Quarantine Cooking Part 3: Ground Beef

Ground beef is meat from trimmings of larger cuts of beef which is ground into small particles.    It is labeled by the name of the location from which is was taken.  The percentages of lean  and fat can be variable.  Typically, the percentage is included on the package label.  Personal choice dictates which kind of ground meat one selects at the grocery or butcher shop.  Some people like the very lean selections.  At our house we prefer 80/20 (80% lean and 20% fat).  We feel that the fat gives it more flavor and helps to prevent it from sticking to the pan as much.  The price of ground beef can vary according to the part of the cow with ground sirloin being the most expensive.  We prefer ground chuck.  Chuck is a tough cut for beef and that's why grinding it up before selling it is a good solution. 

While still avoiding public places and continuing to have groceries delivered during the pandemic, I came upon a great sale for ground chuck 80/20!  I purchased about 10 pounds, portioned it out, flash froze it and having been cooking many favorite recipes using it.  If you have ever had to wait for meat to thaw before preparing it for a meal, you will appreciate my method.  

I scoop 4 ounces of beef with a measuring cup.  I flatten it out in the shape of a patty and flash freeze.  When frozen, I place the patties in a plastic bag.  When I need some for a recipe, the small portions don't take very long to thaw.  If I need a pound, I take out 4...1/2 pound, I take out 2....you get the drift.  

To flash freeze, the patties need to be in a single layer on waxed paper on a cookie sheet or roasting pan.  This can be tricky to fit in your freezer, so select a pan that will fit.  The beauty of this system is that if you want to cook hamburgers, you already have them shaped.  Just thaw and cook!  Of course, if you like to eat larger portions of beef, make the patties larger.  Depending on your freezer, it will take several hours for the patties to freeze solid.  When they are solid, pop them from the waxed paper and place in a gallon plastic bag. They will not stick together during storage when frozen this way.  It's super convenient and saves time when you are ready to cook. 

With a freezer full of ground beef there are so many options for cooking.  It's such a versatile food. The first option is the plain ol' Fried Hamburger.  My mother who influenced many of my cooking practices, taught me to "fry" hamburgers.  For this method, I simply coat the patties with flour and desired seasonings and cook them in a skillet that has had a small amount of fat added.  Even with the 80/20 mix a little bit of added oil helps achieve a fried texture.  It may sound odd, but try it!  You will like it!

Another family favorite is a casserole of Cheesy Yellow Squash and Ground Beef.  it's a crowd pleaser and can be prepared early in the day and baked before dinner.

2 medium sized yellow squash
1 cup chopped yellow or white onion
handful fresh flat leaf parsley, chopped
8 oz. ground beef
2 Tablespoons flour
2 Tablespoons butter
1 cup milk
1/2 cup cheddar cheese
bread crumbs (to thicken if necessary)
salt, pepper, 
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese

-Using a vegetable brush, wash the squash and remove any bad spots with a vegetable peeler. -Chop off the stems and chop coarsely into pieces about 1 inch cubed.  Combine the squash, onion and parsley in a skillet and add a small amount of water.  Cover and steam over a low heat until vegetables are tender.  Drain the liquid.  

-In the same skillet, brown the ground beef and drain fat.  Return the ground beef and squash
to the skillet and set aside.
-In a small saucepan, melt the butter and stir in the flour and stir until combined.  Pour in the milk and heat and stir on medium heat until the sauce is thick.  Stir in the cheddar cheese.  
-Fold the sauce into the skillet with the meat and squash, blending well. Add seasonings of choice (I like to add some cajun seasoning, too)  Add bread crumbs if the mixture is too liquid.  
-Pour into a greased 1 quart casserole dish.  
-Top with parmesan cheese and sprinkle with paprika.  
-Bake at 350 degrees until cheese is melted and mixture is bubbly.  (about 30 minutes)  Serves 2 to 3.

Option:  If you don't have time to make the sauce, open a can of cream of mushroom soup.  It's very salty, so adjust your seasonings if using this method.

Tamale Pie is another good recipe for ground beef.  In a magazine, I saw a picture of a tamale pie with pickled jalapeño peppers pressed into the topping before baking.  I tried that and it can be noted in the picture.  Purely optional.

8 oz. ground beef
1 cup chopped onion
1 jalapeño pepper seeds removed and chopped (see below)
1 Tablespoon chile powder (or taco seasoning to taste)
1 teaspoon cumin
salt to taste
1 14 1/2 oz. can petite diced tomatoes
2 cups frozen yellow corn
1/4 to 1/2 cup water
1/2 cup grated cheddar cheese (or your choice of cheese)

-Brown the ground beef in a large skillet, drain the fat if necessary and add the onion, jalapeño pepper and sauté until vegetables are tender.  
-Stir in remaining ingredients except for cheese and cook on low heat until hot throughout, stirring occasionally.
-Pour mixture into greased 1 quart casserole dish and top with cheese. (or if you have used a cast iron skillet, just use that for baking)

1/2 cup cornmeal
1/2 cup flour
2 Teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup milk
1 egg
2 Tablespoons cooking oil

-In a small bowl combine the dry ingredients.  In a separate bowl combine the milk, egg and oil.  
-Pour the liquid ingredients into the dry and combine well.
-Spoon the topping over the filling and bake at 375 degrees until the topping is golden.  Seves 2 to 3.  Tip: Add the topping just before baking or it will be flat.  The filling can be prepared ahead.

How to remove the seeds from a jalapeño pepper:
Wash the pepper and cut off the stem.  Slice the pepper lengthwise.  Use a spoon to scrape the seeds from the cut halves.  If you like your food spicy, don't remove the seeds.  

No ground beef recipe collection would be complete without a rendition of Sloppy Joes.  We are fans of baked potatoes at our house and I serve them frequently and traditionally with butter, sour cream, etc. but sometimes I create a topping that contains protein.  We like the tangy taste of barbecue sauce, so I came up with this idea to make my own Sloppy Joe mix.  I recommend doubling or even tripling this recipe so you can have it on buns the next day for lunch.  

8 oz.  ground beef

1 cup chopped onion

½ cup chopped bell pepper

½ cup tomato sauce

1 teaspoon black pepper

½ teaspoon salt

1 Tablespoon Worcestershire sauce

¼ cup brown sugar

1 teaspoon dry ground mustard

2 Tablespoons white vinegar


-Brown beef and drain fat.  

-Return the beef to the saucepan and add onion and bell pepper.  Cook, stirring often until the vegetables are tender.  

-Add all other ingredients and simmer for about 20 minutes.  

-Serve on toasted buns or a baked potato.  May be garnished with grated cheddar, chopped pickled jalapeños, sour cream to your personal taste.  Serves 2.

Most of my recipes are sized to serve 2 people, except for this one:  Million Dollar Spaghetti.  My daughter introduced me to this recipe having shared it with us.  It makes a huge amount.  I searched the internet for the recipe and found about 50 versions. So this recipe is really a mash-up of lots of people's ideas.  It's time consuming since there are several steps and I use marina from a jar, but I am sure it would be excellent with

a homemade sauce.  When I cook this, I make 2 pans and freeze one or share it.  I tried to find why it's called Million Dollar and according to my research:  it's a very rich dish!  Surely there is word play intended.  

1 pound spaghetti noodles, broken in half

2 cups chopped yellow or white onions

1 Tablespoon minced garlic (or more to your taste)

1/2 pound Italian sausage (removed from casing)

1 pound ground beef

2 Tablespoons Italian Seasoning

6 cups marinara  (2 24 oz. jars) divided

1 cup ricotta cheese

6 oz. cream cheese (softened)

1/2 cup sour cream

1 cup grated mozzarella cheese

1/2 cup cold butter, cut into small pieces (1stick)

Mozzarella cheese for topping

-Cook the spaghetti according to package directions, drain and stir in half of the marinara sauce.  Set aside.

-Sauté the onions, garlic, sausage and ground beef until vegetables are tender and meat is no longer pink. Stir constantly while cooking.  Drain excess fat...or spoon it off.  Not necessary to remove all the fat. Add the rest of the marinara sauce and Italian seasoning to the meat mixture.

-Combine the cheeses and sour cream and set aside. (Check the taste as you may want to add salt.  I don't since the marinara is seasoned and the sausage has salt in it as well.)  

Assemble the casserole:

-Place half of the butter pieces in the bottom of a 9 inch x 13 inch casserole or two 8 inch square pans.  (I use disposable aluminum pans, because most of the time, I do not serve this on the same day that I prepare it.  It's a great make ahead dish.)

-Spread half of the spaghetti mixture over the butter.  

-Spoon the cheese mixture over the noodles.

-Top with remaining spaghetti mixture and butter pieces.

-Next, pour the meat over the spaghetti.

-Sprinkle with mozzarella cheese (can be frozen or refrigerated at this point)

*  Summary of layers:  butter, spaghetti, cheese, spaghetti, butter, meat sauce, mozzarella.*

Cover with foil to bake.  To prevent the foil from sticking to the cheese topping, spray it with a vegetable oil spray.  

To serve, bake at 350 degrees until heated through (about 45 minutes) and then remove foil.  Continue to heat until mixture is bubbly and mozzarella is golden.  Serves about 12 people.  

Make a salad and toast some garlic bread and you have a meal!!!  

Hope you enjoyed this edition of Quarantine Cooking.  Watch for the 4th edition coming soon.

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