a few days ago, on the drive home from work, I decided to make my family dinner. no special occasion and it is not unusual for us to eat dinner at home nor for me to make it but there are distinct limitations to our evening meals. nevertheless, this is what I set out to do and I meant to cook a few specific items I had been working my way up to for a few weeks. it turned into a hunting expedition and perhaps, an unfortunate statement about our produce system.
a bit of background: we do not usually go grocery shopping on weekends and even when we do, we rarely buy meats for the week. the reason for this unusual lifestyle is two-fold. first, we have not really adjusted to the family lifestyle so ALL errands are left for the weekend and we do not have a standing errand to shop for food. breakfast is usually cereal and milk or yogurt which is delivered by a milkman bi-weekly, lunch is eaten at work and dinner varies between planned outings, leftovers or the frustrated pantry dinner. weekends, with all the errands, usually lead to meals out. the result of this rhythm is that when I have endeavored to purchase fresh meat or produce it has invariably been more wasted than enjoyed - spoiled vegetables stored too long or meat that spends a few days too many in the fridge or goes into the freezer only to be defrosted too early or too late to be useable. there is no good excuse for all this, we are improving. the biggest challenge is dinner.
my husband decided to try Plated. Plated is a food delivery service that provides a package of all the ingredients you need for a meal in the correct quantities, pre-washed, with a recipe for how to prepare the meal. each meal takes 20-30 min to prepare and comes in generous portions. the only ingredients they presume you already have are oil, eggs, salt and pepper. I cannot stress enough, this has been an AMAZING experiment into pre-packed meals. there have been quite a few very memorable recipes but all have been new to us and we have immensely enjoyed nearly all the flavors (duds are invariable on occasion).
on this particular day, I was thinking back to two early recipes we had tried: 'Hanger Steak Salad with Herb Vinaigrette and Tomato Strata' and 'Hanger Steak with Sweet and Sour Carrots and Goat Cheese' (pic below). the hanger steak had left a very good impression and I enjoyed how easy it is to prepare so I decided to get some for dinner that night.
A hanger steak is a cut of beef steak prized for its flavor. Derived from the diaphragm of a steer or heifer, it typically weighs about 1.0 to 1.5 lb (450 to 675 g). In the past, it was sometimes known as "butcher's steak" because butchers would often keep it for themselves rather than offer it for sale.
Hanger steak resembles flank steak in texture and flavor. The hanger steak is usually the tenderest cut on an animal and is best marinated and cooked quickly over high heat (grilled or broiled) and served rare or medium rare.
The diaphragm is one muscle, commonly cut into two separate cuts of meat: the "hanger steak", traditionally considered more flavorful, and the outer skirt steak, composed of tougher muscle within the diaphragm.
...by definition, it is a delicious cut of meat. I had purchased some fresh rainbow chard and dino kale the previous Friday and was very excited to try 'Becky's Braised Greens' from Feeding the Whole Family by Cynthia Lair. I had also tried for the first time to make beans from scratch (dried beans) the previous day and was eager to incorporate them into the meal and as Cynthia Lair had suggested, the beans would pair well with the greens for my daughter to try as well. she is very interested in feeding herself so finger foods like beans are perfect. there I was poised on the edge of a proper home-cooked meal save for one small piece of meat.
my daughter's school is next to a Fred Meyer and it is usually our go-to grocery store so I started there, thinking I would quickly pick up the meat, followed by my daughter and get home with plenty of time to relax and cook. I searched through the meat case and finally asked the people behind the meat counter. I was told there has been no hanger steak ordered and I asked for an alternative suggestion. I was pointed to some skirt steak (too much, wrong shape) followed by a chuck steak (wrong cut orientation to the grain) and finally to a flatiron steak. the flatiron was very tempting but it was too much meat for the meal I was preparing and I knew we would never actually use the remainder. I have also just finished reading The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan so looking at the meat counter and this prepacked, vacuum-sealed, USDA-stamped piece of beef made me uncomfortable. 'uncomfortable' is the best word I know for what I felt because I paced this meat counter for about 20 minutes looking at the chicken options, the frozen meat options, I even considered a trout until I was told that didn't have that either. I kept coming back to the flatiron but I couldn't bring myself to...commit to the ramifications of purchasing it.
disappointed, I walked out without dinner. I picked up my daugher and with renewed hope continued on to the local PCC market. call it an organic, hippy, boutique, overpriced grocery but at least I can comfortably call the woman behind the meat counter a butcher; that lady knows her animal products! without a moment hesitation she told me that they only consistently sell the unique cuts of beef during the summer (I suspect there are economic reasons for this as all cows still have this muscle regardless of when they are butchered but fewer people grill in the colder months and do not seek out these cuts). she also pointed me to two small pieces of tri-tip cut at just the right angle to be treated like the hanger steak would have been. 100% grass fed beef and locally raised, these two pieces together at 1/2 lb. cost less than the 1 lb of flatiron at the larger grocery but I felt completely comfortable with this purchase from all perspectives. I still wonder what happens to all the hanger steaks during the fall and winter but that is a concern of a different sort.
true to form, the meat was a close approximation to what I was looking for. it was a tad tougher but it held flavor very well and worked into the meal exactly the way I had anticipated. we all enjoyed the result and I was quite proud of the dinner accomplishment.
my hunt for meat at Fred Meyer ended fruitlessly but I walked past the tomatoes on my way out and reflexively picked one up to smell it. my family will attest that I have become a tomato snob - I refuse to eat tomatoes that do not smell or look like tomatoes, I do not believe these foods are actually tomatoes at all and therefore I won't eat them. I believe that a tomato should smell like a tomato! and look like a tomato, not greenish orange in color. I picked up a 'vine-ripened' tomato and found that it did not smell like a tomato so I put it back. at this moment a woman in her 60's walked past me, caught this tomato-return and said "there are real tomatoes in the organic aisle". I laughed. tomato sniffing makes me a big self-conscious - it's not a standard tomato handling method but this woman understood! maybe she made me feel less crazy, maybe just a small validation that this bothers someone else as well.
I've started reading In Defense of Food about nutritionism and food and as I sit here contemplating my lactose-free yogurt, I wonder how far this nutritionally selective food production can go. more importantly, how far along that path I am willing to follow and take my family as well. it is hard to make the financial choice to purchase only real foods, not from the industrial food production system and incidents like these inch me ever closer to making that decision definitively.