Monthly Archives: April 2011

Pictures (Basement, Garden, etc.)

That shelf I was talking about, the one I built on Tuesday. Just needs some OSB or plywood across the middle supports.

I cleared off the junk that was piled on these shelves and got all the storage totes organized. Along the back you can see my grow lights set up. Those flats all have tomato seeds in them.

The entire original garden. It doesn't look like much yet but it will in a few months!

My two little surviving herbs, given to me by our neighbor last year. 🙂

Rhubarb in the foreground, asparagus just starting to pop up behind it. Freshly weeded and mulched!

I tipped over the compost bin and spread out the compost with the skid steer. The chickens were more than happy to spread it out a little more!

10# of Red Pontiac potatoes all cut up and setting out, ready to plant soon!

It was pretty productive day.  I can only do about half of what I normally do and I’m twice as sore.  I guess the baby isn’t much for weeding! Guess I better do an extra good job with my mulching this year.  😉

Part-time Day 1

Well, this is my first week dropping back to part-time at work.  That means today was my first Tuesday at home!  I made myself quite a to-do list to help me stay on task and not kill too many brain cells on the computer all day.  I actually crossed off every single thing on my list!!

Jobs worth mentioning… I got all of my tomato seeds planted.  I had worked on some on Sunday & Monday but finished up today.  Roma, Big Month, Amish Paste, and Rutgers.  All together there are over 250 of them if I’m counting right.  I’m starting them almost a month late but considering the weather I’m not too concerned!

I slowly started to work on organizing the basement too.  My two goals for that today were 1) get all the storage containers put up on the shelves I built last year and 2)build a shelf for the extra sink and countertop to set on.  We’ve had this sink top leaning against the wall down there for years.  Eventually we’ll have a canning kitchen down there so we’ve been holding on to it.  I built a shelf to hold the top that will also hold 4 storage totes.  It has room for a bucket under the drain too.  Someday we’ll hook up the water supply but it would be expensive to drain it so a 5 gallon bucket will suffice.  I took pics of the finished shelf so I can add those later.

For boring jobs I got ALL the laundry done.  I had to use the dryer all day which I hated to do.  It is so damp in the basement nothing hanging up will dry and it was raining off and on all day.  I cranked up the dehumidifier down there and that helped some.  It is so nice to be caught up on the laundry!  I just won’t think about the electric bill! 😉

Anyway, it was a successful day.  I’m beat!

Freezer Cooking: Browned Ground Beef

If you do it right you can have ground beef already browned and packaged loosely enough that you can scoop out however much you need for any particular recipe.  Here’s how I do it.

Ingredients:

  • Fresh or frozen ground beef

A NOTE ABOUT USING FROZEN BEEF: If you’re buying your beef from the grocery store you should try to time it so you’re cooking with fresh beef.  It is not recommended to thaw beef and then refreeze it.  However, if you are buying beef from your local farmer it will usually be frozen solid already when you pick it up.  In that case I have no concerns about thawing it and then refreezing it this way.  This is because it has been frozen so quickly and in such a fresh state.  If you question how your beef was handling don’t be afraid to ask your farmer and/or your processor.

Thaw beef completely.  I thaw mine by placing the frozen packages in a large metal bowl and filling with hot water.  It will thaw in several hours setting out on the counter or a couple days in the fridge.  I wouldn’t set it out on a really warm day, other than that I don’t get concerned about thawing at room temperature.  We haven’t had any problems.  Still, the practice isn’t recommended by food safety experts.  Do what you’re comfortable with.

When the beef has thawed, pour in to a hot frying pan or skillet.  I use our large, deep, electric skillet set at 350 F.  It comfortably holds 4 pounds at a time.  Cook, stirring occasionally, just until no pink remains.  DO NOT DRAIN.  Instead, use a slotted spatula to transfer meat to an ungreased cake pan.  This will leave most of the fat in the skillet but carry over enough to maintain moisture in the finished product.  Transfer a maximum of 2 pounds of beef to each cake pan.  Set out at room temperature, stirring occasionally, until steam no longer escapes when you stir.  Place on a level surface in your freezer.  Stir well every 30 minutes or so until the entire contents appears frozen and can’t be squished with your fingers.   Pour into Ziploc bags or other airtight containers.   Label with “Pre-cooked Ground Beef” and freeze.

This can be added to spaghetti sauce or heated in a pan for tacos, sandwich spreads, or pretty much any recipe that calls for browned ground beef.  It sure makes getting dinner together in a pinch a lot easier!

Freezer Cooking with Ground Beef

I did my freezer cooking day a couple weekends ago.  I had intended to get together with some family to do it but when that didn’t work out I decided to post it all here.  This way anyone who would like to follow along can plan their own day of cooking.

I started with 20 pounds of our homegrown frozen ground beef. Contrary to modern food safety practices I thawed it by starting with a bowl of hot water, setting the plastic bagged packages in it, and leaving the whole thing out of the counter for several hours.  I set it up before I left and stuck it in the fridge when I got home about 6 hours later.  A few hours later I pulled it out of the fridge and the meat was mostly all thawed enough to be workable.  I would not feel comfortable thawing at room temperature during the summer: our kitchen that day was about 60-62 degrees F.  Do it your own way.

Another thing… I would not recommend buying fresh beef from the grocery store, freezing it, then thawing it to use for freezer cooking.  Either get your meat direct from a farmer so it is frozen as soon as possible (shameless plug: BeckerFarmsMI.com) or plan your cooking day around a sale and buy all your fresh ground beef at the grocery store just before using it.

Here are some supplies you may need:

  • Foil pans
  • Tin foil
  • Plastic freezer bags
  • Marker for labeling
  • Bread pans
  • Paper grocery bags
  • Food processor

Here the thing about supplies: please, please do not feel like you need to go out and buy a bunch of special stuff just to do freezer cooking.  This can be as simple or sophisticated as you want.  Buy freezer bags on sale with a coupon.  Better yet, save the plastic bags out of cereal boxes (that you buy on sale with a coupon).  Cut up those bags and use them to wrap your meals in, then layer the top with cut up paper grocery bags or store brand tin foil.  Stack meatballs in mason jars and cover with tin foil, or look for those plastic freezer jam containers and used Tupperware at garage sales.  Plan ahead to save the most $$$.

You’ll want to pick out your recipes ahead of time and double check that you have all the needed ingredients.  Be flexible.  For example, I didn’t want to use up all my saltines so I rounded them out with some fresh bread crumbs made in the food processor.  Figure out how many recipes you want to make, how many pounds each recipe calls for, and then how many pounds you need.  Or, start with how many pounds you have and go from there.  I had 20 pounds available and still left about a half dozen in the freezer in case something comes up that I want them for.

Here’s the breakdown of what I did with 20#:

Feel free to get a lot fancier.  I like to keep these basics on hand.  They leave you with many, many meal possibilities, especially the meatballs and precooked beef.  For more ideas visit Food.com and search for things like “freezer recipe, freezer cooking, OAMC (once a month cooking), make ahead, etc.”

Prepare your ingredients first.  If you’re using onions get the job of chopping them up out of the way.  I use my mini food processor.  Chop up garlic and any veggies you’re adding.  Break up your crackers or chop up some bread crumbs.  Set all your seasonings out on the counter with your measuring cups and spoons.

Rearrange your freezer and make room in your fridge in case you need to stick some meat in there temporarily.  You’ll need room in your freezer to sit pans or cookie sheets flat while things flash freeze.  For me this meant putting a few things from the freezer in a cooler for a few hours (nothing too perishable) so I could have shelf space available.  Once you’re all done you’ll be able to package up your meal and cram them in but the cookie sheets do take up an odd space for that short time.

Decide on the order of things.  I made the meatballs first so the cookie sheets could be rotating through the oven and freezer since that takes the most time and space.  Next, I mixed up the meat loaves because I used the same bowl and mixer blades.  Those went right in the freezer in bread pans to flash freeze.  Then, I made up the hamburgers, again in the same bowl and with the same mixer blades.  I stopped short of making the actual patties and instead covered the mixture in the bowl and refrigerated it.  I actually stopped there for the evening and just finished cooking, flash freezing, and packaging the meat balls and meat loaves as the night went on.  The next day I browned up the remaining beef, and flash froze and packaged it. My cookie sheets were available again so I used them to flash freeze the hamburger patties out of the mixture in the fridge.  It was easy to work on the patties while occasionally stirring the ground beef in the skillet.

Obviously you’ll have to adjust your own order of things depending on your recipes and time schedule.  Think of what pans you’ll need, cooking times, and which recipes need a lot of attention and which have a lot of hands off time.  Experiment, you’ll figure out what’s most efficient.

If you have any questions I’ll try my best to answer them.  Or, if you have done your own freezer cooking feel free to share your tips, experiences, and recipes.  Enjoy!

Zucchini Apple Muffins

These are great for getting that last bit of zucchini out of the freezer.  We just happen to have some applesauce that turned out kind of blah so I’m using that up too.

Ingredients:

  • 3 eggs
  • 1/2 cup oil (I use Canola or Soybean oil)
  • 1 2/3 cup sugar
  • 1/3 cup brown sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups zucchini*^
  • 1 cup applesauce*
  • 3 cups AP or bread flour (or whole wheat, but expect a heavier product)
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp. baking powder
  • 1 tablespoon cinnamon
  • dash of nutmeg
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 cups nuts of your choice (optional)

*Amounts of applesauce and zucchini are interchangeable so long as your total equals 2 1/2 cups.  Use what you have.

^I used thawed zucchini out of my freezer and did NOT pour off the water.  If using fresh zucchini you may want to add a bit of water to ensure of moist muffin.

Preheat oven to 325 F.

Beat eggs.  Add oil, sugars, zucchini, and applesauce.  Mix well gradually add in the dry ingredients saving flour until last.  Stir in nuts (if using).  Ladle into greased muffin pans.  Store in airtight container.  I keep mine in a Pyrex baking dish.

Yields 24 super moist muffins, perfect for breakfast, lunch, and snacking in between. 🙂