Category Archives: Cooking

Adventures in solar cooking


(Two posts in one day – OMG!)

Last year we bought a rather expensive solar oven with a view to using our abundant free energy to cook as many of our meals as possible. I tried a few things which didn’t work as expected so, as is my way, I sulked a bit and gave up. David has had huge success with heating water to do the dishes, but other than that it really hasn’t been used.

Inspired by all the potatoes our neighbour gave us recently and with a yearning for garlicky roasty sort of potatoes, I decided to have another go today. We’ve had a run of really hot days and there was no way I was turning the normal oven on, not even for potatoes. I did a bit of research this morning and determined that the golden rule is to get the food in the oven as early as possible and not to worry about overcooking. So, at lunchtime, I coated a load of potatoes in olive oil, rosemary & minced garlic, popped them in a roasting tin with a lid and put them in the oven. And, since no matter how much I wish it were so, a big plate of garlicky roasty potatoes doesn’t really make a balanced meal, I added a dish of butternut squash, courgette, red peppers & red onion.

Six hours later we were ready to eat. I like the fact that it is (apparently, yet to be tested) almost impossible to overcook things in a solar oven so as long as it has been in there long enough, you just serve up when you are ready to eat. And other than putting it in the oven, you do nothing until then. Perfect kind of cooking.


The potatoes were delicious – they don’t get crispy like proper roasted potatoes but they do have that slightly chewy edge which is yummy. And because they cook for so long, the garlic gets quite sweet so you don’t notice the four-cloves-in-two-servings-of potatoes* much. In fact, next time I might even add more garlic – just don’t visit us the next day. The roasted veg? Meh. I knew they wouldn’t roast, more steamed, and they didn’t look that wonderful but they did taste great. Not as good as properly roasted veg but OK for something that doesn’t heat the house up or cost anything to cook.

More experimentation on the way. I think it is essential to try the recipe for Brownie Pudding that I found and then fiddle around with the normal stuff like rice & beans & chilli.

*There may have been more than two servings of potatoes in the pot. There are no servings in the pot now.


The spring before spring



Often referred to as autumn. The fire is lit at night and the mornings are cool, but by 11 the doors are open and it’s lunch outside. Bees are buzzing, the heady aroma of orange blossom wafts through the door, the flies are annoying (still) and there are fresh green leaves on every plant. Seems odd at this time of year, but not altogether unusual for a climate that is bone dry and bread-bakingly hot over summer followed by an extremely wet and mild winter and early spring.

Split pea soup with (non-fishy) Worcester sauce and garlic bread oozing with olive oil and enough garlic to ward-off an entire flock of vampires!


A few more shrubs planted now the ground doesn’t need a jack-hammer. Hefty stakes for vampires and to discourage doggy bed making in the garden bed. Lúcia lima (lemon verbena), just behind the little table, makes a very refreshing infusion. It has a “thick” oily lemon flavour which works well on its own or sometimes I throw in some ginger and maybe a bit of tea. If you’re feeling north African, add mint and green tea. One day I’ll try making baklava filled with some of our walnuts. For me, the ultimate over the top sweet thing. I presume this type of dessert isn’t found in Portugal, firstly because the Iberian peninsular Moors from current day Morocco were pre-Ottoman expansion across north Africa, so didn’t bring baklava with them; secondly the Portuguese are hard-wired to refuse eating anything sweet unless it has 35 eggs per slice.


Today is cold enough to be a fire-in-the-day day! We shall call this winter.



‘So, what do vegans eat at Christmas?’




Ah, the vegan diet. All kale & quinoa isn’t it? Um, no. For lunch today we had a huge pile of spicy chips with a very delicious garlic mayo to dip the chips in and we don’t even have quinoa in the house. Shocking, I know! I know some vegan diets are fat-free/raw/only green smoothies or whatever, but ours isn’t – we eat much the same sort of thing as we used to, just without animal products. And it all has to be homemade because finding vegan stuff in Portugal is harder than finding a needle in a haystack.

I lost count of the number of times we were asked what we were going to eat on Christmas Day, so to put you all out of your misery, here we go. Breakfast was just normal breakfast – how people can eat a fancy breakfast and then a huge lunch is beyond me. Lunch was lentil roast & vegan sausages, sage & onion stuffing, roast potatoes, braised red cabbage, steamed leeks & broccoli and onion gravy, washed down with a very nice bottle of wine that we splurged €7 on. We were too stuffed to eat dessert straight away, but rallied round and ate mince pies & ginger truffles, washed down with port, while lying on the sofa watching films in the afternoon. In the evening, while watching more films, we had sausage & stuffing sandwiches, more mince pies, more chocolate, more wine. A pretty standard Christmas really.

I’m only slightly ashamed to say that I had eaten a pretty good chunk of my lunch before thinking to take a photo, so rearranged what was left (and yes, licked the fork clean) for the picture below.


And apologies for the quality of the photo, but what can you do when you have so much sun streaming into your house in the middle of winter?