winter bread and bones

With the snow piled up high and thick outside, it’s hard to believe that Breezy Willow’s spring CSA starts up next week. It really feels like I need the CSA to prod me into posting. Every year I promise myself that I’m going to post during the winter break, talk about Thanksgiving frenzy and Christmas cookies, not to mention the soups and scones and winter braises that are filling my kitchen… and yet I never seem to get myself together enough to even log onto the site. Too easy to put it off, I guess.

The biggest news: over this past winter — just about a week after the last time I posted on this blog, actually — our household expanded by one new member. With the new little girl, we have now returned to gender parity. Since there’s now more than one kid, I’m promoting the boy formerly known as “the kid” to his new title, “Little Prince.” He kind of behaves like one anyway…

His new baby sister (little princess?) is a good eater so far. I look forward to introducing her to purees in just a couple more months; too early for the new spring/summer fruits, but there should have plenty of cold storage apples and carrots to mush up for her.

Everyone’s sick of winter by now but I confess I still love it. I still love wrapping up in scarves and soft knits to go outside, and I love looking out the window into a winter wonderland, all the trees and branches outlined, a simple palette of brown and pine and gorgeous, fluffy white.

Since daycare was closed for yesterday’s snowstorm, we all stayed home. We had some marrow bones from our Wagon Wheel Ranch cow in the freezer, so we roasted those up for a nice post-shoveling treat. Roasting marrow is so easy: set the bones cut-side-up on a pan, sprinkle with salt and pepper, put them in a 450 degree oven until the marrow starts to bubble – 20 minutes or so. Once it’s cooked you can just scoop it out with a spoon… or a piece of bread.

We went with the Speedy No-Knead Bread. Easy as anything, and perfect for a snow day: mix flour, water, yeast, and salt in the morning, let it rise 4 hours, dump it onto an oiled pan and fold it over, let the dough sit half an hour more, dump it into a preheated pot (the pot has to be fiery hot, or your bread will stick) and bake for about an hour, uncovering the pot halfway through. It creates a rustic, round loaf with a toasted crunchy exterior and a chewy, bubbly interior, and we ate the entire loaf in a day. Four common ingredients and a heated pot, barely any work, and out of that you get a wonderful loaf of artisan bread. Baking is like magic.

After scraping out the marrow bones with bread, we dumped the empty bones into a stockpot full of water to extract a rich, fragrant stock. It simmered late into the night, and then I just put the entire covered pot outside on the patio to cool down. Winter: nature’s freezer. We’ll bring in the pot tonight, skim off the fat, strain out the solids, and pack the resulting stock into the freezer for later.

And as a bonus, the hot oven (450 F, for both bones and bread) heated up the inside of our house quite nicely, and the simmering bone stock on the stove filled every room with a delicious beefy scent. Really, winter is the best.

half a cow from Wagon Wheel Ranch

This is our third time buying half a cow from Wagon Wheel Ranch. We split both cow and cost with T and C, our intrepid partners in local eating (they also get half of our CSA share every week). The beef is from a small frame steer, which produces about 125 pounds of meat per half. It’s a lot of meat, but split between two households, it’s manageable.

Each of the roasts and cuts come vacuum sealed into packages, and each package is labeled with the cut of meat and the month and year of slaughter. When you go to pick it up, you’ll get about four printer paper size boxes of meat. (The cat can be used to estimate the scale of this enterprise.)

four boxes of half a cow

We then split the beef in half, first by counting out all of the ground beef (it’s packed in roughly one-pound sacks), and then sorting out the rest of the beef on the table. The kitchen scale is there so we can most equitably split the cuts by weight. What you see is just the steaks and roasts; we left the ground beef in the boxes.

roasts and steaks on a table

After all was divided up, our quarter of the cow consisted of about 75 pounds, 40 of which was ground beef; about 19 pounds were various types of steaks (chuck, sirloin, NY strip, ribeye, filet), and the rest were roasts and miscellaneous cuts. We paid $437.50 counting the initial deposit, which works out to about $5.75 per pound.

This is a trifle expensive for ground beef (other local farms will sell it for $5/lb), but the savings become substantial once you move into steak and roast territory — you won’t easily find free-range, grass-fed steaks for under $10/lb.

After noticing that our take was lacking in organ meats and marrow bones, we asked the ranch and they said we could come by and pick some up. So we went back to the ranch and came back with two big bags of marrow bones, four packs of liver, a heart, a tongue, and a bag of unidentified smaller bones. I suspect they’re probably not from the same cow as the rest of the meat, but I don’t mind.

organs and bones

I didn’t weigh them, but since the beef costs the same whether or not you take the bones and organs, the total price doesn’t change.

We’ve also purchased lamb, chicken, and pork from the ranch in the past. The meat has been very tasty and satisfying overall, and it’s nice not to worry when I hear the occasional news about salmonella outbreaks and E. coli contaminations and the like. I also feel good knowing that the meat I’m eating was raised organically, on local pasture rather than on grain, and lived a happy life before it came to my freezer.

All I’m scared of now is a power outage.