Be a Sustainable Cook! (Cont.)

September 15, 2010 at 12:35 pm

Melissa Graham

Mushroom Braised Beef (with Sugarsnax Carrots!)

We’re well into the Green City Market’s annual Locavore Challenge. The two week long event is a great opportunity for newbies to the local food scene to see all that’s available to them, especially at the pinnacle of the harvest season. Explore the markets, the Chicago shops devoted to stocking local and sustainable products, and the many restaurants that not only talk the talk, but walk the walk. Hopefully, when you’re done, you’ll have whet your appetite for more. Surely you’ll go back, at least in part, to a globally sourced diet. But, perhaps, you’ll begin to think more about where your food is coming from and, more importantly, how it’s been raised, grown, or produced. And so, I thought it would be a good opportunity to provide my top five tips for being a better food consumer so you too can be a sustainable cook.

1. Love your veggies. Like or not, being a more sustainable consumer means consuming less meat. Regardless of how well the animals are raised (and I’ll talk about this in a minute), the American appetite for flesh is unsustainable. Large portions of meat with small side vegetable side dishes is so 1950’s, and yet somehow, this diet continues to hold sway in Chicago. Take this opportunity to celebrate the tremendous diversity of vegetables out there and perhaps, at least for a few meals a week you’ll make veggies the star with meat on the side. Stick with me. Both here and on my personal blog, Little Locavores, I have a ton of veggie recipes, ones that even kids will eat!

2. Be flexible. When you go off the grid of industrial eating, things can get a little weird. A carrot isn’t always a carrot – it could be a Thumbelina or a Sugarsnax – it could be huge like a small stick or tiny like your thumb. As a local eater, you need to go with the flow. Decide on your menu after you return from the market, not before. When you taste the delectable variety of what’s out there, you’ll be happy you did.

3. Buy Better Meat. Yes, I’m back to the meat. Call me a broken record, but if there’s one single change that you can make to become a more sustainable eater, it would to be buy meat that’s raised humanely without unnecessary antibiotics and growth hormones. As I’ve written before here, this isn’t simply a matter of personal health, but an imperative if we want to maintain the effectiveness of antibiotics in disease prevention.

4. Take the Trash to Table Challenge. A few months ago, on my own blog, Little Locavores, I issued the Trash to Table Challenge. Once upon a time, we knew how to be frugal. When food was expensive, our ancestors used every edible part of the plants and animals that they brought into their kitchens. Then food became cheap and time dear, and we all became wasteful. With the exception of the most careful among us, we’re all guilty of it to some extent. Let’s rethink our garbage can and compost bin as the last resort. Got herb stems? Throw them inside a chicken that you’re roasting. Got vegetable scraps, make stock. Create recipes that transform your trimmings, scraps, and leftovers into delicious dishes. In this vein, I’ll share with you my recipe for Mushroom Braised Beef, which I made with the Mushroom Broth made from a bagful of frozen mushroom stems.

5. Give yourself a break. While I’m sure there’s someone out there’s who’s 100% sustainable, it sure isn’t me. I do my best, but to live in the real world means, at least, for me, that you’ll falter every once in a while. When you do, don’t get frustrated. It’s all a process and I believe that once you get into the habit, and realize how easy and delicious being a sustainable cook can be, that you’ll only want to do more.

Mushroom Braised Beef
6 servings

2 tablespoon all purpose flour
3 tablespoons grapeseed oil
1 beef chuck roast
1 tablespoon butter
1 large leek, trimmed and sliced (save trimmings for stock)
1 carrot, sliced (save trimmings for stock)
1 celery, sliced
1 thyme sprig
1 parsley sprig
1 bay leaf
2 cups mushroom stock
2 cups beef broth
½ pound crimini mushrooms, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour

Mix together flour, salt, and pepper to taste in a shallow bowl. Coat the roast with the flour mixture. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a Dutch oven or slow cooker insert over medium-high heat. Brown the beef on all sides. Remove to a plate. Reduce the heat to medium, add butter and cook leek, carrot, and celery until softened. Pour in the mushroom stock, broth, and add thyme, parsley and bay leaf. Cook over low heat or on the slow cooker for several hours, between 4 and 6 hours or until very tender. Remove the meat to a bowl and refrigerate. Strain the sauce into another bowl and refrigerate overnight. Heat a tablespoon of oil in a sauté pan and cook ½ of the mushrooms. Repeat with remaining ½. Remove the fat at the top, reserving a tablespoon. Heat the tablespoon in a medium saucepan and add flour stirring until the flour is lightly browned. Whisk in sauce until it thickens. Add the beef and sauteed mushrooms and cook until heated through. Serve on mashed potatoes, turnips, or noodles.