Sunday, March 13, 2011

A Tasty But Cheap Dinner

A lot of people say “I can't afford to eat organic meat.” You know what? Just about anyone can, you just have to select the right cuts.

I picked up some gorgeous Dietzler Farms beef cheeks for The Butcher and The Larder last week.

The cheek is the facial muscle of a cow. It's typically lean and quite tough. It's loaded with connective tissue and is super dark in color due to the amount of work the muscles get throughout the cow's life. Because of this it's the perfect cut for braising. Cooking this cut slowly, over low heat,allows the connective tissue to break down and release its collagen which produces a very tender, rich and dense, almost falling apart result. And the real beauty is, they're cheap, like really cheap. The 2 pounds cost me just about $6. And because of the rich result these could easily feed 4 people or more depending on how you prepare them

Now, you usually can't just roll into your butcher and pick up beef cheeks, and you certainly won't find them at your local megamart. Typically, you'll have to order them in advance from your butcher. But When I was in The Butcher and The Larder the other day Rob just happened to have some. Obviously I jumped at the chance to buy them. The two cheeks weighed in at about 2 pounds. That's a lot of cheek.

I decided I'd make them into ravioli. That way I could freeze any uneaten ones in individual servings.

2 pounds of beef cheeks makes enough ravioli to easily feed 8 people. At $6 for the protein,and just a few bucks for the other ingredients, you can easily feed 8 hungry adults for under $3 each. You can't eat at a fast food joint for that!

I started out by getting my mis en place together. If you don't know what that is, it's a French term meaning “everything in place.” Before they start cooking chefs begin by doing all of their chopping and measuring, this way, once the cooking begins, every ingredient is ready to go. They don't have to stop to get something else or run across the kitchen to grab another ingredient. All of that additional running around would throw a professional kitchen into chaos. I once read a quote from a chef “If you want to hike, go to the outdoors, when you want to cook, mis en place.” If you don't typically cook like this, try it. You'll be amazed at how easy it makes cooking.

My mis en place looked like this.

2 pounds of beef cheeks

One onion diced, one carrot diced, tow stalks of celery, diced, once cup of chopped tomatoes, two cups of red wine and 1 teaspoon of fresh chopped rosemary.

I started by searing off the beef cheeks in a touch of oil in a hot pan.

Searing gives meat that is about to be braised a nice texture. You're not really cooking at this point you're just caramelizing the exterior of the meat.

After about 2 minutes on each side I took the cheeks out of the pan, lowered the heat, and added mirepoix (That's just fancy chef speak for onion, carrot, and celery.)
I sauteed the mirepoix for about 10 minutes then added the tomato, wine and rosemary.

Once this all come to a boil the cheeks went back in and I covered the pan and popped it into a 350 degree oven for about 2 and a half hours.

Now, you could serve these cheeks on top of some mashed potatoes or polenta along with some of the reduced braising liquid and have a great dinner.

But, as I said earlier I wanted to do ravioli. So, after everything cooled down I poured it into my food processor.
A few quick pulses reduced it into something that didn't look too appetizing but tasted great. I adjusted the seasoning with a bit of salt, pepper, and nutmeg.
Then I made some fresh pasta and rolled it out

and made my raviolis.
Now, it wouldn't be a Lesser Cuts and Guts dinner with just some ordinary sauce. I made a chicken liver and brandy sauce and garnished it with some fresh parsley and Romano cheese.

Sure it was a bit of a project and took some time, but none of it was really difficult and it was a cheap dinner that suckers downtown are paying $25 a plate for.


  1. I want to know how you did the chicken liver sauce. Wow that looks good.

  2. Shari, the sauce was pretty simple actually.

    Take 12 ounces of chicken livers cleaned and roughly chopped and saute them in hot butter. Once they're fully browned add three roughly chopped anchovy filets and a half cup of brandy. Reduce the brandy until it's almost dry and add a few tablespoons of the pasta water. Mount that wil a few table spoons of butter and some fresh chopped parsley and a tablespoon of Romano cheese. Adjust with salt and pepper if needed and toss in you pasta.

  3. Nice. I would not have thought of anchovies with chicken livers but it seems obvious now. I would try Harvey's Bristol Cream (mostly because I have some).

  4. I know pork cheeks are pretty popular, would you think the same thing could be done with those?

    Sounds amazing. I can't wait to try this out.