Saturday, December 14, 2013

What does that food label mean???

Every time I go to the store I see a new label on the packages in the meat case that claims to be natural, all natural, grass fed, free range, cage free, hormone free, no antibiotics, USDA certified organic, pastured, what the hell does all this mean!!!

For the most part is all a load of crap that has been crafted by the meat industry to make us, the consumer, feel better about the products we are consuming.... Other than USDA certified organic, which is regulated and requires farmers to follow specific guidelines in order to maintain the certification.  The guidelines that have to be followed, for instance no human sludge in fertilizer, no unapproved synthetic substances, etc...  REALLY, so if your food isn't "USDA certified organic" it could have stood in, ate, or was grown in fertilizer that contained human waste... Not to mention all of the chemicals that could be added to make it bigger, fatter, and more profitable without any regard for the consequences. Maybe....

So what do all of the other labels mean?  Anything from nothing at all to the small farmer that actually raises humanely treated animals.  So how do you know what you are buying? ASK! While it is nice to think that the steer is roaming free on the farm, the pig has a large mud pit to wallow in, and the chicken is pecking around in the farmer's backyard, that is not always the case.  We have all seen the footage of chickens stacked on top of each other, cows standing in pens tightly packed with others up past their hooves in feces, and pigs living in concrete floored barns for their entire lives feeding on garbage mixed into their feed.

I used to work at a casino many years ago, and a local farmer would come by once a week and pick up barrels of grease and food waste that he was feeding to hogs.  Now, while pigs are omnivorous, I don't think eating greasy waste mixed with different feeds and garbage is healthy for the pig, or us, as we will ultimately consume the pork byproduct at some point down the road.

I have really pushed this idea around for a while and contemplated if I really wanted to even acknowledge or discuss the topic, but if we don't acknowledge it or discuss it at some point then it will never change.  Do I think that my thoughts will have a major impact on a multi-billion dollar a year industry? No, but if enough people feel the same way, and decide to change the choices they make, where they shop, and demand to know where their food is coming from, then change can occur.

But realize, just because something says natural, local, or sustainable, unless you really understand what it means and who is saying it, they are just words.  Ask your meat supplier if they have visited the farm they receive their meat from, or the processing facility, and how far away it is from the farm.  If it is beef, and they are claiming grass fed, what type of grass, is it grass fed, grass finished or grain finished.  Was it grain finished on the farm or at a stockyard, if so did the feed contain antibiotics or other hormones. If the beef is labeled hormone and antibiotic free, was the animal raised without both, or weaned off prior to slaughter?

Mega farms use antibiotics to not only prevent the spread of diseases, but to increase the size of the animal prior to slaughter.  Big win for the corporation, not for you and me...  I am not a doctor or a scientist so I will not proclaim to understand the impact the last 20+ years of consuming meat that has been raised in this manner will have on us, but I think it is evident based on the increase in obesity, early puberty in children, and countless issues that continue to arise that it isn't good for us.  Not to mention the impact on the environment from runoff and soil contamination.

I know this is a food blog and I am supposed to be providing tasty treats for everyone to drool over, but the issue is one that deserves discussion, and demands our attention.  I am also a realist and I know that we can't all run out and just start buying pastured beef, mainly because the supply will never keep up with the demand.  Not to mention the availability of meat, poultry, and eggs that are responsibly raised doesn't exist in many locations.

There are also those that believe grass fed and finished beef is tough and not as good as conventionally raised beef.  That really is based on how you cook it.  Trust me, I have ruined my share of steaks trying to cook it in a way that was not intended.  Granted there is a different flavor, and there is nothing wrong with grain finished beef, the issue is how the animal was raised and the crap that it is fed to achieve maximum poundage and profitability. Don't get me wrong, profit is great, but not if it is not going into the communities that support the industry.

So what is a person to do, where will I find a 12lb brisket or 10lb pork shoulder to smoke if my local grocer can't assure me of the origin of the product?  Good question...  If it means I have to drive 30 minutes to a location that can assure me of the quality of the product I am buying is it worth it to me? Yes, I guess that is the answer, is it convenient, no, but I think that is the point.  Convenience is great when done responsibly, but if I have to sacrifice my health for a hamburger (ok, not the best analogy.. but its the truth) then I should at least make the effort to ensure I am eating something that is not going to do even more damage based on the crap that was ground in with it... (Side note: commercially ground beef can contain meat, and other things, from multiple cows that came from different parts of the country. Not a pretty picture, and why I now grind my own.)

The FDA recently imposed "stricter" regulations on the use of antibiotics in animals raised for food.  They are "asking" drug makers to change labels on the products so that the use of them by feed producers that currently use antibiotics for the purpose of aiding the animals in gaining weight would no longer be an acceptable use of the antibiotics, and in a sense be illegal.  The regulation is voluntary and gives a 3 year phase out for use of antibiotics.  So in a sense, it is a veil for them to hide behind to assure the public they are "doing their best" to regulate the industry...  

I promise I am not going to go down a rabbit hole with this blog and rant about all of the injustice in the world, but as a consumer, and a foodie, I thought it was important to at least mention it.  In the future, when possible I will provide as much information as possible on where the meat I use comes from and if it is locally sourced, as well as recommendations on where to buy your meat.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Steak, Fries, and Hakushu

The last couple of days have been interesting as my curiosity built over a package that Mandy ordered for pickup at a nearby UPS service center.  The package was originally supposed to be delivered to our house, but because it required a signature from an adult over the age of 21..... it was not delivered.  So instead we set it up for pickup at a location about 15 miles north of Murrieta.

While I deduced that it was some form of alcoholic beverage based on the requirement for delivery, I had no idea what it was, plus she refused to drop any hints.  So when the time arrived for us to make the trek north to retrieve this mystery package my anticipation built to a small frenzy as I went over in my head what I thought it could be, without getting overly inquisitive and ruining the surprise, believing I would have to wait until the 25th to find out what mystery surprise was hidden under the brown veil of cardboard.  

When we arrived at our destination and retrieved the box it resembled the shape of a typical box that contains a bottle of goodness... When we got to the truck Mandy told me this was no Christmas present and to open the box. YAY!  Having forgot my knife at home I used the next best thing, my truck key, to rip through the packing tape.  As I opened the box and removed the top layer of foam I recognized the familiar shape of a whiskey bottle, but this was no ordinary bottle of scotch or even bourbon, this was Japanese Whiskey!! A 12 year old Hakushu to be exact!

 Attached to the box was a message that stated "I love you.  I hope you enjoy this, Love Mandy!"
Well baby, I DID! Of course when we got home I waited until after I had changed out of my work clothes and started dinner before I broke the seal on the bottle.  But once I did, I smelled that old familiar aroma of peat and smoke that are commonly found in Scotch.  As it rolled onto my tongue the whiskey was light and crisp, but had a good mouth feel, and a nice sweet finish.  This was a very nice surprise that will definitely be a welcome addition to my growing collection.  This was my first ever Japanese Whiskey, but it won't be the last...

Bet you thought I forgot about dinner, but I didn't.  Tonight, based on the truly amazing  gift from Mandy I decided to make her a New York Strip and sweet potato fries.  I typically would grill a Strip, but it was late, and cold, so I decided to put a good pan sear on the cut of meat and finish it in the oven.

I started the steak when there was about 10 minutes left on the fries.  I lightly coated the steaks in olive oil, kosher salt, and pepper then placed them in a pan over high heat for 2 minutes on each side.  I then placed the pan in the oven for 8 minutes.  

I let the steaks rest with a pat of butter and some parsley for 5 minutes before slicing them up for plating.  I only used one of the steaks for dinner tonight, the other will be used for sandwiches tomorrow.  Steak is always an amazing treat, but when paired with a great whiskey, it makes it even better.

A special thanks goes out to the magical elf that assisted Mandy in the selection of this bottle of Hakushu!

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Hump Day Smoked Tri Tip

What day is it!! Smoked tri tip day, YEAH!  On the drive home from work yesterday I was talking to my brother about smoking some meat this weekend and remembered I still had a chunk of leftover smoked tri tip in the freezer.   That led to another conversation about reheating cooked food that has been frozen.  Ever since I bought my Food Saver vacuum sealer reheating frozen leftovers means they taste just as good as they did the first time around.  The vacuum sealing locks in all of the juices and when reheated you don't lose any of the moisture since it is sealed into the packaging.

I always prefer to reheat using a pot of water that is brought to a boil vice using the microwave.  Honestly, the only thing I like out of the microwave is popcorn... And even that is better out of a popcorn popper.  Depending on the size of what you are reheating, and if it is frozen or refrigerated, it usually takes about 20 minutes in boiling water to thaw and reheat the meat.

While the tri tip was reheating, I heated up some carrots with a pinch of sage for some savory carrots.  I also toasted up some cheese bread to accompany this smokey dish.  Out of the oven in 10 minutes, and plated in less than 5 minutes, we were enjoying a home cooked barbecue dinner in less than 30 minutes. LOVE IT!

While my smoker is my favorite appliance, the food saver is a close second since it allows me to enjoy the product of a day of smoking weeks later.

Best part about using up leftovers is I know have more room in the freezer to smoke some meat.  

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Hot Wings

I am not the biggest fan of chicken, but when it comes to hot wings I will always make an exception.  Realistically the wing is just a delivery device for the hot sauce and spices that are cooked into each of the tasty morsels of meat.

I like them hot, probably hotter than my body wants to accept, but the more it makes me squirm the better. However for Mandy, she is a medium hot wing type, so when I make a batch for the two of us I compromise for her level of heat so I don't accidentally give her some of my mix.  (Been there, and it was not pleasant...)

I always take the time to  break down the wings into the drumsticks and wings, while removing the wing tips.  This aids in getting a more even cook, as well as making them easier to eat.  Some people toss the wing tips, but I prefer to cook them in a separate pan as they are a yummy appetizer before dinner.

Once I had all of the pieces cut up I tossed them in a mixture of garlic, cayenne pepper, and paprika and spread them evenly in a pan.  I placed the pans in the oven at 425 degrees for 45 minutes.  Some people prefer to deep fry them, but I eat enough fried foods that baking these is more than sufficient and still has an extremely tasty result.

After 45 minutes I tossed the wings in a mixture of hot sauce (Franks) and butter with a tinge of beer and then placed them back in the oven for 15 more minutes.  After the timer went off I gave them another roll in the hot sauce and another ride in the oven for 5 more minutes just to crisp up the wings and coating.

I eat wings with one of two things, beer or milk.  Since these were relatively mild for me, I enjoyed a Long Hammer IPA with mine.    The milk is only for when I decide to really kick them up a notch!