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Ask Addie: What to do with unroasted coffee beans, and how to make dinner without heating the house

Staff Writer
Austin 360
Unroasted, green coffee beans can be roasted at home using a cast-iron skillet or a stovetop popcorn maker.

With all the summer heat and the air conditioner running extra hard lately, I've been trying to find ways to "cook" a meal without heating the house up. As an energy auditor/nerd, I'm always thinking about how I'm paying to heat the food and then paying again to remove the heat from the house. High bills aside, it just makes the house uncomfortable to be in when I turn the oven on this time of the year or have several burners going at once. So my question is, what are some meals I can make that will not only keep my house from heating up but can also cool me off at the same time?

- Scott S.

You're right to think twice about your energy usage in the kitchen, but your oven or stove isn't the biggest culprit, says Kim Llewellyn, a building scientist at Positive Energy, an Austin-based building science, consulting and testing service. Older models of refrigerators are usually the biggest energy suck in the kitchen, but toaster ovens are significant energy wasters because most of the heat escapes through the door and uninsulated sides, she says. Microwaves do pull a lot of power, but they are all going into heating your food instead of heating your house.

Cooking can heat up your house and make it feel uncomfortable, but at the end of the month, you probably won't be able to tell in your electric bill. "What makes a difference is maintaining your HVAC systems, having decent insulation and making sure windows and doors are sealed properly," she says.

It makes me feel a little better to know that money-wise, whether or not I turn on the oven doesn't make that much difference, but I'm still with you on not wanting to stand in a hot kitchen on one of these 105-degree afternoons.

Store-bought rotisserie chickens, precooked shrimp, canned tuna and smoked salmon are good sources of pre-cooked meat that you can toss with lettuce, fruit, nuts and dressing for a substantial salad or mix with mayonnaise for a rich, creamy salad that is best served on bread or a bed of leafy greens.

Cold soups are another approach. In a blender, you can puree cucumbers, avocado, almonds, garlic, onions, white wine vinegar, bread and salt and pepper for a white gazpacho-inspired cold soup that is filling enough to make a meal. Don't like cucumbers? Watermelon and tomatoes are also good starting points. Vichyssoise is another nice cold soup, but traditional recipes require you to cook the onions and leeks and boil potatoes, which will definitely heat up your kitchen. For a no-cook approach, consider using canned, pre-cooked potatoes along with raw leeks, raw onions, cream and chicken stock. The soup will have a thicker texture than a classic vichyssoise, but it's the price you pay for keeping the house cool.

If giving up cooking completely until October seems as unrealistic to you as it does to me, try to make the most of the food you do cook.

If you brave the heat to grill vegetables or meat outside, you might as well cook twice as much as you'll need that night. Having pre-cooked food to incorporate into other meals will cut down on how much cooking you have to do the rest of the week. The same goes for cooking rice, quinoa or other grains. Dinnertime is often the hottest time of the day, so it makes more sense to do any cooking you need to do at night or in the morning. Cooking a big batch of rice when you're reading the paper over coffee might seem strange, but then you'll have grains to use later.

I accidentally purchased 5 pounds of green (unroasted) coffee beans via the Internet, which cannot be returned. They're of no use unroasted, so I'm wondering if you might know of a place that roasts coffee beans for individuals (for a fee, of course) or perhaps you know of an efficient means of roasting such beans at home? Five pounds is a lot of beans, so I'd prefer to not go the home-roasted route, if possible. Thanks.

- Sue Fawcett

What we know as the coffee bean is actually the seed inside the red fruit that grows on the coffee plant. When the outside layers are removed and the seed is dried, it becomes a greenish "bean" that is then roasted and brewed. Some coffee aficionados insist on roasting their own beans, which explains why websites or specialty stores sell unroasted coffee beans in the first place.

Big-scale roasters aren't likely to roast unroasted beans for you, but you might have more luck with coffee shops that roast their own beans in house. Andres Salvador, who owns Fair Bean Coffee at 2210 S. First St., roasts about a hundred pounds of coffee in his shop every week, and he says he'd be happy to roast your beans for you. Just call ahead (444-2326) to set up a time to swing by.

The shelf life of roasted beans, however, is much shorter than unroasted beans, which is why you might consider roasting them yourself in small batches, says Troy Authement, operations manager at Progress Coffee on East Fifth Street. "Green beans are often much cheaper than roasted beans, making it possible to enjoy the freshest coffee you've ever had at a far more agreeable price," he says.

You can use a stovetop popcorn popper or a cast-iron skillet, and just like when you're popping popcorn, you have to keep the beans - no more than half a pound at a time in a skillet or a quarter of a pound in an air popper - moving at all times over high heat. Stir constantly or at least every 30 seconds, and after about five minutes, the beans will start to make a cracking sound. (The beans will put off some smoke, so you might want to turn your overhead vent on.)

Roast for another few minutes, until they've reached a dark brown color, but not burnt. "You can stop the roast anywhere after first crack. It's a matter of personal preference," Authement says. "Stop after first crack for a light roast, or keep going until the second crack arises and the beans are oily for a dark roast."

Remove from stove and pour into a metal colander or spread out on a large baking sheet to cool. Stir the beans to remove the lightweight outer skin and help them cool off.