Saturday, December 31

Solar Turkey Burritos and Gravy - Holiday Leftovers

When you're gifted with a holiday turkey carcass that still has plenty of meat on it, you can do more than just make stock and soup. You can create another meal. And, for my Turkey Burritos, I did start with making the stock to get all that luscious turkey meat off the bone. Broken in half, placed in a 4-qt stock pot  along with rough-chopped celery, carrots, and onions, 1 tsp salt, a mixture of chopped rosemary, parsley, thyme, and oregano from my garden, it was covered with at least an inch of hot water. Popped on the cover and, then, into the solar oven at 10:30 am for a day of slow simmering. By 4:30 pm, it was time to bring the stock inside to cool. I used the turkey schmaltz to make the gravy.

Solar Turkey Burritos

2 cups finely chopped cooked turkey
1 medium carrot, finely chopped
3 green onions, finely chopped (bulb and 3/4 of green stems)
7 medium fresh mushrooms, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 hot pepper, finely chopped (optional)
1 stalk celery, finely chopped
1 Tablespoon fresh finely chopped ginger
1/2 tsp mild curry powder
salt and pepper to taste
1 Tablespoon corn starch
1 beaten egg
4 10" flour tortillas
2 cups turkey gravy

While solar oven is preheating, finely chop above ingredients and place them into a large mixing bowl. In a small bowl, combine the curry powder, salt, pepper, and corn starch, with beaten egg; add to ingredients in large mixing bowl and thoroughly blend together. Divide mixture into quarters.

Place 1/4 mix just right of center of tortilla, shaping into long roll.

Fold over short sides and then bring down short edge over top of mixture; then, roll toward longer edge and place seam side down in 8x8x2 pan. See alternate directions on folding a burrito.

Pour turkey gravy over burritos. Cover with tin foil and place in solar oven for 1.5 hours or until burritos have plumped up and gravy is bubbling.

  From the doubled-recipe of solar butternut squash, I had the perfect accompaniment for the turkey burrito, and cool celery sticks offset the hot pepper. A great ending for holiday leftovers, don't you think?

Best of all, there was enough turkey meat for some hearty turkey soup and stock to freeze for future meals. What did you do with your leftovers?

Wednesday, December 28

Solar Brownie Cake With Fig-Raspberry Filling

Company coming and you need something sweet to end the meal? Dress up a brownie mix with a cheese-jam filling and your guests will be delighted with the result. This super-easy dessert was made possible by using two eggs in a brownie mix to achieve a more cake-like texture and then pouring it all into a 9"x13" pan for thin layers.

Cheese Filling: 8oz of Neufchatel cheese, 4 Tablespoons of Fig-Raspberry Jam (or jam of your choice), 1/4 cup of saltine crumbs and 1/2 cup of finely chopped pecans.

Bake in a solar oven until an inserted toothpick comes out clean, let cool for ten or fifteen minutes, then cut in half.  Spread filling on one section and place other section on top. Cut in small squares because this is a very rich and delicious treat! And, soooooo easy.

Wednesday, December 21

Solar-Baked Holiday Butternut Squash

Winter squashes are so good, it's hard to wait through the summer for their bounty. Butternut squash, in my opinion, belongs at the very top of the winter squash list for the most delicious to the pound. And, as much as I love it with little more than some butter and salt and pepper, the holidays seem to require a more adventurous approach. Adding apples, raisins, pecans, onions, and peppers will pop it up a notch and then the herbs and spices bring it all together.

Solar-Baked Holiday Butternut Squash

2 med butternut squashes, whole or split in half lengthwise, seeded, and baked until soft
1 large onion, chopped
1 large apple, chopped
1 large banana pepper, chopped
1/4 cup raisins
1/4 cup pecans, chopped
2 Tbsps fresh basil, chopped fine
1 tsp fresh stevia, chopped fine
1 tsp Chinese spices
1 tsp corn starch
3/4 tsps salt
Juice of two oranges
2 Tbsps unsalted butter

Preheat solar oven to 225F  Lightly greased casserole dish

Bake squashes whole in solar oven, or, split in half, lengthwise and bake cut side down in lightly greased casserole dish, until soft but not mushy -- approximately 2 hours. For my whole squashes, I've used two SolarWear(tm) quart-sized carriers for easy placement and removal.

1. While squashes are baking, prepare the filling by chopping onions, banana pepper, and apples.

2. Over medium high heat, melt butter in large heavy skillet; add onions and banana pepper and saute until both are translucent.

3. In small bowl, combine all herbs, spices, and corn starch, and mix thoroughly.

4. Add orange juice to skillet; When juices start bubbling, add herb and spice mix and cook for approximately 2-3 minutes or until mixture begins to thicken. Add chopped apples, raisins, and pecans; mix thoroughly, and set aside to cool.

5. When squash is ready, remove flesh from shell with small butter scoop or use paring knife to cut into small cubes. Don't worry if squash bits aren't perfect -- they'll all blend together!

6. Add squash to skillet ingredients and mix thoroughly. Scoop squash mixture back into squash shells and place in lightly-greased casserole dish. Cover and bake for approximately 55 minutes.

7. The butternut squash shell is edible, too, so the squash can be cut as shown above or left in the shell for serving -- it's luscious, either way!

Wednesday, December 7

Solar Baked Fudge - an Easy Holiday Treat

December's Crazy Cooking Challenge is fudge! Yup, fudge. Now, that may not seem like a difficult task, taken on its face, but to someone who likes to exhibit the joys of solar cooking, it brought quite a challenge. A thousand years ago, when I was a pup, my sister-in-law gave me a no-fail baked fudge recipe. Really. This was fudge -- not one of those pudding brownie thingies -- real fudge. And, after discovering how great it was, I foolishly managed to lose the recipe during my many moves. Since the Crazy Cooking Challenge requires using a recipe from another food blogger, imagine my joy to discover something so close to that old recipe that with a little tweak here and there, I couldn't wait to share it with you.

Remember, participants are supposed to find bloggers who are NOT professional chefs or commercial recipe blogs, so I was delighted to discover Kathy Maister's blog, Start . She falls somewhere in between the guidelines because she was a Home Ec teacher and has decided to help new cooks, online. There's everything your heart desires to learn, there, including this great baked fudge recipe! While visiting, say hello from the Challenge and check out all her other recipes, as well.

With just five ingredients: 1/4 tsp salt, 14 oz condensed milk, 1/4 cup unsalted butter, 1 pound of fine quality milk chocolate (I used dark), and 1/2 tsp vanilla, plopped into the bowl, it was ready for the oven. The beauty of baked fudge is that you don't have to worry constant stirring or spillover with hot fudge rising up the sides of the pot. You just have to check it, once or twice, during the next hour and a half and gave it a stir. Then, it's just a matter of waiting for the mixture to melt enough to be stirred smooth.

What I did do differently, of course, was use the solar oven to make my fudge. I put all the ingredients in a 2-quart glass pyrex measuring cup with handle and then placed it inside my 3-quart roaster that had approximately 1.5 inches of hot water in the bottom. This would be baked without a cover, so using a wooden spoon to hold the 'handles' of my SolarWear(R) base made it very easy to transport and place inside the oven and not have the handles fall into the fudge onto the floor of the solar oven.

Yes, my condensed milk is caramelly. I like to do that with condensed milk to have caramel on hand for other recipes -- and, when I was ready to try this recipe, that was all that was left on the pantry shelf. Brought a whole new dimension to the flavoring and didn't mess up the recipe, at all. Once it was done, I brought it inside and gave it a thorough mixing; then, poured the fudge into an 8x8x2 pan, lined with parchment paper. As you can see, I took Kathy's suggestion and let the parchment paper come up the sides. A couple of mini drops onto my counter to even out the mix and, then, into the refrigerator for the next 3-4 hours. What could be easier?

This was just a plain fudge recipe, with a great fudge texture, and soooooo easy. Next time, I'll be adding walnuts or pecans. I'll hope you'll give it a try.

Now, I have to hide it from my sister... heh heh heh...


Wednesday, November 30

Thanksgiving 2011 - Vegan/Omnivore Style

How the time's have changed. With my daughter's family choosing a vegan lifestyle, Thanksgiving was a challenge, this year. When asked what I could bring to the table, the response was turkey, dressing, gravy, sweet potatoes (guess who's the omnivore!)... She would be providing the vegan portion of vegetables, truffled potatoes, salads, cru de te, and faux turkey. I was anxious to try it all.

See that beautiful salad? It's the Salad of Shaved Fennel, Oranges, and Candied Pecans over at Vegetarian Times, except the greens are not arugula but some grown from her very own step "garden!" She's surrounded by trees with just a bit of sun, allowing her to make a beautiful (and, tasty), entryway garden of decorative and edible plants. Very clever, my girl. It was absolutely delicious and well worth your trying. A great way to start a holiday meal. The Vegetarian Times site is chock full of wonderful recipes, so plan on taking your time, there.

I'm not going to post pictures of everything we had because I'm sure most of you have seen cooked turkeys, etc. I did taste the vegan faux turkey and, while it was tasty, I prefer more texture when eating meats. It seemed very close to the pressed turkey rolls but with less biting resistance. The truffled potatoes were lip-smacking delicious and her green bean casserole (made with homemade vegan mushroom creamed soup) was right on target. Couldn't tell the difference. Dessert was scrumptuous apple pie.

The solar sweet potatoes were delicious and something different from my usual side dish/dessert-type offering. Decided to use pomegranate seeds instead of cranberries for the acidity/sweet combo and rosemary, too, and they were fantastic!

Solar Sweet Potatoes with Pomegranate Seeds and Rosemary
2 cans 40oz sweet potatoes
2 large apples, peeled and chopped
1 cup pomegranate seeds
1 cup sweet potato liquor
1/2 cup blackberry merlot
4 tablespoons butter blended with 2 tsps of corn starch
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 tablespoon Chinese orange sauce, (or, equal parts soy sauce, distilled vinegar, sugar, and juice from one large orange) [NOTE: you can substitute 1 tsp Tang, in a pinch]

Preheat solar oven to 225F. Use a 3-4 quart covered casserole dish or 3 eight-inch square foil pans.
In large bowl, mix all ingredients together, fill each dish to 1" below top. Place in solar oven and bake for approximately 60-90 minutes or until apples are soft but not mushy.

With changing traditions, I pre-sliced my turkey at home and, for the first time in my life, cut the breast restaurant-style across the breast rather than slicing really big pieces. Duh... (smacking head!). We had plenty of sun to cook the dressing, so I used foil pans and stacked them, for easy transporting and/or freezing the extra. Time became thisclose toward the end, so I didn't take any photos. But, for those of you who enjoy new recipes, here's my solar turkey dressing for 2011. I used fresh herbs still producing proudly on the sunny side of the fence and saw that rosemary...

Solar Turkey Dressing
1 medium onion, chopped
1 medium carrot, chopped fine
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 large celery rib, finely chopped
2 medium apples, peeled and chopped
1 cup pecans, chopped
1 cup giblets, finely chopped
1 stick butter
2.5 cups turkey stock
1 14oz bag of herb-seasoned bread crumbs
3 eggs
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
3 tablespoons fresh sweet basil, chopped
3 tablespoons fresh pineapple sage/sage, chopped
2 tablespoons fresh oregano, chopped
2 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped
1 8" sprig rosemary, needles only, chopped
1/2 teaspoon baking powder

Preheat solar oven to 225F. Use a 3-4 quart casserole dish or 3 eight-inch foil pans.
In heavy saucepan over medium high heat, saute first five ingredients in melted butter until onions become translucent; add stock and let simmer three to five minutes.

In large mixing bowl, combine bread crumbs, pecans, giblets, salt, pepper, baking powder. Finely chop all herbs; add herbs and eggs to bread crumbs and mix thoroughly. Pour hot stock carefully over bread crumb mixture and lightly toss to moisten completely. You can add more stock for a softer texture to your dressing. 

Fill baking pans a little over half full; cover, then, bake in solar oven for approximately 1-1/2 to 2 hours, or until tester comes out clean from center. If you want a crustier top, remove cover after an hour of baking and then return to solar oven to bake for an additional 30 to 40 minutes.

Now, back to the Elf Shop for more holiday creations!

Monday, November 21

Tuna Casserole - Solar Comfort Food - Variation 89

When it's the busiest time of the year for holiday baking, gift buying, crafting, and craft fairs, nothing keeps the old motor going like fast and easy comfort foods. Tuna casseroles have done the job for centuries and solar cooking means you can focus on what has to be done, while the sun takes care of business.  I prefer the canned tuna in water, rather than the oil, but will still rinse it in a colander before adding to my casserole. (I'm not looking for a tuna taste so much as a fast meal!) The variation number comes from the many times we cook casseroles and do our best to make them distinguishable down through the years. (Maybe I should write a cookbook of just my tuna casseroles?!?! Hmm?)

Using egg noodles meant no pre-cooking and so I could play with my fresh herbs and spices to make it special. Even though we've been experiencing some very cold days with a lower sun trajectory, there has been little change in how long it takes to cook a dish. After just a little over an hour, I was able to add the cheesy topping, pop the casserole back into the solar oven, and dinner was ready in just another twenty minutes. I'm embarrassed to say that there was much uuummphin', rollin' eyes, and little table conversation with this variation.

Solar Tuna Casserole - Variation 89

2 tbspns olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
2 medium carrots, grated
1 green pepper, seeded and chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 large stalk celery, cut in 3 lengthwise, then finely chopped
  (if there are some celery leaves, chop and add them, too)
2 reg. cans tuna in water
1 12oz can evaporated milk
1 12oz can chicken stock/water
1/2 tsp ground anise
1 tsp chopped fresh oregano
1 tsp chopped fresh chervil
1 tsp sea salt
1/4 tsp black pepper
1 package egg noodles
1 tsp chopped fresh stevia
Panko crumbs (or half a sleeve of crushed saltines)
8 oz of mixed grated cheeses

Preheat solar oven and use a four-quart covered casserole dish.

Over medium heat, in a heavy skillet, heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil, then saute onions, pepper, garlic, carrot, and celery, until onions are translucent. Add rest of ingredients (except crumbs and cheeses) and stir to blend thoroughly. Pour into casserole dish and add additional liquid, if necessary, so that it looks like this:
Cover and bake in solar oven for approximately an hour or until liquid is absorbed and noodles are al dente. (You can steal one to taste, because it will all be covered with the cheeses!)

Remove from oven and distribute crumbs evenly over top, then evenly distribute the grated cheeses.

Return to solar oven and bake until cheeses are melted and lightly browned. Sprinkle paprika for an added touch or taste and color.

Plop you some of this on a plate, add a glass of your favorite beverage, thank the cook, and get back to your holiday preparations!

Saturday was our last vendor day at the North Hills Midtown Market and I just want to thank everyone for making it a great success. Even though we were dealing with cold weather, the sun gave us some warmth and business was good. We plan on re-opening full time around the 1st of April, 2012, but will be available for receiving and delivering orders on Saturdays from 10am until 11am during the winter. Y'all come back now, hear!

Monday, November 14

Peppers and Solar Herbal First Aid Salve

Peppers for Winter
Been busier than a one-armed paperhanger, finishing up the garden harvests and playing Christmas elf in my craft shop. You saw the pepper bounty in last week's post, right? Well, something had to be done with both the bell peppers and the banana peppers. As you can see, I've strung up the best banana peppers to dry naturally. They'll become bright red, as they dry, and will also make a colorful kitchen display through the winter.

The bell peppers were diced and placed in a single layer on cookie sheets and then frozen for a couple of hours. Then, it was time to separate any pieces that had stuck together and put portions of 1/2 cup each into small freezable bags. The whole process took less than two hours and, now, I'm ready for spicy winter meals.

Solar Herbal First Aid Salve
Remember, the lasagna herb gardens I put in last year? Well, they have done themselves proud, this year, and it was time to do more than dry the herbs for cooking. Time to make some healing salves.  My binders would be lard, because the skin absorbs animal fats so much faster than mineral (liquid petrolatum) and vegetable oils, and beeswax for its antibacteriant and emollient benefits. And, don't worry. By the time it's done, you can only smell the wonderful blend of herbs.

There's a bit of the alchemist in me, I think, because I so thoroughly enjoy creating my own organic salves and cough remedies (think hot toddy with homemade brandy!). So, into my old recipe files I went and found this all-round first aid mix that we loved and decided to try the magic in my solar oven, this time 'round.

The herbs are chosen specifically to blend their particular benefits together to handle most cuts and bruises, muscle aches and pains, and insect bites. Definitely an all-purpose non-toxic salve for most injuries. And, if your pet or small child should decide they want a taste, they'll discover soon enough that it tastes terrible and will leave it alone.

My herbs of choice: Pineapple sage, Rosemary, Spearmint, Lavender, and Thyme.  Since it's so easy to Google these herbs for their benefits, I'll just give a brief summary of why I chose them for my healing salve. If you do your own search, you'll discover multiple benefits, but mine were for their more specific elements. Pineapple sage as an antioxidant, antibacterial herb; rosemary for its pain relief; spearmint as an analgesic to reduce itching; lavender as an astringent to reduce inflammation and help the skin heal itself; and, thyme, as an antiseptic to destroy disease-causing bacteria. The lard binder to help my healing herbs be readily absorbed into the skin and beeswax that is naturally absorbed into the skin to help solidify the salve. The ratio is approximately 8oz. of lard to 2oz. of beeswax. You won't improve it by adding more beeswax, you'll just make it too hard to use.

Step One: Clean and dry all herbs, thoroughly, before preparing your salve. Using a dehydrator or your solar oven to dehydrate them won't take more than a day. By letting the door of the oven rest on top of the side latches and keeping the oven turned just enough away from the sun that it doesn't get above 175F, you can dehydrate most anything. In fact, Sun Oven International now offers a dehydrating kit specifically designed for their oven that makes the whole process very easy. My next post will tell you all about it. But, for a quick peek, go here!

Rinse all herbs to remove any protein (bugs) hiding midst the foliage. You can choose to remove all the leaves from the stems before dehydrating or just wait until they're done. You're going to be chopping this all up to add to the lard, so it doesn't matter. But, if you do remove the leaves, the drying time is less. Now, that you have thoroughly dried herbs, you can move to...

Step Two: You'll need to liquify the lard, first, by placing it in a pan/glass jar that will fit inside another pot. Then, add at least three or four inches of water and heat over very low heat until the lard is totally melted. I do this inside and prepare the herbs whilst the lard is melting.

Step Three: Finely chop all your herbs. I take a gallon-sized plastic bag and simply use a rolling pin to crush the herbs, then give it a serious shaking to combine them. Snip off a corner to create a funnel that will let you slowly pour the herbs into the melted lard. Stir it with a wooden spoon and keep adding herbs till you can barely move your spoon. You want the dried herbs totally submerged in the lard, so stop when there is about 1/4" of liquid above the herbs.

Step Four: Preheat your solar oven so that the temperature doesn't get above 100F. This means you'll have to NOT face it directly into the sun but at an angle that will maintain the low temperature. Help your oven by resting the door ON the latches. Now, comes the hard part -- the waiting.  Whether inside or outside, the best salve is allowed to do its thing for at least nine to ten hours. If it can't be done in one day, simply reliquify in the morning on your stovetop and then return to the solar oven to finish. For once, I don't suggest using your microwave to reliquify the herbal mix. I think it's too intense and can change the finished product. You want a slow, gentle, extraction that removes all the beneficial oils from your herbs.

Step Five: Assuming that you have all your containers ready, it's time to strain that wonderful salve over a bowl with a spout. Line your strainer with at least four layers of fine cheesecloth, an old t-shirt, or two layers of paper towels. You'll be able to really squeeze the cheesecloth/t-shirt for those last drops but not the paper towels. They'll just disintegrate. Let it slowly drain so that you don't force any debris into your liquid. Move the herbs around to help it along so that it doesn't thicken during the process. [NOTE: Just thought of this! Not too late for the next batch, though. If it does thicken up, you can always use your hair dryer to liquify the herb-lard mix. Tada!]  Isn't the green a beautiful shade for the salve!

Step Six: Discard the drained herbs. NOW, you can use your microwave! This is when you'll add the beeswax and give it short spurts of 20 seconds on med-high (6-7) in the microwave untill all the beeswax has melted. Don't think adding lots of beeswax is better. It will simply make your salve impossible to use. Keep with the ratio.  This will take some adjustments because you DON'T want to add any water to the mix. Ever! Get your containers ready and fill each to 1/4 inch of the top. I've used 1.5oz screw-top jars and a larger one for my medicine cabinet.

Step Seven: Cover when salve is totally cooled from top to bottom.

Finish: Now, you can make your labels and share with loved ones.

And, here's my Solar Granny Grumbles' Herbal First Aid Salve. The label gives ingredients and will include a mini description of each ingredient on a separate gift tag.

To prevent introducing any bacteria into the salve during use, I like to use either a craft stick or cosmetic spatula to remove what I need. Kept in a cool place, this salve will last up to two years. This is such a great thing to know that I've also linked to the following great blogs: It's a Keeper Thursday: Recipe & Project Linky and Frugal Days, Sustainable Ways. Check out all the other great blogs, recipes, and crafts -- and, don't forget to leave some comment love.

It's a Keeper 

Friday, November 11

CCC Easy Cheesy Mashed Potatoes

Friends: I have reposted this item because I have been SPAMMED and it is now listed as my most viewed recipe -- which is pure hogwash! The same person hits it daily, leaving the most ridiculous comments and so I decided to clean it up.
November's Crazy Cooking Challenge is mashed potatoes. Yes, mashed potatoes. Is it possible to bring the mundane into the limelight? I'm here to tell you, yes. These potatoes are delicious and will hold their own against any entree. Since the Challenge requires using a recipe from another food blogger, I searched online, specifically, for ordinary blogging cooks with mashed potato recipes, not professional chefs or commercial recipe blogs. You can find this Easy Cheesy Mashed Potatoes recipe at Brooke McLay's Family Kitchen blog. While visiting, say hello from the Challenge and check out all her other recipes, as well.
What I did do differently, of course, was use the solar oven to roast my potatoes along with an onion, because I didn't have onion salt on hand. Just put them in a covered pan and let them do their thing for about an hour and a half. Remove from the solar oven and while still warm but you're still able to hold them in your hand, just a small knife cut and the skins will almost slide off.

I decided to use some Italian Parsley for the garnis, as well, and traipsed out to the garden, tra la la, with my wonderful garden hod. Imagine how delighted I was to find two very large puffball mushrooms along the way and some pepper plants that had no idea harvest time was over. Look at this November bounty!
Below the Banana Peppers is a full basket of Bell Peppers and those beautiful puffball mushrooms. Before cooking them, I did the test and they were at peak form -- a beautiful white center.
Since the focus was the mashed potatoes, I did a fast saute of the mushrooms and Polish Kielbasa and added some lima beans for a fast dinner.

A great big thumb's up from my sister (my live-in taster), too! She also loved the Easy Cheesy Mashed Potatoes and is looking forward to the leftovers.

Check out all the other bloggers who have joined in this linky, too. With a year's worth of mashed potato recipes, no one should complain that there's no variety at your table. Click on the 'like' below the picture and don't forget to vote for me! Have fun!

Sunday, October 30

Rain, Cold, and Halloween Spooks -- Oh, My!

Was down to the Midtown Market by seven a.m., and it was very cold and rainy. Not driving rain with high winds, but non-stop straight down rain that did not portend and great solar cooking morning. But, that was okay because I had holiday crafts for the folks to see and was able to set up the Global Sun Oven(R) with all its paraphernalia on a table. And, that works just as well. Several people made a special trip to my booth to get more brochures and said they were ready to started.

This was how it looked until almost nine-thirty... lots of vendors, very few visitors. Was going to make chocolate chip cookies, but have saved that treat for another day.

There was a Halloween Costume Contest scheduled and lots of special things to do that had to be cancelled because of the rain -- but, the costume parade did. I was under my tent, freezing my little knees off, and the children were dressed in typical costumes over heavy jackets. The poor lady who did the face painting was in a Sleeping Beauty outfit and I think that was over leggings and a matching long-sleeved shirt. There were several winners in different categories and this young father, here, won a first-place trophy for making this wonderful pulled cavemobile. His daughters were definitely thrilled and never got their toes wet!

Wouldn't you love one of your own?

I know Mama was proud of her girls' Daddy. Now, if he could just make a Mercedes...

Three tasks I've set myself before next weekend:  Make a set of leg/knee warmers for my little arthritic knees, a soft cushion for my little (ahem) tush, and wear my BOOTS! Through some miracle of convoluted reasoning, the parking lot people has all the water running toward the curb at the Market, rather than toward center drains as so many others do. The ground squeegee had to be used more than once, until the rain stopped. My socks were soaked through and it all reminded me of my old sailing days in inclement weather. Truth is, there's nothing thrilling about being on a sailboat in a storm. It's just wet and cold and non-stop discomfort. But, the company was great and my discomfort was my own fault. That will be remedied.

Wednesday, October 26

Solar Baked Macaroni and Cheese Fit for a King

Stock Photo
This is a very busy season -- getting items ready for the Midtown Market and working with my elves on Christmas projects. Soooo, comfort foods and cooler weather rule the day. No?  I've used a stock photo of macaroni and cheese because the blog world likes to have visuals and I ATE my solar meal before I remembered to take pictures!!! I'm so sorry. Yes. I forgot about the camera. But, the recipe turned out fantastic and that's what counts.

This delicious repast can be either a main course or used as a side dish. Sweet red peppers from the garden gave my solar macaroni and cheese a very festive look.

Solar Macaroni and Cheese

1 med onion, chopped
1 med sweet red pepper, chopped
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 Tbsp  butter
2 med tomatoes, chopped
2-3/4 cups chicken broth
1 sm can evaporated milk
1 tsp basil
1/4 tsp mild curry
1/2 tsp salt
1/8 tsp black pepper
1-1/2 cups dry macaroni
3/4 cup shredded cheddar cheese
1/4 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
1 Tbsp AP flour

Preheat solar oven to 225F. And use a  3-quart covered stock pot.

Over medium-high heat, in heavy skillet or stock pot, saute onion and sweet pepper in a blending of the olive oil and butter until softened. Add tomatoes and spices, chicken broth and evaporated milk. Bring to rolling boil; add macaroni, and return to full boil.

Mix shredded cheeses with flour. If using heavy skillet, pour boiling pasta mixture into stock pot. Add cheeses and blend in thoroughly. Cover pot and bake in solar oven for approximately 45 to 50 minutes. (Conventional oven: Prepare as directed and bake at 275F - 300F) Optional topping: 1/2 cup panko crumbs mixed with 1 Tbsp butter. Spread over baked macaroni and cheese and toast under broiler or use kitchen torch. This is just good eating, friends. Hope you'll try it.

Wednesday, October 19

Easy Vertical Stand Displays More at Midtown Market

I've discovered that I love being at the Midtown Market and introducing people to solar cooking -- and, my crafts! But, in a 10'x10' booth, space is severely limited without going vertical. Problem is, my booth is located at the end of what can only be called an air tunnel between two rows of commercial stores. Not a heavy-duty wind tunnel, but enough power to cause lots of vertical stands and items to fall over. With crafts being added, I needed something that wouldn't cause a heart attack every time Mother Nature did her thing. Look hard at the stand on the left. While not the most attractive, it more than did the job and my items barely moved while other vendors were kept busy replacing signs and product that would get caught in a blast of air.

On Friday, we enjoyed a very blustery day, giving me an opportunity to test it out. I was delighted with how steady the whole set-up remained, letting the wind go through the mesh. It's very inexpensive and done with PVC pipes, plastic hardware cloth, and 5-quart buckets. I've decided to make a few more for the other side of the booth and my Christmas ornaments etc. There's very little I'm going to change in the design (it's so easy to set up) beyond making the edges of the hardware cloth more precisely squared -- or, I may not!

Here's a terrible fast drawing of how it was done, in case you want to try it, yourself. If you are involved in selling any crafts at local fairs, etc., it's well worth doing.

3 pcs. - 1.75' PVC 1.5" (magenta)
3 pcs. - 2' PVC 2" (gray) wrapped in tinfoil or plastic
2 pcs. - 5'6" PVC 1/2" (green)
1 pc   - 5.4" PVC 1/2" (green - corner)
2 pcs. - 5' PVC 1/2" (green - crossbar)
2 - 1/2" PVC elbows (attach to top of 5'6" pipe
1 - 1/2" PVC threaded connector (attached to 5'4" pipe)
1 - 1/2" PVC 90-degree corner piece with threaded base (attach to connector on 5'4" pipe)
Dark Green Krylon Fusion paint for plastic or acrylic* paints
3 5-quart buckets with handle (for ease of carrying/moving)
Sand/concrete (or plaster of Paris)/shredded paper combo for holding*
Extra bucket/container for pre-mixing aggregate
1 Roll of Green Plastic Hardware Cloth
2 - hardwood sticks for bottom edge (optional)
Forest Green 4-ply acrylic yarn (optional)
Crochet hook Size P (optional)

1. Foil wrap the 2" pvc pipes carefully so that the hole placed against the bottom of the bucket won't let water seep in.  Prepare a mixture of equal parts of sand, concrete (or plaster of Paris), and shredded paper. Holding pipe against bottom of bucket, gently pour the setting mixture around the pipe so that it remains centered and upright. (The foil is so that you can remove the pipe for transport and easy storage.

 2. Using fifty percent water to the amount of concrete mixture in each bucket, slowly pour it around the pipe and mix carefully, keeping the pipe centered and upright. Set aside to let the mixture harden. Do not attempt to remove the pipe until mixture hardens but you can gently turn it, every now and then, to make sure it doesn't lock in place, too!

[NOTE: If using concrete, water can be added to mixture in the prep bucket before pouring around pipe. It takes longer to set so you'll be able to pour the mixture around the pipe in plenty of time. Be sure to clean the mixing bucket thoroughly before starting your next mixture. HOWEVER, if you're using plaster of Paris, pour the dry combination around the pipe, first, then add fifty percent water and gently mix it. This will set very fast so you want to plan on doing just one bucket at a time. (A few years ago, I did a similar tabletop stand and made the mixture in two steps because the bucket was so deep. That's when I found out that pouring a fresh plaster of Paris mixture over a fresh set will cause it to harden twice as fast as the first pour! Be ready for this, if you decide to do it in two steps).

3. Painting the pipes is really optional but they will look so much better, if you do. If you use acrylic paints, you will need to retouch fairly often, as it doesn't adhere to the pvc pipe, very well. Using Krylon Fusion plastic paint gives you a permanent finish that will look quite beautiful for a very long time!

4. You can use the hardware cloth in a single layer, but I chose to fold it over and make it doubly strong for all types of crafts. The roll is 36" wide and available in both black and green. You don't have to crochet around the edges but it will make it sturdier. If you can't crochet, simply slip-stitch it together. Crocheting around the edge let me make 'buttonholes' all around so that I could lace it to the side and top pipes. I inserted wooden dowels across the bottom to keep it straight. Using the yarn, I made rope lengths to use for lacing. Each 'rope' was attached at the center of each side to prevent loss and make it easier to lace during set-up. 

5. Insert the 1.5" pipes into the 2" pipe in the bucket, and then the 1/2" 5'6" pipes into each end bucket. Attach an elbow to the tops, facing toward the center. In the center bucket, attach the connector to the top of the 1/2"  5'4" pipe and then the corner piece. (If you use a straight corner piece, it will extend your stand but work more like a sail. Great for indoors; bad for outdoors. The angled corner piece gives more strength and stability, I think.

6. Slide each top pipe through the top loops of the hardware cloth and then connect to the center and side pipes. Lace together, trying to keep display portion well-centered between pipes.

Voila! A vertical display stand for all crafters that's easy to build, transport, set up and dismantle. With a gazillion holes, there's no problem attaching craft items. Hope I've helped some of you, out there. And, there are many other uses for this type stand. Why don't you make one and share your uses. We'd love to hear from you.     

I've linked up with Workin' On It Wednesday, so I hope you'll check out all the other crafters who might inspire you to make some changes around your house!

Creative Kristi Designs

Sunday, October 16

Solar-Cooked Oatmeal Fuels Cleaning Frenzy

I want you to feel sorry for me -- but, you won't. I've been trying to clean up my playroom (Craft Shop) and, well, it's outside, where the cooler weather is in charge. I like to keep the door opened to air out and spread the stuff around before bringing it back in and, while doing so, got a little chilled. Then, I had this incredibly brilliant idea -- why not make some oatmeal for lunch and have it cook whilst rearranging? (I am so going to leave my brain to science!) By setting the oven up in the front yard, right outside the craft shop door, I could keep an eye on it.

So, I shot into the house (one step at a time because of my advanced years), and put the following ingredients into a quart-sized canning jar: 1/2 cup of steel-cut oats, 1 Tablespoon each of raisins, chopped dehydrated apple, chopped pecans, 1 Tablespoon sugar with 1 teaspoon molasses, pinch of salt, and 1.5 cups water. Put it into the preheated solar oven at 9:50 a.m. and went back to work.  By lunch, 11:30 a.m., I was ready and so was this delicious oatmeal! It was really quite filling, making more than I could handle at one sitting, so I put the lid back on the jar and popped it into the refrigerator. Really looking forward to breakfast. Can't beat the process for ease and convenience.

No, the shop isn't totally the way I want it, but I'm getting there. Also very busy creating a vertical display for the Midtown Market. Will share how-to when it's done.

Friday, October 7

Best Ever Solar Chocolate Chip Cookies

Coocakes? or Cupkies?
I've entered Tina's  Moms Crazy Cooking Challenge. Once a month, cooks from all over the blogosphere will take on the challenge of finding a recipe from another blogger, prepare it, then share that recipe on their blog, simultaneously!, and have a linked up list of the other challengers and their recipe choices. Your job -- should you choose to accept it -- is to visit as many as you can to discover recipes they have found and possibly new bloggers to follow. And, then, you're supposed to VOTE for your favorite recipe. (No pressure here, but should you be so moved...)  My understanding is that you are also welcome to join the challenge, too! This month's challenge is Chocolate Chip Cookies.

That said, Debbie Koenig at Words to Eat By intrigued me with this recipe,  Unbelievably Good Chocolate Chunk Cookies. I decided to give a solar twist to it and do something I've wanted to do for a very long time. If you've been following me, then you know that there are few and far between sweets here and I happen to be one of those people who don't particularly care for chocolate. But, I didn't want a day of cookie baking, so decided to try out my mini-muffin pans in the solar oven. Tada!

At 300F, the solar oven did two batches at just under twenty-five minutes, each. Frankly, the next time, I would check them just a hair sooner (like, twenty minutes) because the surround heat of the cups helped the cooking. Keeping the dough level to just under the top edge of a small ice-cream scooper, there was approximately a tablespoon of dough per cup or what would have been a 2.5" to 3" flat cookie. These Coocakes(?) or Cupkies(?) were crunchy on the outside and nice and soft on the inside -- and, fun. And, these are unbelievably good chocolate chip cookies!  Have fun checking out the other fantastic recipes, too, and meet some new friends.


Please visit Moms Crazy Cooking Challenge and VOTE for me -- I'm Number 56 in the pictures. Just click on the "Like" beneath the picture and over the caption, "Best Ever Solar Chocolate Chip Cookies," because, well, it just happens to be true!

Tuesday, October 4

Solar Pumpkin-Peanut Soup

It's October and that means pumpkins dot our fields and fill our farmers markets. One of my favorite ways to serve a pumpkin soup is right in the pumpkin, itself. It's so festive and seems to make it taste even better. (I know it's psychological, but I enjoy the illusion.) For this year's soup, I decided to show you how much fun a solar oven can be -- not to mention, time-saving. So, two medium-sized pumpkins, one large sweet onion and two apples, as Mother Nature made them, went into the solar oven for roasting. What could be easier!

My local roadside market also had some hot boiled peanuts, so I decided to make them the filling protein in the soup. Some fresh pumpernickel bread with rich, creamery, butter (Hugh Jackman, where are you?) would make a great meal.  The solar oven got up to 300F and, within 70 minutes, the food was ready for peeling and processing. Using SolarWear(R) made it super easy.

I decided to serve samples of the soup at the Midtown Market and cooked it in quart jars. That made it interesting to my visitors but also very easy to carry about and, of course, the extras could be placed directly in the freezer when I got home.

Solar Pumpkin-Peanut Soup

2 whole small pumpkins
1 whole large sweet onion
2 whole medium granny apples
1/4 cup chopped shallots
2 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
4 Tablespoons unsalted butter
1 Teaspoon canola oil
1/4 head cabbage, coarsely chopped
1/2 cup boiled peanuts, shelled and chopped
1 medium carrot, coarsely chopped
3 Tablespoons fresh chopped marjoram
2 Tablespoons fresh chopped thyme
1 teaspoon fresh chopped stevia
1/2 teaspoon coriander
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon mace
1 Tablespoon fresh ginger (1/4 tsp.ground ginger)
2 teaspoons corn starch
6 cups vegetable broth or water
1/2 cup cream
juice of one large orange
1 Tablespoon apple cider vinegar
salt and pepper to taste

Directions:  Place pumpkins, onion, and apples in solar oven to cook until soft. Other ingredients can be prepared while these are cooking.

In large heavy skillet over med-high heat, melt butter with oil. Saute shallots and garlic till softened and garlic begins to brown. Add chopped carrots, peanuts, and carrots; cook until soft.

In small bowl mix herbs and spices with corn starch until fully blended. [NOTE: Mixing dry ingredients with the corn starch makes thickening very easy and the corn starch won't lump.] Add to mixture in skillet and blend thoroughly.

Add vegetable broth, cream, orange juice, and cider vinegar, salt and pepper, to skillet. Bring to boil, cook for 2-4 minutes. Remove from heat; let cool.

Remove roasted pumpkins, apples, and onion from solar oven. Peel and chop onion; pare and chop apples; add to cooled ingredients. Cut a cap from pumpkin, remove seeds; gently scrape pumpkin flesh from inside and add to cooled ingredients. After mixing thoroughly, puree in processor, a little at a time, and pour into three quart jars. Hand-tighten cover and return to solar oven to cook until bubbles begin to rise.

Serve in soup bowls or pumpkin shells. 

This recipe is different from my earlier one and was closer to a vegetable pumpkin taste as opposed to a sweet pie taste. I hope you'll try it and let me know what you think.

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