Monday, March 21, 2011

More Ground Beef and Tomato Powder

Well today was another day for dehydrating ground beef and Tomato sauce. In case anyone missed the procedure for tomato sauce I have outlined it below. Believe me it saves a lot of space. The final product comes out similar to the commercial instant tomato sauces known as “Mrs. Wages”.

The key to dehydrated tomato sauce lies in first creating tomato sauce leathers. These are essentially the same thing as fruit leathers but made from a vegetable such as in this case tomatoes.

To make your tomato sauce leathers you will start with your favorite tomato sauce whether it is handmade or out of a jar which you purchased from the local grocery store. For our sauce we selected “Classico” variety which is readily available at Wal-Mart’s or any good well stocked grocery store. If additions such as mushrooms, meat chunks, etc are desired in the final product you should consider adding them during the re-hydration stage.

Since my wife prefers to use an oven over our dehydrator I would recommend you set your oven to its lowest setting possible. In my case our ovens lowest operating temperature was 170 degrees. Spread the tomato sauce mixture one fourth inch deep onto a cookie tray. Getting the tomato sauce level will be the most difficult part of this process. After spreading the sauce on the tray the best way to level it out is to gently tap the tray on the counter. This will smooth its contents and give an even distribution.

Dehydrate your tomato sauce for approximately eight hours. Be sure when using your oven that you prop open the oven door slightly to allow moisture to escape. In about four hours the sauce should be solid enough so that you can flip it over for the duration of the project. The start time was not critical for me since someone is usually up at all hours throughout the night in my home. I might be up writing or my wife may be awake and browsing around the internet. Your finished product should have the consistency of leather and should be dry to the touch.

Once your dehydrating is completed allow the sauce leathers to cool and than break them into small chunks. Next place the chunks in your freezer for approximately one hour. At the end of that hour put the leather chunks into your blender or food processor and grind it into a fine powder. The resultant powder will have the same texture as your common powdered sugar and like your sugar it does not do well with high humidity. When storing this product choose pint canning jars. Fill the jar to within one half inch of the top and place an oxygen absorber in it. After closing the jar lid will seal and remove all traces of air.

You can readily use your dried tomato sauce in just about any type of dish where tomato sauce would be used. For long term storage this product will last for a minimum of five years and likely much longer. When it comes time to make that spaghetti dinner simply combine one half cup of hot water to three tablespoons of the dehydrated powder and you will once again have your spaghetti sauce. Too little powder will result in a very runny sauce.
Here is a recipe that you could use with your newly made tomato sauce powder.


3 tablespoons of dehydrated tomato powder
½ cup of water
3 teaspoons of olive oil
2 teaspoons of onion powder
1 teaspoon of garlic powder
1 teaspoon of dried basil
1 teaspoon of sugar
½ teaspoon of dried oregano
½ teaspoon of black pepper
½ teaspoon of salt

Combine the above ingredients and simmer on a medium heat for 15 minutes.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Properly storing up your Pasta

Here we go folks with another day of useful prepping for potential emergencies. Let’s take a moment and talk about bugs. Have you ever poured pasta into a pot of boiling water and noticed the abundance of tiny bugs floating atop the liquid? Have you ever stored up on pasta for any length of time and suddenly discovered that your product has frequently developed some unwanted guests? When this happens to you are you inquisitive as to where these little creatures come from and how you can effectively deal with them? This unnecessary waste of supplies can be avoided with a little bit of preparations beforehand.

During times of depression when food resources and available money was scarce families would often cook up the contaminated pasta and merely scoop out the floating bugs as they made their way to the surface. Granted, technically you could eat some of these tiny creatures without adverse effects but most American’s would frown upon the practice.

Grains are usually stored in farm silos and are apt to develop bug larvae infestations inside the final product. As the eggs from the bugs hatch we quickly discover that these types of bugs appear in just about anything from bags of rice, potato sacks, boxes of cake mix, even macaroni and cheese packages.

My wife and I had previously experienced the same problems and in order to combat these tiny creatures we initiated a procedure where all incoming pasta related products where subjected to the freezer for a period of twenty-four hours. Since the eggs are already present within our store bought pasta we needed to put an end to their life. This process will quickly halt the vermin’s life cycle. Don’t let anyone convince you that the bugs got into your pasta after you brought them home as they didn’t. They were in it when you purchase the packages. The fresh pasta never reveals any of the hidden creatures however as it begins to age and gets older the bug larvae is sufficiently incubated and the eggs start to hatch. It has been discovered that the eggs are in the product from the time the grains are harvested and merely waiting for the proper conditions to continue their life cycle.

Since we like to store up for the long term, my wife takes the pasta from the freezer after the twenty-four hour period and lets it dry out so it is not moist and than places it into quart or gallon jars. Along with the pasta she will deposit a bay leaf and an oxygen absorber. I have heard of some people using spearmint gum in the jar with the pasta however I do not suggest this unless you are fond of spearmint flavored pasta. By using the bay leaf there is no flavor imparted to your pasta products.

Pasta and related products should last a minimum of two to three years and perhaps even longer when stored in this manner.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Drying Ground Beef

As I was wandering around on the internet I chanced upon a website (/ where the writer was explaining how to dehydrate ground beef. My wife and I had previously toyed with the idea in the past but this time we decided to actually try it out.

My wife buys her ground beef in five pound packages and she had just made a meal for the family the night before and did not use all the beef that she had available. This was an excellent opportunity to try this dehydrating experiment.

She first started by chopping up and browning the ground beef in a cast iron skillet. After breaking up the meat into small pieces she added several cups of water to the mixture and heated it over a medium heat. She continued to chop and mix the beef until it was completely cooked.

When she started seeing fat developing in the water she would move the meat into a colander and than run hot water over it. This process will clean off the extra grease which has separated from the meat.

Her next task was to again replace the meat into a cleaned skillet along with some fresh water and bring once again to a boil. As she noticed some fat develop in the liquid and appear on the top of the water she knew that a second rinsing was in order. She drained this again as she had done previously with the colander and rinsed it under hot water.

She repeated this process three times until there was no longer any grease appearing. Since she generally purchases the better quality ground beef she has much less fat than would be expected. After the last boiling she allowed the beef to drain well in the colander until it was dry to the touch.

Although she could very well have used the dehydrator to dry the meat she decided to employ the oven for the process instead. She spread the drained beef onto a non stick cookie sheet and placed it into a 200 degree oven. Times will vary greatly from oven to oven and from one batch to the next but usually the drying time will be between 6 and 8 hours.

As the completion time approaches the beef should give a dried appearance similar to gravel but extremely hard. She next took the final dehydrated ground beef and placed it in a sterilized mason jar along with an oxygen absorber to remove all traces of air from within. Our estimate is that with the oxygen absorber in place the product should be good for several years if stored in a dark, cool location.

To rehydrate this product you will merely need to add water and wait a few minutes for it to absorb the liquid. You can speed up the process with heat if you plan to mix it with other foods.

My wife did not add any spices to the beef when she was dehydrating it but wanted a more universal product that could be used for a variety of beef dishes. The flavorings can be included when the ground beef is rehydrated. You now have a dehydrated ground beef product that should relieve some of the worry from losing electricity during emergency times. If you try this procedure let us know how it came out for you.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Solar Conversion of our Homestead

Hi everyone,

As the time begins to draw closer for our move to the homestead, I find myself thinking about the various projects which lie ahead for me. We have the fruit trees to plant, a garden to start along with a host of addition important functions to get accomplished. One of my initial goals will be to get a 12 volt lighting system installed which will operate from rechargeable batteries.

These systems are not new in the least and have been in use with the recreational industry for decades. I experienced the systems first hand often in the past and actually had the opportunity to use them for an extended length of time a year or two ago when I initiated a six month long bug out exercise. With the new LED lighting systems out today the intensity of the lights have been drastically improved while battery drain has been decreased.

My goal is to establish initially two separate electrical systems which can compliment each other. The first system will operate as it usually would in any home – from the 120 volt input line voltage. The second electrical system will operate the lights and perhaps a few appliances if necessary. This will be the battery operated system with charging being accomplished by a solar cell collection.

This at first sounds pretty great with having two systems connected – a prime along with a backup but let’s remember the ultimate idea is to remove the family from the 120 volt electrical requirement eventually.

My cost estimate for this retrofit of my home electrical system is approximately $800.00 which includes about $200 for the materials and supplies to complete the installation and $600 for the solar cells themselves. Since I am an old and decrepit man these days I have spread the project out over a short period of time and broke it down into several phases.

At the conclusion of phase one, I should be able to have about a two day supply of 12 volt power running into the home which will permit me to operate several small appliances if necessary. It is hoped that if everything comes out as expected I will be able to use my laptop, operate all the lights and perhaps use a small microwave without placing a demand on the commercial electrical supply.

Phase two will be the actual installation of the solar cell system to recharge the battery banks sufficiently.

Materials necessary for phase one will initially include

* Two deep cycle marine batteries.

* One 1,000 watt inverter to change the battery power to our common 120 household AC. * Necessary power cables and house wiring needed to complete the installation.

A small building will house the batteries and the associated equipment during phase one and the solar system will mount on the roof of that building during phase two. This will keep the equipment and the batteries away from the elements and allow me to expand the number of deep cycles connected to the system slowly over a period of time.

Connecting the batteries together and into the system is a simple matter. We merely need to connect the two batteries to each other with a short cable. It is best for future maintenance and troubleshooting to employ a standard color code system as the project progresses. In this case, we will connect red power cables to the positive terminals of the batteries and black ones to the negative terminals. This type of connection is referred to as a parallel connection and affords your system greater current capacity then would the usual series connections.

Next, we would need to connect the batteries to the 1000 watt inverter. Once again the red cable will connect to the positive terminal of the other battery as well as to the positive connection of the inverter. Similarly the black cable will connect from the negative battery terminal to the inverters negative connection.

All that is left would be to connect the battery system to the installed 12 volt lighting wires that have been installed inside the home. That is actually the most time consuming part of the complete project. Before we close this phase I would like to stress a few safety hints to those who may be planning to perform the same modifications to their homes.

Make sure that you protect your system by having a series of 12 volt fuses placed in line. My intent is to use a Plexiglas panel and install the fuses on it sort of a rack mount fuse array. Connect your fuses to the positive or red cable side of the system.

The same will apply to your inverter in the event that it has no fuse already in place. Put a 110-amp Class T fuse into the red or positive cable line between your battery packs and the inverter itself. Keep in mind this fuse is a special type of DC fuse and not your usual AC variety. For safety sake nothing would prevent you from installing an AC fuse on the opposite side of your inverter as well.

If you have a considerable distance for your cables to travel consider heavier cables. Always remember that the longer your cables are the heavier wire will be needed. Longer cables often experience voltage drops. Thin cables tend to get hotter then the thicker ones do. In most cases a number 14-ga should do the trick.

You may also wish to install a good grounding rod to prevent unforeseen problems. RV’s generally do not have an external ground but it is better to be safe than sorry.

You may spend a few dollars more when purchasing an inverter but try to get one with a low-voltage warning light and a low-voltage automatic disconnect (LVD) in order to shut off the power to the inverter in the event that the battery voltage reaches a dangerously low level. If you deplete your batteries too much they tend to become damaged and their life is drastically shortened.

When selecting your batteries you should purchase the marine deep-cycle types and not the regular automotive batteries. They cost more but are better for our purpose here. The difference in the batteries is that the usual auto type batteries are used primarily to start your car and then sit idle as it is charged whereas the deep cycle versions are made to run for hours at a time.

You should be able to run your laptop, a small microwave and a 70 watt lamp at the same time on this system. As you can readily tell I will have to add greatly to the starter system in order to be able to function as a normal home.

During our phase two project I will be adding the necessary solar panel and its associated charge controller to the system. A charge controller will control the amount of power going into our battery banks and keep it at a measured amount. It also ensures that our solar cells do not take the energy back out of the batteries. These too will have additional panels installed as we progress in our challenge here.

I expect to start the phase one work in the spring or possibly early summer.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Garbage Gardening - Cherries

Hello everyone. I felt like doing some of my famous “Garbage Gardening” today and decided to grow a few Cherry trees from some store bought cherries. The Cherries were sitting in the fridge and I felt that I just had to do something constructive with them. I know before everyone jumps up and down proclaiming that I can’t successfully grow cherries from the pits, I always try anyway. They do however make some interesting and unique houseplants as they start to grow and who knows I might even get lucky and get a cherry or two from it.

I took the time to write up a short article on the process necessary to grow cherry trees from the pits just in case anyone is interested. The URL is: