Friday, December 30, 2011

Berry Applesauce

One of my goals for this year is to have less waste coming from our lives. I've gotten into a bad habit of purchasing single-serve organic fillings for the lunch boxes. It's not cheap and it certainly isn't green. Those little throwaway applesauce containers have to add up and each serving costs at least $.60  . The berry variety costs even more.

I had ordered a few boxes of dirt cheap organic cider apples ( $10 for 20 lbs!) . They were keeping OK in my unheated garage but they were not really being used. I also had a bag of the ends of berries picked or ordered for jam making. This week I pulled in the apple boxes, culled the bad ones and then cut about 10-12 lbs worth of the 'iffy' ones- spotty, getting soft on one side but fine on the other, that sort of thing. I left peels on, simply removed bad spots and cores. These I tossed into a pot with the berries and some water and cooked slowly for a full day until it was total mush. Then I let it cool completely.

The next step was to wrangle child labor to run the food mill for me. I had them take turns until all the mush mix was milled leaving just a bit of peel behind. We did a taste test and declared it way too tart (remember- cider apples, not real sweet, plus a berry mix heavy on the cranberries) so I added honey until it was declared good plus a touch of pie spice and cardamom and vanilla.

Once we were all happy with the taste, the applesauce was ladled into regular muffin cups and frozen (also with some excellent assistance from the 'end consumers'). After freezing, the pucks will be popped out of the tins and stored in tupperware in the freezer. When one or two are wanted for lunches, we will just pull them out and pop them into one of our little covered bowls or a small canning jar which will come home again to be washed and used..over and over and over.

Total cost of my apples from Azure, berries, and 1.5 cups of honey was about $12. With spices and gas for the stove, we'll round up to $15 for 52 servings. $.29 per serving plus a whole lot of plastic I'm not sending to the landfill. Now to figure out how to kick my ziploc habit....

Saturday, December 3, 2011

100 Lbs of Ground

Beef. My meat order just arrived from Sitkanak and I now have a total of 100 lbs of ground beef in addition to about 120 lbs of other cuts- all beautiful, flavorful, healthy organic and totally grass-fed. Beef + pig + lamb+ salmon = a freezer bursting at the seams.

When I purchased my beef, I opened the order to some other people at my kids' school. All together we picked up 917 lbs of meat at the airport last week. Several people have said "But what do you do with it all??"

At the moment, shoving it all into the freezer seems like a major accomplishment but I do have a master plan. My plan is designed to maximize freeze space and to address the three major issues of my culinary life:  Cooking supper gets old. Packing lunches has gotten even older. I am completely out of steam by 5:30 and more than a touch lazy to begin with. The key is bulk cooking. If you're going to spend several hours in the kitchen, drag all the stuff out and make a huge mess, why not get a lot done? This will be a two to three day project for me which I plan to tackle after Christmas but before my helpers head back to school. Here is what I will be making:

Meatballs - swedish and italian - 22 lbs
meat loaf - 6 lbs
taquitos - 4 lbs
tamales - 4 lbs
taco filling - 4 lbs
homemade hamburger helper - 10 lbs
Hambuger soup - 2 lbs
salisbury steak - 4 lbs
burgers - 14 lbs
chili - 10 lbs
pasties- 4 lbs
Shepherd's  Pie Base - 6 lbs

22 lbs of meatballs??? Yes. My kids absolutely love those little Aidells spicy meatballs in their lunches. Nutritionally, they are better than a lot of things normally packed into school lunch boxes but they aren't perfect and they are expensive. I can make them for a fraction of the cost and also have a stock on hand for kid pleasing suppers, potlucks, and church coffee hours. Since I also order my cheese in bulk blocks from Azure, I can even cube it up and freeze little pouches of meatballs and cheese cubes for those lunches. Meatballs also pair with rice spaghetti and tomato sauce or the Swedish ones go with a heap of dilled buttered potatoes or they can become a hot sub or into a crockpot with BBQ sauce and jam and garlic for a favorite finger food without all the chemicals.

Meatloaf is not a huge favorite here and 6 lbs will get me 3 loaves. Enough to be tolerated, not enough to inspire revolt.

Taquitos. My kids love the boxed ones with all the nasty stuff. I discovered that they also love them homemade and that I can make organic ones at home for less than a box at Costco. Browned spiced ground beef with a little sprinkle of cheese for a binder, rolled inside a con tortilla and fried. Once they have drained and cooled, they freeze beautifully. Two make just the right sized lunch entree. I have most of a case of organic (only way to be sure you are getting GMO-free!) corn tortillas in the freezer but I'm going to take a shot at making some as well. We'll need them for the tacos anyway.

Tamales- also good freezers, well liked and I have some masa that needs to be used.

Taco filling- beef, spices, onions, peppers. Pair with some shredded cheese, salsa, maybe a little sour cream and this goes well either in tacos or over re-fried beans.

Hamburger Helper - The 'real thing' is disgusting to me. It tastes like someone sprayed my food with herbicide. Of course, my little guys think it is AWESOME. That happy little hand on the box, powdered cheese, all that salt and sugar and MSG...Mine is essentially browned burger meat which is spiced and sauced. I freeze it all together and mix with rice noodles at meal time.

Hambuger Soup is a lot like stew only easier. I don't do turnips but I do add parsnips. And a nice splash of red wine. I put it all together except for the beef broth and freeze that way. I freeze my broth in 2 cup cubes for efficient use of space and it all thaws and cooks faster this way than freezing in a big block.

Salisbury Steak- steaks frozen in one bag, gravy in another. Speed and portion flexibility.

Burgers- spice them, patty them, divide them with wax paper for faster thaw time.

Chili- no beans because of Miss V's dietary needs. Eat it plain, over rice, with a batch of gluten free corn bread, over corn chips with some shredded cheese....

Pasties- a little meat turnover, sort of like stew in a pie casing. beef, onions, carrots, potatoes, parsnips, herbs and a gravy from the juices baked into a pastry. I use the tiffins as the cutter so I'm sure that they will always fit in the lunches!

Shepherd's Pie Base- beef, onions, tomatoes, spices, & corn. I have a bag of organic mashed potato flakes (which are one of those convenient compromise choices) from Azure. If the base is done, I can have a shepherd's pie bubbling away in the oven in under 5 minutes

Life keeps happening

I essentially abandoned blogging last spring. We moved and spent many months where my only internet connection was an iphone. Our family has changed- Miss V is home again, MK is out on her own, our oldest daughter is back in state (although nowhere near as close as we would like). Two of the youngest continue to thrive in school, the third has come home to learn. We are selling the huge heavily mortgaged house to our renters and are now living through an Alaskan winter in a much smaller home. In most ways I much prefer this little house in this wonderful neighborhood but having another bedroom would make it much nicer.

Having kids in school has been a very new experience for me and it is interesting how the most unexpected things can serve as impromptu values clarification exercises. I've discovered that I am passionate and adamant about parental rights and consent, that I absolutely do not believe in homework, and that I am ambiguous about public education as a concept. My bureaucracy tolerance is just too low.

Food will again feature prominently here. I make no promises to blog daily or even to do that much better. I simply have the connection now so that, when I have something to say, I can.