Bone Food, or A Nutritional Defense of the Butcher

Bone Food

 

Some of us don’t like to be reminded from where our food comes. Perhaps it’s much easier to indulge that giant bowl of teriyaki or juicy cheeseburger if  not reminded that there is a cow or chicken involved. Avoiding what our food is made of could be considered a national sport with pressed and fried chicken nuggets as mascot. A few people manage to forsake this game completely by sticking strictly to vegetables, but despite which side of the fence you dine on there is no denying that there is a food chain and humans are right up on top. If you choose to assume your evolutionary seat you may as well go for your best option- meat on the bone.

Since man’s first spark of fire and his instinct to cook over it, human beings have been eating their meat right from the bone. The animal’s skeleton adds important elements not only to the science of denaturing the proteins for digestion, but also to the overall nutrition of the meal. In the bones lie important minerals like calcium, magnesium, and phosphorus, as well as albumin and collagen which are believed to help with degenerative joint issues and promote healthy cellular function. These nutrients leach into the cooking liquid and fortify not only your health but also your taste buds.

pork butt bone

The same cooks that obsess convenience often shy from cooking meat on the bone. Perhaps it’s the idea of an extra step, or the thought of a little more mess. The truth is that meat is easier to cook on the bone because it is harder to dry out and will have better inborn flavor. Another bonus- season, sear, and walk away. Cooking meat on the bone offers the distracted cook a significant margin of error.

To begin the simple endeavor of cooking bone food, you could start with a whole chicken, but a hefty 5-7 pound roast of beef or pork will really have you patting your effort on the back. The first step in your strategy is to find a butcher. This is a necessity. You might be lucky enough to have access to a free standing butcher store in your neighborhood. (Go, you!) Some chain style grocers still house a small butcher counter, but if you get desperate they most all have someone in the back who is portioning and wrapping all those grab-and-go cellophane and styrofoam packages. This is to whom you need to speak. As far as selection goes, choosing the butt or shoulder is really no matter so long as it’s on the bone. Thickness counts. Make sure it’s at least your cut is a minimum 3-3.5 pounds, and don’t allow yourself to be sold anything less.

Once home the roast can sit in your fridge up to 3 days before cooking. Meat on the bone deteriorates faster because of the natural bacteria thriving between the muscle and the skeleton, so don’t stretch this rule. If you get surprised with alternative plans after purchase you can always freeze and thaw for another date. Once you are ready to get started you can choose to tie the meat or not depending on your mood or inclination. (I mostly don’t tie, unless I’m stuffing the meat, because cooking is a daily task surrounded by other chores begging to be attended).

What you can’t get around is the searing. This step is crucial for capturing the liquids inside the muscle with which the bone nutrients and seasonings can mix. Begin with the heaviest bottomed 6-8 quart lidded pan you have, and warm a tablespoon of oil over a medium-high heat. Season each side of the meat generously with salt and pepper and place the fattiest side down on the hot oil. Patience is your assistant, and you must, must, must allow 6-10 minutes per side while searing. What you are looking for is a milk chocolate colored crust resembling the crisped texture of proper hash brown potatoes.

While searing your meat begin to roughly chop some flavorful vegetables. An onion and carrot are mandatory, garlic drastically improves the situation, and a rib of celery, if available, seals the deal. After you’ve thoroughly seared, remove the meat to a separate plate. Drain off most of the fat leaving a couple tablespoons in the pan and add your vegetables. Toss until browned over a medium flame. Once you’re pretty sure you’re there, add back the meat, 2 cups of freshly opened wine (red for beef, white for pork), 3 cups of broth, (chicken is most universal), a tablespoon of dried aromatic herbs like rosemary or thyme, and some more salt and pepper. {When learning to season without measuring always begin on the conservative side. A teaspoon of salt and a half teaspoon of ground pepper is generally a good starting point with stew-ish, soup-ish foods.} Now your work is done! Transfer the lidded pan to a 300F oven and let it ride for the next 6-8 hours.

Let us review:

Simple Roast of Pork or Beef

  • 5-7 lb roast on bone
  • onion, 1
  • carrot, 1-2
  • garlic, 3-4 cloves
  • celery, 1-2 ribs
  • unopened wine, 2 cups
  • broth, 3 cups
  • dried rosemary or thyme, 1 tbsp
  • oil for searing
  1. Set oven at 300F
  2. Allow 30-40 minutes for a proper sear while you prep other items. (See searing above.)
  3. Roast for 6-8 hours depending on size of cut.
  4. Once the meat is falling off the bone and fork tender you are ready. You can strain the broth and make a quick pan sauce or serve the juices with the vegetables in a rustic style. Best enjoy your roast with pasta or grains that will absorb the flavorful juices.

 

Quick Pan Sauce

In a skillet over low heat melt 2 tablespoons of butter to which you will whisk in 2 tablespoons on white flour. Turn the up the heat to a medium temperature and whisk in 2 cups of the strained roasting broth. As the slurry comes to a simmer continue to whisk until the wheat proteins have unravelled and the sauce begins to solidify and thicken. this should take a total of 6-8 minutes. Keep a flat bottomed silicone spatula handy in case the sauce begins to grab at the bottom of the pan and burn. Serve over meat and enjoy!

 

Bone Food


Simple Addition, or What Turmeric and Flax Can Do For You.

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The maintenance of hearth and health is arguably experiencing a domestic boom. Well being has become a fashionable trend evidenced by the kale craze and its ubiquitous yoga pant uniform. The 2010s provide us advances like pressure sensor athletic clothing, jewelry that measure sleep and wake cycles, and fresh pre-made calorie controlled meals. Billions of dollars have been devoted to technology that helps manage nutrition, fitness, and overall well being, and the glut of options expands each year. But not a full generation ago Americans were running from these topics as though nothing was more suffocating to mind and spirit. Matters of the stove were traded for convenience based factory food, and fitness was silenced by the hum of the VCR and electric lawn mower.

It was during the Dawn of Aquarius that the educational pursuit of home economics became more than passé. A burgeoning generation of youth shunned the art of homemaking and ran in droves from the army of electric stoves tucked into florescent lit corners of local high schools. Housewifery be damned. The abandoned academic doyens of stove and sewing machine were forced to reinvent their curriculum, and many found happy homes within burgeoning Nutrition Science departments of regional universities. They traded aprons for lab coats as they turned the art of making dinner into a scientific examination of crust and crumb.

It was in one of these home economic kitchens come science labs that I, as a green college student, first considered the science of food. Through measurements of emulsion, turgor, viscosity, and disbursement I learned to deconstruct a biscuit, fry a perfect egg, and simmer green vegetables (with minimal water soluble vitamin loss). In short, I learned to cook simple food very well.

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I simultaneously loved and hated the food I learned to cook in those labs. Debatably boiled broccoli, white rice, and Crisco biscuits are not man’s most healthy or desirable food choice, but armed with notebook and mass spectrometer these basic foods conversed a new language with me. Practicing a perfectly executed cheese muffin not only increased my grade point average, it also taught me to cook.

As a painter sees a blank canvas so does a cook see ingredients. And a cook with nutrition science training will see those ingredients not only for flavor potential but also health benefits. This is the legacy of home economics: use basic scientific technique to elevate the everydayness of life into something remarkable. No housewife required.

It is in this spirit that whole grain, turmeric, and flax have transformed Professor Harris’ Food Science 101 cheese muffin recipe. Besides the nutty taste and golden hue, turmeric contains a powerful chemical arsenal of curcumin, the biologically active component of this warm weather root. Ingested for centuries as an anti-inflammatory treatment in traditional Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine, turmeric supplements have shown promise in the medical management of arthritis (Arthritis & Rheumatism, 2006). Various researchers have elicited the potential of turmeric as a potent antibacterial and anti-carcinogenic food.

In this muffin recipe the flavor of turmeric perches upright and forward, but the nuttiness of the flax seed mellows the yellow root’s outspoken call. Flax seeds play flavor yin to turmerics brazen yang, and they contain a heaping dose of fiber, omega 3 fatty acids, and lignans to boot. In addition to reducing LDL (the bad) cholesterol (Nutr Metab, 2012), flax compounds work in concert to help prevent heart disease, bone disease, and possibly hormone related cancers.

You won’t notice any of that science as you reach for another one of these golden brown gems, but you may be calculating if you have enough ingredients left over to bake a second batch.

 

Cheddar Muffins with Turmeric and Flax

  • whole wheat pastry flour, 1.25 cups
  • golden flax seeds, whole or (preferably) ground, 1 tbsp
  • turmeric, ground, 1/4 tsp
  • salt, 1/2 tsp
  • baking powder, 2 tsp
  • butter, unsalted, 6 tbsp
  • cheddar cheese, shredded, 8 oz
  • milk, cold, 1/3 cup
  • eggs, 3 large
  • honey, 2 tbsp

Special Equipment:

  • Parchment muffin wrappers (optional)
  • (2)12 cup muffin tins
  1. Preheat oven to 350F
  2. Place dry ingredients in large mixing bowl and whisk to combine evenly.
  3. Melt butter and combine with cheese, cold milk, and honey.
  4. Beat eggs and add to wet mixture.
  5. Fold wet ingredients into dry and transfer to muffin pans (grease tins with additional butter if not using parchment wrappers.
  6. Bake for 18-22 minutes depending on your oven and size of muffins.

Homemade Maple Granola, or Why Sugar Matters

 

Homemade Granola

 

Arguably everyone needs a small culinary arsenal. Nourishing weaponry to shore up our decisions for when hunger marches in and your will waves a red flag in the direction of the snack machine. Armed with a cache of automated, simple recipes for foods that easily establish themselves on the pantry shelf, anyone can soothe a snack time call in satisfying confidence.

 

Why does it even matter what we choose to sip and nibble between our main meals? Most of the plentiful snack options available on supermarket shelves are saturated with dangerous amounts of sugar, and consistent consumption of sugary foods over time put you at risk for developing cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, obesity, cognitive impairment, and/or stroke. In addition to those all being grim options, there is a recent study linking refined carbohydrate intake, like excess white flour and sugar consumption, with triggering food addiction in overweight individuals (Am J Clin Nutr, June 26, 2013, abstract). That’s a shot in the knee for most of the people in this country who are trying to shed pounds with all those “healthy” packaged snacks on the grocery shelves.

 

Feeding yourself well needs not be taxing, expensive, or out of reach. While keeping your home and office stocked with nourishing foods must be considered with the same importance as other regularly scheduled commitments, it need not consume too much time. With forethought and a dedicated hour or two each week you can organize an arsenal of easily prepared foods that can feed your body what it needs for a week or more.

 

How should we choose to appropriately tame unannounced hunger when those sugar drowned options are everywhere from the office supply store to the gas station? Begin by asking yourself, “What will feed me?”. The answer to that should have a ratio higher in minerals and fiber than sugar and salt, and you will not find as much of that in boxed prepackaged cellophane as you will from Mother Nature’s pantry.

granolabowl

I like to keep homemade granola around for this very trick. Its the crunch and nuttiness I’m going for, and thankfully it prefers to be served alongside two of my other nourishing favorites- unsweetened yogurt and fruit. Homemade granola is always preferred to manufactured since you can downshift the sugar rush with milder flavored sweeteners like maple and honey. More of a suggestion than a demand, the following recipe allows for additions and deletions as you see fit. Don’t be intimidated by the making of the granola because you pretty much can’t fail. And then you’ll be armed with a perfect snack weapon for weeks.

 

Maple Granola 

You can reduce this recipe by half if you want, but I wouldn’t if I were you.

 

  • oats, (preferably not rolled/quick cooking), 8 cups
  • seeds (such as white sesame, sunflower, pepita), 2.5 cups
  • nuts (such as almond, cashew, pecan), 2 cups
  • canola oil, 1.5 cups
  • maple syrup, 1 cup
  • vanilla, 2 tsp
  1. Heat oven to 325F and line two large baking sheets with parchment paper.
  2. Place oats, seeds, and nuts in large bowl.
  3. In separate bowl whisk together maple syrup, oil, and vanilla.
  4. Pour syrup mixture over oat mixture and coat evenly.
  5. Spread mixture divided evenly on baking sheets and place in oven.
  6. After 11 minutes use a spatula to rotate the mixture on each pan. Bake for another 9-11 minutes until crisp and lightly browned.
  7. Allow to fully cool before storing in a tight container in your pantry or cupboard. You will eat it all before it goes off, so don’t worry about the shelf life.

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