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
to share for solar cooks.
- Any holiday recipe that suggests baking at 350 F. degrees will do just fine in a winter solar oven. It may take a little longer but is well worth it. (Bonus! The kitchen oven is free for crispy high-heat foods!)
- Take advantage of the best cooking times -- 10:00 a.m. through 2:00 p.m. Foods will cook up until 5:00 p.m. but that's really pushing it. The sun is much lower in the sky and trees and fences can cast shadows as early as 4:00 p.m. Winter sun does not allow for dawdling by solar chefs.
- Combine cooking techniques using smaller kitchen appliances and your stovetop with the solar oven. Use the microwave or pressure cooker to bring foods up to oven readiness to give your solar oven a little help. Use hot water whenever needed so the winter sun doesn't have to work so hard.
- For winter solar cooking, whenever possible, use your widest pan for cooking so that food is spread out and will cook faster than in a deep pot. A 3-quart roasting pan is wide and has high sides, which makes it ideal. Use this as a guide when you prefer using your own cookware.
This one is so easy and filling -- a perfect accompaniment to grilled Corn Beef Sandwiches. You can take advantage of sunny days and prepare your vegetable stock in advance. Refrigerate until ready to use.
- A day or two before Christmas, make a vegetable stock of the following ingredients: 2 small potatoes, chopped; 1 medium carrot, chopped; 1 medium onion, chopped; 1 Tablespoon minced garlic. Add 3 Tablespoons beef stock base or 1 quart beef stock (optional). Salt and pepper to taste. Pinch of sugar. 2 Tablespoons Extra Virgin Olive Oil and 1/2 stick unsalted butter.
- Directions: In large skillet, melt butter and mix in olive oil. Add onions and saute until translucent and just starting to turn brown. Stir in beef stock base (liquid beef stock not added until next step), minced garlic, salt and pepper, pinch of sugar. Stir till well-blended and garlic softens.
- Add potatoes, carrot, onion, 1 quart beef stock. Add enough water so that vegetables are covered with at least 1/2 inch of liquid. Bring to boil.
- Transfer to solar cooking vessel and then into a pre-heated* solar oven. Cook for at least 1-1/2 hours or leave until end of day for a fuller, richer, vegetable stock.
- When done, strain through cheesecloth and refrigerate liquid until ready for soup. (You can make a thicker soup by thoroughly mashing the vegetables into stock liquid.)
- In a large skillet over medium heat, melt 1/2 stick butter and 1 Tablespoon extra virgin Olive oil.
- Chop 4 large fresh mushrooms of your choice and saute until softened and lightly browned. (Or, drain, chop, then lightly saute contents of 2 cans of mushroom stems and pieces.)
- Using the vegetable stock you just made, you have two options. Pour into a large glass measuring cup and heat thoroughly in your microwave OR pour over sauteed mushrooms and bring up to
- Pour ingredients into a 3-quart roasting pan (see hint above) and add the barley. As a general rule, use 1/3 cup dry barley per one quart of liquid. This will give you a nice barley thickened soup with plenty of liquid to feel like soup and not chili. [NOTE: You have three choices of Barley -- quick-cooking in 10 minutes, pearl barley that cooks in 45 to 60 minutes, and hulled barley which is less refined and needs to be soaked overnight before use. In winter, I use the pearl barley, done in the following way: fill measuring cup with 1-1/2 cups of vegetable stock, add dry barley, and bring to boil in microwave. This gets everything started without the barley getting mushy. Add to heated vegetable stock in solar oven pan.
I happen to love Peppered Corned Beef but it was not to be found, this season, so we settled for regular corned beef. Still good but not the same punch. I make a special cheese-lettuce mix that works as a binder and delicious filler for the sandwiches when grilled.
- Thinly slice a small head of Iceberg lettuce, place in large bowl. Add 1 medium thinly sliced and chopped sweet onion and 1 large grated Fontina Cheese block. Thoroughly mix. Add 1/2 cup mayonnaise, 1 Tablespoon large-grained Dijon mustard, 1/2 teaspoon sugar, 1/4 teaspoon ground sumac, 1/4 teaspoon ground fennel seed, and 1/4 teaspoon ground bay leaf. Blend into lettuce mixture.
- Butter outsides of two Rye bread slices; turn over, spoon mixture over bread approximately 1/4 inch. Add three to four pieces of thinly-sliced Corned beef ; close sandwich. Grill over med-high heat until medium brown and filling on bottom appears melted. Turn over and grill second side.
- Make seconds -- just in case.
- Serve with mug of Mushroom-Barley Soup.
With a cold vegetable tray, home-made cheese balls, crackers, cookies, holiday drinks and ciders, this is a very satisfying and festive meal for our Christmas Eve celebration. It's not often that the winter gives us an opportunity to use the solar oven, and our Christmas Day is supposed to be rainy, but I do try to use it whenever possible. So, a toast --
Here's to your health, prosperity, and warm friendships in the year to come. May you enjoy many sunny days to explore all that solar cooking can be for you and may your table always be filled with a gracious plenty!