The Badass Cookery Class: A Beginners Guide
Frugal Food Friday is back with a vengeance in 2014 and I’ll be making it a weekly feature, but before I start to post some more recipes a thought had occurred to me back while I was talking about how to cut down your shopping bill. The most effective, yet toughest to implement tip in that article was no doubt the “learn how to cook” one, especially if you are starting from a base of little to no skill in this area. You might just be starting out in adult life, you might be a take away junkie or restaurant frequenter, or you might just be one of the “Oh I simply don’t have time for that” gang, but whatever your excuse, if you read this guide; an excuse you will have no more. I still remember the days when I couldn’t cut up a carrot properly; one great thing about cooking is that chopping technique is almost completely uncorrelated to how tasty your creation will be, and also let’s not forget that practice makes perfect, so get in the bloody kitchen and make me some supper!
I’ve focused these tips on making your kitchen as efficient as possible so you can save yourself time, energy, money and waste less food. Some are designed to help beginner chefs eased into the kitchen life with minimal fuss, some are great time savers for the don’t have time gang, and some might just be things that experienced cooks of many years may never have even thought of. I would like to thank Mother TFS for teaching me how to cook from a young age, a lot of these are from her but some of the more efficiency based stuff I’ve cobbled together myself over the last 12 months of lifestyle optimisation. Enough waffle(s)… Get ready to take the badass cookery class!
It’s a marathon not a sprint
Buy a slow cooker! Both a time and energy saver, this could be the best £20 investment you ever made (or get a second hand one, I bet there will be a load of practically unused ones on ebay/craigslist/freecycle in a couple of weeks). You can cook melt in your mouth stews, casseroles and joints of meat (think pulled pork and beef brisket!) and all you have to do is chuck it all in there and go out for the day. The slow cooker does all the heavy lifting for you and has a real knack for making meat taste mega yummy. It uses the same energy as the average light bulb, so you can leave a joint in for 8 hours and it will still use less electricity than your oven does in 2 hours. Get one, invite your mates round, and bask in the praise emanating from their satisfied little taste bud filled mouths.
Buy a pressure cooker
Get a pressure cooker! I haven’t bought one yet but it is something I might consider in the future. You can cook things such as rice, beans, and lentils in half the time and using one quarter of the gas (you can turn the gas off and things continue to cook for a good amount of time afterwards as the container is sealed so well). You can also cook stews and soups in double quick time as well, as well as use it as a conventional pan. Apparently these ones are pretty decent, at £109 though you can see why I haven’t bought one yet but it has been recommended by Mr Extreme Frugality himself.
Slip me some skin
Don’t peel your vegetables! This one is a major time saver and I can’t believe I spent my whole life up till about 9 months ago bothering to peel vegetables. I’m talking potatoes, carrots, parsnips and so on (you might want to draw the line at swede) and salad such as cucumber. A quick wash and away you go. If you are worried about the taste then don’t, for most part you won’t tell the difference and if you do you’ll get used to the new interesting flavours within 3 or 4 meals. The other huge benefit is that a lot of the vitamins in vegetables are actually stored near the surface, so by not peeling them you are getting the full healthy benefits, as well as saving yourself a few precious minutes every meal time.
Bigger is sometimes better
Cut your veg up chunky! There is a slight trade off between cooking time here but if you’d rather get your veg in the pan or oven as soon as possible and do something else while it’s cooking then why bother taking the time to cut it up so small? Besides, chunky veg tastes better in the mouth. This and the tip above are great for beginner chefs who think they haven’t got time to cook for themselves, as peeling and chopping are probably the thing that takes the longest time in the beginning, as it can be quick a tricky skill to master.
You can call me “al dente”
A posh sounding way of eating veg is to have it “al dente” which means a little bit on the hard side. Reduce cooking times by 20%, saving time, energy and money, and pretend you are dining in a reet fancy rest-oh-rontay. Again the more you boil veg the more nutrients go into the water so less cooking is healthier as well. You can do the same thing with pasta as well of course.
Cooking on gas
If you forgo the pressure cooker like myself, you want to make sure your pots and pans are working as efficiently as possible. Use the following rules:
Water boy: Only cover your veg, rice, etc with as much water as necessary, otherwise you are wasting gas on heating the excess water which is pointless, and will also waste your time as it will take longer to get it to temperature.
Kettle mettle: I always boil the kettle and pour water in the pan so it starts off near to boiling. I am not 100% sure but this would seem to be the most efficient way energy wise to get the water up to temperature (a naked flame is horrendously inefficient as most of the energy is used up heating the air around it, so I am assuming the kettle trumps it). It also saves you a good 3-4 minutes of waiting.
Put a lid on it son! – Something I see novices and experienced cooks alike do is forget to put lids on boiling pots. Putting the lid on will semi pressurise the pan, like a really wussy version of the pressure cooker, but any slight edge you can get in your energy consumption, you should take it. The contents will rise to temperature faster and cook quicker, saving you time and money.
No stray gas please – Another obvious tip yet one I see ignored in many households. Once a pot is boiling, turn the bloomin’ gas down! I sincerely hope no further explanation is needed but email me if you have any questions at ifellasleepduringphysicsclass@
DO touch that dial – I am still experimenting with this one so not really too sure of it’s merits, but just like with the pressure cooker, the contents of your pan should in theory carry on cooking after you turn the heat off. I reckon you can get at least 2-3 minutes at the end of your cooking time “sin-gas” which could transfer into a 10-15% saving for rice, pasta, and some veggies. Doesn’t sound much but when combined with all these other tips, the energy savings will rack up.
My main tip would be to avoid oven cooking where possible and use the slow cooker instead. However some things this is not possible. So if you are going to use it, then try to cook things at the same time and keep your over fairly full. You can also try the same switching off early technique as with the gas, turn it off 5 minutes before time and leave in 5 minutes longer, as the overall temperature drops over the time, then you obviously need to leave it in slightly longer to make up for the lower temperature. (Note: I probably wouldn’t do this with meat based products!)
Make the most of your meat
Cook whole joints. Boil up chicken bones and leftovers to make soup. Save the fat and the juices to make gravy and stock. If you are worried that eating too much animal fat will increase your chances of disease, then simply eat less meat. If we are going to endorse killing the things to eat, the least we can do is make the most of the resource they provide, rather than chucking half of it down the drain or in the bin.
Recycled veg water, it tastes like it oughta
As mentioned above, when you boil veg the vitamins get sucked out into the water. Reuse this water for your gravy. This saves reboiling the kettle and you get some of the goodness back into you. Win! (Apologies for the extremely bad “pun” for the headline of this one. Please read my new disclaimer over on the right if you have any issues with this)
A touch of Defrost
This requires a tiny smidgen of forward planning, but if you remember to get your frozen stuff out of the freezer in the morning or the night before cooking it, then your cooking times will be cut in half. I know you could use the microwave to defrost things in this new-fangled-techno-age we live in but we are talking about efficiency in all areas here people, so using the age old physical equation of temperature increase plus time to defrost something is much better in every way. (Don’t leave raw meat or anything else for that matter out for 10 hours in 30 degree plus heat. Better to put it in the fridge the night before to defrost in that sort of weather)
Compost food waste
This is only really relevant if you have a garden with a space big enough for a composter, which we currently do not. But if you do then composting food waste is a no brainer to reduce the waste entering your bins from your kitchen endeavours, and feed your garden fauna with some rich compost!
Packing the right equipment
Basic badass – I would consider the following to be essential when starting to cook: A frying pan and small/medium/large pan. 2 baking trays (for a roast joint plus potatoes), 2 chopping boards (one for meat one for veg, don’t mix them up!). A sharp knive or 2, fork, sieve, colander, slotted spoon, wooden spoon. And obviously some crockery and cutlery to eat it with!
Next level badass – Optional items but ones I actually still use regularly: Garlic crusher, whisk, potato masher (a fork is just as good for this really though!)
Go go gadget badass – Microwave, kettle, and at a push a hand blender if you like smoothies, soups and making your own smooth sauces.
I bet you have most of all the above items already, whether you cook for yourself regularly or not right? Anything else is a waste of time in my opinion. As for the multitude of other electric gadgets out there, don’t bother! I’ve bought a few in the past and they are a waste of time, money and cupboard space (after they’ve been used twice). I was nearly temped to buy an electric egg poacher last Christmas but I’m glad I didn’t. Instead I learnt how to poach an egg properly in a pan, much more satisfying and no doubt far more tasty as well!
Show us yer tips
So there you have it! The complete cookery course for badasses. I hope you enjoyed it and found some good tips in there whatever level of cookery skills you currently possess. It would be great to hear some of your best kitchen tips in the comments section, I am sure there are many more I haven’t even thought of with the vast array of techniques and types of food and cooking out there.
Please do share your cooking optimisation tips with us, thank you, my now fellow badass chefs!
Here is a nice resource list of articles about energy efficient and eco friendly cooking tips that I find around the webs!