Thursday, September 18, 2008

Solar cooking with whatever you've got

Lynda has experimented with pizza box cookers.

Free is making a panel cooker from a car sunshade. (And has other plans too.)

Solar Cookers International are currently promoting the 'Fun-Panel solar cooker', which they say you can make in under an hour - with a single cardboard box, some foil, tape, string and glue. (Plus an oven bag.) The box cooker we made this year was pretty simple - but this is simpler! I'm keen to try it.

You generally need to solar cook in a thin, dark pot that will absorb the heat. However, thin dark pots that are the right size for your cooker are not always easy to find. In the book Cooking with Sunshine, the authors give several ideas for improvising:

* You can paint the outside of a pot black.

* You can drape a black cloth over your pot.

* You can even cook baked potatoes or corn in old black socks!

Guest posting

This isn't food related at all - but I've just written a guest post for author Tim Jones' fascinating website - about my OTHER passion, children's literature. That's here.

(Hmm ... I can perhaps make a tenuous solar cooking connection, as Tim is not only an author but a sustainable energy activist ...)

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Wild concoctions

I've never been one for precision with quantities and measurements - as anyone who has ever tried to teach me cooking, woodwork, metalwork, or craft would attest to. (And so would the World Sweet World editors, who had to try and take a photo of my solar box cooker that didn't show up all its rough edges and irregularities!)

BUT - I've set myself a task to try and keep track of recipes I experiment with, so that as well as ditching the ones that seem hopeless, I can replicate the ones that work, and refine the ones that almost work.

I've set up another blog as an online recipe journal where I'm going to record the recipes that I'm completely happy with, and want to be able to repeat. It's here - at Wild Conconctions.

(Only one recipe there so far, and I'm not sure how fast I'll be adding them, but at least I can now.)

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Now I know it's really spring

The spring issue of World Sweet World is out.

I just love this little DIY magazine, and not because I have articles in it. (It's more like the other way round; I wanted to write articles for it because I love it.)

If I had to sum up World Sweet World in one word, it would be 'friendly'. Reading it makes you feel a part of something good. (It has many other virtues too of course - it looks beautiful, for one.)

I have an article in this issue about making and using solar cookers. I also interviewed children's writer and illutrator Ruth Paul for a second article about wind farms and children's environmental picture books. (They sound like disparate subjects, but somehow it worked. Ruth lives right by the Project Westwind wind farm site - so she has an interesting perspective on wind power.)

The spring World Sweet World also contains a nice bread recipe, an article about eco-friendly coffins, and a lot of other things that I didn't get a chance to look at properly because I was just surreptitiously flicking through a copy in Juniper, while I wait for my free copy in the mail ...

Monday, September 15, 2008

Oxalis is a Sometimes Food

I imagine for most people it's not a food at all, but some Oxalis species have a long history of culinary and medicinal use. One is wood sorrel (Oxalis acetosella).

It has small, pretty, lime-green leaves and pinkish flowers.

Raw, the leaves have a sharp, sour, slightly lemony taste. They can be used to flavour soups and salads. Because of the plant's high oxalic acid levels you don't want to eat too much, but general consensus seems to be that in small amounts, it's fine. (Unless you have gout, kidney troubles or rheumatoid arthritis and are avoiding all high-oxalic-acid foods.)

Wood sorrel is often paired with fish. Appropriate I reckon, since most ocean-caught fish should be a Sometimes (If Ever) Food too - given the world's declining fish stocks.

The other night we had tarakihi baked in a herb butter I made from wood sorrel and onion weed. We were in a hurry to go somewhere so I ended up putting it under the grill for the last couple of minutes to speed the whole process up.

The combination of onionweed and wood sorrel was lovely. Definitely going to make it again, and next time just oven grill it from start to finish.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Invalid cooking - and the joy of junket

Up until the early years of the 20th century, when medical care was removed from the home and firmly established within hospital walls, there was a branch of food preparation known as ‘invalid cooking’. Almost every household cookbook had a section devoted to dishes that were expressly for the sick, all accompanied by helpful hints on when to administer them …
- Pat Willard, A Soothing Broth (1998)

The above book is what I've been reading over the last few days.

Interested in the concept of 'Invalid Cooking', I looked up my edition of the iconic Victorian cookbook Mrs Beeton’s Family Cookery, and it does indeed have a chapter devoted to that – full of beef teas, jellies, eggnogs and junkets.

Junkets! I never got to try junket as a child, and I recall feeling quite deprived. I read about it in books and dreamed of its sweet milky puddingness - but could I persuade Mum to make it? (Sorry Mum, if you’re reading this – it’s nothing personal!)

So yesterday, after perusing Mrs Beeton's recipes, and bursting with pent-up childhood longing, I set out to make junket. I used Mrs Beeton’s version as a base:

1/2 pint milk
1/2 - 1 teasp. rennet (see directions on bottle)
Sugar to taste

Heat milk to blood heat; stir in rennet and sugar. Pour into 2 small glasses. Leave in a warm place to "clot"
NOTE: With pasteurized milk it is advisable to use double quantities of rennet.
Never put junket into a refrigerator until firm.

The results were good! (Junket-making could become addictive.)

A few notes:

* I used vegetarian rennet from Curds & Whey cheesemaking supplies - and you only need a few drops, rather than the half teaspoon in Mrs Beeton's recipe.

* I took blood heat to mean 31 degrees, and I kept track of it with a thermometer (again following the existing instructions I had for this rennet).

* At my children's behest I added vanilla along with the sugar.

* I sprinkled cinnamon and nutmeg onto it.

* Mrs Beeton's book can be found online.

* I can't wait for the blackberry season! I think vanilla junket would be delicious with a blackberry topping!