Accidentally Cooking

Documenting my mistakes in the garden, kitchen and pantry


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Apple Fruit Leather

I wrote this post last year towards the end of apple season but never posted it. Here it is now, to fill space.

I’m wracking my brain trying to think of a substance less appetizing than leather. Honestly, have you ever tasted leather? Without going into much detail about how we know this, leather isn’t food and it tastes terrible. This is why it always amazes me when people refer to dehydrated fruit puree as “fruit leather”. Sure, they’re talking about the texture, not the flavor. I know that. But it seems weird to name such a tasty food product after something that is so decidedly not “tasty”. I’ll call it “Fruit Leather” because that’s what everybody else calls it (and the other options in the thesaurus are even worse). Just keep in mind that I do so under protest.

Dana was all like “Your preserving stuff is taking up too much space in the fridge”. And I was all like “whatever, woman, step off!”. I mean, I didn’t say it out loud. She’d have been totally pissed if I did. Can you imagine? I’d still be sleeping outside.

Needing to clear some space in the fridge and not having any other great ideas, I pulled out a container of apple sauce and dumped it into the dehydrator.

Apple Leather

  1. Apple Sauce
  2. Vegetable Oil

I know there are ways to do this in the oven, but I used the dehydrator. If you don’t have a dehydrator sitting around, don’t rush out to get one just for this project. But I did have one, and it was convenient enough.

Use a fruit leather tray, which probably comes with your dehydrator. Put a small amount of vegetable oil on a napkin or piece of cloth and rub down the tray. A thin layer of the oil helps to prevent sticking later. Spread your apple sauce or other prepared fruit puree on the tray and put it into the dehydrator. Follow any instructions to create fruit leather.

The instructions for mine said to dehydrate at 135° for 4-10 hours. I did this in the evening after work, so I didn’t have that much time. I did it at 135° for about 5 hours and it wasn’t done before we went to bed. So I turned the temperature down to 115° and went to bed.

When I checked first thing in the morning, the leather was done.

Results

It’s hard to argue with how easy this process is. It’s up there with creating apple chips or even dried tomatoes. Put it in the dehydrator, set it up according to the instructions, and completely ignore it for a few hours. The hardest part of the whole process is spreading the apple sauce out evenly so it dries evenly.

I didn’t add any sugar or seasonings. The sauce was plenty sweet enough all by itself (I used Fuji, Stayman-Winesap and mostly Braeburn apples). Next time I may add some cinnamon or pie spices to the mix for a little extra holiday flair. I may also try to mix in some other fruit puree if I can find something that I like at this time of year.

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Apple Chips

I keep trying to call them “apple chips” because it flows off the tongue and sounds pretty appetizing. The reality is that I don’t dehydrate them enough to get the crispy chip-like texture. I actually prefer them to be a little bit more leathery and chewy than “normal” apple chips. But then again, calling them “dehydrated apples” doesn’t sound good at all. It conjures images of grey-ish, tasteless flakes in a bag with some unnamed “de-caking agent”. Blech.

So I’m going to call them “apple chips”, even though they probably needed to spend a little bit more time in the dehydrator to really qualify as “chips”.  Whatever. A pedantic adherence to truth in advertising is so bourgeois. This is my blog. I’ll call this shit whatever I want.

Apple Chips

  • Apples
  • Lemon Juice

In a medium-sized bowl, mix together a few tablespoons of lemon juice with some cold water. Just eyeball it. Peel, core and slice the apples. Dip the slices into the lemon juice mixture to try and prevent browning. Spread the apple slices out evenly in the dehydrator, and dehydrate them according to the instructions. You can change the time to get them more or less dry, according to your taste. I never had, but I suspect you could add some cinnamon or sugar or other seasonings if you want. You can peel the apples or leave the peels on. I tend to prefer my apples peeled, but I’ve done a few batches the other way too.

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The recipe isn’t the interesting part of this project. The really interesting part is experimenting to find good apple varieties to dehydrate. Some varieties work well, others not as well. Here are the varieties I’ve tried so far, and how the resulting chips have turned out:

  • Gala: Sweet, a little tart, and a good deep apple flavor that comes on slow. The chips are a little yellowish-brownish, but very tasty. The chips in the top container are mostly Gala and Jonathan. If you make enough gala chips for the whole season, you won’t have missed much. A+
  • Jonathan: Similar in flavor to Gala, though a little less sweet and more tart. Very tasty, and great in combination with Gala chips. A
  • Mutsu: Bigger than the others, and the resulting chips are a more whitish color. The big white chips in the lower-left bag are Mutsu. Mutsu chips are modestly sweet with almost no tartness. Mutsu chips are probably tastier than just eating a raw Mutsu. These go great in combination with Gala and Jonathan A
  • Ida Red: Similar-looking to Jonatha chips, but almost completely flavorless and very bland. The chips in the lower-right bag are Ida Red, Fuji and Braeburn. D.
  • Fuji: Very similar to Gala. The flavor is good, but not quite as good. B+
  • Braeburn: Surprisingly blah. Braeburns are good for raw eating, with a sophisticated tartness and sweetness, but the resulting chips are in competition with Ida Red for the most boring. D+
  • Arkansas Black: Great sweet/tart eating apples with a great crunch. However, they brown VERY QUICKLY. The resulting chips were an unappetizing brown color even after a dip in the lemon juice. The very dark ones in the lower-left bag are Arkansas Black. The flavor wasn’t as great as some other varieties. These apples are much better to eat raw. C+

If you have some Gala, Jonathan or Mutsu apples laying around, I definitely recommend you toss a few dozen in the dehydrator and make yourself a tasty snack that will last quite a long time in the refrigerator.


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Small Batch Chicken Broth

To give the pressure canner a quick workout, I decided to make a small batch of chicken broth. We picked up a pack of 4 bone-in split breast chicken breasts, and we had to use them up quick. I butchered them up, and got straight to cooking. The bones and some other vegetables we had laying around went into a pot to make some broth. Then I tossed the meat into a crockpot to make some shredded chicken for easy meals. I’ll include those recipes later.

Chicken Broth

I’ve already covered this recipe, in general, so I’m only going to give some of the particulars today.

  • 4 split chicken breasts, or equivalent amount of other chicken parts, meat and excess skin and fat removed [1]
  • 1 Onion, skinned and quartered
  • 4 little cloves of garlic, skinned [2]
  • 6 Sticks of Celery, rinsed  [3]
  • 2 Bay Leaves
  • Various herbs and seasonings (fresh-crushed black pepper, dash of celery seed, dash of whole dried rosemary leaves, some sea salt)
  • 1 cup of wine [4]
  • 2 Tbsp oil (I used a mix of olive and vegetable oils, because I was running out of one)

Put the garlic, onion and celery in the pot. No, wait. Put the oil in first and heat it up over medium heat, then put in the other stuff. Add seasonings. On top, put the chicken bones. Let that cook for a little while. It might have been like 5 minutes, I wasn’t paying attention. You want the vegetables to get some brown on them. Add the wine, and let simmer for a little while until the alcohol has evaporated (just guesstimate, this isn’t science class). Add enough cool water to cover. Put the lid on, and bring to a boil over high heat. Lower to a simmer and cook that sucker for a while [5].

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Strain the broth. Put it in the fridge overnight to cool completely. The next day, skim the congealed fat off the top and bring to a boil. Ladle into prepared pint jars. Following the directions on your fancy-shmance pressure canner, process at 11 pounds of pressure for 20 minutes [6].

Properly prepared in a pressure canner, this broth should be completely shelf-stable, without refridgeration for years. Keep it in a cool, dark place anyway.

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Notes

  1. Sloppily and hastily
  2. You know, those stupid little cloves that are in the middle of the head of garlic, that are almost not worth peeling because they’re so little and stupid? Yeah, those.
  3. Normally I wouldn’t use so much, but it was starting to go bad and whatever we didn’t use here was going straight into the compost pile. Also, we didn’t have any carrots in our damn fridge, for the first time in months, so I had to make up a little bit of slack in the flavor profile.
  4. Also, a cup to put in the broth after you drink the first cup. I used a white zinfandel
  5. I didn’t time it. It was probably about 2 hours. Cook until the chicken bits are falling apart and you’re bored with waiting.
  6. I got two pints. The recipe with my canner said to process 20 minutes for pints and 25 minutes for quarts. If you make a big enough batch, keep this in mind. Also, do whatever mathemagic you need if you’re at a high altitude.


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Flavored Liquor Scorecard

Dana and I don’t really drink too much. Because of that, we’ve got stuff in our liquor cabinet that’s been there for a long time and we haven’t planned to use in the foreseeable future. Repeating the mantra “waste not, want not” over and over in my head, we have started to turn some of this excess booze into some homemade flavored liquors. This year we’ve done small batches of several things, but next year we may take some of the lessons we’ve learned and try to ramp up to larger batches for gift-giving and drunk-getting.

How do you infuse liquor? The “recipe” is really simple: Take some booze. Cram flavorful stuff in there. Let it sit for a while. Strain the liquour out. The hard part is finding combinations that work, and deciding how long to let the mixtures sit before straining.

Here’s a scorecard of the things we’ve tried:

Cherry Rum

Stuff a pint jar with pitted sweet cherries. Top off with Rum. Let it sit in the pantry for about two weeks. I mentioned in a post a while back that this rum made a great mohito, but the reality is that I wish we had used vodka instead. We just don’t use rum enough (which, admittedly, is why we had such a big jug of it begging to be used). The color was a great deep red and the flavor was very cherry-full. I’m told that tart cherries work very well too, so if we can get our hands on some of those we may give it a shot.

Final Grade: B

Watermelon Vodka

We had a watermelon sitting around that we weren’t eating and it was quickly becoming over-ripe. So I chopped it up, stuffed some chunks into a pint jar and covered with vodka. We didn’t start with the best watermelon so the final product is probably not as good as it could be. The pink color of the vodka is great and the flavor does go very well with many mixers, but there is a certain off-ripe bitterness to it that you can definitely taste if you drink it straight. A little bit of simple syrup goes a long way to fixing this problem. I am encouraged to try this again next year with a better melon.

Final Grade: C

Grape Vodka

Like many of these other applications, we had some green seedless grapes laying around that weren’t being eaten as quickly as they needed. I cut several handfuls of them in half, stuffed them into a pint jar and topped with Absolut. The final product had a very feint greenish hue and had a good grape flavor. It was a little bit bitter, but mixed extremely well. We liked it a lot with some simple syrup and club soda.

Final Grade: B+

Apple Bourbon

When pick-your-own season started up, we were covered in apples. I took two 8-oz jars, put a single diced jonathan apple in each, and topped with bourbon. After sitting for a few weeks, shaking occasionally, I put it into a little flip-top bottle. The resulting liquor is much smoother than it was going in, but the apple flavor is very muted and subtle. I was hoping for something a little bit more obvious. Oh well. Next year I plan to make a much larger batch of this stuff, with different varieties of apples and a few other changes.

Final Grade: B

Homemade Limoncello and Apple Bourbon

Limoncello

The most complicated recipe on this list, Limoncello is made by steeping the lemon peels in alcohol instead of the flesh of the fruit. Then you finish it off with some simple syrup to give the classic sweet flavor. Most recipes call for a grain alcohol or an over-proof vodka, but we had regular 80 proof Absolut on hand so that’s what we used. Lemons are something we’ve had in surplus lately; many of our canning recipes call for lemon juice and I try to use fresh lemons instead of bottled lemon juice when possible (I usually go extra on the quantity, to make sure the pH is safe). Instead of juicing them and tossing them, I’ve been squeezing them AND peeling them before the final trip to the big compost pile in the sky (in my back yard). I’m told that a similar process is used to make home-made Triple Sec, and using something besides vodka could give us something closer to a home-made Grand Marnier. Maybe we’ll try something like that next. The final product has a great lemony flavor and a taste comparable to a store-bought variety or better.

Final Grade: A


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Boneless, Skinless Chicken Breast

We eat a heck of a lot of chicken breast in our household, so I definitely want to make sure we get our chicken breasts at a decent price. Depending on market conditions and brand it seems like we can pay anywhere from 2$ to 5$ per pound of the stuff, which is a pain.

On thing we’ve started doing is buying the bone-in, split-breast chicken, especially when we get it on good sale. Not only are these cuts a heck of a lot less expensive (even considering the extra weight of the bones), but we also end up with lots of extra chicken bones that we can turn into stock.  We pick them up on the cheap, take them home, butcher them, and toss the various bits in the freezer until needed.

We keep two big plastic bags in the freezer. One is filled with chicken bones, and the other is filled with old vegetable peelings and vegetables that were about to go bad but we froze them at the last minute. If we’ve got half an onion that’s been in the fridge for a few days and we don’t have any plans to use it, we throw it in the freezer. Buy more carrots than we can reasonably eat before they get rotten? In the freezer. Some fresh herbs left over that we don’t have a plan for? In the freezer. You’re digging through the fridge and Oh No! There’s some old bell peppers hiding under the tortillas? Throw it in the freezer. Every couple weeks we can take the contents of these bags out, toss all the stuff into a big pot with some other bits and seasonings, and we get chicken stock.

Chicken Stock

  • A pile of chicken bones and parts
  • Various vegetables that still have good flavor, even if the texture and appearance is a little off (carrots, celery, onion, turnips, tomatoes, etc)
  • Herbs and seasonings (Sage, rosemary, thyme, bay leaves, peppercorns, garlic, salt, etc)

Put the stock pot over medium-high heat. Add some oil, onions (if using) and chicken bits. Let these things get a little bit brown, for added flavor. Add in your other vegetables and seasonings and add enough water to cover. Bring the pot to a boil, and boil/simmer for a few hours. Strain out the liquid into a container and put it in the refrigerator. Later, when the stock is cool, skim off the congealed fat from the top of the stock.

Notes:

  1. Everything solid is being strained out, so don’t worry about chopping your vegetables nicely. Toss in whole carrots or celery stick, snapping them in half if they’re too big for your pot. You don’t need to peel your carrots either, just give them a quick wash to make sure the dirt and other bits are off them.
  2. Depending on salt content, the stock should freeze well and keep for a long time in your freezer. Your stock should keep for several days in your refrigerator as well. If you have the equipment, you can put it into quart jars and pressure can them at 11 pounds for 25 minutes, depending on your altitude.
  3. Chicken skins have lots of flavor, but that flavor is mostly trapped in the fats, which will be skimmed off later. Don’t bother putting chicken skin in with your stock, it adds nothing to the final product.

 

This is a pretty darn cheap alternative, considering the store-bought stock can cost upwards of 2 dollars per quart.

We’ve done the same thing with beef and pork bones too, although we tend to eat less beef and pork than we do chicken and sometimes it can be best flavor-wise to leave the bones in these things.

Next time I’ll talk about what to do with a big container of chicken broth.