An Ode to Carnivores

Saturday, August 27, 2011

   Hurricane Irene has officially passed us by. The pine trees lost a lot of cones and our lawn was well watered, but that was the extent of her mighty threat. In fact, as I write, the sun is shining through my window, making me and my orchids quite happy indeed.

   We really were incredibly lucky the storm turned out to be so mild for us. I have everyone north of us in my thoughts, I hope they all are as lucky as we were and make it through Irene's path safely.
   On a food note, I've lately been reflecting on my status as a meat eater. I would wager that most people either grew up with a family member who has tippled in the world of vegetarianism or they have tried it themselves. I'm a member of the former- my mother, for a brief time after my little sister was born, tried vegetarianism. I remember a lot of beans and brown rice and my dad making big pots of his famous hamburg and beans to satisfy his inner carnivore. I'm not sure if it didn't last because it was too much stress to make vegetarian meals that wold please all of us or if she just missed chicken and hamburgers, but in short order we were back to our roast chicken dinners and spaghetti with meat sauce.
   I have no doubt that a complete and nutritious diet can be constructed from entirely vegetarian or vegan dishes. There are so many other delicious foods to enjoy and include in our diets that there generally are two to three days a week that I don't eat meat at all, and in a given day it is part of only one meal. I've always eaten this way and it was a happy coincidence as I got older and started reading about 'eating vegetarian' a day or two out of the week to reduce my carbon footprint. My tastebuds have naturally been doing that for me for years!
   After my many ruminations I've come down to this: meat has a bad rap, for no real good reason. It's our own lazy western faults that meat has turned into the nasty, atherosclerosis causing mystery food it now is. Rather than allow our cows and pigs to roam free, eating grass and roots and whatever else they dig up to their little hearts content, we constrain them to teeny pens, overcrowded and forced to eat corn meal and other unidentifiable and industrialized grains.
   Well, guess what, folks, animals who have been abused with growth hormones, antibiotics and highly refined grains get the last laugh. All those things we poison their bodies with end up in us and all our many cells when we eat them.
   I consider myself infinitely fortunate to have grown up on a farm. One of my earliest memories is of my dad and some of his buddies showing my older brother how to butcher the chickens we had raised. Those chickens were lean and happy buggers, having been raised in huge coops with lots of grass and sun. I was too young to help at that point, but I sure as heck enjoyed the chicken soup my mom made that night.
   A lot of people I discuss this issue with dismiss the idea of eating only organic, grass fed meat as snobbish and far too expensive. Take it from someone who has eaten this way for years, many of them as a college or medical student on a seriously restricted budget: when you dedicate a handful of meals per week to quality, properly raised meat, it won't break the bank and you will reap all the tasty, healthful benefits. And I would say that having the courage to know about and have a say in what goes into your body isn't snobbish, it's just plain common sense.
   Having meat only when it counts means some of your meals do end up being entirely vegetarian. Clean meat and lots of vegetables doesn't just protect your heart and endocrine system, it will broaden your cooking horizons, tantalize your tastebuds and challenge your creativity.

   I've decided to celebrate my status as an omnivore by giving you this recipe for lasagna which is near and dear to my heart- it's full of tomatoes, mushrooms, pasta and, yes, grass fed beef! I love this recipe because the leftovers taste even better than when its fresh from the oven, and I can often stretch them to provide a good three days of lunches for me and Steve. 
 Meaty Lasagna
  • 1 1/2 pounds organic, grass fed ground beef
  • 1 medium onion, halved and sliced thin
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons coarse kosher salt, divided
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1-2 pinches red chili pepper flakes
  • 8 ounces baby bella mushrooms, sliced thin
  • 1 1/2 jars marinara sauce or favorite pasta sauce
  • 9 lasagna sheets
  • 1 pound ricotta cheese
  • 12 ounces small curd cottage cheese
  • 1 cup ground parmesan cheese, divided
  • 6 ounces shredded mozzarella cheese
  • 2 eggs
   Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.
   Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the noodles and 1 tablespoon of the olive oil (this will prevent them from sticking to each other once you've drained them). Cook until the noodles are pliable but not completely cooked, they will finish cooking in the oven- this takes about 8 minutes. Drain completely and set aside until you are ready to assemble the lasagna.
   Meanwhile, sautee the onion, 2 tablespoons oil and 1/2 teaspoon salt in the olive oil until quite soft and starting to brown- about 5-10 minutes. Add the meat, remaining salt, ground pepper and pepper flakes and cook until meat is browned and cooked through. Drain off any excess oil and add the mushrooms, cook until mushrooms are soft. Add the tomato sauce and bring to a simmer while you prepare the cheese mixture.
   In a medium mixing bowl, mix together 3/4 cup parmesan cheese, the ricotta, cottage and motzerella cheeses with the eggs until completely blended.
   In a 9 X 13 inch baking dish, spread a cup of your meat sauce on the bottom. Layer three atop this. Spread about a 1/3 inch layer of cheese mixture evenly atop each noodle. Ladle enough sauce atop the cheese layer to cover. Repeat this process twice more until you've used all the noodles, ending with a layer of sauce. You may have some sauce and/or cheese mixture left over. Sprinkle the remaining parmesan cheese over the top.
   Bake, covered in tin foil, for 30 minutes. Remove foil and bake and additional 15 minutes. Remove from the oven and cool for a full  30 minutes (this is when the noodle absorb and those delicious juices, allowing the layers to stay together when you serve it).
   Makes 9-12 servings.

1 comment:

  1. Hi honey! Yummy meat stories also make me remember lots of interesting ideas about proper nutrition and how we take care of ourselves. (and laugh at how to keep a small army of a family healthy) Right now I'm into buying organic eggs since all the chickens you guys are gone. (No one to take care of them!) Got any good egg recipes? I'm getting tired of hardboiled and fried!
    So glad you weathered the storm without a scratch. We are getting some gusts and rain now. Time to make some lasagna! :)