Thursday, August 28, 2008

Solar Cooked Bread Crumbs

Today I decided to use the solar funnel to make some solar cooked bread crumbs. I didn't do anything fancy, just cut them up into cubes and spread them on a dark cookie sheet.

Rather then put them into the turkey bag like I do for everything else, I wrapped a towel around them to keep the bugs off and to allow the moisture to evaporate. It also helped to absorb the heat making it go quicker I suppose. Then I placed them onto the solar funnel and aimed it ahead of the sun. This allowed me to set it and forget it.

The major benefits of course were not using the oven which saved energy and prevented excess heat in the house. Well, that and I have bread crumbs from our leftover bread to use next time my wife makes schnitzel.

Not a bad deal considering it is 80 degrees outside.

No picture because I didn't have the camera today, but I will put one up on the next batch.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Solar Cooked Zucchini Pasta

When Oma and Opa visited this past weekend they brought along some yellow and green zucchini so I decided to make some pasta yesterday.

I just cut up one of each into half moons about 1/4 inch thick and added a leftover roasted chicken breast from the night before. Put it all in my oval cast iron pot, placed it in the turkey bag, put it on the solar funnel and set it and forgot it.

I put it out at 12:30 and kept it just off center of the sun because I didn't want it to get too hot. It was 70 degrees and a clear day.

The results- Everything was thoroughly cooked, although if you want a bit of bite to the squash you will definitely not cook it all day. Probably an hour or less in direct sun would be more then enough.

Everything was tossed with hot pasta and served.


1 medium size green zucchini- cut into half moons 1/4 inch thick
1 medium size yellow zucchini- cut into half moons 1/4 inch thick
1 leftover chicken breast, chopped(meat)
2 ounces of chicken stock
olive oil
salt and pepper
* would have added tomato but was out

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Re-Heating with Solar

Yesterday was yet another hot day and our plans for schnitzel went out the window. Oma and Opa came to town and that was our planned dinner.

Instead, we fired up the solar funnel and put on a pot of water for pasta. I set it out pretty early so I could do other things and let it get good and hot. Around 4:30 or 5 I wrapped a towel around the pot and set it on the stove to stay hot.

Next I put on a couple bags of spaghetti sauce from the batch made a couple weeks ago and let that get hot. It was heated in my oval cast iron pot with lid and took about an hour to go from refrigerator cold to piping hot. Not too bad, and since I didn't actually check it, it could have been faster.

We did finish the pasta on the stove, but the 2 gallons of water was boiling within a minute and the burner was on for a total of about 15 to cook 2 batches.

Soon I will set up another solar cooker, probably a box version, so I can do more at a time. Of course if I can figure a good way to set more then 1 pot on the solar funnel, I could simply use it.

While not a new item on the cooking with the sun menu, it goes to show how you can use it for many daily cooking needs.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Solar Baked Potatoes

Today I decided to bake off some potatoes that aren't taking the heat too well. They are going to be used for potato salad so since it's so hot today I figured what the heck. It'll give us something cool to eat tonight or tomorrow in the heat without heating up the house more in the process.

Simply washed them and placed them on the pan as normal, closed in the turkey bag with the oven thermometer and set it outside on the solar funnel. Oh, can't forget the garlic. I threw some on with it to see how it would come out as well.

They were started at 10:15 am while it was still shady and the sun was right at the top of the trees so it was about 10 minutes or so before full sun hit them. The temp. outside was 78 degrees when they were put out.

After about 30 minutes I checked the temp. which had reached 250 degrees, where it stayed until I removed them from the solar funnel. Time got away from me so they cooked until 3:30.

The results? As expected, baked (or probably more accurate, steamed) potatoes. They were cooked thoroughly with the exception of a large one situated on the outer edge of the pan. It is mostly done, but still a bit firm. Next time I will take care to arrange them according to size with the largest being in the center. Either that, or I will put them in the roasting pan like I did the first loaf of bread. Then the heat will be more even throughout.

Good results, and considering it is now 95 degrees outside, even better not to have to use the oven.

I'll leave an update on the garlic when I use it.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Solar Cooked Bread

I mentioned in my opening post yesterday that I had just finished baking my first loaf of solar cooked bread. Well I made another loaf today with a slightly different method and will discuss them both briefly.

First for yesterdays loaf.

I used a basic white bread recipe (ingredients below) and used my bread machines dough cycle. Yeah I know, but if I have it and can do other things, why knead it if I'm not in the mood?

Once it proofed according to the machines settings I removed it, rolled and formed it and placed it into my loaf pan. When it had risen again I placed the whole pan inside a dark turkey roasting pan with lid and put that into my turkey bag along with an oven thermometer. The idea was to make a little oven to try and get as much heat as possible. It was then placed onto the solar funnel.

The bread cooked for about an hour and 10 minutes before I removed it because when I checked it part way through, the "oven" only reached about 245 degrees.

The results... a pale loaf of bread that was cooked all the way through and smelled well, like a loaf of bread. Other then color and length of time to bake, it was a pretty standard loaf of bread. Well, that and I didn't let it rise enough in the pan because I was using it for the kids lunch and running late so it was not as tall as it should have been. It began baking at noon.

Today's loaf was the same recipe with a couple of differences in method. First, I let it rise properly in the pan. Second, instead of putting the whole thing in the roasting pan I put it straight in the turkey bag with a couple of clean clear pop bottles on either end to hold the bag off the bread while it cooked. This was all set onto the shelf of the solar funnel.

This time I let it cook from 11:30 am to 12:50 pm. The temp. in the bag reached 250 degrees by the time I removed the loaf and looked pretty much the same as yesterdays except it was taller. It cooked just as well, and one other difference my kids pointed out today is that the crust was soft, almost like store bread which they liked. It browned where it touched the pan, but was otherwise a pale loaf of bread. I also squished it when taking it out so you will notice the top is lopsided.

Today's temp. outside while cooking was 75 degrees and the sky was clear.


1 cup warm water
2 T sugar
1 tsp salt
2 T oil
2 T milk (should be dry but I am out)
3 cups all purpose flour (recommend bread flour)
1-1/4 tsp dry yeast

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Solar Chicken Soup

My favorite soup is chicken soup so last week I made a batch on the solar funnel.

Basic ingredients were-

1 whole chicken
4 cans chicken stock
diced potatoes
2 or 3 bay leaves
salt and pepper

I put the whole chicken and bay leaves in my 3 gallon stock pot (I really need to get more pots) with the stock and enough water to cover the chicken. Put on the lid, bagged it and set it out to cook. The chicken simmered for a couple of hours on the solar cooker until I removed it to cool so I could remove the meat from the bones.

I added the carrots, onions and potatoes and put it all back out to continue cooking for about an hour and a half roughly. Once it was done and seasoned I cooled it, added the meat and portioned it into 3 bags to freeze for later meals.

Solar Spaghetti Sauce

We eat a lot of spaghetti here so it was inevitable I'd be cooking it outside when I could.

I made a basic meat sauce with-
2 pounds ground and browned beef
2- #10 cans of diced tomatoes
half a #10 can of tomato sauce (the other half was used for the Solar Chili recipe)
about 6 cups of onions
6 or 8 large garlic cloves chopped up
basil (dry)
salt and pepper

Simply browned the beef in the 3 gallon stock pot on the stove, added the onions and garlic off the heat to sweat, added the tomato product and seasonings and put it on to cook. This went out at about noon and stayed out till time to eat around 6pm. It happily boiled away a good part of the day and I turned it away from the sun once in a while just to slow it down a bit.

Putting it on to cook involved placing the covered pot in the turkey bag, closing it with a twist tie and placing full in the sun on the solar funnel.

The recipe made enough for dinner and 10- 3cup bags to freeze for later meals.

Solar Chili

If you are a chili lover, then using your solar cooker to make a big pot o' is a must.

I love chili, but still hadn't found a recipe I was happy with so looked around the web and found this one. We invited ourselves over to my aunt and uncles and decided if the recipe was bad, then they could suffer with us.

Turns out, this is the best chili I have had. If you look at the recipe, you will notice it is light on beans. For those of you who think chili isn't chili without a strong focus on beans, well, give it a shot. You may just like it.

I multiplied the recipe by 3 and followed it except for the jalapenos. I cut it back by half because of the audience eating (kids and wimps) but after eating it, I think most anyone could eat it as written.

To start, I browned the meat on the stove and then removed it from the heat. The peppers and onions were sweated in the residual heat from the mean off the stove. Everything else was by the recipe to include adding the beans an hour or so before we ate.

Times weren't the same as the recipe, but to give an idea of how well the solar funnel heats, this is what we did. Adding the tomatoes, sauce and spices brought the temp of the meat and veggies down to about room temp. We put it out about 2 in the afternoon and by 3 everything was hot. By 4 it was lightly simmering and ready to add the beans which were at room temp. By 5 it was ready to eat.

Just the other day we made this recipe again but instead of the canned beans I used dry and I used enough to make twice what the recipe called for to stretch it a bit. The day was cloudy so it was started on the stove with the beans brought to a boil and left to sit for 30 minutes before adding them to the pot. The picture above is from this second batch.

Everything went outside by 1pm when the sun came out and stayed until dinner at 6. It went from just hot to actually boiling within an hour or so. Providing you have a clear day, there is no reason everything except browning the meat can't take place using the sun. Even with dry beans instead of canned.

Multiplying that recipe by 3 gave us about 2 and a half gallons. Enough for dinner, 3- 2 quart portions to freeze for later meals and enough for my wife to take to work the next day.

Solar Cooked Chicken and Potatoes

So far we have cooked chicken twice on the solar cooker. When cooking, it is very much like cooking with a crock pot so pretty much anything you can do with a crock pot you can do with a solar cooker and a big pot.

When I made our solar funnel I decided to go with chicken and potatoes again because it was familiar and I wanted to have a point of comparison to see how my funnel rated.

I put a whole seasoned chicken into a 3 gallon stock pot and surrounded it with cut up potatoes ( a good inch or so to a side) and onions and popped on the lid. I used this pot because it is the only dark pot I have big enough for a chicken, but when you do it, try and use something smaller if possible. The pot barely fit in the turkey bag so the advantage of the bag was largely lost.

The bag is used to allow in the suns rays while holding the heat created. It also serves as a barrier preventing the breeze from whisking the heat away from the pot. Basically it makes its own mini oven.

I kept an eye on it through the day and noticed the chicken was cooked through within 2 hours. Unfortunately that was much too early to eat dinner, but the good thing about cooking like this is everything is wrapped tight, the heat is gentle and the chicken stays moist. There is no crispy chicken when cooking this way, at least so far in my experience.

If it seems like things may overcook you can simply change the orientation of the cooker so it gets less direct sunlight and simply stays hot.

End results? Moist, falling off the bone chicken, tender potatoes and onions and great flavor. Another interesting thing, there was a good 2 cups of liquid in the bottom of the pot to make gravy with.

I imagine this could make a nice chicken cacciatore or any similar dish using a moist heat cooking method. Just keep in mind to use less liquid then normal because you will not loose any to evaporation.

My Solar Funnel

For the first post I thought I'd show the solar cooker I made as well as the plans I followed.

The plans are here and the solar funnel I made is 50% larger then the one described. For an idea of size, the pot in the picture is a 3 gallon stock pot. If you plan to make one yourself, here are a few tips.

First, make sure the template you make to trace your outlines is very accurate. Otherwise each little mistake will be compounded as you progress. It's pretty easy to do, just take care to be accurate. I could do it, so can you.

Second, in the instructions it says to put the foil on after folding and securing it together. I think you will be less frustrated if you put the foil on while the cardboard is still flat, then cut off any excess and fold as directed. You will waste a bit of foil, but you will probably be much less aggravated when you are finished.

Last, the glue I used was simple Elmer's glue watered down 50/50. I used a pastry brush to apply it.

The end product is sturdy, 3 feet across at the top and 18 inches tall.

You will have to figure out how you want to put your pot in the cooker when using it too. I rigged up a pole that is attached to a base so it stands straight up in the air. The pole goes through the bottom of the cooker and at the top is attached a wire platform (a simple wire rack used for baking or cooling). Eventually I will set the base on a Lazy Susan type setup so I can easily turn it into the sun as needed.

Materials list-

3' by 6' sheet of cardboard (If you follow the directions at the link you will need a 2' by 4' sheet)
1 box foil (25' size)
Elmer's glue
Duck tape (to tape all edges together after folding and gluing)

My first time

For the last couple years I have read a bit here and there about the practice of cooking with the sun. Since first reading about it I have imagined myself one day giving it a try, only to put it off til later.

Well recently I decided it was finally time and so started looking for the exact method I would start the experiment with. Shortly after having decided on a set of plans, we got word that my father in law was bringing his solar cooker that same weekend on his visit. This meant of course that I could use his first before making my own which was a good thing. It helped me finalize my own plans.

The first thing we made was a roasted chicken with potatoes. We set up his cooker, put a whole, defrosted chicken into a black pot with a clear glass lid, surrounded it with cut up potatoes and onions and placed the whole thing into a large turkey bag. The kind of bag you put into the oven. The idea is the bag allows the suns rays in to heat the pot while holding the built up heat inside the bag allowing it to cook at a higher temperature.

Later that evening, when everyone returned home from a day at the water falls, we had chicken that was falling off the bone, moist and delicious. The potatoes were cooked through and so were the onions. I was really surprised to be honest. I mean, there was no doubt it would work. After all, my father in law had done it before and so had countless others. But seeing it and reading about it are two completely different things.

So of course all I could do the next couple of days was think about what I was going to do once I made my own solar cooker. This blog is one of the results and in it I will try and keep track of my experiences as well as put up recipes that we have tried. This will be my note book and with any luck, maybe even the extra nudge needed to get others to give it a try.

Since my first time one month ago today, I have made another chicken, stew, soup, a couple pots of beans, a couple pots of chili, a large pot of spaghetti sauce, 3 cakes and just today I baked my first loaf of bread. Each of these things will be discussed to a degree based on memory and future items will (hopefully) have a bit more detail.

For the record, I live in Oregon. So if you think you don't get enough sun or maybe not an intense enough sun, keep that in mind. You may just be surprised at what you can do at home.

Monday, August 11, 2008

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