Saturday, May 16, 2009

Excalabur 2900 dehydrator

I got my new dehydrator in this week and I am so excited. It is more than twice the size of my old one (15 sf of drying space) and actually much faster too. The first day I got it, I dried 6 chopped bell peppers (on sale for $1.78 for all 6) and 5 chopped onions ($1.99 for a 3 pound bag) and still had 2 trays left empty. The same amount of chopped dried onions retails for about $6. And since I use the peppers and onions all the time when I cook, it is a great deal for us. And also much better for cooking when I just don't feel like chopping up an onion.

I also picked up some really nice strawberries from a roadside vendor this week. I have bought from them in the past and they are some of the best strawberries you will ever eat. At $14 a gallon, they are a little bit expensive, but still cheaper than the grocery store, and the taste just can't be beat. We ate a few of them fresh and the rest (a little less than a gallon) I made into fruit leather and dried sliced. The finished product gave us about 10 fruit roll-ups and almost a quart jar of dried slices.

The sliced berries work out really well for us. I make scones with them, and we use butter and strawberry freezer jam on the hot scones. Really awesome and very easy. Take your favorite biscuit recipe (there is a good one on the back of the Bisquick box, just don't use the liquids), add 1/2 cup of sugar, 3/4 cup of sour cream, and a big handful of crumbled berry slices and enough water or milk to make a really, really stiff dough. It just needs to hold together and not be too "wet". Place the dough on a greased baking sheet and pat it out to about 3/4 inch thick and round. Slice it like a pizza and bake it in a moderately hot oven, I generally bake at 375, until it is nice and browned all over. Like I said, just awesome.

Drying food takes up a lot less space than canning, and the majority of the time, tastes just as good as fresh. 3 pounds of chopped, dried onions will fit into a half gallon jar and you don't have to worry about them getting soft or mildewed in the pantry. If you need "fresh" onions for things like potato salad or similar recipes, just soak them in a little warm water and they will plump back up. Same with the fruit. To make a fruit salad or compote, soak your mixed dried fruits in a little water or apple juice to plump them back up and chill.

Just about every vegetable can be dried and stored. Potatoes work out really well. Slice and parboil the spuds, surface dry with a paper towel and lay them out on the trays. After they are dry, they can be used for scalloped potatoes, re-hydrated and fried, or cooked in the microwave with a little milk and then mashed. Drop some in a stew or soup, run through the blender to make potato flour or instant mashed potatoes. Very very useful.

I would suggest this to just about anyone who wants to be able to preserve food without the mess and expense of canning. Buy produce when it is on sale or in season from a farmers market and dry it. And if the dried foods are kept sealed, they will keep just about indefinitely. It is a great way to save money. And eat healthier.

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