Archive | February 2013

Grassfed Beef – It’s What’s for Dinner at Our House!

For the past twenty years or so, we have raised our own beef. In the early days – even as late as about 2006, the final days to “finish” a beef included lots of corn. Yeah boy, get that good marbling in those steaks. It wasn't until I read an article about the healthier ways to raise beef that our family changed it's ways.

I'll never forget the day….I looked at my husband and said, “We will never finish our beef with grain ever again!”. The mystifying look was legendary – followed with a “huh???”

Here is what I learned that day, and it has changed my life.

If cows are raised eating their normal diet of grass, the meat produced will have the right balance of omega-3 to omega-6 fats. However, if cows are fed grain, the omega-3 content is lost. The key with omega-3 is not just digesting enough of it, but getting the right ratio of omega-3s to omega-6s. If there are too many 6s and not enough 3s, you'll develop many of the problems victims of modern food production face today – inflammation, weight gain, depression and disease.

So, what does that all mean? Omega 3 and Omega 6 fatty acids are polyunsaturated fats that play an important part in growth and metabolism. They can't be synthesized by the human body, so they have to come from our diet. Omega 3s reduce inflammation, lower the amount of serum cholesterol and triglycerides, prevent excess clotting and reduce the risk of cancer. While both Omega 3 and Omega 6 fatty acids are important individually, they also work in tandem and the ratio is critical.

So, here was the clincher for me…..grainfed beef have a ratio of 20:1 of Omega 6 to Omega 3. Grassfed/grass finished beef have a 4:1 ratio – the ratio your body needs!

Cattle were designed to eat grass, which means that they process it and maintain a healthy digestive system. Feedlot cattle are finished with a grain diet, mainly corn and soy, which makes for a quick weight gain and a higher percentage of fat in the tissues.

Grainfed cattle also receive hormones in their diet, again to make them grow fast and gain weight quickly. This also results in a higher fat content in the muscle. Pasture-raised cattle are not given artificial hormones and so are naturally more lean – the overall total fat content of pasture-raised cattle is usually about 25 percent lower than the grainfed beef.

Now, I am not here to blast feed lots – I am only saying that for me and my family, this is our way of life. Raising cattle naturally, no antiobiotics, no hormones, no grain. Nothing but good forages that they were designed to eat!

 

 

 

Hide!! It’s the Neighbor With All of the Zucchini!

You've been there – I know. You have either grown zucchini or you have a neighbor who has. Thinking that they will (surely) never all grow, you plant 4 or 5 zucchini plants and before you know it, you are loading up the truck and driving up and down the neighborhood trying to give them away. Right?

 

With zucchini, a little goes a long way. I normally plant one or two hills (with a few seeds in each hill), and then prune the emerging seed plants from the hill to one or two plants total. I do have neighbors who like a few zucchini, but the majority of my pickings end up being shredded and frozen for use all through the year. There are two recipes that are our ABSOLUTE favorites around here and were originally given to me by my neighbor, Jennifer.

Here is a bag of shredded zucchini taken right from the freezer from the end of the 2012 growing season

First is the Tastes Like Apple Zucchini Crisp. Not only does this recipe use eight cups of zucchini, (really helpful on those days that you check the garden and they are everywhere!) but, I have made this recipe on numerous times – served it as Apple Crisp – and have yet to have anyone know the difference. Even when asked, my hungry consumers look at me as if I am lying when I say, “did you know this is zucchini?” Try this recipe and see if you believe me!

Recipe #1, Tastes Like Apple Zucchini Crisp

8 cups peeled zucchini. I slice them like you would if you were using apples

3/4 cup lemon juice

3/4 cup sugar

2 teaspoons cinnamon

1 teaspoon if nutmeg

 

Topping:

1 1/3 cup packed brown sugar

1 cup old-fashioned oats

1 cup of flour

2/3 cup cold butter

Mix the first five ingredients well and pour into a 9 x13″ baking dish. For the topping, combine the brown sugar, oats, and flour – then cut in the butter until the mixture is crumbly.

Sprinkle the topping mix over the zucchini mix and bake at 375 degrees for 45-50 minutes. The smell of 'apples' baking will fill your kitchen!

 

The second recipe will appeal to the chocolate lover in you. The brownies are ooey, gooey – and stay moist for a long time.

Zucchini Brownies

2 cups of grated unpeeled zucchini

2 cups of flour

1 1/2 cups of sugar

1 teaspoon of salt

1/2 cup olive oil

1 1/2 teaspoon baking sod

1/3 cup cocoa

2 teaspoons of vanilla

This is what the batter looks like as you stir it all up – note the small shreds of zucchini.

Mix all, place in a greased and floured 9 x 13″ pan and bake for 30 minutes or until an inserted toothpick comes out clean.

 

If you want to frost these guys, combine 4 tablespoons of butter with 4 tablespoons of milk and a cup of granulated sugar. Boil for two minutes, add 2 cups of chocolate chips, stir until melted and pour over the warm brownies.

Ready to plant some zucchini this spring?? Just remember, if you don't want the neighbors hiding from you as you try to pass out your excess pickings, just plant what you think you will eat or freeze for the year. One trick I use is to pinch the orange zucchini blossoms off the plant when it seems like it is really in high production. The female flower is easy to spot – it will have the little round circular ball by the flower which will eventually become the zucchini. Just pinch it off, and the plant will never miss it.

There are many, many wonderful uses for this veggie, including casseroles and side dishes. Plant your seeds when all of the danger of frost has passed, and be sure to harvest one final time in the fall before the plant freezes. It is a tender annual and will be one of the first to die when old man winter comes knocking!

 

Shiitake Mushrooms – Ever Grown Your Own?

Although I will eat mushrooms if they are served to me, I cannot profess that they are my favorites. BUT, I figured if I grew my own, then maybe I would change my mind. I scoured the Internet for a kit to grow and found a site that sold many different kinds. I decided to try Shiitakes.

 

When the kit arrived (it cost about $20), it was broken in a few places – looked like it and the transportation company had had a bit of a conflict during the journey. Being the farm girl that I am, I grabbed some baling twine and tied 'er back together. Good as new….well, almost!

 

Your first order of business is a 2-4 hour soak in water to hydrate it. Then basically, just sit back and watch it start to grow! In just a few short days, the mushrooms begin to appear. We misted the mushroom 'ball' each day to keep it moist, and kept a plastic tent over the top. Each day was exciting to pull the cover off and see how much each mushroom had grown. Wow – then came the thought, “what am I going to do with all of these guys?”

 

Back to the Internet for recipes. We tried every sort of recipe with mushrooms we could think of. In my studies, I found that shiitake mushroom stems are tough to eat, but can be cooked down into a broth for their flavor. I came across a recipe that called for the mushroom stems (and I had lots of them!), some carrots, onions, and celery in a big kettle of water. After simmering for the required time, you strain the veggies out and then finish the broth with just a small amount of soy sauce. The soy sauce added the most wonderful finishing touch to the broth – a bit of brown color and an oh so good flavor. I froze the broth in one-cup containers and have used them whenever a recipe calls for broth or stock.

My kitchen has a great old commercial stove in it — six burners, a griddle, two ovens and a broiler. The pilot light in the oven keeps the temperature between 100 – 150 degrees – perfect for dehydrating my extra mushrooms. I sliced the mushrooms, put them on an ungreased cookie sheet, and popped them in there. After a few hours and a couple of flips, I had perfectly dehydrated mushrooms!

After the first “push” of mushrooms have finished growing, you simply just dry the mushroom ball out, then rehydrate it in another pail of water and watch it grow all over again.

 

Echinacea – The Beautiful Flower with Herbal Properties

Every gardener loves a beautiful flower garden! We pour over the spring offerings of flower and vegetable catalogs that seem to appear in the mailbox on an almost-daily basis.

Echinacea, which might be better known to some as a “coneflower”, will give you season after season of striking blooms. It is a popular North American native and it's rosy-pink blooms resemble a daisy.

These plants are easy to grow here in Colorado. They are heat and drought tolerant, they can handle our full sun, and they will tolerate low fertility. They are hardy from zones 3-9, but they do ask that you provide well-drained soil. They do not like to keep their feet wet! They produce one solitary bloom on an erect stem which is excellent in a cut or dried flower arrangement.

Not only will this beautiful, hardy flower brighten your yard, but some species (E. angustifolia, E. purpurea, and E. pallida) are also prized commercially for their reported medical properties. Echinacea has been used as an immune stimulant, an anti-inflammatory, and as an aid in healing wounds.

While harvesting of the echinacea root is typically done in a commercial setting, there are classes available for the “average Joe” to learn how to harvest and process the plant at home. I took an Herbal class a year or so ago – and was amazed to learn how many wonderful properties plants (even weeds!) possess! Katie at the (check it out) Garden Fairy Apothecary in Elizabeth, Colorado teaches a wonderful class for those who want to get rid of the aspirin bottle for a more natural approach. No longer do we reach for a commercially prepared concoction with chemicals and additives if we can grow it and tincture a better alternative right at home!

You may want to consider adding echinacea to your landscape. It will return, bright and beautiful, year after year. And you just may take advantage if it's herbal properties one day!