Cooking Hints and Hacks
I love cooking tips. There’s something about learning to do a task quicker or better that is always enormously appealing.
Here are some of the tips I’ve used in my own cooking. I’d love to hear from you about yours.
- When cleaning out kitchen drawers, make lists of what’s in which drawer—it’s invaluable for keeping track of infrequently used tools—so you remember where you’ve put them!
- Make a binder of user manuals and warranties for all kitchen equipment. I store my manuals in plastic sheet protectors in a three-ring binder for ready reference. If you’ve misplaced a manual, download a copy from the manufacturer’s website. Even manuals from older models are usually available.
- A kitchen scale is handy for weighing ingredients—it’s helpful when you need a specific weight of baking chocolate and you’re using chocolate chips instead of premeasured blocks. Or if you need the equivalent of 4 ounces of butter and you’re cobbling it together from partly used packages.
- An electric hot water pot will boil water much faster than a pot on the stovetop. Heat water for pasta and transfer boiled water to your pasta pot to get dinner ready quicker. (I usually need to boil twice to fill the pasta pot.)
- An electric food sealer is useful for dividing Costco-size packages of food into family-size portions for freezing; it’s also a good tool for freezing leftovers to retain optimal quality.
- A 12-inch ruler is handy for measuring the diameter of pie crusts or pizza doughs. You can also use your kitchen ruler to ensure you cut up meat or vegetables exactly to the specification of your recipe; the wrong thickness can affect the quality of the finished dish and most people can’t estimate measurements accurately.
- A gravy separator is an easy way to separate and discard that layer of fat that forms when making soups, stews or braised dishes.
- Grate frozen butter through the large holes of a box grater if you want to bring the butter to room temperature in a hurry. The butter shreds will soften quickly for easy creaming.
- When measuring honey, molasses or any other viscous ingredients, first grease the measuring tool with a thin film of vegetable oil; the honey will slide right out.
- Always set your timer to less than the time called for in your recipe by 5 to 10 minutes, check for doneness, and reset timer as needed. Baking times can vary, depending on the calibration of your oven, the temperature of the day, and other factors.
Food Prep Tips
- Before you juice citrus fruits, roll them over the counter to soften, pressing down with your hand as you roll. Or microwave the fruit a minute or so, just until it softens slightly. Either technique will coax out the most juice with the least effort.
- If you don’t have a lemon reamer to squeeze the juice of limes or other citrus, use a metal spoon. Cut limes in half crosswise. Position a lime half over a bowl to catch the juices, and using a metal spoon, press the limes from the center to the sides, going around in a circle.
- To remove skins from fruits like peaches or tomatoes, cut a shallow “X” on the bottom of the fruit and drop into boiling water for about 10 seconds, just until skin begins to pull away from the fruit. Remove with a slotted spoon and put into an ice water bath to stop the cooking process. Skins should slip off easily.
- Oils from handling hot peppers can transfer from hands to eyes, causing a painful burn if you rub your eyes accidentally. To protect fingers when seeding hot peppers, make little mitts for the fingers that will hold the peppers (thumb and index finger), by wrapping those fingers with strips of plastic wrap or Glad Press ‘N Seal sealable wrap. Or rub hands with vegetable oil to coat, creating a barrier between skin and chile peppers.
- To coat chicken with flour or seasoned breadcrumbs before baking or frying, put the coating in a clean paper bag, add the chicken, close the bag, and shake.
- To marinate foods easily and with no mess, put the marinade ingredients in a heavy-duty, zip-top, gallon-size freezer bag, along with the marinade. Seal securely. Turn the bag a couple of times while marinating to disperse the marinade.
- To pound chicken breasts for scaloppini, put them in a heavy-duty plastic bag and pound with a meat pounder. The bag will keep raw chicken splatters from flying all over your counter.
- If you don’t have a meat pounder, use an empty wine bottle.
- Snap corn ears in half before cutting corn off the cob. Stand the corn up on the snapped end, which gives you a firmer base than the pointed end, and cut the kernels with a sharp knife.
- The best way to ensure perfectly peeled “boiled” eggs is to steam them. Bring an inch of water to boiling in a pot fitted with a steamer basket. Add eggs gently into the basket, cover and steam for 15 minutes. Immediately transfer eggs into an ice water bath, crack them all over, leave them to chill for about 15 minutes, then peel.
- Wipe meat dry with paper towels before browning. Moisture left on the meat can interfere with getting a good crust.
- If you don’t have a gravy separator to remove fat from stews, soups or braised dishes, gently ladle out about an inch of the top layer of the liquid into a wide, shallow bowl and refrigerate until the fat hardens and can be removed. Return any remaining liquid to the pot.
- If you don’t have a deep frying thermometer, to determine when the oil is hot enough for deep frying, stick a wooden chopstick or the end of a wooden spoon into the oil. If the oil doesn’t bubble or very few bubbles appear around the wooden implement, the oil is not hot enough. To be the right temperature the oil should bubble steadily. If the oil bubbles furiously around the chopstick or spoon, the oil is too hot.
- Clean the kitchen after a party, no matter how tired. There’s nothing worse than waking up to a mess. Treat cloth napkins with stain remover, if needed, then toss them in the washing machine while cleaning the kitchen. (You can put them in the dryer in the morning.) Early treatment will prevent stains from setting in.
- To remove odors from the fridge, add crumpled newspapers. When they’ve absorbed the odors, toss the newspapers into the compost bin.
- To avoid raw chicken contamination after prepping chicken, use disinfecting wipes to clean and disinfect your countertop and sink.
- Since plastic bread bags aren’t recyclable, shake out the bread crumbs from empty bags and save the bags to use one more time before tossing.
- Save nubs of raw vegetables, celery leaves, herb stems and rinds of Parmigiano Reggiano to add to soups.
- Pack fresh herb leaves in small, lidded plastic sauce cups recycled from takeout meals, fill with water and freeze. Defrost to use.
- Store leftover baguettes in plastic bags to keep the bread from drying out; cut up later for French toast, croutons, crostini or bread pudding.
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