We all know that nutrition is a solid foundation for good health. But unfortunately, we are often too busy to cook really healthy food for ourselves and our families.
Ta-da! Slow cooker to the rescue!
With a little effort, a healthy and delicious dinner can be ready when you return home from a hard day’s work. A slow cooker, aka crock pot, makes it both easy to cook a nutritious meal and lets us utilize low-priced cuts of meat that also have nutrient-dense bones, bone marrow, connective tissue and healthy fats. Two fine examples of such “value” cuts are beef shin (or shank) steaks and short ribs, pictured below.
Why Grass-Fed Beef?
If we cook with 100% grass-fed beef, the nutritional benefits are even greater. Grass-fed beef has been shown to contain significantly more omega-3’s, 2-3 times more conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), 7 times more beta-carotene, 3 times more vitamin E, more B vitamins, 1/3 less total fat, and a significantly lower omega-6 to omega-3 ratio. It’s not surprising that cattle are much healthier when they eat only what they were specifically designed to digest – grass!
In addition, giving grass-fed cattle a life that maximizes their health, both the nutritional benefits and taste of their meat are further enhanced. This means feeding them organic grass and hay, offering them organic mineral supplements, handling them in a calm and humane manner, and offering them plenty of fresh grass. This last point is very important, because when they have access to lots of fresh grass, they eat more and fatten up quickly so they can go to the butcher earlier. Consequently, their meat is more marbled and tender.
Another key to the production of healthy beef is the breed of cattle. Using beef cattle, which are bred specifically to produce high-quality well-marbled meat from grass, results in the most nutritious and delicious meat dishes. In contrast, the best feed and management practices cannot compensate for genetics that target tall, bony cows with the sole purpose of converting corn into milk. The meat of steers from dairy herds is simply not as good.
Healthy Crock Pot Recipes with Beef
Now, on to recipes for slow cooking these delicious and nutritious dishes! These recipes minimize your effort and avoid ingredients that you probably don’t have in your pantry. And this works because using high-quality ingredients, especially the meat, eliminates the need for exotic spices or sugars used by restaurants to make an otherwise mediocre meal taste good. The Osso Buco recipe is guest-quality, using a variety of ingredients and night-before prep. The short ribs recipe just couldn’t be easier for the morning before you head out to work.
You can purchase Health Hero Farm’s 100% grass-fed shin steaks and short ribs (and many other cuts) at the UVM-Medical Center Farmer’s Market on the second and fourth Thursdays each month.
Joan Falcao is a cattle rancher and chief chef at Health Hero Farm in South Hero, VT.
Osso Buco (Slow-Cooker)
- 41 1/2 to 2 inch thick beef shin steaks or shanks (about 3 lbs)
- sea salt and freshly ground pepper
- 1/4cupall-purpose flour (or gluten-free 1-for-1 substitution flour)
- 1small onion (red or yellow or sweet), chopped (1-1/2 cups)
- 1medium carrot, peeled and cut into 1/4-inch thick rounds (1/2 cup)
- 1cupdry white wine
- 2Tbsptomato paste
- 1Tbspchicken bouillon
- 5sprigs fresh thyme (1/2 teaspoon dried thyme)
- 1tspchopped/crumbled dried rosemary
- 2large cloves garlic, minced (up to 1 tablespoon)
- 1bay leaf
- 1Tbspfinely grated lemon zest (optional)
- The night before, put flour in a wide, shallow dish. Season the shanks all over with salt and pepper and dredge in the flour; shake off the excess flour.
- Heat a 12-inch skillet over medium heat. Add the butter, and when it foams, add the shanks to the skillet. Cook until golden, turning once, about 10 minutes. Set shanks aside.
- Add the chopped onions, carrots and celery to the pan with another Tablespoon of butter. Saute until soft (8 minutes). Add wine, tomato paste, chicken bouillon to the skillet. Stir in thyme, rosemary, garlic and bay leaf. If this is for tomorrow’s meal, return the shanks to the pan and allow it to cool. (To cool in a hurry, put the covered pan in a sink with an inch or so of water.) Refrigerate overnight.
- The next morning, pour the contents of the skillet into the slow cooker. Add the water. Cover and cook on low heat for 6 to 8 hours—the meat will be very tender and almost falling off the bone.
- If you want the sauce to be thicker, pour the sauce from the slow cooker into a large skillet and return the meat to the slow cooker to keep warm. Simmer sauce over medium heat until reduced to about 2 cups, 10 to 15 minutes.
- Season to taste with salt and pepper. Remove the shanks from the slow cooker and place in decorative serving platter. Pour all the juices and sauce from the pot over the shanks. Garnish with optional lemon zest.
- Serve with the carb of your choice; e.g., mashed potatoes or rice.
- To feed a crowd, do not reduce the sauce. Remove the shanks from the slow cooker and debone them, trimming off excess connective tissue. Punch out the marrow in the center and mix it into the sauce. Cook a pound of noodles, drain and stir into the slow cooker meat and sauce. This will get rave reviews!
Short Ribs (Slow-Cooker)
- 5lbshort ribs, cut into serving sizes (single or multiple ribs)
- 12ozbottle of your favorite barbecue sauce
- In the morning, put ½” water (or hard cider, hard root beer, etc) in the bottom of the slow cooker.
- Arrange one layer of short ribs on the bottom and cover it with 1/3 of the BBQ sauce.
- Repeat twice to make 3 layers of short ribs.
- Cook 8 to 10 hours.
- Serve with extra barbecue sauce on the side.