Friday, June 27, 2014

My favorite way to preserve foods-Dehydrate!

In anticipation of my favorite way to preserve food, I got out my dehydrator this past weekend.  I love it!  I’m on my third dehydrator.  My first was back in ‘95.  I had an American Harvestor.  I had picked it up to make beef jerky for my boyfriend.  Neither lasted, but the joy beef jerky did!
If you have never dried your foods, you should give it a shot.  Food in the dehydrator rehydrates very well.  I dehydrate all kinds of vegetables to use in the winter months.  Often I dry:  tomatoes, onions, celery, carrots, and herbs.  These are items you can use in almost any winter dish and are super easy when all you need to do is grab a handful and toss them in the pot. 
Dehydrating takes some know how.  Some items like Fruits, you can wash clean and dry.  But other items, like potatoes, take special pretreatment.  Sodium Bisulfite is the key.  It will dry potato slices and preserve their color and texture.  I use a small amount (tsp) in a cold bowl of water.  Let them sit for 10 minutes then put the food in the dehydrator.  It keeps celery green, and carrots orange.  It also help them not to shrivel up and turn black.  It extends the shelf live, often by 6 months.  When buying it, do NOT substitute with Fresh Fruit.  It is not the same.   Search for Excalibur brand online. 
My first was a bottom up fan and heat operated one.  The problem is, if you dry anything juicy, like marinated jerky, or fruit leathers, it will drip down into the fan and you can not clean it well.  My most recent is a top down fan unit.  I love it!  I will never buy another one.  It also has clear trays.  I can peek at the foods without opening up the unit to see if its done.   Many people insist on the Excalibur brand dehydrator because it’s square.  However, my kids will not eat fruit leathers, and I can see where having a square tray would be better for those. 
If you’re buying a unit, I strongly encourage you to research.  Some accessories will make your drying more fun.  Pick up some solid and some grid weave inserts.  When I dry herbs, they will fall through the cracks of a basic tray.  So I use the inserts.  They clean up in the dishwasher and make it easy to manage the small pieces.  I also recommend extra trays.  I have 10.  I only dry 5 at a time, but if I’m

really working some summer fruits, I don’t want to wait for dishwashing to get started cutting and placing my next group of foods.  So I have an extra set. 
You know me, I have books!  I have How to Dry Foods, by Delong.  It was my first book.  I’ve kept it because it has loads of jerky recipes. I also have a modern one, The Dehydrator Bible.  I really like it because it has every fruit and veg you can think of in the first few pages of the book.  Then most of the book is how to actually use the dried foods in meals.  
 Then, I have two really odd books.  I picked up Trail Food by Kesselheim, and LipSmackin’ Backpackin’ by Conners.  These two books are designed for campers and hikers.  They use dehydrated foods so they can pack a week’s worth of meals in a backpack.  They have a unique way of using dried foods, and I’ve found some fun things to make over a campfire.  Here’s the thing about dehydrator books, you should check them out at your local library first.  They are always pricey, and you do not need replicate recipes.   
My top 10 list of things to do with dehydrator:
1. Beef Jerky (half turkey and half 85% beef
2. Onions-do it outside!  But great to add to meals.
3. Green pepper strips
4. Herbs
5. Diced carrot-perfect in the crock pot.
6. Celery-grab 4-5 bags when it’s on sale for $1. 
7. Apple chunks
8. Tomatoes-any small ones not good for canning can be dried then powdered.
9. Hot Peppers-make your own chili seasoning
10. Bread crumbs-no risk of burning
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