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Is Your Kitchen Ready for Holiday Baking and Cooking?

By , SparkPeople Blogger
Around the holidays, it seems like the stove and the oven are working overtime. We spend more time in the kitchen, sharing meals or prepping dishes for festive gatherings.  Make sure your kitchen is up for the task with these easy and quick kitchen tips. Consider it the wintertime equivalent of spring cleaning.

1. Take and inventory of your spice cabinet.  Check dates on spices and leavening ingredients, such as baking soda and baking powder.  Most spices don’t go bad but will lose some of their flavoring power.  (The exception: Poppy seeds and sesame seeds will go rancid. Open them up and if they smell oily or off, pitch. )  Incorporate any older spices into your menus over the next few weeks to use them up.  Leavening agents, however, lose their ability to leaven, or make baked goods rise.  If your baking soda has expired, use it to freshen your kitchen sink drain.  Pour the rest of the box into drain or disposal, add 1 cup white vinegar and let it do its stuff.  Rinse with warm water after 3 minutes.

2. Map your oven.  Have your ever made a batch of cookies and one side gets dark brown while the other side is undercooked?  Or you are trying to finish off the top of vegetable lasagna under the broiler and one side gets charred while the other seems untouched?  Map your oven!  It’s easy and quick.  Just move an oven rack to the highest position in the oven, preheat oven to broil then fill a baking sheet pan with white bread. 

Once the broiler has preheated place the bread-lined pan under the broiler and with the door ajar and watch as the bread toasts.  Once several pieces have turned golden brown remove the tray from the oven and set it on the stovetop.  Before you is a trail map of your oven.  You will see where your hot and cold spots are in the oven.  The next time you use the broiler you will be able to position your pan in the area that will give you the most even browning. Your map will tell you how to rotate the pan in the oven for even cooking.

3. Know the true temperature of your oven.  The next time you are at a kitchen supply store pick up an oven thermometer to calibrate your oven.  Hang the thermometer in the center of your oven under the middle rack.  Set your oven on 350 and wait. After your oven has preheated check the temperature on the thermometer.  If it reads 360 degrees your oven cooks high so adjust your baking/roasting temperature down 10 degrees.  Opposite stands true if you oven reads 340, you just adjust up 10 degrees.  The next time a plumber or electrician is at your house ask him or her to fix the calibration. It's a simple fix.

4. Recalibrate your instant read thermometers.  Baked poultry, which can be finicky about temperature, seems to be on menus quite often during the holidays.  It’s rude to make your guests sick!  Make sure your thermometer is reading the correct temperature. There are two ways to calibrate a thermometer. 

Safe way:  Place the tip of your thermometer into a glass jar filled with ice water.  If it reads 32 degrees Fahrenheit you are perfectly set. If not, adjust the dial up or down to recalibrate back down or up to 32 degrees. 
Not so safe way:  Place the tip of the thermometer into a saucepan filled boiling water.  Your thermometer should read 212 degrees--just be careful and don’t burn yourself. I warned you!

5. Sharpen knives.  Take your knives to a local kitchen store to have them sharpened, but allow two weeks for them to come back. Or, if you know how to do it yourself, go ahead.

6. Recondition wooden cutting boards and tools.  Pick up a food grade mineral oil at your local hardware or kitchen supply store.  (I do not recommend olive or vegetable oil for conditioning wood.  Have you ever smelled oil that has gone rancid?  If you use olive or vegetable oil it will get soaked into the wood and eventually go bad.)  Twice a year I give my boards a special soak with a mixture of warmed beeswax and mineral oil.  Mix 3 parts mineral oil with 1 part beeswax.  Warm it for 30 seconds in the microwave then spread over the surface of the wood.  Allow to soak in overnight then wipe off excess next day. This will keep your cutting boards and tools from drying out, splintering or cracking.

Now that you have your tools and supplies ready what are you waiting for--get cooking! Here's a "pinnable, printable" reminder for you!

What do YOU do to get ready for the flurry of activity in the kitchen this time of year?
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Good info. Thanks. Report
great tips Report
I am confused with how using the broiler setting will help you figure out where the hot spots are when you are baking. Report
Love these ideas, to think I thought I was doing well after cleaning my oven post Thanksgiving. I need to map my oven TODAY before I bake any cookies, time to be in the know! There is serious potential that my love/hate relationship with my oven just might be coming to an end! Report
Shoot, I'm always ready for cooking and baking, not just for the holidays! Its good to have these things worked out beforehand so you aren't surprised by your oven or not having what you need on hand! Report
Thanks for great ideas. I have oak work table (made by Amish in OH) and I have been treating it with just beeswax. Appreciate the idea of mineral oil plus beeswax. THANKS!!! Report
I got rid of my wood cutting board. Report
You CAN call a repairman or an electrician to adjust your temperature controls, but in my area it costs between $65 and $100 to get one of these folks to even come out. You can buy a lot of spices and food ingredients for $100, so I thought I'd share Easy DIY instructions so you can save a chunk of change.

How to Determine if Your Gas Stove Temperature is Correct

The very first thing you need is an oven thermometer, which is available at grocery stores or hardware stores for less than $10. Place the oven rack in the center of the oven and attach the thermometer as directed on the thermometer package, which may say to hang the device from a rod of the oven rack. Turn the oven to a commonly used temperature, like 350 degrees. Allow the oven to heat for at least 15 minutes and then record the temperature reading on the thermometer. Five minutes later, check the thermometer again. After another five minutes, Check the thermometer one last time . Add those three temperatures and divide by three to determine the average temperature. If the results are close to the setting you chose on the oven knob, like 10 degrees above or below, that average temperature is probably close enough because a gas oven's cannot maintain a constant temperature (it heats when a preset lower temperature variance is reached and then shuts off when a higher temperature variance is met). If the average is off more than 10 degrees, then the temperature can be adjusted. Leave the oven on.

Use the fingers of both hands to pop the oven temperature knob off the oven. The back of the knob has two screws that hold the face of the knob (the degree markings) in place. Note where the gauge on the back currently points, which may be in the center. Use a screwdriver to loosen both screws ( a large jewelers screwdriver works best). The objective is to twist the face of the knob to reposition the numbers to match the temperature in the oven. Relocate the pointer on the back of the knob one mark (or half the distance between marks, which is what I do) on the gauge hotter or cooler, tighten the screws and then reattach the knob to the oven. Set the temperature again to 350, wait 15 minutes and check the temperature. Repeat twice more at five minute intervals and calculate an average. You may need to adjust the knob again. You most likely will not achieve an exact setting so err to the lower side as you fine tune the setting. It's better to return a casserole to the oven to cook a bit longer than to have the temperature too high and have to scrape off the carbon.

Older gas ovens don't have the convenient marks on the knob, so you have to remember the LARS rule (turning the screw to the Left Adds heat, turning the knob to the Right Subtracts heat [Left Add Right Subtract = LARS]).

Digital gas ovens vary in their ways to adjust the heat for your oven, but you can find how yours works simply by reading the instruction book that comes with the particular brand of oven. If you inherited the range from a former owner, you can Google most brands on the Internet and find the directions there.

Check the Temperature of an Electric Oven

It's easy to check the accuracy of the temperature control on an electric oven. Simply place an oven thermometer in the center of your electric oven. Set the temperature of the oven at exactly 350 degrees Fahrenheit, and after approximately 25 minutes, check the temperature reading of the thermometer. If the temperature of your electric oven is off by 20 degrees or more, one way or the other, the thermostat probably needs to be replaced. If the temperature is less than 20 degrees off either way, it can easily be adjusted with a simple turn of a screwdriver.

Adjusting the Temperature of an Electric Oven

Before making any repair or adjustment to an electric appliance, FIRST unplug the power cord before proceeding. Some women do not have the hand strength to do this, so you might have to get someone to do it for you (please note, I am gender neutral in the requirement for stronger hands. My DW has reminded me so many times over the past 41 years, I'm almost trained, but no matter how many times she says it, I don't think the LA Lakers will ever have a girl Shooting Guard).

Most electric ovens have a removable knob that controls the temperature. Firmly pull the knob straight out to remove it for examination and adjustment. One type oven temperature control will have the adjustments on the back side of the knob. Turn the knob over and look for adjustable notches. There may be screws or clips holding the adjustment disc in place. Loosen them if necessary. Typically, one notch represents 10 degrees, and there will probably be directional arrows indicating "higher" and "lower." Turn the disc accordingly to adjust your electric oven temperature control.

Some electric ovens have a different type of temperature control. This one has a hollow shaft beneath the removable oven knob. Remove the knob and look for a screw within the shaft. Choose the proper screwdriver for the job, and turn the screw counterclockwise to raise the temperature setting and clockwise to lower it. Keep in mind that an eighth of a turn is about 25 degrees one way or the other.

After adjusting your electric oven temperature control, plug the oven back in to the electric source and retest the temperature of the oven using your oven thermometer. If it's necessary to adjust the temperature control of your electric oven again, allow the oven to cool before checking the temperature and unplug the power. Adjust the temperature control accordingly, and recheck the temperature of the oven. It may take several tries to set your oven to the correct temperature, but ALWAYS Remember to disconnect the power.

Changing the temperature of digital electric ovens can vary by brand, so be sure to check the instructions for your oven for directions.

I have moved 19 times since I left home at 18. As a bachelor, I quickly found out it was too expensive to eat out every night, so using the skills I learned in chemistry classes, I got some recipes from my mom and saved tons of money. Cooking is just exactly like mixing chemicals to get a desired result. The only thing that gave me a problem was when an ingredient called for a "dab", "pinch", or "dash". It took me a trip back home to learn how to measure each of these ingredients. Because my thumb and forefinger are much larger than my mom's, I had to modify her "pinch" to "half a pinch" to get the right taste.

Can I cook? Yes. Lots of simple stuff, plus, made from scratch spaghetti sauce (it takes two days to do it properly, as taught me by my Sicilian Godmother), lasagna, Beef Stroganoff, Enchiladas, Gazpacho and more - and like many men, I am the Grill Master for my family. I don't do desserts. Thanks to Spark People, I now have even a larger range of recipes I use. Report
You reminded me to reseason my cutting boards. Did it yesterday! Report
Thanks for all the great tips. Report
Excellent tips....thank you Report
Poppy seeds, I had a friend try to buy some a couple of months ago and she had to go to the store manager to get them LOL. Report
Good tips. Report
Good to know, I usually use my spices pretty fast, but the poppy seeds......
i had no idea, I will go and check.
Thanks Report
Good tips!

Almost 50% of our baking gets done in November so already did this last month (except have some more knife sharpening to do).

Clever idea for "mapping the oven". I'll have to give that a try after getting some bread. It will be interesting to see if how I think my oven works matches to the "map" of how it is currently working. Report
I never knew how to preserve my wooden cutting boards. This tip alone was worth the read, but you gave me much more. Thanks for the tips. Happy baking to you. Sincerely, Julia Report
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