A quick listing of the kinds of ovens available on the market.

With the holidays drawing near, the time for parties, family gatherings, and making food--lots and lots of food--is fast approaching. Because a good, dependable oven plays a key role in these preparations, we've assembled some appliance types and tips to assist with your baking endeavors.

The following list describes the various ovens that are available on the market.

ELECTRIC AND GAS--The reasons for choosing one over the other can range from preference to availability of energy source. Nearly 60% of American households rely on electric ovens. Southern Living Foods Editor Donna Florio explains, "Many cooks feel that electric ovens bake more evenly than gas ones." Still, the use of gas appliances is on the rise. Also, a gas oven can cost less than half as much to operate, particularly if it's equipped with an electronic ignition, not a pilot light. Both gas and electric models can contain a variety of features, such as rotisseries, self-cleaning or continuous-cleaning interiors, built-in warming shelves, and other conveniences.

MICROWAVE--Hailed for their ability to provide quick, hot meals, microwave ovens began a cooking revolution during the 1970s that has continued to this day. A form of electromagnetic radiation, microwaves are very similar to sunlight and radio waves, and they are produced when electric current flows through a conductor. Because microwaves do not detach charged particles, they can safely heat food without making it radioactive. "Although microwave ovens don't technically bake meals," states Donna, "this ability of creating high temperatures is best for steaming, simmering, and reheating foods."

CONVECTION--Convection cooking occurs when hot air is circulated through an oven by a fan, which helps to maintain a more even baking temperature for a greater amount of food. This process also enables heat requirements to be reduced by about 50 degrees, while overall cooking time is reduced as well. Donna comments, "Because heat in a convection oven surrounds the food more evenly and cooks it more quickly, this feature keeps cookies and pastries from burning on the bottom while promoting high-rising cakes and breads."

Gas, electricity, and even microwaves are all familiar means of cooking, but what about the use of a light source for heating food? Because the kitchen has always served as a prime area for launching new home products, now there's another baking alternative on the scene: halogen cooking. Consisting of quartz glass tubes filled with halogen gas, this technology creates instantaneous light and heat for preparing meals. And preheating time is virtually eliminated as well.

One product that operates with this new technology is GE's Advantium oven, which retails between $1,700 and $1,900. This halogen-lit appliance is reported to cook food in one-fourth the time of a conventional model. Also, it comes pre-programmed with more than 100 cooking selections for well-known dishes. For more information call the GE Answer Center at 1-800-626-2000, or visit www.geappliances.com.