How to Grind Your Own Beef

Make Ground Beef at HomeUpon going to law school several decades ago, the world of ALL THE THINGS I KNOW NOTHING ABOUT was laid bare in front of me. Prior to that I thought I knew everything. I walked in feeling extremely knowledgeable and within a few short days I was confident only in the fact that I had everything to learn, starting from zero. Hubris is the hallmark of youth. I was frightened, but thrilled, to have the shell knocked off of me because it was as if someone finally showed me that a library was not just a peaceful place, but it was also filled with books. There are so many areas of inquiry about which to know nothing. It is exciting.

Recently, I’ve been pondering how little I know about cows and steers and bulls and beef, generally. You think you know what a cow is. You think you know what a steak is. You think you know how to cook. You might know a bit, and you might even know a lot. But you probably don’t know diddly, kind of like me. Several years ago I met some men and women at Texas A&M who actually do know almost everything there is to know about beef and it made my knowledge base, relative to theirs, look a little puny. I learned a great deal from them, but among the things I learned was how little I actually know, and how fascinating beef and the beef industry is.

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Salt & Pepper Beef Tenderloin

Platter of sliced beef tenderloinThe Winter issue of Edible Dallas & Fort Worth recently became available. I have a few favorite things in this issue. Most notably, I wrote a feature article about Foodways Texas, and I got to take photographs of my friend Meaders Ozarow at Empire Baking Company. Those were my two favorite additions to this issue. But I also put together a collection of holiday dinner recipes with an emphasis on keeping the holidays simple. Beef tenderloin is as simple as it gets. Although, mistakes are costly, so invest in a great meat thermometer.

Along with articles about Empire, there are some great stories about Rehoboth Farms, recipes for great foods that make great gifts, and the Stufflebeam family. And, there are many more articles, ideas and notions between the covers. If you love Dallas, you need to love Edible because this is where you will learn about the farmers, ranchers, restaurants, chefs and businesses that make our region culinarily compelling.

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Traditional Pot Roast

Pot Roast LeadI could write an Ode to Pot Roast. I could tell you every good and bad one that I have made. I could tell you the restaurants and diners that have perfected the art.

Pot Roast is how you feed a crowd something comforting and succulent without spending a fortune. Cooked slowly, ignored really, an inexpensive and tough cut of meat is transformed into a silky mess in a pot of gravy. And that is really the key, time. There is no trick, really, just some basic preparation. It is the time that turns the sow’s ear into a silk purse.

Somewhere along the line I realized that the only long term value of a recipe blog is to make darned sure that I posted every recipe that I thought I or my son or daughter, or my grandchildren, or my great grandchildren might need someday. When I stop this one day, I want to take a day to actually write the recipes down on index cards so they can wear with time and get dripped on and obtain the status of a dog eared, messy, timeless favorite…for someone. A real recipe…not a cyber-flash-dinner-in-a-minute-grab-the-iPad-and-find-something-emergency-idea.  I want to leave something that actually connects me to my descendants. Funny, there is nothing permanent about a web presence unless you have posted inappropriate content that will come back to haunt you. This is why I hold tight to my hand written index card recipes from mom, and aunts and great aunts. And this is why I still buy piles of cookbooks. They are real in a way that web recipes cannot be. It is strange to think that if I pushed the wrong button…all of these recipes would be gone in a flash. But if I wrote them with my hand, turned them from bits and bytes into something tangible…bites that could last.

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Western Burgers

Western BurgersWestern Burgers are a high school cafeteria legend in my hometown of Wichita Falls, Texas. They are a simple and beautiful bit of comfort, consisting of hamburger meat, onion, and seasonings fully wrapped up in a hot, buttery bun. God bless the lunch lady (or man…they always seemed to be ladies back then), I say. Can you believe they actually made yeast breads like this in our schools at one point? THE “LUNCH LADY” was a title of honor, and in my earliest memories she served sheet cakes and turkey with rice and gravy. She knew everyone by name. But here is the sad truth. I don’t think I ever had one of THE Western Burgers in my high school. By the time I switched from my tiny, little Catholic school to the big, giant Wichita Falls High School (lovingly known as “Old High”), vending machines had come into vogue in schools. And while many of my new friends still ate in the cafeteria, I have to admit that I found the bustling scene a bit intimidating as the new kid. So my best pal and cousin, Joey, and I sat in one of the courtyards and typically ate a bag of Cheddar and Sour Cream Ruffles for lunch washed down with a Diet Dr Pepper. Egads. Think of all that I missed.

But, the legend of the Western Burger lives on in the hearts and minds of like-minded food folk from my neck of the woods. The actual school version doesn’t happen anymore because apparently it doesn’t meet the health requirements of a school lunch food. Apparently they are not quite so legendary when made in a whole wheat roll. Well, no kidding. However, due to the continued adoration of this would-be inductee to the Lunch Lady Recipe Hall of Fame…I made that up, but we should probably have a Lunch Lady Recipe Hall of Fame…the Wichita Falls School District now has an annual Western Burger Feed as a fundraiser for local charities. I cannot even begin to come up with a decent excuse for not having made the road trip for this. But I always miss it and then read about it in the paper and smack myself on the head.

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Basic Meatloaf

meatloaf recipeMy mother-in-law and I had a lot of food favorites in common. This is one of her recipes. I like to make her recipes occasionally when I feel like giving the kids a happy memory of her. I can say, “Oh, kids, this is Cinny’s recipe…it is one of my favorite things that she made.” They get all puffed up with pride at the notion. As I often say, I’m never alone in the kitchen. Food memories are the best ones. They are usually warm and uncomplicated. Losing grandparents is complicated for kids. Getting excited about her meatloaf recipe is decidedly uncomplicated, and completely positive.

I have to admit I took a few liberties with the recipe. She would have envisioned this size of a batch to be for a football team. She ate like a bird. I eat like, well, a very large bird. So she would have made two loaves in loaf pans and frozen one of them. I make one giant free-form loaf. Why free form?  Well, the crusty top of the meatloaf is my favorite part. So, this way it is top all over. She approved of the free-form version and I made it often when she would come for dinner. I would make this or pot roast, our other favorite dinner-in-common. I bake the meatloaf with nothing slathered on top, but I love chili sauce on the side.

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