Sunday, April 29

Midtown Market is Open!

The Midtown Market at North Hills is now officially open for the 2012 Season and it's going to be great! We have many returnee vendors, along with some new, that make it not only a source of fresh garden produce and herbs, but delicious breads, pastries, pasties, fresh fish, and crafts. Visitors can walk around, greeting friends, sampling goodies, while enjoying live music and participating in family events.

My booth on solar cooking will offer samples, once the sun rising clears the movie theater. We're only open from 8am to Noon, so the cooking time is limited, if there's to be any samples. This year, we'll be building toward National Solar Cooking Day. It's nationally celebrated on August 1st; but, Midtown is a Saturday market, so we'll be celebrating it on the Commons on Saturday, August 4th. Anyone in the area who has a solar oven is invited to participate and share their experiences and favorite recipes.  You may not be able to visit us, but, why not take a moment to hop over and like the Midtown Farmers Market Raleigh FB page.  We'd really love your support. Oh! You can also visit and like my Mainstream Solar Cooking FB page, too!

Did you notice the Wonder Box Cooker on the left, behind the e-Reader covers?  It's a lovely alternative for long-term cooking when there's no sun. The process is a little different from using the solar oven. The Wonder Box uses heat retention and insulation. Mine was made from 100% cotton with an insulating filler of the very small styrofoam beads. Once I found out that a fellow solar cooker, Txazlady at Adventures in Solar Cooking,  had been using one she got as a gift from her daughter, I just had to make one.

I've placed it in a 20-quart squared plastic tub so that it doesn't flop over. The top and bottom are loose-filled bags and are meant to conform to the actual pot placed inside. So, the tub (or, cardboard box, if you want) keeps it in position. Because it was such a cold, windy, day and I was at the Market, I tied the top over the base so that curious visitors wouldn't take the top off and let all the heat out.

 If you want to keep the inside clean, use a towel around the pot or a SolarWear(R) carrier for easy removal.  Once you've placed your vessel inside and added the cover, you DON'T open it for at least three or four hours.  Foods must be preheated or parcooked and liquids boiled for at least ten minutes before being placed inside the oven. Before I left the house at 6:30am, I prepared split pea soup with one cup of overnight-soaked dried split peas plus 3.5 cups of chicken stock placed in a one-quart canning jar, added some herbs and spices, and cooked it in the microwave for seven minutes to bring it all to a complete boil, then inverted the cover in the ring so that it wouldn't seal, placed it in the carrier and then the Wonder Cooker.  There would be no samples, today, just preparing my own lunch.

Half of the soup was already in my bowl before I remembered to take a picture. The jar was filled to the shoulders.  I have never used the Wonder Box Cooker outside of my kitchen and wondered how it would work on a 55F day with 10-15mph wind gusts.  This was a real test for it.  I didn't remove the top until I got home around 1:30pm and was delighted to discover that the food was at eating temperature (95F -- I like my soups hot!) after almost seven hours! That's a very good result, as most sites tell you that you need to reheat foods after four hours. I think that would definitely be true for more dense foods, like chicken and stews. You are using energy before placing foods in the box, but so do you use energy when parcooking foods for conventional or solar cooking. There are patterns galore on the web to make your own, and I will be offering both patterns and/or made-to-order at my booth.

As an aside, yes, you can just wrap your cooking pot in towels and stick them in a box; but, most mainstream women I know want something a little classier that will match the decor. There's always a much cheaper way of doing things but I think it's important to feed the soul with beauty, too, whenever possible.

There's just enough of my handcrafts so that the booth isn't entirely empty; but I'm especially proud of my new Sunny Daze Crocheted Dolls collection. It's my own design and I've done them so the clothes don't come off and the hair doesn't fly all over. Each has a pocket declaring their love of solar cooking, too! Reasonably priced, they make wonderful gifts for doll lovers of all ages. Here are just a few.

In keeping with seeing old friends and meeting new at the Market, I'd like to also extend a hearty hello and thank-you for all my new followers.  I really appreciate each and every one of you and hope you'll discover just how much fun and exciting it is to save energy while solar cooking.

Monday, April 23

Sharlene's Slumgullion from the Solar Oven

Perhaps a rough definition of slumgullion is in order, here. Basically, it's a watery meat stew and some vegetables. Webster's Dictionary suggests it's a combination of slum slime and the English 'gullion' mud, cesspool, first used around 1890. Other suggestions are from the muddy deposits in a mining sluice and the Irish Gaelic 'goilin', mud, pit.  It can also refer to a beverage made thin with water, the refuse from processing whale carcasses. And, of course, you have a dandified version of slumgullion at and other cooking sites. I do promise you that my recipe does NOT include whale carcass refuse, slime from a mining sluice, or mud from an English cesspool! I, too, have my limits.
No, my version of slumgullion is far more refined and slumdeliumptuoulicious. You can find everything at your neighborhood grocers in pretty packages and not get a drop of mud in the car! It super easy to make, looks like a loose stew, and will feed a crowd.

Sharlene's Slumgullion
1 package defrosted ready-to-cook meatballs
1 medium onion, chopped
1 bell pepper, finely chopped
4 cloves finely-chopped garlic
14 oz tomato puree
15 oz beef broth/stock plus 15 oz hot pasta water
1 carrot, finely-chopped (it will almost disappear)
8 oz parboiled ziti (or your favorite cut pasta)
7 oz kernel corn
2 T olive oil/tallow/lard
1 T fresh finely-chopped Italian parsley
1 T fresh finely-chopped oregano
1 T fresh finely-chopped chives
2 T molasses
1 tsp fresh finely-chopped stevia
1 tsp yellow mustard
1 tsp salt
1/8 tsp black pepper

Preheat solar oven to 225F.   6-quart stock pot

1.  Precook pasta just to al dente, while preparing vegetables. Drain, reserving water, and set aside. Finely-chop onion, bell pepper, garlic, and carrot.

2.  In a high-sided sauce pan over medium-high heat, saute onions and garlic in 2 T olive oil until starting to brown; add rest of chopped vegetables and stir until they soften.

3. Add tomato puree and beef broth; add meatballs and bring to high simmer, heating through. Using hand masher, crush meatballs in pan into small chunks; pour contents of sauce pan into stock pot, add hot pasta water, corn, cooked ziti, and rest of ingredients; stir to blend.

4. Cover and bake in solar oven for approximately 1.5 to 2 hours.

Serve with favorite stew crackers or breads. This has nothing to do with "pretty is, pretty does." It performs and surrounds you with a table of rollin' eyes and gnashin' teeth, and grateful burps! Enjoy.

Lots of juice with every spoonful! A meal in itself.

Monday, April 16

Rotolone with Collard Greens - Solar Baked

Solar Rotolone with Collard Greens

OMG, this is my 200th post! Who knew I could do it? 'Never mind that, who knew I'd live long enough to enjoy solar rotolone! Most Italian mamas save Rotolone for special occasions because the preparation is so intensive -- but, so well worth it.  A traditional spinach-ricotta cheese filling makes this uber delicious. My garden spinach wasn't ready, so I used some fresh collards from my daughter's garden and the result was fantastic. If you would like to know more about rotolone, here's Marta Manceau of Umbria, Italy, giving step-by-step instructions on how she makes what used to be Tenor Luciano Pavarotti's favorite dish.

I made fresh pasta, sauteed the filling, and parboiled the filled roll on the range top for a few minutes before the first baking was done in the solar oven.  The collards were sliced crosswise, then chopped, and cooked on high in the microwave for about five minutes, and then allowed to cool -- and, you'll see why they had to cool, in a moment.

Homemade pasta dough: 1.5 cups of all-purpose flour, a large pinch of salt, two medium eggs, and a teaspoon of olive oil. It all went into the food processor and run until it pulled away from the sides forming a ball of dough.  I plopped it onto my pastry board dusted with a little flour and gave that old dough ball about ten full kneads, wrapped it in a clean cotton towel and let it rest for about 30 minutes. I used the resting time to prepare my own rotolone filling. You don't have to use all the herbs that I do. I just love to blend my garden-fresh herbs to see what happens. Collards can be bitter, so don't leave out the stevia or your favorite sweetener.

Collards-Cheese Filling
1/4 pound bacon, fried and crumbled (optional fat)
1 medium onion, chopped
1 shallot, chopped
6 cloves garlic, chopped
5 ozs chopped shitake mushrooms, drained and dry
2 cups collards, cooked
2 T fresh chopped chives
1.5 T fresh chopped oregano
1 tsp fresh chopped thyme
2 tsps fresh chopped Italian parsley
1 tsp fresh chopped rosemary
1 tsp fresh chopped ginger (optional)
1/2 tsp fresh chopped lavender
1 tsp fresh chopped basil
1/2 tsp fresh chopped stevia
1/2 tsp salt
1/8 tsp black pepper
1 T corn starch
2 medium eggs
1 cup ricotta cheese
1/4 cup shredded mild cheddar cheese
1/4 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
1/4 cup breadcrumbs
1/2 cup butter
1 T fresh chopped sage

Directions: Cook bacon over medium heat; remove and drain on paper towels. Saute onion, shallot, and garlic in bacon grease until just beginning to brown; add mushrooms, stir and cook for another minute or so, and add the crumbled bacon. Remove from heat and add to bowl of collards; let cool. In small bowl, combine all the herbs and spices with corn starch; set aside.

When collard mixture is cooled; place in food processor and add herb mixture and eggs. (The eggs would have cooked if added to the hot collards.) Pulse until smooth; pour into large bowl and fold in cheeses and breadcrumbs. Preheat solar oven to 225F.

Putting it all together!

Roll out the pasta into a very thin (1/16th of an inch, if you can) rectangle about the size of your pastry mat.

Spread mixture over pasta up to an inch from all edges.

 From short edge, gently roll pasta and filling into a long tube. Cut ends even and use a fork to seal. Wet top edge of pasta and press against roll.

Gently roll rotolone into a double-thick cheesecloth roll and secure ends with kitchen string or rubber bands.  Fill deep six-quart pot or wide high-sided skillet with salted water and bring to boil.

Place rotolone in boiling water, slowly, and it will ease itself to fit contours of the pot. I had my Dutch oven with more boiling water at the side so that the roll would be completely covered. But, this was a big roll and I wanted to heat it through and curve a little more before submerging it into the deeper pot so that the pasta wouldn't break and ooze out filling, as well as bring down the boiling water already in the pot. After approximately three minutes, it was firm enough to transfer to the Dutch oven. Cover and let cook in solar oven for approximately 50 minutes.

Remove rotolone from solar oven and gently remove cheesecloth cover. Slice into rounds and place in baking dish. Melt butter and chopped sage leaves together; pour over rotolone. Return to solar oven and bake an additional 25 to 30 minutes or until lightly browned. Lift lower corner of solar oven door with a matchstick to reduce condensation. If not brown enough for you, place under broiler for a minute or use your kitchen torch.

Be nice and share. I served this with kernel corn and top sirloin. It's very rich and you could actually just serve the rotolone with a fresh salad by increasing the portions.

By adding a touch of stevia, the collards were a great substitution for the customary spinach and the herb blend was delicious. But, the buttery sage topping moves it into the sublime. You can see how this is a dish for special occasions. No doubt about it, it's work intensive, but, oh, so, yummy! I hope you'll give it a try. Who know? You could end up singing like Pavarotti! I can just hear him singing, "Happy 200th Posting, to You..." to me. Can't you?

Wednesday, April 11

Solar Pulled Pork and Hidden Vegetables

I love vegetables and it's hard to believe that there are some people who don't.  So, in some kitchens, deception is the only answer to getting vegetables into the family diet for all their good vitamins and nutrients. Enter [ta-da da-dah dah daaaah!] - dehydrated vegetables! Yes, my pulled pork sauce has been created from a powdered blend of dehydrated garden produce harvested from last year's garden. If you didn't dehydrate your vegetables, you can still prepare this absolutely delicious sauce with canned items and your blender. It just won't have a garden-fresh taste because dehydrated is as close to fresh as you can get, short of pulling the vegetables off the plant! 

With my cabinet door spice pallette making everything so visible, I just let the old imagination go, and this incredible sauce was the result. In fact, it was so good that I totally forgot to add the kernel corn side dish to the plate until after all the photos had been taken and we were halfway through dinner! Thank the Lord I was given a neck to hold my head when my thinking is on hiatus or I'd still be looking for it!

Pulled Pork and Hidden Vegetables
2 Large Tomatoes or 8oz tomato sauce (16 slices dehydrated tomatoes)
1 medium onion  (1/4 cup dehydrated onion flakes)
1 hot pepper or 1/8 tsp chipotle (1 dehydrated large hot pepper)
1 zucchini  (14 slices dehydrated zucchini)
1/2 tsp salt
1/8 tsp black pepper
1 tsp marjoram leaves
1 tsp stevia/sugar
1 tsp basil leaves
1/2 tsp crushed fennel seeds
7 crushed juniper berries
1 tsp orange Tang
1/2 tsp ground anise
1 T corn starch
1-3/4 cups chicken broth
1 lb pork ribs, country style
1 T olive oil
2 T butter

Preheat solar oven to 225F   Use a covered roasting pan

1. Place all ingredients in blender and puree. End result should be at least two cups of sauce. Add more broth, if necessary. (If using dehydrated vegetables, powder with all dry ingredients, first, before adding broth.) This is the color of the dehydrated blend; canned sauce will be redder.

2. In a heavy skillet over medium-high heat, Sear pork ribs in 1 tablespoon olive oil; place in roasting pan.

3.  Add pureed sauce to skillet, bring to bubbling. Add 2 tablespoons of butter, stir to blend while sauce thickens and bubbles start to burst.

4. Pour over ribs in roasting pan, raising ribs to let sauce cover bottom, too.

5. Cover and bake in solar oven for approximately 1-1/2 to 2 hours. Check after first hour and turn ribs over in sauce (optional). The longer the cooking time, the more tender the ribs. This is a great solar slow-cooking recipe.

6. When ribs are cooked, remove from oven and pull meat apart with forks; thoroughly stir shredded meat into sauce.

Serve with your favorite sides. I used rice to sop up all that delicious sauce and a cold slaw on thin (barely an 1/8 of an inch) apple slices to offset the heat from the peppers. 

Oh, yeah --  some kernel corn, too!

Saturday, April 7

Blueberry Muffins, Solar Baked - Crazy Cooking Challenge

Here's April's Crazy Cooking Challenge from Tina Hudgens at Mom's Crazy Cooking, and this time it's a perfect spring challenge -- Blueberry Muffins! As always, the point is to highlight the recipes of other non-professional cooking bloggers and help them get followers, too, so I leave the recipe at their site in hopes that you'll be so intrigued, that you'll pay them (and, all the other entrants!) a visit. Enjoy the blueberry season with my recipe found at FoodBlogga. It's her mother's recipe from the old Jordan Marsh Blueberry Muffins that were sold in Boston, Mass.

I did two variations, muffins, and -- muffin TOPS! I love my new pan and fell in love with the results. I've always preferred the tops to the whole muffin and, now, I am a happy cook. But, don't get fooled. Those muffin tops take as much batter as the muffins, themselves, so you're still eating the same amount of delicious blueberry goodness!

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