Sunday, February 10, 2008

Playing with my food

I opened the booklet and read a couple of the recipes aloud. While Herself, shaking her head from side to side asked if I was turning into a survivalist, Da Kid wanted to know now long it take me to fix him some jerky because, "I LOVE jerky!"

When I'd spotted it I let temptation rule and bought a Christmas present from me to me: a dehydrator. I've wanted one for quite a while, but after the disaster (I do NOT want to talk about it!) several years back when I borrowed a neighbor's — Sheila's — I thought better of it.

Then a few months ago I spotted one like Sheila's at a garage sale. Four dollars? What the heck. Except once I got it home I pitched it in the trash after discovering when I plugged it, that the fan on it didn't work.

I thought I was safe but since then there's been one in particular — sitting in a display with its many identical siblings — screaming at me to take it home every time I walked into one specific store that I frequent. Not I allowed temptation to win just because it's so big and beautiful and shiny and ... and ....

I just wasn't sure if I'd put a dehydrator to good use. Besides, with that one I'd need a new kitchen ‘cause I ain't got that much counter space to spare.

Just before Christmas I was in that particular store (again) and again turning away from that specific dehydrator, when a different model by a different manufacturer (and the last one in stock) jumped off a shelf, knocked me to the floor and wouldn't let me up until I bought it.

That's my story and I'm sticking to it.

Since then, Da Kid hasn't stopped bellowing for jerky. "Be patient," I kept telling him. "I'm learning as I go."

The booklet that came with the dehydrator was a good place to start (banana chips — they're gone, Christmas citrus I needed to use up before it went bad, a couple of tomatoes just to see, and several pounds of luscious, in-season strawberries) but when it came to anything beyond that and having more questions than answers, I went to the bookstore. I ordered one book on dehydrating and brought home with me another one. The only copy of the only book on dehydrating they had on their shelves.

The book I'd ordered arrived three days later. By then, though, with my nose again stuck in MARY BELL'S COMPLETE DEHYDRATOR COOKBOOK I couldn't have cared less about it.

Originally published in 1994, Bell's cookbook is nicely organized and easy to follow, starting with the two major sections it's divided into. The first, dehydrating, starts with the history of drying food: how it was done in the past and is done now. Next, she explains how modern dehydrators work and what to consider and look for when selecting one. (Considering I didn't know a darned thing when I bought mine, it turns out I bought VERY wisely.) Then in subsequent chapters, it's on to how dry just about anything and everything you can possibly imagine.

Did I neglect to mention that Mary Bell is an avid backpacker?

Off she goes into the middle of nowhere with friends. From her backpack she pulls .... oh, I dunno. How ‘bout a bag with 12 ounces of her spaghetti sauce (with meat) leather. While she soaks it in water to rehydrate and then heats it up, she cooks the pound of pasta she also brought and WALLAH! Dinner for four! Dessert? Backpacker Trail Pudding.

If you're not into the great outdoors like she is, the second half of the book is best described as, "What else can I do can do with all this stuff I've dried?"

From complete recipes to potpourri, to flowers and organic pet treats ...

Did I also neglect to mention that Mary Bell is into organic food? Oh. Sorry about that.

No, Bell's not a complete nut about it and suggests the use of store-bought marinades and sauces in some cases to save time and effort. Still, she much prefers her way because she knows exactly what's in (or on) the food she's dehydrating and it costs far less than the store-bought versions.

Da Kid finally got a sample of his jerky and pronounced it good. (I vacuum-sealed the rest and put it in the freezer.) Very good as a matter of fact. He was so impressed (Shocked?) that I made another batch (Teriyaki) last week. Since he only got another sample before I froze that, he showed up at the door with 3 pounds of London Broil asking for more. (I tried making the beer- marinated beef jerky this time. It's waiting for him.)

If you already have a dehydrator but aren't sure what to do with it except occasionally make jerky, get MARY BELL'S COMPLETE DEHYDRATOR COOKBOOK. If you're even thinking about buying a dehydrator, before you do get MARY BELL'S COMPLETE DEHYDRATOR COOKBOOK.

Fruits, vegetables, meat, fish ... flowers ... nothing is safe with Mary Bell's book around.

If you'll all please excuse me, I have to check on the peppers I put in my dehydrator this morning.

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