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Slow food is energy-savings food

February 20, 2007

In my household, we do a lot of food reheating. When we cook we usually have leftovers, and we’ll also double a recipe to get some meals into the freezer. Add in the fact that I like taking leftovers to work for a hot lunch instead of making a sandwich, and it results in lots of experience in reheating food.

Simply through sheer volume, I have come to find a few ways that one can reheat foods in a more energy efficient manner. Unfortunately the missing ingredient is time, so this won’t work if you are in an absolute panic to eat. Otherwise, it works just fine.

We usually make a big pot of pasta sauce and put it into yogurt containers to freeze. When we don’t know what to have for dinner, we’ll boil up some pasta and thaw out one of our sauce bricks. Getting a solid block of pasta sauce to transform from solid-and-frozen to hot-and-saucy doesn’t happen quickly. I transfer the frozen sauce into a Pyrex dish and give it our microwave’s “big plate” preset that applies full power for 2:30. That’s not enough to finish the job, but it gets it to the point where I can break it up and send it in for another round.

It takes a number of rounds in the microwave to get the sauce fully thawed and uniformly hot. What I have noticed is that if there are a few frozen chunks in the sauce still, another round of microwaving won’t necessarily thaw them, so much as it will just overheat the sauce at the top of the dish. What has worked for me is simply letting it sit for a few minutes between reheating rounds.

On average, the sauce is already hot, but it’s not uniform; part of the sauce is still frozen, most of it is warm, and other parts of it are able to melt through steel (or at least it feels that way). I find that if I just stir it up and let it sit for a few minutes, the hot spots thaw the frozen spots, the temperature evens out, and I’ve just saved myself two and a half minutes of running the microwave on high.

This is also applicable in the oven. “My” recipe is lasagna, which my kids love and I’m more than happy to make. We freeze half lasagnas in square pans and put it in the oven for 45 minutes to reheat it. The last time we did this, I found that although the outside was ready, the inside was still partially frozen. As we weren’t in any rush to eat, I turned off the oven, left the lasagna in there, and did something else for 20 minutes. When I took it out, we had a pleasantly-warm, fully-thawed lasagna that was ready to cut and serve. In this case I saved myself 20 minutes of running a oven (on convection mode), or possibly 3 rounds of microwaving partially-frozen portions in the microwave.

One other trick I’ve been using is to cover a pot of water if you’re trying to boil it, and keep it covered while it’s boiling. Putting the lid on while the water is heating up is a well-known conservation measure, but I’ve found that you can also maintain your boil with less energy by keeping the lid on while your pot is boiling.  On my stovetop, instead of maintaining the water boiling with the burner set at 5 (out of 10), I can put the lid on and maintain the boil with the burner on just above 2. I will admit that it’s a bit tricky – I’ve had many a pot boil over a little bit before I caught it – but I figure it’s a technique worth practicing for the energy savings.

Of course, you can save a lot more energy by eating raw foods instead. There’s been a few instances where getting dinner on the table is an overwhelming problem that neither I nor my wife can fathom, so we’ve simply cut up some veggies, brought out the cheese and crackers, and had a buffet of whatever was available to eat. The kids love such meals, they’re easy to clean up, and best of all nobody has to stand over a stove or shuffle things in and out of the microwave.  With no extra dishes or pots to wash, the energy savings is great!

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