The Harvest is Happening and the Kitchen is BUSY!!!

Do you love to eat? Whether you consider yourself a foodie or merely know what you like, whether you enjoy home cooking or prefer to have someone else do the work, Can-Do Real Food has something for you!

Great news! Can-Do Real Food is building inventory as fast as humanly possible as the harvest is happening.  The only news that would be better would be that we are open for business but I want to hold back for another few weeks before we start offering items for sale.  This will hopefully serve to whet your appetite and help you be patient.

Personally, one fun thing I experienced as part of the travel I was lucky to enjoy was the amazing foods and dishes I had never tasted growing up.   Some of these international experiences show up in our easy to prepare meal kits. For example, our Mole Sauce provides all you need except for the protein to fix a delicious quick chicken mole dinner. We make it with a hint of heat, just enough to remind you that this is a Mexican recipe, but not enough to get the sinuses flowing. Even hot-pepper-phobes find it tasty. And if you like heat, you can add more with your own favorite pepper or hot sauce.  Today we prepared a lot of these meal mixes for you and now we need to head to Creo Chocolate in Portland to buy more of their 73% for our recipes!mole sauce

We offer other “international” flavors, including our Moroccan Tangine, which basically is a stew with wonderful spices and fruit. Not spicy hot but again with a small hint, because we want everyone to enjoy it. Again, we do not include the protein.  (Why do we skip that? The government oversees food processing work in two categories. I am inspected by the Oregon Department of Agriculture as a representative of the USDA. Food processors who provide meat in their products must also have a license issued by the FDA. The requirements for the inspector to have their own office and bathroom just makes this license unreachable in the commercial kitchen I use at the McMinnville Cooperative Ministries.  So, no protein in our food products. )

loaded pasta sauce
Like this……but different

This past winter in the test kitchen we explored how to present a dehydrated version of our popular Loaded Pasta Sauce. That sauce was originally developed to incorporate the surplus zucchini and carrots that the farmers had. The dehydrated version does the same. We first macerate the tomatoes in red wine and then roast them for several hours. Then they are dehydrated hard so we can powder them. The carrots also need a bit of pre-cooking before drying; we found in the test kitchen phase that merely using shredded carrots left them with a crunch that just is a bit unusual for pasta sauce. Precooking before drying takes care of that. The rest of the recipe is similar but the end product is a bit different than the canned version. You may be amused to learn that when the people around the Tasting Supper table blind taste tested four versions of the recipe, they preferred the wine version, even over the canned recipe!  Right now we are dehydrating the tomatoes but it will be a while yet before we have the other local produce to assemble the recipe for you.

zucchini noodle startWe will be drying slices from zucchinis that grew too large for the farmers to sell. Since we know many people spiralize zucchinis for use in the summer, this will allow a shelf-safe product for use during the winter when zucchinis are imported and a lot more expensive. It helps people who want to have pasta but avoid the carbs and is delicious with our dehydrated pasta sauce. Additionally, if you are a backpacker, rehydration of the zoodles takes only a few minutes.

Last fall we obtained 150 pounds of pumpkins and butternut squash and have prepared a lot of single serving packages as well as 2-4 serving packages of our award winning Winter Squash Coconut Curry instant soup. All you need to do to enjoy this soup is boil the right amount of water , mix in the power and 3 minutes later the soup is ready!

Then we have a lot of fruit products include fruit leathers, chunks of fruit, and even a fruit dust. That one needs an explanation I think.   Huckleberry DustLate each year, after the first frost, Ranee Solmonsson of Sunshower Hill Farm harvests her garden huckleberries. These differ a bit from wild huckleberries because they are actually a different genus. The berry is large and not sweet at all. But when sugar is added, the flavor is that deep rich blueberry flavor we love. Can-Do Real Food prepares a culinary syrup for Ranee to be used on pancakes but especially wonderful in a beverage. Well, when we prepare it, we put the berries through a mill that separates the solids from the juice. The juice of course goes into the preparation of the syrup. The solids are “waste”. But this past December I tried to dry it as a fruit leather. It was too lumpy to roll up, so I ended up grinding it finely and it is absolutely amazing added to oatmeal or yogurt!

quinceAnother item we make that I would guess you might never see anywhere else is membrillo buttons. I first learned about membrillo when I moved to Oregon but apparently quince trees grow in many places around the world. In Spain, membrillo is made by preparing quince paste and then air drying it in deep containers. Before I became a commercial food processor I used a cookie sheet with sides and left the membrillo to air dry for a couple of months. Well, food safety regulations will not permit me to prepare it that way for you, so I put small dollops of the quince paste on a dryer sheet and voila! buttons. They are sweet and tangy and are shelf-safe, something you can carry in your bag or car and have for a easy snack.

Image result for charosetI try to make other unusual things. For example, it is now July and I can see we are going to have a bumper crop of apples from my Gravenstein tree. Besides dried apples, I plan on making a mixture that is a recipe we use for the Passover Seder in the spring. Charoset is a sweet mix that symbolizes the mortar used by the slaves in Egypt. The recipe I grew up with included grated apples, nuts, cinnamon and wine. I will be making a dehydrated version that can be used as a simple snack or rehydrated with a little water to have a soft condiment that would be superb with chicken any time of the year.

We will have herb mixes as we did before and also another batch of umami dust that can be used to enhance your stews and soups and other savory dishes.

It is our pleasure to play with food and present delicious items from local farms with no artificial anything.

And, since we are in the middle of harvest, if there is something you would like us to consider making, now is a great time to share the concept!

Onward!!

YOUR INSIGHT OF THE DAY
You must have long-range goals to keep you from being frustrated by short-term failures.
Charles C. Noble – 1916-2003, Engineer

I promised you an update and I have been slow to write this because I just have not be 100% sure I can pull it off. My optimism is strong but I have this nagging issue: my health.

Last summer I was a physical mess. Two summers ago I had twisted my arthritic knee and the orthopedic doctor I saw early said it was no big deal and I would never need surgery. I wasn’t asking for surgery, I was asking for help……and got none from him. I started physical therapy but there was no gain. About six months later I went to another orthopedic doc after having an MRI done. He said the same thing. Simply, I was miserable.

Last summer, a year after the incident where I twisted my knee, my opposite hip started complaining. Loudly. Perhaps, if you came by the farmers’ market, you noticed I was sitting on a high stool which kept me from moving up and down. I  usually was well medicated…after all I was at the market for about 8 hours so using an edible helped some. So did being wired with my tens unit. But the pain…increased.Image may contain: 1 person, smiling

I really believed I would have to close Can-Do Real Food but my heart rebelled. I developed a plan with a new direction, still keeping the mission.

We had started developing more dehydrated products.  Our Winter Squash Coconut Curry instant soup which won “Best in Division” at the 2016 Oregon State Fair, sold out quickly.  A mole meal mix also flew off the shelves. We sold dried fruit easily. The dried tomatoes did not sell well, but that was fine since dried tomatoes are in a lot of our products, including our Garden Goodies (my answer to Lipton onion soup mix). So we knew we could make products people enjoy.Image may contain: food

Meanwhile, my daughter and her dude are back backcountry enthusiasts. They back pack, mountain climb, raft, ski, bike and more,  carrying their food, water and fuel on their backs.  No automatic alt text available.Listening to them explain how they pack their food lead me to an idea:

Can-Do Real Food can make delicious dehydrated items that do not contain any artificial anything!  While the backpacking world will be our primary market, anyone who wants food that requires very little fuel and water to prepare will appreciate having some in their pantry.

Preparing the produce we get from our Farm Partners means cleaning and chopping or slicing or pureeing, similar to the prep work needed for cooking for canning. But then we place those items in the dehydrator, set the time and temperature and go home.  Image may contain: foodWhen we  return to the kitchen we bag up the dried items, put more in to dry, and go home.  When we get all the ingredients to a recipe prepared, then we mix and bag. Done. About half the time in the kitchen compared to canning which means less wear and tear on my aching body. Also, the products are lightweight and can be marketed over the internet and mailed at a reasonable cost.No automatic alt text available.

We will be canning a little. Over time we have developed contracts for a few clients. Our blueberry farm partner wants jams and sauces for their pick-your-own farm. A wine tour operator wants wine jelly made with wine from one of our farm partners. R Stuart Winery wants an onion “marmalade” to sell that they have been making inhouse to serve with their cheese plate. One of my farm partners wants Loaded Pasta Sauce to sell to her customers. And finally, one farm partner asked me to make a delightful huckleberry culinary syrup.

I will no longer be canning anything for public sale. So I will no longer be at the McMinnville farmers market every week, but I am hoping to have a booth in September when we have built up inventory of the dehydrated products. Image may contain: food

We will be making the mole meal mix, garden goodies, the winter squash coconut curry instant soup, the Moroccan tangine meal mix, zucchini noodles (to use instead of pasta), and we have worked on a dehydrated pasta sauce inspired by our loaded pasta sauce recipe. It is a bit different but tastes fine!  We will also have dried fruit in pieces or roll-ups or even powder. I even worked on how to make a gingered pear snack because one of my favorites was the Gingered Pear Preserves, and it tastes great!

As for me? I had a knee replacement in December that is healing beautifully and I am scheduled for hip surgery the end of June. I have had a cornea transplant and anticipate a cataract surgery (maybe two) before the end of the year. Bionic parts aside, I am doing okay, but I am recognizing I can’t run at high speed at this point.

So, I will be better at keeping you informed. Next task is to update the website to list all the new products.  See you in September!!!Image may contain: text

I Couldn’t Quit

So about a second after I announced Can-Do Real Food unfortunately had to stop because of health issues I began to feel like that was NOT the best solution.

In 2017 I canned lots of fruit and veggie recipes but I also expanded what we were doing with dehydration. I became fascinated how we could develop meal mixes, not just dried fruit or leathers. No automatic alt text available.

We asked shoppers at the downtown farmers’ market to taste and comment on some new concepts, like dried tomatoes. People responded well by offering suggestions like putting herbs on some, salt on others. One guy said, “Yup, it tastes like tomatoes and I hate tomatoes.” He was a good sport!

We had some disappointments. For example, a recipe we first prepared fresh and thought  a winner did not work the same when dried, so we had to let that one alone.

But others were winners. Our Mole Mix, for example, always sold out each time we prepared a batch. Image may contain: food

And always, we stayed with our mission and obtained surplus produce from farms, helping reduce food waste. We will continue to purchase produce from our farm partners.

Meanwhile, in my private life I was watching my daughter Lisa and her dude go on their back country adventures. They backpack, mountain bike and ski, often in places few people go. They carry their food, their water, and their fuel as no wood fires are permitted any longer because of the threat of wildfires.

I listened to their comments about the dehydrated foods available on the market. There were some they loved and others that were never going to be repeated. Lisa also combined some things together herself to supplement the prepared mixes because there were things they liked and could not purchase.

They already had told us how they enjoyed the Winter Squash Coconut Curry instant soup mix and challenged me to develop more foods that could be edible with a short fuel usage to bring water to boil.  Our Mole Mix will do that, too!

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Herb mixes

We will be in the test kitchen in the next few months to see if we can develop a powdered version of the canned Loaded Pasta Sauce.   We believe we can come up with something definitely different in texture and  a bit different in taste but still really good. The sauce can be used with the dried zucchini noodles we make from those squashes that get away from the farmer and become watermelon size.

2017gSo, in 2018 Can-Do Real Food will be preparing canned products ONLY for contracts with our farmers or others and about 3 or 4 savory dehydrated offerings and a number of fruit based dried foods.  For example, when we processed one of our farm partners’ garden huckleberries into a syrup, we milled to separate the berry skin from the juice. We then took the solids, added a bit of sugar (in this case only because garden huckleberries are NOT sweet) and dried the mix. Because of the lumpiness of the skins, we could not make a fruit leather, but we grinded it to offer as an add-in to oatmeal or yogurt.

The backpacking community will enjoy this, as well as other campers who want a break from preparing a meal from whole foods. In addition, a supply of some of our foods would make sense to anyone who loses power at home several times a year. If you have a grill, you can heat up water and then you can prepare the mix into a good meal.

We will NOT be at the farmers’ market as we have been the last two summers. Instead we may have a table one week in September when we have built up an inventory during the harvest season. Generally, we will market online and be able to mail these lighter weight foods easily.

Please let me know if you’d like to be on a special email list to announce when we will be at the market or when foods are available online.Image may contain: text

And the Beat Goes On!

The weather changed into its winter wet cycle here in the Willamette Valley of Oregon a bit over a month ago but, believe it or not, we are still busy in the kitchen processing our farm partners’ harvests!

This week we processed over 200 pounds of garden huckleberries, making a deep rich culinary syrup. Sure, you could use it on pancakes, but it shines in making beverages. One of the Can-Do kitchen staff started dreaming of a kind of mojito….we’ll have to get her recipe.  We expect another 500 pounds of the berries after this weekend so there will be plenty of syrup for everyone!

Thanksgiving last week was a time to pause and think of all we have accomplished this year. Tied to the harvest, we very much feel blessed with living here in this fertile area. Here is a list of all we prepared this season:

 

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And even now, as we enter the slower time of year, we are busy in the Test Kitchen developing some new concepts.  We have seen that many of the people who purchase our products really enjoy cooking, so with them in mind we are developing some specialized recipes that will cut down cooking prep time. Just to tease you a bit, we have been asked by Creo Chocolate, the Portland chocolatier who supplies the 73% chocolate for our dessert sauces, to develop a mole sauce.  This will enable you to have all the ingredients you need to add to your broth and your protein. Very affordable and our focus group thought it was just the right mix of heat and sweet.

Until then, enjoy the treats you have purchased…..come see us at the McMinnville Grange Farmers’ Market Saturday, December 10 from 10-2 to stock up your pantry, find some wonderful items to enhance the holiday meals and festivities, and perhaps even pick up something to gift to someone special.

 

FIGS!!!

My introduction to figs was Fig Newtons and boy oh boy I could eat a package by myself. Love them.  I was introduced to fresh figs the summer of 1972 when walking across a field in Israel with one of my cousins. We came upon a large tree and he said , “I don’t know the name in English but it is very good to eat.” It reminded me of something but I could not place it. After all, dried/fresh  tastes differ slightly and it was not wrapped in a cookie. We got back to his house, pulled out the Hebrew-English dictionary and my gastronomic education had been enhanced.fig tree

Here in Oregon we have a lot of figs and I have been trying for several years to get some. This year I have connected with three different people who have fig trees and it appears that the first is ready to be gathered this weekend. I am so excited!!!

Assorted milk & plain chocolate in blue bowl
Assorted milk & plain chocolate in blue bowl

So I have two ideas of what I would like to do with them…..I tasted an amazing fig-orange preserves at the Fancy Food Show in January and hope to replicate that. I also would like to prepare a fig paste that people can use many ways, and with a recipe I will provide, bake their own version of fig newtons.homemade fig newtonsfig-orange-jam-5

I wondered if any of you have made any fig preserves of any kind and had a recipe to recommend. I’m also interested in savory recipes, as I will dry a bunch and hope to develop a dehydrated recipe for the 2017 season.

 

 

First Annual Tasting Supper

A brainstorm hit me last summer. Possibly it was a comment made by a shopper at the Farmers’ Market. Possibly it was simply a way to try to find a use for the abundance of zucchini that just seems to never end in the summer. The concept of dehydrating produce and developing dried products started me thinking.

As the harvest progressed I dried all kinds of things: carrots (sliced and shredded), potatoes (shredded, sliced and also cooked and mashed), tomatoes (in slices and also the skins which are a byproduct of making the pasta sauce), greens of all kinds, onions (and scallion and leeks and chives), zucchini (sliced and shredded), winter squash (roasted and pureed) and more. Fruit includes apples, pear, plums, peaches, berries, and of course fruit leathers.IMG_0644

We ran special tests on apples and carrots, drying them to the recommended instructions, less, and more. The concept with the shorter drying time was a consideration for the speed of rehydration; if there is still some moisture left in a piece, it will need less time in the soup pot or will have a soft chewy texture in the mouth. The idea behind the longer drying time is to aid in the reduction to a powder.  We found the shorter drying time on the carrots ended up with mold after a month in storage, so that idea was nixed.  We found the longer drying time was instrumental in achieving a really fine powder.

One test bag was eaten by mistake
One test bag was eaten by mistake

And we had fun days in the Test Kitchen making up batches of soup from whole ingredients and then trying to replicate with the dried equivalents. We made up 7 soups, two chip dip mixes, and 3 snack mixes.

2016 Tasting Supper Menutasting gridThe time came to have a Tasting Supper. I invited farm partners, Michelle and Steve from Bethel Springs Farm, Gabrielle from Keeler Estates Vineyard and Ranee from Sunshower Hill Farm. I prepared a menu and tasting sheets asking for a rating and comments.

We started with the chip dips and the comments were great. They checked with me that I was handling the critique and of course I told them that was the purpose. We do not want to offer new products that are just “so-so” to the consumers; we want to WOW them and have them clamoring for more.

Gabrielle Keeler and Steven Berger
Gabrielle Keeler and Steven Burger

With that in mind, they proceeded. Graham provided terrific help by heating up the soups and serving them while I could stay at the table to continue the conversation.

Ranee Solmonsson and Michelle Berger
Ranee Solmonsson and Michelle Burger

We continued through the soups, tasting over nine. The servings were quite small but people were very full, so we took a break for show and tell. I shared some of what I had brought back from the Fancy Food Show in January, especially those items that might be of special interest to our growth but also just fun items.

Fancy Food show boxThen, back to work, tasting the snack mixes. I had also prepared (not on the tasting menu) a berry blend that I had prepared from store-bought items since I did not have dried strawberries or raspberries.

And then, just to end on a sweet note, I served ice cream I had prepared from a recipe book purchased at the Fancy Food show. LOL

We made several decisions:

  1. We will make fewer kinds of products but more of those because they were highly popular in our first season. So, instead of offering an “instant” tomato soup this season (since it needed work to improve texture anyway), we will just use up the tomatoes to make lots and lots of Loaded Pasta Sauce, our best seller.
  2. We will make small batches of products that had limited popularity, like the salsa. Part of the problem there is that the growing season here in Oregon tends to produce less hot versions of hot peppers. We will probably not call any of our potential hot products “hot”, as people who prefer heat found that rating disappointing last season. Keeler Estates has a hotter pepper, though, so we may be able to use her peppers to supplement and bring the heat up.
  3. We are moving from home canning jars to smooth sided commercial jars with a standard commerical lid. This will permit our labels (redesigned now) to fit smoothly on the surface.
  4. The labels will be printed on waterproof paper with laser jet printing, so we will no longer have ink runs in the refrigerator caused by condensation. We’re working for a more commercial appearance and these two steps will help.
  5. We will stay with sugar as our sweetening agent for jams and jellies but we will test a different pectin that is marketed as requiring less sugar for gelling. We will offer two dehydrated fruit snacks as a way for people to enjoy fruit without any added sugar
  6. The Second Annual Tasting Supper is planned. The farmers really liked meeting each other and also being part of the business decision making.

Can-Do Real Food is continually striving to help the farmers use their surplus to gain another income stream and entice the consumers to year-round foods made from locally grown produce.  We are always interested in comments and suggestions. In addition, we are able to add a few more partner farms and are actively seeking one that produces hazelnuts and walnuts.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Playing With The Food

Yes, we play with our food. This is the test kitchen and that is what we need to do so in the summer we can use our time to produce all the new yummies and the crops get harvested.

Imagine, if you will, 50 baggies of various dried fruits and vegetables from the 2015 harvest. They need to be analyzed for various recipes to be processed for your epicurean delight this summer and beyond.

Today, Jana, Graham and I played worked diligently combining dehydrated fruits to make a snack mix. We decided we will offer two different mixes. One will include all those luscious berries that ripen early in the season: strawberries, raspberries, marionberries, and then the blueberries and the blackberries. We’ll call that mix Berry Local. The other mix will include apples, pears, peaches, hunks of fruit leather made from our raspberry-lemongrass syrup fruits after they are pressed and others made from grapes after they are pressed. Also added some roasted pumpkin seeds to that one. That medley will be the Taste of Sunshine, a way you can enjoy summer all year long.

Jana tastes the fruit to determine its sweetness level.
Jana tastes the fruit to determine its sweetness level.

Those combos were easy and needed nothing much more than careful mixing in a ratio that enhances the sweet while providing a snack without added sugar that can also be used for baking muffins or in breakfast cereal or smoothies or even on ice cream.

Taste of Sunshine will remind you of summer during the winter when you can enjoy this snack.
Taste of Sunshine will remind you of summer during the winter when you can enjoy this snack.

 

Then we turned to the vegetables. I dried quite a bit last summer for this test kitchen phase: carrots, zucchini, tomatoes, beets and celery. (We decided not to include the celery but that will make it into the soup mixes, so more on that later.)  Carefully weighing each veggie we tried to balance the mixture not only for the wonderful colors but the strength of flavor.  Zucchini, for example, is a mild veggie, so it can be added in more bulk to provide more mouth chewiness. Beets, on the other hand, are very sweet and need to be added in a small quantity.

Weighing the various veggies helped us balance the flavors.
Weighing the various veggies helped us balance the flavors.

We then decide to enhance the veggie blends with spice and herb mixes. I had been given samples of about 10 different kinds of spice mixes when I attended the Fancy Food show in San Francisco in January.  We narrowed it down to two: one with citrus notes of lemon and the other with a bit more tangy spice that hints at a bit of warmth without being hot. We think you’ll like it.

The hardest part, narrowing down the spicy/herby mixes. I think we found two winners.
The hardest part, narrowing down the spicy/herby mixes. I think we found two winners.

Now you just have to wait until the summer harvest for these mixes to start being offered.  They will be great for snacking at home, at work, or on a hike or camping.

 

In The Test Kitchen

Last summer, in the mad dash of learning how to function smoothly when accepting produce from the participating farms for production into preserved goods, my brain still kept on spinning with new ideas.  Canning is great. Canning is appreciated by many. But canning is not the only way we can preserve the surplus from the farms.

In fact, some of the veggies just can not be canned safely. Squash and pumpkin, for example, can be canned in cubes, but not in puree. Sure, you can buy a metal can of puree that is processed in a huge factory, but we’re not at that scale, so we have limitations that are rightfully imposed by our desire not to let any nasty bacteria into your potential gastro-intestinal tract. So no pureed pumpkin coming out of the Can-Do kitchen.  2014-10-19 09.28.10

As a cook, I know if I turn to a canned product it is because I want a shortcut, saving me time from cooking the whole food from scratch. A jar of chunked pumpkin or squash is nice, but not good enough. I would still have to smush it into a puree to use it. So, I knew, as the processor, I needed to look for another way to save the squashes that my farmers grew.

Dehydrating offers a way to preserve food also in a shelf-safe setting. So last summer, as the fruits and veggies ripened in our farmer’s fields and on their trees, we asked for items we normally did not can so we could dry them.

We now have a considerable stash of dried fruits and veggies and it is time to get to work to develop those recipes that will work. We’re considering a line of dehydrated soup mixes that will take 30-60 minutes to simmer at home. We’re also planning on a line of cup-a-soup mixes that will only take a few minutes of sitting in boiling hot water. Both of those would be packaged for single serving as well as 4-6 serving sizesdried produce

In addition, the dehydrated line will include snack mixes. One type will be seasoned veggies. Another will be fruit snacks. That one will be popular, I think. Many people ask for jams without sugar, but the texture changes so I am not going to go there, even with using stevia. Instead, we will be able to offer no sugar added dried fruit snack mixes.

Finally, I’m thinking about dip mixes. Think about that classic Lipton onion soup mixed with sour cream to become a potato chip dip. So we will have veggie dips you can mix with sour cream or yogurt or tofu.

Right now…..all still in the planning phase. Recipes are selected…..time to enter the kitchen to play with our food!