Category Archives: Kitchen

Chemical-Free Oven Cleaning

It’s getting to be that time of year again. The season of baked goods, family gatherings with large meals and festive parties is upon us, and that means that you will likely be using your oven a lot more than usual! Now is a great time to get your oven ready for cooking and baking, but what is the best way to get it clean? These days, nearly everyone has a self-cleaning oven, of course, but even after running the self-clean cycle, there is still the question of what to do with all that burnt, black gunk that has fallen onto the bottom. Also, there is the fact that the self-cleaning feature isn’t always the most practical method for cleaning out your oven, what with the way it can make a particularly dirty oven smoke, and produces that hideous burning smell. Why not skip it altogether in favor of something natural and, ultimately, easier? That’s right- our old friends baking soda and vinegar are back, and this time they are ready to make this oven-cleaning experience your best one yet!

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What You Need:

Oven (obvious, but true)

Baking soda

Water

Dish cloth (preferably not a decorative one you like to display)

Plastic or silicone spatula

Spray bottle

White vinegar

Bathtub (for cleaning oven racks)

Powdered or liquid dish detergent (for cleaning oven racks)

What You Do:

  1. Remove the oven racks and set aside
  2. Make a paste of ½ cup baking soda and 2-3 tablespoons water. Paste should be spreadable consistency.
  3. Spread paste all over inside of oven, avoiding the heating elements. Pay special attention to particularly greasy or dirty areas of the oven.
  4. Let sit overnight, or at least 12 hours.
  5. Clean oven racks while you’re waiting. This can be accomplished by soaking them in the bathtub overnight with ½ cup dishwasher detergent and then scrubbing with a non-abrasive scrub brush or sponge.
  6. Wipe out oven with a damp dish cloth the following day. The spatula will come in handy to scrape off the paste if the damp dish cloth doesn’t get the hard-to-reach spots.
  7. Spray with vinegar in a spray bottle to get rid of all the left-behind baking soda residue. The vinegar will make the baking soda foam a bit (hello, science project volcano lesson!)
  8. Wipe out remaining vinegar/baking soda foam until all residue is gone.
  9. Replace oven racks.

Enjoy the holidays with your shiny, clean oven! Not only will it save you from the embarrassment of pulling a turkey out of an oven filled with stinky black smoke, but it can also make the finished product taste better.

Stainless Steel Appliances- Are They for You?

It’s easy to get swept up in the frenzy over stainless steel kitchen appliances that began at the early part of the 21st century- after all, the shiny silver finish makes a kitchen look ultra-modern, sleek and beautiful. But before you shell out on the stainless versions of big-ticket kitchen appliances, take a moment to look at the pros and cons of each of the most popular colors to see if stainless really is right for you and your lifestyle.

 

White Kitchen Appliances-

 

Pros-

Affordability- White is easily the most affordable color for all home appliances, a white refrigerator/freezer, dishwasher or range will function exactly the same as its black or stainless counterparts at less cost to the homeowner.

Classic- Unlike some of the passing fads in home appliances (remember Harvest Gold?), white appliances are less likely to go out of style than the more trendy options. White is a timeless, safe choice to ensure a kitchen that doesn’t look out of style in just a couple of years.

Low-Maintenance- White is an easy color appliance to clean. With white appliances, homeowners won’t face the issues of fingerprinting that come along with stainless steel and black appliances.

 

Cons-

Bland- Some homeowners feel that white appliances are boring and don’t add any visual interest to their kitchen.

Dated- Sometimes “classic” can be interpreted as “old-fashioned.” If you’re the type of person who likes to be surrounded by modern, state-of-the-art technology and devices, white appliances might not fit your personal style.

 

 

Black Kitchen Appliances-

 

Pros-

Sleek, yet affordable- If you like the modern feel of a kitchen with stainless steel appliances, but your budget won’t allow it, you may wish to consider black as an alternative. Black kitchen appliances provide that contemporary feel without breaking the bank, in most cases.

Understated- While white and stainless steel appliances tend to be the focal point of a kitchen, black appliances do a better job of blending in with the surroundings. Black appliances might be the best choice if you have a kitchen with a lot of visual interest, such as a beautiful bay window or interesting light fixture.

 

Cons-

Dark- If you have an enclosed kitchen with no windows, or one with dark cabinets and countertops, black appliances can add to the somber, oppressive feel. In that case, it might be best to go with stainless steel.

Shows dirt- Some people feel that stains and spots show up more obviously on black than on stainless steel appliances.

 

Stainless Steel Kitchen Appliances-

 

Pros-

Chic- Stainless steel is the “it” finish for kitchen appliances at the moment. A kitchen with stainless steel appliances will instantly look more modern, and can boost the price of your home if you plan on selling soon.

Durable- Stainless steel appliances used to be used exclusively in restaurants and industrial kitchens because of their durability.

 

Cons-

Fingerprints!- If you are the type of person who frets over fingerprints, you definitely may wish to reconsider purchasing stainless steel appliances. Fingerprints are easy enough to clean off with a little soap and water, but cleaning them off will be something you do on a daily basis. (Note: some manufacturers offer stainless steel options that make fingerprints less visible, so that may be something to consider if your heart is set on stainless.)

Price- As with any trendy thing, the price tag for stainless steel appliances can be a bit hefty. Look for sales at Appliance Factory on quality, name-brand stainless steel kitchen appliances to help you afford your appliance upgrade.

 

 

What color appliances are in your kitchen? Let us know in the comments below.

 

 

 

Dinner? Done!!

One of the most stressful parts of a busy weekday is getting dinner on the table. Between work, the kids’ school and extracurricular activities, it can be difficult to have a nutritious meal ready at a reasonable hour. Luckily, there is a solution- with a little advance planning and some basic organization, dinnertime can turn from a burden into a breeze! I devised this handy step-by-step meal-planning system when our son started preschool- see if it works for you!

Step 1: Buy a Dry-Erase Board

…Or a chalkboard, or really even a piece of paper tacked to the fridge with a magnet will do. The point is, get something on which you can write the days of the week, and the corresponding dinner for each day. Not only will it give you a visual reminder of what you plan to prepare each day, but a quick snapshot of it with your phone can serve as an ingredient shopping list for the grocery store.

Step 2: Make the Meal Plan

Appoint a certain day of the week to create your meal plan. I like Sundays, because it is the least busy day of the week for me (and therefore ideal for both planning and shopping), but you can choose any day that works best for you. Take a moment to assess the contents of your kitchen and see if there are any ingredients that can be used for meals prior to taking your trip to the store. This will cut down on unnecessary spending and get you focused on meal possibilities. Then, plan a healthy, enjoyable, and above all EASY meal for each night of the week. Things that can be pre-made on the weekend and then quickly reheated (lasagna, casseroles, etc.) are always a good idea.

Step 3: Take a Picture- It’ll Last Longer

It’s handy to have a pic on your phone to jog your memory if you find yourself at the grocery store with no idea what you are supposed to buy. Having a photo reminder of each week’s list also helps to avoid reruns of the same dinner too many weeks in a row. (Mom, meatloaf AGAIN??)

Step 4: Time to Shop!

With your list in hand, time to hit the store. Try to choose an off-time, when lines will be minimal. If your meal-planning day is Sunday, like mine, may I suggest going during the local football game? It’s like a ghost town at the grocery store when all eyes are glued to the game.

Another option is to try a home grocery delivery service like Walmart to Go- you can select your groceries online at your leisure, and a delivery driver will bring them right to your door the next day for a small fee! A perfect solution for the busy parent on the go (especially if you’ve ever had to bring a toddler into a crowded store.)

Step 5: Prep What You Can

Once your ingredients are in the house, take time to peel, chop, rinse or even cook anything you can ahead of time, to minimize the time spent on preparing dinner each weeknight. For the ultimate proactivity, invest in some kitchen prep bowls (I like the ones by Rubbermaid, $12.56 on Amazon.com) and have your washed, sliced or chopped ingredients already pre-measured and ready to throw into whatever you are cooking. Talk about a timesaver!

Step 6: Stick to the Plan-Mostly

After a hectic day it is oh, so tempting to forego dinner preparation and pick up a nice greasy sack of fast food on the way home from work, or to load the family in the car and head to the nearest casual dining restaurant, but try to resist the temptation. Not only will the home-cooked meals be healthier for you and your family, but it will also keep a little extra cash in your wallet and keep everyone on track for other evening activities such as homework, bath time and bedtime. Alas, nobody’s perfect, and you should not be too hard on yourself if you go off the rails once in a while. I have a built-in “cheat” day that I call “Fast Food Friday”- a scheduled day of takeout bliss that is written right into the weekly meal plan. As a certain fast food chain once said, “you deserve a break today.”

 

Got more meal-planning tips? We’d love to hear them! Please share in the comments section.

 

Featured Article: Consumer Reports- 5 Must-Have Cooking Appliance Features

Consumer Reports published an informative article yesterday highlighting the 5 most desirable features for cooking appliances in a modern kitchen. You can read the whole article here, complete with product reviews of the appliances mentioned in the article, but the highlights include:

Front Controls- No more burning your forearm on a bubbling pot of pasta when trying to reach the controls on the back panel of your range! Now the controls are front and center in these sleek, smart new models. Ranges with this feature include the $1,600 Whirlpool WEE760H0DS.

 

Virtual Flames- Now you’re cooking with gas!…Or are you? The convenience of the induction-range cooktop has received a makeover from Samsung, whose NE58H9970WS model ($3,600) has added virtual LED flames to its electromagnetic cooktop field to give cooks the visual cues they relied upon when cooking on a gas or electric stovetop, so they can tell at a glance if the burner is hot.

 

Cooking Sensors- Those of us who aren’t exactly culinary wizards can use all the extra help we can get in the kitchen. The AutoChef sensor, exclusive to Bosch, claims to give cooks precise results every time by measuring the temperature of the bottom of a pan made out of a special type of aluminum, then heating the element with the exact amount of energy needed. The Bosch NETP066SUC, $1,200, takes the fear out of over- or under-cooking for novice chefs.

 

Hinged Cast Iron Grates- Cleaning up the kitchen after cooking a meal has got to be my least favorite part of the entire process. The worst part of all is trying to get the pools of liquid and tiny pieces of veggies out of the burners before the next time the stove is used. This sometimes daunting after-dinner task is about to get a lot easier, thanks to hinged gates at the back of gas cooktops from the new Whirlpool EZ-2-Lift line. All you have to do on models like the Whirlpool WCG97US0DS ($900) is lift up the entire grate and wipe your gas burners clean. It’s never been so easy!

 

French Doors- We are all familiar with the two side-by-side French doors that many refrigerators have, but what if your oven had them too? GE has answered that question by adding French doors to wall ovens like the GE Café CT9070SHSS. At the price point of $3,900, one may have to have a real disdain for traditional oven doors to invest in this model, but it does come with other impressive features, such as the ability to be controlled by smartphone. Sign me up!

 

What features do you wish you had in your Kitchen of the Future? Leave your ideas in the comments section below.

Dishwasher Dos and Don’ts

Owning a top-of-the-line dishwasher is nice, but doesn’t necessarily guarantee that your dishes and glassware will emerge sparkling clean. Follow these handy hints for clean dishes every time.

 

DO: Pre-rinse everything if your dishes are going to sit in the dishwasher for a day or longer. Since many of us don’t have the need to run a full dishwasher load every day, bits of stuck-on food become harder for the machine to scrub away once the cycle begins. It’s best to just rinse everything off before placing in the dishwasher.

 

DON’T: Stack items on top of one another. The bottom dish will prevent the water from getting to the dish on top and it won’t get clean. If you find yourself cramming dishes and bowls into every available space, doubling up to fit it all in, it may be time to think about running the dishwasher more frequently.

 

DO: Secure your plastics. This includes kitchen utensils, Tupperware containers and kids’ plastic cups and dishes. Not only is it potentially hazardous to your dishwasher, but nothing smells worse than burning melted plastic when an item falls onto the machine’s heating element.

 

DON’T: Buy dish detergent in bulk. Believe it or not, dish soap can go bad. Detergent that hasn’t been used in months won’t do the job as effectively as new detergent. Try not to buy more dish soap than you can use in two months, regardless of the tempting coupons and bulk-buy offers you may encounter.

 

DO: Store detergent in a cool, dry spot. Any of us who has ever had a leak under the kitchen sink can tell you what happens to our powdered dish soap when it gets wet. Moreover, storing dish detergent in a kitchen sink cabinet can cause the soap to clump and deteriorate from the built-up moisture. Try to find a spot that is convenient but also free of heat and moisture.

 

DON’T: Unload the top rack first. This may seem like common sense, but unloading the top rack, where cups and glasses are commonly washed, first, causes water that has pooled on the base of upside-down glassware to drip onto the clean dishes of the bottom rack. Instead, try unloading the bottom first and then cleaning any remaining moisture off of the items on top with a clean dish cloth prior to putting away.

Everyday Items to Clean Your Appliances

Who says cleaning products must be costly to clean effectively? Banish those harsh chemicals and pricey concoctions for good and keep your appliances beautiful using things you already have laying around in your kitchen. You will be amazed how you can keep all of your kitchen appliances sparkling clean and running like new, just by using things like:

 

Baking Soda-

While the uses for baking soda are seemingly limitless, baking soda has long been associated with deodorizing refrigerators. In fact, Arm and Hammer actually manufactures a special container that is designed to be stuck on the inside fridge wall and changed monthly. When it comes to deodorizing with baking soda, why stop at the refrigerator? It can be dusted along the bottom of the dishwasher, rubbed into a microwave with a damp cloth and sprinkled liberally down the garbage disposal, all with the same wonderful effect of eliminating kitchen odors.

 

Vinegar-

Baking soda’s time-honored partner in home cleaning remedies, white vinegar is useful for a variety of household tasks. One particularly inventive use of vinegar, mixed with an equal amount of water, is as an anti-grease agent to prevent buildup inside your oven. If you are concerned about the toxicity of bleach and other cleaning agents on the market, vinegar is a great, safe and eco-friendly alternative. It can be used to wipe down countertops and cabinets.

 

Tang-

The powdery orange drink originally designed for astronauts has a secret identity as a powerful dishwasher cleaner! Using Tang instead of dish detergent in a hot-water cycle can give the inside of the dishwasher an all-over clean, thanks to the acidity of the powder.

 

Coffee-

Another way to effectively eliminate odors in the refrigerator is to place a small bowl of coffee grounds on one of the fridge shelves, replacing every two months for best results. The best part- the grounds can even be used! Talk about recycling!

Grilling Tips To Avoid BBQ Disaster

1. Make sure to pre-heat your grill! Allowing time for your fire to become a steady source of heat is crucial for a near-perfect meal. This step will help to cook your food thoroughly without burning the surface. Allow about 10 min for gas grills and 30-40 min for charcoal.

2. Prepare your ingredients ahead of time. To ensure a timely success without the mess, make sure to season, shape, and cut-up any food that will be included in the grilling process. This will help eliminate running into any snags and make the whole process more relaxing and enjoyable.

3. Perfect the art of shaping burgers. Don’t pack the burger meat too tight, this will result in a tough burger; instead, use a light touch to shape the patty to the shape and thickness you prefer. Just before putting it on the grill, press your thumb gently in the middle of the patty – this will eliminate the “bulge” that happens when you grill hamburgers and allow the patty to cook evenly.

4. Wait to sauce! Apply BBQ or any other sauce to your burger, steak, or chicken about 5 minutes before you want to take your food off the grill. Using the sauce during the entire grilling process increases the chance for your food to burn significantly. Instead, wait until the food is almost done, then apply the sauce of your choosing.

5. Make sure you have the right tools. This might not seem too important and the fork and knife from your kitchenware has done an ok job in the past but believe it, having the right tools makes all the difference.

6. Let your food sit after you take it off the grill. Allowing your grilled steak or burger to rest about 5-10 minutes before digging in lets the flavor really soak into the meat. Cutting into the meat right off the grill lets all the juices (basically flavor) seep out so you lose a lot of the flavor onto the plate rather than onto your taste buds.

7. Better clean up after yourself! Each and every time after you grill, you should always clean the grate of the grill off. This allows your food to step off the grill with the best flavors and a neat and clean grilling experience every time you fire that bad boy up.

Microwave Hacks For Every Day Tasks

Microwaves are found in most every home and their most commonly used for reheating leftovers, defrost, or for their timer… there are other, more clever ways to make good use of your microwave that could simplify several tasks. Here are just a few…

 

  1. No-Tears Onions: To avoid crying during the process of cutting onions, trim off the ends of the onions and heat them on full power for about 30 seconds. This will alleviate any stinking feeling in your eyes.
  2. Easy Cleaning (probably the best hack): Heat a glass bowl of water with a small amount of vinegar in the microwave for 5 minutes. This will soften the inside debris so you can easily wipe down the microwave with little to no resistance.
  3. Rejuvenate Your Honey: If your honey turns up crystallized the next time you need it, it can be restored! Remove the lid and heat on 50% power for about 2 minutes. (Make sure if you choose to do this, your honey is in a glass jar or another microwavable container)
  4. Juice Your Lemons: Get more juice out of lemons and limes by placing them in the microwave as a whole. Run the microwave on high for 10-20 seconds; this will make them super juicy and easy to squeeze.
  5. Easy Peel: Planning on peeling peaches or tomatoes? Throw a whole peach/tomato into the microwave for 30 seconds on high, allow them to stand for 2 minutes after and the peel will slip off easily.
  6. Make More Space: Need to microwave 2 things at once? Place two bowls into the microwave by balancing one on an upturned mug.
  7. No More Chewy Pizza Crust: Place a glass with a small amount of water into the microwave with your pizza and your crust comes out a lot less chewy.

 

 

There are several more hacks out there but these were some of our favorites.

 

Our Sources: AwesomeInventions.com & ViralNova.com

How To Load Your Dishwasher Properly

Wait, what? There’s a right and wrong way to load the dishwasher? YES! There are several common mistakes made loading the dishwasher which leads to chipped, broken, and/or dirty dishes. Below are a few steps to insure clean dishes every time – make sure you check out the video tutorial, too!

  1. Set the dishes aside that are not dishwasher safe. Anything wooden, non-dishwasher safe plastics, large knives, and/or fragile glassware should all be removed and washed by hand. Large knives are usually good to wash separately so they do not get dulled in the dishwasher – everything else is kind of self-explanatory.
  2. Scrape the big food particles off of your plates and/or bowls into the trash as sometimes dishwashers have a tough time taking care of these “big jobs”.
  3. After you trash the big food particles, it’s a good idea to rinse most of the larger dishes off. If there are still big messes, a scrub brush or almost any cutlery will help get those taken care of.
  4. When loading the dishes, there are certain ways and places the dishes should be stacked for the highest efficiency. (See the video below)
    1. Bottom level
      1. Large and small plates, staggered every other facing toward the middle.
      2. Large pots and pans face down.
    2. Top level
      1. Cups should be placed faced down so they don’t hold water. Make sure they are place BETWEEN the pegs and not on top of them.
      2. Large utensils should be placed faced down if they do not fit in the cutlery area; they should be face-down so they do not hold water as well.
  • Dishwasher-safe plastics should be stacked on top so they are far enough away from the heating coil so they do not warp.

 

I know most people just want to throw their dishes in the dishwasher to be done with them, but those Jinga ways of stacking don’t normally result in all clean dishes. So there really is a way to do it that will guarantee perfectly clean dishes almost every time!

How to load your dishwasher properly – a tutorial.

dishes

Self-Cleaning Before The Holiday Can Lead To Disaster!

As the holiday season approaches, everyone is making plans for friends and family to visit; this means large gatherings, meals, parties, etc. Basically, who ever is hosting that year is putting their house on display more during these holidays than any other time of the year. This much traffic in the house only means one thing to several home owners: TIME TO CLEAN!

Of course the rest of the house will be eyed top-to-bottom to be cleaned, fixed, adjusted, etc. But one single appliance, in one single room tends to get a lot of this attention during the holidays as it is the star of all these shenanigans – the all mighty oven. Unfortunately, it typically gets thought of to be cleaned last minute. As the month of November flies by and you get caught up in ensuring the cleanliness of the entire house; typically a day or two before the feast is when it finally comes to thought that maybe the oven should get cleaned. “Oh, well I have a self-cleaning oven,” you might think. DON’T DO IT!

As convenient as the self-cleaning feature sounds in the moment of panic, it is a bad idea to use this feature the day right before the festivities. If you are going to use this feature, make sure  you use it a couple WEEKS before, and this is why…

Self cleaning ovens typically reach more than nearly triple the temperature during the cleaning process – this is very hard on your oven. Using the self-cleaning feature usually leads to some kind of oven complication, whether it be blowing a fuse, breaking the handle, or any other sort of damage. It is very common for something to break or go wrong, which means you will have to have time for repairs. People don’t normally think about allowing time for repairs “because their ovens are too reliable and haven’t had anything go wrong before”, but if you break the oven before the day of the feast, you’ve got a huge problem on your hands.

My point is, if you’re going to use the self-clean option, please make sure to do it several weeks before the event. Don’t worry, if you forget, you can always look up homemade recipes that will be safe to use in your oven that will take care of the mess without creating a new problem. You  might have to use a little elbow grease, but that’s a lot cheaper and way more convenient than purchasing a new oven or a service call.