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Ontario, Canada
I am a wife, mother and grandma who enjoys the many aspects of homemaking. A variety of interests and hobbies combined with travel keep me active. They reflect the importance of family, friends, home and good food.
Cook ingredients that you are used to cooking by other techniques, such as fish, chicken, or hamburgers. In other words be comfortable with the ingredients you are using.
--Bobby Flay

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Monday, April 20, 2009

Frugal Kitchens 101 - The Stove

My apologies for a later post today.

Frugal Kitchens 101

Earth Day will be celebrated this Wednesday (April 22, 2009). In keeping with that theme I will discuss the stove and ways you can save. Simply cooking from scratch at home can save you a considerable amount of money. However, using your stove in an effective eco-friendly manner can save you more money in terms of energy usage. The key ways in which a stove can be used to save money are: fuel usage, stove design, repairs/maintenance, cleaning, cooking and/or baking.

  1. Fuel:

    In general there are four fuel sources for kitchen stoves: wood, natural gas, propane and electricity. Each fuel choice has both pros and cons. Wood and electricity in particular can be from sustainable resources making an eco-friendly choice over natural gas and propane. In many cases you may or may not have a choice in what fuel you can use. The choice may be restricted by availability and/or kitchen design. If you have use the least expensive fuel possible. For example our kitchen is setup to use either natural gas or electricity. Natural gas has the pro of being able to quickly adjust the burner temperature but it is only about 40% as efficient as electric burners. Electricity in our area is currently less expensive than natural gas, is a more efficient fuel for stovetop cooking and is a renewable resource so for us electricity is the eco-friendly choice.

  2. Stove Design:

    Some stove designs by default are more energy efficient than others. The current rage is smoothtop stoves. Some of these have dual size elements in one giving greater versatility. In general the smoothtop stoves are more energy efficient than coil burners. If you use large stock pots or do a lot of canning you will have to check with the manufacturer with respect to weight and size issue that has the potential to damage the stovetop. Another problem is the newer radiant elements cycle creating a problem when trying to keep a pressure cooker or canner at pressure. Electric ovens are more expensive to operate than natural gas (20¢ vs 18¢ per hour) but electric ovens give better results than natural gas according to professional chefs. Ideally the best designed eco-friendly stove would be dual fuel with the ability to change some features as desired or even have a combination of features built-in.

    Our stove is a Jenn-Air® that is quite customizable so I have the benefits of using coil for heavy duty cooking, smoothtop energy saving radiant burners for normal cooking. In hindsight we should have bought the stove as dual fuel. However being able to pick and choose the most efficient burners to use is a real plus. Look for similar options when buying a stove so you customize to your needs.

  3. Repairs:

    A kitchen stove represents a larger dollar outlay and some stoves can be quite costly so when buying a stove you really do have to be concerned about potential repairs.
    A well maintained stove should have a lifespan of at least 20 years. Choose a reputable manufacturer that will service the stove for parts for at least 10 years. Some manufacturers have used parts that really are only minor to repair but are no longer produced because the sub-manufacturer went out of business. What this means to use as a consumer if the main manufacturer did not have the foresight to stock a part that either later proves to be problematic or easily breaks then you may be out. If the part becomes obsolete pre-maturely and there is no substitute it means your beautiful appliance ends up in a landfill which is not eco-friendly. So do your homework before buying.

    There are now several online sites specializing in regular parts for larger household appliances as well a some of the more difficult parts. In some cases there may be some common repair parts you will want to buy to have on hand just in case. This really depends on your stove and whether the repair is a DIY. In the case of our stove, repair parts are readily available and we do have a couple of common parts on hand. What I like about our stove is most of the repairs are DIY saving those costly service calls. Again, do your homework before buying your stove.

  4. Cleaning:

    Keeping your stove clean is one easy way to improve it's energy efficiency. Dirty drip trays, dirty burners and dirty ovens cost you money! It also reduces the risks for flash fires so keeping your stove clean is really a safety issue too. Spills should be wiped up as the occur being careful not to touch the hot burner that could cause you to burn yourself or the cloth to catch fire. Once the element is fully cooled, wipe down coil burners using a solution of ammonia and hot water that will remove any grease from the burner. Do the same thing for natural gas or propane stoves on the burner and raised burner grate. If your stove has a grill unit, it can be washed with the same solution. Drip pans are designed not only to catch drips but also reflect heat back up towards your pan increasing the energy efficiency. They should be kept clean to function as they should. Drip pans should be washed with the same ammonia solution if lightly soiled. If there has been an overflow, clean up the drip pan before it has a chance to burn. Note: Do not use aluminum foil or foil drip tray liners. Both can create problems with your stove and in some cases present a fire hazard. Do not use an ammonia solution on smoothtop ranges. Use mild detergent and water or for deeper cleaning use a razor blade to remove burnt on food and a non-abrasive cleanser meant for smoothtop ranges. Manufacturers usually recommend one or more brands. Some are more expensive than others so do shop around, buy on sale and use sparingly.

    Ovens present a special case. To work efficiently and prevent flash fires ovens must be kept clean! Wipe up any spills after using the oven. This keeps major cleaning to a minimum. Ideally you should clean your oven thoroughly on a monthly basis depending on usage. Did you know that using the self cleaning feature on your stove is actually cheaper and more eco-friendly than using chemical oven cleaners? Well, it is! Oven cleaners use harsh chemicals that pollute your indoor air quality and put toxic chemicals into landfills. These fumes can affect those with breathing problems as well as pets. Aerosol containers of oven spray are even worse!

    One aerosol can of oven cleaner will cost about $5 for one cleaning. It will pollute your indoor air and add to the landfill. Running the self-clean cycle 3 hr will cost you about $1 depending on your electricity rates. It doesn't pollute your indoor air, it doesn't add to the landfill and the electricity is renewable.

  5. Cooking:

    This is one of the most effective ways to save energy. It goes without saying to use lids while cooking and to use the right size burner. We've been told both over and over! Both do save money but you can do a lot more. Use good stainless steel cooking vessels with with heavy core bottoms and tight fitting lids. Choose cooking vessels with flat bottoms for best heat conduction.

    Choose an eco-friendly cooking method! Reduce the temperature to just the point that gives you the desired results. Boiling vegetables even potatoes takes considerably more energy than steaming them and steaming gives better results! Use a pressure cooker. A one pot meal in a slow cooker will take 6 - 8 hrs, one in the oven will take 3 hours BUT the same meal cooked in a pressure cooker on the stovetop will take 40 minutes. The pressure cooker will save you both time and money! If using radiant burners, turn them off about 5 minutes or so before the food is finished cooking. They take awhile to cool down so use the residual heat to continue cooking without it costing you anything. Don't overcook foods! Not only does it waste electricity it can render the food unappetizing as well or worse you burn it and toss it which is a total waste on so many levels.

    All the rules for cooking with electricity apply to using natural gas. Natural gas is less efficient than electricity so make sure the burner is turned up only high enough to slightly under the diameter of the pot. Turn burner off immediately. In areas where there are spiders always check for spider webs if the burner hasn't been used for awhile. Clean the burner orifice occasionally with a pipe cleaner to remove any residues.

  6. Baking/Roasting:

    I really should have put this under using the oven. A very common tendency is to use the oven to bake one or two smaller items when in fact something else could be cooking at the same time using the same energy. The extra food can always be packaged up to use as quick starts. For example if you are baking 4 potatoes for dinner, bake an extra 4 to be used for either twice baked potatoes or baked potato soup. Stagger baked foods to take advantage of the pre-heated oven so as one dish is coming out another is going in. For example say you are having homemade bread and lasagne for dinner. Bake the bread first then pop the lasagne in the oven. Just before serve put the bread back into the oven to warm. If your oven is convection use it for longer baked foods and reduce the temperature by 25ºF. Again do not over bake or roast. Use a meat thermometer to be sure meats are cooked to a safe temperature yet not over cooked.

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