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.
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.
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.
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
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 soy sauce
This recipe makes a big batch of soup. I use a stock pot. It’s too big to fit in the Sun Oven with the leveling tray in place, so I remove it and place a rack on the floor of the cooking chamber. This soup freezes well and goes great with the crunchy crackers I made yesterday.
Spicy Solar Black Bean Soup
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 large red onion, chopped
1 red bell pepper, chopped
1 green bell pepper, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
Even with the uncertain weather we’ve been having I still managed to get some solar cooking done today. It was overcast when I got up but by mid morning the sun started peeking through the clouds and I set my Sun Oven up even though I still didn’t know what was going to go in it. By noon it was sunny enough to heat up some Sun Oven Split Pea Soup I had in the freezer for lunch. The afternoon skies were looking good, not great, but good enough for a pot of polenta to go with the Solar Boneless Beef Short Ribs (also from the freezer) I was planning on having for dinner. Tomorrow’s forecast still looks iffy, with a chance of thunderstorms throughout the day. Luckily next week is supposed to be sunny and hot – or what’s better known as typical Arizona weather – and I’ll be able to get back to solar cooking without worries. I can’t wait. I’ve got a few new recipes I’m dying to try out.
Over the weekend I baked biscotti in my Sun Oven for the first time, actually it was the first time I’ve baked biscotti period; Sun Oven or no Sun Oven. It was a bit of a project and, as with most first time projects, there are a few things I’d do differently next time. Most of the changes I’d make are a matter of logistics. Biscotti are baked twice; first, the dough is shaped into two logs which are baked, cooled, and then sliced before baking the cookies a second time.
As with most cookie recipes the main issue was fitting them into the cooking chamber. I did manage to find two baking pans that would accommodate both logs and be cross-stacked to fit in the cooking chamber, however, next time I’d bake them in two separate batches. Here’s why; in my baking experience I’ve found that in the Sun Oven, the bottom pan always takes longer to bake, the total baking time was just over an hour.
Both logs need to cool at least 25 minutes before slicing, and there’s no way to fit all the sliced biscotti in the cooking chamber in one go. It would be better to bake one log at a time. They would bake faster and the first one would be cooling while the second one bakes. Then, the first batch of sliced biscotti would bake while the second log cools. By doing the first round of baking in two batches the overall cooking time should be considerably less, I’d say by at least an hour. The recipe itself needed no modification, apart from the cooking times; click here if you’d like to see it.
On a final note, if you make these biscotti, get the anise seed in the hispanic spice section of your supermarket where it cost only 99¢, the other stuff was over $7.00 a jar!
This simple, tasty side dish could also be made with melted butter in place of the olive oil. I’ve even seen a similar recipe that used heavy cream. It goes well with turkey or pork. You can cut the squash up the night before and refrigerate it in a covered container if you want to get an early start and free up the Sun Oven for a main course to go with it.
Sun Roasted Parmesan Squash
1/2 of a butternut squash, peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
Most people are skeptical when I tell them that solar cooking is very convenient. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised, convenience was the last thing I expected to get when I first purchased my Sun Oven and I’m still a little in awe at how easy it is to use. But like anything new, it does require breaking old habits and building new ones, which may not seem so convenient at first. It takes time to figure out which parts of the yard get the most sun and how that changes throughout the year, and, for most of us, it takes time to get used to getting dinner in the oven much earlier in the day. Weather patterns come into play too. Oddly enough, in Arizona it’s the summer weather that can cause the most headaches. This time of year, locally know as the monsoon season, means cloudy skies (and hopefully thunderstorms) almost every afternoon. It’s not a good time of year to leave the Sun Oven unattended all day. But there’s still plenty of morning and midday sunshine to prepare a solar cooked dinner that can be gently reheated, storm or no storm.
Some days I just don’t feel like making everything from scratch, but I hate to see a sunny day go to waste. Luckily, purchased refrigerated pizza dough can be used to make focaccia bread in no time. Trader Joe’s and Fresh & Easy both have very good white and whole wheat ready-made dough.
Focaccia is a street food in Italy and most Italian bakeries will have at least two or three different kinds. Basic focaccia bread is topped with a drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkling of kosher salt, but other toppings could include rosemary, olives, onions, tomatoes, eggplant, etc. It’s very easy to make. Just spread the room temperature dough out in a baking pan, use your fingers to dimple it all over, cover it with a sheet of oiled plastic wrap and let it rise for about 30 minutes, then top it with oil and salt (or seasonings of your choice) and pop it in a preheated Sun Oven until it starts to brown, about 45 minutes. Any leftovers should be frozen because focaccia bread does get stale quickly.