Posts tagged result

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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LESSON LEARNED: How not to Cook Eggs

Here’s the recipe:
1/4 cup milk
4 eggs
Sesame seeds
3 handfuls shredded cheddar
2 oz. sliced mushrooms
3 oz. canned sweet corn

All were mixed by hand.

Here’s what it SHOULD have looked like: Mushroom Omelet

At 1:05 the eggs went in. At 1:25, the temperature was 140° F in the bag outside the pot. I rotated the cooker at that time and went back inside, clipping back an edge that seemed to be blocking sunshine. At the 1 hour mark, temperature was 150°, but the entire rack had slipped off one end, spilling (more!) of the contents into the bag. It was kind of a steamy mess, and foggy with condensation – I’ll have to do something about the slippage problem of both the rack and pot. At 2:25, I checked again and the spilled “juice” in the bag was still quite liquid. Since I’m still not sure what the relationship is between the bag and pot (after all, the pots seemed VERY hot, even though temperature registered around 130° on the thermometer), I decided to take a peek. Not solid, but not too runny anymore either. Okay, that’s good, at least. Reading the cookbooks, egg dishes seem to range somewhere between 2-4 hours. Hoping for two!

Yuck! When I went out at 2:50, the pot had toppled again, thanks to deceptively strong wind. Clearly this is not going to work as is. I elected to dump the messy stuff out of the bag, even though it meant losing heat. There is still something solidifying in the bottom of the pan, even after all those mishaps. Without the liquid I’m not sure how that will turn out, but let’s just keep our fingers crossed for now. Thermometer was down to 110° before emptying, so I can’t have lost TOO much heat! Time to check again (3:25)….

Another total blow-over. Now there are actual scrambled eggs curds in the pot, I guess from all the action the oven is getting! This construction issue must get fixed, pronto. Rotated the cooker again, and blew some more air into the bag. It’s still pretty messy in there, but it smells good, like grilled mushrooms. Should I declare this a failure? Did I mention that I’m stubborn when it comes to success? Well, I should have. Another 20 minutes it is!

And… Well, it didn’t blow over this time. But the food and the temperature still look the same! Everything is at 110°. Not too hot, and I’m wondering if this dish will even be SAFE to eat, given the eggs. There is still runny juice in the pot, though not much. Where did my 175° go from the other day? At 4 pm, it probably won’t happen today.

Thumbs Down

I should go ahead and tell you what I’ve told every prospective boyfriend, roommate, and employer in life: I don’t do dishes. And yet here I am with my hands in a goopy pot of water, scrubbing half-cooked eggs off of every component of the oven. Guess I’ve been praying to the wrong cooking gods. No, this clean-up was not easy, breezy, or beautiful like the grilled cheese. Oh yeah, the experiment was officially declared a “learning experience” at 4:05, three hours after the start. Instead of omelet, I got… yummy smelling goop. It did at least LOOK like eggs. In the interest of you enjoying your dinner tonight I’ll spare you pictures. Surely not edible, except by my cat, who didn’t seem to mind. As romantic as getting salmonella poisoning for “the solar cause” sounds… wait, that doesn’t even SOUND romantic. Hmmm. Back to the drawing board.

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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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