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Healthy Living Real Food Recipes

8 Reasons to Use A Food Dehydrator & Jerky Recipe

www.mypicshares.com

Dehydrating is one of the easiest methods I’ve ever found to prepare foods. I like how I can leave something in the dehydrator for hours and not worry about for awhile…and then when I come back to open it up, there is something delicious to eat awaiting me inside.

People have been drying food since the beginning of time – and for most of that time, out of necessity. Throughout history, the sun, wind, and salt were three main elements used to preserve food. In ancient times, some of the first stable civilizations in places Mesopotamia and Egypt preserved many different types of foods – salt preserved fish and meats, dried grains and fruits.  The discovery of the processes were a large part of what enabled the success of civilizations to flourish and grow.

In modern times, we now have technology on our side which has given us the ability to create devices capable of producing the same results, right in your own kitchen. Drying food is ideal for taking on trips, sending in lunches, or going anywhere away from home. You can also store dried foods for months in your freezer, or if you buy a food vacuum sealer, you can package food and ensure it will last longer.

So far, we’ve made granola, dried fruit and vegetables, and jerky with our dehydrator.  The Excalibur dehydrator we bought over a year ago has never let us down, and it’s one of the appliance purchases I’ve made from which I feel I’ve gotten the most use for my money (and they did not pay me to say that). In fact, at $209.95 (from now until February 23rd, 2011), the 5-tray Excalibur dehydrator is a great price.

Here are 8 reasons to dehydrate foods:

  1. Make crispy crackers, nuts, granola, and chips – after soaking grains or nuts overnight, you can then dehydrate them according to the drying times specified for each type of food in the recipe guide of your dehydrator.
  2. Cost saving – use up food that you might otherwise have to throw away – when you dehydrate foods, it actually causes the foods to shrink in size and decreases the amount of space needed to store the food, enabling you to save money by keeping for later what you can’t use now. Then you can use dried foods in recipes or just eat out of the container. You can freeze foods that you dehydrate if you can’t eat them all right away, and stretch out your food dollars more. And, frozen dried foods can be used any time of the year – especially when foods are not in season.
  3. Preserve nutrients – according to Dr. Edward Howell, author of “Enzyme Nutrition”, the actual temperature of the food in the dehydrator is 20 – 25 degrees cooler than the setting on the device itself. So if your temperature is set at 145 degrees fahrenheit, the temperature of the food is actually 120 to 125 degrees. Then, after the first several hours you should turn the temperature down to a lower setting – anywhere from 20 degrees lower or more for the remaining drying time. Using this method decreases total drying time and decreases potential for the development of bacteria and mold on the food. It also helps to ensure the preservation of critical nutrients in the food.
  4. Dehydrating is green – it costs less to run the dehydrator than the oven in your house, preserves nutrients, and the Excalibur Dehydrator is free of dangerous chemicals like BPA in its trays and housing components which could leach into the food during the drying process.
  5. Make jerky – this is one of my favorite reasons. We’ve made jerky several times and I love that it’s ready whenever I want to eat it. There are many variations on preparing jerky.
  6. Ensures that you know how the food is prepared and what’s in it - unlike store bought foods where you really don’t know where the food comes from and usually has questionable ingredients, dehydrating your own food allows you to have complete control over what goes in the food, and you can tailor it to your own tastes and health needs.
  7. Make dried fruits and vegetables for snacks, in pancakes or hot cereals, use in many recipes such as home-made desserts, soups, and casseroles. Dried fruits and vegetables are easily reconstituted by adding a bit of water in foods you are preparing, or eat them as is for a snack.
  8. A good alternative to canning – even if you preserve your own foods at home in glass jars to save time and money, canning is labor-intensive. Additionally, the lids used in canning usually contain BPA in the lining. For this reason, dehydrating is better and also takes less effort and time on your part.  And again, dehydrating preserves nutrients better than any other form of preserving done at home or in the store.

Here is our jerky recipe that we’ve used several times with great results:

  1. Slice 1 – 2 pounds of your favorite meat (you can also use goose, bison, chicken, salmon, and game meats) into thin strips – about 3/16″ with the grain of the meat, and place in a casserole dish.  Alternatively, you can use a plastic bag. You can leave the fat on, but we have tried it both ways and we prefer to cut the fat off and save it for other cooking uses. We have found that when we leave the fat on, not only does it have an undesirable texture for eating later when the jerky is finished, the fat will cause the meat to spoil faster (unless you freeze it). We typically use sirloin, flank, skirt, tenderloin, round steak,  or some other cut without bones and a lot of fat.
  2. These are the marinading ingredients we’ve used: organic fermented soy sauce (1/3 cup), organic Worcestershire sauce (1/3 cup), minced onions and/or garlic (1/4 cup) or onion powder (1 tsp), black pepper (1 tsp), sea salt (1 tsp), raw honey, gently melted (1/4 cup, optional).  Mix together and add to your casserole dish or plastic bag which contains the meat and mix up or spread around to make certain all your meat pieces are coated with the marinade.
  3. Place the meat, covered, in the casserole dish in the refrigerator for 8-10 hours. We have left ours longer – up to 2 days, and it turned out delicious. When you are ready to dehydrate, take meat out of dish or bag and soak up extra moisture  thoroughly with a clean kitchen towel or paper towel.
  4. Line your dehydrator trays with parchment paper.
  5. Place the meat on the paper and close the dehydrator.
  6. Set the temperature to about 150 degrees. If you are going to turn your temperature down, do so after 2-3 hours. You will then have to check periodically to see if it is done, otherwise you can end up with over-dried, brittle meat. Most meat shouldn’t take longer than 8 hours to dry, but it is a good idea to check every few hours to be sure.

The picture at the top of this post shows our meat marinading in the casserole dish on top of our dehydrator. While marinading, we store it in the refrigerator for at least overnight and sometimes up to a day or more.

The first few times we made jerky, our meat was done usually within 8 from when we started it. We used the “turn temperature down” method today to make a new batch of jerky, so I would advise checking every 2 hours to see how far along your meat is after turning down the temperature. Meat will be done when it is no longer moist, but if you leave it too long it will become very dry and will crack when you try bending it.

Important : My husband thought our first several batches of jerky were too bland and uninspiring. My son and I, on the other hand, thought they were delicious. If you prefer a stronger taste, use the Worcestershire sauce in your recipe. It will be extremely lively and tangy – in my opinion, too much. If you prefer a milder, less tangy taste, don’t use the Worcestershire. The same goes for garlic or onion (powder or minced). All of these ingredients will add to the liveliness of your jerky. My husband thinks our latest batch is superb….my son and I, not so much. So it really depends on what flavors you prefer.

Also, my husband prefers jerky to be more on the “jerk” side of done, which means, more dry and chewy. My son and I, not so much. So if you like your jerky to be a little more moist and less dry, watch the time on the dehydrator. If your jerky turns out more moist, you should definitely store it in the refrigerator or freezer if you don’t plan to eat it right away. More dry, you can keep it out for a couple of days and it should be fine.

This post is part of GNOWFGLINS Tuesday Twister Carnival.

Healthy Living Kids & Family Recipes Uncategorized

Rustic Baked Chicken With Cheese and Bacon

www.mypicshares.com

I absolutely love the combination of chicken, melted cheese, and fried bacon. It is succulent and satisfying to the taste buds, and has such a diversity of flavors – the smoky taste of bacon and tanginess of cheese goes wonderfully well with a comfort food like baked chicken. And it’s something most everyone in your house is sure to like – even the pickiest of eaters. The smell alone of this food while cooking is incredibly irresistible.

I can’t stress enough the importance of quality ingredients. We used chicken thighs and legs – which are more economical than larger pieces such as the breast. Many people perceive the breast to be the healthiest piece of the bird since it’s “leaner and lower in fat”.  But breasts are actually the least nutrient-dense part of the chicken. Dark pieces do contain cholesterol, and they are also slightly higher in fat. But that’s actually a good thing. Did you know that since dark meat has more fat and cholesterol, that means it has more nutrients? And if poultry is from healthy birds who aren’t administered antibiotics and are on pasture, it is very healthy to eat. You can feel good about using dark pieces of chicken as they count for more nutrition AND they are cheaper.

So when you’re shopping for poultry, definitely go for the pasture-raised variety from local farms. Unlike feedlot chickens in confinement, these chickens eat a healthier diet, have access to sunshine and are able to forage and eat insects. This makes the quality of their meat higher – more conjugated linoleic acid (cancer preventions), Vitamin A , D, E, and K (fat-soluble vitamins), and Omega 3 fatty acids (lowers the risk of auto-immune problems, heart attack, cancer).

Cheese is such an artisanal food, it seems wrong to buy anything commercial. It’s difficult to find local, raw cheese where we live (Boise, ID). Occasionally I buy some of the few local cheesemaker’s products – but mostly they are pasteurized. For this recipe, I used some raw cheese which I try to keep on hand in my freezer from various merchants I know and trust such as U.S. Wellness Meats from Missouri or Trickling Springs Creamery, whose cheese I tried at the Weston A. Price Wise Traditions Conference in King of Prussia, PA. I also used some Italian Asiago cheese from my health food store cheese counter.

Your bacon should also be from a pasture-raised source for the same reasons – more Vitamins A, D, E, and K, . Healthy saturated fats and proteins contain nutrients necessary for health!

And now for the recipe!

Ingredients:

  • Pasture-raised chicken parts of your choice – we used thighs (4) and legs (5), bones in
  • Mushrooms – I used 4 large shitakes, sliced
  • Diced onions -I used 1/2 of a small onion
  • Minced garlic – 3-5 cloves, depending on how much you love garlic
  • Package of bacon from pasture-raised hogs, sliced in half and cooked (I fried it in a cast iron pan on the stove first)
  • Grated cheese of your choice – I used a mixture of raw cheddar and Asiago, about 1 cup (what can I say, I like cheese)
  • Butter or ghee – you can also add in some olive oil or use it place of the butter, however, butter or ghee imparts an incredible taste to the chicken
  • Sea salt – to taste
  • Pepper – to taste, I used about 1/4 tsp
  • Paprika – to taste, I used about 1/2 tsp

Equipment:

  • Large pan – I used stainless steel
  • 9×12 baking dish

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. In a large pan, fry bacon on the stove. Some people prefer the oven method. Leave the bacon just on the side of underdone since you will be putting it in the oven on the chicken when you are finished. Set aside on a plate.
  3. Drain most of the bacon grease from the pan where the bacon was cooked into a storage container (you know you want those bacon drippings for refried beans). Add onions and garlic to the pan on medium-low heat.
  4. While the onions and garlic are sauteeing, add mushrooms. At this point, you can add butter or ghee to your pan to help add more oil for the chicken to cook.
  5. Add chicken pieces, then add salt, pepper, and paprika and brown on both sides, but don’t cook all the way through.  Allow chicken to cook for about 7- 10 minutes on each side, covered on medium low heat. Depending on how big your pan is that you use to brown the chicken, you may have to brown one set of pieces and set them in your baking dish until the next set are browned.
  6. Place the partially cooked chicken in a baking dish, cover pieces with the mushrooms, onions, and garlic, and pour the remaining “sauce” from bacon drippings and butter or ghee and/or olive oil over it.
  7. Drape chicken with bacon pieces.
  8. Cover chicken and bacon with grated cheese. I covered the bacon as much as possible with cheese to make certain it didn’t  burn in the oven while the chicken finished cooking.
  9. Allow chicken to bake 45 minutes to an hour. Check periodically to make sure your chicken/bacon/cheese is not burning on top. If it does start to get too hot, cover with a piece of foil. Your cooking time will depend upon how long your chicken cooks on the stove and other factors like elevation.

I just realized something I neglected to think of for the perfect finishing touch to this meal that would be divinely delicious – a mild mustard/homemade mayo sauce. I’ll be making that next time!

Enjoy your chicken served with a salad topped with olive oil and vinegar or cooked vegetables with plenty of pastured butter.  My family loved this meal – and we had leftovers!  :)

This post is part of Simple Lives Thursday Blog hop (hosted this week by GNOWFGLINS).