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Category Archives: The Battle for Fuel

Two quick ways to save on the stove

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Here are two related ways to save energy while you’re cooking on the stove, which is where a lot of the energy is used in my kitchen.

This first one comes from a Homefront pamphlet, and I was able to start doing it immediately, with visible results. Once something has started to boil (rice? potatoes? quinoa?), turn down the burner to as low as possible. The pot will usually keep right on boiling, and most grains actually respond better to lower boiling temperatures.

I can’t remember where the second tip came from, but it takes some practice to implement. In the last stages of cooking, turn off the burner. This works best if you cook with lids on, and is the only solution to not overcooking GF noodles. The pots and pans retain enough heat to finish off the last few minutes of cooking (say three ish, maybe five?), unless you are trying to do something specific, like caramelize. As an example, when I flip the last batch of pancakes on to the uncooked side, I turn off my burner. The pancakes finish off on their own from the residual heat, and I’ve save myself a bit of gas. This also works very well with pots of boiling grain and vegetables, as long as the lid is on.

I can’t tell you exactly how much energy would be saved by following these two tips, but every little bit helps, right?

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Mission accomplished

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I wrote earlier about my campaign to keep the heating off until the beginning of November, and I am pleased to say that we were able to do it, mostly.  After we came home last night, we turned it on to warm the house up slightly, just to take that unlived-in feeling out of it, but we’ll see today how much we actually need to heat. 

It helps that it was quite a lot colder in Slovakia than in London, so we came back feeling like we had landed in the tropics.  On the other hand, Husband’s parents rely quite heavily on a massive fireplace to heat the house, and we all got used to warming up in front of it.  It would be so nice to have a fireplace to take the nip out of those dreary London winter days…

But back to the point, just because we’ve got the heating turned on doesn’t mean that we’re going to be walking around in shorts.  We still have the problem of high tariffs, so we’ll keep the heat on short and low, using the same little tricks we did before we turned the heat on.  If the weather stays mild, we might not have to keep it on much at all (fingers crossed).

We’ll have to see how it goes…

Hands off the heater!!!

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I’ve been on a secret mission, and I haven’t wanted to tell anyone in my family – I am refusing to turn on the heating until after Nov 1.  Ssh, don’t let them know…

Luckily, the weather has been cooperating, mostly, and we’re away on holiday at the end of the month.  Last year’s heating bill was so outrageously high that we have just this month finished paying it off.  To top that off, our energy tariffs have also gone up this year.  Our budget has been squeezed to the max recently, and I honestly don’t know where more money is going to come from.  So, the heating stays off until after Nov 1.

But how to stay warm…

1. Sweaters, socks, and long sleeves.  Repeat.

2. Lots of hot tea, black or herbal, doesn’t matter

3. Hot chocolate, even for the adults

4. Big blankets for sitting around in the evening and early morning

5. Shutting the blinds as soon as the sun starts to go down

6. Closing off rooms (this really helps)

7. If absolutely necessary, turning on one of our portable radiators for 15 minutes to take the frost out of the morning

I wish our landlord would insulate the loft and cavity walls, which would significantly help, but it doesn’t look like it’s going to happen, even if we paid for it.  Still, you make do with what you have and hope that the really dreary cold rain holds off until November…

Preparing and freezing beans

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I cook bean dishes at least three times a week, which means that we go through a lot of beans.  (Aren’t beans and rice the ultimate GF pair?)  I would be broke if I bought all of my beans in cans/tins, so I buy my beans dry in 2 kilo bags.  I do like the convenience of having beans ready whenever I need them, so I’ve developed a way making dry beans more convenient. 

I take about one afternoon every two weeks, when I know I am going to be home, to prepare beans and freeze them.  I start by soaking about 1 lb/ 500 g of beans overnight, then I rinse them and put them in my pressure cooker.  I cover them with cold, unsalted water, secure the top, and boil them gently for less than an hour.  When the beans are done, then I just drain them in a colander, dump them into a freezer bag, and put them in the freezer.  Sometimes the beans do freeze together in the bag, but I just take my meat mallet and smack the bag a few times to break them up.

Now, when I need beans, I just open the freezer bag and measure one heaping cup for every tin of beans in the recipe.  I don’t even bother thawing out the beans, unless they are going into an uncooked dish.  This is much more convenient than tinned beans, which have to be opened, drained, rinsed, and drained again.  It is also much cheaper, as I can get a 2 kilo bag of beans (about five pounds) for what it would cost me for four tins of beans.  Finally, it saves both time and energy, since I am not cooking beans every time I need them. 

Does anyone else have any bean preparation tricks?

Meat and cabbage casserole

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I know the name sounds a bit odd, but this is one of our favorite fall/winter meals.  It cooks up nicely, uses rice as a meat extender, and stores well should anything be left over.  Though not technically a Home Front recipe, because it’s actually a Slovak dish, it still has many of the same characteristics of an MoF recipes.

Start by washing and draining a jar of sauerkraut so that it is ready.  You can use up to two jars worth if you want, but I recommend starting with one jar until you see how the whole casserole tastes.  While you are prepping, you might as well grease a 9 x 13 Pyrex dish, since your hands are going to be messy later.  Take half of the sauertkraut and layer it evenly on the bottom of the dish.

For the filling, you will need 2-3 cups of cooked brown rice, depending on how meaty you want the final dish to be.  Mix in one grated onion, 2 tsp of paprika, 2 tsp of caraway seeds, 2 tsp of marjoram, and salt, pepper, and garlic powder to taste.  Dump in 1 lb/ 500 g of raw ground meat and two eggs to bind.  Using your hands, massage and squish everything together until well-incorporated.  While your hands are messy, layer the whole of the meat mixture on top of the sauerkraut already in the Pyrex.  Then layer the remaing sauerkraut on top of the meat mixture, making sure it is completely covered so the dish stays moist.  Sprinkle more paprika on top to make it look pretty.

Cover with foil and bake in a medium oven for about thirty minutes.  Uncover, and bake another fifteen minutes until the top browns a bit and gets crunchy.  Serve hot, with sour cream if you fancy.

This is an excellent dish to make for oven sharing.  Because it can stand up to some abuse, you can bake it at whatever medium temperature the other dish(es) need.

Simple, always-ready dessert

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Imagine being able to come up with dessert, right like that, with no sweat and no oven.  This is exactly the purpose that my fruit bowl serves.  It stays out on the table, never in the fridge, so that it is always there for anyone who wants to grab something.  I wash the fruit before I put it in, so even Daughter can grab something when she wants it.  Any fruit that might be past its prime gets turned into a baked dessert, but I rarely have this problem. 

There is, however, a trick to this.  You cannot just fill it up with the same kind of fruit over and over again or the standard oranges, apples, and bananas.  Instead, I will only fill the fruit bowl with fruit that is locally-grown and in season.  Part of this is the principle of the matter, but what we’ve noticed is that we are much more enthusiastic for fruit in-season.  Lately, we’ve been gorging ourselves on plums, mostly Victoria and Marjorie.  They taste fantastic and are a perfect complement to the cooling weather.  Earlier in the summer we were eating apricots and soft fruits.  I suspect, we’ll be eating apples and pears well into the autumn. 

I have only been doing this since the spring, so I am not so sure that it will work as well in the winter.  However, in the winter, I plan on buying citrus fruit grown in Southern Europe and any British apples that might be left aournd.  In perfect complement to this, most of the locally-grown vegetables are rich in vitamins, which means that fruit isn’t as necessary, as long as you are eating the correct number of servings.

This is exactly the way that most Britons had to buy produce during the War, since so little could be imported due to the bombing of merchant shipping lines.  Amazingly, eating fruit this way also doesn’t feel like much of a sacrifice.  Once in a while, bananas will appear on the table, but for the most part, the best tasting and cheapest fruits are those produced here and in-season, and those are the ones that we look forward to.

Breakfast pudding

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I am one of those weird people who is always picking through the reduced bin at the grocer.  Particularly, I look for crushed or soon to be stale GF bread, which I freeze for a rainy day.  Actually, I freeze it so that I can make bread pudding sometime when I have nothing else for breakfast and the oven is going to be on the night before.  I bake the bread pudding in the bottom of the oven and leave it there overnight.  In the morning, I just turn the oven back on for ten minutes to warm the bread pudding, and, voila, hot GF breakfast.

The recipe I use is based on one of Miss Maggie’s recipes here, but I can’t leave well enough alone.  Here is what I actually do –

Beat together 2 c of milk or coconut milk with 3 eggs in a big bowl.  Add in 1/3 c brown sugar, along with some cinnamon and whatever else goes with your other flavorings.  Beat together until thoroughly combined.  Tear GF bread (frozen or thawed, it doesn’t matter) into the bowl and let soak for a few minutes.  Dump into a greased 8 x 8 dish or pie dish and bake at the bottom of the oven with whatever else you’re baking, at that temperature.  Warm in the morning in a medium oven for about ten minutes

The fun part about this is that you can let your imagination run wild.  For instance, you can add in jam or mashed bananas with the other wet ingredients.  You can also add in raisins, or any other dried fruit.  We will also mix in shredded coconut, apple chunks, or even pear sometimes.  I just make sure that it has some fruit and fiber in it, to make it filling enough for breakfast.  I’ve even put leftover compote on top and baked until crispy.  The only thing to keep in mind is the sweetness of it all, i.e. if you are going to add in something sweet, then reduce the brown sugar slightly.