Grass-Fed Beef

Returning each summer to our country house perched on a mountain in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont is always a delight. But this year it seemed even more so, as I turned up the steep driveway and was greeted by our small herd of Black Anguses and Belted Galways grazing peacefully in the pasture just below the house.

We—my step-daughter, Bronwyn, and my cousin John, who is a year-round farmer up here and a close neighbor—decided a couple of years ago that it would be a good idea to use our land to raise a very small herd of grass-fed beef. John is an experienced herdsman, having raised heifers for many years until they were ready to be milked, at which stage he would sell them to local dairy farmers. But with small farms being eaten up by big industrial farms, there was less and less demand for milking cows in the area. So this seemed like a feasible alternative, and there was a clear demand for good grass-fed beef.

I was particularly pleased because it meant that our once lovely meadows—which farmers who settled here in the 19th century had struggled to clear, heaving huge rocks out of the earth—would be returning to pastureland. However, I’m not sure that John fully anticipated what a daunting task he had taken on, harvesting endless bales of hay during the summer months and then hauling them out to the cattle twice a day all through the cold winter months, to say nothing of playing midwife more than once to cows giving birth at below-freezing temperatures.

Last November the first five had gone to market and we kept one half of a 600-pounder to divide among us. So during the holidays and ensuing winter months in New York I had the privilege of eating the best beef I had tasted in years. For Christmas I served a tender, intensely flavorful loin roast, and later shared with food-loving friends the brisket and back ribs, cooked long and slowly with the flavors sealed in. I also feasted on many a pan steak from different cuts, each yielding nuances of taste and texture. When I got back to Vermont the freezer still had plenty to offer, in particular stew cuts, ground meat, and all those organs that most people shun but which I have always relished.

The fourth of July was quickly upon us—and what better way to celebrate than to get the grills going and cook up those American favorites, hamburgers with all the trimmings. By the time we’d counted up family and in-laws and their various guests, we had twenty-one to cook for. Fortunately among our family connections was a young man, Patrick McCormick from Wisconsin, who had just been made top chef at The Tornado Room, a fine steak house in Madison—in fact, the news of his appointment had just come through the day before. And what fun it was to work alongside him, to observe how he treated the coarsely ground meat with such respect, handling it gently, never slapping it down as he seasoned and shaped it, never pressing it with a spatula as it cooked, which only leaches out the juices and makes the meat hard. He knew exactly when the hamburgers were done just by eyeing the patties and pressing them lightly with his fingers (when the meat springs back, they’re done to a rosy rare). All too quickly about 10 pounds of that wonderfully flavorful grass-fed beef was gobbled up, and every one agreed they were the best hamburgers they could remember.

I still have lots left to experiment with—the tongue, the tail, the liver and the kidneys. Not to forget the heart! With that I’d like to make a Welsh dish called “Love in Disguise,” in honor of my Welsh husband, Evan, who prepared it once for his daughter Bronwyn on her 16th birthday. But I have searched and cannot find the recipe. Does anyone have a clue?

13 Responses to “Grass-Fed Beef”

  1. Fran says:

    A Google search resulted in a couple of recipes for “Love in Disguise.” They both seem to call for pig’s hearts, nothing cow related though.

    If you accept links, here they are: http://www.recipesource.com/ethnic/europe/british/00/rec0002.html and
    http://recipes.recipeland.com/recipes/recipe/show/Love_in_Disguise_22735

    Cheers!

  2. Alexis MB Roberts says:

    Dear Judith,

    What fun to read of your Fourth of July feast. …There are several forces a foot down here in Texas working to bring more grass-fed beef into the food chain. If only I had a bigger freezer…but that’s at the top of my wish list these days!

    I am wondering if one of these British recipes would work (see links below). One calls for pigs’ hearts, but I’m wondering if you could easily substitute just adjusting for size? You’ve probably seen them already and found a reason they are not quite right, no? I remember the first (and I think only) time I ate cow’s heart: I was at a friend’s house having tacos and they used heart and tongue for the taco meat. It was tasty, but a shock to my sixth-grade mind to wrap my head around. This recipe sounds much more delicious.

    My little William is calling for me over the monitor. Gotta go!

    http://www.greenchronicle.com/regional_recipes/herefordshire_love_in_disguise.htm

    http://thefoody.com/meat/loveindisguise.html

    Enjoy the rest of the summer,
    Alexis

  3. Dear Mrs. Jones,

    Congratulations on your burgeoning herd; what an excellent family venture. Were I not tethered to the fanny parade of South Beach (where decent pasture, as you might venture to guess, is hard to find), I would be doing the same.

    The tongue will make great tacos. My friend Shannon Hayes, a farmer who writes cookbooks about grassfed meat, has a great recipe that outright velvets the tongue with capers and a béchamel sauce. It even pleases even her uber-picky mother. I’d be happy to scan and email it to you.

    (You can find a little piece about Shannon, and links to her books, here:
    http://www.sustainablesuppers.com/radical-homemaking/
    Full disclosure–that’s my site. Forgive me the intrusion.)

    As for the Love in Disguise recipe, alas, I have no Welsh antecedents, but perhaps one of Fergus Henderson’s books might provide some insight? There’s also a book called Brains and Brawn…Trotters and Tripe: Forgotten and Forbidden Foods from Old Cook Books. It has a fairly rudimentary recipe for Love in Disguise that calls for a calf’s heart, but when I say rudimentary, I mean that it pretty much says little besides “Bake calf heart. Gorge thyself.” Google has scanned the book, so you can take a quick gander. Perhaps you can meld it with one of these pig heart’s recipes.

    Please do let us know if you find the correct version, and how the final dish tastes.

    I look forward to your next book.

    Warmly,
    Holly

    P.S. Thank you for writing The Tenth Muse. I found it to be as much about love as about food, and it touched me deeply. That book, and the books you have nurtured over your career, have meant more to me than I can express in a cursory comment.

  4. Dear Judith

    Love reading about your return to the farm, so to speak.

    I wanted to share a great resource: the ASFS list serve, where you can simply be a voyeur or ask questions to a wide ranging group of food historians, writers, cookbook authors, and more. It ceases to amaze me that when people write in asking about something seemingly unheard of, there is almost always someone who comes to the rescue. Amanda Hesser often writes in asking for help with mystery dishes, and ones she later reports on.

    You can send a general email to the following group: asfs@lists.nyu.edu

    Best of luck-

  5. nan says:

    Hi! Just thought I’d let you know that I was one of the “honorable mentions” in the Be Like Julie/Cook Like Julia contest that Knopf sponsored and as such I won a copy of your new book!! I’m so excited about that – I often find myself cooking for one as my son works odd hours and eats mainly at McDonalds and my husband is getting pickier and pickier in his old age! I too loved reading about your farm and your 4th of July BBQ – would have loved to have been a fly on the wall – or even the back side of a cow! xo, Nan

  6. Todd says:

    Fantastic burgers indeed, and I can only say so having been one of the privileged guests on hand. Fantastic company, amazing food, and unforgettable scenery! If only I hadn’t jumped into the pristine spring-fed pond with my girlfriend’s camera!!

  7. barbara says:

    Judith,
    I am sitting in my office, and above me is a photo taken in September 2009 in the NE Kingdom on Hinton Hill Rd looking north towards Jay Peak. Lo, and behold, here is your herd grazing with the same mountain range behind them, probably 1/4 mile north of my photo location! So i have seen the herd and welcome the farmers still working out on Cook, Perkins and Hinton Hills, esp grain fed beef. Is the beef available for local sale in Westmore? looking forward to receiving your book for holidays ( I too cook for one) and was raised on a Julia follower, so i know good food ! Thanks

  8. carmen fletcher says:

    Dear Judith Jones – Thank you so much for this miracle of a cookbook. I have many cookbooks but yours is the one that has become a daily friend to me. I love to eat well and also to cook. Your food is delicious. The recipes are easy to follow – simple. I just need to make a few purchases and I have several wonderful meals – all different and pleasing. Thank you. Thank you. This book is a such a gift to me and so many others. I made the pork with eggplant in tomato sauce last night. wow – it knocked my socks off. Every recipe I have made from your book has been splendid. It is now my go to cookbook. I may throw the others out – or give them to the local library. carmen

  9. Nina Garrett says:

    Having cooked for one for 20 years now, I’ve developed a minor genre I call the ice-cube-tray pantry for a number of items that don’t come in small portions. Sausage meat, for example — it’s great to have on hand for a frittata or omelet or just to make my scrambled eggs a little heftier — but having a pound uncooked in the freezer is pointless. So I cook up a pound, by itself, rendering out all the fat, and when it’s cool I pack it into an ice-box tray. (When frozen I extract the cubes and pack them in a freezer zip-lock bag. Same with duxelles (I used a cube tonight with your minced chicken on toast) — since I don’t always have fresh mushrooms sitting around. Same with pesto — good for many soups, dips, and salad dressings. Same for many herb-butters. I always have concentrated home-made chicken stock in the freezer, but in half-cup quantities rather than ice-cubes. I’m sure others can think of many further suggestions for the ice-box-tray pantry …

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