Saturday, January 2

My First Recipe Contest with Champagne, Mushrooms and Oranges

Solar Cooking, Winter Skies, 30-Degrees and High Winds

I love a challenge -- and, apparently, deadlines. Food Buzz, a cooking website for all chefs to enjoy, has a monthly Royal Food Joust, a cooking contest where contestants can only use three ingredients chosen by the previous month's winner. This month's deadline was extended to noon, January 3rd, 2010. Always looking for an opportunity to show folks that you can cook with a solar oven in the middle of winter, I had sunny skies, high winds and it was 30-degrees F. Perfect -- and I almost knew just what to make.
But, first, I had to address the problem of high winds and how to keep my solar oven in my back yard. Long ago, I built a wooden base for the solar oven for when the wind got too frisky, along with some steadying shims for the telescoping back leg. Today, two 30-inch bungee cords did the job, just hooking one end over the top edge of the solar oven and bringing it down under the box and back up to hook on the other side. The open reflectors stayed put without a wiggle from the oven during the whole cooking process.

Recipe Contest Requires Using Champagne, Mushrooms and Oranges
Back to the contest. This month's trio is champagne (or, white bubbly grape juice), mushrooms, and oranges. You could use other ingredients but the recipe had to include those three items. I had some American Champagne from North Carolina's Duplin Winery that would be just right. They also make a wonderful Raspberry Delight Champagne and a Vinter's Almondage, both of which I love but didn't want the flavors controlling my dish.

Chicken would be my protein, pearl barley for carbs, and something green for color balance. I decided to use my adaptation of sous vide cooking for the chicken and made an herbed butter for the vacuum bag: put 1/2 cup butter in the blender and added 4 orange slices, 1 Tablespoon each of Raspberry-Fig Jam, minced carrots, apricots, raisins, ginger; 1/4 teaspoon each of ground fennel seed, sumac, thyme, cardamom and cinnamon.  I divided the blended herb butter in half and put each half in a quart-sized vacuum bag, then 'mushed' it flat. (The plastic would easily come away from the top side because of the high butter content, so there wouldn't be any problems when I added the chicken.) The American Champagne would be added to a gravy made from the juices.

Using two leg quarters, I removed the backbone section to make stock for the barley risotto and gravy.
After washing both quarters, and patting them dry with paper towels, I seared them in a skillet before placing them in the vacuum bag and adding the balance of the oranges. After sealing, mini-food thermometers set for 165 degrees* were inserted into the fattest part of each chicken thigh. Since it was so cold, I decided to use the SolarWear(tm) Heating Bag, too, to help the solar oven along.

At 11:15 a.m., the chicken was put into the solar oven nestled in its SolarWear(tm) Carrier Set over the heating bag and I went back inside to finish the stock and prepare ingredients for the Mushroom Barley Risotto. The garden still yielded some onions and carrots, so these were cleaned and divided -- larger pieces for the stock and small minced pieces for the Risotto. These were added to the chicken backs, along with a stick of celery cut into small pieces, salt and pepper, and enough water to cover the chicken by at least an inch. I wanted enough for both the Risotto and the gravy.

I checked the progress of the chicken at 12:50pm and was delighted to find that the temperature had risen to 200F. Temperature outside had now reached 34F and it was still very WINDY! But, according to the meat thermometers, it wouldn't be much longer before the chicken would be done. Back inside to strain the stock and start on the Mushroom-Barley Risotto.

I wanted to carry the flavors of the Herbed Butter into the risotto, so I kept at least 1 Teaspoon each of the raisins and dried apricots and finely minced them before adding 1 Teaspoon of finely chopped walnuts, minced ginger, and the zest of one orange. For just the two of us, I used only one-half can of Shitake Mushrooms, chopped. I put two Tablespoons of butter in the saute pan and added 1/2 cup pearl Barley and the chopped onions.

When the Barley began to appear opaque and the onions translucent, I added the rest of the ingredients, stirred to blend, then added just enough of the chicken stock to cover. As the stock was absorbed, I continued to add more until about half had been used. 1/2 cup of American Champagne was added to the balance of the stock. I reserved 1/4 cup of this mixture for the gravy. 

When the last of the stock was added to the risotto, I gave it the old taste test and decided it was too sharp for my tastes and added 1/2 teaspoon of Stevia leaves I had put up this fall. It was just the ticket. Removed the sharpness without becoming sweet. Stirred and stirred while all the liquid was absorbed and the barley was just on the other side of al dente. Now, to check on the chicken.

At 1:30pm, I checked the chicken in the solar oven and the internal temperature of both pieces had reached 165F. On a cold, windy, winter day, my chicken was cooked in just under 2-1/2 hours. Very nice result.
Brought the chicken inside to rest before removing juices for the gravy.
Sunny Champagne Orange Chicken, Mushroom Barley Risotto, and Asparagus Tomato Salad
When the chicken had rested for ten minutes, I cut off one corner of the vacuum bag and poured the juices into a saucepan set on medium high heat. When all began to bubble, I added the balance of the chicken stock-wine mixture and let it reduce to half.  Another taste test and I decided the meal was a little heavy and needed to be lightened up with a cold but colorful salad. There were still a few cherry tomatoes on hand and, when I went looking through the cabinets, my eyes fell on the asparagus. Green! Great! Sliced the asparagus spears into thirds and the tomatoes in lengthwise quarters.  Used 1/8 cup of American Champagne with a touch of minced ginger and orange juice and lightly brushed this mixture over the spears.

For plating, I put a Tablespoon of gravy on a warm plate and an ice cream scoop of Mushroom Barley Risotto on top. The chicken leg was leaned atop the risotto and given a line of gravy along the length of the thigh. The cold Asparagus Tomato Salad was arranged to meet the inside of the leg and two orange slices filled the gap, linking the flavors throughout the dish. Enjoy.

*Jan 9, 2010 - Just wanted to add a note here, after a discussion with my sister, about internal temperature. I have been cooking my chicken to  180-degrees for the better part of my life and recently found websites proclaiming 165-degrees as the internal temperature favorite. I found the final chicken result to be much pinker near the bone than I care for and would suggest that you use 170-degree as a happy medium. But, as I said a few days ago, it's all opinion.


  1. I am absolutely taken with the concept of solar cooking! Where were you 20 years ago? LOL! I'll be looking backward as well as looking forward to your future entries. Your dish is exciting, and I wish you all the best in the Foodie Joust!

  2. Thank you. It's my first entry in the contest so I'm a little nervous. But, it sure is a fun exercise!

  3. Amazing way of cooking the chicken! Love it!

  4. Hi,

    This is a really neat post. Not only does it use homegrown ingredients, but you cook it in such a unique way.

    Would you like to submit it to our Grow Your Own roundup for January? The complete details are here:

  5. Thank you. I'd love to submit to your site and will email particulars. Would also love to trade blogs, if you're willing. Will be starting my gardening section, this month.

    Thank you, again.

  6. Questo modello è dotato di un repliche rolex calibro 3132, un movimento meccanico a carica automatica sviluppato e prodotto da imitazioni rolex
    Rolex. Questo calibro è dotato di una molla a spirale paracromatica e di un ammortizzatore paraflex ad alte prestazioni, estremamente resistente agli urti rolex falsi e alle forze magnetiche. Come tutti i movimenti Rolex Perpetual, il calibro Rolex replica 3132 è certificato cronometro solo per orologi di alta precisione che hanno superato il test COSC (Swiss Official Chronometer Testing Institute). La sua costruzione, come tutti i replica orologi movimenti Oysterwatch, è eccezionalmente affidabile.


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