Beef Art: Bresaola

Beef Art: Bresaola

The Goal: Silky, paper thin, marinated, air-dried beef from the river cottage meat book

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Remember the huge crush I have on Paul Bertolli? And his tomatoes 12 ways project? And my idea to copy his idea using beef instead of tomatoes?

You thought I forgot about it didn’t you?  Well, I admit I’ve been slow to come up with a new way, but not to worry; I’m on it now.  And I’m especially excited about this one.

Everyone loves prosciutto, the paper-thin, silky, salty, air-cured ham from Italy.  But prosciutto’s less known beef cousin bresaola can be just as amazing.

Of course, leave it to our Italian friends to turn thinly sliced air-cured beef drizzled with olive oil & lemon juice into an art form while our American version of dried beef is known by millions of GIs as the main ingredient in a dish called Shit on a Shingle. What can I say? It doesn’t have to be that way…

Since I’m out of everything but burger at the moment, my eye of round is from Ron Gargasz Organic Farms just outside Slippery Rock, PA.  Now, don’t tell the Ladies I said this, and if you do I’ll never admit it, but the Angus cows at Ron Gargasz’s farm are pretty amazing too. They’ve never eaten anything but organic grass and hay grown right there at home and lead companionable, social lives. With plenty of doting too…

So, with a beautiful, grass-fed organic eye of round in my freezer, I’m not about to waste a chance to take an imaginary road trip to Italy.

The esteemed panel of experts on my bookshelf  had much to say about making Bresaola.  Sadly, just like he did when I made consommé, Paul Bertolli left me to fend for myself.  But Darina Allen, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, Josh and Jessica Applestone and Michael Ruhlman; they all had lots of good advice.

All four books have great recipes and a slightly different take on making bresaola.  I had a hard time making up my mind which one to follow, but ended up with Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall.  My super-close second was the Applestone’s recipe which was the only one to call for cold smoking the roast before air drying. Very intriguing and I will be trying it soon.

Why was I so taken with HFW’s recipe? The brine was a little more elaborate, without being ridiculous. I always hate to over season well-raised beef because I think it tastes so great as it is.  But the small amount of lemon zest, orange zest, bay leaves, black pepper and red pepper flakes in the wine & salt brine seemed like just the right blend to really call attention to the beef.  You may not agree, but I think there’s something magic about the combo of beef and orange zest… add red pepper flakes and oh, my.

So this week, I mixed up my brine and soaked that roast turning twice a day. Tomorrow begins the tricky air-drying process which will last three to four weeks. Then, if I don’t blow it, comes the best part of all, eating the bresaola!

Very exciting stuff for me. I know.  I know.  I  SHOULD get out more.

If you missed my other beefy adventures,  here they are:

Beef & Pork Belly Dan Barber’s Way

Corned Beef Tongue & Red Flannel Hash

Creamy Corned Beef (Tongue) Spread

Oxtail Consommé & My Very Favorite Ravioli Filling

what kind of future are you planting?

what kind of future are you planting?

I’m kind of excited about a few new things going on around here.  I’ll admit I have never been all that fond of gardening chores.  I think it’s the relentlessness. I enjoy gardening some days, and I find a job well done very satisfying.  And then I’ve had enough for a while.

Today, the garden I slavishly weeded yesterday has weeds. Already. Overnight. Can you think of a better word than relentless? Thankless? Never-ending? Merciless?

Yet, each year something about the garden draws me in a little deeper.  I have threatened to do this for a while, but resisted. Last year, I even went so far as to buy most of the supplies but didn’t get to the project in time.

But this year is the year. I’m leaving the kiddie pool and am headed definitively towards the deep end. Maybe too deep – we’ll see how long it takes before weeds are overtaking even my dreams…

What am I talking about? Starting my own seeds, silly! This year I’ll have veggies you can’t buy at the store… the secret to amazing pickles? it’s all about amazing cucumbers…

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As ambivalent as I am about gardening,  you know what I am wholeheartedly fond of? Good food.

Food from the kitchen garden hooked me.  Get used to it and there’s no going back.  Recipes now begin not at the grocery, but in the seed catalog.  Like the old timers, I’m  starting to plan things I want to cook a year or two in advance – because to have the right ingredients, I have to grow it myself.

I’m sure I’ve gone way overboard, but I’ll give it my best. I’m planning things that add pleasure to my winters, are fun to give as gifts, go well with my other favorite things like cheese and charcuterie and in general will add summer sunshine to dark snow-filled days.

And don’t think I’m planting just for myself.  I’ve got a few treats in store for the Ladies too.  Fodder beets and pumpkins anyone?  I can’t wait to dish those out once fresh grass is a distant memory.

This quirky-sweet book, Eat More Dirt by Ellen Sandbeck, has been on my shelves for some time, and it’s always good grazing. I savor a morsel here and a bit there, then put it back and forget about it. I bought the book a while ago, sometime just after 9/11. Who knew then that I would be living on a farm with a bunch of funny bovine Ladies?  Surely not me…

Today, this quote from the introduction really grabbed me, I suppose because it so well explains what’s been happening to me since we bought this farm:

“ We love that which we know intimately.  No lover ever knew his beloved better than a gardener knows his garden.  Learning to love a single small plot of earth is a good start toward learning to be protective of our beautiful little planet.”

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But do I own this farm? Or does it own me? I’ll have to get back to you on that…

This is no kitchen garden – it’s a field! Freshly plowed, ready for disking & soon to be planted with corn, fodder beets and pumpkins plus a few surprises to come…

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This post is part of Simple Lives Thursday. What’s that you ask? It’s an ambitious and enlightening collection of posts from bloggers all over about issues near and dear to my heart: real food and natural living. Check it out!

State of the Freezer: Use it up, Wear it Out, Make it Do or Do Without

State of the Freezer: Use it up, Wear it Out, Make it Do or Do Without

Monday Moo-sings: In which we share random farm happenings, snapshots & recipes

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Can’t imagine a prettier color filling…

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I must say I’m a teeny bit disappointed.  Disappointed because not a single one of you asked about my rhubarb beet tart from St. Patrick’s Day.

Now I really, really need to know; did you not ask because you didn’t notice, or because it didn’t sound like anything you’d want to make?

In case your head has been under a rock, guess what? It’s spring.  Ready or not here it comes it seems. Grass is growing, trees are blooming, and new rhubarb is pushing its way up. I’m still not sure what to make of it, but I’m not being ungrateful or anything.

The fruit is macerated, the juice is strained, reduced & added to filling after baking

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Obviously I’d better get a move on and empty the freezer of the remains of last summer’s stash so I’ll be ready for the new stuff soon to come. Some of my stash?

One pound of rhubarb nicely chopped & ready to go.  My plan was to make my favorite rhubarb tarts, but I find I’m 8 ounces short of rhubarb.  Conveniently, I have exactly 8 ounces of grated beets. Coincidence? I think not.

While the pies bake, the strained liquid is reduced to a thickened sauce

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I followed the rhubarb tart recipe exactly except for the substitution of 8 ounces of beets for 8 ounces of rhubarb.  Then, instead of the vanilla, I used the zest from one orange.  The cinnamon I could go either way on – I added it this time, next time I think I’ll pass. But the orange was perfect.

the open crust allows the thickened sauce to be easily spooned in & i like the rustic look

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It was a unique and serendipitous hit if I do say so myself; I highly recommend pie as a way to clean out that freezer. I have high hopes about this years’ garden… and the squash and pumpkin still waiting in the freezer.  With a little luck that freezer will be emptied & restocked in no time…

Are you getting excited for summer food projects?

This post is part of Simple Lives Thursday. What’s that you ask? It’s an ambitious and enlightening collection of posts from bloggers all over about issues near and dear to my heart: real food and natural living. Check it out!

History Repeats Itself: Lessons We Ignore from Ireland’s Great Hunger

History Repeats Itself: Lessons We Ignore from Ireland’s Great Hunger

THINKING THURSDAY: SOMETHING TO PONDER IN THE WORLD OF FOOD AND FARMING.

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Oh, the 2012 holiday merry-go-round is already churning. We’ve barely finished with the shamrocks & green beer and Easter & Mother’s Day are hot on its heels.  Could I ask you to indulge me for a minute?  Could I tarry just a little longer at St. Patrick’s Day?

Not because I’m so very Irish (I am), but because Ireland offers one of the most memorable and recent cautionary tales about why we should be petrified about the extent of our current American practice of growing just a few varieties of a few crops year after year (monoculture).

It’s hard to imagine famine when you take for granted the endless array of processed foods in the typical American grocery store.  But, do a little Googling and you’ll soon learn that the huge cornucopia of shiny boxes and bags are manufactured from less than 12 crop varieties.

It is so, so dangerous to have your entire food supply invested in one single variety of one single crop, yet it’s unbelievably commonplace and even celebrated as the kind of modern progress needed to feed the world.  We’ve already discussed feeding the world, remember?

I can’t decide if our choice to play agricultural roulette is due to an over-abundance of confidence or ignorance, but it’s frightening. The really crazy thing is how many of us are Americans today because our ancestors were forced to flee starvation and workhouses in Ireland.  The Great Irish Hunger wasn’t all that long ago –  how quickly we forget.

For a while, the potato was a true savior for Ireland. It found its convoluted way from the Andes in South America to the struggling Irish peasants.  The Irish climate suited the tuber perfectly and these poor families were finally able to grow enough food to feed their families well on their tiny plots of land.

In the Andes, as many as 200 species of potato may be planted in the same field.

In the Andes, farmers cultivated diversity in the potato and enjoyed as many as 4.000 varieties. A really good source for learning about agrobiodiversity is the website SustainableTable (dot)org. Here’s a bit of Sustainable Table’s take on the potato situation in the Andes:

“This abundance of diversity is the result of farmers artificially selecting traits over generations for specific purposes, like resistance to disease, tolerance to high altitudes or poor soils, etc. This diversity is important for food security—in the event that a particular crop variety fails due to drought, flooding or a disease, another variety might survive to avoid food shortages.”

Meanwhile the Irish tale goes a little differently:

“In stark contrast to this [Andes] model of agrobiodiversity,  the Irish Potato Famine of the 1840s was the result of a fungus that completely destroyed the Irish potato crop because only a few varieties of potatoes had been imported from the Andes to Europe, none of which were resistant to the disease. Because of a lack of crop diversity and over reliance on one crop to feed many of its population, Ireland experienced widespread famine and death.

 

The Irish you see, had a history of diversified farming but were no longer able to grow the variety of crops they relied on before the British occupied Ireland.  The British made it illegal for Irish Catholics to own or lease land and Irish farmland had been repurposed to raise grain and cattle to satisfy England’s insatiable taste for beef.  Irish farmers were forced onto tiny plots of meager land and struggled with subsistence wages. The potato was the only crop that could be counted on to keep a family fed under such restrictive conditions.

A one acre field of lumpers could be counted on to feed a family for a whole year

Irish potatoes were especially vulnerable because they planted just one kind, Lumpers.  And, because potatoes grow from other potatoes, they are like genetic clones – each exactly the same as all the others.  So, when an airborne mold blew into Ireland, the single crop expected to feed about 3 million people was devastated almost overnight, with few backup alternatives.

Of course, the suffering and starvation part of the tragedy was caused by a perfect storm of greed, prejudice and politics which amplified the already bad enough crop failure. I hope I’m wrong about this, but it feels like we may never get the greed + power = politics part right, but the lack of biodiversity?  That we are able to avoid.

Yet, amazingly enough, we don’t.  Industrial Farms plant huge monocultures of the three main government subsidized crops, year after year. They deplete the soil of beneficial microbes thereby becoming more and more reliant on synthetic (petroleum-based) fertilizers and pesticides.

Think about these statistics also from Sustainable Table:

  • Almost 96% of the commercial vegetable varieties available in 1903 are now extinct.
  • According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), humans now rely upon just 14 species of mammals and birds to supply 90% of all animal-derived foods.
  • Twelve plant crops account for more than three-quarters of the food consumed in the world, and just three—rice, wheat, and maize—are relied on for more than half of the world’s food.
  • Reliance upon modern varieties of rice has caused more than 1,500 local rice varieties in Indonesia to become extinct.

For some reason, when Americans embrace new technology, we have a way of kicking the old to the curb so fast it’s lost forever.  Few farmers preserve their old hybrid seeds just in case their new GM crop fails.  I don’t know about you, but I like the security of  knowing I’ve left a popcorn trail to guide me home if the new and improved turns out to not be so great after all.

Have we learned from the Irish potato famine?  Let’s see:

  • Dominant food source invested in extremely few crops of one variety, check.
  • A national food system serving the desires of the few not the needs of the many, check check.
  • Limited access to land discourages initiative and opportunity for people to feed themselves and rise above the limitations imposed by the system: check check check.

Well, it seems to me that what we’ve learned is how to do it again. The saddest thing is that we can’t even blame foreign occupation for our situation.  At least not unless you believe America is occupied by Monsanto, Cargill, General Mills, Dean Foods & Friends.  But blaming things on corporations implies you have no choice in the matter. Which is not entirely true.

So today, on this unusually summer-like first day of spring you can take a small step or two to do your part to restore biodiversity to our food system.

First, consider planting a small garden and growing a few heirloom varieties of your favorite fruits and vegetables. Have you heard of Kitchen Gardener’s International?  Let Roger Doiron’s entertaining TED talk convince you:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ezuz_-eZTMI

Or, if gardening is not your thing, consider signing up for a Community Shared Agriculture  (CSA) share from a local farm growing heirloom fruits & veggies. Even better if they offer eggs and meat from heritage breed livestock.  And if they have fresh, locally produced dairy products too, well lucky you.  Go for it, please. Don’t know where to find a CSA? Look here.

And, if even a weekly box of goodness is too much obligation, at least do some shopping at your local farmer’s market. Home gardeners and small, diversified farmers are doing most of the work saving plants whose claims to fame are flavor and hardiness instead of uniformity and ability to withstand processing and shipping. But the success of their work is completely dependent on your commitment to buy from them.

Come ON, you can do it! The future is riding on what you have for dinner….

This post is part of Simple Lives Thursday. What’s that you ask? It’s an ambitious and enlightening collection of posts from bloggers all over about issues near and dear to my heart: real food and natural living. Check it out!

Pink Slime is not my problem. And it doesn’t have to be yours either.

Pink Slime is not my problem. And it doesn’t have to be yours either.

No worries about pink slime when you buy beef from small farms and trusted butchers.

I cannot help but be amazed by how many Google searches there have been for pink slime since Diane Sawyer’s report about this most charming of meat industry secrets. At first I was blushing with the new popularity my little blog had found until I realized it was all just a sad misunderstanding.

I had written this post about the marketing of meat by our local grocery store chain and the carefully crafted language used to head off growing interest in humanely raised grass-fed beef by the grocery store, The Cattlemen’s Beef Board and The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association.

Little did I know, but this week, my article contained all the right words to become an overnight Google sensation: Giant Eagle, pink slime, and beef.  I don’t know why this is just today such big news; pink slime has been public knowledge as early as 2002. But, thanks to ABC, today it’s a big deal.

I don’t want to get too scientific here; I am not a scientist.  I’ve read quite a few of the articles and I do suspect the indignant exposés are guilty of a little sensationalism of their own.  Does pink slime contain the household cleaning agent we’re all envisioning? Or is it just a hazing of ammonia gas? Or maybe a different form of ammonia with a bark much worse than its bite?

This online article, published in 2009 by Food Insight, is a very level-headed explanation about the use of ammonium hydroxide in the food industry. Before you get too lathered up, I recommend you give it a read.

After you’re done getting mad about your ground beef, better check to see if you’ve got any baked goods, cheeses, chocolates, candies like caramel or puddings in your pantry because ammonium hydroxide is commonly used to manufacture those too.

Oh, and:

 “Ammonia in other forms (e.g., ammonium sulfate, ammonium alginate) is used in condiments, relishes, soy protein concentrates/isolates, snack foods, jams and jellies, and non-alcoholic beverages.

The World Health Organization has listed hundreds of food types that may be processed using ammonium hydroxide when used in accordance with good manufacturing practices.  These include dairy products, confections, fruits and vegetables, baked goods, breakfast cereals, eggs, fish, beverages such as sports drinks and beer, and meats.”

Yawn.  I’m of the opinion that it doesn’t really matter. Doesn’t matter, not because it’s unimportant, but because this is the sort of thing I expect from industrial food.

Do you really expect big packers to NOT be stretching to feed you every scrap they possibly can? And if they can’t feed it to you, you can be sure they’re feeding it to your pet.

I suspect that the pink slime enhanced beef isn’t all that much more dangerous than any of the other highly processed crap foods we’re eating. But what does bother me, and I think everyone else, is the breach of trust.

They have taken a processed product with massive ick factor, pink slime, and added it to a supposedly unprocessed product, beef. Without labeling it as processed. All government approved.

If you want to be big industry, be proud of your big industry.  If your science adds value to your product by making it safer, then that’s great. Share it with pride. Inventing pink slime is no small feat – I wouldn’t couldn’t have done it, could you?

But, big industry isn’t satisfied with targeting their segment of the market and serving it well.  They want to squash and dominate everyone else’s market share too by claiming to be something they can never be; capable of providing the same degree of quality and attention to detail as small artisan craftsmen.

So, they manipulate labeling, crush marketing differentiation by small craft companies, and obscure practices they know don’t sound so friendly or farm-fresh. And they spend millions on media,  lobbyists and campaign contributions helping enforce secrecy, silencing competition and buying government support.

Like the old Aesop’s fable about the frog and the scorpion, I suppose to a point I have to accept that’s just the world I live in.  I don’t need to know any more about pink slime because I won’t be eating any of it. Or any more than absolutely unavoidable of any other processed foods either.

I buy meat, cheese, eggs & dairy only from farmers or butchers who can tell me all about the provenance of the animals and how they were processed.  And I highly recommend you do too.

We’ve seen it again and again,  and fortunately for corporations, we Americans have short memories.   We’re about to see a circus of  backpedaling, distancing, and holier than thou vowing to not serve beef with pink slime from a bunch of restaurants & grocery chains.

And The Cattlemen’s Beef Board and The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association?  Well, I’m not sure how they’ll spin this one.  I do expect to see plenty of the latest heartwarming Beef Checkoff campaign designed to focus our attention on family cattle farmers and away from the Big Industry hiding behind them.

OK people. Your mission? Go find some well raised meat asap!

If you’re in the Pittsburgh area, contact us for our summer beef offering.

Not from Pittsburgh? Visit www.localharvest.com, or www.eatwild.com to find your local farmer today.