Part of frugal cooking is being frugal with your ingredient choices and where and how you shop. But another important component is how you cook and prepare your food.
Different cooking methods use different amounts of energy. Often, we don’t have a choice, in that we cook with gas or electric because it is what is installed in our house. But we can choose to cook more efficiently, and thus more frugally, using the resources available to us and and a few simple hacks.
If you have a large oven, you might want to consider using a small countertop oven for most of your daily needs. We don’t have a built in oven in our house, due to lack of space in our very small kitchen and so we’ve been using a countertop oven for the past six years. It works very well, and is more efficient than a traditional oven unit, because it has to heat less space. If you have two oven racks you will still be able to cook two different dishes in it at the same time. Convection ovens are also very efficient, although they can dry food out if you aren’t careful.
When you do use your oven, there is no need to preheat it. It only takes a few minutes for the oven to reach its cooking temperature, and you will be able to shorten the cooking time. Consider planning a baking day, like they used to in the past, when you bake many different things in a row; using your oven longer, but more efficiently. If you bake dishes in a heavy ceramic, cast iron or glass dish, you can lower the cooking temperature by 25°.
A frugal tip for cooking pasta is to turn off the heat and cover the pot after adding the pasta to boiling water. The pasta will cook even though the water is not at a boil, although it will take longer. This tip works for many dishes- turn off the heat a minute or two before it should finish cooking and, especially on an electric burner, the residual heat from the burner will continue to cook your food.
A frugal tip for cooking rice is to make rice pilaf. In a heavy pot with a lid, saute the uncooked rice in olive oil, stirring often. When the grains of rice become translucent, add enough boiling water to cover, and bring the rice and water to a rolling boil, stirring continuously (it won’t take long). Turn off the heat and cover the pot; let it sit for about 30 minutes. Your rice should be perfectly done.
Whatever you are cooking, don’t forget to cover the pot or pan! You will be able to cook the food on a lower setting, using less energy. When I use my crockpot, I cover the lid with a few heavy kitchen towels– I notice that this speeds up the cooking time enormously. A word of caution however- don’t leave the house when doing this! Frugal cooking methods are well and good, but not if they burn your house down.
One of the most frugal cooking methods is to use a solar oven. I’ve never done so, because I don’t have enough outside room. But one of my frugal cohorts from the Frugal Blog Network, Frugal Babe, has been using her solar oven for some time now, and loving it. The most frugal methods of cooking food is to not cook it at all… the raw food movement. While I love salads and fresh fruits and vegetables, I have to admit that I haven’t ventured much further into the realm of raw food than that.
This list is by no means exhaustive, and there are many comparisons of different cooking methods to be made. So I’ll start out by asking you: how do you cook frugally?