Browsing in the meat aisle in the supermarket can be a bit confusing. Labels like “antibiotic-free”, “grass-fed” and “no growth hormones” might be on packages you see. And what about the names of all those cuts? How do I know what to choose and how to cook it?
Fear the beef counter no more. I want to boost your confidence at the meat counter. Last week, I attended Beef U. A one-day conference at the University of Minnesota to learn from beef experts including university professors, farmers, chefs, retailers and many more who brought a lot “beef” to the day by sharing their knowledge on beef production from the pasture to the plate. My favorite part? Seeing where all the beef cuts come from. And yes, that means a full beef carcass was brought into the room and was explained from the chuck to the round. More on that in part two of Beef from the Pasture to the Plate. First, lets start at the farm.
Farm to Fork Facts
Farmers and ranchers are committed to keeping their cattle safe and healthy. They do this by working with veterinarians and nutritionists to help them care for their animals. On the occasion antibiotics are needed, farmers follow treatment schedules and withdrawal times set by the FDA to ensure that no meat with antibiotic residue goes to market. This is also verified post market by the National Residue Program. Sick cattle do not go to the slaughterhouse – end of concern.
Hormones improve the efficiency of beef production, improving daily rate of gain and reducing pounds of feed needed to produce that daily gain. All living things have hormones, even humans. These specific growth hormones used in cattle have been extensively researched , continue to be tested and monitored since the 1950’s. No human risk has ever been found. Source: www.factsaboutbeef.com. I find this chart really puts it into perspective:
Grass-fed vs. grain fed
Technically, all cattle are grass-fed. All cattle, regardless of where they are finished spend 80% of their lives grazing on pasture. Conventional beef cattle are finished on corn for the last 60 days of their lives. Feeding corn allows for better marbling and flavor, as well as improving texture and tenderness. Grass-finished beef cattle are finished on grass (pasture) and in total in can take 226 more days for grass-finished cattle to reach market weight than grain-finished cattle, meaning more land, water, feed, and manure and carbon emissions. Source: www.explorebeef.com
Defined and regulated by the USDA, when certified it must meet the following standards: 100% organic feed, some vitamin/mineral supplements allowed, no growth hormones, no antibiotics for any reason (sick animals removed and treated), cattle have access to organic pasture, with organic fertilizer and natural pesticide being okay.
The Concept of “Big Beef/Big ag”
97% of cattle farms/ranches are family owned and 54% of those have been for three or more generations. Contrary to the notion that Big Beef is a reality and cares for little but profits, the real beef community stands behind seven core principles (Source: www.factsaboutbeef.com):
- Exercise good stewardship of natural resources by using science-based practices and principles
- Protect animals
- Provide consumers with wholesome, nutritious and high-quality beef options
- Commit to continuous improvements in all aspects of food safety
- Invest in communities by being responsible citizens and active participants
- Embrace innovation and strive to discover and apply new approaches that improve product quality and safety, animal health and environmental stewardship
- Operate businesses in ways that meet consumer expectations for cattle care, environmental friendliness, beef safety and nutrition
Now you know all about the labeling at the beef counter, why not pull a package of lean ground beef for this mix and match recipe!
Mix and match recipes simplify my life. Just like mix and match outfits simplify my life. If I can start with a simple base and make a few adjustments and have a whole new recipe (or outfit), that’s what I call success and simplicity!
Five-Way Mini Meatloaves
Makes 12 servings.
Base Meatloaf Recipe
- 1-1/2 pounds 93% lean ground beef
- 1/3 cup saltines or butter cracker crumbs or Panko bread crumbs
- 1/3 cup finely chopped onion
- 1/3 cup reduced-fat 2% milk
- 1 egg, lightly beaten
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon pepper
- Toppings: Ketchup or barbecue sauce and shredded cheddar cheese
- Heat oven to 350 degrees. Combine all ingredients (except toppings) in a large bowl, mixing lightly and thoroughly.
- Shape beef mixture into 12 equal portions. Place each portion into a 12-muffin standard muffin pan. Lightly pat beef level to top. Bake 19-20 minutes or until internal temperature reaches 160 degrees.
- Remove from oven. Garnish with toppings. Let stand 5 minutes before serving.
Italian: Add 1/2 cup chopped mushrooms, 1/2 cup pasta sauce and 1/4 cup chopped fresh basil to base meatloaf ingredients. Bake 22 to 24 minutes, until internal temperature reaches 160°F. Evenly top with shredded Parmesan cheese. Let stand 5 minutes before serving. Serve with additional pasta sauce and garnish with additional chopped basil, as desired.
Greek: Add 3 tablespoons chopped Kalamata olives and 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano to base meatloaf ingredients. Bake 22 to 24 minutes, until internal temperature reaches 160°F. Evenly top with crumbled feta cheese. Let stand 5 minutes before serving. Serve with prepared tzatiki sauce. Garnish with sliced cucumber, as desired.
Asian: Add 1/4 cup chopped green onions and 1 teaspoon minced fresh ginger to base meatloaf ingredients. Bake 22 to 24 minutes, until internal temperature reaches 160°F. Evenly top with hoisin sauce or teriyaki glaze. Let stand 5 minutes before serving. Garnish with chopped peanuts, sliced green onions or chopped cilantro, as desired.
Spanish: Add 1/2 cup finely chopped red bell pepper, 1/4 cup chopped Spanish olives and 1 teaspoon smoked paprika to base meatloaf ingredients. Bake 22 to 24 minutes, until internal temperature reaches 160°F. Evenly top with shredded manchego cheese. Let stand 5 minutes before serving. Garnish with sliced Spanish olives, as desired.
Courtesy of The Beef Checkoff www.BeefItsWhatsForDinner.com