Going to Ground

A few weeks ago we talked about a favorite use of ground beef — sloppy Joes. Ground beef is a versatile food staple that can turn into a different dinner every night of the week. It is extremely popular throughout the world. From burgers to tacos to meatloaf, ground beef is a part of many cuisines.

In the U.S., ground beef is carefully regulated. It cannot contain water, binders or fillers. It cannot be more than 30 percent fat. It may include seasonings and spices. Ground beef is usually made from chuck meat. It is a tougher cut and should not be overcooked.

Classic Meat Sauce

  • 2 lbs. ground beef
  • Canola oil for frying
  • 2 medium onions, finely chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 1/2 cup red wine (optional)
  • 1 can crushed tomatoes
  • 2 cups chicken stock or broth
  • 1 oz. finely chopped fresh basil leaves or 2 frozen basil cubes
  • 1 4-oz. can tomato paste
  • 1 Tbs. brown sugar
  • 1 tsp. Italian seasoning
  • 1–2 tsp. kosher salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • Spaghetti for serving

Heat 2–3 tablespoons oil in a large sauté pan over medium heat. Fry the ground beef in a little oil, stirring continuously to break up the meat. Continue sautéing until golden brown.

Add onions and garlic and continue to cook on medium to high heat. If you’re using wine, add it now and leave it to simmer for a few minutes.

Add the can of tomatoes, stock and basil, reduce the heat and simmer, covered, on low for about 10 minutes. Add the rest of the ingredients and simmer for another 10 minutes, stirring every now and then.

Pile spaghetti on 6 plates and top with a generous serving of sauce.

Beef Taco Salad

These deconstructed tacos make for a hearty lunch or light dinner.

For the meat:

  • 3/4 lb. ground beef
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 Tbs. chili powder
  • 1/3 cup water

For the salad:

  • 4 medium tomatoes, diced
  • 2 Tbs. olive oil
  • 2 Tbs. fresh lemon juice
  • 1 tsp. kosher salt
  • 1/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 hearts romaine lettuce, chopped, or 1 bag of checked lettuce
  • 4 flour tortillas or wraps baked in tortilla bakers or 2 oz. baked tortilla chips (about 32 chips)

To prepare the meat, heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the beef and cook until no longer pink, stirring occasionally and breaking the meat up with the spoon. Add the garlic and cook for 2 minutes more. Add the chili powder and water and stir until well combined and some but not all of the liquid has been absorbed. Remove from the heat and allow the mixture to cool slightly.

Combine tomatoes (with their juices), oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper.

Divide lettuce among 4 plates or into the tortilla bowls. Top lettuce with 1 cup of the beef mixture; drizzle with the tomato mixture and a handful of tortilla chips. Serve immediately.

Shepherd’s Pie

This ground beef dish is the perfect “one pot dinner” — even if it does require more than one pot!

  • 6 medium potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks
  • 2 Tbs. canola oil, divided
  • 2 medium carrots, diced
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 1 large red pepper, diced
  • 2 Tbs. (1/4 stick) margarine
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 2 Tbs. mayonnaise
  • 2 Tbs. chopped scallions
  • 1 packages (8-oz.) medium-size mushrooms, thickly sliced
  • 1 1/4 cups chicken broth
  • 1 Tbs. flour
  • 1 1/2 lbs. ground beef
  • 1/4 tsp. coarsely ground black pepper
  • 1/4 tsp. dried thyme leaves
  • 2 Tbs. ketchup
  • 1 Tbs. soy sauce

In 3-quart saucepan over high heat, heat potatoes in water to boiling. Reduce heat to low; cover and simmer 15 minutes or until potatoes are fork-tender.

Meanwhile, in large skillet, heat 1 tablespoon oil over medium-high heat. Add carrots; cook 5 minutes. Add onion and red pepper and sauté until vegetables are golden, about 15 minutes longer. Remove vegetables from pan and place in a medium bowl.

When potatoes are done, drain. With potato masher, mash potatoes in saucepan with margarine and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Gradually add mayonnaise; mash until mixture is smooth. Stir in scallions; set aside.

In same skillet, in remaining 1 tablespoon vegetable oil, cook mushrooms until well browned and liquid evaporates, 5 to 10 minutes; add to bowl with vegetables.

In 2-cup glass measuring cup, mix chicken broth and flour until blended; set aside.

Preheat oven to 400° F.

In same skillet, over high heat, cook ground chicken, pepper, thyme, and 1/2 teaspoon salt until beef is lightly browned and any liquid evaporates, 7 to 10 minutes. Stir in ketchup, soy sauce, cooked vegetables, and chicken broth mixture. Cook, stirring occasionally, until liquid thickens, about 3 to 5 minutes.

Spoon chicken mixture into shallow 2-quart ceramic or glass casserole; top with mashed potatoes. You can just spoon it on or, if you prefer, you can use a piping bag with a large decorating tip to make it more attractive.

Place sheet of foil underneath casserole; crimp edges to catch any drips during baking. Bake 20 to 25 minutes until mashed-potato topping is lightly browned. Serve immediately.