Monday, November 02, 2009

Cooking Tip: Use the Sun

Baked Children
Baked Children
Originally uploaded by toastfloats.
In a comment on my last cooking tip, a cruiser-to-be noted that she was considering investing in a solar oven for her boat. I don't want to discourage such investments – if you've got room, the money and the inclination, go for it. We've been lucky enough to taste the output from s/v Totem, and it's a fine addition to any boat cruising south of San Diego. On the other hand, the sun is so intense down here, there are a great many options for solar cooking even without adding a dedicated oven to your lockers.

Sun Tea -- The most obvious thing you can do with the sun is make tea. Add two to four tea bags to a soda bottle full of water. Toss it on the tramp in the morning. Put it in the fridge in the evening. Drink chilled tea all the next day. I recommend using 2 liter green soda bottles for this purpose as the darker color takes up more heat. Any mint, black, or green tea works. Some folks profess to like the fruit teas. I'm not one of them. You can add sugar or honey as a sweetener when you set up the brewing, and it will dissolve into your tea. However, this shortens the useful life of your soda bottle. Since it's not really possible to clean the bottoms and sides of a soda bottle very easily, we get maybe a dozen batches before we give up and drink more Fresca.

Sun Coffee -- Believe it or not, you can use the exact same method to brew a decent batch of iced coffee. Add the grounds directly to the bottle then decant in the evening into a second bottle through a drip coffee filter. The only real challenge is getting the last of the grounds out of your brewing bottle.

Yogurt -- The problem with using a sun-soaked spot on the boat to make yogurt is that it gets too hot. If you've never made yogurt before, it's really easy. Don't panic. Fill a jug, jar, or pot with milk heated to 110 to 120 Fahrenheit. Drop in a big spoonful of active yogurt, usually the last bit from your previous batch or a scoop from a commercial, unsweetened, active brand. Maintain the milk at 110 to 120 degrees for several hours until it gels up. We keep ours under the helm where it is out of the sun but trapped in a hot spot under the bimini.

Heat Bread -- If you have a dark cookie sheet, you can do a really nice job heating and reheating breads, pastries, and tortillas. Put them on paper towels, plates, or napkins in a sunny spot on the deck. Lay the cookie sheet on top. Wait an hour. If you're willing to wait two hours, you can use this same technique to make quesdillas.

Bean Dip -- The kids invented Solar Bean Dip a few weeks ago. In a pan, layer refried beans, minced onions, shredded cheese, and olives. Sit in the sun from about noon till it's time to visit a fellow boat for the cocktail hour. Top with fresh chopped tomatoes, cilantro, salsa, and sour cream. Serve with tortilla chips or tostas.

Drying Fish Jerky
Drying Fish Jerky
Originally uploaded by behang.
Slow Cooking -- Combine the hyper efficiency of your pressure cooker with the insane intensity of the sun to slow cook soups, pot roasts, stews, and bean dishes. Pre-soak beans the night before. Then prepare a soup or stew in the morning. For example, the recipe may call for browning the meat and onions. Put all the ingredients in your pressure cooker and bring to pressure for at least five minutes. Without opening the pot, stick it out on the deck in a sunny spot. At dinner time, you can retrieve your pot and serve. We've averaged between 140 to 180 degrees Fahrenheit for dishes prepared in this fashion indicating that the contents of the pot were slow cooking throughout the day. In other words, the pot never drops below the routine temperature maintained by a crock pot. To date, I've used this technique to make pot roast, chowders of both vegies and meats, chili, and bean soup.

Pizza Box Oven -- If you have kids, don't buy an oven; Have them make one. These things work super well if you start with Bobolli or sliced bollo and build from there, but they do also bake raw dough. The girls recommend that you put your pizza in the “real oven” for the last 5 minutes just to get a browner, drier crust. The pizza box oven is another way to do tasty quesidillas.

* * *

Solar cooking is as much about creativity as it is about harnessing the power of the sun to cook. I have to admit, though, as I swing in the water on a line strung between the hulls trying desperately to stay cool, my real problem is figuring out why you'd want hot food to begin with.


Behan said...

As you know I have become a sun oven bigot! We LOVE ours. And no, I still don't know where we'll stash it for our Pacific crossing... *sigh* ...details. I think the major difference is that you can use it for things that require actual *cooking* and not just heating. When we roasted our first chicken in this thing- well, that did it.

My photo of the fish jerky is looking kinda torqued, let me send you a new one.

Hmmm maybe it's time for me to do that solar cooking blog post I've been kicking around... :-)

Vicki said...

Hi Toast, I don't think we've actually met, although this is the 2nd year we are attending the SHRC and you look really familiar as if I've seen you in the halls. Some of the HRC moms were telling me about your grand adventures and I'm glad to have found your blog to follow your travels.