Saturday, October 31, 2009

Solar Cooking from Ten to Two

It took a few days to get used to, but solar cooking from ten to two is definitely the way to go. After a trip to the grocery store yesterday I was ready. Today's dish is another variation on braised lamb shanks using a recipe from I got it in the Sun Oven, which had reached 300º, at 10:30 a.m. After refocusing it a few times we went out for a few hours. When we got home, at 3:00 p.m., the temperature had gone down to 250º, but the lamb was fall off the bone tender and the beans were soft. 
It's going to take a little more planning to continue solar cooking throughout the colder months, but I think I'm going to make it.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Chocolate Cupcakes

I was so worried about getting something going by ten that I didn't even notice the clouds until I put the Sun Oven out to preheat. It was sunny, but the sky was covered with wispy clouds. I went ahead and set it up anyway; there was enough sun to cast a good shadow and that's really all you need.
I didn't have anything on hand to start dinner so I went to the pantry for a mix. A few weeks ago I bought a whole bunch made by Canterbury Naturals and so far they've all been pretty good. To cut down on the calories I substituted pureed pumpkin for some of the butter and for easy portion control made cupcakes instead of a loaf.
Despite the slightly overcast sky the Sun Oven quickly got up to 275º, a little lower than the 325º called for, but I just let the cupcakes bake a little longer. They came out nice and moist. We each had one for dessert with a little whipped cream. The rest will go into the freezer so we don't eat them all at once.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Late Start

Gone are the summer days when I could spend the better part of the morning browsing recipes in search of my next meal. I was doing that this morning, with little success, when I realized it was getting late. Having had no luck finding anything new and exciting I settled for chicken and rice with a side of root vegetables. I've made this before, but a never-been-done-before dish was just not going to happen today.
I wanted the vegetables - rutabagas, parsnips, and turnips - to be more roasted than steamed so I used two pans. I've done this before and it works, but considering my late start, this was probably not a good choice today. While it's possible to cook more than one thing at a time in the Sun Oven it does increase the cooking time, something I was quickly running out of. I guess I just have to come to terms with winter's limited cooking hours. It was past noon by the time I got everything into the Sun Oven. This just did not leave enough hours of effective sunlight to get the job done. The vegetables were o.k, but I had to pop the chicken and rice in the indoor oven for about twenty minutes to finish it. During these shorter days, when the sun is lower in the sky, the window for solar cooking seems to be from ten to two.
After a day like today you'd think I'd learned my lesson and get organized the night before, but I still have no idea what to put in the Sun Oven tomorrow. Whatever it turns out to be, it's going in earlier.

The pictures show how I got both pots in the Sun Oven. The towel is to prevent the tin foil from deflecting the heat. This method really does work. I've used it several times. I just started too late today.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Left Out In The Sun

This morning I got a chance to follow my own advice. I've said over and over that you can put a frozen chicken in the Sun Oven in the morning, focus it in the direction of the midday sun, and come home to find it ready. I never mention that I've never actually done that. Well, today I came close. It was my first day of volunteering at the Arizona Humane Society and I had to be there at eight a.m. I'd be home by one, but had a busy afternoon so I wanted to get something going. Yesterday was cloudy and the temperature here dropped twenty degrees overnight, I had no idea what kind of day was in store. The lower temperature was not a concern, that would not affect the solar cooking, but I couldn't tell if there were clouds on the horizon.  I set my solar oven up before the sun had fully risen and hoped for the best.
I used an idea that I got from one of my readers and made chicken breast with pasta sauce. She uses partially frozen chicken and cuts it into pieces before putting in it in the pot with the sauce. I left the breasts whole. I really didn't have a choice. I forgot to take them out of the freezer last night so they were frozen solid. She also puts cheese on top. I have to weigh in at Weight Watchers tomorrow so I did without.
Once I got to the Humane Society I was so busy washing surgical tools, helping out in the spay and neuter clinic, that I completely forgot about the Sun Oven. At one point, when I noticed there were no windows in the room, I considered stepping outside to check on the weather, but didn't bother. Either it was sunny or it wasn't and my food would cook or it wouldn't. I'd find out when I got home. Well, I did come home to find it ready. At dinnertime I tossed it with some pasta and enjoyed a no fuss meal.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Meatless Monday Pumpkin Curry

It turns out it was a very good thing I didn't take my Sun Oven with me to L.A. Between the thick fog that rolled in on Thursday and the fact that we were so busy working that we didn't even get a chance to go for a walk on the beach that was half a block away, I wouldn't have been able to use it at all. We left much later than expected on Sunday and didn't make it home until two a.m. I was afraid I wouldn't get any solar cooking done today so I was overjoyed this morning to find a recipe using ingredients that I mostly had on hand.  I substituted butternut squash for the pumpkin, somehow the one in the fridge hadn't rotted yet, and I only had to go to the store for the spinach and apple. This worked out great because they didn't need to be added until the last ten minutes of cooking, giving me plenty of time to get the dish started. Paired with some brown rice it made a complete meal with very little fuss. I found the recipe on Here's the link: Pumpkin Curry with Lentils and Apples.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Solar Baked Lemon Cupcakes

Both Martin and I are among the rare people who are not big fans of frosting. I don't mind a light coating, but I'm of the opinion that the actual cake should be good enough to stand on it's own. In fact, I would have left these cupcakes unfrosted, especially since the powdered sugar glaze I came up with is pretty pathetic, but I once overheard a kid say that a cupcake without frosting is a muffin. I've already made muffins this week, hence the icing.
We'll be bringing these with us tomorrow on our business trip to Los Angeles. I like to bring something fun to eat on what may very well be the most boring stretch of highway in the world. I toyed with the idea of bringing my Sun Oven with me, but it's just too impractical. After all, who brings their stove with them when they go out of town? The solar oven chef will be back on Monday.
The mix I used is from Canterbury Naturals.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Half Solar Beef Stew

Well it finally happened. I ran out of sun. I dilly dallied around too long this morning. Since I was working from home today I figured I had plenty of time to make my stew. I guess I should have read the recipe closer. The meat had to braise two and a half hours before adding the potatoes and carrots, which needed to simmer for another hour. I didn't get it started until just before noon. With the shorter days and the fact that I currently do not have access to the part of my yard that gets the late afternoon sun - we're reseeding the grass - my solar cooking window is significantly diminished. There just was not enough sunlight to complete the stew. I tried. In fact I just assumed everything was fine and left it in the Sun Oven until dinnertime. It wasn't until I was about to set the table that I realized the vegetables were not anywhere near ready. Not really a disaster. I finished it up on the stove and we had a late dinner. Tomorrow I'll try to get an earlier start.
Once again, I used a recipe from which can be found here:
Beef Stew with Potatoes and Carrots 

Monday, October 19, 2009

Solar Vegetarian Lasagna for Meatless Monday

I was still feeling pretty lazy today so this Easy Whole Wheat Vegetarian Lasagna recipe I found by doing a google search looked pretty good. I made it even easier by using no boil lasagna noodles. I've yet to find a vegetarian lasagna recipe that really excites me. Most of them, including this one, have way too much cheese. It turned out better than I expected, but next time I think I'll spruce it up with some veggies and fresh herbs. There is only one small, but extremely important, modification to adapt this recipe for the Sun Oven. After placing the tin foil covered glass baking dish in the Sun Oven, cover it with a dish towel so the heat will not be deflected. Don't worry, the towel will not catch on fire.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Solar Cooking on a Lazy Sunday

It's days like today that mixes were invented for. I was pretty exhausted this morning. After spending five hours in the sun at the preparedness fair yesterday, I went to the Arizona Humane Society to fill out some paperwork for volunteering, then we went out to dinner with some friends. So this morning I headed to my pantry for an apple spice bread mix from Trader Joe's to make muffins. I even got to use more of my cast iron muffin pans. This time, to make things easier, I chose pans that fit in the Sun Oven without removing the leveling tray. The muffins were ready in time for breakfast, a rather late breakfast, but like the title says, it's a lazy Sunday.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Turkey, Ribs, Chicken, Bread and More...

Today was an amazing day of solar cooking. I was invited to an emergency preparedness fair by a local Sun Oven dealer. We couldn't have asked for better weather. Without a cloud in the sky and record high temperatures the multiple Sun Ovens were cranking out food like crazy. I made my signature Chicken with Two Lemons over Rice and baked two loaves of bread. Terry, who invited me to the fair, made cinnamon rolls, bread sticks, baby back ribs and roasted a thirteen pound turkey. Everything was devoured so fast I didn't even get a chance to take pictures, especially since I was doing my part to sample the fruits of our labor. The turkey, of course, drew the most attention. It was fully cooked in four hours, but we left it in for five, and it was moist and delicious. Unlike with a conventional oven where overcooking would dry the meat out, the additional roasting time made it juicier. I will definitely be solar roasting my Thanksgiving day bird, but what impressed me most were the ribs. I always thought ribs were hard to cook but all Terry did was season them with salt and pepper. After two hours in the Sun Oven they were fall off the bone tender. These will probably be on the menu of my next get together with friends. I really hope we achieved our goal of encouraging more people to cook with the sun. I'd love to have a few more solar chefs to exchange recipes with.

Friday, October 16, 2009

More Bread from the Sun Oven

I had to be somewhere very early this morning; I hate getting up early. Then I spent most of the afternoon getting ready for a preparedness fair tomorrow where I will be doing a Sun Oven demonstration. That made it a good day for baking bread. The bread machine does most of the work and I wasn't in the mood to cook anything today, plus, you can never have too much bread.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Braised Short Ribs with Parsnip Mashed Potatoes

It was a pretty uneventful solar cooking day. Our local supermarket,  Sprouts, had short ribs on sale, so I picked some up yesterday. This morning I found a recipe I liked on that wasn't too complicated. The sky was clear with no clouds in sight. I did have to go to three stores this morning to find parsnips. I was tempted to leave them out. I'm glad I didn't. I normally don't like parsnips, but they really went well in this dish. Hurray! A new vegetable has been added to my diet. That always makes me happy.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Split Pea Soup

Looking back over my previous blog posts I detected a pattern. Whenever I can't come up with anything new I make split pea soup and that's exactly what I did today. My recipe, if you can call it that, is very simple. Diced onion, carrots, and celery sauteed in some olive oil. Add two cups of split peas, about five cups of water, a tablespoon or so of marjoram and leave it in the Sun Oven until the peas are falling apart. Puree it with a hand held blender, add salt and pepper to taste and you're done. I used to simmer a ham hock or a smoked turkey leg with it, but I think the soup is just as good without meat. I always try to make as big a batch as possible because this soup freezes very well, but with Martin around there usually isn't much left. Luckily, especially since I stopped putting the meat in it, it's about the easiest thing in the world to make.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Solar Baked Corn Muffins

Inspired by a reader's comment on my failed cornmeal bread I dusted off my cast iron muffin pan collection last night. I had a corn bread mix that I bought a few weeks ago and all the necessary ingredients. This was great. I like going to bed knowing what I'll be solar cooking the next day almost as much as I like knowing that my solar cooked dinner will be ready when I get home from work. Now I had to choose a pan. Here are the finalists:

Fishes? Stars?

Two of my favorites, but they don't fit in the Sun Oven.

Snowmen? Christmas trees?

A little early for those.


Too cheesy.

Autumn Fruits.

Perfect. (almost)

The pan was still too big to fit in the Sun Oven without removing the leveling tray. This meant I'd have to wait until the sun was high in the sky because I would not be able to tilt the Sun Oven. I went to bed, happy knowing that today would be a light solar cooking day.
Out of habit I set the Sun Oven up first thing in the morning. I then had the bright idea that just maybe the muffins could be ready in time for breakfast. This time of year, when the sun is lower, the earliest you can start using the Sun Oven is about nine o'clock. If you've been following this blog you may have figured out by now that I am not an early riser. Nine thirty is a little late for my breakfast, but not too late. I decided to go for it. I had completely forgotten the part about waiting until the sun was at its peak until it was time to put the pan in the Sun Oven. I tried everything I could think of to fit the muffin pan in the Sun Oven, without spilling anything, while focusing it towards the low morning sun, with no success. I wound up baking the muffins at a much lower than desired temperature. By this point I'd accepted the fact that they would not be ready for breakfast and poured myself a bowl of - yawn - shredded wheat.
In spite of all that, the muffins were done by ten thirty and, apart from the fact that I overfilled the cups and they didn't really look anything like autumn fruits, they were pretty good.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Meatless Monday Lentil Shepherd's Pie

 This morning we had what I like to call a 'Simpsons Sky', big white clouds with a  blue background. These types of clouds mean longer cooking times. If I wanted to make my lentil shepherd's pie entirely in the Sun Oven I would have to get busy. As long as the lentils and potatoes were done by 1:00 p.m. I could leave the assembled pie in the oven all afternoon while I was at work. I love it when I'm out working and my dinner is waiting for me in the back yard. The lentils were cooked just in time, but I had to cheat a little with the potatoes by boiling them on the stove for about five minutes. I should have put them in the Sun Oven at the same time as the lentils. If I had they would have been ready in time. This little cheat, however, did allow me to bake the pie in the Sun Oven and gave me the luxury of coming home to a fully cooked meal.
If you want the recipe you can find it here:

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Sunny with Meatballs

I don't make meatballs often. Mostly because I hate browning the little suckers before putting them in the oven. That, and the fact that it seems like a stretch to claim a dish is solar cooked if the bulk of the cooking is done in a frying pan on the stove. So when I found a recipe in the soon to be defunct Gourmet magazine that went straight to the oven, no browning required, I decided to give it a try.
I made a batch last week but when they were ready to go into the Sun Oven clouds had rolled in and it was obvious that it would be one of Arizona's rare overcast days. In a way that was fortunate because it turns out the only thing I liked about the original recipe was the no browning part.
I believe I made enough modifications to call this recipe my own. A few more tweaks and it may very well become a regular at our dinner table.

Solar Oven Meatballs and Red Sauce

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

1 26 oz. carton Pomi strained tomatoes
1/4 tsp salt
1 tbs fresh basil, chopped

Soak breadcrumbs in the wine. In a large bowl combine with next eight ingredients, beef through salt. Form 12 meatballs. Place meatballs in a dark square baking pan big enough to accommodate them without crowding. Pour strained tomatoes and salt over the meatballs. Cover with tin foil. Place in Sun Oven and cover pan with a dish towel. After about 30 minutes remove dish towel and tin foil. Continue cooking, uncovered, for another 30 minutes. Remove from Sun Oven and stir in basil. Serve over spaghetti with additional freshly grated parmesan cheese.

The dish towel trick comes in handy whenever you want to cover something with tin foil or if you need to use a shiny pot. Without the dish towel the sun's heat would be deflected and the food may not cook. Trust me, I speak from experience.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Clouds Curtail Cooking of Chocolate Croissant.

On a day like today I realize I'm totally spoiled. Arizona is a perfect climate for solar cooking, the Global Sun Oven is, in my opinion, the best solar cooker on the market and I get to take advantage of both. Even today, with less than ideal weather conditions, I managed to bake some bread.
 I slept in this morning and woke up to a partially cloudy sky. I put the Sun Oven out to preheat first thing. I had taken two chocolate croissant out of the freezer before going to bed. At 350 calories each I consider these a special treat and had been looking forward to enjoying one all week. Unfortunately after they had been in the Sun Oven for ten minutes the sun went behind a large cloud where it looked like it was going to stay for a while. I wanted to savor my croissant with my coffee that was brewing so I finished baking them inside.
In the meantime I was second guessing my decision to bake bread today. I don't mind turning the indoor oven on for the short amount of time to bake a croissant but bread is another story. It's not so much the cost, I just prefer the taste and texture of solar baked goods. I rarely baked bread before owning a Sun Oven, now I do almost weekly. Of course I needn't have worried. The weather was not ideal, but it was adequate. The baking time was simply longer. Unlike with a conventional oven a longer cooking time does not affect the quality of the food. So with intermittent sun and a little patience by mid afternoon we were able to enjoy some freshly baked bread.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Solar Cooked Acorn Sqash

I had a very busy day today. Well, a busy afternoon and evening. I had enough time in the morning to roast some acorn squash and get a start on a pot of pasta fagioli. We had some of the solar cooked squash for lunch, but the pasta fagioli will have to wait until tomorrow. I only had an hour between the time I got home from work and the time we had to go out again to attend a volunteer orientation at the Arizona Humane Society. There just wasn't enough time to finish making the soup, so we grabbed a quick bite out. The animals are worth it.
I brushed the sliced acorn squash with a mixture of olive oil, balsamic vinegar, honey, and red chili pepper and roasted it in the Sun Oven for about forty minutes. I don't like overly sweet squash, but the chili pepper gives it a nice kick.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Creamy Sun Oven Risotto

With the sun back out in full force I was able to complete my risotto today. I used the sauteed onions from yesterday. I figured they'd be safe and it was nice to have a day off from onion chopping. To keep the dish as close as possible to traditional risotto I let the pot with the onions heat up before adding the rice. When it was sizzling hot, after about ten minutes in the Sun Oven, I stirred in a cup of arborio rice. While the rice sauteed with the onion I reheated two cups of leftover minestrone in... gasp... the microwave. When making a traditional risotto the hot liquid would be added a little at a time, while constantly stirring the rice. This would be impractical with a Sun Oven, so I added the minestrone all in one go, gave it a good stir, covered the pot and let it cook for thirty minutes. After removing the risotto from the Sun Oven I stirred in half a cup of freshly grated parmesan cheese and some fresh basil. The result was a pretty tasty risotto. The rice was al dente and it was even slightly creamy. We polished it off for lunch.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

A Day in the Life of a Sun Oven

I had every intention of using the minestrone left over from Monday to make a risotto for dinner tonight. I'm still on the fence about making risotto in the Sun Oven. Rice prepared in the Sun Oven, especially when cooked in the same pot as chicken, is delicious; it's texture, however, is not creamy like stovetop risotto. I was hoping that with careful timing I'd get more risotto like results. This meant the Sun Oven would be idle until late afternoon. The weather was also iffy.
For the first part of the morning it was mostly cloudy. I put the Sun Oven out anyway so Martin could bake his daily croissant; how quickly habits are formed. Before leaving for a morning appointment I warned him that he might have to bake it in the indoor oven. He didn't. The sun came out long enough to get the job done.
When I got home there were even more clouds on the horizon, but it was still mostly sunny. I took advantage of the preheated Sun Oven to whip up some huevos rancheros. After lunch I decided to get a head start and cook the onions for the risotto. That's as far as I got. By early afternoon the clouds had taken over; we even got a few drops of rain. I wound up having something else for dinner. I'll give solar risotto another try tomorrow. The weather forecast looks good.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Solar Baked Croissant

I recently discovered these frozen croissants from Trader Joe's. You let them defrost overnight, pop them in the oven in the morning, and they're delicious. By oven I mean the indoor oven; I get up too early to bake them in the Sun Oven. Martin, however, insisted that they could be solar baked. I was unwilling to wait until midmorning for my breakfast so Martin decided to bake one for himself. It came out perfect. So perfect that from now on I may have to add a midmorning snack to my normal daily meals.
I also made one of my favorite solar dishes today, Chicken with Two Lemons.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Meatless Monday Minestrone

Inspired by the simple soup I made on Friday I put this minestrone together with vegetables I had on hand: leeks, savoy cabbage, butternut squash, carrots, celery and cranberry beans. Paired with a loaf of good crusty bread, some goat cheese and a glass of wine we enjoyed a light dinner. I used a cast iron dutch oven and slow cooked it all afternoon. I left it in the sealed Sun Oven until dinner time so there would be no need to reheat it. I plan on using the left overs for a risotto.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Meatballs with a Chance of Cloudy

It was nice and sunny this morning at eight o'clock. It seemed like the perfect day to make meatballs. By nine o' clock they were ready to go, but the sun had disappeared. I could tell by the number of clouds on the horizon that we would have, at best, sporadic sunshine today. Not the kind of day for any kind of solar cooking; least of all ground beef. Not wanting the raw meat swimming in tomato sauce to become a bacteria playground I turned on the electric oven and called it a day.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Solar Roasted Carrots with Cardamon

No major solar cooking today. Just some baby carrots tossed with melted butter and ground cardamon then slow roasted in the Sun Oven. I was hoping they would brown but even after an hour at 350º they were not changing color. I wound up leaving them in the oven all day, mostly because I went out for a quick errand thinking another half hour might do the trick. One errand lead to another and I didn't get back until 4 o'clock. By this time some of the carrots were brown, but they had also shriveled up and were more like carrot jerky than anything else.
Browning is probably one of the trickiest things about solar cooking. I know I've been successful in the past. I even went back to some of my previous posts just to be sure. My theory is that it has to do with the angle of the sun. It's still hot here, but the sun is much lower in the sky than during the summer months meaning that the Sun Oven needs to be focused accordingly. We've also had a high pollution warning in effect this week so that could be another factor. Whatever the case I think I'll stick to foods that don't need browning for the next few months.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Sun Oven Sauteing

This morning I made a simple soup using onions, garlic, canned cannellini beans, canned broth and savoy cabbage. Normally I would saute the onions and garlic on the indoor stove but for some reason today that seemed like cheating. I let the olive oil heat up while I chopped the onion and garlic. By the time I'd finished chopping the oil was nice and hot. I let the onion and garlic cook about ten minutes before adding the rest of the ingredients. I served it over the disappointing cornmeal bread from yesterday. It made a very satisfying lunch.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

My First Failure- Cornmeal Bread

It had to happen sooner or later. I'm surprised I made it this far without any major culinary disasters. In general the Sun Oven is very forgiving. It's practically impossible to overcook or burn anything, but it can't compensate for a bad recipe or not following one properly. I don't know why I chose this recipe. We were out of bread and I wanted to try something new. In retrospect I should have stuck with my trusted 100% whole wheat bread recipe. I'm not sure what I did wrong. When I noticed that the loaves were not rising I checked the troubleshooting chapter of my cookbook. Among the possible causes were:
1. Too much yeast. The recipe called for 1 1/2 tsp. I used a whole packet.
2. Too much water. The dough seemed a little dry so I added a tiny bit during the kneading cycle.
The bread came out dense with an overall unpleasant crumbly texture. The flavor was similar to cornbread. I don't really like cornbread. At least I used up all the cornmeal I had in the pantry so I won't make the mistake of trying this bread recipe again any time soon.
As for the Sun Oven, it did it's job perfectly maintaining a temperature of 350º turning out two nicely browned loaves in forty-five minutes.