Let’s face it. I love to cook.
I love all things associated with cooking, from shopping to washing dishes. I love planning menus, whether for parties or every day meals. I love writing my grocery lists, talking to the butchers, the produce workers and the checkers in my favorite grocery stores here in the valley. In a department store, I always gravitate toward the kitchen department. Buying me a gift? Make it something for my kitchen, please.
One thing I have learned throughout the food experience is the wisdom of getting to know your butcher and your produce manager.
Up here in our part of the valley, Adam at Ben Lomond Market is always willing to share his wealth of knowledge about certain cuts of meat and their preparation. Adam can always find that particular jar of caviar from his suppliers that I often use as an appetizer for the SLV Gourmet Dinner Club’s dinners.
And Andy, the market’s produce manager, will always bring in fresh quail eggs given two days’ notice.
Anthony, the meat department manager at New Leaf, will usually take time to give pointers, such as when he explained to me that fryer/broiler chickens packaged without gizzards are referred to as “wogs” and are usually available fresh and between 2½ and 3 pounds at the market.
Over a glass of wine at Scopazzi’s Restaurant in Boulder Creek, I had a great conversation with Martin, the meat department manager at Johnnie’s Market, about Certified Black Angus beef.
Martin, in his charming English accent, carefully explained to me that to sell C.A.B., one must be licensed by the American Angus Association. Angus beef are black-hided cattle, and to be sold as C.A.B., this beef must also meet certain specifications as set by the American Angus Association.
Independent U.S. Department of Agriculture graders inspect all cattle and label it according to the grading scale: Prime, Choice, Select and several low-quality grades.
The same independent USDA graders inspect black-hided cattle (typical of the Angus breed) and give it a grade. All beef considered for the CAB brand must be the best Choice or Prime beef — truly the top of the scale.
Using the Angus Association’s set of 10 science-based specifications for marbling, size and uniformity, this top-quality beef is evaluated once again, and if it makes the cut, it earns the Certified Angus Beef label either as Prime or Choice — prime having the most marbling of fat.
Marbling, the little white flecks in beef, is key to flavor. These tiny specks melt during cooking and help prevent overcooking, all the while producing more flavorful juices.
Do not mistake “prime rib” for the Prime grade of beef; it has nothing to do with it. It’s simply the name of a particular cut, as in prime rib roast. If you want to ensure that you are getting the best quality, you would ask for a prime rib roast from “Prime graded beef.”
With the price of groceries rapidly climbing while packaging is getting smaller, I have decided to stay with the very best quality while reducing the amount of beef I serve.
By increasing the size of vegetable servings, I have also been watching my hubby’s waistline slowly diminishing in size. This has been a good thing.
Using Certified Angus Beef in the accompanying recipe will make you and your dinner guests happy that you did.
- Colly Gruczelak, a Ben Lomond resident, loves people and loves to cook. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
OPEN-FACED BEEF WELLINGTONS
1 sheet (9½ by 9 inches) Pepperidge Farms puff pastry, thawed according to directions on box
4 center-cut tenderloin steaks, lightly salted and peppered.
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
4 tablespoons butter, divided
10 ounces cremini mushrooms, thinly sliced
1 shallot, minced
½ cup red wine
¼ cup chicken broth
1 tablespoon fresh parsley, minced
Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
On a lightly floured board, unfold pastry and cut into quarters. Place on a parchment-lined baking sheet and bake 15 minutes.
While pastry is baking, heat oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Cook steaks until well browned and meat registers 125 degrees (medium rare).
Remove from heat and transfer to a plate. Tent with foil.
In skillet with meat drippings, add 2 tablespoons butter, shallots and mushrooms and cook until tender, 4 to 6 minutes.
Add wine and broth to mushroom mixture and cook slowly for 5 minutes. Remove from heat and add remaining 2 tablespoons butter and parsley.
To serve, top each puff pastry with 1 steak and ¼ of mushroom mixture. Mashed potatoes are an excellent side dish.
— Adapted from Colly Gruczelak