Saturday, March 24, 2012

Monster Cookies on the "Iron Monster"

Our nephew came to visit last Saturday.  Now that we can bake with comparative ease, we had invited him over to help us make Monster Cookies.  If you've never heard of them, Monster Cookies are indeed monstrous.  I first had them while I was in college at Iowa State University.  They weren't my favorite cookie then, and they aren't my favorite cookie now, because of the fact that they have peanut butter in them.  I detest peanut butter with a passion.  However, while I was at Iowa State, I was shopping in an antique store somewhere and ran across a $5 copy of the 1968 Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook.  This cookbook is one of my mom's go-to cookbooks, so I was familiar with it and happy to get it for such a reasonable price.  Upon further inspection once I got it home, I discovered a loose sheet of paper in it on which was written the recipe for Monster Cookies. 

Thus, we baked Monster Cookies in the "iron monster" in our kitchen.  As you can see from the pics, we all had fun.

Nancy and our nephew mixing the cookie dough by hand.
When you see the proportions of ingredients below, you'll know
why this has to be done this way. 

The cookies are dropped by ice cream scoop, so not very many fit on a cookie sheet.
The mounds of Monster Cookies put into the hot oven of
Marjorie the Margin Gem.  The oven of the Margin Gem seems
cavernous compared to the oven of our old Qualified Range,
even though the measurements are only a little larger.

A finished monster cookie resting on a six-inch diameter dessert plate.
Judging from the size, I'd say they are appropriately named!
Our nephew enjoying his chicken casserole and homemade
applesauce for noon dinner while Monster Cookies baked in
the oven of the Margin Gem cookstove.

Monster Cookies

1 dozen eggs
1 lb. butter or oleo
2 lb. brown sugar
4 cups white sugar
1/4 cup vanilla
3 lbs. peanut butter
8 tsp. soda
18 cups quick oatmeal
1 lb. nuts (we didn't use)
1 lb. M&Ms (not really enough)
12 oz. chocolate chips (we probably doubled this)

Cream eggs, butter, and sugars.  Add rest, mixing thoroughly by hand.  Bake at 350 for 15 minutes until light brown.  We did not grease our cookie sheets, and we discovered that the cookies stayed together better and were easier to remove from the cookie sheet if we let them cool on the cookie sheet for about ten minutes before endeavoring to remove them to a length of paper toweling to cool the rest of the way.

One thing to note about this recipe is that there is no flour in it.  If you are cooking for someone who has a dietary issue with wheat products, I would think that this recipe would be quite a find.

The Margin Gem baked these cookies beautifully, but I'm still learning the quirks of this stove.  When I feel confident about understanding it all, I'm planning to post a very informational blog entry.  Stay tuned!

Friday, March 16, 2012

In Hot Water

I felt quite blessed this morning.  I didn't have school today because we had had parent-teacher conferences on Tuesday and Thursday evenings of this week, so I got to stay home for most of the day.  The alarm went off at five, and I got up and stirred up the fire.  I filled the reservoir (a job which should have been done last night) and the 40-cup coffee pot with water and went back to bed until 6:30.

After a shower in wood-heated hot water, I threw a small load of permanent-press stuff into the high-efficiency automatic and proceeded to make a Rocky Mountain Pancake for my breakfast.  I haven't had one of those in quite some time, and it tasted very good.  The recipe is not mine to share, but you can find something similar cooked on a wood cookstove here.  The recipe that I make is not so large and is, therefore, a much thinner pancake.  If you've never had one, they are delicious.  When we had them when I was growing up, we used to sprinkle powdered sugar on them.  Unfortunately, I'm naughty and just go ahead and mix up a thin glaze to put on the top.

The sun was finally up by then (I'm having a terrible time adjusting to Daylight Savings Time), and I did chores.  Then I washed a few dishes and scalded milk to make white bread.  I had the radio tuned to The Bible Broadcasting Network while I was puttering around the kitchen, and I was nearly "suffocated with a sense of well-being."  Sorry, I couldn't resist borrowing Edith Wharton's line from Ethan Frome.

By about 9:15, I had the bread dough rising on the back of the reservoir, which turned out to be an excellent place for that activity, and I was ready to begin my laundry adventure.  Today was a test to see if the Margin Gem's water jacket and attached Vaughn range boiler paired with the reservoir and 40-cup coffee pot could provide enough hot water to do a large washing.  The answer is yes. 

Our electric hot water heater has remained off since last Friday night.  Our Saturday morning showers were warm, but not hot enough to suit Nancy, who prefers her shower water so hot that, were she a tomato, her skin would slide right off.  She was quite unhappy, but hid the fact well since we were headed to Ames for State Speech Contest.  I thought that it was odd that our showers weren't very hot because when I put my hand on the side of the range boiler, it felt quite warm to me.  As I was getting out of bed on Sunday morning, though, what the problem was dawned on me. 

Due to the fact that in a wood-fired water heating system like ours you really don't have any control of how hot the water is in the boiler, a tempering valve is installed in the hot water line that connects to the house plumbing.  This tempering valve mixes cold water with the hot water if the hot water leaving the tank is above the temperature that you have set the valve at.  Somehow, during installation, the tempering valve handle was broken off, and the little plate that indicates which way to turn the valve for hotter or colder water fell off the handle. 

Long story short, I had turned the valve the wrong way.  Sunday's showers were much, much warmer, and every shower after that has been equally comfortable.  In general, we have found that we have to mix much more cold water into the flow at the shower valves because the hot water on tap is considerably hotter than what our electric water heater would put out.  The trade-off is that the recovery time of the wood-fired system is not as fast as the electric one.

Back to this morning.  As I said, I had already washed one small load in the front-loading automatic after showering this morning.  Knowing that I would be using quite a bit of hot water later in the morning, I had kept the fire pretty brisk, and everything worked out beautifully.  I put a very full load of overalls, jeans, and heavy things like that in the front-loading automatic and set it on hot.  While it was starting its cycle, I emptied the reservoir, the 40-cup coffee pot, and our gallon teakettle into the wringer washer.  After the automatic had taken what it needed, I then turned on the hose to fill the wringer washer the rest of the way, fully expecting to drain the boiler of all of the heated water.  Much to my surprise, the water coming from the tap remained quite hot.  In fact, it was so hot that I had to shut it off before the wringer washer was full and add cold water to finish filling it, just so that I wouldn't scald my fingers while running the items through the wringer. 

The first load of sheets starting to agitate in the wringer washer
full of hot water from our Margin Gem cookstove.
I washed for the rest of the morning (I had been saving up dirty laundry for this test) and never ran out of hot water.  The following pictures are intended to show you how much laundry I was able to wash with the hot water from the cookstove.  I was impressed.  I actually ran out of dirty laundry rather than hot water.

All of the clothes hung on the clothesline were washed in hot or warm
water which was heated on the Margin Gem cookstove.  This is a view from
the east side of the clothesline looking west-northwest.

A view of the same set of clothes on the line looking east-northeast.
The clothesline is four lines deep, and if I remember right, we've got
over two hundred feet of line.  That's a lot of hot water!
The range boiler would have been easily able to keep up with the hot water needs of the front-loading automatic washer.  It has a 4.5 cubic foot drum, so it can wash a large load, but its cycles are so long that the slower recovery time of the range boiler system would not be a problem.  Of course, the wringer washer lends itself really well to bucketing hot water from the reservoir, but I think that the range boiler would have been able to keep up with its needs, too.  I don't think, however, that it would have been able to keep up with the needs of a top-loading automatic due to their greater water consumption and shorter wash cycles.  We still have our old top-loader, so I may test this theory sometime.

Two short sidenotes about heating water with the wood cookstove:

1. I had read several articles about the water jacket/range boiler system of heating water before we had ours installed.  I didn't really believe the writers who said that having the water jacket in the firebox affects combustion because of the cold water constantly circulating into it.  That was stupid of me.  There is a visible difference in the flames and the coals which are next to the water jacket compared to the flames and coals that are on the oven side of the firebox.

2. Nancy mentioned to me this morning that since we've been heating our water with the cookstove, she has not had to condition her hair after she washes it.  The Vaughn range boiler that we purchased from Stoves and More Online is lined with stone, and I wonder if this has something to do with that.  Otherwise, I cannot account for it.

I've got so much more to tell about other aspects of this stove, but I've got to sign off for tonight.

P.S. You can find additional information about our hot water heating system in the post entitled "In Hot Water, Part II."

Monday, March 12, 2012

Now We're Cooking with Wood--Again!

Marjorie the Margin Gem is now installed!  We got her all connected on Friday night, and fired her up at 9:45 p.m. Central Standard Time.  I turned off the electric water heater at about 9:30, we used up the water it was holding with a bath and a load of towels, and we have had wood-heated hot water ever since. 

We've been so busy with speech contest, church and family activities, and our jobs that the only meal that we had been home for over the weekend was Sunday breakfast.  I woke up too late for anything more than a quick bite of toast, however, so this morning's breakfast was the first meal that I cooked on her.  Tonight's supper was the second meal.  It was just take-and-bake pizza since I had a township trustees' meeting tonight, so it really wasn't blog-worthy.

There is a great deal that I want to document here, but I only have time to share a few pics tonight.  Rest assured, however, that more information will be coming.

Marjorie the Margin Gem cookstove in place and in operation.

The Margin Gem's maiden meal: French Toast.

The first pan of chocolate chip cookies.  Note how evenly they were cooked,
even though I did not turn them while they were baking.  Three are conspicuously absent
because I forgot to take the picture until I had already removed three from the cookie sheet.
Oops!  You can tell that I'm not used to recording my daily activities with a camera.

So far, we are both pleased, but it sure has taken some getting used to.  Operating this stove is a lot different than operating our old Qualified.  I promise to give a detailed account as soon as possible, but this teacher has to get to bed because we have parent-teacher conferences tomorrow, and I'd better be bright eyed and bushy tailed for them.