Saturday, March 19, 2011

Freezer Cooking: Ground Beef

This afternoon, I took the 10lbs of ground meat I had gotten for $1/lb a few weeks back, and turned it into 11 meals for my family.  First off, a couple days ago I took it out of the freezer to thaw in a large bowl in the fridge.

Then I looked in my pantry to see what I already had on hand.  .  I found 2 packs of Hamburger Helper that I had gotten for free at Kroger--not something that I buy often, but for free I will, 4 jars of spaghetti sauces that I had gotten for $0.25-$0.50 each (two were from that same Kroger trip).  Since I had stocked up all I would need on my past shopping trips, I found that I actually would not need anything extra from the grocery store.  Here are the things I decided to use (the lasagna noodles are not pictures because those were a small change of plan).

I split the meat up into the correct sized portions: 2 lbs for the hamburger helper (I got that cooking in a small pot), 4 lbs for the spaghetti sauce (got that cooking in my large stock pot),

and 4 lbs for burgers/meatballs/meatloaf.  
For this mixture I use the onion soup mix (shown above-$0.69/ 2 pouch pack at Aldi and makes really good onion burgers) as seasoning.  I put 1 pouch per pound of meat, so for this mixture I used 4 (that happened to be exactly what I had on hand).  I also ad bread crumbs, and eggs (1 egg/lb of meat so I used 4 for this batch) to make it stick together.

 I took a small loaf pan and lined it with foil and then I stuffed it with the mixture.  This will be one meatloaf for us.  It seems really small but it feeds us all nearly perfectly.  Now, when my kids are a little older I'll have to think of something else to use.  I covered this in foil and froze it.  Tomorrow I will pop it out of the loaf pan and bag it up.  When I'm ready to cook it I just need to thaw it, unwrap it, and bake it.  I usually bake it in a larger casserole dish so I have room to add some gravy. =)
After this I shaped the meatballs and placed them in a mini muffin pan.  Then I shaped the burgers and laid them flat on a baking sheet.  I put these in the freezer overnight, and tomorrow I will bag them, also.  Then I will be able to toss them in a pot or throw them on the grill.  All the messy work has been done all at once!
While I was in the freezer putting these away, I discovered that I still had two bags of spaghetti sauce in there.  I had initially intended to bag up all of my sauce and freeze it for spaghetti, but after realizing this, and a comment on my facebook page (Thanks again, Brittany!) I decided to make a couple of lasagnas.  I had everything I needed for them on hand, too. =)
After I made these, I was still able to bag up three more meals worth of sauce for spaghetti.  That will go great with all of the pasta I got yesterday.  I laid these out flat in my freezer because I've had problems with the ends of the bags falling between the slats of the freezers shelves before freezing and then being stuck when I want to get them out.  Here is what my freezer looks like now.

All of this took me about 2 hours total, and could have taken even less.  We had the Hamburger Helper for dinner tonight along with the rest of our salad from Thursday night.  We even have once more meal from it still in the fridge.  While that was cooking, I assembled the lasagnas, and the only thing left to do after dinner was to bag up the rest of the sauce once it cooled a bit.

This is going to save me so much food preparation time later on, and it saved me so much money too since I got the meat at a great price and paired it with items that were already in my pantry.   The key to saving money in this area is to buy things that are on sale and you have a coupon for when they are at their lowest price BEFORE you actually need them.  That way when you need to cook a meal, you have plenty of items on hand to choose from.  You will not have to run out and pay full shelf price for items that you run out of if you buy them ahead of time when they are priced their lowest.  Now I'm not talking about amassing quantities of food that you will never be able to consume before its expiration date.  I'm just talking about having enough on hand to get you through however many times you will eat that meal until it goes on sale again and you have a coupon.  This is usually 2-3 months, max.  If you aren't choosy about brands though, you can usually find a sale on some type of an item in any given week.  The more flexible you are, the more you will end up being able to save!


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