Save the planet!

Rice being cooked under a towel

I have just watched Al Gore’s film An Inconvenient Truth on TV and am inspired to pass on an easy little tip that can help to make your life easier, save money, and can make a difference to the health of the planet if a lot of people follow my advice.

A few years ago, while making a stew, I thought of trying the old “hay box” technique for cooking the stew without having to keep checking on its progress, and stirring it from time to time. The idea of the hay box is that you shove your pot of stew or whatever into it once you have brought the pot to the boil. You leave it there for a couple of insulated hours. And with any sort of luck the stew will be cooked and ready to eat.

I didn’t have a hay box or hot box, and didn’t know where to find one. But then the thought occurred to me that heat rises, and maybe it wouldn’t matter too much if I didn’t have padding all round. If I simply piled some insulating material on top of the pot, perhaps I could achieve the same result. So I put a couple of oven gloves side by side on top of the lid, and a tea cosy, lying flat on top of them. And switched off the stove.

An hour later the stew was cooked, and still hot. I now use an old bath towel which I fold to make it slightly bigger than the lid of the pot, so that it and hangs down slightly all round, but remains well clear of the stove surface. Many dishes that are cooked on top of the stove can be cooked this way: just get the thing boiling, put the towel on top, switch off and relax for an hour or so. Instead of hovering over a hot stove, read a book, go for a walk, make love . . . whatever blows your hair back. You can forget about your pot of food; it won’t come to any harm; food will not stick to the bottom of the pot. And when you are ready to eat just warm it up for a few minutes if you’ve left it for several hours. With rice, I don’t even bother to get the pot boiling before I switch off. I simply switch a stove plate on to maximum heat, put half a cup of rice, and one cup of boiling water in a pot, stir, and put it on the stove with the towel on top. Four minutes later I switch off and let it stand for an hour. The result is enough fluffy rice for three meals. Even the cheapest brand of white rice, or expensive brown rice, cooks perfectly every time.

My char has followed my lead and now starts her cooking, using my method, before she leaves for work in the morning. When her children come home from school there is food for everyone. She is so impressed that she has got her friends doing the same thing.

I should mention that my stove has solid plates which retain heat for some time. If you are using gas or spiral plates you may need to experiment a bit with more insulation or slightly longer cooking before switching off. For further information on what dishes respond best, or how to make a hay box for taking on camping trips simply google “hay box”. A good site is

Let me know how it goes.

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