Thursday, August 06, 2009

Hamburger Heaven

I try to use as little meat as possible, but hamburger has two things going for it: it's cheap, and it's versatile. Whether you buy half a grass-fed cow from the local farm or follow the sales, if you are like most households, hamburger is a staple.

I reduce the environmental impact of hamburger by stretching it as far as it will go and by serving it on rushed nights when our only other option is fast food. I buy hamburger when it is on sale and process it in the following manner:

1. Determine the weight of the hamburger and measure out one-quarter that weight of dry TVP. Hydrate the TVP by mixing equal volumes of hot water into it and letting set until absorbed. Then, add to the burger.

2. While you're at it, throw in a few handfuls of dry oatmeal, barley, or bulghur. Crackers and bread work as well if you have some you need to use up. The point is to add fiber with whatever you have around the house.

Adding protein and fiber not only stretches your hamburger, it lower the overall fat percentage and makes it more filling. I then add some finely chopped onion and garlic, because we like those in all of our hamburger recipes.

3. Make your recipes and freeze them. You might have your own favorites, but here are some of mine.

Meatballs two different ways (if you are going to make these, get the sauces started and cooking on the stove before doing anything else)

Take the mix mentioned above and add some of your favorite spices (mine today had about a tablespoon each of dill and rosemary) and an egg or two. Roll into balls and brown in a pan over medium heat. Do this in batches so there is only a single layer in the pan at any time.

As they finish browning, add half to each of the two sauces: spaghetti sauce and one other. I seem to get good spaghetti sauce on sale for less than it would cost me, so I just use jarred. The second sauce is made with whatever I happen to have around. If I have mushrooms, I make Swedish meatball sauce; if I have the stuff for homemade BBQ or sweet and sour, I make one of those. Let them simmer for an hour or so, then put in separate ziploc or freezer containers.

Easy Mini Meatloaf

I add two eggs for one large-family batch. Work in, then add your choice of spices and some kind of tomato-based liquid. I use about one cup for the aforementioned large-family batch. I like to play around with spices--adding taco seasoning for the spice and leftover salsa for the tomato, or spaghetti sauce for the tomato with extra garlic and oregano. I then put a handful or so in each well of a large muffin pan and top with a layer of the same tomato product. You can then either bake the whole thing at 350 until done, then taking the meatloaves out of the pan and freezing; or wrap up the whole pan and freeze raw, to be cooked another day.

Browned Meat

The rest gets browned and frozen in meal sized portions to be added to tacos, casseroles, or whatever inspires me.

In a normal hamburger session, I spend less than two hours of cooking to get six meals: two meatball, one meatloaf, and three browned beef. One days that are overbooked, I take out a package and put it in the refrigerator in the morning. For the meatballs, you can thaw overnight and empty the bag into the crockpot in the morning, leaving it to simmer on low until you are ready to eat.

All of these meals are faster than a pizza and much cheaper... I hope they make your busy life a little easier!