6 Months Later…

Well, we made it. It’s been 6 months. I haven’t been able to cook in the cooker everyday, and it has definitely gotten more difficult now that it is so hot here, but I have used my Sun Oven as my sole oven for the past 6 months. And yes, I have learned a few things:

1. It’s not the heat, it’s the angle of the sun that cooks the food. Point the cooker at the sun. If it’s overcast, forget it.

2. If you live close to the equator like I do, you may need to put a brick under the front of the cooker to get it to point directly overhead at midday. Otherwise it won’t get up to temperature properly.

3. The Sun Oven holds up to weather brilliantly. I have applied linseed oil to the wood once or twice, and I clean it out with water and dish soap or a bit of vinegar occasionally. Otherwise it works great!

4. Don’t leave it outside pointed at the sun – it heats it all day whether you use it or not.

5. Baking in the solar oven requires some finesse. Using it to boil water, or cook pasta or rice takes a hot oven. If you can’t get it up to temperature, don’t try that day.

6. Cook a few things in your oven and clean it out well before you start eating what it makes. There is a “new oven” smell in the beginning.

7. If you make cookies outdoors and live in the city, your neighbors can smell them. Just saying.

 

We will continue to use our solar oven, as we still don’t have a working indoor oven. I’ll keep posting as I find new outdoor recipes. I’m waiting until our current monsoon storms are oven so I can try making “bites” for the kids (banana and oat balls).

Thank you to everyone who has helped out and supported my solar experiment!

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Answers!

I had this vision that cooking in the summer here would be a breeze. Afterall, it’s almost hot enough to fry eggs on the sidewalk. I can’t go walking or jogging anytime after about 5 AM for fear of getting heat stroke. Shouldn’t that make for excellent solar cooking?

Unfortunately, the answer is no, it doesn’t make for great solar cooking. I have actually had a really rough summer with cooking outdoors. For starters, it’s hot. Too hot to be standing outdoors, and too hot to eat hot food. In fact, it’s so hot I haven’t wanted to cook at all. I have kept up my solar cooking promise – I haven’t cooked indoors in an oven at all, but I have stopped inventing reasons to use it if my dinner doesn’t require it.

Then there is the angle issue. The solar cooker is naturally angled at about 75 degrees from the horizontal, which is great most of the year. However, right now our sun is directly overhead. It has taken me weeks to figure out that the reason my oven isn’t getting as hot as it should is that it isn’t pointing directly upwards. I finally solved this with the help of some bricks, so at least the technical part of cooking is improving.

Hopefully I will find a good bread recipe to try outside soon. In the last few days I have made beans, chicken, and rice. None of them were exciting enough to photograph.

Here’s to hoping it cools off enough soon to cook more!

Worst cooking experiences of the week

I have tried to post this several times, but I keep having disasters of solar cooking experiments.  Alas, I think this will have to be a “worst of” list instead of a tale of lovely recipes…

Worst cooking events of this week:

4.  We tried to make lentil joes. My husband used the “fire roasted” tomatoes instead of the regular ones and then tried to solar cook it. The lentils did eventually cook, but it took longer than expected and the resulting dinner was spicy!

3.  Tortilla soup – we tried to solar cook this with regular diced tomatoes since the fire roasted ones got used the day before. It was overcast on and off all afternoon though, so we ended up cooking it on the stove. Plus, we were unable to make the crispy strips that go on it, so it was bland from beginning to end.

2. Chicken – We tried to boil a chicken outside in the solar cooker and make broth. However, it is apparently monsoon season. It is really difficult to solar cook in a monsoon. Again, the chicken ended up indoors on the stove.

1. Pumpkin bread – I had made this recipe before in the slow cooker and I wanted to try it outside in the solar oven. I did, and it was awful!  After an hour it was still so under-cooked that it was inedible. 

Weekly rating: disaster.  Better luck next time.  Perhaps I should stick with baking cookies?

Summer Living

I have been solar cooking.  I swear.  Everyday.

The thing is, it’s hot here, and most of the time, I am down to cooking as an act of need instead of as a fun exercise.  For example, the other day, my husband boiled a chicken.  He does this all the time, and it’s not really much to write about at this point.

I have been baking though.  I made oatmeal raisin cookies for a party on Sunday.  They turned out well, though when you use vegan butter, they don’t spread out the way normal cookies do.  They more resemble little snowballs.

I also had my son’s birthday party yesterday for the family, and I made a carrot cake and carrot muffins for him. They turned out alright, though a little bit soggy at the bottom.

I have to say, I am amazed at how stable the temperatures are in the over.  Usually, in good sun, I get up to about 300 or 350 in the early afternoon.  It doesn’t get higher when it is blazing hot outside (which it is often), and it isn’t much cooler when it is cooler outside.  Science is so cool!

And now my confession, and the real reason I haven’t been updating this blog this week – it’s frankly too hot to cook.  Really.  Every afternoon I think about making food and decide that it would just be better to heat something indoors, or go out to eat, or that maybe we all could use a good salad loaded with beans.  Apparently I am not alone.  Several of my friends have commented on this (one is feeding her kids breakfast for dinner when it gets too bad).  So I will continue to try to log my solar cooking here, but it is surprisingly hard to cook with all this sun!

Wish me luck.  If you have any recipe or dish ideas, please comment.  I’d love something new to try 🙂

Saved by the Potluck

I have the sweetest grandmother. She doesn’t do the internet, so she won’t be reading this, but she is extremely thoughtful. Last week she sent me an envelope of recipes that she thought I might like. I decided to try to make the baked ziti recipe that was in top.

Right away I had some reservations. The original recipe called for several ingredients that we don’t eat, so there was going to have to be a fair number of substitutions.

I decided to try to make the sauce from tofu and butternut squash to go on the gluten-free noodles. I have all of those things handy, so it seemed to make the most sense. I got out the squash, cut it into pieces, and placed it in my solar oven.

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Two hours later I took it inside and began scooping out the seeds only to find that they had sprouted!

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Disaster! The squash would have tasted awful. As I was scraping it into the compost bin, I was lucky enough to receive an invite to a friend’s house for a potluck. Just in time!

So thank you to Sarah for saving our dinner, and thank you to Grandma for thinking of us, even of I didn’t manage to make your ziti.

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!

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!

The chicken that almost wasn’t

Yesterday was an unexpectedly gorgeous day. Sunny in the morning, then overcast and gently breezy all afternoon. It’s the kind of weather they put on Disney movies.

And also the kind of weather that makes for frustrated solar cookers.

I was going to cook my husband a chicken before I made dinner, so I put a pot out to cook in the morning. When I went out at lunch, the clouds had come and the cooker was sitting well below optimal temperature. So I wiped it off, repositioned it, and hoped for the best. 3 hours later the chicken was still not up to temperature, so I scrapped any hope of making dinner in it and called my husband to see if he had any ideas (our regular oven died and we have been slow to replace it).

About an hour later he is on the back porch with a propane camp stove trying to cook it before the wind blows out the flame.

By 5:30 we did finally get the chicken cooked and the kids and I enjoyed some lentils with rice and salsa. It’s weird to have something like a beautiful afternoon almost ruin your dinner! Maybe we should actually replace the regular stove…

Emergency, I mean Overcast, Planning

I never really realized it before, but now that we are mainly reliant on the sun for power, overcast days mean cooking brown-out.  Yes, we still have a microwave. And yes, we can still use any number of indoor small kitchen appliances.  But for baking, we are out of luck.

Yesterday was just such a day.  I had a nice meal all planned, and I went to put it in the solar over, only to realize that it was cloudy.  Really cloudy.  I grew up back east, so this was the type of cloudy that I knew would last all day, and maybe even end in rain.  (I was right, by the way.  It rained that afternoon.)  So, I needed to find something else for dinner.

Luckily, I have started keeping the extra portions of previous meals in the freezer for just such occasions.  So, yesterday I did not cook in my solar cooker, but I did enjoy some nice solar Tortilla Soup.  It was yummy and warm, and we all enjoyed it.  I will have to keep stockpiling dinners in the freezer in case we have more of these overcast days.  I never thought we had any overcast days before, but I guess I was wrong!