Friday, October 1, 2021

Friday Food: The Return of the Stabby Cake


Short version: Leftover meat, calabacitas, after-play pasta

Long version: Every year--well, except last year because of COVID--The Missoula Children's Theatre traveling directors come and help our school stage a play. The play was this night, so the boys were at school in the evening and had dinner there. 

They had ham sandwiches and chips and were all starving when we got home around 7:30 p.m. So then they all had leftover pasta, to which I added some cream cheese for a bit of protein.

A., Poppy, and I all had leftover beef rib meat. Poppy had hers with barbecue sauce and also had some bread and butter and cucumbers. A. and I had ours fried with the zucchini-like calabacitas, tomatoes, and garlic, and then I added some asadero cheese, too.


Short version: Beef fajitas, pinto beans

Long version: The processing place that butchered our latest steer asked me if I wanted some fajita meat. As I mentioned before, I am all about them doing as much prep work as possible for me, so I said yes. I used one package of that for this meal, marinating it oil, vinegar, garlic powder, and chile powder and then frying it on my big griddle pan with bell peppers and onions. It was really good.

I think I still have about eight pints of pressure-canned pinto beans in the pantry. I really need to use more of them so I can cook some more of the dried ones that have been there for, uh, two years.


Short version: Slow-food chicken strips, fast-food tater tots, corn on the cob, cucumbers with ranch dip, pots de creme

Long version: A. butchered the very last meat chicken. It weighed in at 13 pounds.

That's obscene.

The breasts on it were so large that I decided to separate them and use them to make breaded chicken strips, as a treat for the children.

I know I've said here before that the giant chicken breasts we would sometimes buy in New York were alarming to me. Like, what on earth does the bird look like that produces such giant breasts? Well, now I know. It looks like a small turkey.

Here's a visual for you:

Tablespoon measure for scale to show the alarming size of these things.


I pounded those a bit with my giant rolling pin to flatten them, then cut them into strips and did the whole flour/egg wash/breadcrumb thing before baking them.

I very much dislike breading things. So tedious. Also, I really don't like the way my fingers get all gummy. I never think the finished product is really worth the whole process, but the rest of the family loved the end result, so it's a nice treat for them occasionally.

And after making an actual running-around chicken into breaded chicken strips using eggs gathered from our own chickens and breadcrumbs made from the bread I made myself, I served them with . . . generic tater tots.

I never claimed to be a really dedicated locavore.

Mostly I just wanted to get the remainder of the giant bag of tater tots out of the freezer where they've been for like eight months, but they were actually really good with the chicken.

And A. completed the children's absolute satisfaction with this meal by buying corn on the cob last time he was at the store.

Or maybe I completed it by making the pots de creme requested by Calvin. Which actually set up properly this time. It's been pretty liquidy the last couple of times, for unknown reasons, but this time it was the proper texture.

Incidentally, I must admit that although I proved it can be made with evaporated milk, I do make it with regular whole milk when I have it. I just don't really like opening cans to cook. Although it's nice to know it's an option.


Short version: Chicken soup, cheese, bread and butter

Long version: I spent many, many hours in the kitchen on Sunday. One of the reasons I was in there so long was because I had to deal with the remainder of the chicken carcass after I had removed the breasts. I pressure-cooked that in water to make stock, then picked off all the meat and used some of the stock and some of the meat to make soup. 

I really didn't want to be doing anything more in the kitchen Sunday, but I knew I would be glad I did when I got home from work Monday and only had to re-heat soup instead of actually cooking something.

So I made the soup with garlic, onion, carrot, celery, potatoes, some marinara sauce I had made with the food processor after I had made Sunday's pots de creme, half a jar of leftover pinto beans, and some frozen green peas. Sort of like a chicken minestrone.

It was very tasty, and I was indeed very glad when I got home from work that dinner was already made.


Short version: Bunless cheeseburgers, rice, green salad with ranch dressing

Long version: Nah.


Short version: Italian sliders, pasta, calabacitas/tomatoes/onion, green salad with ranch dressing

Long version: This was Michaelmas, the feast of the Archangels. We always celebrate this by stabbing a chocolate cake. It's supposed to be a devil's food cake (because Michael was the Archangel that cast Satan into hell using a sword), but I just make Grandma Bishop's Chocolate Cake because . . . well, because it's really fast to make.

We were home this day, because the elementary school went virtual for a week and a half, due to the large numbers of kids that were absent because of colds/allergies/whatever. So, since we were home and Cubby had football practice in the evening, we had our cake after lunch instead of after dinner.

I was actually out of toothpicks for stabbing, but I have three boys in residence who are each the proud possessors of pocketknives and who are very happy to carve their own stabby pieces of wood.

Yes, I made calabacitas twice in one week. I'll make it as long as I have the calabacitas.

Late summer in a skillet.


Short version: Chicken fusion soup, cornbread

Long version: There was definitely chicken in the soup. Also black beans, corn, rice, tomatoes, a bit of chile powder, and sour cream. So was it chicken and rice soup? Or corn chowder? Or taco soup? 

Whatever. It was good.

I always make Edna Lewis' recipe for cornbread muffins, because it calls for corn flour. Which is pretty much what the masa I have on hand in quantity is. It makes for a very soft and tangy cornbread, what with all the buttermilk in it.

Okay, your turn! What'd you eat this week?

Tuesday, September 28, 2021

T.T.: Buying a Steer for the Freezer

We've been buying whole animals from farmers and ranchers for our freezer for many years now. Every place we have lived in the last fifteen years, we've found someone who will sell us a whole cow or steer (or, more rarely, a pig) and bring it to the processor for us.

This is getting more common, but it's not exactly the sort of thing you might learn in your average high school class. So I thought I would tell you how it works. With the caveat that this is how it works for us. In a more urban area, you might not be able to deal so directly with the person who raises the animal. I don't know. But here's what happens for me.

First, figure out what you want to buy. We have most commonly done this with cull cows (the cows that have had trouble calving or raising a calf and are going to auction anyway) or steers (a steer is a castrated male). That is, as you probably know, a very big animal. They do vary quite a bit in size, but generally speaking, if you want a whole animal, you need at least one chest freezer. We've had cows small enough that the entirety of the meat going in the freezer is only about 200 pounds. The last steer we got, though, was about 700 pounds. That's a LOT of meat, and it takes a lot of space.

We did have some frozen vegetables and things in one freezer, but this steer took up at least 3/4 of the space in two very large chest freezers.

So decide if you have the room for it yourself or if you need to find other people to share the meat with.

Next, you need to find the animal. 

Where we live in beef cattle country, that pretty much just means asking our neighbors if they have a steer or cull cow we could buy from them. One of them always does. 

Future freezer meat, just 50 yards from our door.

Before we lived here, we used to look in our local free advertisement newspaper--the ones that are often on stands at grocery stores in rural areas--or on Craigslist to find someone selling whole animals.

The way it has always worked for us is that we are buying the animal, but the farmer or rancher brings it to the processor for us. In that way, we don't have worry about proving transfer of ownership with a brand inspection or anything. And we also don't have to transport it. We don't have a cattle trailer, anyway.

So once our rancher agrees to sell us the animal, I call a meat processor to find out when it can be taken in for slaughter. This has gotten a lot more difficult in the past couple of years as more people are turning to small meat processing places to get meat. The place we used to use a couple of hours away is now scheduling slaughter out a year and a half from now. 

That's crazy.

Luckily, a new place opened about an hour and a half from us, and they got this last steer in within a few weeks of my calling. When I called, they took my name and phone number, as well as the name of the rancher who was delivering the steer. They told me when he should bring it, and I duly passed that information on to our rancher neighbor. 

Whenever we've bought an animal for processing, dealing with the processor is entirely my responsibility. All the farmer or rancher should be doing is dropping the animal off.

The animal is slaughtered the day it's delivered, but with beef, it has to hang and age in a cooler for some time. I always ask that it hang at least two weeks. For a bigger animal, three weeks is really better. That does require the processor to hold the animal in valuable storage space for longer, so not all of them want to do that, but they should definitely not try to cut it up any sooner than ten days after slaughter. The meat needs the time to age. It makes for better texture and flavor.

Sometime before the aging period is done, the processor will call to get cutting instructions. Every processor I have ever used has what's called a "cut sheet." It's just a list of the various cuts that can be taken from different parts of the animal. They will go down this list with me over the phone and ask my preferences.

So, for instance, some of the cuts can be made into roasts, or stew meat, or ground beef. Some of the cuts that can be roasts can also be cut into steaks. 

They will also ask how many pounds of meat should be in each package of things like ground beef and stew meat. Also how thick to cut the steaks and how many to a package. This new processor asked me if I wanted the meat vacuum sealed, or just wrapped in plastic wrap and butcher paper (I went with the latter, because it's less plastic overall), but that's the first time I've ever been given an option for packaging.

In addition, I have the option of getting the offal--heart, liver, kidneys, etc.--the oxtail and soup bones, and any additional fat. I get all of that, because the dogs will eat what I don't cook. If you don't have the space or just don't want to deal with offal, you can say no. If you do want the fat for rendering into tallow, you can usually ask them to grind it for you, which makes it much easier to render.

The person you're talking to is going to be very knowledgeable about the different cuts of meat and your options, so don't be afraid to ask what they recommend or what most people ask for.

This is the time to ask what the live weight of the animal was. The processor will weigh it before slaughter. That's the live weight, and that's how the farmer or rancher will calculate how much you owe them. We calculate it ourselves for our neighbors, using the price at our local auction per hundredweight for that particular kind of animal on that day. A cull cow, for instance, brings less at auction than a steer. Prices are pretty high right now for all kinds of animals, but our cost to our rancher this time was still less than two dollars per pound.

However, given that the steer we got from him was a bit over 1,300 pounds live weight, that's still a pretty hefty check to write up front. And that doesn't include the processing.

I pay the processor directly when I pick the meat. They charge a price per pound based on what's called the hanging weight. That's the weight of the carcass after it's been gutted. 

Taking both costs together, the price per pound for the meat we actually brought home came out to a bit less than four dollars per pound, which is the most we've ever had to pay. That may sound like a lot for something like ground beef, but keep in mind that that's what you're paying for filet mignon and porterhouse steaks, too. Even at these higher prices, it averages out to less than grocery store meat, and of course it's a much, much higher quality.

This is what 700 pounds of beef looks like when it's in boxes.

Having a truck is useful for transport purposes, because those boxes take up a lot of space.

Again, this was a particularly large steer, so this is more meat than we would normally get.

And now all that remains is to eat it. Without worrying about running out for a loooong time.

Monday, September 27, 2021

Monday Bouquet: Singular

I left the small jar of sunflowers on the table last week for most of the week. Long enough that they were looking pretty sad when I finally got around to replacing them. That happens when I'm working more.

That's why I only had one new arrangement last week.

Most of the sunflower patches on the side of the road look like this now.

Less flowery, more seedy.

It took some searching, but I did manage to find a couple of very small sunflowers for the replacement arrangement.

Plus sage and dried grass heads.

We anticipate a killing frost anytime in October, so we'll see if I can continue to find a sunflower or two a week until then.

I hope you have a lovely Monday, with or without flowers.

Sunday, September 26, 2021

Snapshots: Wood Stacking, Walking, and Blue Sky

We bought two cords of wood for winter this year again, which means I had to mobilize my woodstacking army to get it all stacked in the porch.

In this case, "mobilize" is a euphemism for "bribe with chocolate milk."

Half an hour of stacking for a glass of chocolate milk. Anyone who stacked an extra fifteen minutes got an extra spoonful of syrup in their milk.

I'd never made chocolate milk before, so I used this recipe and made 1/3 of the total amount for the chocolate syrup. It was a hit, and all four children chose to do the extra time to get extra syrup. Twice. Once in the morning, once in the afternoon. Which means I got four kids working for 1.5 hours stacking wood. They got about half of it done. 

One more batch of chocolate syrup today and it should all be stacked.

Let's see what else . . .

The school play was on Friday evening, so I took the chance that everyone would sleep on Saturday morning and went for a walk as soon as it was light enough to see.

Windmill awaiting the sunrise.

The dogs were very excited to finally get an early morning walk.

It's never too early for Jasper the Perpetually-Alert Dog.

And lastly, A. took a single picture with my camera last weekend when he took the older boys fishing in various places across northern New Mexico.

You can tell it's New Mexico because of that blue sky.

And there you have it! My life, snapshotted.