Thursday, December 31

Easy New Year's Resolution - Amish Friendship Bread

Amish Friendship Bread is Not a Resolution to be Broken

There was a time when you could make your own New Year's resolution, and break it, all by yourself. Well, just before Christmas, my daughter took care of one of my resolutions and gave me a gift of Amish Friendship Bread -- no, no -- she gave me the beautiful printed 10 days' instructions for keeping the "starter" alive so that, ultimately, I could bake my own loaf. Resolution: Do not let starter die.

Daily stirring and adding ingredients on the proper days was done 21st Century style (you are specifically told not to use metal bowls or utensils) and the starter bowl was replaced with a one-gallon Zip-Lock bag for easy 'mushing'. At last, I could finally bake my own two loaves of bread and discover for myself what ten days of attention had

Monday, December 28

Chicken-Egg-Cheese Casserole - KFC Redoux

Recipe Starts with KFC Leftovers
The only leftover I really enjoy is lemon meringue pie. That doesn't mean I don't use leftovers -- that would be throwing away money -- I just prefer my leftovers to look like something new.

As a special after-holiday treat, my sister and I decided to order take-out from KFC. It was just supposed to be two three-piece chicken dinners, with sides of mashed potatoes and kernel corn. Turns out it was cheaper to buy the eight-piece bucket of chicken that came with two sides, biscuits, and a half gallon of sweet tea -- and, ta da!, built-in leftovers. Time to get creative in the kitchen.

Chicken-Egg-Cheese Casserole Is Born

There really wasn't enough chicken for two people unless it became part of a different dish, entirely. I wanted to use the solar oven because it was such a beautiful, sunny, day, with a temperature of 46°F. The chicken was already cooked, it was simply a matter of using fresh binders.

Discarding both skin and bones, the chicken was chopped into small pieces and placed in a bowl. Next, came one 10-ounce can of cream of

Saturday, December 26

An Honest Opinion is a Matter of Taste

Some Folks Just Won't Try New Foods
Pickey eaters! They are everywhere and, some times, right at your own table. It's been my good fortune to have a family willing to try anything I prepare and eagerly look forward to new tastes. But, that's not true for every chef. So, for today's blog, I'm going to offer a few tips to new chefs to help them gain confidence in their culinary skills.

Take this little unfortunate fellow on the left here. This is definitely NOT one of my creations but was the result of a Photoshop Pictures Contest site, Freaking News, asking for bad food pictures, that does manage to get my point across, quite vividly. (If you're really brave, check out the site for even more vivid entrees!)

Many of your food critics (and I am not speaking of professional food critics here) don't so much dislike what you have prepared so much as they don't like nor want to try new foods. Been that way since birth and you're not going to change them. Some folks wouldn't be caught dead trying snake meat and others wouldn't eat this little guy because of the onions, complaining that they overwhelm the subtle chicken taste.  Both are right. It's just an opinion, and a matter of taste.

Teddy Roosevelt Said it Best
Our 26th President, Theodore Roosevelt, was also reknown for his common-sense quotes. One of my favorites, "You have a right to state your opinion; but, inherent in that right is not the right to be taken seriously."

Where would we be without the opinion of others when we're trying to accomplish a goal, whether building a house, learning to drive, or creating a meal. The opinion of others, if given honestly and fairly, helps us grow and perfect our skills. In the kitchen, it is possible to be too heavy-handed with spices and herbs, prepare foods that are too dry or too moist, or, not recognize that pink rice should never be served with bluefish . . . well, should never be served, in my opinion -- but, I digress.  If left to our own opinions all the time, we'd stagnate and become quite dull, serving the same meals week in and week out.  BUT . . .

There is a big difference between a fair and honest opinion and criticism that is masking a mean spirit or cruelty, the kind of criticism that destroys your will to continue.  So, for all you new and returning chefs, let me give you a few hints on what types of opinions to accept and which to ignore when sharing your meals with others and asking for their opinion.

Consider the Source of All Opinions Given
One of the easiest way of working out most problems is to adapt Journalism's 5 W's of good reporting to your criticisms.
  • Who is giving the criticism? A best friend, husband, wife, lover, child, chef, take-out diner? Knowing their background helps you work with the criticism. Most folks are pretty attached to their favorite flavors and ingredients. If your dish is out of their comfort zone, the opinion is just that, something they don't like because it's different. Look for the kernel of truth and use that to improve your dish and ignore the rest.
  • What is the criticism? An honest opinion reflects the majority of tasters and you will learn that your meal is too salty, too bland, too mushy, too crispy, under-cooked, over-cooked -- things that can be fixed over time. But, most people tasting the dish will likely have the same opinion, so you can feel safe in assuming they are right. The lone wolf always finding fault, no matter what is prepared, can be ignored. If the critic blinks rapidly, screws up their face, and says, "bletch," without giving any real reason for the theatrics, wonder why you're trying to please them.
  • When is the criticism given? Waiting until you've been served the same dish four or five times before letting the chef know that there really is far too much sage in the dressing for the average person to eat in a lifetime is the same as waiting until after the party to tell your friend that they have spinach on their teeth. An honest opinion comes no later than the second time a dish is served with the same ingredients and given with the understanding that different people have different tastes.
  • Where is the criticism given? Does the critic wait for a roomful of people to grow silent before shouting, "My God, is this a cat in the casserole! I'm allergic to cats! How could you do this!" Or, do they wait until you can have a private conversation and tell you that there was something unpleasant, something hard to pinpoint, something like, well, a dead cat, on the bottom of the bowl? Honest opinion comes from love and a desire to see someone grow in their interests, not in humiliating them before others.  
  • Why is the criticism given? This is the tricky one. If you've asked for an opinion, then it's only fair to accept the opinion. If unsolicited, consider the source and what they may or may not have to gain by either praising your dish to the skies or tearing it apart. Do you trust their judgment about food? Do you trust their friendship? Is it an unbiased opinion? There's nothing wrong with healthy skepticism. Your own instincts should tell you whether the criticism is honest, given in love and support of your interest, or meant to curb your enthusiasm about cooking.
Everyone's Opinion Has Validity in Their Kitchen
We all feel that we can improve anybody's recipes. If you don't believe me, check out the comment sections on cooking sites. A recipe is posted, then everyone says why they did or did not like it -- usually, after they've altered most of the ingredients to their own liking. "I didn't have hazelnuts, so I used corn nuts," and, "I substituted cider vinegar for the white wine and used wheat flour instead of all-purpose flour, and left out the garlic because. . ."  Sometimes, in their opinion, the dish turned out better than the original recipe; sometimes, it didn't live up to the hype --  in their opinion.

Never mind that they changed the interaction of the ingredients and altered the recipe to suit their own tastes. In their opinion, your recipe wasn't very good. But, that's all it is, their opinion, based on their own personal likes and dislikes. If your critics can pass the 5 W's test, you'll be able to trust their criticisms and feel confident preparing your family's favorite meals while building your own recipe file. And, before long, they'll be asking you for your opinion about their latest recipe.

Friday, December 25

Solar Mushroom and Barley Soup with Grilled Corn Beef Sandwiches

Christmas Eve has been enjoyed at my daughter's home for the past thirteen years. Meals are simple, atmosphere relaxed, and the grown children and adults swap memories and open presents.  We miss the excitement of small children and Christmas mornings, but know that before long they will soon be joyfully present, once the upcoming generation gets settled. Right now, we're enjoying the respite.

Tips for Winter Solar Chefs at Christmas
The Lord has been good to us these past few days, giving us solar chefs clear blues skies and bright sun -- perfect for some winter solar meals.  Alas, the holiday also means being a very busy little bee in the kitchen with the camera too far away to get my attention. So, just a few holiday hints and recipes

Sunday, December 20

A Holiday of Sorrowful Joys

This has been a season of sorrow with small pockets of joy. A beloved sister-in-law and nephew passed away within days of each other a week ago.  One was expected and one, a total surprise. He was hale and hearty in August and, then, he was gone from that most insidious disease, cancer.

The pockets of joy came from being able to see so many of my relatives at this time of year and see how much the generations have changed and grown. You know you're old when you think you are talking to a niece only to discover that she's the daughter and her mother is across the room! 

Pysanky holiday ornament orders were really up this season -- most surprisingly from Europe and the U.K.  So, along with holiday preparations, trips back and forth out-of-state, and filling orders -- and, an incredibly long rainy period here in NC, solar cooking has been very limited and writing this blog almost nonexistent. 

But, I did want to take a moment to wish each and every one of you a holiday season filled with lots of solar cooking, warm memories, and a New Year of health, good fortune, and happiness.

Saturday, December 5

Solar Cooking for the Future - Make Ahead Pepperoni Spaghetti Sauce

Solar Cook Your Sauces for the Future - or Tonight!
My uncle loved to cook. He swore that spaghetti sauces tasted much better after the ingredients were 'married' in the freezer for at least a week and were best after a month! I couldn't argue because his sauces were always delicious. Well, you know what happens when you start thinking about food -- it was time to plan a 'sauce wedding' of my own. I had just enough time to prepare a sauce for next week's pasta meal. It was 11:30AM and I had to get cracking.

Garden-fresh Veggies Form the Base for Pepperoni Spaghetti Sauce
This is my waist-high 6'x24' garden in full summer bloom. It is December, now, and the foremost corner doesn't know it! Volunteer tomatoes have climbed over the fence to the right; carrots, onions, chard, chives, stevia, sweet basil (almost gone) and sage still offer their bounty. By next week, all will be put to bed for the winter so the soil can rest and get sterilized for next year's planting.

The harvest yielded about a quart of cherry tomatoes, one onion, carrot tops, chives, stevia, sage and sweet basil -- I was ready.  The tomatoes were cleaned then cut in half and the onion chopped. Using a large skillet, I sauteed them over medium heat in two tablespoons of olive oil. While that was doing its thing, I cleaned and chopped the herbs and added ground oregano, ground fennel seed, thyme, one teaspoon yellow mustard, a dash of mace, and salt and pepper to taste. And chopped the pepperoni into bite-size pieces. When the tomatoes and onion were soft, I mashed them up a bit, stirred in all the herbs and spices and let them simmer for one-to-two minutes.

Sensational Sauce from the Solar Oven  
Since time in the winter sun was precious, I decided to use a large casserole dish to keep the sauce shallow enough to build up heat quickly and concentrate the flavors. Put the whole dish into an oven bag, sealed it, and placed it in the solar oven by 12:30PM.  I didn't use the SolarWear(tm) heating bag because I wanted to keep the temperature low and slow. By 4:30PM, it was bubbly and ready to bring inside.

It turned out I didn't have my uncle's patience and, in my weakness, prepared some pasta for dinner. After four hours of togetherness, I figured the sauce was 'married' enough, by today's standards. Next time, I'll double the recipe and put half away in the freezer to give it that extra deliciousness. But, for tonight, I'm having me some pasta with solar-cooked Pepperoni Spaghetti Sauce.

Monday, November 30

Saving Energy With Mainstream Solar Cooking

Mainstream Solar Cooking Means Saving Energy
Mainstream solar cooks take advantage of the full spectrum of cooking appliances -- without guilt. No one is going to say that they aren't interested in saving the earth's fossil fuels (that's an assumption, I know; but, I feel pretty safe here) or in reducing their own energy bills because they are -- they're just not fanatics about it.  The chart on the left was compiled by a group of youngsters calling themselves Carbon Kids who have been actively involved in finding ways to reduce consumption of fossil fuels in their world and for the future. This link Residential Electricity Usage Increase Since 1983 in US  describes all the wonderful work that they do. Mainstream solar cooks incorporate the green practice of solar cooking into their own lifestyles.

It's all based on what you want for breakfast, lunch, or dinner.The only difference is that, if your recipe calls for oven time, the mainstream solar cook will also check to see if there's enough sun to take advantage of using her solar oven.  And, sometimes, solar cooking has to be combined with the conventional oven! The weather channel got it wrong and your dealing with dinner and cloud cover. It happens. No guilt.

Small Appliances Are Solar Cook's Friends
In spite of the many people who tell you they don't cook, The Residential Energy Consumption Survey done by the US Energy Information Administration found that, if there are

Saturday, November 21

Adaptation of Sous Vide Steak - Solar Style

Sous Vide Cooking is a Process
 I love the sous vide process of cooking meats. It's so handy to have steaks and chicken at the almost ready stage to count on when last-minute company shows up or you just feel like a tasty steak without the mess. What I don't love is the current cost of preparing sous vide meals in my home. If you fixed absolutely everything sous vide, maybe, just maybe, the approximate $1,000 price to bring it all together would be worth it; but, for now, restaurants will have to carry the expense. Or, maybe not . . .

Advantages of Sous Vide Cooking
For those of you who have stayed on page, Sous Vide is a French term, meaning 'under vacuum.'  The food is sealed in a polymer pouch and then slow-cooked in a water bath at a low temperature precisely controlled (for example, beef at 131-degrees F.) by a Thermal Circulator.  It was developed by French chef Georges Pralus in the mid-1970s. Pralus found that by cooking foie gras sous vide, he was able to achieve a much higher yield and improved texture.

The advantages of sous vide cooking make it well worth the time and effort.  Heated to an exact core temperature, food cannot be overcooked. Flavor, fat, and nutrients are retained in the vacuum pouch. Using less fat and oil means eating healthier meals. And you can leave the food pouch in the cooking bath until you are ready to sear and serve it. Recipes can be repeated with consistent results. Food texture quality is

Monday, November 16

Apology for Photo of Solar Cooked November Harvest Meal

Solar Cooked Meal Delicious -- Picture, Well, Uh-Oh!

Please let me apologize for my great November harvest solar cooked meal picture. OMG, looks like the -- well, never mind. LOL. To spin a phrase, you should never take a picture of food (or, go shopping) while you're still hungry. Everything looks good -- until you post it! Sorry, folks, will work much harder at photo prep before I shoot.
BUT, the food was delicious and that's what's important.  Just unfortunate that the shape of both the steak and the cabbage boat were roughly the same. Didn't help that the Swiss Chard brought the bright green of the cabbage down to neutral, either.

Sunday, November 15

Solar Cooked Dinner from mid-November Harvest

Mid-November Harvest Makes Great Solar Cooked Dinner           

It's mid-November here in North Carolina and, for the first time in three days, we had sun. It was definitely a solar cooking day. We've had some pretty warm days this month, so I strolled out to the garden to see what might be hanging on to inspire our evening meal.  Well, you can see the bounty! In the center box is only part of a bag of volunteer tomatoes I harvested that grew out of the compost heap. Clockwise, you can see Ruby Chard, 4 different peppers (sweet banana, sweet orange, hot yellow and green), spring (yes, spring) onions, chives, and Nantes carrots. 

Herbs were sweet basil, stevia, sage, and carrot tops. My mind was going through all the veggies I had put up over the summer to see what could be used to complete the meal. Zounds! Zucchini and eggplant smiled back at me from the freezer and dinner was all but complete.  For my protein, I decided to solar cook the eye round steak that I had previously vacuum-packed and frozen using a sous vide adaptation for solar cooking.

Solar Cooking Sous Vide Steaks is Easy in the Solar Oven

Whenever I buy meat and plan to vacuum-pack for my solar cooking adaptation of sous vide cooking, I buy the larger weights and quantities, then clean and divide the portions at home.  Getting meats evenly proportioned is important for the best sous vide cooking and the smaller cut-away pieces are set aside for

Monday, November 9

Solar Cooking - Are Mainstream Chefs Different?

Mainstream Cooking is Inside

For the purposes of this Blog, mainstream cooking refers to those home cooking enthusiasts whose idea of cooking outside means grilling, regardless of fuel used. Solar cooking is something from a childhood memory of summer camp or a school experiment. The idea of solar cooking the dinner is just not a part of their current scene.

Mainstream cooking is generally done using conventional/microwave ovens, pressure cookers, slow cookers, rice cookers, counter grills -- you're getting the idea -- any appliance, large or small, that can be used indoors. We not only become familiar with cooking methods that require specific cookware and accessories, we don't mind paying for them because we enjoy the end product so much.

Outdoor grills have become very sophisticated and there are some cooks that use them for almost all their cooking needs from early March through mid-November.  They enjoy the taste and, especially in the summer

Monday, October 26

Sunny Side Up - Solar Breakfast Muffins

Working hard and don't have time to make breakfast every morning? Hit the McDonald's for an Egg McMuffin on the way to work? Why not save your money and make your own, for free! By solar cooking your eggs and bacon/sausage in your solar oven on the weekend, you can enjoy your own variation of an egg and English muffin and save up to $10 a week.

Based on East Coast average prices: Egg McMuffin $1.80, Sm.Coffee $.80 = $2.60/day or $13.00/5-day week. Egg McMuffin with sausage/bacon and cheese $2.39, Sm.Coffee $.80 = $3.19/day or $15.95/5-day week. (Combos are a little higher.)You can take the price of the separate ingredients and divide that by the number of items in the package to see you're at home breakfast costs for a more accurate savings.

Within the limitations of the 60s and 70s, I did as much advance preparation as possible to utilize my time more efficiently in the kitchen. Microwave ovens were still a new frontier. Raising a family and running a business made menu-planning essential. I did anything I could to save time and money, and still serve healthy meals. Master mixes lined my shelves, pancake batter was stored in a two-quart pitcher for fast stacks, a month's supply of patties were formed and frozen from my own hamburg mixture

Saturday, October 24

Solar Cooking Saves Readers Money

When I wrote A Month of SUNdays - Solar Cooking at Home, it never occurred to me that readers would actually call me. Oh, I do have a form to submit solar recipes -- but phone calls? What a delightful surprise!

One Midwestern lady felt that since we had just spent the last few months together in her kitchen trying out all my solar recipes, she just had to call and tell me how much she enjoyed them -- even on days when there was NO sun! Just used her conventional oven set at 325F. to match the solar oven.

Solar Energy Reduces Utility Bills
 There have been at least thirty calls in the last few months and it's finally dawned on me that I've written a book of solar recipes that people are not only reading but buying, and enjoying! OMG. Thank you! But, more importantly, the readers I've spoken to all noticed a significant drop in their utility bills -- just as I promised.

Although big business is working hard at greening us up with solar panels, biofuels, home turbines, etc., there is no way around the fact that, at present, making these changes can be very expensive for most homeowners. But, solar cooking is the right price for everyone -- FREE!

Solar Energy Cost for Solar Cooking

As a budget-payment utility customer, my first reduction this year came in July and I dropped from $165 a month to $107! My all-electric house, work shop, craft shop, and a pool keep the utility company happy. Without further reductions, that's already a savings of $642 a year!

Last year, September was free, $14 in October, $65 in November, and back to the beginning in December. This year, I added the pool in May. But, there have been NO power surges (power surges to maintain household temperatures average 55% of your electric bill), house remained comfortable, and food was great. And, I'm so happy that my solar recipes are working for others, as well.

Solar Savings is the Joy of Solar Cooking

But, that's the joy of solar cooking. You don't have to use it everyday -- well, you can't, can you, if there's no sun? -- but there are enough sunny days to make a difference, as long as you have 20 minutes of sun per hour. Now, if you have property that is overwhelmed with trees, you may have to locate a neighbor with a sunny patch to share!

Friday, October 23

Benefits of Mainstream Solar Cooking

This is a PowerPoint presentation I put together to use for my business card cds. My software promised that it would transform the presentation to an MP4 format, and it has, but I don't like what it did to the lettering. Actually looks better if you don't make it as wide as your monitor. I'll get this high-tech stuff, sooner or later.

Thursday, October 1

Cargo Trailer Banner

Here's the banner. Is there anything missing -- without making it too busy. Pay no attention to the BuildASign logo or the mirrored blog info at bottom. Draw an imaginary line just above the "Lower Energy Costs up to 30%"  and just below the "blog........ com"......

Check Out This Design At!
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