scattered and didn't check off everything on my list before guests arrived.  You know what? Nobody cared that my bathroom didn't get cleaned.  Or that I didn't have time to vacuum.  Definitely no mentions of the cobwebs or the laundry waiting to be folded in the chair.  I bet no one even noticed that my baseboards need dusting too.  

All the comments on the evening were based on relationships.  My friends were grateful to have new friends.  We heard stories of persevering in the midst of trial. We laughed at the bone-headed and sweet things our children do and say.  Some received encouragement to stay the course.  

Later this week as we gather with family and friends for Thanksgiving, remember it is the people -not the food- that make this holiday great

Don't sweat the small stuff.

Focus on the people.

If you feel bad about having a dirty bathroom, drop by my house.  Mine will make you feel better. 

*The subtitle of the book is different on Amazon. CBD has a better price.  I recommend this book for starting a book club, there is a cooking club discussion guide in the back. 

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Nov 16, 2013

Tips for Bulk Buying Beef & Storage

Buying meat in bulk saves time and money.  I highly recommend it.  Even better is if someone gives it to you.

My husband just took a whirlwind 10-hour-each-way-trip to Kentucky to pick up beef from my dad (who has a farm).  Dad raised the steer and gave me half.  My friend, HB, got to pay for her half.  On the hoof, our steer weighed about 900 pounds and Dad paid the processor for packaging 420 pounds of meat.

This is what half a steer looks like in a deep freezer.  
HB took inventory as she was putting her meat in the freezer.  I didn't make an inventory list of mine, but am sure my half of the beef is very similar.

41 pkg ground beef (each package contains an average of 1.5 pounds of beef)
7 huge bags bones (each bag is about 5 pounds) 
17 roasts (each roast is around 3 pounds) 
5 pkg stew meat (about 1 pound each package) 
5 pkg liver (about 1 pound a package) 
22 pkg steak (each package is around 1.5 pounds) 

In addition, I got the tongue, heart, and eyes.

My husband took the back seats out of our mini-van and filled it with coolers. Three giant coolers ~4 feet long and 4 others, regular sized.

Once he returned with the beef, HB and I unpacked each cooler and did a simple "one for me, one for you" kind of separation.

For the most part it was very even.  Since it was vacuum packed in plastic, we could see the amount of fat and bones and could compare packages.  For instance, at one point we bundled 3 fatty roasts with big bones and the other person got 2 roasts with less bones.  

Vacuum packaging is more expensive than freezer paper but a worthy investment since it will prolong the freshness of your meat.  Plus there is the benefit of being able to see inside the package without opening it.

For easy access, I collected my steaks in a box.

 And organized the roasts all together, too.
The top shelf is corn and green beans (thanks, Mom!) with a few roasts.

The second shelf is for roasts, and the third shelf houses the steaks.  The drawer at the bottom collects packages of ground beef.
In the door I have a few containers of beef stock, made a few weeks ago, along with more ground beef and stew meat.
Also in the garage is a side by side refrigerator in which I store bones and offal (liver, heart, tongue.)  This refrigerator was in the garage when we moved in two years ago and I'm not certain of it's reliability so I don't keep precious meat in it.
The next two pictures are of HB's freezers.  This one is her kitchen freezer.
 And this is the deep freezer.
When I pulled these bags of bones from the coolers, my mouth started to water - thinking of all the yummy beef broth and soups this winter.
From the processor, I requested the tongue.  Yes I did.  Here's a recipe.  I've already indoctrinated my 3.5 year old.  She went to bed saying, "Tongue is good!"  My 8-year-old, on the other hand, is not convinced.  I don't plan on letting them know when I cook it.
 We also requested to keep the eyes.  We're weird homeschoolers, ya know.  Dissection here we come!
If purchasing beef is in your future, there are a few things you should know.  Of course you'll want to talk with your farmer and ask about their relationship with their processor.  Chances are, the farmer will have the gig figured out and lead you along.

My dad has used the same "good ol' boy" meat processor in eastern Kentucky for years.  As in, it is a small operation and they process a LOT of deer this time of year.  I visited it a few years ago and thought I wrote a blog post about it but cannot find it now.

Last year I got more cube steak than I wanted.  This year I wrote out exactly which cuts I wanted and in which quantity.  And it came exactly how I asked for it.  I'm thrilled!  Below is the list my dad printed and took to the processor.
The cuts we want are:
1. roasts (~3-5 lb packages)
2. steaks (~1 inch thick)
3. stew meat (~2lb pkg)
4. ground - 80-85% lean.  I want it fatty enough so that hamburgers stick together on the grill.
5. bones for stock making, especially
  - oxtail
  - shank bones (3-5inch pieces in 3-5 lb packages)
  - any other bones the butcher knows of that would be good for soup.
6. no round steaks. (John says there's a round roast and that is OK)
7. both eyes, and they can be packaged together (for homeschool dissection)
8. liver - however they usually package - I think I remember: slices in 1 pound packages
9. tongue - yes, I'm going to try it.

In the past, I have asked for the extra fat to render as tallow.  It is a nutritious and delicious fat to use when cooking - especially frying potatoes!  But, with a baby who has been all consuming this last year, I decided to forgo the tallow-making this year.  I can't do it all.

Some people prefer extra lean ground beef.  Me, I'm not afraid of fat.  I actually like it in great quantities, as long as it is healthy fat.  If you try to make a hamburger for the grill from lean burger, it will fall apart.  And you will cry if your burger falls into the coals of your grill.

If you have a dog, you can ask for any extra bones for it.

What other advice would you give to someone looking to buy meat in bulk?

Previous posts of interest:
Benefits of Bulk Buying Local Meat - by Tracy Youngblood
How to Buy Local Meat in Bulk - by Lisa Lipe

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Nov 13, 2013

Bok Choy & What to Do with It

My first introduction to bok choy was several years ago when we lived in Phoenix.  A neighbor friend roasted baby bok choy and delivered it along with a meal.  I was delightfully surprised how much I liked it.
If there's a "bok choy season," spring and fall are it.  This week's Farmshare basket delivered a generous portion.  What will I do with it?  What do you do with it?
 As the name suggests, it goes well in Asian dishes or stir fries.  Last week I stir fried a couple heads of napa cabbage (also 'tis the season!) so I wasn't in the mood for more stir fry.
Pictured above are the two parts of bok choy - stems and leaves.  The stems are crunchy like celery, without the fussy strings, complete with a slight hint of onion or garlic.  The leaves are versatile like spinach and can be eaten raw or wilted.  It is from the brassica family, so those with weak thyroids should always cook their bok choy.  Read more.
Putting on my thinking cap, I decided to use this portion of bok choy, or at least the stems, as I would celery.  The leaves I have reserved to wilt with a batch of kale and turnip greens - also from this week's Farmshare basket.
While browning meat for chili, the bok choy joined in on the fun.

Once cooked through, my family won't know I've pulled a fast one on them.  The bok choy looks like a cross between cooked onion and celery.

Other ideas for using bok choy:

-use like spinach in a stew or soup
-eat raw in salad, along with other greens
-juice it
-in recipes that call for celery, like beef tips
-stems cut in sticks and used as crudités with veggie dip or peanut butter
-make a frugal and quick dinner of crepes, using the leaves instead of spinach. 

What do you do with bok choy?


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