Cloudy with no chance of lentils

My plan yesterday was to try a lentil casserole in the solar oven. I stole a simple recipe from The Tightwad Gazette and figured that if I put the dish in at breakfast then I would have food by lunchtime.

No such luck. I went out in the morning and looked up at a completely gray sky. It wasn’t rainy looking, just cloudy. I figured I should try anyway, so I angled the cooker as best I could toward where the sun should be and left. 3 hours later I had the same raw food, only slightly warmer.

I ended up coming inside and trying the recipe again in the crock pot. It was bland mush and I wouldn’t recommend it. The recipe was 3 cups water, 1 cup rice, 1/2 cup lentils, half an onion, and some spices.

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Rating: yuck.

In other crazy and ironic news, my conventional oven broke yesterday. It was old and had a good life, so we were not surprised, but it does force us to consider how big a role solar cooking will play for us in the future as we appliance shop. In the meantime, I’m suddenly very glad to have a solar cooker!

Not Anyone’s Mama’s Banana Bread

You know, gluten-free cooking is challenging at times.  The dough is just never quite the same as wheat based breads, no matter which mixture of flour-like substances I use.  When you add in that I really try to avoid junk flour substitutes (like tapioca starch) that have no nutritional value, I sometimes end up with cooking that is less than appealing.

Today was no exception.  I have a ton of bananas in my freezer, so I thought it was time to try out some solar cooker banana bread making.  But, as usual, I substituted out most of the ingredients in the recipe.  Instead of eggs, I used flax.  Instead of oil, I used applesauce.  Rice flour was my flour of choice, and I used only about half as much sugar as they suggested.

Now, usually banana bread works out for me, but not today.  It looked like bread.  It cut like bread.  It even smelled like bread.  However, it tasted like bland mush.  My kids ate it though, which says something.

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I won’t bother posting the recipe, as I can’t imagine anyone who would want to recreate it.  However, I did learn that solar cooking bread is rather easy.  I used two little bread loaf pans and just covered them with a black cotton dishtowel.  They took about an hour and a half to cook, which isn’t much longer then in a conventional oven.

Rating: Yuck.  My son says that I should make it again with chocolate chips.  I think he may be on to something 🙂

Black Bean Disaster Cakes

If you are reading this for a good solar oven recipe, stop here and look back at some of my other posts. I would recommend BBQ lentils, or maybe strawberry crisp. If you want a good laugh, by all means continue.

I had read in some cookbook a recipe for black bean cakes. They were supposed to be an entree, and then you added salsa or spinach or other yummy sides to the top of them. I thought this sounded easy, so I spent the morning cooking black beans in my solar oven. Already this was an issue because by lunchtime they were not yet soft. So, instead of cooking them more in more water, I decided to try to mold them into cakes anyway. In retrospect, this was probably the beginning of my troubles. I think I need to work on cooking beans in enough water to really soften them up.

The original recipe called for several ingredient in the cakes, but I figured salsa would work for most of it, so I just stuffed copious amounts of beans in my food processor with a bit of salsa. The resulting mush I made into little patties and tried once again to solar cook.

Three hours later I brought inside pans of black bean crumble. It was awful. I put I with salsa and chips to try to salvage some portion of dinner, but it tasted pretty bad, and since the beans were hard, it’s been a “tooty” house. Blech!

I don’t have a picture because I was too frustrated to take one, but we will not be trying this again.

Rating: miserable!

Noodles and Vegetable Stir Fry

I have been trying to figure out how to do pasta in the solar cooker. Gluten-free pasta, to be exact, which doesn’t always turn out even when cooked normally. Today was my first baby step in that direction. I made Asian style rice noodles.

I suppose I technically cheated since I only heated the water in the solar cooker. I then brought it in and set the noodles in for about 20 minutes. It worked! I’m hoping that it might work for gluten-free penne noodles, but I guess that’s an experiment for another day.

Anyway, I added some stir fried vegetables and some firm tofu and finished it with some liquid Amino’s. Yummy! New time I may try adding in some fresh basil…

 

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Rating: success. I need to find a better sauce, as it was a bit dry, but the solar noodles were great!

One Pot Quinoa

I am pretty lazy when it comes to cooking, which is why the solar oven and one pot meals are so attractive to me. I love how quick it is to throw everything in one dish and have that much less mess to clean up at the end of it all.

Yesterday I tried a solar version of a quinoa dish that originally hails from the Allergen Free cooking recipe book. I followed most of their recipe. Here is my version:

Quinoa with corn and black beans

1 cup uncooked Quinoa

2 cups water

1 cup frozen corn

1 cup cooked black beans

3 green onions, chopped

Stir all together in an oven safe pot, put the lid on and then solar cook for a few hours. Mine took about 2 hours. It is done when the quinoa is fluffy.

Then bring it inside and add some quartered grape tomatoes, as well as the juice of one lime, a bit of cumin, and some salt and pepper. A sprinkle of sugar won’t hurt either. Stir well and enjoy!

Rating: success! My kids ate it, and it was naturally vegan and gluten-free so my nephew could have some also. I need to look up more one dish dinners to solar cook!

Vegan Chocolate Chip Oat Cookies

I was craving chocolate again last night and stumbled upon a yummy, gluten-free, vegan recipe from twopeasandtheirpod.com. I changed it a bit to fit what we have in the house and this morning I tried my first solar cookie baking!

Solar baking was easy – just pop the cookie trays in and wander out every so often to see if they look done. Mine took about an hour. Here’s the recipe:

Vegan Chocolate Chip Oat Cookies

3 ripe bananas

1/2 cup peanut butter

1 Tbsp vegan butter, softened

1 tsp vanilla

2 Tbsp applesauce

2.5 cups oats

1 tsp baking powder

Pinch salt

3/4 cup vegan chocolate chips.

Cream bananas through vanilla. Stir in dry ingredients. Drop onto parchment lined trays and solar bake. Mine made 2 dozen and took about an hour.

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Rating: success. You need to be prepared for the taste of cookies without sugar though. Conventional folks might want to add some in. Otherwise these are gluten-free vegan yumminess!

Gluten-free Pumpkin Muffins :)

Today was my first shot at baking in the solar oven. I bought a small muffin tin at Goodwill and whipped up a batch of the kids’ favorite pumpkin muffins.  I was a little nervous about baking such small quantities (6) at a time, but I think I should have been nervous about more than just that.

It sounds so stupid, but every time I use the solar cooker I am reminded how important the sun is. For a solar cooker. Duh. I know. But having a good angle and getting the correct cookware makes all the difference.

My first tray of muffins was in the cooker for three hours and still mush, even though the sun was out. I was so frustrated. I though maybe I was just a poor baker. Then I did a little reading and found out that reflective metals (like my shiny muffin tin) reflect the sunlight back out of the cooker. No wonder it didn’t get up to temperature!

The solution is equally as easy. If you cover the pan with a black cotton dishtowel, your problem is completely solved. I put the tray in for 40 minutes with the towel, and the muffins cooked up nicely. After that, it only took about an hour per pan of muffins. It still took all day to cook up all of he batter, but at least they turned out well!

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Glutenfree Pumpkin Muffins

(Another Rip Esselstyn recipe modification)

14 oz pumpkin puree

2 ripe bananas

1 cup applesauce

1 tsp cinnamon

1/2 tsp nutmeg

1/2 tsp baking soda

1/2 tsp baking powder

3 cups rolled oats

2/3 cup raisins

Mix the first three ingredients together until the banana is well blended. Add in the other ingredients and mix by hand. Drop into silicone baking cups in a muffin tin. Solar cook for approximately one hour.

Makes 20 muffins.

My kids love these muffins, by the way, and they are gluten-free and vegan!

Rating: eventual success! I’m definitely learning a lot here!

Squash Fries

One again, I am attempting to find food that everyone in the house can eat. Hubby can’t have potatoes or sweet potatoes, so I wanted to try to find a French fry alternative for him. I had read that you can make baked fries by roasting butternut squash. So, around lunchtime I peeled and scooped out a butternut squash and then cut it into the best French fry shapes I could muster. Here’s my before picture:

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They took 3 hours to cook in the solar cooker, and they didn’t get crispy. I would say this was a fair way to get squash, but maybe it needs longer to be more like a French fry? Perhaps a bit of oil would have helped?

Squash Fries

Peel, seed, and cut one butternut squash into strips.

Optional: coat with oil and sprinkle with salt

Roast on parchment paper till crispy.

Rating: fair try. I will do this again, but probably with some better sun and a little oil. My kids and husband ate them like fries though, so it wasn’t a bad side dish for dinner!

Pizza

Noting says “Saturday night” like pizza. Of course delivery costs more then we like to shell out, especially when you try to get a pizza that is gluten-free and vegan.

I was craving pizza, so I pulled out a flat bread pizza recipe I had used before (thanks Rip Esselstyn again) and made individual veggie pizzas. My kids love these because they can make theirs with only what they like on it, and I usually make extra “plain” flatbreads to turn into peanut butter sandwiches later in the week. I was also curious how the solar cooker would do with something that had a crust, so I thought this was a perfect opportunity to try it out!

Flatbread Pizzas

3 cups water

2 tsp yeast

1/2 cup applesauce

1 1/4 cup warm water

Mix all ingredients together and kneed till they form a dough ball. Let it rest for 10 minutes. Break into 6 smaller balls, and flatten them on parchment paper line trays. Prick with a fork all over and then add pizza sauce and toppings.

I put mine in the solar cooker for about an hour, and they turned out fine. I had the cooker out already though, so I don’t know if the preheating is important. You can tell they are done by the slight browning of the top veggies (or cheese if you go that route).

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I stacked the trays to get 3 in at a time. I had to do a second round of cooking to finish them all.

Rating: success! The pizzas were done and the crusts turned out cooked better then I had expected. I haven’t tasted the plain ones, but I trust they will be just as good! My only complaint thus far is that I have to cook much earlier than I want to eat in order to get adequate sunlight.

BBQ Lentils

It was my nephew’s birthday party yesterday, so I needed to find a dish to share. It’s not always easy to find vegan and gluten-free food choices that normal folks enjoy. Plus, I needed to be able to cook it in the solar oven, and I haven’t figured out if gluten-free pasta will cook in it correctly. So, I stole my favorite recipe from Rip Esselstyn’s book: BBQ Lentils. They make good tacos if you put them on corn tortilla shells, or you can eat them alone. I’ve taken them to several parties now and most meat eaters will scarf them down as fast as the kids.

BBQ Lentils

1.5 cups brown lentils

3 cups water

2 Tbsp liquid Amino’s

16 oz BBQ sauce of choice

I cooked the lentils with the water in the solar cooker with the lid on top. Then I brought them in and stirred in the liquid Amino’s and BBQ sauce. They serve best topped with cilantro and fresh cut pineapple!

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Rating: mixed. I got complements on my dish, but the solar oven didn’t cook the lentils as soft as I like them, even with direct sun for 2 hours. I wonder if a parabolic cooker, which is supposed to function more like a stove top would have done a better job.