Posts tagged pictures

SUCCESS: Cooking Bell Peppers

Hello again from the kitchen. Since I stay in a kind of industrial area, it is easiest to cook undisturbed on weekends. So, it’s Sunday and it’s also partly cloudy. Thought it would rain this morning, but it never did get around to it, and by 1 pm, the clouds were scattering.

At that same time, I assembled the cooker and set chopped sweet peppers out to steam. Back to basics for now. This time, I’m using two round black baking pans clipped together with magnetic memo clips. And in the bottom of the now upturned colander is a stone. Overall things seem much sturdier. But the sun is still deciding on whether to join the party. It keeps coming and going, which can’t provide that much heat.

The sun is officially out at 1:30. It’s windy, but nothing is blowing over today. Finally. The temperature in the bag is right below 100°, and it’s a “chilly in the shadows” day. That’s after more than 1/2 hour out. Obviously clouds are not going to be my usual dream-laden friends when it comes to solar cooking.

Solar Cooking for Home and Camp

While we wait, I might as well review the book I just finished… Solar Cooking for Home and Camp by Linda Frederick Yaffe. This book is much less than some about how to construct a cooker or why you should try one (although both are discussed). It assumes you’re ready to get cooking but have no idea what to prepare. Sounds like me! The recipes are organized by groups as in a regular cookbook, and most sections contain at least one recipe with “easy” in the title. Most require few ingredients and little preparation. And they sound good, too, though there aren’t any pictures. Here’s a sample recipe that sounds delicious:

Pecan Salmon

1. Place in an oiled pot:
4 Salmon Steaks, about 1 1/2 inches thick
2. Mix together in a small bowl:
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 tablespoons honey
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 cup chopped pecans
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

3. Spread the mixture evenly over the steaks.
4. Cover and place in the solar cooker for 2 hours, or until the fish flakes easily with a fork.

Simple and easy to understand, yet gourmet. It doesn’t take more than an hour to get through this book, short of stopping to MAKE things along the way. Speaking of hours, let’s check in on the peppers one hour on the stove.

Right as I wrote that, the whole oven crashed off its ledge, so I got a chance to see what state things were in. As usual things SMELL great. The peppers are soft, but still have a tart edge. There is a tear in the oven bag so I taped it with aluminum foil tape. The magnets fell out of the clips, and the plates were hot. Everything reassembled, I moved to a wider ledge that allows for a bit of rotation leeway and set back up. It’s now 2:20 as I write this.

Bell Peppers

At the 2:45 mark, it was time to head out for the afternoon so I checked again. Everything was done to perfection! Some positive reinforcement at last, after the debacle the other day. Things smelled, looked, and tasted great. The pot was hot but not untouchable. Mental note… the less water, the faster things heat up. Veggies are good for this, as proved by my partially cloudy day results. Perhaps one of these days I’ll work up to main dishes. For now, bon appetit!

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SUCCESS: My First Solar-Cooked Meal

Mmmm! My first home-cooked solar meal.

The other day, being Easter, seemed like a perfect day to set up the cooker for a test run. As I mentioned previously, when I set up the unit the first time, the window-shade was so flexible that it had trouble standing up, much less resisting wind. So, as you can see, the oven now sports a cardboard shell which I attached with vel-cro and safety pins for ease of disassembly. It’s not as pristine as the older version, but it DOES work.

The Reworked Oven Design Reworked Solar Oven Taking the Temperature

Initially, I placed my oven thermometer in the oven bag without a pot, and put everything in the sun at 11:50 am to see what would happen (right picture above). Twenty minutes later, the temperature showed 175° F! Wow! Another 15 minutes, and the temperature was… 150°? Hmmm, I did remember reading that it was the black pot, not the cooking bag, that created heat. Next, I went to the store to buy a round black baking pan to use as a top for my pot (or, in this case, the bottom), and by 2pm, everything was ready to actually COOK something.

First Meal Cooking Food in the Pot

Since the satisfaction of success seemed critical, I chose to stick with an oldie-but-goodie food staple, grilled cheese sandwiches. At 2:10 pm, I stacked two sandwiches in the pot and put them out. The temperature still registered at 150°, placed in front of the oven bag. By the time I came out to check on everything 15 minutes later, they were done! Pop them off onto a plate, and a quick wipe of the non-stick surface, and preparation and clean-up were finished. Now that’s my kind of cooking.

My First Meal

After the success of Easter, which convinced even my skeptical friend that this COULD work, I set out to cook something a little more ambitious. Today’s menu: carrots. I’m reading a book on solar food drying right now (you’ll be seeing a review here very soon), which listed carrots on the “great for drying” list. Well, the processes for cooking and dehydrating are a little different, but I had some carrots that needed immediate love, so I figured I’d just see how things went if I dumped chopped carrots into a pan and put them out sans water.

Result? Mixed. This time, I put everything out at about 12:30 pm, and left it there for about 45 minutes to an hour. The pot tipped off its stand once somewhere along the way, and I set everything up in a new location, which didn’t seem to get as much light, even though there were no shadows obstructing anything. So I compensated by keeping a better eye on the oven and rotating it a little over time. It didn’t seem like the pans were quite as hot to touch when I took them off the “burner”. When I opened up the bag, the smell was WONDERFUL. A big billow of warm steam that smelled like veggie soup. That alone let me declare the experiment a success. The food itself? Not very cooked (the carrots were still crunchy, though they were softer), but overall, good flavor. If I’d had longer to wait around the house today, I think they’d have softened up just fine. Next time, I’ll add a little water, too.

So, there you have it. Not a total success, but enough so to keep me very motivated toward refining this whole solar thing. And it’s seriously gratifying for an afternoon’s work of setting everything up. Even if you’re a glutton for success, you CAN bring solar into your life today!

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RESULT: My First Solar Cooker

My First Solar Cooker

Me and the Box Here it is, my first solar oven. One successful project down, and many, many to go! This solar cooker required almost no investment, took about five minutes to make, and looks pretty much like the result shown in my previous post about windshield shade solar cookers.

For the stand, I used the blue bin pictured above, which conveniently enough was on the trash in an alley this morning. I also managed to scrounge up an old wire grill surface from a naught-used corner of my house, and it just so happened that it fit into the blue container perfectly. Must be a sign. This is important, given the windshield shade’s flexibility, because it provides a solid cook surface on which the pots and pans can rest.

In fact, the windshield shade is SO flexible, I decided I will have to glue some cardboard to its rear sides to provide enough stiffness to withstand wind before attempting to actually cook a meal. Los Angeles has plenty of wind, and it wasn’t more than a minute before a naughty little gust had crumpled up my cooker beyond all hope of reflection. Which just makes me want to further investigate wind power, but, one thing at a time… In deference to the wind, I also decided to place a chunk of 4×4 wood in the blue bin, under the oven, in order to add weight and provide optimal support for the reflective surface under cooking vessels. So there it is! Now that everything is ready to go, and I’m dreaming of sun-baked breads, success is smelling sweet already!

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