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Using a broiler is effective for browning the tops of foods such as casseroles or melting cheese (think French Onion soup) and for cooking chicken, steaks and fish. While no two broilers are probably alike, I read an article a few years ago at www.cooksillustrated.com on how to determine how hot your broiler is.

It advised to use the bread test to figure out if your broiler ran hot, average or on the cool side. Keep in mind it’s always best to check your owner’s manual.

To check the broiler, they placed a slice of white sandwich bread about 4 inches under the heating element. “If the bread toasts to golden brown in 30 seconds or less, your broiler runs very hot, and you will need to reduce the cooking time by a minute or two. If the bread toasts perfectly in 1 minute, your broiler runs about average. If the bread takes 2 minutes or longer to toast, your broiler runs cool, and you may need to increase the cooking time by a minute or two.”

You can also find out if your broiler has hot and cool spots. Turn the broiler on and line a baking sheet with slices of bread. Place it under the broiler and broil about 1 to 2 minutes. Remove and take a look at the bread and see if the slices browned evenly. Where it’s not brown is where there’s a temperature change.

Both my old and new oven have high and low broiler settings. According to my manual, the high setting is 550 degrees, and the low is 450. One thing I learned (the hard way, of course) about my new oven is that the door has to remain closed for the broiler to operate. I also found out the hard way that my broiler runs pretty hot.

Here are a few broiler tips:

Make sure the dish you use is broiler safe.

Consult your owner’s manual for positioning the racks. For foods that take longer to cook, position the rack farther from the heat element. This will ensure that the top browns, not burns.

Always factor in the dish or pan size. If you are browning the top of casserole that’s in a 2-inch deep dish, position the rack 6 inches from the heat element.

If broiling foods that have a sauce on them or are brushed in sauce, set a wire rack in the baking pan and place the food on top. That way the food won’t cook in the sauce that drips off.

For easy clean-up, line the broiler pan with foil.

Guinness and Onion Soup With Irish Cheddar Toasts

Serves: 6

Preparation time: 15 minutes

Total time: 1 hour

2 tablespoons olive oil

5 cloves garlic, peeled and minced

8 cups thinly sliced onions

Sea salt to taste

1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves, chopped

1/4 cup sherry vinegar

11/2 cups Guinness Draught, divided

6 cups fat-free beef broth or stock

6 slices thick country bread, toasted

Olive oil for brushing on bread

7 ounces of aged Irish cheddar such as Kerrygold brand, shredded or grated, divided

In a large skillet, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the garlic and saute about 30 seconds or until fragrant. Add onions, season with salt and cook for about 5 minutes, stirring often. Reduce heat to low and cook for about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally until the onions are golden brown.

Add the thyme, vinegar and 1 cup of Guinness. Reduce the Guinness by half and add the beef broth. Bring to a simmer and cook for 10 minutes. Add the remaining 1/2 cup of Guinness and cook a few minutes more.

Preheat the broiler. If desired, using a biscuit cutter, cut out rounds from the bread. Brush both sides with olive oil. Place under the broiler and lightly toast, turn over and toast on the other side. Watch carefully — this takes only a minute or two. Then sprinkle cheese on top of rounds. Broil until the cheese melts and browns slightly. Divide soup into individual servings, sprinkle with more cheese and top or serve with the toasts.

Adapted from foodnetwork.com and tested by Susan Selasky for the Free Press Test Kitchen.

Nutritional information per serving: 310 calories (47 percent from fat), 16 g fat (8 g saturated fat), 27 g carbohydrates, 13 g protein, 1,431 mg sodium, 30 mg cholesterol, 3 g fiber.

Charred Brussels Sprouts Salad With Radishes

Serves: 4

Preparation time: 15 minutes

Total time: 25 minutes

1 pound Brussels sprouts, sliced

8 radishes, thinly sliced

2 small tart apples, thinly sliced

1/4 cup olive oil

Kosher salt and black pepper

1 lemon, juiced

2 ounces shaved Parmesan

Heat broiler to high with the rack 6 inches from the flame or heat element.

In a sided baking sheet, toss the Brussels sprouts, radishes and apples in the oil. Season with 1/2 teaspoon each of salt and pepper.

Broil, stirring with a wooden spoon every 2 minutes until the Brussels sprouts are charred and the radishes and apples are crisp-tender, 6-8 minutes. Sprinkle with the lemon juice and toss. Serve warm with the Parmesan.

From www.realsimple.com.

Tested by Susan Selasky for the Free Press Test Kitchen.

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