Thursday, June 26, 2008

6 tips for maximizing Sun Oven usefulness

As you know, I love my Sun Oven (s). Unlike corn ethanol, nuclear power, coal liquefication, and other boondoggles, they are a way to both lower our carbon footprint and prepare for peak oil. And, relatively speaking, they are cheap and portable! (Compare the cost of a Sun Oven: $250, to the cost of a PV system to run a cooktop and oven: $2000+)

But as with many worthwhile endeavors, using a Sun Oven takes a little bit of experience and planning. As I have started using my Sun Oven almost every day, I've come up with a few ways to maximize their usage.

Now, none of the below tips are essential to using a Sun Oven - you can ignore all of them if you want. But since the SO is part of my strategy to decrease my energy footprint, I try to get as much out of them as I can. Keep in mind that all of these tips apply to the summer only - I haven't much experience cooking in the SO during the winter.

1. Re-think meal planning

I have started planning my grocery shopping around a 4 / 2 / 1 dinner plan. I plan to have the food to make Sun Oven meals 4 days of the week (they also can be made conventionally), 2 cold meals which hopefully can be cooked ahead of time, and 1 conventional meal. So if I am successful, I get 6 meals without very much energy used at all + leftovers heated in the good ole microwave for lunch the next day (microwaves use much less energy than either cooktops or ovens).

2. Adding cold meals to your repetoire

You can use the Sun Oven to pre-cook foods for cold meals throughout the week. Potatoes, beans, hardboiled eggs, bread and rice are good examples of things that can be cooked on one day and incorporated into a meal on another. This can help you out if you are very busy during the week and need to throw together dinner! My husband and I both like meals like cold bean salads, pasta salads, potato salad, pitas and sandwiches.

3. Careful not to increase your "high-energy-impact" foods

I'm a vegetarian who eats fish, dairy and eggs (technically a pescatarian). So when I started cooking more dishes in the Sun Oven that use dairy products and eggs - I had to take a careful look at my eating habits. I don't want to accidentally increase my total energy usage by eating very much more dairy/eggs/fish (which take more energy, grain, water, etc. to make than veggies, beans, or grains.)

4. Maximize sunny days

Be sure to know your weather forecast. When you have a sunny, cloudless day - pounce! On a sunny day in the summer, you can cook (for example) bread, lunch and dinner in a Sun Oven. Or you could cook beans and rice, potatoes, hardboiled eggs, cornbread, bread, etc. to incorporate into meals all week. This is especially helpful if you know cloudy days are coming up. So if you know you are having a sunny day - then cook your bread that day in the SO, instead of the next day in the conventional oven.

This applies especially to people who are at work all day - you can pre-cook beans and rice, potatoes etc. over sunny weekend days (if you have them) and then use that food throughout the week.

5. Get used to cooking dinner at 2 or 3 pm (in the summer)

To be ready in time for dinner between 5:30 and 6:30, the meal needs to be prepared and in the oven by 2:30 (for some things) or by 4:00 (for fish, pizzas, eggs dishes). The SO doesn't "burn" food like a conventional oven does, so you can leave it in there long after it is done, with a few exceptions like pita pizzas and fish, which WILL dry out. The SO is insulated so it will usually keep your meal pretty warm, although that depends on several different factors. You probably need to take 30 seconds or so every 1 or 2 hours to re-adjust the SO to face the sun.

Obviously, this won't work well for people at work all day... you could try preparing the meal the night before and then popping the meal in the SO if you come home for lunch, or ask your responsible kid to put it in the SO when they get home from school.

6. Get creative

It took awhile to realize that I could make baby food in the sun oven! Now once or twice a week I roast sweet potatoes and carrots in my GSO and just store them to use every day.

Here's a sample menu (you can find my actual menus on the right side of my blog under "Sun Oven Journal"):
(GSO = Global Sun Oven, THSO = Tulsi Hybrid Sun Oven)
Monday: GSO - Veggie Quesadilla Stacks
Tuesday: Cold meal: Black bean and corn salad
Wednesday: GSO - Herbed potatoes & cornbread; THSO - Cajun tilapia
Thursday: GSO - Rice, beans, potatoes for future use; THSO - Baby food (Dinner is Potato salad)
Friday: Cooktop - Ravioli
Saturday: GSO: Banana bread; THSO: Pita pizzas
Sunday: GSO - Spinach tofu enchiladas

Feel free to comment with tips that you have for getting the most out of your sun oven!


Lewru said...

Geeze, I'm so jealous. I mean really, really jealous. One thing, guy has quite the appetite and if I told him dinner was a bean or potato salad, he would stare blankly at me, accuse me of trying to starve him, then say, "Oh, you're just kidding, right?" and then without missing a beat ask what else we were having with that.

We eat veg a lot over the week but it usually has to be several things - a salad, bread, whole grain, and vegetable. He's a pain. :) (But he stands up all day and walks around constantly for his job, so I know he's burning loads of calories that me (and my couch) do not!)

Hausfrau said...

Hubby does call my meals "sides". Also, you can cook meat in the Sun Oven (I hear, no experience with that). But since I do the cooking I make the call :)! Seriously, he has been great in adapting to my vegetarianism. So he makes do by adding tortilla chips to every meal (lol) and he eats meat when we go out to eat.

Verde said...

Ohh, a solar oven is on my list! It sounds great.

Lamzeydievey said...

hey! that is a great suggestion you make about preparing food ahead.

i've recently started preparing different bits of our upcoming weekly meals all at the same time on sunday and it has saved me so much time and energy! i also meal plan and only grocery shop once a week. it minimizes driving and helps us avoid that nightly question of 'what do i cook?'

Tara said...

Can you recommend a solar oven that you prefer? I'm looking to start working from home a few days a week, so this would be perfect for me. We have no shortage of long, sunny days here.

Lewru, I know what you mean. My husband is really easy to please, and will eat virtually anything I put in front of him, but he does look sort of deflated when it's something simple like bean salad. He always expects there to be something else to go with it.

He has a desk job like me, though, so I don't know what his excuse is. ;-)

Hausfrau said...

Hi Tara! My favorite purchased one is the Global Sun Oven (although it does not fit full size pizzas). It costs about $230. I also have the Tulsi Hybrid but I don't like it as well. There are others that are cheaper but I have no experience with them. I have not yet heard from someone who is satisfied with a "home-made" sun oven.