Thursday, January 31

Veggie Tart with Solar Crust – a Mainstream Energy Mix

Like the rest of the country, we've been dealing with unseasonal mid-winter high-temp days. We know it's temporary and some of you have already felt the high winds, storms, and sudden drop. We expect some serious weather tonight but, for now, the midday sun is shining and that's all that's needed to take advantage of free solar energy. However, this is definitely a time when I fully expect to finish cooking in my conventional oven. What I do when that happens is use the same temperature at the highest the solar oven reached so that the timing isn't off.

I was late in pruning my trees, this year. Yes, I know that's wrong but the weather is confusing things. There were BUDS on the fruit trees and that's just wrong… in my opinion. So, pruning accomplished, I checked the yard for loose items that might become missiles in the high winds to come. How serendipitous! There were foods that simply won't stop producing -- onions, purslane, Swiss chard, rosemary, thyme, and mint. Not a lot, mind you, but enough to add to something else to make a complete meal. Something like a tart. Oh, yeah.

Purslane is very high in omega fats and good for you, but the tiny leaves and stems don't make for the best eating experience, if you're used to larger leaves like spinach, kale, etc. It's all good for you and I don't strip the leaves from the succulent stems – I chop the whole mess and add them to other greens or recipes. This was going to be a real winter meal, using foods I've found with foods I've put by from the garden.

First step was to make basic pie dough, using lard because I like my crusts very flaky, and prebake the shell for the tart. The solar oven had reached 275F and the shell was done in under an hour. By the time it cooled, some veggies had been chopped, others rehydrated, and sautéed items cooled, ready for baking. I saved the bigger (and NOT by much) chard leaves for layering, chopping the rest to add to the purslane.

You just want it softened and still very green. You can't turn your back when doing this or they'll brown in a second.

I like my tarts layered, whenever possible. Grated cheese on the bottom, followed by sautéed mushrooms, carmelized onions, softened purslane and chard, kernel corn, chard leaves. The chard leaves were softened in the microwave by placed them in a wet paper towel sandwich and zapped for a minute.

The egg mixture was poured over all and topped with a sprinkling of parsley before going into the 275F conventional oven. By now, the clouds had made their entrance and, at 2:30pm, it was dark outside. So, I let the sun rest…

An hour and a half later, the tart was done. You can almost see the knife line where I checked for doneness.

Tart filling: green onions, purslane, Swiss chard, rehydrated Portobello button mushrooms, rehydrated kernel corn, 4 rehydrated eggs, half and half cream, shredded smoked cheddar cheese, fresh rosemary, fresh thyme, fresh mint, mace, turmeric, salt and pepper. Unfortunately, I have no measurements because I was in a hurry and just threw it together.

Folks, it's really hard to mess up a tart so let your creative side loose and it will be done when the eggs are set and the knife comes out clean!

I almost put some leftover chicken in the tart but, at the last minute, decided to just use the veggies and it was not only delicious but very filling. Hope you give it a try and let us know what you think.


Sunday, January 20

Winter Chicken Casserole and Wonder Box

Solar cooking in the winter requires planning. With the lower trajectory of the sun, your peak cooking time is from ten a.m. through two p.m. That doesn't mean you can't cook a little earlier or later. What it does mean is that you might have to combine your energy-saving methods when you lose track of time and decide to start solar cooking at two-thirty in a winter afternoon! I'm not going to mention who did this but I'm sure that even without psychic powers you can figure it out. I used a two-quart Dutch oven filled almost to the top for the casserole, as you can see from the photo.

There was nothing extra special about the ingredients, just a combination of chicken, carrots, onions, celery, and red pepper, with rice. The sushi rice was pre-soaked for fifteen minutes before cooking and was ready to be added to the other ingredients when it was time. While the rice was cooking, I sautéed the onions, pepper, carrots and celery in a tablespoon each of lard and butter, in a heavy skillet; then, added the chicken and let the mixture cook for another two to three minutes. The rice was just underdone but ready to be added to the skillet. For extra liquid, I had blended one egg with 3/4 cup of chicken broth, 1/4 cup heavy cream, 1/4 cup white wine (optional), 1/8 tsp fresh rosemary, 1 tsp fresh oregano, 1 tsp fresh thyme, 1/4 tsp dried stevia, 3/4 tsp salt, 1/2 tsp black pepper, and 1/4 tsp mace, and then poured it over the chicken mixture in the saucepan.

Now, I could have sautéed my ingredients in the bottom of the Dutch oven, but a two-quart pot was just too small and I was afraid the high sides would have steamed the veggies rather than sautéing them. I did, however, preheat it with hot water before transferring all the ingredients from the skillet.
The casserole was placed in the 225F solar oven and baked from two-thirty until three-fifteen, when the sun disappeared over my roof and I had to finish it up in the Wonder Box. Of course, I could have used my conventional oven but I prefer to save energy whenever I can and that's what the Wonder Box is for; right?

What I should have done was use a more shallow casserole pan for a winter casserole and started baking around ten a.m., but I like testing the limits and, of course, I knew I had both the Wonder Box and my conventional oven to finish baking, if necessary.

It's been a very busy January getting stock ready for the opening of the Market in April, but some things can't be put off when you're the only one doing the work. Will be adding one or two new items and having plenty of my SolarCubs(tm) to help introduce solar cooking to everyone.  I hope you'll give this recipe a try and let me know what ingredients you changed, if any.

Thursday, January 10

Solar Salmon Pie

Thought I'd check out the grounds before cooking.  Isn't this a great winter harvest scavenged from the gardens and yard? Some fresh chard, purslane, green onions, garlic chive, rosemary, thyme, and oregano, decided to check out our unusually warm winter days and, now, it's just a matter or putting it all to good use. Let me go on record to say that the temperatures do NOT make me very happy. I have fruit trees that need their wintering and I will thank Mother Nature to stop interfering in the process. I do understand that my pastry fish isn't shaped like salmon; but, then, I'd have to carve out the river and the bear, too, and that just seemed a bit much...
The purslane will be a nice addition to the chard and I won't have to go into my dehydrated chard cache. I want to try something a little different in the solar oven, today, and glad that old Mr. Sun is shining while I can still remember the thought! I'm going to use two round 9" pans to bake the pie and remove the top in the last half hour for browning. If it doesn't work, I have no problem browning inside with my kitchen torch.

Salmon Pie

1 14-3/4 oz can salmon
1 15 oz can diced potatoes, rinsed (or, two med potatoes, pre-cooked, peeled and diced)
1 egg
2 large green onion bulbs and a small amount of green stems
8 or 9 medium chard leaves, chopped and lower stem removed
1/4 red bell pepper, chopped
6 or 7 garlic chive stems, chopped fine
1 T lard
1 T unsweetened butter
1-1/2 T flour
1-1/2 cups water or vegetable broth
1/2 tsp mace
1/2 tsp fennel seeds, crushed
1/2 tsp salt
1/8/ tsp black pepper
1 tsp fresh oregano, chopped
1/2 tsp fresh thyme, chopped
1/8 tsp fresh rosemary, chopped
1/4 cup white wine, optional
pie crust for one topping

Over med-high heat in heavy skillet, saute spices until you can start to smell them, add onions and bell pepper and cook until soft; add flour and let cook until it begins to brown and then slowly add water and keep stirring to prevent lumps. A quarter cup white wine will pop it up a notch!

In large bowl, mix salmon, potatoes, and egg, together. Add herbs and greens to mixture in skillet, stir to combine, and then add salmon mixture. Remove from heat and mix thoroughly but gently. Pour into baking pan.

Cover with pie dough and cut to fit inside baking pan. Make slits in top to allow steam to escape. Add optional decorative dough piece and make slits through design. Cover with second inverted baking pan and secure with two or three binder clips.

Place in SolarWear(tm) and bake in solar oven at 275F for 1-1/2 to 2 hours. Remove top baking pan and return to oven to brown top of crust, or use kitchen torch.  Share with loved ones.  A touch of citrus is a delicious counter to the pie; don't you think?

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