Meandering down a path of Creativity

Archive for February, 2012

An easy way to save a little grocery money…

I was at a  high end grocery store yesterday and overheard a piece of a conversation that got me to thinking.

There were a few senior citizens walking through the meat department, chatting about the selection. One of them was looking at a pre-portioned package of pork or chicken in a marinade that had been vacuum packaged, and exclaimed, “It’s so expensive!”

These types of things usually run $6-10 per pound around here, depending on the contents and if you can find it on sale. I absolutely love this concept, in theory. Between the price and the questionable ingredients, I just can’t bring myself to buy that type of thing.

In this particular store, those packages were located less than 10 feet from the ‘family size’ meat packages… you know, where they sell an entire pork loin for about $2.00 per pound or a total cost of about $20? (That’s what I was there for.)

The conversation the seniors were having made me pause, though. It made me realize that many people don’t even think to do something that I have been doing for years. You see, I buy the larger cuts of meat- the whole pork loin, the beef eye round, etc- and then take them home and spend a half hour or so doing a bit of my own butchering and prep work.

If you like those pre-marinaded meat packages, but the budget is getting a little tight, you can make your own very easily!

All you need is:

about 30 to 60 minutes, start to finish,  depending on how fast you are. I tend to go slowly and deliberately, but I’m betting it would take one of those celebrity chefs all of about 15 minutes.

a large cutting board, preferably with a drip catching channel (I also usually stick a bleachable, absorbent towel under the cutting board)

a good, sharp carving or chef’s knife (a long and sharp blade makes the cutting go so much more smoothly!)

plastic, sealable freezer bags

a large cut of meat

salad dressing or marinade sauce (I often make my own, since I prefer to have control over the ingredients, but store bought works fine, too)

Tips: I find it’s a good idea to have a roll of paper towels nearby, and, if possible, to be working near an empty sink that has been cleaned and sterilized (empty it out, wipe & rinse, then spray it with a 10% bleach solution and allow to air dry while you gather the materials together). I also usually have my bags all staged and labelled before I start working with the meat. Staging the bags includes folding the opening, cuff-style, so the zipper part doesn’t end up getting dripped on.

What to do:

The following is how I do it for a 3-adult household, using the pork loin for this example. Your needs may be different due to household size or what your family likes. I encourage you to consider what you and your family like to eat regularly, and adapt this to those preferences.

1) This part can be a little tricky, as there’s a ‘sweet spot’ with cutting the package open enough to allow the liquid to easily drain, without having the meat pop out of the package and land in the sink, which is why I recommend having an empty & sterile sink.

In or over the sink, cut open one end of the meat package. Carefully work the meat around in the package to allow most of the red goo to drain out. Run some water into the package, work it around to dilute the remaining goo, and then pour that water out. Slide the meat out onto your cutting board and dispose of the packaging. If you’re not concerned with the drippy mess, you can just take it out of the package and give it a good rinse now, rather than in the next step.

2) Cut the loin into 3 approximately equal length pieces, and rinse each under running water. This removes any bone debris as well as the coating of goo from the package.

3) Put 1 end piece in a large zipper bag that has been labelled “Pork Roast” (or whatever you would normally call it) and marked with today’s date.

4) Slice the middle piece into steaks or chops- I like them to be about 1 inch thick, and I usually get about 6-8 pieces. Put them into bags that have been marked with what they are and the day’s date. I usually label them as pork steaks, but some people prefer ‘boneless pork chops’. It’s just a matter of what you are likely to look for in the freezer. Portion them according to your needs- I like to work in 2’s and 4’s, but your needs may be different.

5) Trim off what fat you can from the remaining third of the loin. It doesn’t have to be perfectly fat free, but it’s easier to work with for this part if you can get most of it off before you start cutting. You may find it easier to do this using  smaller paring knife instead of the large blade. If you are having a hard time with it, cut the entire thing into steak/chop sized slices and then lay them each flat on the board and cut the fatty edge off. I usually save these fatty scraps for bean soup (after giving a meatier piece or 2 to the dog as a treat), but if you don’t want to deal with that, you can dispose of them.

6) Take 2 chop/steak sized slices and cut them into cubes- if you’re likely to use them in soup, cut them smaller, but for kebabs, you might want to go bigger. It’s a matter of what you prefer, what you’re likely to use and what your family will eat. Put the cubes into a labelled, dated bag.

7) The remaining piece gets cut into strips for fajitas or stir fry. The easiest way I’ve found to do this is to slice the meat into 1/4 to 1/2 inch pieces, steak/chop style, then pile a few of them together, cut it in half or thirds, and then cut it into strips in the opposing direction… that’s not very clear… picture a tic-tac-toe board, pound sign or  hashtag, but with a bunch of extra lines going in one direction… kind of  like this: (=I=I=I=I=I=)  Does that make any sense at all?

Anyway, once you’ve got the strips cut up, put them into labelled bags. I usually get 2 bags of strips out of it, but you may only get 1. Also, I usually cut up the end piece and add it to the bag of cubes, because most of the time it is not shaped in a way that makes turning it into strips easy or practical.

8) You should have no meat left on the board at this point, so clear your work space- put the cutting board and knife in the sink, wash your hands thoroughly (a nail scrubber might be helpful to get the meat bits out from under your nails), and wipe up any spills or drips. If you chose to save the fatty scraps, seal them up getting as much air as you can out of the bag (surface exposure to air is what causes freezer burn, so it is very undesirable), and stick them in the freezer (making sure they’re labelled and dated, of course!)

9) You now have 1 roast, 1-3 bags containing steaks/chops, 1 bags containing cubes, and 1-2 bags containing strips, as well as a clear workspace and your chosen marinade liquid(s). Decide which cuts are NOT going to be frozen with the marinade, and seal them up getting as much air as you can out of the bag (surface exposure to air is what causes freezer burn, so it is very undesirable), and stick them in the freezer, too. I usually only do 2-3 packages with the marinade, and leave the rest ‘naked’

10) The remaining packages will get the marinade or dressing you’ve chosen. If you’re using a salad dressing or thinner consistency sauce for the marinade, make sure it’s well mixed before adding it to the meat- you don’t want to just pour oil or water in- you want everything to be well distributed.

I don’t measure how much I put in, I just kind of ‘eyeball’ it. If I had to guess, I’d say it probably takes somewhere around 1/3 to 2/3 cup of marinade, depending on the package. You don’t want the meat to be swimming in the liquid, but you do want to be able to see that liquid has been added. There should be enough marinade to cover all of the meat surfaces and still have some pooling at the bottom of the bag.

I usually pour it in, then seal the bag (leaving some air in it to make it easier to work) and kind of smoosh the meat around in the sauce to get all surfaces coated. Then I pick the bag up and check if there’s any liquid visible. If not, I add a bit more, then seal the bag up, removing as much air as possible, give it a bit more smooshing to distribute the liquid (and, if it’s the cubes or strips, to flatten them out into a single layer, or as close as I can get them). I then double check that my label is accurate with the cut, marinade and date, and put it in the freezer. If there is enough liquid in there, I re-open the bag and get the air out (freezer burn- BAD), then seal, smoosh a bit more, and freeze.

And done!

So, with that pork loin that cost about $20, a few zipper bags and a bottle of salad dressing, I have a minimum of 7 family meals, 2-3 of which are all set up for quick and easy cooking. Plus I’ve got the trimmings that give my bean soup a little extra porky “oomph!”

How’s that for stretching a buck?

edit- I submitted this to Joybilee Farm’s Homestead Abundance Blog Link-up, and since I can’t figure out how to make a link show up properly, here’s the URL: http://fiberarts.ca/blog/homestead-abundance-2/

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Tranquil Desktop Wallpaper by NicolesVisions on Zibbet

I saw this photo today and it struck me as being so soothing & serene that I just had to share it here! The photographer is one of my fellow Zibbeters, and she really has some beautiful stuff in her shop! If you have a chance, go check her out. This particular image is for a computer wallpaper…

Tranquil Desktop Wallpaper by NicolesVisions on Zibbet

Nicole’s Visions on Zibbet.com

Meatloaf! G-free & eggless!

For Valentine’s Day dinner, while many were having fancy dinners of steak or seafood, I decided to attempt a meatloaf. While this might seem blase’ to the average palette, for us it was a gamble that turned out to be a wonderful treat.

The reason that such a seemingly simple dish was a gamble is the dietary restrictions I was working with- no gluten, no egg, no cheese & no garlic! Now, up until about 2 years ago, my meatloaf recipe was ground beef, breadcrumbs, a couple of eggs, a bit of parmesan cheese, some italian herbs seasoning blend and a hearty dash of garlic powder. This was my first attempt at meatloaf since learning of our food sensitivities. Thankfully, it was a resounding success!

The basic recipe
(please bear in mind that all measurements are very much approximated)
3 lbs lean ground beef
1/2 c Scharr brand breadcrumbs
1 generous tablespoon ground chia seeds
1/4 c water
3 tbs of herbs- heavy on the thyme, plus basil, oregano, marjoram, summer savory
3 tbs dried minced onion

Put meat, herbs and onion into a mixing bowl and mush together to distribute the herbs. Add a splash of the water (2 tablespoons?)and let sit for 5 minutes or so, then mush together to incorporate the water. Add the rest of the water, then sprinkle the bread crumbs and ground chia seed, and mix well, making sure to work the chia seed powder and breadcrumbs through the meat mixture. Turn oven to about 350F and let it preheat. Let meat mixture sit for 15-20 minutes, to allow the chia seed to absorb the water so it can start doing the binder thing that the eggs would do.

Shape the meat into 2 loaves on a foil-lined (for easy clean up) baking tray & bake for about 50-60 minutes, until the internal temperature reaches the safe 160F (full discosure- I turned the oven off at 140F, took it out of the oven around 155F, and let it rest about 5-10 minutes until it hit the 160F mark)

Slice and serve!

It was no more difficult or time consuming than making my old meatloaf recipe was, and it was just as tasty! It was a bit more expensive because of the breadcrumbs, but I am confident enough with it now that I can consider using stale G-free bread bits to make my own crumbs.

Yay for meatloaf!

Zibbeters & Their Creations

Zibbet is a marketplace where one can buy and/or sell their handcrafted and/or vintage goodies. It is much newer than Etsy or Artfire, and nowhere near as well known, but the atmosphere there can not be beat. Everyone has been so incredibly friendly and helpful- it’s really a virtual community!

Here are some of the lovely creations from fellow Zibbeters that I mentioned in my intro post! Go and give them a look-see if you get a chance- this is just a small sample of what you’ll find on Zibbet!

Sunshine & Blue Flowers Bracelet Cuff

Raige Creations

Handmade Fuzzy- Blue Smithereens on Gold Wire Bracelet

from Handmade Fuzzy

Felted Wool Striped Fingerless Mittens

from Breitwerk- Fingerless Gloves

Sapphire Sterling Silver Necklace

I Love Handmade Stuff

Green Zebra Print Clips

from Beautiful Swag Store

Irish Claw Clips

another from Beautiful Swag Store

Zebra Green Bow Headband

another from Beautiful Swag Store

Satin Bow Headband

another from Beautiful Swag Store

and some other shops worth looking at…
Hawks Nest Creations

All About the Buttons

Mimi & Colette

Kid Murals by Dana Railey

POP Embroidery

Alpaca Flats

Red Rose Confections

Dante’s Spirit

Dive DVA

and, of course, my own shop:
Zoe’s Zen Garden

A new magazine!

A quick note before I head off to sleepy land! A fellow Zibbeter launched her new shop as well as a brand new e-zine yesterday! Check it out when you get a chance:

I Love Handmade Stuff E-zine

Okay, time for me to hit the hay!

Brightest Blessings & Namaste!

Recipe: Stuffed Acorn Squash (GF, Dairy free)

I don’t think that I mentioned this in my previous post, but we’ve got some food allergies/sensitivities in this house. The list is too long to include here, but the main reason I’m mentioning it is this- any recipes that I include on this blog are most likely going to be gluten-free & yeast-free, and are unlikely to contain much cane sugar, egg, garlic or dairy. That being said, I’ll move on to discuss tonight’s dinner…

I tend to cook a lot more food than we’re likely to eat in one sitting- honestly, we could, on many nights, have a half dozen unexpected visitors show up and still have enough food left over to send everyone home with a care package. I’ve gotten better about cooking to scale, but that just means I now tend to cook enough to feed 5-10 people instead of 12-20.

Anyway, my propensity to cook more food than will be eaten has served me well in one way- I have learned to get creative with the leftovers. Tonight’s dinner is the result of that.

Stuffed vegetables- peppers, winter squash, summer squash, tomatoes, etc- are a great way to use up leftovers! Tonight I’ll be using up some leftover brown rice, sweet italian sausage (browned and crumbled), a bit of leftover homemade broth, some diced up onion, carrots, and celery and whatever other add-ins & seasonings strike me as being a good idea (I’m typing this as I go so I don’t forget anything). That will all get mounded into a halved and cleaned acorn squash and then baked until it’s done.

So, here’s what I’m doing…

Take one large acorn squash & poke lots of holes in it- I used a heavy duty carving fork, since my squash is huge and I want to make sure I get good depth. Put the squash in a bowl with some water in the bottom and microwave it for about 5 minutes on high. Let it sit for a half hour or so, flip it over, and give it another 5 minutes on high. Let it sit for a bit, until it’s cooled & you’re ready to mess with it. (If you’re not a fan of the microwave, you can cut, clean and par-cook it in the oven.)

Put a large skillet on over medium high heat. Take a few links of sweet sausage, cut the casing open longways and pull the meat out & drop it in the heated pan. Break the meat up and allow it to continue cooking while you cut up the onion, celery & carrot. When the meat is almost cooked through, add in the chopped veg trio. Make sure the meat is broken into crumble sized bits, and allow to cook for 2-5 minutes longer. The veg should start to get soft and the meat should be browned, with crispy bits sticking to the pan.

Turn pan up to high, move the meat & veg off to the side and deglaze with around 2 cups of your preferred cooking liquid- for this, I’m using a squash soup broth type base- you could use any broth or a combination of water and wine (I think straight wine might overwhelm the rest of the flavors, so I wouldn’t use more than 1/2 to 3/4 cup wine). Allow to simmer for a few minutes, just to allow the flavors to come together.

If you like to taste as you go, this is the time to give it a taste. I just tasted mine, and decided to add a healthy shake of thyme (probably around 1/2 teaspoon) and a pinch of sage. Other possibilities would be garlic & parsley; or cilantro, cumin and chipotle powder; herbes de provence…

If you’re not sure of what to add, use your nose. Take a jar or tin of a seasoning over to the simmering pot, open the jar next to the pot and get a good smell of them combined. If they smell like they might be good together, give it a try. Don’t overdo it on the seasoning- you can always add more, but once it’s in, you can’t really take it back out!

Let it simmer for a few more minutes, and if you want, give it another taste. Add more seasonings, if you want. Add in any other ingredients you want- I added about 3/4 cup of left over cooked spinach. You can add pretty much any leftover veggies to it. Other good add ins are chopped mushrooms, pine nuts or other chopped nuts, chopped sun dried tomatoes… get creative!

Add a tablespoon or 2 of balsamic vinegar. If you don’t have balsamic, you can use a wine or cider vinegar. If you used wine to deglaze, I’d skip the vinegar. Give it a good stir and turn off the heat.

Stir in the rice. I’ve got about 3 cups of leftover brown rice, but you could use white rice, or another cooked grain (barley, couscous, etc).

Cut out the stem of the squash, cut it in half (from stem to point) and scoop out the seeds and strings.

Turn on your oven to around 325F/ 160-170 C/ gas mark 3

Line a baking sheet with greased or non-stick foil (if you want easy clean-up), place the squash halves, cut side up, on the baking sheet. Fill the halves evenly, mounding the filling so it covers most of the squash flesh, if you have enough filling. Don’t pack it in too firmly, or it will heat unevenly and the flavors won’t mingle properly. Excess filling can be cooked on the floor of the pan. Add about 1/8 to 1/4 cup of water to the pan and place in the oven.

Bake until it’s heated through, about 30-45 minutes.

Serve and enjoy!

**Note- This is one of those recipes that’s great for a make ahead meal. If you have enough filling, you can freeze the filling in muffin cups and have it on hand for an easy future dinner with a fresh squash, or you can freeze it already assembled. You can also do the prep work (everything up to cutting the squash) a day or 2 before you plan to have it and refrigerate the squash and filling, so you just need to assemble it and pop it in the oven the night you want to have it.

Please let me know what you think!

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