Mid March Madness

The weather is gorgeous today, reminding me in just 8 weeks I will be at full speed between picking up produce from the farms, spending time in the kitchen canning and dehydrating, and then at the weekly farmers’ market on Thursdays in McMinnville.  The market is expected to start the very beginning of May, but my first harvest usually falls to the end of June, so until then, it is time to clear what we have in the freezer and to mix up our dehydrated veggies and herbs.

A few years ago when I started getting into selling the dehydrated offerings I needed to  identify packaging that would keep the food safe and provide at least a year of tight seal for longer storage. The options were plastic…plastic….and plastic.G dried foods.JPG

I’m pretty involved in Zero Waste McMinnville; it was a natural extension of the food waste reduction we have as part of our mission of Can-Do Real Food. As I learn more about how plastic has taken over our lifestyle, I have been searching for a new alternative packaging for the dried foods.

And while there are some new options this spring, there still is nothing that is workable. I will keep looking, but we will need to keep using plastic.

The bags I use all have zip-lock closure, so after I heat-seal the top of the bag, it is still closable with the zip lock after you open it. As such, the bags can be re-used and since they are good heavy plastic, I hope you will rinse and save them for personal use.

Which Diet?

Recently we had a friend living with us who has diabetes and it made me realize how fragile our systems are when we stray into areas where we react or don’t deal with certain items that are available to eat.  I thought it is time to mention that Can-Do Real Food fits into any number of diets.

Preservative Free

Can-Do Real Food has a couple of tag lines and the one that will help you relax is “Nothing artificial added”. What preserves our food from spoilage is the sugar in the jelly recipes and the low pH (using lemon juice or cider apple vinegar) in our savory canned recipes. The dehydrated foods are dried either to a “bend” (like the fruit roll-ups) or a “snap” (used to powder the item for easy mixes and quick rehydration.

Because we don’t add preservatives, our foods are safe to eat but will taste best if eaten within the time frame indicated on the label. Canned goods are “best by” 13 months after preparing. Dehydrated foods are presented in bags that are rated for five years but I have noticed that some fruit roll-ups prepared over a year ago taste fine but feel dryer.   I use “best by” dates instead of “use by” or “good until” because the food is perfectly safe to eat afterwards, but again, the best taste or texture diminishes over time.

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Low Carb

Whether it is South Beach (the diet we followed while our friend was staying with us) or some other low carbohydrate diet, Can-Do Real Food fits in. Some foods that are vegetable based are without any doubt, allowed. Others, like the fruit snacks, need to be eaten with moderation.

 

Salt Free

We add no salt to any of our canned recipes. In fact, the decision to do that had an interesting side effect when we resubmitted our best selling canned Loaded Pasta Sauce for food processing approval the second year. We added zucchini to the mix (after all, we deal in farmer surplus and anyone who has ever grown zucchini knows how much of a surplus a plant produces) but we also removed the sugar and salt from the recipe. The original recipe had been given to us by a chef and we realized he might have been working with  the kinds of tomatoes that you find in supermarkets in the winter…picked under-ripe to red up during travel, the sugar in the recipe helps with the subdued flavor, as does the salt.  A few customers complained the pasta sauce was not as good but once we suggested they add salt to taste, they once again were happy.   “Add salt to taste” is now on that label.Image result for salt free foods

As we have developed the dehydrated Pasta Sauce, even I realized it has to have salt for better flavor.   Chatting with our backpacking experts made us aware how much salt people doing intense exercise need, so we are adding salt to the dehydrated mix.  If you are on a salt-free diet, do not eat this product.

 

Vegetarian/Vegan

 

We can assure everyone that there is no meat, no eggs, and no dairy in our products. First of all, we do not have a license to work with meat. To add a chicken flavor to our dehydrated Tortilla Soup or beef flavor to our dehydrated Hearty Borscht soup we use culinary yeasts with those flavor profiles. Culinary yeast is an ingredient that is usually marked as “natural flavorings” on labels. Our labels will tell you “culinary yeast”. Image result for vegetarian logo

The ONLY exception (and we’re not sure it will be offered this year) is our popcorn flavoring mix because that has included dehydrated butter or cheese when we made it in the past. It sold well, so we want to make it again, but currently not available.

 

Gluten Free

We’re not a bakery so this is pretty easy. The ONLY recipe that has been altered to stay gluten free is the dehydrated Tortilla Soup where we provide a small snack size baggie of corn tortilla chips to break into the hot prepared soup.

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GMO Free

As mentioned right above, we use corn chips instead of flour tortillas in the Tortilla Soup mix. We use only organic tortilla chips.  In addition, one of our farm partners, Bethel Springs Farm, is certified organic and everyone else we purchase surplus produce from grows in the organic style with no conventional spraying or GMO seeds. Image result for gmo free logo

Kosher/Halel

No, we’re not certified kosher or halel, but neither do we include any restricted ingredients in any of our foods. Not having a license to process meat, we stick to fruits, vegetables, seeds and nuts in our kitchen.  So, you’re level of comfort with this category depends on how strict you observe the religious dietary rules.

 

If you have any questions about any ingredients, please contact me at BethRankinOR@gmail.com or message me on our Facebook page.

Chocoholics Unite!

Okay, I admit it. You don’t even need to twist my arm or apply any pressure. I am a chocoholic.  If there were membership cards to a group that does not want self-help, I would carry one for this. 

So, Can-Do Real Food works with local farmers but I managed to soothe my chocolate need by making chocolate ice cream sauces with fruit. Last year I made small batches of ice cream sauce with raspberries, strawberries and cherries. This coming season I will be making, upon request from my Farm Partner Beach Family Farm, a blueberry chocolate ice cream sauce.

Last year’s  challenge was to find a quality chocolatier in the area. The Willamette Valley is pretty spectacular with its vast array of crops, but chocolate is not grown here. The best I can do is to find a local producer. Last year I found Creo Chocolate. in Portland.  They have a direct Free Trade relationship with cacao growers in Ecuador.  Creo roasts the beans and prepares chocolate in a variety of flavors. We like to use the 73% chocolate in our recipes because it is dark but has a bit of sugar added, which means we don’t add any other sugar to those recipes. 

When the Straub family at Creo challenged us to develop a mole sauce we were intrigued. Mole, which means sauce, is used throughout Mexico and it seems like every grandmother has her own recipe.  I had my first taste of chicken mole on a visit to Texas about 21 years ago. While I was disappointed a bit that it does not scream “CHOCOLATE!!” I think it might have been weird to eat a chocolately piece of chicken. The chocolate, however, does an amazing job mixing with the peppers and tomatoes and other ingredients and making my taste buds very happy.

When we got this request we of course had to do some field work and ordered a lot of chicken mole over the next few weeks at a number of Mexican restaurants in the area. Every single one was different!  They all were yummy, with variations of sugar and heat. We made our first batch in the Test Kitchen with 100% chocolate but decided the little bit of sugar in the 73% seemed to offer more enjoyment. For the heat we aimed for something on the light side of medium; people who like more heat can always add it.

The new challenge was to prepare a mole sauce that would be food safe. Our commercial kitchen is set up for small batch processing and does not have the kind of canning equipment that would provide a safe canned product. (We’ve also tasted the large national brand for mole sauce and prefer a fresher taste.) While it would be easy to open a jar and pour it all out, if someone is going to prepare chicken mole, they are planning to cook, so we realized a dehydrated mix would work fine!

So, Can-Do Real Food is pleased to announce the first of several new dehydrated recipes that will tempt your palate this season. Mole Sauce!

The mix will prepare enough to feed 4 people.  You will need to have 2 pounds of boneless chicken (breasts and/or thighs) and 1.5 cups of chicken broth. We provide a simple recipe on the package. It is also feasible to use other proteins besides chicken. The mix can be hydrated with vegetable broth also. Have fun and let us know how you enjoy it!

And watch for other new dehydrated mixes this season as the harvest progresses. We have some amazing things we cooked up in the Test Kitchen that our Partner Farms tasted this past January and approved. Now we just need to wait for the main ingredients to grow!

Turning Two Oops into a Pantry Feast

A funny thing happened last week on the way to preparing the matza ball soup for the Seder. I used the wrong chicken.

I’ve talked about “Know Your Farmer” so it probably won’t surprise you to know I have a farm where I get my eggs. They used to raise meat chickens but have gotten out of that last year. However, as their older birds no longer produce eggs, they are processed and frozen as “stewing” chickens. Perfect for making soup! I ordered some from her and we had three in the freezer.

The first oops happened when I asked my husband to grab a chicken and I didn’t notice until it was already defrosted that it was not one of the stewing hens. It was a large roaster so it served my immediate need but the next oops occurred Sunday when my husband used one of the stewing hens for supper…..and he did not stew it. It was, to put it mildly, hard to chew.  We ate vegetables that night. LOL

That chicken and one more from the freezer then went into the soup pot yesterday and I made a boatload of broth. It simmered all day to develop a deep flavor.

This morning I got out my canning supplies. First I used my hot water canner to sanitize the jars I would use. Then, filling a bunch of pints, I then pressure canned broth so we could have it on the shelf to grab for meal preparation.

While that was processing, I then stripped the meat off the bones and made up a chicken pot pie mixture with onions, carrots, celery, green beans, and a whole bunch of herbs and seasoning. Then I sanitized quarts in the hot water canner and got 3 quarts of pot pie mix, 1 quart of soup (the remainder of the pot pie mix with more broth) and 3 more quarts of chicken broth. I STILL had some broth left over so it went into the freezer.

We prefer to can broth instead of freezing it for a couple of reasons. First, it takes up freezer space which is needed for the meats we buy from local farmers and other items in the freezer, like my ice cream maker bowl…all necessary for happy living here. Secondly, when the broth is frozen you have to plan ahead in order to defrost it to use it. Sometimes our meal planning is more ad hoc and frozen broth ends up forgotten.

From left to right: pot pie mix, soup, broth

Knowing how to can food safely was something I learned three years ago. Hot water bath canning was enough of a challenge but pressure canning had that horrible “explosion possibility mystique” that I needed to overcome. Now, no big deal. And it becomes a joy when I look at my home pantry and see that I have a ready supply of food that I have preserved. This is food that I know the contents and there are no preservatives or additives we don’t want in our diet.

Do you want to learn how to can safely at home?  Let me know. I will be planning a canning lesson in May and will be interested if there is interest.

 

Know When to Fold ‘Em

You gotta know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em, know when to walk away, know when to run. Kenny Rogers
So, for Kenny it was a hit song called The Gambler.  For me, today, it is recognizing that one of my products just is not right.

We introduced a pickled pepper this year and the first batch came out perfectly. If you bought some, that is the one you tasted at the Farmers’ Market. pickled-peppers

However, the subsequent batches  GG1822164 and GG1823164 taste bad. I know you won’t eat them so there is no risk to your health because it just is not right.

A later batch, GG297164, is not bad, but doesn’t taste the way it should. We know the reason for this but there is nothing unhealthy in the jar, just not “rightness of flavor”.bad-taste

So, unlike the Gambler, I am not walking nor running away. I want any buyers of these products to notify me for a refund or an exchange for another product.

Please email me at BethRankinOR@gmail.com.  I will ask you to bring the jar with its contents so I can be sure of the batch.

The issue of food safety is very important and again, I do not believe this issue will make anyone sick, but something is not right, so the recall is wise.