Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Sun Baked Phyllo Fruit Cups

If I were granted the power to declare one food item a free food, something that could be consumed at will with no negative consequences, it would be a toss up between cheese and pie. Yesterday during my foray into the freezer I found a box of phyllo dough that was nearing it's expiration date and was reminded of this low calorie alternative to pie. It works with any type of fruit that normally goes into a pie. Today I used frozen blueberries.

Sun Baked Phyllo Fruit Cups

Six sheets of phyllo dough, defrosted
2 cups frozen blueberries
1/4 cup sugar, divided
1 tbs flour
1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp fresh lemon juice

Preheat Sun Oven and spray a six cup cupcake pan with nonstick spray or line with silicone liners.
Toss berries, 3 tbs sugar, flour, cinnamon and lemon juice in a medium bowl. Set aside.
Place on sheet of phyllo dough on work surface (keep remaining sheets of phyllo covered to prevent drying). Lightly spray the phyllo with cooking spray. Cut into four rectangles. Stack rectangles on top of each other. Repeat with remaining phyllo sheets. Carefully press each stack into the greased cupcake pan. Divide blueberry mixture evenly among phyllo lined cups. Cover with the edges of the phyllo dough. Lightly spray fruit cups with cooking spray and sprinkle with remaining sugar.
Bake in Sun Oven until golden brown, about 45 minutes.
 This is a decent pie substitute, but I will never eat fat-free cheese.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

From Frozen to Sun Roasted in Four Hours

I had a lot of work to do this afternoon so I chose what I thought would be a slow cooked dinner. I took two cornish hens (one fell apart before I could take the picture) straight from the freezer and put them in the pot atop a bed of rice, turnips and rutabaga. I popped everything in the Sun Oven at eight a.m. and went about my morning business. Shortly after noon I noticed that the glass door of the oven was covered in condensation, a telltale sign of doneness. I couldn't believe they could have gone from frozen solid to roasted so quickly, but they did. Since it was lunchtime we went ahead and ate. We'll be going out for dinner.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Beet Soup in Roasted Acorn Squash

I was really excited about trying this recipe for a few reasons. First, it's vegetarian, therefore perfect for meatless Monday. Second, we rarely eat beets, the main ingredient and I'm always looking for ways to add variety to our diet. Third, it's very pretty. And last, it put us in the autumn spirit even if it is still 102º outside.
Once again the recipe is adapted from Both the soup and the squash were cooked in the Sun Oven. I did cut the recipe in half. I like trying new things, but didn't want to eat beet soup all week. While it was a lot of fun to make, the flavor wasn't very exciting. I'm not quite sure what could be done to spruce it up. I don't think it's going to be a regular at our dinner table.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Solar Roasted Turkey Breast

Thanksgiving is just around the corner so I've been experimenting with turkey. On the big day I plan on roasting a whole bird using a baking bag, but I thought I'd practice on smaller pieces in the weeks leading up to it. For today's trial I used a six quart stock pot with a steamer insert. I wanted to keep the bird out of its cooking juices hoping to obtain a crispy skin. I brined the breast overnight and put it in the Sun Oven at just after ten a.m. By noon the probe thermometer was at 180º and the breast was ready. Just in time for lunch. The skin did come out crispy but I think I prefer cooking poultry with rice. When cooked together the rice comes out so scrumptious that I'm happy to sacrifice the crisp skin.  My only problem now is what will we have for dinner?

Here are the tools I used today - minus the probe thermometer. A six quart stock pot, a steamer insert and two canning jar lids to set on the floor of the Sun Oven chamber.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Solar Vegetable Stack

It could no longer be avoided. Today I had to clean the house. Even the "but I have to make something for my blog" excuse wasn't good enough. Still, I had to throw something in the Sun Oven, so I started by cleaning out the fridge. I found a sweet potato, a rutabaga, some small purple potatoes and a spaghetti squash. I cut up the first three items, tossed them with olive oil and spread them out on two baking trays. I cut the spaghetti squash in four pieces and put it in a roasting pan with  half a cup of water. With a little creative stacking I managed to fit everything into the Sun Oven. This stack method of solar cooking does increase the overall cooking time. I wish I could tell you by how much, but I was too busy with housework to pay attention to the exact timing. I think it went into the Sun Oven at 10 a.m. and was ready at 1 p.m., but that's just a guess.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Solar Sicilian Style Potato Gratin and question about cookware

I got a tri-tip roast on sale the other day and since then had been scouring the internet for a recipe that would work in the Sun Oven. As the expiration date grew closer I abandoned the search and fired up the grill. After all, even Paul Munsen of Sun Ovens International will admit that you'd be disappointed by a steak cooked in a Sun Oven. Of course I'd need a side dish and what goes better with meat than potatoes? I considered the obvious-baked potatoes-but wanted to make something a little more challenging. The next thing to come to mind was a potato gratin, but  after weighing myself this morning the cream, butter and cheese that normally go into that dish were out of the question. Back to the internet where I found this low fat Sicilian Style Potato Gratin recipe. All I did to modify it for solar cooking was reduce the broth to one cup and cover the tin foil sealed baking dish with parchment paper. The cooking time was the same as the original recipe and it came out nicely browned on top.
 A quick note on cookware, specifically about color, since I got a question about it from a reader. Most solar cookers only work with black lightweight pots. I have found that this is not so with a Sun Oven. I use red, green, and black enamel ware pots and don't notice any difference in cooking times. I also use cast iron which increases the cooking time but has the advantage of keeping the food warm even after the sun goes down. Glass and ceramic baking dishes also give excellent results. Even a shiny pan can work if you cover it with a dish towel or parchment paper.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

A Simple Solar Cooked Dinner

After the extensive preparations that went into our two day camping trip, I was too tired to come up with anything exciting for dinner tonight. I followed a recipe for Pasta with Lentil Bolognese from but served it with rice instead of pasta. To modify it for the Sun Oven I used two pots. In the first one I cooked the lentils. I put the rest of the ingredients in the second pot and let them simmer alongside the lentils in the Sun Oven. I have learned from past experience that the acidity of the tomatoes will keep the lentils from softening so I prefer to precook them. When the lentils were almost done I combined everything into one pot and returned it to the Sun Oven. At this point I had enough room to start the rice. I served it just like it was pasta, spooning the lentils over the rice and dusting it with freshly grated romano cheese. It made a simple and satisfying dinner.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Camping with the Sun Oven

 We went camping for one night, and while there is some debate among my friends as to whether staying in a cabin is actually camping, that's what I'm calling it. So we didn't pitch a tent; we did bring our own linens, cook and eat outside, and use the nearby shower/restroom facilities. Really the cabin was nothing more than a hard sided tent.
Using the Sun Oven in this setting was mostly a question of preparation. The evening before I seasoned a small pork shoulder roast with a spice rub and wrapped it in plastic wrap. I also soaked some beans and chopped a bell pepper and onions. We got to the campsite just before noon, set up the Sun Oven and had our dinner cooking in no time. After an afternoon of hiking and enjoying the cooler temperatures-it's still in the 100's here in Phoenix-we enjoyed a relaxing picnic dinner.

With no t.v. or internet and only a flashlight to see by, we decided to call it an early night. I wanted to get up early to make breakfast in the Sun Oven. I didn't need an alarm clock, at 6:30 a.m. it was time to make a trip to the communal restrooms. When I got back the sun was just starting to peak over the trees. To use the Sun Oven to catch the early morning rays I remove the tray, turn it upside down and place a trivet, or in this case having forgotten to bring one, an upside down square pan, on the floor of the cooking chamber. By 7:00 the Sun Oven had reached 250º. Hot enough to cook some huevos rancheros. I took two small dark metal pans, coated them with cooking spray, then topped a corn tortilla with some beans left over from dinner and two eggs.

Monday, September 21, 2009

A Day of Solar Baking

The Sun Oven was very busy today. I made two pizzas, a focaccia and a pumpkin cake. To make my part of the job easy I used purchased pizza dough and a cake mix from Canterbury Naturals.  I couldn't decide if I wanted tomatoes or eggplant on the focaccia so I did both. A drizzle of olive oil, a sprinkle of salt, pop it in the pre-heated Sun Oven and you're done. It was a beautiful sunny day and keeping the temperature at 350º was a cinch.
Tomorrow we're taking the Sun Oven on a camping trip. I won't be able to update my blog until we get back but I promise to take pictures.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Sun Dried Tomatoes Day Two

Even with the Sun Oven being used to finish drying the tomatoes today, we still managed to have a solar cooked meal. For once I was thinking ahead when I cooked a whole pound of beans on Friday. I used some of them for that evening's pasta fagioli, the rest I saved for use during the rest of the week. Today we had this simple but satisfying salad.

White Bean, Onion and Tuna Salad

2 cups cooked white beans
2 cans tuna
1/2 red onion thinly sliced

Drain tuna, combine first three ingredients in a large bowl. Season to taste with oil, vinegar, salt and pepper. Serve with a good crusty bread.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Food Drying Stack

Yesterday I found that good deal on tomatoes that I had been looking for, and the timing couldn't have been better. We're going out to dinner with friends tonight, making it a perfect day to use the Sun Oven as a food dehydrator. This time I cut the tomatoes in half. Last time I quartered them and they turned out a little too dry. I used three pizza pans with two custard cups to separate them. I removed the swinging tray from the Sun Oven and placed a trivet on the bottom. It was a bit of a balancing act to get them to fit, I had to keep the oven at a slight tilt, but they are drying nicely. They are taking longer to dry this time, maybe because I only halved them or maybe because I'm using three pans instead of two, in any case it looks like it will be a two day project. That's just over four pounds of roma tomatoes on the trays and I could have fit half a pound more.
In case you're wondering what I do with all these sun dried tomatoes here's one of my favorite tuna recipes.

No Mayo Tuna Salad Sandwich Spread
4 - 6 servings

6 sun dried tomatoes
1 tbs capers, drained
6 black olives, pitted
2 cans tuna packed in water
2 tsp olive oil

Soak the tomatoes in a small bowl of warm water for approximately 10 minutes. Drain tomatoes reserving soaking water and place in a food processor with the capers and olives. Process until finely chopped. Add tuna and olive oil and process until mixed. Add reserved tomato soaking water 1 tsp at a time while processor is running until desired consistency is reached. Depending on the type of tuna, it may not be necessary to add any water at all.

This makes an excellent, low calorie sandwich spread.

Friday, September 18, 2009

More Solar Pasta Fagioli

Whenever I make lamb shanks with beans, a pot of pasta fagioli is sure to follow within a few days. It would be a shame to let the broth from the lamb go to waste. Technically it was not completely solar cooked. This morning I used the Sun Oven to cook some beans in one pot and a mixture of olive oil, leeks, carrot, celery, garlic and canned tomatoes in another. In the evening I combined the broth, beans and vegetable mixture in a dutch oven and brought the soup to a lazy boil before adding the pasta.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Solar Baked Cherry Oatmeal Crunch

After reading a delightful sounding solar biscotti recipe a fellow blogger sent me I was in the mood for some baking. With no eggs, no nuts, and no chocolate in the house the biscotti would have to wait for another day. Luckily I had a stick of butter, a can of cherries and a mix. It turned out so good we ate half of it before I got a chance to take a picture.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

A Solar Cooking Favorite

This lamb cassoulet was the first dish to appear on my blog. It's still one of my favorites. I adapted the recipe from Pressure Perfect by Lorna Sass.

Sun Oven Lamb Shanks with White Beans

1/2 lb. white beans (cannellini, great northern or mayocoba)
1 tbs. olive oil
2 leeks, chopped
2 medium carrots, chopped
2 bay leaves
3 1/2 cups water
2 lamb shanks
1 tbs fresh chopped rosemary
1 tbs balsamic vinegar
salt and pepper

Soak beans overnight. Heat oil in a large dutch oven, add leeks and carrots, saute for about five minutes. Add beans, water, bay leaves and lamb shanks. Cover and place in Sun Oven and cook for at least four hours. To serve remove meat from bones. Drain beans reserving broth for future use. Return beans to pot and season with rosemary, balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper.

Be sure to save the broth. It's the best part of the recipe and can be used to make outstanding soups.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Sun Oven Tomato Sauce

We spent most of the morning touring the solar testing grounds of our local power company. As we trekked along from one solar panel installation to another, I wracked my brain to come up with something to put in the Sun Oven today. I'd once again forgotten to soak any beans, so a simple tomato sauce would have to do. Being short on time I started it off inside by sauteing chopped onion, carrot, celery, garlic and mushrooms in olive oil. I added strained tomatoes and put the pot with the lid on in the Sun Oven. Leaving the lid on may have been a mistake. The sauce was a little watery but the culprit could have been the strained tomatoes that I bought. I was unable to find my favorite - Pomì - and had to substitute with a different brand. Now I have to think about what to make tomorrow. How about beans?

Monday, September 14, 2009

Sun Oven Dried Tomatoes

The Sun Oven can also be used as a food dehydrator. All you have to do is prop the glass door open. I'd been planning on making a big batch of sun dried tomatoes as soon as I found a good deal on fresh ones. This morning it dawned on me that I might want to try a small batch first just in case. Good thing I did. I wasn't sure if I should slice the tomatoes or just cut them in half. I was afraid that they would not dry out enough if I cut them in half. I was wrong. The sliced ones stuck to the pan and had to be thrown away. The ones in the picture came out great; I cut them in quarters this time, but when I do find a bargain I'll just cut them in half. A tomato's moisture is no match for the Arizona sun combined with a Sun Oven. These were dry in under six hours.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Sun Oven Turkey and Rice

I was going to wait until Thanksgiving to make my first turkey in the Sun Oven. I've been told that it can be used to cook a bird as big as 18 lbs. Since it would take us a month to eat that much turkey I opted for thighs only today. After yesterday's overcooked eggs I made an effort to pay more attention to the cooking time. I even used a meat thermometer. The meat took two hours to reach 180ºf. The glass door of the Sun Oven was also starting to steam up which is another sign of doneness.
Normally I prefer white rice but this brown rice that I got from Massa Organics is the best I've every tasted. I brined the thighs overnight and seasoned them with sage, butter, salt and pepper. Even with just two thighs we have plenty of leftovers for another meal.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Solar Hard Boiled Eggs

No major solar cooking projects today. With the fridge full of leftovers I thought I'd experiment a little. I've wanted to use the Sun Oven to make some hard boiled eggs ever since I learned from Paul Munsen of Sun Ovens Int. that it was possible. I found the idea of boiling an egg without water to be very intriguing. Turns out it may be the one thing that is possible to overcook in a Sun Oven. I didn't pay attention to the time when I put the eggs in the oven and then I completely forgot about them. In all I think they were in the Sun Oven for just under two hours. They came out a little on the brownish side. Paul had warned me that they would have brown spots if they were touching but mine were brown all over. They were still edible and made a nice mid-afternoon snack but I'd take them out of the oven sooner next time, assuming I remember. It's good to know that the Sun Oven is so versatile. While it's easy enough to boil an egg over a traditional stove, the Sun Oven would come in handy when camping where open flames are not allowed.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Solar Italian Meatloaf

Whenever I'm too busy to get something in the Sun Oven before noon I start getting antsy. It seems like morning errands always take longer than expected and then there's the constant threat of clouds rolling in,  making me feel even more uneasy. Today it was almost 2:00 p.m. by the time I got the meatloaf into the Sun Oven but luckily the sky remained clear and dinner was a success.
I got today's recipe from "The Toaster Oven Cookbook". It is my favorite meatloaf recipe. I serve it with spaghetti with tomato sauce, a green vegetable and a glass of red wine.

Solar Italian Meatloaf

1 lb. ground beef
1 cup breadcrumbs
1 onion, minced
1 clove garlic, minced
1 egg, beaten
1/4 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
1/2 tsp. dry mustard
1/3 cup red wine
1/4 tsp. dried basil
1/4 tsp. salt

Combine all ingredients in a large bowl. Mix thoroughly with your hands. Pat mixture into a large loaf pan. Place loaf pan in a roaster pan with a cover. Place covered pan in pre-heated Sun Oven for approx. one hour.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Solar Red Lentil Soup

As soon as we got back from our two day mini vacation, I went to the store for some red lentils.  I vary the recipe every time I make it, but the basic recipe is onion and garlic sauteed in olive oil, ground coriander, cumin, mustard, ginger, lemon peel and red lentils. We like it thick so I use less water than most recipes call for. I served it with sour cream and hot sauce. Red lentils cook quickly and are great for solar cooking. The soup was ready in about an hour.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Breakfast in the Sun Oven

We left this morning for a two day vacation. I took advantage of the fact that we would be getting up a bit earlier than usual to try using the Sun Oven to make breakfast. Normally the sun is too low to start solar cooking before 9 a.m. but if you turn the Sun Oven upside down you can catch the early morning rays. I made the same thing as I did last meatless Monday, baked eggs with zucchini. I put the Sun Oven out at 7 a.m and the eggs were ready by 9 a.m. I realize that's a bit late for breakfast but it gave us time to get everything ready to go and have a hot meal before hitting the road. I'll be out of town for the next two days so my next solar cooking update will be on Thursday.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

A Last Minute Change of Plans

One of the reasons I don't make a weekly menu is that every time I have done so, the grocery store would inevitably be out of some of the essential ingredients on my list. Today I had one thing planned, red lentil soup, so you can imagine my disappointment when I discovered that was the only empty bin in the bulk food section at the store. It was already mid morning and with little time to come up with an alternate meal plan I fell back on something I've already made - slow cooked chicken with salsa. This time I used boneless, skinless thighs instead of breast and in my opinion it's much better. The superior flavor and moistness of the thighs make it well worth the the additional calories. We used it to make soft tacos. I must admit, when in a pinch there is nothing easier for solar cooking than this dish. Chicken + a jar of salsa + tortillas = dinner.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Solar Oven Chef Gets a Day Off

It was overcast all day today with intermittent showers or as Martin put it; a beautiful summer day - in England. Needless to say no solar cooking going on.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Solar Baked Falafel

I got this recipe for baked falafel from the local newspaper. It sounded perfect for the Sun oven and it probably is, but I hit a few snags. Since the Sun Oven consistently reaches 350º I thought the cooking time would be about the same. I had things to do in the morning and figured I'd be home in plenty of time to make falafel sandwiches for  a quick lunch. It probably would have been do-able if I'd put the Sun Oven out to preheat before leaving to run my morning errands. This is one of the small changes that sometimes are the hardest to get used to when using a new cooking method. The concept of turning an oven on hours before it's needed is so foreign that sometimes I forget that with solar cooking there is no downside to doing just that. As it turned out the Sun Oven was not hot enough when I put the falafel in. After forty minutes the falafel was just beginning to brown. I would have preferred to bake it a few more minutes but I had more errands to run and I was hungry. The overall flavor was good. I will definitely make a second attempt at Solar Baked Falafel in the near future.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Solar Muffins In Time for Breakfast

Depending how you look at it I got either an early or late start today. I put a batch of muffins in the Sun Oven at 9 a.m. I showered while they were baking and had a warm muffin for breakfast. I used a mix from Trader Joe's. These muffins were much better than the last ones I made and at only 150 calories each a pretty good deal all around.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Sun Oven Pot Roast

In one of my first blog entries I talked about getting organized. I made a menu for the week and may have even stuck to it, for a week. I don't know why I still believe I'll become the kind of person who can plan out more than a day's worth of meals and gather all the necessary ingredients with one weekly trip to the grocery store. That's why I often find myself in situations like today. I spent the morning foraging in my pantry and browsing the internet looking for some inspiration. I didn't have much to work with, a few cans of salmon, less than a cup of red lentils, carrots, celery, potatoes, onions and a rutabaga. I could have baked some more bread or a batch of muffins but I wanted to make something new. I would have to make a morning run to the market. By now it was so late I needed something that could be thrown together quickly before I left for the afternoon. The pot roast was on sale. It would go well with all the root vegetables. Sounds like dinner to me.
 I really wouldn't call this a recipe. All I did was dot the meat with garlic, brown it in a dutch oven, add the chopped vegetables with a some broth and place it in the Sun Oven. It was noon by the time I got it in the Sun Oven. I didn't touch it again until dinnertime at 6 p.m.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Solar Cooking Tricks

The Sun Oven's cooking chamber may seem small at first sight, but don't be fooled. If you remove the leveling tray you will be able to use a 6 qt pot like I did today. I've been told that it is possible to cook a turkey as large as 18 lbs in the Sun Oven using a baking bag. I haven't done this yet but if it's sunny on Thanksgiving day I'll give it a shot. The only thing to remember is to never set anything directly on the bottom of the Sun Oven. That would create a hot spot and your food could burn. To avoid any problems simply place a small trivet on the bottom of the chamber and place the pot, or turkey - in it's bag- on top of it.
I used this large pot to make a batch of vegetable soup. This low calorie soup is a staple in our household. I'm a lifetime member of Weight Watchers and Martin recently joined. We often have it as a first course for dinner. The base recipe is as follows:

Pureed Vegetable Soup

1 small potato
1 medium carrot
2 celery stalks
2 cups cubed butternut squash
1 medium zucchini
1 clove garlic
1 can red kidney beans
1/2 lb swiss chard or cabbage
1 tbs tomato paste
2 qt chicken or vegetable broth

Roughly chop all vegetables. Simmer in broth until tender. Puree soup with a handheld blender. Add salt and pepper to taste. Drizzle each serving with 1 tsp olive oil (optional)

I vary the vegetables according to what I have on hand. If I'm in a hurry I buy pre-chopped squash and pre-washed swiss chard from Trader Joe's. You can also add fresh herbs like basil or parsley just before serving.