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Prairie Fare: Take steps to avoid kitchen fires

Raspberry Applesauce Squares are a tasty baked treat, but keep any eye on your oven while it's baking. Photo courtesy North Dakota State University.

I recall a little incident that taught me a lesson a few years ago. My nose detected an unpleasant scent. My brain recognized the odor and soon my feet were running down the hall. I think I leaped over my then-3-year-old daughter on the way to the kitchen.

"What smells?" my son asked as I ran by. He was about 11 years old.

Dark smoke was coming out of the stove vent. I turned off the oven, grabbed a potholder, moved my curious kids out of the way and opened the door.

Julie Garden-RobinsonI quickly pulled out a smoking pan of blackened garlic bread from under the broiler.

"Mom, you should never leave the stove unattended!" my older daughter exclaimed, echoing the words she'd heard me say. She was 8 years old.

She was right. I had nothing to say for myself. In fact, my kids seemed to be enjoying this situation.

"Well, I burned this food on purpose, to teach you guys a lesson," I noted, tongue in cheek.

"Yeah, right, Mom!" my daughter said with a grin. She didn't buy it.

My son took a more practical view. "Do we have to eat it?" he asked, gazing at the hunks of bread that resembled charcoal briquettes. I shook my head.

We're never too old to learn a lesson. I had gotten distracted and left the kitchen to tend to something, probably related to one of my children. Fortunately, I didn't have a fire, just a smoky kitchen.

Does this mean cooking can be hazardous to your health? No. Cooking at home is one of the best things you can do for you and your family. You usually will save money and you have control over the ingredients you use.

However, unattended cooking can lead to fires. Often, when we hear about home fires, they have connections to the kitchen. According to a Consumer Product Safety Commission report, cooking equipment accounted for 40 percent of residential fires. Cooking was responsible for 27 percent of fire-related injuries.

Do your fire alarms work? About 60 percent of fires happen in homes without a working fire alarm, according to the American Red Cross.

You can help prevent kitchen fires and burns in your home by following these tips:

• Wear the right clothes when cooking. Roll up your sleeves tightly or wear short-sleeved shirts instead of shirts with long, loose-fitting sleeves, which could catch on fire.

• Don't leave your stove or appliances, especially deep-fat fryers, unattended when they're in use. If you must leave the kitchen, even for a couple of minutes, set a timer as a reminder to check the food. Keep a close eye on food in the oven.

• Always supervise children in the kitchen. Try to keep them 3 feet away from a stove that's being used or still hot. Keep pan handles turned toward the stove. Clean ovens and stovetops regularly. Keep potholders, dishcloths and towels away from burners.

• Check that burners and oven dials are turned off.

• Be sure you have a working fire extinguisher. Know how and when to use it. According to fire safety experts, don't discharge a fire extinguisher into a burning pan of grease because it may spread the fire. Instead, smother the fire with a lid or use baking soda. Don't throw water on a grease fire or attempt to carry the pan to the sink. You could spread the fire and burn yourself.

• Don't use a damp towel or potholder to remove food from the oven.

• Test your smoke alarm regularly. We should have one on every level of the home, outside sleeping areas and inside each bedroom, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission. Always have an escape plan in case of fire.

Here's a tasty baked dessert. Keep your eyes on your oven.

Raspberry Applesauce Squares

Crust/crumb topping

1½ cups quick-cooking oats

1 cup brown sugar

½ cup butter

½ cup all-purpose flour

Filling

1 cup fresh raspberries (or substitute frozen)

1 cup applesauce

½ cup oat bran or quick oatmeal

½ cup white sugar

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Grease a 9- by 13-inch baking pan. Combine oats, brown sugar and butter using a pastry blender. Add flour and continue combining, using a pastry blender, until crumbly.

Spread half the crumb mixture into the bottom of the prepared baking pan. Bake in preheated oven until crust is lightly browned, about 20 minutes. Remove from oven and cool.

Mix raspberries, applesauce, oat bran and white sugar together in a bowl. Spread the raspberry filling onto the cooled crust and sprinkle with remaining crumb topping. Bake until topping is lightly browned, about 20 more minutes.

Makes 12 servings. Each serving has 330 calories, 15 grams (g) fat, 3 g protein, 46 g carbohydrate, 5 g fiber and 105 milligrams sodium.

Garden-Robinson is a food and nutrition specialist for the NDSU Extension Service

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