Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Energy-efficient cooking

I wrote a while ago about our Braun food processor, and dad mentioned how it helped him and mum economise when they were students by making mince out of cheap cuts of meat. That got me thinking about the ways Ed and I economised when we were students. A big part of it was being energy efficient whilst cooking, so I made a list of things we did:
  • Put lids on pans. Food cooks quicker and often you can turn the ring down
  • Use the smallest ring possible, and turn the heat as low as possible. Gas flickering up around the sides of your pan is wasteful (and liable to set your handles on fire)
  • Put steamers on top of pans so your veggies and rice are all cooking on just one ring
  • Turn off the heat under the pan a few minutes before end of cooking time. For example we learned how to cook rice using 2/3 of the electricity by boiling it (in twice its own volume of water) with a lid on for 10 minutes, then turning off the ring and just leave it sitting for a further 10 minutes. It cooks perfectly
  • You can also often turn the oven off before the end of the cooking time and leave the door closed. This can be disastrous with sponge cakes or souffles, though, which may collapse
  • Mum bought us a pressure cooker, which meant we could cook dried beans (a staple for us then and now) in a fraction of the time
  • One student flat we rented had a split oven. We found we hardly ever needed to use the larger oven, most things could be done in the small oven, saving energy. When we replaced our own cooker recently I made sure to get one with a split oven
  • We also tried to cook more than one thing in the oven, for example whilst our roast stuffed butternut squash was cooking for dinner, a pie or sponge pudding was also baking for dessert
  • Microwave ovens use less energy than conventional cooking but the end result isn't always exactly the same. We learned a few tricks such as pre-cooking things in the microwave then finishing them off in the oven. Baked potatoes for example are just as delicious if you microwave them until they are 3/4 done, then stick them in a maximum heat oven for the last 15-20 minutes to crisp up the skin
  • One-pot meals obviously save energy. We liked casseroles with beans and vegetables and dumplings, and we also ate a lot of pasta dishes cooked this way
  • I've read that slow cookers are very efficient, but they seem more suited to meat-based meals than the vegetarian food our family usually eats, so I don't have one
I still do some of those things, but now we're not so hard-up I have got out of the habit of doing them all the time. I'll try to use our steamer and pressure cookers more often, and also make sure the oven is full whenever possible.


Steph in Roker said...

Hiya, another idea is to batch cook stuff. We make our own meatballs & special tomato gloop, which we cook in quantitly then freeze to re-heatanother day. Buying ingredients in bulk can save money and it's cheaper to bake 45 meatballs in the oven at once then re-heat, for example, than to bake 3 separate lots.
The other thing we'd do is bake meatloaf and eat it hot with veg, spuds & gravy, then we'd eat it cold the next day in a sandwich, or cold with salad and pickles.
I love flylady's 'rubber chicken' idea too.

Hedgewizard said...

All good common sense stuff Mel, but still useful to read over in case you've missed a trick. The rice thing frankly hadn't occurred to me - I'll give that a try next time I cook some.

Can't agree with the slow cooker thing though - it does our "Voodoo roots" dish perfectly! (Carrots, parsnips, swede, dried "black magic" runner beans, pearl barley, thyme, bay leaves, stout)

Wait... rubber chicken? (Searches)

Wulf said...

I concur with the Hedge... slow cookers work great with or without the addition of meat for an recipe that requires a long slow simmer.

Lesley said...

I certainly still do all of that, Mel. I steam veges over boiling spuds and the resulting liquid in the bottom pan becomes the basis of tomorrow's soup with the addition of unserved or extra veg, and / or meat or chicken, (and various herbs from the garden) and either wizzed with a hand blender or left chunky.
The soup then simmers in the slow cooker whilst we go off to do our voluntary work each morning
We are such fans of slow cookers that we actually own two! They are SO economical and I've now managed to convert my daughter in law to using one as well.

Melanie Rimmer said...

I think I'll have to get one, then. I could do curry or chilli in it, or casserole with dumplings. I've just found loads of vegetable suet lurking in the back of a cupboard so I think I need to make some dumplings to use it all up.

kethry said...

rubber chicken = roast chicken one day. something with the left over bits the next day. e.g. curry. making a stock and then a soup the third day. rubber as in.. making it stretch. :)

I've cooked rubber mince before now, that is, making a small amount of mince stretch, not a comment on the quality of my cooking! I've learned that boiling up 4oz of green lentils for 10 minutes, draining then chucking in the pan right after the mince has been browned bulks any meat right out by double (sometimes more) and is better for you. I also add lots and lots of vegetables, then make different things. for example, last sunday i made a batch of mince this way with a small bag of mince, maybe a handful of mince in size. Some of it went to make a cottage pie like dish (a variant on it with sauerkraut and smoked sausage that i learned from my OH's mother who is dutch), some of it went to make a beef curry. In this way i made that handful of mince feed us for 3 nights.

regarding the microwave, there are some foods that can be done in the microwave completely. i have a recipe for microwave sponge - 2oz butter, 2 oz sugar, creamed, add a beaten egg, milk, flavouring and 4 oz flour (bit at a time in the victoria sponge method), put into a pudding basin with the lid on top and nuked for around 4 minutes. just enough time for me to make custard. I can vary this with different flavourings - a lemon one with lemon essence in the sponge and lemon curd at the bottom a la syrup sponge, jam sponge, syrup sponge, spotted harry (what OH calls spotted dick) - if i do this i add mixed spice and use dark brown sugar as it gives oodles more flavour, as well as the sultanas. this way i can make a pud in as little as 15 minutes, and for pennies less than those boil-in-the-tin ones, or even store made readymeal ones. probably taste better too.


Anonymous said...

The best investment for great food & energy efficiency I have found is the Thermomix, made by Vorwerk. It seems like a pricey outlay at first but it will pay itself in a year with all the money you save at the supermarket. I grind my own wholewheat & make bread in it, as well as risottos, poasta, mince meat, make desserts, make fresh sorbet & ice-cream,juice, almond meal, rice milk, butter, peanut butter, make vegetable stock, steam your dinner, the list does go on...there are few things you can't make with it and it takes considerably less time, less packging of food....Another beautiful benefit I have found from having the Thermomix is that I have complete control over what I allow my family to eat, no additives, no nasty hidden chemicals & carcinogens which are allowed to go undetected by the current Australian labelling. It is the best move you could make for your family's health & for the health of the planet.
By the way I can make my own bread from whole wheat and no I am not a great cook....in fact I still don't even know how to boil an egg, but the food I can make in it you would think I was a supurb cook. I reccomend everyone to at least attend a demo & see what I am talking about.

Every home should deifinately have one...not just ones with kids.

From a very satisfied & happy Thermomix owner

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