Friday, May 15, 2015

Saving Space - Dehydrating Canned Tomatoes

The love affair with my dehydrator is more intense these days.  If it's not nailed down or consumed, more than likely food will find itself on a drying tray. 

Nine pints of tomatoes sat in my pantry that were a couple of years old.  There are a lot of conversations lately about how long home canned items should sit on the shelf and a lot more disagreement about the quality of the canning lids or flats, as Mom called them.  The debate is not about the sealing material, but about how much of that material is on the lid, especially during the last couple of years.  Ball, Kerr, Mason packaging states that home canned items should be used within a year and claim that has always been the recommendation.  Home canners are upset that their canned goods no longer have a 3-5 year shelf life as they had been accustomed.  There seems to be no resolution.  So rather than taking a chance on losing my good organic tomatoes, I dried them. 

As is typical, I forget to keep a camera on hand during the process.  The text version will have to do for now.

I drained the biggest portion of the liquid from the tomatoes, mostly water, then gently spread two pints of tomatoes on a dehydrator tray.  Gently spread the fruit on the tray, but don't press down.  You want to keep the good tomato flavor in tact.  Cut the larger pieces in half so the trays fit properly in the dehydrator.  Set the temperature to 125 and let the tomatoes dry overnight.  The next morning, peel the tomatoes from the trays, flip the tomato pieces over, and allow dry for another 4-5 hours.  When brittle, remove and allow to cool for a few minutes.

Use a coffee grinder, a blender, or food processor to make a powder.  Sift the powder into a bowl and reprocess the bigger chunks again.  Store tomato powder in a canning jar with an oxygen pack.  Results:  Nine pints of tomatoes yielded 1/2 pint of tomato powder.  A scant tablespoon of powder is equivalent to 1 cup tomato sauce.  The powder is a beautiful red color and has a fresh tomato smell.  It dissolves easily in warm water - great for soups!

Finished Tomato Powder
You may be wondering how much tomato "trash" was left.  Less than a teaspoon!  I could not get this to grind any smaller; it was mostly some of the "unripe" parts of the tomatoes that were hard when I packed the jars. 

Dried Tomato "Trash"
All in all, I'm happy with the results and happier with the extra pantry space.  Good timing - there are a lot of tomatoes in the garden waiting to ripen.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Adventures in Sourdough, Heavenly Cinnamon Swirl

Greetings Readers,

I have been delinquent in posting Sourdough Updates.  It's time to catch up.  One of the favorites and the most fought over recipe is the Cinnamon Swirl Bread affectionately known as "The Swirl."  Oh the wonderful aroma.  This fragrant bread fills the house - and the neighborhood with the warm sweet scent of cinnamon and butter. 

The dough recipe comes from my Sourdough Cinnamon Roll recipe and the modified filling, doubled from Joy the Baker's recipe for Triple Berry Cinnamon Swirl.  I replaced her fresh fruit with nothing the first time and later trials with dates, craisins, and pecans.  Don't make me choose a favorite;  both are good. 

The Swirl towers high in a 10" cast iron skillet, so place it no higher than the middle shelf in your oven.  It bakes at 375F for 25-30 minutes, rising even higher.  Let cool in the skillet for 30 minutes, then remove to a cooling rack and dust with powdered sugar - and HIDE, yourself or The Swirl, but one of you has to go.
The Rise of Cinnamon Swirl
My friend and her husband recently had dinner with us.  The Cinnamon Swirl baked while we ate.  "Oh, that smells so good!" she said and pushed away her unfinished meal, none to shy that she was preferred dessert. 

The bread came out of the oven, barely had time to cool and the restless couple demanded dessert.  It wasn't easy slicing a piping hot loaf.  My friend hung her head over her plate not eating, not even sampling a crumb.  How could she beg for dessert and not eat?  She took a deep breath, "I didn't think it could smell any better.  I'm not sure I can eat this!"  She deeply inhaled the aroma again and again, the rest of us inhaled the contents on our plates.  Finally she ate, savoring each bite.

My daughter came over the next day upset because she didn't get any Swirl.  I made a loaf for her.  The daycare operator heard about The Swirl from my daughter and I was in trouble again.  So I made her a loaf.   My daughter returned the pan and whined again that she wasn't invited to feast at daycare.

Use caution when making The Swirl.  It's addictive and oddly starts WWIII in our household.  If shared, then peace reigns again - until we near the end of the loaf.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Adventures in Sourdough, Part 1

Discovering sourdough, all aspects, is very much an adventure.  It seems quite wasteful to toss out a portion of the dough, just to feed it.  It's a much better service to feed my family, friends, and myself.  Suddenly, our bill for flour and butter has increased along with the need to bicycle away in the evenings.  But it's so worth the effort and extra calories.  Even then, using the starter is not always practical.  So we dry it.

Magic Man and I travel - a lot.  Often not together.  Maintaining the starter can be challenging.  Asking Magic Man is probably not the best idea either.  He has other things far more important than playing with paste.  He'd rather eat the paste than tend to it.

My supplier, Mr. M tells me I can freeze starter, thaw it in the fridge overnight, and feed the next day.  I discovered we can dehydrate starter, crumble and store in an airtight jar until needed.  Mr M was a happy camper... literally.  He loves to camp and now he can have his sourdough pancakes on the trail.

It's quite an easy process, along with a few memorable lessons, to dehydrate starter.  Let's begin...

First, feed the starter and when its happy, stir it down.  On a sheet of plastic (I used gallon sized freezer bags) or sil-pat, spread the starter just as thin as you can.  Then spread it a little more.  The air temp should be warm.  I oh so wisely chose to use my dehydrator set on low, taping the plastic to the trays.  That was good... and bad. 

Starter spread on plastic freezer bags
In 30 minutes, it was evident the dehydrator was drying quickly.  I smiled and walked away, proud that I was so darned clever. 
Starter after 30 minutes of drying
Something told me to check back sooner, but instead I returned three hours later.  The starter had "drawn up," pulled up the tape causing the starter to crumble.  When I opened the door to the dehydrator, I was blasted by a cloud of sourdough snow.  There were flakes everywhere. There was enough dried starter left on the trays for experimenting - without have to recover the delicate flakes from the floor. 

Next time, the dehydrator will run for 1 hour, we'll pull the trays and crank up the heat.  Then we'll turn off the machine, return the trays, and let the starter continue to dry in the warmed box.

To use, mix a little warm water with the starter flakes.  Slowly add water until the mixture is pancake batter consistency.  Let the mixture sit a few hours to activate.  Use in your favorite recipe.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Sourdough Starter - The Gift that Keeps on Giving

        It's great to have a gift that has an endless supply of surprises.  Check my post about my birthday gift of sourdough starter.  This starter is a wonderful adventure for my tastebuds.  We love the French Bread, Pancakes and French Toast recipes.  Tried and true, these are made more frequently now.
        The latest success story was a batch of Cinnamon Rolls.  Holy Cow, these are good.... I mean really, really GOOOOOOOOD.  Light and tender, perfectly sweet - I felt guilty not sharing.  Not!

          Back to my standby cookbook, Sourdough Jack's Cookery, there it was under the heading Fruited Sourdough Breakfast Rolls just waiting to be whipped up.   All I can say is you gotta try this recipe.
¾ cup starter
1 cup evaporated milk
3½ cups flour
¼ cup soft butter
3 tbsp sugar
1 large egg
1 tsp baking powder
½ tsp soda
1½ tsp salt
3 tbsp melted butter (I needed 4)
¼ c packed brown sugar (I needed ⅓ cup), mixed with
1 tsp cinnamon (little extra never hurts)
Stir starter, milk, and 2 cups of the flour in a large mixing bowl.  Cover and let sit overnight in a warm place.
First night's dough
         Next morning, beat ¼ cup butter, 3 tbsp sugar and egg.  Beat into the sourdough mixture.  Sift together the remaining 1 ⅓ cup flour, baking powder, soda, and salt.  Add to the mixture.  Turn onto flour board and knead until soft and satiny.  Keep enough flour so the dough doesn’t stick  Roll out to 16” X 8” (mine was 16” X 24”).  Brush with butter, sprinkle with brown sugar mixture; add some raisins, dates, pecans if you desire.  Roll, starting with long side.  Cut into 9 (12) slices.  There was no way this was fitting in a 8" square pan.  The rolls were crammed into a 7" X 11" pan.
         Cover and let rise until doubled.   They were smelling good at this stage.
Rolled and Risen - one of these I cut a little too big.
        Bake 375 F (preheated oven) for 35 minutes.  Serve warm, if you want to wait that long.  Hot was good.

I made an icing with 1 tbsp butter, 1 cup powered sugar and some of the remaining evaporated milk and a splash of vanilla.  The icing was a little thick so it wouldn't melt and run off the roll.

        Yep, these were a huge success - definitely doing these again.  Next batch of this sweet dough may become kolaches.


Saturday, July 5, 2014

Sourdough Pancakes and French Toast.

The experiments continue.  I can't bring myself to discard sourdough starter only to replenish and keep the starter alive.  I pulled out my trusty book and hunted for the next test.

This book is a very good sourdough reference.
The next batch of starter was made into pancakes.  Once again Magic Man was missing from the homestead.  This recipe makes enough pancakes to feed a crowd, but it was only me at the house.  So I cut back - a lot.  The batter starts Saturday night.

I added 1/2 cup of starter to a glass bowl.  To this I added 1 cup warm water and 1-1/4 cup flour and mixed well.  It was a little thick, a little lumpy just as the recipe described.  Covered with plastic wrap and a tea towel, the bowl sat in a warm corner in the kitchen until daybreak.  

The first thing Sunday morning, after a cup of coffee and a quick reread of the instructions, 1/2 cup of starter went back into the starter jar.  By now the started had thinned and was quite bubbly.

To the remaining starter I added 1 egg, 1 tablespoon oil, 2 tablespoons powdered milk and beat this well.  In a separate cereal bowl mixed 1/2 teaspoon of salt, 1/2 teaspoon baking soda, and 1 tablespoon of sugar.  This mixture was sprinkled over the batter, and gently folded in.  Step back and watch the magic.  The mixture started to foam and grow.  
Pancake batter before the baking soda
It was quite an amazing moment.  It was time to let this sit for a moment while the cast iron skillet (or comal) was heated and lightly coated with oil.  If it's not thin enough, you can add a little milk.

By now the batter was really bubbly.
Pancake batter after the baking soda was added
Sourdough Jack advises making small pancakes.  Use a tablespoon of batter at a time.  It should sizzle when it hits the skillet.
Side 1 Sizzling. 
The cakes don't take long to cook.  Flip when the cake is filled with exploded bubbles.
Side 2 Finishing
This recipe made about 15 pancakes.  I thought there would be plenty left over.  These are the lightest, fluffiest pancakes I'd ever eaten.  As a matter of fact, I ate 8 of these in one sitting drowning in fresh maple syrup.  They were so good.  The rest of that batch went to Mom's house.  She hid them for her breakfast the next day.  She enjoyed them as much as I did.  
Mmmmm... Pancakes!!

My friend suggested the next week I use sourdough starter for French toast.  He ran short of milk one day so he subbed starter for milk in his French toast batter, setting out 1/2 cup of starter the night before.  Mix in an egg, a bit of sugar, vanilla, and cinnamon.  The toast was so delicate and delicious.  I wolfed it down so fast, I didn't think about taking pictures.  You'll just have to trust me on this one.

Sourdough French Bread

For my birthday this year, I received a jar of Sourdough Starter.  Sourdough French bread would be my first project since Magic Man was traveling.  It was the perfect time to experiment.  Taking a deep breath, I ventured into uncharted territory.

Per the instructions, I measured 1-1/2 cups of warm water into my bread crock, added 1 tablespoon of yeast, 1 cup of room temperature starter, 4 cups flour, 2 teaspoons each sugar and salt.  Then beat vigorously for 3-4 minutes and set it aside to rise for 1-1/2 hours to rise.

My first batch didn't absorb the flour and was a little thin for the initial rise, but it still worked well in the end.  I added more flour with the baking soda step.  Batch number 2 looked better, but the end results were the same.

Before rising
After rising

Now it's time to mix 1/2 teaspoon of baking soda with 1 cup of flour, keeping an extra cup of flour handy.  Knead in the flour & soda mixture to the dough, working in additional flour as needed to minimize the stickiness.  Knead 5-10 minutes until the dough is smooth and satiny.  Shape into loaves, lightly grease baking pan, then lightly coat pan with cornmeal.  Gently place dough on prepared pan and score the loaves.
Shaped and Scored Loaf
Cover and let this rise until double in size again.

Loaf Doubled, Ready for the Oven
Here's where the book and I part directions.  Preheat the oven to 400F.  Place the baking pan on the lower 1/3 part of the oven.  Spray the inside of the oven with water to create steam.  Close and bake 15 minutes.  Spray a second time and bake another 10-15 minutes.  The loaf will be a deep golden color when done.

Baste the loaf with butter.  Wait impatiently to be cool enough to slice.

Finished Sourdough French Loaf
Second Batch Finished.
I love kneading sourdough.  It is the softest, silkiest dough I've ever handled.  It kneads and shapes beautifully.  

A Most Unusual Gift

My buddy from the Big City North, where we now reside, and I have May birthdays 21 days apart - so we celebrate together.  Our families exchange gifts for the honorees.  This year we gave him a large gift bag filled with home dehydrated foods for his weekend hiking get-aways: pineapple slices, cinnamon apple rings, banana chips, "orange cookies" as our granddaughter calls her dehydrated orange slices, cinnamon apple fruit leather, and much more for snacking.  Then he dug up dehydrated refried beans for burritos and green beans with new potatoes for a couple of experimental trail meals.  

I, on the other hand, that same evening received a jar of sourdough starter and sage advice.
  1. Keep the starter in the refrigerator.  
    1. Take the starter out the night before and let it warm to room temperature.  
  2. Remove and either use or discard 1 cup of the starter every 7-10 days.
  3. Replenish/Feed the starter with the same amount removed.  Take out a cup, add back a cup.
    1. If a cup of starter was used, then I mix 2/3 cup of flour and 2/3 cup of lukewarm water with a pinch or two of sugar.  Sometimes a little extra water is needed.  The mixture should be slightly thinner than pancake batter.  Mix this into the starter jar.
  4. Let the starter sit, uncovered, on the counter in a warm spot until the starter gets "happy."  Here in the summer, 2-4 hours is adequate.  
    1. I added rule 4.1 to this list.  Place the jar in a bowl.  Sometimes the starter gets so happy it bubbles over the top.  This is a much easier mess to clean.
  5. Secure the lid, with the breathing hole covered with paper toweling on the happy starter.  Place back in the fridge.

Pint Jar of Sourdough Starter (sitting on Granddaughter's placemat)
Hole in the Jar Lid
During the first week, I looked through my cookbooks.  Somewhere in this house I had to have sourdough recipes.  Then I found what I didn't know what I was searching for.  Marie gave me this book several years ago, but I never had a reason to use it.  Oh, how I wish she were alive so we could share some of these pastries with a cup of coffee.  This book is a wealth of information and recipes.
Sourdough Jack's Cookbook

That's pretty much all there is to maintaining a sourdough starter.   Mom loves the smell of this starter.  It has a fresh, yeasty smell.  It's not a tangy as some starter recipes, but is delicious nonetheless.

Things to note:

  1. A liquid forms and floats on top of the starter.  This is a type of alcohol and simply needs to be stirred back into the starter.  You can control the amount of this liquid by skipping the sugar when replenishing the next batch.  
  2. If a more sour or tangy taste is desired, then let the starter sit on the counter longer, approximately 24-48 hours.  
  3. If the starter is too sour, sweeten it by removing a cup of the starter and replenishing it with 1 cup flour and 1 cup tepid water.  
  4. Add baking soda as one of the last ingredients to add to a recipe, especially a recipe like pancakes that needs to sit overnight.  Baking soda has a tendency to turn batter yellow.