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Cutting Costs by Cooking Clever

There are plenty more – coffee machines, pie-makers, bread-makers, pancake-makers, etc. I’ll leave you to ponder the advantages of these while I talk about the eighth wonder of the world, the microwave. I dread to think where I’d be without mine. From what I’ve heard, some don’t have one, and many who do just use them for the odd cup of cocoa and re-heating TV dinners. I do use the nuke for that – not shop-bought meals, but my own pre-cooked and frozen dishes; and scrambled eggs are so easy. I beat four eggs, some milk and a knob of butter in an ice cream container, then microwave it on 5 for a minute a time, stirring with a fork in between until the eggs just start to solidify. Then I leave it to prepare the rest – maybe toast, bacon, tomatoes, mushrooms, or whatever. As soon as these are ready I begin serving them up on warmed plates, having re-started the nuke to finish off the scrambled eggs, moist or dry as preferred. And afterwards, the easiest thing to clean is the ice cream container.

This particular breakfast is always on the table with everything hot, including the eggs. No fuss, no bother, and all thanks to the nuke. Where it truly comes into its own, for me anyway, is with the cooking of your average dinner. I try to have five different vegetables with each meal, so boiling them separately on our stove top isn’t an option, not with only four burners. So I consign them to microwave-safe containers, sometimes on their own, or in the company of others, adding a little water – carrots and runner beans on the bottom; cauliflower and broccoli sitting on top. Peas go in their own container. I nuke the carrots, beans and cauli first for 3 minutes on 8 (this is for a 3-serve quantity). Once they “ping off”, I pop in the broccoli, snap on the lid and leave that lot to sit while I do the potatoes. These go in a deeper container, cubed and barely covered with water. 6-7 minutes on number 8 is usually good enough to cook and soften a reasonably large potato. A stab with a fork tells whether it needs another spin. That done, I leave them about a minute – they’ll carry on cooking for that time, even without the power – then I drain and mash them. As with the other vegies, they can wait until I’m ready to re-heat them. The sauce? I did that while I was juggling the vegies. Once the main ingredient is almost cooked, I give the rest a final spin – broccoli et al for 4 minutes on 8, peas for 3 minutes on the same setting. The mash will go in for 2 minutes on number 4 while I’m serving everything else onto the plates. With a bit of time-management and a trusty microwave, my life is far less stressful.

So far, I’ve probably told you nothing you don’t already know, at least those of you who are accomplished nuke users. As for our regular Money-Matters visitors, you will be wondering what any of this has to do with you. Think about it – around 20 minutes microwave time to cook all of the vegetables: how much of a saving is that compared to what the stove top would cost? For the main part of the meal, some thoughtful pre-planning can help avoid unnecessary expense. Whenever possible, preparing all the ingredients before starting to cook means everything is ready to go. Even a one-pan dish like a stir-fry is made easier when all the additions including sauces and spices are to hand. Meals that require the various parts cooked separately need a little extra consideration, but it can be done. It is mainly about timing, figuring out which takes the longest to cook and in what order they are to go on the plate. Ensuring everything is just right - not overdone or underdone - takes a bit of practice, but once this is achieved, cooking and serving is less of a hassle. At least, that’s what I’ve found, and I manage this minor miracle by using a combination of the appliances at my disposal.

Using appropriate cooking devices can save both time and money; but let’s not ignore the major one. A fan-forced oven operates on a lower heat setting and usually cooks quicker than the conventional kind - a couple of bonus savings - but the ones I’ve used also retained their temperatures for a few minutes after they’d been turned off, reducing costs even further. The same applies to warming plates and dishes – once the correct temperature has been reached, switch off the power and leave them in the oven until needed. My best advice for cooks is: get to know your equipment better and use it for your own benefit to save time, money and stress. Your diners will appreciate it, and the resident miser won’t have too much to whinge about!

Next issue:   Punters and Collectors – old and out-dated can mean big money!

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