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This proves I am 1: Not a Food Photographer and 2: Living in a house without good kitchen lighting.

This proves I am 1: Not a Food Photographer and 2: Living in a house without good kitchen lighting.

Poor photography aside, here’s a tasty recipe that’s more a process than a precise recipe, but it results in what The Boy calls “Good slop, Mother!” He may or may not get to live indoors next week…

I started with about a pound of thin-sliced beef; the store label said it was sliced “for Milanese”–but what I was looking for was beef I could slice on the cross-grain for tenderness, and this was already sliced cross-grain, and thin. So all I had to do was slice it into strips about 2″ x 1″ or so.

That marinates (at room temperature, please) for at least an hour with:

* A splash of oil

* A good two cloves of minced garlic

* About a 2″ knob of ginger root, grated (perhaps 2-3 Tablespoons?)

* Several glugs of soy sauce

Try really hard to keep your face out of the bowl. This stuff smells like heaven.

While the beef marinates, time to “do the mise” (mise en place, which is fancy French for “get your stuff all ready to go”) on the rest of the veggies and goodies. And get your rice steaming, or boil some noodles.

For veggies, I’ll list them in the order I stir-fry them.

* about 1-2 carrots, sliced on the bias and thin (1 cup)

* 1 medium onion, sliced thin

(I toss those in together, with minimal oil.)

* 1/2 pound mushrooms, in small chunks, because I don’t want them to disappear. I do these in the pan after the onions and carrots are out, and don’t add oil, because I just want to brown them a bit, and still have texture later.

* 1/2 pound snow pea pods, sliced on the bias into bite-sized pieces; use more if you like! Just get them hot through.

* 2 green onions, sliced in about 1/2″ pieces, so they’re visible. I do add some sesame oil to this last bit, as they’ll be garnish and it’s tasty.

Sauce:

* 1-1/2 cups beef broth

* 1/4 cup soy sauce

* 1/4 cup water with about 3 tablespoons cornstarch in it.

* a tiny tiny dash (1/4 teaspoon blort of it) of sriracha garlic-chili sauce (add more if you like spicy).

I don’t follow normal stir-fry rules very much, but here’s the cooking process I used:

Onions and carrots, until they start to soften a tad; remove to a big bowl.

Mushrooms, til they’re browning nicely; remove to the big bowl.

Meat, in very small batches, so it cooks quickly; remove to the big bowl as soon as most of the pieces are no longer pink. You will fight the urge to pick little bits of meat out of the big bowl for the rest of the cooking process. Indulge at least three times. It is sooooo goooood.

Snow peas, until hot through; remove to that bowl!

Onions, until fragrant (literally seconds); remove to the side, not in the bowl.

Then the sauce mixture goes into the pan, and stir constantly as it thickens. Tip the big bowl to drain all the collected juices into the sauce, and stir some more.

Everything goes carefully back in the pan, and gets tossed with the sauce to coat.

Serve it over the rice, or over noodles. Snarf. SO GOOD.

For a vegan version, I would marinate extra firm tofu chunks in the ginger/garlic/soy mixture, and sear it off in a pan; use veggie broth rather than beef, and add in steamed cauliflower, broccoli, and other veggies you enjoy to amp up the dish.

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After months of tragic and semi-starvation, it’s time to get back on the bandwagon with my menu planning and firm, unswerving budgeting. We like to keep things frugal around here, but we also like to eat really good food. You’ve heard the adage about Quick, Good, or Cheap: Pick Two? Well, it holds true with food as well. We’re going for Cheap and Good, so Quick is likely headed out the window. But, Big Cooking can save me a lot of time, so we’ll maybe get Not-Horribly-Slow, Good, and Cheap out of the deal, and that’s none too shabby.

What follows is a very, very long and detailed description of a lot of food. If you’re not in the mood, click away to Pinterest now. Or go read news or something. This is all food.

In the first Big Shop of the month (right on the first of the month… the Tall, Dark, and Slightly Neanderthal Fellow and I called it a date, because we left all the Minions at home cleaning out the fridge and it was just him, me, the soft glow off the produce at the grocery store, and 900 billion other people who apparently had similar ideas), we spent $325; today I spent another $15 on a good sale at my second favorite grocery store. And here’s what we’re doing/have done with that fundage this month: (more…)

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Road Food

We’re planning a trip to the mountains of my childhood.

This involves a goodly trek: ten hours each way in the car if I’m careful with rest breaks. My brother swears you can make the trip in six hours, but there’s a reason he gets speeding tickets and I do not. (I don’t mean for that to sound as supercilious as it types out. Well, mostly not, anyhow.)

Over the years, we’ve developed a system of stops and breaks that works for us. And when I say “us”, I mean: caters to the easily-bored Mother of Minions, who doesn’t like to sit still for anything longer than 90 minutes at a stretch, and thinks Southern Idaho is about the most boring, desolate drive in the entire universe. Scientists interested in developing teleportation devices need to make this drive about 40 times in a row, as they’d find tremendous incentive for their work. It is really, really dull. You’ve never seen so many miles of nothing, so well-fenced. (Well, unless you’ve driven across portions of Texas or Montana. Distances are really distant here in the West.)

We leave beastly early in the morning (I’m thoroughly convinced that each day should have only one 5 o’clock in it, but trip days have two) in order to travel with snoozy children as far as possible.

Here’s the plan:

Leave here Beastly Early; drive to the Oasis stop outside of Twin Falls, refuel, and wiggle/eat breakfast in the small grassy area there. The children avert their eyes, so as not to be embarrassed by Mom jumping around.

Commence driving and get as far as Mountain Home, where there’s a very nice visitor’s center with lots of grass and a hill. Have a snack. The children avert their eyes, so as not to be embarrassed by Mom rolling down the hills (wearing long sleeves… I’m allergic to grass.) Eventually, they will all roll with me.

Commence driving, and get through Boise and into Ontario with a minimum of whining (from me). Refuel, and eat a light lunch. Cavorting ensues.

Commence driving, and listen to Mom wax excitable as we hit “home territories”. That means it’s only another 3.5 hours! Make it as far as Brogan, and stop for a toilet break, light snack, and purchased drinks at the Brogan store. We stop there, as they don’t look at you funny if you use the bathroom and don’t buy something. Since they don’t mind if we don’t, we always buy drinks. Nice people!

Eventually, we get to Grandma’s house, she feeds us, and we try to re-set and get on the Home time zone. Usually, we’ll take over several meals during our stay, so along with road foods, we need to plan for visiting food, too, but that’s another blog post.

So, what exactly is Road Food?

For some families, it might mean Fast Food Restaurant Food. However, this is the West, where distances are distant, if you’ll recall. Sometimes, a required stop for fuel and bathrooms doesn’t coincide with Fast Food Franchise plans. Even if it did, our family is large enough that each fast food stop will cost $20 to $30, and for a ten-hour drive, we’re looking at between two and four stops, so that’s not happening with our trip budget.

My kids once tried to wheedle me into buying stacks of Lunchables for a trip. We did buy one, and took it home to taste test. It did not pass muster with the kids, either on flavor, quality, or quantity. (“Why is this meat slimy? Where’s the rest of it? Six crackers? Are they kidding? Why is this cheese rubbery? How come everything is so salty? This drink pack is gross!” My children do not have futures as test subjects for the Industrial Food Complex.)

Then we took advantage of Reason to Homeschool #567: All Life Is Learning, and priced out what else we could buy. That turned out to be Quite a Lot, and they immediately began plans to convince me that any saved money should really be diverted to the Souvenirs Fund. (They didn’t happen to win this entirely, but they did prevail on one trip through the Tillamook Cheese factory, wherein they requested ice cream, got permission for said ice cream, noticed the per-scoop cost of said ice cream, and volunteered to fore-go said ice cream if they could each buy a pocket knife with their name on it instead. I couldn’t really resist that sort of decision-making. And, since the Eldest can easily resist ice cream, and the Boy cannot easily resist adding to his pocket knife arsenal, it worked for them, too.)

Instead of prepared foods or chain restaurants, we pack a wide variety of family favorites in a cooler and shopping bags, already prepped for easy consumption, and really enjoy our road food. It’s filling, but light enough that we don’t have car-sick incidents in most cases, and it’s all fairly non-mess-making, too. Our “standard” Road Food includes:

  • Home-sliced cheeses, generally including provolone, cheddar, or colby-jack, but sometimes including an herbed cheese spread we make ourselves, or goat cheese from the Farmer’s Market (in season).
  • a box or two of Really Nice Crackers. Right now, those are the Multi-Grain Toppers, but I’ve been watching Alton Brown, and am getting brave about making our own crackers! For the “Goldfish” crowd, I can substitute my darling Mother-in-Law’s famous cheese biscuits, which are home-baked cheese cookies that very much meet the needs of little kids, and are flat-out addictive for everyone else.
  • Home-sliced real ham and turkey
  • Child-selected fresh fruits in season, which are then “broken down” at home and bagged for easier eating. Apples get sliced and cored, then bagged with pineapple juice or lemon juice to prevent them browning. Bananas are kept whole. Oranges are sliced at home.  Grapes are sectioned off into small clusters. A big fat Asian pear is more likely to be kept intact, but we’ll pack the small cutting board and the little corer/slicer thingy to take care of it on the road.
  • Raw veg, cut and bagged at home. Why spend more on pre-bagged veggies? It takes only a few minutes to slice up carrot coins and celery sticks, or de-floret some broccoli and cauliflower. Snap peas need no further treatment. My Eldest usually packs a small bag of raw spinach to munch or add to crackers.
  • Dried fruits and nuts from the bulk foods section, with each trip participant choosing one item. This gives variety, and allows us to try something new each time, too. Because it’s all bought in bulk, the price point is quite low.
  • Rolls. Not all the kids eat bread, but for those who do, quick sandwiches can be made with meat, cheese, veg, and a roll.
  • Small Bits of Good Stuff, like a little jar of marinated artichoke hearts, a few pepperoncini, a bag of black olives, and another of sour dill pickles. We’ll also include small re-usable jars of various mustards, nut-butters, and jams that don’t require refrigeration.
  • Homemade cookies or granola for sweet snacks
  • Our own water bottles, filled and frozen the night before, plus several gallons of drinking water for the car.

So, we’re not exactly talking bread-and-water privation here. It’s really good food, and in some cases, gourmet food. Anything that’s best kept cold goes into a small cooler, and everything else is stored in reusable shopping bags. Because the cooler needs are quite small (really, only the cold meats require it, and we could entirely skip meats for a trip without any problems), our ice needs are minimal. Eating foods that don’t require refrigeration for safety is inherently safer all around. We’re not going to be surprised by “not quite adequately refrigerated deli pasta salad” at any point.

The actual quantities of any one food are fairly small; the wide variety allows for this. We also try to limit snacks to break stops, which puts a bit of the kibosh on “I’m bored” snacking during the drive, and definitely cuts down on the mess. (We also bring along plastic grocery sacks as disposable trash bags, and clear out the car with every single stop. It keeps The Mom from going entirely smack out of her tiny mind, or wanting to barf from smelling banana peel for the next two hours.)

The thing I like best about our Road Food is how it makes me feel. I get a good balance of sweet, salty, crunchy, creamy; a good balance of carbs, proteins, and fats; a lot of water and water-rich foods to keep me hydrated. So, I show up tired, but not groggy, and not bloated and slightly greasy from soda and chips. And since I’m already nearly dead of boredom, and ready to take up a second career as the kind of scientist who develops teleportation machines, that’s rather a nice thing.

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As the ingredients list in commercially-canned “Cream of Crud” soup gets longer and longer, you may be looking for an actually FOOD-based equivalent to add that creamy, saucy, comforting touch to many recipes you’d like to make at home.

Once A Month Mom has a great base recipe (easy to adapt to your own dietary needs) on her site. Having Cream of Something Soup base packets in your freezer can be a grand way to add more food to your food, and be better prepared for fast meals.

Click Here to visit Once a Month Mom’s Cream of Something Soup Recipe.

You know all those pasta/veggie freezer meals you see advertised? The sort with the “creamy sauce?” You can do that at home, from single-ingredient frozen veggies or veggie blends (unseasoned–you’ll save a stack there!), freshly-boiled pasta, and a portion of sauce base, with a bit of added herbs, maybe some Parmesan cheese… fantastic, fast meals from real food. How lovely!

One Orange Giraffe has also shared a recipe for a shelf-stable, just-add-water Cream of Something Soup base. It’s a bit less real-food than the OaM-Mom version, but still makes a great addition to your nifty food skills, and makes those last-minute meal ideas so much easier!

Now, pretend you’re married to a Tall, Dark, and Slightly Neanderthal fellow who had a tiny Sicilian great-grandmother on one side of the family. Cream of Something did not enter her vocabulary, let alone her kitchen, and thus, your Tall, Dark, and Slightly Neanderthal fellow has a bit of a genetic bias against CoS preparations. Add in several children who aren’t always fans of tomato based “gravy” for pasta dishes. And, add in your own great dislike of the “cooked” taste of all bottled creamy pasta sauces ever commercially canned. You’re going to need some additional skills to satisfy everyone, and easy white-sauce options might just suit. Bonus: they’re both based on actual food, as well!

If you have some basics on hand, you can make a real Alfredo sauce in about the same amount of time it takes to mix up a packet or open a can. The flavor is so much nicer when the food is real! Here’s a cream-based Alfredo from 100 Days of Real Food. It’s purely decadent, and so good!

I make an even easier version of creamy pasta sauce that uses the pasta water for the creamy aspect. I call it “Slacker Alfredo.” You may find you love it.

Slacker Alfredo

  • In unsalted water, cook about a pound of pasta al dente. Reserve a cup of the cooking water.
  • Drain the pasta and hold it for a moment.
  • Add about 1/4 cup of butter to the pasta pot, and briefly saute a tablespoon of minced garlic (which I keep in the fridge all the time. You can also sub garlic granules–a solid pinch of them–if you’re *really* slacking or living on pantry staples.)
  • Add the pasta back to the pot, and dump in about 1/2 cup of grated Parmesan (and since I rarely have fresh, I used the bulk Parm from WinCo.)
  • Toss and stir; add a bit more butter if you like, and also drizzle in the pasta water, to get the cheese melting and the sauce saucy.
  • Add several grinds of good peppercorn mix, and perhaps a bit of fine-chopped rosemary, or more garlic.
  • Toss in steamed veggies if you like
  • Use that remaining pasta water to loosen up the sauce a tad, if needed, and serve that pasta!

To use an old phrase: it’s larruping good.

(That means you sort of want to shovel it into your face and use your tongue to slurp up the remnants from your bowl, your fork, and your chin.)

Pardon: I need to go help my Eldest format her camp planning ideas into an easily-readable sheet she can use to Take Over the World. I’m so very proud of her!

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I lost my grocery receipt, so I can’ t give accurate numbers on every aspect of our Big Cook, but I thought you might like a few updates and notes. I’m thoughtful that way.

Breakfast Burritos: total cost $17.50, 52 burritos (33.6c each, made with great cheese, real sausage, organic free-range eggs, versus $1 minimum for fast-food of questionable extraction); rough savings: $34.50

  • 2 pounds Colby-Jack cheese
  • 2 pounds breakfast sausage
  • 3 dozen “home” eggs
  • 52 flour tortillas (which I found for $1/10 at our WinCo!)

These were easy as anything. I soft-scrambled the eggs (our own “home” eggs, and additional eggs purchased from a “home” egg hobbyist north of us), browned the sausage, and then mixed the two together with grated cheese. A brief heating of the tortillas made them flexible enough to wrap easily around about 1/4 cup of the egg mixture. Rolled up burrito style, they hung out on a baking sheet until I was finished, and could wrap them in pairs for the freezer (sorted into gallon-size zip bags.)

I like the smaller size of a regular tortilla; our Littles will eat one or two, as their appetite strikes them, and the Bigs can enjoy two very easily. They reheat in minutes in the microwave (unwrapped first), and have been a tremendous help in getting our mornings started (and also for a few fast suppers!)

Next time I do a big batch, I want to make two changes: I’ll add fine-diced, roasted potatoes (Yukons or Russets) and use ham dices instead of sausage. The potatoes add great flavor and a bit more substantiality, plus being a great way to stretch the other ingredients. I expect the cost-per-burrito to actually decrease a tad! The prep time for the potato version will be a bit longer, of course. Even if a person didn’t have 2 hours to do a huge batch, taking half an hour to make and roll a dozen or so would surely ease a week of breakfast time! (Big Cooking doesn’t have to be done all at once!)

Beef, Black Bean, and Cheese Soft Tacos: total cost $50 (62c per taco, versus $1.49 for basic take-out soft tacos of unknown origin, and no black beans); rough savings: $69.20

  • 80 flour tortillas
  • 7 pounds home-ground beef (from a chuck roast)
  • dry cumin, garlic, onion, salt, and pepper sauce to taste
  • 2 cans black beans, rinsed (I’d like to do these from scratch next time, but S&W are great for store-bought.)
  • 3.5 pounds mixed cheddar and Monterey Jack cheeses, home-grated (used our Kitchen-Aid grater attachment for the first time: brilliant!)

Seven pounds of ground beef, plus beans, takes up a pretty big pot. I wanted to have a somewhat distinct cheese layer, and anyway, I couldn’t mix in cheese without making a huge mess, so I struck upon a rather clever method: I spread half the meat/bean mix at a time in a jellyroll pan, then topped it with a thick layer of shredded cheese. I could then “cut” out a heaping spoon full (probably about 1/4 to 1/3 cup), and get the meat/bean and cheese strata I wanted! As we rolled tacos (burrito style, with closed ends), I set them in a cake pan and kept them covered with a kitchen towel to prevent them drying out while we worked on assembly. I wrapped them in the same sort of pairs as the breakfast burritos.

These could have been significantly cheaper had I gotten a great sale on beef, or used pre-ground beef, but I’m pushing it to make my Beloved eat tacos, anyhow, so having top-notch meat filling was a salve to his Neanderthal taste buds. (And I like knowing it’s all fresh, all clean, and has no extras we don’t want.) I also rolled the costs of the heavy-duty foil I used for wrapping in with the tacos, but I’ll be using the rest of it with other menu items, so it all works out.

We’ve been enjoying these reheated in the microwave (a lot), and I’ve also done one “no prep” dinner by arranging some in a baking pan (frozen), and topping with enchilada sauce before tossing them in the oven (foil covered). A topping of a bit more cheese toward the end made these as lovely and gooey as any made-it-that-day enchiladas we’ve enjoyed in the past.

I’ll be doing these tacos again. Perhaps we’ll do some chicken, white beans, green chiles, and cheese; we’ll definitely do more beef.

Of course, having made all this cylindrical food, I’ve been struck by cravings for cheeseburger pockets. Stinking fickle me.

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It’s been a wild summer for us, between The Worst Short Vacation Ever, loads of sickies, A Really Nice Vacation, scads of pipe band stuff, church camp, trying to clothe little girls who keep growing, and keep up with real-life work in the corners. We’ve relied on take-out food more than we like, and after sitting down with ourselves, we’re truly at a “put the foot down” point.

The Tall, Dark, and Slightly Neanderthal fellow I married said, “What if we take a day or so and just fill up the freezer? Sure, it would be a lot of work, but the next few months will go better, right?”

(He’s looking ahead to our school plans, more pipe band, more gym, more music lessons, another vacation, and a book launch, and being pretty practical, actually.)

Putting together a big cooking session isn’t something you do at the drop of a hat… or at least, I don’t do it at the drop of a hat. We have four available prep and assembly cooks, plus two bitty kids for running, so it’s a matter of coordinating the efforts of six people in one kitchen with limited counter space, limited pots/pans, and limited freezer space, and still making sure everyone eats, bathes, and makes it to band practice along the way.

So, though my Beloved mocks me gently, I make lists. (He always bows down and lauds the list before we’re through, so I am satisfied.)

List 1: The Menu

The first list lines out what sorts of things we think we’ll be making. I like to streamline as much as I can, even at this point, so if there’s one item that required crock-roasted meat, I try to come up with at least one other crock-roasted meat item. If we want to do up breakfast burritos for the freezer, I also want to do up meat, bean, and cheese burritos at the same time. If we have one item with ground beef, let’s come up with three, and do them all at once. The planning also lets me tailor my Big Cook to our current budget and tastes. If we need to focus on the cheapest proteins, we can; if there’s wiggle room, we can get the biggest flavor bang for our buck). This round’s menu list looks like this:

Stuff in Pans: 3-cheese florentine lasagna; stuffed chicken breasts in sauce (this time around, it’s basil and sun-dried tomato chevre stuffed chicken breasts in a tomato cream sauce… sounds fancy, but is really easy to make!)

Breakfast Stuff: egg, sausage, cheese burritos; egg, cheese, and ham English muffin sandwiches

Lunch and Dinner Cylindrical Food: (because we can slide geometry lessons into anything) tamales; beef, bean, and cheese burritos

Lunch and Dinner Round Food in Pastry: (see? Told you so!) Scottish meat pies; Chicken UFOs (so called due to their shape… you’ll see)

Party and Midnight Snack Food: pork potstickers

Things of Meat: seasoned beef patties for the grill, Italian meatballs, seasoned nacho meat

Side Effects: broth from the crocked meats (pork, chicken, and beef) get frozen by the 2-cup bag for future soup bases and gravy.

If I’m feeling froggy, I may also do up some Cheeseburger Pockets for the freezer, but that’s still undecided, as I already have two things that require a rolled crust. I may save those for a secondary Cooking, and do pizza crust and pocket sandwiches at the same time.

You’ll notice things are a bit meat-centric (except for the lasagna, but don’t tell my Beloved, as he hasn’t noticed in fifteen years of eating it.) Never fear: these items are only the meal foundation. I prefer to do things like soup fresh (using frozen broth!) To any one of them, we’ll normally add things like fresh or frozen fruit, steamed and/or raw veggies, green salad, rice, or breads. But those things tend to go together very quickly, and can be done by any of the Minions. Having main items prepped speeds everything.

List 2: The Quantity List

Not only are we cooking multiple recipes in one day, we’re cooking tripled or more recipes of each, so knowing the quantities to purchase is very helpful! One of the best ways I’ve found is to do up recipes on a chart. Doing that for each recipe, I can make a ingredient quantity list. It’s helpful to know that I’ll need 3 pounds of shredded beef, so I can buy 4 pounds of roast to crock and shred. Since I have other shredded beef items in the list, I add those to the quantity chart, and I can be sure to buy enough.

To make this list, I start with a blank chart and headings:

Item                        Recipe Totals                              Shopping Total

Then I start down the menu plan, top to bottom, and list all the ingredients in the first recipe in the Item column, and the recipe quantity in the Recipe Total column. I like to do this on the computer, so it expands easily. I’m a bit OCD about my lists. It’s a “thing.” (It’s also why our last Chinese dinner was hilarious: my fortune cookie said, “It is not the plan, but the planning that is important.” I have sarcastic fortunes.)

When I’m done with that recipe, I go to the next; if it has repeated ingredients that are already listed, the quantity gets listed in the Recipe Total column; new ingredients are added to the list and it just keeps going. When all the recipes have been listed out with their quantities, it’s easy to do the shopping total. For this trip, I discovered I need 24 cups of grated cheese (18 cups of mixed cheddar, colby, jack, whatever, and 6 cups mozarella). Knowing that 8 ounces of cheese makes about 2 cups of shredded cheese, I can calculate how many pounds of brick cheese I need, plus a little extra, because everyone swipes a bit while we prep.

Some of my quantities are estimates; depending on how full I make burritos, we’ll get a few more or less than I plan, and that’s okay. I’ll have a final tally to post on the freezer and use as my inventory list (see, there are the lists again!)

(If this whole process is starting to sound very intimidating, take heart: you can start with Small Big Cooking. Simply plan to double a few of your most freezable recipes, and build up a small stock of at-home convenience options in your freezer and pantry.)

List 3: The Shopping List

With the quantity list in hand, I can make up a quick shopping list, with all the items grouped properly (produce, dairy, meats, etc) to speed our progress through the store and make it easy to send Minions off with a section of list to fill.

List 4: The Work List

Some of the work of bulk cooking can be streamlined by grouping tasks. For instance, the first thing we’ll do with this cooking session is get the crock-roasted meats going; then we’ll portion and wrap any plain meats (for later Sunday roast dinners) and get them in the big freezer. That clears some of the big stuff out of the way, leaving room to cook up all ground meats. While the ground meats brown, we can prep cheese and veggies around the table. Planning out what work can logically overlap or combine, and writing it down, helps avoid chaos and confusion, or worse: recipes with missing or ill-prepared ingredients! We plan to assemble one recipe at a time, but the prep work will overlap quite a lot. I also have sessions planned to utilize the oven and high heat cooking only at night, when we can open up the whole house to evening breezes and cooler air. (And while things bake or steam, we’ll prep meat pie and potsticker fillings, which can rest in the fridge overnight.)

Because I choose to own limited pots, pans, and baking containers, planning out the work avoids delays. It also engenders a lot of gentle mocking from my Beloved, but then, this is the first Big Cook he’s involved in start-to-finish. Usually, he helps with shopping and big cuts/grinds, and then trots off to work. Now that he’s home full-time (yay!) (and I mean that in an entirely un-sarcastic way), he’s doing something new, and I think it may astonish him that yes, all those lists his wife chooses to make can really make a difference.

Pre-Shop Tasks

Before we hit the grocery store, there are a few needful things to take care of. We will

  • Do a good clean-out of the fridge, wiping down shelves and interiors, and de-cluttering. Any Zombie Food gets tossed, and containers bleached.
  • Take a freezer and pantry inventory to make sure we’re rotating things properly. For instance, I have some canned goods that will go into this cooking batch, but I’ll buy replacements for the pantry; I also have some roasts to use in shredded meat recipes, for which we’ll buy replacements.
  • Do a general house tidy-up, so we can focus on cooking and basic maintenance and the house won’t go to Hades.
  • Make a 2-3 day menu plan so we’ll still be eating regularly while we bulk cook. It’s a little too ironic to do bulk cooking, then grab fast food for supper.

So, there’s Part One: The Organizing. Don’t be scared. It’s only intimidating the first time. I promise. (And, it’s not the only way to go about it.) Next up, the results of some of our Big Cooking schemes!

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Crazy Tuesday: BOB Sandwich

BOB: Beef on a Biscuit.

Using meats as a complementary item in the meal, rather than the featured ingredient, is just one common way to stretch the budget a bit without feeling any deprivation, or dealing with great heaving sighs and sad faces from my Tall, Dark, and Slightly Neanderthal fellow. I once read the manly desires for dinner described as “hot, brown, and plenty of it.” Shredded roast beef with a lovely thickened au jus gravy stretches that meat quite a way, and still lets everyone have a very generous portion.

And shredded beef gravy over a lovely cheddar cheese-enhanced sour-milk biscuit is a really delightful hot sandwich on a snowy December night. Thus was born the BOB. Beef on a Biscuit.

Or in this case, shredded beef gravy on homemade bread that’s been broiled lightly, topped with cheese (Colby Jack tonight, but sharp cheddar is lovely, as is Muenster), and returned to the broiler to melt and toast a bit.

Sides of spinach salad, buttered corn, and mandarin oranges add some color. I can’t live on brown, more’s the pity.

BOB open-face sandwiches can be somewhat prepped ahead, too. Roasting and shredding beef is a double-duty activity. If you’re roasting one, why not two; shred both, make gravy, and pop one meat/gravy packet into the freezer for a very fast meal another night.

Biscuits from scratch take 25 minutes; grate in about 1/2 cup cheese to your favorite recipe, and do drop biscuits rather than taking time to roll them out and cut. Do not use pop-biscuits for this, ever, as they have no substance, and are oddly sweet, wodging down into a soggy, squidgy mush the instant gravy hits their atmosphere. (If you’ve been ready for awhile, you’ll notice we now list pop-biscuits, fake “Krab” and honey ham, all Minor Abominations which shall not be consumed.) Or, slice real bread, toast lightly, and use that as a base.

BOB (plus 2-3 quick sides) is a great way to make a little over 1 pound of beef feed 4-6 people very nicely, and it definitely fits well into Tuesday’s crazy schedule.

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