Saturday, January 30, 2010

Solar Osso Buco

I had my fingers crossed all week hoping for at least one good sunny day. I snatched up some veal shanks on special at Whole Foods a few days ago and they needed to be cooked by today. If the sun had not made an appearance I would have been forced to cook them indoors, and that would have meant keeping an eye on them for two to three hours as they slow roasted on the stove. Luckily we got a day of mostly sun today. I much prefer braising meat in the Sun Oven. Once that glass lid is closed I don't even have to think about it until dinnertime.

The recipe is extremely simple. Heat a little butter and olive oil in a dutch oven. Dredge the cross cut veal shanks in flour, then brown them on both sides. Add salt, pepper, and some dry white wine. Cover and transfer to a preheated Sun Oven. Just before serving remove the shanks from the pot. Heat cooking liquids to reduce. Add chopped parsley and lemon peel. Return the shanks to pot, turning to coat with pan juices. Serve immediately. has come up with five different ways to say partly cloudy for it's five day forecast. It looks like it's going to be another week of impossible to plan solar cooking. I never thought I'd say this, but I'm really looking forward to the summer months of continuous sunshine. Even if it does mean triple digit temperatures.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Solar Roasted Butternut Squash

It's hard to be a creative solar cook when the weather is so unpredictable. This morning it was overcast and the radio said there was a sixty percent chance of rain. I really didn't think there would be any solar cooking happening at all. That left me unprepared when the clouds disappeared just before I had to go to work in the afternoon. I barely had enough time to slice up some butternut squash and toss it in the Sun Oven. It went very well with the split pea soup left over from Sunday. Hopefully the weather will go back to normal soon - normal in Arizona means sun, sun, and more sun - and I'll be able to create some fun, new, solar dishes.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Solar Baked Vanilla Cupcakes Brighten Day

For some reason when I'm not feeling well I crave all things bland, and dairy. Baked potatoes with butter. Pasta with parmesan cheese and butter. Plain yogurt. Brie. White bread dipped in milk. That's pretty much what I've been eating since I got this toothache. It helps that most of these things are also easy to chew.

Today was the closest I've come in months to not getting any solar cooking done despite a sunny day. I had to be at the dentist at 8:30, and I have to go back tomorrow, then I took Martin to his doctor. We thought his incision was not healing properly, but it's doing fine. When we got home it was late and my tooth was hurting.

Once again a mix saved the solar cooking day. I baked some lovely vanilla cupcakes using a mix from Trader Joe's. I've mentioned before that neither of us like frosting very much so I topped them with whipped cream and fresh strawberries. For a little while, especially when I was trying to make one look pretty for the picture, they took my mind off my aching tooth.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Solar Cooking for Convalescents

The sun was back in full force today, and we were both under the weather. Martin is recovering from minor surgery that he had on Tuesday and I have a killer toothache. I was looking forward to pampering him with some good solar cooked meals, but first the rain, and then this dental disaster, put a damper on my good intentions. I managed to stay upright long enough to get a pot of split pea soup in the Sun Oven this morning. I spent the rest of the day drifting in and out of sleep. Pain medication really does make me drowsy. First thing tomorrow morning I'm off to the dentist. Keeping my fingers crossed that it's just a cavity and he can work his magic and get me back on my feet.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Solar Cooking on a Mostly Cloudy Day

We get real excited about the rain in Arizona. We drop whatever it is we're doing and run to the windows to watch it. A week of rain, like this past one, is almost unheard of. It turns out it's also unwelcome. After a few days of intermittent showers and a massive storm on Thursday we had had enough. By Friday, another gray, cold, and wet day, we wanted our sun back. Today that wish was half granted. The sky was pretty much 50/50 between clouds and clear. I didn't want to risk wasting any food so I scrubbed a few russet potatoes, popped them in the Sun Oven, and called it a day.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Solar Cooked Pot O' Beans

Both yesterday and today I had to leave home early. Both days I woke up to gray skies. The forecast for both days was rain. Yesterday I chose to believe that forecast and left home without putting anything in the Sun Oven. But this is Arizona and by 9 a.m. there wasn't a cloud in sight, the sky was blue and the sun was shining. By the time I got home I had missed my solar cooking window of opportunity. Clouds were starting to roll in and by evening we had heavy showers.

Today I chose to go a different route. Once again I had to leave home early and, unlike yesterday, I wouldn't be home until late afternoon. I didn't want to put a lot of work into something that might just sit in a cold Sun Oven all day, and I really didn't want to risk something like meat that might spoil. I figured beans were my best bet. Even if it did stay cloudy all day I could still cook them on the stove when I got home and if the sun did come out I could use the cooked beans to make some soup. In the end we had another typical sunny Arizona day - the forecast still says it's going to rain - and I came home to a perfectly cooked pot of beans.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Solar Oven Chef Takes a Holiday

If this forecast is correct it looks like I won't be doing any solar cooking this week.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Solar Baked Pane all'Olio. Hurray!

The weather forecast was right. We had another full day of sunshine. I baked another loaf of Pane all'Olio (bread with olive oil), this time in the Sun Oven. So, is it better from the electric oven or Sun Oven? I have to say the Sun Oven. The difference in the bread itself was not extreme. I think the texture of the Sun Oven baked loaf was slightly better. It's hard to tell without doing a side by side comparison. It's the convenience of baking in the Sun Oven, yes I said convenience, that tips the scale in it's favor. Even on a relatively cool day like today - our highs were in the low 70's - I'd rather not turn on the electric oven. It always seems like a chore when you have to keep an eye on a hot oven in your kitchen. If you get distracted you could have a disaster on your hands. Plus, kitchen ovens seem to get dirty even with very little use. The Sun Oven, on the other hand, goes about it's business in the back yard without demanding a lot of attention and as long as the sun cooperates there's little chance of anything bad happening. Solar cooking, or in this case solar baking, is simply easier. There's little risk of overcooking, and, best of all, no oven to clean up. To sum it up, solar cooking is more fun and that makes solar baked bread better.

Here's the recipe I used. I don't know if it's due to Arizona's dry climate but I had to add more water than was called for, about an extra two tablespoons for the starter and one and a half more for the dough.

Pane all'Olio - from the book 'Bread Machine - how to prepare and bake the perfect loaf' by Jennie Shapter

For the Biga (starter)

7 Tbs water
1 1/2 cups white bread flour
1 tsp rapid-rise active dry yeast

For the Dough

6 Tbs water
4 Tbs extra virgin olive oil
2 cups white bread flour, plus extra for dusting
2 tsp salt
1 tsp sugar

Makes 1 loaf

1 Pour the water for the biga into the bread machine pan.

2 Sprinkle the flour over, covering the water. Make a shallow indentation in the center of the flour and add the yeast.

3 Set the machine to the dough setting. Press start. When the dough cycle has finished, switch the machine off, but leave the biga inside, with the lid closed for 8 hours.

4 Remove the bread pan from the machine. Break the biga into three or four pieces.

5 Pour in the water and the olive oil for the dough. Sprinkle the flour over, covering the liquid. Add the salt and sugar in separate corners of the bread pan.

6 Set the bread machine to the dough setting. Press start. Lightly flour peel or baking sheet.

7 When the dough cycle has finished, place the dough on a lightly floured surface. Punch it down gently, then shape it into a plump round.

8 Using the palms of your hands, gently roll the dough backward and forward until it forms a tapered, torpedo-shaped loaf about 12 inches long. Place the loaf on the prepared peel or baking sheet and cover it with lightly oiled plastic wrap. Let it rise in a warm place for 45-60 minutes, or until the dough has almost doubled in size.

O.K. from this point on the instructions are for baking in the Sun Oven. The original recipe, of course, gave instructions for a regular oven.

9 Meanwhile, place a baking stone in the Sun Oven, remove the leveling tray if necessary. Focus the Sun Oven towards the sun and let it preheat while the dough is rising. Dust the top of the bread lightly with flour and slash it along its length. Transfer the bread to the hot baking stone.

10 Mist the inside of the Sun Oven with water. Close the glass lid. Bake for approximately 1 1/2 half hours - depending on the quality of the sunshine - or until it is golden all over and the bread sounds hollow when tapped on the bottom. Cool on a wire rack.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Golden Brown Chicken from the Sun Oven

Today turned out to be a beautiful clear and sunny day, perfect for solar cooking, despite the forecast for partly cloudy skies. Because of that forecast I wanted to make something that could easily be transfered inside. Chicken with Two Lemons fit the bill perfectly. Today I made it without rice. I wanted to serve it with roast potatoes tonight and a risotto tomorrow. I don't think there's enough leftover for another dinner for two so I'll have to come up with a different plan. Tonight's dinner was delicious.

The days are already starting to get noticeably longer. I left the chicken in the Sun Oven until 5 p.m. It was still warm when dinner was ready. Tomorrow's forecast calls for a full day of sunshine. I may make another attempt at solar baked pane all'olio.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

The First Rule of Solar Cooking

The first rule of solar cooking is always check the weather forecast. Yesterday I scoured my cookbooks and the internet for ideas on what to make in the Sun Oven today. I finally decided on bread. I wanted to try a new recipe that used a starter. A starter that needed to be prepared the night before. Not a problem I thought, I have all the ingredients and unlike most days I'm actually planning my solar cooking a day in advance. I gathered everything I needed, made the starter, and went to bed. The possibility of unfavorable weather didn't even cross my mind. Of course it was cloudy this morning, extremely cloudy. I went ahead and made the bread. The starter was ready and it seemed a shame to waste it. Right when the loaf was ready to go in the oven the sun started to come out, but it was too late. The bread came out good, but I am looking forward baking it in the Sun Oven next time. It will be fun to compare the results.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Solar Baked Carrot Cake

We had left over frittata for lunch and plenty of soup for my dinner -Matin went out with the boys - so once again I turned to a mix and made carrot cake. This one is from Simply Organic. It came out a little lopsided and like most mixes a little too sweet, but it was good enough. Good enough to be half gone already.

Tomorrow I'm going to bake some more bread. This time a loaf of Pane All'Olio - Bread with Olive Oil. The recipes calls for a type of starter called a 'biga' that needs to be prepared the night before. I've never attempted anything like is, so I've got my fingers crossed.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Frittata Redoux

Another sunny day today and another frittata. I had so much fun making one on Saturday - yesterday was too cloudy for solar cooking - that I made one for our dinner's main course. I even had enough time and sun to make a big pot of split pea soup to go with it.

The ingredient of today's frittata are potatoes and fennel (sliced paper thin), leeks, spinach, and of course eggs. Martin wasn't very hungry tonight so we have enough left over to make sandwiches for tomorrow's lunch.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Solar Frittata for Lunch

Sometimes it's the improvised meals that come out the best. We're going to Cibo with friends for dinner tonight. It was a bright sunny morning. A perfect day for a nice solar cooked lunch. After foraging around in the refrigerator, I came up with some eggs, zucchini, leeks, potatoes, and some fresh mint. I figured I could use these to make a decent frittata. I started off by sauteing the leeks and the sliced zucchini in a cast iron frying pan. When they were just beginning to soften I transfered them to a bowl to cool and tossed them with some chopped mint. Then I lined the frying pan with some finely sliced potatoes using a mandolin to get them paper thin. In another bowl I beat six eggs with a little milk, some grated parmesan, salt, and pepper. I mixed the eggs and the cooled vegetables together and poured everything over the potatoes. The was a slight moment of panic when I realized I'd never put the frying pan in the Sun Oven before; luckily it fit. The result was a lovely golden brown frittata with zucchini on one side and potatoes on the other. I was hoping there'd be some leftover for us to offer our friends as an appetizer before going out, but no such luck - we polished it off in one go.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Cherry Cobbler

Baking isn't really my thing. Before starting this blog I baked maybe three times a year. I'm also not a purist and am more than happy to use a mix as long as it doesn't have any weird ingredients. The cobbler mix from Calhoun Bend Mill is good; not as good as the berry cobbler from the Sue Ann's Apple Pan in Prescott - but that's another blog.

The package says peach, but you can use any canned, or fresh fruit. So far I think it's best with a can of Oregon Tart Cherries. In the past I used canned peaches and blackberries and it was way too sweet. It couldn't be easier to make, melt some butter in a 8x8 baking dish, combine the mix with the milk, pour it in the dish, and pour the fruit over it. On a sunny day the baking time in the Sun Oven is pretty much the same as a regular oven, but if you forget about it and leave it in longer - not that I'd ever do that - it won't burn or dry out.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Roasted Root Vegetables

Monday's disappointing purée left me with a craving for the tastier roasted rutabagas. At least that's my excuse for just tossing a mixture of root vegetables with some olive oil and salt and putting them in the Sun Oven before going to the Arizona Humane Society to volunteer for the day.

It may be just as well that I wasn't organized enough to get something more substantial going. I'm not sure what the weather was like today. When I got home late in the afternoon it was cloudy and the Sun Oven was cold, but it must have been sunny most of the day because the vegetables were cooked and even a little brown around the edges. I always forget to check on the sun situation when I'm working with the cats.

I had a lot of work to do when I got home and when dinnertime rolled around I was too tired to prepare anything to go with the veggie mix. We wound up grabbing a quick bite out. I hope the solar roasted vegetables will still be good when I reheat them tomorrow. On a positive note, one lucky kitty found a good home this morning.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Another Favorite Chicken Dish from the Sun Oven

This recipe is a favorite of ours. I adapted it from Cooking Light. Ferakh bel Hummus (Chicken with Chickpeas). It's perfect for solar cooking. I don't add any water, use only chicken thighs, and, of course, after sauteing the onions move it all to the Sun Oven to simmer. I also skip shredding the chicken for easier portion control. It's great served over couscous. The unappetizing looking spots are hot sauce. I mistakenly thought they'd enhance the picture.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Rutabaga Recipe Disappoints

Nothing very exciting from the Sun Oven today. I had a bunch of rutabagas that needed to be cooked. Normally I would just toss them with some olive oil and roast them but I thought I'd give this recipe from a try. Rutabaga Purée with Cardamon and Thyme. They're much better roasted. I couldn't even taste the cardamon and créme fraîche is not an ingredient I normally have on hand, in fact I used crema mexicana instead - it's a lot less expensive. If you do feel the inclination to give the recipe a try, make sure you don't leave any of the cardamon pods in before you purée the rutabagas. I missed one and wound up with a bunch of nasty little seeds that I had to pick out. I doubt I'll be making it again, it's back to good old olive oil for me.

In case you were wondering, the other things on the plate are chick pea patties and sauteed greens. They're not from the Sun Oven.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Solar Baked Bread

Ever since our guests left I've been cooking for four, but we've only been eating for two. The fridge is full of leftovers; tonight's dinner only needed to be reheated. It's been a while since I baked bread so that's what went in the Sun Oven today. Good thing, turns out we were running low on bread and with all that leftover meatloaf I wanted to make some sandwiches.

It's my usual 100% Whole Wheat Bread recipe.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Solar Cooked Turkey Meatloaf

Now that the holidays are over I have a confession to make. There are a surprising number of holiday foods that I don't like. I won't even have a small taste of eggnog, pumpkin pie, any sweet potato dish that contains marshmallows, or canned cranberry sauce. I'm not crazy about turkey. I would never buy a ham but might have a small piece at a party. So this season I was very pleased to find two holiday recipes that will definitely be keepers - Chipotle Cranberry Sauce and Whipped Chipotle Sweet Potatoes. They were so good that today I made a turkey meatloaf in the Sun Oven just so I could make the side dishes. I couldn't find a turkey meatloaf recipe I liked, so I made one up.

Solar Turkey Meatloaf

1 tbls olive oil
1 small onion, chopped
1 carrot, shredded
1 stalk celery, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1lb lean ground turkey
1 egg, lightly beaten
2/3 cup dry bread crumbs
1/3 cup dry white wine
4 leaves fresh sage, chopped
1 tsp fresh thyme, leaves only
salt, pepper

Saute onion, carrot, celery and garlic in olive oil until soft, about ten minutes. Allow vegetable mixture to cool and combine with remaining ingredients in a large bowl. Form into a loaf and place in a dark roasting pan with a lid. Place in preheated Sun Oven and bake until internal temperature reaches 180ºf.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Solar Cooked Black Eyed Peas

Going by the radio show I listened to yesterday, pork and legumes seem to be the traditional New Year's fare in many different cultures. In Italy it's cotechino with lentils. I never really liked it much and was glad it only seemed to be consumed once a year. I wanted to honor the tradition but wasn't in the mood for a fat laden meal so I opted for solar cooked black eyed peas to be served with a roast pork tenderloin. I put the peas in the Sun Oven in the morning with a little olive oil, onion and liquid smoke. The rest of the meal was prepared in the evening inside. Pork tenderloin is too lean for slow solar cooking, it's much better to roast it at the high temperatures of a conventional oven.