Dear Sara:

We have an old electric stove (the coil type) with burner drip trays. I guess they must be aluminum or some sort of coated steel. Stuff has burned on over the past few years, and though we've scrubbed them and even thrown them in the dishwasher, they still look awful. Is there any way to clean them? We've used the foil ones that you put over the permanent ones, but that just felt wasteful. I would love to get the real ones clean. Is there a secret? -- Maisie, Massachusetts

Dear Maisie:

You can use oven cleaner on them, or place them in your oven and run the self-cleaning oven feature. Another method is to sandwich your drip trays between sections of newspaper, then slip the whole thing into a plastic garbage bag. Add two cups of ammonia to the bag and close it, then let it sit overnight. When you take the trays out, they will wipe clean. If you have any black chunks from cooking spills that don't flake off with ease, apply baking soda and hydrogen peroxide and scrub away the remaining caked-on food. This works for oven racks, too. If you ever replace the trays, opt for the black trays, which look nicer longer, in my opinion.

Dear Sara:

I purchased an enormous amount of used baby clothing from a friend. All of it is brand-name and the vast majority of it was very well-kept; however, there are a few pieces that have stains, which I would like to get out. I have no idea what most of these stains are. So, what are your best tricks for removing stains from baby or children's clothing? -- M.K., Canada

Dear M.K.:

Try using either a bar of Fels-Naptha or applying a mixture of Dawn dishwashing liquid and a tablespoon of ammonia. Rub gently and rinse. Or soak the clothing overnight in a big bucket of hot water with 1/2 cup of powdered Cascade and 1/2 cup of Clorox 2 (or use just OxiClean), then launder as usual. You can also use a mixture of Dawn dishwashing liquid, hydrogen peroxide and baking soda. Apply the mixture to the stains, let it set and scrub with a toothbrush. Launder as usual. Place the garment outside in the sun, too. It works as a natural bleach.

Dear Sara:

Pulverizing spices and herbs? I used my electric mini-chopper to make celery powder and celery flakes from dehydrated celery. (Basically, what was left after I strained the powder off was what I called "flakes" and will use for soups, etc.) It worked OK, but it took a good while to do it. What kind of gadget can I use to make celery, onions, dried garlic and bell peppers into powder without so many "re-dos"? -- S.P., Louisiana

Dear S.P.:

I'd use a mortar and pestle, a pepper mill or a coffee grinder. In some cases, such as for cinnamon, you can use a microplane.

photo by joelk475