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Cutting Costs by Cooking Clever
using your kitchen appliances to advantage

Anyone with money sense is always searching for ways to economise, especially when income fails to keep up with inflation. In the last Money Matters (Money20) we looked at the rising cost of gifts as being an increasing drain on the budget. Other issues have dealt with a variety of savings possibilities, most focussing on how to trim back on the cash outflow. In many respects, this article will be no different, except that it will centre on the place which tends to be the hub of the home – the kitchen. Not only is this where a good portion of the weekly wage is swallowed up by the purchase of foodstuff, but the job of preparing and cooking it has a considerable impact on finances, not to mention stress levels. Whoever earns the money to pay the bills may question why the housekeeping costs keep going up when the quality and variety of meals seem to be declining. That won’t go down too well with a cook who is struggling to compensate for rising prices while maintaining expected standards. Fair enough, it might be cheaper, healthier even, to have more home-cooked food than take-out or packaged heat-and-serve dishes; but such a suggestion by the resident penny-pincher is likely to start a blazing row. There’s never enough time to serve cordon bleu every night; and even if there was, that certain someone who shall remain nameless would start carrying on about power bills going through the roof again. Unless everyone is happy to eat salads seven days a week, nothing can be done to improve the situation.

Maybe so, maybe no. Far be it from me to tell Grandma how to suck eggs, but there are ways to save time and money that might have been overlooked. Much depends on the setup, for instance the type of oven and hob, in particular the fuel source it operates by. Gas would seem to be cheaper because it is closer to instant than electricity. There’s no waiting for a hotplate to reach the desired temperature to fry some steaks, and if they are cooking too quickly, the heat can be reduced in a matter of seconds rather than having to remove the pan from the heat while the burner takes a minute or more to cool. As for the oven, whether it is gas or electric, it will take time before it is ready for the pie or whatever else is to be cooked; but once the thermostat light goes out, if the food isn’t put in almost straight away, the heating element will continue to burn money just to keep an empty cabinet hot.

Obviously it is impractical to replace a stove just because it isn’t super-efficient; however, many homes also have a variety of other cooking appliances. Most of these are energy-efficient compared to an oven, are easy to use and no problem to clean. An electric frypan sitting on the work surface frees off the stove-top for other pots. It is cheap to run, simple to regulate, will cook most things either individually or in a combination; and having a decent cover with a vent that can be opened or closed, it can fry or steam without spitting fat over the surrounding area. An electric slow-cooker is great for any dish that takes a matter of hours to cook, whether on the hob or in the oven. Stews, curries, hot-pots and frijoles can be left for ages until needed and only require stirring occasionally. Even roasts can be cooked from just right for carving, to pull-apart – that’s when the meat is so tender that it can be taken off the joint in slivers with a fork. Aside from the convenience, slow cookers use very little power.

The traditional roast was always done in the oven, left to sizzle away for a couple of hours or more surrounded by potatoes and requiring basting every so often. Even though getting the roast spuds right was a bit hit and miss, it was enjoyed by all except for the unfortunate drone responsible for cleaning up the splattered mess in the oven afterwards. Enter the electric roaster, another bench-top device. Cheaper to run, with a touch-timer which can be adjusted up or down while cooking, plus a handy drip-tray for the fat and juices – great for making a really rich gravy. To check how it’s cooking, just lift the lid and stick a fork in – no risk of getting burnt; and clean-up’s a breeze, seeing as the interior is non-stick coated. As for the potatoes, do them to perfection under the grill as per Recipe 34 – Goulash and Rumbled Roasties. In the meantime, the oven can be better employed for a batch of Yorkshire puddings.

Other appliances often under-used include the electric bench-top griller. We’ve got a “George Foreman” designed to drain off the fat. It’s brilliant, especially for mouth-watering pork steaks that are so tender you’d think they’d been braised; and they only take a matter of minutes. Because we like toasted-sandwiches we bought – you guessed it – a sandwich-maker, the one with the flat plate not the partitioned kind. To save on cleaning, we tried a piece of baking paper big enough to sit the sandwiches on and fold over the top. That kept any overflow of cheese or whatever on the paper. Then we figured it ought to be capable of cooking other stuff – like bacon and fish. It did. Same as before, there was no mess, no clean-up apart from a wipe with a damp cloth when it had cooled down. Who likes cleaning anyway? And, hey – it did the job a lot quicker and cheaper than the griller in the stove!

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