Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Where have I gone? Where am I going?

It's official: I'm writing a book. 

For a year, I've been cooking my way through half a cow, 187 pounds of grass-fed meat.  Along the way, I've been chronicling the journey: the successes, the failures and my intense desire to toss the whole bloody mess into the trash.  But "Half a Cow" is more than a book about cooking: it's about everything I've learned about myself along the way, as a mom, a wife, a daughter and a woman.  Think of it as one woman's search for identity, and the bottom of her deep freezer.

So I'm taking a break from the blog to focus on the book.  If you, or anyone you know, is interested in learning more about "Half a Cow," please please PLEASE let me know.  You can contact me through the blog, or at

Thank you for reading.  I hope to be back here soon with more information about my newest venture.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Quitting time?

I’m a quitter.  In the fifteen years I’ve known my husband, he’s had one job, one work telephone number, one email address.  I’ve lost track of how many jobs I’ve had, bosses, extensions, 401Ks.  Since I graduated from high school, the longest I’ve held a job is two and half years.  That’s not to say I’ve been fired.  I've just found reasons to pack up and move on whenever things got old, stale, or I had a baby. 

Being a mother is the one job I can’t quit.  And I don’t mean that in a trite, Hallmark-card kind of way (“it's the toughest job you’ll ever love”).  I mean, I actually cannot quit it.  Every morning, day in and day out, there are the kids, needing me, demanding food.  Yes, I suppose I could actually leave or remain but be emotionally absent laying on the couch sipping a glass of white wine while Dr. Phil drones on in the background.  But let’s assume for the moment that I’m not going to do either of those things.  The kids are here and I’m sticking around.  Those are both givens.

The meat in the freezer has become kind of the same thing, a very large commitment--perhaps larger than I originally thought--that I have no choice but to see through to the end.  Have I mentioned that I've lost the key to the freezer, requiring me to pry the thing open with a flat-head screwdriver?  Am I tempted to leave it permanently locked?  Yes I am.  But forge on I must, trolling the internet for recipes, ignoring the beautiful chicken and fish on sale at my local market and subjecting my family to yet another meal of red meat.  What says summertime like a hearty stew or pot roast?

I've been playing around with different ways of cooking the steaks.  The following caption caught my eye in a book I borrowed from the library, The Butcher's Guide to Well-Raised Meat by Joshua and Jessica Applestone, owners of Fleisher's Meats in Kingston, New York and fellow Dartmouth graduate Alexandra Zissu:

The perfect steak?  That sounds good.  After many failed attempts at cooking tender and juicy steaks ("You've had a couple of setbacks," Ken offered kindly one evening), I was definitely ready for the "perfect" steak.  Here's what they suggest, much of which--bringing the meat to room temperature before cooking, not subjecting the meat to high temperatures--jibes with what Deborah Krasner has said.  So with Sam by my side--so desperate for a good steak--we forged on, following the directions to the letter:

Cooking the Perfect Steak

*Preheat the oven to 300 degrees F.
*Bring to room temperature, then salt each side of the steak and let it sit for 5 to 10 minutes before cooking.
*Heat an ovenproof pan (French steel or cast iron is preferred) over high heat until it starts to smoke (oil is not necessary, but add a tablespoon of organic canola oil if you like).
*Sear the steak in the hot pan for 2 minutes per side.  (Never use a fork to turn the steak; use your fingers or tongs.)
*Put a splash of olive oil, a pat of butter, a dollop of bone marrow, or a mixture on top of the steak.
*Transfer the pan to the oven.
*Cook for 4 to 8 minutes to desired doneness (it depends on the steak, so go by internal temperature, not time--we recommend 120 degrees F for a perfect medium-rare).
*Take the pan out of the oven, place the steak on a cutting board, and let it rest for 5 minutes.
*Slice and serve.

I've been kind of underwhelmed by my meat thermometer so I did follow the clock more than the internal temperature.  A real cook would laugh at how dependent I've become on the kitchen timer.  But I must say it turned out pretty well.  I've cooked steaks this way a couple of times since then and have been generally pleased with the results.  Maybe you will try it too!  Let me know how it works out if you do.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

We've broken the 100 pound mark!

A few people have asked me recently how much meat I still have, so I thought it might be time to revisit the deep freezer.  I am happy to report that we are down just below 100 pounds (99.9 to be exact).  That means we've eaten 36.65 pounds since November, an average of just over 9 pounds a month.  At this rate, we'll be finished in 11 more months, or next March, 21 months after receiving the meat.

I think we have to go a little bit faster.

The slightly exciting/terrifying thing is that we only have one pack of ground beef left, only 1.44 pounds.  Ground beef has been a hit around here because it is so versatile and can be used for lots of dishes that don't feel, well, so meaty.  On the flip side, we still have 15 pounds of hamburger patties, or 60 patties.  Barbecue season is around the corner, so don't be surprised if you're invited over for a barbecue sometime soon.  You may be invited because we like you, but your chances for invitation improve if you really like burgers.

There is still a lot of stew meat (about 7 pounds) and a lot of roasts (trust me, it's a lot), but the good news is that there are still lots of steaks to play with, including 3 lovely little filet mignons.  Yum.  We'll close out the ground beef tonight with taco night!  Yay.  And there's a round roast recipe I want to try this weekend that includes pasta, always a hit around here.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Three Strikes and You're Out

Ho hum.
I hinted in my previous post that I was becoming disillusioned with Mark Bittman, the man I referred to in an earlier post as my "lover." 

I should, perhaps, be more clear: Mark Bittman is not my actual lover.  I have, instead, loved him from afar, as both a dedicated reader of his New York Times columns and owner of his cookbook How to Cook Everything.  I also have his iPhone app.

Given our close relationship, it should come as no surprise that I have turned to him many times during the cooking of my half a cow.  I have reported on the resulting meals several times in this blog.

Audible sigh.
A few months ago, I reported dissatisfaction with his stew recipe.  Earlier this week, I expressed similar dissatisfaction with his Roast Tenderloin (although I am willing to assign myself at least 50% of the blame for that failure).

But I am sorry to report that the third time was not a charm for me.

Last week, I decided to try his Meat Loaf recipe (p.723).  I should say off the bat that I am not a real fan of meat loaf.  I'd rather eat meatballs or a burger, but meat loaf seemed like a good way to mix things up.  And when you're cooking 187 pounds of meat, mixing things up is generally a good thing.

But having said all that, the meat loaf was just OK.  To be fair, I didn't use a mixture of ground meats (beef, veal, lamb and/or pork) like he suggested so I don't know if that would have made a difference.  Nevertheless, I was definitely underwhelmed.

Wake me when it's over.
I'm starting to notice a pattern, so How to Cook Everything is going back up on the shelf.  "Use Craig Claiborne," my dad advised me, and I think I will.

In addition to CC, I'm also going to a consult a wonderful book I just bought called An Everlasting Meal by Tamar Adler.  I'm still at the cradle lovingly and browse stage of book ownership so I don't have a full review yet, but I have excitedly browsed the meat chapter (called "How To Be Tender"), and I have high hopes.  So out with the old and in with the new.

Sorry, Mark.  It was great while it lasted.

Blood bath

So, are you sick of it yet?

Should I post yet another photo of raw meat soaking in some kind of marinade? 

Yummy yummy yay.
How about another picture of my kids mugging for the camera, feigning enthusiasm for yet another (tough) piece of meat? 

Go mom.... yay mom.
My iPhoto account looks like it's been hacked by Sweeney Todd.

Plate of blood, anyone?
It's safe to say my enthusiasm is flagging.  I wander the supermarket aisles, yearning for chicken, pork, fresh fish and, in my weaker moments, buy it, only delaying the inevitable trip to the deep freezer.  In typical Daisy fashion, I'm considering resignation.  What was I thinking?  But this meat isn't going anywhere.  It's staring me in the face, demanding to be cooked, so I'm stuck with it.  Cook or be cooked.

Like Elaine Stritch, I'm still here.
It doesn't help that my last few attempts have been failures, beginning with last Sunday's roast.  After a short family trip to Florida, during which I thought about grass-fed beef not at all, and several nights of pasta with red sauce (which my children would eat happily for the rest of their lives), I knew it was time to once again face down the roasts.  I invited my father (the famous Betty Crockerwitz) for dinner and whipped out my trusty Mark Bittman.  I decided to try his "Roast Tenderloin with Herbs," which sounded yummy and seemed easy enough.  To paraphrase Mark: Soak the meat in a marinade of olive oil, balsamic vinegar, fresh parsley, thyme, bay leaf and garlic.  Then roast it in a 450 degree oven for 20 minutes, or until the meat measures 125 degrees using a meat thermometer.  Let sit for 5 minutes, sprinkle with salt and pepper and serve.

Spoiler alert: the marinade was the best part.
20 minutes?  Seriously?  Eying the large hunk of meat oozing blood onto the counter, my father and I were skeptical.  But we gamely pulled out my brand new meat thermometer, set the kitchen timer and  waited.  We pulled the roast out after 20 minutes and found it disturbingly wiggly.  At the same time we discovered that my meat thermometer only reads as low as 140 degrees, but even without its reading, we felt confident that the roast needed more time.  Back in it went for 20 more minutes after which we carved it.

If you have ever been lulled into thinking of a burger or a roast as something other than a previously living creature, carving the roast at that moment would have sent you running for the vegan side of the fence.  Betty C., enthusiastic as ever, sliced the meat and brought it to the table, where Ken and the kids were waiting.  As the bloody meat was set down, Ken and I locked eyes.  That looks gross, we communicated telepathically.  We served a couple of pieces from the ends to the kids and then stuck it back in the oven for 10 more minutes, after which point we decided to pull the plug.  Time of death: 50 minutes in the oven and counting....

So what went wrong?  First of all, I'm still struggling with understanding which cuts of meat are right for which type of preparation.  In the postmortem about my roast, my father and I decided that we should have potted the beef instead of roasting it.   I think the error was cooking the meat quickly and at a high temperature instead of slowly at a low temperature.  So boo me. 

But there are also stirrings in the house against Mark Bittman.... more about that later.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Swedish Chef

Forget Santa!  We have meatballs!
Those of you who know me from way back might remember that my mother was Swedish.  It's sometimes a bit hazy for folks.  Was she Norwegian? From Switzerland?  No and no.  She was Swedish, from Sweden.  My mother's native country is enjoying a bit of a resurgence these days, what with the Dragon Tattoo girl reminding everyone about Sweden again.  (And it's not the Sweden of Abba and Ikea either.  Rape and Nazis!  Who knew?)

But before all that, there was my mom, a Swedish woman hiding in plain sight on the Upper East Side, with nary a tattoo in sight.  My mother left Sweden in 1967, following her sister to New York and meeting and marrying my father, a Jewish guy from Brooklyn, in short order.  What followed--for me at least--was a childhood steeped in culture clash resulting in a grab bag of traditions.  A little Matzah here, a little pepparkakor there. 

This is not enough, not nearly enough.
When I was a child, my family always celebrated Christmas Eve with a traditional Swedish Christmas meal.  Ham, red cabbage, Jansson's Temptation, hard bread, gravlax, gingerbread, glögg and, of course, Swedish meatballs.  I used to watch my mother and her sister roll and fry those meatballs for hours, trying to make enough to satisfy all our guests.  Since my mother's death, my family still gets together to share the same meal we've been making for ages.  So between lighting the Hanukkah candles and spinning the dreidl, we're rolling meatballs and trying to remember how to pronounce "glögg."  Our own funky tradition.  Cool. 

 What exactly are Swedish meatballs?  As far as I can tell, they're your basic meatball, but made with a combination of ground beef, veal and pork.  I've always followed the recipe my mother used, not one passed down from her mother's mother but from Craig Claiborne's New York Times Cook Book.  (She really was Swedish, I swear.  Maybe my family's cultural heritage is really "New York Times.")  When you're not making a gazillion, they're actually pretty easy.  You can buy "meat loaf" mix at the supermarket, which is a combination of all three meats.  That's what I usually do, but since I had my own ground beef, I was delighted to discover that you can also buy ground pork and ground veal separately.  But you already knew that.

Swedish Meatballs
Serves 4 (Ha!  Like that would ever be enough!)
Betty C., up to his elbows in meatball goodness.

2 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons minced onions
1 cup fresh bread crumbs
3/4 cup milk, or half-and-half
3/4 pound ground round steak
1/4 pound ground veal
1/4 pound ground pork
1 egg
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

1.  In a large skillet melt the butter and saute the onions until they are golden brown.
2.  Soak the crumbs in the milk, add the meats, egg, onions, salt and pepper and mix thoroughly.    Shape the mixture into balls about 1 1/2 inches in diameter.  (Keep them small for Pete's sake.  You aren't Carmela Soprano!)
3.  Melt enough additional butter in the skillet to cover the bottom and brown the meatballs over medium heat.  Shake the pan occasionally so the meatballs will retain their round shape.  Remove to a serving dish and keep warm.
4.  Eat them until you are sick and can't stand the sight of them (until next year). 

Monday, December 12, 2011


Perhaps stupendous is a bit of an overstatement to describe my latest stew, but I couldn't resist.  Do you blame me?

After taking inventory of my freezer stock last month and discovering I still had 15 pounds of stew meat (don't even talk to me about the roasts), I decided I really had to get to work.  And it was a cold December Sunday, so what better to do than make a stew?  (Actually, I could think of lots of other ways to spend a lazy Sunday, but I am working within certain parameters.) 

My previous attempts at stews had been lackluster, including the one I blogged about here, and one I made last month using a recipe from my lover Mark Bittman.  It's hard to say this, but Mark's basic stew recipe was just OK.  The meat was tough, the flavors kind of muted.  It felt a little like something served up to Oliver Twist.  But I still love Mark, and this is how much: After borrowing his How to Cook Everything from the library and spattering grass-fed blood and grease all over it, I actually bought my own copy.  And if you're out there,Mark, you should know you're still one of my top two most-wished-for dining companions along with Brian Lehrer.  I hope we're still OK.

Sorry fellow library patrons.
I plan to go a bit further afield with my stews, but since my previous call for inspiring stew recipes appears to have gone unheeded, I guess it's just me, my stew meat and Google.

I decided to follow this recipe, which got 4.5 stars out of five based on 594 reviews.  Wow!  That's a lot of stew going on!  And it was a good one.  I particularly like how it made use of the slow cooker I recently bought at Costco.  It also used onion soup mix, which had brought my brisket to life.  And I had an able kitchen helper in the person of my daughter, Ellie.

Ellie recently announced that she loves to cook and bake.  For the past several weeks, any time she sees me gearing up to make something, she grabs her stool and her apron and dives in.  (But before you send me adulatory emails about what a wonderful mother I am involving Ellie in my culinary activities and making mother-daughter memories that will last a lifetime, I feel I should let you know that when I handed her a potato, she asked me, "What's that?"  So we have a long way to go.)

Everyone's getting in on the act, it seems.  Here's Sam working hard for equal face time on the blog.

After a while, he got bored and started taking pictures of my butt with the camera.   I would show you those pictures, but you probably want to see pictures of the stew.  So here goes!
Browning the meat

Stirring it up in the crock pot

Ready to serve!
Keep those recipes coming!  Oh wait, I didn't get any.  My bad.