Accidentally Cooking

Documenting my mistakes in the garden, kitchen and pantry


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First Onions Transplanted

I bought a 50 pack of onions (not including the few that sprouted in my pantry), but only brought the 16 biggest in to put under my grow light. About a dozen of the next largest ones were put into a pot outside. Most of the rest of them looked too small and pathetic to plant, so with my limited space in mind I carefully dumped them in the compost. It’s not something I wanted to do, but the logistics of the situation forced my hand. Why couldn’t the store sell something smaller than a 50 pack?

Last weekend I transplanted the first few onions, the dozen or so that had been in a pot outside, into my garden. I also transplanted the few onions which had sprouted in my pantry to the garden as well. Normally many gardeners like to “harden off” their plants (gradually expose them to the weather, to avoid shock) before transplanting, but I don’t really have enough space indoors for all these little sprouts and had to put them somewhere. The rest of my onions from inside were hardened off over a few days and were just transplanted outside.


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All told, I currently have about 24 onions planted in the garden, next to about 9 or 10 garlic plants of varying sizes which have been out there all winter long (and about a dozen potatoes, nearby in buckets).

The few garlic plants that survived the winter seem to be doing alright now:

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I plan to start hardening off some of my tomatoes and pepper plants in the coming weeks as well, with the goal being to have them in the ground around mid-April (weather permitting).

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Potatoes in Buckets

Last time I talked about the basic steps for planting sprouted potatoes. Today I’m going to go over some more details of exactly what I did (so when things don’t turn out at the end of the season, I’ll have a checklist of what not to do next year). Here are some of my sprouted potatoes, cut up and left to scab overnight:

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Normally I wouldn’t be too enthusiastic about planting grocery store potatoes, but Dana insists on buying organic potatoes (other vegetables she doesn’t care as much). When these sprouted, since they were organic and tasty, I decided they were worth planting instead of buying new seed potatoes.

My house doesn’t have gutters (yet) so instead of having one large rain barrel connected to a downspout somewhere I line up a few 5 gallon buckets along the drip line of my roof. This works well for much of the spring and early summer to collect water that I can use later. And of course, it means I have a few buckets laying around to use in my evil mad scientist potato growing experiments BWAHAHAHA (insert more maniacal laughter here)!

This year, I used two 5-gallon plastic bucket, and a large clear plastic tote for my potatoes.

I used a 1 inch wood drill bit to quickly drill several large holes into the bottom and around the bottom edge of each bucket for drainage. Into each bucket I added a thin layer of straw and leaves from last autumn. This, in my mind, will help improve drainage and prevent dirt from seeping out through the holes in the bucket.

Into each bucket I then added a layer of compost, 4 chunks of potato (sprouts facing up!), a layer of a potting soil we had around (enough to cover the potatoes) and then another thin layer of straw. This top layer of straw, again in my mind, will help to retain soil moisture like any mulch, and will help to add some air pockets, improved drainage and lightness to the soil so the roots and small potatoes have somewhere to grow and room to expand.

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When the potato plants start to grow taller, I’ll continue to fill in more layers to the bucket, topping off each time with a little bit more straw for this exact reason (it doesn’t hurt that I have so much excess straw laying around). The straw and leaves will also decompose over the season, adding even more nutrients to the mix.

I have two buckets and a large clear plastic tote prepared like this. Assuming we can get about 1 or 2 pounds of potatoes per 5 gallons of bucket volume, I think we’ll be in good shape come fall and winter.


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Sprouted Potatoes and Onions

The popular wisdom in regards to potatoes and onions, when they’ve sprouted in your pantry, is that they are effectively spoiled or not worth eating. Both become sort of shrunken-looking. Sometimes they start feeling a little soft. In some cases (potatoes and garlic especially) the green parts can lead to a different flavor or less flavor overall. You may be tempted to just throw them away at this point and move onto something with fewer ambitions.

Potatoes and onions (and other taproots, tubers and alliums) represent stockpiles of chemical energy and nutrients for the plants. These plants store significant portions of their sugars, starches and nutrients in these vegetables underground to hedge against winter and drought. Later when conditions are better, these are powder kegs that can quickly explode into new plant life. I planted tomatoes and peppers a few weeks ago and the tallest of them is about 5 inches on it’s tip-toes. Over the course of maybe a week, one of my onions in the pantry sprouted and sent up shoots 5 inches or more, and sent out a whole clump of them. The mass of new green growth coming out of a single onion in 1 week was significantly more than the mass of a tomato growing for several weeks.

Because potatoes, onions and other root vegetables represent storehouses of chemical energy, you can often put those right in the ground and have new plants grow from them (and grow quickly!) The plant will grow, pulling it’s initial burst of energy from the sugars and starches stored in the root. As the plant gets bigger and the leaves start photosynthesizing, excess sugars and starches will be stored in a new generation of tubers and roots for the next season. Thus continues the circle of life.

In the pantry last weekend I found that several of our “Sweet Yellow” onions and several russet potatoes had sprouted and were well past the point where we would be trying to salvage and eat them. I already had some onions planted, but a few more in the garden can’t hurt anything. I had been planning to buy some seed potatoes, but now I don’t need to. If you know how to prepare them, you can plant both these things right in your garden (now is about the time to put them outdoors, if you’re brave enough).

Preparing and Planting Onions

Every onion layer grows up into a single stalk. New layers grow in the middle, pushing up new stalks through the center of the plant. When Onions are harvested and allowed to dry, the outer layers dehydrate and turn into the papery covering we’re all used to, in order to protect the tender inner layers.

To plant a sprouted onion, here are some steps to follow:

  1. Carefully remove the papery outer layers, careful not to damage any roots that are forming (notice that some roots may have started growing under the paper or even between other layers!)
  2. Carefully make incisions and remove remove any layer of the onion which is not currently sending up a viable shoot. Again, do your best not to damage the roots.
  3. As you remove the non-growing outer layers, eventually you’ll reach the live heart of the onion, small bulbs which are each sending up shoots. You may have one in the center, you may have several clustered inside like a bulb of garlic. If many, you may carefully separate them.
  4. Carefully plant these onion cores, sprouts up and roots down, in a pot or directly in your garden, no higher than the very top of the bulb (but make sure at least a teensy little bit of bulb is still sticking up above the dirt line).
  5. Water and care for them like normal.

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In this picture, the three closest pots contain my sprouted onions (I’ll bury them a little deeper when I get them into the garden in the next few days). The non-growing layers which you remove are probably perfectly edible. If they look plump and juicy to you, consider using them in food. Waste not, want not.

Preparing and Planting Potatoes

Like onions, the chemicals making up the mass of sprouts come out of the heart of the potato. The more sprouts the potato puts out, the more shrunken, shriveled, and deflated the potato will look. This has lead to a reputation, often undeserved, that potatoes which have sprouted are mushy and effectively inedible or unpalatable. This is probably not the case, but your mileage may vary. If you’re intent on eating them, snap off the sprouts, skin them, remove anything that feels mushy, and cook like normal.

If, on the other hand, you want to plant them, the process is extremely easy:

  1. Fingerling or little potatoes can be planted as-is without any kind of action taken on your part.
  2. Larger potatoes can be cut, to increase the number of plants you start with. Carefully and cleanly cut the potatoes so that each cut piece has at least 2 sprouting (or ready to sprout) eyes on it
  3. Some people suggest leaving the cut potatoes to dry out overnight or longer, to form a dry scab on the cut parts to keep diseases out. Other people say this is not necessary and the potato chunks can be planted as soon as you cut them. I left them out overnight because I didn’t have any place ready to plant them just yet.
  4. Plant the potatoes under an inch of good, fertile soil. There are many many strategies for growing potatoes in buckets, barrels, boxes, bags and other novel containers. Some of these strategies can produce significantly higher yields (in exchange for more materials needed and more effort on your part) than just planting them in the ground. I’ll leave you to do the research on those methods yourself.

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All told I ended up with 4 additional plantable onions and around a dozen chunks of potato ready to be planted. I’m not quite sure where I’m going to put these things because almost all of my garden space is already spoken for with the other plants I’m preparing to grow.


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Seedlings Rollcall

Dana was all like “What did you buy?” and I was all like “IDK LOL”.

I Dunno LOL

I Dunno LOL

Of course, I really did know, and I knew it was awesome.

Xander and I went down to Home Depot to buy some stuff for the last stages of our never-ending bathroom repair and remodel project. When we were at the store he wanted to go to the Lawn and Garden “Outside Part”. There I saw some of the first new plant seedlings for sale and quickly picked up a small Rosemary plant and a packet of 50 baby onion transplants.

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On our way to the cash register Xander mentioned the blueberries again. OKAY FINE I’LL BUY THEM. Twist my leg, whydoncha? Actually, the leg didn’t need much twisting. I also picked up a packet of pepperoncini pepper seeds. My current list of seedlings packed tightly in the small space under my grow light looks like this:

  • 17 tomato plants (6 Roma, 3 “Super 100 Hybrid” cherries, 3 “Redcurrant” cherries, and 5 others which are a mix of these and volunteers)
  • 4 “Long Thai Hot” hot peppers
  • 4 “California Wonder” bell peppers
  • 24 “Walla Walla” sweet yellow onions

Those pepperoncinis haven’t sprouted yet, but I could get up to 4 of them as well.

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Last year with my cowhorn and serrano peppers I made a lot of hot pepper vinegar, which is always a favorite addition to soups. You only need a spoonful of that stuff for almost any meal, and the quantity I made last summer is more than enough to get me through 2013 and into 2014 (even considering I gave the bulk away as gifts). This year with the Thai hot peppers and the garlic I planted I want to make some sriracha, and with the pepperoncini I want to make some pickled peppers for sandwiches and salads.

The 6 roma tomato plants serve one primary purpose: to be cooked down into tomato sauce. Sure, they’ll also be the bomb diggity in salsa, bruschetta, and sliced thick on hamburgers. This year if I can get a decent crop, I’m hoping to put up several big jars of sauce for the winter months. The cherry tomatoes I got, which both promise to be prolific varieties, are going to be mostly for fresh eating. If I get too many, I may try my hand at drying them out again (if I can buy or borrow a real dehydrator).


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Jam Recipe Ideas

In my last post I talked about what went well in 2012 and what didn’t go so well, and also outlined some of my plans for preserving in 2013. My plan, in a nutshell, is to make more of the things we like and try out some new recipes as well.

All winter I’ve been thinking about novel new jam and jelly combinations. I’ve been inspired, in part, by my new book and things I’ve browsed on Etsy and Pinterest. Also, some ideas came into my head from who-knows-where. Here’s a quick list of 10 recipe ideas that I might like to try this year:

  1. Cherry and Blueberry Jam : I can’t believe I didn’t try this combination last year when we were swimming in both of these delicious fruits. This year, it’s happening for sure, and in future years it’s sure to be a staple (since I now have 2 cherry trees and am planning to buy some blueberries). A little Amaretto, some vanilla and/or some chocolate (if I can get up the nerve to use chocolate in a jam again) would really make this combo pop. Some Pomegranate juice might really push the whole thing over the edge.
  2. Blueberry and Lemon Jelly : I’ve heard of Blueberry-Lemon as a common flavor combination. These two things, in a smooth clear jelly, would be a match made in heaven. There are a few things I could add to this to make it even more complex: Pomegranate, Cherry, Basil, Mint, Lavender or a little bit of my orange extract.
  3. Peach and Cherry Jam : These two great stone fruits definitely belong in the same jam together. I had intended last year to make a white peach and cherry jam, but the white peaches didn’t cooperate and I had to do something else with the cherries before they went bad. A decadent, chunky yellow peach and cherry jam would be awesome with maybe just a touch of amaretto or bourbon.
  4. Peach, Orange and Blueberry Jam : Am I crazy? I think a combination like this, or one with just Peach and Orange, would make a great combination. A little bit of orange juice and zest would help bring the chunks of peach and the whole blueberries together. Consider also with a touch of vanilla or cinnamon. Valencias will be in season at just the right time for this.
  5. Pear and Lemon : This seems like a great combination to me. Sweeten it with a little bit of honey? Add a little cinnamon or vanilla? This one has real potential.
  6. Blueberry and Pear Jam: This might even go well with apples instead of pears. Maybe a little bit of lemon or honey will help it out too. The problem is getting the good blueberries and the ripe pears together in the same place at the same time. Freezerman, to the rescue!
  7. Cranberry Apple Jam: Not a cranberry sauce with apple, but a full-fledged apple mixture with some cranberry added for color and tartness. This would go well with any of the fall seasonings: cinnamon, clove or ginger especially.  With only mild changes this recipe could become Cranberry Apple Butter, instead of a Jam. A splash of orange extract or lemon zest will really brighten this up either way.
  8. Orange, Cranberry and Pomegranate Jelly: I think this recipe has great potential to be similarly festive, but more bright and less homey than the apple variety above. Imagine some of this spread on a fresh-baked gingerbread cookie, or with a little fresh cracked black pepper on a nice, sharp cheese tray. If we boil out the cranberries in a little bit of water or clear apple juice, they’d be a perfect accompaniment to fresh squeezed orange and pomegranate juices, and a little bit of zest.
  9. Mulled Apple Cider Jelly: I did Apple Cider Jelly this year and it was a big hit. Next year I want to try a similar recipe but with mulling spices and maybe a little bit of bourbon (or spiced rum!) thrown in for good measure.
  10. Pina Colada : Pineapple, Coconut and maybe a hint of dark rum. This combination really speaks for itself and would help to bring a little bit of tropical beach to the long winter months. It also gives me an excuse to buy fresh pineapples and fresh coconuts from the store.  Another tropical drink favorite of mine, the Pain Killer, uses  pineapple, coconut, orange and is seasoned with just a little bit of nutmeg. That would be a great alternative recipe to try as well.


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‘Twas at Home Depo when what to my wandering eyes did appear….

Oh right, I did this shtick already. I went to Lowes a few days ago looking for some pieces to put the finishing touches on my growlight fixture. I needed some cover plates to help keep little fingers out of places with live electrical wires, and a few other odds and ends. As soon as I walked into the store my attention was pulled towards a display of seeds and plants. Among them were little blueberry bush plants and little grapevines (and Raspberry and blackberry bushes, which we can’t have due to allergies). I was sorely tempted to pick up a handful of these little plants and dance, cackling with joy, all the way to my car.

I refrained.

A few days later the munchkin and I took a trip to Home Depot, because….well, I don’t need an excuse to go to Home Depot. We got out of the car and I almost immediately noticed a new curbside display of trees and bushes. We took a stroll over that direction and GUESS WHAT THEY WERE? Large blueberry bushes (and grapes, and raspberries)! They were much larger bushes than the ones on sale at Lowes (3-foot tall or more), and not much more expensive.

Today, Xander talked me into buying two bushes of them. The first variety, Duke, is an early harvesting variety. The second variety, Bluecrop, is a mid-season variety with good disease resistance and consistent yields.  All sources I’ve seen say that the more blueberry plants you have for cross-pollination, the better. We’re going to start with two for now but we’ll grab more if necessary.


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2013 Preserving Plans

I started using Pinterest as a way to keep track of some of some gardening and cooking ideas. I saw one post on there that reminded me that it’s time to start putting together a plan for the sprint/summer/fall season. Since I have nothing else to write about, here’s mine.

The Garden

I’m only growing two crops that I expect to have enough volume for canning: Tomatoes and Hot Peppers. I expect to see some cherries on the new trees, but not nearly enough to do anything with until next year or later. Xander has requested pumpkins, so if we get a decent crop of those I may try something with them. We’ll know in the fall.

Pick Your Own

We know we can get a buttload of both peaches and apples from the local orchards, of good quality at a good price. According to various websites we should also be able to get cherries, blueberries, plums, pears, apricots, nectarines and grapes. I didn’t see most of these things available last year, so I’ll have to be more vigilant. If we can get them, I’ll put them in jars.

Things That Went Well

Probably the best-received gift we gave last year was the apple butter, which people raved about. The peach jam we gave away was also well received. The orange jelly was only a small batch but the people who tried it really loved it. The caramel apple jam was also a hit, though we made less of that than the apple butter and gave less of it away. The Apple Cider Jelly we made was very popular as well.

We made cherry, apple and blueberry pie fillings last year. All of these were surprisingly tasty and made for excellent pies (especially for Christmas, where an easy pie recipe was much appreciated).

The tomato jam I made was very tasty, but Dana and I are having trouble finding places to use it. So far, we use it as a replacement for ketchup on grilled cheese sandwiches and nowhere else. I’m hoping that burger season will inspire us to use more of it.

Things Didn’t Go As Well

The cherry jam I made was tasty but the consistency was not great. The pieces of cherry were too large, there wasn’t enough sugar and the “jelly” part of it was a very loose syrup. I would like to make more cherry jam, but I will probably follow the normal recipe with the pectin.

We just don’t eat enough applesauce. Our son doesn’t seem to want it, we don’t use it enough, and we’re running out of people with young children who would like some. The Caramel Apple Jam and the Apple Butter (both of which start off their lives as apple sauce) are much more popular.

I put up several jars of both apples and cherries in light syrup. The problem is, I have no idea what to do with either of these things, and they’re still sitting on my shelf.

The sundried tomatoes I made didn’t get dry enough and grew mold. The dried red pepper I made also ended up getting trashed. I won’t do either of these or anything like them again without a proper dehydrator.

The pickles I made had a nice flavor but were way too sour and vinegary. Plus, my luck with cucumbers last year was poor.

Goals for 2013

I want to make a lot of peach jam and a lot of apple butter. I’d also like to make enough apple pie filling to give some away as gifts. I expect to make more cider jelly and more caramel apple jam.

I didn’t make any regular blueberry jam last year. If I can find a good cheap supply of those expect both blueberry jam and combination jams with other fruits.

When Valencia oranges come in season, I’m going to try my orange jelly recipe with them.

If we can get a reasonable amount of tomatoes this year, expect lots of big jars of sauce.

I may try a small batch of pickles again too, if I can find good quality cukes at a good price.

I’ve been kicking around some ideas for new and interesting jam recipes. I’ll post some of my ideas next time. If things go well this season, expect to see a few of these new ideas brought to life.