Thursday, January 15, 2015

"What do I do with all that ground beef?"

For the past four years, Dan and I (well, really, mostly Dan) have grown feeder steers in our pasture and had them butchered in the fall for freezer beef. Our freezer and bellies have been happy with our high-quality, delicious steaks, roasts, and ground beef, and from what I've heard, our friends that have purchased half- or quarter-sized beef sections from us have been satisfied as well.

When I talk with interested parties about the possibility of filling their freezers with beef, one of the first questions I get, is always, "What in the world would I do with that much ground beef?"  Ha! I have to laugh when I hear this, because ground beef is the backbone of many, many meals around our table. In my humble opinion, ground beef should be considered the hammer or screwdriver of the working mother's toolbelt. Ground beef is why dinner can be ready in 22 minutes and why there will be tasty leftovers for lunches the next day.

Growing up, my mother's go-to weeknight meals of 1) spaghetti and 2) tacos both used ground beef. Many an evening in our house started with Mom asking me or my sister to check and see if we had either red sauce or tortillas in the pantry. The answer would determine the night's dinner. This happened at least twice per week. Please, don't get me wrong, there is absolutely nothing wrong with tacos or spaghetti, I just want to branch out and use ground beef in other ways. (If you're wondering, the $0.88 can of Hunt's red sauce from Winco, paired with a pound of quality ground beef makes an excellent, meaty, and flavorful pasta topper. And a packet of taco seasoning with ground beef, some lettuce, tomatoes, cheese, and ranch dressing will make the kid-friendliest tacos you'll ever serve. BOOM! Two family dinners with ground beef are done.)

One of my favorite ways to use ground beef is in meatloaf. Remember meatloaf? Remember the dry puck of meat you and your sister would slather in gallons of ketchup and try to choke down? Remember dinner table fights with your parents about cleaning your plate? Remember how you used to loathe meatloaf? Yeah, this most certainly is NOT that meatloaf.

I originally came across this recipe for individual-sized meatloaf-minis in a Cooking Light magazine. I made it for my family and Dan and Lana ate the meal with gusto, and I put to bed my former assumptions about meatloaf being not-so-delicious and a chore to eat. I also made these meatloaf-minis for a ladies meal-swap group I was a part of, and everyone was grateful that I included a copy of the recipe with the meal.

I made a few changes to the recipe based on my family's preferences, but I have no doubt that as-written, the meatloaf minis would be oh-so-very-scrumptious. Here are my changes:

1. I didn't use fresh breadcrumbs. The ones in the canister from the grocery store worked great for me.
2. I omitted the horseradish. A) I didn't have any and wasn't going to buy a whole jar for just this recipe, and B) Dan HATES this stuff and wonders why it even exists, thus leading to point A.
3. Instead of regular, run-of-the-mill cheddar, I like to use Cougar Gold. It's awesome cheese for any occasion, and I think it makes this meatloaf extra-fancy.

When I try out a new dinner recipe, I mentally score it based on a few categories. Here's how the meatloaf minis did:

Loved it! A hit with the grown-ups (me and Dan) as well as the oldest daughter. I don't think Nora's eaten it yet because I haven't fed it to her yet, so the verdict is still out for her.

Dan and I pack our lunches to work everyday, so I really try to make dinners that can be reheated easily and are still tasty the next day. These foil-wrapped meatloaves transport easily in lunch containers and re-heat nicely in the microwave and are still delicious.

This recipe is very easy to follow, but it does take a little bit of time to chop all the ingredients. For me, it's not a meal I can do on a weeknight start-to-finish. If I make this on a weeknight, I have everything chopped and mixed up the night before so only the baking is needed the next evening.

I love a good freezer meal and have been very happy with how these little guys freeze and re-heat well. I freeze them fully-cooked, so all that is needed prior to serving is a thaw and a quick heat in the microwave or oven.

Give this recipe a try. I'm sure you and your family won't be disappointed!

Monday, January 12, 2015

Happy 1st Birthday to our Nora!

On December 26th (yep, that's right, the day after Christmas, impeccable timing, isn't it?) Nora had her first birthday. Of course, because she's a member of the inconvenient birthday club, we spent the bulk of her special day travelling across the state to see friends and family on a post-Christmas holiday. Dear Nora was strapped in a rear-facing carseat for seven hours, with only limited breaks for food and freedom. Not how anyone, especially an active one-year old, would choose to spend their birthday.

Even though it's a few weeks later than Nora's actual birthday, I hope yesterday's morning of free-play and cake destroying makes up for the seven hours of confinement. It's a good thing babies have short memories and they're really, really cute.

Blue eyes, porcelain skin, baby-soft cheeks, and a sweet, sweet half smile. Oh how I love this girl! 

Hug Momma? Hug?

Nora is my winter baby!

We then got down to the business of cake-destroying. Nora's Grandma made her a delicious cake for eating and smashing on her actual birthday, but a day of driving, limited naps, and a roomful of strangers did not a happy girl make, so we did a birthday cake re-do at home on the floor. 

And Baby did not disappoint.
The first birthday is the only one that is acceptable to sit around shirtless eating cake, right?

Yay for cake!

Happy birthday Nora! You are loved and adored by many. And right now I just want to pinch those chubby thighs, zerbert that squishy belly, and devour those delicious cheeks.