Solar cooking is easy, but getting into the habit of using your Sun Oven can be hard at first. The biggest challenge for me was planning. You don’t have to plan a week’s worth of meals, but you will have to start thinking about what you’re going to make for dinner early in the day or even the night before. It’s so much easier when you have all the ingredients you’ll need on hand when you get up in the morning. Having said that, there’s still plenty of room for spontaneous, spur of the moment, solar cooking. Today, after getting my pre-planned main course going bright and early, I found some baby veggies on sale at the grocery store. I snatched them up, tossed them in with some olive oil, and added them to the Sun Oven to cook along with it. Now all we needed was a nice loaf of bread and we had a meal.
It’s hard to make a small amount of minestrone. Even though it’s pretty much one or two of each vegetable once they’re chopped up you’re looking at a big pot of soup. Luckily there’s a lot you can do with it once it’s done. Serve it hot on the day you make it and cold (yes, it’s good cold) the next. Freeze some for later, I like to puree it before freezing, or use the leftovers to make risotto. My recipe was adapted from Marcella Hazan’s “Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking” but feel free to include any fresh, in-season vegetables you have on hand. Obviously for a big batch of soup you’ll need a big pot. A six quart stock pot should do; you’ll need to remove the leveling tray and place a trivet or a rack on the bottom of the cooking chamber to accommodate it.
Making meatloaf muffins has many advantages. They cook faster, make portion control easier, freeze well, and are fun to eat. Use your favorite meatloaf recipe or use mine which can be found by clicking here. Serve them with mashed potatoes or make some solar tomato sauce for spaghetti and meatballs. Don’t worry if you don’t have a fancy cast iron pan like the one in the picture, any muffin pan, or even silicone cupcake molds, will work just fine; if not better. Whatever type of cookware you use, it will need to be covered with tin foil and a tea towel, or placed in an oven bag.
Asparagus solar baked in parchment paper comes out evenly cooked without being mushy or floppy. Ideally it should be baked at a low temperature, around 200ºF, for about 90 minutes. Keeping the Sun Oven at such a low temperature requires a bit of attention, it needs to be focused slightly away from the sun and adjusted every 30 minutes or so. If you get distracted the temperature could drop or increase too much. But with a little patience you’ll be rewarded with deliciously crisp spears infused with whatever seasoning you choose. For a quick lunch spread some asparagus on a sheet of parchment paper, drizzle them with olive oil, season with tarragon, toss in some sliced prosciutto and mushrooms. Using a stapler (or kitchen string if you prefer) make a pouch. Bake at 200ºF for 90 minutes. Serve over whole-wheat couscous. Experiment with different seasonings and don’t worry if the GSO gets too hot, it will cook a little faster but will still be delicious.
It’s picnic season and the Global Sun Oven loves picnics. Not only will it cook your meal while you enjoy the outdoors, but it doubles as a cooler that will get your food safely from your refrigerator to the picnic site. After all, it’s basically a well insulated box. Fill it with ice and you’ve got a cooler. When we head out for a day trip I generally pack the food that will be cooked in the Sun Oven in the Sun Oven. This frees up valuable space in the regular cooler for cold side dishes and beverages. Once we get to our destination I remove the ice, set the GSO up in a sunny spot, and start cooking.
When I teach solar cooking classes I get a strew of questions about what can and cannot be cooked in the Global Sun Oven and pasta always comes up. My answer is, “Yes, it can be done but I’ve only done it once.” There are a number of reasons why I don’t boil pasta in my GSO for daily cooking. Apart from the fact the pasta is easier, and in my opinion better, when cooked in the traditional manner, it also needs to be served immediately; we have dinner too late in the day to solar cook pasta. But it’s still good to know that it is possible to make a decent bowl of solar cooked noodles. It comes in handy in any kind of situation where you might be low on water or power, such as a camping trip or a natural disaster. Luckily, once you know how to successfully solar cook pasta you can store the information away for a time when you might need it.
Last year I attended the 8th annual solar cook-off in Bisbee, AZ. I believe it was one of the windiest days on record, and high winds are apparently very common in South-Eastern Arizona. So common that all the local solar cooks had outfitted their Global Sun Ovens with bungee cords to stabilize the reflector panels. One of the other participants was kind enough, and prepared enough, to modify mine, and they remain attached to this day. If wind is an issue where you live, this fix can be installed in minutes.
In many of my previous posts I’ve mentioned freezing any leftovers you might have from your solar cooked soups and stews. When ever possible I freeze mine in containers can go straight to the GSO, not plastic. Aluminum or silicone cookware works great, just keep in mind that solar reheating is not comparable to microwaving you food, it will take much longer. If you’re planning on a reheating something for your lunch, be sure to get it in the Sun Oven before experiencing hunger pains, otherwise you’ll have to scrape together something else for your midday meal and your Sun Oven lunch will turn into Solar cooked dinner – or afternoon snack. With a little bit of trial and error, you’ll be able to get the timing right and enjoy a effortless hot lunch any sunny day of the week.
Toaster ovens accessories are a great source for cookware that can be used in the GSO. There are all sorts of baking pans designed for the toaster oven that are ideal for solar cooking. As most recipe followers know, the most common sized baking dish is 13-x 9- x 2-inch and will not fit in the GSO’s cooking chamber. I’ve found that the best way around that, without modifying the recipe’s quantities, is to use two 9- x 6 1/2- x 2-inch toaster oven baking dishes that can be cross stacked when they are placed on the leveling tray.
Muffin pans create another problem. Two standard 6 cups pans will not fit side by side and the muffins will rise higher than the sides of the pan during baking. To get around this obstacle I use a rack that I cannibalized from a long gone, and not missed, toaster oven of my own. Stacking two muffin pans this way is a bit of a balancing act. Since most muffins need to be baked 30 minutes or less I recommend focusing the GSO before placing the pans in the cooking chamber so you won’t have to move it during the baking time.
Solar cooking in the summer months, especially hear in the South West, can be and all day affair. If you get your Global Sun Oven out early you can enjoy a solar cooked breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Start with some solar oatmeal. When that’s ready get a nice pot of split pea soup going. Cook some veggies on the lid to go with it; make enough for your dinner side dishes too and you’ll be way ahead of the game. When the soup comes out, pop in some chicken or maybe some BBQ pulled pork. It may seem odd at first to be doing all your prep work in the morning, but you’ll have the entire afternoon to go about your business while your dinner simmers away in the GSO; that’s easy to get accustomed to.
Turn the GSO topside down to get an early start on some oatmeal.
Get a pot of soup going for lunch. Turn the lid upside down and cooks some side veggies on it.
Now your GSO is ready for you dinner and you have the rest of the day off; at least from cooking.