It has now been two years since I posted my instructions for how to make a heat retention oven from up-cycled materials and my bag is still working very well. I have successfully washed it in my washing machine (I have the front loading style) and allowed it to air dry on two or three occasions in that time span. Even when I am not using it to cook an item, I still use it to keep my food hot when I need to transport it to another location. Through it all, I have been pleased with the performance of this project.
Probably the biggest detraction for heat retention ovens is the fact that they work best when used with a stainless steel stock pot that has a snug fitting lid and small handles on each side. I have tried using an enamel-coated stock pot I have that is a little bigger than the stainless steel one I originally made my thermal cooker for. Though it fits in the bag OK, it never performs like the stainless steel one does and I take a chance that the food will not be finished. Because a stainless steel stock pot is required to make the bag work well, it really is not as much use to households that have only one or two people. They simply would not need to make that much food at one time unless they had the space and resources to portion out the leftovers and freeze them. I thought it a pity that those who fit within this category of society should not be able to enjoy the benefits of heat retention cooking. So, I set out to find a solution to this problem.
Finding stainless steel pots with a snug fitting lid is not a problem. Stainless steel sauce pans of various sizes are not that expensive and can be found at most department stores. The only reason that they will not work in the thermal cooking bag is the long handle on the side. I suppose removing the handle is possible, but it would make moving the pot in and out of the bag more difficult and limit the use of the pot. But, if the bag could be constructed to allow for the handle, then technically, the pot would still be useable for other cooking needs and moved with safety. I made this goal my object.
For my trials, I made a bag to fit the pot in the above photo. Filled to the brim, the pot probably holds about eight cups of liquid, so in a normal cooking situation, probably about six cups to bring the liquid low enough in the pot to prevent overflowing during boiling. I measured the pot, made my pattern lines, and cut my fabric the same way I did for my first bag. My instructions in this post will only be for the changes I made in the construction of the bag to allow for the handle. To begin, I cut down a single line of one of the segments till I was within a 1/4″ of the center circle and zig-zagged my raw edges. I did this to both the outside and inside circles of fabric. Then I stitched strips of Velcro face down onto the right side of the fabric that would be the outside of my bag; the loop strip on one side and the hook strip on the other. I only stitched along the cut in the fabric, with a seam allowance just far enough in to catch the edge of the Velcro.
The next step is a little tricky. My inside piece of fabric (a cotton sheet remnant) did not have a distinct right and wrong side which made this step a little easier. If yours does, you want to stack the fabrics right-sides-together with the cuts in the fabric lined up. I turned the whole stack over and stitched another seam, this time attaching the cut edge of my inside fabric to the free edge of the Velcro strips. Finished, the stack looked like the photo to the left.
Once I had both circles of fabric attached to the Velcro strips, I pulled the fabric out of the way, pressed the bottom of the two Velcro strips together and stitched the bottom edge closed. This is an important step. It is required in order to keep the stuffing from coming out! 🙂
With the Velcro stitched down at the base, I turned the fabrics right-side-out and top stitched along the seams as seen in the photo to the right. I did this to reinforce the seams. I really do not want to see the stuffing coming out!
Next, I closed the Velcro strip and, making sure that my fabric circles were lined up with the wrinkles smoothed out, I pinned them together and began to stitch along the guide lines I had penciled in to form the center circle and ten segments. I did this just like I had for the larger bag except that I left the opening for stuffing the bottom circle at the base of the Velcro strip. This is illustrated in the photo to the left. You can see I left the bottom of two of the side segments open for this, but I could just as easily have left one and been fine. With the stitching in place, I proceeded to fill the bag with stuffing, starting with the center circle. This time, instead of breaking the packing peanuts up in a pillow case and having to transfer them to the bag, I inserted the whole peanuts directly into the section I wanted to fill and broke them up by working through the fabric from the outside. It took a little longer to do this way but it was a great deal cleaner! 🙂
With the stuffing completed I stitched all the remaining openings closed and prepared to work on the drawstring casing. I noticed that there was a very tiny gap where the Velcro strips met the casing, so I hand stitched this gap closed -very, very well! The rest of the casing instructions are the same as the original bag with this exception. There is no need to make a V-shaped opening in the outside fabric. The Velcro opening in the side of this bag becomes the natural place for the drawstring to come out. The lid instructions are the same. I just made a smaller circle. The finished bag with its opening is demonstrated in the photo to the left.
Using this bag only took one more step of preparation than using the original. Before I began cooking, I opened the bag up, put the pot inside, and closed the Velcro strip from the base of the bag to the place where the handle came out. I left the rest of the strip open so that I could easily place the pot inside when I was ready to transfer it from the stove. Then all I would have to do is close the remaining section of Velcro and tie the lid in with the drawstring.
The bag, with the pot inside and the handle sticking out is kind of funny looking! It looks very much like a face; in fact, it reminded me of a child with his cheeks puffed out blowing one of those party whistles that roll out and make noise! Not very flattering I suppose. Oh, well. At least it is a cheery image. 🙂
Does it work? Yes, it does! The rice in this photo cooked on the stove only long enough to begin to boil over (about two to three minutes), before I transfer it to the bag. Forty minutes later, the rice was perfect. I also tried it out on cooking a single piece of chicken (boiled) and it did that just as well. Next, I think I will try some kind of dried bean. Those typically require a long cooking time, so they are wonderful candidates for this kind of cooking. For now, I wanted to post this for those of you who are still looking to find just the right gift to make for a loved one this Christmas. This allows for you to give a thermal cooking bag to grandparents, parents, college students, or other households that routinely have only one or two people to cook for. In honor of my Savior, Jesus Christ, Who gave us a reason to celebrate, Merry Christmas!
“This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief.” 1 Timothy 1:15