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Using smaller appliances may save you some cash

Prairie Fare: Peanut Butter Black Bean Brownies

One evening, I preheated our ovens. They are stacked with a small upper oven and a regular-size lower oven.

As the ovens heated, I finished preparing some garlic toast to go under the broiler. My daughter made some brownies to go in the lower oven.

After about 15 minutes, I opened the oven to pop in a pan of food. No heat escaped. I put my hand in the oven just to be sure, and no potholder was needed. I pushed some buttons and nothing happened.

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So I called over my husband, the “house mechanic.” He began pressing the buttons, too.

“The ovens aren’t working,” he announced.

Well, I kind of figured that out already. I was disappointed because our oven was only three years old. Ovens are supposed to last longer than that, aren’t they? This was a well-known brand with high consumer ratings, based on a lot of our research before we bought it.

On our spring “clean-up-the house” mission, we had run the self-cleaning function on the ovens. Unfortunately, the ovens had “self-destructed.”

Because I had food ready to bake, we brought up a portable convection oven from the basement. The portable oven was one of those “just-in-case” appliances we bought a few years ago to allow a little more cooking space during holiday cooking extravaganzas.

Getting the portable oven to work wasn’t all that easy, either, but eventually we had dinner and dessert.

The next day, we called the retailer where we bought our appliances and explained the situation. The company needed to order a part for the oven. It was a very expensive part, of course. When it arrived about two weeks later and was installed, we learned that it did not fix the oven. Then the technician found a secret compartment on the back side of the oven and replaced a small fuse.

In the process of being ovenless, we learned a few things as we explored a variety of options for heating food. We used our slow cooker, microwave oven, the still-working stovetop, our pressure cooker and outdoor grill. We opted not to eat out.

I certainly hope this isn’t the beginning of an ongoing appliance saga, because we bought a refrigerator and dishwasher at the same time as the stove. We will not be using the self-destruction oven-cleaning feature again.

Actually, using the portable appliances and other devices probably saved us some money. On average, an electric range and oven costs about $50 per year to run, while a microwave oven costs about $20 per year to run, based on U.S. Department of Energy estimates. If you have pizza to cook, for example, using a toaster oven may use half of the energy of a full-size oven.

You can use a microwave to cook small portions of food or even begin the cooking process, as long as you immediately follow the microwave heating by the final grilling or baking step.

You also can save some energy by following a few steps in your cooking process. Always match the size of the pot to the burner. Keep the burners clean, too.

When you are heating a pot of water, put a cover on it to retain the heat. In fact, if you use a six-inch pot on an eight-inch burner, you are wasting nearly half of the heat. Using the pressure cooker matched to the burner it “fits” saved us money and time.

If you are beginning the process of buying appliances, consider a few things. Remember that appliances cost money for the initial purchase but also for operation throughout their lifespan. Consider the features and size you need for the size of your household. Will the appliance fit in the space you have available? Appliances are larger now, and they might not fit in your existing space.

For us, fitting new appliances in an old kitchen is a whole other story. We had to have a carpenter slice off part of our cupboard to be able to fit our now-infamous oven in the existing cabinet slot.

When shopping for appliances, be sure to compare the “energy guide” label on any major appliance that you plan to buy. This label program is run by the U.S. Federal Trade Commission and provides a quick way to compare one appliance with another for the yearly costs of running the appliance. In Canada the similar Energy Star program is run by Natural Resources Canada.

Some appliances, such as refrigerators, freezers and dishwashers, also carry an “energy star” rating. No “energy star” label for home ovens, ranges or microwave ovens exists. Energy star appliances exceed federal standards for quality and energy efficiency.

As I was finalizing this column in my home office, my daughter who is the aspiring baker came in and asked, “May I make cookies?” I began shaking my head “no” because I am not used to having a working oven yet.

She grinned and said, “Mom, the oven works now!” We are all very happy about that.


Peanut Butter Black Bean Brownies

Black beans are the secret ingredient in this tasty brownie recipe.

Black beans are the secret ingredient in this tasty brownie recipe.
photo: NDSU

Here’s a tasty recipe that one of my dietetic interns tried on campus, and people came back for more. The secret ingredient is black beans. Be sure to drain and rinse them thoroughly. This step can reduce as much as 40 per cent of the sodium added during the canning process. Draining thoroughly ensures that you do not have too much liquid in your batter.

  • 1 (15-oz.) can reduced-sodium black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 3 eggs
  • 3 tbsp. canola oil
  • 3/4 c. granulated sugar
  • 1/2 c. unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1-1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1/4 c. peanut butter
  • 1/2 tsp. baking powder
  • Pinch salt
  • 1/2 c. peanut butter chips
  • 1/4 c. dark chocolate chunks
  • Crushed peanuts (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 F. Lightly coat an 8×8-inch baking dish with non-stick cooking spray and set aside. Put black beans in a strainer and rinse thoroughly, then place in food processor with oil and process until smooth/creamy. Add eggs, sugar, cocoa powder, vanilla extract, peanut butter, baking powder and salt and process until smooth. Add half the amount of peanut butter chips and pulse the food processor to mix in the chips. Repeat with the remaining chips, along with the chocolate chunks. Put the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top with a spatula. Top with chopped peanuts if desired. Bake for about 35 minutes or until the edges start to pull away from the sides of the pan. You can test the centre by inserting a toothpick. If the brownies are done, the toothpick will come out clean. Let brownies cool for 10 minutes, then cut into 2-inch squares.

Makes 16 servings. Each serving has 130 calories, 6 grams (g) fat, 4 g protein, 17 g carbohydrate, 3 g fibre, and 115 milligrams sodium.

About the author

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Julie Garden-Robinson is a North Dakota State University Extension Service food and nutrition specialist and professor in the department of health, nutrition and exercise sciences.

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