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Communicating beef’s goodness

By Staff | Oct 22, 2010

Nancy Degner prepares to place a beef short rib meal in an oven prior to a live television segment she does monthly in Des Moines. Degner is executive director of the Iowa Beef Industry Council in Ames.

AMES – When Nancy Degner cooks, she often attracts an audience that extends well beyond the dining room.

Degner is the executive director of the Iowa Beef Industry Council in Ames, the checkoff-funded program that does promotion and education for Iowa’s beef producers.

As part of her role in promoting the nutrition of beef and educating consumers on how to prepare it, Degner routinely cooks on camera for a live television audience.

Roughly once a month, Degner does a cooking segment as part of a Des Moines-area television noon show and occasionally travels to studios in Waterloo, Sioux City and Davenport.

Years ago, Degner worked as the home economist for the beef council and often did cooking workshops, mostly tailored toward women’s groups.

Today, the grind of double-income households and a hectic schedule of events for families mean that fewer and fewer men and women have either the time or inclination to cook.

That means breaking meals down into simpler and quicker formats. “People don’t learn to cook anymore. We’re at a stage now (in families) where even their mothers didn’t cook,” Degner said. So, the message from the beef promoters is cut into simpler forms.

“We have to show them how to make beef easily,” she said. “My whole life, I’ve been trying to help people connect the cut of beef with how to cook it.” Degner, who now lives in Ankeny, grew up on a farm north of Boone that had a small beef herd.

While the menu will change from show to show for Degner, the basic theme remains the same – beef is a nutritious form of protein for one’s everyday diet and it can be simple to prepare.

It’s a message that Degner has been pitching for 35 years at the beef council.

To take advantage of a three-minute time slot in the Des Moines market’s most-watched noon-time show, Degner puts in four or more hours of work to make it all go off without a hitch.

Most of the food has to be prepared the night before or very early the morning of the show, yet it needs to look fresh from the oven, or in this case, the slow cooker.

During a recent cooking segment in Des Moines, Degner promoted slow-cooker, beef short ribs served with bright yellow cabbage and a simple green salad – a touch of color that’s important to keep the attention of the noon show’s 40,000 viewers.

The vegetables are also a subtle reminder that beef is a nutritious meal, she said.

Twenty minutes before show time, Degner gets wired with her microphone and goes over the graphics she’ll need with one of the show’s producers. This time, she wants to emphasize a website that helps consumers better understand the correlation between cuts of beef and how to prepare them.

They call it an interactive meat case and it’s found at www.iabeef.org

Ten minutes before show time, a studio technician gives a command, ostensibly to no one in particular. “Sound check.”

Degner immediately replies, “Sound check. One, two, three, four …” She determines that the boneless beef ribs in the slow cooker look too dry for the camera and douses them with their juices. “That will help them shine on the camera,” she said.

Finally, the live cameras are on and Degner and the news show anchor use every second of the three-minute segment, showing off both the raw ingredients and the finished product while a graphic follows along in perfect synchronization.

Within seconds of the show going off air, a herd of show staffers marches toward Degner for what they know will be a delicious beefy meal.

Her four hours of work disappear within about 20 minutes.

This is the kind of work she could have delegated to others on staff when she became executive director seven years ago. But she never really considered it.

“This is where my heart is-communicating and helping to inform consumers on why beef is good to eat. It’s something I really enjoy,” she said.

Slow cooker beef ribs with

ginger-mango barbecue sauce

2 pounds well-trimmed boneless beef short ribs, cut 2-by-2-by-4-inch pieces.

1 1/2 cups diced fresh or drained jarred mango.

1 medium onion, chopped.

1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger.

1 cup hickory-flavored barbecue sauce.

Place beef short ribs, mango, onion and ginger in 3 1/2 to 5 1/2-quart slow cooker. Add barbecue sauce.

Cover and cook on low for 7 1/2 to 8 1/2 hours, or on high 5 to 6 hours, or until beef is fork-tender. (No stirring is necessary during cooking.)

Remove short ribs, season with salt and pepper, as desired. Skim fat from cooking liquid; serve over short ribs.

Makes 6 servings.

Cook’s tip: Other flavors for barbecue sauce may be substituted for hickory.

Autumn beef and cider stew

2 pounds beef for stew, cut into 1 to 1 1/2-inch pieces.

2 slices bacon, cut into 1/2-inch pieces.

1 teaspoon salt.

1/2 teaspoon pepper.

1 can (10 1/2 ounces) condensed French onion soup.

1 cup apple cider.

1 pound sweet potatoes, peeled, cut into 1-inch pieces (about 3 cups).

1/3 cup sweetened dried cranberries.

Cook bacon in stockpot over medium heat until crisp; remove with slotted spoon to paper towel-lined plate. Brown 1/2 of beef in bacon drippings over medium heat; remove from stockpot. Repeat with remaining beef; season with salt and pepper.

Return beef and bacon to stockpot. Add soup and cider; bring to a boil. Reduce heat; cover tightly and simmer 1 3/4 hours.

Add sweet potatoes and cranberries to stockpot; bring to a boil. Reduce heat; continue simmering, covered, 20 to 30 minutes or until beef and potatoes are fork-tender.

French onion beef sandwiches with au jus

1 boneless beef roast, such as round rump, round tip, bottom round or brisket (3 to 4 pounds).

2 tablespoons vegetable oil.

2 large sweet onions, cut into 1/4-inch thick slices.

2 cups water.

1/2 cup reduced sodium or regular soy sauce.

1 package (1 1/4 ounces) dry onion soup mix.

1 large clove garlic, minced.

8 to 10 French rolls, split, toasted.

1 cup shredded Swiss cheese.

Heat oil in stockpot over medium heat until hot. Place beef roast in stockpot; brown evenly. Remove roast from stockpot.

Add onions to stockpot; cook 8 to 10 minutes or until tender and lightly browned, stirring occasionally.

Add water, soy sauce, soup mix and garlic. Return roast to stockpot; bring to a boil. Reduce heat; cover tightly and simmer on range top or in preheated 325-degree oven 2 1/2 to 3 1/4 hours or until roast is fork-tender.

Remove roast; keep cooking liquid warm. Carve roast across the grain into thin slices. Place rolls on metal baking sheet; top evenly with beef.

Sprinkle cheese evenly over beef. Place sandwiches under broiler so surface of cheese is 3 to 4 inches from heat. Broil 1 to 3 minutes or until cheese is melted.

For open-faced sandwiches, spoon cooking liquid over top, as desired. For closed sandwiches, serve cooking liquid in small bowls for dipping.

Makes 10 servings.

Cook’s tips:

  • One 2 1/2 to 4 pound boneless chuck shoulder pot roast may be substituted. Simmer 2 to 3 hours or until fork-tender.
  • After carving, beef slices can be returned to cooking liquid and kept warm over low heat until ready to serve, if desired.
  • Slow cooker variation: Omit vegetable oil. Place onions in 3 1/2 to 5 1/2-quart slow cooker. Top with beef roast. Combine water, soy sauce, soup mix and garlic; pour over roast.

Cover and cook on high 6 to 7 hours, or on low 10 to 11 hours, or until beef is fork-tender. (No stirring is necessary during cooking.)

Proceed as directed in steps 3 and 4 above.

Contact David DeValois at dwdevalois@yahoio.com.

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