Tuesday Tips: Let's talk about your oven...
I remember that when I first started cooking, almost everything I put in my oven would burn. I learned from Nannie Polly that I had a "hot oven," which means that the temperature ran hotter than what I had set it for. I've also had "cold" ovens that took longer to cook things in. Mama had to put the oven racks exactly where they needed to be for whatever she was cooking. She was always moving those racks, and I hate to say it, but I'm terrible at moving my racks when I know I should.
When is the last time you cleaned your oven? That job is always at the bottom of my list of things to do, and I often don't do it. I don't have a fancy oven, but when I use it, it does the job, and I use it a lot. I just finished looking to see if my oven is hot or cold. I do this every year to be sure. A gauge for the oven would be helpful, but I've never bought one because the trick my grandmother taught me has always worked. I hope you like today's tips, and as always, feel free to add your own.
How to tell if an oven is "hot" or "cold":
Sugar melts at 366 degrees F, so if you put a half-tablespoon of sugar in an oven cooked to 375 degrees F and the sugar doesn't melt, your oven is too cold. Also, if you put sugar in an oven set to 350 degrees F and it melts, your oven is too hot.
To see if your oven is too hot, heat it to 350 degrees. Place a half tablespoon of sugar in the middle of a pan that can go in the oven and cover it with tin foil. Set a timer for 15 minutes and put it in the oven that has already been hot. If the sugar melts after 15 minutes, you know your oven is too hot. To check if the oven is cold, heat it to 375 degrees and do the same thing. This time, you're running cold if the sugar doesn't melt but is just a little bit stained.
Don't use tin foil to line your oven, because it can burn the hot element. If you want to line the bottom of your oven, like I do, you can buy a teflon cover and put it there. This will make it much easier to clean up any spills.
You should clean your oven every two to three months.
This stops spills and splatters from baking on the oven and making it harder to clean. Keeping these messes cleaned up also helps keep fires from starting in the oven.
Put the racks in the oven based on what you're cooking:
Use the top rack when broiling so that the food is close to the heat source.
Middle racks: When the racks are in the middle of the oven, cookies, pies, cakes, pastries, and casseroles bake the best.
Bottom racks: Put the racks near the bottom of the oven to roast big, tough pieces of meat. Think about how much space a big roast or turkey takes up. This is similar to the place for slow cooking.
When using more than one rack, space them out properly so that air can flow through them all.
What kind of cooking tools should you use?
Metal bakeware is great for baking dry foods because it conducts heat well but doesn't keep it in.
Glass bakeware doesn't transfer heat very well, but once it's hot, it stays hot for a long time. Wet foods like casseroles, spaghetti, and cobblers should be baked in a glass pan for this reason. Also, it's important to remember that you should never put glass bakeware under the oven because it can cause it to break.
Cast iron skillets and pans are the best at keeping heat, and I like to use them to bake cornbread and cookies.