Cooking & Baking


Cookware for the Stovetop

A big cast iron skillet is good because it is so heavy it stays put when you stir the contents. A big cast iron skillet is bad because it may be so heavy you can’t lift it with one hand. A light-weight skillet tends to spin on the burner when you attempt to stir the contents, especially if the bottom is not perfectly flat. A possible compromise would be to use pans with a thick, flat bottom and thinner sides.

In the summer of 2017 I purchased a pan that quickly became my go-to pan for cooking on the stove top. It is a large aluminum pan with a marble stone coating (whatever that is), high sides, and a long handle. I have used it on electric and gas burners. So far, nothing has stuck to it and the high sides contain most splatter. Since nothing sticks, stirring and turning food has been manageable. I hand wash it with just a swish and swipe with soapy water, spray rinse and air or wipe dry. It comes in three sizes, and I bought the biggest size. It’s bigger than necessary for many things, but it’s easy to use and lightweight.

There are wire gadgets available to confine the range of movement of a skillet or sauce pan handle. Most of these use suction cups to keep the wire frame in place. A couple of heavy heat-proof objects can perform the same function. The challenge is to find heavy objects that fit your space and don’t damage surfaces.


Bakeware

For baking casseroles, I have replaced all my large glass and ceramic casseroles with smaller (therefore lighter weight) versions. If one medium casserole is insufficient, I divide recipes into individual portions and use small baking dishes.

I have given up a large silicone bundt pan because it was floppy. I could lift it by sitting it inside a metal cake pan for baking, but I couldn’t successfully invert the silicone to remove the cake. On the other hand, I have acquired a silicone muffin pan because I found one with metal reinforcing around the top edge. The added stiffness allows me to lift it into and out of the oven. With the silicone cups, I no longer need cupcake liners–paper, foil, or silicone. There are two Bake Boss muffin pans; one bakes six oversize cupcakes (half of a jumbo); the other pan bakes twelve small cupcakes (between mini and standard sizes).

The weight of a roasting pan with a big piece of meat can be too heavy for a lone hand, especially since roasting pans have two small handles on the ends. There’s no way to get any leverage. Another option is to bake in a skillet that has an oven-proof handle. Note that a handle that stays cool on the stovetop will get just as hot as the rest of the pan in the oven (Duh! Think about it before you grab the handle!)


Oven Bag & Bucket

I needed a good way to bake a roast or whole chicken. I searched for a bucket that would work in the oven, but I haven’t been satisfied with what I found. The stainless-steel buckets on the market are too tall or too small. I found one zinc coated steel bucket that has acceptable proportions, but it has a seam where the bottom attaches to the sidewalls; the seam is a trap for liquids and a home for rust.

Looking through my kitchen supplies, I noticed a wire colander I have used as a steam basket. It has wire bucket type handles that support the “bucket” from both sides.  The handles can be moved together so that it is easy to hold with one hand. Also, lifting from the center, instead of one side, avoids stressing the wrist.  Obviously, a steamer bucket doesn’t hold water, but there’s a solution for that. I line the “bucket” with an oven/roasting bag. I squeeze most of the air out of the bag, twist the top of the bag, wrap it around the bucket handle and tie it in a loose knot around the handle. I can tie a knot with one hand, but I find the plastic zip ties that come with some bags to be frustratingly difficult.

Of course, you can use an oven bag in any oven-proof container. The bag alone allows you to get the food in the oven with one hand, but I worried about getting a bag out of the oven after juices cause the bag to sag around the wires of the oven shelf. I didn’t want to risk tearing a bag and having juices pour out to the oven floor. An easy solution is to sit the bag in a baking pan or oven proof skillet. The bag can be closed with stainless-steel spring clips or by loosely tying the top. With the bag sitting in a pan, the bag will be safe to load and unload in the oven.

Since trying the wire colander for roasting, I have purchased a steamer insert with a flat bottom that fits in my stock pot. It’s perfect not only as a steamer but also as a roasting bucket in the oven when I use an oven bag to line it. The steamer basket also feels more substantial than the wire colander.

In case you wonder, a plastic storage bag will not work; any part of a storage bag not in contact with fluids will melt and shrink. Believe me; I tried it just to be sure.


Slow Cooker Liners

The ceramic pot in a slow cooker is heavy and difficult to lift out of the cooker with one hand. My solution is to use plastic liners specifically made for this purpose. This technique makes clean-up very easy. Just pull the bag out of the cooker and toss it.


Baking a Cake

Can you invert a cake pan with one hand? I can’t. Inverting a standard cake pan with one hand is disastrous. If I want to bake a cake without help, the first solution is to make cupcakes. The next possibility is sheet cake served in the pan or cut up and served as individual servings. 

For a round cake, I use a springform pan for baking. I can open and close the latch of a springform pan with one hand; however, I must push it into the backsplash or some other barrier to get the form all the way open to separate the pieces. I use a springform pan that has a flat bottom when the sidewalls are removed. Not all springform pans are made this way. Some have a lip around the bottom piece. I prefer aluminum pans because every steel pan I’ve ever had rusts where the parts meet. I also use a parchment liner in the pan to reduce scratches to the pan.

Transferring the cake from the bottom piece of the pan to a serving plate requires a fully cooled cake. A cake lifter or pizza peel can help loosen and lift the cake.  Using a parchment liner also helps. 

I don’t try to stack layers of cake. I have not been able to imagine a way to place one layer on top of another layer with icing between, at least not without having a huge mess.  I usually bake just a single layer in a springform pan, remove the sidewall, decorate the cake on the pan, and serve it on the pan. I like to use a 6-inch pan, instead of an 8- or 9-inch. The cake is smaller but taller than standard and the proportion of circumference to height is pleasing. Just pile on the icing, and the cake will be a success.


Preventing Burnt Edges

Some baked recipes are susceptible to burning at the exposed top edges before the center gets completely done. Wrapping strips of aluminum foil around the edges provides protection but wrapping a strip on a pan edge is difficult with one hand, especially on a round dish. It is easier to make a hole in a big sheet of foil and cover the top of the whole pan.

Start with a piece of foil bigger than the top of the pan. Use scissors to cut the foil off the roll (assuming you can’t use the serrated edge on the box). Lay the foil centered on the empty pan and crimp the edges of the foil down around the pan. You can lay your arm across the pan and push the edges down with your fingers.

If your pan has a thin flat lip, put bag clips around the foil-covered lip to hold the foil tautly on the pan. If your dish has no place for a clip, use your Swedish cutting board’s vise to anchor the foil on the dish for the next step.

Then, with a sharp knife with a pointed tip, cut out and remove the center of the foil. Carefully loosen the crimped edges of the remaining piece and lift the foil off the pan. After filling the pan, place the foil back over the pan and press the foil around the edges of the pan and bake per the recipe.


Pie Crust Shields

If you are using a pie plate or round casserole, consider investing in a silicone pie crust shield. Shields are readily available in aluminum and more recently they have become available in silicone. One-piece shields are the easiest to use, but unless the size is adjustable, you must have the size that fits your pie pan. Shields also come in pieces, which can be positioned to do a fair job of shading more than one size crust; however, I find them difficult to keep positioned.