Cooking with kid: Ground-meat burgers & tacos

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This installment of “cooking with kid” features American-style comfort food, but with the unusual-in-America comfort of knowing the source of the ground meat down to the name of the animal. That animal is Crystal, the goat kid featured in this learning-to-cook-goat blog series.

When disassembling an animal, there are always some small scrappy bits of meat: tough bits of neck, slivers from poor knife placement, thin flaps of muscle dangling off of a nicer cut, that sort of thing. During butchering, we collect these in a bowl, then we package them up and freeze them with a label for grinding.

Grinding could be considered a tenderizing technique. It takes odd, tough bits and turns them into a quick-cooking product that can easily be transformed into a delectable culinary achievement. Of course, this magic of turning cheap, crappy scraps into something eaters crave is well known by the American food industry. For most Americans, ground meat and fast food are one and the same, though that’s not how Eric & I see it. Do-it-yourself ground meat comes with the added hassle of actually grinding the meat (and washing the grinder). It really isn’t that difficult or time consuming, but it is just enough of a pain that we don’t grind meat often. Thus, when we do, we really enjoy and savor the results. For us, burgers and tacos aren’t cheap & easy food; they reflect a long arc of effort with a deeply satisfying end result.

cook_kid_ground_prep_grindFor the meals described here, I thawed two packages of grinding meat for a total of 26 ounces of flesh. This is enough for multiple meals, and enough to make the most out of the effort of setting up and cleaning the grinder. In advance of grinding the meat, I also started some sourdough rolls for the hamburger buns. To prepare the meat for grinding, I put it back in the freezer for about half an hour, as this makes it easier to cut and grind. The freezer also became temporary home for the components of the grinder that would come in contact with the meat; it helps to have everything cold. I then cut the meat into coarse chunks that would fit in the grinder. In the process, I trimmed off some fat (since goat fat isn’t very tasty) and especially tough bits (since those could clog the grinder); these trimmings got boiled and fed to the chickens as a treat.

cook_kid_ground_grinding We currently use a grinder from Pleasant Hill Grain, and it has an adapter that lets us use our Kitchen Aid mixer to power it.The grinder has several components that need to be assembled in the correct order: the housing holds a plastic auger, a spring, a blade (that should have the sharp side facing outward), a metal disk with holes, and a plastic ring that tightens everything together. We’ve had a couple of grinders over the years, starting with a garage-sale model, and our kitchen-implements drawer houses a mix of components from the various grinders. Apparently, we have two blades that have subtle differences. Unknowingly, I grabbed the wrong one. As I started to grind, the meat smeared its way through the holes for a bit, then didn’t do much of anything. Huh. Eric checked the assembly and didn’t see a problem, and after putting it back together, it was still smearing. Grrr. At this point, some of our Kennebec potatoes were already cooking for oven-roasted fries, and so the clock was ticking to get the meat ground and burgers cooked by the time those were done so all could be served warm. I had thought that the grinder assembly seemed a little loose, and I looked to see if maybe I had grabbed the wrong spring or something. I found another blade, and I decided to try that. Relief: it worked. The photo, above right, shows what meat SHOULD look like coming out of the grinder. The rest of the grinding process went reasonably quickly. I tossed five plump Tochliavri garlic cloves through the grinder with the last of the meat. Then I seasoned the ground meat with some salt, and mixed everything together.

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Next, I formed a couple of burgers. Eric advised me to make them fairly wide and flat, as they would probably pull together a bit during cooking. I allowed about 15 minutes for the burgers to cook, and put them on a preheated cast iron skillet with some peanut oil. I gave them five minutes per side. The first side was pretty brown after the first five minutes, so I turned the heat down a bit for side two. They still seemed a bit pinker than our ideal after 10 minutes, so I flipped them again and cooked gently until the oven fries were ready. Meanwhile, Eric helped out by shucking and boiling some sweet corn and by prepping the buns with fermented cucumber pickles, tomato, and chopped parsley.

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Eric’s description of the meal: “mighty tasty.” Everything on that plate tasted every bit as good as it looks, or maybe better. Taking the time to photograph the plate before digging in was certainly an exercise in self control.

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Two days later, the remainder of the ground meat went to good use for a batch of soft tacos. Mexican authenticity was not my goal here, just a yummy American-style taco using lots of our own ingredients. I started by making some whole-wheat flour tortillas (using purchased Kansas wheat, salt, & water). Then I chopped up a couple of small onions, minced two jalapenos, and minced three large Georgian Fire garlic cloves. Georgian Fire garlic, as its name suggest, has a nice spicy flavor, and the cloves are large, which is very convenient in the kitchen.

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The pan was already nice and hot from tortilla cooking. I sauteed onion for a bit, then added the garlic and jalapenos. Next went the meat, which I stirred and cooked until not-so-pink. Our 2015 hot peppers aren’t yet ripe, so I went for some dried paprika peppers from last year, and I minced these up (since they were too moist for easy grinding). One convenience of cooking at this time of year is that we often have small quantities of prepared veggies in the fridge leftover from freezing or canning batches (anything that didn’t quite fill a quart), so I piggybacked off of that work and tossed in some off-the-cob sweet corn, followed by some cooked-down roasted tomatoes. Then, hey, I remembered the container of cowpeas that I had cooked a couple days previously and that needed to be eaten, so in those went, too.

This approach is very typical of how Eric & I tend to cook: Come up with a vague concept of what we’re eating (for example, taco), often guided by the star ingredient (in this case, ground kid), then add a support cast of lots of our fresh veggies (onion, garlic, jalapeno, sweet corn, tomatoes) along with some of our preserved & prepared foods (dried peppers, dried/cooked cowpeas), chuck it all in a pan, heat it up, and enjoy. We generically call such a meal a “hash” (though we have yet to tag one).

As all the contents came up to temperature and mingled in the pan, I chopped up some cucumber, red sweet peppers, and tomatoes for taco toppings.

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We served this with some Goatsbeard Farm chevre and a glass of young strawberry wine from my first-ever attempt at wine making. The meal was delicious. There’s something very satisfying about anything eaten in a wrap, and I find ground-meat tacos especially satisfying, at least if I know and trust the origin and processing of the meat.

We each ate three wraps, leaving two leftover tortillas. Non-preservative laded tortillas don’t store well (unless frozen), so we at the last two tortillas with a bit more of the filling that evening as a component of dinner. And there was enough filling left for one more hearty meal for the two of us, which we had for lunch a couple of days thereafter.

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