What’s for dinner tonight? How about a casserole, chili, lasagna or meatloaf made with the ultimate dinner staple – ground beef. Ground beef has long been considered a meat-stretcher, easier on the wallet than full beef cuts. Perhaps for this reason, there are a lot of inventive ways to use ground beef other than for burgers, meatloaf and meatballs, including some interesting mock gourmet recipes.

Grocery stores carry a variety of ground beef options (sometimes also labeled as hamburger beef). Most stores label ground beef either with the percentage of fat it contains, the percentage of lean meat it contains or the lean/fat ratio. For example, beef that contains 20 percent fat would be listed as 20 percent fat, 80 percent lean or 80 percent/20 percent. Ground beef with a higher amount of fat costs less, swaying consumers into thinking that it is the more budget-friendly option. However, keep in mind that ground beef with a high amount of fat results in a lot of shrinking during the cooking process and less overall meat.

So what’s the best choice? There’s no right answer, but rather a trade-off between flavor and health. People concerned about their health will want to go with leaner meat, but they’ll be sacrificing some of the flavor. The general recommendation is using ground beef that is 85 percent lean/15 percent fat, which will bring plenty of beef flavor without being overly fatty or result in shrinking during cooking.

Ground beef may also be labeled based on the cut of beef from which it originated. The three most common cuts used for ground beef, ranging from leanest to fattiest, are round, sirloin and chuck. After purchasing ground beef, you can store it in the refrigerator for up to 2 days; otherwise, wrap it tightly with plastic wrap or in a freezer bag and store in the freezer for up to 3 months.

  • Generally, the higher the cooking temperature, the greater the shrinkage, so cook ground beef at a moderate temperature rather than high heat. Overcooking will result in dry, tasteless meat as the juices evaporate.
  • To avoid ground beef sticking to your hands, dip your hands in cold water before handling the meat to make burgers or meatballs. Do not overhandle the meat when making patties. Keep a light touch and do not over-compact. There is nothing wrong with digging in with clean hands to mix seasonings into ground beef, but do not overdo it. The heat from your hands and the friction of mixing can break down those bits of fat that you want to preserve for a juicy result. Overworking ground beef can turn it into flavorless mush.
  • You can substitute ground veal, lamb, pork, chicken, turkey or sausage in most recipes for a different flavor. Since poultry has a milder flavor, when substituting ground poultry for ground beef, add slightly more seasoning than a recipe using beef . Because of the difference in texture, you may also need to decrease any added liquid by one to two tablespoons when using ground poultry.

Mediterranean Meatball Soup

6 servings

Ingredients

  • 3/4 cup soft whole wheat bread crumbs
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 teaspoons snipped fresh rosemary or 1/2 teaspoon dried rosemary, crushed
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1 pound lean ground round
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 3 medium carrots, peeled and coarsely chopped
  • 2 medium yellow and/or red bell peppers, seeded and cut into bite-size strips
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 2 cups reduced sodium beef broth
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 – 15 ounce can Great Northern beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1/2 cup quick-cooking barley
  • 4 cups fresh baby spinach leaves
  • Parmesan cheese, garnish

Directions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

In a large bowl, combine bread crumbs, egg, half of the garlic, half of the rosemary and the black pepper. Add ground beef; mix well. Shape meat mixture into 1-inch meatballs. Place meatballs in a foil-lined 15x10x1-inch baking pan. Bake about 15 minutes or until meatball centers register 160 degrees F. Set aside.

In a 5- to 6-quart Dutch oven, heat oil over medium heat. Add carrots, peppers, onion and the remaining garlic; cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add beef stock, the water, Great Northern beans, barley and the remaining rosemary. Bring to boiling; reduce heat. Cover and simmer about 15 minutes or until barley is tender.

Add meatballs to soup mixture; heat through. Stir in spinach just before serving. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese.

Polenta Lasagna

For the polenta:

  • 4 cups water
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup Italian polenta or yellow cornmeal
  • 1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper

For the lasagna:

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/2 pound mushrooms, wiped clean and sliced
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 pound lean ground beef  of choice
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 2 cups homemade or store bought spaghetti sauce
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
  • 1 teaspoon dried basil
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/4 teaspoon hot pepper flakes
  • 1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Directions

For the polenta:

Bring water and salt to a boil in a large saucepan. Slowly whisk in polenta in a steady stream. Continue whisking until it begins to thicken. Reduce heat to low and continue to cook for 15 to 20 minutes, stirring often with a wooden spoon, until polenta pulls away from the sides of the pan. Remove from heat. Stir in cheese, butter and pepper. Keep warm.

For the meat sauce:

In a deep, heavy skillet, saute mushrooms in olive oil over high heat until they release their liquid and turn golden. Remove with a slotted spoon to a bowl. Season with salt and pepper and set aside.

Add the ground beef and onion to the same skillet over medium-high heat. Saute about 5 minutes, breaking up meat, until it is no longer pink. Add garlic and saute 1 additional minute. Add tomato sauce, parsley, basil, oregano and pepper flakes. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, partially cover, and simmer for 15 minutes, stirring often. Add salt and pepper to taste. Let cool for 10 minutes. Stir in mushrooms.

For the lasagna:

Coat a medium baking dish with vegetable spray. Spread half of the cooked polenta over the bottom of the dish. Spoon meat mixture evenly over polenta layer and finish off with the remaining polenta on top. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese. (The lasagna may be covered with foil and refrigerated up to 8 hours at this point. Let stand at room temperature for 30 minutes before baking.)

Preheat oven to 350 F. Cover lasagna loosely with foil and bake for 30 minutes. Uncover and broil for 5 minutes, until the top is golden brown. Let rest for 5 minutes before cutting.

Yield: 6 to 8 servings

Beef Stuffed Swiss Chard

4 servings

Ingredients

  • 1 pound lean ground beef of choice
  • 1/2 cup Italian seasoned breadcrumbs
  • 1 medium onion chopped, divided
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped red bell pepper
  • 1 teaspoon Italian seasoning, divided
  • 2 minced garlic cloves, divided
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper, divided
  • 16 large Swiss chard leaves, stems removed
  • 1 14-ounce can reduced-sodium beef broth
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
  • 1 28-ounce can crushed Italian tomatoes
  • 1/2 cup freshly shredded Parmesan cheese

Directions

Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a large skillet with a cover. Add beef, half the onion, the bell pepper and 1 minced garlic clove. Saute just until meat loses it red color. Combine beef mixture with, bread crumbs, 1/2 teaspoon Italian seasoning and 1/4 teaspoon pepper in a large bowl.

Place two chard leaves together to form 8 piles. Divide beef mixture evenly on the lower half of each set of leaves. Fold the sides of the leaves over the beef mixture and tightly roll up the chard leaves into a cylinder. Place each roll, seam-side down, in the empty skillet. Pour in broth, cover and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook until the chard is tender, about 15 minutes. Pour off any remaining broth and reserve for another use.

Heat remaining oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add onion, remaining garlic, 1/2 teaspoon Italian seasoning, 1/4 teaspoon pepper and crushed red pepper. Cook, stirring often, until the onion is soft, 1 to 2 minutes. Stir in tomatoes and cook, stirring occasionally, until slightly reduced and thickened.

Serve the chard rolls topped with sauce and Parmesan cheese.

Steak Burger with Mushroom Sauce

Serves 4

Ingredients

  • 1 1/4 pounds ground sirloin
  • 1/4 of an onion, finely chopped (about 1/3 cup)
  • 1 teaspoon minced fresh sage
  • 2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 8 ounces sliced mushrooms
  • 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 2 ½ cups reduced sodium beef broth, heated
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
  • Buttered egg noodles, for serving

Directions

Gently mix together the beef, onion, sage, Worcestershire sauce, 1/2 teaspoon salt and a few grinds of black pepper in a large bowl. Using your hands, divide meat into 4 equal portions and shape into oval patties, about 1/2 inch thick.

Heat 1 tablespoon butter in a large skillet over medium-high. Brown the patties, about 4 minutes per side. Transfer to a plate.

Add 1 tablespoon butter to the skillet and cook the mushrooms until slightly browned, about 2 minutes. Stir in salt and pepper to taste, scraping up any browned bits. Sprinkle in the flour and stir, then whisk in the hot beef broth and simmer until the sauce thickens, about 2-3 minutes.

Return the patties and any juices from the plate to the skillet. Simmer until the patties are cooked through, about 2 minutes. Sprinkle with parsley and serve over noodles.

Mini Meatball Pizza

Ingredients

  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • 1/4 cup Italian seasoned dry bread crumbs
  • 2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
  • 2 tablespoons milk
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano, crushed
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1 pound lean ground beef of choice
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 pound prepared Pizza Dough (whole wheat or regular)
  • 1 recipe Pizza Sauce, recipe below
  • 2 cups shredded provolone cheese (8 ounces)
  • 1/2 cup thin strips yellow bell pepper
  • 1/4 cup thin strips red onion

Directions

Preheat oven to 450 degrees F. Grease a large (14-15 inches) pizza pan and sprinkle lightly with semolina flour or cornmeal.

In a large bowl combine egg, bread crumbs, cheese, milk, oregano, garlic, salt and black pepper. Add ground beef; mix well. Shape into 1-inch meatballs.

In a large skillet cook meatballs in hot oil over medium-high heat until no longer pink (160 degrees F), turning to brown evenly. Drain on paper towels. Cool slightly; cut in half.

Place room temperature pizza dough in the prepared pan and press the dough to the edges of the pizza pan.

Top pizza dough with the pizza sauce and then the provolone cheese; then the meatballs, followed by the bell pepper and onion.

Bake for 20 to 25 minutes or until crust is golden brown. To serve, cut into wedges.

Pizza Sauce

Makes 3/4 cup.

Ingredients

  • 1/2 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 8 ounces canned crushed Italian tomatoes
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano, crushed
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper

Directions

In a medium saucepan cook onion and garlic in hot olive oil over medium heat about 4 minutes or until tender, stirring occasionally. Stir in tomatoes, oregano, salt and red pepper. Bring to boiling; reduce heat. Simmer, uncovered, about 5 minutes or until slightly thickened.

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