Musings On Meat

So I was talking with my wife the other day about being vegetarian and whether we should attempt being vegan.  I surprised myself.

I have been really pondering why I don’t eat meat.  At first, it was a health thing.  Not so much that a meat free diet is healthier (it is, by the way) but because part of my ability to lose weight depends on being able to control food. Vegetarianism = controlling food.  Hence I became vegetarian.

But the more I think about it, the more I find that I don’t really need to kill things to eat well.  I’m not sure if its the murdering that I am really finding distateful or the fact that commercial meat is full of fun things like mad cow and salmonella, not to mention cholesterol, triglycerides, and other things which cause a host of diseases.  But there is something about killing to eat that I find unnecessary.

Citizens of developed nations do not need meat to survive.  As a species, all humans once needed meat to have enough food to live.  Even after agriculture came along, we still needed meat.  The problem is industrialized countries (and non-industrial countries if the Developed Nations spent less time blowing up their neighbors and siding with dictators and more time building infrastructure and rooting out corruption) have enough technology and understanding of food science that if they so chose, they could live without meat. 

And frankly all we are doing by eating meat is killing ourselves.  People die of contaminated food (and yes, people died from bacteria in spinach, but that was traced to a pig farm next door…) and people die of the diseases that meat cause.  At the same time, the American Cancer Association is pushing people to eat vegetarian diets because they are healthy and they extend life.

Ultimately, I feel that not eating meat is the logical next step in cultural evolution.  I think it makes us more human and humane to stop killing the “lesser” creatures that live on it.  Yes, God made us dominion over all the land and all the animals on it.  However, the way we use that dominion is akin to me giving you dominion of my bank account and you losing it on slot machines or thousand dollar trinkets.  Yes, you had dominion over it, but wasted it.

So, to my mind: we don’t NEED meat.  We probably SHOULDN’T eat it and there are BETTER alternatives.  To me, it just makes sense that we find a new direction.

I expect a deluge of feedback for anyone who reads this.  I don’t consider myself a militaristic vegetarian, but I do wonder what would happen if we looked past our epicurean ways and tried to live a little healthier.

Cheap Entertaining or a Reasonable Facsimile Thereof

This idea has really started to resonate with me.  After a Christmas party that carried a nearly $20/head charge, the Super Bowl, and my birthday coming up, entertaining has just been on my mind.  I try to stay away from entertaining as a topic here because there are many excellent blogs that cover it.  However, I did want to make this post.

 

So from personal experience I can say that parties are expensive.  Buying food, wine, beer, and cocktails can cost hundreds of dollars before party favors or plastic china (you know, the good stuff).  These tips will help control the costs and make the party fun.

1. Do Not Be Afraid to Have a Liquor Potluck 

Unless the cook has a reputation as a wine collector or beer expert, she should not be afraid to ask others to bring the booze.  This eases the financial burden on the cook and scratches off at least one store from her errand list.  More importantly, it lets others take a role in the party.  Guests that enjoy wine or have a favorite beer or mix a great cocktail are more than happy to share their passion.  Also, having others share their liquor will broaden everyone’s alcohol horizons.

2.  Make the Expensive Items

While it okay to buy from the store, sometimes this is not always the best strategy.  If a home cook can prepare a dish more cheaply than it can be purchased (barbecued items are a good example) the cook should strongly consider making it rather than buying it.

3.  Leave Healthy at the Store

A party is a time to eat junk food, fried foods, and desserts; all of those things that most people eschew during the normal work week.  This means that the party host does not need to worry about buying the best organic produce, reduced fat cheeses, or leaner cuts of meat.  All of these things cost money though their absence will scarcely be missed by partygoers.

4.  Buy in Bulk

In larger cities, most cooks know someone who has a wholesale club membership or have one themselves.  Because the cook is preparing food for a large number of people, this is the ideal to use those memberships.  If such a store is not available, the cook should still try to buy things is as large of cans as possible to lower the per unit cost.  Lastly, depending on the store, the cook may be able to negotiate a lower price on a larger order.

5.  It is Okay to Limit the Wow

While it is generally good to have one or two signature dishes at a party, not everything needs to be made with filet, lobster, and shrimp.  Sometimes the best dishes are the cheapest.

Let’s Talk Turkey: Green Bean Casserole

Hi everyone.  I am alive and well and only slightly frazzled with everything going on.  This is the week of Thanksgiving in America so for the next few days we’re going to be talking about how to make Thanksgiving feasts.  And then we’ll follow that up with how to turn Thanksgiving feasts into awesome Thanksgiving leftovers.

I wanted to start with the old standby: Green Bean Casserole.  Why?  1) Because I love the stuff and 2) Because it’s ridiculously unhealthy as is.  Think about it, it is canned green beans (mmm…sodium) and fried onions stewed in cream of mushroom soup.  Wait a minute…no wonder it’s so good.

Anyway, my recipe for making Green Bean Casserole is pretty straightforward, but is a whole lot healthier.

You will need:

  • 1 bag of frozen green beans
  • Juice from 1/2 of a lemon
  • Salt
  • 2 tablespoons of olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 1 tablespoon of garlic powder
  • 2 tablespoons of Old Bay
  • 2 cans of cream of mushroom soup
  • 1 cup of reduced fat chedder cheese (optional)
  • 1 cup of oyster crackers or roughly crushed saltines

To make it:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. 
  2. Boil the green beens in salted water for 5-7 minutes or until al dente.
  3. Drain and add lemon juice.  Set aside.
  4. In a preheated skillet over medium heat, add the olive oil, the onions, and the seasonings.  Cook until the onions are soft.
  5. Combine the green beans, the onions, and the cans of soup in a oven safe dish and bake until the soup is bubbly.
  6. If cheese is desired, add about five minutes into the baking prcoess.
  7. Add the crackers right before serving so that they stay crispy.

The key to this recipe for me is the Old Bay seasoning on the onions.  It gives them a flavor I prefer to fried onions.  To make up for the texture of green bean casserole, I added saltines to the top of the casserole.

 Enjoy!

Howto: Simmer

Well now I’ve stepped in it.  I’ve decided to tackle the topic of how to simmer food.  This is one of those topics that illicits great debate on exactly what the proper way to simmer is, what temperature to use, and how best to deliver heat to the simmering liquid.  Before we get into the particulars, a definition is in order.  Dictionary.com defines simmering as “to cook or cook in a liquid at or just below the boiling point.”  Simmering is also sometimes called stewing, poaching, scalding, braising, and (erroneously) boiling.

In other words, food is placed in a (flavorful) liquid and cooked at a temperature anywhere between 175 to 200 degrees, depending on which cookbook you read.  Ideally, one should shoot for 180 degrees because it is hot enough to cook the food, but cooks the food slower than a 200 degree liquid.  No matter what temperature you choose, it must be less than a full boil (212 degrees) or else you are no longer simmering, you are boiling and that is a different cooking methodology all together.  Also, no matter the temperature, the liquid should have bubbles forming on the bottom of the pan that pop before they reach the surface (unless you are simmering something like oatmeal which just will not bubble.)

What will happen is as the cooking liquid reaches about 105 degrees, the liquids inside the food start to cook out of the food into the cooking liquid and at a 160 degrees the collagen in the food starts to breakdown allowing the food to reclaim juices it lost and some of the liquid.  Which is all well and good except that beef and fish are cooked when they reach an internal temperature of 140 degrees, pork at 155, and chicken is cooked at 165.

So as a cook, you want to get the liquid to a temperature above 160 degrees and keep it there, but the food itself should be pulled out of the liquid when its internal temperature is around 140 degrees.  That means you get to watch a thermometer to make sure the food does not get over done.  Remember the part about simmering at 180 degrees?  That comes into play here.  If the liquid is at 180, the internal temperature of the meat will rise slower than 200 degrees allowing you the cook the freedom to not stand over the pot.

So with all that thrown at you, here is how to simmer:

  1. Make a flavorful liquid.  Just like boiling, you want to cook the food in something that has some taste to it.  There are a number of options: poaching in wine, broth/stock, or brine.
  2. Bring the liquid just barely to boil in a sauce pan over medium heat.
  3. If you are simmering cold food, add it now.  If not, wait until step 5.
  4. Turn the heat down so the liquid just stops boiling.
  5. If you are simmering warm food, add it now.
  6. Watch the simmering pot until the food is thoroughly cooked.  If the liquid starts to boil, lower the heat slightly, and pull the pot off the burner until the boiling dies down.

Any questions?  Feel free to send them my way.

Thanks to Ochef for giving me the temperatures at which the liquids and collagens breakdown.

Recipe: Orange Ginger Chicken

This is another recipe I created in my quest for chicken for the next issue of BIAO Magazine.  I really liked how it turned out with several different flavors going on at once: the citrus tang of orange with the spiciness of ginger and a little soy and garlic to bring it all home.

  • 4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
  • 6 oranges or 1/3 cup of orange juice
  • 3 tablespoons of grated ginger
  • 3 cloves of minced garlic
  • 1 tablespoon of low sodium soy sauce
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 tablespoons of olive oil
  1. Trim any excess fat from the chicken and cut into cubes if desired.
  2. Roll the oranges on the counter.  This will make them easier to juice.  Cut each orange in half and squeeze out the juice into a bowl.
  3. Make a marinade by combining the orange juice, grated ginger, garlic, soy sauce, and a pinch of salt and pepper.  Stir vigorously.
  4. Taste the marinade.  It may be a little strong, but it should generally taste like something you would want to eat.  If not, add a little more salt and pepper.  Retaste.
  5. Add the chicken.  If you have time, marinate in the refrigerator for up to thirty minutes.  If you need to get dinner on the table quickly, go ahead and move to step 6.
  6. Heat a skillet over medium heat.  Add the olive oil and dump the chicken into skillet with the marinade.  Cook until the chicken has an internal temperature of 165 degrees.
  7. Serve over rice or lettuce leaves.

Enjoy!  And if anyone tries this recipe and the plum chicken recipe, tell me which one you like better!

Robert Irvine’s Mission Cook

Over the weekend, I picked up a copy of Robert Irvine’s Mission Cook, a biography/recipe book from the hard nosed, no-nonsense, skilled beyond measure chef from Dinner: Impossible.  If you have not seen this show, it is amazing.  Supposedly, Robert is given no foreknowledge of his task for the show, things like catering a governor’s inaugral ball or feeding hundreds of people a fashion designer’s party, and he is only given eight to twelve hours to buy and prepare the food.

He goes from zero to buffet like no man I have ever seen.

All hero worship aside, his book is well worth the read.  The man has lived an amazing life, starting with the opening pages where he recounted a tale from his days in the Navy where he had to feed over three thousand people who were escaping war torn Yemen with only what he could quickly bring ashore from his boat.  Amazing.

Even better, the recipes are not impossible.  They can be tackled and mastered easily by people of all skill levels including a rib recipe in the first chapter than I have commited to memory.

So Robert, if you read this, I got a Dinner: Impossible for you.  Let’s feed a few hundred people with me as your only sous chef.  Let’s see how you pass that mission!  (Somehow I think it would involve him sending me for groceries while he did all the work. :)) 

Which is okay as long as I get to chop something with his $250 a piece titanium coated knives.