Developing Sensible Habits in the Kitchen

If you like to cook, spending time in the kitchen is a joy. In cold weather, the room is warm and cozy, with something good in the oven or simmering on the back burner releasing a heady, comforting aroma. In the summer, colorful vegetables and fruit fill bowls and baskets, and just thinking about preparing them is enough to make our mouths water and our creativity percolate.

With the refrigerator humming or the oven blasting heat, and water running freely in the sink, it’s easy to see how the act of cooking can ratchet up utility bills and sabotage our good intentions. It does not have to be this way if we take a few commonsense measures.

  • Use leftovers. Somehow, leftovers have gotten a bad rap. They are considered second-class citizens instead of opportunities for the broad-minded, inspired cook. Less energy is required to reheat leftovers than to cook something new from scratch, and often leftovers need no reheating at all. I love to spread the celery root puree on page 21o on bread to moisten sandwiches, and I use leftover pork chops to make hash. Soups are a great way to use leftover vegetables, which also can be tossed with pasta or grains for a simple meal. Use your imagination and turn leftovers into treasures.
  • Use the stove correctly. If your stove requires preheating, know how long it takes to reach a desired temperature. If a recipe says to “preheat the oven to 350⁰ F,” don’t turn the oven on until you are ready. I try to put the preheat instructions in a sensible place in the recipe, but you may not work as quickly as I do, or your oven may heat up in 5 minutes while mine takes 15. Be aware. Don’t leave the burners on when you are not using them. Be conscious of the heat intensity needed for a cooking method, and turn the heat up or down accordingly. When you cook anything that needs to be brought to a simmer, put the lid on the pot (unless specifically instructed not to). This speeds up the process and saves energy.
  • Plan to cook what you buy. How often have you found wilted herbs, flabby broccoli, or mushy apples in the refrigerator? Or how about chicken parts coated with frost and freezer burned in the back of the freezer? Remember what’s in there, or post a list if you need a reminder. Have a plan and stick to it. Eat what you buy soon after purchase, or freeze it and keep a log so that you eat from the freezer with a sensible strategy.
  • Use water wisely. Fill the sink when you clean vegetables rather than running them under cold water. When cooking, fill the sink or plastic tub with just enough warm, soapy water to cover used cooking utensils. When done, all you need to do is rinse and let them dry.