Monday, April 7, 2014

Mango Banana Fruit Leathers

 Earlier this year I bought a brand-spankin-new Nesco American Harvest Snackmaster Express all-in kit. So pretty. It included fruit leather trays, but I'd never been much into fruit roll-ups. Even as a kid, the neon colors, extreme sweetness and off-flavors bothered me. Last night though, I found myself with 6 mangoes that were just about to go from wonderfully ripe to compost. Around here, that's sacrilege. I had to find something to do with them all, immediately. I also had a bunch of bananas at the nice, mottled brown stage, not quite overripe, but sweet and delicious.

I chopped up all six mangoes, using a spoon to scrape the pits and peels to get every last lovely bit of the pulp. I blended them with 4 bananas in two batches. Each batch filled two leather trays. I added enough to completely cover the trays, but not so much that it was seeping over the edges. I used a spoon to try to level it out, but as you can see from the second photo, I didn't do the best job. That being said, they are still delicious, so it wasn't a complete failure.

I dehydrated them overnight at 115 degrees, which in hindsight was a little low. They were still tacky and still wet in some areas when I checked 9 hours later. I kicked the dehydrator up to 135 degrees and let them go for another 3 hours. When I checked on them, they were quite dry, not very tacky, but not crisp. I peeled them easily off of the dehydrator trays in one smooth motion. I laid them directly on the trays and dehydrated them for another half hour just to ensure they were fully dry.

They were quite tasty. Unlike the store-bought kind, they weren't sickly sweet, just lots of tropical flavor with a hint of sweetness. I'll admit that the color leaves something to be desired. Next batch may have some lemon juice or citric acid added to prevent browning.

I can't wait to try new flavors. Apple strawberry. Strawberry lemonade. Pineapple Mango. Blackberry Pear. 

These will be a great snack for road trips and hiking. For those with kids, this would be a great addition to lunch boxes. It is a quick, easy and cheap way to use up a lot of fruit that would otherwise go to waste. 

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Curb Shopping Score

Today I was taking a walk through the neighborhood. It's 28 degrees today, but I desperately wanted to get outside for some exercise and sunlight. I guess everyone is getting into spring cleaning, because there was a lot of stuff at the curb. I looked through several piles casually as I strolled by. Most of it was junk. Some things had potential, but I wasn't sure when I could get to more projects (example, a really pretty, but broken, bed. The posts were hollow, so if the tops were removed and a couple drainage holes added, it could have made pretty, 4'x8"x8" planters).

Then I saw it. Two white wire shelves. They were dirty, but not broken. A quick wipe-down and a few dollars on brackets, and they'll be perfect.

I am working on converting a seldom used third bedroom/craft room into a walk-in pantry. I had been planning on buying this type of shelving to hang on one of the walls. This saved me $20 over buying them at the home improvement store, and I kept something out of the landfill

Have you found anything great on the curb recently?

Use It Up: Potato Water

Many things are tossed into the garbage can when they still have lots of good life left in them. Use It Up is a section on how to use this "trash" to make new, useful items for your home or to re-purpose items to avoid a purchase.

When you boil potatoes, a lot of good nutrients leach into the water. Don't dump them down the drain! Save that nutrient-rich cooking water for a variety of uses. Use it right away, or store in a covered container in the refrigerator for 3-5 days.

Make mashed potatoes. I always add a bit of the potato water back to the potatoes when mashing them. You can add dry milk powder if you'd like them a bit richer, but potato water and butter works just fine.

Use in baking. Allow it to cool, then use in place of water in bread dough, pizza dough, cinnamon rolls, biscuits and rolls. 

Water container plants. Once it is fully cool, water house or patio plants in containers. Since the plant's roots are limited to the container, they need a good supply of nutrients, so using a variety of cooking waters (pasta, veggie, leftover coffee/tea, etc) can add greatly aid your plants. 

Add it to the garden beds, once cool. I am all in favor of adding as much as possible to the organic matter of my soil. Anything that can be added to the soil instead of thrown "away" should be. Water in transplants and trees with potato water. If you aren't putting in any new plants, just sprinkle the water around plants that could use a pick-me-up.

Pour over the top of the compost bin if it is too dry. The compost needs some moisture to cook properly, and you can add some extra nutrients into the compost.

Drink it as a nutritious beverage.

Use it in place of water or broth in soup making. It adds great body to vegetarian soups that may be otherwise watery and bland without bone broth (I'm a bit partial to my lovely bone broth). Great for baked potato soup, mixed veggie soups, or for stews.

Use to cook rice. Let the rice soak up those nutrients and flavor to add depth.

Make gravy.

Rehydrate dehydrated veggies. Simply reheat on the stove, then pour over the top of the veggies, then add to recipes.

Pour over pet's food for a bit of extra nutrition.

Have any uses for potato cooking water that I missed? Share them in the comments!

Shared on:
13 Heritage Homesteaders Hop #4

Monday, March 3, 2014

National Frozen Foods Month, Or the Easiest Dehydrator Project Ever

March is National Frozen Foods Month. Grocery stores are having sales on some frozen foods, so it may be worth checking out the sales to see if there is anything you use on a better sale than you usually see, or if there is something that is usually out of your price range that is at a decent price now. Just don't buy those creepy frozen pizzas with three pepperonis and barely any cheese. Just don't.

I did buy several frozen foods today. Plain, normal, run-of-the-mill frozen veggies. They were on sale for $.88 per 1 lb package. That is a better price than those veggies usually are in the fresh produce section. While fresh veggies are picked and shipped halfway across the globe before they get to your store (and continue deteriorating until you buy them and eat them), frozen veggies are frozen shortly after picking and then shipped. While they are far from an ideal source of produce (that is your garden, farm stand or farmer's market), in the dead of winter, when the garden seems forever away and the stores from last year's harvest are dwindling, frozen veggies are a decent source of nutrition.

My freezer is currently filled to the gills with some clearance-priced yogurt, bacon I found on an awesome sale, and some venison my parents gave me. There wasn't a lot of room for frozen peas and carrots. So I dehydrated them.

I have a Nesco American Harvest Snackmaster dehydrator with 5 small-holed trays. My last dehydrator was an older Snackmaster that had the large hole in the middle. Even thought the trays are not the same,  they fit perfectly together, so I use the old trays on my new dehydrator. Now I can dehydrate 9 trays all at once.

I dehydrated 6 packages of frozen foods: 2 lbs broccoli, 1 lb green beans and 3 pounds carrots/peas/corn/green beans.

This was the easiest dehydrator project ever. Usually filling the dehydrator is a 1-2 hour ordeal, scrubbing, peeling, chopping/slicing and arranging. Not this time. I simply cut the bags open, dumped some on each tray and spread them roughly even. The only cutting I had to do was to cut a few of the larger broccoli pieces into smaller pieces so the trays would sit flat, but in the 2 packages, there were only 6 large pieces. The produce doesn't need to be blanched. This is definitely a time saver, and an especially easy way to preserve food when you are desperately short on time.

They fit on 8 trays. The peas, corn and diced carrots were very small, so I put those on fruit roll trays or mesh screens so they didn't fall through the holes. If you don't have special trays, you could just use plastic wrap over the trays. I put them on 135 degrees.

This seems to be a great way to take advantage of a good sale, increase my food stores to get me through until the garden starts to produce, while saving valuable freezer space meat sales. Also, in my area, power outages are common, and sometimes last for weeks. For that reason, I prefer to dehydrate most of my food stores so I don't risk losing everything. Next year I hope to get a bigger harvest from the garden, and put up more homegrown foods for winter eating. However, dehydrated frozen foods definitely has it's place in the food stockpiling plan, and will be a great way to put up foods that I don't grow, like broccoli and corn.

Shared with:
13 Heritage Homesteaders Hop #3simple saturdays 300 final

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Use It Up: Orange Syrup

Many things are tossed into the garbage can when they still have lots of good life left in them. Use It Up is a section on how to use this "trash" to make new, useful items for your home or to re-purpose items to avoid a purchase. 

Whenever I eat citrus, I dry all those peels, knowing that someday, somehow I'll use them. Today I found that use. I was making homemade syrups and wanted to try some new flavors. An AHA! moment! What about an orange syrup for teas, coffees, drizzling over desserts, or mixing with sangria?

I made a simple syrup using one part white sugar with one part water. I put it in a saucepan on medium heat and stirred it together until the sugar dissolved. I dumped in some orange peel pieces and let it simmer. I stirred it often so that it didn't burn and heated it until it thickened and the volume had decreased by about a fourth. I let a spoonful cool and tasted it. Perfection. I strained the orange peels and was left with a bright, cheery syrup.

 I was about to dump the spent orange peels into the compost container when I decided to taste one. It was incredible. Sweet, bitter and citrusy. I nibbled on them as a snack throughout the day. If I have any left the next time I make orange scones, those will be a perfect add in. They would also be nice in cranberry orange muffins, on top of ice cream (especially a sunday drizzled with the orange syrup!), in oatmeal or in pancakes.

Shared on:
13 Heritage Homesteaders Hop #1Homestead Barn Hop
simple saturdays 300 final

Monday, February 17, 2014

Salvage Grocery Shopping

Want to save money on groceries? Like keeping perfectly edible food from going into the landfill? Want to have an adventure while grocery shopping? Check out your local salvage grocery!

Salvage groceries buy closeouts from other stores, so there is no guarantee of what you'll find. Sometimes the selection is awesome, other times it's lacking. The items are either discontinued items, items with changed packages (say, 12 oz packages left over after the company starts making 11.5 oz packages), dented cans or boxes, seasonal items, expired products or items leftover when a store closes. My favorite salvage store gets items from health food stores, so I find lots of organic products for a price comparable to Aldi. Overall, the prices are better than the sales price at the chain groceries in my city, and sometimes I get incredible prices. I am able to buy "higher end" products than I would otherwise be able to afford. These items would likely be thrown away if it weren't for salvage groceries, so I like knowing that by shopping there, I'm keeping perfectly good food from being destroyed (When I worked at a grocery store, management made us throw all dented items into the garbage, and lock the dumpster to keep people from diving it). Plus, I never know what I'll find, so it's an adventure, or at least as close as grocery shopping ever gets.

Now for the warnings. Know your prices. Some things cost more at salvage stores than the sales prices at the chain grocer. Check the packaging. Dented cans are probably okay if it's a small dent that isn't on the lid or seam, but pass up badly dented cans or anything that is rusted, leaky, missing a label, or otherwise looks suspicious. Don't buy boxes or bags that have been torn open and taped back together. Check packets/bags to see if they are sealed or if there are tears. Check the expiry dates. As many articles lately have shown us, "use-by" or "best by" dates are more of suggestions than rules, but it's probably best to avoid anything with an expiry date of 2008. Buy things you eat; don't buy something you don't like just because it's an awesome price.

Here's the list of items that I found on my latest trip:

Cascadian Farm Purely O's cereal, organic...2 @ $.79
Barilla spaghetti...1 @ $.59
Agave nectar...1 @ $1.99
King Arthur Self Rising Unbleached flour...5 lbs for $.99
Tollhouse White Chocolate Chips, 24 oz package...1 @ $1.99
Corn tortillas, 10-12 packs...8 @ $.10

Vlasic Roasted Red Peppers...4 @ $.49
Mrs. Sassard's Bread and Butter Pickles...1 @ $.99
Chipotle salsa...1 @ $.99
Wolfgang Puck Marinara...1 @ $.99
Colavita Spicy Marinara...1 @ $.99
Le Roselli's Spaghetti sauce...1 @ $.99
Diced, fire-roasted tomatoes...1 @ $.59
Smuckers Triple Berry Topping...1 @ $1.59
Smuckers Peach Preserves...1 @ $1.59
Jif Hazelnut Chocolate spread...6 @ $1.49

Kraft Mayo, fat free...2 @ $.39
Kraft Mayo...1 @ $.79
Miracle Whip...3 @ $.99
Hellmann's Mayo...1 @ $.39 (Yes, I am aware this is a lot of mayo. We had depleted the pantry supply so it was on our list, and both of us tossed some into the cart without the other realizing it. We are re-homing a few jars to someone who can use it)
Kraft Creamy Italian dressing...1 @ $.20
Kraft Ranch dressing...1 @ $.20
Ken's Steak House Chunky Blue Cheese dressing...1 @ $.20
Kraft Thousand Island dressing...2 @ $.10
Wishbone Buffalo Blue Cheese dressing...1 @ $.99
Tony Chachere's Spicy Sweet Sandwich Sauce...1 @ $.89
Kraft Sweet and Sour sauce...1 @ $.79
Peppadew Mustard sauce...1 @ $.79

Wolfgang Puck Creamy Tomato soup, organic...1 @ $.69
Wolfgang Puck Chicken and Wild Rice soup, organic...1 @ $.69

Jerky sticks...2 @ $.49
Gum, 3 packages of 15 pieces...1 @ $.99
Craisins...1 @ $.99

8 o'clock coffee, 24 oz package...1 @ $6.99
8 o'clock coffee, 12 oz package...1 @ $2.49
Folger's Vanilla Biscotti coffee, 10 oz package...1 @ $2.49
Chock Full O Nuts coffee, 11.3 oz package...1 @ $2.49
Maxwell House coffee, 11.5 oz package...1 @ $2.49
CDM Coffee and Chicory, 13 oz package...1 @ $2.49
Seattle's Best Coffee, 12 oz package...1 @ $2.49
Lottie + Beck Bed Time Tea, 20 pack...2 @ $.20

Temptations cat treats, 3 oz...3 @ $.99
Goodlife cat treats, 3 oz...3 @ $.99
Hartz Crunch 'N Clean cat treats, 3 oz...4 @ $.25

Simply Green toilet paper, 100% recycled...16 @ $.99

Cologne...1 @ $1.99
Reusable cold drink cups and straws, 2 pack...1 pk @ $4.99
Utility lighter...1 @ $.79
Ball pint canning jars with lids and bands...6 @ $.33 (Trucker found these! Best deal I've ever found on canning jars)
Bathroom rug...1 @ $2.99

We also bought some bulk assortments: 2 bags of snacks/misc items for $3.99 each and 3 bags of seasoning packs for $.99 each. Within those bags we got:

Lifesaver mints...95
Kit Kat snack sized candies...13
Fruit gummy snack packs...27
Russell Stover candies...2
Ferro Rocher chocolates...3
Candy toys (novelty candy dispensers)...3
Instant oatmeal...3 packs
Caribou Coffee K cups...5
Starbuck's Via packs instant coffee...6
Cake Mate Writing gel...1
Moon Pies...16
Odwalla granola bars...32
Quaker fruit and nut bars...4
seasoning packs from salad dressing to grilling to canning mixes...73

We bought the snack/misc bags for the granola bars that we use when hiking and the seasonings bags for the canning/grilling seasonings. A lot of those items will be given to someone who uses them. We don't have a Keurig coffee maker, and I don't know anyone who does, so I just opened them and dumped them into another coffee container.

Our total purchase was $127.32. To see how much I saved, I added up the sale price that I would feel comfortable paying at my regular grocery store for just those items that I would actually buy (so the Keurig cups, moon pies, etc are not included). The price I would have paid at my store was around $265. This trip saved me $138. Also, for some items, I got more variety, or a higher-end product. For example, the salad dressing, I compared paying $1 for store brand dressing, but the store brand that is $1 at my store has only 4 varieties. For our coffee, we buy basic store brand, or whatever is on a good sale, but we love it when we get the coffee and chicory blend for about the same price per ounce.

Do you ever shop at salvage groceries? Love them? Hate them? Any great scores you'd like to share?

Shared on:

Monday, January 20, 2014

2014 Garden Plans and Goals

Well, I've gone and done it. Yesterday I started my onion seeds and planted a few more pots of lettuce and spinach to grow indoors. Now the garden is all I can think of. I find myself throughout the day wandering to the patio door and looking out over the back garden. It's still covered in snow, but I can still see the hugelbeet that I put in a low spot in the yard. I'm reading blog posts and watching Wisconsin Vegetable Gardener videos. I'm fantasizing about ripe tomatoes that practically fall off the plant into your hand.

To keep myself from going crazy, I've been planning. Here are my plans and goals for the coming garden season.

* Expand the gardening space. There is a large area in the back yard under a tree that has grown up in weeds. That area will be dug up and planted in lettuce, since it's mostly shaded and not much else will grow there. I'll dig at least one more garden bed in the main garden.

* Venture into the wonderful world of edible landscaping. The previous owners endowed us with incredible perennial flowers. They really did an awesome job; there's always something blooming. However, the strip between the driveway and hedges is a bit sparse. I plan to sneak in some Rainbow swiss chard, some frilly red lettuces, Burgundy okra, and chives. At a going-out-of-business sale I found giant matching planters for $5 each. I will put one on each side of the driveway by the street. I plan to plant a Burgundy okra (thriller) in each, surrounded by a lime green and red speckled lettuce (filler) with Milkmaid Nasturtiums (spiller).

* Start a reasonable number of transplants. Last year I assumed I would kill almost all of my seedlings. So I over-planted. I had hundreds of tomato seedlings (around 300), 50 peppers, 50 eggplants. Definitely didn't have enough space for that many (Although it was wonderful to supply my parents with all they needed and to walk around the market I work at and give people free seedlings). This year I will start a more reasonable number, and also start some kale, lettuce, basil, etc seedlings to get a jump start on the cool season.

* Get a longer harvest. Get some cold-hardy goodies in early, and keep on planting season appropriate plants until August or September. This past year I didn't start getting a harvest until the end of May, and I'd like to get some early spring greens this year.

* Plan the garden well, and keep planting to fill in spaces as needed so there isn't a lot of wasted space like last year. I have over 100 veggie and herb varieties, and multiple packs of some of them; there is no fear of running out of seeds. I can plant with abandon.

* Dehydrate lots of yummy things for teas. I enjoy herbal teas so this could save me a lot of money over the year. Last year I dehydrated a fair amount of violet leaves and flowers, as they grow over most of the lawn. This year I plan to dehydrate some herbs I'm planting, as well as some "weeds" that are good in teas. I'm still debating about mint. I adore mint teas, but I know that it is invasive.

* Plant a heck of a lot more lettuce. I had some failures in the garden last year, and chalked most of them up to beginner's lessons. The thing I can't forgive myself for is how little lettuce I grew. I planted it later than I should have, didn't plant nearly enough, and then tried to plant most of it when the weather was too hot. Nothing germinated in the summer. Then for some reason, instead of planting a bunch for fall harvest, I planted lots of radishes and beets, but no more lettuce. We ate a few salads a week for a couple months. Not this year. This year I'm eating lettuce until it comes out my ears.

* Not waste a bit of the produce grown. I have a fancy new dehydrator, and I am hoping to learn how to can this year. Put up as much as I can for the winter. If I get a glut of something that I don't want to can, dehydrate and powder it to add to my veggie powder jar.

* Here is a rough list of what I'm growing this year: two types of eggplant, 3 sweet peppers; 4 hot peppers (including Jamaican Hot Chocolate Habaneros!), 7 tomatoes (inc Black from Tula and Brandywine), 3 types of cucumber (including Crystal Apple), 5 beet, 3 swiss chard, 4 types carrots, turnips, 10 types radishes, 5 types of beans (including Scarlet Runner and Calypso/yin-yang beans), spinach, kale, mustard, 10 types lettuce, chives, cilantro, 3 types of basil, onions, Burgundy okra, milkmaid nasturtiums, and more random things that I may or may not plant. Whew.

What are your plans and goals for the garden? What are you growing?

Shared with:

Homestead Barn Hop
From The Farm Blog Hop13 Heritage Homesteaders Hop #1
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...