Monday, February 27, 2012

Make Your Own Ground Beef

Why you ask? Here's why I do it:

1. You'll know what's really in it. If you haven't heard about "pink slime" or "mechanically separated" meat, I challenge you to google it and learn, if you dare. I ground about 7-1/2 pounds of chuck roast today and my ground beef is 100% ground chuck and nothing else.

2. It's WAY cheaper. I watch the sales and then stock up. If you start to pay attention to grocery store cycles, they have sales on certain items periodically. The trick to saving money is to buy enough when it's on sale to last you till the next sale. So this week Kroger has boneless chuck roast for $1.99 per pound. This is when I buy a bunch and grind it up. If they have a limit, then I go more than once in a week. Right next to the roasts they have Ground Chuck for $1.99 per pound. You might look at that and think, why would I want to go to all of the trouble of grinding my own when it's already ground up for the same price. However, if you look closely the Ground Chuck is 73% lean. This means that it's TWENTY SEVEN PERCENT FAT. They literally add fat to it. They jack up the price of the "lean" ground chuck and add that fat to the cheaper ground chuck. Anyway, what I'm trying to say is that isn't a bargain when you are going to throw away (by draining off the fat) 27% of what you're paying for.

3. It's easier than you think. You don't need a commercial meat grinder. I use a grinder attachment on my Kitchen Aid Mixer. You can sometimes buy these on sale for $55. It's WELL worth it. I use it all the time.

4. It's fresh. I read that Wal Mart uses some type of gas to keep its meat looking pink and fresh. Just because it LOOKS fresh doesn't mean it really is. I know that everything I used was clean and the meat went into the freezer right away.

Here's how I do it. I use a Kitchen Aid Mixer with the grinder attachment. I try to get all my cuts to about 3/4" in size. This way, they move through the grinder quickly. I cut roasts into 3/4 slices, then the slices into 3/4 strips, then 3/4 dices, or thereabouts. I do trim off all gristle and sinew and any big chunks of fat. I don't worry much about little bits of fat marbled into the meat. The whole process goes faster if the meat is very cold. Here's a tip: use a piece of foil to "drape" over the opening of the grinder to deflect any liquid that spurts out to help keep it off the floor and you. Marc came up with this idea.

The grinder attachment comes with a couple of different plates (the holes are different sizes). I use the small one for ground beef and a mid-size one for chili beef.

If we're going to want burgers to cook on the grill, I will add some fat back to the ground meat so that the burgers won't fall apart on the grill. The fat cooks out for the most part. However, if I'll be making basic ground beef or meatballs to cook in the house, I try to eliminate as much of the fat as possible.

Today I ground about 7-1/2 pounds of ground chuck. Out of this I made 6 burgers, 3 pkgs of ground beef and about 47 meatballs.

To make burgers, I use a 1/2 cup measuring cup to measure the ground beef for each portion. This is a great size for grilling, but if you will be using the patties smothered with onions and mushrooms on the stove top you might want smaller portions, say 1/3 cup each. I line a cookie sheet with parchment or freezer paper and measure out 6-1/2 cup portions of ground beef, then flatten them out. I then place the cookie sheet in the freezer (unwrapped) to "quick freeze" the patties. In about two hours or so (or whenever I remember them) I go back and pull out the cookie sheet and if the meat is frozen, I peel the burgers off the paper and put them in a plastic freezer bag and label. What's great about this method is that the burgers won't stick together cause they are individually frozen. I just pull out the number of burgers I need for a quick meal. I don't even have to think about defrosting anything.

For the packages of ground beef, I use a quart size Food Saver bag. I turn down a "cuff" on each bag before filling to keep the top sealing edge clean. I measure out about a pound using a scale into each bag. Even though my new Food Saver has a "moist" food setting, they recommend you pre-freeze the meat just till any liquid is frozen. So I place the open bags in the freezer, with the clean sealing edge up. I set the timer to go back in an hour and pull them out for sealing.

To make the meatballs, after I've made burgers, and taken out what I want to be frozen in one pound packages, I weigh what's left. I had aprx. 2 pounds or thereabouts today. Using the same bowl, I ran sliced frozen onions* through the grinder, right into the ground meat. Then I added a slice of bread (the heel) to the grinder to get all the last bits of meat and onions out. I made "basic" (not Italian flavored) meatballs today cause I want to make Swedish Meatballs for dinner and it was easier just to make one recipe. I didn't add any egg just in case Journey eats with us when we have them. I used to use my Pampered Chef cookie dough/mellon baller thingy to shape the balls, but find that it takes too long. I found an easier way when you're making a lot: flatten the meat mixture out to about 1 inch or so high on the cutting board. Square up all the edges till you have a square or rectangle shape. Using a large knife, cut rows in the meat about 1" or so in width, then go back and cut those slices into squares about 1" each. Then you end up with 1" meatballs. Pick them up and round them in your hands and place on a lightly greased pan. I use a stoneware (Pampered Chef) pan that's big enough to hold them all. Place in the oven about 350 deg. and bake till done, turning occasionally. After they're cooked, I cool and individually freeze them the same as I did for the burgers. Then dinner time can be as simple as opening a jar of spaghetti sauce, dropping about 6 meatballs in (still frozen!) and cook till hot. It doesn't get any easier, unless you have someone come to the house and cook it for you.

I have also made the meatballs and froze them uncooked, which is also easy but by pre-cooking them, your dinner is ready to "heat and eat".

You may notice my laptop in the picture. I set my laptop on the counter and play You Tube videos on various subjects that interest me while I work. Today I was watching videos on how to heat seal mylar bags using a Food Saver. I just got a Food Saver so I'll so a post on how I'm using it later.

* You may remember a previous post about the onion harvest. Someone (Kathy?) asked what we would do with so many onions. Well, we sold some, but most of them went into the freezer. When you cook 99% of your food from scratch you need lots of onions. We use lots of them in salsa, relishes, etc., but literally use then daily in cooking. We used a lot fresh, but when the humidity started to get to them, Marc sliced and diced the rest of the onions and put them in canning jars in the freezer. All we have to do is take out however many we need for a particular recipe and throw them in the pan. It's home made convenience cooking.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Fun with the Light Table at Grandma & Grandpa's House

I bought this light table, along with some other items, from a school auction. They are from a school supplier, and very well made. This light table alone sells for hundreds of dollars. It was in perfect condition.

I researched light table activities online and realized there's no right or wrong thing you can do with it. Transparent colored objects are great, but anything is fun. The light seems to keep the child focused on whatever's on the table's surface.

I went to a teacher supply store and got some things we could play with. I bought some sand, some foam letters, and some finger paints, along with an art smock. We'll try out the finger paints another time. Today we played with sand. At first, Journey just played with common kitchen items on the table. She thought that was neat. Then we added the sand.

The sand comes in various colors and is around $2.99 for a large container (about 2 cups). We only used about half of it. She poured the sand from one container to another, spooned it up, sifted it, and ran her hands through it. She had a lot of fun. It kept her attention for about 45 minutes.

Monday, February 6, 2012

A couple of projects completed

I wanted to make a new table runner and found a charm pack online at Nancy's Notions called "Le Petite Ecole" which looked like blue and red and cream and when I got it, it was more gray than blue. In the dead of winter I really need something bright but since I had the fabric, I went ahead and made it up. I had bought a book a while back called "Piece In the Hoop" which contains instructions and a CD with design files for piecing quilt blocks using the embroidery machine. I thought this would be a good time to try out those designs. I watched the video (basically a "Sewing with Nancy" type format) and read, or rather flipped thru, the book and got started.
Rather than make the test block and start with the simpler projects, I thought I would jump straight to the more complicated designs (the Log Cabin Block) (mistake #1). Also, wouldn't it make sense to make ONE block first and make sure all was going as planned? (mistake #2) Instead, I made up about 10 Log Cabin Blocks, trimmed them neatly, admired them for a while, then proceeded to make the Snowball Blocks with the embroidered chicken/rooster in the center. Then I cut all the plain pieces to fill in the other squares. It was only then, when I went to sew them all together, and the blocks didn't all match up, that I realized I'd FAILED to READ and FOLLOW directions. What I thought was the CUTTING line was actually the STITCHING line. So... I'd cut off all my seam allowances on the Log Cabin blocks (ahhhh!!!!!), which meant I had to cut down all the other blocks, and it snowballed from there. Disgusted, I wanted to throw the whole mess out, but I kept going. The casual observer can't see that the outer row on each Log Cabin Block is a wee bit narrower than the rest.

These pictures are dark because my dining room is dark, that's why I need bright cheery fabrics!
This table runner did provide a lot of really good practice. It was not a quilt as you go project. I used the "stitch in the ditch" for the log cabin blocks and for some of the plain blocks I used a design on the CD which kinda looks like candlewicking. For the rest I just did plain old machine embroidery.

Had I followed the directions it would have been a fast and easy project. The blocks stitch accurately every time. I can only imagine what it would have looked like if I'd tried to piece them myself!
The other project is a lingerie bag, ordered by a woman who buys toddler dresses from us. She has a lingerie shower to go to and had an idea of what she wanted and basically sketched an envelope shape with the recipient's monogram. She provided the cotton outer fabric and a flower button. The cotton wasn't sturdy enough for a bag so I created quilted fabric by using sew in interfacing as the bottom layer, thin poly batting in the center and the cotton on top. I drew chalk lines 1" apart, in a diamond pattern and used an olive green embroidery thread on top. The quilting was easy and very fast. I loved the way it turned out.

The fabric is so busy I knew a monogram would be lost on it, so I used a "frame" of a light ivory and fuschia fabric (which I also used for the lining). I used Monogram Wizard to create the monogram. The frame is an applique also done in the embroidery machine.