Thursday, December 31, 2009

Solar Stew

Our guests are gone and the sun is back. After getting up early to bring them to the airport I swung by the grocery store to pick up something to cook in the Sun Oven before heading out to work. It was a beautiful clear day and a slow cooked beef stew sounded like a good dinner to come home to. It was in fact cooked to perfection when I got home. The only problem was after such a long day, the two weeks of preparing  three meals a day for four people suddenly caught up to me. I had no energy to prepare anything to go with it. I took another trip to the store - in my pajamas! - to get some ready made mashed potatoes. Even more out of character for me, I heated them up in the microwave. My microwave is so seldomly used that it's kept in a storage room, not the kitchen. I did manage to steam some carrots and peas to add some color and once the store bought potatoes were smothered with the stew they weren't so bad.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Sun Cooked Oatmeal Coconut Raspberry Bars, without the Sun, Coconut or Raspberry

The sun came out just enough to trick me into whipping up a batch of bar cookies. I started them out in the Sun Oven but had to surrender to the clouds half way through and transfer them inside. The end result was still good and I'm quite proud of the fact that I successfully modified a baked good recipe. Something I rarely have the courage to do. I used's Oatmeal Coconut Raspberry Bars recipe substituting sliced almonds for the coconut and apricot jam for the raspberry.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

BBQ Pork Riblets and Turkey Thighs

Today was Martin's birthday and he requested pulled pork. Easy enough - except our guests don't eat pork. To keep everyone happy and fed I made both pork riblets and turkey thighs. BBQ pork is a Sun Oven favorite, but today's BBQ turkey thighs were a first. I simply removed the skin then covered the meat with a spice rub and put them in a pot with some liquid smoke. We have enough left over for another meal so tomorrow I may bake Martin a belated birthday cake.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Lentils, Lentils, Lentils

I would have been more than happy if it had been cloudy today. I was still a little groggy from yesterday's feast and not really in the mood to do any cooking at all. But of course the sun was out in full force. I threw a pot of red lentil soup in the Sun Oven around noon for dinner and heated up the green lentils that were left over from Christmas eve for lunch. There aren't many foods I would serve twice in one day but lentils are one of them. No one complained when they reappeared on the table for dinner, we don't even have any leftovers.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Solar Baked Christmas Partybrot

Luckily for me my cousin invited us to Christmas dinner so I didn't have to cook much. It was a potluck kind of thing and of course I had to bring something from the Sun Oven. The main courses were covered - turkey, porchetta, and rib roast. Almost everyone else was bringing dessert. That left me with the rolls. The hardest part was the timing. I wanted to go visit the kitties at the Arizona Humane Society in the morning so I had to get two batches of bread dough ready for solar baking by 9:30 a.m. I measured out all the ingredients the night before, set my alarm for 5:30 a.m, got the first batch going in the breadmaking machine, and went back to bed. An hour and a half later I was up again to start the second batch, then it was back to bed for one more hour. The rolls had to rise one last time before going into the Sun Oven which at 9:30 a.m had reached 200ºF. I popped them in the Sun Oven and went off to play with the cats. I left instructions with the three people at home to keep an eye on them and take them out when the were brown. When I got back at 11:30 a.m. there wasn't a soul in sight, they'd gone out for a walk, the Sun Oven door was covered in condensation, and the rolls were brown. I got them out in the nick of time.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Lentil Soup

I woke up with a craving for lentils. This of course meant that I didn't have any lentils in the house. By the time I got back from the grocery store it was getting late. I rinsed the newly purchased lentils and put them in the Sun Oven. The rest of the soup, which came out more like a stew, would have to be cooked on the stove. It was a good, simple meal. Just the kind you want the day before a big feast.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The Stormy Weather is over. Clear Skies Again. Solar Dinner is Served.

After three days of clouds I was ready for a good solar cooked meal. I made chicken thighs with garlic and rosemary, and root vegetables.  Our guests don't eat beef or pork so my choices are limited. I served it with a turnip risotto made with the pan juices, and some steamed kale. To think, yesterday we had a dust storm, rain, and hail and today there was hardly a cloud in the sky.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Slow cooker saves lamb cassoulet

It looked like it was going to be a sunny day. I didn't even think to check the forecast. I put the Sun Oven out early with lamb cassoulet and left for my shift at the Arizona Humane Society. It was a very busy morning. We found homes for eight cats; I didn't have any time to think about my solar cooking. It wasn't until I was half way home that I realized the sun was nowhere in sight. Luckily when I got home the Sun Oven was at 150º and with no chance of the sun coming back out I transferred everything to the slow cooker. I think I salvaged it in the nick of time.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Second Best Solar Dish Ever

There probably won't be very many new dishes coming out of the Sun Oven while our guests are here. I'm not one of those cooks brave enough to serve untested recipes to company. Tonight we had solar cooked split pea soup as our first course with grilled turkey sausages, baked potato wedges, and kale for our main course. Martin said that solar split pea soup is his second favorite after chicken with two lemons.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Chicken for Dinner

Chicken is probably the best way to make a good first impression with solar cooking. I made my tried and true chicken with two lemons over brown rice for our guests tonight. As usual the meat was fall off the bone tender and the rice was creamy and full of flavor. They said it was the best chicken they'd ever eaten.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Hot Solar Soup for Travelers

The housework is all done. Finally. Our guests have arrived. I wasn't sure if they would be hungry after their long flight from England. Just in case I had a nice pot of solar cooked pasta fagioli waiting for them. Easy to heat up if they wanted some - which they did - and if they hadn't it would have still been good tomorrow.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Partly Sunny Day Good Enough for Baked Potatoes

Another day of cleaning and partly sunny weather. The morning was completely overcast and I didn't think there would be any solar cooking happening at all. The clouds broke around noon, but I was pretty sure there would be intermittent sunshine for the rest of the afternoon at best. I needed something to go with yesterday's uneaten meatloaf muffins so I tossed some potatoes in the Sun Oven. My weather forecast was correct, the sun continued to come and go throughout the afternoon, but it was enough to make some mighty tasty baked potatoes.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Meatloaf Muffins

I'm still pretty busy getting the house ready for our guests that are due to arrive on Thursday. I managed to get this pan of muffins in the Sun Oven in the morning. I like to add vegetables to my meatloaf to cut back on calories. I usually use carrots and zucchini, but today I experimented with carrots and cabbage; I didn't have any zucchini. They look and smelled good, but we haven't eaten them yet. Late this afternoon I cleaned the oven, the indoor one, and it made the kitchen so stinky that we grabbed a bite out. We'll have the meatloaf muffins for dinner tomorrow.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Solar Cooked Chickpeas

With company arriving this week I can no longer put it off, I have to get the house clean. I remembered to soak the chickpeas for today's vegetarian stew, but I didn't have all the other ingredients. I could have made a quick trip to the store and had the vegetables in the Sun Oven around noon. That would have been enough time to solar cook it, but then it would have been lunch time and I'd have decided there was something else I needed to be doing in the afternoon and cleaning house would have been put off for one more day. I'm incredibly good at avoiding housework. So, for today's dish, only the chickpeas were solar cooked.

The recipe is from Quinoa with Moroccan Winter Squash and Carrot Stew. I followed pretty much to the letter except I added chickpeas and didn't use any saffron. It's the first time either of us have ever had quinoa. I'm not quite sure what I think of it. I know it's incredibly nutritious, but I can see how it didn't really wow the Spanish conquistadors the same way other new world crops did.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Cold Rainy Sunday

Another rainy cloudy day with no chance of solar cooking. The sun should be back tomorrow.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Clouds Vs Sun

Today's Accuweather forecast said "clouds yielding to sun". I had no idea what that was supposed to mean so I put the Sun oven out just in case. I really didn't need to cook anything today, we had plenty of leftovers for lunch, two loaves of bread in the breadbox, we both need to lay off the cookies for a while, and we're going out to dinner. About the only thing I had in the fridge was a rutabaga so imagine my surprise when I did a search on and came up with this recipe: Rutabaga Purée with Cardamon and Thyme. I actually had all the ingredients on hand and it could be assembled today and reheated tomorrow. It would have been perfect if the sun had come out for more than ten minutes. Just like last Saturday's sweet potatoes, the rutabaga pretty much sat in the back yard, in a cold Sun Oven, until I called it a day at three o'clock.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Solar Cooking Pulled Pork and Baked Beans

An uneventful day of solar cooking. I made some old favorites; pulled pork and baked beans. I forgot to soak the beans so I had to get up early and use the quick soak method, boiling the beans for a couple of minutes then letting them soak for an hour - that was the most exciting part. Even though the forecast said there'd be intervals of clouds and sun, the sun was out most of the time. We have enough left over for lunch tomorrow and we're going out for dinner; I guess I'll be baking if it's sunny.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Almond Macaroons

According to we could expect periods of clouds and sunshine today and intervals of clouds and sun tomorrow. I'm not quite sure what the difference is but it's definitely not ideal weather for solar cooking. As soon as these macaroons were ready for the Sun Oven we were experiencing an extended cloud period. I wound up baking them in the regular oven.

Almond Macaroons

1 cup whole almonds, blanched
2/3 cup sugar
1 large egg white
1/2 tsp almond extract
pinch salt

whole almonds, candied cherries

Preheat oven to 350
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper
Process 1 cup almonds plus sugar in a food processor (pulse) until fine, add egg white, almond extract and salt, pulse until combined. Roll mixture into 16 balls, arrange 2 inches apart on baking sheet. Slightly flatten balls. Press 1 almond or 1 candied cherry on each cookie. Bake 10 minutes, cool on rack.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Solar Cooked Leftovers and Soup

With lots of leftovers from last night's dinner I wasn't really inspired to do much solar cooking. Split pea soup seems to be my go to dish on days like today. We had some for lunch with grilled cheese sandwiches -possibly one of the best food combinations on the planet - and for dinner with the leftover chicken and rice. There's even a little left to go in the freezer for another lunch on a cloudy day.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Root Vegetables, Chicken Thighs, and Rice. All in One Sun Oven

 It was supposed to be cloudy and rainy again today, but when I heard the wind storm last night I knew it would blow the clouds away. Sure enough, I woke up to a clear blue sky. A perfect day for solar cooking.

 To make the most of the Sun Oven I stacked a pyrex baking dish with a mixture of root vegetables on top of a enamel roasting pan with chicken thighs and brown rice. Since I could use the lid, I covered the roasting pan with aluminum foil and parchment paper. For some reason I took everything out around 2:30 even though the oven chamber was still hot and it was no where near dinner time.
 The chicken thighs were done, but it wouldn't have hurt to leave everything else in a little longer. I always forget the more stuff you put in the Sun Oven the longer the cooking times will be. The vegetables and the rice weren't inedible, just a little under cooked. In any case, paired with some greens, it was a perfectly acceptable dinner.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Cloudy All Morning

It was cat training day today at the Arizona Humane Society. Once again we left the house early and the forecast called for clouds. This time I didn't even bother setting up the Sun Oven, so of course the sun came out. We got home around 12:30 and with at most two hours of good sunlight left there was no time for any prep work. I had a couple of sweet potatoes in the fridge that I peeled, cut up and put in a roasting pan with a little water. Sure enough, about an hour later the clouds were back. The temperature in the Sun Oven had reached 300ºF. There's a good chance the potatoes were already done, but to be on the safe side I left them in until the temperature had gone down to 200ºF. I'll mash them with some butter for a nice side dish with tonight's dinner.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

A Great Day - But Not for Solar Cooking

There was frost on the ground this morning and the forecast was for cloudy skies all day. I put the Sun Oven out anyway. It didn't look very promising so I just threw a couple of potatoes in it. We could have them with the last of the beef stew if the clouds did clear out.

We left the house early to attend a training class at the Arizona Humane Society. We spent the morning learning how to take dogs out of their kennels, and how to assist people interested in adopting a pet. The sun spent the morning hiding behind the clouds.

After the class we went to Tour de Coops, a self guided tour of the valley's urban chicken coops. It was a lot of fun. We even met some other solar cooks. The sun, however, never showed its face. When we got home the potatoes were as raw as ever. I hope they enjoyed hanging out in the backyard.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Solar Baked Bar Cookies

In general, the Sun Oven is not the best appliance for baking cookies. It's  too hard to get a decent amount of them to fit in it and too easy to forget about the ones you do. Cookies, unlike almost anything else, will overcook if left out to bake too long. That's why I choose bar cookies. I used toaster oven sized rimmed trays and made them in two batches.

The recipe, Oatmeal Coconut Raspberry Bars, can be found at These are the first bar cookies I've ever made, with or without the Sun Oven. I plan on bringing them to my volunteer training class at the Arizona Humane Society tomorrow. I had to hide them or we would have polished them off. They're that good.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Solar Stew

It was another day of full sun. I put a pot of beef stew in the Sun Oven in the morning and left it there all day. Easy stuff. I refocused the Sun Oven a few times, but only when I happened to notice it out of the corner of my eye. I brought it in when the sun started to go down. Beef stew is always better the day after it's made. We went out for pizza tonight. We'll be enjoying this tomorrow night.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Solar Baked White Lasagna

When I saw this recipe for Pancetta and Taleggio Lasagna with Treviso in the latest issue of Bon Appétit I had to make it.  Reading it immediately brought on cravings for this food I grew up with. Taleggio, an Italian cheese from the region of Lombardy, is as common in a Milanese refrigerator as peanut butter is here. I had to act fast. My non cheese eating in-laws are coming soon for the holidays and January's issue will arrive with new temptations that could make me forget about this comfort food from my past.

Normally this is not the kind of recipe I enjoy. Too many hard to find expensive ingredients, too many calories, and too much work. But I was on a mission. I had to go to three different stores to track down everything I needed. Still, I couldn't find Treviso radicchio, so I used Chioggia radicchio instead. I know Treviso is considered to be better, but I never really could tell the difference once it was chopped up. This morning, with all the ingredients gathered I was ready to go.

The bulk of this recipe - which I cut in half to avoid taking out a second mortgage in order to finance it - is not cooked in the Sun Oven. Like any lasagna dish the sauce, filling, and noodles are cooked on the stove, assembled, and then baked, or in my case, solar baked. It was ready in time for lunch and there was enough for dinner too.

I probably won't be making this again. It was good, but not great, and extremely rich. I did eat some of the taleggio before melting it in the sauce, and that was great. In the future I may try paring the taleggio cheese with its natural partner, polenta. That would really bring me back to my youth in Milan. Unfortunately polenta is the one food I know of that Martin does not like. Mmmm, when is the next boys' night out?

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

A Busy Day of Solar Cooking

It was a beautiful sunny day and I was able to make the most of it. I put the Sun Oven out first thing so it would be ready to go as early as possible. For starters Martin had a Trader Joe's chocolate croissant. He remembered to take it out of the freezer before going to bed last night and it was deliciously golden brown in time for his (late) breakfast.

Next up were the pumpkin muffins, and this time no mix! I made them entirely from scratch using a recipe I found at With a little bit of creativity I managed to fit two muffin pans in the Sun Oven at once. Who knew that canning jar rings could be so versatile? Even though I cut the recipe in half it still yielded two dozen muffins, but with only two muffin pans I had to bake two batches. I froze most of them. It's a good recipe, low in fat, and the muffins were moist and tasty. I used a little less sugar than called for and they and would cut back even more next time.

Finally we have a batch of BBQ chicken legs. They're easy to prepare and cook quickly. I'll have a few for dinner while Martin is out with the boys.

Going into my sixth month I'm still amazed at how much I can get out of this small, odd looking, little appliance and the power of the sun.