Momma D’s Swiss Steak

Growing up in rural Saskatchewan, my Mom had a handful of go-to recipes that were sure to bring everyone, (picky eaters like myself included), happily around the table, no matter what schedule craziness was going on.  Swiss steak was a favorite of the entire family. It is not low in calories or sodium, so maybe it is a good thing that it takes a little extra prep work. That being said, there really isn’t anything more comforting on a cold or rainy day.

This recipe uses Minute Steak (also known as cube steak), made from relatively thin round steak that has been tenderized, either by pounding it with a meat tenderizer, or an electric tenderizer. It gets its name from only taking a minute or so to cook if you are frying or grilling it. This recipe takes considerably longer, but the results are more than worth it.

Ingredients:

  • 1 lb Minute Steak
  • I box Vegetable Thin crackers
  • 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1/2 cup canola oil
  • 2 cans Cream of Tomato Soup
  • 2 cups shredded cheddar or mozzarella cheese

Directions:

  1. Crush crackers into fine crumbs (I use a blender) and add parmesan cheese
  2.  Put flour, cracker crumbs and milk each in their own tray or deep plate
  3. Put canola oil into heated frying pan
  4. Dip and coat each minute steak with first flour, then milk, then crumbs
  5. Fry until golden brown – flipping half way

6. Place steaks into casserole dish and cover with tomato sauce

7. Cover and bake at 350 degrees for 90-120 minutes (depending on thickness of steaks)

If your dish is quite full, it always helps to place an old cookie sheet under it to catch any over-flow.

8. Uncover, spread cheese on top and bake until melted

9. Serve with mashed potatoes – the sauce makes an amazing tomato gravy!

I hope you enjoy it as much as we always have!!

Adventures in Calf-Checking (and why we need a bigger Gator!)

I have been spending the majority of my ranch work time in the heifer field. Heifers (young cows that have not yet had a calf) are considerably more difficult to calve than mature cows. They are smaller, and often need a little help getting that first calf out. They are also inexperienced mothers. They sometimes need a little coaxing to accept that their new calf does indeed belong to them, and help figuring out just what they are going to do with the slimy looking little thing. This is why we calve the heifers first, and in their own separate field – so they get a little more TLC. 

Our cows have now started calving as well, so today I headed out with Dear Husband to check on their progress. Today seemed to be one of THOSE days. 

  

DH and I jumped on the gator to head out. Our old dog Benson wanted to come too. He loves to go everywhere with Aaron, and is the most faithful family pet anyone could ask for. But there are very specific reasons why I have dubbed him “Useless Cowdog”. The most specific being that he is completely and utterly useless. Lovable. But useless. Unfortunately, he is completely oblivious to his uselessness, so leaving him behind wasn’t an option. One thing is certain, he really doesn’t care if I am comfortable, or even if there is room for me at all, as long as there is room for him in “Ben’s Spot”.  No Ben – this is not comfortable for me. In any way. 

  

We checked out the freshly fed cows. Aaron had brought along a bottle of powdered colostrum to give to a calf that appeared to be deserted by its mother. Aaron had already grabbed the calf once. When he was out feeding the cows he scooped it up and was in the process of bringing it back to the yard when it let loose a full stream of calf pee all over the one and only clean tractor cab that we have. The calf was promptly set back outside to find its mother on its own. We hoped that some warm milk in it’s stomach would give it the energy it needed to go track her down.  That didn’t quite go as planned either. After getting perhaps a quarter of the milk into it, the calf decided to resist and managed to pop the top off the bottle. The remaining milk ended up on the ground, along with Aaron’s patience. 

  

While all this was going on, I complained about the “snot-cicle” weather in May. It was COLD!!!

While checking the rest of that group of 600 cows, Aaron stopped and asked me to guard a gate (stop the cows from leaving while he left it open). I paused, looked at him, looked at the dog taking up 78% of my gator space, looked at him again. I happily hopped out to guard the gate – after he admitted that yes, the dog is useless. 🙂

We left the pasture, then decided that the poor motherless calf probably wasn’t going to find someone to love her (or feed her) out there anytime soon. We headed back to grab her and haul her back to the yard.  

  

Somehow, both Aaron and Ben couldn’t seem to give up their space, so I went from having a dog under my feet – to having a dog under my feet and a calf on my lap. 

  

To add insult to injury – no wait….. To add injury to insult, when I lifted my hand to snap the picture, calf decided to struggle, kicking me squarely in the face in the process. I can now tell you a sure fire way to get Kendall Jenner lips without the filler. 

The moral of the story – we need a bigger Gator!!!

Is Eating Beef Bad for the Earth? The Ups and Downs of the Beef on Your Plate

Earth Day is a wonderful thing. We can all use a day dedicated to reflection on each of our own individual impacts on the earth’s health. That being said, it can be difficult to wade through the conflicting advice of what is (in actual fact) good for the environment. Searching online can lead to what I call “Google Diving – The New Era of Dumpster Diving”, because you have to sort through a lot of garbage before you can find those golden nuggets of fact.

Last week’s Earth Day brought about numerous articles, blog posts and media stories with lots of advice. Some suggested that going meatless was one way each of us could reduce our environmental footprint. Seeing beef production from my side made me automatically question the validity of that statement, so I decided to do a little digging, and find out what beef’s impact really looks like to dear Mother Earth. What I found did not surprise me. Beef production does have an impact – of course, everything does!! But here is the kicker – beef has both NEGATIVE and POSITIVE environmental impacts, and both must be taken into consideration when looking at the whole.

The Canadian beef industry does produce greenhouse gasses. Our cattle use water and use up land base, take food (such as barley) out of the human food system, and can pollute water with ammonia, phosphorous, manure and bacteria. These are facts that no one will dispute. But what is missing is the other half of our “hoofprint” – the good half. Luckily, we are not all just feedlots and burping cattle.

Did you know that in Canada, one in three acres of agricultural land is not suitable for growing crops but is suitable for raising cattle? Beef cattle also use feed that would otherwise be wasted, as it is not suitable for human consumption. Eighty percent of feed eaten by Canadian cattle are grasses that are inedible to people, and another 10 percent are grains that are deemed too poor of quality to enter the human food chain. Cattle producers are an opportunistic bunch – we will take whatever grains people do not want to eat and make a lovely, nutritious feed ration for our cattle. It is a great environmental impact to be able to take low quality forages and convert them to high quality protein for humans. Consider us the original recyclers; taking frozen, ugly and unwanted barley and turning it into steak!

Beef cattle management has changed dramatically in the past few decades. Improved management practices have not only allowed Canada to become an international beef production leader, but has also had enormous environmental benefits. These management practices have increased the amount of beef produced per acre, reduced the amount of feed and water required to raise each animal, reduced days to slaughter, which in turn reduces manure and greenhouse gasses produced.

Please excuse the American graphic, but it is just as applicable to my ranch here in Canada. Management decisions that make sense financially also must make sense environmentally. Recent cattle management evolutions, such as bale grazing, not only reduce labour requirements, but also dramatically improve soil quality and allow us a method of rejuvenating at risk soils. Spreading manure from our feedlot on hill tops not only improves those degraded soils, but also keeps manure and bacteria away from wetlands and waterways. Beef cattle management is getting better everyday, and that is great for the environment!

COWS EQUAL GRASS

Grazing cattle are an integral part of both the beef industry as well as the natural grassland ecosystem. On our ranch, breeding cows spend 99% of their lives out on pasture. These vast rolling acres of perennial forages (grasses and alfalfa) are a huge benefit to dear Mother Earth. As well as what I can see from my ranch porch, I found some very interesting Canadian facts from the Beef Cattle Research Council (BCRC).

Our grasslands provide needed habitat for displaced wildlife and birds. Since seeding the majority of our farm down to perennial forages, we have seen a huge increase in not only populations of wildlife, but a huge increase in diversity of species as well. Some, like moose, are neat to see, but seeing endangered or threatened species that make their home on your land is downright heartwarming. We have seen burrowing owls, whooping cranes, prairie chickens and swift fox. Local deer are very much confused. They do not believe we operate a cattle ranch. If you have ever driven past the feed yard from December to March you will clearly see that they believe it is a white tail deer ranch, and we live to serve them breakfast, lunch and dinner. From salamanders to coyotes to moose – our grasslands provide a safe home.

Forage and grasslands are good for the air and the soil. Alfalfa is perhaps the most common and favorite forage feed for cattle. Alfalfa not only produces its own nitrogen, reducing the need for synthetic fertilizers, it also has an amazing tap-root system that can grow as deep as 20 feet to find water in dry years. This amazing tap-root can force its way through hardpan soil, loosening the layers for future plants. Many grain producers use alfalfa in their annual crop rotation as a way of improving the soil health. All this, and cows think it’s delicious!

Did you know that Canadian grasslands sequester (capture, hold and store) carbon emissions of 3.62 million cars per year? Yes, you’re welcome Urbanites! The grasses that my cattle need are taking the pollution from your mini-van and storing it away from where it could destroy the ozone. I think I may have a big juicy steak tonight to celebrate that!

Over-all, it is clear to me that beef producers still must consider their environmental impacts when making management decisions. In any food system there is capacity to cause either great harm or great good to the environment. I feel one hundred percent confident stating that with the use of cattle and forages, the land we are in care of is in better health today than that which we purchased it in, and it will be in even better health tomorrow. When looking at the Canadian beef cattle industry as a whole, I feel confident in eating my beef guilt-free. So pass the steak!

For more info go to where I got my facts:
beefresearch.ca
farmfoodcare.org

Earth Day on the Ranch

At first, I thought Earth Day here on the ranch was just like every other day. After all, every day we provide habitat for misplaced wildlife, everyday we sequester carbon in our vast acres of grassland, everyday we aim to improve the soil structure and health. 

But when I thought a little harder, and looked a little deeper, I realized that although we have the earth’s health in the back of our mind all year round, Earth Day is a reminder of so much more. 

A Time Of New Beginnings 

April is when our heifers calve.  By Earth Day (April 22nd) we are just into calving. This year we have 12 calves on the ground (1088 to go!). The birth of new calves is always a wonderful thing, but the first few born each year are extra special. 

  

When these calves are born from the heifers that were raised in our own herd, it is a full circle moment to see them start out so healthy and strong. 

Beyond the obvious new beginnings of calving, spring is full of new beginnings all over the ranch, you just need to look a little closer to see them. 

  

Delicate new shoots of grass are bursting up from amid the old dead leaves. The sound of croaking frogs is a constant song in the background of every cow-checking trip. Pussy Willows have erupted their incredibly soft buds, begging to be picked and displayed in the house.  In spring, even the most old things seem new again. 

A Moment of Reflection 

Earth Day reminds us to take the time to have a closer look at our impact on the world around us. As much as we believe we are doing a great job at being Stewards of the Earth, there is always more to be done. Can we tweek our grazing plan to improve the longevity of our grassland, reducing the need for rejuvenation (and all the fossil fuel and chemical use that goes with it)? Can we change our herd health program to better keep the animals in our care in the best health possible? Can we manage and reduce the drainage on our land to have minimal impact on the land down the road? 

Earth Day is a reminder that of all the answers we have found over the years, sometimes you still need to ask some hard questions. If I have ever learned one hard final answer in Agriculture, it is that no one has all the answers. So we will takes these new beginnings, and be grateful for them. After all, I hope that someday our great-great grandchildren have the opportunity to ask hard questions of themselves on Earth Day. 

Melty Oven Beef Short Ribs – Candy to Meatatarians 

*Note: This post made me fully realize my lackings as a food photographer. The pictures cannot begin to convey the deliciousness of these ribs!

  
Although we always have a deep freeze full of beef, short ribs are not frequent fair around our place. Although not difficult to cook, they do require a certain level of “babysitting”, and setting aside a good portion of my day to focus on dinner’s meat of choice isn’t always an option. Short ribs are usually pulled out just before a new side of beef arrives, and I need to clean up the bits and pieces of the last beef. But even though they are a (slight) pain in the butt to cook, they are sooooo worth the effort. 

These shorts ribs are not just fall off the bone tender, but actually melt in your mouth. The slight sweetness from the wine makes them so darn good, they are quite literally candy to a meatatarian. And coming from a family of meatatarians, I am a good judge!

Also: I am a big fan of any recipe that uses half a bottle of wine. Somehow the entire bottle gets used. Every time. 

Ingredients:
2-3 pounds beef short ribs
salt and pepper
canola oil
3-4 cloves garlic
1/2 bottle red wine
4 cups water 
3 tbsp “Better than Bouillon” Beef Base
*or 4 cups beef broth*
 

  • Season ribs with salt and pepper
  • Coat bottom of Dutch Oven with Canola oil
  • Brown ribs. A good heavy sear will give the ribs the best texture
  • Set ribs aside. Add garlic and cook until soft. (Could also roast garlic in oven)
  • Add wine and reduce until thick and delicious 
  • Drink other half of bottle!
  • Add ribs back to pot along with water/beef base
  • Simmer 3-4 hours until beef is super tender
  • Separate ribs and broth. Skim fat from broth (I do this all the way along), and boil to thicken. You can also add a little flour to thicken if you want more of a gravy than a sauce. 
  • Drool and serve!!

Other than the time it takes, the most difficult part of this recipe is keeping your fingers off the meat while it is cooking. Too often, by the time dinner time comes around, I am full from picking at the meat. Soooooo goooood!!! 

  

Is My Corporate Farm Evil? The New Era of Family Farms

Yes, I admit it. My farm is a corporate farm. It is complete with a detailed share structure, profit sharing agreement and board meetings. We have detailed budgets for separate product lines. We have payroll and employee benefits. We do not sell our products at local shops or farmers markets. It is a big business. 

 I bet right now you are forming a picture in your head, and it’s not an especially nice one. Anyone that has been following the Food Movement that has been happening over the past decade knows that corporate farming is bad business. Bad for the environment, bad for a healthy food supply, bad for you. 

But then there is this:

My farm is a family farm. It is 100% owned by myself, my husband and his two parents. Our board meetings alternate between our two kitchen tables, and budgets are prepared in between  hockey practices and after the kids go to bed. We have two full time hired men, and sometimes their greatest benefit is being able to bring their kids to work with them. We love everything about agriculture with a fierce passion. We have never, ever, sold a product that we wouldn’t happily serve to our children. Every decision on the farm takes more than just finances into consideration. Our number one goal is to leave a farm to our children that is both environmentally and economically viable. We are self-proclaimed “dirt nerds”, who routinely take measurements of the health of our soil. 

While it may be hard to reconcile the two, both descriptions are honest depictions of our farm. Although some may consider us “Big Agri”, and you can’t buy our beef or grain at farmers markets – we work with our hands in the dirt everyday, using only the technology that makes the most sense to us. We could not be more proud of the delicious fruits of our labour. 

Our farm (and most farms) are Incorporated for two simple reasons: 

  1. No one wants to pay more tax than they have to; and
  2. Passing the farm from generation to generation is difficult without such a structure. 

In Canada, even though many are considered corporations, 98% of farms are family owned and operated. If you want to talk about being big, 98% is a BIG number. One that I am proud that my corporate farm is part of. 

So next time you click “like” or “share” when you see that MonSatan and Corporate Farms are taking over agriculture and control of the food supply, please remember what corporate farming really looks like: My husband and I, buying some land, and trying to make a go at farming. 

 

 

All About The Beef

On our ranch Evergreen Cattle Company we literally eat, breathe and sleep beef.red cow and calf 3

The following is a brief run-down on what our ranch is all about, and how we make it work.

We run approximately 1100 mother cows that calve every spring in May\June. This is quite a bit later calving than what is traditional in Saskatchewan, but we feel that the warmer and (hopefully) drier weather gives our calves the best start in life possible. Other than the odd May snowstorm (which has happened way too often in recent years), we do not have to worry about calves freezing. As well, having the cows calve out on pasture, rather than in dense corrals in the yard, means better calf and cow health overall. Time in the spring can be tight, as we are simultaneously calving and seeding the spring crop, but the long days and sleepless nights are worth it in the end.

The cow\calf pairs are kept out on pasture for the summer/fall. They are split into grazing herds of a more manageable size – usually around 250 to 300 pairs each. We strongly believe in the plant and soil benefits of rotational grazing, so the herds are moved every 3-4 days onto fresh pasture. Our 9000 acres of farm and pastureland looks a little like an ill-fitting jigsaw puzzle with an impossible maze running through it of fence lines, paddocks, tree bluffs, sloughs (wetlands), and gates which never seem to be in the right place! Moving these pairs is sometimes an adventure of it’s own, with calves running helter skelter and cows running looking for calves

SONY DSC

Alongside these cow/calf pairs, we graze last years’ calves as yearlings. Yearlings are still growing and have different nutritional requirements than cows, so they must be grazed separately. Also, while all mature cows are bred during the summer, only the top “select” heifers are bred, and will stay in our breeding herd. These yearling herds are also moved every few days throughout the grazing season.

In late fall, the yearlings are rounded up and brought into the yard to be processed, which means being weighed, treated for parasites (like deworming a pet) and treated for any illnesses. They are then hauled to an off-farm feedlot to be finished, or fattened.

The calves stay with the cows until mid-winter, usually January to February. The timing of weaning depends on how high or low the quality of feed was for that year, as well as how severe of a winter it has been. This delayed weaning means the calves stay healthier living on pasture with the cows. When they are weaned, the calves go into our feedlot to be backgrounded. This mean they are given a ration of feed that allows them to grow, rather than fatten them up. They are then turned back out onto grass as soon as possible in the spring.

Throughout the winter months, the cows remain out on pasture – with or without their calves. They are moved through a series of hay fields that have the bales left on them. Once the cows have finished all the bales on a particular field, they are moved onto the next one. We love our system of taking the cattle to the feed, rather than the feed to the cattle. The cattle are healthier, and the manure stays out on the field where it can fertilize next year’s hay crop.

As you can see, there is really no “off season” for cattle ranchers. Our animals are looked after 365 days a year, but it is a lifestyle we love, and a finished product that we love to eat!