Freeze-dried meal recipes

Our area sees a lot of power outages. Maybe more in another post about longer-term thoughts on dealing with them, but in this post, FOOD! During our last outage, I realized how much it mattered to be able to make a tasty, familiar meal at home. I tried a camping meal I had around, and found it to be heavy on the starch and salt and low on the…food.  Not to mention it’s hard to find many of those without dairy, eggs, or beans. But the convenience of “just add water” was undeniable, so I started experimenting with building my own vacuum-sealed, freeze-dried meals assembled out of components I bought separately. These are basically freeze-dried versions of things we eat at home – though with white rice instead of the brown we’d usually have.

So far, here are the ones that have passed muster. All recipes make a normal dinner-sized serving. That means my husband eats the whole thing in one sitting, and I eat maybe 2/3 for dinner and 1/3 of it before bed. 🙂

Freeze-dried sausage, greens, and rice

Place in a 1-quart vacuum bag (preferably the kind with a zipper), in this order:

  • 1 c. instant white rice
  • 1 Tbl. no-salt “broth powder
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 1/4 tsp. smoked paprika
  • 1 Tbl. freeze-dried onion
  • 1/2 c. freeze-dried sausage
  • 1/2 c. freeze-dried spinach

Freeze-dried salsa fry-up

Place in a 1-quart vacuum bag (preferably the kind with a zipper), in this order:

  • 1 c. instant white rice
  • 3/4 tsp. chili powder (the spice mix, not straight cayenne)
  • 1/4 tsp. cumin
  • 1/4 tsp. salt (smoked salt is great!)
  • 1 Tbl. freeze-dried onion
  • 1/2 c. freeze-dried ground beef
  • 1/2 c. freeze-dried corn
  • 1/4 c. freeze-dried spinach
  • 2 Tbl. freeze-dried bell pepper
  • 2 Tbl. freeze-dried tomato

Directions

Flatten ingredients out a bit, then seal with vacuum sealer. Mark on the bag what it is, when you sealed it, and “Add 1.5c water.” When you’re ready to eat it, boil 1.5c water, unseal the bag, pour in the water, zip it back up, smoosh the ingredients around, and put it someplace that will retain its heat (in a small cooler, in the microwave, wrapped in a towel, etc.). It will rehydrate in maybe 6-8 minutes. You might need to add a bit more water if it’s still looking dry.

Notes

  • At 2017 prices, these cost $6-7 each. About the same as Mountain House, but way less sodium and way more veg.
  • The assembly order was chosen to trap the spices within the other ingredients, or else the whoosh out of the bag when you vacuum seal it.
  • Be sure you are using freeze-dried, not just dehydrated, vegetables. Dehydrated veg really need to be simmered to cook up, and never rehydrate 100%.
  • You could probably sub chicken bouillon granules for the broth powder and salt, but I am not sure how much to use. Maybe 1 tsp?
  • “Instant” brown rice isn’t really instant – it needs to be kept boiling for nearly 10 mins. – so it won’t sub well into these recipes.
  • I think these are pretty flavorful, but YMMV.
  • I’ve been really happy with the quality of ThriveLife products. Their chicken, for example, is WAAAAAY better than Auguson Farms chicken (which tastes like cardboard to me.) Most of their items only have one ingredient – like “Green beans” or “Chicken.” You have to buy online through a local “consultant,” but shopping is easy and you  can get small or large vacuum-sealed cans. Small cans yield about 7 servings.

Power outage lessons learned

Hi, folks! We recently went through a 3-day power outage, and I wanted to share some notes on things that worked and things that would have made the whole thing easier.

Worked really well

  • Wood stove for heat, as per usual. House was normal temp throughout.
  • Water barrels and this hand pump (OEMTOOLS 24472 Fluid Pump ) for sanitation water. I keep water barrels in the sunroom for watering plants, and have gone through a lot of pump and siphon trials before finally getting one that works well for filling watering cans.
  • Jerry cans of water for flushing toilets. The handle on top AND back is key. This Midwest Can Water Container is the closest I can find to what I have.
  • Single burner butane stove. For outdoor use only; I set it up in the sunroom. Half a can of butane let us heat soup, water for hot water bottles, etc. for two days. I’d count on one can of fuel for day – and stock up; I can’t find fuel locally anymore. We did heat some stuff on the wood stove, but it’s not a great cooking tool because the soapstone disperses the heat.
  • Battery-powered, motion-sensitive lights. Cheap hardware store model. Great for dark rooms and hallways.
  • Charging phones and lanterns in the car and at work.
  • Our usual coffee press worked fine, because we had other ways to heat water.
  • Food in the freezers (small chest freezer, and fridge freezer) remained icy, and therefore safe, for 3 full days.

Made life way more pleasant

  • Good reading lights. Ours died halfway through – death by static spark, it seems.  We were left with other lanterns, and it was awful for two people who read so much. Task lighting – from above the work – turns out to be more important to us than area lighting. The NanoGrid gave good light, but was always a pain to use, and of course died about 10 uses in, so I’m looking at other options. These are on their way (with a bigger power pack to recharge); we’ll see how they go. Headlamps might be practical, but a pain to wear for days straight.
  • Using phones for Internet access, and rechargeable power packs to charge phones. I beat myself up about “internet addiction” for several outages before admitting that Internet access is crucial to fighting boredom and restoring a sense of normalcy. Not to mention, it’s super useful for reporting outages, finding places with needed supplies, checking weather, and whatnot. I’ve not been able to get an iPhone to work as a hotspot so other devices can connect to it.
  • Buying a 5-gal jug of drinking water. We have good filters, but found the mistrust factor (If we filter water that’s been stored for 2 years, is that safe?) and the convenience factor (pouring water into the Berkey is rather tedious) made it totally worth it to just get a big jug of water from the store. And we already had a crockery base with a stand and spigot, so boom…drinking water solved.
  • Putting a small squirt of toilet bowl cleaner (pine scent) into the toilet, as we were only flushing 2x/day.
  • Once the food in the fridge had officially gone off, I just cleaned out the fridge and quit worrying about it. It was oddly liberating.

Wished for better

  • I need some kind of kettle with a spout that can heat on the woodstove and the burner. I sloshed a lot of hot water on my hands trying to pour from a saucepan.
  • Wanted to know temp of fridge/freezer to determine how long food was good. Perhaps a thermometer with a record of high/low and how long it’s been above a critical temp will help.
  • Oh, how I wish we could run the well pump through a power outage! Showering and dishes just seemed like too much trouble, so we ate out a lot and didn’t really bathe. (I need to see if there are showers at work we could use – I know the students have locker rooms, so it’s not impossible.)
  • Felt we couldn’t use any frozen food, because opening the freezer would let the cold out, and then you’d have a block of something frozen with no safe way to thaw it!
  • So much quick/easy/instant food is so salty and carb-heavy. I’ve been thinking about getting a vacuum sealer for garden veg; I might experiment with packaging my own “just add water” meals and seal those up, too.

Sausage and Squash Pastsa

Sausage, butternut squash, and sage go great together. Just add a little pasta, and it’s a meal!

  • 3 c. whole wheat rotini (uncooked) – more if you want a higher-carb meal
  • 1 lb sausage. If you use vegetarian sausage, add some extra oil when you brown it
  • 1 onion, sliced into quarter-moons
  • 4-5 c. butternut squash cut in 3/4″ cubes
  • 1 Tbl. dried sage, or a handful of fresh chopped sage leaves
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 Tbl cream or coconut cream (opt)
  • Parmesan or cashew parm (opt)

Cook the pasta according to package directions.

Crumble and brown the sausage and onions, adding more oil, if needed. When it’s cooked, remove it to a bowl but leave any remaining oil in the pan.

Add the squash cubes to the pan and cook 2-3 minutes until the squash starts to brown.  Pour about 1/3 c. water into the pan, cover, and let cook 6-7 minutes until almost done. There should be a little liquid in the bottom of the pan. Season with sage, salt, and pepper. Add the cream (if using). Leave the lid off for a few minutes to evaporate and thicken the sauce – you’re looking for just a bit of liquid in the bottom of the pan, enough to coat the pasta. Add the sausage and pasta to the pot and toss to coat. Garnish with Parmesan, if desired.

Homemade electrolyte powder

I’ve been finding lately that plain water is not doing it when I’ve been working in the sun or exercising.  I tried half a dozen electrolyte powders out there, and settled on DripDrop as one that seems to do the job and tastes good enough  that I’ll actually drink it (though I use a packet in about 3/4 liter of water, not 1 cup as recommended). Nuun is not too bad, either.

The problem is, this stuff is like drinking dollar bills – $1.25 per serving.

So after a bunch of research and calculations, here’s my homemade equivalent.  It tastes vaguely lemony and feels like its doing its job.  It’s so cheap, I almost can’t calculate the price per serving maybe 5-10 cents?  You may have most of the ingredients in your kitchen already.  If not, home brewing stores are your friend.

Makes enough to enrich 6 liters of water.  Use 1/2 tsp. of this powder in a 12-oz glass of water, or 3/4-1 tsp. in a liter bottle.

  • 2 Tbl sugar (carbohydrates)
  • 3/4 tsp salt (sodium chloride)
  • 1/4 tsp NuSalt (potassium chloride)
  • 1/2 tsp Epsom salts* (magnesium sulfate)
  • 1/2 tsp brewer’s gypsum (calcium sulfate) – optional; available at homebrew store. Bonus: you can use it to make tofu from soy milk.
  • 1 tsp citric acid or Fruit Fresh (available where they sell canning supplies).  This is for flavor and balances the high pH of the gypsum; Fruit Fresh also adds some vitamin C

I haven’t tried it yet, but I was thinking of adding some pulverized freeze-dried fruit for flavor.

Shake everything up in a jar – or better yet, whir it in a perfectly dry blender for a few pulses to distribute everything evenly and to grind some of the larger particles finer.  Store in a jar with a tight lid.  Use 1/2 tsp. per 12 oz glass of water – stir to dissolve well.

Nutritional information:

Homemade

DripDrop

Nuun

Sodium

288mg

305

350

Potassium

110mg

175mg

101mg

Sugar

4g

9g

0g

Magnesium

39mg

40mg

25mg

Calcium

82mg

13mg

Zinc

2mg

Vit C

117mg (if made with FruitFresh)

38mg

I also figured out that if I were out and about, a glass of water with a scant 1/8tsp (just a pinch or two) of salt, a packet of sugar (1tsp), and 2 oz of orange juice gets you the first three nutrients on the list.

* Yes, Epsom salts can have a laxative effect. However, the laxative dose is 2-4 tsp in 1 cup of water; this recipe calls for 1/2 tsp in six LITERS of water. Unless you are unusually sensitive, you should be fine.

Emily’s favorite canning recipes

Canning JarsThis is a compilation of the recipes I most commonly can each year. I mostly wrote them down so I’d have them in a uniform format (Four pounds? Two quarts? Eight tomatoes?), with the modifications I’ve settled on over time, and notes on how much of each raw ingredient to buy to yield the quantity of chopped ingredients to go into each recipe. I also dug through my notes from the last several years and added a note on how much of each item we usually eat in a year, so I can more easily figure out what I need to can each year.

It occurred to me that some of you might also find these interesting or helpful…so here you go!

Emily’s Canning Favorites

Why office jobs are better than homesteading

Interesting story behind this post – I saw a link to it on my dashboard and thought “Hey, that sounds like a great article – I’ll go read that” only to discover it was the “Drafts” section of my dashboard. I wrote this two and a half years ago, and every word of it still rings true to me. So here it is!


 

 

I’d like to poke a stick at a rather sacred (grass-fed, heirloom breed) cow for a minute: the assumption that anyone who’s interested in growing food, living a low-energy lifestyle, and/or being a “citizen” rather than a “consumer” also secretly wants to escape the misery of their office job that sap their creativity, kills their souls, and pays a pittance when you take into account all the work clothes, makeup, lunches out, and commuting fees. We start to consider our profession our primary identity, and come home from the job each day brain-dead, unable or unwilling to interact with our families, and we turn on the TV for escape. and we never know when our job might simply evaporate. But what we all really want, the myth goes, is to be our own bosses, to raise all our own food, and thus to be “free.”

Honestly, that myth is -shall we say – material for my compost pile.

I’ve worked for others, and I’ve worked for myself. I went back to work for others because when my husband went to grad school, we needed a more reliable source of income. And I’ve stayed working for others* for a number of very good reasons.

  1. Job security. Sure, my day job might be terminated with little notice – but honestly, I am pretty sure I’ll get paid for the rest of this fiscal year, at least. When I worked for myself, I had a mix of project work and retainer work. A couple of my long-term clients paid me a discounted hourly rate for a set number of hours a month – usually about 5 – and those contracts were generally good for 6 months or a year. Projects usually lasted 2-6 weeks and paid 1/3 up front, 1/3 halfway through, and 1/3 upon completion. Then they were gone, and I had to find other work. Let me tell you – a year of job security looks really damn good compared to two weeks.
  2. Pay for 40 hours a week, no matter what. I confess, I am occasionally bored in my office job. Usually happens when I’m waiting for someone to get back to me so I can do the next step of whatever it is I’m doing. But you know what? I’m paid for those hours that I spend waiting – I just find something else to do, even if it’s reading trade journals or experimenting with a new technology. When you work for yourself, you get paid for exactly the hours you work. If you’re bored, you’re also incredibly stressed, because it means you might not be able to pay our own salary this month. And I’m not likely to lose a year’s income to a late frost, a freak hailstorm, or a plague of locusts.
  3. I get paid well. Working for myself, I charged $60-75/hr. Project work often amounted to much more than that – one project effectively paid $385/hr, because they paid a lump sum and I was able to finish the work quickly and well. Working for others, I am paid about a third of my old hourly rate…but I take home a whole lot more money in a year because I get paid 40 hours every week. Plus health insurance and retirement benefits. I have lived on as little as $12/hr, and I can do it. Not a lot of fun money to throw around, but certainly livable. But making more is definitely nicer. “Money can’t buy happiness,” but it sure can buy comfort, and relief from the stress of “how am I going to pay the bills this month?” or “what if I get sick and have to pay for a doctor?”
  4. I get to leave it at the office. I was actually pretty good about not letting my self-employment take over every waking moment, and I’m very good about working hard during my 40 hours so I only have to work 40 hours a week. And, since I get to leave the office and come home to a different environment and different set of activities, it’s easy to have multiple facets to my identity. I’m an instructional designer, yes, but I’m also a gardener, teacher, spouse, friend, and homebody. I don’t know that I’d like having my day job and my avocation overlap entirely – because then what would I do in my “off” time? More of the same thing I do at work?
  5. I’m doing work I like. I really like my field, and I really like the work tasks I do day-to-day. Working for myself, project work was the fun work – that’s where I got to be creative, do problem-solving, and make shiny new toys for appreciative people. But it was highly irregular. My dependable income – retainer work – was godawful dull.
  6. Collegiality. It’s hard to express how much I appreciate having colleagues to bounce ideas off of, or to share a project with. My colleagues are experts, and when we each work on the part of a project that suits our expertise, the end product is much better than anything I could do on my own.
  7. There’s always a new project. When I finish a project, all I have to do is say to my boss, “I’m done – what’s next?” and before long, there’s a new project to work on. Sometimes the projects are not super-interesting to me, but most of the time they are. Boredom is miserable for me. If I don’t have useful work to do, I start creating useless problems to solve.
  8. This is my craft. Each new project spurs me to be creative and to create solutions that are elegant, useful, practical, and sustainable. I take as much pride in my work as any farmer, woodworker, potter, or other artisan.

These are the reasons I keep working my job. Yes, I need to keep a good-paying job to pay my mortgage – but if you know me, you know that my home is the center of my life and the basis of my health, sanity, and joy. A wonderful home is worth a lot of money to me – and not because it “looks good to the Joneses.” Yes, I identify with my career. What’s so bad about that? It doesn’t hamper my ability to have relationships with people outside of work. I don’t feel like I’m being taken advantage of in terms of salary or what’s asked of me at work. And to be frank: I enjoy the money. I like being able to afford this house. I like having a grocery budget of $350/mo instead of $100/mo. I like being able to say, “Hey, we really need a good heavy-duty mat inside the front door” and just buying it instead of having to save up for two or three months (during which time the floors are getting damaged and dirt is being tracked all over the house).

I know not everybody has this kind of relationship with their work. I know some people do hate their day job and resent that they have to kowtow to an awful boss for just enough money to scrape by. But I’m tired of this presumed divide between “fat cats,” “wage slaves,” and “independent homesteaders” with no room for people who work, like it, and haven’t “sold out.” That message – that of course you want to be your own boss and grow all your own food – is about as useful as the ones that say I have to be 22, blonde, and 38-22-34 to be happy.

So for the record: my day job and my big garden, root cellar, and garden work together quite nicely. And should a time come when they don’t, I’ll change something. But in the meantime, quit trying to tell me that I’m deluded because I think I like my job.

* I have a master’s degree in education and I work for a university helping implement curriculum changes and educational technologies

Vegetable quantity converter

Where has this been all my life?? If you’ve ever wondered “how many tomatoes are in a quart of chopped tomatoes?” or “how many peppers do I need to to get three cups of chopped peppers?” this site can help:

http://www.howmuchisin.com/produce_converters/

There’s also a chart from the Old Farmer’s Almanac, which also includes pound conversions: http://www.almanac.com/content/measuring-vegetables-recipes

Yay!

Apple Compote

Apple CompoteIt’s another great feral apple year! I improvised this dish two years ago when the tree branches were literally breaking under the weight of the apples and pears and I was able to glean literally all the fruit I could eat. This stuff tastes amazing on its own, and it makes a super-quick apple pie or cobbler – just dump a jar into a crust (or put crumble topping on it) and bake until the crust is done.

Measurements are approximate – use any combinations, substitutions, or omissions, though I recommend keeping the pears to no more than 1/3 the volume of fruit so it retains some “bite.”

  • 4 parts apples, chopped in 1″ cubes (peels on or off). Some combination of sweet/tart/firm/juicy is a good idea.
  • 1 part pears, chopped in 1″ cubes (peels on or off)
  • A handful of chopped crystallized ginger
  • A handful of dried cherries
  • Dried cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and/or a hint of cloves
  • Sugar and/or lemon juice to taste – depending on your fruit, it might not need any at all, or you might need a couple tablespoons per quart of fruit

Heat all ingredients until it’s juicy and the apples are cooked through.

An important word about canning this recipe:

This recipe has not been tested for safe canning. Similar apple recipes have notable differences: applesauce is much more fluid, and apple pie filling has a very liquid syrup. That’s important, because in addition to the acidity of a food, the way it moves around in the jar (i.e., water activity) has important ramifications for its safety in a water bath.

That being said, I do can this in pints (20 min in water bath). I feel comfortable with this because a) all the ingredients are high-acid (well, maybe not the ginger, but it’s preserved already by the sugar, and it’s swimming in acid ingredients) and b) it’s not that much thicker than a super-chunky applesauce. HOWEVER – can this at your own risk.  You can freeze this recipe with no worries at all.

How to make non-dairy cheese for pizza

Milk – cow or goat – is not my friend.  I’ve been off dairy for close to 15 years now, and I’ve mostly gotten used to it.  Far from the days when my mom called me “Miss Mouse” for all the cheese I ate, nowadays much cheese tastes funny to me.  Thee big exception is that I really miss cheese on a pizza.  We have homemade pizza almost every Friday night, and I’ve gone through variations with no cheeselike toppings (reeeeeeeallly dry) to “tofu ricotta” (tasty but  a bit wet) to vegan cheez shreds. My first impression of Daiya was “ye gods, this is awful – smells like gym socks and coats the roof of my mouth.”  Not to mention it’s made with pea protein, to which I am also allergic (though not so much as the dairy).

The tofu ricotta is pretty easy to make and definitely helps avoid the “bread with ketchup” feeling of a no-cheese pizza.  Just crumble medium or firm tofu with a fork and add salt (1/2 tsp or more for a block of tofu) and something acidic (my favorite is a teaspoon each of olive brine and cider vinegar). You can also season it with garlic and Italian herbs.  Drain off any excess liquid after a few minutes.  It doesn’t melt or have that rich flavor cheese has, but it’s easy and tasty.

But I was hoping for something better, and I think I found it! Skye Michael Conroy is a vegan food scientist who analyzed what it is about cheese that tastes good and makes us happy, then did a ton of experimentation until settling on a group of recipes and a method for making soy- and almond-based cheeses (and some cashew-based ones, too). I highly recommend buying The Non-Dairy Evolution Cookbook for the recipe and method.

Homemade non-dairy cheese made from soy milk and coconut oil

Homemade non-dairy cheese made from soy milk and coconut oil

I didn’t get any pictures as I was making it, because it goes fairly fast and requires constant stirring. It also requires some special ingredients, but I think the results are totally worth it.  Knocks Daiya out of the water, that’s for sure – it’s got the best flavor and texture of any fake cheese I’ve ever tasted.

Here’s the finished product of the Monterrey Jack recipe. The larger container will go into the fridge to chill into a block, which can then be shredded or sliced. The smaller container has pretty much cooled, and I was sampling it from the still-melted stage through the mostly-cooled stage.

So how do you make it? The basic method is to whisk tapioca starch (also called tapioca flour), kappa carrageenen, salt, and nutritional yeast into your soy milk as you heat it on the stove. Then add melted coconut oil and whisk some more. At this point, it looks exactly like cheese fondue before you get all the liquor mixed in.  When that reaches 175 degrees F, stir in a tablespoon of vinegar and whisk like crazy.  It magically smooths out and blends together. Then pour it into a container, which will act as your cheese mold.  For exact method and recipes, I will direct you to Conroy’s book – that amount of research really deserves your support. The book has recipes for a number of “block cheeses,” like mozzarella, dill havarti, pepper jack, and gouda, plus soft cheeses like Brie and even some blue cheeses, complete with blue “veins.”

This is honestly much easier – and LOADS faster – than making dairy cheese.  It uses a number of weird ingredients – kappa carrageenen is apparently very different from other kinds of carrageenen, and there are some brands that don’t work at all.  The stuff in the link above is specifically mentioned in the recipe, and it definitely worked for me.  You also need to be sure there is nothing in your soy milk except soy beans and water.  Eden Unsweetened and WestSoy are good brands; or, like me, you can make your own from whole beans. This cheese is also not cheap; I calculated it came to $4.25-$6.50 per 1 lb batch depending on whether you buy your ingredients in bulk.  And, of course, it is not terribly local and has some heavily-processed ingredients, and if you have a soy or nut allergy, these recipes won’t work for you.

Still, as a luxury food, it has several advantages: it’s tasty, it is a true comfort food, all the ingredients are shelf-stable and so easy to buy in bulk and store until needed, and…it makes my heart happy to not be left out of cheeselife entirely.  I will definitely make a few more batches and see if it’s worth the money and trouble to have this on my pizza. If it will keep for several weeks and I can get a number of pizzas out of it (and it continues to taste as good as the samples), it’s likely I will keep making it.

MOOC musings

So…if I were to teach a free online course about procuring and preparing locally-sourced foods, open to the entire world (so you’d also get to see what local food looks like in London and Delhi and Caracas), would you be interested in taking the class? It would be as much about community as the particular skills taught, and together we’d create a vast repository of local food sources, recipes, and tips.

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