Adam over at Amateur Gourmet had a culinary epiphany recently when he finally used an oven thermometer and discovered that actual oven temperatures can vary a great deal from the setting on the temperature dial. Sad, but true. Electric ovens actually cycle on and off continually, creating more of a range of temperatures (hopefully) in the target zone you have set.
Alton Brown (genuflect) has a trick that can help your oven maintain the even heat that mimics the physics of a brick oven. Here it is:
That is a terra cotta, unglazed ceramic pot saucer, found in any local gardening supply shop. Simply invert it and place it in your oven on the bottom rack, and it will soak up and dole out a nice even heat just like a baby brick oven. NOTE: Always use a new, unused pot saucer for this, and clean it thoroughly before first use! It will last indefinately. Here's how it looks in my oven:
This plate can also be used as a fantastic base upon which to bake bread, or even a small pizza, for that brick oven taste and texture that is so wonderful.
Just remember to always heat the terra cotta plate along with the oven, and let it cool slowly as well, to avoid breakage from sudden heat changes. If you are going to remove it and use the bottom rack (such as when baking a turkey), you'll have to remember to remove it before heating it or else you will have to find a safe place to let it cool outside.
If you are a true baking fanatic and crave a brick style oven in your own home, look no further than the Hearth Kit.
The Hearth Kit is an easy to assemble oven insert that turns the home oven into a brick oven. Brilliant!
One more oven tip. No one likes to clean up greasy, gooey, baked-on spills in the oven. For years I have lined my own oven with aluminum foil. Then I found these in the grocery store:
They are aluminum oven liners. The first time I saw these, I thought "why should I pay for those when I can just use a couple sheets of aluminum foil?" Then the light bulb appeared over my head. I bought the liners (three to a pack, I think) and when I got home I covered the liner in aluminum foil! Now when it gets dirty, I simply throw away the foil and re-cover the pre-formed liner. This is nice because it has a sturdy construction and a nice lip around the perimeter. There are burner-pan liners available too but I may go back to just wrapping my burner pans in foil, which seems to work better.
That's it! That's your first Rookie Cookery tip for 2006!