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.

Donnor Party Special

As befitting this special day, here’s a recipe I invented for special occasions.

You will need:

  • 4 tablespoons grapeseed oil 
  • 2 tablespoons butter 
  • 1 medium onion, thinly sliced 
  • 2 pounds of meat, deboned, dark meat preferred
  • 8 cloves of garlic
  • salt and pepper to taste
  1. Cover the meat liberally with salt and pepper. 
  2. Over a medium fire, add the butter and half of the oil.
  3. When the butter is foamy, add the onions, carrots, celery, and a pinch of salt.  Cook until soft.
  4. Remove vegetables, increase to medium high heat, and add the rest of the oil.
  5. When the oil is piping hot, add the meat and cook four minutes per side.  If the meat is particularly fatty, as some victims…er… carcasses may be, the heat can be kept at medium and the fat rendered out.
  6. Finish the meat in a 350 degree oven.   Meat should cook 5 minutes per pound for medium rare.
  7. Serve atop the sauted vegetables.

Happy April 1!

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.

Keeping the Resolution: Oven Fries

I try to cut fried foods out my diet when attempting to Keep my Resolution and lose weight.  Despite the fact that there is something insanely delicious about food submerged in oil, it is not healthy.  Yes, I realize that there are ways to make fried foods healthier but that does not mean that deep fat frying is as healthy as say baking or microwaving.

I do not want to give up my fried foods, though, so I have tried to find different ways to prepare fried foods without actually frying.  This gave birth to my wife’s and my oven fries recipe.  This recipe uses a two stage approach (baking and then broiling) to produce a perfectly cooked french fry suitable for the finest dijon ketchups.

You will need:

  • 4 large potatoes, peeled
  • 2 tablespoons of olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon of salt
  • 1 tablespoon of seasoning salt (optional, recommended)
  • 1 tablespoon of garlic powder (optional)
  1. Preheat the oven to 350. 
  2. Cut the potatoes into your favorite fry shape.  We tend to use 1/2 inch by 1/4 inch by 2 inch pieces.  There is no rhyme or reason to the size, it is just what our family prefers.  Cut the potatoes into whatever size you would like, but remember the deeper the potato, the longer the cooking time and adjust accordingly.
  3. Wash the potatoes to remove excess starch and pat dry.
  4. In a large bowl, mix the olive oil and cut potatoes until the potatoes are covered in a thin coating of oil.  This will let them brown.
  5. To really minimize oil usage, buy an olive oil spritzer and sprtitz the potatoes.
  6. Bake the potatoes for 15 minutes or until the are start to dry.
  7. Set the oven to broil and continue cooking until crispy.  In my oven this is 3-5 minutes, but depending on the strength of the broiler and the positioning of the rack, it could be less time.
  8. Immediately after removing the fries, sprinkle the salt and any desired spices on top of the potatoes.

Serve with hamburgers or sloppy joes or hot dogs as normal.

Keeping the Resolution: Saute Without Oil

This is a little trick I have used many times when trying to remove fats and oils from cooking healthy.  Instead of sauteing in oil, many types of food can be sauted in broth or stock or soy sauce.  The liquid, especially if it is contains a little bit of fat, will prevent the food from burning and will act as a medium of transfer.

To do this:

  1. Heat the skillet and add enough liquid to cover the bottom of the pan 1/8 to 1/4 inch high.  That should be less than a quarter of a cup.
  2. Add the food and cook as normal.   

Now, the texture of the finished product will be different.  The broth or stock is not going to crisp up the food being sauted like an oil would, but it is going to be much lower in fat and, for many dishes, the cooking liquid will add flavor.

Other Tips About Oil

Whenever possible, cook with heart healthy oils like olive oil.  Olive oil contains a good amount of fat, but doctors have shown how the fats from olive oils can be good for the body when taken in small doses.  So no matter which oil is used,  keep the amount of oil to a bare minimum.

When eating out, ask the chefs to limit the amount of oil they use or eliminate it entirely.  One of my personal vices is Chinese food, but it is heavy and fatty, even the non-deep fried items.  I have taken to asking the chef to make the dishes without oil.  They tend to look a little puzzeled at first, but then prepare a dish that tastes almost exactly like the heavy, oily dish.