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Grandma's Kitchen

Jan. 8, 2013 | 0 comments

This week I am featuring ideas to make things from nothing, and to also give you some diversion these cold winter days!

1.) Next time you have green onions, don't throw away the white ends. Simply submerge them in a glass of water and place them in a sunny window. Your onions will begin to grow almost immediately and can be harvested almost indefinitely.

2.) To fix an old rusty cast iron skillet: All that is needed for the reconditioning process are a few inexpensive, readily available items: Heavy-duty Oven Cleaner (I used Easy-Off)*; Gloves; Garbage Bags; White Distilled Vinegar; and Steel Wool (#0000).

Since some commenters have had some concerns about the oven cleaner, I wanted to give a little more information about the chemicals.

Oven cleaner contains lye, which is a caustic agent, typically sodium hydroxide or potassium hydroxide. The lye residue is washed off of the skillet, neutralized with an acid soak (vinegar), then washed again and coated with seasoning.

Lye is used in many everyday items such as soap; it also shows up in food preparation, from olive curing, to lutefisk , to making authentic pretzels. It's also used for biodiesel.

Lye is very hygroscopic, meaning it will pull moisture out of the air. This is why, when being used on grimy cast iron, the aerosol foam ends up becoming a brown liquid. It's dissolving when it contacts the air, which results in very little if any of the lye being absorbed into the metal.

Even groups such as the Griswold & Cast Iron Cookware Association recommend the oven cleaner method for reconditioning cast iron.

Some people advise using high heat or a self-cleaning oven cycle (which uses high heat) to clean cast iron. I shy away from this method mainly because the majority of my cast iron collection is antique. High heat can and will warp or even crack fragile cast iron. Plus, my oven doesn't have a self-cleaning cycle. I also can't simply throw my cast iron in a fire, being that I live in the suburbs, and setting yard fires is strongly frowned upon here.

Coat the cast iron piece (top and bottom) with the oven cleaner, making sure to wear gloves. Oven cleaner is basically aerosolized lye foam and is very caustic. It will burn your skin. Place the coated piece in a garbage bag and seal tightly to prevent the oven cleaner from drying out.

This is where patience comes in. You will need to wait several days for the oven cleaner to loosen and remove the old seasoning. I usually check after two days, then wipe off the cleaner and apply a fresh coat and check again after three days.

For especially grimy pieces, letting the pieces soak for about a week is usually sufficient.

Once the old seasoning has been removed, the skillet will be restored to it's original cast. The iron will be a silvery-gray color. There may still be surface rust present, which has to be removed before the skillet can be seasoned.

Remove the lye and old seasoning by wiping off the grime with a paper towel and then washing the skillet with hot water.

Next, the lye needs to be neutralized, and any surface rust will need to be softened to make it easier to remove. Soak the cleaned skillet in a 2:1 solution of hot water and white distilled vinegar for 30-60 minutes.

This should soften any surface rust enough that it can be easily scrubbed away with steel wool. Wash the skillet with soap and hot water and dry it thoroughly.

At this point, the skillet has been cleaned down to the bare metal and must be seasoned immediately to prevent rusting.

To season, place the cleaned, dry skillet upside-down in a 250°F oven for 15 minutes. Increase the temperature to 500°F and let the skillet heat up for 45 minutes. At this point, the skillet will be extremely hot, so be careful removing it from the oven. Turn off the oven.

Season the skillet with a coating of lard. Some people also use shortening (Crisco) or olive oil. Rub the lard all over the entire skillet with paper towels; the hot skillet will absorb the oil and begin to turn brown.

The oil will likely smoke as well; this is normal. Using clean paper towels, rub off the excess oil so that the skillet just appears wet. With seasoning, like painting, your aim should be for multiple thin layers rather than a single thick layer.

Return the oiled skillet to the oven (upside-down to prevent pooling) and let the skillet cool while the oven cools. Wipe any excess oil off every 10-15 minutes to prevent any pooling or buildup.

Every 30 minutes or so, repeat seasoning with a fresh application of lard or oil, remembering to wipe off the excess oil. After one hour, open the oven door slightly to help cool the oven faster.

At this point, the skillet should be completely reconditioned, seasoned and ready for use.

3.) Grow 100 pounds of potatoes in a container. You'll need to pick out a container such as a 50-gallon trash barrel or one of those half whiskey barrel planters.

Alternatively, you can buy used food-grade barrels or commercially-available potato planters. Just about any 2- to 3-foot tall container will work, but be sure to select a container that either already has holes in it, or is okay to cut holes in.

Next you'll want to clean your container with a mild bleach solution to get out any of the nasties that have been lingering in there.

Good drainage is critical for the cultivation of healthy potatoes so you'll want to cut or drill a series of large drainage holes in the bottom and bottom sides of your container.

Alternatively, you can cut out the bottom altogether and place it on a well-drained surface like your garden bed.

Seed potatoes can usually be found at nurseries early in the growing season, but you should only have to buy them once.

If you can, "chit" or sprout your potatoes before planting them by setting them out in an egg carton, the side with the most buds facing up, and putting them in a cool light room out of direct sunlight to sprout. Putting the tubers in an open paper bag can have this same effect.

Fill in the bottom of your container with about 6 inches of loose planting mix and compost. You'll want to use a planting mix with a peat moss-like soil amendment; doing so will keep the soil from becoming too compacted and help it to store moisture for the roots.

Next, add some seed potatoes on the layer of soil, making certain to leave plenty of space between each cube. You can use the whole potato but I like to cut the potatoes into 1 to 2-inch cubes for planting.

Loosely backfill the potatoes with another 6 inches of your soil and compost mix and water to dampen soil. Keep the soil damp at all times but be careful not to over-water.

When they have about 6 to 8 inches of foliage, add another layer of your soil-compost mix covering about one-half to three-quarters of the visible stems and foliage. Repeat this process of allowing the sprouts to grow and then covering the sprouts and moistening the soil as the plants grow up toward the top of the barrel.

After about 10 weeks or until the plants flower and start to yellow, the potatoes should be ready to harvest. Carefully dig down with your hands to inspect the top-most layer. After you've confirmed your suspicions, dump the barrel out on a tarp and inspect your bounty.

Other tips to grow bushels of barrel potatoes:

• After the first harvest, keep a few potatoes to use as seed potatoes next year.

• Bush beans are a great companion plant for potatoes.

• Instead of using soil, try growing your potatoes in sawdust.

• Experiment with different containers, seed potatoes and watering regimes.

4.) Fill a spray bottle with hydrogen peroxide and 1/2 handful of baking soda. Shake it up and spray on carpet stains, upholstery stains, and clothing stains. "I've used it for years and it works better than anything else," says Carol Tegan.://://

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