The Quest for Crispiness

There are an infinite number of chicken recipes that are only improved by solar cooking but obtaining crispy skin is a challenge. A challenge I’m still working on. The moist environment and relatively low temperature of the Sun Oven’s cooking chamber lends itself better to slow braising. Not the best cooking method if you want some crunch to your chicken.

After hearing about a new way to prep chicken, or other meats, for roasting on Lynne Rossetto Kasper’s radio show “The Splendid Table” this weekend I had to give it a try. Her  guest, Molly Stevens, described a simple method of seasoning the meat with kosher salt and letting it mature in the refrigerator for at least 8 hours and up to (I believe) two days.

With sunny days in the forecast for the rest of the week I got a batch going Tuesday evening. All you have to do is season the chicken with kosher salt, about 1/2 teaspoon per pound. Place it in a baking dish and refrigerate it, uncovered over night or longer. To cook it I let it come to room temperature before putting it on a rack in a baking dish. Then I covered the dish with tin foil and a dark tea towel and put it in a preheated Sun Oven.

After an hour I took a peek. It didn’t look quite done and the skin was still a pale yellow. At this point I decided to let it cook uncovered hoping the skin would brown more. After another 20 minutes in the Sun Oven the result was meat that was moist and delicious and skin that wasn’t soggy but wasn’t exactly crisp either. I think I should have resisted the temptation to uncover the dish. I’ll try it again; hopefully next week’s forecast will be favorable to starting a dish so far in advance. That’s always a risk for the solar chef.

Convenient Sun Oven Cooking

Using a Sun Oven does not mean you need to give up all convenience foods. It’s our busy time of year and I just don’t have the time for a lot of prep work.

Luckily there are good tasting, easy to prepare, healthy boxed mixes on the market that come out great in the Sun Oven. The instructions usually say to bring some water to a boil before adding the dry ingredients. For solar cooking just mix the dry ingredients in a pot with room temperature water, cover and put it in the Sun Oven. The cooking time will be longer.

The lentils I made today took 45 minutes as opposed to the 10 it would have taken to cook them stovetop. Despite the longer cooking time I still find using the Sun Oven more convenient since I can go about my business without the risk of burning anything.

If you have the time many of these mixes can be spruced up with the addition of some freshly chopped vegetables for a more personal touch.

Squeezing in a Side Dish

No meal is complete without at least one side dish. Luckily, even when you’re using a large roasting pan, there’s almost always enough room in the Sun Oven to squeeze in some veggies. These roasted carrots are the perfect accompaniment to the Chicken Masala recipe in a previous post.

Roasted Carrots

Ingredients

4 medium carrots

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 teaspoon cumin seeds

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

Preparation

Spread carrots out on a small (toaster-oven sized) rimmed baking sheet. Toss with oil, cumin seeds and salt. Roast, uncovered, in Sun Oven until soft, 30 to 45 minutes.

 

Solar Sweet Potato Quiche

The recipe I used for Wednesday’s pie left me with a quite a bit of extra dough. If I’d left it in the freezer I’m sure it would have wound up pushed to the back and forgotten, so today I put it to good use with some of the other Thanksgiving Day leftovers and make some quiche. After consulting a few different recipes online I decided to wing it. First I baked the crusts (in the Sun Oven, of course) then filled the individual tart pans with a mixture of 4 eggs, about 2/3 a cup of mashed sweet potato, cooked chopped swiss chard, some crumbled cooked bacon, and grated Parmesan cheese. Then back to the Sun Oven to bake until the filling was set. The four pans would fit on the leveling tray, but for easier handling, and better air flow, I used two of the dehydrating racks as pictured below.

 

 

Solar Roasted Turkey

The weather forecast for Thanksgiving Day here in Southern California isn’t looking favorable for solar cooking. I’m afraid this year I’ll have to plan on roasting my turkey indoors, but, if you are lucky enough to be in a part of the world where you’ll get enough sunshine, solar roasted turkey is as easy as it is delicious. When I lived in Arizona I was able to cook a 14 pound bird (unstuffed) in three and a half hours. Here’s how it’s done:

Remove the leveling tray from the Sun Oven’s cooking chamber and place a rack on the bottom of it. Put the seasoned turkey in an oven roasting bag, place a probe thermometer in the thickest part of the thigh, seal the oven bag, and place the turkey in the Sun Oven. Roast until thermometer reaches 180˚F. Carefully transfer cooked turkey to a large roasting pan. Cut bag open, allowing cooking juices to drain into the pan. Transfer turkey to a cutting board and let rest for ten minutes before carving. Use cooking liquid to prepare gravy. Enjoy!

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.

Solar Baking Disasters

I’m the first to admit that I’m no baker. I’ve had more than my fair share of cakes that didn’t rise, breads that rose to much, and burnt cookies. In fact, in the short time I’ve been in California I’ve already managed to mess up a loaf of bread and a batch of cupcakes. The bread was so bad I didn’t even take a picture. At least I was able to salvage the cupcakes. Neither of the ill-fated baking episodes were the fault of the oven, in fact, if not for the Sun Oven the cupcakes could have caused a true disaster. The bread, which erupted out of the pan like lava, was a yeast issue. It was one of the very few inedible things to come out of my Sun Oven since I’ve had it. The cupcake debacle was caused by distraction. They were going along nicely, I’d even managed to fit them all in the cooking chamber in one go. As usual, the top pan baked a little faster. They needed to cool before removing them from the pans so I set them on a rack and went about my business. An hour or so later I was ready for an afternoon snack and what could be better than a chocolate cupcake? Besides, it was time to take them out of the pans and freeze most of them for later. That’s when I realized that the second pan was still in the Sun Oven. Amazingly, they weren’t burnt to a crisp. They came out a little on the dry side, but not entirely inedible. I’d hate to think what could have happened if they’d been in the gas oven.

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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More Lunchbox Ideas from the Sun Oven

Here’s another lunchbox idea that I got from our local newspaper. The original used something called “mini-drumsticks” which I assumed meant the meatier part of the chicken wing. I’ll admit, the miniature version’s cuteness factor made them very tempting, but they were almost double the price per pound as the standard drumsticks I used. Putting the chicken pieces on a rack keeps them out of their own juices and makes them crispier and more portable.

Solar Lunchbox Drumsticks

6 drumsticks

1/2 cup brown sugar

1/2 soy sauce

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