Tips for Making Winter Cooking Fun, Delicious, and Cost-Effective
Winter is just around the corner, and with it comes a change in cooking habits. The change in season brings colder weather and longer nights, and that means more warm comfort foods. There are many ways to make winter cooking easier and more energy efficient. A well-stocked pantry combined with some great in-season vegetables will lead to some great meals to take the chill off.
Preparing for Winter Cooking
Winter cooking can be fun and rewarding, but there are a few things to do to make it easier. First is having a well-stocked pantry and freezer. Depending on the location, the winter months can bring frigid cold and dangerous snow and ice. Making trips to the grocery store under these conditions can be both uncomfortable and hazardous. Having a plentiful supply of ingredients on hand is a way to ensure there is always a meal available in the house. In the pantry, consider stocking various types of pasta and noodles for a wide variety of dishes. Rice is another grain that can be part of a main dish or served on the side.
Canned goods are an excellent choice to keep in abundance. Certain vegetables are out-of-season or harder to find in the winter, so having canned versions of these staples increases the options available. Needless to say, canned goods have a long shelf life, and can last all through the cold season. Frozen goods are another option. While it is always best to have fresh produce, sometimes that just isn’t possible during the winter, so go the frozen route.
What’s In-Season for the Winter?
Cooking with fresh vegetables is the best way to go, but what veggies are in-season and readily available in winter? Onions and garlic are winter staples. They are very versatile and can enhance many different meals. Just be sure to store them at room temperature. In the refrigerator the humidity will cause them to soften and develop mold. Broccoli should be easy to find, as well as beets. Carrots and cabbage are excellent for both soups and stews. Sweet potatoes are a Thanksgiving tradition, but they can be used all winter long. Pumpkin (for pies) and butternut squash provide lots of options, too.
Numerous fruits are available in the fall, most notably apples. Apples can be purchased fresh at the tail end of fall, and they can be stored in the refrigerator for weeks. That can make them available well into winter. Lemons, tangerines, and oranges are best in the winter and can liven up many a recipe.
Saving Energy and Money
According to the U.S. Department of Energy, cooking accounts for around 5% of all energy use in the home. During the winter months, energy bills can increase due to the cold, so saving energy means saving money. There are a few simple things to do when cooking that can reduce energy usage. First, do not open the oven during cooking. It is always tempting to see if the food is cooking properly. And, let’s be honest, the aroma of cooking or baking food can be irresistible, but refrain from opening the oven door unnecessarily. It lets hot air escape and forces the oven to expend more energy to maintain the proper temperature.
If the oven is going to be on for longer than a couple of hours, and especially if there are a lot of people in the house, turn the furnace down a few degrees. The extra heat from the oven and guests will more than make up for the lower thermostat setting, and it will use less energy. Also, if possible, use smaller appliances to prepare meals. Toaster ovens or crock pots use much less energy than larger ones and often can do the job just as effectively.
The key to winter cooking is preparation. Stocking the pantry, refrigerator, and freezer with enough food for weeks is a great way to avoid venturing out into the freezing temperatures on unnecessary trips to the local grocery store. Don’t be afraid to have a little extra food on hand. It will come in handy over the course of the winter, and extra ingredients can often be put into a soup or stew. Make those soups and stews often during the winter. They are great comfort foods on chilly evenings. Look into how smaller appliances can be used in place of larger ones to save on energy and money. Keep an eye on opportunities to add some fresh fruit or vegetables to the mix.