Friday, June 29

Time, Tide and Dehydrating Veggies Wait for No Man/Woman

Dehydrated Corn
You see, when you're planning a garden in January, the mind plays tricks on you. Gone are the memories of physically planting, pruning, weeding, watering, and harvesting. It's all those pretty pictures in the catalogs that tempt you into imagining all the glorious vegetables (sans work) you'll be enjoying from the upcoming harvests (again, sans work).  Well... suffice to say, seeds were planted, watered, weeded, and, harvesting has begun -- and, let's just say that I'm not interested in looking at seed catalogs, at the moment.  Too busy taking care of business.  The corn on the left has been dehydrated and we'll get to them, later.

The container garden has been non-stop giving of its pattypan squash, green beans, Roma tomatoes, and lettuces.  Beans are on their fifth harvesting. Pattypan squash on left with a cherry tomato plant in front, bean tower in center, and Roma tomatoes at right. You can just see the bolting lettuce plants right of center of the bean tower.

The Lasagna beds were built in March and are filled with zucchini, yellow squash, cucumbers, tomatoes, and onions. The young men who help me can't get over the way the beds were planted and how easy it was, so they made a few for their mother and have become total converts.

Of course, with the produce coming in, that means it's time for canning, freezing, and my favorite, dehydrating.  The Roma tomatoes make the best spaghetti sauce and so I couldn't wait for a full Roma harvest to get started and supplemented with some Early Girls.

When I make my sauces for dehydrating,  it is just the tomatoes, onions, some fresh herbs and garlic, and I don't add water. When it's time to serve the sauce, I'll add other flavorings and spices to suit the meal.  Once the sauce has been reduced by half, I run it through the blender and pour it on my dehydrator trays to make a leather.

It's reconstituted equally, one cup of dehydrated sauce to one cup of liquid. Each tray holds two cups, so it's easy to keep track. And, with just two of us, here, one cup is enough. When it's easy to peel off the tray, but pliable, it's ready for storage. You can either wrap it up in some plastic wrap or cut it in strips before putting into smaller bags.

I simply divided my leather by half a tray and rolled it up in Saran Wrap packages, which were labeled, dated, and then placed in large containers. You can do it this way or simply put your packages in the freezer. I haven't had a problem storing my leathers on my shelves. Do what makes you comfortable.

I didn't plant corn but my sister bought a bag of sixty ears.  To prepare them for dehydrating, they were roasted in the solar oven(s), and then it was on to the next step of dehydrating.  I tried a variety of quick-made solar ovens to take advantage of our brilliant sunny day, and it was a great test for them, as well. I'll be having the visitors at my Solar cookout making their own and wanted to try them out.

Global Sun Oven, Two bags 6 Ears each

Top Left: 20"x30" 'hat'; Lower Left: 18" foil 'hat'
Right: EZ-3 adaptation with 12" sides and 15" height

The Global Sun Oven(R) cooked two batches of 12 ears in four hours. The corn was placed, husks on,  in oven bags, tied, and placed on the oven floor. The larger 'hat' oven cooked five ears in 4.5 hours. There was no front extension and the oven bag was placed directly on the base. The front foil 'hat' oven cooked five ears of corn in just under 4.5 hours and it was the smallest with corn extending beyond the base. In both 'hat' ovens, I rotated the corn halfway through cooking.  Point is, they cooked the corn; but, if making them more permanent, I would definitely make them large enough to handle this size package. The EZ-3 adaptation (not covered with an oven bag) and a Copenhagen designed cooker (not visible in picture) on the right cooked five ears of corn in 3.75 hours, with the corn rotated halfway through cooking. There was also a front reflector and the bag of corn was raised on twigs.

Next step was removing the husks and silks and cutting the kernels off the cob, which were then placed in a single layer on the dehydrator trays. Corn can get very small when fully dehydrated and you either need a screen for the tray, as shown below...

or, the best thing ever, a single layer of fine cheesecloth to stop the dried kernels from falling through. Don't worry about cutting a center hole. It's not needed and then you can lift the whole thing up like a little cloth bag without losing any kernels. I'm not saying I invented the process but I haven't seen it on any dehydrating sites and just think it's the cat's meow for easy dehydrating of small items. The temperature is so low, you don't have to worry about burning.  I do trim the outside edges against each tray so that it doesn't catch when you're checking and rotating trays.

You have to keep checking your veggies so they don't get too dry. You're looking for a kind of leathery sensation without any moisture.  

These are finished and put in a bowl so that they can be stirred until the heat is gone before being put in the storage jars or vacuum-sealed packets.  Using only 40 ears of corn, the end result was 4.5 quarts of dehydrated corn, ready for whatever recipe is around the corner.

To rehydrate, just add an equal amount of warm water to the dehydrated vegetable and let it sit overnight in the refrigerator. Most vegetables can be rehydrated in less time and others added directly to soups and stews and they'll rehydrate during the cooking process, as long as there is enough liquid to match the amount of dried ingredients; but, corn needs a full overnight rehydration, in my opinion, to be at its best. I like to add a little more water to guard against stopping the rehydration too soon. As you can see, there is little or no difference when it's done, that way.  I hope you'll give dehydrating a try, this year.

Sunday, June 24

Summer Squash Swiss Chard Soup - Solar Cooked

I'm a waste not-want not kind of lady. Once I know the edible parts of a plant, they become a part of my regular cooking without the slightest hesitation. I especially love greens – you know, fresh spinach, chard, kale, collards, the tops of root crops, 'wild' greens – I love to mix them for a whole new taste, choosing and changing the fresh herbs that add even more variety to my meals. Keeping a garden increases your greens choices way beyond those available to supermarket shoppers. Oh, yes. It's rather sad that we've become so used to buying just the right vegetables and fruit at the market, perfect in size and color, without any of the rest of the plant attached, that we lose sight of just how much food is actually being thrown away to bring us those perfect specimens.

Today's recipe is one that uses all of the summer squash plant to make a fabulous soup. I know you've heard about frying stuffed squash blossoms but did you know that you can use the young and middle-sized squash leaves for stuffing, just like grape leaves? They combine well with other greens, as well, to make a very healthy side dish. You can use the older larger leaves, too, but they are tough and require some serious long-time cooking before they'll get tender enough to enjoy. Don't worry about the scratchiness of the underside of the leaves. The cooking makes that disappear. 

And, so it is with the hollow stems. This picture shows what goes on beneath that canopy of gorgeous leaves. Bees are doing their thing and some judicious pruning of those stems will keep this plant producing for quite some time. The stems are firm and a bit scratchy with prickles along the string lines but, once you remove the strings (just as you would from pole beans and celery), they are delicious when stuffed and baked. [NOTE: I have had very little success in freezing stems for later use. They must be eaten at time of picking. If any one has been able to store the stems by freezing, please share how you did it.]

For a different crudetés tray, surprise your guests with raw stems cut in two-inch tubes for dipping or filled with your favorite cheese recipe. They have the crunch of celery and are the perfect finger food.

Summer Squash Swiss Chard Soup

6 large summer squash leaves, deveined and chopped
6 summer squash stems, strings removed and chopped
1 small patty pan squash, shredded
1 small zucchini squash, shredded
1 small yellow summer squash, shredded
15 large Swiss chard leaves, stems removed and chopped
1 medium onion, chopped
1 can chicken broth, plus 1 can water
2 T butter
1 T fresh basil, chopped
1 T fresh oregano, chopped
1 T fresh thyme, chopped
1 T fresh tarragon, chopped
1 tsp fresh rosemary, chopped
1/2 tsp fresh stevia, chopped
Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat solar oven to 225°F           3 quart stock pot

  1. Prepare stems by removing strings, bottom to top; then, chop. Use a sharp knife to remove cleaned squash leaves from larger veins. Roll leaf and chop crosswise; place in pot.

  2. Clean and chop chard stems and leaves. Add to pot. (It's not necessary to remove chard leaf from veins.)

  3. Chop medium onion and add to pot.

  4. Remove stem and blossom ends from zucchini, yellow, and patty pan squashes. Do not skin. Shred and add to pot.

  5. Finely chop herbs; mix with salt and pepper; add to pot.

  6. In tempered measuring cup, bring chicken broth and water to a boil; pour over contents of stock pot. Cover and place in solar oven for 1-1/2 to 2 hours. Vegetables should be very tender.

  7. Remove from oven and let cool enough to stop bubbling. Puree in blender/food processor in small amounts; return to pan and heat to serving temperature.

Serve with a dollop of sour cream, yogurt, or a pat of butter. This is truly a delicious soup and a great way to start a meal. Now that you know at least one recipe that uses the whole squash plant, thin your plants to keep them producing and feed your family, while waiting for the smaller squashes to grow to size.

Wednesday, June 20

Kielbasa Potato Stew on Bed of Swiss Chard - Solar Cooked

Maybe, it's the taste combination of sweet and sour, or the bed of Swiss Chard holding your portion -- or, perhaps, the crunchiness of garden-fresh cucumbers on the side -- but, there wasn't the first sense of this being too heavy a meal for a summer day.  There's a taste of Germany in the dressing and a strong desire to lick the plate; so, go slow!

This was my first attempt to use cast-iron in the solar oven and it worked like a charm. I filled it with hot water, first, while chopping the vegetables. All ingredients were zapped in the microwave oven, first, to get them hot before layering in the pot, and the liquid with spices was brought to just under boiling before being pouring over everything. I'm a firm believer in using what you have to make solar cooking easier and using my solar oven as a part of my cooking arsenal not as an adversary!

Kielbasa Potato Stew on Bed of Chard

12 ozs red potatoes, chopped
1 lb Polish Kielbasa, cubed
1 large onion, chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped
1 cup water
2/3 cup cider vinegar
1/4 cup sugar
2 T quick-cooking tapioca
3/4 tsp celery seeds
1/4 tsp black pepper
4-5 medium Chard leaves per person
1 T water

Preheat solar oven to 225F       Covered Dutch Oven

1. As you chop each of the first four ingredients, place them in an oven-proof bowl (I use a tempered pyrex measuring cup) and zap them in the microwave for approximately 60 seconds on HIGH.  Then, layer them, in order given, in Dutch oven.

2. Mix rest of ingredients together in an oven-proof bowl and bring to just under a boil in microwave, approximately 2.5 minutes on HIGH. Pour over ingredients in Dutch Oven. 

3. Cover and bake in solar oven for approximately 2.5 - 3 hours.

4. Place Chard in saucepan and add 1 T water, cook over med-high heat until softened but not cooked enough to lose shape. Arrange drained Chard leaves on serving plate, place Kielbasa-Potato stew on Chard, serve with a side of garden-fresh sliced tomato or cucumber.

Accept well-deserved praise.

Friday, June 15

Solar Banana Honey Custard

We expected a very hot day with cloudless skies, and were not disappointed. It was glorious at the Midtown Market. We had a Jazz trio on the Commons and then a theater choreographer helped the children learn how to dance to Oliver's "Consider Yourself…" They did a great job and may well have been bitten by the theater bug. I had a small hand of bananas waiting to be of service, so I decided to bake this versatile custard dish that can really be used with almost any fruit.

Digging into old recipes, I was looking for one that I remember being able to bake from start to finish, with no stovetop preparation. If you've ever made Forgotten Chocolate Pudding Cake, it's the same principal. You pour the liquid ingredients over top the dry and the result is a fantastic pudding on the bottom at the end of cooking.

Banana Honey Custard
1 large can evaporated milk
1/3 cup light honey
4 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
½ tsp cinnamon
 ½ tsp cardamom
 ½ tsp anise
3-4 cups sliced bananas
1 box vanilla wafers, crushed

Preheat solar oven to 225F       8x8 baking pan, lightly greased

Combine first five ingredients together. Cover bottom of baking pan with a light coating of crushed vanilla wafers. Add a layer of sliced banana coins (or, fruit of your choice). Pour liquid ingredients over fruit slow enough that it doesn't dislodge fruit placement. Cover and bake in solar oven for approximately 1-1/2 – 2 hours. Serve with whipped cream or ice cream.

The samples were not topped with either type of cream but were delicious, nonetheless. Whenever possible, I try to prepare enough food so as not to run out of samples for my visitors.  There are no hot spots in a solar oven and you can stack your foods, as well -- all will be cooked. I like using two pans. Obviously, shallower food will definitely cook in my short cooking time span; but, by using the recipe divided, I'm able to keep one pan warm, until the first pan is empty and no one has to try a cold sample. If not used, I have extra to either store or enjoy. Win-win!

Even though it was only 8:50 in the morning, the oven had reached 275F, lowered to 250F after the cooler food was placed inside, and then rose to just under 300F for cooking. The visitors were duly impressed.

You can just see the second tinfoil pan under the top pan, here.

This is a super-easy recipe to add another dimension to your fruit dishes. The custard is always creamy and adds just enough sweetness to offset the tanginess of some fruits.  I was a little heavy-handed with the vanilla wafer crumbs and made a note to never do that, again. It really takes away from the lightness of the dish. I hope you'll give it a try. What is one of your favorite baked fruit recipes?

Monday, June 11

Stuffed Pattypan Squash - a Memorable Solar Feast

I know, it's another pattypan squash recipe but, I swear, well worth having. This makes an elegant presentation (not mine, but all you great chefs out there can do it!) and it's so easy -- never mind easy, it's jaw-dropping delicious, and you simply have to try it.  After all, it's spring. The gardens are producing. There will be more. 

Served with a Peppered Delmonico Steak and Roasted Onion, eyes were on the plate and conversation at a grunting level. (Oh, Lordy, I forgot a green contrast color, AGAIN!)

The harvesting begins and, this year, I have very happy gardens. And, the bees are back! Yay! Up to three per flower! Not Bumble bees, but honey bees. Could the plague be behind us? I hope so. Plan on getting my own mini-hive, this year, too. 

To get started, you'll want to hollow out the pattypan squashes, leaving a little less than a quarter-inch sidewall. The pulp will go into the stuffing.  While hollowing, chopping, mincing, and doing all the other preparations, pre-cook your rice. I used 3/4 cup of arborio rice, 1/4 cup sunflower seeds, 1/2 tsp salt, 1/8 tsp black pepper, and just enough chicken stock, approximately two cups, to bring it to an al dente stage. When done, remove from heat.

Preheat the solar oven to 225F. Lightly grease your baking dish or line it with tinfoil that has been lightly sprayed with oil.

Pattypan Squash Stuffing

Pattypan squash pulp, chopped fine
1/2 medium onion, chopped fine
1 T fresh mint, chopped fine
4 cloves garlic, chopped fine
Salt and pepper, to taste
1-3/4 cups cooked rice mixture
1/2 tsp butter per stuffed squash

Combine all ingredients, except butter, in a large mixing bowl. Carefully fill squash cavities, ending with a rounded top mound. Top each filled squash with 1/2 tsp butter; place in baking dish, cover and bake in solar oven for 1-1/2 to 2 hours. (My oven rose to 300F). Check for doneness after first hour by lightly pressing against stuffing. If it doesn't give easily, remove cover and return squash to solar oven for another 20 minutes for browning.

I baked the onions alongside the squash. Placed each in a tinfoil 'bowl' and sprinkled them with some salt, pepper, and a bit of beef bouillon. Covered the pan and let the sun do its thing. Doesn't it make a pretty holiday plate? Well, if I had remembered the green garni sprig...


Tuesday, June 5

Pattypan Squash Frittata Wins Solar Contest at Midtown

Pattypan Squash Frittata... is the perfect entree for a summer brunch. Well, that's what I think. It's light and chock full of goodness. With a noon deadline, solar-cooked items have to be cooked at the Market and ready to share by eleven to get the crowds over to my booth. This particular day was a real contest. I came fully-prepared to construct my frittata on site and had all ingredients ready. Ha. Ha. Ha. Checked the weather channel -- [sunny skies, check]. Beautiful blue sky with rising sun at 6:15 a.m. -- [blue sky for miles and sun rising, check]. Erected tent, prepared tables, set up solar oven, sun rising over tallest building -- [sun ready for work, check].  Assemble ingredients for frittata and, [er, uh, why has everything become less brilliant?] I turned my back for half a second and the sun is now a beautiful globe behind complete cloud cover! What?!?!? Returned ingredients to cooler. Well. Just. Fine.

Most of the Midtown patrons are becoming familiar with my booth and what solar cooking is all about, so, they'll wait for samples until another day.  It was time to enjoy the weather, sit, crochet, and look at my new sign!  Isn't it pretty?  But, I think it's going to take some getting used to before I stop strangling myself every time I need to get into my trunk!

The inspiration for today's meal came from a bountiful harvest of pattypan squash and one sneaky monster zucchini hiding at the very base of the plant. Had I not seen it, that would have been the end of that plant's production! Those pattypans are 5" across!

Expecting to cook, all the components for the frittata were prepared and separately bagged before leaving home so I didn't have to do much more than put it all together. The squashes, lettuce, and onion were sweated in the microwave so they'd cool before being mixed with the eggs. I also pre-chopped the herbs and put them all together with the spices and dry cream. The water and olive oil was in another baggie, and the eggs kept in the shell in another bag. Yes, I said lettuce. I wanted this to be a very light frittata and using chard or another green would make it too 'green' heavy and this was the pattypan squash's time to shine.

The clouds disappeared at 9:40 a.m. and by ten, the solar oven was at 300F. I started putting everything together, in between visitors' questions. Poured it into a foil-lined spring pan, added a tinfoil cover, and it all went into the oven at 10:25, bringing the temperature back down to 275F, which was just fine because I knew that was plenty of time for an egg-based dish to cook. 

Even in my conventional oven, I cover frittatas for the first 40 minutes of cooking because I don't like that 'rubbery' look they get when left uncovered. It was a great opportunity to show people that even with the occasional cloud and temperature drop to about 250F, a solar oven will continue to cook. It might take a little longer, but it will safely cook your food.  I removed the cover at 11:10 (the center was just a tad jiggly) and returned it to the solar oven to finish cooking. It was done by 11:20 and I decided to share some with my fellow vendors and save the rest for my lunch at home.

The texture was divine and the eggs fully-cooked and light. See the missing part? In my haste to share a few token samples, I almost forgot to take a picture!  Then, it was into the Wonder Box Cooker to keep it warm. Will serve this with one or two thick slices of garden-fresh tomato. It's all right -- you may envy me.

Pattypan Squash Frittata 

3 large pattypan squash, very thinly sliced
1/2 medium zucchini, very thinly sliced
1/2 medium onion, chopped
8-9 large lettuce leaves, roughly chopped (or, your choice of greens)
4 large eggs
3 oz white cheddar and 1 oz mozzarella cheeses, finely shredded (your choice)
2 T water
1 T olive oil
1/4 tsp dry cream
1 T fresh chopped oregano
1/2 T fresh chopped thyme
1 T fresh chopped parsley
1 tsp fresh chopped rosemary
1/2 tsp fresh chopped stevia
1 pinch ground mild curry
Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat solar oven to 225F  2-quart covered casserole (or, use tinfoil)

1. Sweat squash, onions, and greens, in the microwave in a covered dish. Do not add water. When squash begins to get translucent, remove all and set aside to cool.

2. Chop all fresh herbs together and combine with rest of ingredients in a large mixing bowl; add cooled squashes and onion, and blend. 

3. Pour into lightly greased or tinfoil-lined casserole, cover, and bake in solar oven for 1.5 - 2 hours, removing cover in last fifteen minutes of cooking.  Frittata is ready when center is set or knife comes out clean when testing for doneness.

Oh, yes, my Pattypan Squash Frittata and I danced with the sun and we won!

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