Tools for Making Spices

The main thing for spices is dehydrating.  There are many ways to make spices, including freeze drying, dehydrating, or even freezing to use as fresh as possible at a later date.  I’ve gone through the dehydrating process.  There are a few ways you can dehydrate food.  You can use your oven as a dehydrator, you can build an outdoor dehydrator or sun dry your herbs and spices, and you can use a plain old dehydrator.

How to Choose Your Tools

First of all, you have to decide if dehydrating your own things is your niche.  It is a slow process, and it does take patience.  Frankly, it can take a lot of money if you really start getting into it.  This is why I didn’t start off with the freeze drying method, as that does take a lot of money, even for the cheaper route.  So, how do you decide if dehydrating your own herbs and spices is your thing?  Well, you try it, of course.

Now, don’t just go out and buy a dehydrator, or invest in a bunch of things that are going to clutter up your home and yard, to make an outside dehydrator that you may never use.  There are two cheap and easy ways to figure out if this is your thing.  The best way is if you know someone who has a dehydrator that you can borrow.  Please, if you are using someone else’s equipment, get some information from them on how to use it, so you don’t wreck it.  Also, keep track of all of the parts, so you can return it when you are done.

Decide what you want to dehydrate first.  I chose fruits to start with.  Something as easy as lemons to slice to add into your sun tea when you brew it, can be easy, fun, and, most importantly, yummy!  You slice it up, lay it on the trays, place the top on, plug it in, turn it on, and walk away.  Of course, you will need to check on it periodically.  Also, you will need to make sure that you shuffle the trays so that the air and heat are being distributed evenly so that it is all done together.  Then, soon enough, you have dried lemon slices.

What if I Don’t Have Access to a Dehydrator?

Well, not all of us know people with a dehydrator.  However, luck should have it, that if you own an oven, you have a tool that you can use already.  Once you have your recipe, all you need to do is set your oven up, place your fruit on a wax or parchment paper lined cookie sheet and place it in the oven.  And that should be that, right?

Not quite.  I learned, while trying this out myself, that you need to have your oven door cracked open so that the air can flow through.  I also learned that not all ovens are created equal.  Meaning, you can’t just set the temp and walk away like you can with a dehydrator.  I actually spent quite a bit of time playing around, finding the correct temperature.  I arranged my oven racks so that I could hang my candy thermometer inside the oven in the middle of the oven to get the temperature.  I set the temperature to the approximate 135, or where I thought it should be anyhow.  Then I allowed it ample time to adjust.  I allowed it anywhere from 30 to 45 minutes, because I really couldn’t get it through my family’s heads to stop shutting the oven door.

Once I finally got it to the correct temperature, I started putting things in.  The difference here is that you have to come back periodically to manually move your fruits and vegetables around so that all sides get the proper air flow and heat to them so they don’t burn or spoil.  Don’t get discouraged if you burn it the first few tries.  I burnt it a few times myself.  This takes a lot of time and patience, however, when you are done, it looks so pretty!!!  And they taste wonderful.

So, take some time to try it out, and leave me a comment below to tell me how your experience went and what you thought of your product afterwards.

Back to Scratch – Pantry Assesment

Hello everyone!  So, last week we discussed going back to scratch.  Changing what we are used to eating with pre-processed food.  However, before you go all out, let’s break it down a bit further.  This way you know what you can handle in your diet and what you cannot.

In Intro to Back to Scratch we discussed a few points in “Determine What You Want” section.  the first point was:

Figure out what you want to change in your pantry.  Start by taking a look at what you have.  With your inventory lists, you may not even have to open your cupboards.  Look at what is on your ingredient labels, and if you don’t know what it is, you may want to think that through.  Find out what you’re willing to live with, and what you want to change

The point to this is to actually look at the ingredients.  To clarify, I’m not saying count your calories and all that.  Frankly, I don’t feel this works well for us generally.  Yes, it works for some, but it isn’t going to work for all.  And the point of back to scratch is to eliminate as much of the pre-processed chemicals they put in our food to preserve it, which actually can make us sick.

Something I’ve heard often is that it is too hard to do.  Some of the things you may be doing through this series do seem difficult.  However, the largest problem we end up having is where to start and how to do it.  Or, even if you want to do it or not.  You may wonder how much money it will cost, and why it is different from what you buy at the store.

Where To Startcabinet-334128_1920

Pick a place in your kitchen pantry.  Pick up a package and look at the ingredients.  If you look at the bag of all-purpose flour you bought the other day, you will see it is bleached.  If you take a close look at the ingredients in something as simple as paprika or garlic powder, you’ll see the anti-caking agents as well as preservatives.  Or, have you ever really looked what is in your canning salt?

These are all things you would use in cooking from scratch.  Here, I feel is the least overwhelming part to look at.  These are your basics.  It is where you reach first when you are cooking, unless you just cook straight from a box, and even then, you may add some garlic powder and chopped onions to your burger for your hamburger helper.

What Are Spices?

Spices are fruits and vegetables that are dehydrated or freeze-dried, then mixed to flavor and packaged to sell.  However, there is a little more to it.  You don’t want your powders to cake up and get stuck in the bottle.  Also, vendors want their products to last from making, to shipping, to the shelf and then to your home.  So, preservatives are necessary.

If you were making your own, or purchasing from a farmers market, you would notice they do expire earlier than a store-bought spice.  However, you are not flooded with everything else that is put in to preserve from the store.  Sometimes even those organic or all natural brands do hide ingredients that they use to preserve it.  So, you really need to check all your products out when you are looking.

It may seem like a lot, however, checking out what you’re putting into your bodies, is important.  Especially when you are finding that you or your family is having bad reactions to foods, some skin reactions are from foods as well.  Or even food allergies.  Back in the days of the bible, you didn’t hear about all these allergies, however, back then, they made these things by hand.  You used them up, or you lost them.  They didn’t over stock their cupboards so they had plenty if they wanted a midnight snack.

How Much Is Too Much?

After you’ve looked at what you have in your spices or flour, or whatever you are using to cook, you need to make a decision from here.  Probably the easiest way to look at this is to look at flour.  It says right on the front of the package if it is bleached or unbleached.  Okay, if you pick up a bottle of bleach, you aren’t going to add it into your meat to make it look cleaner, so why would you do it with flour?

Then we look at the prices.  At Meijer, you can look at the all-purpose flour.  They have bleached and unbleached, and they have it in the store brand.  They happen to be the same price and size.  So, really, there is no need to worry about the price in this circumstance.  That isn’t always the case, unfortunately.

If you look at spices, some of the things you will need are fresh fruits and vegetables, salt of preference, and arrow-root powder, or something like it to help with caking.  Or you can decide to go with just the fruits and vegetables.  This will be more expensive than going out and just buying the paprika on the shelf already made.  Then when you add in the time it takes, to dry everything out, grind it down, and mix it up…well, some people don’t want to wait that long.

The bonus end to doing this yourself is that you know what is in it, and it makes that secret ingredient all the better.  You can mix it to your own taste, and it will be a bit different from what you get off the shelf.  You will most likely LOVE your own blend much better.  Also, when you do this, you’re often buying these in bulk.  You will end up with a larger supply to work with, as well as fresh fruits and vegetables to cook with while you’re making these.

What About the Cost of Tools?

Contrary to popular belief, you do not have to go out and buy a bunch of things to start making your own spices.  Most people have an oven and a blender now a days.  However, next week I’ll go over what I have learned from different options, and you may find yourself loving what you’re making.

Homework

Take a look in your cupboards.  Look at the ingredients of what you are currently eating.  Make a decision of if you want to start this path, and if so, where you want to start.  Start small, don’t bite off more than you can chew, or you won’t follow through with it.  Remind yourself not to get over whelmed, and that right now, you’re just looking and making a decision.  You aren’t jumping in head first.  Leave me some comments below, if you’ve tried homemade spices or some of the things you notice on the ingredient label.

Take a

 

Intro To Back To Scratch

Back To Scratch

Why would you want to spend all your time slaving away over a stove and oven and the rest of your kitchen appliances, unless, of course, it is your passion.  But, then again, with all these appliances, are you really doing that if you start cooking from scratch?  And, if you start cooking from scratch, how much money is it going to cost you to revamp your pantry just to accommodate this new style into your kitchen?

What if I told you, it doesn’t have to be that hard.  It can be easy-going, and while, yes, there is some added work, you will be possibly healthier and more satisfied with what is going into yours and your family’s body?  Cooking from scratch can be that easy.  However, just like a diet, if you jump into it, you won’t stick with it.  Too much change, a shock and overwhelming your mind and body often causes us to reject these kind of changes.

I don’t want to call this series anything natural, because I’m not talking about cutting out many of the things that are considered not natural at the moment.  Don’t get me wrong, I’ve tried, am trying, and have studied up on the natural thing.  However, the way I look at it is a bit different.

Unfortunately, with what we’ve done to the earth, going back to natural is impossible.  We can look at some of our current recalls to see this.  There is currently a recall on frozen vegetables, and if you take the time to look at the list…I was floored.  The organic list was quite up there, and right along with the non organic.  But why?

We’ve grown so big, and demand is so high, that we work quickly to fatten things up, and grow what we can as fast as we can.  We’ve polluted the earth, so that even the rain has nasty stuff in it that can cause harm.  There isn’t enough room to have large populations of cattle and the like, so they can be grass-fed like they should be.  And even if there was room, we wouldn’t be able to make enough, fast enough, to feed the country.

It doesn’t mean we can’t try.  It doesn’t mean that we cannot cut out these chemicals and other genetically altered things.  We CAN eat REAL food again.  We just need to figure out the way to do it.  So, to start, let’s break it down in to easier to chew bites.kitchen-scale-532651_1920

Determine what you want

  1. Figure out what you want to change in your pantry.  Start by taking a look at what you have.  With your inventory lists, you may not even have to open your cupboards.  Look at what is on your ingredient labels, and if you don’t know what it is, you may want to think that through.  Find out what you’re willing to live with, and what you want to change.
  2. Look at the things you need to help you along.  Figure out what you need, and what you can work around.  For example, a dehydrator is a wonderful thing to have, but do you really need to go out and buy one?  Fact is that you can make a dehydrator right from your oven.  It may take some thought, but it does take less money.  Also, when you’re starting this off, going out and buying the machine may not make sense if you are just not finding yourself liking it.  If this method doesn’t work for you, then there is not a reason you should dump money into it if you aren’t going to use it.
  3. Start asking around for recipes.  Not just on the internet.  Our best resources for this is actually not much farther than our families.  My grandma makes me freezer jam every year for my birthday.  I absolutely love it.  But she doesn’t sit there and do it within the week of my birthday.  She makes large batches, freezes it, and gives it out to all of us for gifts, as well as uses it.  I have asked for her recipe, and she’s already given it to me.  She loves sharing her recipes with her family.  They are wonderful things to pass down from generation to generation.  We just have to give them the time and opportunity to do so.
  4. Know the different things you can do to preserve your food, and know what your body can and cannot handle.  The point of stepping away from pre-processed food and doing this from scratch is to get into a healthier lifestyle.  If you’re using a preservative that makes you sick, then there isn’t a point in doing it.

Through the next few weeks I’m going to conquer each of the numbers above in detail, and work on my own recipes here at home.  There are so many different things that you could do, that sometimes getting started is the hardest part.

The inspiration for this series comes from my stepfather, among other things.  He has a problem with salts and preservatives.  It makes him very sick, so my mother has been re-assessing his situation.  It took them a bit to nail down what was causing him to get ill, exactly.  So, their journey in this is just barely beginning.  However, they won’t have to do it alone, and neither will you.cooking-1271605_1920

Leave me a comment below to share some things you have noticed about our food.  If you have ideas, feel free to share as well.

Burritos

Something we do at my house, is buy meat when it is on sale, and get it in larger quantities to save a few bucks.  Now a days meat and fresh produce are so expensive.  So, why don’t we eat healthy?  Most of us have a hard time not buying the preprocessed food, because it is so much more expensive.  Who would have thought that a small salad would cost more than a few boxes of pasta sides?  Let alone all the other things that our bodies need.  So, to solve this issue, this is why we shop at multiple stores, and keep an eye out for sales on the meat cuts that we prefer.  We also will drive all the way to Grand Rapids about once a month to stock up at our favorite store over there as well.

In the mean time, this touches a bit on the Back To Scratch that I’ll get into once I’m done cleaning out the store-bought things out of my cupboards.  We eat a lot of Mexican food here at my house.  But every once in a while, you just want a burrito.  A plain burrito, without all the hassle.  I happened to buy some burgher on sale at Meijer the other day, and it needed to be sorted out, and cooked up.  One of the three, 3 lbs. packages we got, went into making burritos.

Similar to the microwave burritos you can buy in packages and keep in your freezer  However, these don’t have quite as much false flavor and preservatives.  I say quite as much, because I didn’t make the beans myself since I’d had a few cans in my cupboard, along with some diced green chiles.

I made two separate batches.  One for my children, or general that you can add salsa and the like later, and one a bit spicier.  The spicier batch was 1 lbs. of ground beef.  But, first, I warmed up about 2 Tbsp. oil in my pan, and tossed in about a third of a medium-sized onion, diced.  Fry your onions, over medium heat, until they are lightly browned. Then add in your burger and add in any other spices to your flavor.  For this batch I put in 1 Tbsp. Garlic Powder, 1 tsp. Salt, 2 Tbsp. Paprika, and a 4 oz. can of the spicier diced chiles (diced green jalapeños).

Spicy Burrito Filling
Spicy Burrito Filling

Continue to fry this on medium heat, until it is all browned and mixed well.  Then add, straight to the pan, a 15 oz. can of refried beans and your second 4 oz. can of diced chiles.  When you add these chiles, try to be sure you have drained them well.  However, if there is a bit too much water in it, that is fine, as you can simmer out the more liquid part.  It just cooks a bit longer.

Once all these are added, and mixed in until the beans are smoothly mixed in and warm with the meat, you are ready to wrap and serve.  I made such a large batch, and I used larger flour tortilla shells, so that I could make a larger burrito.  Wrap them up and serve, or after wrapping them, allow them to cool.  Bag them, and toss them in the freezer, so that you can heat them as you go.

Home made frozen burritos
Home made frozen burritos

The larger the burrito you make, the longer it takes to cook in the microwave when you go to reheat them.  I reheated some today, after they were frozen solid, and it took 6 minutes in the microwave to heat two, which I divided in half to give to myself and my three little buggies.

Happy cooking, and leave me a comment below to let me know how the recipe worked out for you.

Salsa

Salsa is something I’ve made for a few years now.  When I first learned it, it was from a wonderful friend that I currently no longer have contact with.  She, actually, taught me how to cook and how to enjoy it.  Although she cooked for an army on a daily basis, as at least half of her family ate at her house daily.

Salsa can be made with a multitude of different produce items.  I’ve had a lot of people ask me how to make my salsa.  It is difficult to do without actually showing most people, but once explained it is about taste, it makes the lack of measurements easier.

So, for all of you who are curious about salsa, this one is for you.

Ingredients:

  • 4 Roma Tomatoes
  • 1 Tooth of Garlic
  • 1 Small Onion
  • 2 Jalapeños
  • 2-3 Tbsp. Cilantro
  • 1 Tbsp. of Salt

Directions:

  1. In a sauce pan, put your jalapeños and tomatoes in some water, and boil until they are soft, and remove from heat.  You can tell because the skin starts to wrinkle.
  2. Carefully remove the jalapeños and tomatoes from the and put them into your blender, with the tomatoes at the bottom.
  3. Add the onion, garlic, cilantro, and salt to the blender, and blend until it has liquefied.  Add a small amount of water from the sauce pot (about 2 Tbsp.), to help liquefy.
  4. Place in a bowl and serve hot, or let it cool off and serve it cold.Salsa

Salsa is a very versatile thing.  You can change it according to your tastes.  This is just a basic to start out with.  You can always add chunks, change or add more peppers, and you can always change the tomatoes for different tomatoes, or make green salsa with tomatillos.  No matter how you do it, how you serve it, or how you eat it, there is always someone out there with a different idea or a different taste.

Some cannot have a lot of spice, so they may leave the peppers out or opt for sweet peppers.  I’ve used that option for my buggies, because they love salsa, but they cannot eat it as spicy as daddy does.  Another thing I do for them, is keep the jalapeños in them, but I strip the veins and seeds out before I add them to the pot to boil.

Warning!!!  Whenever you are working with hot peppers, even just cutting them.  The veins and seeds on the inside of the pepper are very hot.  Without washing your hands, you DO NOT want to touch your face, eyes, mouth, or even get this in the vicinity of any area that could burn.  So, that itch under your nose, in the middle of cutting hot peppers….just don’t do it.  After I am finished cutting, or if I have to stop to attend to a buggy, I wash my hands with lime and salt to help take the burn away from my hands, before I touch the little ones especially. I’ve even cut peppers that are so hot, they literally burn your hands.

So, go forth and make salsa!!!  And tell me what you came up with!

Cleaning Out Start

Today I’m starting a cleaning out series before I start one of my favorite subjects.  Back to scratch.

So, I’ve cleaned out, had holiday meals, then inventoried again to see what all I have.  The first thing you are going to want to do after all this, is to see what is going to go to waste if you don ‘t use it.

I had some turkey lunchmeat that  had to be used before it went bad.  So, here is my lunch roll recipe.

Ingredients:

  • 2 Tbsp. Oil + Oil to fry
  • 2 Tbsp. chopped onions
  • 2 Lbs. Turkey Lunch meat
  • Dash of Cinnamon
  • 2 tsp. Garlic Powder
  • 1 tsp. Oregano
  • 3 Lg. Radishes
  • 20 Baby Carrots
  • 2 cups Mozzarella Cheese
  • Egg Roll Wrappers
  • Water

Instructions:

  1. Heat up the two Tbsp. oil in your frying pan, then add the onions and cook until they are see-through.
  2. Add in your lunchmeat and top with cinnamon, garlic powder, and oregano, and fry together, and mix well, and cook until heated.
  3. In a mixing bowl, shred your radishes and carrots into the bowl.
  4. Add in your cooked meat mixture
  5. Top with cheese and stir.
  6. Place about 2 Tbsp. of mix on the wrapper, and fold bottom corner up.  Then fold in the sides, and roll up to the top.  Seal with water.IMG_20160411_174939IMG_20160411_175024
  7. Once you have them all rolled, fry them in your frying pan, and set them on a paper towel to cool and allow the oil to drip off.IMG_20160411_175100IMG_20160411_182500
  8. Plate, and put a dipping sauce on the plate.  I used a veggie dip.
  9. Serve and enjoy!IMG_20160411_182512

Leave me a comment below to let me know how you like them.  Around here they loved them.