Solar cooking adventures

These are my significant events regarding solar cooking: firsts, mishaps, ... The order is from newest to oldest. Enjoy!

April 28, 2012 - Pay attention! First time teaching solar cooking

If you look for the first entry in this log of solar cooking adventures you'll see that I've now been solar cooking for one year! That means I'm qualified to teach it, and so I did. The class wasn't large, just three students, but judging by the feedback it was a great success and I'm sure we now have three more solar chefs in Ottawa as a result. I've put the course handout and some tips here in case you want to teach a class too.

Illustrating things on the board.
Illustrating things on the board for the solar cooking class.
Students checking on things.
Solar cooking course students checking on the food.

February 20, 2012 - Start your engines! Er... Solar cookers!

I started the solar cooking season today by cooking what I'm calling my Soya rice vegetable concoction (click the link for the recipe.) I used my new modified CooKit for the first time and in the dead of winter at below freezing temperatures, as you can see from the photo below. Highest temperature I happened to see inside the pyrex container was a whopping 285F (160C)!

This actually marked a few firsts for me:

  • 1st time cooking with the modified CooKit,
  • 1st time cooking in winter,
  • 1st time cooking with the cooking pot in a pyrex container.
The finished result.
The solar cooked soya rice vegetable concoction cooked in
      winter snow.
Solar cooking in the snow.
Solar cooking using my modified CooKit in the winter snow.

July 14, 2011 - Reflecting on my fresnel lens and mirror solar cooker

After a lot of effort I managed to make a compact and portable arrangement for having the light from my fresnel lens reflect off a mirror and up to the bottom of whatever I'm cooking. Works like a charm. Compare the glare in the photo on the right below with the one from the top-cooked egg in the June 10th entry below.

The fresnel lens and mirror solar cooker setup.
The fresnel lens and mirror solar cooker setup.
Egg cooking from mirror reflected light.
An egg cooking on my fresnel lens and mirror solar cooker setup.

June 10, 2011 - Eggs for lunch!

I spent most of the day doing fresnel lens focal length and energy experiments so of course at lunch time I just had to fry an egg! It cooked about as fast as is does on a regular stovetop.

The fresnel lens solar cooker setup.
The fresnel lens solar cooker setup.
Egg frying in cast iron pan.
Egg frying in cast iron pan using fresnel lens solar cooker.
Lunch is ready!

May 31, 2011 - First thing cooked with the fresnel lens solar cooker!

More details about this cooker can be found on fresnel lens solar cooker page but here's a few photos showing the first thing I cooked with it, minced pork. It was a big hit with passersby and my fellow tenants in my apartment building!

The first cooking version for my fresnel lens solar cooker.
The first cooking version of my fresnel lens solar cooker.
Adding the minced pork.
Minced pork cooked on my fresnel lens solar cooker.

May 21, 2011 - Score! I find a large flexible mirror and fresnel lens

I was walking to pick up groceries and saw a derelict large screen rear projection TV sitting by the road. The lower part of the front was removed and I could see the three CRT projectors (red, green, blue) pointing upward and back to somewhere behind the screen.

Derelict large rear projection TV.
Derelict large rear projection TV.

I could also look up inside behind the screen and there I saw a beautiful curved mirror that turned out to be something like coated mylar. So I returned with screw driver and removed the screen to get at the mirror. To my delight, the screen was made up of multiple layers and one of those layers was a fresnel lens. So now I have all this flexible mirror material and a 2'x4' fresnel lens. I smell a pavarti-like or parabolic solar cooker and a fresnel solar cooker in the making. Score!

The mirror behind the screen.
The flexible mirror behind the screen in the rear projection TV.
The mirror and fresnel lens removed.
The mirror and fresnel lens removed from the rear projection TV.

Warning... In some TVs the clear plastic screen, lens and a grating with vertical grooves are all attached to the frame and when you unscrew the frame from the TV it all comes away as one. Make sure to take all those pieces apart since you want to use the fresnel lens all by itself. If you don't then you will not get good results.

In my case the lens was attached to the TV box and not the frame so I took off everything that was attached to the frame and then attached the fresnel lens by itself to the frame. That's what you see in use in the fresnel lens solar cooker I built from these parts.

A corner of the mirror material showing that both sides are mirrors.
A corner of the mirror material from the rear projection TV showing that both sides are mirrors.
Showing the thickness of the material.
The thickness of the mirror material from the rear projection TV.

May 11, 2011 - Hot N' stuffy peppers (stuffed peppers)

Another first today. A meal I make often, by traditional means, is stuff peppers. I make eight servings and freeze seven for later. Today I thawed one out and used my solar cooker to warm it up for eating.

Thawed out and cut up.
Stuffed pepper thawed out and cut up for solar cooking.
It couldn't all fit. Luckily I had a small jar ready.
'Stuffed pepper' in the solar cooking jars.
Warming up in the solar cooker.
Warming up a 'stuffed pepper' on the solar cooker.
Dinner time!
Solar cooked stuffed pepper.

May 10, 2011 - Don't pressure me! (rice and corn)

I used a canning jar. Since I'd closed it tight on April 23 I thought I'd have no problem with doing so again - WRONG! On April 23 I didn't even get the rice boiling since I'd started late and the sun was still relatively low towards the end. Today, May 10, was plenty sunny and I started at 3:30pm.

I first cooked the rice and it boiled quickly, 30 to 45 minutes. So I decided to open it up and add some canned corn. First of all, the jar was hot so I had an oven mit on one hand and held it with my tee-shirt with the other hand. When it opened, it fizzed, steam and water came out and of course I wet my shirt!

Anyway, I added the corn and put it back in the cooker with the top on loose. I called it 'done' around 5:00pm and tightened the top so I could bring it inside without spilling. That's when the next problem started.

As the contents cooled, the pressure inside decreased and decreased and ended up somewhere below the pressure outside the can, i.e. below the air pressure in the room. Have you ever heard of how a suction cup sticks to a wall because the air pressure between the wall and the cup is less than the room's air pressure? I unscrewed the ring-like part of the lid but the sealing part wouldn't come off.

Stupid me thought that putting it in the fridge to cool would increase the pressure - which is the opposite of what I should have done. Heating it increases the pressure, cooling it more just made it worse!

As luck would have it, I'd been building something in the kitchen that day and my drill was sitting on the table. So when everything else was ready for dinner, I gave up waiting and drilled a small hole in the top. With a slight popping sound, the lid just slid off easily.

Oh well. At least with a hole in the top I won't be having any of those problems again.

April 23, 2011 - Glazing over and bundling up (rice)

At the suggestion of Mark on the SolarCooking Yahoogroup I added glazing to my cone solar cooker. I decided to try with a ring made of clothes hanger wire over which I stretched some clear kitchen wrap plastic.

I also stuffed insulation in the form of a cut up pair of old jeans all around the base of the cone, basically plugging up holes.

The solar cooker glazing. Old jeans for solar cooker insulation.

I tried long grain brown rice but it didn't get to boiling. I did start it late, around 4:00pm and cooked for 2 hours. I also sealed the canning jar tightly but when I opened it, there was no noticable pressure release. My guess is either the sun was getting too low such that even though the cooker was pointed directly at it, the light wasn't strong enough or the glazing and the clothes hanger wire blocked too much light. The wire would have blocked light reflected from any of the cone above the glazing.

April 15, 2011 - No longer a virgin (rice)

After years of wanting to I finally built my first solar cooker and cooked my first food, long grain brown rice. This was my cone solar cooker which I didn't so much design myself as evolved it myself.

My first solar cooker. Cooking long grain brown rice.

Click here for details about the solar cooker and my first time cooking with it.

Click here for a four part video series detailing the first time using it and full design and construction details.
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