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!

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Monday, March 3, 2014

Freezing Frozen Foods, 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.

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