Thursday, April 18, 2013

Adventures in dehydrating

Because the ingredient list in commercial instant mashed potatoes is longer than my arm and mostly completely unpronounceable (and I usually make my morning cuppa with dihydrogen monoxide); and because we NEVER eat the whole bag of potatoes before they become something from a horror movie (potatoethulu anyone?) that gives me nightmares when I look into the potato box; I dehydrate a lot of spuds in various forms.

And because I am me, I’m also going to dehydrate/freeze some of the $0.29 a pound bananas I found and for good measure throw in the sad looking ginger I was going to candy, but completely forgot about until I started this process (thus the afterthought pic).

K, this is what I am starting out with:
10lb bag of potatoes, not organic, cost $2.98
9.72 lbs of bananas, cost $2.82
Mangy bits of ginger I bought so long ago I forgot what I paid or how much they weighed, but I’ll be generous and call it $0.50, ‘cause I know I would not pay more than that.
Little bit of lemon juice, call it $0.10
Gas for the stove and electricity for the dehydrator/grinder/lights so I can see, water to wash/boil/rinse with, fuel and maintenance portion for the grocery run during which I acquired these items, amortization cost of items used during the production, call it a buck (it’s less, but I’m gonna just be lazy about it, this is about dehydrating, not higher math with fractions): $1.00
Total cost of this exercise: $7.40

First thing I did was to decide what I want these potatoes to be when they grow up. We LOVE, and I mean LOVE mashed potatoes. It’s our go to food when we want comfort food, there is just nothing out there that can beat mashed potatoes and chili for comfort when you need it. So that’s one part. We also adore latkes/Kartoffelpuffer/potato pancakes, whatever you want to call it, we love them, so that’s the other one. I split the bag into about 2/3 mashed, 1/3 shredded.

I’ll try to go step by step here, but the process runs sort of simultaneously, as in I did the ginger and the bananas while the potatoes boiled and then cooled and I blanched the shredded potatoes while I peeled the mashed and so on, so there is definitely some overlap.

Boil the potatoes that will become mashed yumyum.

Peel and cut up the Ginger, put into cool water with a bit of lemon (no autocorrect, I did not use any lemmings in this exercise) in it.

Put ginger bits onto drying rack with screen so the little bits don’t fall through.

Start running dehydrator at appropriate temp (I try for about 130 degrees, I like to go a bit slow).
Peel and cut bananas, put into lemony/gingery water (this will keep the banana slices from oxidizing and brown as they dry).

Drain boiled potatoes, leave to cool off for a bit.

Peel potatoes destined for latke-y greatness, put the peels and the potatoes in separate bowls of water, I’ll explain/show why later.

Set enough water on to boil to blanch the shredded spuds.

Shred the raw potatoes into the bowl that holds them.

Put banana slices on dehydrator trays and start dehydrating.

Grab shredded potatoes out of water, sort of squeeze/drip as much as will come off, then put into boiling water to blanch for a few minutes (about 2 for fine shred, 5 for thicker slices).

Take the leftover shred water and combine it with the water the peels are sitting in, make sure to get the sediment. This is potato starch, used for thickening sauces. Go ahead and take out the peels, again, leaving behind the sediment.

Drain shredded potatoes, leave to cool a bit.

Peel boiled whole potatoes.

Put shredded, drained, slightly cooled potatoes onto dehydrator tray, I use salad forks for this and I use a fruit roll up tray for the bottom one because I shred them fine enough to fall through.

Begin dehydrating.

Rice the boiled potatoes.

Why I peel before I rice (you don't have to, the ricer will keep the peel back) here

Mash the boiled potatoes a bit more with a fork (this is optional, I feel it gives a better result)

Spread the mash on fruit roll up trays, begin dehydrating.

Pour off the by now clear water from the potato starch, add more water and swish it around, pour the whole thing through a strainer into another bowl to get the bigger bits out, discard bits. Let settle, pour off water, add fresh water, let settle, pretty much repeat until no more floaty bits come up, then pour off the clear water and let the starch dry, then break it up and put in an airtight container, use to thicken delicious gravies.

Enjoy rest of afternoon, having high tea/watching TV marathons/protesting for whirled peas/insert your own way of doing other stuff while the dehydrator does its thing pretty much over night (I cleaned the kitchen, played with chicks, slept, cleaned the living room, did some laundry, and drank obscene amounts of coffee).

Depending on humidity, temperature, thickness of items to dry, in this case about 16 hours later, begin unloading dehydrator:
  1. Tipping the trays upside down over a bowl has proved to be the easiest for me.
Break up shred and fill into clean canning jar.

 Put oxygen absorber into jar, seal with vaccum sealer. Or put into other airtight container, the OX-ex and vacuum are completely optional (but I *do* recommend them).

Lable your product. Trust me.

Put mash sheet into bowl, break up enough to fit into grinder

Grind mash into powder, I run this through a flour sifter and basically keep grinding until it’s all fine.

Seal jar in whatever manner you decide on (I think we all know what my method is, right? That stuff wound up in a canning jar after I took the photos)

BTW: Here is why I dehydrate: What you see is a 10lb bag of potatoes:

Flip tray with bananas upside down over bowl (you did clean out the potato leavings, right? I don’t have to say that, right?) and poke them with a stick. I use bamboo skewers for this.

Pack as many banana chips as you can save from your resident scavengers into an airtight container.
Could you at least wait until AFTER I take the picture?

Pick the ginger off the tray, grind and put in airtight container. 

Gratuitous picture of ground ginger:

6 of the bananas wound up in a freezer bag, ready for banana nut bread. Did I mention that I got these for $0.29 a pound? That’s half of what they usually go for around here, I went back for more…

To re-hydrate the potatoes:
 I put the shred in a bowl of hot (not boiling) water for about 15 minutes, drain and cook as though they are fresh.
The mashed are even simpler: 1 cup of powder to 3 cups of boiling water, let sit for a minute, season (mmmmmh butter and garlic), enjoy.
The ginger is in the spice cabinet and the bananas are pretty much gone, because frankly I can’t make chips as fast as the hubbin eats them. 

Here is a before and after picture: Missing in the after pic are the 6 bananas that are in the freezer and the one banana the hubbin ate while I wasn't looking:

I don't know exactly how much money this effort is saving us, because I cannot quantify the financial health benefits from eliminating artificial ingredients and because I haven't bought banana chips or potato starch in years, but I do know that just that little bitty jar of instant mashed potatoes would cost more to buy than I spent on all of this combined and it would be laced with stuff we don't want in our food.

I am not going to go into how much my labour is worth, since what you see here represents no more actual hands on time than preparing mashed potatoes from scratch for dinner and definitely less time than it would take us if we ran out every time we want one of these ingredients for a meal or snack. 

That's all I have for now.
Happy Pinching

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