I plant a big garden every year and I always try to utilize as much of the produce as I can. A big part of that involves preserving things for use throughout the winter. It is very rewarding to look at my dinner table in the middle of December and still seeing food from my garden. I keep an extra toaster oven in my garage just for this purpose. Here are a few ways I use my toaster oven to help.
Home Dried Herbs
I love fresh home-grown herbs and always plant plenty of them. Basil, thyme, rosemary, chervil, oregano and mint are some of my favorites. They do, of course, taste best when the herbs are fresh and just picked. But I do like to dry some of the extra herbs to use during the off-season.
First, heat your toaster oven to 200 degrees F. Then remove the leaves from clean, dry fresh herbs. Spread the herbs evenly over a baking pan lined with parchment paper. Put the baking pan into the toaster oven and turn off the oven. Check them in 1 hour. The herbs should be completely dry and crumble at the touch. If not, heat the oven back to 200 degrees F. Return the herbs, shut off the toaster oven and check in 30 minutes. Repeat if necessary. Store the dried herbs in an airtight container in a dark place.
Oven Dried Tomatoes
I love sun-dried tomatoes but they can be quite expensive. I make something similar in my toaster oven. First, heat your toaster oven to 200 degrees F. Wash your tomatoes and cut them in half. Place the tomatoes, cut side up, on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Sprinkle with a fair amount of sea salt.
Bake for 3 hours. At the end, the tomatoes should be a deep red and about 1/4 of their original size. Put them in a glass jar and top with extra virgin olive oil. Store in the refrigerator.
Dried Chile Peppers
I love cooking spicy food, so I always grow lots of chile peppers. I usually dry about a quarter of them for use throughout the winter and spring. This method will work for any type of chile pepper, although the time needed for drying will depend on the type of pepper used.
You’ll need a toaster oven with a low temperature setting for this task, about 100 to 120 degrees F. Often this temperature is achieved through a “warm” setting. If your toaster oven doesn’t go this low, you’ll just end up cooking the peppers which won’t preserve them at all.
Warm the toaster oven. Wash the chile peppers and remove the stems. Place them on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Put them in the toaster oven. Flip the peppers over every 30 minutes until they are completely dry. This will take anywhere from 1 to six hours depending on the size and moisture content of your peppers.
Store the cooled, dried peppers in an airtight container in a dark place.
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