Strategic Chest Freezer Organization for Power Outages

by Darcy Menard of Stumbling Homestead is a blog and weekly podcast about family homesteading and the role of kids in raising cows and chickens, composting, gardening, and food production.

Note From Nick LaDieu: I just got a 15 cubic feet chest freezer, thanks for the timely article!

Our family stores a variety of foods in our chest freezer: our cow and pig shares, seafood, chicken, blanched vegetables, cheese, nuts, tortilla shells, etc. Up until recently, it’s been a jumbled pile of disorganization that often left us unsure about what was inside. Also, to get something out requires digging through a shifting pile of frozen items until our hands are numb. And, unless you want to lay out the contents of the freezer on the floor, you’re never sure if you don’t have the item, or just can’t find it.

But an even bigger problem for me was a potential power outage. Sure, we’ve got a generator standing by for that eventuality, but what if that fails for some reason? Or what if the freezer breaks down? Even if things started to only partially thaw, there’s the potential to have chicken or pork blood contaminate the other items. And I don’t relish the thought of overcooking my beef or veggies just to be safe from potential pathogens introduced by chicken and pork drippings. So, I’ve been wanting to segregate my frozen foods by type for a while now.

As if reading my thoughts, there was a similar listener question about chest freezer organization on a recent episode of The Survival Podcast. Jack’s answer of using baskets gave me the perfect solution to my problem of preventing drippings: the baskets allow me to stack my food in layers that puts the riskier items on the bottom.

As shown in the top of this post, all chicken is on the bottom layer of the freezer.

The second layer is two baskets of pork on the right. On the left, my larger beef cuts sit higher up on the shelf over the freezer motor. I also filled in the gaps with cold packs. No risk there.

Second Layer
The third layer is another 3 baskets of beef cuts, ground beef, and seafood. I used the remainder of the raised shelf space for cheese, and nuts, and put some frozen shrimp into the gap at the front. All of these items are safely above the potential drip zone.

Third Layer

Finally, the top layer is the removable tray, which holds miscellaneous items like tortilla shells. I also put vegetables, other seafood, and bread on this top layer.

Fourth Layer

It’s hard to tell from the pictures, but this makes it much easier to get at things on the bottom. All I have to do is remove a basket or two. And not only do I now have a risk-free segregation of my food, but I now know where everything is, and how much of everything I have.

Thanks for the idea Jack.

Beef Heart Chili

by Darcy Menard of Stumbling Homestead is a blog and weekly podcast about family homesteading and the role of kids in raising cows and chickens, composting, gardening, and food production.

This post could have just as easily been called, “how to get your family to eat organ meat.” I eat organ meat regularly, because it is even more nutrient dense than the muscle meat. I’ve read that Native Americans and Eskimos instinctively knew this, and ate the organs from freshly killed prey, while tossing much of the muscle meat to their dogs. But this argument holds little weight with family members conditioned to have a gag reflex at the sight of organ meat sizzling in the pan.

The solution: mix organ meat into spicy or otherwise flavorful dishes. Do so in a reasonable ratio to other traditional meats, and your eaters will be none the wiser.

An added benefit of this is cost: for families trying to stretch their protein budget, organ meats can often be obtained at a fraction of the price. I recently got twelve packages of liver and three beef hearts for free, because no one else wanted them! And as you’ll see by the following pictures, that’s an awful lot of free, nutritionally-dense protein.

Preparation Steps:

1) Thaw the heart in the refrigerator. Bring it to room temperature for a couple of hours prior to cooking. Rinse off any blood. Yep, looks just like a heart, doesn’t it?

Notice the innards, and ventricle structures. I let my toddler help me cut it up (holding the knife with him) and it becomes like a mini science class combined with a food preparation lesson. Instead of wrinkled noses, turn it into fun participation.

2) Cut it into small cubed chunks. With the exception of a little bit of tougher ventricle structures inside, most of the meat cuts very easily. I leave most of the fat on, because I’m a believer that we need all the good fat we can get in our diets.

3) Here’s how much meat you get from a single heart. I told you it was a lot of protein. Again, for free.

Meat on plate

4) I pan fry (med-high) the meat in butter, with sea salt, pepper, and paprika. Even though I drained the blood at several times during the cutting, I think that the heart tissue holds more blood than other tissue. Notice the good amount of liquid in the pan. This is not a bad thing, because you end up with a rich tasty sauce to add to the chili. But for those looking for a seared effect, you probably want to grill the meat.

Pan cooking

5) The final step is to put the cooked meat into the food processor, on low pulse, to grind it up a little before adding it to the chili. This will help disguise it, and let it absorb the spicy flavor of the chili, so that your family won’t even know. I added about a third of the meat, to the two pounds of ground turkey that was already in the chili. Use your favorite recipe for chili, and I suggest substituting about 1/3 of the meat with the ground heart.

You could probably grind the raw meat and throw it directly in the chili, but we don’t have a meat grinder, so this method works just fine. I freeze the remaining cooked chunks for addition to future dishes. Note: this sneaking in of organ meat doesn’t work so well for burger patties. Try it and you’ll most likely get busted!

An additional point: I put aside a small plate of the cooked heart chunks and sauce for myself to eat, outside of the chili. Very tasty. There’s a little bit of that wild organ taste going, but the texture is remarkably like a cut of steak. My toddler wanted to try a piece, and he liked it, and asked for more. I couldn’t convince my wife though–too reminiscent of science class for her, no matter what the taste or texture. Has to be hidden in the chili for her to eat it.

This is an important point for parents: if you want your kids to eat trickier foods like this, you’ve got to genuinely enjoy it yourself. If my wife had tried to feed it to him, I’m pretty sure he would have turned his nose up at it. But he sees me enjoying it, and opens his mind up to experience as well. So if you want your kids to eat better, you’ve got to eat better yourself first and mean it.