Sunday, February 20, 2011

The Solar Oven Chef Has Moved!

Paul Munsen, of Sun Ovens International, has asked me to continue blogging. The new blog is at their site. Follow the link below and check it out.

I'm looking forward to seeing you there.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Solar Cooking- Rained Off.

 After a break from blogging about solar cooking,  I set the sunoven out today to cook some brown lentils for Meatless Monday.
 With record 100º+ temperatures for the last month,  and the sun shining brightly, no need to check the weather forecast right? Wrong! Thirty minutes after the lentils were started, dark clouds moved in, blocking the sun. The sun oven had to come in and the lentils finished on the stove. After another thirty minutes rain was coming down heavily! Combined with some really strong wind, it was enough to knock the power out in some parts of the city.

 It is always good to get some rain, but I really hope the sun will be shining on the 6th, when I will be solar cooking on Weds as part of earth lunch hour; an idea to cook healthy and earth friendly lunches around the world in a 24 hour period, starting in Japan. Sounds like fun and I am happy to participate. As long as everything goes right, lunch will be solar cooking from 12 noon to 1pm Arizona time. I might even check the weather forecast beforehand.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Pre-Flight Croissant

The croissant are in the Sun Oven, along with a cup of oatmeal. My bags are packed. The coffee is brewing. It's a few days early but this is my last day of my solar cooking year. I'm leaving for France, hence the croissant, this morning. I'll be back in a couple of weeks. I do plan on continuing with my blog, only with less frequent updates. Thanks for reading!

Saturday, June 26, 2010

World Cup Salad and Wings

 Ok, they're chicken legs, not wings; and the salad has nothing to do with solar cooking, but that's what we had for lunch as we watched the U.S. get eliminated from the World Cup. :(
 The chicken legs were rubbed with a BBQ spice mix, placed on a rack, covered with tin foil and a tea towel, and cooked in the Sun Oven for about an hour. The salad is one that I came up with while we were watching the World Cup in 1994. It's avocado, feta cheese, tomato, red onion, and basil seasoned with olive oil and vinegar; ingredients that come from around the world so it seems appropriate for an international sporting event.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Meatloaf Muffin Madness

  I woke up to uncertain skies. There were intermittent clouds with more on the horizon. I'd planned to make meatloaf, but was beginning to have second thoughts. I decided to go with meatloaf muffins because they would cook faster. I improvised a lid by using a roasting pan, and luckily, just before putting them in the Sun Oven, I decided to set the muffin pan on a tray to catch any cooking juices. The muffins came out great. We had them with spaghetti and tomato sauce and the last minute decision to place them on a tray saved me from having to clean the Sun Oven.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Turkey and Muffins, For Now and Later

I knew I was forgetting something when I went to bed last night. As soon as I turned off the light it hit me, my blog! Oh well, at least I didn't forget to cook something in my Sun Oven or worse, forget to eat it. It was another batch of BBQ turkey thighs. Some for dinner and some to freeze. This time I brined the meat for about an hour in a solution of two tablespoons kosher salt, one tablespoon sugar, 1/4 cup liquid smoke, and two cups water. It cooked about two hours in the Sun Oven and was fall off the bone tender.

Today it was another batch of blueberry muffins. They went straight from the Sun Oven to the freezer (after cooling of course) and hopefully Martin will enjoy them while I'm away. I'm a little doubtful that he'll actually heat up any of the other things I've prepared, but the muffins just need to be taken out of the freezer. Left at room temperature they'll be ready to eat in under 30 minutes, less if they are placed outside in the 100º + Arizona heat.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Breakfast Sandwiches in One, Two, Three

We spent most of the day out of the house and in the car. I got up extra early and put together some breakfast sandwiches to take with us. To start I fried up some bacon while I showered.

When the bacon was done, after about 30 minutes - it does cook a little faster when it's not frozen - I drained off most of the fat, added sliced onion and a diced baked potato that was left over from the other day, put the pan back in the Sun Oven.

After ten minutes or so I poured the egg and bacon mixture into the pan. By the time we were ready to get going, I'd say between and forty-five minutes and an hour, the egg bake was ready and I made sandwiches to go. I never would have made something like this on a busy morning without the Sun Oven. I'd never leave the kitchen while bacon is frying in a pan and I avoid turning the oven on at all cost during the hot summer months. Granted, it is possible to burn bacon even in a Sun Oven, but that's the worst thing that can happen, it's not like you could start a grease fire and burn down your house.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Stocking up on Split Pea Soup

Split pea soup, I've probably made this in the Sun Oven more times over the past year than anything else. It freezes well and is one of Martin's favorites. Hopefully he'll heat some up while I'm away. If not it will still be good when I get back. My freezer is going to be so well stocked. If Martin doesn't eat the stuff I'm preparing for him while I'm away we'll eat it when I get back. July will be a month of solar defrosting.

It only takes about an hour to make split pea soup in the Sun Oven. That left me plenty of time to cut up and roast a rutabaga and some butternut squash to go with it. I like the way the green and orange complement each other for a pleasing vegetarian meal.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Big Batch of Bolognese

Traditionally bolognese sauce simmers slowly in an uncovered pot for at least three hours. If you don't use a lid in the Sun Oven it will burn on top, and if you do the sauce will be watery. Today I tried a new trick to address both these issues and I may be on to something. I covered the pot with a tea towel and left the lid slightly ajar. In addition to keeping the sauce from burning, the tea towel absorbed some of the moisture. Today's batch of bolognese was my best ever from the Sun Oven. We had some over rigatoni for dinner and there are two containers of it in the freezer for Martin to enjoy while I'm away.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Sun Oven Fennel and Potato Soup

This week I'll be making a lot of big batches of foods that freeze well. I'm going to visit my mother at the end of the month and Martin will be on his own for ten days. The last time I was away for that long he lived on frozen pizza and chinese take out. I'm hoping that with a well stocked freezer, the Sun Oven, and Arizona's abundant sunshine he'll eat a little better this time.

I adapted this recipe from Bon Appétit. In the original recipe it's garnished with smoked salmon. I normally use a salmon paté that I get at Ikea. I didn't have any, and a trip to Ikea on Saturday is not my idea of fun, so I improvised. In some of the reviews on Bon Appétit's website other cooks had substituted with prosciutto. I didn't have any prosciutto either. I did have some leftover corned beef from a reuben sandwich I had on my way home from L.A. It was o.k. but next time I think I'll make the trip to Ikea.

Solar Oven Potato-Fennel Soup with Salmon Patè

1 Tbs butter
1 medium onion chopped
2 fennel bulbs chopped, fronds reserved
1/2 tsp fennel seeds
4 medium potatoes, diced (about 1 1/2 pounds)
4 cups low sodium chicken broth

Melt butter. Saute onions until soft. Add fennel, seeds, potatoes, and broth. Transfer to Sun Oven. When potatoes are tender, after approx. an hour,  remove from solar oven and blend in the pot with an immersion blender. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Ladle into soup bowls and garnish with chopped fennel fronds and salmon pate.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Slow Solar Roasted Lamb and Potatoes

I don't plan weekly menus. I admire those who are able to do so, but have never had much success with them. The few times I've tried I'd spend hours putting together a detailed shopping list and head out to the store, only to find that some key ingredient was out of stock. I'd find myself in a panic, trying to improvise substitutions. It took all the fun out of grocery shopping. I gave up after a couple of attempts and have learned to accept the fact that winging it works better for me.

I do have one trick that helps me avoid wasting food. When I spot something new I'd like to try I don't buy it until I've found a recipe. When I saw this boneless lamb shoulder roast at my local Fresh and Easy the other day I resisted the temptation to throw it in my cart until I could do some research. I found a recipe on that was easily adapted for the Sun Oven. The recipe was for a 4 pound piece of meat, that was slow cooked, at 300ºF for 5 hours; the ideal temperature for cooking in the Sun Oven. My cut was much smaller, under a pound, and it was ready in two hours. The meat was seasoned with a paste made of chopped pancetta, rosemary, and garlic. The meat was not browned before putting in the roasting pan, but you wouldn't know when you saw it on the serving platter. I think the pancetta was superfluous. I'd make it with only rosemary and garlic next time. There was enough room in the Sun Oven to bake some potatoes to go with it. It was really good and I'll definitely make it again.

If you would like to read the recipe click here.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner - Three Days of Solar Cooking

We had to go to L.A. unexpectedly on Monday and before hitting the road I made breakfast to go. Oatmeal for myself and, because I was feeling generous, and egg sandwich for Martin. There was plenty of time to cook both while we showered and loaded up the car. I also took a few Sun Oven muffins out of the freezer for a midmorning snack. A solar cooked breakfast is at least a million times petter than drive thru.

I guess my failed chicken and rice at the Bisbee cook-off last weekend left me with a craving because that's all I could think of making today. We were both quite tired today, the L.A. trip was all work, so a one pot meal was perfect. I took a cup of brown rice, a cup of water, chopped vegetables that I had on hand - leek, carrot, cabbage and butternut squash - put the chicken thighs seasoned with salt and pepper on top and put it in the Sun Oven for about two hours. It made a complete meal with leftovers. I only wish it had come out this good for the cook-off.

And on a final note, for anyone keeping score, I did cook something last Sunday, the day after the solar cook-off in Bisbee. Once again I was pretty tired, exhausted would be a better word for it. I spent the better part of the day on the couch and it wasn't until late afternoon that I dragged myself into the kitchen to see what I could throw together. The fridge was pretty bare and time was running out. It would have to be breakfast for dinner, bacon and eggs, one of Martin's favorites.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Blown Away by the Solar Cook Off in Bisbee

  Friday morning I made myself a cup of solar cooked oatmeal and we hit the road for the three and a half hour drive to Bisbee. Why only one cup of oatmeal? Because it's the only food I know of that Martin will not eat under any circumstances. That, paired with the fact that we don't usually don't get up at the same time means at breakfast time it's every man for himself in our household.

  Bisbee is in Southeastern Arizona and if you ever get a chance to go there you're sure to have a good time. We got in at lunch time so we headed straight to Dot's Diner for a burger and sadly no pie. We wanted to stay in one of the Airstreams at the adjacent Shady Dell but they were sold out months in advance. Fortunately there are plenty of charming choices for accommodation in the area and we found a room at The Jonquil.

In the evening we watched the Bisbee Copper Kings play the Tucson Yard Dogs at Warren Ballpark, the oldest ballpark in the U.S. 

This is the third year I've attended the solar cook off in Bisbee, but the first time I've participated. It was here, two years ago that I first saw a Sun Oven and not long after I purchased one for myself. Once again I had two ovens with me, but since this was only a half day event I planned on making fewer dishes than at last month's potluck in Tucson. One oven was to be dedicated to baking. The second oven was for chicken and rice. Things did not go according to my plan.

  I got up early. Prepared the two pans of raspberry cookies, mixed the muffins, and after much debate, decided on the smaller black pot for the chicken and rice - my first mistake. Leaving the slightly larger cast iron dutch oven back at the hotel we headed out to the farmer's market where the solar cook off is held. 
  While Martin set up the Sun Ovens, I spooned the muffin batter into the pan. Once they were in the oven I turned my attention to the chicken. Not wanting to bring a raw chicken all the way from Phoenix I'd bought one at the local grocery store. It was a lot more expensive than what I'm used to, but I just assumed that was because we were in a small town. 
  When I tried to fit the darn thing in my smaller pot I realized it was a much bigger chicken than I normally buy, that explained the higher price, but there was no way I was going to get the chicken and the rice into one pot. 
  Martin had to run back to the hotel to retrieve the dutch oven. I'd have to cook them separately and wouldn't be able to start the rice until I'd finished baking the muffins and the cookies. 
  As Martin rushed off to the hotel, I headed back to check on the muffins. Only to find Valerie, the coordinator, trying to salvage what she could, my Sun Oven had blown over. Oh, that's right, I hadn't mentioned the 45 mph wind gusts. Not your ideal outdoor cooking weather. Somehow we managed to get the batter, or at least most of it, back in the muffin cups. Now I was even more behind schedule. 

  Wind is a much bigger factor in Bisbee than here in the Phoenix area and many of the local Sun Oven users have reinforced their ovens with bungee cords and now mine has been too. 
  Miraculously the muffins came out o.k. even if they didn't look too pretty. As soon as they were ready I popped in the raspberry bar cookies. The wind still had not let up and was causing problems in more way than one. No one's oven was getting past 300º even with constant refocusing. The wind was kicking up so much dust that the sun rays could not get through in full force. 
  My cookies were baking, but they were taking longer than usual. There was little chance the rice would be ready by 1 p.m. I tried anyway. I put the dutch oven with the rice in the Sun Oven around 11:30, but between the lower temperature and the heavy cast iron pot that takes longer to heat up it was nowhere near done by mealtime. At least the chicken came out o.k.
  Even with the wind and all the mishaps I had a wonderful time. The people were great and all the food was delicious. I'm already looking forward to next year. 

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Sun Dried Tomatoes, Toasted Coconut, Pasta Fagioli

  I finished up the tomatoes this morning. It only took about an hour for them to dry out completely, so I guess if I'd gotten them started a little earlier yesterday there probably would have been enough time to finish them in on day. With the Sun Oven freed up I was able to toast some coconut for the cookies I'll be baking at the cook off on Saturday in Bisbee, and make a pot of Pasta Fagioli with the broth from the lamb shanks I made the other day.
 It was quite a hectic day, getting foster kittens squared away and making all the preparations for the cook off, but at least I didn't have to worry about burning dinner.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Sun Oven Dried Tomatoes

  I used the last sun dried tomato from my previous batch the other day so when I saw roma tomatoes on sale I snatched some up. They would dry faster if I cut them up in smaller pieces, but I like the texture better when they're halved, even if it means it will take two days complete the process. About the only thing I use them for is my "No Mayonnaise Tuna Spread", but I make a batch almost every week so I like to have them on hand at all times.

No Mayo Tuna Salad Spread
4 - 6 servings

6 sun dried tomatoes
1 tbs capers, drained
6 black olives, pitted
2 cans tuna packed in water
2 tsp olive oil
Fresh parsley or basil (optional)

Soak the tomatoes in a small bowl of warm water for approximately 10 minutes. Drain tomatoes, reserving soaking water, and place in a food processor with the capers and olives. Process until finely chopped. Add tuna, olive oil, and herbs if using, and process until mixed. Add reserved tomato soaking water 1 tsp at a time while processor is running until desired consistency is reached. Depending on the type of tuna, it may not be necessary to add any water at all. 
This spread can be used to make sandwiches or as a pasta sauce. To serve over pasta retain a bit of the cooking water to add in as necessary. It will keep, refrigerated, for three days.

Tomatoes in the A.M.

After one day in the Sun Oven

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Solar Lamb Shanks with Beans

My standard answer to the question, "What kind of things can you cook in the Sun Oven?" is, "Anything you would make in your slow cooker will come out even better in it." But in reality I've never been very fond of slow cookers and hardly ever use mine. My go to appliance in my pre-solar cooking days was the pressure cooker. But whenever I say "pressure cooker" in public I see a flicker of fear in people's eyes as they remember being told of a friend of a friend's grandmother's pressure cooker exploding and almost killing her. I'd don't want anyone to associate the Sun Oven with anything that would harm a poor helpless grannie, so I just say slow cooker - most people seem to be able to relate to them more easily. However, if you happen to be looking for new ideas for things to make in your Sun Oven, pressure cooker recipes are usually very easy to adapt. Like Sun Oven recipes, they call for less liquid, all the ingredients go into the pot together, and there's no need to stir. My favorite pressure cooker books are by Lorna Sass and today's dish is adapted from one of her recipes. I use the reserved cooking liquid, and any leftover beans, to make the best pasta fagioli ever - but that's another blog post.

Lamb Shank with White Beans

1 TBLS oil
1 1/2 cups chopped leeks
1/2 cup diced carrot
6 cups water
2 bay leaves
3/4 lb cannellini beans, soaked overnight
2 large lamb shanks, excess fat trimmed
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
2 tsp balsamic vinegar
2 tsp fresh chopped rosemary

Heat oil in a heavy dutch oven. Add leeks and carrots and cook for a minute or two. Add beans, water, bay leaves, and lamb shanks. Cover and place in Sun Oven for approx. 3 hours. Remove lamb shanks. Drain beans (reserve liquid for future use). Return beans to pot, season with salt and pepper, vinegar and chopped rosemary.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Solar Smothered Onions Pasta Sauce

This is another recipe from Marcella Hazan's "Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking". I don't know why I felt compelled to follow it exactly instead of cutting down on the butter and oil as I normally would. Don't get me wrong, it was delicious, but it's only Monday and now I don't have many flex points left for the rest of the week.

The sauce would normally simmer stove top, covered, at a very low heat for about an hour, then continue cooking uncovered, at a higher heat until the onions are brown and most of the liquid has evaporated. To make it in the Sun Oven I once again focused it in indirect sunlight to keep the temperature around 200ºF until the onions were soft. At this point I uncovered the pot, focused the Sun Oven directly towards the sun, and propped the glass door open to allow the steam to escape. Even with the door open a crack the Sun Oven properly focused reached 350º. It was really hot today, 110º, so that might have played a part.

Here's the recipe, using Marcella's quantities. Next time I'm going to use less fat and less pasta.

Smothered Onions Sauce

2 Tbs butter
2 Tbs olive oil
1 1/2 lbs onions, sliced very thin (I used vidalia)
Black pepper, freshly ground
1/2 cup dry white wine
2 Tbs chopped parsley
1/3 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
1 to 1 1/2 lbs pasta

Put butter, oil, onions, and some salt in a heavy dark pot. Place covered pot in Sun Oven, focused to keep the temperature at 200º, until the onions are soft, about one hour.

Uncover pot. Focus Sun Oven directly towards sun. Prop open door to allow moisture to escape, and continue cooking until the onions turn a deep, dark gold color.

Add the wine, salt and pepper to taste, stir and continue cooking until the wine evaporates.

Remove from Sun Oven stir in parsley.

Here's what we had for dinner. The butternut squash was also made in the Sun Oven. The zucchini could have been solar cooked but was a last minute thing that I made while the pasta was cooking.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Solar Cooking Weekend Update

Ever since I discovered that Martin doesn't like pancetta I've been toying with the idea of cooking bacon in the Sun Oven. This morning I finally gave it a try; and learned a few things in the process. First, I'm happy to report, Sun Oven bacon is delicious. Second, it takes longer to solar cook bacon than it does eggs. The bacon was frozen and I'm sure that was a factor. Before putting it in the Sun Oven I let the broiler pan preheat. To make enough room to cook the eggs and bacon together I removed the leveling tray. I used a broiler pan because I thought the bacon would cook faster if the fat drained off. In hindsight that was probably a mistake. Even though I put the bacon in the Sun Oven about five minutes before the eggs, the eggs cooked much faster. When I took the eggs out, after twenty minutes, I also moved the bacon strips into the tray of the broiling pan. I'd say it took about ten more minutes for the bacon to get crispy. I also covered the eggs this time and they came out overcooked with pale yellow yolks. I think I'll go back to cooking eggs uncovered, it's easier to tell if they're done when you can see them! I don't eat bacon often, partly because it's fattening, but mostly because I usually burn it and I hate the way it makes the house smell. The Sun Oven eliminates the latter two concerns.

On Saturday I found pork loin roast on sale. I picked it up thinking I'd use a recipe from my "Cheater BBQ" book, but when I got home I realized I was a little tired of BBQ so it was off to the internet to find a recipe that could be adapted to Sun Oven cooking. I found a few but they all had long lists of ingredients and lots of steps. For some reason I don't make loin roast very often, I usually use a shoulder roast for pulled pork or tenderloin for grilling. After giving up on the internet recipes I turned to my favorite Italian cookbook "Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking" by Marcella Hazen. I'd used one of her pork loin recipes years ago and seemed to remember liking it. The recipe is simple, pork loin, carrots, oil, wine, nutmeg, and bay leaves. It also called for two tablespoons of brandy which I didn't have so I left it out. You basically poke holes in the roast, insert carrot sticks in them, brown the meat, and braise it in the red wine. It's supposed to simmer, stovetop, at very low heat for three hours. When it's done the wine should be reduced to a syrupy sauce that is drizzled over the slice meat. She does say to turn up the heat for the last half hour if there's still a lot of liquid left. 

To solar cook the roast I browned the meat stovetop before transferring it to the Sun Oven. I wanted to keep the temperature between 200º and 250º so I did not focus it directly towards the sun. After three hours the meat was incredibly tender but it looked as if none of the wine had evaporated. I set the lid ajar and turned the Sun Oven into the sun. I could see the liquid bubble away, but it was getting late. In the end I brought the pot inside, took the roast out, and reduced the liquid on the stovetop. The meat came out so tender that it practically fell apart when I tried to slice it. Next time I'll use a little less wine and probably skip the carrots. They look impressive but don't really add much flavor. The reduced wine sauce was delicious and is definitely a keeper.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Sun Oven Breakfast

Now that the days are longer it's once again possible to fire up the Sun Oven a little earlier so last night I scoured the internet for a suitable recipe. I was thinking of making a strata but that would have required a trip to the grocery store, and a lot of prep work the night before. It was almost bedtime when I came up with the brilliant idea to make oatmeal, which is what I have for breakfast almost every day. 

To catch the first morning rays I set the Sun Oven up upside down, removed the leveling tray, and put a rack on the bottom of the cooking chamber. It was the steel cut kind so its normal cooking time is thirty minutes. I combined the oats in a small pot with hot tap water and half a banana, covered it and put it in the Sun Oven at 7:45. At 8:30 I was pleasantly surprised to discover that it was perfectly cooked and hadn't stuck to the bottom of the pan at all. Unfortunately I wasn't quite ready. I'd forgotten to put the coffee on so I left it in the Sun Oven to keep it warm and when my coffee was ready enjoyed a leisurely solar breakfast. I can't believe I hadn't thought of this before. It really doesn't take that much longer than making it stovetop and it tastes much better. 

Thursday, June 3, 2010

BBQ Turkey Thighs

 Not to sound like a broken record or anything, but I chose to make pulled turkey rather then pulled pork because it meant fewer calories. I've been extra diligent the last few weeks for a reason. I'm going on a ten day vacation at the end of the month and I want to lose some weight beforehand. Not to look good in a bathing suit, in fact I won't even be bringing one, but because I know I'll gain at least five pounds while I'm away. I don't condone yo-yo dieting, but I have found that it's much easier to drop a few pounds before a vacation than after.

 Like Sun Oven pulled pork, BBQ turkey is crazy easy. Just take a couple of turkey thighs, remove the skin, coat them with your favorite dry rub, pour some liquid smoke over them, throw in a quartered onion, and put them in the Sun Oven. When they're ready pull the meat off the bones and serve with your favorite BBQ sauce.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

More One Point Blueberry Muffins

I was in the mood for baking, just not for having anything too tempting around to pig out on. The good thing about muffins is after enjoying a few, they can be wrapped up, frozen, and put out of sight. They're the same kind of muffins I made a few days ago, using Kodiak Cakes Flapjack Mix. I meant to add some cinnamon this time, but forgot, so I sprinkled a little on top before popping them in the Sun Oven. It was a nice touch. I really like having muffins in the freezer. It's so easy to grab one on your way out the door, put it on the dashboard to defrost, and in no time you'll have a nice treat to enjoy on the road.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Sun Oven Chicken with... One Lemon

It was a pretty uneventful solar cooking day. Chicken with Two Lemons was on the menu, except I only had one lemon. It's been non stop sun for the past few days so I waited until after lunch to get started. Everything was going along just fine when I went out to run some errands. I don't know where they came from, but by the time I got home it was getting pretty cloudy. Luckily the Sun Oven was still hot and the chicken was ready. It was also close enough to dinnertime to go ahead and eat.

Monday, May 31, 2010

Deep Fried Bean Patties

I'll quite often start a dish inside, sauteing vegetables or browning meat, before putting it in the Sun Oven. Today I did the opposite. The beans were solar cooked first, then the patties were deep fried. The recipe is one from a collection of recipes that I cut out of Italian magazines over twenty years ago. I don't use them very often, but always get a kick out of how they are written. Unlike American recipes with their precise measurements and detailed instructions, Italian recipes are more like the instructions you'd get from Grandma if you called her and asked how to make a family favorite.

Here's the recipe as it was written:

Ingredients for 6 people:
500 gm dried beans, 1 onion, 1 celery stalk, 1 whole clove, 3 eggs, bread crumbs, 3 tablespoons grated parmesan, oil for frying.

(No mention of what kind of beans or if the onion should be quartered, chopped or sliced; same goes for the celery. And how much bread crumbs will you need? The instructions don't help much either.)

It goes on to say:

Soak beans overnight, then simmer them with the onion, celery, clove, and the salt. (salt was not mentioned in the ingredients) Drain and mash, add 3 egg yolks (oh, the eggs need to be separated?), the cheese, and enough bread crumbs to obtain a good consistency (whatever that means). Mix well. Make patties that you will dip in the beaten egg whites and then coat with bread crumbs and fry in hot oil. Serve immediately.

So what did I do? I used cranberry beans. That's usually what "beans" means in an Italian recipe. Then I messed up by converting 500 gm (1/2 kilo) to 1/2 pound. I didn't catch my mistake until after I'd mixed in the three egg yolks, of course. I quartered the onion and the celery stalk and removed them, and the clove, before mashing the beans. Probably due to the fact that I only used half the amount of beans the recipe called for and all three of the eggs my mixture was a bit moist. I wound up adding 1/4 cup of bread crumbs. I assume you'd need less than that with the correct bean to egg ratio. The instructions don't say how many, or what size patties. I got twelve good sized ones, probably about 1/4 - 1/3 cup mixture per patty. I really think the full recipe would serve at least eight people. Finally, in the picture in the magazine, and mine, you can clearly see lemon wedges. Granted, Italians always squeeze fresh lemon on deep fried foods, but it's an important enough touch to merit at least a mention.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Solar Baked Potatoes to the Rescue!

 For a brief moment I thought I was going to get a day off from solar cooking; a Facebook friend's status update this morning said something about clouds - and yes, I checked Facebook before looking out the window - but turns out he was in Seattle for the weekend, so no such luck. Uncharacteristically for me, I had no idea what I wanted for dinner and found no inspiration among the contents of my fridge and pantry. I spent most of the morning lying on the couch consulting cookbooks, but the spark just wasn't there. When 1 o'clock rolled in it was time to resort to the Solar Oven Chef's solar cooking project of last resort - baked potatoes, the one thing you can always build a meal around later.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Solar Puttanesca Sauce

Puttanesca is a classic Italian pasta sauce. It's easy to make and very tasty. Today's batch was entirely cooked in the Sun Oven, including sauteing the garlic. The ingredients are olive oil, minced garlic, anchovy paste, strained tomatoes, olives, capers, and crushed red pepper. So many people are turned off by anchovies and capers, but in this sauce the anchovy paste is dissolved in the oil and the capers are minced, if you don't tell anyone they won't know they're there.

Puttanesca Pasta Sauce

2 Tbs olive oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 tsp anchovy paste
3 cups strained tomatoes, preferably Pomì
1/2 cup Kalamata olives, pitted, roughly chopped
1 1/2 Tbs drained capers, finely chopped
1/2 tsp dried crushed red pepper

Put oil, garlic and anchovy paste in a a dark enameled pot and place in Sun Oven. Sauté until garlic is fragrant. And strained tomatoes, olives, capers, crushed red pepper. Cover and simmer in Sun Oven for approx. 40 minutes. Serve over pasta with freshly grated Pecorino Romano cheese.

Friday, May 28, 2010

More Zucchini Stuffed with Salmon

Not new recipe, not even any new twist to it. I made it  a couple of weeks ago and liked it enough to make it again today. Don't let the picture fool you, one can of salmon goes a long way, I actually had to use two baking dishes and stack them in the Sun Oven, only half the zucchini are pictured here, it's enough for six to eight servings. Looks like we'll be having the leftovers for lunch tomorrow.

Solar Sicilian Potato Gratin

I made this potato dish once before during the first weeks of my blog. I remember liking it, but for some reason haven't made it again until now. It's a good alternative to the traditional, heavy on cream and cheese, potato gratin; and it gives me an excuse to use my mandolin slicer.

The onions do need to be browned on the stove before assembling the gratin, but that can easily be done while you're slicing the potatoes.

Sicilian Potato Gratin

1 garlic clove, halved
2 Tbs olive oil, divided
2 cups chopped onions
Kosher salt
2 lbs russet potatoes, peeled, thinly sliced
6 Tbs grated Pecorino Romano cheese, divided
3 Tbs drained capers
1 cup low-sodium chicken broth

Set Sun Oven up to preheat. Rub 11x7 - inch glass baking dish with cut side of garlic clove. Brush dish with olive oil. Heat 1 Tbs oil in heavy large skillet over medium heat. Add onions, sprinkle with salt, and sauté until soft and beginning to brown, stirring often, about 10 minutes.
Arrange 1/4 of the potatoes in even layer in prepared dish. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Scatter 1/3 of the onions over. Sprinkle with 1 Tbs Pecorino Romano and 1/4 of the capers. Repeat for two more layers drizzling 1/2 Tbs olive oil on third layer.
Arrange remaining potato slices over. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and remaining capers. Drizzle with remaining 1/2 Tbs olive oil. Pour chicken broth over. Press down on potatoes to compact gratin.
Cover gratin tightly with foil, cover with a dark tea cloth, place in Sun Oven, and bake until potatoes are tender, 1 1/2 - 2 hours. Uncover and sprinkle with remaining 3 Tbs Pecorino Romano. Bake gratin uncovered until cheese is lightly browned, about 15 minutes. Let gratin stand 10 minutes at room temperature before serving.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Solar Chicken and Chickpeas with Green Beans

This is a simply, yet satisfying chicken dish that is perfect for solar cooking. The green beans were cooked along with it, in a parchment packet that I put on top of the dutch oven towards the end of the cooking time.

Chicken with Chickpeas

1 Tbs olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1/2 tsp turmeric
6 chicken thighs, skinned
1/2 cup water
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp fresh ground black pepper
2 Tbs fresh lemon juice
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 15 oz can chickpeas, drained

Combine oil, onion and turmeric in a large dutch oven. Add chicken, turning to coat. Add water, salt, pepper, lemon juice, and garlic. Place in Sun Oven for approx. 2 hours or until chicken is tender. Mix in chickpeas and leave in Sun Oven until heated. Serve over couscous with hot sauce.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Solar Roasted Beets - Not Bad

Tuesdays are my busiest day. I have to get up earlier than usual and am away from home all day. If I want to come home to a solar cooked meal I have to do most of the prep work the night before. Last night I didn't do any. That left me with little choice other than throwing a couple of beets in the Sun Oven to roast. At least I'd have tonight's side dish taken care of.

I'll eat beets on occasion. There's a local restaurant we often go to - Joe's Farm Grill - where you can substitute beet salad for fries, and since I'm looking to cut calories wherever possible that's what I do, but I've never said to myself, "I could really go for some beets right now".

Before leaving this morning I scrubbed two beets, tossed them in a dark covered pot, and set it in the Sun Oven. In the past, out of habit, I would wrap them in tin foil first, but today I discovered that they come out even better without it. When I got home I took them out of the Sun Oven and when they were cool enough to handle I peeled them, chopped them up, and drizzled a little olive oil over them. They were so tasty I just may find myself craving more some day.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Solar Lentil Loaf and Solar Baked Asparagus

I'm not a huge fan of lentil loaf but I was feeling frugal today and had just enough lentils left over from Saturday to make one. After smashing them up a bit, I mixed in some bread crumbs, an egg, grated parmesan cheese, and garlic powder. The parchment paper lining made it easy to get out of the pan and served as a lid during baking. It actually came out a lot better than I expected. I served it with solar baked asparagus and non solar mashed potatoes. The vegetarian gravy was from a packet.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Solar Huevos Rancheros

This is my other solar egg dish. Coat a small pan with cooking spray, put one corn tortilla in each pan, spoon about half a cup of refried beans on each one making a well in the middle, crack an egg into the well and bake in the Sun Oven for twenty minutes. If you like cheese on your huevos rancheros sprinkle some on about two minutes before taking them out of the oven. After taking the huevos out of the Sun Oven season with salsa verde, sour cream, and a drop of hot sauce. They make a great solar lunch.

Saturday Lentils and Rice

This is my basic method for most legumes, in this case lentils. I put the lentils, water and a bay leaf in one pot, and in the other olive oil, chopped onions, carrot, celery, and a can of diced tomatoes. Cover both and let simmer in the Sun Oven until the lentils are soft. Drain the lentils and combine everything in one pot, replace the cover, and continue to simmer. Now there is room to make some rice. When the rice is ready so is dinner.