Saturday, September 28, 2013

Ta Da!!  My new dehydrator came on Thursday, and it is so cool.


It's an Excaliber 9-tray model.  Look at all this space!


I love that there's no hole in the middle of each tray.
I love that I can check the trays without unstacking and restacking the whole darn thing.

I don't love that it has a larger footprint than the Nesco dehydrator, but I do love that it's shorter than the Nesco 12-tray stack.  There's a perfect spot on top of my washing machine where it can live permanently.

Excaliber and Nesco comparison

The capacity of the Excaliber is actually only half a square foot larger than the Nesco with all 12 trays stacked.  However, when the Nesco is fully loaded, it takes FOREVER to dry, and I have to rotate the trays top to bottom multiple times to ensure that everything dries evenly. Plus, filling the square trays is so much easier than filling the round trays (no center hole!).

So here's the first couple batches out of the Excaliber:

Stocking up

This is...
  • 5 pounds of shredded potatoes
  • 2 pounds of dry raw black beans, soaked and cooked
  • 1 pound of dry raw garbanzo beans, soaked and cooked
  • 1 1/3 pounds of fresh carrots, shredded
  • 2/3 pound of fresh carrots, sliced
  • 1 bunch of celery, sliced
I think this may possibly be the first time in my entire life that I've used up a whole bunch of celery before it went bad!

The reason I cooked the beans even though they were already dried and very store-able, was so I can use them in camping meals or quick soups.  Now they just have to be rehydrated by adding boiling water, rather than cooking for an hour.

I currently have a gigantic 100-ounce jar of spaghetti sauce on 7 trays, merrily dehydrating away.

Oh, yes.  I am indeed having fun.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

As I mentioned yesterday, I've been having fun with dehydrating.  These are the results from the past couple weekends:

Dehydrating fun
Left to right, this is:
  • tomatoes (about 5 each fresh red and yellow tomatoes, chopped and drained)
  • peas 'n' carrots (2 pounds frozen)
  • green beans (2 pounds frozen)
  • peaches (15 pounds fresh)
  • black beans (two 15 ounce cans, drained and rinsed)
  • ground beef (3 pounds when raw, thoroughly cooked and drained)
  • brown rice (1.5 cups raw rice, cooked)
  • peas (3 pounds frozen)
  • sweet corn (4 pounds frozen)
  • green peppers (10 large fresh)
  • apples (10 large fresh)

Except for the peaches, which were dried in August, all that was done in the past three weeks.  Of course the dried fruit is a favorite, and I must always have dried apples on hand.  In addition, I've also made a couple recipes for lightweight dehydrated hiking food (beef, rice and veggie variants) and they've been great.  Even approved by Emma!

I really like dehydrating.  I sometimes have a problem with not using up fresh produce in time, and it kills me to throw out food that spoiled.  I buy produce with great intentions, but then I'm too tired to cook, and I end up never making whatever it was I bought that great bunch of beets for.

Over the years I've learned that I do better with frozen veggies, since they have a longer lifespan.  I'm not much of a fan of canned veggies, except for navy and other shelled beans and corn and tomatoes.  Canned green beans and peas?  Ick.  Frozen, however, is usually almost as tasty as fresh.

The problem is that I have very limited freezer space.  Just the one on top of my fridge, and a small chest freezer (five cubic feet).  That space gets filled up fast when frozen veggies or meat go on sale.  Right now, most of my refrigerator's freezer is taken up with frozen cherries and peaches from July.  The chest freezer is mostly full of blueberries, chicken, and pork that were on sale last month.  Freezers run on electricity so I really don't want to buy a bigger one.

Dehydrating not only solves the spoilage issue, it solves the space issue.  And there is no energy cost associated with storing this food, other than the initial electricity to run the dehydrator.  The jars just sit on the shelf.  That big bag of frozen corn (not to mention the rest of that pile of veggies) would not have fit in my available freezer space.  Now that four pounds of corn fits in a single quart mason jar.  Huge space savings!  And since I discovered yesterday that the corn rehydrates beautifully, I feel great about that purchase. 

My summer adventures in dehydrating more than fruit started out as a way to make lightweight hiking and camping food rather than buying the pricy (and tasteless/salty/chemically) commercial freeze-dried meals, but I think it may morph into a more everyday thing as well.  Dehydrated food obviously doesn't always have the same texture as fresh, especially for fruits, but it's great as long as you pick the right recipe.  I would never expect a dried cherry to be the same experience as a fresh one, or even a frozen one, but dried cherries are better in oatmeal.

Anyway, I think there will be much more dehydrating in my future.  Coincidentally, I may or may not have bought myself a super-fabulous dehydrator on Sunday... Stay tuned...

Monday, September 23, 2013

I tried something new this weekend: dehydrating corn.  It couldn't be easier, just empty a bag of frozen corn onto the dehydrator trays, and let it go at 135°F overnight.  Easy peasy.  However, I was somewhat skeptical that the rehydrated product would be edible.  The dried corn resembled brittle yellow rocks, and looked suspiciously like birdseed.  I had a feeling it would be unbearably chewy and flavorless.

So I tried some corn chowder for dinner tonight, as an experiment.

Corn chowder from dehydrated corn

Holy SMOKES it was good.  The corn came back to exactly the way it was before, sweet and flavorful.  I was quite pleasantly surprised and happy to be wrong.

The recipe is one I cobbled together from several websites - cooking as well as food-storage sites.


Dehydrated Corn Chowder
4 servings

1/2 cup dehydrated sweet corn
1 1/2 cups water
4 strips bacon, chopped
1 medium onion, chopped fairly fine
2 cups water
1 medium potato, diced in 1/2 inch chunks
2 1/2 cups water
2 cups nonfat dry milk
1 tablespoon flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
several grinds of black pepper
1 tablespoon dried parsley

Rehydrate corn in 1 1/2 cups of water for at least 20 minutes. (I let it go an hour and a half because that was how long it was until I got home.)

Brown bacon in a large pot until crisp. Remove and drain. Saute onion in bacon fat until tender and remove to the bowl with the bacon.

Remove all bacon fat except for 2 tablespoons or less. Place the rehydrated corn and any leftover soaking water into the same pot used to cook the bacon and onions. Add two more cups of water. Boil for about 20 minutes, adding more water if necessary.  (I only had to boil it about 10 minutes since I soaked the dry corn so long.  The point is to make sure the corn is fully rehydrated and cooked.)

Add diced potato and cook until tender (took less than 10 minutes with 1/2" dice). Combine dry milk, flour, salt and pepper with 2-1/2 cups water and mix well. Add milk mixture to the pot and bring to a simmer, stirring occasionally. Add onions, bacon and dry parsley. Stir well and simmer for 5 minutes or so to thicken slightly.

Serve and watch it disappear!


Emma and I split a drained 6.5 ounce can of clams between our bowls when we went back for seconds.  It was awesome, and crab, lobster, scallops, or chicken would also be delicious.  Chowder is very flexible.  Next time, I think I would increase the amount of dry corn to 3/4 cup or even 1 cup, for even more corny goodness.  The critical ratio of corn to soaking water seems to be 1:3, though it probably doesn't matter as much for a soup.


Tuesday, September 17, 2013

I had a very fun day yesterday, surveying for bull trout in the Lostine River. This is part of a US Fish and Wildlife effort, and it's the third year I've helped out.  Bull trout are a protected species, listed as Threatened under the Endangered Species Act, and these surveys provide data to aid their recovery.

We saw more bull trout yesterday than I've ever seen before, which was very cool. We counted the number of fish we saw, estimated their size, and counted and measured all the redds (nests) we saw. It's still early in the spawning season and many of the redds had fish still in them, actively spawning.

Like this:

Bull trout

I had my waterproof phone case along again, and managed a couple underwater pictures.

Bull trout

It's amazing to see these rare fish in the wild, doing what they do, as they've been doing it for centuries. Any day you see a protected species is a good day. This is what makes my job satisfying.

Sunday, September 08, 2013

Peaches.  Is there anything more quintessentially summery?


I bought 20 pounds of peaches when I was over in Kimberly, Oregon visiting a job site last Tuesday, and today they were perfectly ripe and ready to be processed.

This is the third box of peaches I've gotten this summer.  I froze the first 20 pounds and dried the second 20 pounds.  This batch, I canned.

Peaches look like summer.

Canned peaches just look like summer, all golden and radiant in their jars.

My mom used to can peaches every year, and I loved having a little dish of them for dessert in the middle of winter.  I suspect I wasn't always a willing helper back then, but I did love the end result.  These are my mom's canning jars, and it makes me so happy to be using them.

Saturday, September 07, 2013

Another great hike this weekend.  Today, we climbed Mt. Ireland, in the Wallowa Whitman National Forest south of La Grande.  Are you seeing a theme here?  The Wallowa Whitman National Forest is amazingly awesome.

Anyway, here's the view of Mt. Ireland, from about a half mile up the trail from the trailhead.  We climbed ALL THE WAY UP THERE!

Mt. Ireland

It was about three and a half miles from the car to the peak, and it was such a glorious day to be hiking.  Sunny and about 75 degrees, and the vegetation is just starting to look like fall.  The views were amazing.

On the way up to Mt. Ireland

Plus, this was also a geocaching adventure, and I found my 500th cache!

Geocache #500!

There's a fire tower at the top of the mountain, and we had a nice visit with Andy, the lookout this year.  He's up there all alone all summer, with only the occasional random visitor climbing up the mountain.  Talk about solitude.

Mt. Ireland fire lookout tower

But can you imagine having this view for three months?  This picture was taken looking north from the fire tower to Baldy Lake and the North Fork John Day Wilderness.

Baldy Lake and the North Fork John Day Wilderness Area

It was a somewhat hard hike, gaining 2,300 feet in elevation over three and a half miles.  It took us right around 6 hours round trip, including almost an hour at the top of the mountain.

view from the south slope of Mt. Ireland

What an amazing place.  What an amazing day.