Saturday, October 24, 2009

It’s No Grind to Grind

In preparation for the recent move, our freezer needed its load lightened. Hubby took some food with him to the new location, leaving me three weeks to consume what I could of the remainder. Fortunately, we'd been reducing our frozen foods over the last few months in anticipation of defrosting and painting the freezer, so little food remained. Certainly, the move came at a fortuitous time.

The situation was paradoxical, though. I wanted the freezer emptied, but the emptier it got, the more stressed I became. There's something very comforting in a freezer filled with meats, fish, bread, stock, and vegetables. It's like a big piggy bank of food in which my mind's eye sees a calendar of meals. The more barren our freezer became, the more my accountant's brain chalked up a growing grocery bill. Having lived through some hard times, a sense of panic gripped me whenever I saw our freezer's diminishing contents.

Now, with the move behind us, one of the first things on our agenda was to start restocking. Our ability to replace all the usual content in one shopping trip was logistically and financially impossible, but we began by buying a few basics. One of which is ground beef. However, we don't buy store-ground meats, for a few reasons.

  1. I was once an accountant for a mall complex including one of its stores, a large grocery market. It was during this employment that I learned what cuts of meat are generally used in ground beef. That knowledge was enough to prompt us to begin grinding our own.
  2. Following close on the heels of that revelation were outbreaks of BSE, e-coli, and salmonella which affirmed our choice to grind meats at home. By grinding a whole hunk of meat, we know it comes from one animal, and we avoid the cross-contamination that is one cause of bacteria and disease spreading. Keeping our equipment clean and sterile assures the ground meats won't be contaminated during processing.
  3. Large, whole pieces of beef (about 25-30 pounds,) usually purchased from a butcher, require a substantial outlay of cash, yet cost per processed pound is ultimately less expensive than store-ground. By choosing a tougher cut of meat (brisket, chuck, etc.,) cost remains low and tougher cuts are perfect for grinding or stewing.
  4. Depending on the butcher, extra aging can sometimes be requested. A well-aged cut will be more expensive, but flavours are intensified and, for dishes in which ground meat is featured, such as grilled hamburgers, the heightened beef flavour may be desired and worth the added cost per pound.

I'm happy to say we found a great butcher shop in the city (Kamloops) and bought a whole beef brisket. It was just over 29 pounds but, by the time we'd trimmed the connective tissue and extraneous fat and ground the meat twice, we ended up with 23 pounds of ground beef and 2-plus pounds of stewing meat. We ended up paying a little less than $3.20 per pound for lean ground beef we feel is safer and tastier. Currently, the cost of lean ground beef at our usual grocery and butcher's markets is $3.99 per pound. The grocer's price for regular grind is $3.69 per pound, and the butcher charges $3.49 per pound. Stewing meat is even more costly. Any way you look at it, we've saved money by expending a little time and energy to grind our own meat.

We're still in the process of moving into our new home, so the connective tissue and fat were grudgingly wasted. Normally, I would've boiled those remnants to render out the suet, which can be then be used as "glue" for seed-balls to feed winter birds. Next time...

Now it's time to restock our stocks. I noticed our new butcher sells marrow bones and stewing hens that look fantastic.

Friday, October 9, 2009

It’s the Little Things

The move is behind us. All that remains now is a maze of boxes to unpack once the cleaning is complete. In the meantime, we make do with a few essentials that were last packed and first unpacked. Among the many things we're currently doing without – they were used for packing material – are cloth napkins. Sure, it's a little thing, but one which makes life comfortable, makes mealtime homier.

For expedience, we're currently using paper napkins and, until this move, I had forgotten just how nice cloth napkins are. Not only do they save on paper use, they're so much softer and face-friendly. Now, some may say laundering napkins has its own environmental impact, and food stains can be hard to remove. Neither argument deters me. First of all, the few napkins we use each week are not enough to over-burden regular laundry loads. In fact, in our two-person household, it's often difficult to make a full load, so the napkins added to smaller loads actually make laundering more efficient. Besides, we don't change napkins for every meal – more on that later. As for stains, I use dark-coloured napkins for meals which might stain the napkins – such as those which include gravies or tomato sauces – and save the light-coloured napkins for meals which aren't likely to stain.

For everyday meals we use simple napkins. In fact, some everyday napkins can be made from salvageable portions of old tea towels or from remnant cloth purchased at fabric stores (usually for much-reduced prices). For entertaining or special occasions, I bring out the nice linens. Inevitably those special linens begin showing signs of wear and discolouration. That's when they become everyday napkins and new linens replace them.

Depending on the type of usage (read: messiness factor,) we don't usually replace the napkins for each meal. Sometimes, napkins will be used for a few days. Napkins rings which are easily differentiated help keep each napkin with its original user. For instance, on our everyday set of napkin rings, I've affixed a sticker to the bottom of one to distinguish the two wooden holders from each other. Guests, of course, get fresh linens and the "good" napkin rings (without stickers).

Now, all I have to do is get the china unpacked so I can free up our napkins. At least I won't have to wash newsprint ink from those dishes!