Our Meat Date

I don’t think my parents lived in constant fear of a catastrophe that would exterminate all grocery stores and hold us hostage in our home. But, they certainly stocked the kitchen pantry and basement deep freezer as if Armageddon could come at any moment. There was a never ending supply of canned, boxed and frozen goods ready for turning into a meal at our house. Or a meal for ten. Maybe even twenty.

I’m pretty sure it’s that aspect of my upbringing that makes the current state of my freezer so satisfying to me. Because it’s packed to the gills with seventy pounds of local, grass-fed beef.

Sheer joy.

About a month ago, one of my radio station co-workers asked me if I was interested in going in on a cow with her. It was being raised in Hugo, Minnesota, about a thirty minute drive from my Minneapolis home. It would be butchered just down the street. We’d pick it up and be set for the winter. Or until the apocalypse.

Naturally, I agreed right away. The last time Jay and I spent time with Alexis and her husband Angel, we went to a hip pizza place. This time, we met them on the farm for what we later dubbed “our meat date.”

Leo Lutz is the man behind this sign. He showed us where his cows live, just steps from where they are processed into beef to eat. There’s no massive truck hauling the cows to slaughter. There are no terrified cattle being brutally pushed and prodded into an assembly line of death. There aren’t hundreds of slaughterhouse workers forced to work faster and faster with no personal investment in the quality of their product.

There’s Leo. A man who raises cows and butchers two at a time.

Each cow is shot with a .22 right where it’s standing. There isn’t a panicked moment for that bovine before it dies and Leo says the lack of terror means the cow’s meat isn’t tough or bitter. The cow bleeds out where it falls to the earth. It is skinned and quartered just steps away.

And the split sides of beef hang in this cooler until they are butchered into steaks, roasts and ground beef.

The meat is wrapped in butcher’s paper, stamped by cut and labeled with the customer’s name. The ground beef in these packages comes from one cow, not hundreds of animals ground together in a massive vat and shrink wrapped.

Leo’s business practices are transparent and his property is open to anyone who wants to stop by. He even invited us to come back on slaughtering day. He isn’t a flashy man. He isn’t a hippie. He’s just a good man who does his work the right way.

Grass-fed beef, you say? Steaks? Locally raised? From a small farm and a one man operation? Ha, some scoff. Sure, if you want to pay and arm and a leg for it. But how can any normal, working class, American family just trying to make ends meet afford your fancy beef?

First, I’d argue that the food we put in the bodies of our families is worth investing in above all. More important than cable TV. More important than the latest video games. More important than new clothes. I could go on…but I think we’re all on the same page.

But I don’t even need to make that argument because the beef we bought from Leo cost a whopping $2.85 a pound. No matter the cut. I just checked an ad for the local big box grocer and found that on sale their store brand ground beef cost $3.49 a pound. A boneless round tip steak is going for $4.49 a pound. The cheapest cuts of corn-fed, industrially produced, grocery store beef can’t compare in cost to buying a nutritionally superior, ethically produced, grass-fed product directly from the farmer. And you can bet those factor farming feedlot operations won’t let you stop by to see what they’re up to at any given moment.

Now…just in case the end of the world does come…do I need a generator to make sure all that beef stays frozen?

On The Side

This is the go-to green bean side dish in our house – I love that it’s totally versatile. On a Thanksgiving plate, the soy sauce is a great contrast to all of the super sagey flavors going on. We eat these beans alongside spaghetti and meatballs, Asian lettuce wraps, you name it. Don’t skimp on the garlic!

Soy Sauce & Garlic Green Beans

Gather:

1 tbsp avocado or olive oil

1 lb fresh green beans, washed and trimmed

5 large cloves of garlic, minced or run through a press

1 tbsp soy sauce

freshly cracked pepper

Cook:

In a large skillet, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the green beans and toss to coat, stirring occasionally for about 4 minutes. Add the garlic and watch the heat to make sure it doesn’t burn. Coat the beans with the garlic, then add the soy sauce and pepper. Cook until beans are crisp but tender. Serve!

Chicken Pot Pie

The “meat pie” is a dish that’s everywhere in England – even massive stadiums. Last weekend, I zipped across the pond to cover one of three NFL games this season being played in North London at Tottenham-Hotspur stadium. Am I a sports reporter? Absolutely not. My job was to show viewers what Minnesotans who traveled to the game were experiencing and connect with Vikings fans from all over the world who showed up to cheer on their team. Not a bad assignment, to say the least.

The locals say that when it comes to stadium food – the Meat Pie reigns supreme. I got my paws on a chicken tinga version – basically chicken, onions and beans in a spicy red sauce baked into a flaky crust. It was tasty as all heck. Upon my return, I decided that my favorite version of a meat pie – the Chicken Pot Pie – needed to be on the Reimers family dinner menu immediately.

I grew up eating chicken pot pie this way – baked into a large pie pan and served in slices. My mom made it for us all the time in the fall and winter and it’s deceptively easy, totally impressive and most importantly – incredibly delicious. I made it this week on Minnesota Live and then served it for dinner.

A few pro tips before we get to the recipe:

  • You can make this totally from scratch or use shortcuts as you see fit
  • Homemade bone broth is great here – or use a box or jar version. My favorites are Kettle & Fire, Epic, Bonafide Provisions and Taking Stock Foods
  • You can also sub the cooked chicken thighs for rotisserie chicken, although your pie won’t be quite as flavorful
  • Homemade pie crust is wonderful but a store bought version is just fine too – my mom swears by the brand Pappy’s in the freezer section
  • Feel free to make the filling ahead, refrigerate, then roll out the dough, fill the pie and bake later in the day
  • You can also freeze the pie unbaked (and without the egg wash or heavy cream) and bake it straight from the freezer – it will just take a little longer to cook

Chicken Pot Pie

adapted from Two Peas & Their Pod

Gather:

1 tsp olive oil

1.5 lbs boneless, skinless chicken thighs

1 cup chopped carrots

1/2 cup chopped onion

1/2 cup chopped celery

3 cloves garlic, minced

1/4 cup butter

1/3 cup all purpose flour

2 cups chicken broth

1/3 cup heavy cream

1 cup frozen peas

1/2 tsp fresh thyme

2 tbsp chopped fresh Italian parsley

salt and pepper

homemade or store bought pie crust (enough for a top and bottom crust in a 9 inch pie plate)

1 tsp heavy cream or 1 beaten egg (to brush on the top of the crust)

Cook:

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat and season the chicken thighs with salt and pepper or your favorite poultry seasoning blend (I love this one from Here’s the Deal Spice Co.). Cook the chicken thighs for about 5 minutes on each side, until just cooked through. Take the chicken thighs out of the pan and set aside. Add the butter, carrots, celery, onion and garlic to the same pan and use a wooden spoon to scrape the browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Season with salt and pepper.

Sauté until tender, about 5 minutes. Add the flour to the vegetables and stir to coat – cooking for about 2 minutes. Then add the chicken stock and simmer until thickened, about 5 minutes. In the meantime, chop the chicken into 1 inch pieces. To the pan, add the heavy cream, thyme, parsley, chicken and peas. Stir over low heat to combine and continue to thicken. Taste for seasoning and add salt and pepper as needed.

Set aside to cool slightly while you prepare the pie crust. Place the bottom crust in a 9 inch pie plate. Add the filling, then top with the second crust. Crimp the edges, cut a few slits in the center of the top crust to let steam escape and use a pastry brush to coat the top with a thin layer of heavy cream or beaten egg.

Set the pie plate on a rimmed sheet pan (to keep your oven clean!) and bake for 45 minutes, until the crust is golden brown. You can use a pie shield or tinfoil to cover the edges to prevent them from browning too quickly. Let stand for 10 minutes before slicing and serving.

Back on Two Feet

Two days after my last post here, life as I knew it came to a screeching halt. I slipped on ice outside of my Minneapolis home and landed with a thud on the ground. Within seconds, I knew I couldn’t get up. I laid on the ground, consumed by excruciating pain, until my neighbor spotted me and was able to run inside to get Jay. After a long wait at the emergency room, X-rays and more tears than I’ve ever shed in a day, I learned my ankle was broken in three places and badly dislocated. There were two attempts to push my bones back into place and surgery the next day. And as anyone who’s suffered an injury like this knows, I had a long road of recovery ahead of me.

ER/Pre-surgery/post-op ramen/ankle hardware

Fast forward to today and although I’m still moving slowly, I’m independently walking. I’m back to work, my garden is planted, I can take my kids to the park, meet a friend for dinner and am even heading out on a girl’s trip this weekend with my college friends. These are all things I surely appreciated before February 18th, 2022. But post-ankle break, my gratitude for even the smallest pieces of independent living and ability to be mobile has grown exponentially.

Now that I’ve explained my break from this blog which was caused by several breaks in my bones, I can confidently move forward with a pasta salad recipe. As one does. This is the dish I shared with Chris and Megan on Minnesota Live this week – it’s a copycat of a version Jay often picks up at St. Paul Meat Shop (an amazing spot, by the way). But we can only justify buying a $20 quart of pasta salad on occasion, so I decided to try to hack the salad myself so we can up the meat budget instead. This is how I make it, but feel free to add or subtract ingredients according to your taste. I think some olives, chickpeas and even artichoke hearts would be wonderful here too.

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Feta Orzo Salad

Gather this:

8 ounces dried orzo pasta (half a box), cooked according to package instructions, replacing the water with chicken stock

1 cup finely chopped cucumber

1 cup finely chopped tomato

6 ounces crumbled feta cheese

1/3 cup olive oil

juice of one lemon

1/3 cup minced fresh herbs, such as parsley, chives, dill, basil, tarragon, and/or mint

salt and pepper to taste

Do this:

After cooking in boiling chicken stock, drain the pasta in a colander and place in a large bowl, adding a drizzle of olive oil and stirring to prevent sticking. Let pasta cool slightly, but add the feta when the pasta is still slightly warm and stir. Add the rest of the ingredients, stirring gently to combine and refrigerate at least a couple of hours before serving.

Stuffed Sweet Peppers

There are several things that make a morning great for me. Not being woken up by a tiny person yelling at me is one. This is a rarity at this point in my life. Getting everyone out the door without tears. This one did not happen today but can generally be achieved a few days a week. And prepping a dinner that’s either ready to pop in the oven or simmering away in the slow cooker. This action makes “Morning Elizabeth” feel very accomplished and “Evening Elizabeth” feel very relieved. All positive emotions.

Last week on Minnesota Live, I shared one of my go-to recipes to prep in the morning and then bake after work – Stuffed Sweet Peppers. My version is really simple, takes just about 20 minutes to prepare and then bakes away and smells delicious. It’s also one of those comforting, hearty dishes that’s relatively inexpensive and leaves a person feeling satisfied but not weighed down after dinner. Here’s how I make them:

Stuffed Sweet Peppers

Gather this:

1 lb ground beef or pork

2 carrots, 2 stalks of celery, 1 small yellow onion $ 3 large garlic cloves – all minced by hand or in a food processor

1 tbsp olive oil 2 tbsp Italian Sausage Seasoning

1 cup jasmine rice cooked according to package instructions, replacing the water with chicken broth or adding 1 tbsp Chicken Better Than Bouillon

3 sweet peppers (red, orange and or/yellow) 15 ounces marinara, either store bought or homemade

flat leaf Italian parsley, grated Parmesan & red pepper flakes for garnish

Do this:

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. In a large skillet, heat the olive oil over medium high heat. Add the ground meat and break up with a wooden spoon as it cooks. After about 4 minutes, add the Italian Sausage Seasoning and stir to distribute. Add the minced vegetables and cook until meat is completely browned and vegetables are tender.

Meanwhile, cut the peppers in half lengthwise, removing the stem, seeds and ribs. Arrange the peppers in a 9×13 pan, cut side up. Pour the meat mixture and the rice in a large bowl and stir to combine. Fill each pepper half with the filling, mounding it on top and don’t worry if some falls over the sides. Pour the marinara over all of the peppers and then bake, uncovered, for about 25-30 minutes – until the peppers are tender but not mushy.

You can also assemble this ahead of time and put in the fridge, baking when you’re ready. The peppers will take closer to 40 minutes in the oven if coming straight out of the fridge. Garnish with parsley, parmesan & red pepper flakes.

Leftovers For Breakfast

My mom is from Texas and I’ve mentioned that Jay’s mom was Mexican so we are all about the Tex-Mex cuisine in this household. I would never turn down a taco and basically any combination of beans, cheese and rice equals a satisfying meal. And if you’re a Minnesotan, you know that anything baked in a 9×13 pan is a comforting dinner.

This week on Minnesota Live, I shared my ground beef & bean enchilada recipe. I made these last week and my 7 year old asked for leftovers for breakfast the next day so I figured they were worthy of a television appearance. And amazingly, these come together so fast that you can make them from scratch on a weeknight, no problem.

I told the team at Minnesota Live that I fully support shortcuts here (canned refried beans, jarred enchilada sauce and even a packet of taco seasoning) with one exception: you must grate your own cheese. I like to use a raw cheddar from Organic Valley. The pre-grated stuff has anti-clumping ingredients in it that I’m not interested it. Get out your box grater and take 30 seconds to grate your cheese off the block – you won’t be sorry!

One more ingredient note – I’ve been loving the almond flour tortillas from Siete Foods – I think they give you an almost corn/flour hybrid tortilla texture. A package of 8 of them works perfectly for this recipe but you can also use whatever tortilla you prefer! Hope you love them for dinner and even breakfast the next day.

Ground Beef & Bean Enchiladas

Gather this:

1 lb grass fed ground beef

1 tsp olive or avocado oil

1/2 cup diced yellow onion

1 packet of taco seasoning

1 can refried beans (I use Amy’s Organic Refried Black Beans)

1 package Siete almond flour tortillas (8 count) or your preferred tortilla

8 ounces enchilada sauce (I like Frontera or Siete)

8 ounce block medium white cheddar

cilantro, avocado, sour cream, hot sauce for serving

Do this:

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. In a medium sized skillet, heat the oil over medium heat. Add onion and ground beef, breaking up with a wooden spoon. When almost completely browned, add your taco seasoning and 1/2 cup of water. Mix together and simmer over medium low heat until sauce is thick. Turn off the heat and set aside to cool. In the meantime, spoon a thin layer of enchilada sauce into a 9×13 pan, just so it coats the bottom. Lay out all of the tortillas on the counter and spread refried beans on them. You will split the entire can among the 8 tortillas. Divide the taco meat mixture among the tortillas, spooning it on top of the beans. Sprinkle about 1 tbsp of cheese over the meat on each tortilla as well. Roll up the tortillas and place them seam side down in the pan. Place six across, arranged so the ends are touching one side of the pan. Place the two remaining tortilla roll ups lengthwise, end to end. Pour the rest of the enchilada sauce over the tortillas (if you’re using Siete – you’ll have some extra. One Frontera package will be the right amount for the whole dish.) Sprinkle the remaining cheese over the entire dish and bake for 25-30 minutes – until the cheese is melting and the tortillas are browned. Remove from the oven and let rest for 5 minutes or so. Serve with cilantro, avocado, sour cream and/or hot sauce!

Crust of Bread

The impetus for so much of my gardening/composting/chicken raising journey began with one simple principle: reduce waste. Throwing out food just crushes me. And unfortunately, I still do it. I’ll find things buried in the fridge that I forgot about or reach into a bag of produce only to find it’s mushy and moldy. Composting (either in your yard or through a city program) is a great way to prevent food from going in the trash and backyard chickens are some of the best food waste digesters out there. But even better? Do what people have been doing for hundreds of years: use up what you have with recipes that are perfectly suited to ingredients that may seem “past their prime.”

On Wednesday’s episode of Minnesota Live, I shared my favorite ways to use up bread. These are less recipes and more methods – as you can switch out ingredients based on what you like and adjust quantities to reflect the amount of bread you have. If you start making your own bread (my favorite no-knead instructions are from Bread in Five and my sourdough guru is Amanda Paa of Heartbeet Kitchen) you’ll definitely want to make use of these (delicious) strategies as you’ll have a ridiculous emotional attachment to the loaves you pull out of the oven.

Use Up Bread Idea #1: Panzanella Salad

Method: Cut your bread (can be fresh or a few days old) into 1.5 to 2 inch chunks. Any country loaf, sourdough, ciabatta, baguette, etcetera will work great for this. In a large skillet, warm some butter and/or olive oil over medium heat. You want the fat to coat the bread pieces but not soak them. Start with less – add more if the bread pieces look dry. Add the bread to the skillet, toss in the oil or butter and season with salt and pepper. Toast over medium heat until the bread is crisp and browned on the edges. Turn off the heat and set aside to cool while you assemble the rest of the salad. **These croutons are great to use atop any green salad or plopped in the center of soup too!** Slice grape tomatoes in half, chop up some cucumber into about 1 inch chunks, drain some kalamata olives, crumble up some feta & chop some herbs (parsley, dill, basil would all be wonderful). In a large bowl, toss all of the ingredients together (including the bread). In a jar, make a simple vinaigrette: I use a ratio of 2/3 olive oil to 1/3 red wine vinegar. Season with salt and pepper, put a lid on the jar and shake to combine. Dress the salad to your liking and toss to combine. Serve right away – this can also sit for a bit as well.

Use Up Bread Idea #2: Toasted Bread Crumbs

Method: Tear bread into chunks and put in your food processor. Blitz until bread is a bread crumb consistency. Drizzle some oil and/or butter in a skillet – add the bread crumbs and toast over medium heat until toasted and crisp. Use in salads, meatballs, meatloaves, on top of pasta – basically anywhere you’d use packaged breadcrumbs.

Use Up Bread Idea #3: Baked French Toast

Before Baking — After Baking!

Method: This is a fabulous way to use up enriched breads like brioche or croissants. Cut the bread into 1.5 to 2 inch chunks. Butter a casserole dish that’s large enough to fit the quantity of bread you have. Spread the bread in the dish in an even layer. Now for the milk/egg mixture ratio: I’ve found that 1 cup milk to 1 egg works beautifully. For this dish, I had about four cups of bread cubes and I mixed 2 cups of milk with two eggs, a pinch of salt and about 1/2 tsp of vanilla. A dash of cinnamon or nutmeg is also delicious. Whisk together – then pour over the bread. Nestle some berries of your choosing in with the bread and, if you’d like, dot with 1/2 tsp drops of cream cheese. Bake at 350 degrees for about 30 minutes – until the custard is set and the tops of the bread peeking out are toasted and crisp. Serve with maple syrup.

Jar of Sauce

A jar of marinara sauce is the ultimate meal starter. Toss some pasta in it and you have a simple dinner. Brown some ground pork or beef, add seasonings and simmer with your marinara and a meat sauce is born. Layer into lasagna, pour into my all time favorite pot of soup, use as pizza sauce, simmer meatballs in it…you get the idea. I’ve been making this marinara for years – I love that the carrots provide sweetness without adding sugar and the flexibility of using any type of canned or jarred tomato that happens to be on sale. The sauce freezes beautifully as well.

Simple Marinara Sauce

Gather this:

1/2 cup olive oil

2 carrots, chopped

2 stalks of celery, chopped

1 small yellow onion, chopped

2-3 garlic cloves

1/2 tsp salt

1/2 tsp freshly ground pepper

2 28 ounce cans tomatoes (can be whole, diced, crushed or any combination)

1 parmesan rind

2 bay leaves

Do this:

In a dutch oven or heavy bottomed pot, warm the olive oil over medium heat. Add the carrots, onion, celery & garlic and sauté for about 5 minutes, stirring often. Season with salt and pepper. Pour in the tomatoes, parmesan rind and bay leaves and stir.

Simmer, partially covered for about 45 minutes to an hour.

Remove the rind and bay leaves and blend sauce using an immersion blender in the pot or transfer to a blender carefully. Serve or save!

Stocked With Stock

After quite the hiatus, Home to Homestead is back in action! While my urban farming mission has never taken a pause, sharing it with you here did. But recently the team at my day job launched a brand new show called “Minnesota Live” (9 am central! KSTP TV!) and asked me to contribute by sharing what I’m growing, preserving, fermenting, cooking, eating.

I said “sure!” and decided that this would be the perfect landing place for you to check out the videos if you missed them on television and find the recipes and resources I share on the show. So…here we go!

Last week — I shared how I use every bit of a roasted chicken by making broth out of the leftover bits of meat and bones and adding aromatics and seasoning. This is more of a method than a recipe.

 

Homemade Chicken Stock

Put the following in the insert of your slow cooker:
chicken bones (bonus if you add some feet)
celery
carrot
onion
garlic
peppercorns
bay leaves
fresh or dried herbs (sage, thyme, rosemary, parsley)
mineral salt

Cover with filtered water
Set slow cooker to low – let go for 24 hours
Pull out solids and strain through a fine sieve

Store in containers or jars. If freezing, leave at least an inch of headroom before topping with a lid to allow for expansion. Use in soup, as a replacement for water in grain recipes, drink alone and more!

 

 

 

Avoiding You

I’ll admit it. I’ve been avoiding you.

Not because I don’t like you. Or because I don’t have stories to share. But because I simply didn’t want to write what I know I have to write.

I’ve been putting it off for weeks. And weeks.

There’s so much life flourishing on our little urban homestead. The garden has been in full harvest mode. There are tomatoes, peppers and beans to pick every day. The kale is going positively gangbusters (anyone need some?). We’re busy preserving as much as we can and filling our basement shelves with glass jars. The squash vines are drying up and the sweet vegetables are being pulled inside.

Gracie

Gracie is practicing her bird flushing skills by teaming up with Henry to chase chipmunks in the yard. My tummy is getting rounder minute by minute and baby is moving nonstop.

All of this activity makes our recent loss even more difficult to take.

Maryanne

MaryAnne was our beautiful Buff Orpington. The bird who would let me hold her as visiting friends would gently pet her feathers. The quietest of our flock, MaryAnne would simply coo and cluck softly while the others crow after they lay their ever-important eggs. Her yellow-orange feathers earned her the nickname “Gold’n Plump” among the neighbors.

MaryAnne

And she’s the first life we’ve been responsible for that’s been lost.

When we knew MaryAnne wasn’t going to make it, there were tears. And it sounds so funny to cry over a chicken. A chicken? We eat chicken all the time. If I cried over every chicken life lost, there would literally be time for nothing but sobbing. But this was our chicken. Our chicken who was young, still laying eggs and had a personality that we knew.

MaryAnne died of a common chicken illness that we caught too late. Because of that, there’s guilt. And regret. And more guilt.MaryAnne - 5 Weeks

But raising animals for food means losing them, most often at the Farmer’s hands. I think of my hog raising friends who tell me they make a comfortable bed in the trailer they use to haul their heritage breed pigs to slaughter. They remind the processing crew to treat the pigs with kindness. And there hasn’t been a single one of those trips that hasn’t been hard.

I also think of my dear friend’s mom who just can’t eat the meat of the first grass-fed cow she and her husband raised on their hobby farm after knowing the animal from the time it was a small calf.

Or a lovely baker I know who came home to the horror of neighbor dogs chasing her chickens, leaving her flock much smaller and terrified.

Raising animals for food comes at an emotional cost. We learned that. And there’s no question we’ll feel the pain again.

There. I said it. No more avoiding.

IMG_1695

Goodbye, sweet MaryAnne.