All You Need Is Sun

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Maybe the Beatles were onto something.  They once said that all you need is love.  I would agree with most of that.  But with the help of a solar oven and the love of food you can use the sun’s naturally energy to make dinner for your family.  I did just that for a full week and it was amazing to see the fabulous food that came out of the solar oven.  We ate very good that week…and never turned my inside oven on even once.

But let’s back up a bit.  Who am I and why am I blogging here?  I’m Amy and I usually can be found at Rumble In The Kitchen.  RITK is where I share my take on cooking for a family.  I am big on flavor and simple.  It has to be easy to prepare but it also needs to taste good.  I’m also always looking for ways to make things just a tad bit healthier and if I can add in some eco-friendly things I’m all for that too.  We recycle, compost and even have chickens to help eat out food waste.  It’s been a group effort and I’ve been very lucky to have a supportive family and friend system to taste test and help me along my quest to be better to both our bodies and our Earth.  I’ve blogged here in the past about the routine I used to strip my cloth diapers when we had a detergent problem.

One of my greatest influences on the eco-friendly end of things is my good friend and neighbor Kathy.  Last summer Kathy purchased a solar oven. I’ll admit I was intrigued…and a lot skeptical.  Wasn’t a solar oven some Boy Scout project?  Would it really work?

Solar oven cooking has come a long way from the boy scout project I remember seeing.  This is a serious cooking device…and one that is being used all over the world to feed hungry people.  The Solar Oven Society (the oven pictured to the left is one from them) has pictures on their website of solar ovens being used in Afghanistan and they are currently out of stock because they sent all of their in stock ovens to Haiti after the earthquake.  Grains and legumes cook so easily and perfect in a solar oven and both are healthy and cheap and can really feed the world…using only the power of the sun and a little ingenuity.

Well, this spring Minnesota got hit with a heat wave!  We are talking August type temps in May.  It was HOT.  But we still had to eat.  I had been meaning to try her solar oven anyway so I asked if I could experiment.  She was a great sport and let me have the oven to do whatever I wanted with it.  I did bribe her with yummy food…and boy did we eat good! I did a week-in-review on RITK and since then have even added more items to the list of things you can cook in a solar oven.

Basically it’s a box.  Some are more sophisticated than others, some can be be bought or you can make your own, some are pretty simple and some are pretty complex.  But this box, with the help of some black plastic or paint and some plastic and reflectors manages to get to a high enough temp to actually cook food. You can roast, braise, bake and steam.  You can even make hard boiled eggs!  Yep…we’ve tried and succeeded.  So far I haven’t found anything you can’t cook in the solar oven, some things just need to be adjusted to work.

It is a lot like cooking with a slow cooker, although unlike a slow cooker you can get your solar oven pretty darn hot.  But it all depends on the sun.  Take today for instance.  I had planned on baking a ham.  It rained.  No solar oven ham today.  Also like a slow cooker or crock pot, you have to plan ahead.  You can’t decide at 5:00 that you want a roast for dinner at 7:00.  You need to utilize the sun when it’s at its highest power, mid day.  So you will need to plan ahead and get dinner going in advance.  But with a little planning and know how you can really make very healthy and flavorful food with very little effort and hands on time.

Some things to keep in mind when cooking with your solar oven:
1.  You will need A LOT less water than you think.  Because there is no evaporation you need little to no additional water when cooking things like meats and veggies or rice and beans.  This is not true however when you are baking with the solar oven.  On that one you should really stick the the recipe.
2.  Like when using your crock pot, solar oven cooking takes some planning ahead.  Things can take a bit longer, depending on the strength of the sun and how powerful your oven is.  Using things like reflectors help a lot!  I was able to get the oven to right around 350 and hold it steady for quite a bit.
3.  It will take trial and error.  Lucky for me, I learn quick and can adapt.  But I now know that beans cook a lot faster than I thought…especially when you add a bit of baking soda.  So I made refritos instead of just the black eyed pea and zucchini cold salad that I made the night I also made the pork mole.
4.  You need to plan your cooking around when the sun is the hottest, meaning that you should really use the 10-2 time frame for cooking for best results.  Me, I pushed it and usually cooked from 12-4 or 5.  But I wouldn’t plan on putting a meatloaf in at 4 and cooking at 6.  It just ain’t gonna happen.
Now…how does the food look and taste?  Is this something you could serve to your family and expect them to eat?  YES!  You could even serve this to guests.  Easily.

Here are just a few pics of what we ate that week:

Chicken Breasts with Savory Rhubarb Thyme Sauce


Chocolate Cobbler


Rhubarb Crumble


Moroccan Meatloaf


Killer Cornbread
But I made so much more!!!  A yummy zucchini and black eyed peas cold salad, refritos, pork mole (mo-lay),  and even whole wheat yeast bread!  Since that week I’ve made quinoa, kahl beans (which I pureed and made into a fabulous but simple curry soup) and assisted with hard boiled eggs.  I could see bread puddings and custards working very well.  I imagine just about any quick bread would work great and I’ve been told you can even cook muffins and cookies.  Although I’m not too sure about the cookies and would need to try them out first.  I’m not sure how they would brown and think they would end up being a bit pale.    My neighbor has successfully made scalloped potatoes and because of that I can see casseroles of any kind cooking up great in a solar oven.

But my favorite part wasn’t the food.  I mean that was awesome, really it was.  I loved the challenge of making fabulous food with the solar oven and that was great and all.  But my favorite part of cooking with the solar oven was the impact it had on my kids.  My youngest (just turned 2) was very hands on and thought it was fun to cook outdoors.  My oldest (just turned 7) asked all kinds of questions on why and how.  When he learned that cooking uses energy and that using energy impacts our environment he seemed to file that away and really think about it.  Maybe it’s because we have been talking about the oil spill.  Maybe it’s because he helps us recycle, compost and feed the chickens.  Whatever it is, something sunk in because recently when he asked his friend if he wanted to play and his friend wanted to play video games my Monkey replied that they could only play for a little bit because using too much energy was bad for the environment.  So they played computer for about half an hour and then spent the next two hours playing outside.  Can’t complain about that at all.

Baby steps.  We all take them.  Being eco-friendly and eating healthy is a journey.  My use of the solar oven was just one step on my journey.  It just happened to become an addiction as well.  Thanks for reading and letting me share my solar oven experiment with you here.  Make sure to check in to RITK whenever you get a chance.  I am just finishing up my first annual Rhubarb Festival and am posting new recipes all the time.  Hope to see you stop by.  Have a great day and don’t forget to stop, taste and enjoy!

~Amy

Amanda Hearn
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1 Comment

  • Your eco-friendly product list is fabulous. I love that you are using a solor oven!! I must invest in one soon 🙂 I am new to the blogging world…please feel free to follow me back: organicplanet.blogspot.com

    I have also added your button to my blog!

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