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.

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

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.

Pressure canning on a smooth top electric stove

Yes, you can use a pressure canner on a smooth-top electric range! Just be sure it has a raised “foot” on the bottom the size of your largest burner. My Presto (bought in around 2009) has this; the one i got from a friend (mid-1970s vintage) does not. The bottom of the older canner is completely flat, so it keeps tripping the overheat sensor on the stove and will never heat up properly.

Next, be sure you clean your stovetop and your canner bottom really well. Anything on your burner will weld on like enamel after the heat if canning, and anything on the bottom of your canner will scratch of you scootch the canner around. As a disclaimer, the stovetop in this house was a burned-on mess when we bought the house, so I’ve not been super worried about defacing it.

So, you have the right canner and a clean work surface – now how do you regulate the heat? Here’s what I do:

  • Once my jars are filled and loaded into the canner (always follow good directions for this), I turn the burner up to high and close the lid.
  • It will come to a boil; once there’s a steady stream if steam, leg it vent for 10 minutes as per manufacturer’s instructions.
  • Put the pressure regulator on. The pressure will begin to rise rapidly.
  • When the pressure reaches 5lb, turn the heat down to medium.
  • As the pressure reaches 10lb, turn the heat down as low as it will go and still be on.
  • the pressure will continue to climb a but and should settle in between 11 and 12 lb. since the directions say to cook almost everything at 11lb in this particular canner (dial gauge type), that’s just right.
  • Usually, this lowest setting is just right, but I do keep an eye on it; if the pressure goes above 12, I might turn the burner off completely or even slide the canner halfway off the burner.

Winter storage slaw and old country BBQ pork

So I’m inordinately pleased with how tonight’s dinner came out.

Pork and slaw

Totally unphotogenic but immensely tasty bbq pork and tangy slaw

First, the slaw.

Since I wasn’t teaching a workshop every weekend during this canning season, I actually felt like getting creative with my own canning. For the first time, I tried making some relishes instead of just doing straight tomatoes and salsa. I found that three recipes with a lot of overlap that I could make essentially at the same time: Corn relish (with cabbage instead of celery), beet relish, and Dixie relish (cabbage and peppers). All these came from the Ball Blue Book. I made fractional batches of each, and in a surprisingly short time, I had four pints and two half-pints of relishes. They are tasty, but WOW. Very, very heavy on the vinegar. My sweetie loves them as-is, but I can only eat a few mouthfuls before my tongue goes numb and my stomach is rebelling at the acid.

Relish recipes

Fractional recipes for three relishes to be prepared at once

So my brainstorm was to shred several cups of cabbage and some carrots and mix about a cup of slaw into maybe 4 cups of shredded vegetables. Add a little salt, stir, and let sit…and let me tell you, it’s the best sweet/sour slaw I’ve ever had. This one was made with the corn relish, which is less sweet and more zippy because of the mustard and turmeric. The Dixie relish will be more sweet and sour. The beet one has horseradish, and will be an entirely different kind of flavor, but I think it’ll work well.

I love so many things about this dish. First, it’s made from all local ingredients (hm, except the vinegar, though theoretically this area could produce scads of cider vinegar). Second, it’s a storage food, because cabbages and carrots can keep all winter, and the “interesting” ingredients are canned and will keep indefinitely.  And after a winter of plain cabbage and carrots, that hit of vinegar and spice is a real tastebud wake-up.  Third, I like sweet and sour slaw, but it’s usually too sweet. This is not. And it doesn’t come in a plastic tub, so it comes out way ahead of store-bought. We’d had the idea to make our own slaw many times, but somehow that feels like a lot of fuss on a week night. Shredding cabbage and stirring in half a jar of stuff is not.

With the slaw, we had some really good bbq pork. On the old Irish holidays, we like to stick to foods our ancestors would have used before they had access to spices and foods from the western hemisphere and Spice Islands, so this bbq has no tomatoes, peppers, sugar, molasses, ginger, cinnamon, etc. – but it still came out really well, and really “like barbecue.” It reminds me of the barbecue my grandmother (raised in Tennessee) made, only with far less vinegar.

Old World BBQ Pork

  • 3 lb pork shoulder, whole
  • 2 onions, quartered and sliced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced (not sure when the Celts got garlic, but I know they had local alliums like leeks, so…pretty close)
  • 1/4 c honey
  • 1 apple, in large wedges
  • 12 oz hard cider
  • 12 oz water
  • Salt

Brown the onions and garlic in oil or fat. Sprinkle the pork roast with salt and brown on all sides. Deglaze the pot with cider. Add apples, honey, and water. Either pressure cook for an hour, or bring to a boil and stew for 3-4 hours. The sauce will boil down a lot – don’t let it burn completely away. After cooking, shred the pork, put it back in the sauce, and simmer until thickened.

I finished the sauce with salt to taste, a little mustard powder, and a splash of vinegar. If I hadn’t been serving it with a strong vinegar slaw, I might have used more vinegar, but opted for a more sweet taste to balance.

Serve with cider (sweet or hard), and raise a toast to the ancestors and the spirits of your place with a hit of homemade mead, if you have it.

Slainte!

Make-in-jar beef broth

I like a good bone broth. I think it has more flavor and minerals than broth made with just meat. Making and canning broth takes a lot of time – 2-3 hours to make the stock (or an hour or so in the pressure cooker), then 25-90 minutes to can.

I found myself wondering if you could pressure cook and can stock with bones right in the same jar. I found that it’s safe to can meat with bones, and of course raw-packed meat is safe to can. Stock (with or without meat) only needs to be canned for 25 minutes, though meat (with or without stock) needs to be canned for 90 minutes. I’m still not exactly sure where you draw the line between “meat with stock” and “stock with meat,” but I figure if half the jar (or less) is meat, you’re probably in the “stock-with-meat” range.

So what I decided to try was to put 2 beef short ribs – each a chunk of bone and some meat – into a quart jar, top with boiling water, salt, and seasonings, and can it for 90 minutes. For the “plain” jars, I added a squirt of Bragg’s and half a teaspoon of salt; for the “ginger” ones, I added two thick slices of fresh ginger root, a tablespoon of Bragg’s, and a big clove of garlic.

The result is a scant quart of ok broth and just enough meat to make the soup register as “meat soup” and not “plain broth. The stock is not incredibly rich; I’m used to stock so flavorful that you can add a quart of water to a quart of stock and have two quarts of really tasty soup. This broth can’t really be diluted, and of course there’s a lot less of it. It does taste good, though – so, we’ll see. It’s definitely a lot less work, but I’m not sure it results in enough of the kind of food we want to really be worth the savings.

Wood stove-assisted canning

Because I’m a big dork, I have spent a lot of my holiday vacation working very hard. 🙂 Actually, I love it – the freedom to do all the household fixups and food preservation I want without having to interrupt my Work for my job is rather luxurious.

This break, I decided to can a whole heck of a lot of meat and stock. I had three stewing chickens (small roosters, about 7lb total) that a friend raised, plus nine pounds of chuck roast and 5 pounds of beef short ribs from Family Farms Co-op. From that, I got eight quarts of chicken stock with meat, eight quarts of beef stock with meat, and eight pints of stewed beef. Twenty-four meals in all from about 21 pounds of meat and bones – I’m learning that this is a pretty respectable ratio, and I promise you, there’s nowhere near a pound of meat in each of these meals. Bones weigh a lot!

This time around, I experimented with using the wood stove to assist with as many steps as was practical. I did the actual canning on my kitchen stove; canning meat is too finicky and potentially dangerous for me to feel comfortable doing it on the wood stove just yet – I really don’t know much about regulating the temperature yet. Here’s what I did:

  • Pressure canning a chicken. I browned one stewing chicken and an onion in my 6-quart pressure cooker on the wood stove. I then added about 4 quarts of water and waited for it to heat up. An hour later, it still wasn’t boiling, so I threw it on the electric burner until it boiled and came up to pressure. Then I put it back on the wood stove for another hour. It kept enough pressure to remain sealed, with a little steam escaping, but not enough to “rock” the weight. After an hour, the bird was fall-apart tender. I removed the meat, put the bones back in the broth, and returned it to the electric burner for half an hour. This made really wonderful stock that gelled in the fridge when it was done.
  • Stewing chickens. For the second two chickens, I browned them (with onions and ginger root) on the wood stove, then added water and salt and let them simmer all day. The water never boiled (it was generally around 180 degrees) but after 5 hours, the chickens were very tender. Again, I removed the meat, returned the bones to the pot, and simmered them again (wood stove) to get the last nutrients out of the bones.  This stock also gelled when chilled.
  • Preheating water. For some of the beef stock, I needed to pour boiling water into my jars. I preheated a big pot of water on the wood stove, then finished bringing it to a boil on the electric burner.

I think anything that would work in a slow cooker will cook nicely on the wood stove, but I don’t think I’ll ever get it to really boil water. One interesting side effect of this sub-boiling stewing is that the both is amazingly clear. The Joy of Cooking says not to cook your stock at a boil for just this reason, but I could never be bothered to fuss that much when making soup on the stovetop.

It also requires a totally different cooking rhythm than what I’m used to, since I’ve never really cooked with a slow cooker. Making stock became an all-day affair – though really, on the stovetop, it takes 2-3 hours, anyway, so it’s not like it’s either “instant” or “all-day.” Preheating the water wasn’t difficult – in fact, it was nice to have that pot off the stove and out of the kitchen – but I did have to remember to do it early on in the canning process.

And, needless to say, using the living room wood stove would really bite in the summer. But for this cold-season preservation, it worked really well. I’ve never really determined how much electricity canning uses, but if you figure I kept the stove off for at least seven hours when it would otherwise have been on constantly, that’s gotta amount to something.

I also hit on a new way of doing beef broth, which saves a lot of time and energy. I’ll write that up in the next couple days.

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