Make sure your oven is holiday ready with these tips

Come holiday season, your oven is going to see heavy use. Whether it’s baking delectable cookies and pies, turning out beautiful breakfast bakes for Christmas morning, delivering the perfect side dishes, or roasting the holiday beast, your oven will be working nonstop—and you’ll depend on it to be in perfect working order. How can you be sure that it is? Calibrate It … Continue reading “Make sure your oven is holiday ready with these tips”

Come holiday season, your oven is going to see heavy use. Whether it’s baking delectable cookies and pies, turning out beautiful breakfast bakes for Christmas morning, delivering the perfect side dishes, or roasting the holiday beast, your oven will be working nonstop—and you’ll depend on it to be in perfect working order. How can you be sure that it is?

Calibrate It

Of all preparations, it’s most important to make sure the temperature inside the oven matches the setting you’ve chosen. If you don’t have an oven thermometer, this is the perfect time to get one. Oven temperatures do fluctuate, so once the oven has preheated, check the thermometer repeatedly over a 10- to 15-minute period. Some ovens can vary up to 50 degrees from their set temperature, and that wide of a range can have a huge impact on cooking. Think about it—50 degrees too cool and you’ll have a hard time getting that lovely brown crust on your holiday rib roast. Fifty degrees too hot, and your most delicate cookies will go from underdone to singed in the blink of an eye.

Depending on the kind of oven you have, you may be able to calibrate it yourself; check the owner’s manual, either in print or online. If you can’t find either type of manual (and you don’t have time to call a specialist), just compensate with basic math—set the oven higher or lower by the number of degrees by which the temperature is off.

Level It

This step is super important if you’re a baker. Turkeys and roasts probably won’t be affected by a slight incline, but a cheesecake or a pumpkin pie certainly will, and you’ll get more professional results if your oven doesn’t introduce a natural tilt to the top of a cake. Grab a carpenter’s level (if you don’t have one in your household toolbox, you can pick one up at the hardware store for a few bucks) and lay it across the top of the oven—first across the width, then from front to back. If the oven isn’t level in either direction, pull it away from the wall and adjust the height. (Having a partner can be helpful here.) Most ovens have adjustable feet mounted on threaded screws; you can raise one or more corners of the appliance quickly and easily simply by twisting them. Check again with the level until you’re satisfied. Your baked goods will thank you.

Clean It

A shiny, clean oven will certainly impress visiting friends and family, but on the practical side, a dirty oven can interfere with cooking times. However tempting, don’t use the self-clean setting for a last-minute scrub. The self-cleaning cycle works by raising the oven temperature to anywhere from 800 degrees to over 1,000 degrees, burning the food residue inside to ash; it actually puts stress on the appliance, and is the most likely time for the oven to break down. Not what you want on the day before you’re due to serve the Christmas ham to a dozen guests! Plus, it’s always a good idea to open windows for the best possible ventilation when using the self-cleaning setting, and if you live in a cooler climate, that may not be an option around Christmastime. Instead, learn how to clean your over a different way.

A few simple steps—calibrate, level, clean—and your oven will be as ready for the holiday season as you are.

Home cleaning: Why you should wipe down your microwave daily

Microwaves offer efficiency that’s impossible to ignore. But that doesn’t mean you should ignore cleaning them!

In fact, as easy as it is to heat up your leftovers or cook up some veggies, it’s pretty quick to wipe it down after every use. But there’s an even bigger reason to clean this kitchen appliance after every use than to keep it sparkling to the naked eye. And your health will thank you too!

According to a swab study completed by Kimberly Clark, which surveyed almost 5,000 locations in a variety of office settings, 48 percent of the microwave door handles tested had adenosine triphosphate (ATP) counts of 300 or higher. ATP is a molecule that provides the energy needed for living things. It’s also used to measure how dirty something is. An ATP count of 300 or higher represents a surface that’s at high risk of transmitting illness. Get your microwave and counters sparkling with these 11 tips for cleaning your kitchen quickly and thoroughly.

In fact, as easy as it is to heat up your leftovers or cook up some veggies, it’s pretty quick to wipe it down after every use. But there’s an even bigger reason to clean this kitchen appliance after every use than to keep it sparkling to the naked eye. (iStock)

Further research found the presence of E. coli inside a swabbed microwave. Of the study, Julie Torruellas-Garcia, PhD, who analyzed the samples, said: “We use it [the microwave] to cook our food, but also to defrost meat. Raw meats carry bacteria like E. coli and Salmonella. Sometimes, the food splatters around the microwave and we don’t always clean it.”

Keeping food from spilling in your microwave may not be easy, but clean-up sure is. By wiping down your microwave (including the exterior handle) after each use, you stop a bacterial breeding ground in its tracks. To get the job done, you can simply use warm water and mild soap.

For a “deeper” clean, grab 1/2 cup of water, 1/2 cup of white vinegar, a microwave safe bowl and a damp sponge or microfiber cloth. Place the water and vinegar in the bowl, and microwave on high until the window steams up and the mixture boils. Let the microwave cool for a few minutes, then wipe down.

Next, find out 11 other everyday items you aren’t washing nearly enough.

This story was originally published by Reader's Digest.

Mother-in-law called out for wanting to charge family $21 each for Christmas meal

A woman posted on a discussion board that her mother-in-law is charging guests for Christmas lunch.

User Staceyjas wrote on Mumsnet that her partner will be going to his mom’s for the holiday while she will be with her own family. However, she was surprised to find out his mother is asking that everyone pay $21 to cover the cost of the food.

“She said she doesn't want to do it all from scratch and wants to get it all pre-done so it's more money, which I understand but he's gutted and feels like he wants to come to my family now. I can see it from both sides and it's hard work and can be expensive but not like she is financially destitute,” she wrote on the website.

VEGAN ACTIVISTS STORM STEAKHOUSE, ARE MOCKED BY PATRONS MOOING AT THEM

“This has never happened before and he has offered to bring the dessert etc. but he said handing over cash just feels wrong. As he says it's about family not money but I wanted to see what other people's opinions are? Or if you do this,” she continued.

Responses were mixed, with many people expressing their shock at a family member asking for money when they offered to host the meal.

“If you can’t afford it, don’t invite people. Or only cook what you can afford. I’d never charge anyone, far less family, for dinner.”

“I definitely would not ask for money and would not ask for food contributions either, but I would hope that my guests would bring some wine and nibbles for supper /snacks.”

“I'd never ‘charge’ anyone for attending Christmas dinner at mine. Particularly if I was hosting for a large number of people, it would however be reasonable for people to offer or me suggest that they bring a dessert or wine etc.

“OMG! No! F–k that is horrible…Cannot think of anything less hospitable than setting the menu and demanding your ‘guests’ pay for it.”

Others, however, didn’t find the request that unreasonable seeing as how preparing a large formal meal can be quite expensive.

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“Personally I wouldn't – I would ask people to contribute by bringing specific contributions to the meal instead (‘Uncle Paul is bringing stuffing, Auntie Lucy is doing the sprouts’ type thing) But if someone asked me for cash I'd pay – it's really expensive hosting, particularly at an expensive time of the year. When we have had Christmas meals as a big group of friends, we split the cost.”

“I think it’s fair to be honest; why should she have to cover the cost every year when it’s likely to be £100 [$127] plus and why should she have to cover the cost of not wanting to do so much cooking.”

“Based on how much Christmas costs us I’d say that was a good deal!”

Michelle Gant is a writer and editor for Fox News Lifestyle.

Mother-in-law called out for wanting to charge family $21 each for Christmas meal

A woman posted on a discussion board that her mother-in-law is charging guests for Christmas lunch.

User Staceyjas wrote on Mumsnet that her partner will be going to his mom’s for the holiday while she will be with her own family. However, she was surprised to find out his mother is asking that everyone pay $21 to cover the cost of the food.

“She said she doesn't want to do it all from scratch and wants to get it all pre-done so it's more money, which I understand but he's gutted and feels like he wants to come to my family now. I can see it from both sides and it's hard work and can be expensive but not like she is financially destitute,” she wrote on the website.

VEGAN ACTIVISTS STORM STEAKHOUSE, ARE MOCKED BY PATRONS MOOING AT THEM

“This has never happened before and he has offered to bring the dessert etc. but he said handing over cash just feels wrong. As he says it's about family not money but I wanted to see what other people's opinions are? Or if you do this,” she continued.

Responses were mixed, with many people expressing their shock at a family member asking for money when they offered to host the meal.

“If you can’t afford it, don’t invite people. Or only cook what you can afford. I’d never charge anyone, far less family, for dinner.”

“I definitely would not ask for money and would not ask for food contributions either, but I would hope that my guests would bring some wine and nibbles for supper /snacks.”

“I'd never ‘charge’ anyone for attending Christmas dinner at mine. Particularly if I was hosting for a large number of people, it would however be reasonable for people to offer or me suggest that they bring a dessert or wine etc.

“OMG! No! F–k that is horrible…Cannot think of anything less hospitable than setting the menu and demanding your ‘guests’ pay for it.”

Others, however, didn’t find the request that unreasonable seeing as how preparing a large formal meal can be quite expensive.

FOLLOW US ON FACEBOOK FOR MORE FOX LIFESTYLE NEWS

“Personally I wouldn't – I would ask people to contribute by bringing specific contributions to the meal instead (‘Uncle Paul is bringing stuffing, Auntie Lucy is doing the sprouts’ type thing) But if someone asked me for cash I'd pay – it's really expensive hosting, particularly at an expensive time of the year. When we have had Christmas meals as a big group of friends, we split the cost.”

“I think it’s fair to be honest; why should she have to cover the cost every year when it’s likely to be £100 [$127] plus and why should she have to cover the cost of not wanting to do so much cooking.”

“Based on how much Christmas costs us I’d say that was a good deal!”

Michelle Gant is a writer and editor for Fox News Lifestyle.

6 common Thanksgiving cooking mistakes (and how to fix them)

So it’s Thanksgiving Day, you’ve got a house full of hungry people, and you’ve just experienced a kitchen catastrophe that threatens to ruin your perfect meal.

But unless you’re a professional chef, chances are not everything will go as planned when you’re juggling all those dishes. But don’t panic. Instead, just follow these tips to fix six most common cooking disasters — your guests will never know the difference.

Dry turkey

 

If you got distracted by the parade and overcooked the bird, don’t fret. It’s nothing that can’t be fixed with some broth or gravy.

Epicurious recommends a fool-proof way to add some moisture back into your turkey: Carve up the bird, then ladle warm broth over the sliced meat. NYC chef Andrew Carmellini, who spoke with the site, also recommended adding "butter to the gravy and brush[ing] that mixture over the top."

Another option, suggested to Epicurious by Virginia-based chef Nate Waugaman, is to slice the turkey somewhat thin, place them pack in the pan, then cover them halfway with equal parts stock and gravy. Cover the pan, then throw it back in the oven at a low temp just to warm it through. This should help the meat absorb some of that sauce.

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Soggy stuffing

The traditional accompaniment to turkey, the stuffing, should be light and fluffy, not soggy and gooey. But some stuffings can develop this unpleasant texture during the cooking process. Luckily, there’s a simple way to improve the stuffing’s texture without having to start from scratch.

Food Network star Alex Guarnashelli told NY Daily News two tricks to improve the dish. “If your stuffing is too loose or needs more structure, stir in some toasted croutons to give it more body,” she says. And if it's gummy, Guarnashelli recommends heating vegetable oil in a large pan, then adding the gummy stuffing "a single layer" at a time. Sear it off in batches to until it gets some texture, then repeat with remaining stuffing.

Sticky mashed potatoes

 

Potatoes are delicious in pretty much every form, but mashed potatoes aren’t so good when they more closely resemble cement. According to the Food Network, if you get carried away with the whipping or mashing, your potatoes will likely become sticky instead of fluffy. But rather than throw them away, the site recommends transforming them into cheesy "mashed potato cups" by mixing with grated cheese and egg, and baking them in a muffin pan.

POPSUGAR also suggests flattening your sticky potatoes across a baking dish, then topping with cheese and breadcrumbs and baking until the top crisps. It's not quite mashed potatoes anymore, but it sure beats the alternative.

SHORT ON TIME? HERE'S 7 THANKSGIVING DISHES YOU SHOULD JUST BUY

Lumpy gravy

Gravy a little lumpy? Don't worry, it won’t affect the flavor. But if you’re stilled worried how it looks, just keep whisking, Seattle chef Kim Brauer told Hello Giggles. “If that’s not doing anything, push the gravy through a fine mesh strainer with a rubber spatula to break up the lumps.”

Bitter cranberry sauce

For anyone making cranberry sauce from scratch, you run the risk of having it taste bitter or overly tart. If this ends up happening, Reader’s Digest suggests adding maple syrup or apple juice — but not sugar, as it won't properly dissolve. You could also try adding your favorite fruit jam for a more complex flavor.

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Cracked pumpkin pie

 

If you’re worried about presentation and your pumpkin pie came out with cracks in it, there's really only a few ways to fix it.

First off, as Fine Cooking notes, you can avoid this problem altogether by taking your pie out of the oven before the filling sets completely and let the residual heat finish the baking process. If it's too late for that, AllRecipes suggests chilling the pie completely and using a heated metal spatula to smooth out the cracks.

And when all else fails? Just hide your work. After all, it's nothing a healthy dose of whipped cream can’t hide.

Michelle Gant is a writer and editor for Fox News Lifestyle.