Day 41–Farmhand Foods Meatbox

Meat in a box. When we began our journey almost 7 weeks ago, I wasn’t sure what resources were available to our family other than what we could find at the farmer’s markets (and that was more than I though also!). What a wonderful coincidence that I saw a tweet from @farmhandfoods for a winter meat box. Meat in a box sounded strange, but in the spirit of adventure, we thought we would give it a try. I promised an update on our experience, so here it is!

Farmhand Foods of Durham works with NC pasture-based beef and pork producers who have a commitment to sustainable livestock production and who raise antibiotic and growth hormone free animals that are pasture-raised and pasture-fed. After doing a bit of research and reading their online protocols, I found that Farmhand Foods is a highly reputable organization with a sincere passion for improving food supply options. Founded and operated by two smart women–Tina Prevatte and Jennifer Curtis, Farmhand Foods also works with small-scale, inspected processing facilities that practice humane animal handline and care. Together with Sales and Distribution Manger Drew Brown, Farmhand Foods connects pasture-based farmers with the consumers who love their products throughout the Triangle area. I really love their business model and commitment to having a sustainable food system.

But back to the meat box. When we ordered our box in January, I wondered if it would be an affordable addition to our budget. We ordered three boxes (Jan, Feb, March) and each box worked out to $45. Each box includes three different cuts of meat–a braising cut, a grilling cut and a roasting cut. Two of the cuts are beef and one is pork. I’m not positive, but I think our first box was about 8-10 lbs of meat, which is a decent amount of food for three people!

We just finished the last of our January box for Super Bowl Sunday, and I think we all agree as a family that it was a great choice. Our January box included two meaty beef shanks, a large skirt steak and a 3 lb. mini boneless ham. The beef shanks were braised for an Italian ragu and they were, quite frankly, amazing. The skirt steak was very flavorful and surprisingly tender (I think I had confused skirt steak and flank steak, but skirt steak is much, MUCH better). And the ham, which we roasted with a local honey and mustard glaze, was so darn good that I dreamed about it. Really. I have never had ham that tasted so good.

Each cut of meat provided more than one meal for our small family (the ham alone provided at least three meals), so were able to work it into our weekly budget very easily. The meat tasted a lot better than store-bought, was healthier for us, and provided us opportunities to experiment with new recipes and cooking methods. All in all, we deem this experiment a success. And we can’t wait for our February box, which arrives next week!

This is all to say, that if you are in the Research Triangle area, Farmhand Foods is a high quality resource that we recommend. If you aren’t in this area, I would encourage you to find out if something similar exists near you and to give it a try. You just might be pleasantly surprised!

Day 36–Starting Week 6–Budget and Menu

20120204-202159.jpg

Our farmer's markets are busy, thanks to the warmer weather!

This was a fairly good week, albeit a busy one! The boneless mini ham from Chinquapin was by far and away the best ham we have ever eaten. Oh. My. Goodness. We made it through the week following our menu and definitely appreciated some lighter dishes in the mix. I’m sure the scale will appreciate it as well.

We’re really starting to see a change in the seasons through our food. The apples available at the farmer’s market are not so beautiful and crisp as they were a month ago. Made an apple cake with them, so it wasn’t such a big deal, but they are clearly on their way out. We’re starting to see salad greens and that is a happy thing! It helps that we haven’t had a winter this year–not one flake of snow in our part of North Carolina. Well, yet, anyway. There is still time. Winter can be pretty fickle around here. The unseasonably warmer temperatures are definitely reflected in the early bounty at the farmer’s markets around town, so we’re not complaining.

Our budget this week ran high–mostly our Super Bowl dinner, which featured homemade crab cakes. Crab isn’t readily available here for another two months, so crab was $$$, but we decided to splurge and represent the Ravens at our Super Bowl dinner.Also, I lost my grocery list and had to “wing it” which is never good for the budget. Here’s the weekly rundown:

  • Farmhand Foods (skirt steak from meatbox): $15.00
  • Earps Seafood (NC catfish): $8.00
  • Whole Foods (lump crab meat): $25.00
  • Heaven on Earth Organics (broccoli, green peppers, red cabbage, tomatoes, mustard greens): $18.00
  • Farmer’s Market–various (apple butter, NC pecans): $10.00
  • Lowe’s Foods (pie crust, lemons, organic breakfast burritos, Coors Light): $16.96
  • Trader Joes (frozen fruit, organic sugar, parmesan cheese, avocado, Ezekiel bread, organic celery, half and half): $42.60

So, our total is a whopping $135.56. I think I just surpassed the savings we had last week, so will try to rein it in for next week!

Here is our menu for week 6. We are looking forward to trying the fish tacos, which I love, but have never made at home!

  • Sunday–marinated, grilled skirt steak, crab cakes, mustard green, homemade pralines
  • Monday–Fish tacos w/cabbage slaw, kale
  • Tuesday–Pasta w/roasted vegetables and leftover steak
  • Wednesday–leftovers
  • Thursday–Cheese quiche, greens
  • Friday–leftover quiche, cabbage slaw
  • Saturday–out for my birthday!

Here’s to week 6 and Super Bowl Sunday. Now, fire up that grill 🙂

 

Day 23–Beautiful Braised Beef Shanks

20120122-150744.jpg

Our January meat box from Farmhand Foods (www.farmhandfoods.org ) included two large and meaty beef shanks from one of our local farmers in Efland (about 40 minutes away). I have to say, I have never even considered buying beef shanks, let alone how to cook them. So, this was another learning experience in our journey–not only buying locally produced meat and vegetables, but also being open to new ways of cooking. As it turns out (and you may know this already), beef shanks are a braising cut. That is, they are a bit tough and need long, slow cooking to break down the meat and produce a tender result. Since this was one of our chilliest weekends, it was perfect timing for slow cooking (and it also meant that I had more time to watch the NFL playoff games :-).

I found a recipe that sounded promising on epicurious (LOVE this website and app) at www.epicurious.com for a beef and sausage ragu. I tweaked it a bit and am including my version below. Mainly, I reduced the amount of meat, upped the level of vegetables in the ragu and reduced the overall liquids to make a thicker sauce for pasta and polenta. It is AMAZING. Not only did the final product taste delicious and tender, but my entire house smelled like I had Super Chef visiting. Yum, yum and YUM. I could actually eat this out of a bowl by itself.

So, if you’re in the mood to try something new and make the most out of a less expensive cut of beef (especially if it is locally produced and hormone/antibiotic free!), give this a try!

Beef Shank and Sausage Ragu (12 servings)

  • 3 tsp. fennel seeds
  • 3 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 lb. Mae Farm Italian sausage, casing removed
  • 3 1/2 lbs beef shanks with bone
  • 2 large onions, chopped
  • 3 cups of chopped organic carrots
  • 2 cups of organic mushrooms
  • 1 bunch of organic kale or other greens
  • 2 28 oz. cans organic whole tomatoes with juice
  • 1 small can organic tomato paste
  • 1/2 bottle dry, red wine
  • 6 large cloves garlic, chopped
  • 2 tsp. organic dried Italian spices
  • 1 tsp. dried crushed red pepper
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees
  2. In a small skillet, toast fennel seeds over medium heat for about 2 minutes or until fragrant. Set aside.
  3. Heat 2 Tbsp. of olive oil in an oven proof pot and add sausage. Brown in pot for about 10 minutes, breaking up chunks with the spoon. Using a slotted spoon, remove from pot and put aside in a large bowl.
  4. Add 1 Tbsp. oil to pot. Sprinkle beef shanks with salt and pepper. Add to pot and brown at medium high heat for about 6 minutes on each side. Transfer to bowl with sausage.
  5. Add onions, garlic, carrots, mushrooms and greens to the pot and sautee until brown and tender, about 10 minutes.
  6. Return beef shanks and sausage to the pot along with any accumulated juices. Add tomatoes with juice, tomato paste, fennel seeds, spices to pot. Bring to simmer.
  7. Cover pot and put in oven. Braise 2 1/2 hours until beef is very tender and falling off the bone.
  8. Transfer shanks to a cutting board and remove meat and dice. Return diced meat to the pot and simmer on stove for about 10-15 minutes to thicken and reduce the sauce.
  9. Skim fat off the sauce (I actually cooled the sauce, put it in the fridge and skimmed the fat off the next day.)
  10. Season with salt and pepper.
  11. Serve over pasta, polenta or bread.

Day 7–The Winter Farmer’s Market part 2

We are a carnivorous family. Actually, we are ominovores, but we like our veggies with some animal on the side, and I probably have the only child who called bison jerky “meat candy.” (Apologies to my vegetarian friends, but that’s how we roll).

But reading the blogs, papers, websites, books, etc., it is clear that our mass produced food supply–especially our meat production–is out of control and often dangerous. When the government (after quite a long lag time) has to tell some meat producers NOT to inject ammonia into meat to keep ecoli at bay, you know there is trouble.

Happy pigs at Mae Farm

So finding high quality, locally produced meat is essential to our journey. We agree that eating less meat that is of higher quality is a good tradeoff. I’ve blogged about Farmhand Foods already and Whole Foods is a good, albeit expensive source as well. On my recent trip to the Farmer’s Market, though, I found that several local meat producers, including Mae Farms of Louisburg, NC (maefarmmeats.com) had set up shop. What a great find!

Mae Farms raises hogs, cattle and chickens on pasture, humanely, and with no antibiotics, growth hormones or animal sourced food. In fact, Mae Farms sells to Whole Foods, but at the Farmer’s Market you can get the same products for a bit less. In talking with the folks at Mae Farms, I realize what a treasure we have in North Carolina (and you probably have this in your state, too). Small production farmers who want to producde high quality food and maintain a lifestyle they love. I purchased some barbeque they made as well as bacon and fresh eggs. Can’t wait to try them next week!