Thursday, July 17, 2014

EDGE Conference Gives Youth a Look into the Beef Industry

Professional development, cattle, networking and fun highlighted the 2014 EDGE Conference June 9 in Urbana at the University of Illinois (U of I). More than 60 individuals participated in this event, hosted by the Illinois Junior Beef Association (IJBA).

Katelyn Jones-Hamlow, recruiter for the U of I Department of Animal Sciences kicked off the event with her message about career opportunities in the beef industry and how to prepare for an education in agriculture. Travis Meteer, U of I Beef Extension Specialist; Christy Couch Lee, CeeLee Communications; and Tonja Egan, U of I veterinary medicine student served as the careers in agriculture panel and shared their passion for working with the beef industry.

Conference participants sharpened their social media skills by live tweeting from the event with Holly Spangler, Prairie Farmer, as she shared the dos and don’ts of agriculture industry advocacy. Aspiring photographers learned how to command their camera from Christy Couch Lee. Jennifer Shike, U of I College of ACES Director of Communications and Marketing, shared the importance of public speaking.

A highlight of the event was the opportunity to participate in hands-on workshops in the Meat Science Lab to learn about carcass grading, beef cuts and fabrication methods, and beef safety. The group also tour the Beef Research Center and learned for U of I faculty and graduate students about the latest beef research methods.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Workshop and plot tour will highlight growing prairie plants for forage, bioenergy, and conservation

A workshop and plot tour on July 8 in Decatur will provide an opportunity to learn from the experts about growing native warm season grasses for forage or bioenergy and also for environmental benefits including wildlife habitat, clean water, and soil conservation. The workshop will start at noon and conclude at 5 p.m.; the plot tour will start at 6 p.m. and end at 8 p.m.  Attendees are welcome to come to the workshop, the plot tour, or both.

Workshop speakers include Ed Ballard, retired University of Illinois (U of I) Extension Animal Systems Educator, discussing warm season forages; D. K. Lee, U of I Assistant Professor of Crop Sciences, on research to improve bioenergy grasses; and Cristina Negri, Argonne National Laboratory, on sustainable bioenergy landscapes. Carol Williams, University of Wisconsin, will discuss the newly-formed Midwest Conservation Biomass Alliance. The workshop will also include project updates, additional talks on production and use of biomass crops, and a panel of producers discussing their experience with prairie plants grown for forage.
The tour of the Prairie for Bioenergy demonstration plots will allow participants to see a variety of warm season grasses and talk to producers, scientists, and educators about use of prairie plants for forage, bioenergy, and conservation. A soil pit will provide a look at the root system of the plants that helped form the fertile prairie soils of Illinois. The Agricultural Watershed Institute (AWI) established these plots on land owned by Caterpillar Inc. and managed by Soy Capital Ag Services.  

The workshop will be held in the National Sequestration Education Center on the campus of Richland Community College. Sign-in and networking will start at 11:30 a.m. Lunch will be provided.

The starting point for the plot tour is a designated area in Caterpillar’s D Parking Lot, which should be entered through the gate on the south side of Hubbard Avenue just east of 27th Street.  Caterpillar will provide shuttle service to the tour stops.  This event is sponsored by AWI, U of I Extension, and the Illinois Biomass Working Group.

Both the workshop and the plot tour are free and open to the public. Advance registration for the workshop is required to ensure availability of food and printed materials. To register or for further information, call or e-mail Tim McMahon at AWI by July 3 at 217-877-5640 or email  

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Capping off Beef Month with Chocolate

May 29 – where has the month gone? It seems like just yesterday we were making announcements about Beef Month, and now it is coming to a close. But don’t worry friends, we can celebrate our great product every day, and after having our oven on last night, I know I’ll be grilling from here on forward! It was too hot in the house. 

To close out Beef Month, I thought we should celebrate, and what better way to celebrate than with chocolate?! That’s right, I wanted to share with you a dessert recipe that uses beef, so this week we’re baking up some delish Beef Brownies. 

Since Stan was at work, I found a new cooking assistant for the evening, and we mixed up a batch of these wonderful, moist, chocolate-y brownies. And the best part – they have protein in them with the ground beef!

Once I got Kaden situated next to the mixer, I had him measure out the ingredients while I browned the beef in the skillet. This was a simple recipe that I found online at, and the beef provided some added moisture to the brownies to make them melt-in-your-mouth good, as well as a little texture.

·         2 cups sugar
·         1 ½ cups flour
·         1/3 cup cocoa powder
·         1 tsp salt
·         1 cup butter
·         4 eggs
·         2 tsp vanilla
·         ½ cup cooked ground beef (I used 80/20)

Mix the sugar, vanilla, cocoa and butter.  Add eggs, one at a time.  Mix well and add flour and salt. Fold in ground beef. Bake at 375 in a 10x15 pan for 25 minutes.  Do not over bake.

True to form, I did not mix the ingredients in order as listed above – I added the flour to the initial mix. I also forgot to set my kitchen timer – a hazard of multi-tasking – so I waited until the edges were getting a little “crisp” to them. And these brownies turned out pretty darn good!

I would suggest serving them with glass of ice-cold milk or a scoop of vanilla ice cream, but they aren’t too bad plain either. 

I sure hope you have enjoyed the Illinois Beef Association’s Beef Month cooking segments.  Don’t worry; “Cooking with Shelia” will be back on the IBA blog periodically. There are so many tasty, versatile and nutritious ways to prepare beef that I want to share with you. In the meantime, don’t forget to check out, for more great recipes and beef information.

And, next time you need to take a dessert to a potluck, try these yummy brownies.  You’ll be glad you did!

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Beef – the Healthy Option

Since my move to Illinois nearly a year ago, I have come to the realization that I had awful eating habits in my previous life. I lived alone and was on the road more than half the year; therefore the cupboards and refrigerator in my house had the bare minimum – cereal, crackers, cheese, milk (sometimes it was still good) and a piece of fruit or two. I ate out twice a day and even then didn’t make super healthy choices.

I have definitely chosen a healthier lifestyle since my move to the farm, and starting work at IBA. Stan and I cook most every night and I take left overs to work daily, but usually my friends and I do splurge and eat out one day a week. The meals I take to work include protein, a salad and another vegetable or fruit.

Of course the tastiest protein option I enjoy is beef! And, fortunate for me, beef offers a variety of lean options. According to, “all lean beef cuts have less than 10 grams of total fat, 4.5 grams or less of saturated fat and less than 95 milligrams of cholesterol per 3½-oz serving.” To find a lean beef option, look for the words “loin” or “round” in the cuts’ name.

We have really been on steak kick lately – especially with the nice weather. So the other night, Stan grilled up a sirloin steak. It was a slightly larger than 3 ½ ounces, and we knew with our sides, one steak would feed the both of us. Earlier in the day, Stan lightly seasoned the steak with one of our favorites – Jim Baldridge’s Secret Seasoning. Just prior to grilling we set the steak out. I had purchased some pineapple chunks earlier in the week and thought about using them for shish-ka-bobs, but instead we just grilled them sans skewer.

We like our beef medium rare, with a little pinkish-red color in the center. Different grills will cook at different speeds. It is always good to have a meat thermometer on hand to make sure your meat is cooked to the temperature you like it.

Within a very short time, we had a delicious steak and wonderful grilled pineapple – all with just three ingredients – steak, seasoning and pineapple.

This was a great looking, great tasting, lean meal. Of course, I added some grilled garden veggies and a baked sweet potato to the meal to round it out.

What is your favorite cut of lean beef? There are so many options to choose from, and so much more flavor in lean beef than what you’d find in chicken. I wish more people realized that.

Stay tuned for next week’s segment where we look at some other fun ways to use beef!

Monday, May 19, 2014

CattleFax - Weekly Recap

The fed cattle market was mostly $1 to $2.00 lower last week, with the full decline noted in the North. In the South, the bulk of the trade was at $145, while sales in the North were primarily at $146 to $147.50 live and $234 to $236 on a dressed basis. Boxed beef was steady on choice and modestly higher on selects last week. Lower slaughter levels helped to stabilize the boxed beef market. 

Feeder cattle prices were steady to as much as $4.00 higher for the week while calves were mostly steady to $3.00 firmer. Slaughter cows were steady to $2.00 higher as summer grilling demand moves to center stage. 

Corn prices worked lower last week as planting proceeds quickly in the Midwest. An Cattle On feed report was issued Friday. On feed came is at 99% percent of a year ago, trade estimates were 99.2%. Placed on feed was reported to be 95%, the trade was expecting 96.8%. Marketed was 98%, the pre-report estimate was 97.9%.

Check out today's Chart of the Day. For recent market news and analysis, visit

Friday, May 16, 2014

Thinking Outside the Box

It’s a conundrum that’s been a long time coming. Carcass weights are increasing at the same time consumers are looking for smaller portion sizes. To help combat this issue, innovations in beef merchandising have stepped up to the plate.

Bridget Wasser, senior director of meat science and technology for the Beef Innovations Group – funded by the Beef Checkoff, said, “We’re about the consumer – they’re the reason we’re in business.”

It’s no secret that consumers want to know more about their food and are demanding more from the beef industry’s product. According to Wasser, what they demand the most is quality. But, not quality in terms of the USDA grading system. Quality to the consumer combines several different characteristics.

“When consumers are asked about quality they automatically think of taste and the three major attributes of taste are tenderness, juiciness and flavor,” she said. “Our goal is to offer the best possible eating experience every time a consumer chooses beef – consistency is key.”

To help add value to the industry from a retail and foodservice standpoint and to ensure a great eating experience for consumers, meat scientists are being innovative with ways to fabricate traditional cuts from beef carcasses.

“Historically, middle meat cuts (tenderloin, sirloin, ribeye) tended to sell themselves and muscles of the chuck and round were of less value because they were perceived as less tender being used for locomotion,” Wasser said. “The second most tender muscle is actually in the chuck and it’s known as the Flat Iron steak.”

Muscle profiling research is the cornerstone of the Beef Checkoff’s work on innovation with new fabrication methods and the research helped find diamonds in the rough.

For example, research identified tender muscles in the shoulder clod, but traditional fabrication methods didn’t allow access. Due to this, meat scientists have changed beef cutting methods and are encouraging single muscle fabrication.

“With single muscle fabrication, we now we have access to all surfaces of the muscle. There is always going to be a seam of fat that runs between muscles and sometimes there’s connective tissue, which is a barrier to tenderness,” she said. “We can now remove barriers to quality, and make sure we’re cutting across the grain, which is hard to do with multiple muscles present as they lay in different directions.”

Three new cuts from the shoulder clod were released by the Beef Checkoff in the early 2000s and the Petite Tender has become a real success story. The seventh most tender muscle, there are only two Petite Tender’s in the beef carcass and it’s in high demand. According to Wasser, packers are fabricating the muscle in the plant and bagging around 20 together to distribute to food service establishments. The industry is selling between 30-40 million pounds of Petite Tender per year. Currently, there is more demand than we can supply.

During the late 2000s, the Chuck Eye Steak was released. In the food service world it’s referred to as the Del Monico Steak and is popular because it eats like a ribeye, but at the chuck price. Wasser looks for more value to come from this cut in the future.

Phil Bass, meat scientist for Certified Angus Beef, agrees that the beef industry is making progress by adjusting cutting styles.

One of the big accomplishments of the beef community is the way we’re taking these muscles apart to produce more desirable cuts of beef. Just like with the chuck, meat scientists have had success with creating more value with the top sirloin as well.

“Meat cutting is easy – find the seams. It’s like taking apart a puzzle,” Bass said. “The top sirloin is one we haven’t taken the knife to properly. We need to liberate this piece of meat and produce a boneless cut. The top sirloin butt does have a lot of bone attached to it.”

He noted there are several muscles within it that can be appealing steaks. The top sirloin butt is a large piece of meat and fabrication methods decrease the overall diameter, which allows for the ability to cut thicker steaks in a smaller portion size. This is what people are looking for, especially in the food service sector.

“For chefs cooking a 4-ounce steak that’s a half-inch thick there are basically two degrees of doneness – raw and cremated,” Bass said. “So a new cut we’re helping to merchandise, the top sirloin filet or baseball cut, can be eight ounces and an inch and a half thick. The size gives chefs more to work with and it really stands up on the plate – chefs like altitude. It looks good and is more of a value type item, but is still a great eating experience.” 

Meat scientists are constantly looking to find the answers to what is next for beef, how can we do more with less, and how can beef continue to meet consumers’ needs tomorrow, and for years to come. Education is the first step and meat scientists are making efforts in teaching industry stakeholders how to merchandise our product. It’s important for producers to know what is next for their product and the future looks exciting.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Who Remembers Cook Books?

I remember the day I received my first cook book. I laughed. Out loud. It was a high school graduation gift from some people we had met in the sheep business. And it was a beautiful hard-cover book with wonderful photography. But it had recipes in it, and well, that would mean I’d be stuck in the kitchen. Anyone who knew me knew I’d much rather be in the barn or out with my animals.

Fast forward a few years, and my grandparents presented me with the red church cookbook. You know the one – all the church ladies submit their favorite recipes and some prayers and it’s spiral bound. I still couldn’t find a good use for it.

Then, I moved away from home. And I had to cook. That red, spiral-bound book with recipes submitted by my relatives and my grandma’s friends became my best friend. I have used it over and over, and starred some of my favorites. I also am a big fan of my Better Homes and Garden book my mom gave me. And during the 22 years since I received that first cook book, I’ve received several others during my travels or as gifts.

But those cook books don’t do me any good when I’m at the grocery store thinking about what is for dinner. Thank goodness for hand-held technology…I can Google the ingredient I want to cook, and a recipe magically appears!  

That is what I really like about Not only does this site have great recipes, but it also serves as a nutrition resource, offers advice on cooking methods and has an interactive butcher counter, which I love.

So, I was on the BIWFD web site, wondering what fun summer treat I could make with ground beef (remember last week I talked about the versatility of a hamburger?). And, I found this great recipe that combines three of my favorite food – beef, mushrooms and blue cheese! It is an appetizer, but that works great because Stan and I often like to have some munchies while we cook and this one was healthy and great! Click here for the recipe: Beef and Blue Cheese Stuffed Mushrooms

I did tweak the recipe a little bit, and will share with you what I did. The recipe calls for ½ pound of ground beef for 36-40 mushrooms. It was just the two of us, so I cleaned and stuffed 16 mushroom caps – and all my ground beef filling (beef, blue cheese crumbles, bread crumbs, seasoning and chives) filled those without feeling like they were “overstuffed.” It was exciting to use the fresh chives that I had planted in our herb garden earlier in the spring. I used Canadian steak seasoning and Italian bread crumbs to spice up the flavor a little.

I cooked the mushrooms for 20 minutes in the broiler, and they were delish! It didn’t take 20 minutes for Stan and me to devour these tasty  little morsels of beef and ‘shrooms! They were great and we are already talking about making them again and adapting the recipe to use parmesan or mozzarella cheese instead of blue cheese.