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Sunday, September 25, 2011

Dehydrating Carrots - Great for Soups, Salads and Toppings

The carrots are arriving in droves in the backyard, and at the Farmer's Markets.  Fresh carrots have so much more flavor that the "fresh" carrots that you buy in the store.  We usually make soups to preserve, and eat tons fresh, but there are still lots left over, so I freeze and dehydrate them for winter.  The dehydrated carrots hold most of the flavors of fresh carrots, and they make a wonderful addition to many soups, stews, and casseroles.  I even add them to veggie lasagna for a bit of color.  Dehydrated carrots can also add some crunch to a fresh salad, or can be sprinkled in a Caesar Chicken Roll-up.  Carrots top the "Favorites" list in this house, so they are used in many different dishes.

Carrots do need a small bit of preparation before being placed on the dehydrator, and how they are prepared depends on what they are going to be used for later.  If they are for soups and stews, you will want sliced carrots, and for salads, toppings or veggie lasagna, you will want shredded carrots.

Once you have decided how you are going to prepare them, you can get to work.  I usually do both shredded and sliced at the same time, because I only have two herb tray inserts for my dehydrator, and that leaves lots of room for sliced carrots as well.

To begin, I clean and peel my carrots, and then shred some of them in a food processor, enough to fill two trays in my dehydrator.  If you do not have herb inserts you can use cheese cloth.

Shredded Carrots

After I shred enough to fill two trays, I slice the rest of the carrots, or just enough to fill the rest of the trays.  Carrots can be sliced and then refrigerated for a day or so, if you are doing large quantities, but carrots are known for losing flavor fast in the fridge, so I try to cut only what is needed for one day.

Sliced Carrots

I try to slice the carrots 1/8th of an inch thick, and I like to use a knife.  The mandolin is not so good with carrots, and with a knife I can cut them at an angle so that skinny carrots will be a bit longer.

After the carrots are cut and shredded, I put the shredded carrots in a strainer, and set them aside until I am done processing the slices.  I put the sliced carrots in my veggie steamer, and drop them into a pot of boiling salted water for about 3 minutes.  I use the steamer because it is easy to remove the slices without damaging them.  I just pull up the steamer and place it in a bowl to drain.

Carrot Slices in Boiling Water

Drained Carrot Slices

To finish processing the shredded carrots, I place in the sink the strainer containing the shredded carrots, and pour the boiling water that was used to blanch the carrot slices, slowly over all the shredded carrots, making sure that they all get a good dousing.

  Shredded Carrots ready for a good dousing!

Once this is done, both sets of carrots are ready to be placed in the dehydrator.  I like to put my shredded carrots on the herb trays, but cheese cloth will work just as well.  Make sure that you spread them out, but do not worry about keeping every shred separate.  I just scatter them thinly around the trays.

Shredded Carrots on the Trays

I place the sliced carrots on the regular trays, and this is also why I like to cut them on an angle to make them a bit longer.  The very skinny carrots, when sliced without an angle, would fall through the larger openings on the regular trays.

Sliced Carrots on the Trays

I set the dehydrator at 135°F, and start checking back in about 8 -10 hours.  Carrots dry quicker than some other veggies because there is less water content.  Depending on the thickness, they may take a few extra hours. This is a great project to set up before heading to bed, and by the time the kids are off to school the next morning, the carrots are about done.

Dehydrated Shredded Carrots

Dehydrated Sliced Carrots

Once the carrots are done, I place them in a zip close bag and put them in the pantry in an air tight container.  I can use them for a couple months.  The slices do re-hydrate nicely, and I use them in many different recipes.  They are also a part of my "Instant Soup".  If you would like to read about making your own, check out my post "Powdered Beef Stock - Making Instant Soup with homemade Beef Bouillon.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Preserving Green Beans - Freezing and Dehydrating

I grow both bush-type green beans, and pole beans.  My bush beans are Royal Burgundy beans, which are purple beans that turn green when cooked.  My Kentucky Wonder pole beans are a great duel crop.  I can eat the young beans as a green bean, and if left on the vines for the fall, they make a great dry bean, similar to pinto beans, for soups.

Saving green beans is fairly easy, and if I still did not have way too many canned beans in my cellar, I would be canning them this year also.  This year, I am dehydrating them more, because they take up a lot less space than in canning jars.

I prepare my green beans in the same way when dehydrating and freezing, so I can process a whole bunch of them all at the same time.

Royal Burgundy and Kentucky Wonder Beans

When preparing the beans, I cut off the ends, any bad spots, and strip the strings down the sides of the beans.  I then wash them in cold water and cut them into 1 - 2 inch long pieces.  Once the beans are cleaned, I blanch them for about 3 - 4 minutes in boiling salted water.  The nice thing about the Royal Burgundy beans is that they turn green as they boil, and I usually use them to gauge the blanching.  When the purple is gone, the beans are blanched.

Blanched Beans

As soon as the beans are blanched, they need to be taken out and cooled quickly, to stop the cooking.  I usually dump them in a strainer and run them under cold water while I stir them around gently.  The beans can also be plunged into ice water to cool them quickly.  Once the beans are cool, I either place them on the dehydrator or freeze them in vacuum sealed bags.

To dehydrate the beans, I place them in rows on the dehydrator trays.  Once they are are placed, I set the temp at 135°F and will check back about 12 hours later.  The beans should be brittle when they are done, and can take from 12 - 16 hours or more.  When breaking them, they will not snap directly, but will have just a small bit of flexibility before they snap.

Green Beans on Dehydrator Trays

Dehydrated Green Beans

Once the green beans are finished drying, I place them in an air-tight container.  These green beans can be used in soups, and can be re-hydrated by boiling them.  If I am using them in my instant soup mixes, I cut them up into smaller pieces, as green beans take a little longer to re-hydrate than the other veggies I add.  If you want to make your own instant soup mix, check out my post "Powdered Beef Stock - Making instant soup with homemade beef bouillon."

When I freeze the green beans, I fill the bags with a family dinner serving size each, and use my food-saver to vacuum seal the bags.

Sealing the Green Beans

Once all the bags are sealed, I make sure that I mark what the contents are and when they were sealed, and place them in the freezer.  For more on vacuum-sealing, check out my post "Freezing Your Produce."  When you are ready to eat the green beans, just boil the beans, or add to soup.  When beans are vacuum-sealed, they can last for up to 2 years in the freezer.  Enjoy!

Ready for the Freezer

Monday, September 12, 2011

Powdered Beef Stock - Making instant soup with homemade beef bouillon

I have been dehydrating veggies all summer, and the pantry is getting full, along with the downstairs fridge.  The nice thing about all the dehydrated veggies, is they make hiking and camping easy, and several family members like to take a prepared soup mix along to school, work and hunting.

Along with the veggies, I have also been dehydrating roast beef for soup stock.  Though the tomato powder can be used to make a veggie based soup stock, a nice veggie beef instant soup mix is a nice treat on a cold day at school. 

I use dehydrated roast beef instead of beef jerky, because it has a much better flavor when re-hydrated, and it also dries extra brittle, which makes it so much easier to grind into a powder.  I usually just use the left-overs from a roast beef dinner for dehydrating, but if having home-made powdered beef stock is something you use a lot, cooking a whole roast just for dehydrating can be done.

I like to cook my roast in a slow cooker, after searing the beef in a tablespoon of olive oil with salt, onions and garlic in a saute pan.  I usually put a few cups of water and a cup of red wine in the slow cooker with more onions, garlic, salt and pepper, and cook the beef until it can be pulled apart with a fork. 

Once the roast beef is done, I pull it apart, and layer it with kosher salt in a bowl and let it sit for about an hour, letting it cool in the fridge until it can be handled without getting burned.  I then place the beef in single layers on the dehydrator trays, sprinkle more kosher salt over the beef, and set the temperature at 165°F until the beef is very brittle.  I start checking the beef after 6 hours or so, but it can take 10 or more hours for all to be done.

After the beef is completely dried, I use my spice grinder to grind it into powder, but I do set aside a few little chunks for re-hydrating as pieces of beef in my instant cup of soup mix.

To make soup stock, the flavor intensity I like is 3 tablespoons of beef powder to 1 cup of boiling water.  This soup stock tastes just like the au-jus from the slow roaster.

To make my instant cup of soup mix, I put the following ingredients in a zip-close snack bag:

3 Tablespoons beef powder
1 Tablespoon tomato powder
1 teaspoon dried onion
1 teaspoon beef chunks
1 - 2 teaspoons dried carrots
1 -2 teaspoons dried sweet corn
1 teaspoon of chopped dried green beans
a pinch of salt and pepper - can also be added later to your own taste.

It is best to keep these little bags in the fridge, as it will keep for months longer this way, and then on a hiking or camping trip, they can be kept un-refrigerated for a few weeks.

To make a cup of soup, just put the mix in a thermos of a large coffee cup and add 1 cup of boiling water.  Cover the cup, or close the thermos, and the soup will be ready to eat in about 3 - 5 minutes.  The kids take the thermos to school, and have it as a quick snack between breakfast and lunch.

The nice thing about making your own instant soup mix is you can add what you like to the mix.  You can get tiny pasta stars to add to the soup, or add dried mushrooms or more onions for a different flavor broth.  Your soup mix is only limited by you soup imagination, so have some fun and experiment with your favorite flavors!

Dehydrating Corn - Making Soup and Cornmeal with Sweet Corn

If you go to Farmer's Markets during the summer, especially here in Michigan, you will see sweet corn everywhere.  I love to roast it and freeze it for dinners, but sweet corn can be saved in other ways as well.  Dehydrated corn is easy to make, can be used in soups and stews, and can also be ground for cornmeal.  The sweet corn cornmeal will be sweeter than the Dent or Flint corn that is usually used, but if you are aware of this fact, it can be used to make a delicious sweet cornbread!

Before dehydrating the corn, you need to decide what you want to do with it.  If you are dehydrating it for soups and other dishes, you will want to boil it first to set the milk inside the kernel.  If you are going to grind it for cornmeal, you can just dehydrate it without boiling it.

When I am going to save corn for soups and such, I keep it on the cob and boil it in a pot of salted water for about 4 - 5 minutes.  I then pull the corn out and cool it under cold running water.

Once the cobs are cool, or if you have decided to not boil the corn because you are using it as cornmeal, it is time to get the corn off the cob.  I have finally broken down and bought a corn cutter.  It really does make stripping the kernels off the cob so much easier!

Corn Cob Cutter makes this so much easier!

I find it is easier to break up the corn kernels before dehydrating, but it's not so hard to do it after they are dry either.  I do have the herb screens that fit my dehydrator, and I usually use them with corn, but if the trays are being used to dry other produce, I use a layer of cheese-cloth cut to fit the tray.

Cheese Cloth keeps the Kernels from falling through the tray!

Both the boiled corn and the raw corn take quite a bit of time to dry.  I start checking after 16 -18 hours, but have kept them on for 24 hours.  These kernels must be brittle, especially if they are to be ground into cornmeal.

Dehydrated Corn for Cornmeal

Once the corn is dry, you will notice that they do differ in color.  The raw corn will dry a brighter yellow, while the boiled corn will dry a more dark yellow to amber color.

Dehydrated Boiled Corn for Soups

Once the corn is dry, you will want to keep it in a cool, dry place, in an airtight container.  If you are doing large quantities, you can put them in the vacuum bags for longer storage.  When you are ready to use the corn, just add it to hot soups or stocks and allow it about three minutes to re-hydrate, or you can re-hydrate the corn in boiling water and use it in your favorite corn chowder.  When you are doing cornmeal, it is best to grind it as you need it.  This will help preserve it longer.


Dehydrated corn is very easy to grind.  I usually grind it in my spice/coffee grinder on the fine or medium setting.  There are grain grinders that can be purchased from as little as $20 to as much as $400 if you are going to be doing all of your own grinding.

Here is my favorite recipe for cornbread that we used at Firestone Farm while I worked there.  I do not have the actual documentation of which cookbook this is from, but it is a delicious recipe!  This is for the less sweet Dent or Flint corn, so if you are using sweet corn, you may want to lessen the sugar, but this is your preference.  My kids like it sweeter, so I do not change the recipe.  Enjoy!

1 pint cornmeal
1 pint flour
1 tbls baking-powder

Sift meal, flour and baking-powder together.  Add 1/2 cup sugar, one more tablespoon of baking-powder, one tablespoon of melted butter, two eggs, and one pint of sweet milk. Mix well and bake until done.
(I usually bake at 350°F, in a cast iron fry pan, until I can put a knife in the center and it comes out clean.  You can also bake it in a buttered glass dish.)

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Apple Chips - An Easy Snack the Kids will Love!

The best part of Michigan is Apple Season.  Michigan has the best apples anywhere, and there are so many orchards and Cider Mills to visit, that you can soon be overwhelmed with apples.  Never fear, you can turn those apples into tasty treats for you and your kids, that will last past the last days of October.  Apple Chips are fun to eat and are delicious too.

During Apple Season, my dehydrator is in constant use, processing apples into chips.  Apple chips can be used for making all kinds of things, like apple pie and apple muffins, but the family favorite is Apple Chips.  For every one bag I do get to put away, the kids eat two or three.  They are the favorite school lunch snack, and I know that they do not get thrown away.  The kids will fight over a last bag, and hide out in a bedroom to not have to share.  I used to make applesauce and apple jelly, but the kids think that any apple not made into an Apple Chip is just a wasted apple.

When getting apples I look for orchards or farmers at the Farmer's Market that do not use pesticides on the trees.  Many orchards still use pesticides, and the apples feel very waxy, or have an oily sheen.  They look too perfect, like store bought apples.  The problem here is that when processing apples, even if you remove the skins or wash in hot soapy water, pesticides can become concentrated.  Apples are on the Dirty Dozen, so for me, it is worth looking for pesticide free.  More farmers are using a soap spray to protect their fruit trees.  This is basically a dish soap and water spay that keeps the bugs down and washes off easily.  I would rather deal with a bug spot that is easily cut off before processing than dealing with pesticides.

Apples do need an acidic bath so that they do not turn brown on the dehydrator.  If you use lemon juice, it is usually half lemon juice to half water.  You can also use Ascorbic Acid, which is Vitamin C, and water.  Ascorbic Acid can sometimes be found in grocery stores, but if you can not find it in the produce aisle, just look in the vitamin aisle.  I buy the 500mg Vitamin C tablets - store brand, and it is just ascorbic acid, but much less expensive.  I usually wait for a buy one get one free, which is quite often on the store brands, and save even more.  Get the tablets, and for 2 cups of water, crush and add 22 tablets - for 4 cups of water, crush and add 44 tablets.  Once your bath is ready, you can start preparing the apples.

Apples and Bath Water

When preparing apples, it may be a good idea to just prepare a few at a time, until you know how many fit on the trays and how many you need to process.  If you process too many, they will go to waste because they can only sit in the bath for 10 minutes, and they will turn to mush in the fridge waiting for their turn in the dehydrator.

I prefer to skin the apples, but this is a preference.  If you are wanting to use them for things like an apple pie, you may want to keep the skins on.  For chips, the skins are not the best.  Try them both ways and decide what you like the best.  If you peel them, it is best to core and slice directly into the bath.  If you do not peel them, you can core a few and them slice them all at once.  I use an apple corer and a mandolin slicer to get them about 1/8 inch thick, and slice them right into the bath.  Once half the apples are done, I let them all sit for about 10 minutes, and then remove them to a colander to drain.

Apples in Bath and on Trays

I then do the second half of the apples, and while they are in their bath for 10 minutes, I put the first batch on the trays.  Once the second batch is bathed, drained, and put on trays, and before the trays are put on the actual dehydrator, I add a little something special for the kids.  In a spice shaker, I combine equal parts table sugar and powdered cinnamon, and then sprinkle the apple slices lightly with the mixture.  Do not over coat the Apple Chips, because the idea is to keep them somewhat healthy, and just a small bit of cinnamon goes a long way.

Apple Slices with a light sprinkle of Cinnamon and Sugar

Once the slices are sprinkled, I put the trays on the dehydrator and set the temperature to 135°F.  The apples  are a little quicker to dry than other fruits, and I start checking them about 6 - 8 hours after starting the dehydrator.

Yummy Apple Chips

Apple Chips are finished when the apple has no moisture, and when it has a leathery texture.  You can remove them at this point, and they will be slightly chewy.  This is a good point to stop if you are planning on using them for other recipes.  My family prefers the chips to be more crunchy, and not chewy, so I leave them on until they are crispy.  The crispier they are, the longer they will last in storage, that is if they even make it to storage.  I lose about half the chips as soon as they are removed from the trays!

For storage, I keep them in zip-close sandwich bags, one serving size in each bag.  These snacks travel well, and can go anywhere the kids do.  For longer term storage, place them in airtight containers, or, if you are planning on using them in recipes, pre-measure what you will need into a vacuum seal bag and seal it in the vacuum sealer.  Keep all bags and containers in a cool, dry place until needed.  I will be posting a little later on one of my favorite Dried Apple Pie recipes from my days at Firestone Farm, so stay tuned!

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Preserving Cucumbers - Making Refrigerator Pickles

Two cucumber plants in my garden is enough to get my family through a whole year of pickles, and sometimes the next-door neighbors as well.  I like to do refrigerator pickles because they are easy, quick, and if your cucumbers come in over a week or two, you can add them to the already made brine without much trouble.  I also prefer refrigerator pickles to canned pickles or crocked pickles because they do not need to be cooked or heated and they stay crisp.

The best part to these pickles, is that you can flavor them how you like.  If you like dill, you can add your flavors to the vinegar, if you like garlic, just add a few cloves.  However you spice your brine, these pickles will only take a week or two before you can try them out and decide if you need to add more of something.  Unlike canned pickles, you can change the flavor in the first few weeks of making these.  My favorite flavor is garlic-dill.

The first thing you need is cucumbers.  I do grow my own, but most Farmer's Markets will be overloaded with the pickling cucumbers starting in July, and continue carrying them into September.  When doing refrigerator pickles, you want to make sure that the cucumbers are well-formed, with no blemishes or mushy spots - if you are going to pack them whole.  If the pickles will be cut into long-quarters or slices, you can be a little more forgiving.

Once you decide how you want to pack them, prepare your cucumbers.  I like to cut them into quarters for my two 1/2 gallon jars, and long slices for my quart jars.  I am showing quarters here, but you can do whole, quartered, long slices, or round slices, the same way.  The only difference with the process is how long you set the pickles before you eat them.  The whole pickles are going to take longer in the vinegar than the slices before they are ready to eat.

Quartered Cucumbers in Salt

Once you have washed and cut your cucumbers, removing any bad spots, mix them in a bowl with Kosher Salt  Make sure there is enough salt to get every cucumber.  You want the salt to pull out some of the moisture, but you do not need to completely cover or coat them.  You also want to use Kosher Salt because it draws out moisture better and does not contain additives like table salt.  Once you have the cucumbers in salt, stir them occasionally for the next 30 minutes.  After about thirty minutes, you will want to rinse off the cucumbers quickly and place them on a paper towel to drain.

Rinsed Cucumbers and Pickling Jars

While the cucumbers are salting and them drying, I get the vinegar brine ready.  I have two 1/2  gallon glass jars with rubber rimmed tops that I use for my pickles.  They fit nicely on the bottom shelf of my fridge, and I do not need to worry about them being in the way.  You can use any glass jar you wish, such as a quart mason jar, as long as it has a tight lid.

I first pour about a cup of cold vinegar in the jar, and then add about a 1/2 cup of distilled water.  In each jar I add 1 tablespoon whole mustard seeds, 1 tablespoon dried dill weed, 1 pretty sprig of dill, with the "weed" part and the little flowery top (this is more to make the jar look pretty when I pull it out for parties), 1tablespoon sugar, 6 - 8 garlic cloves, sliced thin or diced, 4 whole cloves, and 1/2 tablespoon peppercorns. 

Cucumbers becoming Pickles

Once all the spices are in, add your prepared cucumbers to the jar.  Once that is done, fill up the rest of the jar with vinegar so that the brine covers all the cucumbers.  After closing the lids, pop the jars in the fridge for a week or two.  In the picture you can see that I still have a bit of room in the jar.  This is fine, as long as the brine covers everything.  I started to pickle these cucumbers because I did not want them to go bad, but I know that there are still a few on the vine that will be ready in a few days.  When they are ready, I will cut them in quarters, salt treat them, and add them to these two jars.  You can add new cucumbers for about a week or two, but after that, you will want to start a new jar.  Most pickles will be ready about 7 days after the last cucumber was added, though I usually wait a few weeks to make sure they are really full of garlic goodness.

What is great about these pickles, is you can spice them any way that you want.  You may already have Grandma's recipe, but don't want to go through all the trouble of canning. Just use her spices in comparison to the size you are pickling, and you can just refrigerate them instead.  If you are unsure of the garlic or other spices in this recipe, or another recipe, you can always start off with smaller amounts of spice, and after a week, taste your brine or one of the pickles.  You can add more spices if needed, but do remember that the pickles will continue to slowly bring in more taste the longer they sit.  My Father-in-Law once added a habanero pepper to his pickles about 6 months after being in the fridge, and within 2 weeks those pickles went from mild to HOT!

Now if the brine has too much spice, you can always remove some of the spices. This will require removing all the pickles first, and placing them in a bowl, then remove some of the offending spices and  a cup or two of the brine.  Put the pickles back in the brine and add fresh cold vinegar and 1/4 -1/2 cups distilled water to the jar until it covers the pickles.  You only want to do this the first week or two after starting the pickling process.  If you decide 6 months later that you have too much pepper or garlic or mustard, no amount of fresh vinegar will get the taste out of the pickle.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Dehydrating Tomatoes - And the Infinite Uses for Them

In the previous post I talked about all my heirloom tomatoes, and that I am getting 20 - 30 of them every day.  I have usually canned most of them in years past, supplying the family with delicious spaghetti, lasagna, and other dishes for the whole year, but this year, with so many tomatoes, I thought I would try dehydrating them, and I am glad that I did.

One Day Haul from the Garden

Dehydrating tomatoes is very easy, and there are so many ways to use them.  You can leave the skins on or take them off, the choice is yours.  I do both, depending on the type of tomato and what I want to do with it once it is dried.

The first type of tomato I started to dehydrate is my little Red Egg Tomatoes.  They are an heirloom cherry tomato.  I make these little guys into "sun-dried" tomatoes.  In Michigan, true sun-dried tomatoes are near impossible to make - you need 2 or more weeks of Sunny and 90°F weather, with humidity Below 50% for the duration.  If you are a Michigander, you are laughing at "humidity Below 50%" right now. 

Red Egg Tomatos

So, back to "sun-dried" tomatoes... I like to keep the skins on, and cut them in half horizontally, with the stem at the top.  I then use the little pitter on the end of my tomato peeler to remove the spot where the stem connected to the tomato.  I do prefer to seed the tomato, but again, this is a personal preference.  I think the seeds have a bitter flavor once cooked or dehydrated, and can ruin a good tomato.  Once the tomato is in half and seeded, I sprinkle a very little garlic salt on top and fill the little hollows with pieces of fresh basil.  I then arrange them on the dehydrator.

All Dressed Up

I then dehydrate these for about a day at 135°F, checking on them after about 12-14 hours.  I dehydrate them until they are crisp, which will give them a longer shelf life.  There are recipes for these tomatoes that call for them to be brushed with olive oil and then dehydrated until they are chewy, but the shelf life is very limited.  I prefer to dehydrate completely, leaving my options open to use them in numerous ways.  If I want to have a "sun-dried" tomato for bruschetta or a pizza topping, I just put a few of the dehydrated tomatoes in a bowl and coat them with olive oil and let them set for a few minutes.  They are just as tasty, and you get the advantage of a longer shelf life.

Orange Valencia and Black Prince Tomato Slices

Large tomatoes can also be dehydrated to make tomato flakes, tomato powder, and spices like tomato-basil-garlic salt.  Again, you can keep the skins on, or peel them off, and keep the seeds or remove them. If the skins are split or if they are kind of ugly, I take them off.  If they are perfect, I keep the skins on.  I clean them well and then slice them about 1/4 inch thick, and remove the seeds.  Once they are sliced, I put them on the dehydrator trays and dry them at 135°F for about a day, checking them around 10 hours, until they are crisp.

"Sun-Dried" Red Egg Tomatoes

Dehydrated Tomato Slices

So, now you have lots of dried tomatoes, what do you do with them?  I have found many different ways to use them.  If the slices are chopped and placed in an air tight container, the "flakes" can be added to eggs, omelets, and any dish where small diced tomatoes would be used.  If you want to use the "sun-dried" tomatoes, they can be added to pizzas or used to top all kinds of hor-devours.  Just rehydrate with a brushing of olive oil.  The tomatoes can also be used to make spices.  To make the veggie spice for my zucchini chips I put four of the "sun-dried" tomatoes in the spice grinder, added a few dehydrated garlic chips, and some kosher salt, and grind it all together.  My husband makes an awesome veggie spread by putting chopped up "sun-dried" tomatoes (not rehydrated with oil), chopped dehydrated zucchini chips, a small bit of dehydrated onion, and a sprinkling of tomato powder, in a tub of cream cheese, and let it sit in the fridge for about an hour before serving.  With dehydrated tomatoes, you only limit is your foodie imagination!

There is one last thing I want to suggest for dehydrated tomatoes, and that is to make tomato powder with them.  To do this, the tomatoes really need to be crispy, or they will make nasty clumps instead of a nice powder.  Once you have crisp tomatoes, place them in a zip-close bag, press all the air out, and put them in the freezer for about a half-hour.  This will help the blades in the spice grinder or food processor cut easier.  Place the tomatoes, a little at a time, in a spice grinder and grind on fine.  If you are doing large amounts, you can use a food processor, but mine just puffs powder all over, and I prefer the spice grinder.  The powder should be stored in an air-tight container or bag, and kept in a cool dry place. 

Tomato Powder - A Great Thing

This powder is great because it can be used to spice foods, it can be added to sauces and soups, and if you need a tomato paste, a sauce, or even tomato soup, you just add hot water.  Two parts water to one part powder will get you paste, four parts water to one part powder will get you sauce, and you can adjust the water for soup to your liking, even adding milk or flour to create a more creamy soup.  

If you want to share another awesome recipe using dehydrated tomatoes, please comment, I would love to try it!  And if you want to try zucchini chips, check out my post "Zucchini Chips - Awesomely Delicious!"

Canning Tomatoes - Tomato Sauce!

I am lucky this year in my heirloom tomatoes.  I am getting about 20 a day, in every color and size.  I have been dehydrating them, canning them in various ways, and using them to make things like hot sauce. I have been using most of them, however, to make tomato sauces for lasagna, spaghetti, and my husband's famous Hunter's Chicken.

One Day Haul from the Garden

Everyone who makes a tomato sauce has their own recipe, and mine is probably not quite the same as anyone else.  The best part of canning tomato sauce is that you can season it anyway you like and then can it for later use.  This canning session will fit almost any tomato sauce as long as it is just tomatoes and spices.  If you plan on canning your sauces with veggies, depending on the veggies, you may want to use a pressure canner.  If you plan on canning your sauces with meat, then you must use a pressure canner and time it for meat, not sauce.  I do give times for these variations at the end.

The first thing you want to do is get your sauce made.  I like to use heirloom tomatoes, because the taste is unbeatable.  I also like to use several different varieties.  My Cuoro-de-Toro tomatoes a a large paste that adds a nice sweet taste, along with my Wampinsican Peach tomato, while my Jersey Devils and my Casa-de-Cellis add a tangy flavor.  By adding a variety of tomatoes with different tastes, I can get a light, sweet yet tangy sauce, without adding any sugar or lemon juice.

I also use fresh spices from the garden.  I like to add oregano, basil and thyme, along with fresh garlic.  The fresh herbs add a lightness, which tastes like summer, to the sauce.  After removing the skins and the seeds, and saving the best of the seeds for next year, I cut up the tomatoes and puree half of them, and stew the other half.  I put the garlic in the puree and cook that over med-low heat for several hours until the puree is halved.  The stewed tomatoes will also lose a lot of water.  After a few hours I take the stewed tomatoes off, let them cool, and then put them in the food processor with the fresh herbs.  I then combine the whole together, and add salt to taste, being careful to not over-salt it in case I am serving guests.  If you are going to can right away, keep the sauce hot as you get your jars and canner ready.  If you are realizing that it is 10pm and you need sleep, put the sauce in a glass bowl, cover it and put in the fridge.  I do not leave the tomatoes in a metal pan.  I know that modern pots are coated and whatnot, but working at Firestone Farm, I learned that leaving anything acidic in a pot overnight can ruin the taste, and my hard work is not worth testing any pot on its special coating.  Make sure that you do process your sauce the next day, and do not let it sit in the fridge for days before using it.

Stewing the Tomatoes

 I will be giving instructions for both the hot-water bath canning and pressure canning methods, because tomato sauces without meat can be processed using both methods, as they are an acidic product.  Both canning methods use the same preparations, so choose the one you prefer.

The first thing I do is set up my area, and make sure that I wash all my canning jars, new lids, rings, and equipment in hot soapy water. I also make sure that my rings are not dented or damaged in any way from previous cannings.  Once everything is washed, I get everything laid out in a way that will be quickest for me to get everything done.  When dealing with canning, working quickly and efficiently is helpful and necessary.

Funnel, lid spacer, jar lifter, magnetic lid lifter, cooling rack

If you are canning the same day as making the sauce, and your sauce is still hot, you are ready to go!  If you are starting with your sauce from the fridge, you need to bring it to a soft boil, and them simmer it while getting everything prepared.

Sauce all happy and simmering.

Before you can begin filling the jars, you need to heat up the jars, the new lids, and the rings.  Place the rings and lids in a small sauce pan, cover them with water and heat them over medium, but do not bring this to a boil.  If you are using a pressure canner, put the recommended amount of water in the bottom, with a splash of vinegar to keep the water clear, and set the jars in.  Put the lid on, but do not lock it, and bring water to a boil.  For hot-water canning, fill the jars with water, put them on the rack inside the canner, and fill the canner until the jars are covered, and bring to a boil.

Hot-Water Bath Canner

Pressure Canner

Once the canner water is boiling, it is time to start canning!  With either method, use the jar lifter to remove the jars from the canner, and dump the water out, back into the canner.  Place the jars on the cooling rack, and using the funnel and a soup ladle, fill the jars up, leaving 1/2 inch head space for hot-water bath, or 1 inch head space for pressure canning.  I use my nifty little head spacer tool, which comes in Ball's canning kit.  The head-space if very important, you do not want liquid forced out of the jars, compromising the seals, or worse, having the jars break in the canner.

Sauce in the jars

Once the jars are filled, and the head-space measured, I use my magnetic lid lifter to lift the new, never used, lids out of the hot water, and place one on each of the jars.  I still use the fork to lift out the rings, which come next.  Twist those on, and tighten the lids finger-tight, but do not wrench them down, this could damage the seals.  Use a hot pad to place the rings on, but you will have to use your fingers to tighten the lids.  Place the jars back in the canner as soon as you have the lids on.

Inside the Pressure Canner

 If you are doing hot-water bath, make sure the water comes over the top of the jars, put the lid on the canner, and bring back to a boil.  Making sure the canner is at a boil through the whole processing time, process for 35 minutes.  Once the 35 minutes is over, turn the heat off, take off the lid and wait about 5 minutes before removing the jars.  Place them on the rack to cool.

If you are pressure canning, put the lid on and lock it down.  Wait for the steam to come out of the vent and start the count for 10 minutes.  After 10 minutes, put the pressure control weight on, wait for the pressure to register, and process both pint and quart jars  for 15 minutes.  Once the 15 minutes are done, turn off the heat and let the pressure return to normal.  Unlock and remove the lid, and wait about 5 minutes before removing the jars.  Place them on the rack to cool.  If you are adding veggies, process pint jars under-pressure for 15 minutes, and quart jars for 20 minutes.  If you are doing a tomato sauce with ground meat or sausage, process under-pressure at 60 minutes for pint jars, and 70 minutes for quart jars.

Ready for the Pantry.

The best part of canning comes next.  As the jars cool, you will hear that delightful little pop, as each jar lid is sucked down, confirming that you have a sealed jar.  It is one of my most favorite sounds, and I cheer every time I hear it.  I usually let the jars cool for a few hours without being disturbed, write the contents and date canned, and then transfer them to the pantry in the basement.  Just remember, to keep a longer shelf life, store in a cool area, away from sunlight.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Apple-Raspberry Fruit Roll-ups

I know I have done a post on fruit roll-ups, and how to preserve fruit in a way that kids love, husbands too!  I wanted to add this recipe for Apple-Raspberry fruit roll-ups because they are delicious!  When I was at the Southfield Farmer's Market I picked up raspberries and apples.  The raspberries were perfect and delicious, but to do a pure raspberry roll-up is a bit too strong, so I used two apples with the quart of raspberries, and a tablespoon of raw raspberry honey to make an awesome fruit roll-up.

Perfect Raspberries - cleaned and ready to go!

These roll-ups are a bit more labor intensive than other fruits, because I remove the seeds.  This is not necessary, but the difference in texture makes it worth it.  I can also get the kids, and Robert, to do things like the laundry and the dishes by holding the seed removal over their heads!

The first step is to puree the raspberries in the food processor.  Once this is done, I take a tablespoon and scoop the puree into a seed strainer, and using the back of the tablespoon, I shwish and mash the puree, helping the juice and pulp pass through the strainer.  Once most of the pulp is separated, I put the seeds from the strainer into a bowl on the side.  I will use these in a few minutes.  I continue this process until all the puree has been mushed through the strainer.

Mushed Raspberries

To get the most out of the raspberries, I now put the seeds in a triple layer of cheese cloth, bring up the four quarters, and twist from the top down, squeezing the seeds with my fingers.  I do this into the strainer, because as the little bag is continuously twisted down, a few seeds will pop out between the cloth, but so will a lot of extra pulp and juice.  This step is only if you want every last drop from your raspberries.

After the raspberries are all squeezed out, I put the seeds in the compost bowl and proceed to the apples.  I cut up two apples and put them into the food processor.  I chop them fine, and then add the raspberry puree and a tablespoon of raw raspberry honey.  (The honey is from a raspberry farm where the bees are exposed almost exclusively to raspberry plants, giving the honey hints of raspberry flower.  Clover honey is also good.)  I puree this all together until everything is well blended.

With my new dehydrator, I received two fruit roll-up trays, and they are great!  If you prefer, you can put a small bit of oil on a towel, and rub the trays down.  This is suppose to stop sticking, but I have found that the only sticking is right at the edge, and instead of oil, I use a non-serrated butter spreader knife and just run around the edges to loosen the roll-up, and it comes up with no problems.

I pour the puree into the trays, which are placed first on the drying racks, and use a silicone spatula to smooth and even out the puree.  After that, I gently bounce the trays to pop any bubbles and completely smooth out the puree.

Apple-Raspberry Puree

I set the dehydrator at 135.F and it takes about 12 hours to dry, but start checking around the 9 hour mark.  It is done when you can poke it and not get anything on your finger, and the texture is like leather.  Once it is done, remove it from the trays by gently loosening the edges with a butter spreader.

Fruit Roll-Up all Finished.

I like to cut the roll-ups into quarters:

Cut into Quarters

Once it is cut up into quarters, I use plastic wrap to wrap them like the store-bought roll-ups.  Place one of the pieces on a square of plastic wrap, pull a corner of the plastic wrap to cover the bottom of the roll up, and the roll it up!

All Rolled Up!

For more on making fruit roll-ups, including using plastic wrap if you do not have the roll-up trays, please read my post "Dehydrating Fruit - Making Fruit Roll-ups!"

Zucchini Chips - Awesomely Delicious!

Every year I cut back on the zucchini plants, thinking that "this year I will have only what I need!"  Ha!  It's like a cosmic little joke against me, the less plants I grow, the more zucchini I get.  I bake it, saute it, shred it and freeze it, and still there is more.  My family begins to look at it as some kind of plague when I serve yet another dish of it for dinner.  Well, I experimented with a new recipe that I found, and everyone loves it - Zucchini Chips!

These chips are tasty on their own, and they go good with dip.  They can also be broken up over salad, and I am thinking that they may be tasty crumbled on top of a baked potato dish or mac and cheese dish with/instead of bread crumbs.  The best part about the chips is that they are dehydrated with onion salt, using no oil, so I have no problem letting the kids have these instead of potato chips with a grilled burger.  They are happy and they get a full serving of veggies without feeling like they were forced, heaven forbid, to eat a veggie.

Just a small sampling of zucchini from my garden.

I prefer to skin the zucchini, but this is a personal preference, and then I use my mandolin to slice the zucchini about 1/8 inch thick.  This makes an excellent chip, but be careful not to make them too thick, because it no longer feels like a chip.  I next put the slices in the same type of bath as the eggplant:  4 cups water, 2 Tbls. salt, and 2 Tbls. lemon juice.

This bath is not necessary, but it gets rid of that slightly weird feel of the zucchini, and the onion powder dissolves on the zucchini when it is sprinkled on later in this process.  You can do without the bath if you prefer.

Bathing Zucchini

I let them soak about 10 minutes, and then take them out and set them in a strainer.  Once they stop dripping, I lay them out on the dehydrator and sprinkle each one with my own onion salt.  It is dehydrated onions and kosher salt that I put in a spice grinder.  If you are interested in making your own onion spices, please see my post "Dehydrated Onion - Making your own Spices."

Onion-salted Zucchini Slices

I set the dehydrator at 135.F and let these dry for about and hour or two, and then flip each piece over.  If you let them dry completely with out flipping the slices, they will stick to the trays and break apart when you try to remove them.  Some people suggest to oil the trays, but I prefer to just flip them once, because oil can shorten the shelf life of dehydrated foods.  If you prefer or know that these are going to go quickly, or do not have time for the flip, use a paper towel with a bit of oil, and lightly rub oil on the trays before placing the zucchini slices on them.  

The chips are done when they are crispy like potato chips.  Take them off the trays and let them cool for a few minutes in a bowl.  Once they are cool, package them up.  Because the kids like these as snacks, I put a handful in a zip-close sandwich bag and put the bags in the snack box in the cupboard.  This is one snack that the kids can have whenever, even before dinner!

Zucchini Chips

Serve these at a party with dip, and you will be surprised at how many people who refuse veggies will eat these up.  You can also try different seasonings.  I am going to try a garlic-tomato-basil salt next.  If you have a flavor combo, share it in the comments, I would love to try it!