Thursday, July 2, 2009

Got 25 lbs of Ground Beef? I'll Be Right Over!

This post should be called "insert your meat of choice here" O-rama as it works with so many meat/vegetarian meals. Keep reading if you decide that freeze ahead cooking might work for your family or you just can't resist asking what a Ground Beef O-rama entails.

Every since I can remember my mom and I would engage in extreme cooking pre Food Network. We would buy 25 lbs of ground beef when it on a super sale and then cook for a straight week usually on the hottest week of the summer. Meatloaf, Chili Pie, Spaghetti Sauce, even something my dad demanded we make from his days on base in Vietnam called "Sh*t on a Shingle" were prepped in an assembly line fashion.

At the end of the week we would have a filled freezer for busy school nights. Since I was the major cook nightly from about 4th grade on for my family as my mom worked a 2nd job teaching piano and my dad worked alot of overtime, these freezer meals proved to be invaluable. I have recreated the same insanity of freeze ahead cooking every summer for myself on a much smaller scale.

Last summer taking my idea as well as a plan a friend in Wilmington does as a meal exchange I proposed some similar to other mom friends. What worked for a couple of months went by the wayside for many reasons. Personally I need smaller portions that what most freeze ahead meals make.

Plus doing a swap with too many people was hard to coordinate. A friend who also teaches talked about trying to keep it going and we have had several cooking sessions throughout the past year. So far as of today I have put back 19 meals into my freezer this summer. Some will go on to my mom to help on days she had dialysis. Since I live out of state this is one of the ways I can help with her care.

When I posted last Friday that I was doing this I had a couple of people wonder how I set it up. Here's my guidelines and what I use to save optimal money.

1. Invest in a Freeze Ahead Cookbook. I love my Super Suppers book and have recently been introduced to Cooks Illustrated! Warning, not everything you love freezes well.

2. Plan only 4-5 things at a time to cook. Elizabeth and I recently did all chicken dishes and doing only one meat at a time helped speed things up. If you can and the recipe allows for cooked meat, use your crockpot to help cut down on prep/cook time.

3. Shop for meat on sale or marked down. Once you get it home, if you are not going to immediately use it, take it out of the store wrapping and put in freezer bags. I will often go ahead and portion it out into smaller bags.

4. Buy cheap disposable pans (Dollar Tree) or as my friend did, buy several heavy duty, reusable pans (13x9, 8 x8). Grab your sharpie to label and always use freezer bags and heavy duty foil to prevent freezer burn.

5. Sit down and go through all recipes and make your grocery list. We often try to pick dishes that we will not have to buy additional spices to make. And we also try to use up canned goods/staples already on hand.

6. Arrange for someone else (husbands, babysitter) to watch the kids.

7. Pick a time that you can finish all the dishes. We typically assemble and prep for no more than 2 hours as session.

8. Label all finished dishes with cooking directions so you don't have to play peek a boo (obviously this has happened).

9. Trade houses for where you cook as someones kitchen is gonna get messy. If I am heading to my friend's house I will try and remember to bring something chocolate to enjoy once we are finished.

10. Set a cooking session price guideline. We typically shoot for $5-7 a meal to feed a family of 4. We trade off buying meat. Last session we had Buy 2, Get 3 Free bags of Skinless chicken and we both walked away with 5 dishes each. That was a SUPER bargain likely not to be repeated again, but with planning you can make family favorites for less than assembling from scratch.

11. For all you type A people like ME! Make a freezer chart using a dry erase maker to keep up with what you have and amounts.

I goal by summer end is 40 meals, 10 of which are going to my mom. Most I will likely consume as Bill recovers from surgery to minimize cooking smells in the house. As I head back to school I typically will defrost 1-2 meals a week and with a quick salad or side it's more than enough for dinner and lunch the next day.

BTW for all you Econ nerds out there (all 3 of you), when I tell my kids about my ground beef o rama they NEVER miss a test question on the theory of economy of scale!


Beth said...

Awesome post Heather! I have definitely wanted to bend your ear about your cook-ahead process. Do you freeze already-cooked meat? We made pork chops and flank steak on the grill this week, but we won't be able to finish it all up before tomorrow, and I hate to throw it out. Can I freeze them? Should I slice them up first? Any tricks? I want to get the Super Suppers cookbook, too. You're an inspiration for sure!

wraith said...

Uh huh huh huh. You said "insert your meat."

ElizabethS said...

Great post Heather and another great cooking session. I can see we are definitely improving our planning and techniques! Check out my post for tips (in addition to these) that help make the cook ahead process easier.