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Saturday, December 17, 2011

The Miracle of One Pound of Hamburger Meat

I often think that for most people instead of going totally meatless it maybe easier to go "less meat". Let me give you and example. I made one pound of hamburger meat the other day and seasoned it for tacos (cumin, chili powder, adobo). I mixed the meat with a couple tablespoons of salsa and we made tacos with meat, cheese, salsa, fresh tomatoes, lettuce and plain yogurt (instead of sour cream). We had beans and rice as a side dish. We did not finish the meat. The next day my husband took two tacos to work for lunch. That night I took the remaining meat and beans and mixed it with some freshly prepared penne pasta and made soup, topped with a little sprinkle of cheese and served with freshly baked bread. If you sub in more vegetables in place of meat you will be eating lighter, cheaper, and more healthfully. The trick is to think of meat as a seasoning or a flavoring device. It is not uncommon for us to eat a pot of collard greens flavored with a couple ounces of pork belly or bacon, a pot of black eyed peas and rice and a pan of corn bread. Is that vegetarian? Clearly not, but is it healthy and delicious and cheap? Certainly!

Another meal we are found of here is to make large backed potatoes, stuffed with cheese and bacon and broccoli, served with a large salad and some steamed green beans (perhaps flavored with bacon grease?) and dinner is ready and decadent. What about stuffed cabbage or stuffed peppers, mixing the meat with cooked rice was a way of stretching the meat for economy but the result is truly delicious food. Many hamburger patty, meatball and meatloaf recipes can be combined with bread crumbs, cooked lentils and/or shredded vegetables to add nutrition and flavor and use less meat as well. We often make a chicken stir fry or fajitas with just one chicken breast in it. Just add more peppers or bok choy or beans as needed. A chicken/rice/broccoli casserole is equally delicious with more broccoli and less chicken in it. Make a French onion soup with leftover chicken broth and top with baguette slice and cheese! The possibilities are nearly endless.

If you wish to go vegetarian because you don't want to eat animals then obviously this won't work for you, but if you'd like to consume less meat for your health, for economic reasons, to ease into full vegetarianism, or for the ecological impact then this might be a good technique for you to explore.

By the way, we are a family of 4, one grade schooler, 1 preschooler and 2 adults. If you are a family with three rapidly growing teenagers or hearty eaters or more just a lot more people then obviously you must adjust your amounts accordingly. :)

Enchilada Casserole or How I learned to stop worrying about stale tortillas

Here's the thing, to make proper enchiladas you need nice fresh corn tortillas. I check grocery store tortillas by bending them back and forth in the package and checking that they are pliable and not crumbly, but every once in awhile you still get home with a bad batch. This happened to me last week, as I prepared to briefly soak the tortillas in chili powder and water and then fry them in oil to make my normal enchiladas. These things were falling apart! So I did what any Mom pressed for time and trying to make dinner would do. I said some curse words under my breath and started throwing the tortillas into the 9 x 13 pan and scowling while I came up with a plan.

This is what I did. From left to right I placed a bowl of water mixed with a tablespoon (or so) of chili powder, for dipping the tortillas. Then on a hot burner I had some vegetable oil going over medium high heat, then on the counter next to that I had my 9 x 13 pan, one small bowl of chopped onions and a bag of Mexican shredded cheese. Dip tortillas into chili-water mixture and then let drip dry over bowl of water before adding to hot oil. Use tongs! Oil may splatter! Let it fry briefly and if you have nice fresh tortillas you can flip them over to cook on the other side before placing in pan and rolling up around filling of cheese and onions and placing the enchiladas seam side down and side by side in the pan. If you have crazily falling apart tortillas, press them down into the oil to cook all over and scoop them carefully out of the oil and into the pan, spreading them out to completely cover the bottom of the pan. When pan is covered with tortillas cover all with shredded cheese and chopped onions and add another layer of fried tortillas on top of that then add more cheese and onions and top all with a final layer of tortillas. Take one small can of your favorite chili and mix it with the leftover chili water, or use leftover chili, or use a can of hot dog chili. If you seem to have forgotten to get any chili even though you had specifically PLANNED to make enchiladas that night and had it written down and everything but apparently have LOST YOUR DAMN MIND, mix some cooked beans with what is left in a frozen seasoning packet that contained chopped onions, peppers and celery, saute that all together, open some tomato sauce and throw that in with the chili water and then some more chili powder and some salt for good measure. Pour that over top of the whole pan and then top with some more cheese. Cover with foil and bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes, then remove foil and let brown on top for 5 minutes. Pray for a miracle and serve with sauteed or steamed yellow squash and a small salad.

Eat! Be amazed this whole mess worked out well! Goggle as the kids actually ask for seconds, resolve to be more careful when purcahaing tortillas in the future.

Green bean casserole made right!

Take 3 pounds of fresh green beans, snip and string them and break them in half, placing them in a colander. When all are snipped and strung, rinse them with cool water and set one third of your beans in the bottom of a crockpot, then layer on 1/2 -1 can of roasted garlic cream of mushroom soup, then top that with 1/2 C of shredded 4 Cheese blend, some chopped fine onion (or french fried onion if you prefer) add the next 1/3 of beans and repeat layers, ending with soup and cheese on top. This can be made a day ahead and stored in the crockpot insert in the refrigerator. If cooking the same day turn slow cooker up to low and cook 8 hours or on high for 4-6 hours. When you are ready to serve I garnish with french fried onions and freshly sauteed quartered Baby Bella mushrooms.

Delicious, and by making it in a slow cooker you save yourself valuable oven space during Holiday cooking.