Thursday, May 17, 2012

Bulk Cooking: Ground Meat

I've been trying to get around to this post for a couple of weeks.  But as I hinted at in my last post, this is Crazy Season around here!  Even today I have a to-do "wish" list that seems a mile long, but I'm choosing to ignore it and take things a little slower today to conserve energy for my double header tonight.  (Why did I agree to play softball again this year?  Oh, did I mention, the three girls also have games tonight.)

I wanted to get this information out as soon as possible in case any others are also in Crazy Season.  In my craziness I stumbled upon a quick way to brown large quantities of meat and I want to share in case it might help alleviate someone else's craziness.  Preparing food in bulk quantities is helpful if you are planning a large gathering or preparing food for a crowd.  It is also helpful for small families who are often busy or lacking energy.  I've read about once-a-month cooking before and never thought it was for me.  I've also prepared meat for large family gatherings one pan full at a time then putting it in a crock pot to stay warm.  But this method that I discovered is easier and faster than that!  Interested?  Keep reading...

I volunteered to make a meal for a group of about 42 people.  I wanted to have enough for my own family of 5 too, so I rounded the number to 50 people.  When cooking for that many people, I try to leave some room for personal preferences so I chose to make a taco salad type meal with rice, meat, veggies, tortilla chips and condiments that individuals could put together according to their own tastes.  As the time got closer, my week began to fill up with some unexpected activities.  I realized I would only have a few hours on the day of the meal to get everything ready.   I have never been accused of being fast in the kitchen with food prep, and on this particular day I expected to be somewhat tired from a week full of activities.  I quickly realized I would not have enough room in the oven for the quantities of meat and rice and I was planning, so I concluded that I had to prepare the meat ahead of time.

I looked around my kitchen and decided to try a new roaster pan I had purchased at a "Stock Up Sale" at our local Big R. 
This roaster held about half of the meat and it had a nice fitting lid.

I kept looking and decided an extra large cake pan was the best I could do for the rest of the meat.  Since this pan did not have a lid, I covered it with a cookie sheet.  (Hint:  since the "lid" was not tight fitting, I found it best to put the full pan in the oven first, then cover it with the cookie sheet.)

I left the meat to cook for a while.   I checked on the meat after about 20-30 minutes.  I drained it and added the seasoning.  The meat in the cake pan was cooking faster than the meat in the roaster.

Because this is Crazy Season, I of course, got interrupted by a long phone call at this point.  (Don't worry, I put the meat back in the oven to finish cooking first.)  Anyway, as you probably guessed by now, I don't know how long the meat took to cook for sure.  The cake pan/cookie sheet combo seemed to cook about 9 pounds of meat in right around an hour.  The roaster pan took a little longer; I stirred it an extra time to help the middle cook completely.

Now that the meat was cooked I was able to put it in smaller pans (after it cooled) to keep it in the fridge overnight.  I reheated it in the oven for about an hour (while other things were cooking and being prepared) when I was ready to use it.

If you don't need to use the whole amount right away, you can place meal size portions in freezer bags or freezer containers.  Be sure to mark what it is and the date you prepared it.  When you need a quick meal, pull some cooked meat out of the freezer - it works best if you do it in the morning so it thaws some.  Prepare the rest of your meal while the meat warms and you have an easy supper.

I hope that helps some of you through crazy seasons of life.  Do some preparation ahead of time so you can continue providing good meals while still participating in and enjoying your family's activities.

Just for fun, I will close with a picture of my second oregano harvest.  I dry it and use it in my homemade taco seasoning and many other things.
Isn't it beautiful?  :-)

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