Read an Excerpt
Your Kitchen Space and
Ergonomics in the Kitchen
Today'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 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 stores or at builders' home shows. (The selection of appliances is covered in more detaillater 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 damaged 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.
* 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; 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 flooring.
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 "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 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 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.
An efficiently operated dishwasher consumes less hot water and less energy than hand washing dishesnot counting the savings in human energy as well.
What to look for ...
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 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.
Some valuable features ...
* An air-dry or energy-miser setting to save you money by turning off the heat during 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.
Getting the most from your dishwasher ...
* Dishwasher detergents: When choosing a dishwasher detergent, don't just automatically 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 (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 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 small-handled items from poking through and 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 stores.
* KITCHENEERING HUMOR *
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 Dad cleans, he cleans the kitchen and yard, too!"
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 shelving to make organizing and finding food easier. A leading consumer magazine says that manual-defrosting 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 factor.
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 more.
* 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 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 temperatures.
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 repairs.
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.
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 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 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 rancid.
* 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.
* HELOISE HINT: 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.
* 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.
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.
* 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.
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.
* 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 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: Be careful 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 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.
* A READER RECOMMENDS:
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 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!
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 kitchen will accommodate the stove's venting system.
* 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.
* 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 people 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.
* 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 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.
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.
* 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:
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 area.
Don't spray oven cleaners near electrical connections, heating elements, or the thermostat.
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.
* 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 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 oven.
* 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.
* 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 self-cleaning. A plain water-dampened sponge or 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 self-cleaning 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 self-cleaning oven (and wouldn't my mother have loved that idea!) the oven door doesn't always get clean. Wipe the glass window with ammonia 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 heavy-duty 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.