Sunday, June 26

Solar Baked Shrimp and Rice Pilaf - Fast, Succulent, and Easy

Stock Photo
I apologize, up front, for the stock photo but it was so busy at the Midtown Market on Saturday that I didn't have a chance to take pictures.  So, imagine it without the carrots and egg and this is very close to my solar version of Shrimp and a Rice Pilaf with Sweet Peas, Onions, and Corn.

Nothing could be easier than using two quart-sized canning jars inside SolarWear(R) carriers to create what turned out to be one of the most succulent shrimp pilaf adaptations I've ever been able to fix.

With less than two hours of real solar cooking time and a booth closing at noon, I'm definitely on a learning curve of what can be cooked on site and shared with the folks who stop by. With trying to show the flexibility of solar cooking, I'm finding that night-before preparations cannot be ignored. Chopping of ingredients, mixing of herbs and spices, and creating a very portable mise en place is the difference between egg on a plate or egg on my face!

Ingredients: 1 small finely-chopped sweet onion, 3 ounces each of sweet peas and kernel corn, 2 cups Whole-Grain Brown Rice, 1-3/4 cups liquid for rice, 2-1/2 cups liquid for shrimp and vegetables; 1/2 teaspoon each of mint, tarragon, cilantro, parsley, salt and pepper to taste; and, 1/2 Tablespoon of Granny Grumbles' Soup/Dip Mix.

In one quart jar, pour 1-3/4 cups liquid for rice and 2-1/2 cups liquid in the other jar for shrimp combo. Cook both on High in microwave for four minutes. Place in solar oven and bring to hard simmer (bubbles will begin to rise). Combine rice, herbs and spices, add to hot liquid and return to solar oven for additional ten minutes. Five minutes before rice has absorbed all liquid, add shrimp, onions, sweet peas and corn to the 2.5 cups of liquid. Stir to blend and return to solar oven. Remove when first signs of pink appear on the poaching shrimp. Do not open jar but let shrimp continue to cook to an opaque white. Empty rice from jar into a large bowl; add drained contents of shrimp combo and mix thoroughly. Serve.

I decided to use lemon-lime Sprite for my liquid for a very subtle sweetness that complemented without overpowering the shrimp blend. On Friday night, each jar was prepared and then marked with masking tape to prevent confusion at Market time. Ingredients were chopped, measured, stored in separate containers, and then placed in the refrigerator until morning. First order of business (well, after coffee) was to zap both jars of liquid in the microwave for four minutes to bring them up to just under boiling and zapped the onion to soften, saving valuable cooking time.

Although I tried turning the solar oven upside down to see if it would heat up faster, the temperature hovered around 200F until about 9:20 a.m., when it began its rise. Still, I placed the jars in the solar oven, upon arrival, and they began to bubble around the edges at 9:50 a.m.  The ingredients were added to each, stirred to blend, and returned to the solar oven for approximately ten more minutes of baking. When the white of the shrimp was opaque, it was time to combine ingredients and serve. OMG! I loved sharing this beautiful and succulent dish with the folks but secretly hoped there'd be some left for my own lunch. Was that selfish of me?

Wednesday, June 22

Solar Ham-Chicken Tenderloin Rollups

One of the easiest ways to stretch a meal and fill tummies is by creating roll ups. The filling can be almost anything you want but this is not the time to get crazy with mixtures. They should complement the wrap so that diners don't grab their throats at first bite. You wants lots of 'ooomphs' and 'ummms' and rolling (not bulging!) eyes. Ham and chicken is a complementary combination that lets you have fun with a variety of flavorful fillings.  Simple sides, like garden fresh tomatoes and yellow rice, keep the meal light for summer.
I thought I had more than one package of chicken tenderloins on hand but that was not the case; thus, the roll up came to mind. The lettuces in the garden were getting sparse because of our intense heat, so I salvaged the best leaves and pulled the plants to make room for summer crops. The season's first tomatoes were ripe for picking. Two made it into the house; the other, warmed by the sun, begged me to eat it, right then and there. (That's my story and I'm sticking to it.)

Saturday, June 18

My DIY Project - From Oak Dresser to Kitchen Island for Under $140.00

My new kitchen island!
UPDATE!!!! - After six months of use, this has been one of the best kitchen islands I've ever had! My shoulders are at a comfortable height and I can literally spend the day working on it without shoulder pain. WHY didn't I think of this, sooner?!!?! Not only a money-saver but a great success for under 5'5" cooks. (The standard for most kitchen islands.) To spread the news even further, I'm linking up to the Frugal Days, Sustainable Ways Wednesday Blog Hop. There'll be plenty of other posts from clever bloggers, too; so, I hope you'll check them out and discover more bloggers who can help you with your own DIY crafts.

I have wanted a kitchen island for a long time. With all my counters on the wall without windows, I missed the openness of preparing food while visiting or just having the sense of more space in front of me. Naturally, the ones I wanted were not only expensive but way too big for my little kitchen. Each had their own great features but none had them all -- until you reached the $600 and above range. Definitely time to just build my own and try to keep the costs down. First order of business, checking out flea markets for old dressers. After several months of casual looking, success came with this old oak dresser. The project had begun. With some elbow grease, time, and patience, my new island is finished and I did it for just under $140.00! Definitely a keeper and linked up with It's a Keeper Thursday.

To keep the air as clean as possible in the house, I did all the sanding and painting outside, using a big plastic drop cloth to protect it on rainy days. This was a very stable well-built dresser with no chunks of missing wood or wobbly hardware. After sanding, I sprayed it with a clear high-gloss acrylic paint three times, sanding between each coat. I didn't paint the top because I wanted a more abrasive surface for the glue to catch when attaching a 2x4 counter top panel.

This is a high-grade 5/8"x2'x4' panel ready for stains or paint and, even though it comes already sanded, I gave it another go over just to make sure, while rounding the edges just a tad to prevent slivering. Then, it was twice-sprayed with primer.

Two coats of primer and still raw looking
I used a roller for all applications

This is the Rustoleum counter top paint I used and I love it! There are mixed reviews about this paint online but I didn't find any of the problems some people found. Maybe because I did it outside and gave myself plenty of time between coats. I don't know the answer but it more than serves my purposes. And, should it get too chipped over the years, I can redo it and even change the color. It's still an incredible bargain for a $20 can of paint. I let it cure for almost six weeks before trying to go further because it's very high in viscosity and that translates into s-l-o-w curing in my book, regardless of what is promised on the can.
Hoping no bugs decide to check it out!

After checking out the floor of the dresser, I was afraid adding casters would do one of those opposite pressure things, so decided to reinforce it with some 2x4s before adding the casters.

As is typical with most dressers, the foot board is on the front, only, requiring 3" casters that are barely visible from the front. The locking casters are on the rear side.

Then it was time for the counter top. I applied Contact Cement to both the top of the dresser and the underside of the panel and let them dry apart for about 40 minutes. The ticklish part was placing it on top of the dresser because there is no forgiveness with Contact Cement and there's only one chance to get it right. The overhang leaves me plenty of room to hang up weird accessories, as well as having a little room to slip in a stool for a fast bite. Ta da! I have a new kitchen island!

Rear side waiting for pegboard.

Here's a breakdown of my costs. I rounded them up to the next dollar. Just a note about the dresser. I wouldn't have bought just any dresser. The basic requirement was that it had to be solid wood to be able to handle years of use and remain sturdy. (This puppy is heavy!) Waiting until just the right one came along was well worth it.

Used Oak Dresser  $40.00
5/8"x2'x4' Board Panel for counter  $35.00
Counter Paint Pint $20.00
Contact Cement Pint $6.00
Rollers for applying paint and cement $3.00
2x4s (on hand)
Kobalt 4-pack Casters 3" swivel-locking $21.00
Screws (16) 3.00
High-gloss clear acrylic paint and primer $5.00
Total cost for Island: $133.00

Don't you just love projects that are real bargains, too!

Monday, June 13

Delicious Solar Peppers and Kielbasa at Midtown Market

Because the North Hills Midtown Market is only open from eight a.m. until noon, it takes some thinking to come up with samples of solar cooking that I know will be done with enough time to share! Remember, I made Butter Pecan Ice Cream Bread, last week, but didn't want to become known for just breads and jellies. I wanted to show that solar cooking was versatile, even in the earlier hours. And, of course, samples had to be easy to give out, either sliced or spooned into cups; so, I did some late evening prep work Friday night and came up with a tri-colored pepper mix, with added onions, poblano pepper, and Polish Kielbasa. A touch of oil with half a packet of my Granny Grumbles Soup/Dip Mix, and I was good to go.

Thursday, June 9

Soup Mix, Dip, or Topping - Fresh From the Garden

Granny Grumbles' Soup/Dip or Topping Mix
I hadn't planned on making my mixes so early in the harvesting season, but my SIL is going on a 10-day prove-yourself camping trip and wondered if I couldn't come up with something a little more appetizing than the usual fare. 'Usual' meaning that it cooks fast, has very little weight, and oh, yeah, tastes good! Time for Granny Grumbles! Those little packets hold 1.5 tablespoons of my own dehydrated vegetable mix with assorted herbs and spices (and, some with little pasta stars) that will turn any 12 ounces of boiling water into a delicious, nourishing, soup. It also makes a fire-baked potato very special and/or some sour cream or cream cheese into a great dip!

[Update: This has also been submitted to Grow Your Own, a monthly blogging event that celebrates the dishes we create from foods we’ve grown, raised, foraged, or hunted ourselves. You'll find chefs from all over the world sharing their recipes and, once the collection is posted, I'll be updating with that link. Meanwhile, there's still time (until June 30th) for you to share one of your recipes, too.]

The garden is producing lots of goodies and the dehydrator has been performing a yeoman's job. I wanted the mix to be nourishing and very tasty, so there was a little bit of this and a little bit of that put into the grinder and fine-powdered. The herbs were fresh from the garden, too, and dried beautifully. I made vegetarian (the ones with the ""V" on them) and then both chicken and beef based packets, using some powdered bouillion. And, for my own personal use, there will continue to be packets made for flavoring and thickening of soups, sauces, and stuffings.

I used equal parts of dehydrated broccoli, potatoes, carrots, baby limas, peas, summer squash, onions, and tomatoes. For added sweetness, I doubled the corn. That brought the powdered veggies to half the height of this jar (or just over two cups). The herbs and spices were also powdered. To the veggies, I added 1 teaspoon each of celery leaves, mace, arrowroot, marjoram, oregano; one-half teaspoon each of mint, lavender, garlic powder, salt, and sugar; one-quarter teaspoon of black pepper and one-eighth teaspoon of chipotle pepper. The soups got one tablespoon of pasta stars. I filled the vegetarian packets, first, then divided the rest in half and added the bouillions.  The packets were made from snack sized ziploc bags, reduced to three by using the sealing part only of  my vacuum-seal machine.
Making the packets
If you use a standard 8-oz cup, the full packet (1.5 tablespoons) could be a little too thick. These are dehydrated vegetables and the powder will expand. Try as I might, it seems impossible to totally powder everything, so there will be little bits of texture in the final result that is fairly close to a thick pea soup. Try reducing the amount or using a 12-oz mug/thermos. Blend the mixture into the water and bring to a boil and set aside for approximately a half hour to rehydrate. My SIL can fill his thermos with boiling water, add the mix, and let it do its magic while he does his thing.

Have I fulfilled the requirements? Let's see...

Does the mix cook fast? Check
Is it lightweight? Check
Does it taste good? Check

[Hmmm. Think I'll leave a little note in his bag about it being almost Christmas and how he can multi-task by using the steeping time to plan his MIL gift list.]

Now, that I've gotten you started, will you share the mixes you've created with us?

Tuesday, June 7

Secret Sister - Creative-Me-Monday

This week I'm participating in the Creative Me Monday linky from The Southern Institute for Domestic Arts and Crafts and, since I have to add to my stock at the Midtown Farmer's Market, I created a Secret Sister(TM). Isn't she adorable? This is where I talk about solar cooking and take orders for my e-book covers and pysanki eggs. And, that left me with lots of extra material.

I got the idea for a Secret Sister(TM) from talking to myself. Yup. I talk to myself -- BUT, whenever I do that, it turns out that I remember the idea or the recipe, what-have-you! Like the old string around the finger. (I guess it's the combination of speaking and sound that makes the difference.) Using 7" cardboard cones, she stands on her own and comes with a legend on the bottom.

Not the world's greatest poetry, but the point is made. You can make two of them out of a fat quarter. Or, one of my favorite things to do for special orders, if you have a favorite cotton shirt or dress, use that as both a way to remember your idea or recipe and the one who wore the outfit. 

If you want to see more fantastic creative items, click on the link below and visit all the others who have linked up. And, you still have until next Saturday to add your own!
Creative Me Mondays

Sunday, June 5

Midtown Market - Ice Cream Bread and Being SQUARE!

Early morning, ready for visitors!
I'm starting to get the feel for actually demonstrating solar cooking at the North Hills Midtown Market. Didn't work, last week, because we had serious cloud cover and impending storms. The sun played cat-and-mouse for the entire duration and would shine for maybe ten or fifteen minutes before disappearing behind the clouds (very low, very dark, clouds, by the way) Market time was over before the rains came and we didn't have to worry about getting wet. But, I did have a box of Raspberry Bars going, just in case. They didn't finish cooking until just before noon, so most of the potential tasters had gone home to avoid the showers. One smart thing I did on Friday night was to create a little mini-catalog showing some of my dinners from this blogso folks could see what was possible with a solar oven. The Global Sun Oven(R)  is the one I'm using at the Market because it's so much lighter than the SolarChief(R) and is what I've been cooking in for the past five years. I want to show people that it's the process of solar cooking that's important and to choose whichever oven they want to begin to start reducing their fuel bills.
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