Too often that crazy dinner hours rolls around and the “What are we eating? cry echoes through the house.
Well, one of the ways I’ve tackled and conquered that dilemma is to have some of my proteins cooked in advance. Yes, one of the keys to quick and easy meal preparation is to plan just a bit ahead. I’m a Type Z personality (vs. all you organized Type A’s), so you know it will be easy.
I have shared numerous times, I am so much more efficient when I spend a little time in the kitchen power cooking, grilling in bulk,and then bagging my poultry and meat, so that I have those key items ready for a “Ten Minute Dinner.”
Last week, I shared one of my favorite ways to deal with the mess of cooking ground beef was by browning the beef as you normally would in a skillet and then draining the ground beef. Yes, simply by putting a colander on top of a plastic bag and draining the ground beef through the colander, it allows the grease to drain without any mess. (Read the post for a more detailed explanation.)
While I like the taste of texture the best of ground beef browned on a skillet, the reality is that on some days, I don’t have the time to monitor cooking mass quantities over the stove, and that is where this gem of a kitchen tip comes into play. (For more time savers, Check out my Best Kitchen Tips category.)
Cooking ground beef in bulk, in my crock pot, has helped revolutionize my “Power Cooking Hour.”
My goal, on any given day, is to have five Ziplock freezer bags (or freezer containers) filled with seasoned ground beef so that I always have a quick and easy meal option.
For my family, I need a minimum of two pounds in each serving since I am feeding a family of seven. When I use ground beef for quick meals, I typically am adding other things to make it stretch, like rice, beans, potatoes etc.
Tuesdays are my crazy, busy days.
I am gone all day, and unless I have a plan for dinner, it’s drive through time. As I was running out the door, I decided to throw my six pounds of ground beef (thawed) in the crock pot. I knew that I wouldn’t be home until 8 pm, and that was not the time to think about starting meal prep. This decision took me all of two minutes – literally.
When I want grease free meat, I put one cup of water in the crock pot with a metal steamer in the bottom, and then I put the ground beef on top (broken up since it will cook exactly how you place it in the crock pot). I season it liberally with my favorite seasonings (basic ones like garlic and onion powder, as well as salt and pepper), then close the lid and then let cook. Voila! It does the work for you. This is what you see picture above.
The steamer is not necessary, but if you are watching extra fat content (and just buy what is on sale, which normally has more fat), this allows for all of your grease to drain to the bottom, leaving drier, but completely grease free meat. I make it both ways.
If I don’t use the steamer, I put the ground beef in with 1/4 cup of water, break it up into smaller size pieces, and let it cook. Then, I drain it using my previously stated method.
If you are leaving for the day, be prepared that when you come home your meat will look exactly like you left it (see picture above. I chuckled because it literally is identical, except that it’s cooked). Ideally, I stir it a few times throughout the cooking process, but that isn’t an option if you are gone all day.
If you can’t stir the meat until it’s done, then just wait for it to cool and break it down into your desired consistency. It will be a bit like “Taco Bell” meat (see picture below.) Cooking time will completely depend on how much ground beef you are cooking. Yesterday, I accidentally left it on high for eight hours and it was too well done for my taste, but it still worked fine. Typically, cooking is done within 2 – 2 1/2 hours on high, and reduce to low to keep it warm.
I’ve written a detailed post over at 10 Minute Dinners on cooking Crock Pot Taco Meat. I now do it no other way, and there’s rarely a time when I don’t have some ready for a quick Mexican themed meal. I love it!
I’ve also started making up my own homemade seasonings. We use so much taco seasoning that I make it up in bulk. It’s inexpensive and healthy.
Remember, I encourage you to cook your ground beef in bulk because there is no difference in the time that it takes to cook one pound versus five pounds, yet the sanity saving factor of having quick meals to grab helps us conquer meal time mountain, and saves us money at the same time.
Learn about cooking ground beef in bulk and my favorite Crock Pot Taco Meat over at my 10 Minute Dinners site.
For those that don’t have a crock pot or aren’t ready to try this yet, another option is to use your double boiler.
Brown your ground beef a couple pounds at a time in a double boiler. You need to stir the meat. It browns in about the same time as in a skillet, but the grease all drips down into the water and it’s actually steam that cooks the meat. It works well and if you have a large pan, you are able to cook more meat than with just a skillet. Same concept as above – sanity and savings saver.
What do I do with my ground beef after I am done cooking? That’s another post, but to give you a few ideas, I season the various bags with Mexican spices, Italian, Garlic, and some plain.
Last night at 10 pm, my hard working husband came home and had not eaten yet. Had I not had ground beef on hand, my first reaction would have been to insist that the kitchen closed hours ago, but instead, I was able to get something hot to him in less than five minutes. I took the Biscuits and Gravy concept, and served it over bread. I had gravy left over from the night before, so I used the meat that I had just cooked and seasoned, and made a comfort food sandwich. Melted cheese, in conjunction with this, would have been yummy too, but alas, I didn’t think of it till later.
So enjoy this tip. Hopefully, it will help ease meal time madness in your home.