This fall, I bought a cow.
Actually, I bought a quarter of a cow. I had been finding it difficult to consistently find the cuts of beef that I frequently use in recipes, and so when we had the opportunity to purchase a quarter of beef we jumped at it. I’m a little embarrassed at how excited I was. I couldn’t wait for it to arrive. And when it did arrive it was fabulous: Boxes and boxes of every cut imaginable. All of it wrapped in brown butcher paper with the cut stamped on. I was elated.
This may not be a big deal to most, but to me, seeing standing rib roast in my freezer alongside many, many sirloins and T-bones was thrilling. Whenever I wanted to make a particular recipe I would have the right cut at my fingertips.
Just as thrilling as the expensive cuts was, however, the sheer quantity of cheaper cuts. Chuck roast for slow cooking, blade steaks, and lots and lots of ground beef. I’ve had tons of fun working with all this beef. The great thing about buying a bulk order like this is, again, you get a variety of cuts. Normally I would go grocery shopping and purchase specific cuts needed for a recipe; now, I discover a recipe and have what I need in the freezer. Also, with so much meat on hand, I depart from my regular recipes and try new ones. I’ve noticed with interest as the winter wears on that I’m using more of the cheaper cuts than the expensive ones I had initially swooned over. In particular, the ground beef.
Now, ground beef gets a bad reputation sometimes, and anyone who’s tasted poor quality, hamburger would understand why. That is why it is best to purchase a good quality beef. However, sometimes this isn’t possible. The ground beef from my cow is amazing!! With just the right amount of fat, it barely needs to be drained, yet it doesn’t get dry and burn easily like a lot of lean ground beef does. It has a full delicious flavor, not gamy or greasy. I’m thrilled, especially considering I have so much of it. The challenge has been to keep coming up with creative ways to use it.
Even if you purchase your ground beef at the grocery store (as most folks do) it is generally a good value (thus the popularity of prepackaged hamburger meal kits). It cooks up quickly, making it ideal for quick suppers. And because of its texture, it takes on flavours well in saucy recipes, such as spaghetti and chili. However, it tends to get used over and over again in the same recipes, making cooks reluctant to make them. In some cases it’s because the recipe grows dull and tired (think the original comfort food classic, meatloaf, or hamburgers) while others are made in big batches that require a lot of preparation and simmering (again, spaghetti and chili).
My strategy to avoid hamburger hell has been to look at new ways to prepare and present. To start, the humble burger. One of my favorite magazines is Everyday With Rachel Ray. Every month she features a burger. Sometimes they are what she refers to as “fork and knife” burgers, essentially, burgers you eat with utensils instead of your hands; back home we would call it a hot hamburger sandwich. The first one I tried was topped with stewed vegetable gravy, served on an English muffin. This recipe was a hit, and quickly became a regular menu item because we almost always have root vegetables on hand. Once you start brainstorming all the things you can top a burger with, the hot hamburger possibilities are endless! Mushroom or onion gravies would be tasty and traditional, or, mix some garlic and basil into the burgers and top with spicy tomato sauce for easy grinders! Go a step further and throw some sweet pepper and mushrooms into the tomato sauce, sprinkle some cheese on top and you’ve got pizza burgers. The idea it to make the ground beef burger a canvas for your toppings.
One of the best things you can do with ground beef, in my opinion, is stretch it out in a big pot of chili or pasta sauce. In our house, a pot of pasta sauce is the ultimate timesaver, as you cook once but eat many times. However, in a busy household sometimes it happens that the meat gets thawed but the chili or spaghetti never gets cooked. Why? Because the cook didn’t have a couple of hours to prepare all the ingredients and then let the pot simmer. One of my favorite new things is skillet cooking. It’s a kind of cooking challenge I have with myself. I thaw a package of ground beef and then have to prepare the dish using my cast iron skillet. My favorites so far are skillet spaghetti and skillet chili. Although the yield will be smaller than if you took the time to cook a big pot, I find that we can get four to five meals out of it. I’ll explain how I break that down shortly. But first, the recipes.
For the spaghetti, I brown a pound of ground beef in a tablespoon of olive oil in my skillet. When the beef is cooked, I add a splash of stock and cook for a few minutes more. Then I add a diced medium onion and minced garlic to taste. When the onion begins to look translucent, add a can of diced tomatoes and a small can of tomato paste. Let simmer until thickened and reduced. Add your favorite spices. To stretch this recipe, we ate it for supper with pasta the first night. My husband took a serving with his lunch to work the next day. For supper the next night, I prepared pizza dough, and to the remaining sauce I added a half a can of diced toms, adjusted the seasoning, and used it as pizza sauce. Since the meat is in the sauce there’s no need for pepperoni (but of course you can add it if you like for a “meat lovers” pizza!)
For the chili, I followed the same process, using my favorite southwestern spices. I also added a can of black beans and a cup of frozen corn. I served the chili over hamburger buns for “Sloppy Joses.” Of course you could eat the chili as is with your favorite fixings. Leftover chili makes a great topping for nachos or hot dogs for the next evening’s meal.
The possibilities are endless!! So whether you purchase your ground beef a pack at a time or you have 50 packages of it in your freezer, enjoy the last few months of comfort food season and come up with some creative ways to prepare it. And of course, share your favorites in the comments!
Happy Friday! Have a great weekend!