Here’s The (Ground) Beef!

I bought 40 pounds of 93/7 hamburger and processed it all into meal sized portions for the freezer last weekend. Whew!

Ground Beef from Zaycon

The Zaycon 93/7 Ground Beef comes in four – 10 pound packages.

I have been buying my boneless/skinless chicken breasts through Zaycon foods for about a year now and just love it!  The breasts (also sold in 40 pound packages) are huge with hardly any fat on them! You can see what I did with all those chicken breasts HERE.

Then I tried their bacon.  Mmmmm…. bacon!   The Zaycon bacon comes in twelve 3 pound packages.  What I like to do is bake an entire package of bacon all at once (yes, I bake mine in the oven – so much easier!) and store them six strips wide on layers of paper towels in the freezer. I don’t bake them until they are crispy, just lightly browned and almost done. Then, when we want bacon for breakfast, or baked in squash, or to crumble on a salad, all I have to do is place some strips in a cast iron pan over medium high heat for just a few minutes to “refresh and crisp”!  It’s a great time-saver.

I was so happy with the chicken breasts and bacon, that I decided to try their 93/7 ground beef.  It’s unbelievable how much cheaper the Zaycon ground beef is than the grocery stores around town, and the meat is also a lot fresher!  Since I got four 10 pound packages of ground beef, I decided to use each package in a different way.  Every time someone uses the link on the right to purchase Zaycon foods, I am compensated a dollar – so, thanks to those of you who have supported this blog with your purchase!  :0  If you would like to see if Zaycon delivers in your area, the link has a map of all the delivery sites in the United States.

Zaycon Hamburger

I got this hamburger press from Tupperware many years ago. It makes perfectly uniform hamburger patties for even cooking! It also speeds up the process of making lots and lots of hamburgers!

The first package of ground beef was made into hamburger patties.  I got this hamburger making press many, many moons ago and have loved it ever since.  It makes perfectly sized hamburgers that are all just about the same weight.  That way, when cooking up the burgers, they are all done at the same time.  Using this press it took very little time to get a bunch of hamburgers formed!  I mean, a bunch!  The only thing I added to  the burgers before forming them was a little bit of sea salt and some black pepper.  That way, in the future, if I have run out of the frozen cooked ground beef, I can always use the burgers instead!  Once the hamburgers were formed, I layered them between parchment paper and placed them in the freezer. When they were frozen solid, they were packaged two by two with my sucky machine (aka Food Saver).

Then, it was time to make meatloaf. Or should I say meatloafs.  Maybe meatloaves?

Whatever.  😉

Hamburger from Zaycon

Some of the ingredients I put in this batch of meatloaf. I don’t think I have ever made my meatloaf the same way twice!

I don’t usually follow a recipe when I make meatloaf, just some of this and a little bit of that.  I always add eggs, bread crumbs, salt, pepper, catsup and onions.  Then, I tend to throw in whatever else sounds good and may be at hand, such as garlic, jalapenos or chiles, rice, carrots, parsley, cauliflower, etc.. Most of the time the combinations are really good.  Sometimes, not so much. Ask me how I know a combo of chiles, jalapenos, garlic and onions may be a bit too spicy in a meatloaf!  I usually combine all the ingredients in my mixer with the dough hook attachment, and then finish off with my hands.  When ready for making into the actual meat “loaf”, I have found that the small aluminum loaf pans or the plastic tubs that sandwich meats come in work perfectly.  We don’t buy sliced sandwich meat anymore, but these tubs seem to last forever, and have come in handy in so many ways! Then, off to the freezer.

Ray and I just love meatloaf and baked potatoes…   mmmmmm,  comfort food.

But I think Ray actually prefers to eat the left-overs the next day in a meatloaf sandwich.

What to do with Ground Beef

Nine dinners (and lunches) all ready to defrost and cook! Easy Peasy!

The next day was meatball day.  I searched for recipes on the internet and found one that Ree Drummond (Pioneer Lady) uses.  It was fairly simple and plain, so I could serve the meatballs in any number of different sauces:  teriyaki, beef gravy, spaghetti., etc..  Ray and I spent a couple of hours mixing together the ingredients, making the meat mixture into balls and then frying them on fairly high heat to get a good brown crust on them, but not cooking them completely through.  The meatballs were then placed on parchment lined cookie sheets and popped into the freezer.  Once frozen, I placed 25 meatballs into gallon sized freezer bags.  I got 4-1/2 bags, or 115 meatballs!  Now, whenever we want to have a meatball sandwich, or meatballs in gravy over mashed potatoes, I just pluck some meatballs out of the bag, let them thaw for a few minutes, then add them to whatever sauce I’m using – easy peasy!

Frying up the meatballs. I am so glad I found Ree Drummond's recipe - the meatballs turned out just perfect!

Frying up the meatballs. I am so glad I found Ree Drummond’s recipe – the meatballs turned out just perfect!

On top of spaghetti,                       All covered with cheese,
I lost my poor meatball,
When somebody sneezed.

It rolled off the table,
And on to the floor,
And then my poor meatball,
Rolled out of the door.

It rolled in the garden,
And under a bush,
And then my poor meatball,
Was nothing but mush.

So if you eat spaghetti,
All covered with cheese,
Hold on to your meatball,
Whenever you sneeze.                 Remember that blast from the past?

Finally, I had one more 10 pound package of ground beef.  Whew – almost done!  I decided to just brown the ground beef, wash it, then package it in 2 cup increments.  This is the perfect amount to make tacos, chili, stroganoff, etc..

Two cup packages of ground beef all ready to be thawed and made into a pasta sauce, chili beans, enchiladas, etc...

Two cup packages of frozen ground beef all ready to be thawed and made into a pasta sauce, chili beans, enchiladas, etc…  In the end I had 15-1/2 two cup packages!

“Wash it?” you ask.  Why, yes, I wash my ground beef by placing the hot ground beef under hot water running from my kitchen faucet. Tilt the pan just a bit. The fat floats up and over the top of the pan and runs down the drain, rendering your ground beef nearly fat free!  Or, you can put the ground beef in a colander and run it under hot tap water.  Either way works.  Yes, a lot of the flavoring does go down the drain with that fat, but if you are adding stuff back like taco seasonings or peppers and onions, you won’t miss the fat flavoring at all!  And it’s much better for you!  Caution: if you aren’t using a fairly lean ground beef, you may have a lot (and I mean a lot) of fat, which could be a potential problem for your plumbing. Try draining the ground beef in a colander that you center over a large pot and run the hot water over it that way.  If you do this, chill the fat/water combo and all the fat will rise to the top, solidify, and now you have tallow!  What can you do with tallow?  Make soap!  Tallow soap is wonderful!  Click on my Soapmaking link at the top of this page for more ideas.Olive Oil and Lard Soap Recipe

So, there you have it!  For a few hours of labor (it was actually fun making meatballs with my dearest) you can prepare lots of freezer ready food.  In the morning when I know I am going to have a busy day, I will place a meat loaf in the refrigerator (on the door where it is the warmest) and then around 4ish in the afternoon pop it and a couple of Idaho’s in the oven for a delicious, easy meal.  But then, the easiest thing for me is to tell Ray it’s his night to cook and have him grill up some burgers! 😉0001

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Try Asparagus Beans This Year!

It’s time to buy seeds for this coming spring, so let me tell you about one of my favorites…

My mother has been growing the most wonderful asparagus “yard long” green beans for a few years now.  Last year I asked her to save some seeds for me so that I might try growing the bean myself.   My mother got her bean seeds from her sister, my Aunt Sue, who got her seeds from an on-line seed company.

Asparagus beans

These are the blossoms of the Asparagus Yardlong green bean. They seem to always come in twos and are gorgeous!

On the Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds website, they have one called Chinese Green Noodle Bean that looked similar, but not exactly like my beans. On the Johnny’s Seeds website they have some called Gita, which are again pretty close, but not exactly the same. Over at Park Seed, they have one called Orient Wonder Yardlong, and at Mary’s Heirloom Seeds there is a Chinese Red Noodle Bean.  Check it out HERE.  I can’t wait to try that one out!

Asparagus yard long beans

These plants grow tall, so prepare!

My Aunt Sue got hers from Burpee, and they are called Asparagus Yardlong pole beans. I prefer to grow only organic, non-GMO, heirloom plants, and was glad to see that these were, indeed heirloom!

Most long beans are of the vigna unguiculata subsp. sesquipedalis.  Sesquipedalis in Latin means “foot and a half long”, and this subspecies which arrived in the United States via Asia is characterized by unusually long pods, which lead to the common names of yardlong bean, asparagus bean and Chinese long-bean.

The plant is a different genus from the common bean, but like the common bean, is a vigorous climbing annual. It’s actually a variety of cowpea!  When I was doing some research on the long bean, I read that the plant will attract many pollinators including ants and yellowjackets. In fact, my plants had lots of ants, and I mistakenly had tried getting rid of them with a home made solution of olive oil, dish soap and jalapeno pepper juice! That was a classic hand-to-forehead moment. 🙂 In hindsight, the ants weren’t doing any harm (they weren’t farming aphids on the plant), so next year I will just leave them alone to pollinate.

Chinese yard long beans

This is one of the beans, about halfway grown. When ready to harvest, they are about 14-18 inches long (not really a yard long) and a little less in diameter than a #2 pencil. You can see the purple at the end of the bean, which fades a bit as the bean matures.

The pods on my long bean plant hung in groups of two.  My mother showed me how to harvest the beans, cutting the bean off the plant at the top of the actual bean, because the plant will set more beans on the same stem if it isn’t damaged by harvesting!  My plants were a bit slow to get started, and I will assume that’s because I don’t live in a subtropical climate, which is where these beans originated. Also, I didn’t amend the soil much where I planted them (I have some serious mountain clay) and only gave them a bit of fertilizer, but once the plants started to flower and produce pods – hoooeee – I got a lotta beans!

Chinese asparagus beans

Not quite a yard, but these beans are really quite long!

 

Chinese Asparagus Green Beans

Cut the beans to fit into a wide mouth mason jar with about 1 inch head space, pack vertically, then pour in a vinaigrette. After a few days in the refrigerator they are delicious! Add a few jalapeno peppers for a spicy treat!

Just five or six bean pods make a side meal for Ray and I.  They are really good when marinated (just about any marinade is great) and thrown on the barbeque grill.  The best part is that they are so long, one rarely falls through the grates!  The beans are also excellent in a stir fry.  They are virtually stringless but stay fairly crisp and crunchy when boiled, barbequed, baked, etc..  Throw them in beef stew or roast them with tomatoes, peppers and onions – yum-o!

To preserve them, I think canning (jarring) is best. I also like cutting them long enough to fit into pint sized canning jars, pouring in a vinaigrette, and letting them steep in the fridge for a few days.  Mmmmm…  just like pickled green beans, but still with a nice crunch! Blanching and then freezing them makes them a bit mushy, though palatable.  I would like to try dehydrating the beans, but this season’s crop is pretty much done, so I will have to wait to try this next year.

Once the blossoms are pollinated, they turn yellow and then drop off. Here you can see two baby long beans - aren't they cute?

Once the blossoms are pollinated, they turn yellow and then drop off. Here you can see two baby long beans – aren’t they cute?  See the buds between the beans?  If you carefully cut the first beans when harvesting just right below the top of the actual bean, you won’t disturb the buds, and more beans will develop!

If you have room in your garden, you should certainly try some long beans.  The kids love growing them! Be aware, however, that the beans are not only long, but the plant itself is “long” also!

Yard long green beans

Be prepared to either harvest with a ladder, or have room to let the bean plant fold over. You could even let this grow up and over an arbor and harvest from below!

The bean plant grows very, very tall – at least 10 to 12 feet tall!  To handle this, let them get about 6-8 feet tall, let them crawl over the top of something (strings? Wire? Another trellis?) and then down the other side.  If you can walk under the plant, it makes finding and harvesting the beans easier.

Oh, and those beans you didn’t see on the vine until they have matured beyond fresh eating?  Harvest the pods, let the beans dry out completely, and they can be cooked just like any other dried bean.  Delicious!

I plan to grow these beans again this next spring.  Although mine were a bit slow to get started, I harvested some of the beans after they were fully matured, so that I could save the bean for planting again.  Hopefully, if I select the best beans from the best plants year after year, they will acclimate to my elevation, climate and soil conditions, and my harvests will get better and better!

So…   while you are perusing your seed catalogs this winter, consider the long bean (or asparagus bean, yard long bean, etc.).  You won’t be sorry!0001

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Using The WHOLE Orange!

recipe for orange peel and chocolate candy

We had the most marvelous navel orange tree at our home in the valley.  We planted the tree soon after we moved in and enjoyed it’s wonderful, healthful fruit ever since. That is, until we had to leave it behind when we sold our home so that we could move up to our new homestead.

We eat oranges for dessert with dark chocolate…

A bite of orange.  A bite of chocolate.  Repeat.  Good thing mandarins are just as good this way, because we were able to move our potted mandarin up to our new homestead.

How to candy orange peelA while ago I followed a recipe for candied orange peels that I found in a wonderful book called 1/4 acre farm. They were absolutely devine!  The orange peels ended up with a wonderful chewy texture and were beautifully translucent.  Really, you have to try this!  I was so proud of the fact that we were actually using the whole orange!

But then I made those candied orange peels again yesterday, and when the candy was done, I kept thinking about how good they smelled and how my fingers got so slippery when I was scraping the pith from the orange peel oil.

Orange oil.

Wait…      ORANGE OIL!

I wondered – if I saved the water that the orange peels were gently boiled in, would there be any orange oil floating on the top when it cooled down?  I had to try it, which meant I had to make another batch of candied orange peels.  Ah Shucks.  😉

But, instead of dumping the water the peels were boiled in (the orange peels are boiled in water 3 times), I saved it all in a large pan.  When the water has cooled enough to handle, I used a funnel and poured the water into a large glass bottle, like these…

Brewing Fermented Sweet Tea

I bought the front two, clear bottles at IKEA. The darker bottle in the rear was purchased at a craft brewery nearby.  Just flipping the bale and slowly decanting the water seemed to work just fine.

When filled to the brim, I inverted the bottle, and carefully placed it upside down into the refrigerator.  Why?  Oil and water separate – especially when chilled.  After a few hours of chilling, I slowly (very slowly), without inverting the bottle, let the water trickle out of the bottom.  My thought was that oil generally floats, so if I let the water out of the bottom, the oil would be left on the top.  I stopped decanting the water when there was about an inch or so left in the bottle.  Then I poured in more water and followed the same procedure. Once I had done this with all the boiled water, I could definitely see a sheen of oil on the top of the water.

Yes indeedy, I had orange peel oil!

I poured the oil with the last bit of water into another smaller amber colored bottle for storage.  Since this bottle had a dropper, I got rid of more of the water by sucking out from under the oil layer – remember, oil floats!  This is what I ended up with before sucking all of the water out from underneath:

How to make your own orange oil

can you see it… right there in the middle of the jar? Orange Oil! Wahoo!

I know if I had a small distiller, I would be able to get a lot more oil out of the orange peel, and I also need to experiment with different methods of extracting the oil.  I am also going to see if it makes a difference whether I separate the water and oil when it is still hot, or let it get cold first. Then, I want to see if I can do the same thing with our lemon and mandarin trees!

What will I do with my orange soap made from turkey fatoil? Make orange scented soap!  Or my version of lip balm! Or orange scented beeswax candles!  Or…  well…  you get the picture.  

The best part?  I KNOW this is organic oil because the peels came from my tree which we do not spray! We already miss that tree, since right now is the time the oranges are beginning to ripen. Hopefully, someday, if we can build a walipini, we will again be able to plant another orange tree.

Have you extracted oil from orange peels?  Do you have a better method you would like to share?

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My Garden Thief!

Who stole my sunflowers?

You can see one of our Italian honeybees right in the middle of this beautiful sunflower. Sunflowers are so pretty, aren't they?

You can see one of our Italian honeybees right in the middle of this beautiful sunflower. Sunflowers are so pretty, aren’t they?

I had six beautiful large heads of sunflowers growing in my orchard.  The bees were enjoying them, I was enjoying them, and I had the perfect recipe lined up to use the seeds. Then, one night, the largest sunflower disappeared.

Harrumph…  🙁

Well, I never…

Do you see something missing here?

Hmmmm…   something seems to be missing.

Do you see how it looks like the top of the stalk has been chewed off?  That was the first piece of evidence I saw.

who stole my sunflowers 4Then, throughout the orchard in no less than six separate spots, I found piles of cracked seeds. Strange that the thief would move from spot to spot to eat the seeds, but then (of course) there may have been more than one culprit!

It’s a real shame because I have a really neat recipe I couldn’t wait to try out using the sunflower seeds.  I was going to use the honey from my beehive, with ground almond flour from my almond trees, along with chopped toasted almonds, dehydrated apricots and cherries from my orchard.

I was going to use egg whites from my neighbor’s chickens (we will be getting ours next year) and some pine nuts from, well, pine trees!  We are surrounded by Sugar Pines and if we can get to the cones before the squirrels do, the nuts are mighty fine!

I found this recipe many years ago when our homestead was just a dream.   I didn’t write down the name of the book, so I can’t give credit to anyone.  Sorry.  Then, in my shortsightedness I didn’t write down specific amounts either – just ingredients.  What was I thinking? So, this recipe will have to end up as another one of my experiments. Apparently, however, the base of the bar was to be made with frothy egg whites into which almond flour is folded, then poured into the base of a rimmed cookie sheet and baked  for some amount of time. I would assume about 8-10 minutes – just to get it to set.  A mixture of chopped dried fruits, seeds (my missing sunflower seeds), chopped nuts and honey is spread on the base, then baked for another amount of time until done.

Doesn’t that sound good?  The best part is that I will be able to produce every single ingredient called for in these delicious (I think) and nutritious bars!  I may even add pumpkin seeds to the mix.  For a different variety, wouldn’t dried apple and pear chunks be good with toasted walnuts?  Maybe even acorn flour!  Yum.  I can’t wait to try this, but alas, I have no sunflower seeds.

Speaking of squirrels…who stole my sunflowers 8

I think this may have been our thief.  We have lots of them in our trees.  In fact, our neighbor lady (who recently moved) fed them!  I know this isn’t a great picture, but the silly things won’t stay still for a photo!  😉

 

However, this may have been the culprit…

Steller's Jay

Did this Steller’s Jay eat my sunflowers?

The Blue Jays have been hanging around a lot lately.  We have had a terrible drought here in California and it seems our bee waterer may be one of the only sources of water around for all the forest critters to slake their thirst. Sometimes they go through more than a gallon of water every day!

Nonetheless, I would assume the bird would have just landed on the stalk, eaten the seeds and dropped the shells below the plant.  Besides, chewing the entire seed head off the stalk would have been difficult for a Steller’s Jay. Since there are no shells directly below the plant, and Jays don’t have teeth, I don’t think the culprit was the Jay.

Yeah - right outside my window! Sneaky little thief!

Yeah – right outside my window! Sneaky little thief!

The evidence speaks for itself –

Mr and Mrs Squirrel enjoy sunflower seeds!

I am glad that right now I don’t have to feed myself and my family completely on what my dear hubby and I grow and raise here on our fledgling homestead. I would like to be food self-sufficient soon, however, and if TEOTWAWKI happens (as many people think it will) we will need to protect our food sources more carefully.  So, the squirrels gave us a valuable lesson today. (Um – thank you?)  We need to protect our permanent garden much better than we have protected the temporary garden we have set up in our orchard.

If we plan to be self-sufficient when it comes to fruits and vegetables, nuts and herbs, we must build our permanent vegetable garden like a fortress and reinforce our orchard!  The garden will have metal fencing at least 7 feet high (so my tall hubby Ray can walk upright in the garden) with a metal roof (chicken wire?) over the top, and at least 1 foot deep into the ground to prevent tunneling critters.  This should keep out the squirrels and Jays.  It sounds like a lot of work, but I believe at this point it will be an absolute necessity!

Especially after we found jack rabbits in our compost pile!

How do you keep critters out of your vegetables?

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