Fifteen years ago, I was fortunate to be in the National Beef Cookoff for my recipe Beef Sirloin Salad with Dried Cherries. Sadly, I didn't win the national contest, but I won for the state of Michigan and got an all expenses paid trip to the National Beef Cookoff which was in Little Rock, Arkansas that year. I was pregnant with my eldest then, and in my days before kids, I was really into "contesting" as it is called among the cooking contest community. This contest was my last major effort: then I got too busy with kids and work and never seem to find the time to do it. Every year at this time I think I am going to get back into contesting heavily, but then life manages to get in the way. Back in the day, if you were heavy into contesting, you subscribed to the Cooking Contest Chronicle newsletter to know about the upcoming contests. But with the advent of the internets, much of the info can be found online. However, actually getting something in the snail mail might be more inspiring if you are so inclined. I am not even sure if Karen Martis still publishes it anymore.
Everyone remembers the "Beef: Its Whats for Dinner" ad campaign - I still love Aaron Copland's Rodeo Suite 3: Hoedown. While the Cattlemans Association is responsible indirectly for bringing Dr. Phil into our collective conciousness (he was hired by Oprah Winfrey during her infamous beef trial as a jury consutltant), I have nothing but fondness for America's beef farmers. They have some terrific recipes on their website...including this one, Stir Fry Beef with Spinach which is something a busy parent can whip together after a long day at work with ingredients she probably already has in her pantry. Even if you forget to take the round steak out of the freezer in the morning, it still works because beef is easier to cut when it's semi frozen. Just nuke it for a few minutes on defrost so you can get your knife into it. Also, fresh spinach is spendy this time of year, so it's okay to use frozen for this recipe if you are on a budget and fresh spinach is hard to come by on a budget. Just nuke it to defrost and squeeze it out. Use dried hot red peppers if that's all you have in your pantry, too. It works!
The recipe calls for beef round tip steaks, but any inexpensive cut of round can be used. Whether you use grocery store beef, or buy grass fed organic beef raised by a farmer you know personally, round steak is always a good value. When round steak goes on sale, or ends up marked way down because it's near it's expiration date, I buy it in bulk and freeze it. Nobody knows how to cook round steak, so it ends up on sale often. Round steak can be used for a multitude of purposes - it can be used for stir fries or beef stew or salisbury steak, or beef stroganoff, etc. The key to making any beef recipe for less than $2 per serving is to keep an eye out for beef when it is less than $5 per lb. For this recipe, look for round steak at a price of $3/lb or less, because some of the ingredients like hoisin sauce can be a little pricy. I haven't tried it this way, but I bet this recipe would even taste good with ground beef in it. Just skip the marinating part. I have to remember this for days when I don't feel like making the usual suspects out of ground beef - i.e. spaghetti, tacos, hamburgers, etc. So, the bottom line is that I can make this recipe for $1.89 per serving. Take that, Wal Mart! And, no matter how you feel about Dr. Phil, if you are in the mood to try your hand in contesting, the next beef cookoff is in 2011.