I solar cook! I use a commercially available HotPot and SunOven as well as a homemade cooker. I've made roasted garlic, baked potatoes and roasted veggies. I've baked banana bread and carrot "cake" bread. I've made apple crisp and peach crisp. I've made ribs (super yummy!), meatloaf, a whole chicken and chili. From May thru September is the best solar cooking time, but I did make apple crisp in the SunOven in early January '07 (air temp 30 degrees with bright sun). I enjoy the magical quality of cooking with the sun and the food is darn tasty!
-- Margaret Ivetic, Berwyn
Invest in a digital cooking/oven thermometer which allows you to run a probe to a counter-top display [I'm sure there is a name for this, I just don't know it].
You may be able to use the thermometer to cut back on the length of time you need to run your oven. Many foods such as casseroles need to be cooked to an internal temperature of 165 degrees. By using a digital thermometer, you can program it to beep at 155 (or even less). Turn off your oven at that point. Don't open the door and let the food continue cooking until it reaches 165. Your actual cooking time may increase by only a couple of minutes but you were able to turn off the oven five or ten minutes earlier. Experiment to see how early you can turn off your oven; it's not much but every bit helps.
I had always heard about this but never tried it until one day when I had to unexpectedly leave the house with something in the oven. I was going to be gone for about 25 minutes and didn't want to leave the oven on while I was gone. I was going to resume cooking when I got home. I walked in the door and the alarm was beeping; my casserole went from 130 degrees to 185 in about 30 minutes. I'm sure I saved 15 minutes of actual cooking time.
An important tip: Don't use this method for baking items such as cookies which require precise times and temperatures.
Another benefit to the thermometer is it allows you to calibrate your oven and so that you can set the right temperature to minimize the number of times you open the door and check on your food and waste energy. I've found that my oven is off by about 15 degrees so I always set it for 15 degrees higher than whatever temperature is called for.
Food items will continue to cook for some time after the gas is turned off, since the heat from the oven or a boiling pot dissipates slowly. For example, a frozen pizza with a baking time of 20 minutes can have the gas turned off at the 17 minute mark, or a pot of boiling water with corn on the cob can be turned off a few minutes before the timer setting is reached. Same applies if you're frying an egg, boiling pasta, or heating up leftovers. Cutting off the flame even a few minutes early can save 10 to 20 per cent of the cooking gas. Just don't get carried away - the food does need to be cooked thoroughly.
-- Larry Zawilenski
Photo courtesy of KRT.