Monday, August 31, 2009

Meatless Monday Solar Egg Bake

I think the the sudden loss of my favorite cat this month is starting to catch up with me. The last time I felt like this was when I was working as an airline reservation agent and one of our planes crashed. For the first two weeks it was like being on autopilot then the shock wore off and it felt like I'd been beaten up. Exercising helped me deal with the stress of that situation and although I have to force myself to cook and update this blog it may be the one thing that's keeping me sane right now.
Not only was I not in the mood to cook anything today I also couldn't think of any appetizing vegetarian dishes for Meatless Monday. The only foods that sounded desirable were the few things that are not suitable for solar cooking. Like pasta or grilled and fried foods. This dish is loosely based on a recipe from but I think I made enough changes to call it my own.

Baked Eggs and Zucchini

4 slices whole wheat bread
1 tsp butter
2 tsp olive oil
1/2 small onion sliced thin
2 small zucchini sliced thin
6 eggs
2 tbs milk
1/4 cup shredded white cheddar cheese

Heat oil and onions in small frying pan and cook until tender.
Spray 9x9 glass baking dish with cooking spray. Spread butter on bread slices and place them in baking dish. Top bread sliced with cooked onion. Cover with sliced zucchini. Wisk eggs, milk, salt and pepper together until frothy. Stir in cheese and pour mixture over bread and zucchini. Cover baking dish first tightly with tin foil then parchment paper. Place in Sun Oven and bake 45 minutes. Remove tin foil and parchment paper and continue baking until set, approx. 20 minutes more. Serves 4

This was surprisingly good but I would add some herbs and maybe different vegetables next time. The possible variations are almost limitless. It was ready in time for lunch and is definitely something I would make again.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Sunday Solar Favorites

After yesterday's big meal I wasn't feeling very creative today. I baked some bread in the morning and made a pot of split pea soup in the afternoon. Add to that the left over pulled pork and we had a nice relaxed Sunday dinner. Now that I've been using my Sun Oven almost every day for two months I hardly think of it as solar cooking, it's just plain old cooking.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Sun Oven Dinner Party

The baked beans are bubbling and the pork is roasting. Everything is on track to be ready in time to bake a pan of macaroni and cheese while there's still enough sunshine. We're having guests for dinner and all of the cooked food is being prepared in the Sun Oven. Pulled pork is a dish - like chicken - that will get you hooked on solar cooking at first bite.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Sun Oven Cobbler

While solar cooking will definitely reduce the amount of energy you consume that's not the only advantage. With today's record breaking temperatures - 113º - I can pretty much guarantee that very few people in Phoenix even considered turning on their conventional ovens. With a Sun Oven I can bake as much as I want. My house will stay cool and my baked goods will turn out just fine.
We're having friends over for dinner tomorrow and I wanted to get a head start with the food preparation. Hopefully, you will not be too disappointed to learn that this cobbler is made from a mix. I just followed the instructions on the package and for the fruit I used canned blackberries. I haven't tasted it yet but it smells delicious. The cooking time was pretty much the same as in a conventional oven - about 45 minutes.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

A Complete Meal from the Sun Oven

I'm not really a casserole kind of person. I like my meal to have at least three separate components, a protein, a starch and at least one vegetable. I find one dish meals to be boring. Today I had a busy afternoon and would not be getting home until dinnertime. I didn't want to fuss with any last minute preparations so I came up with a meal that would be ready to serve straight from the Sun Oven.
I can't tell you how nice it is to be going about your business with the knowledge that a hot, tasty meal is simmering in your back yard. It's almost as good as being waited on, or having your own personal chef. I'll admit that the broccoli was overcooked but being able to sit down to a hot meal as soon as I got home from my busy day was worth it.
It's yet another take on chicken and rice and it was all made in one pot. I started by putting the rice in a dutch oven. I mixed in about half a cup of chopped onion and a medium diced turnip. I used half as much water as stated on the rice package. I used bone in, skin on chicken thighs. I like chicken thighs because they're juicy and it makes portion control easy. I trimmed the excess fat, seasoned them with salt and pepper and put them in the dutch oven on top of the rice. Then I made a pocket with some aluminum foil, put the broccoli in it and placed it on top of the chicken. I put the lid on the dutch oven, put it in the Sun Oven and left it there until dinnertime. Just before serving, I did stir some freshly grated parmesan cheese in with the rice. So I guess I did do one little bit of prep work after I got home. If you're really tired and hungry you could skip the cheese.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Sunshine Peach Butter

With the fridge once again full of leftovers and a relatively open schedule I thought it would be a good day to give this recipe a try. I made peach butter once in my crock-pot using a recipe I found at and have been wanting to make it in the Sun Oven ever since. The hardest part was finding good peaches.

Here's how I made it in the Sun Oven:

10 large freestone peaches
1 cup sugar
4 cardamon pods
1 tsp cinnamon

To peel the peaches I dropped them in boiling water for 30 seconds then in cold water. The skin comes right off. I chopped the peaches and put them in the ceramic insert of my crock-pot with the sugar and spices. A dutch oven would work too. I put it in the Sun Oven with the crock-pot lid slightly ajar. When the peaches were soft, after approximately four hours, I brought it inside and pureed it with a handheld blender. At this point it was still too watery so I put it back in the Sun Oven without the lid for another two hours. At this point I took it out of the Sun Oven and put it in the crock-pot base to keep it warm while I proceeded with the canning process.

And here's what I would change if I make it again:

I would puree the peaches before putting them in the Sun Oven the first time. This would have saved me a step. I would tweak the spices a bit or maybe not use any at all. I would make a bigger batch. I got six eight ounce jars of peach butter. For this much work I'd like a better yield.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Sun Oven Shredded Chicken and Cowboy Beans

When people see a Sun Oven for the first time, especially in Arizona, the first thing they ask is, "Why doesn't everyone use one of these?" They usually come to the assumption that it's a question of price and don't give the matter a second thought. I must admit, I too was guilty of this. But if you think about it, many home cooks are perfectly willing to pay top dollar for a good chef's knife, a food processor, a stand mixer or a slow cooker. All of which, with the exception of the chef's knife, are less useful than a Sun Oven. Just like with any craft, home cooks know that high quality tools make the art of cooking much easier and more rewarding. The Sun Oven is designed to last much longer, again with the exception of the knife, than any of the above mentioned appliances. It's more versatile than a pressure cooker or a crock-pot. And while food processors and stand mixers are incredibly useful, they rarely come out of the cupboard in most home kitchens.
After giving it more thought I now believe the price has little to do with it. It's much more about habit. People don't cook with the power of the sun because they never have. Hopefully my blog will inspire at least some of my readers to change their habits and give solar cooking a try. If they do, they'll be rewarded with some of the best tasting meals they've ever prepared.

Today's dinner couldn't have been easier to make. Just take a couple of boneless skinless chicken breasts and throw them in a pot with a jar of salsa. Put it in the Sun Oven. When it's done shred the chicken with two forks. The beans and rice were made in the Sun Oven too. I didn't use a recipe for the beans. After soaking the beans overnight I seasoned them with chopped onion, minced garlic, some chili powder, chopped red pepper and a bay leaf. It took about an hour to cook them in the Sun Oven.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Solar Pinto Bean and Sweet Potato Chili

With a busy afternoon ahead of me I wanted to get my solar cooking going early today. Good thing I remembered to soak the beans overnight. I've been wanting to have beans for a few days now and kept forgetting to soak them.
This recipe is in two steps. The beans and sweet potatoes are cooked in separate pots and then combined in a dutch oven and left in the solar oven to slow cook, allowing the flavors to blend. By mid morning I was done with step one. I was now free to go about my business while the chili simmered in the sun oven. I wouldn't get home until early evening but it was nice to know there was a hot meal waiting for me in the back yard.
The recipe is from I made a few minor modifications, some intentional. The original recipe called for canned pinto beans, I used dried and I pureed the sweet potato mixture before combining it with the cooked beans. The original recipe also called for orange peel and chopped fresh cilantro to be added before serving . I had them all prepped and ready to go, well I was going to use lime since I didn't have an orange, but they're still in the fridge and the chili is long gone. I think the lime and cilantro would have made the dish exceptional so next time I'll try not to forget. Here's my version:

1/2 lb dry pinto beans soaked overnight
1 tbs olive oil
1 onion, chopped
2 tsp chili powder
1 large sweet potato, peeled and cubed
2/3 cup water
1 14 1/2 oz can Mexican-style stewed tomatoes

and don't forget

3 tbs chopped fresh cilantro
1 1/2 tsp grated lime peel

After soaking overnight, drain the beans and place in a dark pot with enough water to cover approx. two inches. Place in pre-heated solar oven and cook until tender. Appox. 1 1/2 hour.
Heat oil in a separate pot. If possible use pots that will fit in the solar oven together. Add chopped onion to heated oil and sauté until the onion is soft. Stir in chili powder. Add water, sweet potato and tomato. Cover pot, place in solar oven and simmer until sweet potato is tender. Approx. 45 minutes. Remove sweet potato mixture from oven, transfer to a large dutch oven and puree with a hand held blender until smooth.
Drain the cooked beans reserving cooking liquid. Combine beans with pureed sweet potato mixture in dutch oven. Add enough cooking liquid to achieve the desired consistency. Return dutch oven to the solar oven. Solar cook it for at least an hour for the flavors to blend or leave it in the oven until dinnertime. Mix in cilantro and lime peel and season to taste with salt an pepper.

The corn was also solar cooked. Just wash it, without husking it, and put it in the solar oven next to or on top of the dutch oven.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Sun Pizza

It's been a week of extreme ups and downs for me. On Tuesday I made my first ever t.v. appearance, on Wednesday my favorite cat died. On Thursday and Saturday I attended two Sun Oven demos held by Paul Munsen of Sun Ovens Int. Today all I wanted to do was kick back and eat something fun.
Many food critics, professional and non, will tell you that one of the best pizza places in the U.S. is Pizzeria Bianco in Phoenix. I've been there once and their pizza is divine, but it comes with more than one catch and I'm not talking about price. It's only open for dinner, closed Sundays and the wait is at least three and a half hours. People line up before it opens to get their name on the list. Not exactly my idea of a relaxing Sunday afternoon.
The last time I made pizza in the solar oven I was disappointed with the result. The crust was soggy and the cheese overcooked. I figured adding the toppings after letting the dough bake until almost done would yield better results. After all, the tomato sauce is already cooked, it only needs to heat up and the cheese only needs to melt. I used purchased dough from Fresh and Easy. The package says it makes one twelve inch pizza but I like a thinner crust. I get two pizzas from one package. I baked the base for about twenty minutes before putting the toppings on it. Then I let it bake about ten more minutes until the cheese had melted. The red pizza is topped tomato sauce, mozzarella cheese, olives and basil. The white pizza has goat cheese, mozzarella cheese, olive oil and pepper on it.
Solar baked pizza is not something you can just put in the oven and forget about, but it is easy and fun to make. Pre-baking the crust made all the difference. It was much better this time. And it's a whole lot more relaxing than standing around in the 105º Phoenix heat waiting for a table at Pizzeria Bianco.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Solar Cooking, Almost Foolproof

Last night's chicken and rice was so good I wanted more. I had plenty of leftover chicken but no rice, so the question was, how to repeat the delicious rice without cooking another chicken on top of it? I figured a good part of the tastiness of last night's rice was from the chicken fat. It blended in giving the rice a silky, creamy consistency, and the touch of lemon hadn't hurt either. For tonight's rice I decided to try using butter. It's what all the restaurant chef's use to keep us coming back, so why not?
My plan was to cook the rice, then add the leftover chicken once the rice was cooked. It would still be early enough for the oven to heat back up and keep the food warm until 7p.m. I combined the rice, some chopped onion, chopped frozen asparagus and butter in a pot with some chicken broth. I forgot there would be no chicken to provide extra juices and only used 2/4 cup of broth for 1 cup of rice. When I opened the oven about half an hour later the rice had absorbed all the broth and was on the verge of-dare I say-burning. I thought for sure I had a disaster on my hands, but another thing I learned from Paul Munson of Sun Ovens Int. is that solar cooking is very forgiving. I threw in a little more broth, gave the rice a good stir, placed the leftover chicken on top, put the lid back on, closed the oven and hoped for the best.
Was it the best rice I've ever made? No, but it wasn't bad. I could have used more broth to begin with. I also could have used a little lemon juice or maybe some zest. But imagine what would have happened if I'd left a pot of rice unattended on the kitchen stove indoors with an insufficient amount of liquid. At best I'd have ruined a good pot and at worst burned down the house.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Hot Solar Cooked Meals After Sundown

With Paul of Sun Ovens Int. in town doing demonstrations I'm learning a lot of new solar cooking tricks. My favorite is one that will allow us to return to having a warm dinner from the sun oven after sundown. Sun Ovens Int. is strongly committed to promoting solar cooking in nations where the primary fuel sources are wood and coal. Due to the amount of smoke inhalation during cooking, respiratory diseases are all too common among the women and children in these areas, and deforestation for fire wood is an underlying cause of many violent conflicts. Solar cooking could play a vital role in improving the lives of millions of people throughout the world. So what has this got to do with eating later in the day? Well, the people at Sun Ovens Int. realized that to reap the benefits of solar cooking the ovens must actually be used. In most of the world people consume their evening meal much later than we do in the U.S. It does no good to have a perfectly prepared solar cooked meal ready at 5p.m. if it is cold by dinnertime. The people at Sun Ovens Int. knew there was nothing they could do to change the dinning habits of entire countries, they had to find a way to keep the food warm until people were ready to consume it. Enter the Global Sun Oven. Unlike any other solar cooker on the market, the airtight chamber of the Sun Oven will keep food at a safe and desirable temperature for hours after sundown, as long as the glass door is not opened. This was the best news I'd had all week. Since I started my blog we had been having dinner earlier and earlier, to the point that I would get hungry again before bedtime. Now, I am happy to report, we will go back to dining around 7p.m with a hot meal straight out of the Sun Oven and hopefully those late evening snacks will be a thing of the past.
Tonight's dinner is Chicken and Rice. It's my favorite Chicken with Two Lemons but I cooked some brown rice along with it in the same pot. The juices of the chicken flavor the rice. Since the chicken will release so many juices you will need a lot less water. I used 1 cup of rice and 2/3 cup of water.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Solar Cooking Therapy

Yesterday was a perfect solar cooking day, clear blue skies and plenty of sunshine, I think. I really didn't get a chance to pay any attention to the weather and a clear sunny sky is the norm in Arizona. We spent the day at the vet. When we got up we found one of our cats almost unconscious in a pool of vomit. I didn't think she was going to survive the trip to the vet. From the get go the prognosis was dim. Her body temperature was extremely low and she was unresponsive. They managed to stabilize her somewhat but by evening she lost her battle. A seemingly perfectly healthy cat was gone. I am still in shock.
I considered lying. Pretending it was just another day of solar cooking. But even coming up with a fake meal was more than I could muster. I was still thinking about lying today. All I really wanted to do was bury myself under the covers and stay in bed all day. But one thing about eating is it's something you have to do everyday which means someone somewhere has to cook. One thing about cooking is that its repetitive motions and predictable outcome make it an ideal activity for stress relief. Partly because I craved the predictability of a familiar recipe and partly because Martin has been requesting it, I made Pumpkin Chili Mexicana again today. I'm sure it will be good, it's one of those recipes that are enhanced by solar cooking. I don't know how much of it I will eat. I tend to lose my appetite when dealing with stress but the time I spent chopping the vegetables and browning the meat was the most soothing part of this very sad day. Thanks to this blog and a commitment I made to no-one but myself I found the energy to accomplish one small thing, a pot of chili, on this day of mourning.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

More Solar Bread and Sun Ovens on T.V.

Today I met the president of Global Sun Ovens Int. He invited me to do a segment on solar cooking with him on a local morning news show. I got a lot of tips and ideas for future meals. I found out that the Sun Oven can also be used as a food dehydrator and that if you leave the oven door closed the food will remain hot even after the sun goes down. This is great news. We no longer have to eat dinner so early. I am even more convinced that, especially in Arizona, solar ovens could replace crock-pots. They are just as easy to use and the food comes out much better.
In my oven today I made some more bread. It's the same recipe as my previous post but I made two loaves instead of one.
Here's a link to our T.V. segment if you'd like to see it:

Monday, August 17, 2009

Solar Braised Lamb Shanks with Root Vegetables

Braising has to be the easiest way to cook meat and braising in a solar oven is even easier. I didn't follow a recipe, I simply took two lamb shanks, trimmed the excess fat, washed and patted them dry and browned them in olive oil in a cast iron dutch oven. I took them out of the dutch oven and sauteed some chopped onion, leek and garlic in it. When the onions were soft I put the lamb shanks back in the dutch oven with some salt and pepper and about 1/2 cup of red wine. I let the wine reduce a little, added about 1/2 cup of chicken broth, placed the lid on it and transfered it to the solar oven. After it had been cooking for about an hour I added the root vegetables, a rutabaga, a turnip and a carrot, peeled and cut into one inch pieces. I wanted them to retain their colors so I made a sort of pocket with tin foil and put it in the dutch oven on top of the lamb shanks. The total cooking time was approximately two hours, no longer than in a conventional oven and all without using a single watt of electricity.
Most lamb shank recipes allot one shank per person. I usually take the meat off the bones and get up to two servings per shank. I use the left over meat to make a shepherd's pie later in the week. I also usually serve this dish with mashed potatoes instead of the root vegetables but I wanted to cut back on the calories. I mashed the vegetables with some olive oil and of course I spooned the cooking liquid over everything before serving.
If you happen to be in Arizona be sure to tune into Good Morning Arizona on channel 3 Tuesday morning. They are doing a segment on solar cooking with me and the president of Global Sun Ovens International. It should air at 8:45 a.m. I've never been on T.V. before and I'm a little nervous.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Solar Risotto with Squash and Sage

I was tempted to just throw a potato in the sun oven and call it a day. I was still pretty tired from yesterday’s yard sale and we were out late last night. We had dinner with my cousin, Liz, and her friends. She lives less than ten miles away and yet we hadn’t seen each other in over ten years. Thanks to Facebook, her sister on the east coast told her about our yard sale so she came over to visit and shop.

Liz invited us round to her house for the evening telling me that her friend who had recently moved here from NYC would be making porchetta. We graciously accepted her invitation but I secretly thought she was making the whole porchetta thing up. This happens to be one of the foods I miss most from Italy and I know you can’t get it anywhere in Arizona.

You can imagine my surprise when her friend showed up and pulled the most beautiful piece of meat I’ve ever laid eyes on out of a bag. I had to know who her source was.

Well, like I said, she just moved here from NYC and she brought the roast with her! Her husband imports Italian foods. Apparently, according to my cousin, I am now one of the lucky few that can get their hands on one of these cuts of meat. When I do I will definitely cook it in the solar oven.

So, back to today’s solar cooking. With a nice chunk of leftover porchetta in the fridge our dinner’s main dish is pretty much covered. I thought it deserved something better than a boring baked potato to go with it.

Making risotto in the solar oven is an idea I’ve been toying around with for quite some time. I decided today was the day to go for it.

When it comes to risotto I’m a bit of a purist. I’ve always made it the traditional way, on the stove, stirring for the entire 20 minutes it takes to cook. I have recipes for pressure cooker risotto, acquaintances claim that it can be made in the microwave, and many insist that using brown rice is perfectly acceptable, but I would have none of it. It took solar cooking to finally find the courage to break from tradition.

The following recipe is a bit of a hybrid, it starts out on the stove and is moved to the solar oven to complete the cooking.

Solar Oven Risotto with Butternut Squash Sweet Potato and Sage

1 medium sweet potato peeled and cut into 2 inch pieces

1 small butternut squash, halved, seeds removed, cut into 2 inch pieces.

2 tbs butter

½ cup chopped onion

3 fresh sage leaves

1 cup Arborio rice

½ cup dry white wine

2 cups chicken broth

½ cup freshly grated parmesan cheese

Put sweet potato and squash into a dark roasting pan with a little water. Cover and place in pre-heated solar oven until soft. About 30 minutes at 350º

Remove squash and sweet potatoes from pan. Peel squash. Put both vegetables in a bowl and mash. Set aside.

Heat broth in a small sauce pan

Melt butter in a dark pot. Add chopped onion and sage and cook until onion is soft. Add rice, stir to coat with butter. Add wine. When wine has evaporated add half the broth, stir and transfer pot to solar oven. Keep broth warm while rice cooks. After ten minutes add the rest of the broth and squash mixture to the rice stirring to incorporate. After ten minutes test rice for doneness. When rice is ‘al dente’ remove from solar oven. Stir in grated cheese. Adjust for salt and serve.

So I proved to myself that it is possible to make a decent risotto in a solar oven. But there is one major drawback. Risotto should be eaten immediately. This means either a very early dinner or having it for lunch. Since I don’t really like to eat early and generally have a light lunch I will most likely go back to the old fashioned way of making risotto and leave the solar cooking to dishes that are enhanced by it.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Solar Cookies!

Today I introduced solar cooking to my neighbors. I baked some cookies to give away at our yard sale. Putting a solar oven in the driveway will attract almost as much attention as a dog or a baby. It's a great icebreaker. I've been living on this street for over 10 years and I spoke to some of my neighbors for the first time today.
I'd share my chocolate chip cookie recipe with you but I didn't use one. I was way too tired from getting everything ready for the yard sale to make them from scratch. I used frozen cookie dough from Trader Joe's. It makes pretty good cookies but today was more about using my solar oven for socializing than anything else.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Windshield Shade Solar Cooker

I would really like to see solar cooking become as common as using a slow cooker but I realize that the cost of a solar oven can be off-putting. Like I said in my previous post, I started with a low cost solar cooker, then upgraded to a Global Sun Oven after a year. By then I knew solar cooking was not just an experiment but something I'd be doing on a regular basis. I decided to go back to experimenting with an inexpensive option to encourage people to give solar cooking a try.
I must admit the Global Sun Oven has spoiled me a little. It is designed so well that it's almost foolproof. The windshield solar cooker is not as easy to use. The instructions said to set it on a bucket. I didn't think it made any difference what kind of surface you put it on and I didn't have a spare bucket so I used a small metal table. At first it blew around in the wind and the temperature barely made it past 200º. By mid afternoon I got the brilliant idea to anchor the back with some clothes pins. This made all the difference, stabilizing the windshield shade so it would be more exposed to the sun.
The split pea soup I made turned out fine in the end. It took a lot longer than it would have in the Sun Oven, that was mostly because of the wind. With my clothes pin modification the cooking time should be shorter. I'll keep experimenting with my homemade solar oven but I will use the Sun Oven for our main course.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Homemade Solar Oven

The sun came out too late for solar cooking today. Hopefully we'll have clear skies tomorrow since I have a new solar cooker to try out.
When I discovered solar cooking I considered building a solar oven. There are a lot of plans out there and it seemed simple enough. Then I remembered the curtain rod I put up. I got so frustrated that I knocked a hole in the drywall. That was over two years ago and the hole is still there. If you're the handy type then a solar oven may be a great project. If not there are some inexpensive options.
My first solar cooker was a simple one made of cardboard that I got from Solar Cookers International. I used it for a few months and then upgraded to a Global Sun Oven. A few days ago one of my readers sent me a link to a solar cooker that even I could build. All you need is a windshield shade and some velcro. Here's the link: Windshield Solar Cooker.
I think it will make a good back up to the Sun Oven. It will come in handy for cooking rice and side dishes.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Solar Oven Partybrot

I have no idea why I decided to make this today apart from the fact that I thought it would be fun. Since I had to make two batches of dough, one white and one whole wheat, it wasn't ready to go into the sun oven when I had to leave for my 1:00 dentist appointment. By the time it was ready for the solar oven, at 2:50, the dreaded afternoon wispy cloud of the west had appeared. This cloud seems to show up every afternoon this time of year. It looks a little like a genie coming out of his bottle and blocks the sun just enough to make you think twice about attempting solar cooking. I really didn't want to turn on the indoor oven so I went ahead and put the partybrot in the sun oven anyway.
Now it was time to think about lunch. I'd been so busy with the dough and the dentist that I hadn't eaten yet. We went out for some sushi. We had intermittent sunshine for the rest of the afternoon but for the most part it was sunny enough to cast a shadow. When we got home the sun oven temperature was at 250º. By 4:50 the sun was completely blocked so I took the bread out of the oven. If the temperature had been higher it might have had a crispier crust but it was still very good.
It's Martin's boys night out and it looks like I'll be having my own private partybrot for dinner.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

No Solar Cooking in Phoenix Today

It was too cloudy to do any solar cooking so I spent the day thinking about cooking instead. I read Michael Pollan's recent article, 'Out of the Kitchen, Onto the Couch', this afternoon. In it he talks about the decline of cooking. A food-marketing researcher that he interviewed claimed that within a few generations people will no longer cook at all. It got me wondering if cooking really is a dying art. I know many people, most of whom have children, who seem proud of the fact that they don't cook. It makes me sad to think that their families will never know what it's like to sit down to a home cooked meal. I hope the researcher is wrong. I hope people will tire of consuming low quality cheap food. I hope they will turn off their T.V. and find their way back into the kitchen. I also hope Michael Pollan will start following my blog.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Solar Soup with Beans and Wheat Berries

I've been preparing my own meals for over 30 years and while I'm no super chef you'd think I'd trust my instincts by now. I have never cooked, or eaten, wheat berries before so I used a recipe from Cooking Light. There was one thing in the recipe that bothered me, it called for canned diced tomatoes that were to be added to the soup at the very end and cooked for only 5 minutes. I should have followed my gut and cooked the tomatoes with the other vegetables while the beans and wheat berries were in the solar oven. Just as I feared the tomatoes did not have enough time to mellow and the soup was a little acidic. Next time I'll do it my way.
This soup reminded me of a Tuscan specialty made with farro, a type of wheat grown in Italy. I got the wheat berries, along with some brown rice, from Massa Organics. I know I could have bought it from a grocery store but I like these guys. They have a cool website and blog and they raise ducks. If you're lucky enough to be near them be sure to check out their products at various farmer's markets or you can order them online.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Solar Cooked Potato Fennel Soup with Salmon Patè

I found this recipe on and made a few minor modifications. The original recipe called for smoked salmon. I used salmon patè that comes in a tube, which I got from, of all places, Ikea. It's cheaper, more convenient and, in my opinion, works better in this recipe than smoked salmon. Even without salmon this is a perfectly acceptable soup. The salmon, however, takes it from a ho hum dish to something good enough for company. Here's my version.

Solar Oven Potato-Fennel Soup with Salmon Patè

2 tsp butter
1 leek white part only chopped
1 fennel bulb chopped, fronds reserved
1/2 tsp fennel seeds
1 large potato, diced
2 cups low sodium chicken broth

Melt butter in a cast iron dutch oven. Add fennel, leek and fennel seed and cook until soft. Add potatoes and chicken broth. Cover and transfer to solar oven. When potatoes are tender remove from solar oven and blend in the pot with an immersion blender. Add more chicken broth if necessary. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Ladle into soup bowls and garnish with chopped fennel fronds and salmon pate.
In addition to substituting the smoked salmon with the patè I also cut the recipe in half and used less butter. This is yet another recipe that adapts perfectly to solar cooking.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Solar Honey Spice Loaf

I was feeling emboldened by my success in recreating my 100% whole wheat bread from memory so I thought I'd try accessing another recipe filed in my brain vault. Among the few recipes I brought with me from Italy was one for "Torta al Miele" (honey cake). I had made many changes to the recipe but once again had never written them down. Add to that the fact that the original is in metric, recreating this was a little more daunting than the bread. Here's a translation of the original recipe.

Torta al Miele

300 grams all purpose flour
1 packet baking powder (it's sold in pre-measured packets in Italy)
80 grams sugar
1 cup milk
100 grams ground walnuts
8 tbs honey
grated lemon peel (from one lemon)

Mix well first 5 ingredients (flour through milk) in a medium bowl. Add the honey and lemon peel while continuing to mix. Put mixture in a greased and floured pan. (the original recipe does not specify what size pan!) and bake. It also doesn't say at what temperature but that doesn't really matter with a solar oven because it will depend on the weather.
Anyway, I added 1 cup raisins, 1 tsp cinnamon and, because Italian baking soda contains a touch of vanilla, 1/4 tsp vanilla. I'm not sure how much baking powder there is in a packet so I went with 1 teaspoon. After it was in the oven I realized the recipe didn't call for any salt. If, and that's a big if, I try it again I would add a pinch. With my original, but long forgotten, modifications this used to make a very good cake to have with tea. Unfortunately I think my much needed improvements are lost forever. From now on I think I'll stick to recipes from or other sources for my baking needs.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Solar Pasta e Ceci

I had completely forgot about this traditional Roman soup until we recently watched the classic Italian film "I Soliti Ignoti" (English title "Big Deal on Madonna Street"). It's a caper movie where a group of hapless thieves sit down to a bowl of Pasta e Ceci after their disastrous attempt to break into a pawn shop. Good Italians that they are, they immediately began discussing the merits and faults of the soup. Since then it's been a regular in our meal rotation. It is basically Pasta e Fagioli with chickpeas instead of beans, and it is a solar cooking favorite.

Pasta e Ceci (chickpea and pasta soup)

1/2 lb dry chickpeas
1 TBS olive oil
1 leek, white and pale green part only, chopped (or 1 small onion)
2 medium carrots, chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1 cup chopped tomatoes, preferably Pomì
1 cup small tubular pasta such as ditalini
2 TBS chopped fresh rosemary
1 TBS balsamic vinegar
freshly grated parmesan cheese

Soak chickpeas overnight. Drain, put chickpeas in a dark pot with water and place in solar oven. While chickpeas are cooking prepare the soup base. Heat olive oil in large heavy dutch oven. Add leek, carrots, celery and garlic and saute until vegetables are soft, about 10 minutes. Add chopped tomatoes and let simmer for about 20 minutes. When chickpeas are cooked remove from solar oven. Set aside 1/2 cup chickpeas add remaining to dutch oven with the cooking liquid. Off the heat blend with a emersion blender. At this point if you are ready to eat the soup and there's still enough sun you can put the dutch oven in the solar oven cover and bring to a slow boil. If soup is too thick add some water. Add the pasta, reserved chickpeas, salt and pepper to taste. When the pasta is ready, take the dutch oven out of the solar oven. Add rosemary and balsamic vinegar. Serve with parmesan cheese and a drizzle of olive oil. If it's too late to cook the pasta in the solar oven complete the soup on the stovetop. Do not cook the pasta until you are ready to eat or it will get soggy. Serves 4 to 6.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

100% Whole Wheat Bread Take Two

This is my fourth attempt at solar baked bread and my second at 100% whole wheat. Today's solar cooked loaf is definitely the best so far. I used to bake bread weekly with my bread machine and had tweaked the recipe until it was perfect every time. Unfortunately, I never actually wrote it down. I stored it in my head, which in retrospect is a very bad place to store anything. The following recipe is as close as I remember.

100% Whole Wheat Bread

1 1/2 cups water
3 3/4 cups whole wheat flour
2 TBS dry milk
1 1/2 tsp salt
2 TBS olive oil
2 TBS honey
1 1/2 TBS vital wheat gluten
1/4 cup flax seed
1 TBS molasses

Set solar oven out to preheat

Put ingredients in bread machine following manufacturer's instructions. Set on dough cycle. Remove dough from machine, form into a loaf and place in loaf pan. Let rise in pan approx. 1 hour. Place in preheated solar oven and bake for approx. 1 hour or until loaf sounds hollow when tapped.

Solar Huevos Rancheros

We still have plenty of leftovers from the past two days for dinner tonight so I decided to try making 100% whole wheat bread again today. After a quick trip to the store for some fresh flour I got the dough going in the bread machine. Since it wouldn't be ready to go in the sun oven for a few hours I made solar cooked Huevos Rancheros for lunch. Here's the recipe:

Huevos Rancheros - Serves 2
2 corn tortillas
4 eggs
2/3 cup refried beans
4 TBS prepared salsa (red or green)
2 tsp sour cream
salt and pepper
Put solar oven out to preheat. Spray two small dark metal pans with cooking spray. Place one corn tortilla in each pan. Divide refried beans between the two pans making room in the middle for the eggs. Put eggs in the middle of the beans. Place pans on a dark baking sheet, cover with glass lids and place in preheated oven for approx. 25 minutes. Cooking time will vary depending on oven temperature. When eggs are cooked remove from oven, top with salsa and sour cream and serve. To keep this low calorie I don't use cheese but if you like you could add some shredded cheddar about 5 minutes before the eggs are done.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Solar Pulled Pork and Baked Beans

Pulled pork just might be one of the easiest and tastiest things to come out of the solar oven. All you have to do is trim the fat off a pork shoulder roast, rub it with a bbq spice mix, put in in a dark pot and place it in the solar oven. When the meat is fall apart tender, place it on a cutting board and shred it by pulling it apart with two forks. Serve it with your favorite bbq sauce. It's a great dish for a casual dinner with friends. It can be made a day in advance and gently reheated. The baked beans were made in the sun oven too. I used a recipe from If you want to make both the beans and the pork on the same day you will need two pots that fit in the solar oven together. I am always on the look out for cookware that can be used for solar cooking. I found the two red pots in the picture at a thrift store.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Solar Cooking Chicken

Today I made Chicken with Two Lemons again. This recipe is definitely a solar cooking keeper. The chicken comes out very moist with a slight hint of lemon. It was ready by early afternoon so I had time to slice up a couple of beets and roast them in the solar oven too. I served it with risotto and kale.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Solar Baked Bran Muffins

I finally made it home around 10:00 a.m. After a weekend of very little sleep, six intense workout sessions with Cathe Friedrich and a little too much wine last night, major solar cooking projects were out of the question. I whipped up a batch of bran muffins using a Hodgson Mill mix. I put them in the solar oven when I got home and took a nap while they were baking, something you would not be able to do with a conventional oven.

Stranded in SLC

I was hoping to get home to enjoy some solar baked rigatoni tonight but missed my connecting flight in Salt Lake City. Luckily I met some awesome women who were in the same situation and we enjoyed a great meal with plenty of wine.

Sunday, August 2, 2009


Martin here;
set the solar oven outside to preheat, took the rigatoni out of the freezer and put it in the sun oven. Solar cooking is easy! The solar oven had got up to 350 degrees, it loses 50 degrees right away when you open the door to put the food in, but it doesn't take long to heat right back up again.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Baked Potato in the Solar Oven

Not much to report today. I'm still out of town and Martin it preparing his own meals. Today he baked a potato and finished off Wednesday's chili. He only has one more day of fending for himself. I'll be back tomorrow evening and already have plans for solar cooking on Monday.