When summer temps get over 100 degrees here I am always looking for alternative ways to get dinner on the table without heating up the house. I happened to see a posting on a message board at the Phoenix Permaculture Guild about solar ovens. I looked at solar ovens about 10 years ago but gave up on the idea because they were too expensive to purchase and the do-it-yourself projects were way beyond my skills.
According to the conversation, solar ovens have come a long way in the last few years. There are two models that are reasonably priced and seemed to be popular among the locals. The Sport Solar Oven (above) from the Solar Oven Society and the Sun Oven. The discussion said that both were well made and suitable for use here in the Valley. The main difference is that the Sport is large enough to bake on a cookie sheet, but the smaller Sun Oven will heat to higher temperatures. Since I like to bake, I opted for the Sport which my wonderful husband purchased for me as an early Christmas gift. Although many of the experienced users said they didn't need the optional reflector, I purchased it anyway.
The more I surfed the web for info on solar cooking, the more excited I got. Not only was solar cooking a great way to go "green" but the recipes sounded easy and delicious. Another Valley of the Sun resident has been blogging about using the Sun Oven every day for a year. If you're going to purchase a solar oven, the Solar Oven Chef is a great place to start for tips and recipes.
I probably didn't pick the best day for my initial leap into solar cooking, but it was my only day off. It had been raining all night and was only about 45 degrees outside. The yard was a mud pit and it was cold and windy outside. Since the weather wasn't the best I decided to preheat with the reflector on and see what happened. The oven temp reached 200 degress in a half hour so I decided to keep the reflector on and go for it.
I wanted to start with some easy dishes. Sprouts had sirloin tip roasts on sale and I purchased some of their wild rice blend from the bulk section as a side dish. I cut the roast into 4 pieces and sprinkled it with Lipton Onion Soup Mix. No need for any water when cooking meat in the solar ovens. To the rice blend I added the necessary amount of water, some Mrs. Dash Onion and Herb Seasoning, a dash of tumeric, a little bit of salt, and half a chopped onion. The Sport comes with an oven thermometer and two black cooking pots so it makes it easy to do a complete meal at one time.
At the 2 hour mark I checked on the oven and noticed that there was condensation building up on the door, an indicator that the food is done. Not bad! The roast was perfect and was swimming in lots of broth that I used on the stove top to make gravy. The rice was slightly overdone but still tasty. HuzBen was impressed and loved the meal. I liked the "set it and forget it" aspect of the cooking. I checked on the oven every 30 minutes but I found out quickly that I didn't need to reposition the oven at all. I can't wait to try chicken and potato dishes, and maybe some baking. Anyone for solar baked Christmas cookies?