January 5, 2012

Cooking Adventures

During my 3 weeks with no propane, I had to be creative, especially in my cooking. I don't own a grill (will be correcting that soon), and unfortunately, a wood stove is not an option in this rental. So how do you cook then? My only option was electric appliances.

I am not a big fan of microwaves for cooking. They are great when you want to re-heat something, but cooking in them makes the food taste bleck. I did use the microwave to cook some whole potatoes, to make it quicker and easier to make home made hash browns. Those came out fabulous, and it took a mere 10 minutes for 5 good sized potatoes. I would then dice them up, skins and all, and cook with lots of butter and onion powder on my electric griddle the kids got me for Christmas a few years back. So glad I asked for that!

I also used the electric griddle to cook some tater tots. Funny thing, my cookie sheet pan nearly was the same size as the griddle. I spread the tater tots on the griddle, turned the sheet pan over to act as a cover, and put the griddle on 350. They didn't come out as crisp as they would have in the oven, but it did work well. I also used this option to "sort of bake" several other dinner options, like steak. I cooked it slowly on a lower heat so it didn't get too tough, and then seared it on a higher heat towards the end. Definitely not as good as using the broiler in the bottom of the oven, but liveable.

The best find, in searching the internet for how to do some stuff with the available resources I had, was some crock pot ideas. Did you know that you can actually bake in a crock pot? I didn't. Frankly, other than making spaghetti sauce, or something else that needs to be slow cooked for a long time, I don't use my crock pot much. I really can't stand meat cooked in it, because it tastes too much like boiled meat, which I cannot stand. Just something about the texture, and the taste that I don't care for.

But, in my desperate need for something baked, I tested out a prepackaged box of corn bread mix the other day. It worked fabulously! So, because I forgot to take pictures of that, I redid the experiment, this time using a box of banana bread mix. I normally make this from scratch, but it was on sale back before Christmas, and I wanted something fast for a snack (propane was off by two days after I bought it....so much for being fast lol).

I believe this is a standard 6 quart crock pot. I borrowed it from my mom, so not sure. It is fairly large and oval in shape. You can see the pan of bread mix sitting inside. The biggest tip I found online was to make sure your pan doesn't touch the bottom of the crock pot. Some sites suggest making a temporary rack out of rolled up foil, to keep the pan from touching. I was fortunate that this glass Pyrex bread pan sat just right in there, with the handles holding it up off the bottom about an inch.

The key to this is making sure that the crock pot can't build up condensation like it normally would while slow cooking. If it doesn't have a way to vent, whatever you are "baking" will not bake. It will continue to be soggy. To solve this you need to place something under the edge of the lid, to let the condensation vent out while cooking. I used a small spoon.

And please take note: If you use a metal spoon like I did, use a pot holder when taking it out before lifting the cover, it will be hot! Duh moment and grabbed the spoon without thinking....dang that was hot lol!

Now two things to note....this is slow cooking. You will not bake something in a half hour like you do in the oven. It takes time....lots. The cornbread wasn't much, so it only took an hour. But this banana bread was a full mix...enough to make a regular size loaf. It took 3 hours to cook, on high. Not ideal, but when you have food fatigue, is a good fix, if you have no other option for baking.

It didn't rise as much as it would have if baked in the oven, but cooked well, browning on the bottom a bit. It came out moist, without being goopy. And after 3 weeks of nothing being baked in this house, it was delicious!

In the very center on the top, it felt a bit more "damp" than the rest of the loaf. But after being out of the crock pot for a while, this went away. I am assuming some of the condensation didn't evaporate right in the center of the lid (although I didn't see it sitting on the lid). All in all, it was a good experiment.

A few things I have learned in the three weeks I went without propane for heat, hot water and cooking:

-When I get off grid like I want, I will have a wood burning cook stove. I have already located a resource in our state that refurbishes older stoves, and sells them for an extremely reasonable price. This is on my must have list. Not only will it heat the house, but I will still be able to cook the way I like. Must have an oven.

-Off grid, I will have an electric on-demand hot water heater, connected to my solar. I don't mind heating water for dishes and washing up ourselves, but I am a shower girl. Boiling hot showers are my luxury. And frankly, I'm not willing to give them up. So if I want to keep them, and be off grid, this seems the obvious choice.

-I have been researching homemade ovens to be used with either a homemade grill set up, or for use with a rocket stove. This would be ideal to have for a summer kitchen. It might just be easier to buy a second wood cook stove. Still researching this one.

All in all, it wasn't horrific by any measure, to be without propane, but I won't lie....I was in my glory yesterday after the new company got me hooked up! And pure heaven when I took that boiling hot shower last night before bed!! :)


  1. I love it!! Such a cool idea. I love my crockpot so anything I can cook in it is a blessing:) thanks for sharing friend!
    Maranda A.

  2. We have not had an oven for 2 years. Our place does not have one. We have all electric. 2 waves, crock pot, skillet, griddle, and toaster oven. I am buying a bigger toaster oven next month, and a two burner stove top. Yes we hate not having an oven.

  3. Glad to share Maranda!! :) I think using the crock pot for something like this would be ideal if you are super busy, or have to go out but want to have something ready by the time you get back:)

  4. Rob I feel your pain:/ On the two burner stove top, which I bought one during this three weeks too, I found that it doesn't heat up as hot as I would have liked. Make sure you use a pot lid, to help cooking speed up. :)

  5. I sure enjoy my boiling hot showers too. It is my one "wasteful" pleasure.
    Glad you got your propane back.

  6. I bought my oldest a Dorm Room cook book and it had some great electric cooking recipes in it. Some I did not even know you could make in a microwave.

  7. Oh me too Sue, I could go without the showers if I had to...never had a shower until I was 17, but I love them so!!

  8. Amazing what you can do these days huh MDR? :)

  9. I think you already qualify as a dyed-in-the-wool homesteading woman! (Even though you don't quite have your homestead yet.) Making do when one doesn't have the L.P. or water or electricity or possibly money to buy groceries one week is a great talent to have. And you've got it, Girl!

  10. I never had any idea about baking in a crock pot! Fabulous information. I too, am looking for more ways to cook without using my electric stove. That said, we just got our wood cookstove stovepipe installation complete and I'm in heaven! Try to get one with a water reservoir! That will help on those sunless, winter days. :)

  11. Oh how exciting Leigh! I hope you do a few posts on cooking with the new wood stove:) Good idea on the water reservoir:) I will remember that.

  12. I once used a fry pan on top,I made , of the wood burning stove in the 100 year old cabin thats in the family I made biscuits from a pop open thingy.you should visit Jane over at "hard working homestead "if you want to learn more about un-convention means of homesteading-maybe you already do-she is completely off grid.banana bread looks like it turned out good. I found a used small roaster on craiglist ,to just pop things into in the morning-complete frozen and by supper ,it melts in your mouth-frozen turkey breast,roasts ect. just adjust temp. as it cooks because it cooks about the same as a oven but doesn't do what a crock pot does and the boiled thing you mentioned which I hate to

  13. My mother-in-law still uses her wood cook stove for everything. And I personally think the food from it tastes much better. Probably in my head, but I think you will love it when you go off grid and invest in one. (sooo worth it in my book!)

  14. Presto, I can't disagree with you on that one! I grew up with a wood stove for cooking/heat:)