Welcome to Growbox Hill

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Monday, March 11, 2013

Drying food... My journey so far...

Recently, I was asked about drying food...

I've posted up a lot about drying a lot of food over the last year or so... so I suppose a general what I've done so far is in order.

I had already tinkered a bit with oven dehydrating, which is a little bit trickier than it sounds. Too warm, and you cook instead of dry, too cool, and you wilt up instead of dry.. ya gotta keep the oven cracked just a bit to let the moisture out, but not so much you let all the heat out.
Super easy food preservation though.

Then my sister brought a heat riser dehydrator she had for ages and never really used. This was even nicer, because you can plug it in an just forget about it overnight or till the food is dry. Ya gotta be very careful about loading trays with this kind of dehydrator- if you overload, you end up with spoiled food the next morning. That was a lesson learned with a couple bags of frozen veggies, yuck.

Then last fall I picked up a bigger dehydrator with a heat blowing fan. I love that thing. I use it most commonly now, I usually reserve the heat riser for drying herbs and other gentle dries. I usually only use the oven for fresh corn and to pre-dry onions now.

So, what have I dried so far?

I started out with fresh mushrooms since the often go for clearance at the Hardings, and because canned mushrooms are stupidly expensive. I dunno why, but they are as bad as, if not worse than Chicago prices. So, I can pay a dollar or so for a 4 oz can of mushrooms that I get 2 oz of actual mushrooms- or I can pay a dollar for 6-8 oz tub of fresh mushrooms and dry them down to 3-4 oz of mushrooms. I just slice them up, not too thin, spread them out, no overlapping, and set to dry.

Frozen veggies- Hardings sometimes has the pound bag of frozen veggies for a buck a piece. I have dried up corn, mixed veggies, and peas. Just a thin layer and set to dry.

Herbs. I've done sage, rosemary, tarragon, thyme, pineapple mint, and winter savory so far, all grown in my little herb garden.

Fresh onions. I've used yellow onions for this so far. I slice them thin, spread evenly on a couple cookie sheets, and set in the oven on warm, with the door cracked, for a couple hours to really wilt up the onions, then put them in the dehydrator. I do this because I've found the things just dry better that way, I think perhaps they just start out too wet to dry nicely otherwise.
Leeks and garlic can just be done on the dehydrator. 

Green onion greens- I toss them in the heat riser, and poof, they turn out nice and crisp.

Fresh carrot- scrub well, slice thin, and lay them out evenly..

Fresh sweet potato- grate it first like cheese, then dry it.

Fresh cole slaw mix- just lay it out and dry it- you can get away with a little bit of depth on the try with this, the shreds dry up really fast.

Pumpkin and winter squash. Yeah, that was a thing, lol. Roast it, puree it, strain it overnight in cheese cloth to make a thick paste- then spread it on fruit leather sheets to dry. Then take your squash leather, roast it on low in the oven for a bit to make it extra dry and crisp, then pulverize it into a powder.

Fresh kale- I love it. Make sure you take all the stems off the leaves before drying, because they rehydrate at a way different rate than the leaves and never really quite come back right. You can dehydrate the stems separately and keep em on hand to toss in when boiling up a kettle of stock.

Fresh lettuce- yep, seriously. I take whatever we got when we got it and dry it up, same way as kale. 

Celery- this is the best!! Slice it up from leafy tips down to about 3 niches or so from the root end. Layer thin, and dehydrate up. This is extra awesome for cooking. Then you can take the celery nub, soak it overnight, pot it up, and with luck you can grow a whole new celery!

Broccoli stems- I don't toss em, nope. I shred them up, and dry them out. 

Tomato paste, from a can. Spread it as thin as you can on fruit leather sheets, and dry the crap out of it, it will still be leather. It's kind of nice for when you only need a teaspoon or tablespoon of paste cuz you can tear off as little or as much as you need. Ya gotta make sure you rehydrate it well. This was an experiment- it turned out pretty well, but I think I will try making powder from fresh next time.

Fresh sweet corn... Dear heavens this is the yum! Strip your cobs, then spread out thin and evenly on parchment paper on lipped cookie sheets. Set your oven at 200, put the corn in, crack the door, and turn the heat down to warm.. After an hour or two, give it a stir, and dry some more... Corn can take 6-10 hours depending on how much there is- you can always kill the heat overnight if you are a few hours in and it's not done, but it's bedtime, but make sure you close the oven if you do this. Then in the morning start over again if needed. Don't leave your oven on all night!
If you reserve the cobs, you can make fresh corn stock- all you do is bust the cobs up a bit to fit in the stockpot, totally cover with water, and simmer for a half hour or so. It's wonderful for a light fresh corn base, yum.

Fresh apple slices. I got a neat spiral slicer crank thing that clamps to the counter, it peels, spiral cuts, and cores in one process. And it was only a couple bucks at the resale shop. But anywho, peel, core, and thinly slice your apples, tossing them in a smidge of lemon juice while doing so to help prevent browning. In a single layer on the trays, and dry.

Fresh lemon and orange slices. I made these for ornaments for the wildlife tree that didn't happen, but they will be getting put out in the next week or two since the spring birdies are starting to show up. I always zest my citrus if it isn't necessary for it to stay there- and of course I dry that up. You can use a veggie peeler, a really sturdy fine hole grater, or a zester. I like to use a zester and a veggie peeler to have different peels for different things. Then slice about a quarter inch or so, single layer, and dry it up- they look like little stained glass when they are done.

Fresh cranberry garlands. Made this for the wildlife tree too. After the holiday, I tossed em onto the redbud, and a lot of it is still hanging there, even though I know darn well it's been wet enough that they aren't dry anymore. Thought they would be nice for the birds, but meh, they don't seem to like em much. But they sure did turn out pretty for garlands!
I strung them on about 4 foot strands- used a heavy needle and a heavy cotton beading thread. Then laid them out neatly and evenly on cookie sheets and baked them at 200 with the door cracked for a hour or so I think. Just till they started getting a little "not fresh anymore" looking, just a touch of juiciness from the holes. Then they got coiled onto the dehydrater and toasted between 125 during the day and 95 during the night for three days. I might make these again, then seal them for permanent garlands, but geez, I wouldn't do that much effort again for the wildlife considering they didn't care for them much.

Fresh blueberries and mullberries. Spread them out and dry them up. 

Up for this year I want to start trying drying tomatoes. Like good garden ones. And see what dried radishes turn out like, as well as some other root veggies. And hot peppers- I did a little air drying with the couple that did grow, but I want to make my own pepper flakes and powders.

So what in the heck do I do with all of this stuff? I have found it works it's way into lots of cooking. I've been trying to note some of the stuff I've been making in previous posts, but...

Veggie powder- we got a couple electric coffee grinders, and I will do up a bit of this and that, and add it into soups, casseroles, baked savories... It gives a bit of a flavor boost and a nice little extra veggie hit to dinner.

I love love LOVE having dried celery on hand for long term cooking. How often do you use up the whole thing before it starts getting a bit wilty, do you ever use the little heart bit? Well, dry it up, and always have on hand that bit of mire poix no matter what. Super nice for soups in winter when you don't want to or can't get out to the store for fresh. I super love having dried carrot on hand for the same reason.

Dried onion. Yeah, it oxidizes a bit during drying, so it isn't that perfect creamy white. But I use a lot of it, and when onions go on sale, I think it's worth it to dry up a few pounds at a time.

Kale and lettuce and sweet potato, and slaw mix, ect..  I use a lot of herbs and spices in my cooking, and got a goodly variety of tasty additions. I toss in all sorts of dried veggies for seasonings, from crumpled greens to go along with parsley flake, to some crushed sweet potato to give an earthy sweet taste without sweetener..

I've found I "hidden boost" the hell out of all sorts of dishes with dried produce.

Last year I started picking up some canning jars and got a water bath kettle. Made some rather decent berry preserves.
I'm really really keeping my fingers crossed to be able to can up some green beans and tomatoes. Perhaps if I find a ravishing sale on asparagus- well, I'll just buy as much as I can and can it up. And maybe pickles. I would need to pick up some smaller canning jars to to all sorts of other fun stuff, and we shall see how that goes a few months from now.
One fine day, I might own a pressure canner, and then I will for sure start canning up all sorts of crazy crap, ehehehe.

Freezing. Wow, I wish we had a little chest freezer, but we don't yet. So I try to make the most of our freezer space. Mostly for when meats go on sale, and homemade goodies. I make all sorts of soups, and there is always leftovers, and those get bagged up and frozen.
Stocks and broths- I use a lot of it, I make a lot of it. Chicken, pork, duck, corn.. I've learned over time to reduce down meat stocks by half before bagging and freezing up. Saves on a crapton of freezer space that way.
I'm usually a pretty good kid about busting up meats. Like when hamburger is on sale, I'll pick up 3-5 pounds, but that up into single pounds, and freeze. Done that with hams too- sliced em up into half pound chunks, and freeze. Sometimes when bacon is on sale I will bust a couple packages in half before freezing.
I try not to rely on the freezer for anything I can make shelf stable. Because the power could go out, and that sucks, lol.

So, this is what has gone on so far..

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