Friday, November 30, 2012

Making Your Life Easier - Meat-wise.

I don't remember where I learned these tips.  Maybe I saw them on TV or read about them somewhere?  But for at least 6 or 7 years, I've been following these little tips when I buy fresh meat to keep it fresher, make it easier to freeze and defrost, and to utilize it better in recipes. 

A little background:  Growing up, my mom usually bought quantities of meat the size of a small elephant and then threw them in the freezer just how they came.  I remember having to defrost giant 4 lb blocks of hamburger just to get out the 1/2 lb that I needed.  And making that harder was the fact that it was still wrapped in plastic wrap around a Styrofoam dish or in a big wad of waxed butcher paper, meaning it would leak all over as it defrosted.  I continued doing this myself my first few years of marriage, not really knowing what other options there were.  So when I came across these ideas of how to process and freeze meat more easily, I jumped on them. 

Here is what you will need:

  • Several medium (quart size ) Ziplock freezer bags.  (I Recommend Ziplock brand.  In my experience, the store brand ones leak, allow freezer burn, and do not zip well. This is one thing I won't cheap out on.  It means ruined meat, and meat is just too expensive to waste to save a few cents on baggies.)
  • A kitchen scale (optional)
  • A permanent marker (Sharpie-esque)
  • Meat.  (Fresh, not frozen)

Step 1:  Gather all your items before you start!   Once you start touching the meat, you don't want to go searching through the drawer for a Sharpie or baggie -- it spreads contamination.

Step 2: Cut open the plastic wrap on all your meat at once.  It's easier if it's all ready to grab. 

Step 3:  If you want to weigh your meat so you know exactly how much is in each baggie, this is where you would do it.  I generally eyeball it.  For chicken breasts, I care more about how many there are in a bag than the weight.  Or if I buy ground meat, I'll divide it in 2 or 3 sections (1/2 lb or 1 lb each, approximately) depending on the total weight I bought, which is how much I use for spaghetti sauce, tacos, and hamburgers, respectively.  But if you want to measure it, take a plate, place it on the scale, zero it out (most scales have this function--where you can reset it to zero after placing a container on it so that it doesn't include the container's weight), and weigh each amount.  Once weighed, move on to Step 4.

Step 4:  Get a Ziplock bag and turn it inside out.  Place your hand inside it, like it is a mitten. 

Step 5:  Grab the meat you want with the baggie mitten.  Think about how much you generally use for your recipes.  You can grab 2-3 chicken breasts at a time this way.  If you want more per baggie, put a second baggie mitten on the other hand to help stuff the first baggie.  If you are using a weighed portion, grab it off the scale with the baggie mitten.  Then, using your free hand, grab the lip of the baggie and pull it up, right-side out, around the meat.  If you do this just right, you can get all your meat put away without ever coming in contact with it!

Step 6:  Before you seal the bag, squish as much air out as you can.  If you're using ground meat, smash the meat wad as flat as you can and spread it out inside the bag.  This will make it way faster to defrost and also get rid of the air pocket inside.  Air inside causes freezer burn, and it makes the baggie bigger (i.e. takes up more space).   Now seal the bag carefully leaving no gaps in the zipper.

Step 7:   Write what is in the baggie.  Although it may seem obvious what is inside while it's fresh, after a few days in the freezer, it's hard to tell frozen pork from frozen steak, ground beef from ground turkey.  Some bags become total mystery meat!  Reading what it is and how old it is will quickly let you pick the right meat and make sure you use the oldest first.  You want to write: A) The contents  B) The weight, if desired  C) The date (month and year). 

Step 8:  Put your meat in the freezer, placing what you just bought underneath any meat that is already there.  You always want to use the oldest first (unless it's too old.  Obviously throw it away if it's more than 6 months old!)  If you  always throw new meat on top, you're likely to waste a lot of meat (namely the stuff on the bottom that you never get to until it's grey and mummified!)

That's it!  The instructions are way longer than the process actually takes.  I can buy a package of ground turkey, 6 chicken breasts, 4 steaks, and 4 pork chops and have  it all put away in correct portions in about 5 minutes.  Although it seems like more work to do this, when it comes time to cook, you'll be so happy when you open the freezer and there is the meat you need, already portioned out and ready to cook!  It takes less time to defrost when it's in smaller portions, and if it's free of packaging materials, air, and freezer burn, it's going to turn out way better too.

 Happy cooking!

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Halloween Wrap Up

I swear, Halloween is the most stressful holiday of them all!  I love it.  It's my favorite, by far.  But it is also the most activity intensive for a mother with young kids because there are pumpkins to pick out and then carve (meaning I scoop out all the guts, they draw the face on, and then I do all the carving), class parties, costumes to pick, order, return when they change their mind and then reorder with express shipping, then tune up when they arrive to meet my children's exact specifications, trunk or treats to cook for and then attend,  make up to do, neighbors to "boo," miles of trick or treating to walk, and then, oh yeah, as an afterthought, it's my husband's birthday!  Poor guy.  He always gets the shaft.  So even though I adore Halloween, I have to admit I always breathe a BIG sigh of relief when November 1st dawns.

So here are the costumes for this year...

Sticking with the big cat theme from last year, Daphne was a leopard.  She wanted to be Marseline from Adventure Time, but once she found out she'd have to wear boots, that was off the table immediately.  Too bad.  It would have been so cool.

Trunk Or Treat Version...

School Version....

(The Trick or Treat version featured no face make-up at all!  She was totally sick of it by then.  Thanks a lot, pre-Halloween festivities!)

Beck was the Gold Power Ranger, otherwise known as the Hot Power Ranger, Antonio.

Oh wait, I guess you want to see Beck.  Fine.

The No-Masks-Allowed-At-School version...

The Wore-His-Mask-But-Mostly-On-The -Top-Of-His-Head-So-He -Could-Actually-See version...

Pippa was an angel.  Not behaviorally, just in costume.  I had picked out a really cute pig costume, but then I decided she could just wear Daphne's butterfly one from that age.  But then Big Daddy said that was lame, so I went to order the pig, but it was all sold out.  As were the other 15 choices on my list.  So we ended up with the angel, the only thing in her size NOT sold out the week before Halloween.  It turned out pretty cute, execept that she wouldn't hold still long enough for me to get a good shot!  Some angel.


This one isn't too bad, but the backdrop leaves something to be desired...

 Ah, finally.  Decent backdrop AND she isn't moving.  It'll have to do...
I dressed up in my old standby, the Zombie Prom Queen.  I volunteered to go tell spooky stories in Beck's class at school, so I thought it would be fitting.  But then I realized that Kindergarteners don't really know what a Prom Queen is, so I left off the sash and just called myself a Zombie Princess this year.  They still all thought I was a vampire or a witch.  Dumb 5 year olds.  (JK!)

For Big Daddy's birthday, he got a nice big serving of (leftover) chocolate cake (that was too chocolatey for him.  Weirdo.) with a star shaped candle on it (all I could find) that his son blew out (BECK!!) before we abandoned him with the baby to go trick or treating.  So, ya.  Pretty lame.  Like every year.  Sorry, Sweetie.  At least you got to golf with three of your best friends on the most beautiful Halloween on record, right?

So that about wraps it up.   I narrowly missed having a nervous breakdown, and it took me 6 hours to scrub all that face paint of Daphne, Beck, and myself, but it was all worth it.  Just, please, next year remind me to start getting ready in September!