As I wrote earlier, cooking from scratch has so many benefits. It’s healthier and cheaper than prepackaged food-in-a-box, and cooking provides a shared skill you can enjoy with your family. Once it becomes a lifestyle choice, your menu planning will become much simpler and pleasant.
But many people, especially those who didn’t grow up in a cooking household, are intimidated at the thought of scratch cooking. Over the years, it’s been mislabeled as a difficult task, one that boxed foods eliminates. Here are a few little tricks I use in my kitchen on a regular basis. They’re not complicated, but they stretch the mileage in my fresh food, making scratch cooking even easier and cheaper.
1. To make buttermilk, add 1 tablespoon of vinegar or lemon juice to regular milk.
2. To make self-rising flour, mix together 1 cup of all-purpose flour, 1 teaspoon of baking powder, 1/2 teaspoon of salt, an 1/4 teaspoon of baking soda.
3. To hull a strawberry while still leaving most of the fruit, push a drinking straw through the bottom of the berry and push it through the top.
4. Here is the best recipe ever for roasted chicken. I’m shocked with how easy it is. You can eat it as the main feature of your meal, or as I mentioned earlier, you can dice it, fill ziploc baggies with one cup of chicken, and freeze it for future meals. You can then use the juice for homemade chicken stock.
5. Speaking of which, here is a fabulous recipe for homemade cream of chicken soup, which is used in tons of recipes. It’s very easy.
6. Actually, for most recipes, it doesn’t take that much more work to double it. Then you can freeze a second portion, and when you’re busier than normal, you can reheat it and still eat from scratch.
7. You need boiling water in so many recipes. To save time, fill a pot with water and get it started on the stove first thing, as soon as you get started in the kitchen. You’ll probably need it.
8. To minimize the tears, put onions in the freezer for about 15 minutes before chopping. Don’t forget about them, though! (When you do this all the time, expect your husband to make fun of you.)
9. If you accidentally put too much salt in a recipe, sometimes putting a slice of raw, peeled potato will soak up excess salt.
Photo by Darwin Bell
10. Store onions and potatoes separately. They both make each other go bad faster.
11. Separate your bananas as soon as you return from the store. They’ll stay fresh longer.
12. When reheating bread goods (such as muffins, pancakes, and the like), put a cup of water in the microwave with it. It adds moisture to the air and keeps the bread soft.
13. Before putting sticky ingredients in a measuring cup, give it a quick rinse with hot water. The ingredient will then slide right out.
14. Keep a bowl on your kitchen counter for your food scraps while you’re cooking. It’s amazing how much more efficient this is than going back and forth to the trash can, and it’s such a simple idea. Sometimes I’ll have two next to me, where I can separate scraps that are compost-able. (I know Rachael Ray has marketed this concept with a garbage bowl, but I’d love it if someone could tell me how these bowls are different than regular bowls.)
15. To get the most juice out of a lemon or lime, zap it in the microwave for 20 seconds or so, let it sit for a minute, and then roll it around on the counter a few times.
16. To peel a whole garlic clove, place the flat side of a knife on top of the clove and give it a good whack. The skin should fall right off.
17. Get the icky smell of garlic or onions off your hands by “washing” them with water and baking soda. The odor slides right off when you rinse. I’ve also heard you can rub them on a stainless steel spoon under running water, but I haven’t tried it yet.
18. To double the amount of your butter used for spreading, simply whip it with a small amount of warm water until it’s light and fluffy. This isn’t ideal for baking recipes that need a specific fat amount, but it’s great for spreading on your bread or corn-on-the-cob. Just keep it in the refrigerator, and it should stay light.
Now it’s your turn to add to this list! I know everyone has at least one little cooking hack up their sleeve – care to share it in the comments? I look forward to learning something new from you.
This post was originally published on July 10, 2008.