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storable food favorites

canned_goodGarage pantry and storage area is finally set up at Plant B, so now I have a good spot to put backup food supplies. Especially out here in the rurals, you never know how long you might be snowed in, have access to town cut off because a river decided to overflow its banks, or have to make do at home for some other unplanned reason. Best to be prepared.

My list has been tested and refined over the last seven or eight years. What’s on and what’s off the list boils down to answering:

  • Edibility: Will we really eat that?
  • Perishability: How long will it last at room temperature?
  • Versatility: How many ways can it be used and combined with the rest of the stuff on the list?

Nutrition, tastiness, and ability to prepare over a flame (camp or propane stove, grill, or open fire) are also criteria. I consider these a given.

Food that’s fallen off the list includes white rice and instant potatoes (didn’t eat), crackers (go stale quickly), and canned fish and meats (not versatile).  There are a bunch of other items that fell off the list because they didn’t get eaten like canned soups (easier and tastier to make from scratch), beef jerky, miscellaneous candies, and canned vegetables.

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Here’s the food that’s remained on the list and why:

Coconut oil

Virgin, unrefined coconut oil has a shelf life of up to five years — some say longer. It can be used in baking, frying, as a substitute for butter on bread, as a skin moisturizer, and a zillion other medicinal uses. Look it up. It tastes good, and while it has a slight hint of coconut essence, that doesn’t overpower the flavor of other foods.

Canola oil

I keep a bit of canola oil around for sauteeing and adding to beans and sauces when I want a break from the coconut oil. You could use safflower, soy, vegetable, or another all-purpose oil, too. I don’t have a strong preference as long as it doesn’t go rancid quickly and has a relatively high smoke point.

Beans – a variety

Dried pinto beans, garbanzos, and lentils are easy to prepare, and when properly stored, last for years. I can some of my own beans and, for convenience, buy cans of others. Canned beans on my list include refried beans, garbanzos, and black beans.

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Tomatoes – canned

Great for chili and spaghetti sauce.

Pasta – dry

Easy to boil up a batch for dinner and toss with spaghetti sauce, a little oil and spices, or an improvised white cream sauce made with almond milk (see below).

Rice – Brown and Jasmati

When stored properly, rice lasts for years. Brown rice is a hearty complement to bean dishes, soups, and stews. It makes a tasty breakfast cereal as well.  Jasmati rice (cross between jasmine and basmati rice) is a great alternative when you want a lighter complement to your meal.

Almond milk – unsweetened, shelf stable

Blue Diamond unsweetened almond milk tastes best to me. If you get it in shelf stable packaging (not refrigerated) it will last about a year on the shelf. It should be refrigerated after opening if you can, but if not, try to keep it as cool as possible until gone. When it turns, you’ll taste it. It’s a good substitute for milk in cereal (or brown rice) and any other place you might want a bit of milk flavor. It can also be used to make a sauce with a little coconut oil and thickened with flour like you would a gravy. Season to taste.

Evaporated milk – canned

If you want a creamier sauce than you can make with almond milk, or want something cream-like to put in your coffee, it’s worth keeping a half dozen cans of evaporated milk in your pantry. Note that while labels look similar in the supermarket,  evaporated milk is not the same as sweetened, condensed milk.

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Sugar, salt

Myriad uses from baking to seasoning. But you already know that. Lasts forever. Buy in bulk.

Bread flour, yeast

I store bread flour and instant yeast in the freezer. If the power should go out for an extended time, they both can last up to a year unrefrigerated. Homemade bread is easy to make in a dutch oven — see this recipe. It can be made using coals from a campfire as well, though I recommend you research the process and give it a couple tries before a campfire is your only option.

Cocoa – unsweetened, baking powder

Every once in a while something chocolate sounds good. I make brownies without eggs (only thing I’m allergic to) using 2 cups flour,  1 cup melted coconut oil, 2 cups sugar, 3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa, a teaspoon of baking powder, a teaspoon of salt, and a cup of water. Mix it together, bake around 350F for 20-30 minutes. Cocoa can also be combined with sugar and almond milk for a version of hot chocolate.

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Baking soda

Another leavening agent that’s good to have on hand for baking. It’s also good for cleaning, brushing teeth, and as an antacid when mixed with water.

Distilled white vinegar

Great when you need to add a bit of acidity to a dish or dressing, and don’t have lemons handy. Also good for cleaning.

Spices

My go-tos (in addition to salt) are cayenne, cumin, and garlic powder. I also keep a large backup bottle of Tabasco sauce. I like things spicy. You’ll no doubt have your own tastes on this one. Stock what you use.

Coconut milk, Thai green curry

I’m a big fan of Thai curries with Jasmati rice. If fresh veggies and/or meat are available, they’re great to add to the mix. If not, garbanzo beans will do in a pinch.

Tea, instant coffee

Under normal circumstances, I prefer brewed coffee. However, instant lasts a lot longer and is easier to prepare. Tea is a welcome alternative.

***

That’s it. With those ingredients I can make bread, flour tortillas, dumplings, bean chili, a bunch of pasta dishes, brownies, hot cocoa, hot tea, iced tea, coffee, chocolate milk, a variety of rice and bean dishes, lentil stew, hot cereal with sugar and almond milk, among other recipes. If the garden is growing, there are veggies to add to the mix, along with whatever homemade jam, olives, dried fruit, and pickled vegetables are already in the pantry. We also keep a supply of meat in the freezer. While meat and fresh vegetables are nice to have, with the list above we would do fine without them for quite a while.

A note about water and fire: We have a well on the property that provides water via a hand pump if electricity goes out. If you don’t have a water source, I recommend backing up plenty of water as well. We have a propane stove, but if that should go out we also have a grill and campfire ring that will work in a pinch. A camp stove would also be a good backup. As long as you have a backup source of water and fire, the list above will keep you going for a long time, too.

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plums, so close

How ripe do I let this one get before picking? Pick too soon, ripens on the kitchen counter without reaching the full beauty of its sweetness. Pick too late, and the birds gorge. Dilemma.

plums_yum

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deer raspberry

Look closely. I swear this deer is blowing a raspberry at me…

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ready for bottling

chard_sb_5_casesLast year I got on a fermentation kick. One of the successful fermentation experiments was making my own wine. I started with a wine kit so I could get the feel of the process.

You can search for kits online – so far I’ve tried the kits made by Vintner’s Reserve and have been happy with their Chardonnay, Merlot, and Sauvignon Blanc. The all-in cost ends up being $2-$2.50 per bottle after you invest in the initial supplies. The wine is drinkable in 2-4 months, and about the same quality you’d expect in a $10-$15 per bottle wine from your local supermarket. The initial investment ran me a little under $200 purchasing everything new. You can likely find used equipment if you’re on a tighter budget.

After making a few kits, I feel comfortable enough to make wine from scratch. Next time I’ll do so. Before I do, I had five cases of chardonnay and sauvignon blanc ready for bottling.

Making wine is not hard as long as you take care to sanitize everything property (I use One Step sanitizer), follow the directions, and remain patient. Like with bread, the yeast knows what to do, so mostly you just let it do its thing.

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The most labor-intensive part is bottling the wine. I learned it’s best to rack the wine from the carboy into a clean fermentation bucket before bottling. That ensures I don’t pick up any of the cloudy dregs from the bottom of the carboy as I’m bottling the wine.

Racking the wine is siphoning it from one container to another. I tried using a hand pump initially. That worked, but was not nearly as efficient as putting one end of a tube in the wine, and the other in my mouth and creating suction to get the siphon going. The container you’re siphoning from — in this case the carboy — needs to be higher than the container you’re siphoning it to. Then you let gravity do its work. As long as you just use enough suction to get the siphon going and don’t get spit in the wine, it should be perfectly sanitary.

Once the wine is racked into the clean fermentation bucket, repeat the siphon process to get the wine into the bottles. Again, I first tried a fancy bottling gadget to fill the bottles, but discovered it works much better to siphon manually and simply crimp the tube to stop the flow between bottles. It can be a messy process until you get the hang of it, so recommend starting out somewhere you can mop up any mess easily.

Once the wine is bottled, wait at least a month for whites and two months for reds before trying. They get better with time, but are drinkable even at this early stage.

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If you like wine and want to try your hand at making your own, I recommend it. It’s easier than I expected and makes for an impressive made-by-hand gift for friends and family.

Follow-up: I made a fresh wine batch in the last week, and it is the first time my primary fermenter was invaded by fruit flies. The bucket was sealed, so I have no idea how they got in. From what I’ve read, fruit flies carry a bacteria that makes wine undrinkable. Some say you can take your chances and fish out the flies to see what happens with the resulting wine. I’d rather cut my losses and start fresh, as much as it breaks my heart to waste anything.

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easy crunchy crust bread

Homemade chewy, moist bread with a crunchy crust is something I attempted for years. I’ve tried a variety of bread bibles, baking stones, clay cloches, brotforms, multiple gadgets and techniques to make the kind of bread I was aiming for. Turns out, the very easiest technique I tried ended up creating exactly the kind of bread I wanted.

Here’s the skinny:

Step 1 – Mix the dough

The dough has only four ingredients: 3 cups bread flour, 1.5 tsp. salt, 1 tsp. yeast (I use Saf Instant), and 1.5 cups water.

Put the ingredients, in order, in a 2- or 4-quart mixing bowl. Mix ’em together.

pre-dough

The dough will look shaggy when completely mixed.

dough_mixed

Step 2 – Let the dough do its thing, overnight recommended

Put a cover on the bowl, or plastic wrap if the bowl doesn’t come with a cover.

Let the dough rest in the bowl at room temperature 8-24 hours. I usually make the dough the night before and bake the next day. Sometimes the next morning, sometimes the next night. Either way works fine.

Step 3 – Preheat a dutch oven with cover 30 minutes at 475F

I have a 5-quart dutch oven that works perfectly.

dutch_oven

Step 4 – Form your loaf

Your dough should look very sticky and shiny at this point – not shaggy at all.

bread shiny stage

Sprinkle a couple tablespoons of bread flour over the dough. I tap the bowl lightly while turning it, slightly tipped, to distribute the flour to the edges. Once the flour is at the edges, I take a rubber spatula and start to ease it down the sides of the dough. Then I tip and turn the bowl to loosen the dough while the flour slides down its sides.

bread start forming loaf

After most of the outside of the dough is covered in flour, I swirl the bowl lightly to form a flour-covered ball. It’s easier than it sounds. The main idea here is to form the dough into a ball WITHOUT KNEADING. There is NO KNEADING required. Easy peasy.

dough_formed

Step 5 – Put your loaf into the preheated Dutch oven, put the lid on, lower temperature to 450F, and bake 30 minutes

bread_pre_oven

Step 6 – Take off the Dutch oven lid, bake 10-15 additional minutes

After 30 minutes, your bread should look lightly cooked – see below.

bread_30_mins

Step 7 – Check the crust, take your bread out to cool

After 10-15 minutes, the crust should look like the pic below.

bread_out_of_oven

Take your bread out to cool and voila! Crusty bread ready to serve or save for later.

bread_finished

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wild turkey crossing

Looks like mama turkeys have been busy this summer. I counted 14 poults — there could have been more. Cool thing about wild turkeys is they roost high in the trees at night. They look way too big and ungainly to fly up there and perch successfully while they’re on the ground. When they take off, though, they’re majestic.

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plums, maybe

Two scraggly, neglected plum trees came with the property. I was skeptical they’d produce fruit this year since the young plums looked so runty. Today I see a few starting to ripen, though. Maybe we’ll have plums this year after all!

ripening_plums

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seasonal mashup

Our lone maple is already wearing its fall colors, while temps remain in the 80s. Feels like a seasonal mashup.

fall_2

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what’s up at planet b?

Plant B Gardens is just getting started. We moved here at the end of June 2014 with the goal of building a sustainable homestead in beautiful, rural Montana. The vision is to grow productive flower, herb, and vegetable gardens, install a greenhouse and small apiary, plant fruit and nut trees, and create meandering paths through the pines bordered by an occasional sprinkling of wildflowers and berry patches. Bookmark the blog page to keep up to date on progress, challenges, what we’re learning, recipes, and sustainable living topics.flower_sunset

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