Monday, October 29, 2007


Freezer full of Meat

The photo above was taken the weekend before last and shows approximately 200 pounds of beef; 3/4 of a grass-fed Angus steer purchased from Hollins Farms - steaks, roasts, stock bones, assorted parts and over 60 pounds of ground beef. The entire steer provided about 300 pounds of meat that a coworker and I had picked up the day before at a slaughterhouse in Stephens City, Virginia. Fortunately, my coworker took his home with him. We had divided the steer up with three other couples, so by that Sunday my freezer was reduced to about 70 pounds of meat, about a quarter of the original amount.

Hollins Farms lets you get anywhere from a quarter to a full side of the beef. We had purchased a quarter last October and had finished most of it by mid-July, about 90 pounds. As the price of the beef is cheaper when you order a whole steer (3.65 a pound instead of 3.75), we thought we would see if friends of ours would want to go in on a whole. That proved to be no problem, although most of the couples opted for a 1/8 of a share instead of a full quarter. My coworker took 3/8th of the beef. That left us with a quarter. The steer from the quarter share last year weighed around 850 pounds, but the steer this year was more like 650 (the steers are a little smaller than their factory-farmed counterparts), so we got a little less beef with our quarter this year. The s But that's fine: we can always order more.

So now we have 70 pounds of meat to go through over the next few months. Its surprising how little beef we actually end up eating throughout that time. We are certainly not eating any more than when we bought beef at the supermarket, maybe even less. There is a certain challenge to having certain cuts foisted upon you and then trying to figure out what to do with them. When you place an order, you are given a questionnaire to fill out asking if you want some of the more esoteric parts; hearts, liver, tongue, etc. I opted out of the heart, and I thought, the liver, but I ended up with several containers of liver that I will need to contend with. I also took the tongue and am already planning on cooking that this weekend. Alas, I did got get the trendy cheek cut that I was hoping to get. I think that ended up as ground beef.

As for the meat itself, it is absolutely delicious. It is leaner and darker looking than store-bought meat and has a distinctive grass-flavored terroir. Being leaner, I have noticed it cooks a little faster than store-bought meat, so it makes me a lot more vigilant testing for doneness. The ground beef also has lot less fat in it, so I am frequently adding oil when I brown it for recipes.

Really, having all that hamburger is one of the most challenging aspects of the beef share. For whatever reason, I made a whole lot of meat loaf last year. I am going to try and branch out a little more this time around. Ground beef is actually the first thing I cook from this year's share, a ground beef chili pictured below. Chili is yet another dish that people get a little too emotional about. There are definitely those who argue that chili should only be made with chopped pieces of chuck roast or whatever; definitely not with ground beef. I often feel that way about it myself, but not when there is 30 pounds of ground beef in my freezer. Anyway, the story I have always heard about chili is that it was made by cowboys driving cattle. Towards the beginning of the drive, the cowboys used good cuts of meet from cattle they slaughtered. But as the drive started to wind down, the lesser cuts were used and eventually beans were added. I feel like I am working with that principle in reverse by using the ground beef. The good cuts can stay in the freezer while I work my way up to them.

Ground Beef Chili

As for the chili itself, I used anchos, cumin, Gebhardt's chili powder (one of the few ConAgra products I will consciously use) and a little Chimayo chili to flavor it - a recipe loosely based on one in "The Complete Meat Coobok" by Bruce Aidells and Denis Kelly. We were only able to eat so much of it, so I went ahead and froze the remaining half for chili dogs or something like that in the future.

Friday, October 26, 2007


Paella used to be on of those dishes that I always wanted to make, but was too intimidated to actually attempt. It always seemed like it required a vast array of esoteric ingredients (snails, rabbit, quail, random mollusks, etc.) and a lot of people to eat it. It is also one of those dishes where people endlessly debate the correct way to prepare it. Then there is the need for the large shallow paella pans. I didn't have one and I was reluctant to go out and spend the money on one. All that changed when friends visiting Spain brought the Mrs. and I a small 15" pan as a gift. For various reasons, the pan sat in our basement a couple of years before it was used, but eventually I broke down and tried to make paella myself. In hindsight, I don't know what kept me back for so long. Paella is easy to make and lends itself to improvisation. Although it is nice to have the elaborate combination of ingredients, it really isn't necessary. Also, paella recipes scale pretty easily, so if I see a recipe that feeds 12 people, I can easily adjust it to fit my 15" pan; which makes enough for the three of us with leftovers.

I made this paella last Wednesday. It is based on a recipe from "The Cuisines of Spain" by Teresa Barrenechea. Listed as "Meat Paella", it is distinct from most paella recipes I have seen in that the ingredients are simple; peppers, beef, chicken and chorizo. The quantities of meat are relatively small and are usually something I have stored in the freezer leftover from something else. As such, it makes for a great weeknight dish when I don't have a lot of time to gather stuff. I actually didn't have any beef on hand, so I used a small chunk of pork loin that was sitting next to the chicken stock I had frozen for just such an occasion. Really, I think I like it with the pork better than with beef.

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First a half cup of olive oil is heated in the pan.

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A sliced pepper is added... actually, 1/2 of a red pepper and 1/2 of a green pepper in this case.

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The peppers sautee for several minutes until they are very tender.

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The meat is added and cooked until it starts to brown. The chorizo I used is a breakfast chorizo from La Tienda. Being only a half inch thick, it makes perfect little slices for paella. It kind of reminds me of those Oscar Meyer cocktail weiners when it is cut like that, although it tastes a lot better.

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Then the rice is added and lightly fried in the oil. It is something of a contentious act as far a paella making is concerned. I have frequently read that, unlike a pilaf, one should not fry the rice when making paella. But I have experimented with both ways of doing it and haven't really seen much of a difference. At the same time, with this meat paella, it almost seems natural to want to fry the rice; letting it absorb the flavor from the meat itself.

I actually used arborio rice in this case; which is yet another sin as far as paella is concerned. Although arborio rice and paella rice are pretty much the same shape and size, the dishes they are used for have two entirely different consistencies. Arborio rice is used in risotto and is supposed to have a creamy texture. Paella is supposed to be firmer with the individual grains of rice swollen with stock. Perhaps that has something to the admonition against frying the rice. In any case, arborio rice was all I had on hand. For whatever reason, it is a lot easier to find than paella rice.

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Next some chicken stock added to the pan. The chicken stock is mixed with a little sweet smoked paprika - paprika peppers that have been dried over oak.

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The original recipe calls for some garlic to be roasted, pureed, and mixed with a little stock. This gets added to the pan after the stock itself is initially added. After mixing the garlic mixture in, the spoon leaves the pan never to return; the rice being left to cook undisturbed.

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After the stock has boiled, the heat is reduced so that the liquid comes to a simmer for about 15 minutes.

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The pan is then put into a hot oven to cook for a few minutes. When it comes out, the rice has absorbed most of the stock.

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A kitchen towel is set over the paella and it is left to rest for 10 minutes.

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The towel is removed and some lemon slices are added as a garnish. The lemon juice makes a good counterpart to all oil in the paella.

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The pan is brought to the table and served with a salad of argula, tomatoes and cucumber. For the wine, we drank a granacha that I have noticed on endcaps at stores everywhere. It is pretty cheap and it paired with the paella really well.