Explorit: Cookin’ in the sun

By From page A6 | July 05, 2013

Turn some of this intense summer heat to your advantage by building your own solar cooker! Instead of dreading that summer sun, turn it into an outdoor oven with a few simple items you probably have around the house.

You’ll need a pizza box, some aluminum foil, black paint, a paint brush, your favorite hot foods and a sunny day. Any size pizza box will do, but the bigger the box, the more food you can cook!

Start by painting your pizza box black all over the outside. Dark colors absorb the heat, so the darker the box, the better it will be for cooking.

When the paint has dried, line the inside of the box with aluminum foil. Foil is a good conductor of heat and will help trap the sun’s warmth inside your pizza box oven.

Now you’re ready to get cooking! A solar cooker works in the same basic way a traditional oven does. It’s a box that gets hot and heats up whatever’s inside it.

So anything that can be baked in an oven, can be cooked in a solar cooker. But since it’s harder to regulate the temperature in a solar cooker, you might want to start with a few easy snacks and work your way up to the lasagna.

Young scientists at Explorit’s summer science camps recently harnessed the power of the sun to make s’mores quesadillas. You can join in the sun-baked tastiness with your new solar oven.

You’ll need a small (fajita-size) tortilla, a graham cracker, mini marshmallows and about a quarter cup of chocolate chips. Lay your tortilla on a sheet of aluminum foil. Crumble the graham cracker over the tortilla and then sprinkle it with mini marshmallows and chocolate chips.

You can fold your tortilla in half, or add another tortilla on top. Wrap your quesadilla in foil and put it in your solar oven.

Place your solar oven outside in a spot that will get direct sunlight for at least the next hour. Solar cooking can take a little longer, but it’s worth it. This way you can have a tasty s’mores treat without starting a fire or heating up your house by turning on the oven.

Make it a full meal by rolling out a ball of raw pizza dough and topping it with sliced fresh mozzarella cheese, fresh tomatoes and fresh basil. Or enjoy some juicy summer fruit by topping a piece of pita bread with sliced fresh peaches or nectarines and adding a sprinkle of cinnamon and sugar. Check your solar treat after about a half an hour of cooking and see how warm and melted it is. If you’re cooking with any raw ingredients like chicken or sausage, make sure that it is fully cooked by checking for the correct temperature on a food thermometer before enjoying. Most meats should be cooked to an internal temperature of 165 degrees.

Dishes with raw foods that must be fully cooked will take longer in a solar oven, so plan ahead. So embrace this summer heat with your own solar cooker and get cooking!

— Explorit Science Center is located at 3141 5th St. For more information call 530-756-0191 or visit http://www.explorit.org, or “like” us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/explorit.fb.

Lisa Justice

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