Friday, May 24, 2013

Solar Box Oven

Solar Box Oven

A "solar oven" is something you can make for practically nothing, most likely from items you already have in your home.  You can use this method of cooking when the power is out or if you just don't want to have a hot oven on in the house in summer.  It's a good way to save money and use little energy, actually no energy other than the sun.  People in poverty stricken parts of the world are being taught how to use this method of cooking.

This worked fantastic! ...even better than I expected for my first attempt.  I had a hard time finding the right size boxes here in the house (and I'm 30 miles from town); and the top of the larger box was messed up, so I couldn't use the instructions I wanted.  I just worked with what I had and improvised, and it worked great!  

There are a lot of different instructions and ways to make solar ovens, but it really doesn't have to be complicated.

Here's the gist of it, with lots of photos below...

You need two large boxes with space between them so you can loosely stuff the sides in between with newspaper for insulation.

For the smaller box, paint the bottom a flat black color.  (I bought an inexpensive can at Wal-Mart, and it had the magic words "nontoxic when dry".)  Use regular Elmer's glue to glue aluminum foil on the sides of the inside the small box, shiny side out.  (...or some people use reflective windshield visors from the dollar store.  I bought a couple but went with the foil.)

Put the smaller box inside the larger box and loosely stuff newspaper in between the sides and under it if there is room.  Seal the top edges in between the boxes to hold in the heat by folding the flaps of the smaller box out over the bigger one and then cover the four corner holes that there will be with cardboard.  Attach a lid/flap on one side (or more than one side if you like) with aluminum foil on it to reflect more sun down in the box.

I had some ceramic tiles lying around, so I decided to paint them black and put them in the bottom as they retain heat.  I think they helped a lot, but you don't have to use those.  They also made channels under the pan so hot air could get under there.  You can use a rack for this.

You need to cover the opening with a piece of glass or clear hard plastic to hold the heat in, or you can put the food in cooking bags or a pot with a clear lid, etc.

(Oh, it's a good idea to get a meat thermometer to use as there is more guess work in the cooking times unless you just want to cut into it whatever you are cooking to check it.) 

Smaller box, bottom painted black.  
Then cover the inside sides with foil.

My smaller box was more shallow than the 
bigger one, so I put a couple cans in the bottom of the 
bigger one for extra support. 

 Stuff newspaper in the spaces in between the boxes and underneath.

Cover the open spaces around the two boxes to hold the heat in.
  (Fold the small box flaps out over the big box and cover the four corner holes 
that there will be.) All done except for a lid/flap with foil.

Attach a reflective lid to the side.  Ta da!  I painted some ceramic tiles I 
had and set them in the bottom also.

I used an old piece of window glass I had to cover it.  I used a stick to 
prop the lid where I wanted it.  Move it back and forth so that you can see 
where the light reflects to get it in the best position.  I put a chair behind it so the 
lid couldn't blow over too far.  You can see the sun 
reflecting down on the glass in the photo.  

I made my favorite biscuits, a mock Cheddar Bay Biscuit recipe. (If you are
 wondering about the rocks, my glass was a little too narrow on one side, so I put 
a strip of cardboard along the back and then put the rocks on top just to make sure 
to weight it down good since it had that extra piece under the back of the glass.)  

They were done in an hour.  (It was only around 52 degrees here today, and 
it was earlier in the day.  They would have cooked faster later in the day.)

Mmmm cheesy!

 All done with the butter and seasoning added over the top.  :)

I decided to put in a couple pieces of bacon.  :)


Update:  I got a new oven thermometer so was able to get accurate temperatures today.  I made Chicken Kiev (those get browned in a pan briefly before going in an oven).  It was around 70 degrees here today, and the temp in the box hovered just under 200; and the Chicken Kiev only took 2 hours to cook.  :)

I'll be cooking different things this summer and will post temps, cooking times, and photos. 

 A few links you can check out:

A simple one, "Minimum" Solar Box Cooker:  (click here)

A solar cooking web site with lots of info:  (click here)

"Easy Lid" oven:  (click here)

Mother Earth Living:  (click here)

Popular Mechanics:  (click here)

This web site shows a lot of different kinds of solar cooker designs.  (click here)

Update:  I cooked a Cornish hen...and it was yummy!  Some clouds were coming through, so I didn't get the best cook time possible.  It took 5-6 hours (75-80 degrees on this day), but I will do another one soon to get a more accurate cook time on a sunny day.  Still pretty cool when you can put a bird in a box outside and have a yummy tender dinner, using no energy and not heating up the house on a hot summer day.

This was during cooking.  The finished photo got deleted somehow. 
I'm going to do another update soon though.  :)  Oh, and 
I "butterflied" it so it would cook faster.  Just cut up 
through the back or along each side of the back and take it out.

Thanks for checking out my blog!  :)

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Edible Garden Flowers

Edible Garden Flowers

As with all my "edible" blog posts, this one is a work in progress; so check back as I try new things and take more photographs to post.  :)

As always, when it comes to eating wild or garden plants, use common sense.  Check a few different sources and compare photos to be sure you have the right plant.  If in doubt, don't try it.  I'm not an expert.  I do research many different web sites and books and don't try something I'm not certain about.  Make sure they haven't been sprayed with chemicals.  Flowers along the roadside should be avoided as they would have pollutants on them from passing cars and other chemicals.

Flowers contain vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, protein (in the pollen).  Some are used for medicinal purposes, and I'd eventually like to get into that part more and update these with more information later if I get time.  The flowers have more moisture in them if picked in the morning.

Flowers make a nice addition to salads and as garnishes.  Crystallized flowers (also called Sugared or Candied) are very pretty to put on cakes and other foods.  Just be sure to mention to your friends that they can eat the flowers too.  :)  I did a separate blog post on how to do that with photos.  (click here)

I'm sticking mainly to flowers common to gardens here in the north, but some of the links below include flowers not common to here.  Also, these are all flowers that I will be trying myself (if I haven't already) as the season goes on; and I will do updates on how I think they taste.  :)

(At the bottom of the page, I also mention some vegetable flowers and herb flowers that are edible as well as some annuals.)

Apple Blossoms

Yep, you can eat the apple flowers.  They make a pretty decoration too.  It is said you should eat these in moderation because the flowers may contain cyanide precursors.  I can't imagine someone wanting to eat a big bowl full anyway.  ;)

Eat the Weeds has a nice article on apples. (click here)

Bee Balm

Bee Balm is said to have medicinal properties, and I'm not getting into that now.  It is used to make tea and is used in many other ways.  The entire plant above ground is edible.  You can use this as an Oregano substitute or Mint substitute.  I even read somewhere that they make candy in Europe using Bee Balm.


Ok, so it's not really a "garden flower,' but they are in our gardens!  ;) 

"Wild Man Steve" has a lot of info on Dandelions.  (Click here)  ...and I plan to include these in my wild edibles post when I get time with more detail about the other parts of the Dandelion that are edible.

You can do a search and find many recipes.  Here is just one I've tried, Fried Dandelion Blossoms. (click here)  They are pretty tasty.  I wouldn't want to eat too many of them, but I think they would be a great side for a burger or hot dog.  Maybe fry some of these up at your next cookout as a new interesting thing for people to try.

Fried Dandelion Blossoms/Fritter

Day Lily (Common Day Lily) 

Many parts of the Day Lily are edible.  See my Edible Landscaping post.  (click here)

I tried the flowers last year, and they were quite good.  I simply sauteed them in a little butter.  I'll try a couple again this year and do some photos this time.
From Eat the Weeds:  "The blossoms are edible as well, raw or cooked (as are seeds if you find any.) The dried flower contains about 9.3% protein, 25% fat, 60% carbohydrate, 0.9% ash. It is rich in vitamin A.  The closed flower buds and edible pods are good raw in salads or boiled, stir-fried or steamed with other vegetables. The blossoms add sweetness to soups and vegetable dishes and can be stuffed like squash blossoms. Half and fully opened blossoms can be dipped in a light batter and fried tempura style (which by the way was a Portuguese way of cooking introduced to Japan.) Dried daylily petals are an ingredient in many Chinese and Japanese recipes (they usually use H. graminea)." (source)

Dianthus (including Sweet William)


Sweet William

Sweet William

There are many pretty colors of Dianthus.  They are said to have a clove-like taste and work well with fish or as a marmalade or in soups or salads, etc.  I have many in my garden so will try them this summer when they bloom.  (You may want to take away the bitter white base of the flower.)

English Daisy

These are the small ones that grow low to the ground and are known to "invade" lawns.  Actually, I purposely scattered seeds in my backyard.  I like them in my lawn.  :)  When I was growing up, there was an elderly lady named Francis a couple of doors down, and she had them growing in her front yard near the lake.  I would pick a few sometimes.  I have a soft spot for them.

(My favorite color.)  :)

Some people stuff these the way they do squash blossoms.  Just do a search on stuffed Squash blossom recipes.  I don't have these anymore.  I'm in the north and they have to be dug every fall to spend winter in the house.   


I wouldn't think they are, but they are edible.  I think you could also stuff these the way they do squash flowers.  Again, just do a search on Squash blossom recipes.


Yes, Hosta flowers are edible.  The shoots are edible too.  Oops, just talking flowers on this post!  (...and the shoots were tasty.  shhhh)


Lavender can be used as a substitute for Rosemary and is used to make teas.  The flowers can be put in a salad or other dishes. 

I don't have a good photo as mine aren't very big yet, so I borrowed this one above.  "Lavender is a member of the mint family and is close to rosemary, sage, and thyme. It is best used with fennel, oregano, rosemary, thyme, sage, and savory." 

This is a photo of some of the Mackinac Island 
lilacs I took on one of my trips over.

This is also one I never would have guessed is edible.  It just kind of has that poisonous flower look to it to me if that makes any sense.  I've read that they smell better than they taste and that they vary in taste, but I haven't tried them yet.  It won't be long for them to start blooming here, so I will let you know.  They would be beautiful candied and used as a garnish though. 


 I'm growing these for the first time this year, so I haven't tried them yet but have wanted to for a while.  They are said to have a peppery taste.

I don't have my own photos yet so borrowed this one until I can.  
Here is an article with a few recipes. (click here)

Ox-Eye Daisy

There are the common daises you find around roadsides and in fields.  The flowers are edible, but I think the buds and just opening flowers are supposed to be best.  I will try these this summer.  You can put the young flower buds in vinegar and make capers from them.  Also, young shoots and leaves are edible and are great in salads.  They taste a little peppery.  I tried them in a salad, and they were good.  Actually, some gourmet restaurants are said to use them in "gourmet salads".

Pansies (including Johnny-Jump-Ups)

These are a good one to candy for decorations.  They are pretty sturdy (if I can use that word) and come in many colors.  Some people prefer to take the petals off and just eat those.   I've eaten them in salads and just throw the whole thing in.  Makes a salad more interesting.  :)


Me and my Peonies.  

"In China the fallen petals are parboiled and sweetened as a tea-time delicacy.  Peony water was used for drinking in the middle ages. Add peony petals to your summer salad or try floating in punches and lemonades." (source)

Phlox, perennial  (NOT the smaller annual or creeping Phlox)

The perennial grows tall and come up every year, hence the name perennial.  I have many different colors in my gardens and will compare them when they bloom and do an update.  

Bright Eyes Phlox



 These also come in many pretty colors.  The flowers can be used to make Primrose wine, and tea can be made from the leaves. 


This is a photo I took of a wild rose that grows in this area.

Who knew?  Rose petals are edible.  Rose hips are often used in tea, but I won't get into that here.  It's said the white part is bitter and should be taken off.  The petals are very pretty when crystallized.  


Snapdragons are edible but are said to not be very palatable.  They vary in flavor, so I'll have to let you know this summer when I can try them.  Jury is still out.  ;)  Even if they aren't all that tasty, they would make a pretty garnish.

Sweet William
(See Dianthus.)

Tulips (tulip petals)

Another one I wouldn't have thought is edible.  :)  Some people have an allergic reaction to Tulips so try rubbing some on your skin and wait a while to see if you have a reaction and then just try a very small amount.  That's a good idea with any new plant you try really, to start with a small amount.  Cut off the bottom end of the tulip petal if it is bitter.  Large Tulip petals can be used like cups to hold foods or can be stuffed. 

Here is a recipe for Stuffed Tulips:   (source)

Stuffed Tulips
6 Tulip blossoms
6 eggs
1/4 tsp salt
4 Tbsp sour cream
2 Tbsp fresh chives, chopped
1 Tbsp fresh tarragon, chopped.
1 Tbsp fresh Parsley, chopped.

Boil eggs for 12 minutes.  Prepare the Tulips by removing the pistons and stamen inside stem.  Gently wash the flower and pat dry.  Shell the boiled eggs and chop them fine.  (Coling boiled eggs quidkly in cold water facilitates shelling.)  Add salt, sour cream, chives and tarragon.  Mix well.  Spoon egg salad filing itnto the Tulips, filling tehm carefully.  Enjoy, blossoms and all!

This web site has a lot of annoying ads but other Tulip recipe links. (click here)


(Note, African American violets are not edible.)  Violets can be put in a salad or used to make jelly, tea, syrup, vinegar.  They make pretty purple vinegar (so do chive flowers).  I'm going to try some different vinegars and use it in sweet and sour sauce.  I often times pick these and the tiny wild purple, pink, and white ones that grow in my yard to put in salads.  They actually don't have a lot of taste when I put them in salads, but they make it much more interesting and visually pleasing.  :)

Violets for vinegar.  Just pour the 
vinegar in and let is sit for a few days.

(After just a few hours of adding the Vinegar.)


Many vegetable garden flowers and herb flowers are also edible.  I haven't looked into most of these in depth, so you need to look into it further yourself.  The edible ones are said to include Cilantro, Basil, Oregano, Coriander, Marjoram, Garlic, Mint, Thyme, Runner Bean, Chive, Radish, chamomile, Rosemary, Squash, Dill, Strawberry, Sugar Snap and Snow Pea (ornamental and sweet pea are NOT edible), etc.

Squash Flowers (Did you know Pumpkin is also a squash?) are a popular gourmet food in some places.  They are stuffed with cheeses and other things and then battered and fried.  They can be used in many other ways too.

I'm going to make Chive vinegar this summer.  You put the chive heads in vinegar and let it sit for a few days.  It turns the vinegar a pretty purple.  Violets do the same thing.  For me personally, I'm thinking it would be good in  a sweet and sour sauce I make.  :)

Update:  Here is the Chive vinegar I made. 

More pink than purple...

I made Sweet and Sour Sauce with it, and it's tasty.  :)


Also, some annuals that are considered edible that I wanted to mention are Begonias, Impatiens, and Marigolds.  Again, I didn't look into these ones in depth; so you should do a search and read more.

Here are just a few web sites with lists of edible flowers:

Home Cooking... (click here) 

Edible Landscape Design... (click here)

Squidoo... (click here)

 Thanks for taking the time to check out my blog.  :)

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