Coastal Coordinator, Jen Graham, shares her free-range, grass-fed beef adventures with us.
I have an uneasy relationship with meat. I eat meat, I enjoy meat, but I never actually learned to cook meat. I always had a variety of excuses for not cooking meat: I had been a vegetarian for too long; I couldn’t afford free-range, organic, local meats; I didn’t have the right pots and pans; I was worried about undercooking meat and making myself deathly ill. But mostly, I didn’t have the faintest idea how to start.
The thing is – I actually like meat – so since I couldn’t cook it myself, to satisfy my cravings, I’d frequently order juicy hamburgers whenever I went out to eat, Then, I’d feel kind of guilty because I make an effort to eat local and organic, and I didn’t have the faintest idea of the origins of my restaurant beef-outs. I wanted to shift this pattern, but needed a really big push to expand my cooking horizons.
Instead, I ended up with a really big cow. Or more specifically one third of one eight of a steer. The concept is simple: a local farmer raises free-range, grass-fed beef and uses his networks to find potential buyers. The customers can order 1/2 or 1/4 or 1/8 of the animal. Once the entire cow is sold, the farmer sends it to a local slaughterhouse and butcher and the customers receive their “cow share”. The beef comes in a variety of cuts snugly wrapped in brown paper and ready to freeze. The minimum purchase from the farmer is 1/8 of the steer, but I split my share with two friends with equally small freezers and a mild trepidation about cooking meat. I didn’t keep an exact count, but I received about 9 packages of ground beef, 2 pot roasts, some chuck beef (whatever that is), and a few steaks. All in all, a lot of beef in the freezer for someone who had never cooked any meat up to that point.
For about a month, the beef packages languished in the freezer beside the frozen trap caught shrimp (that’s a tale for another day). I checked in on the beef packages every once in awhile, but was too timid too make the first move. Things would have likely gone on this way indefinitely, if i hadn’t received another new culinary experiment for Christmas: a slow cooker.
The slow cooker was equally unfamiliar, but it was more reassuring than the beef. There are are only two settings on a slow cooker: hi and low. The cooking time starts at 4 hours and goes as high as 12 hours. With that kind of cooking time, I reasoned, I could dump in the beef, go away for a few hours, and come back and find that sucker completely cooked with nary a hint of undercooked pink to trouble my dreams.
And in fact that’s pretty much how it went down. I looked online for chili recipes for slow cookers. I already make a mean chili, so all I really needed to know was how to prepare the beef ahead of time, and how much liquid to use. Slow cookers are closed during the cooking time, so liquids do not evaporate as much as in a saucepan. Most slow cooker versions of favourite recipes reduce the liquid by about half. The chili recipe suggested browning the beef by cooking it for a few minutes before I popped it in the slow cooker. This was nerve wracking, but I figured even if I somehow missed a spot, the beef would be in the slow cooker for 8 hours or so, so it (and be extension anyone eating the meal) would be fine.
And as it turns out, browning is actually a pretty accurate name for the process – cooked meat changes from pink to brown, so you know when it’s done.
After clearing the browning hurtle, I placed the beef along with the other ingredients in the slow cooker, put it on “low” for 10 hours and went to bed. The next morning, I was greeted with hearty, savoury, delicious beef chili (and very few dishes to wash).
After a few more rounds of chili to get my confidence up, I moved on to other recipes, like spaghetti sauce, beef stew, pot roast, and eventually even hamburgers. It is official – I am a meat cooker! And I owe it all to my trusty companion – the clumsy chaperone that helped ease me into cooking meat – the slow cooker.
Slow Cooker Chili
2 pounds of ground beef
1 can of kidney beans (drained)
1 can or jar of canned tomatoes
2 medium onions (sliced)
3 cloves of garlic (chopped)
3 tablespoons of chili powder
1 tablespoon of cumin
1 teaspoon of brown sugar
1 teaspoon of pepper
salt to taste
(This makes a very meaty recipe. I usually add some chopped, carrots squash or sweet potatoes too).
In a skillet, cook the beef until no longer pink. Add to slow cooker and add the remaining ingredients. Cook for 10 hours on low.