Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Review: Solavore TR-86 High Performance Reflector

Solavore TR-86 High Performance Reflector

Bring on the heat with Solavore’s powerful new TR-86 Reflector. Its mirror-like surface – 86% Total Reflectance - means faster preheat, higher oven temperatures, and increased range for partial-sun days.

  • Great for baking. Cook year-round - even up north, far from the sunbelt
  • Weather and tarnish resistant surface, a finish that will stay looking new for years, thanks to anodizing that hardens and coats the aluminum
  • Detachable, folds flat. Includes carry case for safe storage when not in use
  • Made in the USA
  • Save $17 and get free shipping when purchased with your Solavore Sport

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Our Thoughts
I reviewed the Solavore Sport Solar Oven a few months ago (read my original review here) and I have to say, I still love it and continue to use it - it will definitely see the most use in the summer so I don't have to use my traditional oven and heat up the house! 

It has been frustrating though, to not be able to use it in the winter months - for about a month before, and a month after, the winter solstice.  Not the fault of the solar oven by any means, just a sad combination of our specific location in town with surrounding buildings, trees, and the low position of the sun in the sky.  Our backyard gets plenty of ambient light during the day, but not enough direct sun so there's not enough time to cook foods for the longer periods the solar oven requires.  So as you can imagine, when Solavore offered me the chance to try out the new TR-86 high performance reflectors I jumped at it because the new reflectors capture more of the sun's rays for winter performance.

So this beautiful shiny thing arrives . . . and I kid you not, we then had like 2 weeks of overcast days, snow, and fog.  The news said at one point 51 straight hours of FOG.  That wasn't even the end of the fog though. Ridiculous. And certainly not conducive to solar cooking!

For a comparison, this is the "old" reflector that came with my Solavore Sport - definitely reflective and helpful for solar cooking.

Now compare the new TR-86 Reflector - much shinier; a higher reflective surface:

Finally the weather cooperated and we had a day of SUN! Awesome.  Great, now what to cook?  Hmm.  Let's try some muffins. This recipe is straight out of my own paleo cookbook which I believe you can read about in my profile on Blogger (if you wish!). It's a nut flour based recipe since we are grain-free, and the base recipe is very versatile and has served me well over the years - one I know to work well with a variety of different added ingredients.  For this one, I made a cinnamon spice muffin with dried fruits.  I started pre-heating the oven at about 9:30am, when the first sliver of morning sun came up over the house and hit the far west side of our backyard.  The outside temp was 9F.  The muffins went in the oven about 10:30am.  I did have to move the oven a couple of times to keep it in direct sunlight but it's not heavy, and the smooth bottom slides nicely over the snow.

The oven temp with the TR-86 Reflector was about the normal temp I'd expect during the warmer months without using a reflector, about 225F. 

The recommended baking time is 90 minutes, and the temp inside the oven was steady. You can see the condensation building up in this photo.

I did open the oven to check the done-ness of the muffins and decided they weren't quite done yet.  Just be aware that opening the solar oven during a frigid day (remember the outside temp was 9F!), it will lose some heat and need more time for the sun to bring it back up to the required temp.

Overall, the muffins took about 2 hours to bake until they got as done as I like them.  Much longer than the 20 minutes in my (gas) oven, so you know, have patience!  Their consistency/texture was a little different than traditional cooking - wetter, chewier. I will try this again during the warmer months when I can get the oven temp up a little higher.  (Don't let the solar oven get over 300F or warping may occur.)
Next up - with the success of the muffins, I thought I'd try a cake.  Well, it didn't start out as a cake.  Really I just wanted to make a sauce.  But then I kept adding stuff to it and it ended up as a cake. (That's rather how I cook anyway, adding stuff here and there and the end result doesn't always resemble what my first intent was!)
This one failed for three reasons:
1. I think it's because I used my own cooking pot, which has a blue lid, rather than the black lids that come with the pots that come with the solar oven.  I think a black lid would have absorbed more light.
2. While I can throw together a muffin recipe without actually using a recipe - just been doing it long enough I'm used to it - I don't think I got the ratio of ingredients quite right since solar baking involves more moisture during the baking process. Something to work on.
3. Weather.  Granted it was mostly sunny out (there were some clouds), but we also had high winds - in the 20-30mph range.  The solar oven, even with the TR-86 Reflector, had trouble keeping the temps up enough for baking.  It was at about 180F, which will cook your roasts fine if you cook them all day, but trying to bake in the winter, well, not so much.  I ended up scooping out the batter into a muffin tin and finishing it in my gas oven.
I tried to put in some halved acorn squash in the black pots after I gave up on the cake but again, with the high winds, there was not enough warmth and certainly not enough direct sunlight time to get the squash more than lukewarm. 
Seeing what the temps and weather conditions needed to be for successful winter solar cooking, and the time frame we actually have direct sunlight in the backyard - I decided not to try a roast - there just wouldn't be enough time of direct sunlight - not yet.  Soon though . . . another few weeks or so and the sun will be much higher in the sky and I can get back to it.  (As a side note, we are moving to the country this year (building a house) and out at our new property - I won't have to worry about having enough direct sunlight because we aren't surrounded by buildings - plenty of open space to soak up all the sun's rays, all day long.)
The last test I did with the TR-86 Reflector, was chocolate chip cookies (almond flour based).  I knew with the moisture content inside the solar oven the cookies would turn out chewy and soft.  Not crispy, like my husband likes them.  Haha, more for me!
I didn't have a cookie sheet small enough to fit inside the solar oven so I just used the pots (uncovered) it came with. I was able to fit 14 cookies inside the two 10" pots.
Now, our crazy weather had changed enough in the last couple of weeks - we went from frigid temps to, well, nice out. But this gives me an idea on how well the new reflectors perform in warmer temps.

You can see the snow's already melted, that's how nice it was out - in the 40-50F range. 

The cookies really didn't take too long to bake, about 90 minutes. With the combination of the outside weather and the new reflectors, the solar oven temp reached about 275F.  The cookies turned out awesome. Chewy, delicious, perfect, and best of all, I didn't have to share!


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