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It’s no secret that in our house BBQ lentils are the dish of choice. We eat them as tacos with pineapple, we take them to parties, and we serve them to guests when they come over. We have yet to have a meat eater who doesn’t enjoy some of their vegan yumminess.

Tonight we tried a twist on our regular BBQ lentils. We still solar cooked the lentils and then heated them with BBQ sauce, but we served them over spinach and topped them with pineapple! It made for a nice summer salad and was very filling!

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Rating: good! We may try this again for a quick meal!

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Squishy Squash

We hit triple digits yesterday. I suspect my days of blogging about how I can’t cook in the overcast conditions are over. That does not mean, however, that my solar cooking is going perfectly. Take, for example, my poor spaghetti squash. I meant to post this yesterday, but I wanted a chance to redeem myself first.

My husband loves spaghetti squash, so I put half of one into the Sun Oven in the morning yesterday to cook. And cook it did. By the time I got to it, it could reasonably have been labeled “well done”. The problem was that I put it out in the morning and forgot about it until dinner time. Because I did not even reorient the cooker to follow the sun, the squash had been sitting at bacteria-growing temperatures for several hours. I felt badly throwing it out.

So today I decided to try again to cook the other half of the spaghetti squash. I put it in a dish with a little water in the bottom and put a lid on it. I pointed the solar cooker at the sun, and about an hour later I went back out to check on it.

Boiling. It was boiling. The bubbles kept rising up from under the squash, which was actually sort of neat to watch. I brought it inside, and sure enough it was cooked through. My husband was happy to finally get his squash, and I learned that food is about to start cooking a whole lot faster!

Leftover Chili, and Lessons Learned

It’s been a little over two months now since I started solar cooking daily, and I wanted to take a moment to share what I have learned.

1. Have food in the freezer.  I know I mentioned this last time, but I can’t stress it enough.  Unless you want to eat take out every time it is overcast, it is probably prudent to have almost a week’s worth of leftovers ready to defrost.  Actually, that’s what I cooked today.  I had some leftover beans in the refrigerator, so I made chili to freeze.  (For a great chili recipe, see here.) My stock was pretty much completely depleted last week when it was cloudy so often.

2.  Preheating helps.  I tried baking the first several times by just putting the food in and pointing the oven at the sun.  While I did manage baked food, I have found that it is tastier and less dry if you preheat the oven first, then put your food in, much the same way you would cook in a conventional oven.  Muffins are much better when they don’t crumble the moment you touch them. (Yummy muffin recipe!)

3.  Consider eating  your big meal at lunch.  I keep toying with this idea, and it hasn’t quite worked out for us yet, but the latest I can cook in the afternoon is about 3:30 right now.  That’s too early for dinner, even for my toddler.  What would make the most sense is to cook a big meal for lunch, and have sandwiches and leftovers at a more normal dinner time.  I’ll let you know if we actually succeed at this.

4.  Shine up your oven.  The outer reflectors get pretty grimy and need cleaned up like the inside.  It’s not a constant thing, but worth doing once in awhile.

 

Let me know if I missed any important tips!  Happy Solar Cooking!

Broccoli and White Bean Penne

Yum… garlic. We love Italian-inspired dishes that are rich in sauces, pasta, and garlic! I feel like having a glass of red wine just thinking about it. Here’s a versatile dish that the kids love and adults will eat.

I originally found a similar recipe online (I can’t remember where) and changed it a bit to be able to solar cook it. The noodles I boiled on the stove indoors, but the beans and sauce I cooked in the solar oven.

Broccoli and White Bean Penne

2 cloves garlic, minced

1/2 onion, diced

1 or 2 cups cooked white beans

16 oz cooked penne

Large jar red pasta sauce

1 or 2 crowns broccoli, chopped

Cook the garlic, onion, and beans in the solar cooker till soft ( about an hour). Then stir in the pasta sauce and return to the sun oven till heated through. Indoors, cook the penne. Add the broccoli to the cooking pasta for the last few minutes till it is tender. Drain pasta and broccoli. Stir in the sauce with the beans. Enjoy!

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Rating: easy and good. Very kid-friendly and reheats well. I always use gluten-free pasta, so it is a gluten-free meal.

I have to say, spaghetti dishes like this are some of my favorite dinners. You can hide anything in them (pureed spinach, lentils, broccoli, etc.) and kids love them! I think this will be our lunch for the next day or two.

Peanut Butter Muffins

We are suckers for good muffins around here. These are some of our favorites! They are sweet, and even though they make about a dozen muffins, I never have any make it till the next day!

My son had some dental work yesterday, and these soft and filling muffins tied him over well.

This recipe was originally from Jessica Seinfeld’s Deceptively Delicious cookbook. I made a few vegan changes.

Peanut Butter Muffins

1/4 cup brown sugar

1/2 cup applesauce

1 large banana

1 T flax + 3 T water

1 cup gluten-free rice flour

1 tsp baking soda

1 tsp baking powder

Pinch salt

1/2 cup brown sugar

Cream the wet ingredients. Stir in the dry ingredients. At the very end stir in the last 1/4 cup sugar with one stir. This will make them crunchy and sweet! Bake in lined muffin tin for about 30 minutes in the solar cooker.

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Rating: very yummy!

Burritos

I have several burrito recipes, but I rarely make them because they involve baking, which is usually avoided here during the summer. However, I don’t mind solar cooking up a few yummy burritos!

The basic recipe for all of them is to saute whatever vegetables you have, mix with beans, and then roll into burritos and bake. Some recipes include rice in the mix.

I didn’t have time to cook rice first, but these were yummy and very filling all the same. I believe the base recipe comes from one of Rip Esselstyn’s books. It’s a good way to get vegetable avoidant folks to eat leafy greens.

Vegan Burritos

Saute:

1 diced clove garlic

1 diced onion

2 diced zucchini

1 chopped bell pepper

4 chopped leaves kale

2 chopped leaves book choy

Then add in:

1 cup pinto beans

1 cup black beans

1/2 cup salsa

Pinch cumin

(Optional: 2 cups rice)

Heat through, then spoon onto tortillas, roll up, and bake on parchment-lined tray for 15 minutes.

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I has such small tortillas that I couldn’t get them rolled, so I baked mine like quesadillas. They looked a bit flat in the end, but they tasted great with salsa and homemade guacamole!

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Rating: good! Definitely great with the guacamole. I tried some just heated through with salsa for lunch and it was good as well!

Cookie Cook Off

Yesterday was a bit crazy, and it left me with a renewed sense of why I love my solar cooker.

You see, our indoor oven is broken, and we have been dragging our feet about replacing it. After all, I am supposed to be solar cooking, so why do we really need an oven? But, of course, it’s been terribly cloudy these past few days, and I am starting to want to be able to cook. So, we found a cheap, slightly used oven yesterday and installed it.

So what should you do when you have a new oven to try out? Have a cookie cook off, of course!

I made my favorite gluten – free, vegan cookies. We call them Monster Cookies, and everyone loves them!

Monster Cookies

1 stick vegan butter

1/4 cup brown sugar

3 flax eggs ( 3 Tbsp flax plus 9 Tbsp water)

1 tsp vanilla

1 1/2 cup peanut butter

Cream the above ingredients together. Then stir in:

2 tsp baking soda

4 1/2 cups rolled oats

1 cup raisins ( or vegan ch. chips, or whatever else you like)

Drop onto parchment paper and bake for about 10 minutes. The batter and the cookies are both yummy and we tend to make them monstrously big!

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So how did the cook-off go? Well, let’s just say I am even more glad to have a solar cooker than usual. The indoor oven heated up well, and then promptly began stinking. Bad. Really bad. Apparently a cat had peed in it at some point, so the smell was awful, and I lost a whole tray of cookies to the stench.

As I was trying to clean up the smell, I put a batch into the solar oven. I didn’t preheat it, so they turned out a bit dry, but otherwise they are worlds ahead of the others! Yeah for solar power!

Rating: solar cookies – good. Conventional cookies – disgusting.

Now if you will excuse me, I either have some cleaning or oven shopping to do. Is it even ethical to resell a stinky oven?

 

Apple Almond Cereal

After so many cloudy days, I was starting to feel like I would never be able to solar cook again! It’s so frustrating to have all your cooking and baking planned only to find out that it won’t work.

Never fear though. I noticed that the clouds tended to stay away until lunchtime, so I decided to try a new cereal recipe. It’s from Brendan Brazier’s Thrive book, and while he calls it cereal, I might call it granola.

Apple Almond Cereal

1/2 diced apple

1 cup oats

1/2 cup diced almonds

1/2 cup ground flax

1/2 cup hemp powder

1/2 cup sunflower seeds

Cinnamon

Nutmeg

1/4 cup honey

2 Tbsp water

Mix all ingredients together well. Solar cook for about an hour on a flat tray.

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Serve like granola. Keep the extra in the refrigerator in a sealed container.

Rating: okay. The hemp gives it a different texture then I am used to eating. It’s not bad, but I’m not sure it’s worth the hour in the morning. Maybe it will make a good trail mix? The seeds are chokable for my little guys too, so if I do make this again, I will probably put it in the food processor first.

 

Still Beautifully Cloudy

When I started this challenge, I only anticipated having one or two days of poor sun during the six months that I planned to solar cook. Boy was I wrong!

It is gorgeous yet again, and the sun is playing peek-a-boo through the clouds. This means that the kids got to go to the park, and I have been able to garden, but alas, nothing has solar cooked.

Stay tuned though! I am determined to cook SOMETHING tomorrow (anything!), no matter what the sky condition.

Beautiful with no chance of cooking

It did it again! The temperature dropped below 80°F, the wind was blowing, the sky was pleasantly overcast, and my solar cooker wouldn’t get hot enough to cook.

I did manage to make a squash first thing in the morning, and then I thought I’d just try to warm up leftovers in it for dinner.

I was wrong. It never got above 150°F, and after an hour my food was still quite cold. I brought it in and ended up microwaving it.

Better luck tomorrow!