Friday, February 17, 2012

A Few Belated Dishes

Various recent successes.

I whipped up a quick and delicious salsa with grape tomatoes- which I love, though about 1 in 10 is a bomb when you bite it- sour and gross. So: grape tomatoes left whole, diced jalapenos and chunks of orange bell pepper. Onion powder, a handful of fresh cranberries, cilantro, tomato paste, olive oil, brown sugar. Chunky or thin as you like. Its different, colorful, a mix of flavors, and familiar enough.

Made a good "Rancher's Pie" today. Been craving "Shepard's Pie", which originally was done with mutton, but in America now is more common with pot roast or ground beef. I kept the same principle which is to layer mashed potatoes and shredded melted cheese atop a base of beef stew. Mine was slow cooked stew beef shreds and chunks cooked in red zinfindel wine, tomato paste, and a touch of olive oil and ground white pepper, touch of onion powder, little garlic, then cooked atop a bed of no-boil lasagna noodles (Barilla's are excellent), mixed with green beans, kidney beans, corn, peas, fresh organic cauliflower (which has more flavor and is about the same price), then topped with my Patriot Potatoes (red, purple/blue, and yukon gold spuds with butter and a touch of chives and dill), and then shredded cheddar, baked to perfection at 375 for 35 minutes. Not life-changing, but a deluxe version of an old dish. So I named it Rancher's Pie, as a humble shephard would be outclassed. It could use some coffee bean grounds in the slow cooker with the zinfindel. Just a few. Really. And go with what you have and like on vegetables. In summer, I'd have had golden squash and zuccini in there.

My new favorite seasoning blend on fish is to use cajun butter and McCormick citrus rub. The rub has lemon and orange but needs a little more pep. So I use my trusty flavor injector (a syringe the size of a pistol which is always fun to play with and which I got precisely to make use of this butter marinade, which I bought in a quaint gas station that only had bathrooms open to paying customers a few vacations ago when my girl really really needed one. So I bought this for $8 and hated it- until mixing it with the fruity rub. I have used this blend on salmon and halibut, and someday soon, catfish. Three lucky people heartily approved. Teresa said it smelled good- for fish- which is the first word she's ever had to say about fish other than eeeeewwww, and she even ate a bite. Her opinion then was eewww, but with a lot less emphasis and eeees.

As for that dehydrator: I still enjoy it, though it is really a harvest tool. But with a two week vacation coming, I dried a celery stalk, a carrot disced, 6 potatoes of 4 colors (red, purple, yukon gold, and sweet) into natural unflavored chips, some kiwis, green beans, a bell pepper, and more of my already stated samples. The carrots and kiwi stay gummy, but are very flavorful. The kiwi is so sour it makes me wince and I cannot keep my eyes open- so this is another in the file of preserved trail mix foods that are sugared or dyed to make them more appetizing in stores. However, I love them anyway. Its like a sour candy slice. The potatoes dry very crunchy and with a touch of oil while hot and any seasonings, would be better than potato chips. Sweet potatoes dry more slowly, stay softer, are harder to slice thin anyway, but are my favorite. So delicious. Green beans and bell peppers shrivel to very crisp stalks and are almost unrecognizable with little volume. They are not preferred drying foods, though they do for travel, and the flavor is still there, mostly, though a little altered. I have not tested them for re-hydration yet. Potatoes should be blanced in a rolling boil before drying, for around 5 minutes to preserve color. I left their skins on. All of this will make for welcome variety on a trip of 12-14 days I am going on. Some weather means I will have to cut dirt road driving I intended out, thus I will not be doing a few hikes I was excited about, though I will be in Arizona and doing what I like and getting a nice little rest from work and the rut. I put together a wild trail mix of dried raspberries, blueberries, cherries, blackberries, craisins, coconut, papaya, pineapple chunks, banana chips, pecans, almonds, walnuts, kiwi, and seeds along with the typical 10 mile trail mix blend of mine. Also I have a fine product called "Just Tomatoes", a mix of freeze dried peas, corn, carrots, tomatoes, and peppers (bell in the mild and jalapeno in the hot: I mix the two varieties to create a mildly hot) which is great in soups or by the handful and a good way to get vitamins while hiking. I added celery, green bells to the red peppers, and also have mushrooms (white and brown), the green beans, and of course, more of the apple chips from the wind storm harvest which should last through June I think. Add them to 19 cent ramen noodles or $1.79 Ready Rice, with whatever else you like- freshly caught fish, or dried venison, or protein candy crappo bars labeled "Meal Replacement Energy" and that's good eating. I have no idea why anyone would pay $6.00 or more for a calorically similar dried meal that takes no less work and tastes no better once they knew how simple and cheap this was. Yes there is the cost of the $70 dehydrator to work off, but I should "turn a profit" (if a penny saved is a penny earned) if my dehydrator, the Nesco American Harvest, lasts more than one year. And that is not accounting my alternative meals at $6.00 per serving, which as an avid hiker, I have never paid. I'd rather starve for two days, and I used to just eat cereal and fresh fruit.

I have no reason to think my American Harvest will not last at least a year -except that after letting my friend and roomate know he could make "SOME" banana chips if he liked, the next day 21 pounds of bananas were on our floor. After a disturbing 7 day binge, 21 more pounds of bananas were on the floor with the promise: "I will make these ones last." 10 days later he asked me to dig out my dehydrator which I had hidden to make "a few more" banana chips before I was out of town. He then, after securing the machine, came in with "a few" bananas. I said it looked more like 50 pounds. He said it was actually only 42 pounds. If you are wondering, that is about 100 bananas. Which is close to 2,500 grams of sugar (though he still in the same sentence tells me fruit has no sugar because it is full of fructose and badmouths high FRUCTOSE corn syrup, and also says I should stop eating sugar and sweeten things naturally with honey- which is a liquid form of sugar.) As I will have to pay to replace the machine should it break, I told him I was putting it away. So he called his sister to borrow hers which has a 10 year warranty. Mine comes with a 1 year, and I have no reason to suspect the product of defect, but I also cannot anticipate that the motor will run forever. I am quite happy with it and still give it a glowing recommendation. I will try after this spring to only use it with local vegetables. I stored what I could this fall, and finally had to buy non-local potatoes the first week of February after my stash was exhausted. Kiwis of course are never in-season or local, but I only dried 3 of them. And we all have to eat something. If I had an acre I would only eat what I grew, but until then, if I want to eat 3-5 kiwis per year, I'll allow it.

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