No one likes heating the house in the summer by turning on the oven and I’m no exception. I also look for any opportunity to prepare food that doesn’t include using my *%$!!*!! electric stove; is there a cook out there that actually prefers these things? Plus, energy, whatever we may like to think, is not exactly an endless resource – and it’s expensive! Anyway, our sunny Utah summers offer plenty of sunshine to use our solar oven and I try to take advantage of them as much as possible. In fact, my area of Utah has over two hundred days on average that are sunny, which includes winter, although I have yet to trudge out in the snow to use it come December. I’m a native Californian and still majorly wussy about snow.
Anyway, we purchased an SOS Sport solar oven a few years ago and have enjoyed learning how to use it. It’s a very basic solar oven, no frills and operates like they all do on the idea of catching the suns rays to pull heat into the box/oven in order to cook your food without needing power – well, power you pay for, anyway. Solar ovens are like slow cookers that don’t require any electricity to run. For best results, you usually preheat it, like any oven, but that just means setting it out in the sun about a half hour to an hour before you need to use it. We’ve cooked all kinds of things in ours from fish to soup to bread to “boiled” eggs. A really neat feature of this kind of cooking is that, unless you go off and leave for a really long time, you don’t burn food cooked in a solar oven. The SOS is light and easy to use, with only a few parts. The main body is a black box that has a plastic lid that attaches with six metal clasps so it doesn’t blow away in the wind and so wayward kiddos don’t get into a hot oven. There’s also a sun shield that attaches with spring clasps to magnify the sun’s heat and draw it into your oven.
The wide design of this one means that you don’t have to turn it very often to follow the sun; you want to maximize the suns rays by following the movement of the sun for however long you’re cooking your item. Some items require only a half hour while others take several and you don’t want to lose the sun. I would buy another one, especially if I could find one on sale, but these are pretty economical to begin with. There are other brands, of course. I have a friend who has a Sun Oven and loves it. It’s quite a bit sturdier and deeper than mine but it folds up for toting around and isn’t too heavy. It has an internal thermometer, too, which is way cool. I lost the thermometer that came with my SOS – I needed to attach it somehow so that didn’t happen. Sigh. My biggest pet peeve with these things is that they only hold my 9×13 casserole dish, but nothing bigger. I feed ten people – I need bigger. What I’ll have to do is buy two to three more of these things so that I can make a main dish, side dish, bread and dessert all at once. If I were more hard core, I’d make my own; but, alas…
Another item I love to use is my Hot Box aka Wonder Box. These things are like bean bags that cook in your kitchen! They’re super insulated bags with a top piece that acts like a lid and they were developed from the Wonder Boxes designed to help African moms cook a whole pot of something like rice using only a minimal amount of fuel. The idea (which is not an historically new one) is that you bring a pot of rice (or similar item) to boil and then shut off the stove (or put out your cook fire), place a lid on the pan and put the whole lidded pot into the center of the box bottom. Put the box’s lid on and let it sit for as long as it takes to cook the food; with my brown rice, it usually takes about an hour-ish. You can buy them online but they’re pricey. I decided to make my own since I’m cheap – which is part of why off grid cooking appeals to me in the first place. The boxes are stuffed with polystyrene pellets and made with cotton fabric, or any other natural fiber – wool would be neat! I’m not much of seamstress so I went to a neighbor’s house so she could mentor me in putting them together. Later, I found this good tutorial from Prepared Not Scared with the pattern and, if you’re interested in making one, I’d suggest you check it out. (Food Storage Made Easy also this fun Powerless Cooking Series they did and you can follow their adventures here.) The cool thing about doing it with someone was also that we were able to split the cost of the pellets; we got a price break for ordering them in bulk but it would have been way too many pellets for just one person unless we were each making five boxes! FYI, another friend suggested we stuff our boxes in the bathroom, better yet, the tub to minimize the mess; there’s major static electricity on these babies and the little buggers can just go everywhere! And I mean, everywhere. You can use these things for cooking grains, veggies and soups as well as yogurt. I also mellow my soap batches in my boxes before I cut and cure them. They do take up space so you have to find a place to put them but they’re worth it.
Another thing to consider using if you have access to propane is a gas grill; or, if you have access to charcoal, a Webber Kettle type set up. Grillin’ is surely not a new concept but I think it bears mentioning here to make sure we’ve covered the basics. Then, of course, there’s open fire or wood burning stove cooking which are awesome for off grid but not so awesome for keeping cool. I guess I’m also a wuss about the heat. What a baby. My new best friend in the world of summer cooking is kebabs (we say kabobs at our house, but we’re just unhip that way) – where have these been all my life?! You can Google a myriad of marinade recipes but they’re essentially stuff on a stick, cooked over small flame. In Turkey, the traditional birth place of the kebab, the stick would most certainly have meat on it (typically lamb), but you can also make veggie ones or a combination of the two. Maybe you grew up eating these wonderful things and are wondering why I’m bothering to talk about something so basic. I was deprived on Turkish food, clearly, and hadn’t ever had a kebab until I lived in Russia (the wonder of the kebab spread to the Caucuses), where a Russian family treated us missionaries to homemade kebabs over an open, outdoor flame. (Random memory but, their yard also had the first cistern I’d ever seen; this city girl asked if it was for swimming! The father laughed a bit at that but was very kind in explaining the idea of water conservation/redirection.) I guess I’d forgotten about them until this summer when I was desperate for something easy that could be grilled quickly in order to satisfy the children who were nipping at my heels like Corgis for their dinner. I suggest marinating the veggies with your meat (if you’re using any), in order to enhance the flavor.
Anyway, there you have it; that’s what we’re doing so far but are always on the lookout for more ideas. What are you favorite ways to beat the heat and the energy bill while cooking? Tell me more about Dutch ovens, for instance – I have yet to learn to really use them without charcoal briquettes, which are cheating, in my opinion.
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