How to use your Halogen Oven

Choosing the right machine for you - There are many different halogen ovens on the market, but they are basically all the same machine. The two main variations are size of bowl and whether your lid is on a hinge. My first machine was from JML when they first started to become popular. I was not really sure what to expect and over time, it has gained more and more use in our home. Personally I would opt for the largest bowl as this increases your usability. You can also purchase extenders which can help maximize use. Since using the JML, I progressed to use the Flavorwave Turbo Platinum Oven - out of all the machines I have used, this is one of the best. It has the hinged lid, digital settings, 3 speed fan and a pre-heat setting. Looking at forums I have noticed the lids do cause a bit of a bug bear. I had a lid stand beside my JML machine, though annoyingly these are optional extras you have to purchase and are quite flimsy to look at. Personally, if you can afford to buy the Halogen cooker with the hinge lid, it is definitely a safer and easier option.

How to they work? The halogen oven/cooker is a basically a large glass bowl with an electric halogen lid. The lid is heavy as it contains the halogen element, timer and temperature settings. It can be fiddly to clean but I will come to that later. The halogen bulbs heat up the bowl and the fan moves the air around the bowl to create an even temperature. As it is smaller than a conventional oven, it heats up faster, reducing the need for long preheating and in some cases, reduces the overall cooking time. This makes it a very popular choice for those watching their pennies, living on their own or like me, a busy family. It has even become a popular choice for students and caravanners. I read on a forum that some caravanners use the self-clean facility just like a mini dishwasher - ingenious! It is also popular as a second oven and really becomes invaluable at busy times like Christmas. For safety, the handle of the lid has to be in place (placed securely down) for the machine to turn on. This means that when you lift the lid, it automatically cuts off the machine. If you are using the Flavorware machine with the hinged lid, you have to press the start button to start and remember to turn the machine off when you lift the lid. It does cook slightly differently to a conventional oven, so it is often trial and error when you first start, but it is not vastly different. If you have favourite recipes you cook in the conventional oven, try them in the Halogen. I find cooking at a slightly lower temperature or cooking for less time normally gives the same results, but hopefully my books will help give you more confidence. It is not a microwave and does not work in the same way as a microwave, so if you are thinking you can cook food in minutes you are wrong. It does however have a multitude of skills - defrosting, baking, grilling, roasting and steaming are all perfect for the Halogen oven. Remember that to get the optimum benefit, air needs to circulate around the bowl, so ideally place on racks and avoid the temptation to over fill.

Using Your Oven Getting the right equipment This sounds obvious but...make sure you have oven trays, baking sheets and casserole dishes that will fit inside the halogen oven - there is nothing more frustrating than planning a meal and just at the last minute your realise it does not fit in the machine! You can use any ovenproof dish or trays - metal, silicon and Pyrex are all fine. The halogen oven is round so it makes sense to look at trays and stands of the same shape, just smaller so you can remove them without burning yourself! Out of everything, I think this is the biggest downfall with the oven. When I first started using the Halogen Oven, it was frustrating to find that 80% of my bakeware did not fit in the machine. A quick revamp and purchase of the accessories have proved invaluable. If money is tight, you will often find great casserole dishes at boot sales or charity shops - you don't have to spend a fortune on new cookware. You can buy an accessories pack which contains steamer pans, grilling pans, toasting racks and even an extension ring. These are highly recommended if you use your oven regularly and certainly enhances what you can do with the machine. There are many places on the web selling these, so a general search will point you in the right direction. Amazon is also a great place to look.

Let there be light As experience halogen users will know, the halogen light will turn on and off during cooking - this is not a fault of the thermostat as some people have mentioned on forums. It literally turns off when the programmed temperature is reached, then on again when it drops. Set the temperature and marvel at how quickly the oven reaches the required temperature - literally in minutes. I love the light - there is something quite cosy about walking into your kitchen on a winter or autumn evening to see the glow of the halogen cooker along with the ability to watch your food cook.

Timings The Halogen Oven comes with a timer (60 minute) and temperature setting dials - the Flavorware Turbo also comes with 3 fan settings and digital timer. All Halogens turn off when the timer settings have been reached. This means you can be reassured that if the phone rings or you are called away from the kitchen, your food won't spoil.

Size The oven is small enough to sit on a worktop, but do allow space for removal of the lid if this is not hinged. This can get very hot and is quite large and heavy, being the brains of the machine, so it is often a good idea to buy the lid stand, though be careful when using this; the stand is quite flimsy to look at until you get used to it. You could opt to place the lid on a heatproof surface, again, be careful not to burn yourself or your worktop! As with all electrical and hot appliances, do not let your children near it - the glass bowl gets very hot.

Careful does it Your oven should come with some tong type gadget to help you lift out the racks. They are quite useful, but I also use a more substantial set of tongs. As with any oven or cooker, do be careful as the bowl and contents gets very hot. I find using proper oven gloves a necessity as they cover all of your hand and wrist and can prevent accidents.

Foil and coverings Some people like to use foil when cooking. It can be a good idea to use to prevent something browning too quickly or parcel foods, however, make sure these are secure. The fan is very strong and if the foil is not secure it can float around the oven and could damage the element. Another option to prevent burning is obviously to turn the temperature down or place the food further away from the element (on the low rack, or add an extension ring).

Cleaning your Oven Your oven is promoted as being self cleaning - this basically means, fill it with a little water, a squirt of washing up liquid and turn on to the wash setting. The combination of the fan and the heat allows the water to swish around the bowl giving it a quick clean. This normally takes about 10 minutes. Personally I find it just as simple to remove the bowl and place in the dishwasher, it always comes out gleaming. The lid is a little more difficult to clean and I would refer to the manufactures guidelines as each product can be a little different. Do not get the element or electrical parts wet!

High and Low Racks There are two standard racks which come with every Halogen Oven - a low and a high rack (not to be confused with the rack I use for Grilling!). The high rack is nearer the element so use this more if you want to brown something. The low rack is used more for longer cooking times. You can cook directly on the bottom of the bowl. I have done this quite often, particularly if I am being lazy and just chucking in some oven chips or roasting. It does cook well but will take a little longer as compared to the racks, air is not able to circulate all around the food.

Grilling If you want to grill something you really need to get the rack as high as possible - the two racks you get with the halogen oven (low and high) may not be suitable for quick grilling - though if this is all you have it will work, but just take longer. I have purchased an accessory pack and in this you get a toasting rack (with egg holes). This can be used as a grilling rack, either on its own or with a baking tray on top. As you are near the element, grilling times are much quicker - you can grill cheese on toast in approximately 3-4 minutes.

Baking Some people worry about cakes but I think this is because they are setting the oven temperature too high. The result is a crusty brown cake top with a soggy middle. Setting the oven to a lower temperature can solve this problem. Muffins and cupcakes take between 12 and 18 minutes. You only really get a problem with cakes if you are cooking for too long at too high a temperature. Try some of my cake recipes and you will see how simple it can be.

Preheat or not preheat Most recipes I have found on forums don't mention preheating. This is probably due to the speed the oven reaches its temperature, however, I think it is often worth turning the oven on 5 minutes before use just to bring it up to the right temperature. I found this to be the case when attempting to cook soft boiled eggs. According to Flavorware recipe book I should be able to cook a soft egg in 6 minutes just by placing it on the high rack. It did not work, however I tried again in a heated oven and it was much more successful. Because the Halogen only takes a few minutes to reach its set temperature, I believe it is best to preheat, therefore most of my recipes advise this. Some machines have a preheat button (such as the Flavorware) which preheats at 260c for 6 minutes, but others, such as the JML require you to set to the required temperature and turn on.