Friday, December 31, 2010

My Bon Appetitin' Happy New Year Bobaganda

Bonus: A month of healthy quick breakfasts from local foods. . . Not To Mention . . . New Years Resolutions. . . Census of Oklahoma Agriculture. . . On Eating What's Available. . . Bread and Beer: the basis of civilizations. . . Soap and Body Care Items. . . RECIPES and COOKING PLANS. . .

We are at the beginning of a new year, and one of the customary traditions – besides of course the importance of eating black-eyed peas and greens on New Years Day – is the making of resolutions. I hope that all of us will be making a resolution to “Eat More Local Food” this coming year – taste, nutrition, and food security are three good reasons to do this.

A lot has changed regarding local foods in Oklahoma over the last few years. Every five years, the government does a census of agriculture, the more recent was in 2007. In the five years 2002-2007. . . direct sales from farmers to individuals rose from $3,735,000 to $11,534,000, an increase of 209%! In 2002, 1,920 farms sold something direct to the public; in 2007, the number had risen to 3,194, an increase of 66%. Sales of organic grown in the state totaled $3,543,000 in 2007. Oklahoma has 22,888 certified organic acres used for food production, with another 16,538 in transition to organic production. 12,823 of the organic acres are pasture lands. This is tremendous progress in a short time, but as is obvious, much more needs to be done.  Read more at --,_Chapter_1_State_Level/Oklahoma/st40_1_002_002.pdf

Over the years I have written frequently about the basic principles of local food systems, and this month, going into the new year of 2011, I want to revisit the concept – “Eat what's available.” The Oklahoma Food Coop is not able to pick up the phone and contact a food broker and order in an infinite variety of mystery groceries from the four corners of the earth. Seven years into our adventure, the local food systems of Oklahoma are still not all that they need to be. But that doesn't mean that anybody needs to go hungry. So this month I want to focus on four products – ground meat, grains, prepared foods, and soap and our non-food lines in general.

In terms of distinct ecological regions, Oklahoma is one of the most diverse states. We are a land of transition, the mountains and forests of the east give way to the savannahs and scattered groves of cedar, oak, and elm of the “Cross Timbers Transition” in the central area. Continuing west, we arrive at the Central Great Plains. Places where ecological regions meet and transition are typically highly productive. I've often mused about the wisdom of our pioneer ancestors in selecting the particular site for Oklahoma City, right at the edge, in the transition zone between the east and its savannahs and woodlands and the west of the plains, along the banks of a river. In the past, prairie grasses covered much of this land, grazed by magnificent herds of bison. Today, we are known for our abundant harvests of grain and the high quality of our livestock, the prairie grasses and livestock of our era and ecology. Did you know there are more cattle in the state than there are people? By the standards of pastoral indigenous peoples, who counted cattle as wealth, we have wealth beyond measure in our herds of mother cows and their associated bulls, who primarily live on forages all of their lives in the pastures and grasslands of the state.

So if we are going to eat what's available from local farmers, meat ought to be high on the list (except of course for vegans and vegetarians). And of all the meats, ground meats are in best supply, price, and variety. Pork (sausages and ground pork), beef, bison, lamb, all are available in great quantity. Many folks say that they can't afford to buy all their food from local farmers, and that's fine, but most of us could afford to buy some ground meat. Keep reading for an answer to the question – “What can I do with 30 pounds of ground meat?” More answers perhaps than you thought possible.

As already noted, a large part of Oklahoma was grasslands, and the cultivated equivalent of the native grasses is wheat, a/k/a the staff of life, source of bread and beer, which (as some say) were the basis of the first civilizations. The historical evidence is that wheat was the first source ingredient for beer; the popularity of barley is a fairly recent innovation, only a few hundred years old. To make your own wheat beer, you'll need to malt the wheat, which is a process of sprouting and drying the wheat, which is then ground to a powder. Here's a short article on the process of malting wheat – . See also , and . Many more brewing links at .

I've sent links many times on baking bread – for folks new to the coop, check out the Artisan Bread in Five Minutes method as described at , , and my own bread page at .

Soap is like ground meat in the coop; we have lots of it for sale, from a variety of producers, each with a little different take on the subject of artisan soaps and body care products. Yes, the price is higher than supermarket soaps, but artisan soap is one of the “more startling” products in terms of the difference in quality. Even though they are slightly higher than supermarket soaps, they last so much longer, that in the short and the long runs, they are the best value for your soap and body care dollars.

The same quality and care goes into the many other non-food products available in plenty through the coop. So before you go to a big box store, browse the departments and shelves of the non-food sections of the Oklahoma Food Coop. Your body – especially your hair and your skin – will be very grateful for your choice of locally made, artisan body care products.

And now for the Question of the Hour. . .

So we have a problem – people are busy, families are over-scheduled, and incorporating local foods into your household's diet means cooking meals from basic ingredients. There's no way to get around that. Sometimes people think it is just easier to go out to eat, even though the price is high and getting higher all the time. Think about the cost of a quarter pound, four ounces, of ground meat when bought as a fast food burger – it will run you $12/pound, double the price of the most expensive ground meat in the coop. And the fast food burger no doubt includes some of the infamous ammonia-laced “pink slime” product about which I have written previously at (scroll down about half-way into the blog entry).

“But Bob, you just don't understand how busy I am.” Actually, I do understand, because my own life is full of busy-ness and I am all the time finding a new iron to put into my fire. So, here's my public confession. I don't cook a meal from basic locally-sourced ingredients every night, not to mention breakfast and lunch. Sometimes I take just take something out of the freezer and put it in the microwave or the oven. But it's not a conventional product from the supermarket. It's something I've made myself and frozen for eating later. When I cook greens, I cook a lot, and freeze most of it for later in meal-sized portions. When I cook beans, I cook a lot, and freeze most of it for eating later in meal-sized portions. When I make stock, I make a lot, and freeze most of it for eating later in meal-sized portions. If I am warming up the oven or crockpot to make a roast, I will always make more than I need for that meal so I have leftovers for eating later in the week. Every so often, I make a large batch of something – such as roux for gravy, or cooked ground meat, so I have some ingredients that are usually time-consuming in their preparation already made and in the freezer, waiting to be combined with other ingredients for a quick but tasty meal.

I've written a lot before about once-a-month cooking, where people take a full day and cook a month's worth of meals, putting them in the freezer for eating later. A sub-specialty in that genre is bulk cooking, where you cook a large amount of one major ingredient (like chicken, or ground meat) and freeze it for cooking with later.

This kind of cooking takes some time to plan, but it is time well-invested since you save so much time down the road. I think the easiest way to get into this is to think about something like cooking 20 or 30 pounds of ground meat and freezing it in meal-sized portions for later meal prep. So think about giving this a try in the New Year. When the order comes around, order 20 or 30 pounds of ground meats – get a variety, pork, beef, bison, lamb – and go ahead and prep it for using later in the month as you make meals for your family. Obviously, you can adjust these amounts for the size of your household, when writing about 20 or 30 pounds of ground meat, I am thinking of a household of three or four.

The first step is to make a list of all of the ground meat recipes that your family likes to eat. Once you have your list, then you can take a calendar and plan a month's worth of menus, or if your household is smaller, maybe two or three months of meals involving ground meats. It's likely that you won't plan to eat ground meat every night, you may want an occasional roast, a ham, or a fried chicken, but for many of us, ground meats will be the basis of our menus. Don't expect people to get bored, however, because first of all, the taste of locally produced ground meats from pastured herds is superior to store-bought mystery meat. And second, there are about a gazillion different ways to prepare ground meat.

My list for 30 pounds of ground meat, for my household of five (3 adults, 1 teenager, 1 child age 4), would look something like this:
meat/tomato sauce – 4 lbs
taco/burrito – 3 lbs
patties – 8 lbs
fried ground meat – 12 lbs
meatballs – 1 lbs
meatloaf – 2 lbs

This would be enough ground meat (beef, bison, lamb, and pork) to make the following meals:

2 Meat tomato sauce for spaghetti
2 Meat tomato sauce for lasagna
2 Shepherds pies
3 taco/burrito meat
2 meatloaf
2 salisbury steaks
3 hamburgers
3 patty melts
1 burger noodle
1 Swedish meatballs
1 sloppy joes
1 Cabbage casserole
1 Cornbread meatloaf
1 cheeseburger pie
2 pocket pies
3 burger gravy

Most of these recipes are online at . Looking at my recipes, I need to make:

1 lb of meatballs
2 lbs of meatloaf
8 lbs of hamburger patties
19 lbs of fried ground meat – 3 lbs of which is seasoned “south of the border”, 6 lbs seasoned Italian, and the rest is “plain”.

If I was going to do all of this at one time. . . this would be my plan. Not listed, but very important, is constant attention to food safety with the handling of this large amount of ground raw meats. Keep a sink full of hot sudsy water handy, wash implements and pots as you go (nobody wants to end an adventure like this faced with a pile of dirty pots and cooking utensils). Have a sanitizing solution handy to wipe down counters frequently. Wash your hands after every time that you handle the raw meat. Never touch anything else after you have handled raw meat until you have washed your hands (plunge them into the hot soapy water in your sink, then rinse.)
  1. Cook the plain ground meat in a crockpot. Instructions are here: Cooking ground beef in a crockpot – – she prepared 9 pounds in a 6 qt crock. Or you can fry it in skillets. . . or you can boil it.
  2. Cook the “south of the border” and the Italian seasoned ground beef in skillets on the top of the stove.
  3. Make and fry the hamburger patties.
  4. Make the ground meat mixture for the meatballs and meatloafs (same mixture for both recipes).
  5. Make and cook the meatballs.
  6. Make the meatloafs (but freeze them uncooked).
While you're at it, you could figure out how many sliced and sauteed onions you will need for these recipes (if you're like me and put onions into a lot of recipes), and saute them while you are at it – freeze in recipe-appropriate portions and date and label.

Package the cooked meats in meal sized portions. You'll want to collect a variety of freezer containers. The trick to avoiding freezer burn is – (1) Don't buy or use an automatic defrost freezer, as the constant thawing and refreezing lowers the quality of the food, and (2) Package carefully in airtight containers designed and made for use in the freezer and LABEL AND DATE each container. When foods freeze, they look different than they do when just cooked. Don't worry your memory with keeping track of what's in your freezer in your brain. Label and date each container and keep a written inventory in the kitchen so you know what you have on hand. If you do have an automatic defrost freezer, try to use everything within a month.

For my household, I always figure 1 pound of ground meat per meal. One pound of raw ground hamburger makes about 1-1/2 cups of cooked ground beef, although your mileage may vary slightly. So what I do usually is just keep track of how much I am cooking at any given time and divide it accordingly when I am packaging for the freezer. If I am frying 3 pounds of Italian-seasoned burger, I will simply divide it three ways by site before I put it in the freezer. For the burger patties, I make 8 per pound and just count them out. The number of meatballs per pound varies based on how big or small you make them, I tend to make more smaller ones instead of a few large ones.

One thing all of the following have in common is that they can be prepared with many local food ingredients. All the breakfast meats are in good supply through the coop, as is wheat and flour for making the pancakes, biscuits, breads, etc. Eggs are always in short supply, but the inventory is gradually increasing.  Anyway, you can make them ahead and freeze them for convenient and fast breakfasts later.

Sausage Biscuits . . . and sausage-stuffed cheese biscuits Or, just make your favorite recipe for biscuits, fry the sausage patties, slice the biscuits, insert the sausage, flash freeze (directions below), package in air tight container. If you are making a LOT of sausage patties, they cook very well in the oven at 325 degrees. Length depends on the size and thickness of the patties. This was the method I used for an Oklahoma Food breakfast we prepared in our first year of existence for a breakfast we present for a civic group.

Bacon Hash Brown Roll-ups

Breakfast burritos

Make your favorite recipe for pancakes, cool and flash freeze as described below, package securely for freezing, put a piece of wax paper between pancakes to separate them. Heat in microwave or toaster.

Breakfast casserole
Make your favorite egg/milk or cream/cheese/breakfast meat casserole, freeze, thaw overnight and rewarm in the morning.

Make your favorite recipe for waffles, flash freeze, package as described in pancakes above.

Breakfast Sandwiches

Breakfast Quiche

A great recipe for freezer biscuits.

How to freeze prepared foods. 
At the top are a myriad of recipes that freeze well, towards the bottom are many links about how to freeze foods.

Feed the Freezer Cooking Guide

Flash freezing – best method for items like burritos, pancakes, etc that are not packaged as a whole entree or casserole.

BONUS BONUS: More links on Once and Month and Bulk Cooking -- site with online planner that allows you to select and enter meals into a
planning program for a cooking session; it then automatically produces a shopping list and a procedure list for preparing the food in one or two sessions. you have to buy 2 books to get the recipes, but both are reasonably priced and worth the money. Or you can buy only one of the books and use only its recipes, which would be about half of the total recipes available, but it includes all the important ones like meatloaf and other common ground meat recipes.

Frugal mom's guide to OAMC (recipes for meal planner)

Bulk cooking differs from Once A Month Cooking in that instead of using several different main ingredients, it concentrates on one., so a series of bulk cooking days would give you a variety of meals in the freezer.
Ham, Cheese, Potato Pockets, from

2 frozen bread loaves, thawed (or, two recipes of your own home-made bread dough, or you can buy frozen bread dough from a coop producer)
1 pound sliced ham
8 ounces Mozzarella cheese
1 medium onion, sliced
20 ounces sliced cooked potatoes (or frozen diced/sliced hashbrowns)
1/2 teaspoons garlic powder
2 cups Ranch dressing
1 egg

If using frozen hash brown potatoes, place in microwaveable safe bowl and defrost for approximately 6 minutes. Skip if using refrigerated sliced potatoes. In a large skillet, cook onions and hash brown potatoes in butter until warmed and slightly browned. Add garlic powder. Roll out thawed bread dough onto a floured surface (see pictures below). Cut into fourths using a pizza cutter. You should have 8 squares total using 2 bread loaves. On each square, layer the following: 2-3 slices ham, 1 T Ranch Dressing, Potatoes/Onion Mix, 1T Ranch, Swiss cheese. Fold over dough and seal with a fork. In a small bowl, beat egg and brush a bit of egg mixture over each pocket. Place in 350 degree oven for 15-18 minutes or until lightly browned.

Freezing Directions: Let cool and then flash freeze (or in sandwich bags) and place in a gallon size freezer bag. Freeze. To serve: Place in microwave for 2-4 minutes OR in oven for 10-15 minutes until heated through.

Adapted to coop ingredients by yours truly, my suggestions in (parenthesis).

For the bread:
* 1 2/3 cups warm water (70 to 80 degrees F)
* 2 tablespoons nonfat dry milk powder (2 tablespoons of cream)
* 2 tablespoons sugar (2 tablespoons honey)
* 2 tablespoons shortening (2 tablespoons butter or lard)
* 1 1/4 teaspoons salt
* 4 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (whole wheat flour, add 1 tablespoon of vinegar to the liquid ingredients)
* 2 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast (or use your own favorite recipe for bread dough).

For the filling:
* 1/2 cup chopped onion
* 1/2 cup sliced fresh mushrooms (shitaakes from the coop would be great)
* 1/2 cup chopped green pepper
* 1/2 cup chopped sweet red pepper
* 1 tablespoon olive oil
* 1/3 cup pizza sauce
* 1/2 cup diced pepperoni (Arkansas bacon, or Italian sausage would substitute nicely here)
* 1 cup shredded pizza cheese blend (shredded local cheese)
* 1/4 cup chopped ripe olives
* 2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese

- Mix the first six ingredients on dough setting in the bread maker. Once it was kneaded, I let it rise until doubled. You could also use frozen bread dough - thaw and rise.

- Saute the peppers, onions, mushrooms in the oil until tender. Cool.

- Divide dough into two balls. Turn dough onto a floured surface. Let rest 5 mins. Roll into a 10x16 in. rectangle.

-Top with sauce, veggies, pepperoni, and cheese. Add any extra topping you like.

-From the long side of the rectangle, roll up. (Like cinnamon rolls.) Pinch seam. Cut each roll into 12 pieces. Place 12 rolls in each 9x13 pan. (An easy way to cut these nicely is to use thread, loop the thread around the dough, cross over the top, and pull each strand of thread, voila, cleanly cut dough and filling).

-Sprinkle with Parmesan, cover and let rise until doubled. Bake 18-22 mins. at 375.
-Serve with extra pizza sauce for dipping.

1 comment:

  1. Great timing! We just happen to be cooking up five pounds of ground meat tonight - we add some of what we like in most of our meals, such as onions, garlic, celeriac, then freeze meal-size portions to which we later add tomato sauce, or tomatoes and beans. We also added sunroot (Helianthus tuberosus) a locally available (in our yard) nutritious tuber. The meat is the result of a neighbor's hunting and generosity. The garlic we grow ourselves. I am learning how to cook this way, and it is working out very well. Thanks for the chock-full Bobaganda! One does not have to have learned these skills in childhood - they can be learned even as adults. And it is so satisfying to have delicious, healthy, less expensive meals from familiar sources.