Sunday, August 29, 2010

Home Made Mylar Packets for Seasonings

This post describes how I made the packets to hold the seasonings in the rice-mix post.

Some time ago I purchased a mylar bag from Emergency Essentials.  These bags are intended to be used inside plastic buckets for storing grains and things.  But I'd heard that you can seal them with a regular iron--like for ironing clothes.  So I decided to give it a try.

The bag is (well, it was) 20" X 30".  I wanted by packets to be 4" X 6", so I cut a 6" strip off the top of the bag.
Then I measured 5 4-inch sections across the strip, but I didn't cut yet.  I wanted to seal along the long edge before I cut the 4" sections, so the pieces wouldn't come apart.  I tried to make my seams about the same width as the factory seams.

Once I sealed along the bottom and cut the sections, I just sealed the both sides of each packet.

I put the labels on while the packets were still flat--before I filled the them.  Then I filled them and sealed the top.   I also snipped a small notch part-way through the side seam near the top, so I can just rip them open when I use them.

It took me a while to get the seams sealed, because I was trying to use the lowest possible setting.  I was worried the mylar would melt on my iron.  But finally I turned it up to the "synthetic" setting, and that worked well.

I'm actually quite pleased with the way they turned out.

Homemade Rice Mix

I am all about convenience foods.  I don't have a lot of time for cooking during the week, so I appreciate being able to fix something quickly.  And the people who blend the seasonings for convenience foods are much better at it than I am.

Some of my favorite convenience foods are the Farmhouse Rice mixes.  I eat a lot of grilled chicken, and these go well with that.  Before I start grilling the chicken, I dump the box of rice, 1 1/2 cups water, the seasoning packet, and a pat of butter into a 1 1/2 qt. casserole dish and microwave it for 18 minutes.  Then I just need to steam some veggies while the chicken is grilling, and dinner is served!  When I don't have fresh food on hand, I make a casserole out of a box of Farmhouse Rice, a can of chicken, and a can of green beans.  Or I go Hawaiian and add a can of pineapple. 

But like all convenience foods, these can be pricey.  And they take up a lot of room in the pantry.  And I'd refer it if it made just a little more rice.  So I've been keeping an eye out for an alternative.  I've been looking for something that would be just as easy to fix, and be cheaper and easier to store.  I believed I've found what I was looking for.

While browsing through the Make-A-Mix book again, I came across a recipe for Chicken Continental Rice Seasoning Mix.  This book has a lot of great recipes in it, and this one does not disappoint.

Chicken Continental Rice Seasoning Mix
2 Tbsp instant chicken bouillon granules
1 Tbsp dried parsley leaves, crushed
2 tsp minced dried onions
1/4 tsp dried basil leaves
1/4 tsp thyme
1/8 tsp white pepper
1/8 tsp garlic powder

As you can see, this recipe is for making individual packets rather than a spice jar full of seasoning that you would measure out (each packet about 1/4 cup).  At first, I wanted to make up a full jar of this mix so I didn't have to make up the mix 10 times for 10 packets.  However, after making it the first time I realized that this really is the best approach.  This mix has fine powders and chunky herb leaves, and it would be difficult to keep the ingredients properly mixed in a spice jar.  The powders would want to fall to the bottom, while the leaves would migrate to the top.  So, individual packets it is!

Making the rice was just as easy as making the Farmhouse rice.  Put 1 cup of long-grain rice, 2 cups of water, 1 packet of the seasoning mix, and a pat of butter (if desired) into a 1 1/2 qt. casserole dish and microwave for 16-18 minutes.  I was worried it might boil over in the 1 1/2 qt. dish, since it's more rice than in the Farmhouse box, but it didn't.  So I was happy about that.

Obviously, the rice didn't taste just like the Farmhouse rice, as it's a different recipe.  But I really like it.  It has a lot of chicken flavor, with the flavor of the herbs in the background.  The night I made it I hadn't thawed out any chicken, so I made a casserole with this rice, a can of chicken, and a can of green beans.  It was very good.  I took the leftovers to work the next day for lunch and one of my coworkers said it smelled like chicken soap.

It's nice that I can make up several packets and use them with rice from my food storage.  This raises the question, though...what is the best way to make the packets.  I could use the snack-sized zip-lock bags.  Or I could experiment with making packets from larger mylar food-storage bags.  You can also buy small heat-seal mylar bags.  But I decided to make my own--I'll make a separate post about that.

So I'm good to go.  I can purchase my rice in bulk and store it in #10 cans (for 3-month storage), keep a few packets of the seasoning mix on hand, and make a quick dinner whenever I want.  All for less money than I was paying for the Farmhouse rice.  Now, I just need to find more seasoning mixes for variety...

Two Versions of a Cookie Mix

I invented a cookie mix for one of my favorite cookies--and I just have to share it with you.  I like to have a mix like this on hand just to make cookie making quicker.  But it's also nice to know that if you're snowed in for a week you have quick, easy-to-make cookies from your food storage.  As long as you can boil water, you can make these cookies.

This is a cookie recipe that I got from a friend when I was in the fifth grade.  Boy, THAT was a long time ago!  The name of the cookie on the recipe was "Penny Cookies".  I have no idea where the name came from, but I changed it to "Summer Cookies" because I make them in the summer.  I've seen versions of this recipe on various cooking websites, usually called something like "Chocolate No-Bake Cookies".  Yes, "no-bake" is the reason I make them in the summer, when it's too hot to have the oven on.

Here's the original recipe:

     Boil for 1 minute:
     2 cups sugar
     3 Tblsp cocoa
     1/2 cup milk
     1/2 cup butter or stick margarine

     1/2 cup peanut butter (I like to use crunchy)
     1 tsp vanilla

     Pour over:
     3 cups quick oats (I use regular rolled oats)

     Drop by teaspoon over waxed paper. Refrigerate (I usually just leave them on the wax paper on  the counter)

The first version of the mix (we'll call it Version A) is not a food-storage version.  It just combines the dry ingredients from the "boil" part of the recipe, and uses powdered milk instead of fresh milk.

     Mix together and put in quart zip-lock bag:
     2 cups sugar
     3 Tblsp cocoa
     1/2 cup instant non-fat dried milk (this adds more milk solids for richer cookies)

     Boil 1 minute:
     1 package Version A cookie mix
     1/2 cup water
     1/2 cup or stick margarine

     Continue with the recipe above, starting with Add:

But I decided to try creating a mix from all food storage items--keeping in mind that vanilla, peanut butter, and rolled oats are part of my food storage.  This version (Version B) uses powdered margarine in addition to powdered milk.

     Mix together and put in quart zip-lock bag:
     2 cups sugar
     3 Tblsp cocoa
     1/2 cup instant non-fat dried milk
     1 cup margarine powder

     Boil 1 minute:
     1 package Version B cookie mix
     3/4 cups water

     Continue with recipe above, starting with Add:

The cookies made from Version A mix taste no different than cookies made from scratch.  The only real difference is using instant non-fat dried milk, and that is not noticable.

The cookies made from Version B mix took a little longer to harden, but they did harden up just fine.  They tasted slightly different when I first tried them, but by the third cookie I could no longer taste a difference.  I don't know whether it's because the flavors blended or whether I just got used to the different taste. 

It's easy to make up a couple batches of one of these mixes to keep on hand.  Then you can whip up a batch of cookies in no time.  It is quicker to user the Version B mix, but Version A works well when you don't have powdered margarine.