The Kitchen gadget under $10 that will improve your cooking efficiency… Double-Decker cooking!
“Single-Pot Cooking” usually involves dumping a bunch of ingredients together into the same pot like a stew or rice mixture. This results in minimal clean-up and the shared pot means a single burner and therefore less energy needed to cook. But – sometimes we want the simplicity of single-pot cooking without our grains touching our veggies …. I get that. Good news! You can improve the efficiency of your cooking AND be left with less dishes to clean AND have separate foods that don’t all meld together. I dub this super-hero cooking method “double-decker cooking!”
OK – first the physics …. As I’ve stated before, MOST of what we do in the kitchen is thermodynamically manipulate (heat and cool) WATER. We can’t escape it … from the morning cup of coffee to steaming vegetables to making rice and pasta to braising a roast. Water is the “ingredient” that dominates the energy of the cooking process. This is because water is incredibly energy HUNGRY due to its high specific heat. In other words, we have to add a LOT of energy to water to change its temperature.
For example, it takes two times more energy to increase a given amount (by weight) of water one degree Fahrenheit than it would to increase the same amount of canola oil, by one degree F. And TEN times more energy than the same amount of cast iron (like a skillet).
So – since water is an energy “hog,” our critical job in an energy-efficient kitchen is to minimize the amount of water we are heating. Enter … DOUBLE DECKER COOKING. How often are you cooking a meal that involves both rice and broccoli? Or, pasta and green beans? Or corn and shrimp?
In order to accomplish double-decker cooking, you need a device to add a “shelf” to your pot to give you a second cooking zone. This simple cooking stand does the trick.
If you have this stand on hand, you can boil pasta in the water in the pot and then use the steam which is naturally present in the space above the water, just hangin’ out with nothing to do …. to steam asparagus! Presto – you have a second cooking zone - no need to heat MORE water in ANOTHER pot – just plop in this stand into the pasta and water, add a steaming basket on top of it, top with the raw broccoli and set the timer for 11 minutes. You’ll have to manage the setting on the burner to make sure you are boiling just enough to keep some steam flowing for the broccoli. This is a HUGE energy savings as you already had to bring the water to the boiling point to cook the pasta – might as well take advantage of all that “free” steam to cook the broccoli too! Note that this won’t work if you passively cook your pasta, but this will still end up more efficient than one pot of passive pasta and a separate pot of steamed broccoli.
AND – if you have an InstantPot (and if you don’t I would encourage you to reconsider), this stand works great in there also. Making brown rice? Place a small pan of lima beans on top of this rack above the rice and water, close the cooker and let the steam cook the beans while the water cooks the rice. Wah-La – two in one (and while you’re waiting for this super easy meal to finish, you can just chill on the couch and read more of my energy-efficient cooking blog ).
SO MANY IDEAS!
I’m sure you’re already thinking of other possibilities…
· Corn on the cob in the bottom, asparagus on top
· Stew meat on the bottom, whole potatoes on top
· Quinoa on the bottom, shrimp on the top
Sometimes a steamer basket is best on top of the rack, like when cooking vegetables. Sometimes it’s better to use a pan, especially if you don’t want the flavors of the food on top dropping onto the food on the bottom (shrimp juice onto quinoa, for example).
Have fun with it and enjoy lower-energy cooking with less dishes to clean - all thanks to understanding a bit of physics!