It makes cleanup so easy that I find myself wanting to cook more.
'Always use reusables!' is a line you'll often hear repeated on TreeHugger, but today I am going to deviate from that advice and recommend a disposable product that has made my culinary life much easier. Parchment paper should have a place in everyone's kitchen, I've come to believe, because it's so incredibly useful.
I use parchment to line baking sheets whenever I'm making cookies or roasting vegetables. I use the pre-shaped parchment cups to make muffins and to line pans when making homemade granola bars or brownies. The parchment paper takes the place of greasing the pan and leaves almost no mess. (That means no more scrubbing encrusted muffin tins, which is a Most Dreaded Task.)Parchment is great for other jobs, too. You can fold it into a sealed pocket for baking vegetables and proteins, with deliciously tender results. I use it in place of plastic wrap (which I haven't bought for years) to roll logs of cookie dough and pie pastry and stash in the freezer. It makes a useful cover for jars, held in place with an elastic band, and for covering pans of food when transporting them; it's a great sandwich wrapper, and can become a temporary funnel for transferring dry ingredients.
Parchment is intended to be a single-use product, but I use each sheet for as long as I can. After baking several trays of cookies using the same parchment sheet, I wipe it down with a damp cloth, let it dry, and fold it away for future use. When food starts sticking to it, I know it's time to get another piece.
There is some debate over the safety of parchment paper, which is non-stick due to silicone that's embedded in it. For advice on this, I turned to Life Without Plastic, a book written by Chantal Plamondon and Jay Sinha (who also own an online store of the same name). They write,
"We consider silicone relatively safe, depending on the use, but it is not completely inert and non-leaching... Parchment papers come in bleached or unbleached versions, and in our opinion the bleached are best avoided because the chlorine bleaching process may leave residues of carcinogenic dioxins. Unbleached parchment paper is the best choice."
It's probably not a perfect solution, but I do think there's value in embracing certain tools that will encourage people to cook more and to do it well. For me, parchment means the difference between choosing to make muffins or not, and deciding whether to roast vegetables or boil them (my kids eat far more of the former). It does make a difference, it is a culinary enabler, and that's why I wish more people would give it a try.