Friday, February 26, 2010

Solar Cake Disaster

Rummaging around in my cupboards yesterday I found this snowflake cake pan. Like most of my cookware I got it at a thrift store and like most of my bakeware I rarely use it.

The morning skies were clear. I decided to ignore's forecast of increasing clouds throughout the day. I wanted to bake a chocolate cake. I thought I could accent the snowflakes with powdered sugar to make a very pretty cake. I had a few early morning errands to run so I got a late start.

Luckily I used a mix. Like I've said many times in this blog I'm not much of a baker. I had everything ready for the Sun Oven by 11:30. The sun was still shining in full force. Fifteen minutes later there was a thin layer of clouds. Nothing too drastic. The Sun Oven temperature had dropped a little but I wasn't worried yet. Over the course of the next few hours the cloud cover slowly increased. By two o'clock it was completely overcast. I'm not sure if I could have salvaged it by transferring it to the indoor oven. The thought didn't even cross my mind. I thought it was at worst just a little under cooked. I was wrong.

Maybe I should submit it to

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Eggplant Focaccia and BBQ Pork Ribs

The days are getting longer which means more solar cooking possibilities. Today I had enough time to bake focaccia in the morning before getting some BBQ pork ribs going for dinner. You can't tell by the picture, but this time the focaccia did brown. I remembered to mist the Sun Oven with water. I think that helped.

BBQ ribs are easy. Just toss them in a spice rub and sprinkle a little liquid smoke over them. After a few hours in the Sun Oven they will be fall off the bone tender.

I didn't post yesterday but I did get some solar cooking done despite waking up to an overcast sky. Just before I had to leave for the day the clouds started to break. I figured I could throw some rice and lentils in the Sun Oven to get a head start on dinner. It turned out to be a mostly cloudy day, but there was enough sun to do the job. Only problem was by the time I got home I was tired and not in the mood for boring old rice and lentils. I put everything in the fridge and made myself a nice bowl of pasta.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Solar Baked "Pane Sciocco"

I woke up to clear skies and no bread. If I hurried I could have some freshly baked bread in time for lunch. I hauled the bread machine out of the pantry and got started. I showered and had breakfast while it was busy making the dough. Around noon I took two beautiful golden loaves out of the Sun Oven. As usual I could not resist cutting myself a slice and slathering it with butter. I bit into it and immediately realized I had forgot the salt. That's the last time I try to do any baking before my morning coffee.

Needless to say it was pretty bland, but all was not lost. True Tuscan bread, known as "pane sciocco" bread is made without salt. Because of that many Tuscan dishes are very salty. Saltless Tuscan bread is perfect for making "pane condito" (seasoned bread). It's easy to make. Just rub some sliced bread (day old is even better) with a clove of garlic and some tomatoes cut in half. Chop up a few more tomatoes and spread them out over the slices. Drizzle olive oil over everything. Dust with oregano and SALT! Let it sit for at least thirty minutes and enjoy.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Solar Salmon Loaf

Once again I was a little hesitant to do any solar cooking today. The morning sky was partly cloudy and the forecast was for increasing clouds throughout the day. In the end I decided to go for it. Once again, despite the on again off again sunshine, the Sun Oven delivered.

I've been looking for a recipe that uses canned salmon that could be adapted for solar cooking for months. So imagine my excitement when Martin picked up a slow cooker cookbook at a yard sale that included a recipe for salmon loaf. The book, "The Healthy Slow Cooker", is one of the best of it's kind. There are a number of recipes I want to try - unlike most cookbooks that only have one or two enticing dishes. The turkey thighs from a couple of days ago were also inspired by one of its recipes.

On a scale of one to ten I'd give the salmon loaf a seven. It makes an excellent weeknight dinner, but I probably wouldn't serve to guests. I'd also play with the seasoning to personalize it a bit. It's a basic loaf recipe, sauteed onions, celery, and mushroom are seasoned with dried tarragon. Beat three eggs with some lemon juice, add two cans of salmon, bread crumbs, and the vegetable mixture. Form a loaf. Put that in an oval shaped roasting pan lined with aluminum foil. Cover it and place it in the Sun Oven. I served it with tzatziki (store bought), a salad, rice, and a glass of wine.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Solar Bolognese Sauce

I didn't really need to make anything for dinner tonight. It was Martin's boys night out and I had plenty of leftovers in the fridge. Since bolognese sauce, like beef stew, is better the next day I decided to make some for tomorrow's dinner. I planned on heating up the leftovers for my dinner.

The sauce simmered in the Sun Oven all day. Normally, bolognese sauce is cooked at the laziest simmer, uncovered, for at least three hours. I've tried leaving it uncovered in the Sun Oven, but it started to burn. If left covered it was watery. To adapt it to solar cooking I covered it with the lid slightly ajar and put a small knife between the glass door and the gasket of the Sun Oven allowing the steam to escape.

As you can see from the picture, I was unable to wait until tomorrow to have some. Instead of heating up the boring leftovers I made some pasta for my dinner. The only thing missing was a nice glass of wine.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Solar Turkey Thighs

A perfect day for solar cooking. Picked up some turkey thighs at the grocery store yesterday. Cooked them in the Sun Oven today. Enjoyed them for dinner on our patio with some brussels sprouts and a nice loaf of crusty bread from a local bakery.

The recipe is very simple. Just saute some thinly sliced leeks in a heavy cast iron pot with a little olive oil for about five minutes, add a couple cloves of chopped garlic and a sprig of fresh thyme. After a minute or so add a tablespoon of flour. Then a half a cup of white wine. Bring it to a boil, add two skinless, bone-in turkey thighs and transfer the pot to the Sun Oven. A few hours later you'll have fall off the bone tender meat and a nicely flavored sauce. Add a green vegetable, some potatoes, rice, or bread, and you've got dinner.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Solar Roasted Beets

Beets are not one of my favorite vegetables. They're messy and take a long time to cook.  The store bought pre-cooked ones are just so so, and I don't even want to try the canned ones. They just don't seem to be worth all the hassle. But I like to include as wide a selection of vegetables as possible in my diet so every now and then I give them another try. Roasting a few on a day when there's nothing else going on in the Sun Oven may just be the best way to deal with them. The texture and flavor is better than any other beets I've had and the mess was kept to a minimum.

To roast beets in the Sun Oven I wrapped them in tin foil and placed them in a dark enamel pot. I focused the Sun Oven towards the midday sun before leaving for work this morning. When I got home they were fully cooked. After peeling and slicing them I seasoned them with olive oil, vinegar, salt, and pepper. To complete our dinner I made mashed potatoes, and steamed carrots and peas to mix in with the reheated stew I solar cooked on Sunday.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Solar Soup and Sandwich

Just a simple pot of split pea soup today. We had it with grilled cheese sandwiches for a light dinner. Tomorrow is another busy day. I'll be leaving before the sun is up and won't be back until late afternoon. We'll have the beef stew from yesterday for dinner. I'm going to take advantage of the forecasted full day of sunshine to roast some beets.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Solar Cooking on a Busy Day

It seems our days of predictable sunshine are back. As busy as I was today I still managed to get some solar cooking done, even if we didn't eat any of it. This morning I put a pot of beef stew in the Sun Oven before going to volunteer at the Arizona Humane Society. It was cooked to perfection by the time I got home around three. Like most stew it's better the next day, so I put it in the fridge and it was off to my cousin's for dinner. We'll be enjoying it later in the week with some steamed carrots and peas.

The panforte was a great success. I think it may become my signature dessert.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Solar Panforte di Siena

I'm pleased to report that the Sun Oven may just be the perfect vehicle for panforte. I can't believe how easy it is to make. This specialty of Siena is so hard to find in the U.S.  I saw some once at Whole Foods, but it was ridiculously expensive - even by Whole Foods standards. I never thought it would be possible to make at home.

Technically it is not fully solar cooked. A mixture of honey and sugar is brought to a boil and mixed with the other ingredients before baking it at 300ºf. I'm not sure which took longer, bringing the sugars to boil or baking it in the Sun Oven for thirty minutes. In any case, the end result seems to be pretty good. I say seems to be because we haven't tasted it yet. I'm bringing it to dinner at my cousin's place tomorrow.

After reading countless recipes I settled for one that I found at I chose it because it didn't use cocoa; I wanted to make the more traditional panforte margherita. Even though I have yet to taste this I'm very excited about the potential of this recipe. By mixing in different nuts, dried fruits, and spices the variations are endless.

If you do make the plunge and decide to make some yourself, keep in mind that it is extremely rich. A tiny bit goes a long way. Luckily, if properly stored, it will stay fresh for weeks.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Return of the Sun Oven

The Sun Oven is back in business. I was home all day today. The sun was shining. We were out of bread. Baking a couple of loaves seemed to be a no brainer. By midday we were enjoying hot, fresh, 100% whole wheat bread - too bad we didn't have any butter. The only downside to solar baked bread is, it's so good that we are almost out of bread again.

The forecast for the rest of the week is very favorable for solar cooking. After scouring the internet for a recipe I plan on making Panforte tomorrow. It's a traditional Italian cake from Siena. I've never made it before, in fact I don't know anyone who has ever made it, but I miss it so much that I'm willing to take a stab at it.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Variable Weather Puts Solar Cooking on Hold

I have to leave home very early almost every day this week. It looks like my next solar cooking day will be Friday. The weather is just too unpredictable to feel confident leaving the Sun Oven unattended. When our normal weather of sun, sun, and more sun returns I will go back to the stick a pot in the Sun Oven and go off for the day style of solar cooking, until then I prefer to only cook on days when I'm around to supervise.

Monday, February 8, 2010

More Indian Stew

Last Monday's red lentil stew was so good I made another batch today. This time I used fresh ginger, I didn't have any on hand last week. The end result was really not that different. Whether you use fresh or ground ginger you wind up with a very tasty, satisfying, vegetarian meal that tastes even better the next day.

This weeks forecast once again predicts partly cloudy skies most days with a chance of rain on Wednesday. I'm learning that it is possible to solar cook even with intervals of no sun, but I like the cloudless days of summer better. This on again off again sun light is starting to drive me a little crazy.

Super Bowl Snacks from the Sun Oven

It was not a very good day for solar cooking. The morning started out nice enough, clear skies with very few clouds on the horizon. I mistakenly thought I could put off cooking the chicken legs until the afternoon so they'd be ready right around kick-off time.

Unfortunately by noon the sky was a patchwork of enormous white clouds on a blue background. The sun came and went throughout the remainder of the day. A couple of times the Sun Oven was in the shade for so long I thought I'd have to switch to the indoor oven. I really didn't want to do that because Sun Oven cooked chicken is just so much better, especially these legs seasoned only with a spice rub and no added fat.

Right around game time it was obvious that the sun was gone for the day. The legs looked like they were cooked but just to be on the safe side I put them under the broiler for a few minutes; where I promptly burnt them. All was not lost, they were still edible if you picked off the blackened bits.

The hummus was made with the fava beans that I solar cooked yesterday. It came out a lot better than the chicken legs.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Get Ready for Some Hummus

It's hard to believe that the weather in Phoenix is still so unpredictable. Before I started this blog I thought we had non stop sunshine almost every day of the year. While it's true that we can go a whole year without needing to wear socks; clouds seem to be as common as sunshine lately. The skies were so uncertain today that the only thing I dared put it the Sun Oven was a batch of dried fava beans. The sun came and went throughout the day, but in the end I wound up with a nice pot of mush. I'll use it to make hummus for super bowl Sunday.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Solar Cooked Chicken

It was an uneventful yet successful solar cooking day. Got up, had breakfast, put a chicken in the Sun Oven, went to work, came home, took perfectly cooked chicken out of the Sun Oven, made some potatoes and greens to go with it, had dinner. If only everything was this easy.

It's my go-to recipe,  Chicken with Two Lemons. This time I also put a few fresh sage leaves under the skin for additional flavor. I didn't really notice a difference.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Solar Baked Focaccia

My first attempt at solar baked focaccia was on Sunday, but by the time the dough had finished rising the sun had vanished only to reappear after I'd baked it inside.

Today's sun was pretty much the same as yesterday's. Not full blast; just enough to get the Sun Oven up to about 250ºF. It took about an hour to fully solar bake the focaccia. I was hoping it would brown. No such luck. It was still good, despite the undercooked appearance.

Solar Cooked Indian Stew

The morning did not start out well as far as solar cooking goes. There was some decent sunshine early on, but I fretted away the time worrying whether or not I'd be called in for jury duty. I had to call at eleven to learn my fate. I was dismissed, as usual. By then I'd pretty much decided to make Curried Red-Lentil Stew with Vegetables; a recipe from The only problem was the sky was now covered with clouds. They were thin and the sun was still managing to shine through, but I wanted to leave for the afternoon and was afraid the cloud cover would thicken. People often ask me how much sun is needed to use the Sun Oven and I always answer, "As long as there enough sunlight to cast a shadow you can cook with it." There was a shadow so I went for it. I'm glad I did. The stew was delicious.

I made the following changes to the original recipe: I didn't have any fresh ginger so I used ground, increased the red lentils to 1 1/2 cups, used less water,  added a peeled, chopped sweet potato in addition to the carrots, used frozen spinach, thawed and squeezed dry, left out the cilantro - I don't like it - and added the carrots and sweet potato at the same time as the lentils. To compensate for the less then ideal solar cooking weather I brought it to a boil before placing it in the Sun Oven.

When I'm done with this blog I may not choose unattended solar cooking on a day like today but it is nice to know that it's possible in case of an emergency or if I ever do something crazy, like go camping.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Ciambella, Grandma's Cake Goes Solar

If you read the about me section of this blog you know that I spent my formative years in Italy, where I learned to eat. It wasn't really until I moved back to the U.S. that I taught myself to cook. You'll also know that I am not much of a baker. Most Italians do not do much baking at home. Week night dessert is seldom more than fruit; bread is purchased daily from the local bakery. For special occassions they will purchase pasticcini - incredibly delicious bite sized pasteries - from a pasticceria, one of the few businesses open on Sundays. That said, the unattractive looking thing on the left is a ciambella. Most every Italian mother has a recipe for this simple cake. It's generally served to children for a midday snack or eaten for breakfast with coffee and milk.

The recipe I used is from Marcella Hazan's "Essentials of Italian Cooking". I have fond memories being offered slices of ciambella by my friends mothers. Either their recipes were better than Marcella's or I did something wrong. The ingredients are flour, butter, sugar, milk, eggs, lemon peel, and baking powder. The dough had the consistency of pie crust and the finished product is something like a soft biscotti. It's a little too dense for my liking. Marcella does say it's best the day after baking, so I'll give it another chance tomorrow. I guess in a country that has a bread bakery on every corner and at least one pasticceria nearby baking is best left to the pros.