Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Solar Eggs Sunny Side Up

After checking the hourly forecast on this morning - it's usually right - I decided against the meatloaf I was planning to make today. It was already a little overcast and was supposed to get worse as the day went on. Instead of taking a day off from solar cooking I took advantage of the few hours of available sun to make some breakfast for Martin.

The sun is not my preferred method for preparing eggs, unless it's at the Annual Oatman, AZ Sidewalk Egg Fry Contest. It's too hard to get them right, it seems they always come out with the yolks overcooked, probably because of the even heat in the Sun Oven's insulated cooking chamber. Also, it takes a lot longer then cooking them in a frying pan. I don't mind the additional twenty minutes it takes to solar cook things with naturally long cooking times, like meats or stews, but with eggs it's just not very practical. I tried to speed things up, without much luck, by preheating the pan. Unfortunately this morning's sun wasn't quite strong enough. The Sun Oven's temperature hovered around 200ºf. It took almost half an hour to the cook two eggs with prosciutto and the yolks were overdone. Oh well, Martin was happy to wake up to a hot breakfast. He gets up later than me and is in charge of his own morning meal which usually consists of coffee and toast.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Solar Dinner with a Side of Sadness

Just before I left for San Diego our foster kitties came down with the sniffles. Upper respiratory infections are all too common in shelter cats. Adult cats recover quickly with a round of antibiotics, but for a ten day old kitten it's a serious matter. While I was away the kitten stopped nursing. Martin had to feed him with an eye dropper. I took over when I got back on Sunday evening, getting up every two hours to feed the little guy.

Needless to say I was exhausted on Monday. It was a less than ideal day for solar cooking. The sky was overcast but enough sun was getting through to cast a good shadow. I didn't have the energy to go to the market. I had a butternut squash in the fridge. I cut it in half, drizzled it with some olive oil, and put it in a covered roasting pan with a little water. I figured I'd mash it up and serve it with whatever I decided to make for dinner. In the meantime I continued feeding the ailing kitten every two hours. Come dinnertime I had no desire to prepare anything to go with the squash. Martin went to Trader Joe's to pick up a couple of frozen pizzas.

This morning, after another night of getting up every two hours to care for the kitten, it was obvious that he was not doing well. We brought him to the Humane Society clinic where our fears were confirmed. It was time to let him go.

Somehow I managed to muster up the energy to get a chicken going in the Sun Oven. On days like these getting any solar cooking done is daunting enough, coming up with a new recipe is pretty much out of the question. Thankfully I can turn to the tried and true "Chicken with Two Lemons". Combined with a risotto made with yesterday's butternut squash it made a decent meal. A perfect meal would have required some kind of green vegetable and a glass of wine, but it would have been close to impossible to enjoy a perfect meal today.

R.I.P. sweet kitten

Thursday, March 25, 2010

A Double Batch of Solar Split Pea Soup

We're having yesterday's solar braised lamb shanks for dinner tonight so today's solar cooking project will also be consumed at a later date. Martin will be fending for himself the next few days. I'm going to San Diego for a weekend with my favorite fitness instructor, Cathe Fiedrich. The last time I went to one of her events I left Martin with three days worth of meals ready to put in the Sun Oven so I wouldn't miss any days of my blog. That was way too much work. Since then I've decided that if I'm out of town the blog goes on hiatus. Luckily Martin (unlike me) doesn't mind eating the same thing, two, or even three, days in a row. With this nice pot of solar cooked split pea soup and a few pizzas in the freezer he should be o.k. until I get back on Sunday.

Once again I used my six quart black enamel pot. To fit it in the Sun Oven you have to remove the leveling tray and place a rack or a trivet on the floor of the cooking chamber to allow for air flow.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Luscious Solar Braised Lamb Shanks

When I started experimenting with solar cooking a few years ago I found it a little annoying that I had to invest in new cookware. I'd spent years accumulating a rather impressive collection of high quality cast iron pots and pans. Like many, I thought that they were not suitable for solar cooking. You can imagine how delighted I was to discover that they can in fact be used with a Sun Oven.

Today's dish started indoors in the dutch oven. I sliced an onion and sauteed it in some olive oil until it began it was golden. Then I stirred in about a tablespoon of chopped, fresh rosemary and two cloves of chopped garlic.  In the meantime I browned the lamb shanks, which I'd seasoned with salt and pepper, and coated in flour, in a separate pan. When they were browned I transfered them to a plate and poured about half a cup of dry red wine in the pan, brought it to a boil, stirring to loosen any brown bits. I added that to the onions in the dutch oven. Then I added about a cup of beef broth, a bay leaf, and the lamb shanks. At this point I transfered the covered dutch oven to the Sun Oven.

For the rest of the day I went about my business while the lamb shanks slowly braised to perfection. By mid afternoon they were fall off the bone tender. Unfortunately I'll have to wait until tomorrow to taste them. It's Martin's night out and it was too nice of a meal to eat alone.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Solar Vegetarian Chili Goes Wild

Today I made a big pot of sweet potato chili. I started with the beans. After soaking them overnight I put them in the Sun Oven first thing in the morning. While they were cooking I chopped the onion and sweet potato. I'd guess it was about half a pound of beans. When they were ready the bean-to-sweet potato ratio seemed a little off, so I decided to use two sweet potatoes. That meant I needed to use two cans of stewed tomatoes. Now I needed a bigger pot. A six quart pot is about the biggest you can fit in a Sun Oven and to do so you need to remove the leveling tray. Anytime you cook without the leveling tray you need to put something on the floor of the oven chamber to allow for air flow, a trivet or something like that.

Tomorrow I'll be out all day and the forecast is for thick cloud cover. I guess there won't be any more solar cooking going on until Wednesday.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Solar Baked Banana Coconut Muffins for Breakfast

I finally got to sleep in this morning. When I woke up I was in the mood for something special for breakfast. Before getting out of bed I used the epicurious app on my iPod touch to look for a recipe. I wanted to make some kind of baked french toast but quickly realized I didn't have the right ingredients on hand. I did have two over ripe bananas. It came down to a toss up between these Banana Coconut Muffins and Banana-Chocolate Chip Muffins. Much as I love chocolate I decided to go with the healthier option. I also only used 1/4 cup butter and 1/4 cup canned pumpkin instead of the 1/2 butter the recipe called for. Once again I tried to pay attention to the baking time. They were ready in under an hour, I'd say about 45 minutes.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Two Days of Solar Cooking - One Blog Entry.

Once again I was too tired post an update yesterday. I had a very busy day. I taught my first two, yes two, solar cooking classes in one day. I was very nervous beforehand, in fact, when Brent (the owner of the store where the classes were held) considered canceling it due to rain forecast, I was almost relieved. Luckily he didn't. The weather cleared up and both classes went very well. We had two Sun Ovens set up, one with rice and beans and the other with the most amazing 16 grain bread made by Kristi. If you live in the Phoenix metro area, I highly recommend you check out Brent and Kristi's store, FoodWise. It's located at 395 E. Warner in Chandler. Kristi holds weekly cooking and bread baking classes that are free. I will definitely be attending some of them in the near future. Unfortunately I forgot to bring my camera so I don't have any pictures of my big day. Also, despite spending the entire afternoon solar baking bread and solar cooking beans and rice, I had nothing prepared for dinner. Matin and I went to one of our favorite local spots, Joe's Farm Grill in Gilbert. By the time we got home I was exhausted.

Today I wasn't feeling very creative. We got up early to go to yard sales and by mid morning I still hadn't decided what to put in the Sun Oven. For inspiration we stopped at Trader Joe's on our way home. I found a ready to cook turkey breast with cranberry stuffing. Perfect, all I had to do was take it out of the packaging a stick in the Sun Oven, in a pot of course.

The instructions said to bake in a 350ºF oven for 20 - 30 minutes per pound. The thing about solar cooking times is that they depend a lot on the type of pot used, the quality of the sun, and how often you refocus the Sun Oven. The other thing is cooking times don't really matter. Since the food won't overcook or burn it's almost impossible to ruin it. But since I'd done nothing more than take the turkey out of the package I figured the least I could do was pay attention to the cooking time. It weighed 2.5lb. I put it in the Sun Oven at 11:45. I remembered to use my probe thermometer and at 1:15 it had reached 180ºF. It was ready.

I'm generally not very fond of these types of convenience foods. Somehow the flavors are never quite right and this was no exception. The stuffing was just so so and the meat was a little dry. I actually think it might have been better if I'd have cooked it at a lower heat with some kind of liquid, like white wine, for additional flavor. In any case, I was starving so I was happy to have it for lunch.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Sun Oven Chicken, Rice, and Turnip

Yesterday's corned beef was a big success. It was noticeably moister than the non solar cooked one my cousin made. I'm almost sorry there weren't any leftovers for Reuben Sandwiches.

Today's solar cooking project couldn't have been easier. I made chicken thighs on a bed of brown rice and turnips. Martin prefers chicken cooked on its own, but he wasn't home for dinner tonight and I like the convenience of a one pot meal. I didn't even make anything green to go with it.

Here's the recipe.

1 cup brown rice
1 cup water
1 turnip, peeled and cut into cubes
6 chicken thighs

Put rice, water, and turnip into the pot. Trim excess fat from the chicken thighs and place on top of rice. Season with salt and pepper. Cover and place pot in the preheated Sun Oven. Cooking time will vary depending on the quality of the sun, how often you refocus the Sun Oven, and the type of pot used. Mine was ready in just under two hours.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Solar St. Patrick's Day

One thing I like about holidays is that there is generally some kind of traditional food associated with them. That makes it easy do decide what to cook in the Sun Oven. Unfortunately, I'm not crazy about many of those foods. Corned beef is no exception. Luckily it's only once a year and I'm sure there will be plenty of other things to eat at my cousin's place. She invited us over, in fact, she even supplied the corned beef. For some unknown reason she had it in her car when she was here on Sunday. I know I'll be tired when we get home so I'm updating my blog early.

I pretty much followed the instructions on the package for roasting it. I know, not very creative. All I did was take it out of the plastic, put it in a covered black roasting pan, sprinkle the seasoning package over it, and put it in the Sun Oven. I didn't bother wrapping it in foil as the instructions stated. If I make another one next year, and I probably will - I'm a sucker for tradition - I'll try to remember to put it fat side up. The top layer looks a little dry.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Focaccia in the Sun

Sunday was the first time we'd ever invited so many people to our house. I am not used to planning a menu for such a large crowd and wound up with a lot of extra food. Who knew that when you are offering a wide variety of choices you don't need a full dinner sized portion of each dish for every person? For appetizers I made four pizzas and still had enough dough left over to make these three focaccia today.

I kept things very simple, seasoning them with just kosher salt and olive oil. The sun was out in full force and they browned nicely. Focaccia gets stale pretty quickly so I froze most of it. Now I have to figure out what to do with all the other leftovers - and tomorrow we are going to my cousin's place for St. Patrick's day where there will be even more food.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Post Pi Day Pasta and Split Pea Soup from the Sun Oven

Our Pi Day get together was a success. We had enough food to feed an army and I forgot to take a picture of it. When everyone had gone home I was also too tired to update my blog. The solar cooked dishes were the two panfortes, the blueberry pie, and pulled pork that I made in the Sun Oven yesterday. That was only the beginning of the feast. Pretty much everyone brought a dish, most of which fit the Pi theme. We had two banquet tables covered in food. Needless to say, preparing more food was the last thing I wanted to do when I got up this morning. Somehow I managed to get a pot of split pea soup going. Not very exciting, pretty much my go to dish on days like today. I really wanted to make something new to blog about, but I didn't have the energy to come up with anything. 

Well, today was my lucky day. Right about the time I was taking the soup out of the Sun Oven I got a call from April. We were introduced to each other by Paul Munsen of Sun Ovens International. She is about to launch a Sun Oven rental business that sounds very promising. In the course of our conversation she told my how she cooks pasta in a Sun Oven, something I thought could not be done. Here's how she does it, just take equal parts of water and pasta and a little oil, put everything in a  dark lightweight pot and in no time you'll have pasta "al dente". I was amazed at the results. I didn't have any sauce on hand and no desire to make any so we ate it with butter and parmesan cheese. 

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Pie for Pi Day

Tomorrow is March 14. Also known as Pi Day. I'm not really that much into math, but I'll take any excuse I can find to eat pie. This year I'm even getting my friends in on the action. We'll be celebrating at our house with this solar baked blueberry pie and other goodies. I even made the pie crust from scratch using Martha Stewart's all butter recipe.

I'll admit that for a moment I considered baking it inside. I'd put so much work into it that I didn't want to run any risks. But it was a beautiful sunny morning and the Sun Oven was already up to 350º degrees so I went for it. About two hours later I had a fragrant, golden, steaming hot pie cooling on the window sill. And the best thing about solar baked pie? I don't know about you but whenever I bake pie the filling always bubbles over making a terrible mess in the oven. Well today was no exception, the only difference, the Sun Oven is so easy to clean Martin took care of it!

Friday, March 12, 2010

More Panforte for Pi Day

Yes, another panforte. It was supposed to be for our upcoming Pi Day party this Sunday. As you can see we couldn't wait until then to taste it. It will probably be the last one for a while. Candied fruit, one of the key ingredients, is seasonal. Even the one local supermarket that carried it year round no longer does so. That's the bad news. The good news they had some in clearance for only .69¢.

Tomorrow, Sat. March 13th, I will be at a Sun Oven demonstration held by the president of Sun Ovens International, Paul Munsen. The address is Tempe South Stake House, 1111 E. Knox Rd. It starts at 2:30 p.m and is about an hour long. It's in the parking lot; you can't miss it. Stop by and say hello if you're in the neighborhood. They are not selling Sun Ovens there, but Paul can put you in touch with a local dealer if you are interested.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Red Lentil Stew

No new and exciting solar cooking today. I made another pot of curried red lentil stew.  I meant to cook the rice in the Sun Oven too. There was plenty of sunshine and time, but I got sidetracked. The Arizona Humane Society called and asked if I could foster a mother cat and her kitten. By the time I got back from picking them up it was too late for any additional solar cooking.

Mother and kitten are resting nicely. They will both be up for adoption when the little one is big enough.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

More Solar Chicken

I chose a good time to send the computer to the shop. It's been cloudy and rainy since Saturday. The sun was back today but who knew how long it would last? That's one reason I chose chicken thighs; they cook up pretty fast.

I was bored with all my usual chicken recipes so it was off the where I found this little gem, Sweet and Sour Chicken Thighs with Carrots. I cut the recipe in half but only made one modification, no water. That just may be rule number one of solar cooking - use less liquid. Well, maybe not rule one, but it's definitely in the top ten. Oh, and I lied about the one modification. I didn't use any parsley or cilantro either. I don't like cilantro and forgot the parsley.

It was ready by 1:00 p.m. so we had it for lunch. All of it. I was hoping there'd be some left over for my dinner - it's Martin's night out - but no such luck.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Solar Short Rib Shepherd's Pie

My computer is going into the shop today for some repairs so this is actually the before picture. The shepherd's pie is currently in the Sun Oven. I don't anticipate any problems. It's another warm, sunny day; perfect for solar cooking.

I usually improvise when making Shepherd's Pie. For today's version I used some left over short rib meat that I had in the freezer. I also usually sautee whatever mixture of vegetables I have on hand. Today I used onions, leeks, carrots, parsnip, and frozen peas. For some additional flavor I add about half a packet of brown gravy mix to the meat and vegetable filling.

I don't know how long my computer is going to be held hostage by the people at Apple. It may be a few days until my next blog update.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Panforte al Cioccolato

Days like today are exactly what Arizona weather is famous for. Clear, warm, and sunny. I could have been solar cooking all day. Instead I made another panforte which was done after only thirty minutes in the Sun Oven. This time I made the variation with chocolate. I know, we haven't even finished the apple cake from Monday and here I am solar baking more sweets. Well, like the first panforte, this one is for a special occasion. We haven't even tasted it yet. I'm hosting my first annual pi day celebration on March 14th and I wanted to get a head start on the preparations. Panforte will stay fresh for weeks if stored properly, but I'll have to hide it if I want it to stay intact that long.

When the panforte was done it seemed a shame to let the remaining hours of sunshine to go to waste. Dinner was already taken care of, I had some red lentil curry in the freezer. All I need was some rice to go with it. There was plenty of time and sun to solar cook that too.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Sun's Back. Time for Cake.

You would think with this crazy weather we've been having I would get moving on a sunny morning like today. But no, for some reason I seem to think that I still live in Arizona, where a sunny morning means a sunny afternoon followed by a sunny week. Because of this silly notion I didn't get anything in the Sun Oven until almost noon. Once again I used a mix. I didn't have another chocolate one - sniff, sniff, - so I went with this "healthier" apple cake from Canterbury Natural's The result was better than Friday's (which wound up in the trash can) but it was touch and go towards the end. With about ten minutes to go the cloud cover started to build . The Sun Oven temperature dropped slightly. Luckily today, unlike on Friday, I was home - ready to transfer everything inside if needed. In the end the Sun Oven came through and we were able to enjoy a nice piece of solar baked cake for our afternoon snack.