Welcome to Growbox Hill

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Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Dehydrating food Q&A

So, I have spoken frequently about dehydrating food, it's all over the place in this blog. I have a bunch of friends that do canning, but I'm one of the only ones that does a lot of dehydrating, outside of making jerky :)

I get asked questions, I check back over notes.. figured it was high time to make a post about it.

So. What dehydrator to get? Should I get one or just use my oven?
I still use my oven for roast drying corn, particularly fresh off the cob corn. I like the roasted flavor of the fresh corn. If you are only planning on doing a little dehydrating or like giving roasted goodness to veggies oven can be good.
If you are planning on just a little herb drying from your garden, a smaller stacked tray with a heat element to gently waft heat up to help preserve that delicate parsley to heartier rosemary. This is also nice if you like to do dried flowers. This has the same effect as having it in a high and dry place drying, only faster and more enclosed.
If you are planning on dehydrating with any regularity, invest in an electric dehydrator. Standard must be having a blowing fan and degree adjustable heat. What's degree adjustable? NOT low/hi settings, only use stuff marked with degrees. I love my Nesco 6 tray. It's big enough to handle a couple bags of produce at a time and dry nicely. Would love one of the big square ones.
Important point- only get a dehydrator you are willing to sacrifice the space for. Don't pick up some big ole thing with dreams of dehydrating the entire yard- then get it home and realize the only place you can really set it up to run it is in the middle of the kitchen table. Or you don't have anywhere HANDY to keep it when not in use.

What about extra trays and accessories?
Absolutely get the jelly/jerky trays that have the nice little lips. Particularly if you get a model that's round or has a center pillar. Worth the few bucks.
Finer mesh screens are a must. I skipped the few bucks each for the ones made for the dehydrator and used the finest mesh craft plastic mesh and cut my own screens instead. Made enough for my whole dehydrator for the price of two OEM pieces. Yes, they are safe, and if one gets ganked, easily replaced.
I didn't bother with extra trays when I bought my Nesco, but if I saw a couple I would get them. Just to have an extra or two on hand.

What about a bunch of other cool dehydrating methods?
Like solar dehydrators, radiators, vehicle drying, how to string stuff? That will be for other posts :) 
Do I really use all the stuff I dehydrate?
Yeah, absolutely I do. At first I was a bit tentative on what I was drying with, so starting out with the oven and little dehydrator worked. Then came the point where I wanted to try other stuff, and wanted to try for as much shelf stable stuff as I could. 

Well, no. There were some mullberries that turned out pretty frigging enedible- those got sidelined for bird feed. Found out the gross way what happens when you overload a dehydrator with mixed veggies using a dehydrator that didn't have the right amount of heat moving through the trays = gross molding mess incubator the next morning. A few attempts at hurry up with the oven dehydrating that just became too toasted, lol.

So what got you started? And then what happened?
Herbs and mushrooms. I use tons of parsley, oregano, sage and so on. And like to use dried mushrooms a lot. It's the magic in magic dust, and really, when fresh ones are on clearance, they are cheaper than getting canned. I can pick up a 12 oz carton of mushrooms for 99 cents, 4 oz canned on a good deal is 79 cents at best.
Then I moved on to onion, carrot, celery. Dry up mire poix when it's cheap and in season, and in the hard cold winter you always got the basic on hand for some cooking goodness.
Frozen veggies when they go on good sale. I don't have the freezer space for it all, nor can I always rely on power to keep em frozen. But whole kernel corn, peas, and mixed veggies have dried up real well for me.

How do you store it all?
I store almost everything in recycled containers in my pantry. Glass Old Milwaukee pickle and Franks kraut jars, some large tall olive jars, a few large plastic mayo/miracle whip jars. My biggest jars are a pair of recycled dried mushroom containers that I keep using for dried mushrooms and a rather large plastic mixed nut jug that is for shredded sweet potato. I use gallon zipper bags for potatoes and large leafy greens.

How much space does all of this take up compared to fresh, frozen or canned?
Gosh, not too sure. The shelf I keep all the jars on is 46"Lx8"D with 13" headspace. It might be a bit more than the total space of my freezer by a couple jars. If all that produce in it's pre-dehydrated form were stacked up on my kitchen table, my table would be heaped over gracious plenty and beyond. It measures 84x36". More than enough to stuff my fridge and freezer at least twice in their pre-dried forms.
In some more practical terms, a kraut or pickle jar can hold 3-6 bags of frozen corn, peas, or mixed veggies. 5 pound bag of potatoes fills about a half gallon ziploc bag. 2-3 cartons of fresh mushrooms dry out to about 1-2 cartons depending on the kind of mushroom. Button, oyster, and portobello shrink less, enoki and straw mushrooms dry to filaments.
And I never have to worry about need to use up right now while its fresh, shit the power went out, or crap, canning is eating up way too much space. 

What are my favorite ways to use dehydrated foods?
I tend to use them as ingredients so this is sort of hard to explain, lol.
Shred root vegetables and use them in some of your favorite cheese or crumble on top applications. Sweet potatoes, carrots, turnips, and those other WTF root veggies. Grate them all up fresh.

I like dinner kits, I really do. I don't always want to see all the raw ingredients and figure out what to make. We do really like some stuff that easily is a kit. Like pasta and sauce, or red beans and rice.

This Christmas I decided to make some gifts in jars for folks. And EUREKA!! or maybe No Shit Sherlock.... Gifts in a jar are awesome for making dinner kits.

There are a bajillion sweet gifts in jars. But there are also a lot of savory ones too. So I started out with the notion that I would make whatever the jar was and see if it was good or not before making it up into gift form... The crackers sucked. But a couple of them have been good enough that they are going onto the pantry shelf and I want to note down the recipes.

Hearty Italian Bean Soup- this makes one batch

The Mix for the shelf- this needs to be done in three parts. If doing in a jar, part one goes in loose, part 2 in a sandwich ziplock, and the seasoning in a 3x4 ziplock.
Part 1:
1 1/2 cups white beans, great northenrs or navy
Part 2:
1 1/2 cups small shell pasta
Part 3:
1 T minced onion
2 t dried basil
1 each chicken bouillon and Golden G's
1 T parsley
1 t minced garlic
1/2 t black pepper
Bag/jar up and put onto shelf till it's time to use

When it's time to make it:
1 jar mix
5-6 cups water
8 oz tomato sauce
1-2 cups spinach, optional
1. Remove pasta and spices
2. Place beans in pot, cover with water, bring to boil for 2 min. Kill heat, cover, and let sit 1 hr.
3. Drain beans. Combine beans, water, tomato sauce, and seasonings. Bring to a boil, cover, and reduce to a simmer, and cook for 2-2 1/2 hours, till beans are tender.
3. Add pasta and spinach, bring to a boil, then cover and reduce to a simmer for 15-20 minutes, till the pasta is tender.
Serve sprinkled with fresh Parmesan cheese.

Jambalaya mix- Per bag
1 cups rice- I like using a 1/2 c each of white and brown rice in each bag.
1T minced onion
1 T parsley
1 chicken bouillon cubes
 1 Golden G's
1T dried radish, nasturtium leaf, or chives
1 T celery flake
1 t cayenne pepper
1 t of black pepper
1 t garlic powder
1/2 t thyme
Fits easily into a sandwich bag.

When it's time for dinner:
Jambalaya mix
2 cups water
8 oz can chopped tomatoes, undrained
Bring water to a boil, add mix, and drop to a low simmer, covered, 18-20 minutes.
That's all it is for the basic rice. But then there's the add ons...

You need to flesh this rice out, and can use up to 2-3 pounds of stuff to do it with.
1/2 cup of fresh sweet pepper to the boiling water before the mix is poured in is a nice starter. You could also use the same amount in celery or diced baby carrots.
Protein- you want around 1-2 pounds. This could be a pound each of chicken and shrimp, or a pound each of sausage and beans... If using dehydrated beans, use a half cup of beans and up the water to 3 cups and cook the beans along with the rice. If using canned beans, rinse and drain well before stirring in after the rice, tomato, and water have come to a boil and before covering and reducing to a simmer.

If you want to make it all vegan.. Swap out the bouillon and Gs in the original spice mix with 1 veggie boullion- the ones that are a double sized cube. Or skip it entirely in the mix, but always use a good strong vegetable stock instead of water.
If you want to use all beans, use a combo of dried and canned, or all canned. Don't to all dried, makes too dense a mass.
You can also use diced summer squash or zucchini, cubed eggplant, or quartered mushrooms that have been sauteed, mixing these in at the very end. Or Some parbaked and cubed butternut squash or smoked and diced cauliflower. You can do this to a meat version too to make up the third pound off add in.

On to some pics of what fresh vs dried looks like...

This is a series of pics of drying citrus. I zest mine before drying.

Busting up a bag of fresh kale vs what it's like dried.

This is blanched and dried asparagus. First pic is one tray of wet, then one tray dried, then what all six trays piled up to. Filled a Franks kraut jar neatly, 5 pounds fresh to jar.

This is green beans. Blanched and dried.

This is 3-4 goodly sized sweet potatoes to fill the dehydrator, and after. This fills up a big jug.

This is dried grated carrot..

More on another dehydrating posting day..

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