Meatballs Galore

Earlier this week we talked about freezing anything.  I make these meatballs from Budget Bytes on a regular basis. In the past, I have made a double or triple batch, cooking them, and freezing the cooked meatballs in smaller portions. But honestly, cooking all those meatballs is a pain and sometimes I think they come out a bit drier that way too, so I’ve been searching for a new way to cook all those meatballs (see below) .

Most often we use them to make spaghetti and meatballs, but I’ve used them for several different dishes, including meatball subs and Salisbury steak meatballs. This recipe calls for ground beef and Italian sausage, but I have used Jimmy Dean breakfast sausage, and substitute tiny diced mushrooms for some of the meat. You could also substitute ground turkey for the beef. If you cook according to the meatballs according to the recipes, there are 9 Weight Watcher Smart Points for a serving of 4 meatballs, but if you substitute ground turkey and turkey Italian sausage and skip frying the meatballs before baking,which I often do for convenience anyway, it is only 6 points per serving of 4 meatballs. (This is assuming you get 40 meatballs per recipe as called for in the recipe.)  Frying the meatballs helps provide more texture, but doesn’t really change the flavor. There is literally no difference in taste when using turkey and, of course, the point count would be even lower if you substitute  mushrooms for some of the meat. 

The original recipe calls for tossing the meatballs in flour, searing in oil on the stove, then baking in the oven. You can cook them this way. This removes much of the grease. My personal preference is to place them on drying racks, to keep them up out of the grease.

To freeze the uncooked meatballs, follow the recipe, coat in flour and put on baking pan in the freezer. Freeze for approx 4 hours, then remove and quickly place in a freezer safe container.

To cook, you can stack in a slow-cooker with sauce and cook on low for 6-8 hours until done. Unfortunately, this results in a really greasy sauce. I cook in half or a quarter of the amount of sauce I would serve it with. Once cooked, I remove the meatballs and put in some fresh sauce.

You can also bake from frozen. Bake at the same temperature, for approximately 1.5 the normal amount of time. (I baked mine for 1hr and 15min). I cooked them on a broiler pan. They were perfect! This pan drips off all the grease, and is super easy to clean.

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Meatball Subs

These meatballs have become a family favorite. I make them regularly. I make at least a double batch and then freeze them in bags of 10-12 meatballs. Unfortunately, I can’t claim ownership of this recipe, it hails from Budget Bytes, a delicious, budget friendly blog. I used these meatballs to make Salisbury steak meat balls a few weeks back (see the post here). They are delicious. While I have managed to find a variety of uses for them, we most commonly use them in classic spaghetti & meatballs, and meatball subs. Both meals are incredible quick and easy. 
I just reheat the meatballs in sauce, put them on a bun, with provolone cheese, and place under the broiler until the cheese is melted. Super easy, and super satisfying! 

Why Everybody Should Own An Electric Pressure Cooker (Part 1)

We are all well acquainted with the pressure cooker of old, the one who we cower in fear of blowing our faces off. Every grandmother I know has a horror story of scalding hot [insert food here] exploding in their mother’s kitchen, coating the walls and ceiling with molten-lava and nearly maiming or killing the entire family. These stories usually end in “…thank God nobody was hurt.” I am here to tell you that today’s electric pressure cookers are smarter than we are, and have computer chips to prevent such mishaps. I love mine so much that I would possibly save it from a house fire before I would my cat. My pressure cooker has never bit my children or peed on the clean laundry. Just saying.
Sasuke- Handsome, but a bit evil.

I dabbled in pressure canning with my monstrous 23 quart canner years ago, but with small children in the house I was usually too concerned with keeping their faces where I like them (attached to their skulls) to actually use it. One day about three years ago I was at work when I overheard one of my fellow nurses talking about how much she loves her electric pressure cooker. My ears really perked up when she told about how she made a frozen piece of meat into pot-roast for dinner in under an hour. When I told her about how I like the idea of pressure cooking in theory but that for me its just too terrifying to actually utilize, she gave me a knowing smile and patted my knee. She then explained that the modern electric pressure cookers are fool-proof and virtually impossible to commit homicide with. It also allows for maximum flavoring of your food, because the seasonings and aromatics are literally forced into the food under such high pressures.

I’d marry my instant pot if I could.

I rushed home and did extensive Amazon review reading and price comparisons and ultimately decided on the…. (can you hear the angels in heaven singing?)… InstantPot. Best. Investment. Ever. What sold me on this model is that you can brown meat, saute, pressure cook, cook rice, and slow cook all with a push of a button. Most of my recipes start with sauteed onion or seared meat, so with this bad boy I can do just that without having to dirty an additional pan. My only slight complaint in the past is that the saute option could be hotter, but my fellow blogger extraordinaire Rachael, informed me last week that you can increase the heat setting (low, normal, high) on all cooking modes by hitting the “adjust” button then the “+” button. *swoon!*
When I received my InstantPot in the mail, I removed it from its packaging tenderly and in awe, then sat down to immerse myself in the instruction manual because I wanted to overcome my intimidation and fear of pressure cooking. I was shocked and scandalized to discover that the manual was a small leaflet and only a measly five pages long, most of which was a Chinese translation. I read it over and over, getting quite upset that it pretty much said 1.) Put food in pot 2.) Put lid on pot 3.) Push button for what you want to cook 4.) Use plus/minus buttons to adjust time. That’s it. I was so frustrated I conferred with my mother and fellow blogger who is my all-things-food-related-mentor, who told me to just do what it said and see what happens. *deep breath*

It took me 4 days to work up the nerve to use it, but when I did I realized why there were not more instructions. It really is that easy! There isn’t even a start button to push once you’ve entered the time, I guess its smart enough to figure you wouldn’t be fooling around with time settings if you had no intention of actually cooking. It just magically starts cooking after about 5 seconds. It will even yell at you and repeatedly beep with flashing instructions if you fail to put the lid on properly. Depending upon the size and temperature of the ingredients used, it takes a few minutes to reach core temperatures high enough for the countdown and cooking to begin. When the food is finished, it beeps five times then automatically switches over to “Keep Warm” mode until you open it. You can either let it sit about 10 minutes to depressurize slowly on its own, or you can flip the vent on the top and it will spew heavenly smelling steam until the pressure is gone. It is impossible to open the lid until the pressure is completely gone, so there’s zero chance for injury unless you decide that putting your face directly above the spewing hot steam seems like a good idea. Seriously, a monkey could use this thing.

So now on those nights that we find ourselves at 5 p.m. with a hankering for pot roast, we have time to run to the store for ingredients, throw it in the pressure cooker, and have dinner on the table by 6 p.m. Maybe 6:30 p.m. if I’m using frozen meat. Unheard of! At first I only used proven pressure cooker recipes, and Miss Vickie’s Big Book of Pressure Cooking Recipes  is an absolute must-have. It is written for conventional pressure cookers, so you are able to disregard about 80% of the actual cooking directions and skip straight to how many minutes it should be cooked under pressure, and simply program in that number. So far everything I’ve made from this book is amazing, and one of our favorites is Apple Cider Pot Roast with Sour Cream Gravy. It smells and tastes like Thanksgiving.
In Part 2 of this post, I will go into more detail on some specific things that I do with my pressure cooker.  Stay tuned!

Salisbury Steak Meatballs

Ok – not the most appetizing photo, but the food was good. I previously posted a delicious french onion soup recipe. We made three massive bowls of soup the first night, and then had about 2 Cups of soup left. I had totally planned on eating it for lunch the next day, but then I stumbled across this recipe for Salisbury Steak Meatballs
The sauce in the recipe is fairly similar to the french onion soup, with a few tablespoons of ingredients added. We always keep a stock of meatballs on hand. I made my own, and we use them for spaghetti and meatballs, meatball subs, and a few other meals. I also have a pretty steady supply of different types of pasta stocked up in my pantry too. This sounded like a perfect dinner plan!
Salisbury Steak Meatballs
(Inspired by Damn Delicious)

Ingredients:
  • 2+ Cups French Onion Soup
  • 1 Tbl Worcetershire Sauce
  • 1 Tbl Ketchup
  • (Optional 1 Tbl cornstarch)
  • 10 – 20 (cooked & frozen) Meatballs
  • Egg Noodles

Directions:

  1. Combine French Onion Soup, worcetershire, and ketchup.
  2. Throw meatballs in crock pot, top with soup mixture
  3. Cook on low for 4 – 5 hours
  4. (If the sauce is too thin, it can be thickened with cornstarch).
  5. When ready to serve, cook egg noodles per directions.
  6. Top egg noodles with meatballs and sauce
Easy Peesy Right? The original recipe includes a recipe for meatballs, and involves making sauce from scratch on the stove top. I’m sure it’s delicious also. But I’ll take (remade) left overs, freezer ingredients and a slow cooker any day.


Freezer cooking session

Kayte and I (Mary) got together this past week for our first freezer cooking session.  Kayte is cooking for a family of four (one of them a toddler) and I am cooking for one.  Her family does not like leftovers, so everything needs to be (or appear to be) freshly made.  Kayte is also staying low-carb, so the meals also need to reflect that. 
We decided to select five recipes and make 3 meals for each of us of each recipe.  The dishes we made are spaghetti sauce, meatballs (made and packaged separately, not in the sauce), rio chicken, cashew chicken, meat loaf and carnitas.  (Yes, we really can count, but decided the meatballs kinda sorta went with the spaghetti sauce, although they can also be used for other recipes.) The special equipment we used was a 6-quart slow cooker, a food processor and an electric pressure cooker. 
A messy kitchen

We divided the shopping, with Mary checking the sale adds, then going to Costco and Publix, and Kayte hitting Bi-Lo and Harris Teeter.  We spent a total of about 30 minutes on Friday prepping and cooking the rio chicken in the pressure cooker, and the spaghetti sauce in the slow cooker.  We got down to business on Saturday, and spent about 3 hours completing everything.  Kayte’s husband was very helpful, taking the kids out of the house (it’s really hard to be efficient with a toddler hanging on your leg, being very helpful with the raw meat, etc.). 

We ended up spending a total of $122.57, but when subtracting out the unused portions (honey, onions, cashews, parmesan cheese), the meals cost $94.07. We didn’t count the staples that we already had on hand, and this also does not include any side dishes or add-ons that will be needed for serving (such as tortillas, rice, bread, veggies, etc.) .  The meals were divided up with 2/3 for Kayte and 1/3 for Mary.  We each ended up with 15 entrees at an average cost of $4.18 for Kayte and $2.09 for Mary.  A side benefit was five links of cooked Italian sausage (makes a great sandwich especially if you add provolone cheese) and several portions of broth from the rio chicken and the also from the carnitas.  (The broth makes a wonderful base for rice, beans or soup.)  Most of these meals will also have leftovers that we will use for lunches the next day.

Some lessons learned: do as much prep before hand  as possible, such as chopping onions, mixing spice blends, etc.  These tasks can be divided up between everyone cooking and brought with them.  Figure out a game plan for cooking day – what order will recipes be prepared, who will do what.  I ended up doing most of the meat handling such as shredding the rio chicken and carnitas, chopping the raw chicken for cashew chicken, and mixing the raw hamburger for meat loaf and meatballs, since that grosses Kayte out.  Kayte mixed other ingredients, spice blends and sauces, cooked the recipes that needed to be cooked, and packaged (and photographed) the finished food.  The meatloaf and cashew chicken will need to be cooked on the day of serving, and everything else will just need to be briefly heated. Here is a run down of what we prepared:

Rio chicken in pressure cooker
Packaged up, broth in jars

 Rio chicken, fully cooked –  great as a filling for tacos or taquitos, or would be delicious on a bun.  A great side dish, especially with the tacos or taquitos, is rice cooked in the broth – no other seasoning needed.  This is a slow cooker recipe that we made in the pressure cooker.

Free form meatloaves ready for the oven

Meatloaf, frozen raw  – a wonderful Alton Brown recipe that you really should try even if you don’t like meatloaf.  His recipe says to smoke it, but it is good cooked in the oven instead.  In the interest of keeping the carbs low, we substituted BBQ pork rinds for the potato chips.  We also used ground beef only instead of the mixed meats to keep the cost down.  A double recipe was made and divided into 3 large loaves for Kayte and 3 small ones for Mary.  The glaze for the tops (to be added before cooking) was packaged in small ziplock bags and packaged with each loaf.

Chicken & sauce in baggies, cashews packaged separately

Cashew chicken, frozen raw in sauce – needs brief cooking before serving, cashews packaged separately and included with each bag of the chicken and sauce, to be added right before serving.  We both add some veggies, usually broccoli or a stir fry mix, quickly sautéed, but we always have something on hand that we can quickly grab and add when we prepare for serving. 
Spaghetti sauce & Italian sausage
Spaghetti sauce, fully cooked – I don’t really have a recipe for this.  I combine any combination of tomato sauce, canned tomatoes (break up if using whole), fresh tomatoes (whatever I have on hand or is cheapest), diced onion, minced garlic, Italian seasoning, and Italian sausage (optional).  Everything goes into the slow cooker and cooks as long as possible.  It can also be done on the stovetop, once again cooking as long as possible and stirring often.  The Italian sausage can be eaten with the spaghetti or makes a great sandwich, especially if you add some good provolone cheese.
Meatballs

Meatballs, fully cooked – once again, I don’t really have a recipe.  Let me know if you need one by commenting, and I will try to write down how I make them.  Usually I use bread crumbs, but in the interest of going low carb, we substituted almond meal.  We used 3 pounds of ground beef for the meatballs, and baked them in the oven without browning in a skillet first.  The meatballs ended up being pretty big (I was getting tired and just wanted to get them finished!).  If they had been more normal size, we would have had more packages.  We will put them in our spaghetti sauce, but they could also be used for Swedish meatballs or other recipes.

Carnitas, ready for the freezer
Carnitas, fully cooked – this is the best tasting and easiest recipe I have ever found for pulled pork or tacos.  The linked recipe calls for making your own tomatillo salsa, but I use Trader Joe’s Salsa Verde.  It can also be used as enchilada or taquito filling.
Freezer meals all together

In the freezer

Here is the end result of our cooking session. We are starting to plan our next one, gathering recipes and watching sale ads.  Give us your feedback and any tips you may have to make it more efficient.