Vegetable Curry in a Wonderbag

I have been lusting after a Wonderbag for ages.  This year one arrived under our Christmas tree. Hurrah!

Wonderbag

With this new piece of equipment I thought it was about time my I posted a recipe as I haven’t done one for ages, having got really engrossed in reducing our household waste and otherwise reducing our environmental impact. Which is where this fits in quite neatly. The Wonderbag, if you are not familiar with the concept, does not require electricity. You do still need a heat source to start off the cooking process, but once it is piping hot through you pop it into the Wonderbag which is so well insulated that it keeps in enough heat to continue the cooking process for around 4-5 hours ( maybe longer depending what you are cooking).
This suits us well as we have solar panels producing electricity in the middle of the day but we don’t get a chance to eat until quite late. As I work part time I am able to get the dinner going when the sun is out on those days I am home, and still have it hot when we are ready to eat .

For our first go at this I thought I would play it safe with a vegetable curry. The recipe is approximate – feel free to substitute in whatever spare veg you happen to have and vary the spices and quantities to taste, but this is (roughly) what I did. This is enough to serve 4 – as there were only 2 of us eating I just froze half and reheated in the microwave another day.

Start by getting your Wonderbag ready in the place you want to leave it cooking – the instructions suggest you place a trivet or pot stand inside to put your casserole on but you can also line with tea towels – actually I did both this time.

Ingredients:

  • Sweet potato – diced ( I used half of one as that was what we had)
  • Cauliflower – broken into florets ( depending on size half to one)
  • Broccoli – broken into florets ( again I used about half)
  • 1 large carrot, diced
  • 2 large potatoes, peeled and diced
  • 1 onion
  • Garlic
  • Approx 2cm cubed ginger, peeled and sliced
  • 1 green chilli, sliced
  • Handful of green beans
  • 400g tin of chick peas, drained and rinsed
  • A few mushrooms
  • A couple of tomatoes, chopped
  • Coconut milk ( either 1 can or the powdered sort diluted in hot water)
  • Vegetable stock ( if you like – I think I actually forgot this and just added water)

Additional spices to taste:

  • Chilli flakes or powder ( 1tsp)
  • Turmeric ( 1 tsp)
  • Cumin ( 1 tsp)
  • Ground Coriander ( 1tsp)
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Method:

  • In a tight lidded casserole safe for using on the hob, heat a little oil and fry the onion for a few mins till it is starting to soften.
  • Add the garlic, ginger and chilli and continue stirring for a minute, then add the other spices and stir in to release the flavour.
  • Next add the rest of the vegetables, coconut milk and stock – you want enough liquid to just cover all the vegetables ( not too much as the liquid doesn’t thicken/reduce in the Wonderbag).
  • Stir well and bring to the boil, cover tightly with the lid.
  • Boil for around 10 mins to make sure it is really hot.
  • Transfer carefully to the Wonderbag and seal it up tightly with the drawstring.
  • Get on with something else and come back to it up to 4 hours later ( but as it is all vegetables 1-2 may suffice).  Open it carefully – remember it will still be hot.
  • Serve with rice or Naan bread.

And sorry I forgot to take a photo of it before we ate it 

If you like it spicier you can add any additional spices you like or some curry powder. You could cook the rice in the bag too to save even more energy – you’ll need to add it at least 5 mins before you transfer to the Wonderbag and it will absorb some of the sauce.

Wonderbag 2

 

Notes on sourcing ingredients with minimal packaging:

If you are a more expert food grower that myself you may well have some of the ingredients straight from your garden or allotment – in which case I am in awe.  At this time of year we only had homegrown garlic and windowsill chilli and I had to go out to buy the rest.

I generally find the local market to be the easiest way to get unpackaged veg – so I went off with my trusty shopping trolley and filled up with most of the required veg either straight into my trolley or my own cloth bag. The ginger was unpackaged from supermarket.

The only veg I can’t find package free are the green beans – we have decided the best way to get these out of season is frozen so we can buy a larger amount ( less packaging pro rata) and my thinking is that it might also be more local than the out of season fresh ones shipped from Kenya – although I have yet to check this out ( note to self to do this soon). Sometimes we do have luck growing these so would have our own in the freezer, but sadly not this year.

Rice – I buy bulk 5 or 10kg  bags of basmati rice which last us ages – they are still in plastic but again, relatively less than buying the small bags.

Spices – I didn’t buy any especially this time but they are either in glass jars or again bought in bulk size bags.

Chick peas – I tend to buy in tins rather than dried for convenience – at least the tins are recyclable.

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10 ways to save energy and reduce your bills

10 simple ways to save energy and reduce your bills.  Installing a smart meter to help you understand how you use your energy will help.

  1. Only put as much water as you need in the kettle.
  2. Don’t leave anything on standby.  If your appliance doesn’t have an accessible off switch you can get  a remote to turn it off. This includes turning off your WiFi overnight. Nigel’s Eco Store has a range of energy saving gadgets and remotes to make this easier.
  3. When you leave your computer for a while remember to put it into sleep mode or use an energy saving button such as the Eco Button
  4. May seem obvious but switch off the lights when you leave the room.
  5. Change your lights to low energy LEDs.
  6. When choosing a new appliance go for the lowest energy option you can.
  7. Check your thermostat and timer settings to be sure you only have the heating on when needed. Turning the thermostat down a degree and wearing an extra layer makes a noticeable difference.
  8. Turn radiators off or at least to low in little used rooms.
  9. When cooking use a steamer to cook more than one thing on a single ring.
  10. Take a shorter shower.

More tips are available from the Energy Savings Trust

Making the most of your solar panels

We have had our solar panels for just over 6 months now. So far solar power has provided around 3/4 of our demand for electricity, and we have been exporting well over half of what we generate back to the grid for others to use.  Of course it has been summer.

Solar Panles - image from: Photovoltaik_Dachanlage_Hannover_-_Schwarze_Heide_-_1_MW
Solar Panles – image from: Photovoltaik_Dachanlage_Hannover_-_Schwarze_Heide_-_1_MW

So, how can we make the most of the energy we produce as we move into winter?

The first and most obvious thing is to match up electricity use to the time the sun is out as much as you can.  To do this best you need to start by understanding how much electricity different applicances use, and how much you can expect to generate at different times of the day which will vary according to the orientation of your panels.  A monitoring device is a great way of doing this.  There are several different ones out there  – such as the Owl Intuition  – which is cloud based and can be viewed using an app (but requires a constant internet connection), and the Wattson which provides a real time display of your generation/consumption and stores data for up to 30 days for uploading to your computer to build up a longer term analysis.  We have the Wattson simply as I like to see what  we are generating without needing to connect to net/turn on an app.

Once you have an idea of what your energy hungry devices are, use them at the times you are generating most electricity, but not all at the same time.  If you are out at work this can be done using timers, staggering when different appliances are on so they do not all reach their peak demand at once.  When using the washing machine or dishwasher make sure you run full loads – putting them on half full just because it’s sunny won’t end up saving you anything as you’ll be using more water and detergent.  We tend to find that starting one or other around 10am ( earlier in summer) means we are generating enough  for our fairly efficient models but this will vary.

This may involve a change to your routine but it is one that is worth making where you can.

I noticed that one of our real power hungry devices was our electric shower, so on the days I don’t go into the office I simply take my shower later in the day, after the school run and a few other chores, when the sun has had a chance to get going.

Another high energy user is the oven.   If you happen to be at home during the day it is worth switching your main meal to lunchtime.  Alternatively you can use a slow cooker to cook your dinner during the day – most have a fairly low consumption, although on my wish list is the Wonderbag which does most of the cooking with no power at all – you get the food to boiling on the stove, and then pop your casserole into this mega-insulated bag which keeps in the heat to cook the rest.  Alternatively, if you need to eat after sunset, which we do most days, make use of the microwave – cook up bigger batches when you can during the day to freeze and then reheat when needed in the microwave which will use relatively less energy because of the faster cooking time.

We also use a bread maker ( as we are trying to reduce our plastic waste) which works well on a timer – the highest consumption, as you would expect, is the bake part at the end, and when we have surplus crops an electric dehydrator to dry out foods for winter use.

Use your monitor to gauge when you are generating more than you are using – the Wattson glows green at such times – and use the spare capacity for charging phones/tablets/batteries etc.

When we next replace our car we might look at the electric options – although at the moment the car that gets most use is not here at the time we are generating.

We are still learning so if anyone has other ideas please do comment.  In time hopefully there will be affordable batteries to store the surplus energy for use in evening.