Posts tagged solar oven

Today’s Menu? Egg Jello

Ahhhh. I’m finally back on my laptop, after three weeks of it acting like a teenager going through puberty. First, the wireless card broke after a week of intermittently kicking me off. So, I freecycled for another (if you don’t Freecycle, read my previous post) and received two. I tell you this entire story basically to show how even in difficult situations Freecycle can brighten your day and your esteem of others. Lovely. But no, that wasn’t good enough for the computer, which promptly sent a spark to the power cord and disabled that about ten seconds after I obtained the driver for the card. Another week and countless trips to the library since, I’m happy to be back at the helm.

Another reason I tell you all this is that over the three week period, I had a lot of time to think about the importance of technology in my life. If there’s an electrical equivalent to a nasty Coffee Bean habit, I have acquired it. Sure, if all the major cities were wiped out tomorrow, and there was no grid, I’d manage. And you won’t see me typing away on some gadget while on vacation either. But most of the time, I missed being on the box, enough so to use my friends’ computers at any opportunity (mostly to post on this blog!), and to actually use my little PDA to surf the web or (horrors!) as a notepad instead of as an expensive solitaire game. What can’t you live without? Do you have a backup plan? Do you really need it?

You see, I kept very busy without my computer, managing to finish several of the books that have been collecting dust lately, cook several great meals, not to mention making the new cooker (and scrounging for its materials!), and taking a little more time to smell the roses growing in my neighborhood. So sweet. Not that you’re probably too interested in what I did, but it goes to show that the greatest thing you might dislike is the IDEA of change should your own situation receive what Hank Williams Jr. so aptly called an “attitude adjustment”.

Now, I promised you egg jello, and egg jello you will get. Yesterday, being 100 degrees with not a cloud in the sky, was a beautiful day for cooking. I decided to break out the ingredient that foiled my cooking skills on the windshield shade oven… eggs. The books I’ve been reading make them sound so easy, but if you remember my post, they came came out lumpy, liquid, and VERY messy. Will it be a repeat, or a redemption?

Not wanting to spend too much time on the ingredients, in case things went wrong, I simply broke up six eggs, beat them in the round baking pan, dumped in a small can of sweet corn, added a little milk, and shook a little Chef’s Essence on the top. Out in the sun at 10:45, and I settled in to watch Babe. Midway through the film, I went out to check on things. The top and bottom lids had glued themselves together with the eggs, and when I pried them open, everything was still liquid. I’m seeing visions of last time in my head, so I doubtfully put everything back in, and went to finish the film.

At film’s end, heartily cheered by the cute story, I went out again. And… it was solid! No way! I took it inside for a taste test. It was nice and light, and had the consistency of… jello. Wierd. At least, that was my initial reaction, but after a bite or two, I got used to the texture and liked it quite a bit. I think it would be better to think of this as custard than as a breakfast food. My mistake. Next time, I’ll skip the spices and make a sweet pudding instead, which is pretty much how it came out anyway. Highly recommended, and here are the pics. I’m finally back on my feet with this cooking thing, and the future possibilities are dancing around on the old noggin. Until tomorrow~

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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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