Tag Archives: Monday Meals

Meals Monday: Steak Fettuccine Alfredo

I’m battling to get back to a normal routine the past few days. Part of that is I did make a concerted effort to create a nice dinner for us last night. That offering was Fettuccine Alfredo (with my homemade Alfredo sauce) topped with steak. Note the sauce recipe is towards the bottom on the linked to post.

As always start with fresh pasta:

Wow, focus was off there. 😦 Oh and that’s a loaf of Rosemary Parm Bread next to the pasta, courtesy of Costco. Not as good as homemade, but decent.

While the water was heating up, I stared the strips of steak sauteing in butter and garlic:

two in a row, so much for the high end camera on the new samsung

I’m throwing in the above picture primarily to show off that colander. This was right before I dumped the water. It was a Christmas present from my mom a couple years back. Super handy as it holds tight to the pot, is heat resistant silicone, and is much easier to clean up than a full colander.

Beyond that, since the camera was acting up, I’ll cut this a little short. Aside from the bread and pasta dishes, I also cooked up some butternut squash and added a touch of cinnamon to it. Viola; one almost gourmet meal:

Monday Meals Returns (Late)

LOL

My food posts used to have quite a following. The weather here has been horrible though; more rain than I saw in 10 years back in California. Then the last two months has been house / moving / kitty drama.

I had a few food posts ready to go, but the pics disappeared (along with motivation). HOWEVER, I did manage to find my birthday dinner pics from… a while back. 😉

Yes, we started with spare ribs. My go to for MY day… for a few years now. No, they’re NOT undercooked either. THAT is insanely deep smoked flavor as they were cooked as low and slow as I possibly could. I think they took about 10 hours. Most quality rib joints only cook theirs for about 6 hours.

There was also some corn bread:

And some homemade mac and cheese:

The Panko breading on top didn’t brown too well unfortunately. Blame the cheeses.

My world famous, made from scratch guacamole (appetizer):

And salad and veggies also, but the pics seem to have disappeared… Well, all but one:

Scratch Made Chile Verde

With the weather having turned cold, I made some homemade from scratch chile verde to fight back against the cold weather. 🙂

It took some searching to find an authentic, made from scratch version of the recipe. Too many were canned this and canned that. Blah! I finally found one on NoRecipes.com (a jab at AllRecipes.com perhaps?), and am reproducing it here along with a few notes about what worked and what didn’t.

The Recipe:

3 Large Poblano Chili Peppers

2 Medium Anaheim Chili Peppers

3 Large Jalapeño peppers

6 Cloves of Garlic, Unpeeled (Yes, UNpeeled)

1 Extra Large White or Yellow Onion, peeled and quartered

2 2/3 Lbs (1200 grams) of Tomatillo Peppers (roughly 20 bigger ones)

An ounce (25 grams) of fresh cilantro

2 teaspoons of vegetable oil

3 3/4 Lbs (1700 grams) of pork shoulder, cut into 2 inch (5cm) cubes

4 Cups of low sodium Chicken Stock

2 Teaspoons of Honey

1 Teaspoon of Cinnamon

1 Teaspoon of Cumin

1 1/2 Teaspoons of Salt

More Cilantro and Cotija Cheese for Garnish

Important Pre-Prep Notes:

Before we get started, there’s a few important things to note.

First, the oil is going to be used to sear the pork in a dutch oven or pan before adding it into the mix. If you want to get creative, you could cook it on a smoker instead (which I would have done, weather allowing), or some other way. It will also be simmering a while in the final pot so try not to cook it beyond a medium rare so as to avoid drying it out.

Second: As best I can tell, the honey and cinnamon in the ingredients list only serve the purpose of reducing the heat or spiciness of the dish. The seeds in the peppers, especially the Jalapenos, are what generate that heat. If you prefer a milder Chili Verde and remove all the seeds, I’d avoid the honey and cinnamon as they’ll give the dish an unpleasant aftertaste without the heat to balance them

Third: This is a large recipe and will NOT fit in a standard size Crock-Pot or similar slow cooker without halving it. It will easily feed eight hungry people, particularly if you serve it on a bed of rice like my family (and my Latina godmother) used to.

Lastly: If you want to stay kosher / halal, or just find pork unhealthy, boneless skinless chicken breast works fine as a substitute for the pork.

The Prep Work:

Prep Time is supposedly 10 minutes, but I call shenanigans on that. Roasting and peeling the peppers should count as prep work not cooking. Total time with prep and cooking is just under 3 hours, but most of that is just letting it simmer on the stove so the flavors meld together.

Step 1: Preheat your oven to it’s highest setting or put it on broil.

Step 2: While the oven is preheating, Wash the Poblano, Anaheim and Jalapeño peppers and cut slits in them to prevent them from popping. Put them on sheet pans along with the garlic (skin side down), and onions.

Step 3: Remove the husks from the tomatillos and wash them thoroughly to remove as much of the waxy residue from their surface as you can. Cut slits in them to prevent them from popping in the oven and put them on sheet pans as well.

For those that have never seen a tomatillo, here’s what they look like with the ‘husk’:

AND, without the husk or stem:

Note I cut out a small bad spot in the one on the lower right corner. 🙂

Shopping Tip: Tomatillos are peppers, but also related to tomatoes. You can tell if they’re ripe by judging the firmness, just as if it were a tomato. If it’s hard, it’s not ripe. If it’s firm but has just a little give, it’s ripe. If it’s soft, it’s going bad.

Step 4: Put the green chili peppers in the oven and roast until their skins have blistered and started to blacken. Flip them over and roast until the second side matches:

Step 5: Roast the tomatillos in the oven until they’re soft and lightly scorched on top.

NOTE: The main reason for steps 4 and 5 is to soften up the peppers and blister up the skins on the green chilis for peeling. It does impart a little flavor also though. If you want to up the flavor factor, fire roast the peppers on a hot BBQ or over a gas stove burner instead of in the oven.

Image from Nonnasway.com

Step 6: When the green chilies are done, remove them from the oven and let them cool until you can handle them. Remove as much skin as you can from the peppers. It doesn’t have to be a perfect job. The work will be similar to peeling the skin off an onion. Once that’s done, remove the stems and seeds along with any light colored membranes. Then remove the stems and seeds along with any light-colored membranes. Peel the garlic.

One skinned and seeded Poblano pepper.

Remember the above note about seeds here. The Jalapenos are the hottest of the three green peppers, while the Anaheim and Poblano are typically milder. It won’t hurt to leave some seeds in, or even all of them if you like spicy food.

Step 7: Toss all the roasted green chilies, tomatillos, onions, garlic, and main recipe portion the cilantro into a food processor and process until no large chunks are remaining:

Vitamix for the win!

Steps 8 and 9 can be skipped IF you decide to grill the pork (or chicken) instead:

Step 8: Heat a large heavy-bottomed pot or dutch over over medium-high heat until hot. Generously salt and pepper all sides of the pork.

Step 9: Add the vegetable oil to the preheated pot and add the pork in a single layer, leaving a bit of space between each piece of pork (if it doesn’t all fit, then do this in two batches). Let the pork brown on one side undisturbed and then flip and brown the other side.

If grilling or slow smoking the meat, cook to the same level of doneness.

Step 10: Add the green chili and tomatillo puree to the pot, along with the chicken stock, honey, cinnamon (both of which are optional depending upon seed content of the mixture), cumin, oregano, and salt. Scrape up the browned bits of pork juice from the bottom of the pot and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and let the Chili Verde simmer until the pork is fall-apart tender (about 2 1/2 hours).

Lastly, adjust the seasoning to taste and then serve over tortillas, rice, scrambled eggs or whatever excites you. 🙂 Garnish with the additional cilantro and the cotija cheese.

A Couple Quick Final Notes:

First, three hours may seem like alot of time in the modern world, but it’s worth it. Most of that time is just letting it simmer also. No real work to that beyond occasionally checking and stirring it. You will NOT get flavor like this from canned products and a quickie version.

Secondly, the leftovers will slowly get a little spicier as they sit. That’s normal due to the tomatillo seeds (and possibly some of the others) being left in it. Freezing should stop that process and may be necessary depending upon how much leftovers you have anyway. 😉

If you really like spicier food, you might want to try doing steps 1 through 7 a day or two before and keeping the puree in the fridge until cooking day.

And my personal thanks to NoRecipes.com for posting this authentic recipe.

Italian Style Meatball Soup

I’ve been neglecting my food related posts, so here’s an Emeril Lagasse recipe (with a few modifications that I made during a recent bout of cold weather).

Rather than just re-do the whole recipe here, I’ll provide a link to the original page:

https://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/meatball-soup-3646042

Emeril is one of my favorite chefs. Almost every recipe of his that I’ve tried has turned out great. This one was no exception.

I didn’t even burn myself this time! LOL

I will add a couple of notes here however:

Emeril’s 2 can’s of low sodium beef broth, 29 ozs or 8/10 of a liter, are not near enough liquid to make this soup. With the amount of meat and vegetables that go into this, it’s almost too thick to be a stew with that amount of liquid. Even more true if you use dry pasta in the recipe.

Bottom line; plan on having about twice that much to get the soup at the consistency in the picture above, or at least be ready to add water.

You also might want to make a little more meatballs than the recipe calls for. This made a crock put full, as you all can see. That’s about 8 decent sized bowls of soup. There were only a couple of pieces of meatball left by the time we got to the last two bowls.

OH… and if you’re using a crock pot and dry pasta… The pasta will NOT be cooked in 15 minutes like Emeril says… More like somewhere around an hour and a half. I *did* add that in late also. Past experience has taught me that slow cooker soups tend to dissolve pasta if it’s added in right at the get go.

End Result:

I almost forgot…

A bowl of the soup finished, and topped with freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano, and served with some garlic Parmigiano Reggiano toasted bread on the side. 🙂

Southern UNfried Chicken

I’m overdue for a food post here. 🙂 I did this one a while back, and have just had too much drama to deal with.

Yes, UN-Fried Chicken

The Backstory:

Almost as fun as the cooking for me. It all started with the bottle of spice in the upper right corner of the picture. We found a cute little shop that sold spices for just about every kind of cooking you can think of. One of the bottles we bought was for fried chicken seasoning.

When it came time to do the chicken for dinner though, we were already behind schedule for the day and stressed out. I just plain didn’t feel like the mess of creating a batter dredge for the chicken. The end result is we decided to put the chicken on the smoker just using the seasonings without all the extra flour and oil.

Net Result:

Chicken that tasted exactly like fried chicken but with a deep smoke flavor also. It was really juicy and tender. Total winner; all the flavor of fried chicken with none of the fat and carbs!

Delicious!

We had it plain the first night, but the leftovers got served with veggies and topped with a bit of cream of mushroom soup as gravy:

This one was a fun experiment that turned out much better than I expected. It just goes to show that there are options for making classic unhealthy food into something healthy that still tastes great. It’s a process of discovery I’m enjoying more and more.

While I did mine on our Rec-Tec pellet smoker, this could just as easily be done baked in an oven. I’d recommend on a wire rack to let the skin crisp just a little as it bakes.

The Count of Monte Cristo’s Sammich. O_O

Yes, a little more humor there as I try not to go full on redhead on our obscenely noisy upstairs neighbors. Either way, I’ve been neglecting the food posts portion of the blog here for a while so… It’s time for Monte Cristo sandwiches. If you’ve never heard of them, don’t worry. It’s an American thing and a spin on a French croque-monsieur.

Simply put, you egg wash some bread, pile on layers of ham, turkey and cheese (swiss in the standard version), and then cook the Monte Cristo in a pan to toast the bread, warm the meat and melt the cheese. Click on the link there to see what AllRecipe.com’s tasty looking version looks like. Mine turned out fairly close, and isn’t bad for a first try:

I went a little crazy on mine, using brioche bread, garlic aioli, and chipotle gouda and smoked cheddar cheese. Brioche may not be the best bread for such a creation. Given how soft it already is, it doesn’t hold up to the egg wash well. BUT overall I’d call this one a success with room for improvement. 🙂

BTW, the homemade garlic ailoi recipe can also be found on AllRecipes.com.

Conan, what is best in life? Crushing the perfect sandwich, driving your hunger before you, hear the lamentation of the sandwich-less!

Cousin’s Maine Lobster!

Yes, they of Shark Tank fame:

It turns out the greater Nashville area has a CML food truck and restaurant. We were in the mood for fish the other night, and found them while looking for a place. Sacramento had a food truck and the line was always insane. Since there always seems to be alot of hype around them, we decided to give them a try.

Normally I’m skeptical of hype, but I have to say, this place was AMAZING. It looked fairly average on the outside:

The food truck was parked right outside also.

When the truck is that spotless, it’s a pretty solid indication that they take pride in what they do.

But, let’s get to the FOOD. How about some clam chowder to start?

Yes, it was fabulous beyond words. 🙂

From there, we played it cautious and decided to try the Haddock ‘fish and chips’ plate. That also far exceeded expectations.

The panko breading was done perfectly; light, crispy and not greasy. The fish was tender, light, flaky and moist; cooked to perfection. Not a speck of that icky brown meat you see in grocery store fish sticks and cheap fish places either.

The fries were great also; crispy outside and tender inside. The fish was definitely the star though. I’ve eaten fish cost to coast, including fish at Alioto’s on Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco (highly over-rated IMO). The only time I’ve had better fish was the mahi mahi in Honolulu.

If they can do this well with plain old Haddock, the Lobster Rolls must be amazing, LOL.

If there’s a Cousin’s Maine Lobster near you, I’d definitely give them a try. 😉

And for all you cynical people out there; nope, zero incentives at all to write this. Just recommending what I enjoyed.

And just for fun… The Shark Tank follow up on Cousin’s:

Those franchise and sales numbers are from 4 years ago also.

The Art of the Brisket Sandwich & Judging BBQ

A belated ‘Meals Monday’ Post and it’s going to be a two for one! First there’s the brisket sandwiches.

OK, the plating isn’t as pretty as my usual pics, but I was in a hurry to eat. 😀 Can you blame me with the smoke ring showing on that overhanging meat?

So how does one create the prefect brisket sandwich? Fresh smoked brisket on a warm hot cross pretzel roll, add a tiny pit of mayo to the bottom and a little BBQ sauce on top of the meat; just enough to add a little flavor and moisture. Then top with smoked gouda cheese. 🙂

Devour immediately.

Fun story here also. That is not MY brisket. We finally found a good BBQ place here. You wouldn’t think it would be that hard in Tennessee, but that’s a story for another time.

So we’re out driving along, running errands and we stop at a traffic light right next to this old gas station. Windows are up, and we still smell something heavenly. It was coming from the gas station, which had been converted into a little restaurant tailor made for Diners Drive-Ins and Dives. We just had to whip in there and check it out.

We’ve actually tried three different restaurants recommended on Triple D, and this was quite a bit better. The guy had two stick burners (some BBQ lingo for y’all) out back and was cranking out some amazing ribs, brisket, pulled pork, chicken and sausage. Well, the brisket was so good we bought an extra pound to take home. Hence the Sandwiches. 🙂

What Makes Great BBQ?

Opinions vary there, but I’m going to give you a couple of competition judging standards. No, I’m not a competitor, but I’ve networked with several and a judge or two also. Personally, I’ve found the closer I get to these guidelines, the better the meat tastes too, so there you go.

A Smoke Ring:

It doesn’t matter what you’re cooking; ribs, brisket, chicken even turkey (which isn’t normally a competition item), you have to have a good smoke ring on the meat. This is the indication that the wood fire flavor has permeated the meat.

This IS my brisket. A 16 hour labor of love.

That red ring around the outside of the meat is the smoke ring. If you want to learn the science of what creates a smoke ring, there’s a great article at BarbequeBible.com. For everyone else, I’m just going to continue.

Bark!

Bark, quite simply, is a combination of a modest surface char AND surface seasonings darkening during cooking. A good bark will be on the crispy side and add texture to the meat. Getting a good bark is tricky, and all but impossible with a pellet smoker like I use. Sugar as part of the rub is a common way to get a “good” bark, as it readily darkens and hardens with the heat of the BBQ. NOT something I personally advocate.

Moisture

Rather obvious here, but you want any meat to be moist and tender. Not too dry.

Tensile Strength

I’m not sure what they proper judging term here is, but the idea is that the meat should stay together, not just fall apart. If ribs or brisket just fall apart, it means they were overcooked. Too tough: not cooked enough.

Perfect competition standard is that the meat should come apart with a light tug.

For ribs, that means the meat stays on the bone until bitten, or gently pulled upon. Then it should be tender when chewed.

Brisket has a bit more ornate standard, but Texans take their brisket seriously, LOL.

A slice of brisket should stay together if draped over a finger or held by two fingers at one end of the slice. If it can do that and is still tender to eat, you got a good one.

Similar ideas hold true with chicken or pulled pork. Chicken should stay on the bone, but come free easily when pulled, and pork shoulder roast should stay together until it’s pulled apart (hence the name pulled pork).

Flavor:

Another obvious one, but it merits a note. Ideally when smoking meat, you should be able to taste the smoke flavor, not just see the smoke ring. Some BBQ places use oak for example. Fairly common wood and easy to get ahold of. BUT it leaves very little flavor in the meat compared to something like hickory, mesquite or maple.

Maple is considered ideal for pork, as it adds a sweet smoky flavor to the meat.

There you have it though; a basic guideline to determine if you’re really getting top notch BBQ, or you’re missing out. 😉

Beware of Ninja Carbohydrates!

Want to know the likely reason you’re having trouble losing weight? It’s because many foods are drowning in hidden carbs. Sometimes they’re NOT so hidden also and food companies depend on people not understanding labels. After seeing the nuclear terror that is my nephew hopped up on sugar, I’ve renewed my personal war on carbs.

First, let’s acknowledge reality. Our bodies need SOME level of Carbs to function. They’re fuel. Everything I’ve read says that an average person with a moderate level of physical activity should have about 50 carbs per meal. If you’ve got a sedentary lifestyle, that could and should go down (actually your activity level should pick up for the sake of your health). If you’re The Rock, and work out 6 hours a day, you’re gonna need an insane amount of carbs.

We’re talking the average person though. Just how easy is it to go over that 50 carb guideline? Well, let’s take a look at the label on a package of BallPark hot dog buns:

40 grams of carbs, just in ONE bun, and that’s before you even add the dog or sausage, and any condiments or cheese. Note also that includes 6 grams of added processed sugar. It’s actually the fourth ingredient!

Carb counts can vary wildly between brands also, so it pays to comparison shop. Case and point; a package of “Bunny” brand hot dog buns from the same store:

Only 21 grams of carbs there. Half of what the Ball Park brand buns have. Also only 2 grams of added sugar (which is still too much IMO).

One of my big pet peeves in this area is nutrition bars and breakfast cereals. Usually the more they’re marketed as healthy, the worse they are. Clif Bars may taste wonderful, but that’s because some flavors skyrocket over 50 carbs for a single bar.

Breakfast Cereals… Here’s a few examples:

One typical “healthy” cereal, that even brags about having beta cerotene right above the nutrition label. Go down to the total carbs row though, and you’ll see 56 carbs before you’ve even added milk or anything else to the cereal. Right off the bat you’re over 10% into your next meal’s allotment of carbs.

Want irony? You know how these folks always market their cereals as a healthier alternative for kids? Take a look at the label for a box of TWINKIES cereal:

Yes, God help us all, there’s a breakfast cereal made to look and taste like Twinkies. That cereal has roughly 40% less carbs than the “Healthy” cereal though and 2 grams LESS added sugar per serving also.

Is that a fluke, you wonder? Take a look at Apple Jacks:

34 Carbs with 13 grams of added sugar. Less added sugar than both the other cereals and 22 carbs less than the “healthy” cereal. You can go through the kids cereal section and see this with Cocoa Pebbles and other cereals too.

It’s Everywhere:

I wish I could say this was confined to cereal and baked goods but it’s everywhere. Food manufacturers put sugar and high fructose corn syrup in almost everything, knowing it’s addictive. Sadly, regulations allow for them to often hide these and other sweeteners or nasty additives under the terms “natural or artificial additives” or something similar in wording. Read the nutrition label and look at those carbs. There’s really NO reason for a can or bottle of pasta sauce to have high carbs (as an example). A medium tomato only has roughly 4 1/2 carbs. Pasta sauce doesn’t need to be anymore than tomatoes, water and seasonings (salt pepper, oregano, basil & garlic).

Even some meats aren’t exempt. Look at the carb counts on sausages, processed sandwich meat, and similar products. It’s one thing if that Brat is loaded with cheese, but if it’s plain and has 50 carbs, guarantee you there’s sugar or HFCS added.

If you really want to know how pervasive this is, I’d HIGHLY recommend picking up the book “The Case Against Sugar” by Gary Taubes. It’s a fascinating investigation into the food industry’s use of sugar to keep people addicted to their products.

Fair Warning; you’re likely to become pretty disgusted by both the practices you’ll learn about and how long it’s been going on.

Portion Sizes and Dietary Fiber:

Two quick last things before I wrap up here. The first is portion sizes to manipulate data. Soft Drink manufacturers used to pull this regularly to hide total calories and carbs. They’d say a single can was three portions and print the data for one third of the can to make it look less unhealthy. Other parts of the food industry have caught on to this trick and use it. Make sure that portion sizes are the same so you’re comparing similar data. If not, you’ll have to do some mental math or bring a calculator to accurately compare.

Dietary fiber is something you’re not likely to know about unless you have at least one diabetic in the family. Between my two marriages, I’ve had four. Long story short, one of the many benefits of dietary fiber is that it helps the body process carbs. SO, for every gram of dietary fiber you see on the nutrition label, you can subtract one gram of carbs from the effective total.

A great example here is a favorite cereal of mine; Kellogg’s Cracklin’ Oat Bran. It fools you by looking healthy. With all the brown sugar on it though, a 3/4 cup portion has 44 grams of carbs, without milk. HOWEVER, since it has 7 grams of fiber (one of the highest in a major brand cereal), the effective carb count becomes 37, which isn’t too bad. It’s still dangerous though because they taste so good it’s hard to eat just one bowl or avoid snacking on them. 🙂

Conclusion:

Hidden carbs are everywhere. It pays to be an educated consumer and avidly read nutrition labels. Calories wrongly get all the attention. It’s carbs that are the bigger danger to your waist line and long term health.

With so much processed food containing either sugar, high fructose corn syrup or some similarly heinous sweetener, I’d strongly advise my readers to make more of their food from scratch also. It is time consuming, but it’s rewarding and nothing compares to homemade. 😉

Reblog: Meat Shopping Tips

With the pandemic impacting store inventories, I’m seeing quite a bit of really lousy meat and produce on the shelves. Between that and my being pressed for time, I’m reblogging a post from mid-2019 on shopping for meat. Shop carefully and stay safe.

I’m going to change gears here a little.  EARLY on in the blog here, I made it known that cooking is one of my other loves. 🙂  Anything from near competition level Southern BBQ to baking cakes and cheesecakes.  Am I world class?  No, not quite, but I’m darned good.

Apologies to any non-carnivores here, but since I run into the problem of finding fresh cuts of meat, I thought I’d share some info for readers.

First, let’s address the obvious question; what does it matter?  High end steak houses age their steaks a long time, right?  Yes, they do.  It’s a special process that is different from just leaving food to sit in a store or home refrigerator though.  The final part of that process also involves scraping and trimming mold off the surface of the meat also.  Some folks are OK with that, but the idea of eating meat that used to be covered with mold is gross to me.  What the dry aging process also does is take moisture out of the meat to concentrate the flavor of the remaining meat and juices.  You’re taking the steak part way to jerky for the sake of flavor.

I’m getting a bit off topic though.  My point is it’s a different deal getting an aged steak at a restaurant and having something sit around in the store forever.  I will quickly add that if you’ve ever had freshly butchered meat, there’s a world of difference between that and store bought or aged meat.

Hopefully the stores in your area are better than the ones in my city, but using food coloring or nitrogen to make meat look fresh longer is getting to be a very common trick as grocery stores try to stretch profits.  You can potentially end up with something that looks good on the surface, but is brown and starting to rot inside.

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The above picture was meat I was going to cut up for fajitas…  Until I saw the brown in the middle.  What you have there is food coloring, probably injected as well as surface dunked.  Hence the weird ring of brown

Food coloring is easy to spot.  When you’re inspecting the meat, does it look to be a natural color of red?  That meat above was borderline on looking right color-wise.  One of the most blatant examples I personally found though was this:

IMG_1317

No, you’re not seeing things, that $18 a pound filet Mignon IS indeed fire engine red…  Even the fat!  So are the beef kabobs next to them.  Talk about food colored to death.  That’s the meat counter at Sprouts; a supposedly upscale grocer that prides itself on fresh and natural.  Lesson for the day; even “high end” grocery stores can try to pull a fast one on you.

Food coloring is getting to be out of favor though.  There’s a new technique used by grocers and meat distributors; spraying the meat with nitrogen gas.

Contrary to how that may initially sound, it’s not inherently a bad thing.  Nitrogen will slow the natural oxidation of the meat, which is a big part of what makes it spoil.  It’s similar to the reasons athletes and body builders use nitrogen based supplements and some places put nitrogen in car tires instead of air.

The problem comes when grocery stores ignore and refresh the pull dates because the meat still looks good on the surface.  Nitrogen won’t penetrate all the way through the meat so the center decays while the surface looks good.  Since the nitrogen is also rarely applied to every square inch of the meat, careful examination can turn up brown spots before you buy:

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Now, note that is a USDA Prime cut of Brisket, which is the highest quality available.  More there in a bit.  This Brisket was also being sold by Costco, which used to pride itself on high quality and doing right by it’s members.  Does that big stripe of brown look quality to you?  It’s an indication that there’s more brown under the surface though.

So how do you find good meat if it’s all treated with Nitrogen?  It still comes back to color.  Nitrogen chases the oxygen out of the tissue and fluids, and oxygen is what gives meat it’s red color when it’s fresh.  SO, when it’s still early after it’s treatment, the meat will have a bit more of a pinkish color but still look fresh.  After it’s sat a while, the meat will get permeated by oxygen again, and turn more of it’s natural color:

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THAT is probably a good tri-tip.  It’s red, the color is even and where the color varies, it’s more of a pinkish color like the bottom center.

What you want to look for and avoid is this:

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See how it looks red at first glance, but the steak that’s second from the top is showing brown in the left 2/3 of it?  The steak right below that one is faintly showing some brown also.  A discerning eye can save you some heartache and even more stomach ache.

If you have any doubts about the quality of the meat when you get it home and open it, cut a small slit in it and look inside.  Yes, you may lose a bit of juices when you cook but it’s better than eating iffy meat.  Better safe than sorry.

To be fair, meat like those Sam’s Club steaks above may not be far enough gone to present a health risk, particularly if you have a reasonably strong system.  With steaks costing $10 a pound though, don’t you deserve to get reasonable value and the most flavor for your money?

One last thing.  I mentioned above I’d talk about the differences between the USDA’s grades of meat.  This won’t apply outside the U.S. but many other places have similar systems.  A quick internet search can turn up info for you

In the U.S. we have three grades of meat:

Prime is the highest grade, and is the the most tender with the best marbling of fat.  It’s also the most expensive.  Typically it’s only found at better quality restaurants.  Real butcher shops and a few places like Costco will also have it usually.

Choice is the mid grade of meat.  This is what most grocery stores and low to mid quality restaurants typically carry.  While not quite as tender as prime and not having quite as even a level of marbling of fat, it’s still a good quality of meat, especially in the hands of a good chef.

Select is the lowest grade of meat.  It’s edible but won’t be as tender as the other grades, and will have less fat or more uneven fat marbling, meaning a higher potential for it to be dry after cooking.