Saturday, February 28, 2015

Week 8 - Canned/Preserved

I wasn't very excited about the Week 8 challenge, canned/preserved, when I first saw it. Ever since I started cooking more and reading more food blogs, I've had this fear and aversion to canning. It seemed very technical and also very easy to get wrong, and the last thing I wanted to do was give us botulism. One would think a challenge like this would be the perfect time to get over that, but I really just had no interest in taking the risk involved in canning. On top of that, it's not like we have a surplus of fruit or vegetables lying around. In order to can something, I'd have to go buy it and then preserve it, which just felt so pointless, and also like a potential waste of money, if I didn't get the canning right on the first try. 

So that left me with the "preserved" side of the challenge and thanks to another poster's wonderful suggestion, I decided on fruit leather (aka fruit roll-ups). They did add later that you could just use preserved products (which made me immediately think of the preserved lemon on the new item shelves at Trader Joe's), but by then I had already been thinking about fruit roll-ups for days, so the plan was set.

Making the fruit leather only required a few ingredients:

- 16 oz bag of frozen strawberries, thawed ($1.79)
- 1/4 cup of water ($0)
- agave, to taste ($0.25)
- honey, to taste ($0.15)

Unlike canning and its risk of botulism, the biggest risk with the fruit leather was that I would screw up the technique. Worst case scenarios would be if the leather was overdone and became fruit crisps (still edible) or if the leather just refused to dehydrate and stayed a puree (still edible). The total cost was only about $2.19 and even if I messed it up, it still wouldn't be money down the drain.

The steps for making the fruit leather were:

1. Add strawberries to a pot with 1/4 cup of water and simmer over low heat for about 20 minutes.

2. Add agave and honey to sweeten the strawberries, to taste. (I used more agave than honey and at least a couple of tbsp).

3. Move strawberry mixture to a blender and puree.

4. Line a rimmed baking sheet (of appropriate size - I only needed the smallest size in our set of 3 for this amount of strawberries) with parchment paper. (Some recipes say not to use parchment paper because it's hard to peel the fruit leather off. We didn't really encounter that problem at all except for the few sections of the finished product that weren't quite done, more on that later.)

5. Pour puree onto the parchment paper, trying to keep the amount of puree as even as possible on the sheet.

6. Bake at 170 degrees (the lowest our oven would go) until the mixture has dehydrated and the puree no longer comes off when touching it. It should feel a little bit hard and sticky, sort of like a fruit roll-up would be. Rotate the pan at least once during the process. This part took us almost 7 hours.

When it was done, the fruit leather was a beautiful shade of red. (I would love a dress in that hue!) Excuse all the little finger dents in the fruit leather, although I guess from looking at it, you can see how many times I tested it and stuck it back in the oven. I originally checked it after 3 hours, then every hour until about 5-6 hours, then every 20-30 minutes, eagerly anticipating its completion.

The biggest problem was that I guess I didn't spread the mixture as evenly in depth as I thought I had. The ends of the fruit leather had felt like the right texture at least an hour before the middle had dried out enough. Even when I thought it was done, you can see that the outside edges were crisper and the very middle was so "underdone" that it still stuck to the parchment paper in soft puree form. Guess I didn't get that quite right.

I cut up our fruit leather into small rolls for our dessert. The flavor was nice, and it was good to have fruit roll-ups that tasted completely natural and to know everything that was in them. The texture wasn't quite right. It was a little too crispy around the edges, a little too soft in the very middle, but a perfect roll-up texture in between the 2. If only the entire thing had been like that - then these would have been great!

It was a fun experiment to do, even if it took all day and didn't turn out exactly as well as I had hoped. I'm not sure when I'll do this again (since I would have to be home all day to babysit the oven), but it's good to know that I can and what to try to do better next time. Very happy with this as my challenge choice.

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