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Dehydrating Herbs in Your Own Kitchen

August 22, 2014

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERADehydrating herbs is one of the easiest ways to add to the household budget while on a budget. There are so many options available and even those with limited room available can have a wonderful assortment of fresh herbs as well as plenty of herbs to dry.

For the purposes of the article here, some easy culinary herbs that are useful around the kitchen are also inexpensive to start in a container. A bucket or pot is a wonderful way to contain mint, which can be invasive if left unchecked. People think of mint and most people think of peppermint or spearmint – two of the most popular. When you have your own you also can have chocolate mint, apple, lime, lemon and several other varieties of mint.

Basil is another popular culinary herb. The common basil sells it short as there’s purple ruffles, licorice, lemon and several other varieties to try! Oregano is another popular herb easily grown in the container or a raised bed at the corner of the deck or patio. Rosemary takes some TLC to get established but offers a prolific amount of cut rosemary sprigs. The easiest way to dry herbs is gently rinse them, gently shake the major water off of them and carefully lay them in the dehydrator.

Small herbs that are likely to fall apart you can use fabric to “line” the dehydrator tray. Use caution what part of the dehydrator you put them in so there is good air flow but not too much heat which can “cook” your herbs. Ideally you want them to be dark green when dried. Keep an eye on them and turn them if need be to insure all areas get exposed to dry. Some people use an oven for drying while others use the time honored screens in the yard air drying.

Whichever method you use times can vary depending on temperature, humidity in the air and moisture in the plants themselves. Many also secure them in a paper bag, hanging in an out of the way, well ventilated spot to dry. Whichever method you use keep dust and bugs to a minimum to maintain quality and sanitation of your finished product. Use caution when using strong herbs such as garlic or onion with more aromatic herbs.

When dry the herbs should crumble easily – this allows for crumbling to use in cooking dishes, as a garnish on top and, for some types of herbs in tea balls for home grown, home dried home prepared herbal tea! How to use your dried herbs? Besides as a garnish, flavor enhancer, tea and in a wide range of things from casseroles to breads?

Check into drying herbs whether it’s herbs you buy or that you grow yourself. If you have plenty of rosemary or sage on hand it’s easier to experiment with it, especially knowing with good care there will be more next year and more cuttings this year for some plants! Consider what you’d use more of if you had it. Dehydrating is easy to do and worth the effort for good quality home grown herbs.

Two Dozen Hamburger Based Meal Solutions

August 21, 2014

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHamburger is an American tradition. Most of what we refer to as hamburger is ground beef, not ham, but ground meats in general offer much versatility. Hamburger is so popular that there is a National Hamburger Day designation in July.

What do people love about it? One Twitter respondent said “I love it’s versatility…countless dishes.” Indeed hamburger can be used in dozens of ways including tacos, meatloaf, lasagna, spaghetti, stroganoff, pizza, grilled burgers, a wide range of pasta dishes and “sloppy joes” where it’s mixed with a tomato sauce and served over buns.

Entire cookbooks have been written on using ground beef or hamburger. It’s entirely possible to have 30 days of suppers and not repeat the same meal twice. It’s worth noting also that in many dishes beef is the highlight not the focus, of the dish. The versatility of the meat also makes it easy to use the leftovers.

For example the first day you make meatloaf, and as there’s leftovers that often become science experiments in the refrigerator you want to save money. The next night you have spaghetti, warming the leftover meatloaf into the spaghetti sauce. No more leftovers! The next night you may have grilled bbq burgers, then use any leftovers in stroganoff. Sloppy joes for the next night, followed by homemade pizza using ground beef as one of the toppings. Lasagna is the next day, then a skillet casserole with macaroni and cheese as a base. That’s 8 meals right off without repeating one even if using leftovers!

Here’s some other great ideas and recipes using hamburger:

Beef and Tortilla Casserole

Goulash

Spanish rice

Hamburger steak

Cabbage rolls

Cheesy BBQ Beef & Oven Fries

Beef and zucchini casserole

Beef stuffed Peppers

Hobo Stew

Hamburger rice casserole

Popper beef burgers

Mexicali Pie

Kayne’s Shepherd Pie

Italian burgers

Beef taco bake

Shipwreck casserole

Crock-Pot Enchiladas

This is over 2 dozen ways to use hamburger without getting bored with the same thing. If you used hamburger even three times per week it’s a couple of months covered. These are easy, relatively inexpensive and yet filling meals that make the most of your food dollars.

5 Options for Non-GMO Choices

August 20, 2014

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe furor in the media over GMO food shows no signs of stopping, and with Prop37 in California and other states looking at labels it brings food choices to the ballot box. However, many critics point out that there are, already, non GMO food choices available. Consumers need to embrace them!

For whatever reason you choose to avoid GMO ingredients in your food, here are five easy ways to do so, no matter what happens with label laws.

Research products at places like the NonGMOProject.org – there is a listing of brands that do not use GMO ingredients in production. They list clearly the products that are – and are not – GMO. For example, in the grains section they say clearly “Other than corn, no GM grains are sold on the market. Look for 100 percent wheat flour, pasta, couscous, rice, quinoa, oats, barley, sorghum, and dried beans (except soybeans).” They have a printable or downloadable version that keeps the information at your fingertips in your grocery store.

Buy direct from the farm for the ultimate contact with the person raising your food. When we started SlowMoneyFarm it was with the idea of empowering food choices, and giving customers the ability to know where and how their food was raised. As food issues make the news, there seems an increase in the interest but, equally, a loss of how to do this. Do a search for your area farms, contact the extension service in your area, search on sites like Pick-A-Pepper and SmallFarmCoOp that have been developed to connect customer with farms.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAShop at farmer’s markets. It’s true that some GMO foods – mostly sweet corn – are sold in some farmer’s markets, but you have the advantage of looking at the farmers who grow your food and talking with them directly. Of course, not everyone is honest, but it is more contact and more answers than you are likely to find in your local grocery box store.

Buy organic. Certified organic doesn’t have GMO ingredients, so if your cereal is certified organic you can be assured there is no GMO ingredients in it. If you can’t afford, or don’t necessarily want organic, consider farms that raise heirloom varieties, which have been around for, in some cases, over 100 years.

Grow your own – the ultimate way to know what was done, and you have an incentive to succeed if you depend on the food. This can provide a better appreciation of agriculture from a hands on standpoint, with a new view of pests, weeds, weather and nature.

If everything was stamped “may contain GMO ingredients” tomorrow, you still wouldn’t know for sure if it does or does not have GMO in it. With these options, you can take action to find choices that suit your family.Taking action to buy food choices finances those doing what you like, and that brings change. Without people actually buying nonGMO, there is no market for those options many are growing.

Create Healthy Snacks at Home

August 19, 2014

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASo you bought a food dehydrator and now are wondering how to use it. Ideally it’s one with a thermostat so you can safely regulate temperature for preparing jerky. There are many ways to preserve foods for rehydrating later and another option many don’t think of…snacks.

According to the Convenience Store News in 2006 salty snacks alone made up a $3.7 billion industry and included chips, pretzels, crackers, popcorn and meat snacks. This is opposed to $789 million in sweet snacks which included trail mix, energy bars and other snacks in addition to cookies or candy.

ConAgra purchased Lincoln Snacks in 2007, a $45 million company that produced popcorn based snacks such as Fiddle Faddle and Poppycock. They also own several other snack brands.

Snacking is big business. It’s also something that you can create at home with even more variety and freshness than commercial brands can deliver.

Many people bemoan the abundance of zucchini – but you won’t find those with dehydrators worried about too much! Along with zucchini bread, cookies and dried zucchini for soups, stews and casseroles there’s another use. Slice them and sprinkle on your choice of seasoning – some use a Cajun mix while others prefer bbq. Whatever you choose slice, sprinkle and pop in the dehydrator for zucchini chips. Simply slice about ¼ inch thick and dry to crunchy.

Find a deal on bananas or apples or tomatoes? Slice and dry – snack chips without major processing or additives. Some other possibilities – fruit rollups, fruit slices, even sliced ‘bagel bits’ are all easy to make. Mix with your own homemade popcorn – with or without seasoning – for on the go snacks that watch your wallet without a great effort. The dehydrator works while you carry on your life.

You can even dry real liver for dog and cat treats.

Here’s a few more to get you started:

Honey Sweetened Dehydrated Apples

Homemade Fruit Leather

Hawaiian Jerky

Are you looking for another option for snacks? How about sweet potato chips? Peel and slice 2-3 medium sized sweet potatoes and place on the mesh screen. If desired sprinkle with a little salt and run through at 105-112 for 4-5 hours until desired crispy texture is reached.

Look around for produce that “needs to be used” but is still good – load up the dehydrator and create your own snacks at home!

Grill the Best Beef

August 18, 2014

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOne of the most popular meats for the grill is beef. From burgers to steaks to more challenging cuts beef has been an American favorite for generations. There are some important tips that can help you enjoy your beef even more. The smell of beef cooking announces it’s “what’s for dinner” more than any promotional advertisement!

Handling is an important consideration. Safe handling of beef insures it remains a safe nutritious meal. Keep all surfaces clean and utensils in good condition. Be sure to watch the temperature. While some like their steak “walk across the grill” rare others like it well done. For many medium is a tasty moderation. Cooked until heated through, pink center and yet still juicy. Many grill masters advise searing is the key. This involves high heat to sear the meat, which locks the juices inside, maintaining flavor and tenderness. Once seared it is then turned down for cooking. The grill can handle searing and cooking with equal ability.

Start with the best meat you can get. Truly the best results come from the best meats. Ideally there will be small streaks of fat through the meat if you like “juicy” as the fat is what adds moistness and tenderness. Leaner cuts work great too but adjust your grill to avoid overcooking.

Experiment! Seasonings, marinades, rubs and new techniques make for memorable meals that you just can’t get anywhere else. Baste steaks with sauces. Mix barbeque and steak sauce and mix into ground beef, form thin patties then make stuffed burgers…put a slice of cheese on a burger, another thin burger on top and press together to seal the edges. Some also use ranch dressing or other tastes instead of cheese.

Trying new ways with beef can often yield rewards but don’t overlook simple. Combine some fresh oregano, parsley and basil in oil, brush on the steaks and allow sitting briefly before grilling with pepper strips. Tasty and easy! Serve steaks topped with grilled sweet peppers or basted with garlic butter and steak sauce. Grilled steak strips are also yummy over salads or rice.

Be patient! Medium heat is plenty for grilling beef. Too hot and it gets charred without cooking – lower the heat and cook thoroughly to desired doneness. When it comes to good meats use tongs, not forks. Remember once you sear your cut each time you pierce it there’s a means for drying out your steak as it cooks. Resist the temptation!

The grill is an excellent choice for beef. You can barbecue, sear steaks, grill, bake and smoke with one appliance. This offers an unparalleled grilling experience you just have to try.

Experience grilling beef and the range of tastes possible that bring the flavor of the range to wherever you and your grill are.

10 Easy Thrifty Ways to Save Money – and Afford Food Choices

August 17, 2014

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABeing thrifty is sometimes seen negatively with words such as cheapskate, tightwad or penny pincher. There may be jokes about making Mr. Lincoln go so far he has sore feet. If a business saves $500 in a year it’s not nothing – and saving that or more in your household is definitely something!

To that end look for ways to make those dollars go further. Here are 10 easy ways to make that difference in 2010 and beyond.

1.Consider washing dishes by hand rather than the dishwasher. If this isn’t practical rinse, scrape and clear off the dishes as much as possible, short cycle the dishwasher and open the door to allow air drying rather than heating it up. This might only save 50 cents per day some would say but that adds up to $180 in a year!

2.Learn to do simple home repairs and maintenance yourself. Allow the grass to grow a little longer in the lawn which is healthier for the lawn as well as requiring less time and fuel to mow. This can also save water that in turn makes it grow to mow more!

3.Look for ways to stretch the food budget. Americans throw away an incredible amount of food each year reduce this waste with composting and with making better use of what you have. For example – those 2-3 leaves on the outside of the lettuce head – put in water to crisp up then shred them for tacos or sandwiches. Sauce or soup too salty? Put in a piece of potato for a few minutes – it absorbs the salt. Reuse the potato by mixing in with unsalted potatoes.

4.Do you have a couple blankets that are worn but you don’t want to throw out? Give them new life putting two together and putting some pretty fabric on the outside of the ‘sandwich’. Sew it together and put some pretty trim on it. Fabric can be found at discount tables for $1 per yard or less. This makes an old blanket into a ‘comforter’. You can also cut them up and use the same principle to make lap blankets. If you don’t use them or give as gifts organizations such as USA Cares welcome such things to give to injured soldiers.

5.Remember small things add up. Lose the hair dryer – towel or air dry your hair saves money on power. Turn the oven off, without opening, 5 minutes before a baked item is done. Combine baking day to bake several items at once. Insulate hot water pipes to reduce heat loss.

6.Laundry can be done in cold or warm water and save money on heating water. Today’s detergents work well without hot water. If you have clothes that ‘bleed’ put in wash water for 24 hours with 4 tablespoons of salt per quart of water. Rinse with vinegar water. Some people say colors “stay put” after this treatment.

7.Look for bargains in food. Learn to ‘process’ foods yourself be it freezing or drying. This often doesn’t take a great deal of time. Check for bargain or generic label names which often are no different from name brands. Some are even processed by name brand companies.

8.Look for community health clinics for blood pressure screenings and other health checks. If near a college ask if there are dental, cosmetology or other things done for discounted rates. Some even have auto repair – hands on allows you to save money and the students to learn, but it isn’t likely to be as fast as a business.

9.Comparison shop and buy larger bags/quantities of food. You can divide them yourself and save money. For example, a five pound container of hamburger is often cheaper per pound than the one pound – divide yourself into one pound amounts at home and freeze as normal.

10.Getting ready for a trip or event? Don’t talk about it at the bank or other public place. A thief could follow you home and knows when you’ll be gone.

Saving money adds up with small changes. Saving money – and preventing loss – adds up in time more than you think.

Grilled Pork for Variety

August 16, 2014

pork chops on the grillWhen most people think of grilling it’s steaks, burgers or, in general, beef that comes to mind. However pork is a great way to add some variety to your grilling meals and the grill is just the appliance to help.

Grilled pork chops with just the right seasonings are a tasty way to try something new. You can use premade commercial seasonings or simply salt, pepper and a little garlic powder. Not all pork chops are created equal! Especially if you purchase direct from the farmer or butcher you can get ½ inch chops or one inch chops cut. Thinner chops are sometimes called “breakfast” pork chops and cook quickly. Use caution to not leave the grill – they won’t take long!

There’s also “butterfly” chops and boneless chops. So popular are pork chops over the grill that in Illinois there’s an entire weekend devoted to the pig, featuring what is called the world’s largest pork chop barbecue.

Pork roasts, pork loin and pork steaks are other cuts that can make tasty use of space on the grill. The right grill can also smoke hams or shoulder roasts – something not all grills can do. You can grill the same delicious pork chops right on your patio without leaving home.

Use a rub, brush with a variety of sauces or simply grill with salt and pepper, but savor the ease of preparation. Pork does take some special care. While it is generally advised to rub or brush on then let it set for about a half hour before grilling, it does pay to keep the meat covered and out of extreme heat during that half hour.

Along with this make sure pork is cooked thoroughly. Proper handling of the meat is critical for food safety.

One of the easiest – and tastiest – ways to enjoy barbecue pork is pulled pork sandwiches. Get a Boston butt, allowing about a pound per person. Mix up two tablespoons each brown sugar and paprika, then add a teaspoon each of garlic powder, dry mustard, onion powder, salt and red pepper. Mix thoroughly and rub thoroughly into the meat, covering all surfaces. Let this set and get your grill going. You can make packets of hickory chips, soaked and wrapped in foil, that smoke to add flavor even with a gas grill. Put the meat on the grill, insure you’re at 325 or so and just let it cook slowly for about 4 hours. Using a meat thermometer it’ll cook until the meat is at 195F., at which point the bone will pull free. Let the meat sit for about a half hour and use forks to pull it apart. Some prefer to add a barbecue sauce before serving on sandwiches but this is prime eating.

Put some pork on the grill – for variety and taste!

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