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Handy Hints and useful tips for in the kitchen

Slow Cooking

Heat diffusers for stove-top

  Some meals taste better when cooked slowly. A casserole in the oven will achieve this the same as an electric slow-cooker, but when it needs to be done on the stove top, it isn't always possible to reduce the heat sufficiently to prevent sticking and burning. Placing a heat diffuser similar to those in our photo will not only cut down the temperature from the burner, but will also distribute it more evenly around the base of the pan. You will still need to stir occasionally, but there will be less chance of ruining your tasty stews and other pan-cooked dishes. If you can't access one in the major supermarkets, try the camping stores.

Foil the Grease!
  Baking trays and tins are a given, but after being in a hot oven they can be difficult to clean properly. Non-stick especially can be easily damaged by scouring, even if the scourer is reputed to be quite okay. One way to avoid baking on grease that was impossible to remove previously is to ensure you don't get it on the baking tin in the first place.
  Aluminium foil is that way. Roll sizes are generally wide enough to cover most items; but two sheets overlapping will cater for extra-large. Pull out the foil far enough to go over the edges and lips, then gently stroke into the base, up the sides, over the edge and tuck under the lip. Replace the foil protector when it gets torn or too soiled.
  One go will last an age, particularly if you use baking paper as a partner under casseroles and ramekins.

Oven Temperatures
  All of our latest recipes give oven temperatures for fan-forced and conventional appliances. Some of the earlier ones, however, are only for conventional. Then there are the really old cookery books and Granny's favourites (written on yellowing lined paper with a fountain pen) which sometimes don't even specify temperatures except in terms like: "a moderate oven, or cook on Gas Mark 4." This can be confusing and may result in under- or over-cooking. Following are a few basic conversions:
oven temperatures
  The conversions are only estimates and can vary depending on the energy supply (gas or electric), plus the idiosyncrasies of the oven itself. Rule of thumb with temperatures: fan-forced is approximately 10% lower than conventional.
  Cooking times also need to be adjusted. When unsure, I would suggest erring on the side of caution by setting a timer for less than the recipe time. For example: "Cook for 45 minutes on 180°C, or until golden." I'd take this to mean the 180°C is for a conventional oven, so fan-forced would be set to 162°C with a timer reminder to check progress at about 30 minutes.

Cover the Gas Burners
  Gas hobs are great - almost instant temperature adjustment, and often cheaper to run than electric - but keeping the burners clean can be a nuisance. Spills and splatters from pans land on those not being used, and if they aren't cleaned before they are needed next, they'll probably smoke and smell; and some of the jets may be clogged. To prevent this, cover them with metal jar lids which are easier to clean. Jam or pickle lids are okay for the small burners, while Salsa lids are good for the larger ones. When the cooking's done, they are easily wiped with a damp cloth or paper towel. Just remember to take them off before lighting the burners, then replace them once they've cooled down.

Saving on Gas
  Gas burners are arguably more cost-effective than electric hot-plates. There's no waiting for them to heat up, and they can be adjusted for an almost immediate change of temperature. They aren't, however, always used efficiently.
  Obviously, whatever is being cooked determines the temperature; but when the contents need to be heated quickly there is often a tendency to turn the burner on full bore. The base of the pan should be the ultimate guiding factor. Any flames licking out from the base, especially up the sides of the pan, are wasted. So, even when you have to bring something to the boil, turn down the gas until the flames stay within the outer edge of the base. That way there's less chance of ruining your pans, and you'll save on your gas bill.

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