Sunday, November 9, 2014

COWYBOY GRILL - Cooking Off Grid and REVIEW

I'm going to briefly go over some various grills that we have been using, and then a review on the new Cowboy grill.

FIRST, just some quick background information.  The photo above is an outdoor pit that I learned to cook from after volunteering for several years at an 1800 living history museum. My kids and I would spend our time at several different homes, either cooking from a wood stove, or an outdoor kitchen. The farm I took this photo at was an actual one room home to a family with several kids who slept in the loft. Their kitchen was outdoors. Rain or shine, they cooked from this fire pit.

I loved cooking this way for the public and feeding my children homemade biscuits, and pots of stew.
One of the BEST MEALS I had ever enjoyed was when several families gathered together on the farm and cooked a huge Easter dinner - meat roasting in dutch ovens, pots of beans, potato salads, cobblers, fresh vegetables from the garden. It's been several years and I STILL think of that meal.

Anyway, I haven't been volunteering much at the farm since the kids are grown, but I wanted to capture that experience at home. So now we do a LOT of outdoor grilling and spending time outdoors.

Pictured is a very affordable small grill that we keep beside the table on the front porch. As you can see, not too large, but room enough for two iron skillets.

What  I like about this grill is that we don't have to use a lot of charcoal! We have a full sized grill in the backyard that is a hog when it comes to using charcoal. But its the grill we use when cooking large briskets.

Bacon wrapped tuna and jalapeno's!

Another grill we enjoy is the round portable grill. Very affordable. Both grills I've shown so far cost around $20. This particular grill we like using when cooking TABLE TOP. The table we're using, I had gotten free on Craigslist. I was going to paint over it, but fell in love with the shabby chic look.

An iron skillet takes up the whole grill. Pictured, I'm frying potatoes for breakfast.

This meal, I had to take turns with the cooking. Potatoes first, then meat last.


An added benefit of the table top grill is that it keeps the flies and mosquitoes at bay since the smoking food is right near the table.
The grill is easy to move when needing to make room at the table.
A very affordable grill (and something we've stocked up on) is this cheap $3 grill that you can find in many stores as well as Walmarts. This grill comes with 4 legs that you slide in, and it comes with charcoal. This is supposed to be a disposable camping grill. We've used the same grill over and over again table top. What I do is line the bottom with foil before using. This was our first table top grill before we found the round one.
We've also experimented with this grill INDOORS. Using hot coals from the wood burning fireplace. I was able to fry bacon and eggs this way with a flat cast iron skillet. This is something that I will do again if we were faced with a power outage in cold weather and I don't want to cook outdoors.
All of the grills I've shown were used with charcoal. But I've been wanting to cook more with firewood. Since we live within city limits, I wasn't sure on zoning laws and I figured building a fire pit like I had shown at the farm would be out of the question.

When I saw this Cowboy Grill Open Pit Grill at Sams ----> HERE, I realized this is what I have been looking for in place of the 1800 fire pit.

Not only could we gather around a nice fire pit, but we could cook an entire meal at once.
Thankfully, the store had a grill on display and I was able to inspect it to see if it was durable. I went home and researched and came very close to buying the RiverGrille Cowboy Charcoal Grill at Home Depot ---->HERE
Both grills cost the exact same $200. The grills were similar in appearance except the SAMS one was a bit wider in dimensions (from what I remember) and the Home Depot one came with a rotisserie!
BUT, the RiverGrille was sold out and needed to be ordered online and shipped. So I went with the one that was available at Sams. (If your local Sams says it's sold out at your area store, check with the manager first. Mine said online it was sold out, but in person, I found 4 grills available at my store.)
I think Home Depot offers a free service to put your grill together. The Sam's Cowboy Grill wasn't too bad to assemble (I read the reviews first), but once you get the 3 legs situated properly (was a bit confusing at first) the rest is easy. I'm pretty sure one person could do this alone, but I had a helper.

We also primed the grill first (as the instructions required) by adding oil to the basin and top grate.

Pictured, we grilled steaks using a combination of charcoal and firewood. After we cooked, we removed the top grate and enjoyed the fire pit.

What we liked about the grill is that it sits at a nice level off the ground - VERY STURDY - and is plenty large to have several friends gathered around in chairs.

There is a drain pipe in the center that you can open and allow the grill to drain if filled with water or ash. The grill does not come with a cover, so this is something that we will have to figure out how to keep dry or to move away from the rain.

But the big test was the following morning. I wanted to cook an entire meal with just firewood. A slight smoke rose from the heap of ash, and I added some twigs and pieces of paper and fanned it to life. I didn't have to strike a single match.

As the fire grew, I added more twigs and wood. This is how I would normally start the fire at the farm with the outdoor pit.

Ready to start cooking.

Coffee first.

What I noticed about the grill is that the grate is slightly warped in the middle, rising in a sort of mound. Not really noticeable, unless you're moving a skillet around and you see the difference when the oil inside the skillet rolls to the side. This is something I DID read about from the reviews.

What we LOVED about the grill is the swivel work table. We used it continuously to set the spices on, the cooking utensils, or to set our drinks.

The coffee pot hangs from the adjustable pot hanger hook. This comes with a chain too so that you
can adjust a pot higher or lower as needed. Each item (side table/hook) can be moved to various locations around the grill, and can either be moved to hover over the heat, or to move to the side.

With all of these functions, and the size of the grill, we were able to see so many ways we could cook an entire meal at the same time.

MY TWO CENTS on the grill:

During an off grid situation, I think this grill is perfect. It is a nice and sturdy self contained grill that can enable a person to cook safely and with either firewood or charcoal, or both at the same time.

With using just 2 logs of wood, and several twigs, I was able to cook an entire meal, and still had room for additional pans. Naturally, using firewood exclusively, you would have to attend the fire more often than with charcoal, as wood tends to burn fast, or shift directions, causing you to stoke the fire, and to feed it.

The warping of the top grate wasn't too big of an issue. But I will be doing updates on the grill.

As for the price. We have spent $200 before eating out with a large family. The price of this grill, is a good investment for UNLIMITED family gatherings. Something we really can't put a price on when the family is eating together and spending time together outdoors.

If you purchase this grill, or decide to buy the one at Home Depot, I would love to hear back from you on your opinions! We are looking at adding a rotisserie to our grill in the near future.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

HOMEMADE POTPOURRI - Using Dehydrated Citrus Peels

IF you're searching for a way to FRESHEN UP your house with something natural, healthy, and economical... Have you thought of homemade potpourri?
With all of my dehydrating, and not wanting to be wasteful, I've been collecting/drying all of the peelings. My post here on---> Dehydrating Lemons

I also save the peelings when eating an orange. They can be added to the bottom of your dehydrator when drying other foods...

As you dry and collect peelings, add the mixture to a jar.

To add more scent, I use these cinnamon sticks. This particular brand I had picked up at a local Indian store.

An old pot I had picked up from the thrift store is now my potpourri warmer.
All I do is add a handful of dried citrus peels, a cinnamon stick or two, turn the stove on low and WOW!
Your whole house will be scented with these natural ingredients.
Also, if you're concerned about leaving the stove on with the potpourri simmering, you can also try this with an electric candle warmer.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

MEAT AND POTATO CASSEROLE - Using Emergency Food Storage

This dish has always been a family favorite. Even better, it's so simple to fix!

PICTURED are ingredients that you can store LONG TERM in your pantry for emergencies.
THIS RECIPE calls for meat, and you can use either ground beef, canned chicken, tuna, or even leftover turkey.
 FOR POTATOES, if you don't have fresh from your garden, you can use dehydrated potatoes.
For this meal, I'm using only 4 ingredients from my emergency food storage.
Dehydrated Potatoes
Family Size can of Cream of Mushroom Soup
Canned Ground Beef
Dehydrated Peas
First, get the dehydrated potatoes soaking in a bowl of water for about 20-30 minutes, and afterwards drain.  If you're new to dehydrated potatoes, and thinking about buying some, here's a link to an article of mine where I give a review for ----- Augason Farms Dehydrated Potatoes - which I'm using in this recipe.
OR if you're using fresh potatoes, then slice them thin about 1/4 inch thick.
Oil your pan GENEROUSLY using cooking oil, or shortening. You don't want those potatoes to stick.  
 Take half of the potatoes and line the bottom of the pan. Season with salt and pepper.
Here I've added the Cream of Mushroom Soup (you can make homemade if you prefer) but I like to keep some canned around for emergencies.
I had rehydrated the peas in advance (like the potatoes) and adding these.
Since my canned ground beef is precooked, I've just drained and added. Same as you would do if you were adding canned chicken or tuna.

 Spread evenly and carefully over the bed of potatoes.
ADD THE FINAL BATCH of potatoes to the top, completely covering the mix. Salt/pepper.  
BAKE (350-400) until potatoes on top brown.

SERVE with beans on the side or a fresh salad from your garden.
Or eat by itself. It's very filling!
 I fixed this meal tonight using our food stash and my husband gushed that it was the best meal he'd had all week!  
Like I said, it's a family favorite ;)

If you give this recipe a try, feel free to drop me a line and let me know what you think!

Monday, October 20, 2014

DEHYDRATED LEMONS - Why I preserve lemons



One of the first things I became interested in dehydrating when I rediscovered my dehydrator (you can read about my book review here ---> The Ultimate Dehydrator Cookbook)
was to preserve lemons!

Lemons are one of the main foods I think about when my family is sick. Not only is it high in vitamin C, but it gives us a much needed immune system boost. Here's a link to the ----> Health Benefits of Lemons and why it's important in our diet.

Why I preserve lemons  

Face it. lemons are not always going to be available. For those of us who don't grow lemons trees, we're dependent on stores.

But what happens when there are no trucks delivering lemons, or there was a bad year for the farmers?

I had those thoughts a few years ago, and wasn't quite sure how to store lemons long term, so I thought about canning. I went on the web and couldn't find a single article on how to can lemons.

Since I had experience canning peaches and pears, I went ahead and canned the lemons the same way. After canning a batch, I put them away on a shelf.

Upon reading the Ultimate Dehydrator Cookbook, I learned that the canning process had destroyed quite a bit of the vitamins that I was trying to preserve. Unlike canning, or freezing, dehydration was the best option for maintaining the vitamins.

Here's a jar of canned lemons next to my dehydrated lemons. More than likely I'll be turning the canned lemons into household cleaner!

There is nothing more refreshing than lemon water. Ever get a glass of water or unsweetened iced tea at a restaurant and it doesn't taste good? I always ask for lemons! Now we can pack our own dehydrated lemons.

What I think about is the importance of rejuvenating the water we have in food storage.

IMAGINE being faced with a crisis and having to drink water that was filtered through your rain barrels --- or trying to purify water with a drop of bleach --- or using a purification pill...

Personally, I would want to add lemons. Not just for adding taste, but to help with the sanitation process. There have been many studies that adding lemon/lime juice to food and water have helped prevent Cholera.

Nothing soothes a sore throat more than a cup of hot tea with lemon and honey.

But guess what my number one reason is for storing lemons?

The fact that I CAN. And so can you!

I'm all about learning ways to store foods that my family enjoys and depends on.

When facing a crisis, or illness, sometimes the best medicine is having the things you enjoy the most available.

Nothing better than comfort food and self sufficiency!  


Lemons are easy to dry, and as an added benefit, your house smells fresh and wonderful during the process.

For this batch, I had purchased a bag of organic lemons and before slicing, I washed them in a solution of vinegar and water -- since I'm keeping the peelings for both food and other projects.

Not all dehydrators are the same, so I won't go over temperatures here.

I've discovered some great uses for these peelings and will be blogging on them later.

I dried the lemons overnight, and the following morning, I turned them over to dry some more.

Mine took over 24 hours to dry - this depends on the thickness of the slices, but I also wanted to ensure they were good and dried for storage.

The dry peelings.
All packed in the mason jars. The goal is to eliminate as much oxygen as possible and to store in a dark, cool dry place. This should last me for several months, but for long term, I will be storing away using a Food Saver.

What are some of your ideas on preserving lemons? Have you actually tried any in any recipes? I would love to hear your ideas! You can comment here, or come join our Facebook family at ASliceOfTexas.

Friday, October 17, 2014


One of the meals that my family enjoys is SPAGHETTI. Unfortunately, when there are family members who either have diabetes, or they're gluten intolerant, this can pose a problem.

Zucchini has come to the rescue!

Not only is Zucchini  healthier to eat than white flour, but there are ways to prepare it that will resemble the texture and appearance of noodles. As for taste, I find that it is much better than flour, because there is FLAVOR, and in the back of your mind, you know it's healthier :)

What I use to create the noodles is a SureSlice spiral slicer that I had purchased online at Amazon. I've also seen these at Walmart. Currently, you can purchase this on Amazon for less than $8 with free shipping if you have a Prime account.

With a twisting motion, you can get noodles well over 3-4 feet long!

Okay, so in the past, I would heat this in a skillet  (stir fry - not boil) and serve it like I would regular spaghetti noodles. The family enjoyed it! It looked like spaghetti, it tasted better than noodles, but in all honesty, there was a bit of a texture problem. I hate to say the word, "slimy" because it brings up a negative impression. It was a good kind of slimy. My daughter and I tend to enjoy our pasta a little on the firm side, and the Zucchini was more like overcooked pasta?

After discovering my dehydrator, I thought about the Zucchini pasta substitute. Was it possible I could dry these and store away like regular spaghetti noodles? I added the batch to the tray and whatever pieces that were leftover (from spiraling) I chopped into small pieces and added it to the tray.

I filled up the trays and the next morning it was completely dry and intact.

It had the texture and appearance of a bird's nest.

My family wasn't ready for a spaghetti dinner when I dried this, so I tucked it away in a freezer bag to keep the shape intact.

I'm ready to prepare this for spaghetti, but as I look at the results (this is 4 regular Zucchini's)
I realize that for 3 people, I could have probably used another Zucchini or two to create more pasta. But I will have to make do, and the next time I store away the "pasta" I will make sure to dry an abundance of Zucchini in advance and portion it to about 2 Zucchini's per person.

I gave it about 15 minutes to soak, and then I drained the excess water.

Adding a little oil to an iron skillet, I stir fried till it was heated up. Pictured is one serving size.

This is the result of a cooked plate of Zucchini pasta. Remember, this is DEHYDRATED ZUCCHINI PASTA - which means we can prepare this in advance and have stored away for years to come. Even better, healthier to eat, and no harmful preservatives.

For this batch, I created a quick and easy homemade spaghetti sauce by using a pound of grass fed ground beef,  and I added a handful of dehydrated bell peppers, some garlic, salt, pepper, and cayenne powder. For tomato sauce, I added a canned variety that I have discovered from the grocery store that has NO ADDITIVES. you can find a picture of it here from another blog post of mine ------> It's called CENTO  Oh, and of course, play around with the sauce! I usually chop up fresh Basil and other herbs when available.

Pour over your bed of noodles and serve with a healthy salad. Pictured, I prepared a salad of Kale, Spinach, Green Onions, Feta Cheese, organic ranch dressing, and sunflower seeds. I sprinkled Parmesan over the spaghetti.

On a side note: When I dehydrate more "noodles" I plan to go ahead and store in a large mason jar. After stir frying this batch, it really didn't matter that the noodles maintained their length. I asked the family to give their honest opinion, and they agreed that the pasta tasted MUCH better than fresh -- not to mention, the texture was exactly like we loved!

So DEHDYRATED IT IS from here on out! :)