I love hot drinks. In addition to my dependence on coffee or caffeinated tea, I drink hot chocolate or herbal tea regularly in cold weather to warm me up–and I sometimes need that even in the hottest weather when my office building’s management chooses absurd air-conditioner settings! I’m also a big fan of quick oats at home and instant oatmeal as an office snack: It’s quick and easy to make, it’s tasty, a packet has just enough calories to make me feel really full without spoiling my next meal, and Costco recently introduced a Kirkland brand gigantic variety pack of instant oatmeal that’s organic yet very affordable!
I used to make my at-home hot drinks and oatmeal by boiling water in a kettle on the stove burner. That worked just fine. But at work, I was heating water in the microwave, which just doesn’t work all that well–it can get too hot without actually boiling, sometimes parts of the cup are different temperatures, and if you screw up (particularly with oatmeal) it can explode and slop all over you! My new year’s resolution in 2002 was to switch from coffee to tea, but tea made with microwaved water was just not right. I needed a better boiling method to help me keep my resolution.
Meanwhile, I’d been reading that kettles with their own electric heating elements save energy, compared to a stove-top kettle or microwave. (Now it seems the energy usage may be more complicated if the stove is a gas stove, which mine at home is, but there’s no stove at work.) I liked the idea of being able to make tea at my desk while working, instead of slogging to the break room and standing around there for three minutes and then trying to carry a mug of hot liquid back to my office without spilling it.
I bought a Chef’s Choice electric kettle (Model 685) and have used it every workday ever since. It was expensive, but it’s worth it! This is a great little appliance that would make an excellent gift for a college student or any hot-tea or instant-food aficionado.
- It heats up really quickly, especially when I put in only as much water as I really need. (The trick to getting this right, when you are filling your kettle at the same faucet day after day, is to count how many seconds you let the water run, then see if that was the right amount, too much, or too little. Soon you’ll learn the right number of seconds and just count to that number each time you fill the kettle.)
- It shuts off automatically after the water boils, if I forget about it.
- The handle comes up high, so I can hold it at the top and tip the kettle to pour every last drop, without losing control of it. (The Black & Decker electric kettle that we have at home has a less-well-designed handle; it took me a while to learn to pour from it without burning my knuckles or feeling like I was about to drop it.)
- It uses little enough power that I can have it plugged into the same power-strip as my computer; the surge of electricity it uses to heat up isn’t enough to cause any disruption. (My boss was worried about this when she first saw it.)
- The heating element is entirely enclosed, so it can’t set anything on fire. (Note that the outside of this stainless steel kettle is very hot, though, for a little while after boiling. It needs to be kept about an inch away from skin and anything plastic, that’s all.)
An appliance that might be even more helpful for dormitory dwellers is an electric hot-pot, which is similar to the electric kettle but opens across the whole top so it can be used as a cooking pot. I have fond memories of the two hot-pots that were my only cooking appliances in the dorm: I used one just for boiling plain water (like the electric kettle I have now) and one for cooking foods like rice, pasta, and soup, so that the lingering flavors from food didn’t get into my tea/coffee/oatmeal water. The hot-pots I had were cheap, with plastic sides that made a slight odor when heated and put who-knows-what chemicals into my food. If I were buying one now, I’d choose stainless steel! It’s also important for the heating element to be enclosed and as smooth as possible; any grooves will trap food and require lengthy scrubbing.
Almost any food you can cook in a regular saucepan on the stove can be cooked in a hot-pot. This was my technique for cooking spaghetti in a hot-pot:
- Bring water to a boil.
- Add spaghetti noodles. Cook until done.
- Unplug hot-pot, put on lid, and carry it to the sink. Hold slotted spoon across spout to keep noodles from escaping as you drain the water. (Eventually I did buy a colander, but it took up a lot more storage space than the slotted spoon!)
- Remove lid, scoop noodles to one side, add sauce, and plug in hot-pot. Stir constantly while sauce is warming.
- Unplug hot-pot and immediately remove spaghetti to plate. (If you let it stand in the hot-pot, it will meld onto the heating element, reducing the amount of edible food and making clean-up more difficult.)
Spaghetti is my favorite food, so I loved being able to make it myself. The year I didn’t have a refrigerator, I’d buy a jar of spaghetti sauce and keep it sealed until I was prepared to eat spaghetti three days in a row, using up all the sauce; the open jar would stay fresh and unmoldy long enough for that.
While I’m talking about electric cooking appliances that have worked for me, I have to mention the coffee percolator! Since writing about it last year in my 7 Product Recommendations, I’ve gotten a second one to use in the office. Like the electric kettle, the percolator can run on the same power-strip as a computer without causing power fluctuations.
Check out Works-for-Me Wednesday to see what’s working for other people!