Today we are going to Make 2018 Great by cleaning all our ovens and stovetops!
Yes, I know that sounds like a downer. But now that we’ve got our pantry and refrigerator/freezer organized, the next step is to clean our ovens and stovetops … so we’ll find cooking even more enjoyable!
This is especially important if, like me, you live in an older house with a small, let’s just say “quirky” kitchen. By doing the best I can with what I have – keeping everything clean and mindfully organized to make the most of limited space – I find cooking a pleasure! Some days I even like my original 1960’s yellow laminate counter tops! I am proof that you don’t need a great kitchen to cook great food!
Bonus: This project will be much easier for vegans than omnivores!
FULL DISCLOSURE: I am not Martha Stewart. I am excellent at organizing and formulating plans, but house cleaning is not my strong suit by any means. This post is not meant to be a cleaning how-to, so much as a few useful tips I’ve learned and some ideas to help you make the most of whatever kitchen you have.
Good news for recent vegans: Cleaning your oven is going to be super-easy from now on!
I don’t mean to scare off my omnivore readers here, but meat does squirt and splatter and cause a bigger mess in ovens than vegetables (which are in general much better behaved). And since it’s fat and grease, the sprays and splatters are harder to clean. My mother made a lot of “roasts” for my stepfather, and she was forever cleaning the oven. We’re talking Easy-Off Oven Spray, baking soda pastes, the self cleaning cycle …
In my vegan oven, the biggest problem I have is the “juice” from sweet potatoes cooked directly on the racks. Really not a problem; I just crumble the blackened drips with my fingers and then sweep the powder out of the oven. That’s my basic oven upkeep.
But every now and then I feel I should do a little something more. So I remove my racks, and give them a light scrub-over. I then go quickly over the inside of my oven with a warm, soapy sponge. Five minutes!
Do you have cookie sheets or pie pans that you use in the oven, lined with a layer of aluminum foil or parchment paper? And then after you finish cooking, you toss the paper but just rinse the cookie sheet? Take the time today to throw those pans in the dishwasher, or give them a good wash for once.
And how about nonstick brownie or muffin pans you may keep stored in your oven when not in use? Check to make sure the nonstick coating isn’t peeling or flaking – if so, toss and get a new pan. If your pans look ok, but you haven’t used them for awhile, toss them in the dishwasher, too.
And that’s all we vegans really have to do (if there are no omnivores sharing our oven, making a mess). Pretty d*mn cool, right?
Warning One About The Self Cleaning Cycle: Avoid it. Running a self-cleaning cycle, especially on an older oven, could cause a fuse to blow, resulting in costly repair jobs. Our vegan ovens don’t get that dirty so why take the risk? Even if you’re not vegan, play it safe and don’t use the self-cleaning cycle before a big event/company. And consider using it for a shorter than recommend time (say, one hour instead of three or four).
Warning Two About The Self Cleaning Cycle: The self cleaning cycle smells HORRIBLE. It can also set off smoke alarms (that happened a few times with my mom). So, again, use it well in advance of company. And stay home when you use it in case your security system alerts the fire department.
Microwaves were all the rage in the 80’s and 90’s. Everyone loved them and HAD to have one. My mother competed with the other ladies in the neighborhood to have the biggest one, with the most bells and whistles. Back then, microwaves weren’t just for frozen dinners. Anything and everything was cooked in a microwave, from “TV Dinners” to Thanksgiving turkeys. We didn’t care if eggs and potatoes occasionally exploded. We regarded the occasional burns and scalds as acceptable trade-offs for living in such a high-tech modern age! And when a bag of microwave popcorn caught fire at work and set off the sprinkler system – that was the coolest thing ever!
But now, my microwave and I are like, ehhhh.
I rarely use it. Usually only to heat up my partner’s tea. Sometimes, I’ll use it to heat up Scruffy’s dog food. (Scruffy is my dog, not my partner.) Otherwise, I think I could easily do without it.
Microwaves don’t change the taste of food and contrary to popular belief, they don’t change the nutritional value (much).
But microwaves sure as heck change the texture of food. There’s no comparison between a russet potato baked in the microwave and one baked in the oven. Or a slice of pizza reheated in the microwave versus a toaster oven. Or even a frozen dinner heated in the microwave versus a toaster oven.
Tip for New Vegans: Never cook vegan “meats” or veggie burgers in the microwave unless you have no other option. Using an oven or toaster oven, or sometimes a stovetop skillet, really makes a huge difference in the consistency and texture.
Microwaves are also messy. Of all the appliances in my kitchen, this is the hardest one to clean. Food splatters and plops all over everywhere and then hardens and stains and smells. It’s not even because of buildup, one time is all it takes! One stupid frigging time you heat up leftover refrigerated dog food and forget to cover it with a napkin, and now you have a 15 minute cleanup job.
And, microwavable foods are expensive. Frozen dinners cost more than a quick meal you throw together yourself. Microwavable “steam in the bag” veggies cost more than frozen veggies you heat in a pot on the stove (and there’s usually less product in the microwavable bag). Microwavable popcorn costs almost four times as much as popping your popcorn the old-fashioned way, on the stove.
The best way to clean your microwave? Accepted wisdom is to heat a cup of water with a tablespoon of apple cider or white vinegar until it steams, then wait 15 minutes and wipe down the interior. Good luck with that, I say! If you mean business, add a few drops of dishwashing detergent to a cup of water instead. Go through the whole steam and wait process and the gunk will wipe right off. Then wipe down the outside of the microwave and throw the glass turntable into the dishwasher. Voila!
I never had a toaster oven until 2016, when my pop-up toaster died. For some unknown reason I decided to gift myself with a toaster oven instead. One of the best gifts I have ever given myself. It’s a toaster – AND an oven! It toasts, bakes, convection bakes, heats up 12-14 inch pizzas. I can fire it up in the summer without feeling like I set my kitchen on fire. It saves on electricity (versus my wall oven). And it’s so small and easy to clean and keep clean! If you are a one or two person household – or if someone in your household sometimes eats meals on a different schedule or alone – you NEED a toaster oven!
If you have a toaster oven, remove the tray, rack, and crumb rack. If they are dishwasher safe, load them in your dishwasher for a run-through. If not, just wash with warm, soapy water. While your toaster oven is empty, wipe it down with a damp, soapy sponge. This should take you all of about five minutes.
If you don’t have a toaster oven – consider if you want to invite one into your life.
Now we get down to the nastiest part of the vegan kitchen – your stove top. Mine gets a lot of use – from pan-frying homemade veggie burgers, to simmering soups, stews, chilis, and curries, to cooking beans in the pressure cooker, to occasionally deep-frying samosas and pakoras.
My gas stove top is probably original to my kitchen. Because of its age and my kitchen’s “quirky” dimensions, it’s a bit difficult to replace without a partial kitchen remodel. So although it is functional, it is not a beauty.
Wiping up splatters as soon as they happen is key here. Aside from that, periodically I remove the grates, soak & scrub, and toss in the dishwasher just to be thorough. I then spend a lot of time spraying, soaking, scrubbing, and scraping the stains. Other bloggers will tell you to use baking soda and vinegar, but if you do a lot of cooking, you’re going to need an actual cleanser or at least dishwashing soap. Just try to pick an environmentally safe, cruelty-free one.
Google how to clean your own particular stove top (there are differences, and if you have a nice new pretty one you don’t want to scratch it up). And if your stovetop is still not as pretty as you would like, consider using some creative camouflage to cover aging burners/grates or scratched porcelain. A teapot is eminently useful and provides a cozy, homey touch. And don’t forget burner covers – yes, like grandma used to use!
While you’re at it, give some attention to your utensil crock. Do you actually use all those utensils? Have some seen better days (they’re cracking, or you washed in the dishwasher and they kinda sorta melted)? Toss them. Wash the others or throw them in the dishwasher. And wash your utensil crock. Unfortunately, as useful as this crock is, it’s often a place where tiny insects go to die.
Now, your pots and pans.
Nonstick pots? I love them – they’re easy to clean and allow you to use less oil. But you do need to monitor the coating is not flaking or chipping. And how old is your nonstick cookware? Nonstick cookware used to have PFOA and PFOS, which were both phased out around 2015. If your nonstick is more than a few years old, you may want to consider replacing.
Stainless steel pots are wonderful for cooking soups, stews, and a mess of greens. Anything that doesn’t need to be fried or sauteed.
Cast iron pots and pans have been a big trend recently. While they are wonderful, the downside is they are HEAVY … and even heavier when filled with food or water. If you have someone in your house who is smaller, or who has arthritic hands, or is differently abled, for safety’s sake you may want to consider a few lighter pots and pans.
Make a list of any pots and pans you want to add or replace.
Finally, storage. Ask yourself:
What pots and pans do you use the most? (For me, it’s large skillets, a “Dutch Oven,” my pressure cooker, and some smaller pots.)
What do you use the least? (My Wok.)
Store your most used pots and pans in easy to reach areas. Pinterest has lots of ideas (and the bigger your kitchen, the more options you have.) In my kitchen, there is a large space underneath my stove top for pot storage. However, due to the configuration, it is dark and very deep. Pots were always getting pushed to the back and I hated getting on my hands and knees and feeling around in the dark for a pot. So I took a space I previously used to store casserole dishes, and used it to store my most-used pots and pans. It’s not “typical,” but it works for me. Find out what works for you.
If you live in a mixed household (omnis and vegans), you may want to consider storing your pots and pans separately. You could also use color coding – blue for vegan pots, red for omni pots.
We are done for the day! We’ve accomplished a lot and you’ll be surprised how much more enjoyable you’ll find cooking to be. Our next task in the kitchen will be more fun!