Saturday, March 1, 2008

Oven meatballs and saving money

I answered another person's question on one of my elists. The topic was making meatballs in the oven and the person posting wanted to know "do they splatter and cause a mess in the oven?"

Here is my expanded reply:

I put my meatballs on a stainless steel cooling rack and put the rack on my cookie sheet (Technically, it's a jelly roll pan - it has the lip on it), it took about 7 minutes to cook them. I undercook mine a bit so that when they are reheated they aren't dried out and overdone. I cooked them at 350 degrees.

I also do my chicken - whole or parts, this way. Next time I make this recipe into meatloaf, I'm going to use the rack instead of my cast iron pan or a loaf pan. I will make a round "patty" out of the meat mixture and set it on top of the cooling rack. I'll grease the rack with either a baking spray or some shortening. (I've tried several times to make a homemade "sprayer" out of some oil in a spray bottle, but they don't seem to spray very well at all.) I've never noticed a problem with meat spattering. It may be that because the food is up on a rack, there's no interaction with the fat that is draining off.

I also cook bacon (usually frozen, lol) on my cookie sheet in the oven, I just now thought about trying it on a rack. But I've never noticed it splattering either.

To cook the bacon in the oven, I open the package, dump the meat on the cookie sheet, put the sheet in the oven, and then turned the oven on. I bake it for 15 mins at 350-375. I use thick-sliced bacon, so the timing might be off for regular bacon when it's stuck back into the oven the second time to finish cooking.

After the 15 mins, the bacon is usually thawed and partially cooked. I take my tongs and pull the slices apart and lay them on the sheet. Usually they'll all fit tightly side to side, with the last two pieces going at the bottom of the pan. If you have to overlap a couple of slices, no big deal. In another 5 mins, you can fit them all side by side. Anyway, I after I lay the slices out, I put it back into the oven for another 15 mins. Like I said, my slices are the thick ones. And I like mine crispy, so I end up cooking it another 5 mins. My kids, however say it's burned. So theirs comes out sooner. lol

I could freeze the bacon at any point along the way. That is, I could if we didn't EAT it all. lol It's cheaper to bake most foods in a large batch and put them into the freezer, taking out the number of servings you want and reheating them than it is to just bake up fresh everyday - remember it costs to reheat the oven as it takes about 10-15 mins to preheat. (And you only have to clean up one big mess.) I'm learning that I prefer to just slightly under cook what I want to freeze. That way, when I reheat it, it finishes cooking that little bit and isn't overdone.

My recipe - of sorts - for meatballs/meatloaf is with ground whatever is on sale, Italian bread crumbs, an egg, onion and garlic powder (kids, sigh), Adobo without pepper, a little salt, some dried parsley and a bit of ketchup. Used a mini-scoop - the kind you'd use for cookie dough, for portion control and rolled the meat into mini balls. (About 1-2 TBS)

Sorry, there's no portions on this. I make meatballs/meatloaf by the seat of my pants and just know when it looks right to me. Mix what looks right to you, then cook 1/2 tsp and taste it - that's what some of the chefs do. I'm guessing here but I think that to about 2 lbs of ground whatever, add 1-2 eggs, 1-2 tsp each: onion powder, garlic powder and Adobo, 1/2-1 tsp salt, 1-2 TBS dried parsley and 2-3 TBS of ketchup (opt). If it were just me, I'd add real garlic and onions. We don't like pepper, so there isn't any in it, but you can add about 1/2-1 tsp and it would be about right.

When the meatballs are done, I put them in serving size portions in a zip bag, suck the air out and then put all the bags in a gallon zip bag and suck the air out of it(with a straw). They go into the freezer. I've only kept mine about 6 months, because we use them up pretty quickly.

You could also freeze them before you bake them. Put them on a cookie sheet with some space between them and stick into the freezer for a couple of hours. Then put them into a zip bag, get the air out and pop back into the freezer. (This is called "flash freezing" and it keeps things from sticking together into one ice block. I've also frozen this recipe as meatloaf. I normally cook mine all at once so that I don't have to keep reheating my oven. I tend to preslice the loaves so that we can just eat them, but I have frozen the whole loaf. You can let it thaw or pop it into the oven frozen or into the microwave. It will just take a bit longer for it to cook, if it's frozen. The last time I made meatloaf, I didn't undercook it and it was a bit dry.

I also found that if I want to make up a large amount of meatloaf/meatballs, that it's better to do it in smaller batches. For me, more than about 3 lbs of meat was too hard to get everything mixed well into it. You don't want to over handle the ground meat, it makes a paste. If you're a person that measures things, measure out all of your spices for the number of batches your going to make. All the onion powder, garlic powder, etc. Each batch can have it's own bowl, so if your making 3 batches, you only dirty 3 bowls. You're only measuring each ingredient 3 times in a row, instead of opening and closing bottles. It's like, one for you and one for you and one for you. lol Since I don't measure, I just leave the tops off the bottles, only putting them back on when I'm done with that ingredient for the last time. (you can break all your eggs at one time too, then you only have one egg mess to clean up. Dump the egg(s) in a bowl and put the spices on top. (that way, the spices don't get glued to the bottom of the bowl, but will slide off with the eggs.)

I found that making meatballs takes longer than cooking them does. So my suggestion is to line up anyone from about 3-4 years old (yes, that's 3 to 4, not 34. lol) on up, get the kiddies' hands washed and line them up around the kitchen table. Using what ever it is you use for portion control, scoop up your portion and plop it into their palms and show them how to "roll" the mixture. (It's the same way you do it to make balls of dough for baking.) They do NOT have to be "perfect", only sort of round - they don't stay perfectly round unless you cook them in something round. Next time I do it, I'm not even going to do anything but scoop them up, level off the top of the scoop on the side of the bowl and plop it onto the rack! That way will take a LOT less time to make them. I seem to remember getting 48 on a rack on the cookie sheet.

When all the meat mixture has been dealt with, line up the kids, (youngest worker to oldest - or from the one most likely to eat, touch something to the one most likely NOT to do so. lol) and one at a time, squirt about a dime's worth of dish washing liquid (that hasn't been diluted) into their palms. Don't wet their hands first, just apply the soap and have them rub it around on their hands and between their fingers. Then turn on warm water, wet their hands a little and have them make a lather. Rinse well and usually their hands are clean. On rare occasions, I've had to rewash, but it's a "normal" washing of my hands. This trick works well for ALL types of grease - auto as well as household.

I've also found that squirting dish soap on a grease stain, rub it in and launder it, usually (not always, especially if it's been on the clothing for a period of time and/or dried in the dryer) gets rid of a grease spot from clothing too. I've never had it fade or discolor any of our clothing, from 100% cotton down to poly and rayon. YMMV.

My comment about diluting dish soap refers to my habit of add some water to my soap. My kids have been really bad about squirting too much detergent into the water. I've tried to get them to use the cap as a measure or using a spoon as a measure, but they don't. Add to that, now a days, detergent is super concentrated. Also, for us, Dawn seems to work best. It is more expensive than the dollar store brands are, but I get more clean for the buck - unless people just squirt a lot of it into the sink.

What I do is this. I keep a couple of my old bottles. When I bring the new bottle home, I pour about 1/2 to 2/3 a bottle of water into one of the old bottles, then remove the cap from the new bottle and gently pour enough soap into the water to not quite fill it - you need headroom to mix it, about 1" worth. Recap both bottles and HIDE the new stuff. Gently turn the other bottle in a top to bottom direction to mix the soap and water, but not so hard that you make a foam "head" on it. It will take some gentle agitation, but it does mix well and you don't know it's been mixed.

Another thing I have done is bought one of those "pump" bottles (on sale of course), used the contents and then refilled them. Yup, you can do that. Place about 1 1/2" -2" of soap into the bottle and gently fill it with water to the fill mark on the side of the bottle. (You need to leave room for the pump piece. If you over fill it, it leaks). Again, gently agitate the bottle. You're tipping, NOT shaking. If you need some soap to wash several dishes, you've got it without running a sink full, nor wasting a lot of soap. This pump soap usually works for greasy hands too. But for auto grease, I stick with the undiluted soap.

The last thing I did happened by accident. When I used up a bottle of liquid I had, I refilled the bottle 1/2 way with water and agitated it a bit. It was great for washing hands or glasses with. Just enough soap to do the job (unless it's grease!) and not so much you're wasting soap. This was free soap. It's what would have been thrown away with the "empty" (and I tip mine on their tops to get all the soap to drain to the bottom and hold it there for a few minutes). I was really surprised that it worked so well. (If it hadn't, I would have just add back a little bit of soap until it did.)

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