121 Beekeeping, Fireworks, Solar Power and Extending Wi-Fi with Will of the Weekend Homestead

Will of the Weekend Homestead returns to the Root Simple podcast to talk about how to get into beekeeping without busting the bank, fireworks, rigging up a simple solar power system and extending your wi-fi. During the podcast we discuss:

If you’d like to leave a question for the Root Simple Podcast please call (213) 537-2591 or send an email to [email protected] You can subscribe to our podcast in the iTunes store and on Stitcher. Closing theme music by Dr. Frankenstein. A downloadable version of this podcast is here.

How to Put Together a Small Scale Solar System

How can you use solar panels to power a few lights, run a fountain or charge some tools? It seems like a simple question, and yet I can’t tell you how many books/magazines/websites I’ve combed through in search of a basic tutorial for anything less than wiring up a whole house. Now I know how thanks to a podcast conversation between Eric of Garden Fork and Will of the Weekend Homestead. Will describes how he rigged up a few panels and batteries to power lights and charge tools in his off-grid barn. Check out the show notes for the specific parts Will used to put together his system.

Deep Frying in a SolSource Solar Cooker

We did a little deep frying test of the SolSource Solar Cooker (provided to us by the manufacturer) and made us some beignets this morning. As Kelly says in the video, a little known fact is that solar cooked deep fried dough pillows won’t make you gain weight. Never! Really!! (Not.)

But they are mighty good! The test worked out really well and now we want to do something fun with it, like take the solar cooker to the streets and make donuts for The People!

We’re also really pleased to find that we can hit deep frying temperatures with the cooker, even in November. We’ll be doing more videos about solar cooking in the coming weeks.

The beignet recipe we used comes from King Arthur Flour. Note that we have a new Youtube channel. Please do us a favor and subscribe!

Solar recipe review: Moroccan Chickpea Tagine (Works on the stovetop, too)

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If you’ve got canned goods on hand, this is a super fast and easy solar oven recipe. It’s also very much like many a quick bean-based stews I’ve thrown together on the stove top over the years. If you don’t have a solar oven, or if its cloudy outside, you can certainly make this on the stove. I’ll add notes about that at the end.

This recipe comes from the Solavore recipe collection, which is the best collection of solar recipes I’ve found on the internet. I’ve found you have to be really careful with random solar recipes found on the internet–well, you need to be cautious with any recipe found on the internet, but since I’m new to solar cooking my radar that tells good recipes from bad is impaired. Witness a truly appalling, chalky, brick-like cornbread I made a couple of weeks ago, following instructions found on some random prepper type site.

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Inedible solar cornbread. I shudder in remembrance.

Meanwhile, even if I haven’t loved every recipe I’ve tried at the Solavore site, none I’ve tried are technical failures.

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The is a link to their Moraccan Chickpea Tagine.  I’m just sending you there for the recipe because I don’t have any significant changes to make, so no excuse for copying it here.

It is simply onion, carrot, garlic and can of chickpeas and a can of tomatoes and some spices.  You just dump these all into one pan, stir them up, cover the pan and leave it in a solar cooker for 3 or 4 hours.

The ingredients are so basic that you can likely pull this out of your pantry right now. If you have fresh cooked beans or your own canned tomatoes it would be all that much better, but this is a good recipe for busy days.

The resulting stew is comfort food, spicy and sweet. My one critique is that it is perhaps a little too sweet. It calls for raisins or currants, and I used raisins. The raisins ended up being preternaturally sweet–perhaps due to the slow cooking? They’d be fantastic in a bread pudding, but I found them overwhelming in this dish. Perhaps if I’d made the dish more hot-spicy that would have counterbalanced the sweetness. But at any rate, next time I will either leave out the raisins or sub them with something a little more tart, like chopped dried apricots.

If you don’t have a solar oven all you’d have to do to adapt this recipe is start by sauteing the onions and garlic and carrots till they soften, then add in canned chickpeas and tomatoes and spices. Bring to a simmer and cook, maybe covered, until everything is hot and the beans have softened a little and the flavors have had time to blend: approximately 1/2 hour. Add a little broth or water if things are looking dry in the pan.

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Best veggies to cook in a solar oven

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Crispy artichokes: strange but good

Straight up veggies are perhaps the easiest thing to cook in a solar oven, and may be a good way to get started if you are a little intimidated by solar cooking

Sun oven proponents claim that sun ovens cook veggies better than any other device, because they can be cooked dry, and the slow heat brings out their flavor. This is true to some extent.

This is what I’ve learned about sun oven veggies. The cooking results are analogous to steaming. Vegetables which do well with steam cooking do well when tossed into a sun oven. Now, some people may counter that all veggies do well when steamed. Many people eat most of their veggies steamed as a matter of course. I do not. I rarely steam my food. I think most vegetables do better when they lose water and caramelize a bit (e.g. cauliflower , carrots, Brussels sprouts, zucchini) I’m a big fan of roasting and sauteing vegetables, and only like a few vegetables in their steamed form.

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Brussels sprouts and cauliflower before cooking

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The same after. Not a failure, exactly, but just …bland and wet, as steamed vegetables always taste to me. Note the color of the cauliflower. That is not oven-browning, but rather the slight discoloration that some vegetables pick up in the solar oven. The color of the Brussels sprouts is due to a Schiracha sauce, which did not counterbalance their mushy Brussel-sproutsness. These guys have to be roasted, IMHO

So you can see this is all going to be a matter of taste, but be assured you can cook any vegetable a solar oven, and if steaming is one of your favorite cooking methods, you’re in luck.

Generally speaking you just throw any veggie in a covered pan and let them steam in their own juices. In some cases it helps to add a smidge of water to bottom of the pan.

Vegetables which I give my personal seal of approval for solar oven cooking are, for me, those vegetables I happily eat steamed. These foods also happen to be very summery vegetables, well suited to backyard entertaining and as companions to grilled foods:

  • Potatoes
  • Artichokes
  • Corn on the cob
potatoes

Baked potatoes and lentil stew

HOW TO:

Baked Potatoes

This is the easiest of the easy. Just wash off a couple of big russets and tuck them into a covered pan. Potatoes cook in about 4 hours when temps are approximately 250-300 F. This will vary, of course, depending on potato size and oven temp. Stab the potatoes to test for doneness. Don’t be afraid to leave them in there as long as it takes for them to be truly done. They won’t burn.

Erik and I have re-discovered the baked potato craze of our high school days, where you could go to the mall and get a baked spud with any variety of unhealthy things piled on top of it. We’ve been making southwest style potatoes piled with black beans, salsa, cheese and sour cream.

Corn on the Cob

You don’t need to shuck the corn. You don’t need to soak the husks. You don’t even need a covered pan. You can just put some ears on the floor of your oven (or on a tray). You can tuck them around pans cooking other things. I’ve even heard you can also pile them up, fill the whole oven with cobs. I’ve not done this, so don’t know how that would effect cooking times.

But if you put in a single layer of corn on the cob, husks intact, into a pre-heated oven and cook it around the 250F mark, the corn will be ready  to eat in an hour. It’s that easy. If your corn is truly fresh and sweet, it can and should be eaten almost raw, so don’t overcook it.

To get the silk off, cut off the stem end grab hold of the silk and and sort of squeeze from that end, toward the cut end. You should be able to get the corn to disengage from the husks pretty cleanly.

My favorite way to eat corn on the cob is Mexican style, which involves buttering the cob then smearing mayo on it, then sprinkling it with chili powder, salt and a squeeze of lime.

Artichokes

Artichokes have been more of an adventure, but a good adventure. I’ve not been able to find instructions I like for artichokes in the sparse online world of solar cooking resources.

The first round of artichokes I cooked looked like a failure but were actually successful. What I did that time was simply throw them in a covered pot and left them for 2 hours at around 250F.

When I went to check on them, I was appalled to see that they’d turned brown. They looked roasted. Their outer leaves were dried out and hard.

But I took them inside and tried one of those crispy outer leaves. The flesh at the base was succulent and sweet, even extra artichoke-y in flavor. In short, really good! I devoured that artichoke, brown and crispy as it was.

I theorized that it was over-cooked. Perhaps it had been done cooking, and still pleasantly soft, after an hour. I hadn’t checked at the one hour mark, so I didn’t know. I tried another round.

Not so. At one hour a stab test to the base proved artichokes need more cooking time. But they’d already started browning. Some vegetables discolor when cooked in solar ovens. Seems artichokes are one of those vegetables.

While the crispy form of the artichoke is very edible, I found a work around for this. Just pour about 1/4 inch of boiling water into the bottom your cooking pot before setting the choke out in the oven. (You may be able to start with cold water, but I used hot water to jump start the process.) The steam produced by this water keeps the artichoke leaves softer, and lessens the browning somewhat, makes the final product look more like a “normal” cooked artichoke.

So, to recap, make artichokes by cooking them in a covered pan at around 250F for around 2 hours. It helps to cover the bottom of the pan with hot water, to produce steam, to keep the artichoke leaves softer. If you forget, it will still be edible. Test by stabbing the stem end with a fork. It should be very tender. Don’t be afraid to extend the cooking time, as an al dente artichoke is no fun. You won’t overcook it.

My next step will be to add garlic cloves to the steaming water to see if that infuses the artichokes at all.

If you are looking for more solar recipes, I’d point you toward the Solavore website. They have an archive of sweet and savory recipes.

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