Thursday, July 25, 2013

Making Dehydrator Jams for Anyone

I have been getting back to using my dehydrator lately. I used it nearly daily when I was on the RAW food diet a few years back, and it was fun to find how many wonderfully tasty foods could be made this way. Not that one must be on a raw diet to benefit from a good dehydrator, as the subject of this blog will go to show.

Strawberry Dehydrator Jam,with cinnamon and cardamom
My last blog was about my Champagne Pink Currant Dehydrator Jam, and how it turned out so tart. This is not the case with regular sweet fruits. I had made Strawberry Dehydrator Jam in the past, and it was completely, deliciously sweet and fresh-fruity. I love strawberry jam, though I am not crazy about fresh strawberries. I am sure I have a lot of people wondering what is wrong with me, right now. 'What? How could you not love strawberries?!" I get that a lot, but it's true. I like the fresh flavor of this jam, or the juices mixed with cream on a strawberry shortcake - but not the berries. Oh well. But raspberries, I love. Just about any way at all. I love them fresh, as jam, as a sauce. I have even eaten them fresh with chunks of Gorgonzola cheese. I had never tried making them into dehydrator jam. Yesterday I did.

Making Dehydrator Jams

It is really extremely simple to make dehydrator jam. You need to start early in the day, to give it enough time to get thick, and it is helpful to be available to stir it every couple of hours or so, to expose the more wet parts underneath. As far as "work" goes, there really isn't any to speak of. I have added in some spices to the strawberry jam that make it a bit exotic, but if you aren't ready for the spices, they can certainly be left out.

In essence, you will need approximately a pound of fruit per cup of finished jam. This is just a rough estimate. It will depend on how long it is dried, for starters. Yesterday I used 1 pound of strawberries for the strawberry jam which yielded about 1¼ cups. I had a 12 ounce package of beautiful fresh raspberries for the raspberry jam, yielding 1 cup exactly.

How To

I cleaned the fruit and hulled the strawberries. Since I use my food processor, I cut the fruit into like-sized chunks to process evenly. Even this is not necessary; a potato masher would work just as well to crush the fruit. To the pound of strawberries I added 1/2 cup of honey. The honey could be replaced with stevia or other sweetener of choice. Originally I was making this for a RAW diet, and honey just tasted good in this jam. I could have used Agave Syrup also.

To the crushed strawberries and honey I added freshly grated orange zest from one orange, a half-inch chunk of true cinnamon, crushed and between 1/4  - 1/2 teaspoon of crushed green cardamom seeds. I used my mortar and pestle to grind the cinnamon and cardamom. A pinch of salt is the only other ingredient. Mix and place into a wide, low container that will give a large surface area. This will speed the drying process. All of this presupposes that one owns a good dehydrator with various shelves, allowing for the use of such a large container. I own an Excalibur dehydrator with something like 9 shelves, so it is easy to remove most of them and set in the containers of fruit. Yesterday I made both strawberry and raspberry jams, so halfway up I had one extra shelf so they were nicely separated and had plenty of ventilation.
Raspberry Dehydrator Jam,with crystallized ginger

For my raspberry jam I used the 12 ounces of raspberries, crushed with 1/3 cup of honey and a teaspoon of crystallized ginger, minced fine. Some or all the seeds may be strained out if they are a bother. I left all the seeds in, but realize that once removing seeds, the total finished volume will be less.

Once the fruit mixtures are in their containers and in the dehydrator at about 110 - 115 degrees, they should be stirred every couple of hours or so, in order to help with even drying. The tops will get quite dry and sticky, where underneath it is still very liquid. In all, it took 8 - 9 hours for the raspberry jam to get to a good consistency, and the strawberry was not done for about 5 hours more.

Using the Jam, RAW Diet or not

Obviously, when I was on the RAW food diet, bread was not on the menu. Not regular yeast bread, anyway. I made some little flat unleavened "breads", more like soft crackers. Still, the jam was a really great addition to the diet. Another way it could be used on a RAW diet is as a sauce over RAW Ice Cream. I have made a couple of raw ice creams lately and they are really marvelous.

Currently, however, I am not following a RAW diet, and this morning I had two pieces of toasted No-Knead Bread, one with some of the Strawberry Dehydrator Jam and one with some Raspberry Dehydrator Jam. Just for kicks I also had a couple strips of bacon (photo at right). Yum! Just because the jam is made raw, does not preclude using it on any diet. It is just a little healthier jam than most, and flexible enough to make using alternate sweeteners so it could be used on most dietary regimens. The jams are naturally gluten-free and dairy free. They are vegetarian and without using honey to sweeten, can be vegan also.

I hope some of you may try these. Having a really good dehydrator does help, of course. My next trials will be with peaches or blueberries. 

My passion is teaching people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and passing along my love and joy of food, both simple or exotic, plain or fancy. I continue my journey in ethnic and domestic cuisines, trying new things weekly. I would love to hear from you, to help me continue my journey to explore diverse culinary experiences and hopefully to start you on a journey of your own. Join me also at A Harmony of Flavors on Facebook, and Pinterest.  

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Experiments with Currants; Good and Bad

'Champagne Pink' Currants
I guess one never really knows how a thing will turn out. Even basing one recipe on another that was a success does not guarantee perfection. So here's what happened. A friend asked me to come with her to an older gentleman's house to pick vegetables from his wonderful garden. Turns out, he loves the planting and care of the garden, which is  huge, but is not as interested in trying to eat all that produce. The garden is a veritable paradise; everything laid out in perfect rows, or caged to grow upwards. Everything perfectly weeded. Neat and tidy and just bursting at the seams with great produce. Aside from just vegetables, there are fruit trees and other wonderful bushes, like the "Champagne Pink" Currants.

My friend raved about the currants, and how pretty they are and how good to eat, but she said she didn't have the time to devote to picking the little things. So, when we arrived, I took it upon myself to pick currants. They are so pretty it almost hurts. They look like little pearls; palest pink. They hang on the plant like little strands of pearls, too. Just the prettiest sight ever. I spent the entire time there picking these little gems, ending up with 3½ pounds of them.
'Champagne Pink' Currant Dehydrator Jam
Okay, so what to do with them? I have made jams and jellies in past. I have also made freezer jam with Sure Jell, and made dehydrator jam when I was on a RAW food diet. Since it is wise to watch the sugar intake, I decided to take the route of making dehydrator jam. I hadn't used the dehydrator in some time, so I dusted it off and got to work. I cleaned all those tiny fruits, and in batches I whirled them in the food processor. Unfortunately the seeds are large, for such tiny fruit, and quite a distraction, so I decided to pass them through a strainer. I added in some honey for sweetness, since the fruit is tart, with the belief (wrongly) that once the fruit dehydrated down, the honey sweetness would become more apparent. Long and short, I ended up with 6 cups of puree with honey. I divided it up between two old Tupperware marinating containers; low and flat. I set them in the dehydrator at 5 PM, and let it run through the night. I pulled the containers out to stir them at 10 PM, and then again at 5 AM. They were still a little too runny at 5 AM, so I left them until about 8. I ended up with a grand total of 2½ cups worth.

'Champagne Pink' Currant-ade
I tasted my wonderful pink jam. OMG. It was so mouth-puckeringly tart. No way would most people use this. And then I thought what a terrible waste of so much work picking all that fruit, to end up with a jam that was inedible. Well, not totally, because I like it okay. But it is really tart. So, how could I use it? The first thought was that since it was a very tart medium with only a little sweetness, it might make a lemonade type drink. This was a wonderful bit of serendipity. It did taste quite like a lemonade in its tartness. I used 3 tablespoons of the jam in a 12 ounce glass of water. It had a lot of pulp that wanted to settle, but it was wonderful and refreshing.

My next thought was to make some kind of ice cream like dessert. I made a RAW Cashew Currant "Ice Cream", in quotes because it used no cream or dairy. I had soaked the cashews ahead and put them in the food processor with ½ cup of the currant jam and more honey. I added a little vanilla and ginger and processed the mixture till fine and chilled it. I put it into my old DAK Gelatissimo and oh, it was good.  Okay, 2 for 2.
Cashew Currant Ice Cream

That night I made pork chops. I have often made pork chops by setting them in a cold fry pan and heating up to medium high. I season the top with salt and pepper and once browned underneath, flip them over and season that side, adding in chopped garlic, either rosemary or sage and some Marion blackberry jam. The pork chops are just divine this way. So on the basis of that idea, I made my pork chops and used 1 tablespoon of my dehydrator currant jam on each pork chop, with sage as the herb of choice. The pork chops were just wonderful. The fruity flavor came through brightly. The whole combination was just perfect. So far that is all I have done with my too tart Champagne Pink Currant Dehydrator Jam. My next thought is to try making a frozen granita. I will see where that takes me.

My passion is teaching people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and passing along my love and joy of food, both simple or exotic, plain or fancy. I continue my journey in ethnic and domestic cuisines, trying new things weekly. I would love to hear from you, to help me continue my journey to explore diverse culinary experiences and hopefully to start you on a journey of your own. Join me also at A Harmony of Flavors on Facebook, and Pinterest

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

A Wedding Cake, Birthday Cake and other great food

The Wedding Cake
Hello again. Just me, the stranger. I have so many intentions to get back into the swing and write blog posts more often and somehow it just doesn't happen.

Aside from still unpacking things in the new house, I had a wedding cake to make for July 6th. My niece -in-law got married in a small town here. Their cake was a dummy of Styrofoam, except for the tiny top tier, but the cake was immense and I nearly gave up with trying to get the fondant onto the largest tier, at 24 inches square! I am not a large bakery with huge equipment for rolling fondant. As it was, there was only one doorway wide enough to get the finished cake, on its board, out of our house. I am glad it occurred to me to measure before decorating! The only door it could be taken through was the front door, so trying to decorate in the kitchen would have been tragic, with no way to get it out of that room. That said, I still had to do the rolling of fondant in the kitchen and then cart it to the dining room to put in place. This made that huge tier even more difficult to finalize.

Birthday Cake
After two attempts to carry the fondant in one piece - all 12 pounds of it - with it oozing down, tearing and breaking, I nearly gave up, in tears. I thought to try it out in 4 separate quarters, and this did finally work out, but just barely. The places where the fondant joined curled as they dried and separated a bit. I put scroll work over that part and carried on. After that huge tier, the others, even the next one at 17 inches, were a breeze.

We got the cake out to the car with no mishaps, despite Mercury being retrograde, and up to the hall and in place the day before, minus the top tier. It was in the 90s here and the hall had no air conditioning! I decided it would be best not to put the real cake in that heat until it had to be.
The wedding was just beautiful, the bride and groom just gorgeous. The bride's dress was so very pretty and unlike any I had seen. The heat was the one unfortunate factor, though it didn't ruin anyone's day. And the following day, with all my cake decorating equipment still all over the place, I made a birthday cake for a dear friend here. After that mammoth cake, this simple, round, 8-inch cake was so simple as to be laughable. It did turn out as I wanted, and she was happy, so all is well. And now, for the first time in two months, all the cake stuff is put away, out of sight. Whew!

I have been sort of gradually getting back into making new recipes. Recently I made some cookies that were just so tasty. They were Cinnamon Apple Oatmeal Cookies. They could probably use a little tweaking of the recipe, but they were absolutely delicious, cinnamon-y and chewy. I got some zucchini at the local Farmer's Market with the intention of making Zucchini Lasagna. I've made it many times before, but never written down my recipe.

Zucchini Lasagna

Zucchini Lasagna
Zucchini Lasagna

Makes one 9 x 13-inch pan; 8 servings
Per serving: 425 calories, 13 carbs, 1 g. fiber

15 ounces part skim ricotta
¼ cup fresh oregano leaves, finely chopped (or 1 teaspoon dried)
¼ cup fresh basil, finely chopped (or 1 teaspoon dried)

1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1½ ounces freshly grated Parmesan, divided
2 (12 ounce) jars roasted red bell pepper, drained & pureed
2 cups spaghetti sauce
1 teaspoon cornstarch
2 teaspoons olive oil
1 pound lean hamburger
1 medium onion, chopped, about 1½ cups
1 bell pepper, chopped, about 1 - 1½ cups
2 - 3 cloves garlic, minced
½ teaspoon dried oregano
½ teaspoon dried basil
1 teaspoon salt
1 can (13.25 ounces) mushroom stems and pieces, drained
8 ounces part skim mozzarella, shredded
2 - 4 small to medium zucchini

In a medium bowl, combine the first 5 ingredients and half the grated Parmesan; set aside. Drain the roasted red peppers well and place in a food processor or blender to puree; they need not be completely smooth. This will make about 2 cups. Add 2 cups of the spaghetti sauce to the pureed peppers along with the cornstarch and stir to combine; set aside.

Making Zucchini Lasagna

Heat the olive oil in a large skillet and fry the hamburger meat until well browned. Add the onion and sauté together for 5 to 7 minutes. Add in the green pepper, garlic, dried herbs and salt and sauté another 5 minutes. Add in the mushrooms and the reserved red pepper and spaghetti sauce mixture and heat through; set aside off the heat. Preheat oven to 375 (350 on convection).

Using a mandolin slicer set to less than 1/8-inch thickness, slice the zucchini lengthwise to create an approximation of lasagna noodles. Spray a 9 x 13-inch oven-safe pan with cooking spray and layer zucchini slices in a single layer in bottom of pan. Top the zucchini with half the reserved ricotta mixture, spreading gently. Top this with a third of the meat sauce. Layer on half the shredded mozzarella. Repeat this process: zucchini slices, ricotta mixture, meat sauce and mozzarella. Top with one more layer of zucchini slices and the remaining meat sauce and sprinkle the reserved grated Parmesan over top.

Bake the lasagna for about 40 to 50 minutes, until it is bubbling and the zucchini slices are cooked through (test with a knife). Remove from oven and allow to stand for at least 20 minutes before cutting and serving.

NOTES: This recipe can be made without meat and become a vegetarian dish, if desired. Instead of frying the meat, sauté the onions and green pepper together, add the garlic toward the end. Add in the mushrooms if desired and then the red pepper/spaghetti sauce mixture and heat through.

Cinnamon Apple Oatmeal Cookies

Cinnamon Apple Oatmeal Cookies
Cinnamon Apple Oatmeal Cookies
Makes about 6 dozen 3-inch cookies

2 sticks unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup white sugar
1 cup light brown sugar
½ teaspoon butterscotch flavoring
1½ teaspoons vanilla extract
2 eggs
2 cups flour
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon baking soda
1½ teaspoons baking powder
1 fresh apple, peeled, grated, rough chopped (about 1 cup)
1 cup walnuts, roughly chopped or broken
1 cup Cinnamon Sweet Bits (King Arthur Flour website)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees (if using convection, set temperature to 325).
In a stand mixer cream together the butter and the sugars. Add in the flavorings (if butterscotch flavor is not available, use all vanilla) and the eggs and mix well. It is easy to prepare the apple if it is peeled, then grated on a large holed grater. Using a large knife, roughly chop across the long grated strands to break them up. Add the apples to the mixer bowl and beat to combine. Whisk to ether the flour, salt, soda and baking powder and all to the bowl on low speed to just moisten, then higher speed to combine. Add in the walnuts and Cinnamon Sweet Bits and mix to combine.

Drop dough onto lightly greased cookie sheets using either two small spoons or a cookie scoop, placing them about 2-inches apart. Bake the cookies for approximately 12 minutes, until puffed and brown around the edges. Allow the cookies to remain on the pans for 2 minutes before removing to a rack to cool completely.

NOTES: The King Arthur Flour website carries Cinnamon Sweet Bits. I love adding them to scones as they give a wonderful burst of cinnamon flavor. With that in mind, I thought they would also be fabulous in cookies. Cinnamon mini-chips would also work well in these cookies, but the pure flavor in the little bites is hard to duplicate.

Peach Crisp with Coconut Almond Ice Cream


Yesterday was my dear sister-in-law's birthday. She loves peaches, and requested Peach Crisp as her dessert rather than cake. I decided to try an ice cream, based on a recipe I saw calling for a quart of milk heated with honey and poured over almonds and strained. I thought that was a huge waste of almonds, plus I am not over fond of using milk. I created a recipe, which I revised 3 times before I even made it, but it turned out most delicious. I called it Coconut Almond Ice Cream, though it has no dairy (or eggs) in it at all. For this I soaked 1 cup of raw almonds overnight in a 2 cup measure, filled to the 2 cups with water. Yesterday morning I drained the almonds and placed them into my Vita Mix with one (13.5 ounce) can of Coconut Milk and about 6 ounces of coconut water. I blended the almonds to a fine powder and strained them out with a nut milk bag, squeezing well to get every last bit of liquid out of the almonds. I rinsed the blender container and returned the strained coconut almond milk to the container with a half cup of honey and a half teaspoon of almond extract, blended for a few seconds to thoroughly mix, and then refrigerated the mixture for the next few hours.

I have an old DAK "Gelatissimo" ice cream machine. I don't use it very often, but now and again it is very handy. I set the ice cream maker to start just as we sat down to dinner, so it would be done and not too hard when it came time for dessert. I will say that though it didn't have the creamy smoothness of some commercial ice creams, it was rich and most delicious. Best of all, it went just splendidly with the Peach Crisp. A real match made in heaven!

My passion is teaching people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and passing along my love and joy of food, both simple or exotic, plain or fancy. I continue my journey in ethnic and domestic cuisines, trying new things weekly. I would love to hear from you, to help me continue my journey to explore diverse culinary experiences and hopefully to start you on a journey of your own. Join me also at A Harmony of Flavors on Facebook, and Pinterest