I never clean up as I go. Rumor has it, that’s what the cool kids do. That’s what the organized, methodical, by the book cooks do. The people who clean as they go probably also set up their mise en place and follow recipes too. All things which I’d love to be the type of person who does. But I’m not. I’m me.
Being me means that I’m a bit of a hurricane, whooshing into the kitchen, chopping, stirring, mixing, cooking, racing against the imaginary clock of getting one thing done before the heat on the stove demands the next step.
I took a knife skills class once and I learned a lot. I’ve never used any of it. Not because it wasn’t great advice, worthy skills, and would probably result in half as many little ‘kitchen incidents’/scars on my hands from burns and cuts. No, I’m just lazy. Not in the sit on the couch, flipping channels kind of way, but in the condensing an hour of cooking into twenty minutes kind of way. In the why take 17 steps when I can do it in 4 and PROBABLY not drop a knife on my toe kind of way.
Yet, somewhere along the line I learned a few tricks and tips to make food taste better without using up all of your time taking extra steps or lighting the ceiling on fire. I’m certain I’m not the first to tell you any one of these, as I learned them all from someone/somewhere, I’m just curating them all in one place.
- How to roast peppers: On a gas stove, just lay over the flame, turning it when it blackens, for electric do the same. Once they’re good and dark comes the fun part: place them in a ziploc bag for a minute (they’ll steam a bit), then push them out, scraping the skin off with the ziploc closure. Voila, skin removed. No mess, no burns
- How to always have stock on hand: Super condensing and freezing stock is a bit of work up front, but there are a couple of ways to make this easy. On a winter morning, add bones and any leftover vegetable scraps to a large pot, and bring to a boil. Cover, turn to the lowest setting on your stove, and leave for 6 or more hours. Or 4. Or 10. Your house will smell delicious and seem warm and cozy with steamed up windows. Because my mother reads this, I’ll tell you I’ve never turned this on, run my errands, then come back hours later. Alternatively, you can do this in the slow cooker, as I now do. Once that’s done, put it back on the stove on high, uncovered (or turn slow cooker to high). Leave it for another hour or two. It should reduce down by half or even two thirds. You’ve got liquid gold here, my friend. But wait! We need these ready for quick use. Put the whole thing in the fridge over night. In the morning, the fat will have congealed, and you can peel it off and fry things in it later. Strain the stock, portion in to various sized containers: ice cube trays, muffin tins, ziploc bags, and you’ll always have this at the ready. Just remember, it’s super condensed, so you need about half water and half of this stock to be normal stock.
- How to tell if your oil is hot enough: If you’re frying something, and you’ve got a good grasp of chopstick skills, chopsticks are a great tool for flipping, retrieving, or prodding in the oil. They also, if they’re clean and wood, can tell you when your oil is hot enough. For all I know, this is an old wives’ tale, but it works for me, so I’ll pass it on: stick the chopstick into the oil. If little bubbles come up around it, the oil is ready to fry.
- How to make a great omelet (or crepe):
For a long time, I thought I just sucked at egg-making. Turns out, I just needed a good pan. I have one special small pan, and it makes brilliant and perfect eggs. Also, great crepes. I use it for nothing else, and all it ever needs is a quick wipe when I’m done. I don’t think the tool makes the cook, most of the time, but here, it’s definitely the case. This is the one I have (affiliate link), but I’m sure there’s a million others out there.
- How to make a great salad: The first step in building any lettuce-based salad should be salting the lettuce. You’ve got all your parts laid out, the dressing made (with very little salt), and the vegetables chopped. Now you salt the lettuce. Sprinkle it from high, like the magic pixie dust it is, letting it snow down on that least flavorful of plants. Then continue on putting the salad together, tossing the veggies, adding the dressing. That first coating of salt will have added depth, flavor, and a better texture to the salad.
- What to do with leftover ice cream base: For reasons I don’t understand, similar to the 6 hot dogs/4 buns per package conundrum, ice cream recipes always make more than fits in my ice cream maker. So I have leftover creamy delicious and sort of unusable liquid. Luckily the custard-like ice cream base (cream, eggs, sugar, flavor) is shockingly like the building block to one of my favorite dishes: Bread Pudding. So when faced with extra ice cream base, simply tear up some stale bread, place in a greased pan, and pour the base over. Bake in a 350 oven for about 25 minutes, or until it firms up. Eat with spoon. Or over said ice cream.
- How to make wow-inducing dips and sauces: People always ask about my hummus and my guacamole. I have a secret, I tell them, but I’m willing to share. The answer to all amazing dips is blending in enormous quantities of raw garlic. People won’t believe you. That’s it. My hummus often has 4-5 cloves of garlic per can of beans. My guacamole 2-3 per small avocado. It works for almost any savory sauce or dip. Just don’t serve it at any singles’ parties!
- How to use raw onions in a salad: This one I’d like to scream from the treetops, to shove in the face of everyone who ever served me raw onions in a salad. Slice the onions about 10 minutes before you plan to build the salad, and soak them in water for that time. Voila, when you put them in the salad they add their onion savory-sweetness, but no tear-inducing raw burn.
- How to get into the kale thing: Everyone’s obsessed with kale salads at the moment. Yet, I can’t tell you how many versions I know will be like chewing cud before I even make them. There is a crucial step in kale-ifying your salad: massage the kale with salt and a little olive oil. Watch the hearty, Seattle-winter surviving veg melt in your little paws. Suddenly it becomes a vivacious color, popping off the plate, and within minutes, a chewable texture. Now make your kale salad and join the ranks of millions who hail kale.
- How to use a broiler: Never. Ever. Turn the broiler on without setting a timer. You will burn your food. No matter how sure you are that you’ll remember to check the food. You’ll check, and two seconds later, the food will burn. Just set the timer.
So, what are your favorite kitchen tips and tricks?