Slow cooking on a long cold dreary day!

My father in law is a rancher, he raises livestock at his little homestead in the desert. He’s bred horses, mules and donkeys over the years, and now “mini’s” – tiny little burro size donkeys that are very popular as pets, and now as “companions” or “therapy” animals. 

In past he got his meat at 4-H auctions – you buy some kid’s steer, and the price includes butchering – you end up with a load of neat little white packages of all the different wonderful meat a little steer can provide.  He would give us enough to loosen up his chest freezer every year, and we thought that was quite a bonanza.

When Grandpa switched from full size mules, he found he had more time on his hands, so decided to get himself his own itty-bitty cattle herd. He found a breed from Japan called Waygu – “generally similar to the Angus but considerably smaller…”

He bought a bull, Billy, and three cows, known collectively as “Billy’s wives,” and individually as “One,” “Two” and “Three.”   Apparently you don’t name the cows, and you certainly don’t name their offspring.

I grew up on a farm, I know the routine. My grandfather didn’t keep livestock by the time we kids came along, but we had plenty of friends with working farms.  Our babysitter kept fryers in her back yard, and her husband would kill a couple a week, right in front of us.  In fact, my mother could strip a dead chicken or pheasant in about 5 minutes – the trick is a bucket of scalding water.

Our friends’ dad kept goats that he butchered quite regularly for meat – he let us walk them down to the river on rope leashes to get us out of his hair, but would get crabby real fast if we tried to attach names. We kept rabbits for 4-H, and auctioned them off to people who made it clear they were to be butchered and eaten.

Ever tried to make a pet out of a rabbit? You will be glad to get  the money.

So, when my father-in-law announced he was butchering a calf and sending us about half the meat, I didn’t have any feelings of pity for the little beast. I’ve been to my father-in-law’s ranch – whatever time the little bastard had on this planet was full of carrots and playtime.  My father in law has a soft heart for animals, even the ones he intends  to eat.

He sent us a cooler full of neatly wrapped cuts, a list, and a big cookbook. I cleaned out our box freezer and pushed everything around to make room, and boy howdy, that baby is now packed full. My husband brought an assortment up to our kitchen refrigerator, and the first thing I noticed was a package of steak. There’s a lot of steak on a cow, even a little cow!

All I can say is Thank You Cow!
All I can say is Thank You Cow!

For a little cow, these are certainly full-size steaks. It took us two days to eat them. The second day we made some corn tortillas and had steak tacos. Then I found the package of shank – that’s the cow’s leg. I had never cooked a shank, I thought it would  be good for soup. My husband is always more ambitious – he found a recipe for something called “Osso Buco”, which literally means “bone hole”.  Here’s a picture from a recipe website:

I thought, fancy name for beef stew!  Well, it’s pretty fancy beef stew alright, I never had anything like it. You sear the meat, like with stew, but there’s a lot of simmering and wine in it – in fact, it’s supposed to slow cook for seven hours. 

I had my doubts – I figured anything you had to slow cook had a very good chance of coming out like shoe leather.  Within an hour, the smell started to become intoxicating, like,  “Hey, you got meat in there!?!”   We could smell it from the yard, where we were cleaning up during breaks in the storm. Coming back into the apartment, we were absolutely bathed in this aroma – we had to guard ourselves from opening that pot lid every five minutes, just wanting a little whiff, or a little taste!

We’d put it on at noon, as dinnertime drew near, we kept thinking, “oh, what difference can an hour make?!”  So my husband finally took a tentative taste. He whooshed a little chunk of meat around in his mouth and turned his eyes up – “I think it needs that last hour, that’s going to really make it good.” So we left it and went about some other chores. 

At 7:00 we had our plates ready and a good salad made, some rotelli noodles to soak up the juice from the meat, and a good loaf of sourdough I’d made the previous day. We ate it so fast, I forgot the picture. It was so good – the meat was so tender, my dad would have said, “I don’t know how this cow could walk…”

After we ate the bigger chunks of meat and some of the “stew,” I removed all the bones and cut up the remaining meat, and put it in the fridge. Yesterday I got it out and added the rest of a container of beef broth we’d used to make the Osso Buco, added a can of red beans, and brought it to a boil. Once I got it boiling good I threw in some of those cute little shell noodles. Within a half hour I had probably the best Minestone soup I’d ever made. 

Minestrone soup is really simple - chicken or beef broth, tomato sauce, vegies and noodles - if you're lucky, a little bit of meat.

Minestrone soup is really simple – chicken or beef broth, tomato sauce, vegies and noodles – if you’re lucky, a little bit of meat.

That made enough soup for two lunches, we’ll finish it later today with another loaf of fresh bread and some cabbage and carrot salad. Dang, I haven’t even had breakfast yet, and I’m ready to bust out that soup.

Stay warm people!


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