New Kitchen Gear: GoSun!

I am so excited to reveal my birthday present: the GoSun stove! Well, it was more of a joint decision, since the Sport edition is beautiful but not particularly cheap, but it arrived around my birthday, so that’s something! Check them out at www.gosunstove.com – I didn’t receive anything for this endorsement, and I don’t even know how well the stove works yet, I’m just very excited.

This crazy looking device focuses light from the sun (like the way a magnifying glass does) into a vacuum tube, which allows all that regular summer day heat to become heat that can cook food! I’m going to be making a lot of summer dishes in this thing, both because Husband handles the grill, and because I don’t want to heat my oven up just to have to cool my house back down with air conditioning.

I remember in the summers my Mom would spend the late afternoon grilling zucchini with parmesan and making barbecue chicken. It would mean trips out onto our back deck from the kitchen, but the view of the leafy backyard was more of a bonus than a chore – while I always was intimidated by the flame-ups and the crusty carbon that had to be scraped from the grill, I loved that we could make a whole meal out there, and that it often had the delicious, flame-kissed flavor that no amount of boiling or baking can get.

So this is my plan: I am going to use the GoSun Community Kitchen as a source for recipes and stories, and add my own as I give myself a lesson in solar grilling. Most likely I’ll have some foibles – solar cooking, as you might guess, takes longer than other kinds of cooking – but I am excited to really use an off-the-grid technology and make it a part of my habits, replacing some electric stove use.

Anyone have a favorite grilled dish that I might be able to replicate? Grilling tips and tricks are always appreciated. 🙂

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45. G’s Sourdough Bread

I know, I’ve made seventy gajillion kinds of bread lately. Call it a brief infatuation with the ol’ stand mixer… and a long-standing love affair with bread.

Recently, a student where I work gave me some sourdough starter that he and his mother have had since they lived in California years ago. He told me how to use it, how to keep it happy or let it go dormant in the fridge, and I was incredibly excited to try it out. I had a recipe from a blogger (thanks, Roast Smoke and Malt!) and a container of back-up store-bought yeast just in case, and I had a looooooong summer day to let it all rise and get perfectly puffy.

For the most part, I’d say it worked! I put a little bit of butter on top that I expected would melt in and become indistinguishable but instead it made for that weird discoloration, so maybe don’t do that, but the bread itself was wonderful – I ended up using back up yeast and adding enough flour to get me back to the same consistency after I added the activated yeast-in-water, but I still gave it an insane few hours of rising, probably close to 6 all told, and the final product had that sour tang to it that makes sourdough distinctive. I want to give it a chance to rise overnight next time, but for a first attempt, this certainly isn’t bad.

Dough hooks are your friend with this bread, as with so many – I would love to hear if people have a great success with handmade, not mixer-made, doughs, but I feel like having the mixer is my game changer.

Sourdough is such a cool food because it’s a bit like also having a pet (a pet you kill in the oven… perhaps not the best analogy after all) because you have to keep the starter alive, feed it, put it in the fridge to go dormant, etc. I like that I met G, who I hadn’t run into at work until that day, and got to share his life story by taking some of this starter. I hope to someday figure out a preferred recipe and grow the starter enough to give it to others myself!

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The second loaf, which rose beautifully.

Camping Food

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I am getting really excited about camping this weekend, friends. And a big part of the reason I’m excited is camping food – from the tinfoil wrapped batch of biscuits that we set to warm over the fire in the mornings, to the grilled hot dogs and hamburgers, to the jacket potatoes roasted in the embers, everything is hearty and a little smoky and always way too hot to eat.

I’m excited too because of the camping community that Husband’s family has – many of the people who came to our wedding will be hanging out with us all weekend. Usually, a circle of camping chairs coalesces somewhere near where their group is camping and there’s always someone to play cards with, go on a hike with, or float a tube down the river with.

I love that everyone brings a few things – a meal or a pile of bottled water or a stack of snacks. It’s rarely health food, but it’s always communal – pretty much everyone contributes in to the whole group’s meals and whoever is around at mealtimes scrapes together something out of the communal groceries. It’s how I feel meals make the most sense, and feel the most special.

What’s your favorite camp meal? Soon, I think I’ll post about Husband’s favorite, what he calls “hobo dinners,” but I’d love to hear what you tend to nosh on when out in the great outdoors. 🙂

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44. Potluck Tomato Zucchini Dip

This recipe didn’t come from anything, though it did go to a potluck, and it was part of my ongoing efforts to clean out my cupboards. Unfortunately, these sorts of things don’t always go perfectly… So a girl has to improvise.

I expected I was making something like these, a zucchini dish that would be more like a side or a hot veggie dish. I started with a big can of diced tomatoes with oregano, garlic, and basil in them, two large zucchini, and half a small log of garlic herb goat cheese. I imagined pinterest-worthy food. What I got was surely delicious but not fancy… which I guess is what to aim for!

I roasted the zucchini and didn’t count on how small it would be after that! Mixed with the cheese and the cooked tomato, it looked like a cheesy dip but not at all like a fresh, zesty hot side. I think I needed more veggie volume to make that work. Still! When I put it onto a cracked-pepper triscuit, I realized it still had great potential as a party dip.

At N’s house, I foregrounded that I might have made a disaster food, but people liked it! So… this might not be the thing to aim for when you are trying to make a fancy dish, but if you just want something delicious and veggie-ful, try it out!

Zucchini Tomato Surprise Dip

 

  1. Cook 1 can of herbed diced tomatoes in a pan on the stove top; add a little olive oil if you want.
  2. Slice and roast zucchini, at least two large ones. (If I did this again, I’d also cut them into quarters and make every slice at least 1/2 an inch thick. Grease that pan!)
  3. When tomatoes begin to thicken, add cream cheese or herbed goat cheese. When zucchini have roasted for 30 minutes, mix all ingredients together and serve on crackers or pita chips.

43. Childhood “Loaded”Mashed Potatoes

As a kid, I was fascinated by state-changed foods. I thought that pancake batter puffing into soft, thick cakes was magical; liquid to solid was pretty common. More strange still was solid to liquid, when my mother and I would make mashed potatoes. I couldn’t imagine how those hard, brown lumps turned into the fluffy cloud-like mashed potatoes I loved.

When I was 10 or 11, my parents instituted a rule when I had to cook a meal every week during the summer – it was both to teach me, keep me busy, and help my mom a little. One of my first variations on my mom’s normal recipes was my idea for “loaded” mashed potatoes: namely, normal mashed potatoes full of onions, bacon, and cheese. I clearly have been a girl who loves rich food for a long time.

So, Husband and I were making salmon with potatoes as a side the other evening, when I realized I wanted mashed potatoes – salmon with a little mashed potato on the side was just EVERYTHING for a moment there. So, I boiled a bunch of sliced fingerling potatoes, fried bacon with shallots, and poured it all into my newly-acquired stand mixer. At first I was worried that leaving skins on the potatoes was going to ruin the look, but when I threw a bit of cheddar and a pat of butter in with them, the potatoes whipped up wonderfully. They were thick and had chunks in them, which isn’t nearly like the bright white potato-flake mashed potatoes of my thanksgiving memories, but they felt hearty and flavorful anyway.

It’s this kind of memories that are coming back when I cook more – sure, I love me a pile of take-out chinese food (hello crab rangoons) but it doesn’t hold as many home memories as getting in the kitchen and putting something together. My family only ate out as a treat when I was growing up, probably for money reasons, and while my young adulthood has been filled with eating in restaurants, I am really reconnecting to the way time in the kitchen calms me, employs the problem-solving parts of my brain, and saves me money.

No formal recipe for loaded mashed potatoes; I just recommend boiling the cut potatoes at least 20 minutes, and add proportions of “baked potato ingredients” to your mixer as you feel led.

What recipe have you re-discovered lately? Do you remember specific kitchen moments when you encounter a familiar ingredient or craving? Feel free to comment and tell me about it. 🙂

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So important to boil them long enough… then you get to go wild.

Ugly Strawberries and First Fruits

You know how they say no child is anything but beautiful the first time he or she is handed to their mother? It’s all about perspective, about the hard work that brought that child into the world – it bonds you to them, drives you close.

I am starting to see what they mean, but I am not quite so invested: namely, I am realizing that my garden produces ugly strawberries. They are whorled and have lumps and bumps; they fold in on themselves and get dirt on them and there are occasionally ants to brush off. But the fact remains: we’ve had 7 strawberries and a whole pile ripening up as we speak. I am so excited to be growing my own (tiny) quantity of food.

I am accustomed to the same act that so many people go through at the grocery store every week: search the small baskets of uniform strawberries for the one that holds only perfect fruit, no fuzziness or mushiness or strange shapes. If I grew strawberries like that on my first try, I’d be thrilled, but I’m realizing a different virtue lately, namely, loving what I do have. The ugly strawberries, which I set beside breakfast for Husband and I to try, are deeply sweet, warm from the time outside, and with the characteristic tartness that strawberries do so well without hinging into a more stringent flavor.

I feel the same way about our greens, which have now garnished a delicious sandwich I made and topped a salad for Husband, though I have to say – they are quite pretty. We’ve been getting bucketloads of rain, so spinach is just plumping up constantly as we speak. They were tangy and crisp and just full of deep iron-y flavors, no bright white iceberg leaves with the flavor of water.

I know that gardening isn’t for everyone, or even available to everyone, but I also hope that no one ditches it because they have ugly strawberries their first year. The first fruits are messy sometimes, but we grow when we encounter and care about imperfect things.

I am saving up strawberries now, 3 at a time as I pick them in the mornings – I drop them right into a tupperware in the freezer and will be making me a strawberry rhubarb pie when I have enough and can get my hands on fresh rhubarb. I will pick greens again before Husband and I leave for a camping trip this week. I will keep doing this thing, the growing thing, and I will be so thrilled that I have a crop of anything that ugliness, spots, or dirt will not dim my enthusiasm for the whole growing-your-own-food hobby.

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Anatomy of a Potluck

I keep going to wonderful potluck dinners and I realized that there is a bit of a good “vibe” that a potluck in a home can gather. If you have somewhere bigger than a home, I can see how more people, food, activities, etc. could be good, but this is the way a great potluck looks in my mind’s eye…

Many people were invited, but around 8 to 10 total guests say yes and arrive – the potluck needs a variety of dishes but everyone needs to be able to listen to any particular great story. Ideally, no more than half of the people will be all close friends, because it’s so nice when some folks have to introduce themselves and there’s at least a little bit of chatter that is new to folks. I’ve been to a lot of potlucks where Husband doesn’t know how to talk to my former classmates, because he didn’t study what we did – it’s nice when someone else from a different stage of life or profession is there.

A variety of food and drink is always nice, and as my friend N says, it’s good to have more dishes and sides than desserts. At N’s latest potluck, there was a nice variety of food based in countries around the world, which meant there was a fair bit of oohing over curry and ahhhing over egg rolls. The food brought us into conversation about a special topic.

Husband loves parties where there are games to play, because it brings everyone’s focus onto one thing, while I love parties where we can talk all evening, really getting to know each other. We tend to mix these two in our parties, but I want to get better at bringing in party games like Table Topics, where both my chatter-focus and his game-focus can be satisfied.

I’m really excited to add my last, favorite element of a potluck this summer: the outdoors! A grill, a game in the backyard, and just watching the sunset or a crackling fire are definitive of summer time dinners.

As for the best dish to bring to a potluck… that’s where I’m stumped. I’ve developed my go-to casserole for new parents, but my potluck game is pretty lacking unless I’m at home with my kitchen right there. Any favorite treats for a potluck? If you send me a link to the recipe in the comments, I’ll totally try them and tell you how they go over at potlucks this summer.