Monday, September 28, 2009

Food: Time and Money Saver #1

One thing I always find handy to have in the freezer is pre-cooked meatballs and ground beef. If you have a microwave, they are quick to thaw and use. If you do not, they are pre-cooked and it's perfectly safe to let them thaw in a sauce as they're cooking. Otherwise (if you remember!) you can pull a bag from the freezer and put it in the fridge overnight.

What I do is watch for ground beef to go on sale. I watch for the 80/20 (meat/fat ratio) rather than 70/30... who wants to pay even sale prices for a wad of fat? Yuck. Then, I get at LEAST 10 pounds... 20 if I can swing it.

If you're going to follow my plan, you're also going to need a box of quart-size zipper FREEZER bags (not the storage type... they will give your meat freezer burn), a box of Gallon-size zipper freezer bags, a large stock-pot or dutch oven, and the ingredients which will follow. A tablespoon-size cookie scoop (looks like a miniature ice cream scoop) is VERY handy, but not 100% necessary.

For Freezer Meatballs:

3 beaten eggs
3/4 cup milk
3 cups bread crumbs
1/2 cup onions, minced
2 teaspoons salt
3 pounds ground beef

In a large bowl combine eggs, milk, bread crumbs, onion, and salt. Add meat and mix well. Shape into 72 1-inch balls, using the cookie scoop if you have one. Place half of the meatballs on a cookie sheet lined with foil, and bake at 375° F. for 25-30 minutes. Remove from pan and cool; repeat with remaining meatballs.

Place cooled meatballs on a cookie sheet and freeze until firm. Package 24 frozen meatballs per quart freezer bag, seal, label, and freeze.

You can double or triple this recipe as necessary. These can be used in a variety of dishes, and since they are home made, they are much healthier than the store-bought frozen variety. I will often save the heels of my multi-grain breads in the freezer till I have a bunch, then make my own bread crumbs in the blender or food processor.

For a ten pound chub of ground beef, I'll double my meatball recipe, then boil the remainder of the ground beef to make a pre-cooked loose meat, suitable for adding to spaghetti sauce, hamburger helpers, or other recipes calling for browned ground beef.

Some things to consider before boiling your hamburger:

I always start with my stockpot full of COLD water, then break apart the meat in the water before applying heat. A great deal of the fat will come off on my hands, which I consider better than skimming it off later, or worse, eating it with the meat. Breaking it apart in the water helps get a very fine consistency to the finished meat. I use my dutch oven for this, so I only do about three pounds at a time. Any more than that could be a fire hazard if greasy water overflows and hits the burner. ALWAYS watch the pot.

If it tastes too bland to you, I often drain the meat into a colander, then put it back in the pot for a little browning. I would not add salt, however, since you don't know what kind of recipe it will be used for yet. I have been known to stretch my ground beef by adding things to the meat as it's cooking, such as grated onion, grated carrot, or grated potato. It sneaks some veggies in for the kids, and helps stretch the meat out farther.

When it's done, and cooled a little bit after draining, measure into quart bags, two cups at a time. Cool in the fridge for a bit, then freeze flat. You can rearrange them after they're solid. Each quart bag with two cups of cooked meat is equal to ONE pound of uncooked hamburger. Use accordingly.

In subsequent weeks I'll suggest some recipes to use these items in, or meanwhile you can use your imagination! Spaghetti and meatballs, Salsbury Meatballs, Cheeseburger Macaroni, etc. are just a few off the top of my head.

Most of all, have fun with the time/money you save!

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