Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Ask the Internet: Best Kitchen Tips?

Today’s question is inspired by the front of Cook’s Illustrated.

Q: Everyone has little tips, tricks, and hints that make their lives easier in the kitchen. What are your favorites?

A: Here are my two:

1) I don’t like using supermarket plastic bags to pack my produce. It feels wasteful. But throwing them in a regular canvas bag inevitably results in bruising and cuts. Enter the recyclable wine bag.

Now, I place individual fruits and veggies into one of the six compartments. It protects the skin and keeps them from rolling around. Of course, I still use plastic if it’s a big bunch of wet romaine, but this is a nice solution for a good chunk of my groceries.

2) Dragging a knife sideways across a cutting board surface will dull the blade, but fast. So, when I’m chopping herbs or mincing garlic, I use the dull side to gather them into a pile. That way, the blade stays sharp and I don’t get food all over my hands.

Readers, how about you? What are your best little strategies and tips for cooking, shopping, and/or eating?

Want to ask the interweb a question? Post one in the comment section, or write to Cheaphealthygood@gmail.com. Then, tune in next Tuesday for an answer/several answers from the good people of the World Wide Net.

Stumble Upon Toolbar


KatSlonaker said...

I like your idea of using the wine bag - but I solve the same problem by having saved a number of those plastic net produce bags (usually hold potatoes, onions, etc) and keeping them in a pocket of my One-Bag-to-Hold-Them-All shopping bag to pull out and use as I go through the produce section. I keep any plastic bags I can re-use in the same pocket.

About the O-B-t-H-T-A Bag - it is a smallish insulated bag in which I keep all my other shopping bags. The bonus is that it nicely holds the frozen and cold stuff when it is not holding the other grocery bags.

Autumn609 said...

I am very lucky to be able to work a flex schedule, so I always shop around 2 in the afternoon. The elderly tend to shop around 10AM, and most moms with little kids are home during naptime. I feel like I get done so much more quickly in an emptier store, plus lines are shorter at the deli counter. When I had less flexible hours, I shopped in the evenings.

I avoid shopping on weekends unless it's an Oops, I forgot the whatever I need for a specific dish for a party.

For meal prep, I will make a pot of rice/quinoa/pasta early in the week and re-flavor it during the week, as in mexican rice/fried rice etc so I don't have to wait for it to cook, then enhance it. DH hates repeated leftovers, but he hasn't figured this out yet cause it tastes different even if we had rice the night before.

chacha1 said...

My speed tips are, don't peel most fruits/vegetables, just scrub; and don't bother measuring spices. Why waste all that time fiddling around with the quarter- and half-teaspoons? If it "looks right" it usually tastes fine.

My shopping tip is LIST. List, list, list.

wosnes said...

My kitchen tip is clean as you go. It makes clean-up so much easier.

I always shop in the morning -- even weekend mornings. People are usually busy doing other things. After about 10 or 11 they start shopping and I'm home with everything put away!

Angie said...

My kitchen tip is this: Use a metal measuring spoon to peel ginger, it's a LOT faster and gets into the crevices pretty well.

Sassy Molassy said...

Mine are:

-It's almost never necessary to remove the meat from your pot after browning and before adding things like onions. Just brown the meat, then when it's almost done, add the veggies.

-For some one-pot dishes that contain pasta, it's easy to really use only one pot by cooking the past, dumping it into a colander, then returning the empty pot to the stove and using it to cook the other ingredients.

Anna N said...

My kitchen tips, in no particular order, and not a comprehensive list:

Roll out pie dough between 2 pieces of waxed paper. (You have to use a little bit of flour too, to keep it from sticking to the wax paper, but it sticks less and is much easier to transfer to the pie plate.)

Keep nuts in the freezer, and always have some around; they make a thrown-together salad into a real dinner with protein.

Cook spaghetti squash in the microwave!

tater said...

*before washing, rub your hands on something stainless steel to get rid of odors like garlic. The back of a spoon is easy - use the edge to get under fingernails.

*utensils don't have to be put in the drawer with the handle out. If you put the handle towards the back, you can see what it is at a glance.

*I made a grocery list on the computer and keep it on a small clipboard on the fridge - it's a list of our regularly purchased items organized by area of the store, with additional lines for writing things in. As our tastes change over time, it's easy to edit and print out more.

beth said...

I am definitely stealing the wine bag idea! My produce co-op sets everything out in laundry baskets for everyone to bag themselves, and inevitably, I end up trying to get tomatoes and cantelope home in the same bag with unhappy results.

My shopping tip is to do everything you can to avoid the actual grocery stores. I get most of my produce and bread from the aforementioned co-op, most household stuff and toiletries from the resident Big Box store or big chain drugstore, and meat is only purchased every couple months and dropped in the deep freezer. We keep a lot less junk food around when no one is every anywhere that sells it. Option #2 is to use the grocery store online delivery service (most big chains have it around here)... no junk food impulse purchases that way.

S said...

My two tips:

(1) Recipes often call for just a tablespoon or so of tomato paste. So I buy a large can of it, line a baking sheet with parchment or plastic wrap, and make single, separate dollops of tomato paste (~1T each) on it. Then I put the pan in the freezer. Once the blobs are frozen solid, I transfer them to a plastic ziploc bag and store. Whenever a recipe calls for a small amount of tomato paste, I just pull out the right number of tablespoon-sized lumps and throw them in.

(2) When I want to freeze something paste-y (pesto, guacamole, fruit puree, salsa), I put it in a ziploc bag, close it most of the way, and then press the paste flat in the bag, getting as much air out as possible, before sealing. Then I freeze it horizontally. Once it's frozen, you can store them vertically (very efficient use of space!). But the real beauty is that when you want to use them, because they're so thin, they thaw in no time flat!

Edward Antrobus said...

Mind if I use the backside of the knife tip in my cookbook? I'm collecting time & money saving tips for it.

Mine to share here is that I never buy buttermilk. When I need buttermilk, I make it myself by mixing a tablespoon of vinegar with a cup of milk. 5 minutes later - buttermilk!

Karen L said...

Whenever I boil water I pour a ladleful onto the stove top, wait for a moment while it cools and softens any crusties, then wipe. Easiest way to clean the stove.

M Family said...

When washing a good deal of produce lay out a beach towel on the counter to dry them on, they dry much quicker that way, and less water to clean up after.

Evelyn said...

My kitchen clean-up tip: be lazy about washing pots and pans. They are actually much easier to wash if you soak them in water for a while first. I find this especially true for oatmeal and eggs. After cooking in a pot or pan, put a little soap in it, fill it with water, and set it aside for a while (like while you eat your meal). When you're done with your meal, the gunk in the pan is way easier to get out.

Another clean-up tip: stinky sponges can be freshened by a run through the dishwasher in the top rack. This won't work forever, but it lengthens the life of the sponge.

Kris said...

I love these. All of them. Thank you all for being so creative and resourceful. Karen L, I'm definitely going to try that next time I boil water.

Another one: Sometimes I start a recipe on the stove and finish it in the oven. But once it's done, I keep forgetting the pan handle is super hot. So now, I keep an oven mitt on it to remind myself.

Julie said...

Such great ideas! One tip I learned is to roll your lemons on the counter before you juice them. You'll get more juice out of them that way.

MCM Voices said...

I used to slice open a brown paper bag and use it to cool cookies on. Now I just leave them on the pans to cool for a minute and then loosen them with a spatula and leave them until they're completely cool. Most cooky recipes call for 1 1/2 to 2 sticks of butter and I always use just 1 stick (which gives the perfect balance of chewiness/crunchiness) so it's not like the cookies have a ton of grease that needs to be soaked up. I rarely have paper bags around anymore anyway since I use cloth bags now. Also I don't measure flavorings like vanilla - just pour gently while imagining the measuring spoon. Dried herbs are measured by how much space they take up in my palm.

I keep ginger root in the freezer as suggested by Kris (it changed my life!) and it's wicked easy to grate when it's frozen and it doesn't get moldy. Same with the big bunch of parsley that I only need a bit of - chop the rest and freeze it.

For wonderful applesauce, don't bother coring the apples. Wash and cut each apple into 8 pieces and throw it in a kettle (also a pear and if there's any frozen berries around I throw some of those in too). Add maybe a quarter cup of water and simmer 45 minutes, put through food mill and you've got the best sauce on the planet, no sugar needed.

Buy baking yeast in bulk and store it in a jar in the freezer. No need to spend exorbitantly on packets from the grocery store (nor, for that matter, on bread).

Okay, I'll shut up now :)

M Family said...

OMG, I totally forgot my favorite of all tips! When a recipe calls for diced onion, I buy way more than needed, dice it all up, and put the excess in a freezer bag for future recipes! I just break a chunk off when needed! Cuts down on chopping time and tears.

Hope said...

I use my beach bag for grocery shopping because I hardly go to beach!

As for my best Kitchen tips, I'd like to say cleaning with baking soda

I use baking soda to clean any stainless steel appliances and sink. Great way to cut tough grease. Love it!!!

Anonymous said...

Read it somewhere, I didn't come up with it, but put your leftover pulled pork or sloppy joes mix into a muffin tin and freeze it. Pull the frozen meat "pucks" out and put them in a zip top bag or other container.

One "puck" should fill one sandwich bun. and you can grab just one or as many as you need. Wish I had thought it up first

Kim said...

The tip for loosening stovetop gunk with boiling water reminded me of a tip for cleaning the interior of a microwave. Fill a microwave-safe vessel with water and microwave until it boils. Then continue to microwave the water for a few minutes more. Do not open microwave door yet. Leave vessel and water in closed microwave for at least 15 or 20 min. The steam will loosen food splatters. Carefully check to see if vessel is cool enough to pick up or just leave in the microwave until completely cooled before attempting to remove. For safety reasons, please see my next tip before you do this.

To prevent liquids from boiling over or exploding in the microwave, put a wooden chopstick (free at Asian restaurants and takeouts) in the liquid before you turn on microwave. The chopstick must extend at least a couple of inches above the top of the container. As air bubbles form at the bottom of the container, they move up the wooden stick and release into the air a few at a time. Without the chopstick, the air bubbles can accumulate at the bottom of the container and release all at once (i.e. explode) when the container moves as you pick it up. This happened to me several years ago with some soup I was heating in a Pyrex measuring cup and I ended up in the E.R. with 2nd degree burns on my hand and forearm. It was extremely painful and took forever to heal. (Although I've never tried it, a wooden spoon might also work in place of a wooden chopstick.)

Anonymous said...

After you cut some meat on a cutting board, pour some hot water on it. The remains of the meat will coagulate and the board will be very easy to clean.