How to Remove Baking Spray Overspray

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Dear Home Ec 101,

I’ve noticed that when I use non-stick spray (like Pam) on things that are subsequently baked, I end up with a sticky, brown residue that is really hard to remove from my pans.  This is a particular problem with my muffin tin!

Two questions:

1) Should I stop using non-stick spray on things that are going to be baked (casseroles, cookie sheets, muffin tins, etc.)?

2) Once it’s already there, is there a trick to getting it off my pans?  I’ve found this crud on glass, ceramic, and metal pans, so if the instructions differ by pan type, let me know!



Heather says:

Baking spray is both a blessing and a curse.

If you can, try to remove the residue before it cools. If you catch it before it has solidified, plain old soap and water should do the trick.

The brown residue you’ve noticed is baking spray overspray that has polymerized in the heat of the oven. Polymerization is the process by which many small molecules bond -in our case under heat- to create large, stable molecules. Most of us see the word polymer and think plastic, but it’s important to remember that while all plastics are polymers, not all polymers are plastic.

So what’s the big deal about polymers, I just want it off my cookware?

There are two kinds of polymers, some can be heated and reshaped and others can’t. The polymer we create with cooking spray is thermoset, meaning once it’s there it is going to be a bear to remove. It’s a lot like how you can’t uncook an egg.

With glass and stainless steel, I use Bar Keeper’s Friend and a little elbow grease to remove any polymerized oils. Wet the residue, sprinkle on the powder, give it a quick rub and then walk away for a few minutes. Give the oxalic acid a little time to work before using any of your own energy. If I’ve been slack for a while, this might take a few repeated applications.

A lot of people recommend using oven cleaner on glass and ceramic to remove polymerized cooking spray, but I would rather use a little energy than create those fumes. Naturally, your mileage may vary.

Do not try to remove cooked on baking spray from non-stick bakeware.

The removal of the cooking spray residue will likely remove the nonstick coating. If you have used baking or cooking spray on your non-stick muffin tins, don’t worry too much, you’re just going to have ugly muffin tins.

Try not to spray cooking spray on surfaces that do not come in contact with food.

Skip the cooking spray altogether, use parchment paper or silicone mats.

Finally just remember that ugly doesn’t mean an item has lost its use.

Thank goodness this is true, right?

The polymerized baking spray isn’t really going to hurt anything. The surface of your polymerized cooking spray isn’t going anywhere, but it isn’t as smooth as a metal or ceramic finish and food may be more likely to stick. Want to take a guess as to the fix?

Quit trying to keep up with Rachel Ray, Ina Garten, and Paula Deen. Yes, they are all good cooks. Yes, they all have beautiful kitchens, but here’s the thing. That kitchen is a tv set, not reality. That gorgeous cookware is replaced as soon as it shows the the slightest sign of wear. Companies send them cookware to feature. What you see is not receiving daily use by people with better things to do than perform upkeep on their tools.

I don’t have a crew, do you?

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Microwave Rice: Quick Tip

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Heather says:

Last night all four of my burners were full. There was gumbo and etouffee, collard greens and oil to fry beignets, but I forgot the plain rice.

My stepfather commented something along the lines of just microwave it. I must have given him a funny look in between turning beignets. I figured what the heck, it was worth a shot. Either it worked or we’d just have to deal with no rice or a much longer wait.

It worked well, the time may need to be adjusted for your microwave, depending on the wattage. And you need to put a dishtowel under the dish, because it will bubble over.

Use the usual 2: 1 water to rice ratio and microwave on high for 15 minutes. You may need to give it an additional couple of minutes, check a few of the grains.  (It took 16 minutes the first round and should have gone 17 the second).

That’s it. I used 4 cups of water, 2 cups of rice. And dinner was saved.

Have you ever microwaved white rice?

What’s your favorite or suprising cooking tip that you’ve learned in a pinch?


Hot Dishes, Cold Food, Microwave Perplexity

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Dear Home Ec 101,

Why is it sometimes when I heat foods in the microwave the bowl is screaming hot and the food is still a block of ice?


Scalded in Scranton*

Heather says:

Here on Home Ec 101 I’ve written previously about how microwaves work, if you missed it the first time, here’s the short version.

Think of your microwave as a box built to hold in waves of energy. These microwaves bounce all over the inside of this box when the appliance is running. When items are placed in the microwave three things can happen: the waves can either pass through object, bounce off the object, or be absorbed by the object. When conditions in the microwave oven are perfect the dish is pretty much ignored by the microwaves which  reach food and excite the water molecules which heats the food.

What do we know about real life and optimal conditions? I know, I know! The two rarely occur at the same time outside of a laboratory. You don’t live in a lab, do you?

Of course you don’t, your bowl is hot and food is cold. Why?

In your case the microwaves are being absorbed by the dish which is pretty much shielding your food from the microwaves. If you used a plate, the shielding effect would be less noticeable, as less of the surface area of the food would be blocked by microwave absorbing material.

So, what kind of dishware can be used in the microwave?

Skip metal which may cause arcing or the buildup of charge that jumps from one point to another. It’s like lightning on a domestic scale.

Glassware should be safe, but it isn’t always. The best test is to check the manufacturer’s suggested use.

Engineers and other sticklers, I know I’m using some terms a little loosely, we’re just working on basic concepts today.

It’s important to remember that not all ceramic is created equally. Dry, unglazed ceramic is usually microwave safe, but there is a caveat. The material is porous and can absorb water. When this happens the microwaves heat the water in the ceramic dish. If the water gets hot enough it can cause uneven thermal expansion (some things get bigger when they are heated) which can break your dish.

When it comes to ceramic glazes a few other factors come into play. Some ceramic glazes may may contain dangerous chemicals like lead that can leach into food. These containers should not be labelled food safe. Caveat emptor is the rule of the day. Most retail establishments would not knowingly sell consumers items not intended for food use without a clear label. However it has happened in the past. Use extra caution with decorative bowls, that label not for food use is VERY important.

With food safe glazes, no dangerous chemicals should leach into your food. That doesn’t mean your dish should be used in the microwave. If the bowl gets hot, before the food, the microwaves are exciting molecules in the glaze. While this may not be dangerous from a chemical standpoint, burns still hurt. Throw in the the fact that you’re not getting the most efficient use of  your microwave and I’d quit using that container to reheat food.

Plastics are a whole ‘nother ball of wax. Personally, I sidestep the issue and stick to microwave safe glass and ceramic. Your mileage may vary, but please ensure the plastic used is rated microwave safe. Once the plastic-ware shows signs of wear, it should be recycled.

Got it?

*Today’s question actually came from a tweet by @TJeffrey: Don’t you hate it when you open the microwave and pull out a bowl that’s 1,000 degrees, but the food inside is ice cold? I just couldn’t think of a good synonym for hot or burnt that went with a local town. It happens.

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How to Keep a Cake from Sticking to the Cooling Rack

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Dear Home Ec 101,

I really need help. I found an awesome chocolate cake recipe and can keep the cake from sticking to the pan with the parchment paper/oiled/flour method. However, once the cake is on the wire rack, that’s another story. It sinks into the wires and sticks to the rack. When I try to remove it, it rips and breaks apart. Mama didn’t teach me any tricks to keeping the cake from sticking to the wire rack.

Any suggestions?


Sticky Bits

Heather says:

There is such thing as a Non Stick Cooling Rack which can help, but if you’re not in the mood to run out and buy a new one, there are still a couple of things you can do to keep your cake from sticking to the wire rack. First, unless your recipe states otherwise most cake recipes call for the cake to cool in the pan for 5 – 10 minutes. Make sure you’ve given the cake this important cooling time. (You may already be doing this step) The cake pan should be resting on the rack, to ensure that even the bottom of the cake pan also has air flow.

You can try spraying the rack with non-stick cooking spray, this should help in many cases. As a last resort, you could also experiment with a using a sheet of parchment paper on the rack. A slightly steamed cake is preferable to the destroyed version.

To remove a cake that has stuck to the wire cooling rack place a plate -with the right side of the plate in contact with the cake. You should now have a cake sandwich: wire rack, cake, plate. Place one hand under the rack and the other over the plate. Your hands should be as centered as possible and your fingers splayed, you want to support the weight of the cake as evenly as possible. Turn the sandwich over and let it rest for a minute. If the cake is only lightly sticking to the rack it should separate without much damage. If it is badly stuck, grab a length of unwaxed dental floss and floss the cake to separate it from the rack. While you will lose the topmost portion of the cake it should prevent large chunks of cake from separating which can make frosting a royal pain in the rear.

Let the cake cool completely before frosting.

Good luck with your future cake baking! Would you be willing to share the recipe?

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Freezer How To

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Dear Home-Ec 101,

I’m completely lost when it comes to freezing food. I know this is a great way to have meals on hand, but once it’s in the freezer I don’t know what to do with it. Just last night I made too much enchilada filling. So I made an extra pan, covered it in foil and dated it. But now what?

Do I need to defrost them once I take them out? Do I just put them in the oven frozen? If so for how long and how hot? How long can they hang out in the freezer? Should I have even used foil or something else? I’ve recently lost my job and out grocery budget is tight, I would like to use my freezer to my advantage and not waste anything. Please help.


Freezer Fail

Heather says:

First of all, I’m very sorry hear of your jobloss. I hope you are able to find one in the near future.

Frozen foods can be cooked from the frozen state, but it takes, typically about 1.5 times as long to cook from the frozen state. Thawing, in your current case enchiladas, and in future cases casseroles, soups, etc is the most efficient way to go.

Even if the enchiladas fully thaw overnight, expect them to take a little longer than the original recipe suggests to cook. The recipe expects the filling and in some cases the sauce, too, to be hot.

Don’t make the mistake of saving frozen food for a rainy day that may never come. Work the meal into your menu within the next few weeks.

If your enchiladas (or future casseroles) are in a side-by-side or freezer on top model expect them to stay good for about 3 months. Bottom drawer style freezers tend to retain cold better, extending the quality life of frozen foods. The best freezers for retaining quality are stand alone and chest freezers, with chest freezers being better if they are opened frequently. These two freezers don’t fluctuate in temperature and humidity as much as those attached to refrigerators do.

When freezing prepared foods the key is to remove as much air as possible and freeze as quickly as possible.

Foil works well, provided the edges are folded over several times, but it is very easy to accidentally poke holes in this medium. Freezer paper is more resilient, but must be taped closed. Freezer bags work extremely well provided all the extra air is removed and they are sealed tightly.

Air is the enemy of frozen food and the cause of freezer burn. Basically any exposure to air causes evaporation, freezer burn is just dried out, frozen food. Bleh.

Don’t run out and buy a vacuum sealers, but if you happen to run across a working one at a yard sale or thrift store, snatch it up.

If you have a small freezer, try not to strain it by overloading it with hot foods.

As an example, if you have made a crazy large batch of soup to save some vegetables that were on the verge, here are some tips for freezing efficiently:

Fill the sink partway with warmish water and place the full pot in the sink. Slowly add cool water to the sink. This will help rapidly drop the temperature of your soup without warping your pan.

Once the soup is cool enough to not melt zippered freezer bags, go ahead and portion it into the portions you desire. Make sure the bags are closed tightly. Then, add ice to your sink and set all but a couple of the bags of soup in the ice. Lay one or two of the bags of soup flat and freeze in the coldest portion of your freezer. Once frozen, the bags of soup can be stacked or stood on edge in another area of the freezer, using minimal space. Don’t worry, the soup doesn’t have to stay in the ice bath until its turn in the freezer, once cool it can hold in the refrigerator.

Freezing foods quickly prevents the formation of large ice crystals which ruin food’s texture.

It’s best to freeze foods in small portions and try not to freeze foods like casseroles that are more than two inches thick. (Use a different pan).

If you only have one casserole pan and want to freezer several meals worth, line the pan with foil before filling. Freeze completely, then turn the casserole out of the pan. Wrap tightly and store.

Always label your foods and keep a running inventory of what you have on hand and make sure you use it.

When freezing meat, it’s safe to freeze in its original packaging for the short term. If you intend on freezing it for a long period of time, it’s best to portion the food, label, and freeze in sturdy packaging like foil, freezer paper, or zippered freezer bags.

Raw meat should be thawed in the refrigerator, a cold water bath, or in the microwave.

If the meat is thawed in the microwave or a cool waterbath it needs to be cooked immediately.

Small pans of foods may thaw overnight in the refrigerator but meat may need two days or more. Try to use it within a day for being completely thawed. Keep this in mind when menu planning. For large items like turkeys, estimate at least 24 hours of thawing time for every 5lbs of meat.

Remember: Freezing food doesn’t kill most bacteria, it just prevents it from multiplying.

Good luck!