Sometimes the biggest kitchen question isn’t what to fix for the next meal—it’s how to cook it. For one reason or another turning on the oven isn’t the best solution. Often it seems wasteful to fire up the whole oven to cook a quick dish for one or two people. And when it’s already 95 degrees outside, who wants to heat up the kitchen?
While a microwave is always a possibility, another energy-saving option is some sort of countertop oven or other cooking appliance. There are a number of choices—from simple toaster ovens to more complex ovens in which you can roast a chicken or bake a cake.
Today’s countertop ovens come with a range of features. The most familiar is the basic toaster oven, capable of making, well, yes, toast. Some include a tray that ejects automatically when the bread is toasted to the darkness level requested. Some chime to let you know the cooking is done, or will keep the toast warm if you can’t rush over to fetch it right away.
Many toaster ovens include other features that allow you to re-heat already prepared foods or to cook fresh items. Some models offer you the choice of standard oven heat or convection cooking, which uses a high-speed fan to move air over a heating element so that food cooks faster. Other models offer a rotisserie cooking feature for meats, or broiling as well.
A panini press isn’t just for sandwiches
Some countertop appliances are intended for a specific purpose—but they can become more versatile, given a little culinary creativity. Clever cooks are now using a panini press, meant for sandwiches, to grill vegetables, hamburgers or salmon, even to make an omelette. Some panini models come with floating hinges (so you can cook foods of varying thicknesses), adjustable thermostats, and removable plates—either ridged, flat, or a grid shape for waffles. Check your favorite Internet recipe sites for ideas and how-to videos.
Will it fit?
When making a selection, a good starting spot is to think about what you want to cook—whether you just want a simple toasted cheese sandwich now and again, or plan to try more complicated endeavors such as baking muffins or roasting meats. Before buying a new countertop cooking appliance, pay attention to how much space it would take up on your kitchen counter. Be sure to measure the height to know if it will fit under your cabinets. Also consider the dimensions of your cookware. Even a great chef is flummoxed when the pan won’t fit in the oven. Then check product reviews to find a model that heats evenly.