If "eco-friendly cooking" makes you think solar ovens or a costly kitchen overhaul, then it's time to revamp the way you think about your cooking routine. Physics, chemistry, and common sense are the main ingredients in good green cuisine. We've put together a list of ten little changes that can go a long way toward saving energy and money in the kitchen, plus a handful of recipes that let you test and taste for yourself just how easy Earth-friendly cooking can be.
1. Choose energy-efficient cookware.
Fast, even heat conduction saves energy and yields tastier results. Cast iron, stainless steel, and copper pans are the best stove-top options, along with time-saving stainless steel pressure cookers. And switch to glass, ceramic, or silicone baking pans and molds, which allow you to reduce oven temperatures by 25°F to 30°F.
2. Downsize to a smaller appliance.
Got a 9-inch square pan of brownies or just a couple of potatoes to bake? Turn to your toaster oven, which uses up to half as much energy as a conventional oven. A slow cooker is another option that can cut energy use.
3. Multitask in the oven.
Based on average utility rates, running an electric oven at 350°F costs about 24 cents per hour; natural gas ovens at that temperature run about 9 cents an hour. Make the most of the energy by using both oven racks at the same time to bake, roast, and/or warm foods.
4. Use the right burner.
A 6-inch pot over an 8-inch burner will waste over 40 percent of the heat generated. "Large burners should be used only for pots big enough to cover the burner, otherwise you're wasting all the heat that rises up around the pot," explains Birney Summers, an energy conservation engineer who blogs at energyboomer.typepad.com If you have a late-model oven, read the manual to find out which burner is designed for high heat and which one is for simmering.
5. Spread things out.
What cook hasn't tried to warm soup in a small saucepan, only to have soup that's scorched around the sides and cold in the center? "When you spread food in a thin layer, it heats up faster and more evenly," advises Summers. This "spread-thin" technique works for baking too: banana bread can take 40 to 50 minutes to bake, but the same batter poured into 12 muffin cups requires only 20 to 25 minutes.
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6. Resist the urge to open the oven door.
Every time you open that door, oven heat drops by 25°F, which forces the appliance to work harder and can affect recipe results. Turn on the light, look through the window, and leave the door shut until you're ready to remove the food.
7. Take it outside.
As the weather warms up, you want to keep your kitchen cool so that air-conditioning and ventilation units don't have to do extra work. In addition to planning meals on the grill, Summers plugs in his slow cooker on the porch, and recommends cooling foods in a protected outdoor area. "It's the same idea as putting pies on a windowsill to cool. It keeps heat and humidity out of the house," he says.
8. Finish with residual heat.
The next time you fix scrambled eggs or tofu, turn off the burner just before your scramble is set. The residual heat of the burner and the pan will finish the cooking, and you'll save a few minutes of energy use. Michael Leviton, a Boston-area chef, uses residual heat in the oven as wellto finish root vegetables, potatoes, biscuits, and pound cakes.
9. Make more leftovers.
Double a recipe and save half for a future meal. The larger batch lets you capitalize on heat you're already using, and reheating the second time around requires just a fraction of the energy needed to start from scratch.
10. Go raw.
Magdiale Wolmark of Dragonfly neo-v, a former vegan restaurant in Columbus, Ohio, suggests raw cuisine techniques that "cook" ingredients to make them more palatable. Marinate mushrooms to soften and season them, and soak sun-dried tomatoes and seaweed to rehydrate them for dishes that have a taste and texture similar to cooked recipes.