Saturday, July 13, 2013

How to live on steak for a hamburger budget

Living on steak for a hamburger budget.

So today’s entry leaves me with a problem, how do I get information on how to eat steak for hamburger prices out there without offending my vegetarian readers with pictures of big chunks of meat being cut up in all of its messy glory? Since the nature of the Blogspot is that every article goes in on top of the previous one, if I put up an entry with big pictures of meat, someone who finds that offensive will scroll onto it when reading future entries. So out of sensitivity to the needs of my readers who are not into this kind of thing I will break from the way I have seen things done and put the text of this up in the Blog window and have the complete story with all of the glorious pictures elsewhere in PDF form. I posted that on a back page of my websitewhere I will eventually mirror a lot of the content that may not work so well for blogspot (I am a photographer, and often use a lot of pictures)

Here is the PDF with all of the pictures

You ask me “how is this possible? Steak for hamburger prices?” so I went to my local Wegmanls supermarket (2017 edit: Wegmans has cut back on the whole eye of round, but Maines Restaurant Supply and Costco are good sources) and purchased a whole Eye of Round Roast for $3.59 per pound. While I was there I looked and the single pound packages of 80 percent ground beef were selling for $3.69 per pound.  The small package 90 percent ground was another buck per pound and then the 95 percent was another buck.
Back to the cut in question. Wegmans sells these as “Club Pack” 3 or more pounds, other stores call it something else, basically you buy a whole cut of meat and do the slicing yourself and it is cheaper. Effectively rather than cutting the meat up into smaller pieces, they leave it in the vacuum wrap they got it from the wholesaler in and slap a label or 3 on it and put it out (how do I know this? I used to be the guy doing just that at one of the local Wegmans meat departments) Beyond price there are several advantages to buying this way, the first being longer expiration dating since the meat has not been exposed to any potential contamination from the cutting room you might have a week or 3 or more as long as you keep it refrigerated below 40 degrees and unopened, (you can also watch the expiration dates on these and if they are still on the shelf the day before the sell by date most managers discount them by 20-40 percent rather than take a total loss on them, usually this happens between 8 am and noon) the second is that you can cut it exactly to your needs. Say you want to do steaks for your first night camping, but the next night is going to be an intimate night around the campfire, and you have an old fencing sword blade (or in my case a dress rapier made in India) that you have been saving to use as a barbeque spit and while everyone else is doing hot dogs you want to show off and do a beef roast, and maybe you want to do a quick beef and broccoli stir fry before heading off for the weekend, and then there is the whole question of what is for dinner on Monday.  .  .  Perfect! One end will be the roast, the other end will be stir fry beef and the middle will make a few meals worth of steaks. In this case I wanted to do primarily steaks with  the end bits that don’t make pretty steaks cut up for stirfry.
The first thing you want to do once you have your meat home is to prepare your workspace and tools. I like to have a cutting board, a tray pan with waxed paper in it to put the steaks into in preparation for vacuum packing (the vacuum machine manufacturer reccomends pre-freezing the steaks before bagging) and several extra pieces of wax paper to go between the steaks, a very sharp reasonably small knife with a little curve to the edge (I do not recommend serrations for this kind of work) and a meat cutting fork. I like to wear food safety gloves, both to keep my hands clean, and to minimize the risk of food handling issues. The knife I use for this work is one of my 15th Century design knives based on the design of knife # 265 on page 103 (with missing profile details extrapolated from knife # 118 on page 92) of the Knives and Scabbards book 
( ) which I made from Crucible Particle Metallurgy Steel CPM154 hardened to a Rockwell of 60 for extreme sharpness and edge holding (I sell these knives for $150, yes I know shameless product placement, hey it’s my blog) anyway you want a knife that has a small enough blade to do detail work, a bit of a curve to the edge to make for efficient slicing, a keen enough edge to cut easily and cleanly, and the blade long enough to reach all the way through the steak, and that is comfortable to work with.
I put the meat in the package on the countertop, make a single cut lengthwise through the packaging, lift the meat out through the cut, leaving the juices in the bottom of the package and place the meat on the cutting board. The package goes in the sink to drain (the package never gets placed on the cutting board to keep any contamination on the package from getting to your cutting board, I also change gloves between touching the package and touching the meat just to be safe) 

Roasts typically have a fat layer left on them to keep them moist in the oven as they are slowly cooked, steaks typically have very little fat left on them. I typically use a dry rub on campfire roasts so I treat them like steaks. The first thing you want to decide is what you want to use the various parts for, and how to trim them. If you are doing oven roasts, keep the fat layer in place for that portion of the meat, everything else it is faster to trim before you cut than to trim the individual pieces.

If I am planning oven roasts I will just cut that portion off before I start doing steaks and set them aside (on the waxed paper) before trimming the rest. You start the trim by placingthe edge of the knife on the meat where it joins the fat layer, parallel to the meat and pulling the blade in a gentle but quick slicing motion with light pressure on the blade. You want to basically skim the meat separating it from the fat using gentle slicing cuts. You can use the fork to hold the fat  so you can see what you are doing if you are uncomfortable with having your hands that close to the blade. Remember that to an extremely sharp knife your fingers are just more meat and cut just as easily. You want to be aware of where the edge is at all times amnd never cut toward your fingers. An extremely sharp knife is actually safer than a dull one because the amount of force you need to put into cutting is almost non existant with a sharp knife which minimizes the potential for accidents. A dull knife is dangerous because you have to push hard to get it to do anything, and that force has to go somewhere, and if something slips you are in trouble. Anyway, back to the work at hand. You want to try to trim as much of the fat as possible off, as well as any of the somewhat fibrous sheathing .

The easiest way to make sure you get great steaks is to mark out your cuts ahead of time. I didn’t do that on this roast, but it is easy enough (and with this knife being approximately 1 inch from edge to spine which happens to be an ideal thickness for tenderloin steaks (Filet Mignon is best at between an inch and 1 1/4 inches) strip Steaks are best at about an inch, as are ribeyes, for the eye of round I go between a half inch and 3/4 inch. Marking is simple, start at the middle and make evenly spaced shallow parallel cuts at the thickness you want your steaks until you get to the funky shapes at the ends which will become stirfry meat, or the sections you are setting aside for roasts. I was working quickly so I just lopped off the stirfry meat at the end, cut steaks until I got to the roast section on the other end, stopped to show that, then cut a few more steaks until I got to the stirfry section on the other end.

Anyway, back to the task at hand. Once you have figured out what you are cutting, cut through the meat in long steady strokes taking advantage of the full length of the cutting edge. If your knife is properly sharpened , you should be able to cut through the whole thickness of the roast in one or two slicing motions (do not make sawing motions, if you need to saw at it your knife is not sharp) while holding the meat in place either with a slicing fork or your other hand. I prefer my hand, but I have years of practice supporting what I am cutting while keeping my hands and other parts out of the path of the edge, if you are uncertain, use a fork..

Once everything is cut I lay it out on waxed paper on a cookie sheet with waxed paper between layers (anything I am not puting straight on the barbeque or in the meat drawer) and put it in the freezer for an hour so that it keeps ts shape when I bag it, and either put it in Ziplock freezer weight bags or vacuum sealer bags with what it is and when I packaged it written in sharpie, and freeze it. If you make sure any extra air is pressed ut or vacuumed out and seal it well, the meat will easily keep for 6 months in the freezer.
Here is the PDF with all of the pictures

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Cooler packing for living well.

Ok, now that I have a blog, and some readers, where to begin. Well obviously the most important thing to living well besides dry bedding and socks (and this will be confirmed as probably the most important by the folks that camped in freezing rain this Memorial Day Weekend in the Northeast) is food. I will come back to food often because it is really the easiest way to live well without increasing your budget substantially.

The first thing I should probably touch on since the summer camping event season is upon us is cooler packing. One investment that will pay for itself in short order is a "5 day" type of cooler. If you already have a conventional cooler, don't throw it out, the best way to make sure that your food is still good when you need it is a two cooler system.

The idea of the two cooler system is simple, you have one cooler for things that are thawed and things like drinks that you will be going into constantly, and your "freezer" cooler which has things like tomorrow and the next couple of day's dinner meat, butter for tomorrow, and anything else that you don't need within the next 12-18 hours that can be frozen. The two cooler system takes a bit of strategic meal planning to gain full benefit. For longer events (several days or more) you start with your least perishable meats frozen on the bottom, (either double bagged in freezer weight ziplock bags, or vacuum sealed) things like sliced cured  hams can survive thawing and being a little too warm. They are one of the safest meats as they are essentially cooked and ready to eat. It is important to safely seal all meats in a cooler, but especially it is important to seal something that could potentially be eaten without cooking to be absolutely sure to avoid cross contamination.
The next thing in would be beef. Steak or roasts are a great choice for camping, as they do not have to be cooked all  the way through to high temperature to be safe. Hamburger is not really a good idea, as the processing of hamburger makes it necessary to cook it all of the way through and it has a very short thawed shelf life. Pork is one of those meats that you can do if you are careful, but you either want to have it sliced thin before you cook it so you can eyeball it and have confidence that there were no thick spots that are still pink, or preferably carry an instant read thermometer with you and make sure that it is at the recommended safe internal temperature. Poultry, if you choose to bring it for camp food (yes, it is cheap protein and extremely versatile) should be very well contained and should go in your freezer cooler already thawed, and really if you are going to do poultry as camping food, you should have an instant read thermeter, good safety gloves, and bleach wipes in your kitchen kit. Perhaps I am a little bit overcautious on the food safety side of things, but having worked as a prep cook in a 4 star French restaurant, a grill cook at a college lunchroom, and then as a customer service rep and demonstration cook in the meat department at my local Wegmans supermarket, food safety is kind of important to me.

Probably now is a good time to provide a link to the government chart of safe cooking temperatures for meats and seafood

This is a good chart to print out and keep in your kitchen (and maybe laminate and velcro to your cooler too) being aware of your safe cooking temperatures is a good start to making sure you don't make yourself and others sick and ruin your event experience.

Anyway, back to packing the freezer cooler. I always start by making sure the meats are all safely double sealed to avoid the issue of leaking and cross contamination, especially if at some point loose ice needs to be added. I typically will freeze a couple of gallon jugs of bottled water in my downstairs chest freezer to act as block ice, and 1 liter bottled waters for smaller ice, then a day before it is time to pack the cooler I will start chilling it by rotating bottles of ice into it so that the cooler itself comes down to freezing. Then once the time has come for packing it, the last bottles and jugs that went into pre chilling the freezer cooler go into the thawed foods cooler, (as long as they are still frozen) and fresh bottles of ice line the bottom with a jug of ice on at least one end. On top if the layer of ice bottles goes the end of the week frozen meats (hams, beef roasts, steaks) followed by the meats planned for earlier in the week, usually frozen, followed by any poultry that I plan to cook the first day which goes in thawed on top of the frozen stuff and triple wrapped because I am paranoid.I try to make sure that things like extra butter and other items that freeze well that will be used towards the end of the trip get hard frozen and go into the freezer cooler. Things that do not go into the freezer cooler are eggs, cheese, fresh carrots and other items that get damaged easily by freezing.

This is a basic guideline, I have found these techniques, along with making sure the coolers are protected from direct sun work really well for being able to camp with great food even for long events (Pennsic for instance) without having to spend lots of money.

Next article, how to do steaks at hamburger prices.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

What is Living well in these modern middle ages?
It is a complex concept.

Those of us who are active in a Medieval recreation society called the Society for Creative Anachronism often refer to it as "the modern Middle Ages" as we are doing the best aspects of the Middle Ages and Renaissance sans plague, sans pestilence, sans dysentery, sans raw sewage in the streets.

We fight with swords, shoot arrows, play music, eat lavish feasts prepared from medieval and renaissance recipes, wear clothing drafted from historic patterns using fabrics that were in use at the time, and drink beverages brewed from period recipes, and we look damn good doing it.
You ask how can you look damn good wearing uncomfortable clothes, eating bland food camped in a field? that is where the living well thing comes in. Yes we are camped in a field.

Our clothing is comfortable and fits well, the food is great and, oh yes we are not spending huge amounts of money to go it. Are we glamor camping? no, not really (although sometimes it looks like it) our friend Danny, well, he is. We know how to do things with style, and how to have the important parts perfectly documentable at some level. It's the little things, like buying roasts and knowing how to make great steaks from budget meats. My wife wanted veil pins after reading that in period the Flemish pins were the most sought after in Europe, I found 14th Century Flemish pins at an antiquities dealer and figured out how to make them. There are many little things that go into living well, and I will try to share some of them in this blog.
This is my first attempt at doing something like this so be gentle with me. I will be sharing things like recipes (I will try to get the recipe for the lamb empanadas my wife made last week to start with) how to cut a tenderloin roast for making filet, how to make portable camp furniture that packs flat, great people I know  who make clothing, pottery, and other items that I deal with, and of course some of the solutions I make.

Welcome to my little corner of the known world

I am known in the Society for Creative Anachronism as Master John Michael Thorpe (OL)
In real life I am F. Page Steinhardt, proprietor of Sunshadow Design, I make jewelry, knives, and historical replicas