Apple Jam

I have been reading about chia seeds lately. Apparently, they are not only super nutritious, but also very useful in baking. I had been putting them on bananas with peanut butter, or tossing some into my baked goods, but it appears you can use them to make jam without pectin!

I have never successfully made jam, so I borrowed a recipe from Oh She Glows. Here it is with Solar modification:

Solar Apple Jam

3 apples, cored, peeled, and chopped

3/4 cup apple juice

4 Tbsp chia seeds

1 tsp cinnamon

Dump all ingredients into your baking dish and stir. Bake covered for a few hours till apples are tender, then remove from solar oven and mash slightly with a potato masher. Store in the refrigerator.

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Rating: surprisingly easy and good. I thought it would be more like an apple sauce, but the chia seeds form a gel that gives it a jam texture, and the apple juice makes it very sweet. This was easy and yummy!

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Multi-Cooking

It was a busy day for solar cooking yesterday. My husband needed a squash, I needed to reheat some frozen lentil joes for dinner, and the kids wanted baked chips for lunch. I had it all planned out so that we could get everything into the oven and cooked in time…then it turned cloudy and spoiled my plans. The squash got finished, I managed most of the chips, but dinner ultimately was reheated in the microwave.

Which brings me to my point: solar cooking requires some planning. Before I finish breakfast most days, I have to know what we are eating and in what order it needs to be cooked. This isn’t a big deal for us, but I thought I’d share my system in case anyone else wants to know.

In the kitchen we have a giant marker board. On it is posted the menu for about 2 weeks. This let’s me plan how to most efficiently use our food and tells me what to shop for at the grocery store. Then, I check it the night before and plan out what order to solar cook in the next day.

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It may not work for everyone, but it works for us. Maybe someday we’ll have another oven and can cook more at once! Does anyone else have a good system for this that they would like to share?

Chips and Peanut Butter Soup

Like so many thing in the world today, I would like to blame this one on Pinterest! All those shiny food pictures and new recipes with glowing descriptions are dangerous!

I saw a post for peanut butter soup. I really love peanut butter. It’s almost a food group in my house, and thus turning it into soup sounded awesome!

I won’t bore you with the recipe, but it was very little beyond peanut butter, vegan butter, and some almond milk. It tasted like oil! Blech! It seems a shame to ruin good peanut butter!

Solar cooking wasn’t a total loss though. I cut some tortillas into wedges and baked them to be chips for lunch. They turned out to be reasonably tasty with a pinchc of salt. I’m so glad you can stack things in the solar cooker, otherwise we’d be missing out! Here is my Sun Oven all stacked for lunch.

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Rating: chips were good, peanut butter soup was beyond awful. Next time I’ll just do chips and find some margaritas to go with them ūüėČ

What I’ve learned about Solar Cooking – Month 1

Well, I really can’t believe it’s already been a month of solar cooking. ¬†I know that sounds trite, but it’s the truth. ¬†It’s gone by fast, and before I keep going, I wanted to take a moment to record what I’ve learned. ¬†I’m sure it won’t be earth-shattering for seasoned solar cookers, but it’s what has been new for me.

1. ¬†Solar Ovens have a “new oven” smell. ¬†Yes, it permeates the food. ¬†Clean your solar cooker by putting just water in a pot in it with a bit of vinegar or dish soap till it all steams up, then wipe it out. ¬†You need to do this every so often even after the smell is gone to keep it clean.

2. ¬†You need to oil the wood on the Sun Oven. ¬†I haven’t figured out with exactly what yet, but I know I need to do it.

3.  Cook soups, stews, meat, and pretty much anything else with a lid on.

4.  Bake uncovered.

5. ¬†Shiny cookware won’t work unless you put a black cotton tea towel over it. ¬†Caste iron does great, as does any glass cookware.

6. ¬†Cook times don’t matter much for soups or meats. ¬†They matter alot for baking.

7.  Rice turns out well.

8.  Pasta works if you heat the water out in the solar oven and then bring it inside and just soak the noodles in it.

9.  The angle of the sun matters.  Keep the oven pointed at the sun to keep the temperature up.  Mornings cook better then late afternoons.  Cloudy days quickly become the bane of your existence.

10. ¬†The thing can tip over. ¬†If it’s windy, put some bricks on the side of it.

I’m excited to keep learning how to cook in the oven and how to use it to cook the food my family enjoys. ¬†Be sure to check back!

You ordered a what?!?

I suppose I forgot to mention which solar cooker we actually bought, and that warrants a bit of explanation. ¬†I was preparing to order the most expensive solar cooker I found, the¬†All American Solar Oven,¬†because that’s what you do when you don’t know what you are doing but have great intentions. Incidentally, it comes with all kinds of goodies like pots and pans and even trays that say you can bake cookies on them (I’m a sucker for cookies). ¬†Then my husband walked in, took one look at it and said, “Can’t we just make that?”

And, of course, he was right. ¬†It only took about 5 minutes to Google up enough solar oven plans to make my head spin. ¬†There were box ovens, which are large boxes with reflective panels to direct the heat in toward your food. ¬†There are also funny satellite dish shaped ones, called “parabolic” ovens, that look like upside down silver umbrellas, and then a strange mix of portable ovens that look like car windshield reflectors that you set around your trusty black pot, which seems to be the only really standard accessory. ¬†Size was a major factor for us, as was price, once we started trying to narrow the field of possible ovens to build. ¬†We cook from scratch almost everything, and the parabolic ovens seemed too small to accommodate a decent sized pot. ¬†We loved that the portable ovens could be made or even purchased cheaply, but they also looked like they could tip over more easily, and I wasn’t willing to sacrifice dinner because my kids or dog ran too fast past the oven and knocked it over. ¬†In the end, we decided that while we could build a cheap solar oven that would probably win a science fair for under $50, it wouldn’t be worth it for doing any regular cooking. ¬†We had tried building one on our porch last year out of boxes and tinfoil, and we ended up with uncooked food and our son playing baseball with tinfoil bits that were knocked off during its one and only use. ¬†We wanted something that would be truly durable, and that we could cook food for our entire family on a daily basis. ¬†Toward that end, we decided that the large, framed box solar ovens looked like we could fit most of a Thanksgiving dinner in them, and had a sturdy enough construction to stand up to our toddlers (we have 2 now) and our dog. ¬†However, creating one ¬†would have required a fair amount of ¬†time, which is somethings we don’t have alot of right now, and would cost enough to make looking at commercial products worthwhile.

So, after our walk down solar oven lane, we ended up looking at the exact same oven I had put into my online shopping cart the day before – the All American Solar Oven, complete with the accessory kit so we can be sure our black pots and pans all fit into the oven. ¬†But I just couldn’t stomach the price of almost $400. ¬†So, being the cheapskates that we are, I started poking around on Craigslist and Ebay, and I soon found what I was looking for! ¬†The All American Solar Oven is the upgrade of the older model, called a Sun Oven. ¬†The main difference between the two is the thickness of the top glass, and a mechanism for angling the sun correctly. ¬†Since we live in Phoenix, I’m not terribly concerned about getting the exact sun angle. ¬†We usually can almost fry eggs on the sidewalk by summertime. ¬†That said, for only about $150, and a decent drive, I was able to purchase a barely used Sun Oven from a nice guy who could vouch that it would indeed cook lentil soup, as that was all he had ever tried. ¬†That just left the cookware issue. ¬†Luckily, the website for the Sun Oven suggests using what you already have, so long as it isn’t shiny. ¬†(Apparently shiny bakeware reflects the sunlight back out, which defeats the oven.) ¬†So, after a quick look in the cabinets and a $5 run to Goodwill, we have a cast iron pot and lid for slow cooking, a glass bowl and lid for regular cooking, and a small brownie pan, which really was the most important thing as I should be able to use it for cookies!

Stay tuned for our maiden solar cooking voyage!