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Chapter One
Your Kitchen Space
and Appliances
Ergonomics in the Kitchen
kitchen counters and cabinet shelves to the
placement of major and minor appliances. And,
where you store things on and in your counters
and cabinets will help you avoid unnecessary
bending and stretching. Yet, even if you are not
starting from scratch or doing a wholesale
remodeling job, there are many ways to adapt
your existing space. Here are a few ideas to consider, whatever your plans.
The placement of appliances should be convenient for your cooking style, but the classic
arrangement in which the sink, refrigerator,
and range form a triangle is usually most efficient. Even though you’re used to the arrangement you now have, you might want to test
other layouts at show-room kitchens in retail
oday’s buzzword for organizing and
selecting furnishings for the workplace is ergonomics. This theory holds
that furniture and other equipment should be
sized and arranged so that there is the least
amount of stress on the worker. So why not
apply workplace ergonomics principles to your
kitchen? You deserve a stress-free environment
whether you consider your kitchen to be a
recreation station, because cooking is a hobby,
or a workstation, because homemaking is your
main job.
If you’re building a new home or remodeling your kitchen, there are many things you
can do to make your kitchen ergonomically
correct, from selecting the correct height of
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aged by acids (for example, from fruit juices).
Wood cutting surfaces, which burn and mark
easily, can also harbor bacteria. The grout
between tiles is also a hiding place for bacteria,
even though most tile surfaces are easier to
clean and more resistant to stains than wood.
stores or at builders’ home shows. (The selection of appliances is covered in more detail
later in this chapter.)
Not all counters have to be the same height.
Your stovetop could be lower than your sink.
You’ll want to see down into pots and pans but
may not want to bend over to do the dishes.
Install drawers or sliding shelves in cabinets
below the counters to avoid having to get down
on all fours to retrieve items at the back on the
lower shelves. (Sliding shelves are easily added
to existing cabinets. Check out your local building, hardware, or closet store for storage ideas.)
The work surfaces should be stain and heat
resistant. Aside from matters of taste and cost,
you need to ask yourself what is the most practical material for your cooking style? How
much time are you willing to spend on maintenance? How careful are you and the other cooks
in the house? Most homes in my mother’s day
had laminated plastic countertops that could
be damaged if you placed hot pots and pans on
them without the protection of a heat-resistant
mat. Also, they could be scratched by abrasive
cleansers but could be made to look shiny with
kitchen or furniture wax. Some of the new synthetic countertop materials, look like marble or
granite but acid or heat cannot damage them.
And when they become knife-scratched, they
can be sanded and restored to their original finish. They are expensive but may be more practical in the long run because they are so
durable. These countertops can also be custom
made to include a molded sink so that you have
no seams or creases to collect dirt. If you like
natural materials for countertops, granite is less
porous than marble, which can be easily dam-
HELOISE HINT: When you need extra work
space, open a drawer all the way and put a
cookie sheet on it, then close the drawer until
the cookie sheet fits tightly.
The flooring materials should be easy to
maintain. Some flooring is cushioned to make
long-time standing easier on your feet and
back. New polyurethane finishes make wood
floors in kitchens as practical as any other type
of flooring. Also, new wood-look laminates tolerate a lot of abuse from spills and daily traffic.
When you buy new flooring, you will find that
there are several types of flooring: wood, manufactured wood, laminates, vinylsheet, vinyl tile,
tile, and marble. Real wood boards and planks
are great for the natural look but can be expensive, because they need to be sanded and sealed
with several coats of varnish or shellac after
installation. They also need to be refinished
after several years, unless you use a polyurethane
finish, which is fairly water resistant and durable.
Manufactured wood is a thin veneer of natural
wood over a base material that is factory finished instead of finished after installation. This
material costs less than natural wood, and the
factory-applied protective finish is often more
durable than the finish applied to natural wood.
Laminates tolerate abuse extremely well, but
some people think they look like fake wood;
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“off” switches do just fine? If all I want to do is
reheat a dish of leftovers and have a low-tech
personal style, do I need a high-tech microwave
with all sorts of gadgetry that will never get
used? These are questions you’ll answer as you
do your own research.
However, remember Heloise Rule #1 when
buying a new appliance: Save the manual! Manufacturers do a lot of research on their products,
and you pay for that research in the price of the
appliance, so it makes sense to get your money’s
worth by reading the manual carefully and then
keeping it for future reference and troubleshooting. Keep your manuals in a file, a drawer,
a binder, or any other secure, convenient place. I
put them in a plastic bag with handles and
hang them all together in a closet. Also keep all
guarantees and warranties where you can get at
them if you have any problems.
And speaking of guarantees, more often
than not, when you buy an appliance, you will
be asked if you want to take an extended warranty on your appliance. One factor to consider
is: Would you rather pay, and can you afford to
pay, the as-yet-unknown repair cost or the
known cost of the extra warranty? Also, what
exactly does the extended warranty cover? Will
it really be a savings? It also depends on the
type of appliance and its potential life. A friend
of mine, whose several children helped with
loading and unloading the dishwasher, doing
laundry, and cleaning with other appliances,
always bought extended warranties. She figured that children were more likely than adults
(we hope) to have mishaps such as dropping a
spoon into the dishwasher’s food grinder or
putting extra wear and tear on the vacuum
however some of the newer products look less
fake than the older ones. Prices vary, so you
ought to shop around to find the best deal. Tile
is durable and comes in a variety of colors and
textures. The disadvantage of ceramic or clay
tile is that it may crack if your house foundation shifts. If you choose a hard surface for
flooring such as ceramic, terrazzo, or Mexican
tiles instead of wood or cushioned flooring,
take a lesson from restaurants and hairdressers:
Buy a cushion-type mat and place it where you
do most of your standing, such as at the sink.
Marble floors are hard and need to be specially
treated to prevent staining. Check the supplier’s instructions for care and cleaning to avoid
permanent damage to this rather expensive
Design the lighting in your kitchen to illuminate work surfaces clearly. Light coming from
behind you, such as a single overhead fixture,
will throw shadows making it difficult for you
to see what you’re doing. Lighting wands can be
placed under cabinets (and some are even battery operated if you don’t have an outlet nearby.
Like everything in our society, we have so
much choice when it comes to buying kitchen
appliances that it’s often difficult to sort out
what’s what. And making a poor selection can
be costly and frustrating. If you are planning to
buy a new appliance for the kitchen, there are
some important questions to ask: What do I
want this thing to do? Am I the kind of person
who likes high-tech or will simple “on” and
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has lasted the maximum time, you’ll want to
buy that brand again, but keep in mind that
manufacturers may have more than one brand
name for the same appliance. You may find, for
example, that Brand C is the cheaper version of
Brand A, made by the same company, but with
fewer frills or different features.
To help you make the best choices in appliances, I have gathered together information
and hints on major and small appliances to
show you what to look for and how to get the
most from each.
cleaner from dragging it down the steps. However, once the children were grown and gone,
she stopped buying extended warranties because
she had fewer costly repairs on her appliances.
I’ve listed the life expectancies of kitchen
appliances below. It’s useful to know how long
an appliance might last so that you can decide
if it’s worth repairing when it breaks. An appliance near the end of its life span might be
cheaper to replace than to repair in the long
run. Also, if your appliance has not lasted as
long as the average, you might want to consider another brand when you buy a new one. If it
Major Appliances
Average Useful Life Span
of Major Appliances
An efficiently operated dishwasher consumes less hot water and less energy than hand
washing dishes—not counting the savings in
human energy as well.
The amount of use affects appliance life; these figures
What to look for . . .
are approximated for a family of four. Some models
will wear out quickly and others will last longer than
Clothes dryer
17 to 19
Clothes washer
12 to 14
18 to 20
11 to 13
17 to 19
18 to 20
Room air-conditioner
14 to 16
Water heater
12 to 14
So many new homes and apartments are now
coming equipped with dishwashers that you’ll
have no choice on the make, style, or size of the
machine. If you are remodeling or replacing an
old built-in machine, a built-in machine is the
obvious choice. If you are renting where no
dishwasher is installed, a freestanding machine
will be your choice. If you are purchasing a
machine for the first time or replacing an existing machine here are some features to consider:
Built-in dishwashers: Most built-in
models fit into the standard 24-inch wide space
under the kitchen countertop where they will
be permanently attached to the hot-water pipe
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and drain and get plugged into an electric
socket, usually found under the sink. Some
models may be more compact and narrower,
but 24 inches wide is the usual opening for
dishwashers. Do measure before you shop.
■ Freestanding dishwashers: Freestanding or portable dishwashers are similar in function to built-in models, but they have a finished
cabinet on wheels so that you can roll them up
to the sink. Hot water gets into the portable
dishwasher via a hose that clamps onto a standard kitchen faucet, which may need an adapter
to allow the clamp to be attached. Accessories
for attaching hoses are available where you buy
the appliance. After the cycles are complete in a
freestanding model, used water gets pumped
from the bottom of the machine through a hose
that drains into the sink. A friend of mine said
that the biggest problem she had when her children first began using her portable dishwasher
was that they forgot to hook the drain hose over
the edge of the sink, and so the water would
drain onto the floor. Now you could joke that
this is one way to give the floor a good cleaning,
but dishwasher detergent usually contains
bleach and, combined with very hot water, it is
definitely not a good solution for any kind of
kitchen flooring. When purchasing a freestanding model, keep in mind that you will need
someplace in the kitchen to store it and it takes
up about as much space as a refrigerator. A
small apartment kitchen might not have
enough space, so measure before you shop.
the drying process. Hot-air drying helps eliminate spotting, but if you use a water softener,
available at supermarkets, spotting is not a
problem no matter how you dry the dishes.
Higher priced models will have a dispenser for
liquid water softener or spot-remover, but you
can also buy spot-removing products that come
in a plastic container that hook on the top rack
of your dishwasher.
■ A delay-start function that enables you
to set the dishwasher to go on while everyone’s
asleep, when it is not competing for hot water
with people who are showering.
■ Water-saving functions for partial or
full loads.
■ A rinse-and-hold function that rinses
partial loads while you are waiting for the dishwasher to be full enough to run through the
full cycle.
■ Efficient food residue disposal, which
means you don’t have to rinse dishes before
putting them in the machine.
■ Quiet running; do some research in consumer magazines or on-line before you buy to
find out which brands run more quietly. Some
have more insulation than others.
■ Adjustable or removable racks that
allow for different size items to fit into the
dishwasher. Some top racks will adjust to hold
stemware in place, and some flatware baskets
have a section with a lid so that you can wash
small items without having them fall to the
bottom into the heating coil.
Some valuable features . . .
Getting the most from your dishwasher . . .
An air-dry or energy-miser setting to
save you money by turning off the heat during
Dishwasher detergents: When choosing
a dishwasher detergent, don’t just automatical-
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your personal preference. I have a friend who
says that if she has to rinse the dishes before
loading them, she considers the machine to be
broken and in need of replacing. Also, she says,
in Texas, where water shortages are a fact, rinsing is a waste of precious water.
■ Accumulated grease and gunk at the
very bottom of the dishwasher door may prevent your dishes from getting clean. This
grease and gunk usually accumulates if the
water supplied to your dishwasher is not hot
enough to wash it away during washing cycles.
CAUTION: Use a thick wad of paper towels to
wipe away this buildup, because there might
be shards of glass in the gunk if a glass has ever
chipped or broken in your dishwasher. Also,
the bottom edge of the door may be a bit sharp.
If the gunk is too hard for wiping with paper
towels or a rag, a wood ice pop stick usually
makes a good and harmless scraper for this project.
■ Clogged kitchen drain pipes or sewer
lines can cause poor dishwasher results. Call
your plumber! Stains from foods or minerals in
the water can be removed with citric acid, a
main ingredient found in powdered lemonade
or citrus fruit drink, or bought in a pharmacy.
Put 1 or 2 tablespoons powdered lemonade or
citrus fruit drink in the detergent dispenser, no
detergent, and run a cycle. You can also sprinkle the powder on a stain or blotch before running a cycle. Repeat if the stain persists.
■ Make sure small and odd-shaped items
are securely placed in the dishwasher racks.
You can place a piece of nylon net in the bottom of the silverware basket to prevent smallhandled items from poking through and
ly use the brand and type that your mom used,
especially if you live in a different part of the
country. Some areas of the country have harder
water (more mineral content) than others, and
water hardness or softness affects the efficiency
of dishwasher detergent and the amount of
detergent needed to do a good job. Experiment
to find the brand and type (gel, liquid, or
powder) that works best. If you have a water
softener installed in your home, you won’t need
to use as much detergent as you would when
the water is high in mineral content. CAUTION:
Never ever use regular hand dishwashing
detergent in the dishwasher (see Kitcheneering
Humor below).
■ Dishwasher detergent can discolor silver
and some silver-plated flatware or other silver items, and the heat of the water and drying
process can damage the handles of dinner
knives. Most stainless-steel flatware can be
washed in the dishwasher with no bad outcome.
■ Silver- or gold-banded china and glassware may be damaged by long-term exposure
to dishwasher detergent in the machine. Hand
washing is usually best for these items.
■ Prerinsing dishes: Most manufacturers
claim that you won’t have to prerinse, but you
can simply wipe dirty dishes with used paper
napkins from the table before loading them
into the dishwasher to get rid of the larger
pieces of food or stuck-on sauce. The dishes
will come out cleaner and the machine has to
work less to dispose of the excess waste. Note:
Whether or not you need to rinse dishes before
putting them into the dishwasher depends on
the efficiency of your filter/disposal system and
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Dad cleans, he cleans the kitchen and yard,
possibly interfering with the rotating sprayer
in the bottom of the dishwasher.
■ To prevent cups from flipping over
and collecting sediment and water, line up the
cup handles and run a 1⁄ 2-inch dowel pin
through them. Dowel pins are sold in most
hardware stores.
■ Dishwashers can be used for washing
things other than dishes. For instance, those
greasy, hard-to-clean metal-mesh filters used in
over-the-stove vents can be run through the
cycle but don’t put it in with your regular dishes. (In her 1963 book, Heloise Kitchen Hints, my
mother recommended washing glass kitchen
light fixtures in the dishwasher.)
■ When you have to replace a broken dishwasher, recycle the racks as organizers for
wrapping paper and ribbons. Rolls and ribbon
spools fit on the upright prongs and flat packages of tissue or gift-wrap fit in slots. Also,
some old dishwashers have silverware baskets
with handles that can carry flatware outside to
the picnic table.
■ To repair or cover up rusted prongs on
a dishwasher rack, you can buy commercial liquid plastic products, which come in a range of
colors, at appliance or dishwasher service
As with all major appliances, the size of the
available space has a lot to do with the freezer
you select. Each model will have various features to suit your needs and budget in one of
three basic types: chest freezers, self-defrosting
upright models, and manual-defrosting
upright models.
What to look for . . .
Chest freezers are very efficient; cool air
doesn’t escape as readily when you open them
as it does with upright freezers. In case of a
power outage, they keep food cool longer.
However, you will usually have to defrost them
periodically and they take up more floor space
than upright models.
■ Self-defrosting
upright freezers are
probably the most popular because defrosting a
freezer or refrigerator is right up at the top of
the list of disliked chores. These freezers usually have wire racks or shelves for organizing
food and for keeping it at eye level. Some
shelves can be adjusted or removed so that you
can freeze bulky foods. Other ways to organize
foods include space in the door and a variety of
bins or baskets that come with the freezer.
Some models have a solid shelf at the top for
quick freezing foods, which is colder than the
rest of the freezer. This is also a good place for
ice cream and ice pops, because they will keep
most solid on that coldest shelf.
■ Manual-defrosting
upright freezers,
like the self-defrosting models, include shelv■
A reader wrote that when she was in the hospital, her husband ran their dishwasher with liquid detergent. Her daughter arrived home to
find suds bubbling and flowing from the dishwasher so fast that suds filled the kitchen and
rolled out the back door, filling the porch and
driveway. Her daughter’s comment was “When
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solution of 4 tablespoons of baking soda in 1
quart of warm water will clean and deodorize at
the same time. Wash out the freezer, rinse, and
wipe dry. If you need to scrub a stain, don’t use
an abrasive cleanser that will damage the surface, instead sprinkle baking soda on a wet
sponge and scrub.
■ Placing the freezer in the garage or a
porch is not a good idea. The freezer’s cooling
system will work overtime trying to compensate for the extreme cold or heat of outdoor
temperatures and won’t operate as well as it
would if you kept it indoors in normal room
ing to make organizing and finding food easier.
A leading consumer magazine says that manualdefrosting models are cheaper to buy and run
than self-defrosting models. However, if you
don’t have the time to defrost according to the
manufacturer’s directions, the cost won’t be a
Getting the most from your freezer . . .
The time to defrost a freezer is when
frost buildup is about 1⁄4 inch thick. Cooling
efficiency decreases when frost builds up; and
when the frost is greater than 1⁄4 inch, energy
use increases, because the motor has to run
■ Keep food cold in a picnic cooler, or
line a laundry basket or your kitchen sink with
newspapers when you are defrosting the freezer.
Cover the food with more newspapers and put
ice cubes on top.
■ To defrost a chest freezer, unplug the
freezer and keep the food cold as noted above.
Place several large buckets of very hot water
inside and shut the lid. Change the water in 15
minutes. After a couple of changes, most of the
ice and water will have dropped to the bottom.
Use a wet/dry vacuum or bath towels to remove
it. When clean, wipe up the residue, plug in
the freezer, and load it up. CAUTION: Always be
careful using electrical appliances near water.
Make sure the vacuum is rated “wet.” A regular
vacuum won’t work and it’s DANGEROUS if
used for this purpose.
■ Even self-defrosting models need to be
“defrosted” sometimes, if only to give them
a good cleaning.
■ Cleaning a freezer (or refrigerator): A
I’m told that in many places depending on
codes, such as New York City, garbage disposals are illegal. The best way to find out if they
are illegal in your city is to contact the city’s
code compliance department, which issues permits for building, remodeling, and home
What to look for . . .
The most expensive garbage disposals usually have the most power to grind heavier loads of
discarded foods. For example, although they
work on ordinary discarded veggies and fruits,
the cheapest models may not grind up ice cubes
or frozen citrus fruit hunks, which is a good and
easy way to clean and deodorize the disposal.
Unless you are unusually handy, you will need
to have your plumber install the garbage disposal and you’ll have to trust your plumber or
builder to help you decide which brand will
work best in your sink and for your needs.
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so it is reserved for the kitchen. Then periodically wash the inside of the garbage disposal
and the underside of the splash guard with hot
soapy water and dishwashing detergent. Just
run hot water into the sink, add some dishwashing detergent, and scrub up and down and
around with the commode brush; then rinse
with clean water. If you think the detergent
might run through, squirt some on the brush
before cleaning.
■ To avoid jamming when disposing of
tough stringy matter, add other soft foods
while grinding. However, I’m of the opinion
that some food items should never be put down
any disposal: bones; shellfish; and fibrous matter such as artichokes, asparagus, and celery
stalks. Meat sinews and fibrous foods tend to
get tangled up in the grinder of your disposal.
Also, unless you really do a good job of flushing
away meat or fish, they will cause foul odors in
the disposal.
■ Never
put grease in the disposal
because it is likely to solidify in the plumbing
and may cause blockages. Also, grease that
remains in the disposal or in pipes can become
■ Most disposal manuals tell you to never
run the disposal with hot water; use cold
water and plenty of it to flush the waste all the
way down and prevent odors from “burping
up” into your kitchen.
■ If the disposal becomes jammed, pressing the red “restart” button may do the trick.
You may have to repeat the process one or
twice. CAUTION: Do not put your face directly
over the opening when turning on the
machine. Objects may fly out and cause injury.
Getting the most from your garbage
disposal . . .
If you don’t have an instruction manual for your garbage disposal because it was
installed before you bought your home, call the
manufacturer to get one. Get the manufacturer’s name and the model number from the unit;
some companies will send the manual free and
others may charge for it. To get the phone
number, call 1-800-555-1212 and ask for the
manufacturer’s phone number, or your public
library’s business department and ask if the
librarian can look up the phone number and/or
address in the library’s directory. Or use a Web
browser to locate the company’s Web site.
■ To banish odors and clean off the grinder
at the same time, freeze leftover lemon or lime
wedges, orange peels, or other citrus fruit remnants and then run them the through the
garbage disposal, followed by a lot of cold
water. You can also run fresh citrus fruit waste
and drops of peppermint or other extracts
down the disposal to deodorize it.
■ If the odor persists, the culprit could be
an accumulation of gunk on the underside of
the splash guard (black plastic thing).
Although splash guards are inexpensive to
replace, before you buy a new one, remove the
old guard, if you can, and scrub the underside
with hot soapy water and a brush. Check the
manual that came with your disposal to see how
to remove the splash guard. Usually it is
attached to a ring the size of the opening in the
sink and you can grab the ring and pull it up.
To keep the splash guard clean, use a large
round scrub brush or get a new commode brush
and be sure to label it with permanent marker
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If the “restart” button
doesn’t work, first, turn off the machine. Then
place a broom handle or very sturdy stick into
the disposal and turn it counterclockwise to try
to unjam the motor. Pull the stick out, run
water, then turn on the machine.
Simple models offer High, Medium, and
Low and manual timer dials. Some more
expensive models offer such timed cooking features as Defrost; and in addition to the usual
High, Medium, and Low, they will cook Medium-High, Medium-Low, etc. Some have sensors that will cook the food until a specified
temperature is reached and you can just press
“Leftovers,” “Frozen Food,” or other buttons so
that the microwave does all the calculations.
■ When
determining the size of
microwave oven that will fit on a countertop, consider that you will need a couple of
inches of space behind the oven to allow for its
vents. Some microwaves can be mounted on
the wall; the kit needed to do this will add to
the cost but will save counter space. Built-in
models require certain configurations that
allow for vents; consult with the installer.
If your dishwasher drains through your
garbage disposal, run the disposal for a few
seconds while the dishwasher is pumping that
hot soapy water through it.
The latest generation of microwave ovens
has so many features, deciding which is best for
you is like buying a computer. If you’re going
to use it just for reheating leftovers, then the
buying decision will be easier because the simplest technology will do nicely. If you plan to
do some serious cooking in your microwave,
then you may want more elaborate timing features. Two other important things to look for
when comparison shopping are price and
capacity. If all you will do is heat a cup of water
for tea, you don’t need the size that will accommodate a roasting chicken.
Getting the most from your microwave . . .
■ Keep your oven clean because food bits
and spills can alter your oven’s cooking
times . . . microwave ovens can’t tell the difference between real food and nonedible spillover
mess. Never scrape microwave oven surfaces
with sharp utensils or harsh scrubbers; they
damage the easy-clean surface. Most of the
time, if you wipe out the oven with a clean
soapy sponge or dishcloth, then wipe again
with a rinsed sponge or cloth, followed by a dry
towel, the microwave oven will sparkle.
What to look for . . .
The higher the voltage, the quicker the
cooking, and the higher the price. Lower
wattage ovens are usually 600 to 700 watts and
larger models are usually 800 to 1000 watts.
■ Turntables help get uniform cooking. If
your microwave did not come with one
installed, you can buy a turntable in housewares departments.
HELOISE HINT: Clean your oven with 2
tablespoons of either lemon juice or baking
soda in 1 cup of water in a microwave-safe
4-cup bowl. Let the mixture boil in the
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baking pumpkin pies. (If you don’t want to
disappoint your family, you can buy a pie to
have on hand when the aroma teases them into
pie cravings.) You can also cook 2 teaspoons of
thyme or sage to create a baked turkey aroma.
Or, use your imagination and season your
house with other pleasant scents.
microwave oven for about 5 minutes so that the
steam condenses on the inside walls of the oven,
then wipe off the walls, the inside of the door,
and the door seals. CAUTION: Let the bowl set
15 minutes before opening the door.
To remove dried spills, pour a puddle of
water over the spill, microwave on High for 1
or 2 minutes (or pour on water before doing
other normal cooking), and then wipe clean.
The water will soften the spill for easy removal.
■ If a spill stains the surface of the oven,
sprinkle baking soda on a wet sponge or dishcloth and wipe, then rinse and dry. Never clean
a microwave with harsh scouring powders or
other abrasive chemicals.
■ Avoid spills by selecting the proper size
container. Or place a cheap paper plate under
something that might boil over.
■ To remove odors from a microwave,
clean the oven with a solution of 4 tablespoons
of baking soda stirred into 1 quart of warm
water. After washing with the solution, wipe
out the inside with a damp cloth or sponge. If
odors remain, put 1 cup of water in a large
4-cup microwave-safe bowl and add a few teaspoons of baking soda. Cook on High for about
5 minutes. CAUTION: Don’t put your face in
front of the door.
■ To
replace unpleasant odors with
scents that makes the whole house smell
good, try this home-style “aromatherapy.” Put
1 cup of water and 2 teaspoons of pumpkin-pie
spice in a large microwave bowl or 4-cup glass
measuring cup and heat on High until it boils.
After the boiling point is reached, cook for 3
more minutes. Everyone will think you’ve been
One of my readers tried several odor-removal
remedies to no avail. So she put a small dish of
vanilla extract in the oven, left it for a while,
and it deodorized the oven without her needing
to turn the microwave on.
For more on cooking in the microwave,
please see chapter 7.
One of the problems we faced with this
book is that the name of the thing on which
you cook has different names in different parts
of the country. We turned to our friends at the
Appliance Manufacturers Association for guidance. So, here’s the official word: The burners
(gas, electric, ceramic, etc.) are the range.
(Some publications also call them the cooktop.)
The part in which you bake and roast is the
oven. And, the whole thing together is a stove.
Given the choice, it seems that most traditional cooks (no matter what their age) prefer
cooking with gas. But no matter what choice
you make, there are some basic guidelines to
consider when choosing your major cooking
appliances. Consumer magazines say that freestanding stoves are the best value; built-ins
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kitchen will accommodate the stove’s venting
■ Modular stoves will have separate cooktops and separate wall ovens or dual wall ovens
that can be installed at eye level beside the
range or elsewhere. Buying modular stove
components is the most expensive way to go
and you should get advice from whoever will
install them to make sure that proper installation for venting and connecting to energy
sources are available.
usually cost more and have various configurations and combinations of ovens and stove
burners that accommodate where and how they
will be installed.
HELOISE HINT: With all stoves, if you have
small children, look for knobs and dials that are
placed out of the children’s reach at the top
rather than the front of the stove. If you have a
toddler, and the dials are in reach, it’s safer just
to take them off. Keep them in a mug or bowl
beside the stove where you can get at them
when you need them. It’s inconvenient but
safety is first!
The Range
Traditional cooks like gas ranges because,
they say, they can see the flames and so they can
more easily control the desired temperature.
The burners are somewhat self-cleaning in that
the flames will burn off some grease and gunk,
but they still need occasional cleaning. Spills
go below the burners and with some models,
you have to remove the gas burners to clean the
tray below.
■ Electric
element ranges usually use
coils, which are less expensive than flat plate
elements. Electric elements will burn off
minor spills, but heavy spills may go into the
wells beneath the burners. Usually the range
top lifts up so that you can clean under the elements.
■ Electric ceramic cooktops are popular
with many cooks because they are so easy to
clean, and new technology is making them as
quick heating and as easy to regulate as gas and
electric stoves. And the bonus is that you can
use any kind of pot or pan on them. The early
models did not allow for metal or iron pots and
pans and so they were not popular because peo■
What to look for . . .
Freestanding stoves are the most common. They have finished side “walls” so that
they can be placed at the end of your kitchen
counters or they will fit in a space allocated
between cabinets, usually from 20 to 40 inches
wide, with most widths being 30 inches. So
measure the space before you shop to make sure
your stove will fit.
■ Built-in stoves, cooktops, and ovens
vary, and if you are replacing such items, measuring is absolutely necessary. Such stoves will
either slide into a space between cabinets or
drop into cabinets connected below the oven.
The models that drop into a space will have no
storage drawer.
■ If your stove has two ovens, such as a
conventional oven or a microwave on top, the
range in the middle, and the second oven
below, measuring is even more important and
you may need to ask how the ovens are vented
to allow hot air to dissipate and whether your
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some ash at the bottom of a self-cleaning oven
and wipe off the door, but this is nothing compared to the way people cleaned ovens in my
mother’s day.
■ Convection ovens bake and roast foods
faster than conventional ovens because they circulate the hot air inside. Formerly available
only on airplanes and for restaurant kitchens,
convection ovens have been available to home
kitchens for several years. Sometimes you will
find combination microwave-convection ovens.
Check out the manual that comes with your
convection oven to find out how to compare
traditional oven cooking times with convection
oven cooking times for the same amount of
food or the same size roast.
ple liked to use the cookware they already had
instead of buying new ceramic pots and pans.
So if your mom or elder aunt tells you that
ceramic cooktops are no good, you can explain
that the recent models accommodate any cookware as long as the bottom is flat and not
warped from misuse.
The Oven
Oven capacity varies from stove to stove,
and it is sometimes governed by the shelf supports that determine shelf placement. For
example, if you have to remove one shelf so that
a Thanksgiving turkey will fit into the oven
using the lowest possible shelf placement, then
you can’t heat another food in the oven at the
same time unless it will fit on the sides of the
roaster. Some ovens are too small to put two
casseroles side-by-side and still allow for proper heat circulation and baking; they may hold
only smaller-size cookie sheets. Measure when
you compare ovens; price does not always
determine the size of the oven.
■ Timers: Some ovens can be preset to turn
on or turn off at selected times. Other ovens
have a sensor that can be inserted into meats so
that you can tell when the roast is done to your
preference. If such features are important to
you, they are worth the extra money.
■ Regular standard ovens that have no
self-cleaning or continuous cleaning features
cost less. If you don’t mind cleaning ovens, you
can save some money, since most ovens bake
and roast at about the same level of efficiency.
■ Self-cleaning and continuous-cleaning
ovens have almost eliminated the dreaded
chore of cleaning. You still need to wipe out
Getting the most from your range/oven . . .
Cleaning the oven may be the single most
important thing you do because baked-on
grease prevents the thermostat from accurately
maintaining the set temperature. Greasy ovens
can smoke and spoil the flavor of foods, or the
grease can catch fire and really spoil a whole
kitchen and maybe the whole house! So a clean
oven is a safe oven!
Traditional gas burners have drip trays,
burner rims, and other removable parts to
clean and they must always be drained and dry
before you replace them so that residual water
won’t divert the flow of gas.
HELOISE HINT: Before replacing gas burners dry them with a hand-held hair dryer on
high heat to remove moisture from all bends in
the pipes.
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A special cleaner is available for ceramic
cooktops that will keep them shiny and bright
without scratching the surface. The cleaner also
helps prevent spills from sticking. However,
baking soda on a wet sponge can be safely used
to scrub off burned bits. Do not use abrasive
cleansers, because they will scratch the surface.
■ Use baking soda on a wet sponge or cloth
to scrub your standard oven if it’s not too dirty.
Rinse with wet sponge or cloth.
■ Do’s and Don’ts for cleaning standard
ovens when using commercial oven cleaners:
how you can get rid of all oven-cleaner residue
so that you don’t get that nasty whiff of cleaner
odor the first time you heat up the clean oven:
After cleaning the oven according to the
manufacturer’s directions, spread a thick
layer of newspapers on the oven bottom.
(Note: for gas ovens be sure the pilot light
is turned off!)
With a spray bottle, spray warm water on
the top and sides of the oven walls.
Dry the inside of the oven with a clean cloth
or paper towels, and then roll up the
newspaper carefully and discard it.
CAUTION: Never use any kind of cleaning aid
in a continuous-cleaning or self-cleaning
Do wear rubber gloves. Most commercial
oven cleaners contain lye and nitrogen
compounds that can cause burns.
Do have fresh air circulating; the fumes are
dangerous to inhale.
Do wear protective eyewear.
Do keep children and pets away from the
Don’t spray oven cleaners near electrical
connections, heating elements, or the
Don’t spray oven cleaner on an unprotected,
hot (from being lit) oven light bulb; the
bulb might shatter and you will have an
awful mess and risk eye damage.
The finish will be removed and then the
oven will no longer clean itself. Do all wiping
up with ordinary detergent and water or window cleaner. If you clean the oven racks in the
self-cleaning oven cycle, they may become discolored and dull finished. If the appearance of
the racks is not important to you, this is an
option. If you don’t clean the racks in the clean
cycle, please see instructions for cleaning standard oven racks.
To scrape oven-cleaner goop from the
oven walls, use a short-handled window
squeegee. When all the goop is on the center
bottom of the oven, scoop it onto a piece of
newspaper or brown paper bag and then discard in the garbage. Next, wipe down the inside
of the oven with a wet rag and you’re done.
■ When you are using commercial oven
cleaner, follow directions carefully. Here’s
A self-cleaning oven provides for the
removal of grease and gunk when you set a separate high-heat cycle. It must have the door
locked during the cleaning cycle, and you need
proper venting for the heat that comes out of
the stove vents. Never use commercial oven
cleaners in a self-cleaning oven, because they
damage the surface and will prevent proper selfcleaning. A plain water-dampened sponge or
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nia and let it set for a few minutes. Then
remove the goop with a plastic ice scraper (like
those used to remove ice from auto windshields), wet rag, or strong paper towels. Wipe
again with a clean wet rag or paper towels.
■ If food baking in the oven boils over,
sprinkle a little salt on the burned gunk. In
addition to killing the odors and smoke, salt
makes the mess easier to wipe up when you finish baking.
■ Avoid mess in ovens by placing a cookie
sheet or piece of foil under foods that are likely
to spill over or drip a mess (like baking sweet
potatoes). You may have to adjust cooking
times when using a cookie sheet.
■ Take the oven racks out into the yard
to clean them. Put them into a large heavyduty plastic trash bag, and spray on oven cleaner or ammonia, not both. Close the bag tightly,
and let sit overnight. The next day, spray the
racks with a hose and remove remaining spots
with a scrub brush. Rinse again and dry. CAUTION: Keep children and pets away from such
cleaning projects and use care when opening
the bag.
paper towel will wipe up the ash that remains
in the bottom of the oven after the cleaning
cycle when the oven is cool. If you choose to
clean the oven racks in a self-cleaning oven
cycle, be aware that they will become discolored and dull finished. If the appearance of the
oven racks is of no importance to you, you can
leave them in the oven to get cleaned in the
cleaning cycle.
■ Wipe the edges of the racks and the
grooves in which the racks slide with salad oil
after cleaning your self-cleaning oven so that
the racks will slide more easily without
scratching the oven walls. (Check manufacturer’s instructions carefully, however.)
■ CAUTION: People like to experiment with
cleaning other greasy items in the selfcleaning cycle. These ovens get as hot as 500
degrees F and sustain that temperature for
more than 1 hour. A friend of mine tried to
clean greasy barbecue grill lava briquettes during the cycle and the result was an oven full of
flaming grease! When you are dealing with
strong chemicals or extreme temperatures, follow the manufacturer’s directions exactly and
don’t try to be creative!
■ A continuous-cleaning oven gradually
reduces dirt and oil on the specially treated
surface to what is usually called a “presentable”
clean condition during the normal baking or
broiling processes. Each time you cook, the oven
burns off dirt and grease. You’ll need to clean
up large spills to keep the oven looking good.
■ Oven window door: Even with a selfcleaning oven (and wouldn’t my mother have
loved that idea!) the oven door doesn’t always
get clean. Wipe the glass window with ammo-
Among the best new refrigerator features to
come along since my mother’s day are shelves
that slide in and out and shelves that contain
spills. Of course, there are more glamorous and
high-tech innovations, such as ice makers and
water or juice dispensers, but the more of these
kinds of special features on your refrigerator, the
greater the price. Of the various models available, the three most popular for home use are side
by side, freezer on top, and freezer on bottom.
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What to look for . . .
The side-by-side models are usually
more expensive, but if you have limited space
for the doors to open, they may be the best
solution for you. The disadvantage is that they
can’t accommodate wide items and large platters or trays. Also, things that find their way to
the back of the shelf may stay there indefinitely
because it’s hard to see in the back, especially in
the freezer compartment, which is usually the
narrower side.
■ The freezer-on-top model is the most
common type of refrigerator. It puts frozen
foods at eye level but you have to bend over to
get at the refrigerated foods, especially the bottom fruit or vegetable crispers.
■ The
freezer-on-bottom model places
your nonfrozen foods at eye level, but you’ll
have to stoop over to get at the frozen ones.
■ Refrigerators with glass shelves are
usually more expensive than those with wire
shelves. Glass shelves can break but they are
not likely to do so with normal use. An advantage of glass shelves is that things stand
upright better on them. Wire shelves are good
for keeping wine bottles and similar containers
from rolling around when stored on their sides.
A friend of mine keeps a second refrigerator for
wine, soft drinks, bottled water, and sport
drinks and she made a point of getting it with
wire shelves so that the bottles wouldn’t roll.
You decide which features are more important
to you.
■ Most
refrigerators offer drawers or
shelves that are cooler than the rest of the
refrigerator to store meats and other things
that need cooler temperatures. Fruit and veg■
etable drawers retain moisture better than if
these foods are kept on the shelves and so they
keep better and longer.
■ Some top-of-the-line refrigerators have
extra storage aids like wine bottle holders,
soft drink can holders, and so forth. You have
to decide if the gadgets are worth the extra
cost. You may be able to find racks that fit your
fridge at stores that sell wire organizer baskets
and similar items.
■ The most energy efficient refrigerators
usually cost more initially but may save you
money in the long run. The cost of running
your refrigerator may be as much as 20 percent
of your electric bill, so check it out.
Getting the most from your refrigerator . . .
To eliminate food odors, wash out the
refrigerator with a solution of 4 tablespoons of
baking soda in 1 quart of warm water. You can
also add some lemon extract or 1 teaspoon of
vanilla to the rinse water for an extragood scent.
Then wipe the interior to dry. If this method
doesn’t work set out several paper plates with
dry coffee grounds on different shelves. The
odors should disappear in 2 to 3 days.
■ To
keep the refrigerator smelling
fresh, the tried-and-true Heloise method is
to leave an open box of baking soda or a cup
of fresh charcoal briquettes or activated charcoal you buy at the pet store. Change it every
few months. (Deodorize kitchen and other
drains with the used baking soda or recycle
it for nonscratch scrubbing of the kitchen
■ Keep the gasket fresh and mildew-free
with occasional washing of mild soap and
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water. Do not bleach; it can cause the gasket to
become brittle and crack. If the gasket is badly
mildewed, try full-strength vinegar, or it may
need to be replaced.
Clean the painted surface of your
refrigerator or freezer with mild detergent or
appliance polish only. Strong spray-on-wipe-off
cleaners can ultimately remove the paint from
the metal.
A reader wrote to tell me that her old-model
ice-maker tray would retain shards of ice and
begin to overfill. When she examined the tray,
she found that lime deposits were causing the
problem and so, instead of buying a new tray
as she had in the past, she removed the lime
deposits with a 10-minute warm white vinegar soak.
I have a system of keeping
certain things in the door shelves and assigning
parking spaces for specific foods on the shelves.
For example, dairy products—such as butter,
yogurt, and cheese—are kept on the top shelf;
leftovers are kept on the second shelf, and so
on. Then everyone in the house, including me,
knows where to look for specific foods.
If you are moving and expect to have
your refrigerator or freezer closed up for several
days or longer on the moving van or in storage,
toss in a handful of baking soda, charcoal, or
unused dry coffee grounds in a cloth bag or
knotted knee-high or panty hose leg. You
won’t be greeted by a musty odor when you
open the appliance door for the first time. (This
hint is a favorite among military families
whose appliances are frequently placed in storage while they go to new duty stations.)
■ If your refrigerator has been in storage, make sure that the gaskets are still good so
that food is kept properly cooled. Close the
door on a dollar bill; if the bill slides out easily,
the gasket may need replacing because it is not
sealing properly.
■ If you cover the top of the refrigerator
with plastic wrap, wax paper, shelf liner or
place mat, you can just change the paper or
wrap instead of scrubbing the surface to
remove accumulated greasy dust.
Small Appliances
Get unplugged! Always unplug electrical
appliances for cleaning or servicing. Never
immerse a whole appliance or electrical components in water to wash it unless the manufacturer specifically says you can do so.
Blenders and food processors have made
kitchen work so much easier. The cooking purist
might say that all that chopping and dicing and
slicing are an important parts of the processes.
But if you’ve got to get a meal on the table fast,
there’s nothing like these machines—and it’s
impossible to make a great milk shake without a
first-rate blender.
What to look for . . .
The capacity should suit your needs. If
you do a lot of entertaining and process mass
quantities of cheese, veggies, and so forth, get a
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large food processor. If all you do is puree a few
carrots, peas, or other veggies for your baby, a
small one will do. One brand of blender comes
with a 1-cup container so that you can make
salad dressings or baby food and store them in
the same container.
■ The power of the motor should also suit
your needs. You’ll need a more powerful food
processor motor if you process larger quantities
of raw produce and meats or if you mix stiff
bread dough. Most blenders will crush ice for
smoothies and puree vegetables and fruits, and
so forth.
■ The design of either machine should
allow for safe and easy access to the container or
bowl. The opening, particularly in a food
processor, should be large enough to accommodate the kinds of foods you are preparing. And,
for example, some blender models have removable openings in the lid to allow you to add
foods while the blender is going. Such openings help avoid spatters.
■ Clearly marked measurements on the
HELOISE HINT: You may want to mark the
major measuring points with red nail polish on
the outside of the container for easier identification.
Many models have all kinds of features
that you may not need but for which you are
paying extra money. A larger capacity machine
with basic features may be the best bet for you
and may cost the same as the smaller, soupedup model. But here are some features that are
worth looking for and paying for:
A pulse feature helps you better and more
carefully control the amount of blending
or processing.
An ice-crusher mode on blenders will make
better smoothies and frozen or frappé
Multiple food processor blades for slicing, processing, or shredding and dough
Dishwasher-safe parts (the container or
bowl, blades, etc.) can make clean up easier.
Getting the most from your blender or food
processor . . .
Blenders and food processors work
best if they are only two-thirds full. Some
blenders may not operate at all if they are too
full. When some food processors are too full,
it’s difficult to remove the blade from the bowl
so that you can remove the food.
■ Never attempt to slice or grate hard
frozen cheese or other hard frozen foods in
your food processor or slicer. The blades may
break. However a food processor will work better on harder foods, such as hard cheeses or
turning peanuts into peanut butter, than will a
blender. A blender works better for making
milk shakes, fruit or vegetable purees, and
■ To quick clean a blender or food
processor, fill it halfway with water, add a
drop or two of liquid dishwashing detergent,
put on the lid, run it a few seconds, rinse, and
let dry. If you have a hand-held European-style
blender, fill a deep bowl or large glass with
water and a drop of liquid detergent, cover, whir
on low speed a few seconds, rinse and let dry.
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Handle food processor blades carefully, the serrated ones are especially sharp and
can cut with just a touch from your fingers.
Ah, the wonderful aroma of bread baking
right there in your own kitchen! Bread makers
mix and bake breads from your own recipes or
from mixes available in the supermarkets, and
some can be set to have fresh bread waiting for
you when you get up in the morning. However,
they are not cheap and, before you invest in a
breadmaker, ask yourself if you really will use
it, considering that a supermarket bakery may
be 5 minutes away.
Read the manual that came with the
machine and try the recommended recipes.
Also look for cookbooks specifically written for
bread machines that have many more creative
recipes than the manufacturers provide. It’s
easier to use recipes developed for machines
instead of trying to adapt your favorites, and
you’ll get better results since others have
already tested the correct proportions of ingredients.
■ Cleaning your bread machine: Different machines have different methods; again,
read that manual!
What to look for . . .
What to look for . . .
Capacity: The price often depends on the
capacity of the machine, usually ranging from
1 to 2 pounds. The smallest loaves give you 8
to 10 slices of bread and the largest about 20
■ Most bread machines have a display that
tells you which stage of bread making the
machine is in: mixing, kneading, baking, or
■ Some machines have a signal that lets you
know when to add nuts, raisins, seeds, or whatever needs adding after the machine has mixed
the dough.
■ Some can be preset to delay the start time
so that the machine will start up on time automatically, giving you fresh bread when you
wake up in the morning.
■ A non-stick bread pan makes clean up
Getting the most from your bread machine . . .
Some models will mount to the wall or
the bottom of a cabinet, which helps eliminate
counter clutter. With cordless models, the
recharging holder is placed near a plug, and the
can opener fits into the holder or base to be
■ Models that leave the cut edge smooth
so that you can’t cut your fingers on it is an
especially good feature if you have children
cooking in the kitchen, or pets.
■ Some electric can openers do doubleduty as knife sharpeners so you get a bit
more function for the money.
■ Make sure hand-held models fit your
hands comfortably.
Getting the most from your electric can
opener . . .
Always unplug an electric can opener
before cleaning.
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Clean cutters on electric can openers
work better. Clean the blade/cutter with a
scouring pad, scrubber, or old toothbrush
dipped in baking soda.
■ Most electric can openers cannot be
immersed in water and so you need to clean
and rinse them with caution. You may have to
rinse off the cutter by dabbing it with a wet
sponge and holding it so that the water drips
away from the mechanical parts.
■ It’s easier to wipe a can opener with a
damp sponge or paper towel after each use
than to wait until it has so much gunk on it
that you have to scrub and scour.
Although there have been significant
improvements in instant coffees since my mother’s day, most of us prefer to brew a full pot to
get that wonderful coffee aroma while you wait.
What to look for . . .
Capacity: Most machines will make as little or as much (up to the capacity) coffee as you
want, so even if a lot of people in your family
don’t drink coffee, you can buy a larger capacity
machine that can make 10 or 12 cups for guests
but still allows you to make as few as 4 cups.
■ Automatic start lets you program the
pot to have hot coffee ready when you wake up.
■ An automatic shut-off prevents the glass
pot from being broken if the coffee burns dry.
■ Clear markings on the carafe or reservoir
let you see easily how much water to add.
■ A drip stop feature lets you remove the
carafe to pour a cup of coffee before the whole
amount of the water has run through. (This
one’s for the superbusy person who needs that
jolt of caffeine immediately to get started in
the morning!)
Getting the most from your electric drip coffee
maker . . .
The manufacturer’s manual tells you how
to clean the water reservoir when hard-water
mineral deposits give the coffee a bad or off
taste. There are commercial products for cleaning the coffeepot but you can also clean a drip
pot by running the fullest measure the pot
allows of white vinegar through the cycle. Follow with a cycle or two of the fullest measure of
fresh water. Note: The vinegar left over from
cleaning the coffeepot can be stored in a jar to
clean the pot again if you let the minerals settle
to the bottom and use just the clear vinegar. Or
clean something else with the used vinegar;
kill the weeds or grass in sidewalk cracks with
it, or pour it down the kitchen or bathroom
drain as a deodorizer.
■ You won’t have to clean your drip coffeemaker as often if you make coffee with distilled water. The coffee will taste better, too.
■ If the coffee burned on the bottom of
the pot, pour table salt into the pot and let it
stand for a few minutes. The burned crust will
usually come loose and you can wash the pot
clean. (This hint came from an office worker
who used salt because nothing else was handy.
That’s how most hints come into being—
somebody just used whatever was handy!)
To separate flat-bottom coffee filters that are
packed together, one Heloise reader recom-
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mends turning the stack of filters upside down
in the box and pinching off one filter at a time.
Although not too many people have stovetop percolators anymore, the same hints for
electric percolators apply for nonelectric ones.
What to look for . . .
Look for models that have a time/strength
setting so that you can custom brew your coffee.
■ In my mother’s day, most percolators were
aluminum and they tended to get unattractive
dull finishes after months of use. Now they
come in colors and stainless steel and these
finishes look better longer than the old aluminum ones. The insides may be stainless steel,
too, and so they will be easier to wash with just
soap and water.
Getting the most from your percolator coffeemaker . . .
To avoid getting coffee grounds into a
percolator stem when you fill the basket with
coffee, hold your finger over the stem. The percolator stem must be kept unclogged and clean
so that your coffee will taste good.
■ Clean the stem with a small round brush
made for this purpose or make a super long cotton swab by wetting the end of a wooden shishkebab stick and twisting it in a wad of cotton.
■ To clean an aluminum percolator, fill
the coffeepot with water, add a handful of baking soda or 2 or 3 teaspoons of cream of tartar.
Run through the full coffee-making cycle, let
cool, and then scrub with a piece of nylon net.
If the pot is badly stained, you may have to
repeat the process to get it shiny bright and to
get good-tasting coffee again.
In Mother’s day, many households had electric roasters, which were big enough to cook a
large turkey. These roasters are still available
today but most have a 6-quart capacity (about
the size of a roasting chicken) and they double
as slow cookers. Slow cookers (or electric
casseroles) let you plug in a meal in the morning before going to work so that dinner is ready
when you return.
What to look for . . .
Capacity: How much will you be cooking
in your cooker? Soup or stew for four? Or will
you use it for large party-size pots of beans at
your barbecues? Most hold about 2 quarts of
food, which is enough for a family of four.
■ A removable metal roaster insert or a
metal pot that just sits on the heating base is
handy if you like to brown meats and/or onions
on the stovetop before slow cooking.
■ Some models allow you to bake in
them. If you want to bake in the cooker, the
temperature needs to be regulated by numbers
and not merely Low, Medium, or High. Read
the manual to see how convenient this may be
with the cooker you are buying.
Getting the most from your slow cooker . . .
Slow cookers are great for beans,
lentils, and other starchy vegetables. You
don’t have to stir and watch to prevent burning
at such low temperatures.
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farmers’ markets. It offers a simple alternative
to canning.
Avoid Fire Hazards
What to look for . . .
Check electrical cords for damage before you leave a
Some dehydrators are simple, having
only “on” and “off” switches, but others
have timers so that you can set them to go off
when you think the foods will be dried enough.
(Experience teaches you how long certain
herbs, fruits, or veggie slices take to dry.)
■ Most have a fan to circulate the hot air
and make the foods dry faster.
cooker plugged in all day while you are gone. In fact,
always check all appliance cords for safety’s sake and
plug all appliances directly into wall sockets. Use of
extension cords for appliances is a fire hazard and can
also result in temperature variations that affect cooking efficiency. Some appliances, such as electric frying
pans, roasters, and slow cookers, may not heat properly when plugged into extension cords. Plug them
directly into the wall socket for best results and
always unplug when they are not in use.
Getting the most from your dehydrator . . .
Home-dried foods should be stored in
the refrigerator, because they do not contain
the preservatives that you find in commercially
dried foods.
■ If your pot is ceramic, you will have to
brown the meat and onions in a frying pan
when making soups and stews. Metal removable pots allow browning in the same pot in
which you will simmer the food.
■ The slow cooker is ideal for dips,
cocktail meatballs, and other appetizers
that need to be kept warm on the buffet table.
And in south Texas, where I live, tamales are a
favorite, and they can be kept at just the right
temperature in a slow cooker when you are having a “grazing” party.
Ideal for drying fruit, vegetables, and herbs
as well as making fruit leathers, the dehydrator
circulates hot air over the food, which sits on a
series of trays in the machine. This machine is
perfect for anyone with a large kitchen garden
or who takes advantage of seasonal offerings at
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Drying Foods without
a Dehydrator
You can dry foods in a conventional oven by placing
uniformly sliced vegetables or fruits on racks on
cookie sheets in a very slow oven that’s 200 degrees
F or less. Some microwave ovens have directions for
drying foods. Some of my friends who garden and dry
foods say that neither the conventional nor
microwave oven works as easily as the dehydrator
because you don’t have to check the drying progress
of foods in the dehydrator as often as you do in a
conventional oven and you aren’t as likely to overdry
foods as you might in the microwave.
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Slices of fruits or vegetables should be
uniformly thin so that drying will also be uniform and all will get dry at the same time.
■ Some veggies will pick up aromas from
herbs if they are dried at the same time. If you
want this, it’s okay to dry several varieties of
garden produce at the same time.
■ Fruit leathers can be made by drying
fruit puree on sheets of plastic wrap. Add a bit
of honey to the puree to make it more pliable.
When the leather is translucent, you can cut
the sheet in strips and roll up each strip for
individual snacks. My friends who do this prefer to keep the leathers in the fridge because
they don’t add preservatives to the puree.
machine comes into the shop often or if anybody at the shop has ever heard of it.
Getting the most from your juicer . . .
Try many of the recipes from the manual that comes with the machine so that you
understand the best ways to use it. Most manufacturers’ recipes are simple but show off the
versatility of a machine.
■ Using the general directions for proper
proportions and amounts of ingredients, try
different combinations of fruits and vegetables,
such as lemon-carrot juice, peppered-tomato,
or tangerine-orange.
There are a number of juicers on the market,
and some go beyond the function of merely
extracting juice from citrus or blending other
fruits for juices. The specialty juicers can be
very expensive, and you need to decide if you
will really use them enough to warrant the
cost. Ask yourself, Will a regular blender,
which costs less, do as well for my purposes?
What to look for . . .
Would a less expensive blender do the
same job?
■ Is the machine easy to use, load, add
ingredients, and remove ingredients?
■ If the machine is ordered by mail, is the
seller reliable and what will you need to do if
the machine is defective or stops working properly? Can it be repaired locally? If you are not
familiar with the brand name, call your favorite
small-appliance repairperson and ask if the
Whether you need a stand mixer or a handheld mixer depends on your intended use.
What to look for . . .
A hand mixer may be all you need if you
use it for is mixing cake batter, mashing potatoes, or whipping cream occasionally. A hand
mixer is relatively inexpensive.
■ If you frequently mix bread and cookie
batters from scratch, you may want to spend
more and get a stand mixer.
■ The most expensive stand mixers have the
most power and can handle the most dough or
batter well; they may come with a dough hook
for mixing and kneading yeast doughs. The
least expensive stand mixers have less power
and can handle less batter.
■ A multipurpose appliance, which has
mixer, blender, food processor, and grinder
attachments may be a good solution for you if
you don’t already have such appliances.
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Getting the most from your electric mixer . . .
Turn the machine off before you
remove the beaters from the mixture. It
may seem obvious, but there are lots of first
timers who’ve spent a few hours cleaning cookie dough off the walls and ceiling!
■ Avoid splatters. I get a lot of hints on
how to avoid spattering of ingredients when
you are mixing. Here’s one that is simple and
effective. Cut a piece of wax paper big enough
to cover the bowl and then make a slit for the
beaters. Hold the wax paper over the bowl
while you mix, until the mixture becomes
frothy and is less likely to spatter. Or when you
are using a hand-held mixer with a small bowl,
you can make a cover with a plastic lid from an
ice cream carton. Cut a slit from the edge and a
hole in the center large enough for the beaters
to work when they are slipped through the slit
and into the hole.
■ When adding dry ingredients to wet,
always start beating slowly until the wet and
dry are mixed or you will be flouring everything in sight.
■ Chocolate chips and large nut pieces
can get chopped into smaller pieces by the
blades of an electric mixer. If you like larger
chunks of nuts and full-size chips, you may
want to stir them in by hand after mixing the
batter with the mixer. Dates and large chunks
of dried fruit also should be hand mixed into
batter; they may even fly out of the bowl if you
start up at high speed.
■ It is easier to beat shortening, margarine, or butter if they are at room temperature as these fats are very hard right out of the
Scrape the sides of the bowl with a
rubber spatula often while you are beating
batters so that all the ingredients get properly
mixed in.
■ Most mixer bowls can be washed in
the dishwasher; check the manual to see if the
beaters can also be washed in the dishwasher.
Some stand mixers will have a plastic button
on the bottom of one beater (to protect the
bowl) that may not be dishwasher-safe.
If your mom’s pressure cooker was an object
of terror because everyone worried that it might
blow up, know that the new ones of today are
much safer and easier to use. In fact, some new
pressure cookers are programmable electric
models that work like a pressure-cooking version of a bread machine.
What to look for . . .
A manual for operations that has easy to
understand directions, because proper use is
vital for safety.
■ You will find various sizes of pressure
cookers and the largest ones (several gallons)
are frequently used for pressure canning. Most
are about a 4-quart size, large enough for most
Getting the most from your pressure
cooker . . .
Read the manual carefully and follow
directions exactly. Too much pressure for too
long can turn food into mush.
■ It’s important to keep all gaskets and
steam holes clean for safest use of a pressure
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cooker. Especially check the steam escape holes
before cooking with any pressure cooker.
■ Don’t overload the cooker. If you are
using your own recipes instead of those in the
manual, compare the amounts of ingredients in
your recipe with those in the manual so that
you don’t exceed the capacity of the cooker.
■ Add spices and herbs toward the end
of the cooking process. Some people claim
that certain flavorings become too blended and
don’t have enough of a zing.
■ Pressure
cookers used for canning
need to have a rack for the canning jars or some
sort of perforated disk that prevents the jars
from sitting directly on the bottom of the
cooker, which can cause breakage from jiggling
during the cooking process.
Rice cookers are handy especially if your family loves rice. The best tip I’ve heard from an editor is to let the rice sit for about 5 minutes in the
covered cooker after the cooking cycle ends. You’ll
have fluffier rice. Most models automatically
switch to a “keep warm” setting. If you’re thinking that they are pretty limited in what they
can do, remember that in addition to cooking
rice, they can also be used to steam vegetables.
What to look for . . .
Some of the cookers are attractive
enough to use for serving as well as cooking.
■ A glass cover is a good feature so that
you can see what’s happening inside.
Getting the most from your rice cooker . . .
Check out recipes that tell about adding
different ingredients so that your rice will have
extra flavor: raisins and a bit of sugar, nuts,
or small minced bits of pepper and other vegetables.
■ Like electric skillets, you may not be
able to immerse your rice cooker. Read that
manual carefully!
Electric skillets can be all-purpose cooking
pans, including pots for cooking one-dish
meals and ready-to-heat freezer meals. Electric
skillets and electric woks can be used for the
same functions.
What to look for . . .
Deep-dish styles that can be used to
cook pot roasts, etc.
■ A wide range of temperature settings
that allow you to simmer at 200 degrees F or so.
■ Immersible electric skillets are easier to
clean; check the manual to make sure that this
is possible.
■ Nonstick surfaces are as desirable on
electric frying pans and woks as they are on the
rest of your cookware.
■ Choose a size that suits the amount of
food you usually cook or fry. The larger and
deeper the wok, the less mess of spattering fat
when you stir-fry. (Or reduce fat calories and
stir-fry with a small amount of bouillon.)
■ With electric woks, as with stovetop
woks, a rack that can be placed to the side of
the top of the pan is handy to hold already
cooked veggies or meat pieces that you don’t
want to overcook while other ingredients are
being stir-fried.
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Getting the most from your electric skillet . . .
Getting the most from your toaster . . .
To soak off cooked-on food, fill the
skillet about half to two-thirds full of water,
add a few drops of hand dishwashing liquid
and let the soapy water simmer for a while.
Allow to cool before you handle it to finish the
washing job.
■ Cleaning the outside of electric skillets depends on the outside finish. If your skillet is colored you will have to scour with
baking soda sprinkled on a wet sponge to prevent scratches. If it is aluminum you can polish it as recommended in the manual. Readers
have said that they clean the bottom of a skillet that has a lot of burned on grease with oven
cleaner. Follow directions listed for oven cleaner and be sure to keep the skillet away from
curious children and pets. If your skillet is not
immersible, take care not to get water into the
electrical parts.
Keep your toaster clean or you won’t
get the right shade of toasty brown, because the
thermostat is reading burned black crumbs
instead of the browness of your bread slice.
■ Line the crumb tray with foil if your
toaster has a removable crumb-catching tray.
Check the manual instructions to see if this is
■ If your toaster has to be turned upside
down so that you can shake out the crumbs,
unplug it, and shake gently. You could dislodge
wires and your toaster could become a fire hazard.
What to look for . . .
If you like toasted bagels, do get a toaster with wide enough openings to accommodate
■ A model that lets you clean out the
crumb tray easily. Accumulated crumbs on
the bottom of a toaster are a fire hazard and
they affect the toaster’s thermostat.
■ Stay-cool exteriors are ideal, especially if
you have small children
■ Single-slice feature: Models with separate compartments (two or four or more!) are
more economical to run if they have an optional single slice feature.
In addition to toasting, a roaster/toaster
oven can be an energy saver for baking one or
two medium to large potatoes or a small 1- to
2-pound meat loaf, and other foods. The bonus
is that along with saving electrical energy,
these ovens won’t heat up your kitchen in the
summer as much as a full-size oven does. The
following energy costs were based on rates in
San Antonio where I live, but the wattage use
would be the same anywhere. An electric fullsize oven uses 5,000 watts at a cost of 38 cents
per hour; a gas oven uses 18,000 BTUs at 10
cents per hour, but an electric roaster/toaster
oven uses only 1,333 watts at 8.7 cents per
hour. You’ll need to check with your local electric or gas company to get the cost for the
wattage in your area. You save energy and
money at the same time!
What to look for . . .
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A continuous cleaning toaster oven that
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you need only wipe the front window or door
occasionally will save you lots of personal energy.
■ Cooking sheets and pans that fit properly usually come with the toaster oven. Just
like a regular oven, things bake better when
the heat can circulate.
■ Some have a timer for toasting and broiling that prevents you from burning the food.
■ You will find models with dials that tell
the temperature in numbers, not just High,
Medium, or Low and these can be used to bake
small cakes as well as other foods.
Getting the most from your toaster oven . . .
One of my editors says that her ten-year-old
grandson Matthew called her up to ask, “What
did the rude person eat for breakfast?” The
response: “Belchin’ Waffles!” So she bought
him a waffle iron for Christmas for telling such
a cute joke.
Waffle irons are a favorite when it comes to
Sunday family breakfast when the whole household is present. Many have reversible grids so
that they can also be used to grill sandwiches,
like grilled cheese sandwiches or to fry pancakes. When I was in college, we used to make
“grilled” cheese sandwiches by putting cheese
between bread buttered on the outside, then
wrapped in foil, and ironed for a few minutes
with a hot iron. Still works today!
If your toaster oven doesn’t have a
continuous clean surface, it’s easier to wipe
it often so that you don’t have to do a major
cleaning of built-up gunk. Follow the directions that come with the oven to see if you can
use oven cleaner on the surface or if any other
cleaning method is advised. Baking soda on a
damp sponge or plastic scrubber is usually safe
for scrubbing most surfaces and it does cut
■ Cover the bottom tray with foil (check
the manual first), and you won’t have to scrub it.
■ CAUTION: Take care not to touch the sides
and tops of a toaster oven when it is on and
never, ever store things on top of a toaster oven.
The sides and tops can get extremely hot; your
fingers and items placed on top can get burned.
Do allow a couple of inches of space around the
oven for air to circulate.
■ Aluminum foil disposable pans are
handy for broiling in a toaster oven, but do
measure when you are buying pans for them;
these ovens are smaller than they look.
What to look for . . .
Nonstick surfaces on the grids prevent
sticking, especially if you try to use as little fat
as possible in the recipe.
■ The size and shape of the machine is a
matter of personal preference. Larger waffles
will have lines so that you can break up one
waffle into four pieces—nice for small children.
Getting the most from your waffle iron . . .
Season your waffle iron; food may stick
on new or newly cleaned machines. Before
using a waffle iron, grease with unsalted fat and
preheat thoroughly then wipe with a paper
towel before you pour on the batter.
■ To get accumulated grease off the
grids, place a nonsudsing ammonia-soaked
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paper towel or napkin between the grids and
let sit overnight, then clean.
■ To clean a machine with nonstick
grids, follow the manufacturer’s directions.
■ Batter may work better if you let it
stand for 5 to 10 minutes before pouring it on
the grids.
■ Make extra waffles, and after they have
cooled, freeze them in an airtight freezer bag.
Then you can toast them for breakfast when
you are in a hurry, or just eat them as a snack.
■ When adding nuts, small chocolate
chips, or raisins to the batter once it’s
poured onto the grids, smooth the bumps so
that the pieces are buried and won’t stick to
the grids.
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