Making good food with limited resources has always been appealing to me, and camping presents a perfect challenge. I still enjoy cooking over an open campfire, but solar power presents a new opportunity to make great food with simple tools.
With the addition of a slow-cooker to our galley and the upgrade of the teardrop’s solar power system, I began thinking about combining the two. Marilyn’s recipe for “Teardrop Pork Chops” proved we could have dinner ready when we got back to camp in the evening. I wondered if the solar system could effectively power the slow-cooker. Some quick measurements with the “Kill-a-watt” meter showed power usage for the 1 1/2 quart cooker to be well under 100 watts — even on the “high” setting. The “low” setting only consumed about 65 watts. With our 200-watts of solar panels and adequate sun, it should work fine. What to cook for an experiment?
Slow-cookers have always worked well with bean dishes, in fact, they were invented for cooking beans. The combination of low temperatures and long cooking times guarantee tender beans that retain their shape and texture. Chili is an iconic bean dish, and what could be better after a day of camping fun?
1/2 pound dried pinto beans, cleaned and soaked overnight and drained
2 cloves of garlic, peeled
1/2 pound of course-ground lean meat, beef, pork or turkey
1 medium onion, chopped
3 ounces of tomato paste or puree
1 1/2 tablespoons of Dixon medium hot (or other high quality) chili powder
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon salt (or to taste)
Shredded sharp cheddar cheese
Chopped fresh tomatoes
Chopped green onions
Warm cornbread or saltine crackers
Put the soaked and drained beans and whole garlic cloves in the slow cooker, adding enough water to cover. Cover and cook on HIGH until tender but not mushy, 2 to 2 1/2 hours. Drain and discard the garlic.
Meanwhile, brown the ground meat and onions in a large skillet and drain off the fat. Mix the meat, onions, partially-cooked beans, tomato paste, chili powder and cumin in the slow-cooker. Add enough water to cover and stir. Cover and cook on LOW for 8 to 9 hours, stirring occasionally. During the last hour, season with salt. Serve with toppings and warm cornbread.
How did we do? Using the measured slow-cooker wattage on high and low settings, a little quick math showed a total power consumption of about 750 watt-hours — within the production capacity of our 200-watt solar system on a sunny day. With the skillet-baked cornbread, all the fixins’ and a glass or two of wine — delicious.