D.I.Y.convenience foods dinner freezing gluten-free slow cooker zucchini

Freezer to Slow Cooker Ratatouille Pack

freezer to Slow Cooker Ratatouille Pack
1 medium eggplant, cut in 1-inch pieces
4 large tomatoes (l lb), cut in 1 ½-inch pieces
2 medium zucchini or summer squash (l lb), cut in1-inch pieces
3 bell peppers, cut in 1-inch pieces
1 large onion, peeled and diced
4-6 cloves garlic, chopped
2 tablespoons tomato paste
¼ cup olive oil
1-2 teaspoons dried basil
1 teaspoon sea salt
Ratatouille Pack ingredients

Label your bag before filling.

Prepare the veggies and add to 1 gallon-size Ziploc freezer bag in the order listed.

Add tomato paste, olive oil, dried basil and salt to bag.

Seal the bag, squeezing as much air out as you can. Flatten the bag to an even thickness. (Place on a cookie sheet to help it freeze flat.) Freeze up to 3 months.

Thaw bag overnight in fridge or float in warm water for 1 hour. Pour contents of bag into 5-6-quart slow cooker and cook 4 hours on high or 6 hours on low. If you want to reduce the amount of liquid in the Ratatouille, cook uncovered the last 30 minutes.

Taste and add additional salt if desired. Serve as is in bowls or over rice or pasta. Top with grated Parmesan or mozzarella for extra flavor. You can add red pepper flakes or hot sauce for zing.

D.I.Y.convenience foods raw snacks

Flax & Veggie Crackers with Roasted Garlic

“Baked” in the dehydrator crackers compete with the most gourmet crackers you’ll find at the market. Designed for a square dehydrator, like the Excalibur, this recipe yields about 1 3/4 lbs. of scrumptious, savory, vegetable- and seed-crammed crackers you can feel good about snacking on! Irresistible topped with sliced avocado.

Dehydrator crackers are a variation on the fruit leather theme, believe it or not. If you have ever made fruit leather you understand the basic principles:
1. Make a puree
2. Spread it on lined dehydrator trays
3. Pop in the dehydrator and dry.

If you have ever tried to make vegetables into leather you know that it doesn’t yield a satisfactory result: the “leather” is crispy, prone to cracking, and resists rolling up into a nice, neat roll. Why not take advantage of these crispy, cracking qualities and make crackers?

You will need a few tools to make the task successful: a square dehydrator (Excalibur preferred; I have not used a round dehydrator for crackers), parchment paper, long offset spatula (the kind used for base icing a cake), and a Vita Mix (or regular kitchen blender). Gather up the ingredients and let’s get started…

Ps. Have fun with this recipe! Consider it a template for your own signature cracker creations. Try substituting raw or toasted nuts, chopped, for the sunflower kernels; 1 1/2 cups pumpkin puree for the tomatoes; mild onions, broccoli stems, zucchini or yellow crookneck squash for celery or any combination of vegetables pureed to make 3 cups. Or use 1 cup homemade Veggie Powder reconstituted with 2 cups water in place of the prescribed vegetables and play wth adding herbs for flavor.

1 1/2 cups brown flax seed
1 1/2 cups golden flax seed (or 3 cups total of either brown or golden flax)
1 cup raw sunflower kernels
5 cups water
2 Tablespoons raw apple cider vinegar or kombucha tea, optional

Combine in large bowl and soak 4-6 hours. The flax seed will soak up the water and turn into a thick, gelatinous mixture.

Meanwhile, prepare your dehydrator. Wipe it clean inside and line 4 screened trays with parchment paper or Teflex sheets.

4 tomatoes
3 stalks celery
4 cloves garlic, peeled (roasted is nice, in which case use up to 1/2 head)
1/4 cup coconut aminos or low sodium soy sauce
1 Tablespoon chili powder (mild or spicy, how you like it)
2 teaspoons sea salt

Puree in Vita Mix or blender, then pour in bowl with soaked seeds.

2 large carrots, grated
1 red bell pepper, diced 1/4-inch

Stir into flax and vegetable mixture until a homogeneous batter forms. It will be thick and rather gluey but non-sticky. The small bits of carrot and bell pepper add interesting color to crackers. Alternatively, you cold puree them with the other vegetables.

Scoop up about 2 1/2 cups of batter (a 2 cup Pyrex measure makes this easy – just fill a bit past the 2 cup mark) and plop onto prepared dehydrator tray. Use a long, offset spatula (the kind used for base icing a cake) to spread the mixture about 1/4-inch thick in a large square-ish shape. Spread mixture slightly thinner toward the center and slightly thicker toward the edges for even drying.

Slide tray into dehydrator set for 105-110 degrees F. Repeat with remaining batter.

Drying time is about 24 hours at 105-110 degrees F. This will yield “raw” crackers, meaning many of the enzymes present in the fresh, raw vegetables used will be retained in the finished product. You may choose to speed the process up by increasing the dehydrator temperature to 130 degrees (sacrificing some of the enzymes as you increase the temperature) and have crackers ready in about 18 hours.

If you want nice, even square crackers pull the trays from the dehydrator when they are about 3/4 done; after about 16 hours. Slide the cracker sheet with its parchment paper backing onto a cutting board and cut into squares of desired size with a chef’s knife or pizza cutter. Return cut crackers, with or without the parchment paper backing, to dehydrator tray in a single layer and finish drying in the dehydrator. (Do not cut on Teflex sheets.)

Crackers will be completely dry and crisp when done. There should be no moisture or flexibility at all. If you chose not to precut the crackers simply break into irregular pieces for gourmet free-form crackers.

Cool crackers completely before storing in an airtight container such as a gallon-size cracker jar, up to 3 months, as pictured. For best flavor, texture and keeping qualities storage container should be glass with a tight lid. Crackers stored in plastic bags and plastic storage containers will stale in 2 weeks.

What will you top Flax & Veggie Crackers with?

beverages breakfast D.I.Y.convenience foods gifts gluten-free Hospitality snacks

Chai Tea Mix ~ Coffeehouse-Style

One hot, creamy Chai Tea Latte, only 23 cents

Fragrant spices soaked in real half & half or coconut milk bloom into exquisite fullness in your refrigerator or freezer; brown sugar contributes a caramel-y undertone.  With this mix you are ready for a cup of coffeehouse-style Chai Tea anytime the craving for a cup of hot (or iced) comfort lures you.

This formula is the result of much tinkering in the kitchen. I work next door to a Mellelo’s coffee house and was smitten when

bread D.I.Y.convenience foods freezing tutorial

Freezing Homemade Bread

Convenience, quality, and home-made taste is at hand in your freezer

When you have a stay-at-home day, bake in quantity.  (Try Favorite Buttermilk Bread, Big Soft Breadtwists or Cinnamon Sugar Wands (without the salt or sugar toppings), Home-Style Buttermilk Pan Rolls, Cinnamon Swirl Loaves, Pumpkin Yeast Bread, Classic French Bread. Allow the loaves to cool completely and firm up, at least four hours.  This will prevent frost crystals from forming inside the bread. For convenience, pre-slice the loaves.  This allows you to take just what you need from the freezer.

When all you need is a slice or two, simply use a table knife to separate slices from the frozen loaf and then thaw them quickly in your toaster.

 Double-bag loaves (rolls, too) in the heavy plastic bags that commercial bread comes in, knotting the opening tightly closed.   Be sure to squeeze any air out of plastic bags before sealing, or use a plastic drinking straw inserted in a small opening, and “suck” it out. 

A plastic drinking straw can be used to draw air from the bag.

Bread can be safely stored in the freezer practically indefinitely, but for best quality plan to use it within 6 weeks.  Frozen loaves thaw nicely in 2-4 hours at room temperature, with rolls requiring less time.  You should loosen, but not remove the wrappings while thawing, and wipe out any condensation that forms inside the bag.   You may also remove plastic wrappings, wrap the bread in aluminum foil, and heat in a low 275 – 300 degree F oven for 30 minutes, until warm throughout.  

D.I.Y.convenience foods fermentation soup

Veggie Bouillon

Put blemished but good garden veggies to good use!

This recipe goes together quickly and rewards you with mild, fresh-tasting vegetable broth for months to come.  It is a happy way to utilize slightly blemished or misshapen vegetables from the garden.  It is not a way to use sad, withered, or moldy vegetables.  No, those have given up much of their life and flavor already.  Instead, you will want to use very fresh, preferably organic vegetables that are full of enzymes.  You can vary the vegetables from what I’ve prescribed here:  green beans, zucchini, and bulb fennel make a nice broth, or use your favorite blend of herbs.  A jar of Veggie Bouillon in the refrigerator means you are always ready to make soup.

2 oz. each:  
~celeriac or celery
several stems of parsley
2 oz. sea salt

Scrub the vegetables well, weigh them, and have everything ready.  Put lid on Vita Mix (or food processor) and remove the small cap that covers the feed opening.  Turn the machine on its lowest setting and begin adding the vegetables in order listed:  carrot, then celeriac, then leek, tomato, and parsley.  As the mixture grows thick and climbs the sides of the container use the machine’s tamper to push the vegetables back into the vortex.  Add salt last and process until a smooth paste forms.  Mixture may be dry and chunky or moist and smooth depending on the water content of the vegetables you used and how long you process it.

Transfer Veggie Bouillon to a small jar with a lid.  Label with name of product and today’s date.  Hold at room temperature in a cool spot (65 – 75 degrees F) out of sunlight for 3-4 days to initiate fermentation.  Then store in the refrigerator up to 1 year and use as needed to make Vegetable Broth for soups and other recipes.

Mild-tasting Vegetable Broth is a good beginning for light soups.  I used a mesh tea ball to make a very clear broth.

To make Vegetable Broth from Veggie Bouillon:
Measure 1 teaspoon Veggie Bouillon and 1 cup of cold water into a small saucepan.  Bring to a boil, covered.  Reduce heat and simmer 15 minutes.

Note:  Vegetable Broth will contain small specks of vegetables.  If you desire a very clear broth place the Veggie Bouillon in a mesh tea ball when preparing broth.

breakfast cooking for 1 or 2 D.I.Y.convenience foods dessert freezing gifts gluten-free Journal mixes tutorial

DIY Convenience Foods

 Most convenience foods can be made at home – easily and cheaply

One of the most seductive myths of food product advertising is that the products being promoted will make our lives easier and better. Advertisers imply and sometimes shamelessly promise to give us more time, make us more attractive, promote family closeness, and create beautiful memories. In short advertisers promise to make us happy!  All we have to do is go to the store.  The shelves are neatly lined with thousands of attractive packages for our selection.  Remember these packages are designed by people who make a living by their ability to lure us to purchase.

My favorite store offers the best deal in town on pancake mixes and other convenience food items, but I can still save a substantial amount of money making them at home.

It is so easy to get in the habit of relying on convenience foods, after all they are convenient.  Open a box, bag or jar, add water or eggs or another can of something, stir, heat, and voila! dinner is served.  The truth is most of the convenience food items you currently buy at the grocery store can be made easily at home in just a few minutes and for very little money.   Added benefits:  ability to cater to specific dietary needs or allergies. You’ll never miss the preservatives, additives, dyes, and chemicals you won’t be ingesting.  And you may notice a reduction in the amount of kitchen waste going to the landfill because you aren’t bringing home so much packaging and can re-purpose food safe containers like glass jars.

I am happy to share a batch of my favorite DIY convenience foods with you from breakfast to dessert.  We’ll start with items to make and freeze and then learn the basics of crafting dry mixes. I made waffles a few days ago and there were several leftover.  I could have fed them to the chickens, and I sometimes do, but instead I froze them in a zipper-top freezer bag with small squares of parchment paper between.  You can individually wrap them in plastic, but parchment paper is compost-able and renewable, and plastic wrap is not.  On busy mornings a frozen waffle can be popped in the toaster for a super-quick yummy homemade breakfast.  The same can be done with leftover pancakes and French Toast.  

A little later  I will show you how I turned my favorite pancake recipe into a mix.

Let’s move on to dinner.  The freezer case at your local grocery store is brimming with quick skillet or stir-fry type meal ideas.  Stock your freezer inexpensively with Skillet Meals that are tailored to your family’s taste.  This recipe is easy to prepare in quantity and such a godsend when you’ve had a busy day and need to get dinner on the table NOW.  Recipe is taken from PNW 296 Freezing Convenience Foods, a great little booklet available through OSU Extension at  Use it as a template to create your own freezer meals.  Gluten-free pasta or cooked brown rice can be substituted for spiral pasta to make a gluten-free dinner.

Cooked beans – a great time-saver!

Canned beans are infinitely useful.  They are also inexpensive and easy to prepare from scratch in quantity.  I love having a variety of ready-to-use cooked beans in my freezer for recipes and you will, too.   Related recipes:  Mexican-style Pinto Beans, Un-refried Beans, Cuban-style Black Beans.  Tip:  Use your water bath canner to cook 4 pounds of beans at one time. 

Cookie dough – shaped & ready to freeze

You’ll find additional convenience foods to stock your freezer posted under DIY Convenience Foods   including Thrifty Stock, Pesto Now & Later, and Ready-to-bake Monster Cookies.

Thrifty Stock is a method of up-cycling veggie trimmings that might otherwise go to the compost pile, along with meat bones and dried herbs that perhaps you’ve grown yourself, into stock, the foundation for delicious soup.  

I’ll give you tips on how to package pesto in ways that match up with your recipes.  And Monster Cookies! Everything about these cookies is over-the-top.  They are big and bursting with goodies.  The dough can be formed into cookie discs, frozen in an unbaked state for up to a month, and baked a few at a time as desired for oven-fresh cookies on demand.

I turned my favorite pancake recipe into a time-saving mix and discovered it makes great waffles, too!  Pancake & Waffle Mix. The basic principles of creating dry mixes from your own recipes are simple:  measure out the dry ingredients for one batch of     (you fill in the blank)   , whisk them together, and measure the resulting volume or weight.  This lets you know how much mix is needed to combine with the remaining ingredients to make one batch of a finished recipe.  My favorite pancake recipe calls for 1 1/4 cups flour.  I make half of that whole wheat pastry flour and quadrupled the recipe.

Following the same principles I just outlined you can create mixes for some of the most popular convenience foods. Ranch Plus Dressing Mix, actually my sister Marti’s recipe, can be used to make Ranch Dressing, Ranch Dip, Thousand Island Dressing, and Cucumber Dressing ~ all delicious.  Layered Bean Soup Mix comes from my friend Margaret.  Taco & Fajita Seasoning Mix made from bulk dried herbs.  Secret Fudge Brownie Mix  only requires 3 stir-in ingredients.  Whole grain Gingerbread comes together quickly with this mix. Real Hot Cocoa Mix – you won’t believe how simple and delicious this recipe is.  

Exercise your creativity in how you package your mixes.  A little fabric and ribbon or raffia along with a creative label makes it prettier than anything on the shelf at the store, and it goes without saying mixes make welcome gifts.    Investing a little time on a week-end or evening or just a few minutes here and there can pay meaningful dividends on busy days. You will have a freezer or cupboard stocked with your own homemade mixes for foods your family likes to eat.  Thank you for joining me in the kitchen today as we stirred,cooked, and crafted to create our own convenience foods.  Please come back next week for more Kitchen Wisdom.  See you then!

D.I.Y.convenience foods dinner freezing gluten-free

Skillet Meal-in-a-bag

Or a jar if you prefer

The freezer case at your local grocery store is brimming with quick skillet or stir-fry type meal ideas.  Stock your freezer inexpensively with Skillet Meals that are tailored to your family’s taste.  This recipe is easy to prepare in quantity and such a godsend when you’ve had a busy day and need to get dinner on the table NOW.   G.F. pasta or cooked brown rice can be substituted for spiral pasta to make a gluten-free dinner.

D.I.Y.convenience foods dessert freezing

Monster Cookies

Big cookies are chock-full of goodies
Cookie dough is shaped and closely spaced for freezing.

Everything about these cookies is over-the-top.  They are big and bursting with goodies.  Hubby Sam loves over-sized cookies, so these are a favorite of his, but the kids like them just as well.  I sometimes bake a few smaller cookies using just a tablespoon of dough for me.  The dough can be formed into discs, frozen in an unbaked state for up to a month, and baked a few at a time as desired for oven-fresh cookies on demand.  This technique works well with many types of cookie dough.

1 1/4 cups brown sugar 3/4 cup sugar 1 cup creamy peanut butter 1/2 cup butter, softened 2 tsp baking soda 1 tsp salt 1 Tbs vanilla 3 eggs 4 cups quick oats 1/2 cup whole wheat flour 1 1/2 cups unbleached all purpose flour 1 cup m&m candies 1 cup chocolate, white chocolate, or butterscotch chips 1/2 cup salted peanuts Lightly grease a large baking sheet, or line it with parchment paper if you plan to freeze some cookies to bake later. Cream sugars, peanut butter, butter, baking soda, salt, and vanilla in a large mixing bowl.  Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition.  Add oats, whole wheat flour and all-purpose flour. Stir in m&ms, chocolate chips and peanuts; mix gently and thoroughly.  Let dough rest 10 minutes to allow the grains to soften.   Dough will be crumbly.  Using a quarter-cup measuring spoon or muffin scoop, shape dough into quarter cup mounds and place on prepared cookie sheet about 4 inches apart.  (Up to eight cookies fit on a large baking sheet if you stagger them.)  Gently flatten them with the palm of your hand and garnish with a few extra m&ms and chocolate chips. Yield: 24 big cookies

Baked Monster Cookies, photo by Miriam Surgeon

Bake Now: Bake 15 – 18 minutes in a preheated 325 degree F oven.  Cookies are done when edges are lightly browned and centers are golden and puffy.  Cool 5 minutes on cookie sheet, then remove to a wire rack to finish cooling. Freeze Now & Bake Later: Place tray of shaped, unbaked cookies (they may be placed quite close together) in the freezer and freeze, uncovered, until solid.  When solid, roll the parchment paper up with the unbaked cookies inside and place it in a zipper-top freezer bag.  Alternatively, you may layer the unbaked cookies in a freezer container with sheets of parchment separating the layers.   To use, decide how many cookies you “need” and place the desired number of unbaked cookies on a greased cookie sheet.  Allow 20 – 60 minutes to thaw, depending on the temperature in your home.  Bake as directed above.

D.I.Y.convenience foods tutorial

Create Your Own Dry Mixes

Template for Creating Your Own Bulk Mixes

Fall Fun: Twirling Leaves, completed August 5, 2010.
The leaf shapes were so much fun to mix and match – I mistakenly
cut enough to make 3 quilts!  Template from Quiltmaker mag. #87

Have you ever wondered if you could turn a favorite recipe into a mix?  Good candidates to tinker with include seasoning mixes, baking mixes, bean and grain side dishes, and soups made from dried goods.  You can also create your own custom tea blends and salad dressing mixes.  Remember to choose recipes appropriate for shelf storage.  If they are to be stored at room temperature they should not include perishable ingredients; those can be added later when it’s time to cook and serve the recipe.  Mixes are a great way to save both time and money and are a fun kitchen activity to involve your kids in.  Kids typically love to measure and mix – just make sure they do so accurately.  And they’ll enjoy decorating the jars or storage containers as well.  

1.  Choose a recipe. 

2.  Measure dry ingredients for one batch into a bowl.  Combine ingredients and measure the resulting volume or weight.  Write the measurement down.  This tells you how much “Mix” is needed to combine with remaining ingredients to make one batch of a finished recipe.

3.  Multiply your selected recipe to make a mix in quantity.

4.  Measure dry ingredients needed for quantity batch in a large bowl.  Combine thoroughly.  You now have a dry mix.

5.  Transfer mix to a jar or airtight food grade container with lid.  Label and store in a cool dark cupboard. Use within a few months.  Be sure to include directions on how to prepare the recipe from the mix.  (I write the date I made the mix on the bottom of the jar with a Sharpie permanent marker.)

Directions for Creating Individual Mixes

1.  Choose a recipe.

2.  Measure dry ingredients for one batch into a jar or airtight food grade container.  Ingredients may be combined or layered into the jar.

3.  Note on the jar what ingredients to add and how to prepare the recipe.  If you are giving it as a gift, be sure to mark an expiration date on the jar; 3-4 months is suitable for most dry mixes.

D.I.Y.convenience foods dinner freezing slow cooker tutorial

Cooking Dry Beans

From dry beans to convenience food – here’s how!

Black Beans, Pinto Beans, Refried Beans, Garbanzo Beans, Great Northern Beans, Kidney Beans, Cannellini Beans, Black-eyed Peas, Lima Beans.  Canned beans are infinitely useful.  They are also inexpensive and easy to prepare from scratch in quantity.  I love having a variety of ready-to-use cooked beans in my freezer for recipes.  The method outlined below utilizes two important principles.  The first is brining, which according to America’s Test Kitchen, tenderizes the seed coat.  The second is fermentation, which according to Sally Fallon Morell in her book Nourishing Traditions, improves digestibility of the beans, which reduces gastric upset.  People often ask, “How can I reduce the gas-causing effect of eating beans?”  Eat small amounts of beans often until your intestines develop the necessary flora to easily and properly digest them – and preparing them this way makes it simple!  Related recipes:  Mexican-Style Pinto Beans, Un-Refried Beans, Cuban-Style Black Beans, Confetti Bowl.  Tip:  Use your water bath canner to cook 4 pounds of beans at one time.  Thank you to my friend Beverly for the idea to package pre-cooked beans for the freezer in 2 cup packages – just like a can of beans from the store!

1 lb. dry beans (2 cups)
4 quarts room temperature water, 70-75 degrees F
1/4 cup whey or lemon juice 
2 Tbs sea salt

Place beans of choice in a large bowl, pot, or other container.  Add water, whey, and salt. Soak at room temperature overnight or up to 24 hours. 

Drain beans into a colander and rinse thoroughly.  

Transfer beans to a large pot, add 8 cups hot water, and bring to a boil, uncovered, over medium-high heat.  Reduce heat, tilt the lid on the pot, and simmer until desired tenderness is reached, about 1 1/2 to 2 hours.  

OR cook in a slow cooker on HIGH heat for 3 to 4 1/2 hours.

Test several beans to determine doneness.  Older beans will take longer to cook, and really old beans may not soften.

Remove beans from heat, uncover, and let cool in their liquor for 1 hour.

Use immediately or package for the freezer.  Drain the beans and transfer to wide-mouth pint jars , freezer containers or freezer bags.  A pound of beans yields three 2 cup packages, equivalent to 3 cans of beans.  

Thaw frozen beans in one of the following ways:

  • defrost overnight in the refrigerator
  • thaw in the microwave on the defrost setting (not jars)
  • thaw tightly closed container in a large bowl of warm water (not jars)
  • set out at room temperature for an hour, then slide beans from their container into a small pan for heating.
If you can’t source organic dry beans locally, try    Your order is delivered once a month via truck to a designated “drop point.”  Products are regionally produced and reasonably priced.