Ingredient SpotLight

Ground beef is a staple in many households and brings us everything from meatloaf and hamburgers to casseroles and spaghetti sauce. It refers to beef that has been ground or finely chopped. The price of ground beef (also called hamburger) is determined by the cut of meat from which it was made and the amount of fat incorporated into the mix. High-fat mixtures are less costly but will shrink more when cooked. The least expensive product is sold as regular ground beef or regular hamburger. It's usually made with trimmings of the less expensive cuts such as brisket and shank, and can contain up to 30 percent fat. The moderately priced ground chuck is the next level of ground beef. Because it contains enough fat (about 15 to 20 percent) to give it flavor and make it juicy, yet not enough to cause excess shrinkage, ground chuck is the best meat for hamburgers. The leanest (around 11 percent fat) and most expensive of the ground meats are ground round and ground sirloin. Though they're great for calorie watchers, they become quite dry when cooked beyond medium-rare.

It is sold fresh and frozen, prepackaged in bulk (usually 1 to 5 pounds) or in preformed patties. It may also be ground to order. The way it is used determines how the beef should be ground. In general, the finer the beef is ground, the more compact it will be when cooked. For instance, firm-textured combinations such as meatloaf or meatballs should be made with beef that has been ground at least 2 or 3 times. For hamburgers, however, where a light, juicy texture is preferable, the beef should be coarsely ground.

In order to share some of the versatility of ground beef, I'm sharing a few of my favorite recipes. Everything from an Asian-inspired meatloaf to traditional shepherd's pie can be enjoyed.

Asian Mini Meatloaves

  • 1 1/2 pounds fresh ground beef
  • 1 can (8-oz.) water chestnuts, drained and chopped
  • 3/4 cup fine dry bread crumbs
  • 2/3 cup evaporated skim milk
  • 1/4 cup soy sauce
  • 1/4 cup chopped green onions
  • 1 egg
  • 2 teaspoons beef flavor bouillon granules
  • 1 clove garlic, peeled and finely chopped
  • 1 cup sweet and sour sauce

Preheat oven to 350°F. Lightly grease 12 muffin cups; set aside.

In a large bowl, combine beef, water chestnuts, bread crumbs, evaporated milk, soy sauce, green onion, egg, bouillon and garlic. Mix lightly but thoroughly to blend.

Divide mixture among muffin cups; press into cups. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes. Remove from cups and serve with sweet and sour sauce.

  • Yields: 6 servings
  • Preparation Time: 45 minutes

Greek Hamburgers

  • 1 1/2 pounds ground beef (lean)
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 3 garlic cloves (minced)
  • 3 tablespoons red wine (dry Burgundy)
  • 2 teaspoons oregano
  • 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Toppings such as fried onions, lettuce, tomatoes

Mix the hamburger with the first six ingredients, then cook by your favorite method and top with fried onions. Go easy on mayo, etc. If you really need a topping, use Dijon mustard.

  • Yields: 6 servings
  • Preparation Time: 20 minutes

Shepherd's Pie

  • 1 pound ground beef
  • 1 medium chopped onion
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • Dash of pepper
  • 1 (10 oz.) can tomato soup
  • 1/2 can corn
  • 1/2 can green beans
  • 2 cups mashed potatoes
  • 1/2 cup shredded cheese

Cook the meat and onion in a skillet until brown. Add the salt, pepper, tomato soup, and vegetables. Simmer for 5 minutes. Pour into a greased casserole pan and cover with the potatoes. Sprinkle with the cheese. Bake at 350 degrees F for 20 minutes.

  • Yields: 6 servings
  • Preparation Time: 30 minutes