In June, I toured some other farms and ranches and I made some meatballs. I also turned 30, but let’s focus on learning about raising beef cattle and making meatballs, shall we?
I know I already said there is one part about my job that I love, but I actually also love the part where each year, I get to help facilitate taking non-beef-raising-types to a ranch, a feed yard, and a processing plant to show and tell how beef is raised in Washington. The attendee group consists of chefs, culinary instructors, grocery-chain meat buyers, sustainability specialists, dietitians and other hard to blanket-classify people who are sort of on the “front lines” in terms of answering peoples’ questions about how their food is raised.
Over two days and a few hundred miles, we present an example of what the typical lifecycle of a beef animal is like, and make it possible for the families who make raising beef their life’s work to interact with their customers. Part of a note we received from one of the tour attendees kind of sums up the value of that two-way communication opportunity:
Thank you to you and the rest of the people involved in last week’s beef tour, to say it was educational would be an understatement. I learned more than I ever thought possible. I loved the transparency of all the operations and the people behind it all. I had an amazing opportunity with Vic (rancher from northeast Washington) at breakfast as we had a really interesting conversation about everything farming but what was really great was that he wanted to hear from me and the concerns I had as a consumer and a chef, did not think that would happen ever! You have a great crew and an amazing platform to teach from. I have already presented our talks on the tour to my classes and will continue to do so each and every term.
Chef Figler, Chef Instructor
Le Cordon Bleu Cooking School
Another cool aspect of the tour to share is that the people in charge of the grocery stores and restaurants you might frequent are taking opportunities like this tour to “get smart” on what they are selling, and truly educate their staff so they can better serve you – by knowing first hand why and how beef is a safe, nutritious, high-quality source of eating enjoyment and protein. Some participants this year and in the past include staff from:
Angus Meats (Spokane)
The Davenport Hotel
Coeur d’Alene Resort
Food Services of America (FSA)
*These distributors supply like, every restaurant/food service establishment you can think of pretty much
Seattle Children’s Hospital
Virginia Mason Hospital
Central Washington University
Washington State University
Seattle Culinary Academy
And the list goes on. This was the 6th annual tour, and it surely won’t be the last. The worst part is that we can’t take everyone who is interested on such a tour because it is physically and financially impossible. BUT, the best part about this year’s tour (besides the people, the experience, the food) is that we made an attempt to capture it on video and a “virtual tour” is in the editing. Look for it on the blog and our YouTube Channel later this Summer! In the meantime, check out the small Facebook photo album to get some highlights.
If you could go on a tour like this, what is the one question you’d like to have answered?
Now, meatballs. Even though I grew up raising beef, I’m here on the ranch now, and I regularly see or experience some of what it takes to make the delicious, savory, juicy end product – being around the other places and people that are part of the “beef chain” compels me to approach it with that much more TLC in the kitchen.
After the tour has visited the ranch, the feed yard, and the processing plant, but before we release everyone to go back to their real worlds, our super smarty pants meat scientist from Denver, Jessica gives a demonstration of cutting part of the Chuck (shoulder, see diagram) in innovative ways to increase value and provide choices to customers. She demonstrates and we taste-test three different steaks – the Flat Iron, Ranch, and Denver steak cuts. These are all really great lean steak options I’d encourage you to keep an eye out for or ask for the next time you are at the meat case (this is a topic for a whole other blog post). After Jessica is done with the demo, well there is some leftover beef, which in our world qualifies as a “staff bonus”. I was able to take some Ranch and Denver steaks home to play with, but I also grabbed a bag of trim (everything that doesn’t get cut into steaks or roasts). There were three options – feed it to the dogs (they already love me), chop into stew-friendly pieces (not feeling it), or…grind it myself and satisfy my hankering for meatballs (winner!).
Taking two days on a tour and grinding your own beef trim is like the long, long way to meatballs. Even doing all that, they were super easy, and I am super excited to share the new recipe for Italian style meatballs that the tour and my DIY ground beef inspired. For variety, if now you’re jonesin’ too, here’s a list of meatball recipes via the newly revamped and improved beefitswhatsfordinner.com.
Makes: 24ish meatballs
Prep: 20 mins
Cook: 25 mins
2 lb. ground beef
½ C seasoned bread crumbs
½ C grated parmesan cheese
½ onion, finely chopped
The Italian flavor goodies:
1 can black olives, chopped (3 oz.)
3 cloves garlic, crushed
½ C fresh parsley, chopped
1/3 C each freeze dried basil and oregano (fresh would be awesome)
The ah-ha ingredient:
3 oz tomato paste (half of the little can)
For good measure:
Salt and fresh ground pepper
Take off your rings. Wash your hands. Combine all ingredients in a big bowl using your hands and fingers. Really get in there. But don’t do it like you’re angry, or in a hurry. More like washing your baby’s hair or giving your husband a back rub. But a brief back rub. Anyway, just make sure all the ingredients look like they are sticking together in an evenly distributed manner. But seriously, don’t over work it or transfer worldly issues and stress into your meatballs. You’ll taste it.
Next, heat your oven to 350 degrees and line a couple of baking sheets with foil (because I know you love washing the little scene of the meatball crime spots off your cookie sheets as much as I do. Not.). Then get an ice cream scooper or melon ball maker utensil to help you form your mixture into balls. Ball size is entirely preferential, but I recommend size uniformity for the baking process.
Place meatballed tray(s) in the oven and bake for about 25 mins, or until the internal temp of a meatball you test with a meat thermometer reaches at least 160 degrees. And, you’re done. Do with your meatballs what you will (pasta, sandwiches, juggling, skewer, soup, freeze for later, skip through the meadow, etc.). Enjoy. Ranch Wife out.