High-demand savings in low-demand power periods

It will be up to savvy consumers to outsmart the newly minted smart meters which began rolling out in Ontario in 2009.

Mushrooms and blue cheese add a decadent and unforgettable twist to classic French onion soup.

Mushrooms and blue cheese add a decadent and unforgettable twist to classic French onion soup.

By Judy Creighton

The canadian press

It will be up to savvy consumers to outsmart the newly minted smart meters which began rolling out in Ontario in 2009.

The smart meters have been introduced by government in an effort to convince people to change their habits to take advantage of time-of-use pricing. Essentially, if consumers use electricity at off-demand times, it is cheaper.

British Columbians haven’t received the devices yet, but they are planned. The meters have been installed in many jurisdictions in North America and residents of other Canadian provinces can probably expect them in some shape or form in the future.

Smart meters replace old-style meters by recording electrical consumption hour by hour. Different prices apply at different times of day.

Whether or not your household has this type of meter and billing style, tips to reduce energy bills are always helpful.

The kitchen can be heavily used during on-peak hours, especially for families with young children. The dishwasher and electric stove are prime users of energy, says Toronto home economist Mairlyn Smith.

“I use my microwave because it uses less power, and I boil my water for tea which takes all of four minutes.”

Smith says her kitchen appliance that “sucks the most energy is the dishwasher,” so the only time she uses it is when she and her partner entertain.

“Now we handwash our dishes and we actually enjoy it as it gives us a chance to talk and that’s nice.”

She suggests using a slow cooker on the weekend to prepare meals for the week ahead, which can result in major energy savings.

“I think that families who do big-batch cooking on the weekend will save money in the long run,” Smith says. “Make stews, chilis, soups and other meals which can all be microwaved during the week instead of turning on the stove.”

The refrigerator uses a fair amount of electricity, so she suggests those in the market for a new one should choose a model that is energy efficient.

Planning is key, she says.

“Opening the fridge and standing in front trying to decide what you want to take out takes a ton of energy,” Smith notes. “And overcrowding is bad as well as the fridge has to use extra energy to keep the food inside cold.”

The same holds for constantly opening the oven door, which lets heat out. The oven then has to use more energy to get the temperature back to the level at which it was set.

“If you are going to take something out of the oven to check it, bring it right out and then stick it back in because if you don’t you are just heating the house.”

Other tips to reduce the costs of power:

• Embrace leftovers. Make enough rice once to serve for three to five days. Cooked rice, for example, will keep in the fridge for up to five days.

• Make a big pot of soup, serve and eat it on the day it’s prepared, then freeze leftovers.

• If possible plan to use the oven fully by cooking multiple dishes at any one time. And keep the oven door closed; no peeking!

• Make sure that the cooked food is cooled down before putting it in the refrigerator or freezer.

• Completely thaw food before cooking.

• Use a small appliance where possible. A toaster uses less electricity than a grill

Heather Travis, spokesperson for the Beef Information Centre, has some useful tips on reducing energy prices in the kitchen.

“Chop, cut, dice and measure all your ingredients before cooking to ensure everything is ready when you turn the stove elements or oven on,” she suggests.

Also, make sure your fridge and freezer are set to the correct temperatures to keep food safe, but also to ensure no energy is wasted.

“Set refrigerators at or below 4 C. Keep freezers at or below -18 C. Don’t overload fridge and freezer. Cool air must circulate freely to keep food properly chilled,” Travis advises.

Finally, she finds that owning a convection toaster oven can really save energy.

“I use it for oodles of stuff and it heats up really quickly.”

Here are two recipes that can take advantage of overnight or weekend low-demand power periods.

Sweet potatoes and carrots team up in this luscious curried soup that can be cooked for 7 to 8 hours in a slow cooker for an instant weeknight supper.

Curried Slow Cooker Soup

2 medium-large sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 2-cm (3/4-inch) dice (about 1.25 l/5 cups)

500 ml (2 cups) chopped carrots

1 small onion, chopped

3 ml (3/4 tsp) curry powder

2 ml (1/2 tsp) salt, or to taste

2 ml (1/2 tsp) black pepper, or to taste

2 ml (1/2 tsp) ground cinnamon

1 ml (1/4 tsp) ground ginger

1 l (4 cups) chicken broth

15 ml (1 tbsp) maple syrup

175 ml (3/4 cup) half-and-half cream

Candied ginger, for garnish (optional)

In a 5-l slow cooker, place sweet potatoes, carrots, onion, curry powder, salt, pepper, cinnamon and ginger. Add chicken broth. Stir well to combine. Cover; cook on low for 7 to 8 hours.

Puree soup, 250 ml (1 cup) at a time, in a blender or use an immersion blender. Return soup to slow cooker. Add maple syrup and cream. Add salt and pepper, if desired. Cover; cook on high for 15 minutes to reheat.

Serve in bowls and garnish with strips or pieces of candied ginger, if desired.

Makes 8 servings.

Source: Crock-Pot.

Squash and Black Bean Chili

1 can (796 ml/28 oz) diced tomatoes

1 can (398 ml/14 oz) tomato sauce

250 ml (1 cup) vegetable stock or beer

1 l (4 cups) peeled, cubed butternut squash

1 can (540 ml/19 oz) black beans, drained, rinsed in cold water and drained again

1 medium onion, diced

1 medium green bell pepper, diced

250 ml (1 cup) fresh or frozen corn kernels

1 to 2 garlic cloves, minced

10 ml (2 tsp) chili powder

5 ml (1 tsp) ground cumin

5 ml (1 tsp) dried oregano

Hot pepper sauce, to taste

Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

45 ml (3 tbsp) chopped fresh cilantro or sliced green onion

In a slow cooker, combine diced tomatoes, tomato sauce, stock, squash, black beans, onion, bell pepper, corn, garlic, chili powder, cumin, oregano and hot pepper sauce. Cover and cook on low setting for 6 hours or until vegetables are tender. Season chili with salt and pepper. Sprinkle each serving with cilantro or sliced green onions.

Makes 6 to 8 servings.

Source: Everyone Can Cook Slow Cooker Meals by Eric Akis (Whitecap).