Results of Potato Barrel Experiment

We started the spring with half a whiskey barrel that we found on sale at a home improvement store; we wanted to do something like this experiment to grow potatoes in it. While I pulled out two pounds of potatoes for a recipe 10 days ago, this weekend we finally dumped the whole barrel and sorted through the dirt on a tarp, finding even the tiniest of potatoes and adding them to our loot.

The experience of layering in potato plants was somewhat good – the problem, I think, at the end was that we’d just put too many slips into the barrel and certain varieties crowded out others, resulting in sad, sickly looking yellow stalks. Because of this, we probably harvested earlier than needed, especially since some of the potatoes were the size of a quarter. Still, we got multiple pounds of potatoes and spent only a couple dollars on slips, so I count it as a success in spite of the fact that I’ll do it differently next year.

We also grew multiple varieties of potatoes, which might not have been a necessary thing. I think that I am happy with red potatoes usually so hopefully next year we can stick with just those and not confuse our poor plants by penning them in with a ton of root systems from various kinds of potatoes.

I think that this evening I’m going to take some of the tiniest potatoes and make up a GoSun recipe to get them nice and toasty, perhaps covered in herbs and butter. That, alongside the pesto quinoa I’m hoping to make with some roasted walnuts and our herb-garden basil, will make for a perfectly delectable dinner. I have recently read a lot of good recipes for pesto, and I’m intrigued to see if it goes well with our potatoes or if it’s better just on the quinoa.

Spiced Veggie-Packed Sauce

So, I recently made an amazing discovery: with a bunch of veggies, some spices, and a secret ingredient, I can make a sauce that is super savory, convinces me that it’s creamy, and makes rice, toast, other veggies, chicken, you name it taste wonderful. You need a food processor to work this magic, but I assure you, it’s worth it.

General Directions for the Veggie-Packed Sauce

  1. Salute your favorite (or cupboard clean-out!) veggies together with just a tablespoon or so of olive oil. I used a can of tomatoes, a bag of spinach that was almost to the point of going slimy, an onion, and 3 cloves of garlic. If you don’t use at least one canned veggie, you may need some broth or water, because it should not be dry.
  2. While the mixture cooks, add a substantial amount of spicing: I used a tablespoon of a spicy stir-fry mix I’ve got, but curry would work, or if you like hot-hot, use some chipotle or red pepper flakes. Make sure you use quite a bit because your sauce will be on top of other things.
  3. Put the mixture, after it’s fully cooked, into the food processor. Pulse a few times, then add some CHICKPEA FLOUR. This flour, along with the little bit of oil, will help your sauce hold together and seem smooth and not just like a veggie paste. I don’t know how much flour I used, but I would estimate I started with a 1/4 cup and added another 1/4 cup later.
  4. Taste and add things as you need them: a bit more flour, a bit more oil, or a bit more spices. If you love chunky sauces, you can stop after a few pulses, but I really like this as a smooth sauce: very flavorful but doesn’t make you feel like you are eating something “healthy.”

Serve over rice, flatbread, chicken, on toast… anything! Obviously, this is too vague to be a mantra in itself, but the principle of sautéed veg+oil+chickpea flour+spices seems to be working for me lately. I added just a little shredded pepper jack to mine, though it was tasty without it so you can totally keep it dairy-free!

While I didn’t make this as a curry, I was inspired by the way that curries and other Indian sauces are so flavorful that you can use them to flavor other, more bland parts of the meal, like the bread or the rice. I am quite happy to be able to add so much nutrition to my rice and take it to work with me!

Send your recipes!

As I start a new year, I’m running real low on recipes that come recommended with stories alongside them: want to help me get inspired again? Send me your recipe, a short note about it, and your blog (so I can link back to you!) – I cannot wait to try some new things! If you have sent me a recipe in a comment that I haven’t done yet, rest assured that I want to try it still! You can even send it again to jog my memory. 🙂

Thank you so much for reading and commenting on Recipe in a Bottle! I really enjoy trying the new things you all clue me in to!

Summer Recap

While summer itself is still lazing on through the year, my own summer, the two months I have off of work, is actually coming to a close. Today I start back at work – no more long days of house projects, cooking, yoga, and writing. I may be able to keep posting a lot, but more likely I’ll go back to 3 posts a week, just because it is so much more sustainable when I’m out of the house all day.

But I like to take a moment and think about all that has been accomplished: I finished a draft of my novel, which I’m going to start querying agents about and possible will launch a crowdfunding campaign for; I went on a trip with my Mom and a trip with my Husband; I cooked many different things, getting better with the GoSun and with making bread; I crocheted a ton of blankets and toys and bags for my Relay for Life folks; I grew strawberries, lettuce, potatoes and tomatoes in my garden; and I threw a crazy fun meatball party with N. There’s so much to be grateful for.

As the Fall nears, I hope to start focusing in on recipes that aren’t super complicated or take a long time; I am sure it will be a jolt to not even start dinner until 6pm, so if we want to eat at a normal time, I’m going to be focusing on crock-pot recipes, quick sides, and things I can make in quantity on the weekend and reheat easily on weeknights. I’m hoping to keep working on crocheting and on harvesting our garden, as well as helping Husband add to our garden space for next year. There will be holidays and travel for work, but through it all, I hope I hold on to some of the calm and sweetness of summer mornings, getting to work on writing or other work. I love the daylight, and while it continues to wake us up, even at 6 in the morning, I will choose to see it as summer.

New GoSun Veggie technique

So, I have figured out that my favorite dish in the GoSun, for now anyway, is a healthy sauteed set of veggies to accompany something Husband is grilling or some leftovers; it’s easy, and while it takes a long time to cook, you don’t have to tend it except after half an hour or an hour, depending on sun or shade. The one problem is that the last two sets of veggies came out almost swimming in the water that boiled out of them, so they tasted more boiled and bland than crisp and roasted.

My technique involved cutting all of the veggies I was going to roast and letting them sit for two hours on a clean towel, leaching their water content or evaporating it or something until it was time to cook them. When I cooked them, I still added salt, pepper, and oregano to the green beans and peppers mix, but when they came out, they were steamy but not soupy! They went great with barbecue pork chops and I hope to do this again.

This technique was especially important for the green beans, which were frozen and had a lot of water holding them in weird clumps – I would have had to break them up a lot just to get them to fit into the GoSun’s tube, but this also meant that none of that external water went into the tube with the beans. As my tomatoes start coming in during the next two weeks, I think I’m going to experiment more with drying some of them in the GoSun – it gets really hot, so it may not be ideal, but I am excited to see what I can figure out. Last bit of news: the butternut squashes are very green but you can see them on the vines! Every day I check on them and they are a tiny bit plumper… YUM.

Espresso Cheesecake for Husband’s Birthday!

While we were on our road trip, Husband and I asked each other questions about our favorites; while some of them were easy and things we’d known for years, things like “what is your favorite dessert?” are deceptive: you can see someone enjoy a dessert three or four times and still not know if it is their favorite. Husband took his time with that particular question and finally came down to “a good espresso cheesecake.”

I bought a springform pan a year or two ago at a church’s large yard sale, and I’ve thought it was about time to use it for cheesecake, but this was all the push I needed. I bought the obscene amount of cream cheese needed, found Hillbilly Housewife’s simple and perfect recipe, and got to making. I made it days early, but it was worth the torture of waiting to eat it, knowing that it had indeed set up, looked scrumptious, and would be Husband’s favorite.

While he didn’t rave or anything, Husband seemed to enjoy his first slice, especially when it was accompanied by a small cup of coffee. I didn’t have the espresso powder the recipe called for, so I had used a combination of boiled-down coffee (replacing the milk) and some actual ground coffee, but those two things together still only created a faint coffee flavor; instead, I’d made a dark chocolate cheesecake, which seemed to be a completely acceptable substitute in his book. The crust was simple and gives  a nice crunch without a ton of added cookie, though I used nilla wafers so that might explain it – other cookies might make a more prominent crust if that is what you are into.

Overall, I didn’t realize that you got so many servings out of one cheesecake, but goodness gracious… this cake is going to be with us for a while. I’m probably going to freeze a couple pieces to take out for a future special occasion.

65. Six Sister’s 30-min Yeast Rolls

I am very charmed by the idea of Six Sisters Stuff, the blog where I found this recipe – all the six girls keep in touch and post on the blog together, which as a sole blogger, I have to admit I envy. I love writing often but given my desire to build community, I would welcome a second or third blogger to take over some days… let me know if you are interested 🙂

The yeast rolls sounded too good to be true: yeast bread takes so long to rise! The key to these rolls is that they have tons of yeast in them. This is the recipe to pull out when you have a jar of yeast that is getting a little older and needs to get used up – two whole tablespoons. But sure enough: 10 minutes to let the yeast bloom, 10 minutes of resting once the ingredients are all combined and put into roll-shapes, and something like 10 minutes to cook. It was more like 45 minutes in my scattered world, but definitely manageable while making dinner; in my case, manageable while ill. I am so glad to feel better now; it feels like a dim memory to have been so sick and now feel much better.

Speaking of getting well, I had these rolls sitting out on the counter in a bowl on Tuesday and one of the ways I knew that I was getting better, besides just having more energy, was that instead of just looking like something neutral, the way all food had for days, I was actually intrigued and excited about the rolls – the return of appetite is a strange thing. I am glad to be regaining my strength – Husband made some barbeque pork chops and I made veggies in the GoSun, and finally we got to eat a lovely meal together, complete with the last of the yeast rolls.

64. S’s Palak Paneer

S and I always seem to pick up where we left off when we get to see each other, and I was so excited to stop and see her for the weekend on our way to Maine. S had a special plan: she’d bought all the ingredients to make palak paneer, her favorite indian food dish made of spinach, paneer cheese, spices and… well, I didn’t know. I knew that if I made things that approximate palak paneer in the past, they never taste like they do in the restaurants. I was eager to see what S could do with it.

S, her boyfriend A, and I spent a whole day hiking and then returned to their home to make this dish, which could have been done by one person but really was so work intensive that it wasn’t bad to have 3 cooks. S browned the paneer (is there ever such a beautiful thing as frying cheese?), I measured out many many kinds of spices in precise quantities and set them up, cooking-show-style. A chopped and cooked fresh spinach, tomatoes, and onions; they mentioned that they’d tried with frozen and canned and it is never as good. After the frying cheese, the next mixture to create was a chickpea flour and spices mixture, which gives the sauce its thickness – there was no cream in this recipe! The following steps involved combining all the ingredients in precise order, mixing them or pulverizing them in a blender or cooking them slowly for half an hour. I say “or” because it was all a blur to me, and I was in charge of changing records on the record player, so I often had to leave the kitchen. There are worse things, though, than chatting with some of your oldest friends (yes, even S’s boyfriend has now graduated into the ranks of “one of my oldest friends” – they’ve been together a long time, and many of my friends and I met in the last few years) dancing around to big band swing music while large cats flee from your galumphing feet… It made me feel like a young and excited person again.

Also, the final product was MAGICAL. If I get the recipe from S, I can try to recreate it, but I bet I’d need two sous chefs to pull it off. It may look like green glop, but believe me, it’s the most amazing dish. I order it at restaurants habitually, but now I’m gratified to be able to make it in house.


Meatball Cheese Sauce – No More Meatballs!

Here, finally is the last sauce from the meatball party – I feel silly still writing about how these recipes panned out because it has been weeks, and I will have friends and family in town soon to cook for, so it makes sense to get this done.

I wanted there to be something to put on top of the meatballs, and not knowing what people were going to bring (and the fact that many of them did bring their own sauces!), I thought a cheese sauce would be ideal. I make the same kind of cheese sauce almost every time I make one: I start with a roux of butter and flour, and then add either coconut milk or regular milk till it’s a liquid again; then I add small bits of pepper jack cheese and stir, stir, stir until it is a good smooth cheese sauce. This one ended up a little rigid, though I would prefer to be able to dip my chips in it and have them come out perfectly coated, like the delicious quesos of many Mexican restaurants.

I didn’t end up using the cheese much during the party (there’s always too much food to eat and too little stomach to fill) but I also used it the following day to make little slider-bun pizzas because we had so many leftover buns and so much leftover cheese sauce.

I am a huge fan of cheese, but on this trip to Maine, I think I actually exceeded maximum cheese. We ate at so many lovely places, and everything we ate seemed to have gobs of my favorite kinds of cheeses. For this reason, I am now taking a small cheese hiatus – this doesn’t mean I won’t cook anything with it, but I will at least chill out on it and try to sub it out for more veggies.



Cooking, sans appetite

People don’t talk about the feeling of being sick, the in-between from when you fall ill to when you weakly look at people and say “I’ve been feeling under the weather,  but I’m getting better.”

Today is not that day for me. I’m not feeling better, and since the reason I feel this way is because of medicine I’m taking, it’ll be another two days before I feel better, most likely. Part of my fatigue today is also a persistent and total lack of appetite; I shove down enough food to take my medicine, but otherwise, I have no interest. This is funny, because one of the only things that seems to be able to get me out of bed is still… cooking.

Granted, it was two very simple things that I made yesterday: a crock pot stew with a pile of potatoes from the garden in it, and a tray full of yeast rolls. They both turned out perfectly, to my great surprise, but when I personally tried to eat them, I just had no interest at all. I did some math this afternoon that made me happy though: I made 12 rolls, and ate one of them. There are 7 left now. That means that 4 of these perfect fluffy yeast rolls found their way into Husband’s belly, or lunchbox for work today.

Being sick makes me feel like I cannot accomplish anything, but one of the cool things about being married is that every interaction is a way to do something good in the world – when I take a deep breath instead of lashing out about pain, when I smile and laugh at the goofy jokes Husband tells just to make me smile, and yes, when I use the small bursts of energy I’ve got to make an easy meal with some surprisingly delightful bread; all of these are ways that I’m still having an impact on the world. Single people do the same thing in their interactions, but it has never been more apparent to me than it is now, in this first year of marriage. I’m trying to be grateful for little blessings even as I look forward to being able to dive head-first into my daily tasks again soon.