Monday, July 1, 2013

Iris' Meat Tricks

People who eat at my house are often amazed at how far I can make things stretch, especially expensive things like hamburger and other meats. What most people don't realize (unless they've dieted a lot) is that a person's *daily* intake of animal protein is rather small, and you really don't need a lot to make something really good.

Here's a list of ways you can stretch your meat dollar.

  • Make your hamburger dishes with "mash." Meat mash is a term I came up with to describe how I cook hamburger for many dishes. To make "mash" you put your cold hamburger in a cold skillet with some HOT water. The point is to loosen the fibers of meat from the fat holding it together before they cook and shrink together. I use a metal potato masher (the kind that looks like a big wire bent back and forth, not the grid type) and kind of mash the hamburger until it resembles the slurry used for making homemade paper. You can add dried spices to this to make it any flavor you want, and it cooks the flavor into the meat. You continue cooking this until the water is gone, stirring as often as you need to break it into pieces you're happy with. Try and keep it broken up smaller to stretch farther. 
  • Pre-cut your meat before cooking, or at least before serving. For example, I can take three pork chops and cut it into pieces and bread the pieces, fry, and divide "pork chop bites" between 5 or 6 people, served with mashed potatoes and a veggie. Especially effective if there's some sort of dipping sauce with them. People get excited about things in bite sized pieces, and no one's ever complained they didn't get a bone to gnaw on.
  • Use left-overs well. Two examples of this are beef stroganoff and turkey enchiladas. After a BBQ if we have steak left over, or after a beef roast, I'll cut it into small pieces and make beef stroganoff over noodles, and everyone is happy. The day after thanksgiving with a big turkey, I make turkey enchiladas - no one gets tired of the "leftover" turkey, because it's like a whole different meal with a different culture!
  • Buy bigger cuts and cut up / freeze it yourself. Never buy pre-cut fajita meat or stew meat. Read online and find what parts of a cow makes the best cuts for that (usually a roast cut,) and look for that part in larger portions. Cut it yourself with a good sharp knife. Get used to getting meat on your hands. Invest in a seal-a-meal. Wash your hands and utensils between *everything* with good soap, and RINSE WELL. You don't need anti-bacterial soap if you wash well and long enough, and soap on your food will give you the runs. Ick!
  • Don't be afraid to use TVP (Textured Vegetable Protein.) This is marketed as "vegetarian" meat in some places. Doesn't matter. There's a trick to the stuff though. Never use more than an even ratio of real to fake if you don't want people to notice. The texture is different. Also, don't buy the special flavored - buy beef flavor and add your own taco seasonings for tacos, Italian for spaghetti, etc. You can also soak it (it's dehydrated) in a flavored broth to get the right flavor (I personally like the "Better Than Bullion" kind, it tastes more real.)  And before you get squeamish, look up the ingredients in most fast food. There's a REASON they advertise when one of their meals is "100% real"... And don't even start on hot dogs.
  • Learn what pieces of meat are the same as others with fancier names. I learned a "flap steak" is the same cut as a more expensive one, and usually half the price. GREAT to marinade and grill or for Fajitas.
  • Don't be afraid to use a different animal. My turkey enchiladas are proof. Ground turkey or chicken is good too. The biggest problem with this is the other animals are often just as expensive. But look at "fake crab" - it's usually pollack fish with crab flavor, but it tastes pretty good. Find your own "fakes."
  • Try new things. I know people who will only eat beef - they don't like chicken or anything but beef. The cattle farmers love these people, but their colons don't. Mix things up. Find ways you like pieces of meat you'd normally ignore. I adore beef heart, and can cook it a million ways, and a whole beef heart can often be bought for about $2. Look for chicken backs and necks, usually sold for pennies on the dollar, and boil them up (with some clean chicken FEET if you can get them!) and make the most healthy and amazing tasting chicken broth or soup you've ever had. I'm not joking. 
  • Try vegetarian dishes and find some you like. You don't *need* to eat meat every day. Learn to eat beans, tofu, or just leave the meat out of something and try it. Sometimes it's better that way.
  • Learn to "dress up" things with meats you'd normally eat by themselves. A great example of this is hot dogs and "loop sausages." Just 4 hot dogs will dress up Mac & Cheese for 4 people, yet those same people will likely want 2 a piece if eaten *with* the Mac & Cheese on the side. Buy a box of Jambalaya mix (I've recently learned to make a pretty good homemade one, I'll post it when I can) and cut a "loop sausage" (hillshire farms is a name-brand type) and cut it into coins, then half those coins. If you can't handle spicy, add an extra cup of rice and 2 cups of water to the mix directions, put the sausage IN with it while it cooks, and you have a dish for everyone. Top with a little sprinkle of cheese and dollop of sour cream.
I'll add more if I think of them, but this is a great way to stretch the budget. And if you have some money left over, maybe you can treat yourself to something - even a steak dinner if you want. 

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