So I did something I don't usually do- I got inspiration from the dried bean aisle!
I was at Big Y picking up the last of my pasta stash on the last day of the sale, and for some reason the tiny bags of beans and salt that claim to be "quick minestrone" caught my eye. I love minestrone. Heck, I love soup. But what I don't love is the salty mess that the little baggies call minestrone, with still hard beans and overcooked pasta. And they take over an hour to make...
I know that I can make a good minestrone in less time than that! So, I doubled back to the produce section, grabbed celery, carrots, and a bag of onions- none of which were on sale- and headed home. I had already picked out some bulk sausage (oops, I was supposed to make that into spaghetti sauce!) and as soon as I got home, into the stockpot it went.
In about 20 minutes, I had a delicious, homemade minestrone with sausage. I also had about 4 cups of already chopped onions. Hmm... what to do?
I had a 5lb log of ground beef that I'd been ignoring in my freezer- got it for $6.82 at Walmart- the big downside is it was 73/27- ugh. I had heard about boiling ground beef instead of frying, and I figured I'd give it a try. My tallest stockpot went onto the stove, and the giant log o meat went into it, along with some water and a good handful of grill seasoning.
I can't say it came out GREAT- but perhaps that is because I had high expectations. The meat itself was perfect- it was the broth I was disappointed with. Forget about the sheer amount of fat floating on the top- it was not nearly meaty-flavored enough for me. Sigh.
Ok, so I took the whole entire stockpot, dropped the collapsing-sides strainer thing in to keep the meat in the bottom of the pot, and stuck it out on the porch. 25 degree weather CAN be a good thing!
Once cooled, the fat rose to the top and formed a hardened disk that is easy to lift out. Fat went into a bowl for now- I'll need a bit of it later.
Then I cleaned out my two big stockpots and started the final part of my cooking day- chili and shephards' pie filling. Used up the rest of the onions, carrots, and celery, split up the meat, and made a batch of lentils for the shephards' pie.
All in all, I ended up with 6 batches of shephards' pie filling (I freeze them in foil-lined casseroles, then pop them out and store in gallon size bags), and an as-yet undetermined amount of chili. When I'm freezing chili, I don't add beans. They take up a lot of space in the bags, and I can just as easily start a batch of dried beans in the rice cooker when I plan to make a batch of chili with beans. I have more pantry space than freezer space!