Parchment or Silicone?

P vs S

Ever since I’ve had my baking racks I’ve gone back an forth between using parchment paper and silicone mats. They each have their pros and cons.  Usually, I choose one or the other depending on my mood, but I always wonder if my results would have been better had I made a different choice. So when I baked my last batch of cookies I did a side by side comparison. Two Sun Ovens, two sets of baking racks, one lined with parchment the other with mats, and a nice sunny day. These are my findings. Parchment pros: it can be cut to size each time making it a better choice for round cakes; clean up couldn’t be easier, you just toss it. Cons: it has to be cut to size each time; for the frequent baker the cost would add up over time; it feels wasteful. Silicone mat pros: It seems like they last forever, all my silicone bakeware looks as new as the day I bought it; they’re very easy to clean. Cons: initial cost is higher; some brands (silpat) cannot be cut so you’ll need different sizes; as easy as they are to clean, they are hard to dry (I know, sounds weird but trust me on this one).  As for the cookies, the ones baked on the parchment browned a tiny bit better than the others, but not enough to really notice. Once the cookies had cooled and were put away it was impossible to tell the difference. In the end, both work equally well. I will keep my kitchen stocked with both and continue to use my scientific mood based choosing system.

Saffron Solar Chicken Stew

Moroccan Chicken

Dutch ovens work great in combination with the Sun Oven. They can easily go from stove to Sun Oven and back again as needed. They’re perfect for browning meats prior to solar cooking or sauce reduction after. Serve this Moroccan inspired stew with couscous to soak up all the fragrant sauce.

Fragrant Sun Oven Chicken with Saffron and Almonds

Ingredients

2 tablespoons butter

8 boneless, skinless chicken thighs

1/2 teaspoon saffron threads, divided

Salt and pepper to taste

2 onions, thinly sliced

3 cups chicken broth

1 small cinnamon stick

1 cup cooked chickpeas

1/2 cup blanched almonds

1/4 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley

2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

Preparation

Set Sun Oven out to preheat.

Melt the butter in a Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add the chicken thighs, turning to coat. Add 1/4 teaspoon of the saffron threads, and season with salt and pepper.  Cover the chicken with the sliced onions. Add the broth, cinnamon stick, chickpeas and almonds. Cover and transfer to the Sun Oven. Cook until the meat is tender, 1 1/2 to 2 hours. Transfer the Dutch oven to the stove. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the chicken to a serving plater, keep warm. Remove and discard the cinnamon stick. Bring the sauce to a boil over high heat and cook, stirring frequently with a wooden spoon, until reduced. Lower the heat and stir in the parsley, remaining 1/4 teaspoon saffron, and lemon juice. Pour the sauce over the chicken and serve.

Makes 4 servings.

Solar Roasted Garlicky Goodness

Even on days when I’m taking a break from cooking I still like to set up my Sun Oven. It comes in handy for all sorts of things. Keeping a pot of coffee warm, heating up a frozen meal for lunch, and making Sun Oven Sun Tea  are just a few of the things that come to mind.

Today I used it to roast some garlic.

Roasted garlic has almost as many uses as a Sun Oven. Spread it on bread, use it in soups, mix it with some sour cream for topping baked potatoes.

Just take a head of garlic, remove the excess papery skin, put it in a small, dark pot or metal mug, cover, and pop it in the Sun Oven 30 to 40 minutes. Let it cool then squeeze the garlic out. If you don’t have a small lid use a dark tea towel as a cover. A muffin tin works great if you want to make a big batch.

Solar Roasted Asparagus

I finally got a chance to use my new baking dishes with the silicone lids and I’m very pleased. So pleased that I might have to make a non-birthday trip to Ikea to get the larger ones. I didn’t make anything fancy.

I drizzled a bit of olive oil on some asparagus, snapped the lid on, and popped it in the Sun Oven. The lid fits so snuggly that I was afraid it would trap too much moisture and the spears would be soggy, but after an hour or so in the Sun Oven on a partially cloudy day they came out just fine.

The black lid does make it pretty much impossible to see what’s going on, however, I knew they were ready by the tell-tale condensation build up on the cooking chambers glass door.

 

Solar Baked Muffins and Tea

The oat flour gives these tea infused muffins a slightly chewy texture. If you’re like me and don’t really use a lot of oat flour, look for a well stocked grocery store that sells it (and other ingredients you only use occasionally) in bulk. That way you’re less likely to find a partially used and expired bag of the stuff in the back of a cupboard one day.

Sun Oven Tea Infused Muffins

Ingredients

1 cup whole milk

6 Earl Grey tea bags

1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour

1/2 cup oat flour

1/2 cup sugar

2 teaspoons baking soda

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 large egg, at room temperature

6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled

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Racks and Mats

The new dehydrating racks were the perfect excuse I’d been looking for to invest in some silicone baking mats – just in time for the holiday baking season.

The first thing I wanted to experiment with was a batch of crunchy crackers. I was so excited to try them out that I completely forgot about the weather. By the time they were ready for baking, the skies, as predicted, were overcast.

This batch was baked on the dehydrating racks and the silpat mats in my conventional gas oven. I don’t know why, but I was surprised to find that they didn’t taste quite as good as solar baked crackers. I’ll wait for a more favorable forecast for my next batch.

And in case you’re wondering, the mats measure 11.75 in. x 8.25 in.

 

Cookware for Sun Oven Cooking

People who cook often like to collect cookware and if you’ve been following this blog you’ve probably noticed that I’m no exception.

The bulk of my cookware collection predates my foray into solar cooking and being able to use most of it in the Sun Oven was a key factor in my original decision to purchase one.

Many of the pots and pans I’ve picked up over the years probably would have been culled from my cupboard by now had it not been for solar cooking.  I’m always coming up with creative ways of using them in the Sun Oven. Silicone bakeware is a perfect example. I’d picked some up at a thrift store years ago and was never impressed with it. It’s still not the first baking pan I’ll reach for, but it comes in handy when I want to cook two things at the same time – such as the soup and frittata in the photo. Stacking pots can be a bit of a balancing act and I’ve found that silicone is less likely to slip. It’s also very easy to clean and really is as non-stick as it claims to be. I still probably wouldn’t pay full retail for it but it has earned a permanent spot in my collection.

What a Difference a Rim Makes

Finding the right sized cookware for your Global Sun Oven can be frustrating – or part of the fun. I get most of mine at thrift shops or yard sales. Camping supply stores are another good source if you don’t have time to scour the second hand shops. I’ve gotten to the point where I can tell at a glance if a pot or pan is the right size for the cooking chamber but I used to carry a tape measure with me at all times.

If you use your GSO a lot you’ve probably noticed by now that the standard 13x9x2-inch baking pan doesn’t quite fit in the cooking chamber (that’s not entirely true and I’ll come back to that point later). For a better fit look for one that’s 9x8x2 with no extra rim. Or even better two that can be cross-stacked. The two 9x8x2-inch grey pans in the picture above are the newest addition to my cookware collection (the aluminum pan is 13x9x2). The gray one with no handles is destined to become a favorite. As you can see by the way it fits perfectly on the leveling tray it’s almost as if it was designed for the Sun Oven.

But the one with the handles – not so much.

The extra 3/4-inch on each side is just enough to keep it from fitting.

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Macaroon Madness

My cousin Liz makes the best coconut macaroons; so good that she sells them made to order. Today we were finally able to bake a batch in my Sun Ovens.

It was pretty much a day of experimentation, mostly trying to find the best way to fit the most macaroons in the Sun Oven at the same time. Her recipe (which unfortunately I forgot to get from her) makes about two dozen rather large macaroons.

I went over to her house equipped with mini-muffin pans and a square tart pan. My plan was to use the muffin pans which would have each held 12 cookies, that was until I saw the size of the cookies. The mini-muffin pans were definitely too small, and, as my cousin explained, the macaroons are very sticky; any bakeware would need to be lined with parchment paper.

We managed to fit four on the square tart pan and popped them in the Sun Oven while we rummaged around her kitchen for another suitable baking sheet. The first batch of four was baked to perfection in 18 minutes, the same as in a conventional oven. That was good, but we wanted to fit more in at a time. We opted for standard sized muffin pans with paper liners. Unfortunately the macaroons stuck to the liners. They were still good enough to eat and we all had fun eating the stuck on bits, but not good enough for professional baking.

I see another day of experimentation in our future.

Individual Solar Oatmeal Berry Crisps

These crisps are not very sweet on they’re own so be sure to serve them with vanilla ice-cream. If you don’t have a set of black metal mugs you can use custard cups or ramekins, but the cooking time will probably be a little longer. I love my metal mugs, they come in handy for all sorts of things. I got mine at a thrift store but, they can be found at camping supply stores. Six of the metal mugs just fit on the leveling tray or you can use a metal cooling rack and do two layers of three to allow for better air flow.

Solar Berry Oatmeal Crisps

Ingredients

2 12-ounce packages frozen mixed berries

2 tablespoons cornstarch

2/3 cup (packed) golden brown sugar

1/2 cup unbleached all-purpose flour

1/2 cup old-fashioned oats

1/2 cup finely chopped walnuts

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon salt

6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) chilled unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes

vanilla ice cream

Preparation

Set Global Sun Oven out to preheat.

Toss frozen berries and cornstarch in a large bowl. Let stand until the cornstarch dissolves, tossing occasionally, about 20 minutes. Divide berry mixture among six metal mugs. Toss brown sugar, flour, oats, nuts, cinnamon, and 1/4 teaspoon salt in a large bowl. Add chilled butter; using fingertips, blend butter into mixture until coarse crumbs form. Divide oat mixture among mugs, sprinkling evenly over berry mixture. Bake crisps in GSO until topping is golden brown and fruit filling is bubbling around the edges. Cool crisps at least 15 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature topped with a scoop of vanilla ice-cream.

corin