Q&A: New Year’s Resolution Ideas

  • December 26, 2012 9:25 am

Question:

Alexandra,

New Year’s is here and I’m looking for simple ways to green my life. Do you have some ideas?

Thanks,

Ron

Answer:

Hi Ron,

Happy almost New Year! I’m glad to hear about the changes you want to make for 2013. Simple steps add up, especially if we all take them. One easy way to go green is via the food you buy, cook, and eat. In my book The Conscious Kitchen, I have ten food commandments I suggest. Perhaps you will find resolution ideas in them.

1. Eat less meat. When eating beef, seek out and choose grass-fed. Other meat and poultry should be carefully sourced.

2. Just say no to bottled water. Drink (filtered) tap instead. This will save money, too.

3. Buy local organic or sustainably farmed fruits and vegetables. Don’t forget that coffee and tea come from plants, and wine is made from grapes; choose sustainable versions.

4. Eat only the least contaminated sustainably harvested wild or well-sourced farmed seafood.

5. Always consider packaging when shopping. Choose items packed in materials you can reuse or that can be recycled in your municipality. Buy bulk items instead of overpackaged goods. Always shop with reusable bags.

6. Cook at home. Often. And serve on reusable dishware, not disposable. Clean with eco-friendly products.

7. Avoid plastic as often as you can.

8. Try composting, even if you live in a city, or a house without a yard.

9. Whenever possible, reduce energy use in the kitchen by choosing efficient appliances, cooking methods, and dishwashing practices; don’t leave appliances plugged in when not in use; ask your electric company for alternative energy sources like wind power.

10. Spread the word. Educate everyone you know. Green your office kitchen, your kids’ school kitchen, your friends and relatives’ kitchens. Make noise; together we can make a huge difference.

Happy 2013!

Alexandra

Q&A: Eco-Benefits of Being a Vegetarian?

  • September 26, 2012 9:20 am

Question:

Hi Alexandra,

I just had a question regarding meat. Everyone always stresses how sustainable becoming a vegetarian is. I obviously understand the animal rights aspect to becoming a vegetarian, I was just wondering if you could explain more of the environmental benefits of not eating meat to me? Thanks.

-Terry

Answer:

Terry,

Thanks for your question. Yes, there are many environmental benefits to giving up or at least limiting meat consumption. It decreases water use, methane production, the impact of growing animal feed, and much more. It’s not an easy thing to answer quickly, but I’ll try to outline the basics below. I urge you to do some reading on your own, too. The production of animals into meat is an amazing system to learn about, with many shocking twists, turns, and revelations.

If you’re into stats and numbers, this site compares water usage for various items. It says that it takes approximately 15415 litre/kg of water to produce beef and only 257 litre/kg of water for potatoes. I don’t know anyone who only eats potatoes, but there is also quite a difference between chicken and beef.

Then there’s methane, a potent greenhouse gas which contributes to global warming. Cattle emit 80 million tons of methane annually, according to the EPA. And I haven’t even gotten to feed. Most animals are fed a grim mix of genetically modified soy and corn (neither are great for the environment as they require tremendous amounts of chemical sprays to grow), antibiotics (which create drug-resistant superbugs), and hormones.

All of this said, I am not personally a vegetarian for many, many reasons. Though I eat very little meat compared to most meat eaters I know. I have devoted a tremendous amount of research and thought to this decision and I only ever eat local, pastured, well-raised meat. I go into great detail on how and why to source this kind of meat in two of my books. I wrote  The Butcher’s Guide to Well-Raised Meat with my butcher. I had interviewed him and his wife previously for  The Conscious Kitchen, which has a chapter concisely detailing meat labels, how shop, and other educational resources.

Keep in mind that becoming a vegetarian doesn’t immediately mean your environmental impact is nil. Many vegetarians continue to eat conventionally raised dairy and eggs–the eco-impact of these is far greater than their local, pastured counterparts. And if all of the soy you switch to eating is conventionally raised and coming from, say, China, that has its own not insignificant footprint. There have also been interesting studies done on the safety of soy-based diets. So all of this is worth considering as you weigh the pros and cons of giving up or eating less meat.

Hope this helps.

Best,

Alexandra

What You Don’t Know: Fat

  • September 7, 2011 10:32 am

When you’re cooking with meat, do you try to use every last morsel?  If the answer is no, you’ll be surprised by the rewards.  I try to waste nothing, whether I’m cooking with vegetables, fruits, grains, or meat.  I should say especially meat. I never forget that something has died for my dinner. Every last bit of that needs to be used. When I discovered, while reporting The Butcher’s Guide To Well Raised-Meat, how many ways fat could be used, I was delighted to also discover how easy it is to render, store, and eat.  Basically I’m talking about potatoes roasted in bacon fat. If you haven’t tried it, do.

Here’s an excerpt from The Butcher’s Guide to Well-Raised Meat on many other kinds of fats and how to best use them. Do you use any of these? How? Let me know in comments.

Part of the nose-to-tail butchering is coming up with uses for fat, which makes us roughly 15 percent of an animal’s body weight.  Over the years we have gotten pretty creative – we have made beef tallow citronella candles (short-lived – they smelled like a barbecue gone horribly wrong) as well as lovely smelling tallow-based soaps.  But mostly we just make our fat into chunks of tallow, blocks of lard, and tubs of duck fat for our customers to (hopefully) cook with.  Here’s the skinny on what’s what in the world of fats:

Caul Fat is the fatty lining of a pig’s stomach, which looks like a sheet of diaphanous webbing.  It is used to wrap lean meats while roasting; this technique is called barding, and it imparts moisture into the meat as the fat melts.

Duck Fat Is there anything better than duck fat?  Use it to panfry potatoes, like they do in French bistros, or confit a couple of duck legs.  Duck (and goose, too) fat is great, but often hard to come by.

Lard, or rendered pork fat, is nearly 100 percent fat, as opposed to butter, which is about 80 percent fat and 20 percent water.  Though animal fats have gotten a bad reputation as heart-stoppers and artery-cloggers, lard is still well loved among bakers and intrepid cooks who prize its ability to produce flaky crusts and silky sauces.  Lard has a high smoke point, making it exceptional for frying things like chicken.  It’s also healthier than manufactured hydrogenated  fats like most vegetable shortenings.

Leaf Lard is the dry, hard, crumbly fat cap that surrounds the kidney of the pig.  This fat contains the fewest impurities, making it the gold standard for baking.  Mix this with butter (a 1:1 butter-to-fat ratio is good) for the best pie crusts you have ever made.

Tallow is rendered beef, veal, or lamb fat.  It is used mainly commercially to make animal feed, soap, and cosmetics, or for cooking.  McDonald’s managed to piss off a lot of vegetarians a while back by cooking their fries in tallow without informing the public – no wonder they were so addictive after a long night of drinking.  We use lamb fat in our chicken sausages to get that rich, decadent taste that you just can’t get from plain old chicken.  And we also know hunters who add lamb fat to their venison burgers for a more fatty, luscious taste.

HOW TO RENDER FAT

It’s simple to make high-quality lard or tallow that can be used for baking, cooking, or soap making.  Fats should be stored in the refrigerator, where they will last for three months or can be frozen for a  year.  We like to cut our lard into manageable 1/2-pound chunks and freeze it – it defrosts quickly, and does not have to be defrosted in the refrigerator.

-Buy pork fat, beef suet, or lamb fat from your butcher shop or farmer.  Make sure the fat is fresh, clean smelling, and not slimy.  Whatever you render, count on getting a 75 percent return.

-Cut the fat into 1-inch squares and then finely dice it (we run ours through the meat grinder).

-Place the diced fat into a heavy-bottomed pan set over low heat.  Melt the fat, without stirring, until it is literally a pool of oil.  Alternatively, you can melt the fat in a Crock-Pot.

-Let the fat cool until it is still in liquid form but not hot.

-Strain the fat through a cheesecloth-lined mesh strainer.

What You Don’t Know: You Can Afford Well-Raised Meat

  • July 6, 2011 10:03 am

One of my absolute favorite things from The Butcher’s Guide To Well-Raised Meat is where we explain how to afford well-raised meat. So many people lament it can’t be done. I disagree. Here’s how I do it, excerpted from the book. Enjoy!

People often complain that grass-fed and organic meat (and everything else organic) is too expensive, that they can’t afford it, that it’s not for them, or that it’s elitist.  We firmly believe that well-raised meat is for everyone.  If you share any of these concerns, first consider the amount of meat you eat- generally Americans buy and eat too much meat.  You don’t need mountains of sausages or pounds of ground beef to make a sauce.  Reduce portion sizes.  It’s better for you, and it will make well-raised meat affordable.  If you would like to try something like filet but can’t get over the sticker shock, buy 1/4 pound of it and don’t make it the centerpiece of your meal.  Beyond eating less and shrinking portion size, you can also lower costs by buying cheaper cuts instead of rib eyes and strips.  And plan for leftovers – a big roast can be dinner tonight and sandwiches tomorrow.  If you buy smart and cook smart, you can make up the price difference between conventional and pastured meat.  When people say our prices are too high, Jess invites them to throw $50 on the counter and watch her work.  She can get them ten meals for half a bill.  When she first made the claim, I must admit even I didn’t believe her.  But she proved me wrong.

TEN MEALS FOR HALF A BILL

Here is Jessica’s list of ten quick, delicious, easy-to-prepare meals for four.  The meat costs only $50 and change.  If you don’t eat meat every day, that means enough meals for two weeks.

1. Ground Beef (1/2 pound) $3

Beef and Bean Enchiladas

2. Bacon (1/4 pound, or about 3 slices) $3

Collard Green and Black-Eyed Pea Soup

3. More Bacon and Eggs (1/4 pound, or about 3 slices, and 3 eggs) $5

Spaghetti alla Carbonara

4. Sausages (3/4 pound, or 3 sausages) $6

Chinese Broccoli with Sausage and Polenta

5. Chicken Thighs (1 pound) $5

Thai Chicken Stir-fry with Vegetables

6. Pork Stew Meat (1 pound) $8

Quick Pork and Chile Stew with Hominy

7. Stir-fry Beef (1/2 pound) $4.50

Stir-fry Beef with Rice Noodles

8. Whole Chicken (3 to 4 pounds) $12

Roast Chicken

9. Eggs $4

Frittata

10. Roast Chicken Bones $0

Chicken Soup


The Butcher’s Guide To Well-Raised Meat On TastingTable.com

  • June 15, 2011 1:13 pm

Holy lovely review! Thanks TastingTable.com!

A mini excerpt:

“As we read the new book from butchering power couple Joshua and Jessica Applestone, however, the term [rock star butcher] seemed apropos: The Butcher’s Guide to Well-Raised Meat is at once a political manifesto on the agricultural climate, a memoir and an instructional how-to with lessons on tying roasts and breaking down lambs. Theirs is the philosophy that has spawned a movement of imitators….

….The book is a worthwhile read, providing context for the many practices that have now become ubiquitous phrases on menus; here, such terms as primals and nose-to-tail are explained (and encouraged) through useful recipes and tips.”

The Butcher’s Guide To Well-Raised Meat on The Passionate Foodie

  • June 7, 2011 9:12 am

Thanks to The Passionate Foodie for a thoughtful review! Here’s a small excerpt:

It was a real pleasure to have read this book and I highly recommend it. It is well written, fascinating, passionate and educational. Though it has a clear and compelling philosophy, it is not preachy, and thus may be even more convincing because of that. It will also help you appreciate the art of butchery, giving you a better sense of where your food actually comes from. This is a reference guide that belongs with your cookbooks, and one which will help you best choose and prepare the meats you eat.

The Butcher’s Guide To Well-Raised Meat in Publishers Weekly!

  • May 2, 2011 2:56 pm

Thanks to PW for a lovely write up of The Butcher’s Guide To Well-Raised Meat. Pub date — June 7th — is around the corner. Can’t wait.

A little excerpt:

“…[the] book provides clear, useful instruction on dealing with cuts of beef, lamb, pork, and poultry, interesting meditations on sustainable dining, and a dozen or so recipes thrown in for good measure. The literature of butchery is hard to resist, and the Applestones with Zissu (The Conscious Kitchen) manage to wield both a skillful pen and clever cleaver.”

To read more, click here.

Steer to Steak on RecipeClub.net

  • February 21, 2011 10:14 am

I finished the final read of the final draft of The Butcher’s Guide to Well-Raised Meat at some point this week. Phew. A book is a looong process and it is always amazing to near the end of writing one. We still have a few tweaks to go–art and illustration things mainly, and the index. But now my attention is turning to what it will be like when it is published. In a few weeks, we’ll be meeting with the publicist to start that conversation.

Meanwhile, my publisher has launched a new website where they share information from their writers — RecipeClub.net. And they asked me to write a little something for the site about what it has been like for me to witness slaughters this year. If slaughter is something that makes you uncomfortable, no need to click through to the link below.

Fleisher’s–my butcher shop and the topic/co-authors/reason for The Butcher’s Guide–offers weekends where interested people can witness a slaughter and then follow the system of how that animal then becomes meat. They do a pig to pork day and they do a steer to steak day. A month or so ago, a bunch of people from the publisher came to a steer to steak event. They all had strong, positive reactions to it. And we were thrilled to have them there. One came with a camera and shot a lot of thoughtful pictures. My text about the experience and these pictures of the experience can be found here.

The Conscious Commandments

  • February 13, 2011 10:59 pm

The Conscious Commandments From The Conscious Kitchen

Here are ten easy things you can do today to move toward having a more conscious kitchen tomorrow.

1. Eat less meat. When eating beef, seek out and choose grass-fed. Other meat and poultry should also be carefully sourced.

2. Just say no to bottled water. Drink (filtered) tap instead. This will save money, too.

3. Buy local organic or sustainably farmed fruits and vegetables. Don’t forget that coffee and tea come from plants, and wine is made from grapes; choose sustainable versions.

4. Eat only the least contaminated sustainably harvested wild or well-sourced farmed seafood.

5. Always consider packaging when shopping. Choose items packed in materials you can reuse or that can be recycled in your municipality. Buy bulk items instead of overpackaged goods. Always shop with reusable bags.

6. Cook at home. Often. And serve only on reusable dishware, not disposable. Clean with eco-friendly products.

7. Avoid plastic as often as you can.

8. Try composting, even if you live in a city or a house without a yard.

9. Whenever possible, reduce energy use in the kitchen by choosing efficient appliances, cooking methods, and dishwashing practices; don’t leave appliances plugged in when not in use; ask your electric company for alternative energy sources like wind power.

10. Spread the word. Educate everyone you know. Green your office kitchen, your kids’ school kitchen, your friends and relatives’ kitchens. Make noise; together we can make a huge difference.