Monday, November 18, 2013

Dried Mushrooms - Dehydrated Dish #4

Sometimes a recipe for stock or soup will call for dried mushrooms. Drying your own is much cheaper than buying them that way at the store. I used 1lb white button mushrooms. Unless you are a mushroom aficionado and can tell the difference, fungus is fungus and these will give a dish that richly earthy flavor.

The method:

Brush any dirt off the mushrooms, but I don't wash them. Cut them in half. Place them cut side down on a cutting board and slice them vertically into 4 or 5 slices. Arrange the slices on dehydrator trays, using inserts for smaller pieces if necessary. They should not overlap, but they can be crowded since they shrink a lot. I dry these out at a medium temp for the first 12 hours to keep them from molding since they tend to start out damp. I lower the temp as they dry out. It takes at least 24 hours until they are thoroughly dry.

They can be stored in airtight containers in a dry dark place for a month or two. I also grind them into powder and use it in place of bullion powder when making soup broth.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Garlic Chips - Dehydrated Dish #3

Add these to soups, stews, sauces, and pasta/rice/potato water for extra flavor. Being cooked softens them up and mellows the intensity. It saves me from burnt garlic, spoiled garlic, and fingers that smell constantly like garlic.

The method:

Separate 2-3 bulbs of garlic into cloves. Skin the cloves by cutting the ends off, slitting the skin end to end, and slipping the cloves out. Slice the skinned cloves crosswise into thin rounds. You can see I've tried both crosswise and lengthwise. Crosswise chips dry more evenly.

Spread the rounds on dehydrator trays. I have some inserts that I have to use for this since the normal tray holes are too big to accommodate small garlic bits. I dry these at a lower temp (around 120 degrees) so as to not dry them out too quick. They will smell burnt in that case. This will take 1-2 days. Wait till they are thoroughly dried and crumble or snap when you attempt to break them or they are likely to spoil.

Store them in an airtight container. You can leave them as is, or pulverize them in a spice grinder into powder. I've had the powder last up to a year. but it's impossible to get the smell out of the grinder so I usually leave them as chips and use them up within a couple months.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Apple Chips - Dehydrated Dish #2

My second favorite thing to dehydrate, so far, has been apple slices. If I slice them thin enough, and dry them long enough, they come out nice and crisp. When stored in an airtight container, they seem to get more crisp over time too.


1 lemon (or 2 - 3 lemon cubes)
About a dozen apples (depends on dehydrator size and apple size)
1 tbsp sugar (try lemon sugar or vanilla sugar)
1 tbsp cinnamon
dash of nutmeg or cloves (optional)
dash or two of salt

Cut the lemon into quarters or melt the lemon cubes in a small dish.

Scrub the apples, then cut 3 of them in half. Place them cut side down on a cutting board and slice them horizontally, across the core. Use your best knife and slice them as thinly as possible, 1/8" thick or less. The widest side of a box grater works too. The apples should not need to be cored as the seeds will fall out with such thin slices. Just remove the ends, seeds, and any larger core pieces with the tip of the knife. Don't worry too much about the core fragments, most of the smaller ones will dry right up and not be noticeable in the finished chips.

However you get your slices, place them in a large non reactive bowl (glass or plastic) as you go. To keep them from browning, after you cut the first 3 add 1/4 of the lemon juice and toss to coat. Add another 1/4 with the second 3, and so on until all the apple slices have been coated. Finally, add the sugar, spices and salt at the end and make sure the slices get evenly coated with that too.

Arrange the slices on the dehydrator trays as close together as possible, without overlapping, since they will shrink. Dry them at around 135 degrees for up to 2 days until they are very dry and have a bit of snap to them when bent. It's ok if they bend a little, they will crisp up over time.

These are addictive to eat like chips. They are also good to crumble up and mix with dry oatmeal to make homemade instant flavored oatmeal packets. They keep for at least a couple months in dry airtight containers.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Lemons - Dehydrated Dish #1

I bought a dehydrator a couple years ago for a specific project, drying soaked and sprouted grain, which I have long since abandoned. This happens pretty often with me and cooking projects. Usually the abandoned equipment gathers dust until I eventually give it away. Not so the dehydrator. It's become one of my most used small appliances. Here begins a short series on easy dried bits.

The first thing I really got into making with it was lemon salt and sugar. It's easy and quite versatile. In fact, I'm posting it since I will be referring to it constantly as an ingredient in other posts.

The method:

Zest 2 lemons for every 1/2 cup of sugar or salt that you want. A microplane grater makes short work of this. I usually do 4 lemons total, half for sugar and half for salt. I like the texture better with course sea salt and turbinado sugar, but it would work with finer grinds. Save the juice (see below).

In a small bowl, mix the zest with the sugar or salt until it's evenly distributed. It will probably clump up. Once mixed, spread on a solid plastic dehydrator tray. Mine came with a couple inserts for making fruit leather and that's what I use here. Separate the clumps and make sure the zests are spread out as much as possible so that they dry evenly.

I dry it on the setting used for nuts and seeds (105 F), since I don't want to ruin the lemon oil with too high of a temperature. It will usually be dry by morning, so 8 - 10 hours max.

Remove the salt when the zests are dry and crumble when touched. They can be ground up finely in a food processor, but I usually just leave them a little rough for texture. As you can see, I store them in glass mason jars and they keep this way for at least a couple months on the shelf. The flavor starts to go after that.

Lemon salt is good for finishing dishes, making margaritas, and for adding a hint of lemon. Lemon sugar is good in everything! Limes and oranges also work well, but I've found lemon to be the most versatile flavor.

Juice the lemons while you are at it and freeze the juice into ice cube trays for lemon cubes. Once frozen, pop the cubes out of the tray and store in a freezer bag. They're great in tea or for brightening up soups, pasta, and sauce dishes. Microwave lemons for 15 seconds to get them to juice easier. Juice them over a strainer into the tray to avoid getting seeds in there.

Between the salt and the lemon cubes, we will never be caught without "fresh" lemon flavoring again.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Lemon Meringue Pie

There is more than one way to win friends and influence people.

I tested this a couple times and figured out what didn't work. Next I did a lot of food chemistry/safety research to figure out what would. Lemon meringue pie isn't too strenuous or time consuming to make, but it does require precision in process and timing. This is a new concept for me, being that I live by the Pareto Principle and get distracted all the time. I need very thoroughly explained and detailed instructions for things like this so I made my own. Here they are.

The key: 
Use powdered egg whites! They taste and whip up the same, yet are both stable and sterile, solving the two biggest downfalls I came across. This pie slice survived a day, both in the fridge and on the counter, none the worse for wear. I got raves on the leftovers. It didn't weep, get soggy or cause food poisoning. Mission accomplished. Use the leftover real egg whites for something that gets thoroughly baked, like meringue cookies or angel food cake. Or add them to scrambled eggs. They freeze well too.

Other hints:
I liked the graham cracker crust a lot more than I expected to. It was much better with this than a traditional one. I would also try it with gingersnaps or lemon snaps in place of the crackers and cut the sugar out.

Note the toothpicks. They are a good cheat to make sure that the meringue doesn't slide off the filling when slicing and serving.

Bake at lower temp and for longer. Let it brown slowly like a perfectly roasted marshmallow. The last thing you want is a torched outer layer of meringue, while the inside remains undercooked. Let it dry out a bit.

And finally, this is a project best done with two people. The filling and the meringue need to be done at the same time. The meringue needs to go on super hot filling to ensure that it starts to cook from the inside out as well as the outside in, to help it remain stable throughout. I did it by myself but it got a little hairy. I will detail how below.

Step 1:

Graham Cracker Crust
12 full-size graham crackers
1 Tbsp sugar (I use lemon sugar)
1/4 tsp nutmeg or ginger (optional)
Dash of salt
6 Tbsp butter (save the rest of the stick for filling, below)
~1 Tbsp water

Preheat oven to 325

Process the crackers, sugar, salt and spices into crumbs using a food processor (or smash them up with a rolling pin in a sealed bag). Melt the butter in a 4+ cup microwaveable bowl. Add the crumbs to the butter and mix with a fork until the dough starts to clump when squeezed with your hands. Add a tbsp of water if it's too dry.

Press the crumbs into a pie plate, making sure to evenly cover the sides and bottom with no cracks. Bake for 15 - 20 minutes until dry and just starting to brown a little bit. Set aside while you prepare the filling.

Step 2:

Egg Whites
3 Tbsp powdered egg whites (I used Deb El Just Whites, they worked perfectly)
9 Tbsp warm water
1 tsp cream of tarter
dash salt

In a large glass or metal bowl (not plastic, it interferes with the meringue creation), add egg white powder to warm water. Stir gently with a whisk for a couple minutes to let the powder absorb the water and completely dissolve.

Get started with Steps 3 and 4 (below), then add cream of tarter and salt to the egg whites and beat with a hand mixer until puffy looking soft peaks form when you lift the mixer out of the fluff.


Step 3:

Sugar Syrup
1 cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1 Tbsp cornstarch
1/2 cup water

Whisk sugar, vanilla, cornstarch, and water together in small saucepan until the lumps dissolve. Heat on high, whisking occasionally until the syrup is boiling very rapidly. Then keep boiling it a bit. I usually boil it until the soft peaks (above) are fully formed, 5 - 10 minutes.

I keep the bowl with the hand mixer next to the stove so I can keep an eye on the sugar syrup, and the filling (below), to stir them while whipping the egg whites.

Step 4:

Lemon Filling
1 cup sugar
1/3 cup corn starch
1 cup water - divided in half
1/2 cup lemon juice
1 tsp vanilla
6 egg yolks
1 Tbsp lemon zest
2 Tbsp butter

Whisk sugar, cornstarch and 1/2 cup of water in another saucepan until there are no lumps. Add remaining 1/2 cup water, lemon juice, and vanilla. Whisk until smooth and heat over medium heat, whisking often to keep the bottom from burning and lumps from forming.

Cook until the filling starts to thicken into a translucent pudding, about 5 minutes. Watch this closely. It is more important to watch this than to watch the sugar syrup or to beat the meringue (if you are doing this all at once by yourself). Once the filling starts to thicken, forget the syrup and egg whites for a minute. Add the egg yolks, zest, and butter to the filling, then cook at a simmer for another couple minutes, stirring constantly to avoid lumping or curdling.

Remove the filling from the heat, pour it immediately into the prepared crust. Return your attention to the meringue. By this time the sugar syrup will be ready, drizzle it slowly into the half-whipped egg whites while the mixer is going (avoid the beaters unless you fancy being spattered by molten sugar lava). Continue whipping the egg whites until they form stiff, glossy peaks that hold points (like in the picture above), when you remove the beaters. This may take a few more minutes. Don't skimp on the whipping.  

When the meringue is stiff, spread it on the filled pie. Work from the outside in, using generous spoonfuls, spreading them gently. Fill in and seal the edges by making sure meringue completely covers the crust all around. Press the meringue down gently onto the filling to seal it and force out air as you go. Use the back of a spoon to swirl or stucco the meringue as desired. I like the stucco because the points get brown and I think it looks neat.

Bake at 325 until the meringue is lightly browned (see pic above). It takes 20 minutes to half an hour. Watch it after 15 or so.

Cool the pie to room temp. It's best just slightly warm, but did survive a night in the fridge without degrading much in texture or flavor.

The meringue was uniformly delicate and light. The filling was firm and lemony, yet just creamy enough. The crust was a crispy, buttery counterpoint. 100% worth both the research and the effort.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Chocolate Peanut Butter (Vampire) Bites

 These flour-less cookies are very intensely chocolate. One or two will kill a craving pretty handily.


4 oz unsweetened baking chocolate (I used 1/2 an 8oz bar)
1 cup creamy peanut butter
3/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 tsp vanilla
1 large egg (lightly beaten)

1/4 cup sugar to coat (I used red to make them look a little vampiric this time)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Melt the chocolate in the microwave in a large bowl. I melt it at 30 second intervals, checking it and stirring to break it up. Once it's about half melted, I go down to 15 seconds and stop when it is just all melted. Be careful not to scorch it.

Stir in peanut butter until well blended, then add sugar, salt, vanilla. Once the other ingredients are well blended, add the beaten egg. It might not look right at first, but keep stirring until a sticky dough forms. Something about the egg causes the rest of the ingredients to firm up.

Roll dough into 1" balls. Place the additional sugar in a small bowl and roll each ball to coat. Place an inch or so apart on a baking sheet and press down lightly with your palm to flatten them a little bit. They won't spread too much at all.

Bake until cookies start cracking, 10 to 12 minutes. Be careful not to overcook them or they will taste scorched. Cool 5 - 10 minutes on sheets to set the cookies (or they will crumble). Transfer cookies to racks to cool completely.

Makes about 2 dozen bites.