Tuesday, February 28, 2006

The Souffle That Went Into the Cold -- Cook Up Some Energy Savings

Baby it’s cold outside and the gas and electric meters are humming. We all look for ways keep down our energy bills and help the environment by conserving, but have you thought about ways to save while you cook? (Pacific Gas and Electric customers see the notes section below for information on how saving energy in the kitchen can help you earn you a rebate.)

A lifetime and two kids ago I was a spokeswoman for a major utility. One of my favorite parts of the job was promoting energy conservation cooking. I worked closely with the conservation specialists in the test kitchen to cook up and promote ways to trim electric and natural gas costs. True, covering your pot won’t save you as much as replacing inefficient appliances, turning down the heat, insulating your home, wrapping your hot water heater and getting your kids to turn off the lights, computer, television, stereo system and Playstation, but every little bit helps. Even just saving a quarter a day on energy in the kitchen can result in yearly savings of more than $90 a year. Trust me I have the proof these tips make a difference, I just am too lazy to go up in the attic and get down my old press releases to quote you the numbers, so here are some basics to start with.

Don’t preheat your oven – most things will only take a few more minutes to cook if you don’t preheat your oven. Put that casserole in a cold oven and take advantage of all the preheating time and energy. The home economists I worked with once even put a soufflé into the cold. It worked just fine.

If you are using the oven, use it – You are already paying for all that energy anyway, so why turn on your stove top and burn money there, too? Make a whole meal in your oven, or most of it anyway. Roast vegetables and potatoes to go along with that chicken. Make a dessert in there, too. Baked apples filled with raisins and granola and drizzled with maple syrup, maybe? Or cook several meals at once to take advantage of all that hot, hot heat – who says a veggie lasagna and a ginger-garlic-hoisin roast beef can’t get along.

Grill friend – All those little kitchen helper appliances could be your worst enemies or your best energy saving friends. You just need to use to match them to the job. Use them in place of other cooking resources not in addition to. If your countertop grill saves you from having to preheat your range’s broiler, that’s great. But if you have the oven on anyway, maybe you should bake that chicken breast instead of grilling it to save some cash.

Home on the range (top) – Work those burners. If you are using your range top or stove top, make the whole meal “on top.” Consider using a multilevel steamer. Boiling water on the bottom, your main course in the middle and some tasty vegetables up top. Don’t forget to use the lid. Putting a lid on it is a good idea. Water will boil faster if you can’t see it. Honest. Another tip only put enough water in the tea kettle for what you need at the time. I know some people who fill it up to the whistle every time. It takes forever to come to a boil and tea really needs fresh water every time to taste its best, anyway. A personal favorite of mine is to use a pressure cooker. Pressure cookers create wonderful stews and soups in a fraction of the time but with that slow cooked flavor and texture.

Magic Box – Microwave use has doubled since I last preached energy conservation in the kitchen, which is great, since it is one of the most efficient appliances in our kitchen arsenal, especially if you work it right. It’s great for one potato, two. But a family’s worth are better being cooked in the oven with yesterday’s dinner and just warmed in the microwave. Planning ahead to have “leftovers” or “pre cooks” not only saves energy, but your time.

I know there are other tips and tricks and I promise to eventually lug the ladder up the stairs and climb into the attic and see what my old files have to offer, but I thought this would at least get you thinking about ways to save energy in your kitchen.

Have an energy conservation cooking tip to share? Please post a comment below. Need a souffle recipe to give the "cold shoulder?" Check out this recipe in the archives.
Notes and Resources

An aside and added incentive to customers of Pacific Gas and Electric Company (northern and central California), if you can trim your natural gas costs by 10 percent between January 1 through March 31st, you will receive a 20 percent credit on your April or May bill. More information at

PG&E customers can also see how much energy using different appliances can save by clicking on its
appliance usage calculator.

Check with your local utility to see if they have anything similar you can use. The
Alliance for Safe Energy has lots of energy conservation tips and links if your utility doesn’t.

Photo credit: www.vikingrange.com

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