Friday, January 25, 2008

Investment Cooking

I am fully aware that it has been exactly two weeks since my last blog post. Is there any excuse? Nah. Have we been busy? Always. One thing that has kept us busier than usual has been only having one working vehicle. I have been getting up early, taking The Daddy to his work. That is 23 miles one way, or 46 miles round trip. He works north of where we live. Then I come home, pick up the children who are (supposedly) dressed and ready to go. I then drive them all to their school. The school is 21 miles south of where we live. Then I come home and collapse...HA! Seriously though, the morning commute isn't the one that does me in. It's the after school/evening/rush hour one that really puts a dent in our family dinner schedule.
I decided the only way to combat the hungries that we fight on that evening trip was to do a little cooking marathon. That way there would be delicious food waiting for us in the fridge. I would only have to reheat it and make a salad or vegetable to go along.
I picked some absolute family favorites for that first go-round.
1) Meatballs
2) Spaghetti Sauce with Meatballs
3) Crockpot Shredded Beef (for sandwiches or tacos)
4) Chicken Noodle Soup

I've already gone on about my children and their unnatural love of my chicken and dumplings. The chicken noodle soup is actually the same recipe but instead of adding dumplings at the end, I add a bag of egg noodles. I also usually add a sliced carrot just to totally mess with the kids. The love Chicken Noodle Soup and I love having it for dinner with biscuits (Cheddar-Garlic ones) and some fresh fruit. I especially love having it for lunch the next day!
It freezes but I really prefer to freeze it without the noodles. I just thaw it, bring it to a boil and add the noodles. I admit, there is never any leftover to freeze if I don't plan ahead and portion it out before serving.

Meatballs are a biggie around here. I make them for spaghetti, but I always make extra. They are a handy dinner starter. I am especially fond of the following recipe because I believe the oatmeal actually makes them have a better texture than meatballs using breadcrumbs. They don't feel mushy.

adapted from Weight Watchers

2 lb. extra lean ground beef, ground chicken or ground turkey or combo of any
1 cup rolled oats
2 eggs
1 medium onion, chopped fine
1 garlic clove, minced
2 tbsp. dried parsley
1 tsp. Italian Seasoning
2 tbsp. Penzey’s Italian Sausage Seasoning (only use for Italian meatballs, omit if using meatballs for other recipes)

Preheat oven to 350°. Coat baking sheet with non-stick cooking spray. (I cover mine with foil first, for ease of cleanup.) Combine all ingredients in a large bowl. Mix lightly, just to combine. Shape mixture into 1” balls. (I use my smallest Pampered Chef scoop, then roll.) Place on foil-covered sheet. Bake meatballs for 25 minutes.

Use these meatballs for all kinds of things. I use them in my spaghetti sauce, make a WW sweet and sour sauce and serve them with mashed potatoes or rice, make a creamy sauce and serve on noodles or just let the kids have them with some ketchup, mustard or barbecue sauce.

Make extras when you make them, place them in the freezer on a baking sheet until firm, then store in ziptop bags.

Sweet and Sour Sauce:

8 oz. no-salt-added tomato sauce
6 tsp. Splenda (or use sugar if you like)
3 tbsp. spicy brown mustard
1 1/4 tsp. chili powder
1/2 tsp. hot sauce, like Tabasco or Louisiana brand

Combine ingredients, pour over cooked meatballs and heat 10 minutes.
Good on rice or mashed potatoes.

Country Style Sauce:

1 can cream of mushroom soup (use a healthy option)
1 cup buttermilk or 1 tbsp. vinegar with milk added to equal one cup

Mix these, pour over cooked meatballs and bake at 350° until bubbly. Serve with egg noodles and a nice amount of black pepper.

The meatballs are made to go in spaghetti sauce. I've tried numerous recipes for spaghetti sauce over the years and this recipe is the big favorite among the spaghetti-lovers in this house. The depth of flavor from cooking all day makes it taste like something from an Italian family restaurant. I readily admit, it is not MY recipe. I gleaned it and changed it slightly from a poster on a board I read.

Spaghetti Sauce
adapted from roseyrose on TVWOP 1/10/07

Olive oil
1 finely chopped medium onion
1 tsp. dried thyme
1 tsp. dried oregano
Pinch dried basil
5 cloves garlic, minced
3 (28 oz) cans crushed tomatoes (I only use Hunts, Red Gold or Walmart brand)
1 (8 oz) can no-salt-added tomato sauce
1 (6 oz) can tomato paste
2 1/2 cups chicken broth
1-2 shakes crushed red pepper flakes
1 bay leaf
Cooked Meatballs

In a small skillet, heat olive oil. Add onion and herbs; cook 2-3 minutes then add garlic and cook 1 minute. Add this and all remaining ingredients to a large (5-6 quart) slow cooker (or use a stockpot and cook it on low on the stove). Stir well to break up tomato paste. Cook on high 1 hour, then low for the entire day. Remove and discard bay leaf. Serve over pasta or in meatball subs. Allow to cool completely before freezing.

**Omit meatballs for a great marinara or pizza sauce!

Freeze in 4-cup increments.

The final recipe of the day is one of the easiest. Remember all those photos of beef I posted a few weeks ago? Well, this is one of the many uses. Shredded beef makes great French Dip Sandwiches, good Italian Beef Sandwiches (just top with gardineria or pepperocini slices). I also like it as a filling for soft tacos and most recently we used it on chalupas. Chalupas are fried corn tortillas. Usually they are spread with beans, topped with cheese and broiled. We topped them with the shredded beef, added cheese, melted that, then topped with pico de gallo, avocado and sour cream. YUM!

Shredded Beef

2-4 lb. hunk of beef, sirloin tip, chuck roast or other
1 package dry onion soup mix
12 oz. beer (if you don't want to use beer, just use water)
Couple splashes Worchestershire Sauce

Place the hunk of beef in a slow cooker. Mix remaining ingredients and pour over beef. Cover and cook on low all day. I usually start with a frozen piece of beef and we have not had a problem with it at all. If that makes you nervous, then start with thawed beef. When beef is done, after 8-10 hours, remove from slow cooker, allow to cool and shred or chop. I like to strain the juice, place it in the freezer until the fat forms a layer on top. I toss the fat layer and put the juices back over the meat. (When I use the sirloin tip, there is so little fat, I don't bother, but the chuck has plenty of fat, so I defat the broth.) Then use the meat to your liking. I freeze it in ziptop bags.

I guess the time frame for doing this investment cooking might be helpful. I did the bulk of this cooking one morning after I took the kids to school. I do have two crockpots, so that might make a difference. I put the chicken for the soup on the stove first. Then I put the beef for the Shredded Beef in one crockpot. Then I made a double batch of meatballs. Half of them had the Italian Sausage Seasoning and half were plain. Then I started the spaghetti sauce and put it in the other slow cooker. When the meatballs were done, I added those that had Italian Sausage Seasoning to the sauce in the slow cooker. I let the others cool, then froze them until solid. Meanwhile, my chicken was done so I put it out to cool. I added those bones back to the broth to continue cooking while I shredded the chicken. I put the chicken in the fridge and let the broth simmer on low while both slow cookers did their thing. That evening, I finished off the soup by straining it, adding the noodles and chicken. Then I shredded the beef and portioned out the spaghetti sauce with meatballs for the freezer. I did not spend but about 3 hours total touching the food and we ended up with 8 meals. We used four during that week and have four in the freezer for later use. Now that is an investment that WILL pay off!


red raider said...

Um.... letting the spaghetti sauce simmer all day? Some of us work outside the house, Mommie Dearest.

Anonymous said...

Hey, she never said she wasn't a stay at home mom, obviously she is-read her posts, cranky!

Amanda said...

Thank you for sticking up for me...that's my old college buddy giving me a hard time. I'm actually not a SAHM anymore...but I was at home a lot more back then.