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Induction introduction: A primer on induction cooking

When induction cooking first hit the scene, induction was considered a high-end appliance feature. Now, with more models hitting the market, it’s within reach for just about anyone interested in making the switch to induction.

In case you want to give induction cooking a try without installing a full cooktop, portable, one-burner induction appliances or even hybrid surfaces are available.

While the percentage of electric surface cooking units and electric ranges that include induction is still relatively small, it has risen steadily in recent years. According to AHAM factory shipment data, 15 percent of electric surface units included induction in 2016, up from 8 percent in 2010.

The difference: Unlike gas and electric ranges, induction ranges use a magnetic field to transfer heat directly into the pan. Neither the burner nor the air around the burner are heated, meaning what you’re cooking heats up faster. But only the pan, and what’s in it, will get hot. Not having hot burners reduces the potential that nearby materials can ignite while cooking, according to the National Fire Prevention Association. Also, it’s unlikely that the burners will be accidentally turned on, since they won’t heat without the proper cookware on the burner, the NFPA says.

You may need to buy new cookware. Induction burners will only work with cookware made of magnetic metals, such as iron or stainless steel.

Hint: The cookware package will normally state which type of range the cookware can be used with—gas, electric or induction. Cookware with a flat bottom will get you the best results.

Induction also offers more precise temperature control. You can even cook delicate items like dairy or chocolate for long periods, without worrying about fluctuations in temperature. It will take some practice, though, as induction cooking gets you to your desired temperature faster than gas or electric. Water, for example, will boil in about half the time. You’ll need to get used to the faster heating times.

The design of induction ranges, and the fact that they don’t get hot during cooking, can also lend itself to easier cleaning. Since the burners don’t heat up, spills aren’t going to burn onto the cooktop. (Though gas and electric ovens are easy to clean, if you do it right.)

Thanks to AHAM member Viking Range for the information on induction cooking.

Designing your laundry room? Here’s how to choose your appliances

simple laundry room with tile floor and appliances.
Laundry rooms are often multipurpose rooms that are used for storage and pet care in addition to washing and drying. But they’re typically designed around appliances, and appliances are what you should consider first during a laundry room design or remodel.

“Appliances are always the starting point, whether you’re designing the laundry room, a kitchen or outdoor cooking area,” says Charleston, S.C.-based designer Margaret Donaldson of Margaret Donaldson Interiors. “I always ask clients to determine which appliances they want first, because the cabinetry has to be built around that.”

Obviously, the most important appliances in a laundry area are the washer and dryer, but some thought should also be given to other laundry-care appliances, like garment steamers and iron. The design might include a fold-down ironing board or cabinet for a steamer. Here’s what else you should think about during the design phase:

  • Top-load or front-load? Both front- and top-load washers have their merits, though Donaldson says many of her clients are choosing top-load appliances. That fits with AHAM’s factory shipment data, which shows that top-load washers made up 76% of units shipped in 2015 and have been growing as a percentage of shipments since 2009. “The reason the front-loader came out was you could have a continuous counter going across,” Donaldson said. Sometimes, the choice comes down to the ease of loading and unloading. “Some people say they don’t want to bend down. The age of the person matters. Where are you in your lives? Designing for ease of access is a consideration for many who choose to pursue a universal design concept during a remodel. If extra counter space is important and you don’t mind bending over to load and unload your laundry, consider front-load models.
  • Agitator or not? You’ll also need to think about whether you want an agitator with your new washer. More of Donaldson’s clients are choosing to go without. Washers without agitators are also growing as a percentage of units shipped. Fifty-two percent of units shipped between January and July of 2016 had no agitator, up from 47 percent last year.
  • Colors: “What’s really hot right now is a platinum color,” Donaldson says. “I’m seeing it as a go-to color, either platinum or white.” Looking for something a little flashier? Some are going for red, though choosing a more exotic color could limit your options, Donaldson says. “Only certain brands offer fun colors like that.”
  • After washing and drying: Think about where you’ll store your other laundry-care appliances. Will you need to work in a cabinet for your steamer? Should you build the ironing board into the design? “A lot of people steam their clothing instead of ironing,” Donaldson says. “If they’re steaming, the steamers are usually on wheels. It doesn’t usually go into a cabinet, because you’re lifting up and down. You need to have a space in your laundry room that it rolls into, or a closet you can roll it in and out of. Typically, it’s a tall cabinet in the laundry room, not a closet. A closet is more expensive.” Other cleaning supplies, like vacuums, are often stored in a laundry room cabinet, Donaldson says.
  • Soaked: If your design didn’t include a laundry sink, you may want to consider a model with a sink already built in.

Designers: What trends are you seeing in laundry room spaces?  How has this space changed over the past 10 years? Tell us about your laundry redesign experiences!

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?

How to keep appliance repair costs under control

Woman Looking At The Repairman Repairing Dishwasher
Appliances play a major role in your life, and it can be stressful when they break down. But when they do, you want a quick, inexpensive repair. That may not always be possible, depending on the nature of the issue and service required to address it. But how you initially respond can reduce the chance that you’ll be surprised by a hefty repair bill.

First, it helps to understand how your bill is calculated. Time spent on the repair is not the only factor. There are a number of costs that go into hiring a repair technician, including:

  • Tools and testing equipment
  • Parts
  • Vehicle maintenance, gas and insurance
  • Training
  • Clerical staff

Some of the bill you’ll receive following a repair visit has already been determined before the technician arrives at your home. That might include a trip charge or diagnostic charge, which many technicians charge to travel to your home to investigate the issue. Once the technician arrives, many companies bill for time in 15-minute intervals.

Before you call, check to see if the issue you’re having with your appliance can be resolved without a technician’s visit. Make sure you check power sources, plugs and fuses before making a service appointment.

If you still need help, check to see if your appliance is still under warranty. If it is, some or all of the costs of repair may be covered, depending on the nature of the problem. However, you’ll need to choose an authorized service technician—a service branch owned by the manufacturer or an independent business recognized by the manufacturer to do in-warranty service on the product. Working with a repair technician who is not authorized could cost you in the form of a voided warranty and a much larger bill for parts and service.

It’s a good idea to select an authorized service technician even if your appliance is no longer under warranty. They are most likely to be familiar with your appliance and will likely have access to the tools and parts necessary to make the repair.

How to find a technician: Check the appliance’s use and care manual or call the manufacturer’s customer service line for a list of authorized technicians. Many manufacturers also include lists of authorized service technicians on their websites.

When you call, have the following information ready:

  • Any receipts from previous repairs. These can serve as proof of excessive service or related problems and may help in obtaining manufacturer assistance should problems occur after the warranty expires.
  • Appliance model number
  • Appliance serial number
  • Purchase date

After the visit: Keep your receipt and stick to the technician’s instructions on any preventive measures to reduce the chance that the problem will happen again.

Cooking in your dishwasher: A bad idea

Pretty, young woman in her modern and well equiped kitchen putting cups into the dishwasher - an appliance that helps her keep the home tidy

A number of cooking and lifestyle blogs have reported on the novelty of using a dishwasher to cook food. Recipes might include salmon, eggs, chicken and other foods. It’s a unique concept that most people probably haven’t considered. It’s also a bad idea, and appliance manufacturers don’t recommend it.

Many of the articles tout the alleged energy savings, ease of cleanup and unique cooking approach as reasons to try dishwasher cooking. But there has been little said about the risks, and there are many, including:

Harmful bacteria: Would you like a side of E. coli or salmonella bacteria with your dishwasher-cooked meal? Probably not. But that’s what you might end up with. Many factors, including water supply, determine how hot it gets in a dishwasher during a cycle. That means it may not reach the 140-degree minimum cooking temperature the U.S. Department of Agriculture recommends to kill potentially harmful microorganisms. You could end up giving harmful bacteria an environment they can thrive in, as they tend to multiply at temperatures between 40 and 140 degrees Fahrenheit.

Contamination: Regardless of how food is sealed, even a tiny opening will allow spray from the dishwasher and possibly detergent to reach the food. Like dishes, food can move during a cycle, and that movement may cause punctures or tears in water-tight wrapping.

Fire: Food could become dislodged during the wash cycle and end up on the dishwasher’s heating element, potentially causing a fire.

It’s a waste of energy: While dishwashers have reduced their water use more than 41 percent since 2005, they still require about five gallons of water per cycle to effectively clean dishes.

Appliances are designed to perform specific tasks quickly and efficiently. So, take the advice of the people who make the dishwashers, and leave the cooking to ranges and ovens.