Monday, November 13, 2006

How to pick beef (and I don't mean at a singles bar)

One of the hardest things to do for a beginning cook, especially on a budget, is selecting meat. It is no fun to spend a lot of time planning and making a meal only to have the meat be tough or stringy or chewy. This is your chance to benefit from my years of experience in buying meat, what cuts are good for what dishes and how to save money on meat at the supermarket.

Ground Beef - There are several cuts of beef that are affordable but delicious. Of course one of the most versatile cuts of beef is ground beef. It can form the basis for a great chili or lasagna, a family meatloaf, Sloppy Joes, tacos or make a great hamburger. Usually you will see ground beef, ground chuck or ground round. Ground chuck is good for most recipes that call for ground beef and if you get 80/20 (80% lean to 20% fat) you will have a burger that is moist but not greasy. Here is my recipe for a great hamburger:

Meanwhile Back at the Ranch Burgers
Mix 1 tbsp of Hidden Valley Ranch dressing mix (dry) into each pound of hamburger.
Make into patties , season with pepper and grill or broil.
Serve with mayonnaise mixed crumbled blue cheese. Great either on or without a bun.

Steaks - Steaks are a very popular meal whether it is a ribeye for a backyard barbecue or a filet mignon for a romantic Valentine's Day dinner. Filet mignon or beef tenderloin is the most tender and most expensive cut. I normally buy a whole tenderloin when my local Harris Teeter has it on sale (last time it was featured it was $8.88/lb). Rib eye and New York strip steaks are both very good for grilling or broiling, but can be expensive if you are feeding a crowd. If you are on a budget, a good steak to broil that can feed several people and has a great flavor is a flank steak. When I buy mine at Costco, I take them out of the package, sprinkle both sides with unflavored meat tenderizer, and put in Ziploc freezer bags to freeze for when I need them. That way while they are defrosting the tenderizer has a chance to work.

Easy Workday Flank Steak

1 defrosted pre-tenderized flank steak
Seasoning mix (You can use Montreal steak; Six Pepper Blend, Garlic Pepper blend, or any other blend you like)
1-2 tablespoons of olive oil

Put the steak on a broiler pan. Sprinkle with seasoning mix and drizzle with olive oil
Broil 2-3 inches from top of oven, watching closely. After top is brown and sizzling(5-10 minutes), flip over, season and oil other side, and broil till this side is lightly brown. Remove from oven and put on cutting board or platter and let rest for 10 minutes. Slice thinly across the grain. Serve with Blue cheese mayonnaise (above) or guacamole.

Roasts

Beef roasts are great whether you are looking for an elegant family meal or a casual dinner that can serve a crowd. For a special meal, a rib roast or tenderloin cannot be beat, but for most of us, it is not an every day dish. You often see eye of round roasts that are inexpensive, but they are really not ideal for roasting since they do not have much fat and can turn out dry and tough. Chuck or pot roast can be very good especially cooked in a crockpot. This is one of my favorite ways to fix pot roast in the crockpot.

Smothered Pot Roast

1 large onion, cut in chunks
1 3-4 lb chuck roast
1 can Contadina tomato paste (I like the one with roasted garlic)
2 beef boullion cubes
2 cups hearty red wine

Place onions on the bottom of crockpot. Sprinkle meat tenderizer on both sides of meat and lay on onions in pot. Spread tomato paste on meat. Dissolve cubes in wine and pour over meat. Cover and cook in crockpot on low for 8-9 hours. Serve with mashed potatoes, buttered noodles, or rice. Serves 4-6

Hopefully this post will help you answer when someone asks ,"Where's the beef?"

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