Tuesday, October 14, 2014
Chili in our solar cooker
Four years ago we got some unexpected money for Christmas and we thought about what we could buy with it that would make us more self-sufficient. We browsed around on the internet and came up with the idea to get a solar oven. We knew they weren't hard to make but it seemed like a treat to be able to just buy one. We found a solar cooker called the "Hot Pot".
I looked today and I don't find it on Amazon any more, but here's a picture I took when we first got it. I did find it on other sites, so here's a link to where I did find it for sale on the internet: Hot Pot Solar Cooker. I don't know anything about this website but it looks legit. The folding reflector is laying on top of the box.
And here's looking in the box. It consists of a large glass bowl, a black metal inner bowl (separate from the glass bowl), a glass lid, and the folding reflector.
I left this picture sideways to try and keep the print legible, since the picture got smaller when I turned it up right. It shows a diagram of how the black bowl nests in the glass bowl (which they call the greenhouse!), and the lid goes on top. This all sits in the reflector after it's unfolded.
One of the first things we made in it was chili. On the table by the can opener is a bag of dried peppers. To it's left is a bread bag of dried tomato slices. In the bowl, starting with the bottle of olive oil on the left and going clockwise, there is dried chopped onions, chili powder, home-canned ground venison in the jar, a can of kidney beans, and a can of tomato paste.
I stirred it all together in the black bowl, cold, and set it in the glass bowl and then in the reflector. Two hours later it was too hot to stick my finger in it. I let it cook for about four hours, turning the whole thing, reflector and all, about once an hour to keep it facing
directly at the sun. Since the meat and beans were already cooked this was probably
safe to eat as soon as it was hot enough to enjoy.
Next I made chicken and dumplings on another day. Since we didn't have a refrigerator most of my meat was canned, unless we'd been to town that day and had fresh meat. For this chicken and dumplings I used a jar of home-canned chicken (cooked and deboned before canning) and made it up in a "white sauce", or gravy. I added diced potatoes, carrots, peas, and onions, and seasoning salt. Then I put it in the solar cooker. After it was good and hot and bubbling (about two hours later) I mixed up biscuit dough and plopped balls of it into the 'soup' and put the glass lid back on. It took an hour for the 'dumplings' to cook.
Here's the chicken and dumplings, all finished and ready to eat!
Next I made spaghetti. I used canned ground venison for the meat, so it was already cooked. I added tomato sauce, herbs from my garden, chopped onions, and uncooked spaghetti noodles. I broke the noodles into pieces about 3" to 4" long to fit them down in the bowl and work them into the water. I wasn't sure how this was going to turn out!
Three hours later the spaghetti was done and the noodles were cooked to perfection.
Then for some reason I got the idea to spoon cornbread batter over it and bake it.
It's better with chili than with spaghetti, but the cornbread did indeed cook, and after we lifted it off the spaghetti and ate it on the side, it was a good meal.
More experimenting. This is beans and rice. The beans might have been old, but they never got completely soft. They were on the grainy side. I added chopped tomatoes and peppers and spices, and it was a decent meal. Now when I do beans I boil them on the stove for two minutes, then shut them off and let them sit for an hour. Then I put them in the solar cooker for the rest of the day and they come out fine. But soaking them overnight and then putting them in the solar cooker did not work as well. I will try it again with fresh beans some time.
Cream of potato soup. This came out fantastic! I peeled and cut potatoes and carrots into small cubes, and 'cooked' them in chicken broth for about an hour. Then I added chopped onion and celery, and salt, pepper, and a pinch of garlic powder. A couple hours later I took it out of the solar cooker and stirred in a bit of cheddar cheese until it melted. It was delicious!
Black beans, with chopped onion and tomatoes in it. We added 'biscuits' on top and cooked it, after the beans were done. It was a good, hearty meal.
One day I was baking bread and I was looking for a warm place to set the dough to raise. I got the idea to set the bread dough, stainless steel mixing bowl and all, into the solar cooker and set it in the doorway in the sun. No reflector.
The temperature was perfect and my dough raised beautifully.
I could only do one dish at a time in our solar cooker and by the time side dishes heated, the main dish was cold. So I thought... why not make a solar cooker patterned off the one we bought, sort of.
I found a box at the grocery store that already had the front cut out. I got out a glass bowl with a lid, and a blue enameled bowl, to make the "greenhouse" part. I used aluminum foil to cover the box.
Here's the covered box, and there's some carrots from our garden.
I cut up the carrots and put them in the bowl. I agonized for a few minutes about whether to add water or not. I did add water, thinking that maybe it would transfer the heat better among the carrots. I needed to cook them, not just 're-heat' them. Since then I've re-heated carrots and other vegetables in there with no water, but I've never tried to start with raw vegetables and cook them with no water. It would probably work without water, and maybe just take longer.
I had potatoes cooking in the 'real' solar cooker while the carrots cooked in the homemade
solar cooker. When the potatoes were done I mashed them and added butter, salt, and milk. We put a dusting of salt and a little butter on the carrots. My husband's grilled pork chops were the main course for this meal. All it cost us to cook this meal was the charcoal in his grill.
On days when we have company and I can't use the picnic table for my solar cooker I have set it on a chair within our garden fence. I go out there every now and then, and turn it a bit at a time to keep it facing the sun
When we're 'boondock' camping in the desert of southern Nevada in our home-made uhaul truck-camper the wind can get really bad. Sometimes I have to set it back in out of the wind because the folding reflector will start bending and leaning.
There are dozens of solar cookers and solar ovens for sale, and you can find plans all over the internet for making and using this free source of cooking heat. Some of the youtube videos are very helpful in showing step-by-step directions. Library books are another source of pictures and descriptions, if your library has books for self-sufficiency or homesteading-type books. And I just showed you how I made one for free.
Here's a couple of quick links if you just want to just zip over and look at some:
Cooking with the sun is fun. It's kind of like "cheating", to get something for 'free'. Of course, you have to buy or make the oven but after that all it requires is a sunny day. Keep in mind that the times I gave for how long MY food took to cook might not be the same for you, or even for me each time I use my solar cooker. The outdoor temperature can play a small part in it, but the intensity and angle of the sun makes a bigger difference. If it's a very-clear fall day and the sun hasn't slid too far down on the horizon it will cook faster than on a hazy day in July. The middle of the day is the best time to use the solar cooker. Let the sun get up for a couple of hours and plan to be done before it starts down toward the western horizon.
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