I like cooking en masse. I normally cook a big pot of samp and beans for a whole weeks worth of lunches, and trying to cook for one or two people is almost impossible for me. Leftovers are a big feature in the contents of my fridge.
At Project 90 we set ourselves a challenge every month to cut carbon in one way or another. Recently, cooking was under the spotlight. We came up with loads of different ways to save energy while cooking and put these into a list of energy saving cooking tips. From boiling water in the kettle instead of on the (electric) stove to switching off the oven before the food is completely cooked. The greatest energy saver that I use when I cook is a hot box (also known as a wonder bag). It is basically a bag or box in two parts that is filled with polystyrene balls. The idea is that it insulates the food so that you only need to bring it up to heat and then it will keep cooking by itself, so you use less electricity or gas. It’s a simple idea, and you don’t necessarily need to buy a hot box, you can make one yourself. While I was living in Amsterdam, I used a sleeping bag. I did get quite a bit of interesting feedback from flat mates, friends and my girlfriend when I would pull a pot of beans or rice from a pile of cushions and a sleeping bag on the floor of my room…
You can’t burn food in a hot box, and I’ve never damaged the hotbox itself (or my sleeping bag) by putting a pot that is too hot into it. I do normally take the precaution of wrapping the pot in a drying up cloth or a towel in case there is any spill. I have put pots that are boiling rapidly straight from the stove into the hot box without any problems. The best thing is that dishes or parts of dishes can be cooked during the day and you can get home in the evening and have perfectly cooked food ready for you.
The hot box would definitely be my recommendation for energy saving cooking. There are loads more though, from always using the pot that matches your stove plate size to cutting vegetables up smaller to cook faster. You need to tailor the methods to your own cooking situation and style. If you’d like to know more, we put together a whole list of energy saving cooking tips that you can use.
And if you’re interested, here is my lunch recipe:
Samp and Beans 250g Samp 125g Red Speckled Sugar Beans Oil Curry powder Chillies Salt and Pepper An onion Garlic Any veggies or other herbs and spices that you'd like
Put the samp and beans in a large bowl, and cover with water and then add another cup of water. Leave overnight to soak. Pour off the water (use it on your plants/garden) and put samp and beans in a pot, and cover with fresh water, then add another cup of water. Bring to a rapid boil. Remove from the stove and place in a hot box or sleeping bag (remember to use a towel or dish cloth to protect hot box/sleeping bag). Leave for 4 – 8 hours.
Chop up the onion and fry in a pot with oil, curry powder and garlic. I use the same pot that I did the samp and beans in, and keep them, drained, in the container you will eventually keep the finished dish in. Once the onion is cooked, add the now cooked samp and beans, and the veggies and spices. I use any veggies that I have – often the ones that are looking a bit weary. I’ve made spinach and mushroom (with a bit of rosemary), turnip, carrot, kale and loads more, but this is really only limited by your willingness to experiment!
Leave it to cook a little bit longer (I like the veggies quite crunchy), and then serve or keep in the fridge for later. You can posh it up by adding some cheese (cream cheese or hard cheese both work well) if you’d like.
Happy hot boxing!