Wednesday, October 10, 2012

A Day with the Colorado Beef Producers and Colorado State University: Slow Cooked Beef Pot Roast with Sour Cream Gravy

Like most people I give a lot of thought these days about the food I feed to my family.  Every time I shop I spend much of my time reading labels and weighing the pros and cons of organic and natural versus conventionally raised meat and produce, and the effect of their cost on my bank account.  With a stressed economy, financial considerations are now the number one concern of more and more households.  Studies show that 95% of consumers make their purchases based on price.

When it comes to cost, volume shopping can certainly help cut down the cost of food, but where does that leave those who have been impacted by the economy and can't afford to buy large supplies of food all at one time?  Or what about people who live in small apartments in crowed urban areas and don't have room to store large quantities of food? Shopping for a family can be a real balancing act.

Fact is that most of us have regular size kitchens and regular size pocket books.  Personally, I don't know of anyone who wouldn't prefer to buy 100% of their food from organic producers if they could afford it.  This is why when you read my recipes I never specifically call for organic ingredients.  I figure that if you can afford them, that's what you'll use, and if you can't well, no judgments here.

A few weeks ago Barb of Creative Culinary asked me if I'd like to tag along with her to a seminar put on by the Colorado Beef Producers and Colorado State University called Beef + Transparency = Trust.  Promising to throw back the covers and show all sides of conventionally produced beef, the sponsors and producers tempted us with a day of speakers, interesting information and a Wagyu beef lunch.  Lunch aside I really was thinking that I'd rather take a stick in the eye, but knowing that this is something I really need to learn more about, I reluctantly agreed to go, and I am really glad that I did.  This turned out to be a really interesting day.

When we arrived at the hotel we could tell that something big was going on and it probably wasn't our seminar.  From the looks of all the cops and big guys in black suits with earpieces, it was apparent that we had either stumbled into the lair of one of the presidential contenders or Justin Bieber was in town.  Well darn, it wasn't Justin Bieber, but all the excitement did perk us up a bit.

So we checked-in and got down to business.  Starting with the basics, there are four different classifications of meat on the American market and they are broken down as follows:

1.  Organic
- Born and raised on certified organic pastures
- Never received antibiotics
- Never received growth-promoting hormones
- Are fed only certified organic grains and grasses
- Must have unrestricted outdoor access
*Certain vitamin supplements and vaccines are allowed under the organic guidelines to insure and improve the health of the animals.

2.  Grass Fed -
- Generally this is defined by cattle that have eaten only grass or forage throughout their lives.  Some producers do call their beef grass fed but then actually finish the animals on grain for the last 90 to 160 days before they are slaughtered.
Grass Finished -
Finishing is just another word for the time that cattle are normally fattened for the last few months before processing. Typically, feed lots finish cattle for 90 to 160 days on grain, usually corn, whereas, grass finished cattle are fattened on grass only until the day that they are processed.

3.  Natural -
- The product must be minimally processed.
- The product cannot contain any artificial ingredients.
- The product cannot contain any preservatives.
*The USDA has no specific restriction on management practices during the life of the animal.

4.  Conventional -
- Conventional beef is from cattle that spend most of their lives grazing on grass in pastures but are "finished" for the last 120 - 200 days in a feeding operation (feed lot) where they receive a formulated diet or grain, roughage and nutrient supplements.
- Cattle may be given antimicrobials/antibiotics to prevent diseases and to treat illnesses such as bovine respiratory disease.  There is a mandatory 42 day withdrawal (waiting) period before human consumption and a prescription is needed.
- Cattle may be given small amounts of hormones to replace those their bodies do not produce because they have been castrated to avoid aggressiveness.  These hormones aid growth and reduce methane production.  There is no withdrawal time for any of the approved hormone implants available in the US.

Personally, I understand the limited use of antibiotics.  If you have sick cattle, it would be inhumane not to treat them and let them suffer.  I do feel comfortable with the FDA approved withdrawal time before human consumption and the necessity for a prescription.  I also believe that it would not be economically sound for ranchers to capriciously overuse them.

I must admit that hormones in meat still bother me.  I think we've all heard of the theories of the affects of  hormones in our food.  My main concern, children entering puberty at earlier and earlier ages.  If you look around there are many foods that naturally contain hormones and according to studies, hormones found in beef are one of the minor offenders in the food chain, but it is the collective effects of all the hormones we consume that make me squirm.  I am uncomfortable about the addition of them to our food no matter how small.

As the day moved on, we watched interesting and thought provoking presentations from industry leaders and experts in the fields of  sustainability, animal health, animal care, human health in relationship to protein in the diet and a fascinating hour with Dr. Temple Grandin discussing animal well-being and society.

For those of you who may be unfamiliar with Dr. Grandin, she is a  Professor of Animal Science at Colorado State University and a world renown designer of livestock handling facilities.  Not only was she named one of Time Magazine's 100 most influential people in 2010, she was also the subject of the popular HBO movie, "Temple Grandin" which chronicled her life and her journey through autism. 

Even though I was really looking forward to her talk because of my concern for the treatment of livestock, I was also dreading this segment the most because I knew we would probably have to see video or photos of animals being slaughtered.  Sure enough, as the video began a warning popped up on the screen.  Telling myself that if I am going to eat meat I owe these animals the respect of facing how they die, I kept my eyes fixed on the screen and watched.  It was difficult.

Thanks to Dr. Grandin's efforts, the animals that are directed through her curved chutes and center track restrainer system, then shot in the proper manner with a captive bolt stunner are killed in a quick, low stress and humane manner.  She has also developed an objective scoring system for assessing handling of pigs and cattle at meat plants to improve their last hours of life.  I can't possibly emphasize enough how important I believe her work is in promoting animal welfare.

We were also introduced to fourth generation Colorado cattle rancher Sara Shields, who spoke to us on the more personal side of ranching.  Her passion and love for her family business, the land and its wildlife, and the animals she raises was really quite emotional.  Being from rural Texas, I have known many cattle ranchers and all of them, without exception, love what they do and are respectful of the animals and the land that supports them.  I find it comforting that they feed their families the same meat that they produce and sell to the public.  It is independent ranchers like these who raise 98% of this nation's beef.

While there are many vocal opponents of conventionally raised beef, fact is that 95% of Americans consume it, while 4% prefer to buy organic, low fat, natural or grass fed beef, and the remaining 1% are vegetarians/vegans.  This post is in no way written to encourage consumption of any one type of beef.  The food you choose to eat and serve your family is a very personal decision. 

To be quite honest we don't eat that much beef at my house, but when we do we really enjoy it.  After my day with the Colorado Beef Producers I must admit that I do feel better about eating beef. . . all types of it.  If you are part of the 4% that eat only organic or natural, my congratulations to you.  If you are part of the population that buy and eat conventionally raised beef I hope you learned a little something about the choices you make and feel just a bit more informed about what you put on the table.

One additional bit of information that we learned on this day is the reason that inexpensive cuts of meat seem to be dwindling off store shelves.  It seems that modern beef consumers prefer to buy meat that can be prepared in 30 minutes or less, passing on the cheaper cuts of meat that take much longer to cook. Nowadays many of our mother and grandmother's favorites are being ground into hamburger meat which makes me a little bit sad.  There's just something about a slow cooked pot roast on a cold winter's night that is so comforting.

Luckily I am still able to find these less expensive cuts of meat on occasion.  Since today is a beautiful cool fall day here in Colorado, I'm firing up the slow cooker and filling it with savory goodness.  My family is really going to enjoy this change of pace. 

Slow Cooked Beef Pot Roast with Sour Cream Gravy

1 - 2-1/2 to 3 pound chuck pot roast
2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons oil
1 cup beef broth
1/2 cup red wine
1 large clove garlic, crushed
1 bay leaf
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme

Season roast on both sides with equal amounts of the salt and pepper before dusting both sides with the flour; set aside.

Heat the oil in a medium size skillet over medium high heat.  Sear the roast on both sides and transfer it into a slow cooker or baking dish.  Deglaze the skillet by adding the beef broth and stirring to remove any bits on the bottom.  Add the wine and stir.  Pour the liquid over the roast.  Add the garlic, bay leaf and dried thyme.

Cover the slow cooker or covered baking dish and if using a slow cooker, cook on low for approximately 4 - 6 hours or until fork tender.  If baking in the oven cook in a 325 degree oven for approximately 2 hours or so checking for tenderness before removing from oven.

Serve with sour cream mushroom gravy, recipe follows.

Sour Cream Mushroom Gravy:

2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
4 ounces sliced button mushrooms
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
3 cups liquid (strain and measure drippings from the slow cooker or baking dish and add enough water to measure 3 cups)
2/3 cup sour cream

In a skillet set over medium high heat melt butter with the oil.  Add the mushrooms and saute for approximately 5 minutes or until they soften.

Sprinkle the mushrooms with the flour and stir to coat.  While stirring, add the liquid to the pan.  Continue stirring until mixture comes to a simmer and thickens.  Add sour cream and stir well to incorporate.  Reduce heat to low to keep warm until serving.

Serves 4 - 6


Holly @ said...

What an informative post, thanks for all of the information about the cattle industry. I need a nice pot roast recipe to share with my parents when they visit in a few weeks- thanks!

Barbara | Creative Culinary said...

What a thoughtful post Karen; I think we both learned some valuable information that day and you mirrored many of my thoughts; including the passion of the people involved towards both their animal charges and the humans that will eventually be the consumers of their efforts. Kudos to you for being honest about your choices too; we all have to just do the very best we can each do.

Pat @ Mille Fiori Favoriti said...

This was a very interesting post and it helped me understand the differences between beef classification. Your pot roast looks so delicious and perfect for this time of the year!

DaniD said...

This sounds delicious!!! I love the picture...

Janice said...

I love pot roast, but I love the leftovers even more... cold or hot beef sandwiches, Yum. I've been researching different recipes since discovering grass fed beef. This one looks delicious.

Gwyn said...

Yeah me too, I was just looking for some recipes when I stumbled upon your blog. I definitely learned a few things today in addition to the recipe that I'm going to borrow from you. Just with the looks of it, I'm sure it's delicious. I'll get back at you after I try it out.

Nancy said...

I thoroughly enjoyed reading your post. Your experience is similar to mine when talking to farmers about the food they raise! I also agree with you about the slow cooked cuts of meat - lucky for me I can still find most of them in my local grocery store!! That pot roast sounds fabulous!!