Alas, the Midtown Farmers Market is closed for the winter break, but it has been a fantastic season. For our final two Saturdays, we were blessed with beautiful sunny mornings and bright blue skies as we said our goodbyes to our regular visitors. My canine friends made sure to drop by for their farewell organic doggie treat and promised to see me again in the Spring.
Even though the last two Saturdays were bright and sunny, I had to stop cooking because sunrise had moved to almost behind my booth. (There's nothing like solar cooking to become familiar with just how fast that old sun does move across the sky!) But, winter weather is on its way, make no mistake. As we were closing this past Saturday, the predicted cloud cover moved in over the sun and we ended up with a cloudy, rainy, weekend, as predicted. More importantly, both the Market and the 66th Annual Raleigh Christmas Parade was blessed with gorgeous weather, and the holiday season was properly launched.
Lower temperatures have begun to creep into NC and it was so cold two weeks ago that I couldn't wait to get home to make a thick hot solar-baked chowder. I knew there would only be a few hours of sun left and I probably wouldn't get anything into the solar oven until at least two o'clock but it wasn't the outside temperature that worried me. I just knew the sun would disappear over my rooftop by four o'clock, so I had to hustle and also give my oven some help. That meant making sure both my liquids and dense vegetables were zapped in the microwave to get everything up to the heat of the solar oven so there would be very little drop in temperature.
A favorite winter pot is my oval four-quart covered roaster. By spreading the contents and lowering their depth, the sun doesn't have to work as hard and the cooking time generally stays below two hours. When it was time to put the chowder in the solar oven, the temperature was 275° F. The chowder recipe is one I've been using for more than 40 years, changing ingredients on a whim, and I really can't recall the original source. But I did try to pay attention to what I was doing, this time, and the following recipe is what I used.
Solar Baked Crab Chowder
8 ounces chopped crab meat (canned or imitation)
3/4 cup white fish, cubed, (firm not flaky -- cod, flounder, tilapia, etc.)
3 ounces chopped clams (optional), reserve juice
1 1/2 cups cubed white potatoes (red potatoes won't dissolve)
1/2 cup kernel corn
1/2 cup chopped cabbage (the firm white part, not the leaves)
1 medium chopped onion
2 cloves garlic, chopped (optional)
1/2 cup of white wine
3 tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon anise
1/2 teaspoon dill seeds
1 teaspoon chopped parsley
1 1/2 cups fish stock or water (use juices from any canned items)
3/4 cup evaporated milk (whole milk or cream)
Combine all ingredients in stockpot, reserving milk until near end of cooking time. Cover and place in solar oven for approximately one and a half to two hours; remove from oven and stir in milk that has been zapped in the microwave; return to solar oven for additional heating, if necessary. Serve in bowls or mugs with a garni of parsley and/or paprika or a pat of butter and your favorite bread or crackers. This is a thick chowder. If you prefer a thinner broth, simply add more liquid.
Most of you know that I adore cabbage and always look for ways to use it in my cooking; but, if you don't feel the same, you can use celery, chard stems, bok choy, whatever, for a 'crunchy' green vegetable. It's fun to try different things and I hope you'll try my recipe. Just be as creative as you want and you can enjoy original baked chowder every week!
Tuesday, November 6
Well, we've officially entered Fall and the days are getting shorter. But, with just a little planning, there is still enough sun to bake a delicious meal. Knowing what I was going to cook the night before, the food was placed in the solar oven by 11:30 a.m. I had errands to run and came home to a cooked meal around four p.m., So, I'm not exactly sure when the actual cooking was done.
It was the middle of the week and comfort food was my goal, to help take the bite out of the air. Oh? Did I not mention that the temperature had dropped considerably, as well? It was enough to make me put my jacket in the car, let me tell you.
Roasted Chicken Thighs
6 deboned chicken thighs
2 T olive oil
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
1 cup chicken stock
1/8 tsp anise
1/8 tsp mace
1 tsp basil
1/8 tsp cream tartar
2 T flour
2 cup chicken stock
1/4 cup heavy cream
Preheat solar oven to 225F Use covered pan
Place olive oil, salt and pepper, in casserole rotate chicken thighs until covered. Add chicken stock, anise, mace, basil, and cream of tartar; stir to blend, cover, and place in solar oven.
When chicken is cooked through, prepare a roux with 1/2 cup chicken stock, 2 T flour, and 1/4 cup heavy cream and heat thoroughly in microwave or over med-high heat in a saucepan. Add broth from cooked chicken to finish gravy. When flour is cooked, add chicken thighs to gravy and serve.
Solar Roasted Cob Corn
6 ears sweet corn
1/4 tsp olive oil
6 sheets tin foil
Place foil shiny side up on flat surface. Spread olive oil over center, add salt and pepper, roll ear in mixture, and create a sealed packet with foil. Place in a single layer on tray and bake in solar oven until done.
Everything turned out moist and delicious, and cooked to perfection. I can't even begin to describe the corn without becoming disgustingly rapturous. The kernels were permeated with flavor and full, tender, coming off the cob at the slightest bite. I attribute it to the slow, gentle, solar cooking, and will definitely do it, again.
Playing with the herbs and spices resulted in a new and delicious flavor . The gravy was just thick enough to serve over rice or noodles without being runny. I hope you'll give it a try.