Is Your Kitchen Ready for Holiday Baking and Cooking?

By , SparkPeople Blogger
Around the holidays, it seems like the stove and the oven are working overtime. We spend more time in the kitchen, sharing meals or prepping dishes for festive gatherings.  Make sure your kitchen is up for the task with these easy and quick kitchen tips. Consider it the wintertime equivalent of spring cleaning.

1. Take and inventory of your spice cabinet.  Check dates on spices and leavening ingredients, such as baking soda and baking powder.  Most spices don’t go bad but will lose some of their flavoring power.  (The exception: Poppy seeds and sesame seeds will go rancid. Open them up and if they smell oily or off, pitch. )  Incorporate any older spices into your menus over the next few weeks to use them up.  Leavening agents, however, lose their ability to leaven, or make baked goods rise.  If your baking soda has expired, use it to freshen your kitchen sink drain.  Pour the rest of the box into drain or disposal, add 1 cup white vinegar and let it do its stuff.  Rinse with warm water after 3 minutes.

2. Map your oven.  Have your ever made a batch of cookies and one side gets dark brown while the other side is undercooked?  Or you are trying to finish off the top of vegetable lasagna under the broiler and one side gets charred while the other seems untouched?  Map your oven!  It’s easy and quick.  Just move an oven rack to the highest position in the oven, preheat oven to broil then fill a baking sheet pan with white bread. 

Once the broiler has preheated place the bread-lined pan under the broiler and with the door ajar and watch as the bread toasts.  Once several pieces have turned golden brown remove the tray from the oven and set it on the stovetop.  Before you is a trail map of your oven.  You will see where your hot and cold spots are in the oven.  The next time you use the broiler you will be able to position your pan in the area that will give you the most even browning. Your map will tell you how to rotate the pan in the oven for even cooking.

3. Know the true temperature of your oven.  The next time you are at a kitchen supply store pick up an oven thermometer to calibrate your oven.  Hang the thermometer in the center of your oven under the middle rack.  Set your oven on 350 and wait. After your oven has preheated check the temperature on the thermometer.  If it reads 360 degrees your oven cooks high so adjust your baking/roasting temperature down 10 degrees.  Opposite stands true if you oven reads 340, you just adjust up 10 degrees.  The next time a plumber or electrician is at your house ask him or her to fix the calibration. It's a simple fix.

4. Recalibrate your instant read thermometers.  Baked poultry, which can be finicky about temperature, seems to be on menus quite often during the holidays.  It’s rude to make your guests sick!  Make sure your thermometer is reading the correct temperature. There are two ways to calibrate a thermometer. 

Safe way:  Place the tip of your thermometer into a glass jar filled with ice water.  If it reads 32 degrees Fahrenheit you are perfectly set. If not, adjust the dial up or down to recalibrate back down or up to 32 degrees. 
Not so safe way:  Place the tip of the thermometer into a saucepan filled boiling water.  Your thermometer should read 212 degrees--just be careful and don’t burn yourself. I warned you!

5. Sharpen knives.  Take your knives to a local kitchen store to have them sharpened, but allow two weeks for them to come back. Or, if you know how to do it yourself, go ahead.

6. Recondition wooden cutting boards and tools.  Pick up a food grade mineral oil at your local hardware or kitchen supply store.  (I do not recommend olive or vegetable oil for conditioning wood.  Have you ever smelled oil that has gone rancid?  If you use olive or vegetable oil it will get soaked into the wood and eventually go bad.)  Twice a year I give my boards a special soak with a mixture of warmed beeswax and mineral oil.  Mix 3 parts mineral oil with 1 part beeswax.  Warm it for 30 seconds in the microwave then spread over the surface of the wood.  Allow to soak in overnight then wipe off excess next day. This will keep your cutting boards and tools from drying out, splintering or cracking.

Now that you have your tools and supplies ready what are you waiting for--get cooking! Here's a "pinnable, printable" reminder for you!

What do YOU do to get ready for the flurry of activity in the kitchen this time of year?
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