Real Food Mama

Musings about cooking, eating and everything in between.

Locally Grown Grass-Fed Beef and the Problem with Eating Meat. February 26, 2010

Filed under: Eating local,Fight Back Fridays — realfoodmama @ 1:40 pm
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This last winter we bought about 50 pounds of grass-fed beef to store in our freezer. It lasted us about 3 months and while we didn’t get a lot of variety, we did get some fabulous meals out of it.

It was such a success that we have decided we really want to buy more this year and as luck would have it, there is a local ranch doing a special in May. For $600 you can buy a cow, and then take it to the butcher for a pre-negotiated price. I am incredibly excited about this for a few reasons. First, I can request some very specific things from the butcher such as suet and organ meats. Secondly, it has given me the opportunity to meet a local butcher. This will come in incredibly handy in the event we ever want to process any of our livestock for meat. Lastly, I love the idea of meeting the animal beforehand. The whole point of the special this ranch is promoting is that you actually go there and pick out your steer. And this is where the whole thing fell apart when I was explaining it to my partner.

My son’s father is more tenderhearted than he cares to admit. He won’t hunt, he doesn’t like the idea of eating any male chickens we end up with, and he absolutely refuses to let us raise our male goats for meat. The idea of going to a ranch and coming face to face with his Rib Eye steak literally made him get up and leave the room. He just can’t help but personify his animals, and that makes it hard for him to eat them if he thinks about it.

Now I have a totally different take on the situation, of course. I think that coming face to face with your food really forces you to realize how important food is for life. I like the idea of coming to terms with the sacrifice, so to speak. I think that the biggest problem modern food production has is the unwillingness to look into the eyes of our food and recognize that the animal before us is giving its life to feed us. I personally am incredibly grateful to all the birds and cows I’ve eaten. However, I can understand that people don’t always see it that way.

However, I think it would be easier to support eating animals that have had a nice life rather than the de-humanized industrial existence that most of them get. The irony is my partner doesn’t like grass-fed beef. He prefers the grain fed variety in terms of flavor and texture. Whats a girl to do?

Well, this girl is going to leave the baby daddy at home, drive 100 miles to pick out a happy cow (no, not like the ones from California) and then quietly serve her partner a Rib Eye steak without pointing out how cute said steak once was, and leave it at that.

Life requires sacrifice, and that’s just the way it is. The only reason why people don’t cry over vegetables when we harvest them is because they don’t have faces. I bet if a rutabaga looked like a bunny rabbit, people would have a harder time rationalizing vegetarianism as a cruelty free way to eat. I personally think the ability to thank your animal in person for his or her flesh will make every meal taste better. However I appear to be alone on this one.

This post has been my contribution to Food Renegade’s Fight Back Friday’s blog carnival.

 

The Quest for Organic Chickens? February 24, 2010

Filed under: Animal Husbandry,Home Economics,Real Food Wednesday — realfoodmama @ 1:10 pm
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This spring it is my plan to raise chickens. We have a lot of work to do before we can purchase our birds. We have to build a chicken coop, decide on a breed, figure out how many birds we want, and determine whether or not we will be able to sell any of our eggs come fall.

My desire to have chickens is motivated by the same thing which spurred my desire to own goats: that is the desire to know where my food is coming from, and that it is being treated humanely before it gets to me. In addition to providing the family with a regular supply of eggs (between the four of us we easily go through two dozen a week) I am also hoping that the chickens will supply much needed fertilizer and pest control for our gardens.

The thing I am really struggling with at this point, regarding both my chickens and my goats, is what to feed them – specifically, whether or not to give them organic feed. Now this may sound somewhat ridiculous, but the primary reason for my concern is financial. I can buy conventional feed for both animals, or I can buy organic feed. The reason I hesitate to buy organic feed is the price: for my goats I spend about $20 a bag on their feed twice a month, not including the alfalfa. If I were to upgrade to the organic feed I would be spending $35 a bag twice a month. This is nearly double and frankly ends up with the goats costing more than they are saving us – i.e. I have a very small “profit margin” and purchasing the organic feed pushes me into the red. At this point, we break even if you calculate feed costs and compare them to the amount we would be spending on milk in the event we didn’t have the goats. If I fed them organic feed, we’d be losing money.

So while I am hardly a large industry, I am affected by the costs associated with organic certification. It makes me think that the whole process is yet another way for the big guys to get richer while the small farmers suffer. And while I hardly identify as a small farmer, in a way that is exactly what I am. I own livestock, I grow my own food, and I am placed in a specific financial situation as a result.

This has in no way altered my decision to purchase chickens, nor has it inclined me to get rid of the goats. However it is something I struggle with and I really have no idea how to resolve the issue short of growing my own alfalfa and grain and I just don’t have the room for that. It concerns me because I wonder what is going into my milk, and how it is affecting my animals. Will it increase vet bills? Could I afford to buy the organic feed every other bag? It is easy to rationalize the additional expense when the food is going directly into my body, or the body of my two year old, but I seem to have a harder time with it when it is coming to me second hand.

In either case it is nothing that I will be able to resolve today, and if we are in a financial situation where I can afford the organic versions I will certainly cough up the additional cash. Until then however, the goats and chickens will be getting conventional feed and that is just the way it will have to be.

This post has been my contribution to Real Food Wednesday, hosted this week by Kelly the Kitchen Kop.

 

Food For Thought – 2/23 February 23, 2010

Filed under: Food For Thought — realfoodmama @ 11:06 am
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There are some interesting things going on in food this week!

While at the dentists office waiting for my son’s father to get out from under the drill, I saw a full page ad in one of the magazines for Eco-Grain bread. Having recently read this article from the Cornucopia Institute about Sara Lee’s attempts to hoodwink the consumer, I was fascinated by the fact-less marketing speak utilized in the full page ad.

Phrases like “better than organic” and “sustainable” are sprinkled throughout the full page ad, luring the consumer in. Not only is the bread full of chemical additives and highly processed foods, but the whole idea of trade-marking a phrase like Eco-Grain just grates on my nerves. I simply don’t understand how food can be deemed intellectual property.

A second example of corporate participation in the overall movement toward better food involves mega-corporation Walmart. A recent article at Grist.org discussed whether or not Walmart was the future of local food, and it appears that there is a large push to increase their organic lines. Additionally, Walmart is touting this article found in The Atlantic as evidence that the corporation is saving people from food deserts. We shall see…having visited my local Walmart recently in order to pick up a post dental surgery prescription, I have to say I am not impressed. Perhaps it is my inherent cynicism or maybe it is just my local store, but if I am going to spend $6.00 on a gallon of organic milk, I want my money going to someone other than a multi-national conglomerate known for their poor employee treatment, low wages and general icki-ness.

On that note, lets talk about some GMO’s! There seems to be some evidence that Monsanto falsified research (shocker!) and might even have concerns for the safety of it’s product – namely a second generation GM corn crop. For more information and a discussion on the details, check out this article.

And lastly, a somewhat more positive piece of news. The Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund has decided to support Raw Milk enthusiasts by taking on the FDA’s refusal to budge on laws against bringing raw milk across state lines. Check out the article and the author’s blog about raw milk.

Hopefully all of this will give you something to ruminate on for the week! Until next time, Happy Eating!

 

Congee – A great way to wake up February 17, 2010

Filed under: Real Food Wednesday — realfoodmama @ 9:17 am
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Rice and Millet congeeThis week I haven’t been feeling very well. I don’t have cold symptoms; I don’t really have any symptoms to be honest. I just feel not quite right.

I have some theories about this. The family was hit by a pretty nasty stomach flu about a month ago and frankly, I’m not sure I’ve fully recovered. My appetite is off and my energy level is incredibly low. Given the severity of the flu, I’m pretty sure any good flora in my digestive system was totally wiped out. Follow this with a week of eating out, two birthdays, a week of PMS-ing (I crave chocolate cake when I PMS – and typically give in) and Valentine’s day, and I have pretty much destroyed my gut.

So what is a girl to do?

I have a couple of tactics. First I will be using my home made raw milk kefir as a tonic to restore all those good bacteria that may or may not be absent. Even though my goat is nearly dried off, she is giving me enough milk still to make a few cups of tea a day and about 1 cup of kefir with each milking.

The other big gun I have? Congee. Now a good many of you may not be familiar with congee. It is something I was introduced to during my training in TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) and again when I traveled to China. It is, in my opinion, a delicious porridge made of long cooked rice and sometimes a combination of rice and millet. The grains are cooked for upwards of twelve hours (basically overnight) until they develop a gelatinous consistency. Typically the ration of rice to water is somewhere between 1:6 and 1:8, but sometimes I go up to 1:10 in order to get a soupy quality. It is occaisionally amended with protein in the form of eggs or pork, and even has veggies mixed in from time to time. I generally prefer it with a fried egg and this is how I ate it this morning.

The idea of congee is best understood as part of the TCM theory about the digestive system in general. Chinese Medicine envisions the digestive system as akin to a campfire. The idea is that at night, while asleep, you allow the fire to burn down to embers due to lack of fuel. When you wake up in the morning, you want to put the right kind of fuel on your fire to keep it going, i.e. something that won’t put the embers out! If you think of food as fuel, you can imagine that the type of fuel you’d want to put on low embers would be kindling…something that will catch quickly and bring the fire up to flame. Think of congee as kindling. If you’ve ever eaten a bowl of oatmeal only to be hungry a few hours later, you can understand the analogy. It is easily digested and turns efficiently into energy.

Basically what I am attempting to do is stoke my digestive fire. I am hoping that the combination of congee and pro-biotics will jump start my system and will allow me to fully recover from the combination of stomach flu and overindulgence! It also tastes delicious…especially with an egg.

The recipe I used is very basic, but I have included it anyway. I have experimented with different grains such as amaranth or barley, and have even added beans just to mix it up but to be honest, I like the basic the best.

Basic Congee

3/4 c rice, rinsed
1/4 c millet
8 cups water

Combine the grains and the water in a crock pot and put on your lowest setting overnight. Serve warm with a fried egg or anything else you might think tastes good!

This post has been my contribution to Real Food Wednesday, hosted this week by Cheeseslave.

 

Food For Thought Tuesday – 2/16 February 16, 2010

Filed under: Food For Thought — realfoodmama @ 11:39 am
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This week there are some great things going on locally including a heritage meat tasting event hosted by Slow Food Santa Fe and taking place at the Santa Fe Farmer’s Market pavilion. Additionally the New Mexico Organic Farming Conference is taking place this weekend. All growers, sellers and buyers are encouraged to attend!

Concerning large scale operations there was also some news this week. I don’t usually watch mainstream media, but this last week CBS highlighted the dangers of routine antibiotic use in animals. Unfortunately the woman representing the pork board is clearly on the payroll of the drug companies. And the farmers are concerned only about profit. It is an eye opening interview, although I’m not sure anyone involved realizes the message they are really conveying. Additionally, the USDA released new organic dairy regulations. While most seem to be pretty happy that there are stricter rules, some organic dairy’s, including Strauss Farms, were not pleased.

For all of you New Mexico readers, the state senate has passed the food tax bill, although no one is sure if it will pass house approval. The main reason I am following this story is because the tax, apparently, applies only to things like candy, soda, processed foods and, strangely enough, white flour tortillas. Any food that is considered applicable to WIC (the federal Women, Infant’s and Children program) will not be taxed. This includes things like milk, eggs and vegetables – although it also includes peanut butter. We will see if it goes through, but I find it at least a little heartening to learn that the state of NM is trying to encourage its citizens to eat better, even if it means taxing the bad stuff. The only real concern, of course, is the tortilla tax. New Mexican’s eat a lot of tortillas. Check this article out for more info on the two sides of the debate.

Happy Eating!

 

Succulent Pressure Cooker Beef Stew February 10, 2010

Filed under: Real Food Wednesday,Recipe — realfoodmama @ 10:20 am
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Pressure Cooker Beef StewSo the other night I was looking once again at the beef in my freezer wondering what I could do with all that stew meat that wouldn’t be exactly like everything else I have ever done with stew meat. To be completely honest with you, inspiration did not strike until I was halfway through the process, but oh! Did it strike hard! The use of the pressure cooker is a result of the fact that I was procrastinating and didn’t start dinner until about 40 minutes before we were scheduled to eat. This stew could probably be cooked in a stock pot or crock pot, but the recipe would have to be adjusted to accommodate the longer cooking time. My pressure cooking is one of my favorite tools here in the kitchen. It makes cooking beans a breeze and helps with a variety of meat dishes.

In addition to the beef, I had planned on adding carrots and potatoes to the stew halfway through the cooking, so I had them all cut up on the counter next to the pot. When I tasted the beef portion, however, I decided against doing so. Instead I simply boiled them up and served them on the side with a strong dose of butter, heavy cream and salt. I love fat…but that’s a different post! Here is the recipe!

Succulent Pressure Cooker Beef Stew

1 lb grass fed beef stew meat
2 TBSP olive oil + 2 TBSP organic butter
1/2 onion, chopped fine
1 stick celery, diced fine
1/2 large carrot (or one small), diced
2 TBSP cognac
1 heaping TBSP organic tomato paste
1 c water
1 TBSP dried thyme
1 tsp fennel seed, crushed
~ 2 tsp ground black pepper
~ TBSP sea salt

Place the meat in a bowl and add the black pepper – I am guessing on the quantity because I basically just peppered the meat until it looked covered enough. I like the flavor of pepper in my stews, so I suspect I put in quite a bit. Set the meat aside for a minute at room temperature and heat your oil. I used a pressure cooker because I started dinner late and it is a great way to tenderize meat and cook veggies really quickly. You could use a different method, but you would have to adjust the liquid to compensate for the longer cooking time – probably up to two cups.

Back to the recipe…

Heat the olive oil and butter in the pressure cooker over medium high heat until the butter has started to brown a bit then put in the peppered meat. Avert your eyes and use a long wooden spoon to stir the meat until it is well browned, about 3 – 5 minutes. Pour the meat and all juices back into the bowl and put the pot back on the heat. Lower it to medium low, then add your chopped onions, celery and carrots. You want to “sweat” these veggies, not sautee them. Cook them this way, avoiding browning, until the onions are translucent and the carrots are soft, about 5 – 7 minutes.

Add the beef and all accumulated juices back into the pot, along with the cognac, tomato paste and water. Stir well so the tomato paste dissolves and bring to a simmer. Add the crushed thyme and fennel seeds and your salt (I like a lot of salt, so simply salt to your taste). Place the lid on your pressure cooker and set it to the correct setting for your altitude. Once the pot has pressurized, cook for 10 minutes (so quick!).

Check the stew at this point and make sure the meat is tender enough and there is still liquid. If you want it to go a bit longer and the liquid is sufficient, go ahead. I was happy with the results after this amount of time.

What you end up with is an incredibly savory, rich stew with a thick sauce and tender meat. Serve it poured over mashed potatoes (and carrots!) and you have a really quick, hearty meal for these snowy, cold February nights.

This post has been my submission to Kelly the Kitchen Kop’s Real Food Wednesday blog carnival.

 

Food for Thought Tuesday – 2/9 February 9, 2010

Filed under: Food For Thought — realfoodmama @ 10:10 am
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I have decided that given how many links I post on various social networking sites, and how much reading I do throughout the week, that I should really try to consolidate all that information into a weekly post so that my readers who aren’t on Facebook or Twitter can get all that info! Additionally, it might be nice to have a single “go-to” spot for this stuff so that it is all in one place. I know I certainly appreciate that!

Of particular interest this week to me was this article from the Cornucopia Institute about “raw” almonds. Apparently the USDA requires a “pasteurization” type treatment of raw almonds utilizing either high heat or a chemical application. The biggest concerns, according to the article, include the effect this is having on small scale farmers as well as the labeling issue – almonds treated this way can still be sold as “raw”! Now I don’t know about you, but as far as I’m concerned if you treat something with “high heat”…you’ve cooked it!

I also learned this week that the NAIS (National Animal Identification System) legislation is undergoing a re-write. During consideration, the USDA went on a nation wide “listening tour” where they heard input from farmers across the country. The feedback really helped and made it clear to the legislators that the NAIS was not popular in it’s current form. Some of the key changes? It would only apply to livestock moving across state lines and the States and Tribal Nations would have a much broader say in regional enforcement. For more information check out the USDA news release. This is great news for anyone with a few chickens or goats in their yard!

Have you seen this? A teacher is eating school lunches every day in 2010 (barring her days off of course). If you’ve ever wanted a close up look at the school lunch program in this country, here is your chance. It’s pretty grim!

Check out my blog tomorrow for a wonderful beef stew recipe – I was experimenting last night and ended up with the best stew I’ve ever made! Until then, Happy Eating!