My 10 Favorite Kitchen Tricks
By Sally Kuzemchak of Real Mom Nutrition
As a home cook, I’m a little bit lazy and a whole lot frugal. If there is a way to save money or time, I will try it. Not every effort is successful, but once in a while I stumble upon a kitchen trick that’s a real keeper. Here are my ten favorite:
1. Do-It-Yourself Chocolate Peanut Butter
I like Nutella and Justin’s Chocolate Hazelnut Butter as much as the next person. But sometimes it’s not wise for me to have a whole jar of it in my house (for obvious reasons such as lack of self-control). So occasionally I make small batches of a cheaper, quick-and-dirty version using peanut butter: Place a few squares of chocolate (or handful of chips) in some peanut butter, microwave for 30 seconds or until melted, stir, and spread on whatever you want. Use the ratio of chocolate-to-peanut butter that suits your tastes.
2. Chopping & Freezing Onions
I love adding the flavor of onion to dishes, but my kids don’t like big chunks of onion in their food. So I use my mini-chopper (this is the one I’ve had for years) to create very finely diced onions–almost creating an onion “paste”. Sometimes I process several onions at once, especially if I have too many and don’t want them to go to waste. Then I transfer the diced onion to freezer bags, and press flat. Then, when I have a recipe that calls for sautéing chopped onion, I just grab a bag, break off a chunk of frozen onion, and throw it into the pan.
3. Letting Dough Rise in the Microwave
Having trouble getting dough to rise? Place a glass measuring cup of water in your microwave (yes, that’s my microwave, not a wall oven) and heat it on HIGH for several minutes until it boils. Turn off the microwave, place your covered bowl of dough inside the microwave (keep the hot water in too), and shut the door. The warm, steamy air will allow your dough to rise faster.
4. Soaking Dates in Milk for Smoothies
Dates are an easy way to sweeten a smoothie, but they can be hard to pulverize in a standard blender. I got this trick from a Real Mom Nutrition reader after posting a recipe for this yummy Peanut Butter Breakfast Shake. She suggested soaking the dates in a dish of milk kept in the refrigerator, which softens them up so they blend quickly and smoothly. Now I do this too and it works great!
5. De-Stemming Kale Quickly
To quickly pull the leaves away from the tough center stem, hold the kale leaf in one hand and slide your other hand along the stem. Then make this easy Sweet Tart Kale Salad.
6. Soaking Apple Slices in OJ & Lemon
I saw this trick on Pinterest and it’s one of my favorite lunchbox hacks ever. Slice an apple, pour the juice from one lemon and one orange (or OJ if that’s what you have) over the slices and refrigerate. Pull out slices to pack in lunch boxes (they won’t brown) or eat them straight from the juice. Many people already do this with lemon, but the orange adds sweetness and balances out the sour of the lemon. My kids go nuts for these.
7. Making Bacon in the Oven
I’ll never go back to making bacon on the stove after discovering this method. The bacon cooks so evenly, with barely attention from me (and with no grease spatters all over the stovetop). Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Line a rimmed baking sheet with foil and place bacon slices on foil, bringing the foil edges up and over the edge of the pan. Bake for about 15 minutes or until desired doneness. Some readers also suggested putting a baking rack on the pan and laying the bacon on the rack, so the fat drips down and away from the bacon.
8. Assembling Freezer Smoothie Packets
To streamline the morning routine, I sometimes package up ready-to-go smoothie packets for the freezer full of fruit, greens, and extras like flaxseed. In the morning, just pull out a packet, dump it in the blender, and add cold water or milk. This is an especially handy way to preserve greens that are getting past their prime.
9. Using Uncooked Lasagna Noodles
Lasagna is one of my favorite cold-weather comfort foods, but I hate the extra time-sucking step of pre-boiling the noodles. So instead of buying the special no-boil noodles, I use my regular whole wheat lasagna noodles (this is a favorite brand) and simply skip the step of pre-boiling them. The key is using a healthy amount of sauce (in addition to sauce between the layers, be sure the entire surface is covered as well), and bake the lasagna tightly covered with foil.
10. Subbing Flaxseed For Egg
If you don’t have an egg for a recipe (or don’t want to use eggs at all), use flaxseed instead. Combine one tablespoon ground flaxseed and three tablespoons water, stir and let sit for five minute. Then add to recipes as usual. I’ve done this for pancakes and cookies.