Tuesday, July 13, 2010


The next time you reach for your potatoes and find that they have long, knubbly white shoots reaching back at you, don’t despair. This is a very good sign you’ll be growing some potatoes, because these snaky things are potato roots

Once, when our son, Kip, was young enough still to be called “Kippy,” he had seen a show on TV that talked about the commercial raising of chickens, and the many eggs they laid. He came into the kitchen with a thoughtful look on his face, and climbed up on a chair to see what I was cooking. As it happens, I was peeling potatoes. He watched for a while, and then asked me, “Mommy, what lays potatoes?” I blinked, frowned, smiled and said, “Excuse me?” He repeated the question: “What lays potatoes? Chickens lay eggs. What lays potatoes?”

I hugged him and thought about what a good question that was, for a little boy not even four years old. Then I explained the difference between egg-laying creatures and (sort of) egg-shaped veggies. He looked rather disappointed, and I finally realized that I had better grow some potatoes—and pretty quick, too--before he made some kind of nest somewhere for whatever fabled creature he imagined was laying our potatoes.

Here’s how to grow your own potatoes if you only have a small back yard or even a terrace or concrete-floored porch (in which case you will need something underneath the container to catch the fluids that will develop):

Take an empty wooden or plastic barrel, keg or even a stack of old automobile tires. Sounds silly. Isn’t. Wash them well, rinse them, and knock both ends out of the barrel or keg. Lay the container on some newspaper, and put about 9”—12” of good rich soil on the bottom. If you're on actual soil, be sure to dig the underlayment well.

Now take your sprouted potatoes and lay them right on the soil. Some people ‘chit’ their potatoes to make as many separate ‘seeds’ as possible. ‘Chit’ them by cutting the potatoes apart, leaving at least one ‘eye’ or shoot to each portion. Dry them for a day or two—depending on your weather and climate—until a greyish skin grows over them. This prevents molding and rotting. Then use these chits on your soil or, preferably, in your garden.

In the well-dug garden, people usually mound up the dirt around the potato plants as they grow, to give the stems more places to grow tubers (‘potatoes,’ to us). But in the barrel, keg or tire stack, you can simply keep on adding straw, hay, dry grass or whatever as the plants grow taller. Just be sure to keep the soil watered: “moist but not wet” is the key. Mound the soil, hay or whatever up to the last six leaves, leaving those free at the top.

The plants should keep growing until they reach to top of the container. They finally will die off as the weather gets colder, and their leaves will yellow and die. When that happens, stand by with a big garbage bag and a basket or bowl for the potatoes, because you’re going to lift away the container and carefully pull back the dried grass or hay. Put the dried grass or hay into the bag, and then into the compost bin if you have one. There should be left lots of small potatoes—and perhaps some good sized ones—for you, and all you need do is dry them a few days in the shade. Not only will you have free potatoes that you know absolutely have no poisonous chemical on them, but your children will always know where potatoes come from.

never in the sun, for that develops solanin, a poisonous substance that turns the skin and flesh green and renders them inedible. Dry them in the shade and you’re fine. .

Dry the potatoes for a few days out of sun and rain—say three or four days—and then use them in this recipe:


8-9 large, mealy potatoes, such as ‘bakers’
I whole head of garlic
1 (8 oz) container sour cream or diet substitute
¾ c—1 c fresh minced parsley
2—4 Tbsps olive oil
Salt and pepper* to taste


Peel the potatoes and cut into 1” dice. Slice the top of the garlic head, place on an oven-proof pan or dish, and drench with 2 Tbsps of the olive oil. Cover with an oven-proof bowl and bake at 350* for ½-1 hour, testing every 15 minutes for tenderness. DO NOT OVERCOOK. Overcooked garlic looks and tastes like old leather. When it is very soft and tender but not brown, remove from the oven and reserve until they cool.

Check your potatoes—they should be done by now. Strain them into a bowl—DO NOT lose the potato water; it’s great for making sourdough bread, wonderful for chowder (that’s another post), and super—when cooled--for watering your alkaline-loving bulbs. Just put it in a gallon-sized ice cream bucket—or several smaller containers--and freeze it.

Mash your garlic in a small bowl with the remaining 2 Tbsps of olive oil until it is an even, smooth slurry. Pour this over your potatoes. Add the sour cream or substitute. Mash them all together with a potato masher (back in the Depression, we kept a clean Coca Cola bottle for mashing veggies) until it’s all well-mixed. Leave a few lumps. Add the parsley, salt, and black or white pepper, if you like, and you’re done!

Serve this with roast beef, Cajun or other meat loaf, or pork chops, with steamed broccoli-and-lemon juice, glazed carrots, and lemon pie for dessert. Oh—a tomato aspic instead of a salad can also be invited; but if you don’t "speak aspic," lettuce wedges are good, too. Enjoy!


Remember to let me know what you think of the recipes, and of the blog in general! If there is something you’ve always wanted to cook, or grow, or both, let me know and I’ll do a post on it. This is a gift from me to you, and as with all gifts, I’d like it to be something you really want.

Thanks, and God love you!


Wednesday, July 7, 2010


Because we are having a wedding in the family this week, it occurred to me that many young people don't really know what's needed to run a kitchen. I'm sure that different ladies would nominate additional or substitute items, but these are the things I find most needful. I hope you enjoy cooking with all of them, and have fun doing it!

For the Beginner:

Pots and Pans:

I Dutch Oven
1 large (11”) skillet
1 small (7-8”) skillet
1 (1-qt) saucepan (also called ‘saute pan’)
1 (2-qt) saucepan
1 (3-qt) saucepan
1 (4-qt) pressure cooker
I set mixing bowls:
1 (1-pint)
1 (1-quart)
1 (1-gallon)
1 8 qt stock pot
1 small (12”) colander
1 pasta server
1 wire cheese cutter
1 cheese knife and board
1 corkscrew
1 box grater
1 (2 cup) Pyrex measuring cup
1 set plastic Measures—(1/4c, 1/3 c, ½ c, 1 c)
1 sifter
3 (8-9”) cake pans
3 metal pie pans
1 (9”x13”x2”) rectangular pan
(aka ‘lasagna pan’)
2 cookie sheets
2 muffin pans (2-1/2” cups)


3 lg cooking spoons, metal
(solid, pierced, slotted)
1-2 wire whisks (“whips”)
1 (3”) wire mesh strainer
1 (6”) wire mesh strainer
1 potato masher
1 pancake turner
1 metal spatula (for frosting cakes)
1 meat fork
2-3 metal tongs
2-4 plastic or rubber spatulas
(preferably heat-resistant)
1 pair kitchen shears
12 (14”) metal skewers


1 (9”) French Cook’s knife
2-3 paring knives
1 (“) serrated slicer
1 large butcher’s knife
1 knife sharpener (manual)

large wooden cutting board
smaller wooden cutting board

(I specify wood because wood 'heals' itself
and doesn't retain harmful germs the way
plastic is said to do.)

Watch for 'The Big Family Cookbook,' coming soon to www.youpublish.com/thebigfamilycookbook/

Remember to let me know what you think of the recipes, and of the blog in general! If there is something you’ve always wanted to cook, or grow, or both, let me know and I’ll do a post on it. This is a gift from me to you, and as with all gifts, I’d like it to be something you really want.

Thanks, and God love you!


Thursday, July 1, 2010



Eating jalapenos is a bit of an adventure for some. Here in Texas, jalapenos are a staple of daily life.

Some of us even grow our own. Starting jalapeno peppers is pretty easy: Go to your grocery and buy one pepper. That’s right—one. Get a big, healthy-looking one: shiny, firm skin, bright green color. Don’t bother with the yellowish, anemic-looking ones.

Wash the pepper with a soapy sponge and rinse it well. Really, I'm not kidding. I could tell you it makes them less hot, but then I'd be lying through my teeth. Washing them just makes them cleaner, and you're about to eat this one, so trust me. Wash it.

Pat it dry with paper towels or a clean cloth, lop off the top and the tip (saving as much of it as you can), and slit the side with a sharp knife. Remove the membranes and the seeds and reserve the seeds. (Ha! Now you know where I'm going with this.) Those are to plant. The membranes go into your compost container. The edible parts of the top (not the stem or the sepals), the tip, and the ‘shell’ of the pepper get chopped fine and put into a sandwich zipper-closure bag, and popped into the freezer for use whenever you choose. I vote for 'now.'

Now simply plant the seeds in your usual flat/half quart milk container/rusty-old pan-with-holes, any and all covered-by-bits-of-coffee-filter-paper-towel-or-rag-filled-with-potting-soil, and covered with between a sprinkle and 1/8” potting soil, and watered daily. Put it onto a sunny window sill like you always do. You can also use empty egg cartons with the tops cut off and plant one seed in each little module, but they dry out like mad, so be sure to keep them damp. Some people will tell you to plant two and kill the weak one when they get bigger, but that sounds mean. I like to give everybody a fair chance. Some of my weakest seedlings have turned out to be the most fruitful grown plants. Let 'em live. If they want to die, they'll let you know: they'll do it.

Pretty soon, you’ll see the sharp little green leaves coming up, and they grow very fast. They look great. When they get too big to stay where they are (when they have their second set of leaves), simply pot them up into clean, empty vegetable cans/foam plastic cups/little pots (with the holes, the coffee filters, etc., see my previous posts), fill them with good potting soil or good garden soil, and make a hole in the middle.

Prick out the plants with a popsicle stick, a chopstick, or what have you and--lifting them only by a leaf--transfer them one by one, each to its own new pot.

NEVER, ever, pick up a plant by the stem—if you injure a leaf, you lose a leaf; if you injure a stem, there goes the entire plant.

Also, NEVER let the roots stay in the air; keep them covered with soil until you can transfer them. Tuck them in snugly, at the same level in the soil they were before, water well, and keep in light but not sun for about 12 hours. Once they’re settled, you can put them in bright sunlight, little by little; they love it! And you 'll be harvesting your own jalapenos in no time!

Want to know a Mexican “not-so-secret?” Good homemade salsa is not so hard to make if you have grown your own tomatoes and jalapenos! Here’s how I do it:


6--8 ripe, firm, Roma-style tomatoes (plum type)
1 large onion
2-6 nice big jalapeno peppers (depending on how hot you like it)
¼ c chopped fresh cilantro


Peel the onion. Wash, rinse and dry the tomatoes and jalapenos. Chop everything fine and put it all in some pretty little serving dishes. Sometimes you can find ‘fun dishes’ that look like peppers. You want to put it out in several dishes, because I’ve seen guests just stand over a single bowl of salsa scarfing it up as fast as they could, and nobody else could even get close.

If you scatter it around the room in different dishes, at least other people have a fighting chance. It helps to put on some good “salsa music” while you’re making and serving this, just to get into the mood, and be sure you buy a couple of big bags of tortilla chips so everyone can scoop up the delicious treat.

Invite a few friends in, set out the goodies, roll up the rugs in case you can't help dancing, and enjoy the evening. Ole’! Arriba!