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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!

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Dehydrating Eggplant - And what to do with it.

I grow an Italian Long Eggplant in my garden, and this year my three plants have decided to out-preform every other year I have grown them.  This is the first year that I am preserving them, and dehydrating them seems the best option.
Italian long Eggplant

To dehydrate eggplant, you will need to make a bath for the eggplant so it doesn't discolor.  The bath I use for eggplant is 4 cups of water, 2 Tablespoons of salt and 2 Tablespoons of lemon juice.  I usually use the course kosher salt for canning, pickling, and general cooking, and I use it for my marinades and acid baths as well.  The best way to prepare the bath is to heat it just a bit, enough to dissolve the salt, but no more than that.  The bath needs to be cool when it is used, so do this first.

Depending on your preferences, you can keep on the skin, or peel it off.  For our favorite recipe, a fritter type  patty, I like to take the skins off.  If you are doing a Moussaka, a type of meat, tomato and eggplant casserole, you may want to keep the skins on.  Using my mandolin slicer, I cut the eggplant about 1/8 inch, but they can be thicker, about 1/4 inch, if needed for a special recipe.  I just use the mandolin over the bath, so that the eggplant does not start to discolor.

Eggplant Slices soaking in a Bath

The eggplant should soak for about an hour, and be completely submerged.  The best way to do this is put a plate or a storage container lid on top of the bath to weigh down the slices.  If nothing fits, a piece of plastic wrap, as wide and as long as the pot, can be placed on top of the water and eggplant, and just push out the air bubbles, so that the plastic wrap is keeping all the eggplant slices wet.

Once the hour is over, strain the eggplant in a strainer by gently pouring them into the strainer, or use a slotted spoon to scoop them into a strainer.  Once they are well drained, place them on the dehydrator trays to dry, at 135.F if you have a temperature control feature.
Eggplant on Dehydrator

The eggplant is done when it is crisp.  They will snap in half.  Take them off and place them in a bowl to cool before putting them in an airtight container or zip close bag.  If I know how much a certain recipe calls for, like if one recipe calls for two eggplants, I will package two eggplants and label as such.  Most recipes for eggplant will usually call for a whole eggplant and not a set cup amount.  These dehydrated eggplants can also be stored in a vacuum bag for long term storage. 
Eggplant Chips

Now, what to do with all this dried eggplant?  Moussaka is a type of eggplant casserole with meat, tomatoes, ricotta and parmesan cheese.  It's very much like a layered lasagna, except using eggplant instead of pasta.  The first thing to do is rehydrate the eggplant.  With a slotted spoon, place eggplant slices into boiling water, and take them out in about 5 minutes.  Set them on a plate to cool.  In another bowl, mix some cooked ground beef with tomato sauce or stewed tomatoes, and spices like onions, garlic, salt and pepper to taste.  In a glass casserole pan, coat with a bit of olive oil, and layer eggplant slices, meat, cheese, eggplant, meat, cheese, until the casserole is filled.  You can dip the eggplant in olive oil if you like, before placing them in the layers.  Top it all off with grated parmesan cheese, and bake covered for about 40 minutes at 325.F and then uncovered until the top is browned.  Let cool for a few minutes before serving.  You can add sweet peppers, cut onions, or another favorite veggie to this dish.  You can also substitute beef for lamb, and I have heard of some using venison.  This is a casserole, so make it your own!

Another way I use eggplant is in a recipe from the 19th Century cookbook, "Buckeye Cookery and Practical Housekeeping."  The recipe calls for two salted and peppered mashed eggplants (they would have been closer in size to my eggplants than the HUGE ones you see in the grocery store, so measure accordingly).  The first thing to do is rehydrate two eggplants in the same manner as for the moussaka, and when the slices are cool, throw them in a food processor with an egg and salt and pepper to taste.  I also like to add pinch of garlic powder, and a friend likes to add onion, but season to your taste.  Puree the eggplant, egg and spices, and then pour into a bowl.  Now add 1 or 2 tablespoons of flour to thicken the batter.  You want the batter to have just a little thicker consistency than pancake batter, but not too much.  According to the book, "fry in little cakes in butter or butter and lard in equal parts."  I have used these methods at Firestone Farm, and I love butter and lard, but at home I try to be a little healthier, and use about a tablespoon of olive oil to fry.  Fry one side until bubbles come up through the batter, or the underside is nice and brown, flip and brown other side, and then place on paper towels to soak up any excess oil, butter or lard.  I like these best with marinara sauce, my son likes ranch better, my husband likes my hot sauce and my daughter just eats them plain, but you can serve these with just about any sauce.

If you have a favorite way to use these, post it in the comments, I would love new ideas!

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Tomato seeds - saving the best of the bunch!

I have been saving my own tomato seeds for quite a few years now, and my seeds always seem a bit hardier than those from a store.  I started my stock with quite a few different heirloom varieties, and have kept the best of the bunch.  I am sure you have gotten a tomato and just knew that it was the best tomato ever, and thought "This tomato needs to last forever!"  Well, just follow these simple instructions, and you can make that happen.

When planting your tomatoes, know that those busy little honey bees do not pollinate to your set garden pattern, but will usually dance around the flowers in a small area, going flower to flower on the same plant and then moving to the next.  Plant your garden accordingly.  I plant like varieties together, and mark the sticks with a color code, and draw up a scaled map to keep track of the exact location of each plant.  This seems like a lot of work, but it helps when harvesting the tomatoes and keeping seeds in order.  I also keep a description of each type of tomato so that when I am harvesting, I can decide which tomatoes match to the description.  Sometimes those bees get a bit crazy and you will find a tomato that looks like it is a Red Jersey Devil, but it is on your Orange Velencia plant.  This is a hybrid, and can be delicious, but I usually do not save these seeds.

One Day of Heirloom Tomatoes

When saving seeds, you want a nice ripe tomato.  Green tomatoes have immature seeds.  If you need to skin the tomato because you are making sauce or something, do not drop it in boiling water to skin it, get a tomato peeler.  These things are awesome.  They peel a tomato quicker, and with half the work of the boiling water dip.  I found some in the produce section of my grocery store for $1.99.  I bought ten, and gave them away to all my friends who grow tomatoes, and they LOVE this little gadget.  Make sure it is for tomatoes, and pick one up.

When saving seeds, it is best to get seeds from several tomatoes of the same variety, this just insures some genetic diversity.  I usually get 3-4 of the best example of a specific variety.  You can do one tomato at a time if you can not get several of the same variety at the same time, and just do this process for each tomato separately, and just mix the seeds when finished.

The fist step is to scoop out the seeds into a little bowl, fill with water, and set on a counter, away from direct sunlight, and let it ferment for a few days.
Tomato Seeds in Water

The reason you need this step, is that weird little sack around the seed.  This needs to be removed, and this process is the easiest, and least time consuming, way to do it.

Once the top of the dishes start to grow a thin, white mold on the top, they are ready.  This takes about 3 days, and this mold is the type that grows on fermenting sauerkraut, and though disgusting, is harmless to your tomato seeds.

For the next step, you will need a seed strainer and a large bowl.  Pour the slightly smelly mixture of seeds and fermented mold into the large bowl, and pour cool water to fill up the bowl.
Floating mold!

The gross stuff will stay at the top and the seeds will fall to the bottom.  Slowly pour off the top, and continue pouring until the seeds are about to slip out.  With the seeds still in the bowl, fill the bowl with a little more water, and then pour the whole bowl, seeds and all, into the seed strainer.
Seeds and Stuff in the Strainer

Fill the bowl with some more water, and with your fingers, gently stir the seeds around the strainer, using the mesh to gently remove the little sacks around the seeds.  Once this is done, pour the seeds back in the bowl, fill with water, and drain off all the floaties.  At this point, you should have some pretty clean seeds.
One Last Rinse and - Clean Seeds!

Pour all the seeds in the strainer, and bounce gently to remove as much water as possible.  Once the water is strained, smear your clean seeds on a paper towel to completely dry out.  Label the paper towel if you are doing more than one set of seeds.  Place the seeds in a cool, dry place, away from sunlight, to dry.
Market Miracles on a Paper Towel

When the seeds are completely dry, gently pop the seeds off the towel.  They should come off quite easy, but if they get a bit stuck, I use my nails to gently pop them off.  If a bit of towel stays on, no worries, it will dissolve when you plant the seed.  Place the seeds in a little bag, and make sure that you label the tomato, and a description for next year's planting.

Finished Seeds

Now I did say that I usually do not keep the hybrid seeds, but I do have one set of seeds that I have named "Casa de Celli" because this plant refuses to die.  For two years this plant grew out of bounds, on its own, by the compost pile.  It produces awesome tomatoes, and re-seeded itself, and survived through two Michigan winters, and this year, was accidentally pulled as a weed by my son.  I replanted it in my garden, thinking there was no way it was going to live, but it is now producing beautiful, tasty tomatoes.  I have no idea what variety it started as, but something with this much will to live needs to be preserved!

Friday, August 26, 2011

Beets Abound! - Pickles 1839 style

I am the only one in my family that likes beets.  The people I live with are missing out, but that just means more for me.  My favorite way to preserve beets is pickling them, though I have enjoyed beet chips with a bit of onion salt.  Today I am going to just pickle, and I will do a post later on beet chips.

My favorite recipe is one that we used at Firestone Farm.  I have slightly modified the original, as Lettice Bryan, the wonderful author of  "The Kentucky Housewife" - 1839, crocked her pickles, and I preserve mine by canning.  Other than this small modification, I stick to her recipe.

I grow my own beets, and these are an heirloom variety, known as "Detroit Dark Red", and they are a beautiful beet.  I harvest them all at once, and the greens are cooked up like spinach.
Detroit Dark Red

I am going to quote liberally here from "The Kentucky Housewife", as Lettice Bryan was not only an awesome cook, but a very good writer.  Once I wash off the beets outside in the hose, I cut off the greens, but as Lettice advises "Trim off the tops, but do not break off the roots nor the outer skin, which would cause them to fade or lose their color in boiling."  So, I leave about 1/2 inch of the tops, so as not to cause my beets to bleed.

Once they are cleaned, "Put them in a kettle of cold water, and boil them gently till you can pierce them through with a fork; then scrape off the skin, (this may be done nicer by throwing them into cold water as soon as you take them from the boil,)"  Throwing them in the cold water really does help, and it also stops them from getting too soft.  Because I am going to be processing them, which further softens them, I boil them until they are just tender, not necessarily soft enough for a fork to go all the way through.

The next step is getting them ready for canning.  Here Lettice says to lightly salt and pepper them, put them in a crock, and "cover them with plain cold vinegar." In the introduction to canning, Lettice does recommend putting a piece of horseradish in the crock to keep the vinegar clear.  I do the same, and it adds an awesome twist to the beets.   For crocking, a very old way of pickling, this would suffice.  The crock would be placed in the "cold room," a special brick-lined room in the cellar that is colder and dryer than the rest of the house or cellar.  The pickles would be weighted down with a plate or other object to keep everything under the vinegar.  The crock would then be covered with several layers of muslin, and the contents would be checked on cleaning day - Thursday - to make sure that the food was covered, and that no mold was growing.  Pickles this way can last quite awhile, and I have eaten year old crocked pickles that tasted great, but I do not have the type of "cold room" that I would need for this method.  You could keep them in the fridge today, but you will need space to do so, like an extra fridge in the basement or garage.

I prefer to can my pickled beets, because I have plenty of pantry space, and canned goods will last about 2 years if kept in a cool, dark place.  I will be showing both the hot-water bath canning and pressure canning method, because pickled beets can be processed using both methods, as they are an acidic product.  Both canning methods use the same preparations, so you can choose either for these pickles.

First, set up your area, and make sure you wash all your canning jars, lids, rings, and equipment in hot soapy water.  Once everything is washed, get everything laid out in a way that will be quickest for you 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

Once the equipment is ready, check the beets, and cut in half the ones that are too big for the jars.  I am using pint jars, and prefer my beets whole.  If you like them cubed or sliced, do that now, or you can leave them whole and cut them when you are serving them, leaving that option open.  Also cut your horseradish into about 1 inch thick, quarter round sized pieces.  Before you begin canning, you need to heat up the jars, the 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 all this is in motion, I start to boil the vinegar.  This can really smell up a house quick, so do this last, and just bring the vinegar to a boil only when you are ready to use it.

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.  Quickly, but carefully, place a piece of horseradish in the jar, and then fill each jar with the beets, but leave about 1 1/2 - 2 inches of head space.  Carefully fill each jar with the boiling vinegar, 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, trust me and the 3 broken jars of hot-sauce in the canner from last year.

Beets! - yeah, that is an extra piece of horseradish at the top because...YUM!

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.  The magnetic lid lifter is great, because using the fork method, I burned my fingers way too many times.  I still use the fork to lift out the rings, which come next.  Twist those on, using hot pads because everything is hot, and when twisted down, tighten the lids finger-tight, but do not wrench them down, this could damage the seals.  You will have to use your fingers, but the lids, by this time, should not be too hot.

Place the jars back into the 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 30 minutes.  Once the 30 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, place the jars in the canner, 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 pint jars for 20 minutes.  Once the 20 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.

Beautiful Beets!

In the pressure canner, I process for 20 minutes instead of 30 minutes because of the 10 minutes before the pressure weight is added, and the 10-15 minutes after the heat is turned off.  During this time, the heat is above 212° F in the canner, which is all you need for acidic foods like pickles.  If you feel the need to process under pressure for the full 30 minutes, please do so, as you need to be comfortable with your preserved foods.  I have not had problems with this counting on acidic foods, but I will always follow to the last second on low acid foods.  Always better to be on the safe side when it comes to your food!

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Southfield Farmer's Market- a Gem in the city!

Today I was running errands, including fitting and taking home my M.O.H. dress, when I drove through Southfield and saw signs for the Farmer's Market.  I had seen signs before, but I stopped today because they are open until 7:00 pm, and I was not going to be able to make my normal rounds up by my house.  I am glad I stopped, because I have found yet another Market that provides a large variety of produce and some great farmers to talk to.  I do have to point out one farm, Sharkar Farm, from China MI, because I was born in China, and though I lived most of my life outside of Michigan, my Dad retired and lived in Marine City.  The Gentlemen in the booth were very nice, and I was able to talk to them about their beautiful heirloom tomatoes and their trek on getting the Organic Certifications.  It can take a farm several years, and lots of money to get those certifications, so sometimes it is best to talk to the farmer, and find out how they grow their produce, instead of just relying on signs.  Many of these vendors work hard to provide the best produce for their family and yours.

Many people are a little wary about buying heirloom tomatoes because they are not the prettiest in the bunch, but as the gentleman at Sharkar Farms will tell you, those weird rings around the tops are not from bugs, but from the sheer awesomeness bursting out of the delicate skins.  I knew this already, that heirlooms are more likely to grow faster than their skins, and get tomato stretch marks, but the taste from an heirloom can not be beat.  Here is a picture of my tomatoes, and I can guarantee there are no bugs in my garden!
My tomato haul for 1 day - all heirlooms!

The Market had several vendors, and the produce vendors had great variety.  There was also a baker from Livonia and a honey seller, also from Livonia. The other farmers were also very pleasant, but I did not get a chance to get names.  Anyway, all the vendors were as great as Sharkar Farms!

I picked up quite a lot, including a loaf of fresh sourdough bread, a huge basket of raspberries for fruit roll-ups, red skin potatoes for dried potatoes, heirloom tomatoes for canning sauce, onions and garlic for flavoring my sauces, and the first of Michigan's awesome apples for apple chips.  I wanted to buy some of the Cherry Blossom Honey, but I seriously have 5 jars open and going in the cupboard right now.  I also picked up a free Southfield Farmer's Market bag for spending $15.00.  I actually spent $20.00, which is a great price for all the produce I brought home!
All this and bread too!

Stay tuned for all the projects listed above, and if you are in the Southfield area on Thursdays, 3:00 - 7:00 pm, stop by and support some great farmers.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Blueberries Abound - dehydrating for gifts!

The blueberries abound at the Wyandotte Farmer's Market.  There is a very nice gentleman at the market who sells nothing but blueberries, and they are fresh picked and absolutely delicious!  It is almost too difficult to dry them instead of stuffing my face full all day long, but I also love blueberry muffins, so dry I must.

The first thing to do is wash them, and make sure all the stems are removed, and refrain from eating too many, or there will not be enough to make muffin mixes.
Blueberries that did not get eaten.

The next step is to decide if you want to break the skins to speed up drying, or dry them whole.  I prefer to follow this next step, because it is fairly simple, and saves a lot of drying time.  There are two ways to break the skins:  dropping the blueberries in boiling water, or pour boiling water over the blueberries.  I boil a pot of water, dump the blueberries in, and count to 30 quickly - I don't even throw in the "mississippi" between each number or wait for the water to start boiling again.  I then dump the berries back in the strainer, and rinse them with cold water.  Another way is to pour boiling water over them as they sit in a strainer in the sink.  Whatever you do, do not over boil these little guys.  Once the skins start to break, they will turn into mush quickly and will not dry nice.  Your only option at this point would be to puree them and turn them into fruit roll-ups.
Blueberries in the Dehydrator

Once the berries are cool, let them drain a bit, or you will have purple stains all over the bottom of your dehydrator.  Once they are drained, I place them on the dehydrator, making sure they do not touch.  For the smallest ones, I place them on the herb mesh inserts so they do not fall through.  I them set the temp for 135.F and dehydrate for about a day.  Because of the skin and inside pulp, it takes a longer time for them to dry.

Blueberries are done when they are just like raisins.  They should be leathery on the outside, but when you squeeze them, they should feel more solid, and not mushy, on the inside.  You will probably have to check and pull the done ones off, while others continue to dry.  Let the dried blueberries cool and then place them in an airtight container or zip-close bag.
Dried Blueberries 

Now that you have dried blueberries, you can use them in pancakes, waffles and muffins.  When making waffles and pancakes, I dump the dried blueberries in after everything is mixed, and then let the mix sit for a few minutes.  If the mix becomes too dry, as the blueberries rehydrate, I just add a bit more water or milk, until the consistency is the same before the blueberries were added.

If you want to make a blueberry muffin mix gift jar, here is how I do it:

In a pint jar, add:
     1 1/4 cups flour
     1/4 cup sugar
     1 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
     1/4 teaspoon baking soda
     small pinch of kosher salt

Put the lid on the jar and shake the jar until all the ingredients are mixed.  On a kitchen towel, gently bounce the jar down several times to pack the dry ingredients down.  Don't slam the jar down without a towel, or too hard, or you risk braking the jar.  Once the dry ingredients are packed down, I fill the jar with about 1/2 cup of the dried blueberries, and put the lid back on.  I then attach a card with a list of the rest of the ingredients, and directions on mixing.  I then decorate with a ribbon to match the occasion of the gift.
Gift Jar of Blueberry Muffin Mix

The rest of the directions:
     1 egg
     4 tablespoons butter
     1/2 cup milk
     1/2 teaspoon vanilla
Mix wet and dry ingredients with a spoon and let sit for about 5 minutes, spoon mixture into greased or papered muffin tins, bake in a preheated oven at 375.F for 25 minutes, or until done. -Makes 10 - 12 muffins.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

White Bush Scallop Squash - Freezing for a snowy day.

White Bush Scallop Squash - aka "Patty Pan" - is an antique variety squash that is white in color, and mild in taste.  This squash is extremely versatile, as it can be treated like a summer or winter squash.  You can use it the same way as a zucchini, or an acorn.  It can be grilled, mashed, sauteed, stuffed, baked, roasted, broiled, etc.
White Bush Scalloped Squash

The nice thing about this squash, is that it can be frozen and then used in different dishes throughout the winter.    I grow these guys in my garden, and they will produce for two or more months, 1 - 2 at a time, so you never seem overwhelmed with them.  These two I have decided to freeze and use later.

The first thing I do is wash and peel them.  These guys can have a very thin skin, or a slightly hard skin, it just depends on the time on the vine.  One here is thin enough that it could be peeled like a zucchini, but the other one needs a knife.  Because of the scallops and the curves, I usually use a paring knife, and do so carefully.
Once it is peeled, I half it and scoop out the seeds.
Peeled and Seeded

Once the squash is peeled and seeded, I decide if I want to cube it for saute, or thick slice it for roasting.  I decided to cube it for saute, because that is Robert's favorite way to cook it.
Cubed White Bush Scallop Squash

With this batch, I split it in two, and packed them into two vacuum freezer bags.  Since I also bought 12 ears of corn at the Farmer's Market, and Robert grilled them, I decided to do the squash at the same time as the corn.  If you want to do  corn, please see my post on Grilled Corn - Making it and Freezing it.
Corn and Squash in Vacuum Bags

After sealing the bags, I label them, and then freeze them for a later date.  For more on freezing, check out my post Freezing your Produce, and if you have any questions, please comment and I will do my best to answer!

Dehydrated Onion - Making your own Spices

Dehydrated onions are a bit different than dried whole onions.  I did a previous post on drying whole onions, and these are nice to have because once you peel the outer layer, you can use the onion just like a fresh onion.  Dehydrated onions are usually sliced, dehydrated, and then minced or turned into onion salt or onion powder.  What is nice about this, is that you can use them as spices.  Dried minced onion is a quick addition to hamburgers and scrambled eggs, or they can be added to your dehydrated potatoes for extra flavor in an Au gratin dish.  Salts and powders are delicious on sweet potato chips, which I will be doing soon!  So, get to the Farmer's Market, and get yourself some Fresh onions.

I bought a few yellow and a few red onions at the Wyandotte Farmer's Market, and along with some garlic, I dehydrated them outside.  I want to point out the outside part, because when you use fresh onions, they are much more potent than onions sitting on a store shelf for awhile, and when you dehydrate them, they will smell up a house and make you tear up something horrible.  When you plan on dehydrating onions, pick a nice day, where you can have the dehydrator outside , or in a garage, for the first few hours.
A few yellow and red onions from Wyandotte

I have 7 trays on my dehydrator, so I only cut up enough onions and garlic to fill just that many trays.  You don't want to cut up onions and sit them in the fridge because they start to take on a nasty taste and texture after a day or two.  These five onions filled up four trays, and the garlic filled up three.  I have already done a post on drying garlic, so please check that out if you are interested in doing garlic.  
Onions in dehydrator

I like to slice the onions with my mandolin slicer, about 1/4 inch thick.  I also like to mix my onions, but this is a personal preference.  Once all the onions are sliced, and my eyes are dry enough to see, I take the whole operation out onto the deck, under my umbrella.  I then lay the slices out on the dehydrator and set it at 135.F.  If you separate the rings, the onions will dry faster, but you can leave them as whole slices also.  If I have time, I will separate every other ring, so that the small rings are inside the big rings, but not touching.  If I have things to do, I just throw them on whole and be done with it.  
outside on the deck

Now, just to let you know, the fresh onions are potent, so much so, we have to make sure all the windows facing the back yard are closed, because the onion will drift in.  My husband's office window was open this day, and he came down all blurry-eyed, asking me what I was cooking, because the onion was going to overwhelm the entire dish.  The neighbor came over to pick up her daughter, and could smell it from the driveway!  Now, this onion-y-ness will last a few hours, but when it started to get dark, I was able to bring the operation back in, and finish through the night with no trouble.
Mezza Luna and dehydrated onions

Tho onions and garlic are done when they are crispy, and will chop up easily.  Once the onions are done, I place them in a bowl for a few minutes to cool off.  I like to use my Mezza Luna to mince the onions, but you can use a spice grinder on course.  I also like to add a large pinch of kosher salt to the minced onions, mostly for moisture control.
Dried Minced Onions

If you want to make onion powder or onion salt, you can use a spice/coffee grinder.  With onion salt, add kosher salt to the onion slices and grind on course while pulsing the grinder.  For powder, grind on fine until it is a powder.  

You will want to process your onions as soon as they are cool, and once your spices are done, keep them in an airtight storage container or bag.  Onions like to suck up moisture, and if left out in the open, they will draw in all kinds of moisture and can go bad.
Minced Onions and Garlic Chips

Here are the finished projects.  The garlic chips will be used in sauces and soups, instead of being turned into spices, and the onions will be used when I want fresh onion taste, but really don't have the time or inclination to chop up a fresh one.  I will turn some more into powder when I make my sweet potato chips!

Friday, August 19, 2011

Dehydrating Cantaloupe - Sweet!

Another trip to the Wyandotte Farmer's Market yielded corn, onions, garlic, peaches, chocolate chip cookies, blueberries, and one very large cantaloupe.  My daughter was with me, and she insisted on getting the largest one at the market.  I like cantaloupe, and so do my children, but after the first slices, it will sit in the fridge for a few days, until it makes the sad trip to the compost pile.  After doing a bit of research, and having received my new dehydrator the same day as the shopping trip, I decided to make cantaloupe chips!

New Dehydrator and Maddie's Cantaloupe

Dehydrating cantaloupe is so easy, that I am ashamed I have not done it before.  All you need to do is cut it into 1/4 inch pieces, as long or square or curved as you like.  I just cut it in four, scooped out the seeds, cut off the rind, then proceeded to cut 1/4 inch long slices, and then cut those into squarish pieces.  The kids and I ate a quarter of this fresh, and the rest filled up all seven trays of the dehydrator.
Cantaloupe in the Dehydrator

This dehydrator has a temperature setting on the top, and I set it at 125.F because I started after dinner, and cantaloupe takes about 8 - 10 hours at 135.F, putting me at a 4am morning.  I do not do mornings.  At 125.F  I was able to let it go a few hours longer.  I checked it at around 8:30 am, and most were dried by 10:00 am.  
Dried Cantaloupe

The cantaloupe is done when it is leathery, but with no trace of moistness in the centers.  The edges can be a bit crisp.  Actually, my kids liked the crisper ones better, and the neighbor girls are munching on them now, as they play dolls.  

The one thing I must say about cantaloupe chips is that they are intense.  The sweetness is concentrated, and they taste very cantaloupe-y.  The flavor is more pronounced.  I love fresh cantaloupe better, but the kids really like the chips, so I think this is a win-win situation for my family.  The kids get a snack that they like, and I get to eat fresh cantaloupe more often because I know it will no longer go to waste.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Dehydrating Garlic - make our own spices

Garlic is Awesome.  This is one thing that I use in almost all my savory dishes, and I use lots of it.  I love using fresh garlic, but sometimes I just do not have time to peel it, slice or chop it, and add it to a dish.  Sometimes it is better to have dried garlic powder, or dried minced garlic to add to dishes.  Farmer's Markets here in Michigan are overflowing with fresh garlic, and when you can buy 4 or 5 heads for a dollar, it is easy for someone like me to go a bit overboard with buying the fresh garlic.

The easiest way to deal with all this garlic is to dehydrate it.  I have also pickled it, and preserved it in oil, but dehydrated garlic can be turned into garlic salt, garlic powder and dried minced garlic; all of which can be used in any dish that calls for garlic.

I usually dehydrate garlic when I am dehydrating another food that can be combined with garlic, like potatoes, onions, or beef jerky.  Though many dehydrators say that flavors will not mix, this is not so true with garlic.  You can mix different fruits with no problem, and even most veggies, but garlic is one of those spices that can overpower other foods in a dehydrator.

I usually only do one tray of garlic at a time, because this can become a time consuming project if you were to do a whole 7 trays full.  This batch I did with the potatoes, and I started the potatoes a hour or so earlier, as garlic is much smaller and dries a bit faster.

First I peel all the cloves, rinse them off, and then slice them longways as thin as possible.  The reason I slice them longways is so they do not slip through the trays.  There are herb screens that can be purchased to eliminate this problem, and mine should be here soon, with the new dehydrator.
Fresh Garlic Slices

Once the tray is filled, I let them alone for 10 -12 hours, and then start checking to see if they are done.  The slices should be brittle, and if you bend them, they should snap in half.  Once they are all done, I decide what I need in my spice rack.  I decided to make powdered garlic, and dried minced garlic.

Dried Garlic Chips

For powdered garlic, I use my spice/coffee grinder and set it on fine.  This bowl has half the dried garlic, and you may notice that the garlic has turned a nice honey gold color.  It also smells very fragrant, because even though it is dried, the oils are still retained in the garlic.  Once it is ground down, you may notice that, due to the oils, the powder wants to "stick around" in the grinder.  I just scrape it out with a little wooden spoon from my daughter's kitchen set, and add a little pinch of kosher salt to the spice jar that I scoop it into.
Powdered Garlic - add a pinch of Kosher Salt

The minced garlic is a bit more labor intensive, but it is nice to use in many dishes.  I have a "Mezza Luna" - a moon shaped, double bladed, herb chopper - that I use for mincing the dried garlic.
Mezza Luna and Dried Minced Garlic

The Mezza Luna is great, as it decreases the chances of cutting myself.  Robert picked this up after the last set of stitches I had to get in my hand.  (I have a very bad habit of cutting my fingers).  I just put a small pile of dried garlic chips on the board, and rock the M.L back and forth, while moving in a side walking motion, until the garlic is minced to a nice size.  Again, the garlic, though brittle, will still retain some oils, and will be just a bit sticky.  Just add a pinch of salt to the jar and all will be fine.

  If you add kosher salt to dried garlic chips and use the course grind, and "pulse" the grinder, you can make a decent garlic salt.  Do keep in mind that these garlic spices will be more fragrant and more flavorful that what you buy in the store, and after you make your own spices this way, you may never want to buy the store spices again!