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No grill? No Problem! How to do July 4th cooking in your kitchen (Part 1)

Grilling and the Fourth of July are as tightly wound together as Christmas and snow. But just as it doesn’t always snow on Christmas, sometimes grilling isn’t an option. Maybe it’s a rainy Fourth or you don’t have the outdoor space. Never fear! You can still satisfy your desire for patriotic, culinary summer classics right in your kitchen.

We spoke with chef Gabriel Ross, who teaches culinary fundamentals at

Chef Gabriel Ross

the Culinary Institute of America in New York. As a meat specialist who spent 15 years living in New York City apartments, he’s the perfect candidate to teach a crash course in celebrating America’s independence without a grill.
“July 4 is one of the busiest times of the year for the meat business,” Ross said. “The things people are thinking about are barbecue, like ribs, pulled pork or barbecue chicken. Those are the flavors we associate with the holiday. Those preparations can be accomplished inside.”

Just as with other big cooking holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas, you’ll cut down on a lot of stress by preparing as much as possible in advance. Ross walked us through indoor preparation for a collection of July Fourth favorites:

Barbecue: You can get the same texture of traditional, slow-grilled barbecue chicken or ribs by slow-cooking meat in the oven, Ross says. “It’s harder to get that smoky flavor, but most people will slather it with barbecue sauce. The ribs are tender, the chicken is tender. It’s a pretty good approximation. Most people won’t be able to tell the difference, aside from the lack of grill marks.” Ross recommends cooking the meats covered at 275-300 degrees. “If you’re using St. Louis-style spare ribs, it could take 3-4 hours to get it nice and tender. Baby back ribs are a little leaner and cook faster. They might take only 1.5-2 hours. Once they’re tender, take them out, rub them down with your favorite sauce and throw them under the broiler.”

The slow cooking can be done 2-3 days before you’ll be eating the meats, Ross says. “Store them in your refrigerator, then take them out and blast them in a hot oven or under the broiler. Then you won’t have to spend the whole day cooking.”

Chicken: Chicken will cook faster than pork, Ross says. “I recommend dark meat because the white meat tends to dry out,” he says. “Breast meat tends to cook a lot faster.” Cover chicken legs or thighs and cook them slowly until they’re tender. “They usually only take 45 minutes to an hour,” Ross says. “They’re not going to be golden brown and crispy, but it’s just the first stage of cooking. You can put sauce on and put them back in the broiler and nobody will know the difference.”

Pulled pork: Pulled pork is a major time commitment. It’s typically cooked slowly over a charcoal fire for 6-8 hours. “It’s actually much easier to do inside, especially if you have a slow cooker.” Ross suggests using pork shoulder, picnic shoulder or pork butt. “Those cuts are great for pulled pork,” he says. “The pork butt or shoulder butt is the perfect size to fit in a large slow cooker. You can rub it down, put it in with a little bit of liquid, and cook it slowly until it’s falling apart. Then add your favorite sauce. You can cook it overnight, while you’re sleeping, and serve it right out of the slow cooker.”

Hot dogs: Ross’s New York City roots have made him a fan of the “dirty water” boiled hot dog, which is easy to prepare on your range. “If you want to do a bunch of dogs at the same time, put a pot of water on, add some salt to preserve flavor, keep the water right below boil. You can keep them there as long as you want.” Add sliced onions or beer to the water to add flavor. However, if you’re determined to replicate a grilled hot dog, consider cooking it on an indoor electric grill or a panini press. “Take the dogs, split them lengthwise, and put them on the grill. You’ll get the grill marks and crispy skin.” As a last resort, put the hot dogs under the broiler until they start to blister, Ross says.

Burgers: Attaining the outer crust that comes with a grilled burger is more challenging indoors, but still possible. “Whatever you’re cooking it in has to be very hot,” Ross says. “I recommend, if you have it, a cast-iron skillet. Preheat it until it’s smoking hot. Brown the burgers on both sides. If you want to cook it more, put it on a cookie sheet, in a hot oven until it’s done. You won’t get that smoky char, but you have a little more control and won’t have to deal with flareups or fire.” The faster you brown outside, the more moist the inside will be, Ross says. Make sure you cook ground beef until the center reaches at least 155 degrees Fahrenheit.

Shrimp: Here’s another summer favorite that can be prepared in advance. “A simple shrimp cocktail is easy and straightforward,” Ross says. But if you want grilled shrimp skewers, the broiler makes a fine substitute for the grill. “If you have a cast-iron skillet, you can do the shrimp on there. Get it nice and hot, kind of blister them on that cast iron.”

Vegetables: There’s still room for vegetables on this meat-centric holiday. “If I’m doing sausages or hot dogs, I like to do some peppers and onions to put on top.” Vegetables also make a great side dish on the Fourth. “A nice hot oven is a dream for preparing vegetables,” Ross says. “I’ll cut them into chunks, often with a little oil salt and pepper, put them in the oven until they start to color outside.” Ross is also partial to serving fennel alongside sausages, and roasted zucchini. “Go all the way up—most home ovens will go to 500 or 550,” Ross says. “A lot of people are afraid to do that. Keep an eye on it and know those vegetables will be done within 5-10 minutes. You have to turn them a couple of times.”

Dessert: Keep it simple, Ross recommends. “With all the heavy meats and other foods that go with the holiday, sometimes simple fresh fruit with whipped cream and a little poundcake or sweet biscuit is all you need.”

Ross has recently started to take advantage of the immersion circulator (also known as sous vide), which has given him an easier path to grilled meats. “I cook everything in the circulator,” he said. “I take it out of the bag, get a good hot fire, and basically just mark it up on the grill. It only takes a good minute or two to get grill marks.”

Clearly, a lack of a grill is no reason to skip that tasty, traditional Fourth of July cuisine. From your oven to your slow cooker, your appliances will give you the tools you need to cook up a memorable holiday meal.

Appliances break down barriers to healthy eating

What’s the biggest barrier to healthier eating? Certainly, willpower and determination are factors. But according to Isabel Maples, a registered dietitian practicing in Virginia, the biggest challenge for many is planning.

“The biggest barrier to getting a healthier meal on the table is the

H

thinking ahead,” Maples said. “I can’t tell you the number of times I’ll get to the end of the day and think ‘What is for dinner?’”

Whether you’re preparing fresh meals or storing them to eat later, your appliances can help you get on the path toward healthy eating. We recently spoke with Maples and another registered dietitian, Marina Chaparro of Nutrichicos in Miami—both spokespeople for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics—to get their thoughts on the role appliances can play in healthy eating. Here’s what they had to say.

Think in advance: Dinnertime comes quickly, and you can anticipate those days when you’ll be short on time for planning by having go-to meals that can be prepared quickly. “You need to have at least three on hand that you can get on the table quickly,” Maples said.

Having healthy meals at the ready means you’ll need appropriate containers to make storage in your refrigerator or freezer easy and help control portion size. “Loading up on the right containers will help you have better habits,” Chaparro said. Containers that are divided into sections will make you put some thought into what you’re storing and eating. “It forces you to have three or four different foods with small portions. It’s great to take leftovers to work. It divides it nicely, so you’re forced to include different food groups.”

Blend in the goodness: A blender is a great tool for both adults and children who might not get enough fruits and vegetables in their diet. Chaparro has been pleasantly surprised by a recent small-size blender purchase, which she initially bought to puree fruits and vegetables for her 11-month-old daughter. “I love it, because it’s really small. You can use it to cook up some fast recipes like salsas or smoothies.”

If you’re using a standard blender, consider the size, Maples said. “That controls how much you put in. Don’t make too much or not enough.” Chia or flax seeds can add texture to a blended drink. “It can be as simple as some chocolate milk and a frozen banana,” Maples said.

Sometimes, texture can put family members off from eating certain vegetables. An immersion blender can help. “My favorite small appliance is an immersion blender,” Maples said. “I would use an immersion blender to smooth out the texture. I can add more vegetables and don’t have to be limited to a jar of sauce.” The immersion blender can also add a richer texture to cream-based dishes, but allow you to still take advantage of alternative ingredients, like low-fat milk. “One of my kids liked stew a lot, and that’s where my immersion blender came in. I could throw in extra vegetables.”

Tastier veggies: Vegetables can sometimes be tough to sell for picky eaters. Your oven can make them tastier. “Many people may not know how to make vegetables flavorful,” Chaparro said. “If you use the oven—roasting or baking at 400 degrees for short periods of time—it caramelizes.” Add olive oil and fresh herbs for more flavor. “I find that people who don’t traditionally like vegetables will eat vegetables if they’re roasted. It’s just a different flavor dimension and brings out some of the sweetness in the vegetables.” Maples encourages people who don’t want to take the time to chop the vegetables to buy a food processor for easier vegetable prep.

Try an air fryer: While she doesn’t currently own one, Chaparro said she’s interested in giving an air fryer a try. “It cooks food by using really hot air and leaves it crispy on the outside,” she said. “Some people like their chicken nuggets or french fries. You still get a comparable texture.”

Don’t forget the freezer: Use your freezer to preserve portions for quick meal and ingredient options later. “When my bananas are getting overly ripe, I’ll peel them and freeze them,” Maples said. “They’re great in a smoothie, or I can make banana bread.” She uses an ice tray to freeze fresh herbs in water. “You can pop them out and put them in a freezer bag.”

Keeping a healthy kitchen

Organization and preparation are essential to healthy eating, Chaparro said. “We might just think it’s about food and choosing healthy things, but it’s about creating that environment. Put the healthy things at eye level, especially the fresh fruits and veggies.” Make sure you have the right prep tools as well. Chaparro has her favorites, including a mandolin slicer that she uses to make zucchini, sweet potato chips and beet chips, and a noodle slicer, which she uses to substitute vegetables for traditional pastas.

Keeping healthy options in sight and within reach can even encourage family members to drink enough water, Maples said. That’s why she’s a fan of refrigerator water dispensers. “It makes it accessible,” she said. “If you have ice and there, it’s great and cheaper than using bottled water.” (Note: Make sure you’re changing the filter regularly, and that the replacement is not counterfeit!)

If you’re hungry after reading all of this, try this citrus and herb poached salmon recipe from recipe developer and “real foods advocate” Alyssa Brantley at EverydayMaven, who says her essential appliances for a healthy kitchen are a “good food processor, a good blender and either a slow cooker or electric pressure cooker.”

AHAM will dive deeper into the connection between healthy eating and appliances during our June 29 #AHAMHealth Twitter chat. Join appliance manufacturers, nutrition professionals and others from 2-3 p.m. and tweet using the hashtag #AHAMHealth. See you there!

What the future may hold for kitchen design and appliances

What comes to mind when you think about the kitchen of the future? Robotic servers? Automated cleanup?

Sci-fi imagery aside, the kitchen is likely to keep its status as the household gathering space and hub for entertaining. But certain elements will trend toward personalization, and we’re likely to see both expanded and more specialized roles for appliances.

We recently spoke with two kitchen designers, Loretta Willis, Principal of Loretta’s Interior Design in Alpharetta, Ga. and Andrea Edwards, owner of CRP Design in Oklahoma City, to peer into the future and speculate on what the future might bring for kitchen design and appliances. Here are some of the trends they expect to see, both in the near and more distant future:

Personalization: Certain elements of the kitchen will be customized for very specific uses, depending on daily habits. That might mean a pull-out refrigerator drawer for certain easy-to-prepare breakfast or lunch foods, for example. It could become common to see more than one of certain appliances in kitchens, all part of a trend toward kitchen personalization. “Under-counter refrigerator drawers are a big trend,” Willis says. “It’s convenient and you don’t need to have everything in one place. Let’s say there’s a zone for food prep and cooking. You might have an under-counter drawer for things you tend to prepare daily. You might have a refrigerator drawer that just has water, soda or juice. The kids can go there—it’s so convenient. You still need your large refrigerator, but it doesn’t have to be the all-in-all.”

Specialized cooking: Some consumers are looking for ovens that do more than just bake. They’re also looking for the speed and look of commercial appliances. “I think people want the appearance of a professional kitchen,” Willis says. Right now, that look is primarily seen in high-end kitchens, but Willis sees the potential for mid-priced appliances to offer a professional kitchen look, even if they don’t offer all of the same features as their high-end counterparts. Edwards is seeing interest in steam ovens and a decline in built-in fryers, which were popular several years ago. Pizza ovens are also drawing interest. “I‘ve had a lot of specification requests for pizza ovens,” Edwards says. “I could see more of that, a combination oven with a pizza oven integrated.”

Extra, smarter dishwashers: People who like to entertain or who tend to use a lot of dishes might consider installing more than one dishwasher. “I’ve had some clients that had two dishwashers,” Edwards says. “I’ve done some recently where we have one in the kitchen and one in the butler’s pantry. I think we’ll see more of that.” Willis sees potential in dishwashers that automatically adjust to the appropriate cycle, depending on how dirty the dishes are. “I don’t think we’ve imagined, yet, all that can be done. I think we’re definitely going in the direction where one day you might just turn it on and it will choose the cycle.”

Refrigerators doing more: Do you like to listen to music while you cook? Edwards anticipates growth in the popularity of refrigerators with built-in speakers. Screens in refrigerators could also catch on. She also sees the trend toward more refrigerator doors and compartments continuing. “Having more compartments is a big deal,” Edwards says. “The pull-out doors on the bottom are big, and I think that will continue.”

Space built-in for portables: Portable appliances that get heavy use are being built into kitchen designs. “Open shelving is a real trend right now as far as storage of portables,” Willis says. “It’s creating a more open look.” But storage and display of portables will remain dependent on the client’s needs and choice, she says. If you’re going for an open storage plan, Edwards recommends choosing appliances whose colors coordinate with your kitchen.

Coffee stations: Coffee makers are beloved appliances in millions of kitchens. Now, some coffee lovers are expanding their devotion to the caffeinated beverage beyond a coffee maker into an all-encompassing coffee station. “We’re at a point where we’re seeing more coffee stations built in,” Willis says.

What would you most like to see in your kitchen of the future? Share your future kitchen visions in the comments!

Expert tips on refrigerator organization

You know the routine: Open the refrigerator, put the item wherever you can find enough space, then quickly close the door. If this sounds familiar, you’re not alone. It’s how many people organizetheir refrigerator. While that may work just fine for some, it’s also a recipe for scattered meal planning and potentially wasted food. And the cost of food waste adds up, with a recent estimate by the American Chemistry Council putting it at $640 per year, per household.

Organizing your fridge can make sure more of your food ends up in your belly instead of in the trash. It also means less wasted money on food you aren’t eating. We reached out to Becky Rapinchuk, the cleaning and organization guru known on the Web as Clean Mama, for her tips on organizing the fridge.

The most common mistake people make in refrigerator organization is putting food where it fits instead of a space that makes sense, Rapinchuk says. She recommends putting food that’s already opened in the front of the refrigerator to make sure you’re using the oldest food first.

You have a number of options for storing food in the refrigerator, but clearly label what you’re putting there. Rapinchuk prefers glass containers for leftovers and labels them (using freezer or washi tape and permanent marker) with the date they were put into the refrigerator or freezer.

Rapinchuk, who’s a mom of three, makes a weekly meal plan and shops on the same day every week (Friday is her preferred day.) Shop according to what you have planned, and prepare what you can in advance. Before she leaves for the grocery store, Rapinchuk straightens up the refrigerator and wipes down the shelves. The refrigerator gets a thorough cleaning once a quarter.

There are other benefits to organizing your refrigerator. If you make it easy to find the food you’re looking for, you’ll be less likely to get frustrated and order takeout instead.

How do you keep your refrigerator organized? Share your tips in the comments!

Kitchen redesigns: Appliances, Cabinets and Space

During a redesign, your appliances, cabinetry and counter space work together to create a balance between function and style. Choices like the size of your range and other appliances can directly affect cabinet space, and choosing more storage or counter space could mean you’ll have to make concessions elsewhere.

Kitchen design is a personal process, and while there are plenty of trends to go around, each design and redesign is unique and shaped by homeowners’ preferences, personality and desires. We spoke with two designers who have a combined 50 years of kitchen design experience between them. Both agreed that kitchens are built around the appliances, where any design project should start.

Paula Kennedy, Timeless Kitchen Design, Seattle

For designer Paula Kennedy, the kitchen redesign process starts with a discussion on appliances. Many of her clients are one step ahead and have already begun researching their options, but she encourages them to take their time. “I tell them to go to an appliance dealer I trust and respect, and I make sure they don’t just walk in on a Sunday when everyone else is in there,” Kennedy says. “Take some time off from work and do it right.” She’ll sometimes join her clients on a visit to the retailer or give the dealer a heads up that they’ll be coming in. “I’ll specify some things to help them avoid mistakes,” she says. If they want a built-in refrigerator, for example, she’ll make sure they’re looking at the right models. “Saying ‘built-in’ to one manufacturer is different than to another,” she says. “There’s built-in, there’s flush-door, there’s framed-door, there’s fully integrated. They don’t all use the same language.”

Your choice of appliance, particularly the size, directly impacts the cabinet design. “It’s one of the most critical points,” Kennedy says. Cabinets take time to build, and they need to be ordered early in the process. A late change can affect how the cabinets and appliances fit. Be comfortable with your decisions, because even a quarter-inch difference in the size of an appliance can have major implications on the cabinetry. Does your dream kitchen design include appliances enclosed in custom cabinets? You’ll need to decide in advance, as panels must be an exact fit.

“We often start with the cooking range,” Kennedy says. “Do you want a range vs. a cooktop? How many ovens do you want? More cooking means less storage, and everyone is just screaming for more storage. It’s a tradeoff. Clients come to me with a list of appliances. We have to prioritize their needs. You aim for function plus storage.”

For portable kitchen appliances, it’s a matter of balancing countertop space for their use and kitchen storage. “People love their small kitchen appliances, but storage for those is a nightmare. When I walk into a house and see them all on the countertop, I have the challenge to properly design space for those countertop appliances so it’s not an eyesore, it’s not cluttered, it’s functional and not taking up counter space.” Talk to your designer about storage options that make it easy to access the appliances you use regularly and store those you use less often in a way that makes sense.

Your choice of appliance finishes should fit within your overall color scheme. Stainless steel is popular, but it may not be a good match for you. “Finish is a huge factor,” Kennedy says. “It drives what color we’re choosing for the cabinets. It has to be a color you love.”

Toni Sabatino, Toni Sabatino Style, New York

Toni Sabatino of Toni Sabatino Style calls her approach to kitchen design “appliance-driven.”

“The style of the appliance, along with the architecture of the home and ventilation are really important.” Your lifestyle should determine what you need, Sabatino says. Some factors to consider are cooking habits, diet and family size.

“A family that goes to Costco and Price Club and buys 130 boxes of pasta will need more pantry space than somebody who buys fresh food,” Sabatino said. “Somebody who keeps a kosher kitchen may have two sets of dishes.” Do you do enough entertaining to warrant including a second dishwasher? Put your priorities in order and allow them to guide your decisions.

When choosing cabinetry, Sabatino encourages clients to take style cues from their home’s architecture. “If you want an old house, classic look, inset white shaker cabinets are popular,” she says. “That will pair with just about any interior because it’s simple and has a built-in furniture look. It will pair with just about any appliance style—stainless or wooden ventilation covers. That’s a timeless look.”

Even though they aren’t built-in, you’ll have to think about your portable appliances during your design as well, both those you use frequently and those you don’t. If you use many small appliances on a regular basis, think about whether an appliance pantry might make it easier to store and get to what you need. Sabatino asks clients about their portable appliances during the planning process. “Do they have a yogurt maker that’s in the basement because they don’t have space for it?”

Also think about what you’re giving up when planning how to incorporate portable appliances. If you drink a lot of coffee, you might want to reserve some space on the countertop for your coffee maker. But that also means you’ll have less counter space. Designing cabinet space especially for portables means you’re limiting what can be put in that space, Sabatino says.

Do your homework, understand your options and apply them to your lifestyle. Plan carefully and know what you want before you begin, Sabatino says. “Changing your mind can throw off everything.”

Kitchen Appliance Secrets: Pro chefs share top year-round and holiday tips

Busy chefs at work in the restaurant kitchen

Combine the right appliances with some culinary knowledge, and you have the tools to take your meals from ordinary to memorable. And now that we’re into the biggest cooking season of the year, it’s time to step up your kitchen game. AHAM is here to help. We interviewed two seasoned professional chefs about how appliances help them get the job done in the kitchen. Here’s what they had to say about their favorite appliances, their advice to aspiring home chefs, cooking at the holidays and how they apply their pro cooking techniques at home.

Lance Nitahara
Lecturing Instructor, Culinary Institute of America.
Former winner of the Food Network’s “Chopped” and contestant on “The Iron Chef”; Certified Pastry Culinarian, Certified Hospitality Educator

Chef and instructor Lance Nitahara
Credit: Phil Mansfield, Culinary Institute of America

Appliances for Cooking Success
Stand mixer: A traditionalist may prefer knead by hand, but a mixer will help you get the same results. The mixer is also your ally for mashed side dishes.It’s hard to replace mixing doughs by hand, but I rarely do it anymore,” Nitahara said. “If I’m doing a pasta dough, I’ll put it in a mixer with a dough hook. It comes out more consistent. I’ll do it by hand if I have to, but I don’t have to if my stand mixer is right there.”

Food processor with attachments: Another time-saving must for the aspiring chef. It’s worth your time to read your operator’s manual and find out if you’re getting the most use out of your attachments. “The regular food processor with attachments for grating and mixing are essential,” Nitahara said. “If I have to grate a ton of cheese, I’m not going to do it by hand. After being in an industrial kitchen, there are certain things I won’t do by hand. I know the time investment. It won’t change the quality and it’s the same amount of cleanup.”

Oven and range: The heat distribution in your oven will affect how your dishes turn out. “Whether you’re going with gas, electric or propane, look for a stove that has a good convection fan,” Nitahara said. “You’re not paying that much more for it. It cooks so much more evenly. If I’m doing baked items—pastry or dough, or things that have to be browned on top like potatoes au gratin—the convection current of air evenly distributes the heat across the item. Because of the convection, you have a more even transfer of heat and you’re getting a faster cook time.” Don’t forget about ventilation. “You’ll need a good ventilation system if you’re doing a lot of meats and high-heat cooking. It’s absolutely important if you’re doing a lot of searing.”

Cook like a pro
Top skill for the budding chef:
Organization and knife skills. “One of the running problems most people in the U.S. have is space. If you aren’t organized, it’s going to be dreadful to prep or cook for a large number of people. The next would be knife skills. You need to learn how to cut things without cutting your hand off. Now, with technology and appliances, a lot of things get done for you.”

Holiday cooking: The holidays are about spending quality time with friends and family. But you’ll miss out on that if you’re stuck in the kitchen. That’s why you should do as much prep as you can in advance. And forget about all the tricks you may have heard to know when a turkey is done cooking, and invest in a digital meat thermometer. “Never use that plastic pop-up, and forget about time per pound,” Nitahara said. “Take the temperature of the turkey. It should be a minimum 165 in the thickest part of the breast. Make sure it’s thawed out. If you have a 25-pound turkey, you need to bring it into the fridge six days in advance.”

John Dion
Associate professor, culinary arts, Johnson & Wales University; Independent and collaborative foodservice and educational consultant

chefdion

Appliances for cooking success
Digital thermometer: Thinking of frying your turkey this Thanksgiving? You’ll want to have a good digital thermometer on hand. “I like them for their exactness,” Dion said. “They’re easy to read.” A fryer thermometer will help you keep the oil right around the 300 degrees necessary for a low, slow fry, Dion said.

Immersion blender: “I love my immersion blender,” Dion said. “It’s multi-purpose for your smoothies and fruit dishes, even making your own mayonnaise, aiolis and vinaigrettes.”

Oven: Dion is also a proponent of convection as a tool for more precise cooking. “You definitely have to have convection now,” he said. “It’s great to see more convection ovens coming out. Ideally, it’s best if the fan is variable and you can adjust the speed.” However, if you have spices to toast, save them for a conventional oven where they won’t be blown around by the fan.

Range: More burners can be a blessing on a busy day in the kitchen. “In my last house, I had a 36-inch, six-burner range, which was wonderful.” If you can, consider adding an induction cooktop to your center island. “What I like about induction cooking is there’s no flame, so you’re keeping the surface area cool,” Dion said. “It’s going to be more efficient than gas, and I can be precise. If I want to melt chocolate, I can set it at 78-79 degrees. It’s more about the precision temperature than anything else.” Of course, if you use induction cooking, you’ll need cookware made from cast iron or another magnetic material. Don’t skimp, Dion advises. “I have restaurant quality pots and pans,” he said. “You’ll get better heat distribution. The cheaper ones get too hot and the handles start to smoke up.”

Refrigerator: Organization is an indispensable skill for cooking success, and your refrigerator can help you stay on track. “I look for height, plenty of adaptable shelf space, and compartments,” Dion said. “I’m partial to double doors so you’re not opening the whole thing at once.”

Cook like a pro
How to choose appliances: Look for quality and durability. “In homes, you don’t beat them up like you do in a restaurant, but they should be able to take a beating,” Dion said. “Look for good craftsmanship. Pay a little more and get a better quality product.”

Top skill for the budding chef: Knife skills and staying on schedule. “You have to know how to cut,” Dion said. “We don’t teach speed, but we teach to work like you don’t have enough time.

Holiday cooking: Don’t think of a holiday meal as a one-day cooking project. It isn’t something you should expect to knock out in a few hours, so start in advance. “Prep, prep, prep,” Dion said. “Start a couple of days ahead of time.” Cut the vegetables you can in advance and prepare the dining area. “Know how long it takes something to cook,” Dion said. “If you put your turkey in the oven two hours before your guests show up, you’re not having turkey.”

Easy oven and range-cleaning tips

Even the most dedicated neat freak might cringe at the thought of cleaning their oven. But putting it off can make cooking more challenging.

Turkey for Thanksgiving Day in the oven

Over time, residue from cooking and spills can build up and become a drag on oven and range performance. And the “leftovers” that build up on the bottom and sides of your oven can also make the food you prepare taste different. (We’re guessing neither you nor your guests would appreciate the subtle flavors of the charred residue of several meals in their entree or dessert, but we could be wrong!)

Grease and grime can clog the burner and affect performance. Sugary spills on glass cooktops with traditional elements can damage the glass.

Fall behind on cleaning, and before you know it, your range looks like this.

A very very dirty kitchen!

Instead of waiting until it’s unavoidable, clean your oven and range after every use. That may sound like a lot, but it’s the difference between a guaranteed quick and easy job and one that could require significantly more time and elbow grease. Make cleaning a regular part of your cooking and baking.

Clean every part of your range. That means the oven walls, glass cooktop, burners, finish, and knobs. Each is made from different materials and therefore may require a different approach. Your appliance’s manufacturer will be able to provide instructions for each.

What to use: This is where it gets tricky. Appliance manufacturers test many cleaners on their ovens and ranges, but it’s impossible to test all of the options that are on the market. Your oven’s use and care manual may have some suggestions, as will the labels of the specific cleaners. You can’t go wrong, however, with warm soap and water or a white vinegar and water solution, which are unlikely to damage any finish. Avoid cleaners with abrasive qualities, as these could scratch the oven’s finish. Some manufacturers recommend carefully using a razor blade to clean stubborn dirt from oven glass.

Technique: Again, consult your appliance’s use and care manual for specific instructions. Avoid steel wool and similar products, which can damage the finish. Go with the grain (not in a circular motion) to avoid scratching, particularly if your oven has a stainless steel finish. Wait until the oven cools before you begin cleaning to avoid burning yourself. That could take a while, so be patient.

Self-cleaning: Many ovens offer self-cleaning features. Traditional self-cleaning means the oven will heat to an extremely high temperature—as high as 900 degrees—while the residue is burned off. You will not be able to open the oven during a self-cleaning cycle. Oven racks and all pans should be removed during the cycle. After the cycle is complete and the oven cools, you should be able to easily wipe out the ashes. Many manufacturers are now offering a steam cleaning option as well. These models heat water to a boiling point and utilize steam to soften anything in the oven for easy cleaning.

What’s your best oven and range-cleaning advice?

Is your water filter counterfeit?

Is it time to change your refrigerator’s water filter? Be careful about where you buy the replacement. Many consumers, perhaps attracted by lower prices, are being duped into purchasing counterfeit water filters. These convincing but fake filters, which can be nearly impossible to distinguish from the real thing, may put consumers’ health and property at risk.

Only one of these filters is genuine. Can you tell the difference?

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AHAM and its refrigerator members Amana, Beko, Blomberg, Bosch, Electrolux, Frigidaire, Gaggenau, GE, Jenn-Air, KitchenAid, LG, Maytag, Miele, Samsung, Sub-Zero Wolf, Thermador and Whirlpool, along with testing and certification organization NSF International and the Water Quality Association, in the Filter It Out campaign to call awareness to the significant problem of counterfeit and deceptively labeled refrigerator water filters.

The problem

Counterfeit water filters are being sold online every day. But even though these products may appear identical to those sold by legitimate manufacturers, their performance is anything but. Counterfeit filters are illegal, and often don’t deliver on their promises or function near the level of authentic filters. Impurities found in some parts of the US water supply, such as lead, asbestos, pesticides and insecticides may not be filtered out by counterfeit or deceptively labeled filters.  Even scarier is the fact that the consumer may not have any indication that these and other contaminants are not being removed from the water they drink. The water doesn’t look any different, so consumers assume it is being filtered.

The blue water means that contaminants are present, even after the water was run through a non-genuine filter.

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This video from Filter It Out shows how easily contaminants can make their way through counterfeit filters.

And unlike the water filters made by legitimate brands, counterfeit water filters are not designed, tested and certified to fit your refrigerator. A poor fit could damage the refrigerator and cause leaks that could lead to costly property damage.

How to avoid buying a counterfeit water filter

It’s often difficult even for experts to tell the difference between a legitimate model and a counterfeit. Sometimes, they’re only distinguishable by differences in weight. Consumers can avoid purchasing counterfeit water filters by buying replacements only from trusted manufacturers. Filter it Out has tips on how to avoid purchasing counterfeit and deceptively labeled filters.

How Filter It Out is fighting the problem

Filter It Out is pushing back against counterfeit and deceptively labeled water filters through the combination of a public awareness campaign, testing that shows the ineffectiveness of the counterfeits and educating regulators and U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials, who often are the first to come into contact with counterfeit products, to flag suspect shipments before they have the opportunity to reach consumers.

Get more from Filter It Out on how to avoid counterfeit buying water filters.

No “nukes”: How to use your microwave oven for real cooking

Using microwave oven
Microwave ovens are in about 90 percent of American households. They’re great time savers and are regularly used to warm up leftovers, heat that morning cup of tea or defrost the evening’s main course. That’s their role in many homes. Their cooking capabilities, however, go well beyond reheating and defrosting. And if you take the time to learn, they’ll take your cooking to new levels of convenience.

We recently chatted with microwave cooking expert Jennipher Marshall-Jenkinson, chair of the United Kingdom-based Microwave Technologies Association and author of Microwave Magic: The Heart of 21st Century Cooking, to pick her brain on a microwave’s role in producing a home-cooked meal. Just as with using a range or oven, there’s a method to microwave cooking, she said. The trouble is that many simply focus on cooking time, not technique.

“The most important thing about basic cooking in the microwave is understanding what you’re doing,” Marshall-Jenkinson said. “You have to understand and think about the cooking technique behind it. You don’t cook everything in the microwave oven. You don’t make roast potatoes or put a crispy edge on your chicken. But anything with its own moisture cooks perfectly. It’s the perfect environment for saving time, energy and nutrients. In minutes, you can have a proper meal.”

So how does one progress beyond popcorn, break free of frozen meals and harness the real cooking power of a microwave? Marshall-Jenkinson has some advice:

Get to know your oven: Microwave cooking is a skill, and it’s going to take time and practice to perfect. Marshall-Jenkinson recommends starting with vegetables to set benchmarks for how long it takes to cook certain portions. She’s also a big fan of microwaving all types of sauces. “If you follow the instructions, those are guaranteed to be successful.” In addition, all microwaves aren’t created equal. They vary in size and wattage, both of which have impact cooking times. Knowing your wattage will help you get a sense of your oven’s capabilities.

Watch your turns: Many microwaves have turntables to rotate food and help it cook more evenly. If yours doesn’t, you’ll likely have to manually turn the dish at 90-degree angles and stir the food during cooking.

Put a lid on it: Microwaves cook foods in their own moisture, and a lid or cover will help it retain that moisture to improve cooking. “If it’s allowed to evaporate, you won’t end up with cooked food whatsoever,” Marshall-Jenkinson said.

Make use of different power settings: Many microwave users simply default to full power for everything they cook. That’s a bad move and can result in poor quality cooking. Find out what’s best for the dish you’re preparing. “I would never cook a cake or baked sponge pudding on full power,” Marshall-Jenkinson said. “I would cook that on a medium-power setting. That means the heat developed within the dish as it’s cooking has a chance to even out before you put another burst of energy in there.” Remember, you’re cooking, not just heating. “You can make a great casserole by bringing it to a boil on high and reducing the power to 10 percent and cooking at 10 percent for an hour and a half.”

Be adventuresome: Don’t be afraid to experiment with your microwave. Search out recipes and cooking techniques. “It’s there to make your life easier. Use it instead of just heating up a cup of coffee in it.”

Now that you know the basics, what should be your first microwave-prepared meal? “Any dish that is cooked for your family or makes your life easier,” Marshall-Jenkinson suggest. She’s a fan of the microwave’s ability to quickly produce baked treats. “I’m a cake lover myself,” she said. “A lovely sponge cake is going to take 3-4 minutes in comparison to 25 minutes.”

Ready to give microwave cooking a shot? This recipe for microwave mac and cheese cups (with a gluten-free option included) from MOMables will help you prepare a quick, tasty meal for the kids:

Ingredients:

1/3 cup pasta, uncooked

1/2 cup + 1/8 cup water

1/4 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese

2 teaspoons milk

Instructions

  1. Add pasta and water into large soup bowl or mug
  2. For regular noodles: Microwave for 6 minutes. Stop and stir at the 2 ½ minute mark, then stir every 45 seconds to 1 minute thereafter.
  3. For gluten-free noodles (corn-based pasta), microwave for 5 minutes. Stop and stir at the 2 ½ minute mark, then stir every 45 seconds to 1 minute thereafter.
  4. After the microwaving is complete, add in the cheese. Stir.
  5. Microwave again for 25 seconds.
  6. Add the milk, stir and serve.

What’s your favorite microwave recipe?

Easy ways you can prevent cooking fires

There are more than 100 million ranges and cooktops in use in the U.S. today, and most are operated safely and without incident. When fires do occur, they’re usually preventable through a few simple steps. AHAM has partnered with UL, the National Association of State Fire Marshals, and the National Safety Council to develop its Recipe for Safer Cooking. These preventive measures will help you greatly reduce the chances that a cooking fire will occur in your home:

  • Stay in the kitchen when you’re cooking. Unattended cooking is the leading cause of cooking fires.
  • Wear short or close-fitting sleeves when you cook. Loose-fitting clothing can catch fire.
  • Keep an eye on children in the kitchen. When they’re old enough to cook, teach them how to do it safely.
  • Keep your cooking areas clean. Food and grease build-up can increase the risk of fire.
  • Keep curtains, towels, pot holders and other fabrics away from hot surfaces.
  • Store solvents and flammable cleaners away from heat sources. Never keep gasoline in the house.
  • Turn pan handles inward to prevent food spills that can result in serious burns.

Unfortunately, fires sometimes happen even when preventive measures are taken. Memorize these steps so you and your family are ready if a fire happens:

  • Immediately call your local fire department. Have the department’s emergency number on hand, as calling 911 will instead direct you to a central emergency services center. That means the response time could be slightly longer.
  • If a grease fire breaks out, put a lid on the pot to smother the flames, then turn off the heat and leave the lid in place while the pan cools.
  • Use baking soda to extinguish cooking fires.
  • If a fire starts inside the oven or broiler, keep the door closed and turn off the heat to smother the fire.
  • Keep a fire extinguisher in the kitchen and know how to use it. Contact your local fire department for training.
  • Keep a working smoke detector in your home and test it every month.

AHAM and appliance manufacturers are attacking the problem of unattended cooking fires through the technical advances to cut down on the potential for fires, and through consumer awareness initiatives like the Recipe for Safer Cooking. Visit AHAM’s store to order copies of the Recipe for Safer Cooking and other fire-prevention information.

Are you looking for more ways to make your kitchen safer? Take this kitchen appliance safety advice from John Drengenberg, also known as “Mr. Safety.”