2.26.2015

Batch Cooking Italian Meatballs for Multiple Meals - Recipe

Meatballs Recipe from FoyJoy.com
I promised you meatballs.  The kind of meatballs that kids and adults love equally. The kind that freeze well.  The kind that can be made as a quintuple batch.  Why would you want meatballs that were all of these things?  Because some days you want a tasty, quick toddler lunch or a fast family meal; because some days there are not enough hours in the day.
I am working on developing recipes that create multiple meals worth of food.  I have never understood folks who don't like leftovers.  Maybe they just don't have recipes that reheat well?  Then this recipe would be revolutionary - meatballs reheat well - for the record.
I love to cook and I would gladly make a homemade meal every night, but as I work on getting this blog up and running, and look into an expanding the vegetable garden, and possibly working in other people's gardens I realize having an arsenal of big batch recipes will be important to my peace of mind and the health of my family
Several nights this week I made big batch recipes and then didn't have to cook dinner the next day.  It was strange, but it was nice to do fewer dishes.  I'm not sure what I did with my extra time.  I do know I did not work on this website's design, sorry.
I tried a couple recipes that while they did make a quantity of food were nothing special and won't bare repeating.  I did make these meatballs.    This is one of my few recipes that I knew would scale and freeze well.  You should try it.  You will wash fewer dishes.  You will be thankful.
Meatball Recipe Page Cooks Illustrated
The recipe comes from my trusty Cook's Illustrated New Best Recipe (c)2004.
When I was going through my Grandma's recipes I loved her hand written notes, they gave a context to the recipes.  Since then I have started:
  • dating when I try a recipe,
  • any changes/additions and
  • if there were any special occasions or people who enjoyed the dish.
I highly encourage you to do the same.  I enjoy seeing my notes and find them useful;  And maybe future generations will too.
The first time I made this meatball recipe was three years ago, as you can see by my notes, after Jeff told me he preferred meatballs to meat sauce.  I think most people do, but meat sauce is just so frackin' easy.  Then I found a way to make meatballs just as easy, batch 'em!
There was a time when I could not get JuneBug to eat meat when she was about 12-18 months old.  She would only eat ground meat. I think it had something to do with meat being hard for her small jaw to chew. I found having meatballs in the freezer to be fantastic as quick toddler meals.
Now up until yesterday I had never done five pounds of meatballs in one go before, but I had tripled this recipe with great success before so I figured it would work.
This is what a quintuple batch of meat mixture looks like:
Meat for the Meatballs 800
This is everything but the buttermilk and bread mixture.   I generally make all our bread.  That's another recipe that I should write up! It worked out fabulously since I we had fresh bread to make meatball sandwiches for dinner!
By the way, the mash of buttermilk and bread is called a panade and keeps the meatballs moist and tender.  This is especially important when you are using lean beef, like from a grass-fed cow.  How's that for a cooking tip?
Weighing Meatballs 800
It is important to form meatballs that are all the same size so they cook evenly.  Is the scale over kill?  Maybe, but I am not good at eyeballing and this works for me.  I make small one-ounce sized meatballs.
Also, I have a remote camera shutter and now I can be in the photo too.  Nifty.
Check Temperature of Meatballs
After the meatballs baked, I used a thermometer to check and make sure they are cooked to a safe temperature.  Ground meat should be cooked to 165 degrees F.
I do acknowledge that it is tastier to pan fry the meatballs.  However, pan frying 85 meatballs is not a time saving endeavor and I found it hard to get an even temperature on all the balls.  And since some of these are getting frozen, and the crunchy bits from the skillet that make pan fried superior wouldn't stay crunchy once frozen or refrigerated, I figure the oven is the way to go.  I looked up several recipes for baked meatballs to determine a temperature and cook time and with a few trials: 400 degrees for 12-15 minutes works out nicely.
After letting the seven dozen meatballs cool, I froze most and put some of them in the fridge.  They are ready and waiting for when I don't have time to cook.
This summer I put up some of my favorite Barbara Kingsolver's Family Secret Spaghetti Sauce.  It has tiny amount of lemon zest and cinnamon which give it a light fruity flavor that is a perfect compliment to salty, garlicky, tender meatballs.
Meatballs Frozen with Jar of Sauce
Future meals!  These are all the meatballs that were left after eating them for two dinners.  Hopefully, this is many lunches and another dinner.
Since some of you won't want to make a quintuple batch I wrote up the regular sized recipe and then included the big 5x batch in parentheses.  The instructions remain the same for both.
Italian Meatballs - Regular sized recipe (Big Batch) 
2 slices (10 slices) of sandwich bread torn into small pieces
1/2 cup (2 1/2 cups) buttermilk
1 pound (5 pounds) ground beef
1/4 pound (1 pound) ground pork
1/4 cup (1 1/4 cup) grated Parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons (10 tablespoons) minced fresh parsley leaves
1 large (5) egg yolk
1 (5) small garlic clove, minced
1/2 (2 1/2 teaspoons) teaspoon salt
1/4 (1 1/4 teaspoons) teaspoon ground black pepper
  1. Preheat your oven to 400 degrees F.
  2. Tear the bread into small pieces about the size of a penny or smaller. In a small bowl combine the torn bread and the butter milk.  Use a fork to mash it all together and make a thick paste.  Set aside.
  3. In a large bowl (or a very large bowl if making the quintuple batch) add the pork, beef, Parmesan, parsley, yolks, garlic salt and pepper.  Add the buttermilk paste and use your hands to mix it all together.  Then shape into 1-ounce balls, a kitchen scale makes it easy to keep the size consistent.  If you do not have a scale, aim for a touch smaller than a golf ball.
  4. Place the meat balls on a rimmed cookie sheet.  You can place them fairly close together as they won't expand while baking.
  5. Bake for 15 minutes.  Check to make sure they have reached 145 degrees, if not put them back in the oven and check again in 3-5 minutes.  You can also check by cutting a ball open and looking for any pinkness, you don't want any pinkness.  You want a well done ball.  If you can't get them all done in one go, put the meat mixture into a dish with a cover and refrigerate for up to two days.
Enjoy immediately with the pasta and sauce of your choice or as a meatball sandwich.  We've enjoyed these with basil pesto and tomato sauce.  The toddler likes hers plain because she is a toddler.
To freeze, wait until the meatballs are room temperature before packing and freezing.  If you want to make sure they don't become one lump, you can freeze them on a clean cookie sheet first and then transfer them into a bag.  They will last months sealed in the freezer.

2.23.2015

Defining My Goal to Grow or Work for the Food My Family Eats

Working out of our guest bedroom today because there is a desk in here.
Working out of our guest bedroom today because there is a desk in here.
I realize the sooner I have this conversation with myself the better.  You know the conversation where I define exactly what I need to do to be successful helping monetarily support my family while being a Stay at Home Mom.  Also, the meat I pulled out to make a triple batch of meatballs is still mostly frozen and thus I can't work on my recipe post.
Here's the big question:  How much do I need to add to my family's income?  No income isn't right because I want to grow/work for some of our food and that won't make money directly.  Perhaps savings? GDP? Net worth.  Net worth isn't quite right really because I need to look at yearly gain.  I'm going to call it Yearly Net Income. How much do I need to add to my family's yearly net income in the next year to validate working from home in the future?   
Next I should figure out what our family's yearly net income was for 2014.  Ugh this sounds like a tax question.  Luckily, we are an analytically inclined couple and in 2010 we started keeping track of our money on a website called Mint.  It takes a little work to set up, but then it sorts what you spend into categories automatically.  You can see where your money goes by asking Mint to show you graphs over time of various categories.
I feel weird about putting exact numbers up on the internet for all to see.  Money Taboos. Money Taboos. Money Taboos!  I am going to have to give some details since it is part of why I am writing this blog.  For now I'm going to show you in percentages.  That might be more useful anyways because cost of living varies and this way I can show you with less of that detritus in the way.
Ready?  Here's where my family spent our money last year (2014):
Post 3 Spending over the last year graph pie chart mint
The break down looks like this:
25% Home (mostly for our mortgage and a little for furnace repair)
18% Food and Dining
11% Bills and Utility (cell phones, internet, gas, and electricity)
10% Shopping (Target and Goodwill are in this category so it is mostly clothing and toiletries)
10% IRA savings
7% Auto and Transport (Gas and Insurance as we own both our cars.)
7% Health and Fitness (The birth of our baby and my husband's dental work cost about the same, interesting.)
4% Student Loan Payments
3% Travel
5% Other (including taxes, gifts, donations, and pets)
I looked at 2013 and it was very similar except we got back money from our taxes and instead of spending money on birthing a baby we spent it on a car.
Ideally, we would like to be paying off our house faster and putting more into retirement.  If we could, my spouse and I, would max out our IRA's at $10,000 and put what's leftover towards our house.  Once our house is paid off we could start looking at saving and traveling more.  That's a bit of dream right now.
As you can see our Food and Dining spending is our second biggest category next to our mortgage.
What I hope to find out this year is how much can I decrease what we spend on food by:
  1. Growing and preserving more myself
  2. Working in exchange for food
  3. Generating an income myself to off set the costs
  4. Reducing the amount we buy at traditional grocery stores like Kroger (8% of our income last year went to Kroger. That's 44% of all the money we spent on food.)
Thanks to Mint, I now know how much I need to off set our food budget.  It's a number so I'm not going to post it, just call it 18%.
Out of curiosity I am now calculating how much of a salary I would need to earn to offset these costs; factoring in childcare as that would become a necessity.  It isn't that much actually.  I could probably do it with a part time job.  Although I haven't tried looking for a job around here and I'm not sure what a base salary is like or if I could find anything that would pay me for my skill set and would feel like meaningful work. 
As it turns out to cover childcare, our food budget, plus an additional 10k to max out our IRAs I would have to earn about what I made before we moved here and started a family.  Oh man,  that is so doable!  I don't think there is anyway I could make that kind of income by working in exchange for food or doing work from home.  But since I am not going to be working this year anyways, I'm at least going to try and grow enough food or work in exchange to offset 18% of our 2014 net income.
Not a hopeful note to end this post on.  I know that if we follow the statuesque the best way to increase my family's income is for me to get a tradition salaried job and only garden as a hobby.  We could still buy our food locally.  But I want to explore the option that I could grow or earn our food.  So that's what I am going to do this year.  And that's real - really real.  

2.20.2015

How I Plan to Find Time for Big Goals

Growing or working on a local farm in exchange for all of my family's food is daunting.  Finding the time is going to take planning.  I don't want to deprive my kids of time and I still have responsibilities around the house - so much laundry!
I feed my family mostly from the produce and meat of a couple local farms which means I cook mainly from scratch for every meal.  I estimate at least three hours of every day is cooking and a couple hours are spent cleaning up from these meals.  And this is the least busy time of year, when I am benefiting from the labors of gardening and preserving and not doing them.
Considering this, I am going to try batch cooking to cut down on the amount of time I spend in the kitchen.  If I can cook and clean-up for multiple meals at once think how much time could be saved!  Why didn't I do this sooner?  Probably because I love cooking and being in the kitchen.
Post 2 Finding the Time for Project FoyJoy 1
My view this morning of my laptop with its keyboard protector.  It kind of ruins the slick look of my computer, but  I learned the hard way that an ounce of prevention of worth a pound of cure.
I even work on this website in the kitchen.  This is because Junebug is more likely to let me work in peace and entertain herself than when I am sitting on the sofa.  Perhaps I need a desk.
Which brings me to the first reboot recipe post.  Look forward to learning about meatballs.  The kind of meatballs toddlers and adults will eat with equal relish.  And the amazing tomato sauce I put up this summer to go with them.  And the ability to triple the batch and freeze them for future meals.
I am getting excited.  I think I will pull the meat out to defrost and go charge my camera battery.  

2.16.2015

Lunch time reboot


Some how both kids are sleeping at 1:00 pm so I'm going to get this post up while eating this big bowl of yum: sauteed sausage, bell peppers, red onion, mushrooms and mustard greens.  Follow me on instagram if you want to see more of my eats!

At the beginning of this year, I decided I had missed blogging long enough and I would get back into it!  Not just get back into it, but making my own grown-up, self-hosted WordPress blog with its own legit domain name.  Then I started looking into things and watching tutorials and got intimidated.

Where did I think I was going to find the time to learn WordPress, customize a theme and start writing blogs again?  I need a week to hole myself up with coffee and fast internet.  Also a nanny.  Preferably a nanny who can teach my kids a foreign language and doesn't cost anything.  Oh, that's not gonna happen?  You don't say.

Instead I'm going to start with some baby steps.  I'll continue posting here.  Here is already set-up and pretty.  Maybe someday when my kids are grown I'll have time again.

My hat is off to all those parents who work full time from home with their babies.  You guys are working hard!  You do not get enough credit.

I'm going to take some time today and clean up this existing template.  I'll see you soon with more recipes, garden and family posts.  

7.06.2014

Our Garden at the Beginning of July


It's time to get out the harvesting knives!  The warm season crops are just starting to roll in our vegetable garden as the cool season crops are starting to bolt and go bitter.  This is the short stretch of time where we gleefully harvest the first tomatoes, cucumbers, zucchini before we have more than we could possibly eat fresh and have to go into preservation mode breaking out the canners, dehydrators and freezer bags.

Our spring greens this year are:
In front is the Gourmet lettuce mix, behind that is Cordier spinach
and then Rubarb Red Swiss chard and Pot of Gold Swiss Chard.  

We've been eating salads with every meal for the last month or more, but our Gourmet lettuce mix from High Mowing Organic Seeds is starting getting tough and bitter as the warm weather encourages it to shoot up flower stalks.  The 12 square-feet we grew from one seed pack provided more than the two of us could eat together.  Junebug, now two-years-old, will tolerate lettuce on her plate, but only for decoration.

I had poor germination, less than 50%, of the Cordier spinach.  We ate it some while it was small, but since our second baby was due the third week of June, I missed the window for blanching and freezing the mature leaves.   Now all the spinach is stretched out and flowering.  I guess I'll have to try again this fall.  I'm counting on the chard to take the heat and provide greens for us into through the summer.


Did you catch that little bit of information?  We've got a new baby!  He was supposed to be born on the summer solstice, but held out until June 26th.  Despite missing the longest day of the year to make his appearance he's going to be known as Sunny on the blog.  So far he has been much easier than his sister, labor was quick and natural, he sleeps in long blocks and so far he hasn't spit-up more than a couple times.

Adding a new baby to the mix is always bit crazy, but Jeff has the summer off as the professor equivalent of paternity leave.  I did not work this summer so the two of us as stay at home parents keep things from getting too crazy.

There's your quick introduction to the baby, now back to the garden.

The 'Blue Adirondack' potatoes are doing great.  We haven't mounded them or put straw down.  I'm hoping I don't regret that choice. We'll see if we have a bunch of green-shouldered potatoes come harvest time.


Speaking of shoulders check out these onions! We put in 12 square-feet of anonymous red onions from the hardware store and 12 square-feet of 'Candy' white onions I bought from a local farmer.  I'm excited about the Candies.  They are looking mighty fine.  I can't wait until their tops start flopping over and browning, signaling harvest time.

Some day I want to dedicate a hundred square-feet to onions or if I'm feeling super ambitious 365 square-feet so we could grow all our onions for the year.  I can just see all the onions hanging from the rafters in the garage to cure and then in our future root-cellar built into the corner of the stone basement.  


The basil is a little behind this year.  My first seeding yielded only one plant; the big one you can see in the upper left hand corner of the photo above.  I thought my seeds must be bad so I threw all the remaining ones into a thick row figuring I might get a couple more to germinate and then I wouldn't have be saving half a package of bum seeds.  Of course all of the seeds came up.  The dozens were thinned down to just 16 and they seem to be doing well.  Some bug has been nibbling on them a bit, but I foresee another bumper crop of basil and lots of pesto to be put up in August.  

Also in the herb section are five robust dill plants and a row of cilantro.  The dill is starting to flower, but with no cucumbers ready to pickle, I've been cutting off the heads to encourage more blooms and keep seeds from forming.  The cilantro has just reached a harvest-able size and we've enjoyed it in our breakfast burritos and with enchiladas.  Unfortunately, it is already starting to bolt.  I should have started the cilantro earlier.  


I chose 'Northern Pickling' cucumbers to try this year.  They promised a small vine with abundant cukes that are good both for eating and canning.  Between the two plants there are probably a hundred little cucumbers forming.  Although they have been holding at about an inch long for weeks now.  I just spotted the first one to make it to thumb size when I was out taking these photos.  Garden fresh cucumbers are one of my favorite garden eats.  I am impatiently waiting to start harvesting.



After getting tired of acorn squash last year, this year I only planted butternut squash.  We've got a couple little fruits on the vine.  I just looked up that we should get 4-5 squash per vine and we only put in two vines.  I'll probably wish we had more, but I chose the variety 'Metro' because it was powdery mildew resistant as we lost several of plants to it last year.  I'll add more winter squash hills to my wish list for when we expand the garden.


Another powdery mildew resistant squash I chose this year was 'YellowFin' zucchini.  We just ate our first one and it was so much better than the sponges I've been buying at the grocery store.  I much prefer the yellow summer squash to the green if for no other reason than they stand out from the green leaves and won't get overlooked until they reach the size of a baseball bat the way the green ones sometimes do.


On the tomato front our 18 plants are coming along.  The red cherry 'Jaspar' are way out in front as I had new seed and all of them germinated.  The 'Sun Gold' yellow cherry tomatoes and 'San Marzano' paste tomatoes were last year's seed and germination was slower and spottier.  Luckily some friends had extra 'San Marzano' seeds so we got enough plants to fill all the spots.

Almost all of the tomatoes are flowering and the 'Jasper' have set some tiny, green, marbles of fruit.  Since we direct sow our seeds the plants are a little behind where they could be.  We know folks who are already harvesting because they started their seeds indoors.  I plan on acquiring some row covers this fall, so perhaps we'll be able to start out tomatoes earlier next spring.


The last thing to show you in the veggie garden is the bean teepee.  The 'Red Noodle' beans are up and growing.  I'm not sure if these twine by the stems wrapping around or if they will tendril.  Some bug has been munching on their leaves, but it looks like they are growing fast enough to outpace the damage.

Each pole has 3-5 bean plants and that should be plenty to cover and create a little shelter for Junebug to play in.  Right now she is into digging in the loose, dry dirt next to the house.  She basically takes a dust bath every time she's outside.  Perhaps she would enjoy a little sandbox under her teepee.

That's it for the vegetable garden.  Hopefully I'll be able to put up some new recipes soon and some tutorials for preserving the harvest.  In the mean time here are a couple summer time favorites from the archives: