Menu Planning

I am one of those folks who does menu planning. I think like home cooking it is a bit of a lost art.  Menu planning is something that takes time and if changing things up bothers you can become a bit of an albatross around your neck; creating more stress when its purpose is just the opposite.   I do menu planning for one of several reasons.

First I don’t work in town and hence don’t grocery shop but once a week.    If I plan to serve interesting well-balanced meals that I need to have everything I might need in my pantry.  My pantry is well stocked with staples: flour, sugar, can goods and a freezer with beef, pork and lamb.    Perishables like milk, fruits, vegetables, cheeses and bread constantly need to be restocked along with what we have used up since our last time at the grocery store.   Shopping with a plan helps to ensure not only do I have what I need, but  I don’t end up throwing things out because  they have spoiled from lack of use.   It also helps keep us from going crazy buying things we really don’t need or are likely to use just because there is a sale.

Second I hate leftovers.   I can’t imagine eating the same thing two days in a row.    This for me means planning how to repurpose a meal so it is not the same.   I often cut my meat in to two or three pieces before I cook it.  If we have pork roast one night,  the leftover will be split and we will have pulled pork  or Cuban sandwiches then the next possibly chili verde.   It is highly likely one night a week will be smorgasbord of leftovers.   No matter how well I try I do end up with leftovers.   Usually it is a little of this and a little of that.  Sometimes it enough for another meal and that goes into the freezer for a future no cook night.   With my leftover tidbits, not enough of anything to make a meal, but when it is all served at the same time with a new veggie for fruit salad thrown in makes a nice meal.

Lastly we like to eat a wide range of foods and have an adventuresome palate.   We are always looking for a new recipe to try.   After work if we don’t know what we are going to make with the recipe handy , we have a tendency to fall back on the same old things.  Also Montana is not the place to come if you are looking for restaurants to sneak out to feed your need for serious ethnic cuisine fix.  Good authentic ethic foods is made in the home with ingredients you horde from online shopping or trips to the cities where there are ethic neighborhoods with grocery stores that stock what you need.     Montana is the place where beef is king, but don’t be surprised to be fed elk, antelope and lamb.   Our season are too short and growing many veggies that the rest the US sees as normal is hard here , as a result it is carnivore heaven.   Meat and potatoes is the main fare here.   We enjoy a good piece of meat, but it just doesn’t have to be roasted or broiled.   It can be wrapped in the spices of the world and served in ways that meat  is a piece of the total menu, not the over running piece of whole meal. Some nights we even do a meatless meal.

Menu planning is a Sunday evening chore for us.   RangerSir and I sit around and talk about what we are hungry for.   Possibly what one us has an urge to make.   Once that is decided the plan mode kicks in,  where we suggest what we might do with the other parts of the cut of meat if we make x or y.   We spend some time on our Kindles surfing the net for something that looks good and printing off recipes.   Once done we stack them in to make order, make notes about sides.   Look at the ingredients list and compare it to what we have on hand.   Monday night is shopping night, and we eat one of those frozen meals we have on hand.   The rest of the week we work our way through the printed out recipes, sometimes shuffling them base on time and preference.   Occasionally things really change up and the roast that was supposed to make three meals only makes two then we move in to full comfort food mode, making a simple soup, burgers or dinner salad with what we have on hand.

Menu planning isn’t for everyone or every family, but if you have thought you might want to try it, I hope you will give it a shot.   Like  every other kind of planner, customize it up and get it to work for you, not the other way around.

The Meatie Experiment Isn’t Going So Well

CourtneysDigiscrappin_YourLife_WA11Last night when we went out to close up the chickens in the shed we had an unpleasant surprise.    We lost a meatie chicken.   We had two females left, and now we are down to one.   We had planned to butcher her on Saturday, but it seems we had missed the deadline of life.

At this point after trying five Freedom Rangers I would have to say it was an experiment that gave me results I won’t need to verify a second time.   I no longer wonder if it would be worth it to do meat birds instead of heavy dual-purpose egg layers.   At 6,000 feet it isn’t worth it.

The roosters matured very quickly and became territorial worse than any other rooster we have ever had.   We butchered them early for safety’s sake.   They were smaller than we had planned or expected based on the internet.   The females initially grew quickly and then plateaued.   They reached what we wanted for finishing weigh much slower.   At 15 weeks one of the females was found dead in the coop one evening.   We have to assume that it is from heart failure.   Heart failure is common in Cornish Rock Cross, so much so that they are not recommended for altitudes at 5,000 and above.   Freedom Rangers are supposed to be less prone to this, but I suspect that 6,000 feet puts even the heartier Freedom Ranger at risk.

Meaties were suppose to be a quick easy way to put some meat in the freezer but it didn’t work out that way.  I have not butchered the last female meatie.   I plan to do that this weekend.  We will weigh her once we have dressed her.   I am sure she will weigh in heavier than our heavy dual-purpose birds when we butcher them.   But based on what has happened so far the little extra in weight doesn’t justify all that went into raising these meaties.      I plan to stick to what has worked for me so far heritage heavy dual-purpose layers.   Those same birds the could make breakfast for Grandma and then be Sunday dinner.

Knowing Where Your Meat Comes From

There are not many true butcher shops left today.

This week with all the horse meat controversy going on in Europe it made me think again about how important it is to know where your food comes from.  It is something that none of us can do all the time, but maybe we should spend a little more time thinking about how we can take baby steps in the right direction.   Lots of baby steps can together make a big difference.  Now days so many folks have no idea about where there meat comes from.  We have pre-cut meat coming to our supermarkets ready packed  in those Styrofoam containers, some injected with gasses to keep them looking better longer.   We in this country want good cheap meat.   I would argue that cheap and good don’t go together.   It doesn’t have to be outrageously expensive, but you do get what you pay for.

In high school I read “The Jungle” by Upton Sinclair.  It forever tainted my view of the US food system.   It was a novel written to expose the plight of the working poor, but the pictures he painted in my mind of the Chicago meat industry have never left my mind.    I have always though much more about where all my food comes from ever since.  During the Clinton administration,  we for the most part returned meat inspection to an honor system by processing industry.   We have fewer food inspectors on the US payroll and we are having repeated cases of contaminated food in our consumer food system being reported.   I question if self policing is in our best interest. 

Think just a few years ago pink slime was in the news here in the US.   Now it has blown over.  Pink slime may be gone, but if you don’t believe that something else has replaced it  I would have to say you are deluding yourself.   Those big meat packing houses are looking at the bottom line, and not looking into your face as they hand you ground beef you just ordered like the local butcher shop.   If you wonder why ground beef in the roll is so much cheaper, than the stuff at Sam the  butcher’s shop, ask yourself are they really both the same quality.  I doubt IBP or some other big packing house really cares about what you think or say.   Sam the local butcher knows that if he has crappy meat it will get around town and he won’t be in business long. 

Growing up we did not live on a farm, nor grow our own meat.   My parents did work with local sources and would buy a whole beef or hog and have it butchered locally.   In the rural area I grew up in almost every town had a meat locker and a local butcher.    Once your was cut and wrapped we would bring some to our home freezer but most of it was stored at the local meat locker.  We could not store that much meat at home.       For you those who are unfamiliar with the term a meat locker was a place generally owned by the local butcher.   They came into play when electricity in the country wasn’t so common and even if it was a freezer in the home large enough to hold your beef was not easily found.  Local butchers had large walk-in cooler/freezers to age beef that they would cut and sell. This huge room that was the walk-in freezer also had rows of baskets you rented to store your frozen goods.   You then put a padlock on the basket  so only you have access; hence the term meat locker.

Today we source our beef and lamb from  local ranchers.   Our chickens are  from our own flock.   Fish at our house comes from local streams, rivers and lakes.   That is not possible for everyone.  The reasons are many why not everyone can do that.   What I am hoping you will think about after this article,  is that frequently your local butcher or meat shop may be one of those baby steps you can take.   It may not be as convenient as the supermarket in your city.   It likely won’t be quite as cheap.   I am thinking you will  know a little more about how your meat has been handled, and at the same time support a small business owner.   Pretty good combination in my book.   Hope so for you too. .

Six, ten, twelve?

Right now as I ponder this spring’s chick selection I am also debating how many to get.    I know that six is the best number to over winter, no questions on that number.   So the debate is how many do I want for the freezer?  How many do I want to butcher?  What chicken breeds do I want to work with?    The answers are still rolling around in my head, but they are all over the spectrum and the decision is not clear yet, but I need to have a single answer soon.

I would definitely like some chicken for the freezer.   Using my Mom’s old rule of thumb when we put up veggies from the garden, a chicken a week would be nice.   Reality sets in and there are just two of us with a half a steer and half a lamb already in our little freezer.  So I guess I will take what I can get, but the number in my freezer is not a big deal.

I really hate butchering.  It always sucks for me because I hate it for that moment when  I kill them.   After that deed is done, I really don’t mind the rest of preparing them for the freezer because I don’t pluck them.   None of the scalding.   None of the feathers. I have a system down where we strip the skin off and clean them out that is pretty quick.  It also works well when you only butcher one or two at a time because all you need is a method to kill the bird and a boning knife.    Occasionally I wish for a roaster, but the thought of plucking them stops me in my tracks. We do run into a problem if we do too many at a time, because we have a small refrigerator.   Chickens like beef need to be aged a few days before you cut them up and put them in the freezer.

The breed choice is somewhat hard for me.   If I get the breed considered the best meatie, Cornish Rock X, the bird will be in the freezer in 6 weeks.  It is the result of selective breeding to have big breasts and grow fast.  Sounds like an easy choice, but the CRX is plagued with health problems, legs that can not support its weight and high mortality due to congestive heart failure, because its heart can’t keep up with its size. Another issue for me is that the CRX has lost its native chicken survival skills.   They don’t forage; they are the couch potato of chickens.  They eat and poop over and over, and the idea of moving to even so they don’t sit in their own waste is too much effort. So what is the point of eating chicken to be healthy if they aren’t.    As I write all this down I come to realize that decision is really already made for me, I am going with old-fashioned dual purpose birds.  These birds that Grandma used to keep.  My chickens can lay eggs for breakfast and be dinner at night.  The downside of the dual-purpose birds are: they are not as meatie, the muscle tissue is firmer because the chicks have had exercise, and most significant they grow slower, much slower than CRX. The upside is that I can save what I think are the best egg layers for the winter and the following spring.

This review has cleared up lots for me I am thinking ten dual purpose birds will work well for me.    Of course 12 would make one a month.    I guess the day I get chicks will be when I determine the final number.