Snack time is an important time around the house. Your kids are itching for something tasty and you want to give them something that is natural and healthful. Dehydrated snacks are a great compromise. They are delicious, and if you make them yourself, you have the control over how much sugar goes into them. With a dehydrator or just your oven, you can make fruit leathers for a sweet and chewy snack, jerky for a tasty, meaty snack, or granola for something crunchy and wholesome. And because they are dehydrated, you can make large batches and know that your snacks will last several weeks to months.
Making your own fruit leather and granola is perfectly safe. When making jerky, you need to take a little more care. You will be starting with raw meat, and it is essential that you dry it at the right temperature and for the correct duration to make sure it is safe to eat. If you are using a dehydrator, follow the instructions carefully. If you are using your oven, follow the instructions in the recipe to the letter.
Store-bought fruit snacks are full of sugar and preservatives. Kids love them because they are so sweet, but with homemade fruit leather, they won’t know the difference. You need to add some sugar, but you have control over just how much, and you will find that far less is needed than what you find in commercial products. Your kids will love the natural sweetness of the fruit, enhanced with just a little bit of added sweetness. Here are a few recipes to get started.
For a good basic recipe, you will need fresh fruit, water, lemon juice, and sugar. You can use any stone fruit, grapes, berries, apples, or pears. Whichever fruit you use, clean it first and remove any stems, seeds, cores, or stones. You can peel the fruit if you choose, but it is not necessary. For larger fruits, chop them into smaller pieces. Taste the fruit before you proceed. If it is very sweet, you will not need any additional sugar. If the fruit is a little tart or not fully ripe, sugar may be needed.
Simmer your fruit in a saucepan on the stove for about ten to fifteen minutes. Use a half cup of water for every four cups of fruit. When the fruit has softened enough, mash it with a fork or potato masher in the saucepan. Add one tablespoon of sugar for every four cups of fruit if it needs sweetening. Taste before adding the sugar and after each addition to determine if more sugar is needed. Next, add one teaspoon of lemon juice for each four cups of fruit to brighten the flavor of the fruit. Be sure to stir the mixture until all of the sugar is dissolved. Heat longer if necessary.
Puree your fruit mixture in a blender, food processor, or food mill until you achieve a mostly smooth consistency. If you are using a dehydrator, pour the mixture into the fruit leather tray. If your machine does not have a special tray for making leather, line a tray with parchment paper to keep it from sticking. If you are using the oven, line a jelly roll pan with parchment paper before pouring the puree in. Make sure the paper goes up the sides as well to prevent the leather from sticking to the pan.
If using your dehydrator, follow instructions for settings and timing when making fruit leathers. In the oven, set the temperature to 140 degrees and leave the mixture in for between eight and twelve hours. You can leave it in overnight for convenience. The leather is ready when it is smooth on the top and not sticky.
Once you have mastered the basic recipe, you can get creative with making leathers. Try mixing fruits together and adding in different spices. To make leather with no preparation time, use canned applesauce as your puree. Try some of these ideas for something different:
- Apple and cheese. Peel, chop and simmer four apples. Add to a food processor with a half cup of pecans, a half cup of cheddar cheese, a half teaspoon of cinnamon, and a quarter teaspoon of nutmeg. Blend into a puree and dry.
- Tropical. Peel, chop, and simmer two apples. Add the apples to a food processor along with one peeled and chopped mango and one chopped banana. Add one half cup of shredded coconut and a half teaspoon of vanilla. Puree until smooth and dry in a sheet.
- Sweet orange. Simmer four peeled and chopped apples in a half cup of orange juice instead of water. Add to a food processor with a half teaspoon of vanilla and a teaspoon of orange zest. Puree and dry.
- Vegetable roll ups. Try adding a few cooked and pureed vegetables to your fruit leather recipes. It’s a great way to sneak vegetables into your kids’ snacks.
- Yogurt leather. You can even dry yogurt in the same way. Spread it into the tray and dry. You can mix in fruit purees to make a sweet, tasty, and healthful treat.
Beef jerky is a classic snack. But jerky is not just for beef. You can make a tasty snack out of just about any meat you have on hand including venison, chicken, turkey, and even meaty fishes like salmon and tuna. Below is a basic recipe for beef jerky.
Trim one and a half to two pounds of flank steak and put it in the freezer for one or two hours just to firm it up a little bit. When it is firm enough, slice the steak into very thin strips. Slice it with the grain. Put the strips of meat in a sealable plastic bag with 2/3 cup of soy sauce, 2/3 cup of Worcestershire sauce, a tablespoon of honey or maple syrup, two teaspoons of pepper, two teaspoons of onion powder, a teaspoon of liquid smoke, and a teaspoon of red pepper flakes. You can leave out the last two ingredients if you don’t have liquid smoke or if you don’t enjoy spiciness.
Mix everything well and leave the bag in the refrigerator for at least three hours. Use an oven rack over a jellyroll pan for drying. Place the strips on the rack and place in the oven. Cook at 250 degrees for about four hours. When they are finished, leave the strips out of the oven and then allow the jerky to dry for about 24 hours. After this step, the jerky strips can be stored in any airtight container.
The same basic recipe and technique will work for most any meat. You can use any marinade or even dry rub that you would use to cook meat. When using a dry rub, apply the rub to the meat strips and then let them sit in the fridge for about 12 hours before drying. Here are some other ideas:
- For a basic dry rub, mix two teaspoons of salt, one teaspoon of pepper, 1 teaspoon of garlic powder, ½ teaspoon of cayenne pepper, and a tablespoon of brown sugar.
- A rub can also give your jerky a sausage taste. Mix together one and a half teaspoons of salt, three and a half teaspoons of paprika, a half teaspoon of garlic powder, a half teaspoon of fennel seeds, a teaspoon of ground pepper, and a quarter teaspoon of red pepper flakes.
- For salmon or tuna, try an Asian inspired recipe. To make a marinade, mix together 2/3 of a cup of soy sauce, the juice from one lime, two tablespoons of sesame oil, a tablespoon of finely minced ginger root, and a teaspoon of red pepper flakes.
Granola is another great snack to make in the dehydrator or oven. When it is finished, you can crumble it up into smaller pieces or leave it in bigger chunks. If using a dehydrator, follow the instructions that come with it for granola. If using your oven, cook the mixture on a baking tray at 300 degrees for about sixty minutes. Stir three or four times with a spatula. Here are some mixtures to try:
- Mix together five cups of rolled oats, two cups of shredded coconut, one cup of toasted almonds, one cup of sunflower seeds, ¼ cup of brown sugar, one cup of honey, one cup of canola oil, one tablespoon of vanilla, and a half cup of raisins.
- For apple-cinnamon granola, mix together three granny smith apples, peeled and grated, two cups of rolled oats, a half cup of pecans, two tablespoons of brown sugar, one tablespoon of honey, a teaspoon of salt, and a half teaspoon of cinnamon.
- Let your kids be the cooks! Allow them to select different mix-ins for their granola. You can use coconut, any kind of chopped nut, dried cranberries or cherries, golden raisins, chocolate chips, or small chocolate candies.
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