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
 soups and stews. You want at least 1.5" to 2" thickness all the way through, if at all possible, and this is very easy to do with the larger cuts of meats.

Still following old habits, I loosely plan my menus for the next month or so and prepare the meats accordingly --  not every steak or chicken will have a prepared butter sauce or flavoring added before vacuum sealing. I use a FoodSaver(TM) machine and haven't had any problems. The FoodSaver(TM) folks do not recommend using their bags for sous vide cooking and it's probably to avoid any problems. They are NOT true sous vide cooking bags and you do have to be aware of that when using them.

When using this method of solar cooking, you can't just leave the food in the solar oven  (you can find one here ) and walk away.  Even with the lower temperature of the solar oven, food will cook much faster in a vacuum bag. I use a meat thermometer to be consistent in my serving temperatures and keep a very close eye on the meat when the internal temperature has started to rise above 100 F. It rises fast, after that point. Since meat will continue cooking during the resting period, it's important that you remove it from the solar oven just as it gets to the internal temperature you want.

Solar Cooked Meal Turned out Delicious

This is the end result of using my fresh garden vegetables and eye round steak. (Note: The steaks were taken directly from the freezer to the solar oven and were cooked within 1-1/2 hours.) The steak had an herb butter within the package. I removed it from the solar oven when it reached 140 F. and let it rest for about fifteen minutes before opening to let the juices return to the meat, then I patted both sides dry with a paper towel so that it would sear properly. Had a skillet ready on high heat with just a touch of butter and seared each side for about two minutes. (You can also add any additional flavorings, wines, etc. at this point to the butter to heighten the flavor.)

 
You can see that the meat is evenly cooked, which is what you're looking for and it did turn out very tender. The veggies from the garden were finely chopped and sauteed along with the herbs, then placed on cabbage 'boats' lined with some of the Ruby Chard leaves and slices of eggplant, then topped with cheese. The tomatoes were skillet-roasted in the same pan as the cabbage boats and it was all done in under ten minutes. This was a very tasty meal.

It has now reached the point where I feel very guilty if I don't use my solar oven at every opportunity but that doesn't mean I don't take advantage of every other kitchen accessory available, either. I want solar cooking to be a comfortable member of your kitchen arsenal, so you'll enjoy it and love the energy savings as much as I do.

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