Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Old Time Oven or Convection Microwave??

   The smell of baking cookies. Just reading that conjures up wonderful memories. The oven has been a basic tool in home cookery for decades. RV's have had them for a long time. On the other hand convection ovens haven't been around nearly as long, but have proven to be a great cooking method for RVs and the home alike. Maybe I'm biased as my RV came with a convection/microwave and I use it all the time. It's faster than a regular oven and I can get the same results. A little modification of a particular recipe MAY be needed, but hey, I like to modify things!

My Convection Microwave
A regular oven cooks because the air around the food gets heated up (and to some extent the walls radiating heat) transferring energy to into the food. A convection oven works much the same way, except that it has a circulation fan that "swirls" the air around the food transferring the heat energy faster and more efficiently. Many RVs, including mine, have a microwave/convection oven. This can be used just like a conventional convection oven or just like a simple microwave. When these two modes are combined is when magic begins to happen. Microwaves are a very effective way to cook they heat by vibrating the water molecules inside your food. Pretty cool, huh?

We all know that microwaves cook fast, but anyone who has ever tried to make a hamburger in one knows that it's not so great. It will cook, but it doesn't have that great broiled taste and caramelized crispy exterior.
Enter the convection side of the equation. While the microwaves cook the food fast, the heating element and circulation fan browns the outside of the food and creates the taste. You get the best of both worlds. Fast, energy efficient cooking AND great flavor. There are some issues. Baking is usually done in a much more humid environment, so the circulating air tends to dry out the moisture in the recipe.

Remember, most combination convection microwaves, can be used WITHOUT the microwaves and just as a CONVECTION oven. Some can be used like a regular oven as well (without the fan running.) You can set a temperature and the oven will maintain it.

The inside space on one of these isn't going to be as big as a regular home oven, so roasting a 25 lb Turkey isn't going to happen. But then again, we're used to smaller and lighter in RVs. Plan ahead... how about roasting a big bird in sections? I make Whole turkey breast in the convection microwave. Usually a 6 lb. one and it comes out simply FANTASTIC! Drum sticks, thighs, etc. All amazing. Beef? Oh yes, I've done roasts that were juicy on the inside and golden brown and delicious on the outside. OK, now I'm getting hungry!

Not every recipe will work "out of the box" though. I've found that by adding some extra water/liquid or changing the cooking times (usually less time!) will allow you to cook almost anything with both microwaves and convection heating. Figure it cooks 25% faster than a conventional oven. Don't be afraid to experiment. You can always eat the mistakes and no one will ever know!

Be Seeing You...Down The Road,

Rich "The Wanderman"

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

It's All About The Storage - How Do You Organize All This Stuff?

    I'm a PackRat. There, I've admitted it. I probably have far more stuff squirreled away in my RV than I will ever have a need for. I can't help it, I just like to plan for too many eventualities. Hey, you never know, right? Well one of the biggest drawbacks with my RV is the lack of storage space. I've done pretty well "tetrising" the stuff I have into the limited space available. But that will only go so far. I am going to show you some photos of my sloppily re-packed cabinetry. The trick is to figure out a better way!
More efficient packing is my only recourse, since I can't add extra storage!

Over The Sink
Over The Stove
Let's start in the Kitchen/Galley. This is probably my most disorganized set of cabinets. Yours too? I have one over the sink and one over the range-top. Since stuff gets pulled out and replaced so often when  cooking, try and figure out which items get used the most and fit them on top and to the front. Especially since this set of cabinets has an intersecting corner that you can store items in. It's REALLY a P.I.T.A. to get them out though. I will be repacking this one as soon as the weather gets a bit better (during my annual RV spring cleaning) to see if I can't get a better handle on the space. Thankfully the rest of the cabinets and storage areas aren't nearly as bad. Try using small expanding refrigerator rods to stop rattles and the occasional item from smashing you on the head when opening the cabinets.

Pantry Close-Up
Next to the Kitchen/Galley is the wardrobe closet. Since I don't usually take many clothes that require hanging up, the odd button down dress shirt and slacks, plus a sports jacket, "just in case!" I opted to re-purpose most of this storage space as a pantry. I bought several drawer style interconnecting plastic storage bins and attached them to each-other. This gives you a lot of flexibility for food storage. All the spices and bottles are in them. Try and put the heaviest stuff at the bottom. Last year I had to reinforce the base of this closet since it was just a thin piece of paneling. You can read about how to do this HERE. This has worked really well! Under the main section of the closet is a drawer where I keep cleaning supplies and plastic bags. Under that is a shallow storage area where I keep an electric heater and some miscellaneous RV products (Enzyme chemicals mostly.)

Parts and Misc.
Parts and Tools
Remember "Greatest American Hero?"
Plastic Storage Bins Help!
Next are the cabinets that run down both sides of the main cabin. There are two on each side, right next to each other. They begin close to the Kitchen/galley and run all the way up to the front Driver/Passenger seats. Mostly I keep Tool and Spare parts (fuses, wire, nuts, bolts, screws,etc.) in the two larger ones. In the front left cabinet are DVDs and a Flashlight. the front right one houses more tools and parts with some plumbing and spare bulbs. Also the 12V power supplies for the various WiFi and Computer devices is here. Mainly since it's above where I sit to use them! In all of these cabinets, I have TRIED to separate all the bits and pieces into snugly fitting plastic storage bins with sealing lids. This stops most of the rattles and is supposed to make it easier to find stuff. At least these cabinets are "pass-through" so I can store longer items end to end.

Winter Storage, Pretty Empty
Auto Diagnostics and First Aid
In the back of the RV, above the bed are several additional cabinets. two the long way and one large one above the rear window. The two small ones carry outside clothing and the laundry bag. There is a large canister of "zip" ties. These are worth their weight in gold! I recently took a large extra VCR/DVD player out of the front left since I wasn't really using it at all.The back left one has miscellaneous video/audio gear in plastic tubs. There's also the OBD automotive diagnostic kit in here and a large first aid kit. Most of my outerwear will go here when I am ready to travel.

Above the Rear Window
Under Bed Drawers
The rearmost cabinet has blankets, extra soap and bathroom supplies.. All the way on the right, tucked behind the front NON-opening section of the cabinet is the back-up camera transmitter and power supply. You can see that install HERE.

Under the bed are 4 drawers. I keep most of my clothing as well as extra towels and blankets in them. The two toward the rear only open halfway! Behind them is a very large space that isn't really accessible. I will be modifying the drawer fronts into a hinged cabinet door so I can use the space more effectively. You should check if you have any drawers that open into open space that you can use more effectively.

Across from there is the vanity. A large "medicine cabinet" up top carries all the "normal" toiletries for a trip as well as a hairdryer (2 actually, a 12V and the other 120V)
There's also a cell phone charger in there! And a few face/hand towels. Under the sink is the compartment that holds the hot water heater. The tiny shelf has some toilet necessities and the switch for the hot water heater's add-on electric element.

"Basement" Exterior Storage
Not much storage here at all. You know it occurred to me, as I was writing this article, just how much storage I really have. I've always believed that I didn't have nearly enough. Since I don't have many (OK..I only have the one) "basement" storage areas, I was storage-poor. That's not really the case. For such a small RV (23'8" and 99" tall) I have quite a bit of storage. Yes, I do tend to pack pretty efficiently and most of the stuff I carry is small in size. I'd love to have more exterior storage for things I do not want to put inside, but I'm OK with that. As long as you can figure out the most efficient method of storage AND be able to remember where you put stuff, you'll be OK too.

I began with such good intentions when I decided to use the plastic bins. I WAS going to label each one (I even bought and electronic labeler!) to put the contents of each box on the outside. That's still on the "to-do" list. It's all about procrastination, "Why put off today what you can put off tomorrow..."

Solar Charging/Inverter Setup
Soft Storage Bin
Onward! Like many of you I have a couch that "jack-knifes" into a nice sized bed for company. Underneath there is a "large" amount of storage. I've used up about 1/3 of it with an inverter, solar charge controller, and support wiring/fuse panel for my Solar Charging System.
If you'd like more information on that, look at this six part(!) article that begins HERE.

Generator Enclosure

The left side of the under couch area is where my generator enclosure intrudes into the cabin, so not much will fit on top of that. It's a large area, but only about 2 inches high when the couch is closed. The center space is taken up by one of those Auto style trunk organizers. This one has Velcro on the bottom to hold it in place and two dividers to make three separate compartments. Lot's of stuff lives under here.

The "Bar"
Extra Storage Bin
Under the extendable dining table (About midway in the cabin across from the couch) lives a small bar/ storage area. I keep glasses and some decanters. They're not currently filled, but maybe one day... All my remote controls go here and I have a couple of small propane cylinders for my little grill as well. In front of that I keep a medium sized plastic storage bin with parts and tools for whatever upcoming projects are in the works. It fits snugly between the "step" up to the engine bay (this also hides my coaches electrical box) and the platform my swivel rocker is on.

Big, Flat Dash Means Extra Storage!
Passenger Footwell
Of course I store lots of stuff in the passenger seat footwell. Well at least I do when there isn't a passenger! Folding canvas seats, extra food and drink for a long trip. It's a large space, but since I often have a friend along it's not guaranteed I can use it. When parked, lot's of things can be stored both here and on the giant dashboard area. Usually that's the solar reflective and insulated reflectix window cover's. You can see the story about how to make insulated window covers HERE.

Satellite and DVD
Above the dash are two cabinets that house my entertainment system. The left is the satellite receiver and the DVD/Blu-Ray Player. There's also a spare true sine wave inverter there, just in case. On the right side is the VHS(!) VCR, the signal switcher, the digital media player, (This thing rocks! read about it HERE.) digital TV receiver and the signal converter. The signal converter lets me show the output of all these devices on a computer monitor with VGA in. You can read about using a Monitor as a TV HERE. There is really no extra room in either storage area at the moment. But that's OK, it all works!

Could I be more organized? Yes, absolutely. Do I have everything I need...and more? Probably. Will I leave something at home and have to rush into a nearby superstore since I didn't have it? Most assuredly! The trick is to plan ahead and if that doesn't work...Improvise!

Be Seeing You...Down The Road,

Rich "The Wanderman"

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Do Away With The Dark - The Very Best Flashlights

In A Pinch, House Lighting By Flashlight
***Many of you missed this article last week, so we are sticking with it this week! Tune in Wednesday for an all new article on storage in RVs!***
We talk a lot about power and light in our RVs, but what about a portable version? You know, the good old standby...the Flashlight. Flashlights have come a long way since the days of dry cell batteries and "pen lights." The picture to the right was taken with a 1000 Lumen rechargeable flashlight just a little bigger than a traditional 2 AA cell light! Advances in LED technology has made it possible to have more light for less power. Even the smallest coin cell powered LED lights for a keychain put out more light than the old fashioned 2 "D" cell flashlight of yesteryear. OK, I'll admit I have a fascination with flashlights. Ever since I was a kid I've really liked them. Not obsessed, mind you, just impressed.

In my RV I have a couple of 27 LED utility flashlights. One lives on my range hood, held on magnetically. The other lives up front in a small container on top of the engine cover. These are available everywhere for under five dollars. Press the button once, and you get a very bright directional light from the side. Press it again and you get 26 LEDs all at once from the side. It has a nice sized magnet on the back and a folding hook so you can hang it wherever you need it. I've had 2 of them for a couple of years now and still haven't needed to replace the batteries! Needless to say, I use them very often. The one attached to the range hood, which is on the way to the bedroom area get's frequent use. These little lights are a must have!

Daily Light With Rechargeable "Big Brother" Above 
Next up is a set of lights. One of them I've had for a couple of years, the other just came out a few months ago. The smaller one is a single "AA" battery powered LED light. It was under 10 dollars and puts out a whopping 260 Lumens. That's an awful lot for such a small light. I keep it clipped to my front pocket and barely notice it's there. It has a focus ring on the front that slides in and out from a bright point (really a square) to a wide flood. It runs for a VERY long time on a single, available almost everywhere, AA battery. The other one is its big brother. OK, it's not all that much bigger in size, but it does put out a whopping 1000 Lumens. That's a huge amount for such a tiny flashlight.

Lithium Ion Battery and Charger
It runs on a rechargeable 16450 li-ion cell. They cost around 9.00 dollars and the charger can be had for 5.00 online. I've not had to recharge it yet, but it should run about 15 hours per charge. It does get a bit hot around the heat sink, but not terribly so. On a dark and stormy night it's an amazing light. I am going to have to figure out how to charge it from 12V so I have extra choices for power. Shouldn't be any trouble at all. The only issues I could find with both of them was the tiny Allen head screws that hold the clip on, but a small dab of thread locker should fix that up straight away.

If anything, I miss the reassuring feel of a multi "D" cell MagLite. Not only was it a flashlight, but could be a deterrent for the bad guys. I'd hate to get hit with one! We'll have to see what the longevity of these flashlights are. So far it's win-win.

Be Seeing You...Down The Road,

Rich "The Wanderman"