I’ve been cooking for a long time.
My sister and I always had to help with dinner. (I was in charge of the salad.)
When I moved into my first apartment, I thought, “Crap! I don’t know how to cook anything. I’m gonna starve and/or eat Ramen noodles every day.”
My mom gave me a handwritten recipe book of all her family dinner staples. And you know what? I was halfway into my first batch of chicken picatta when I realized — I DO know how to cook. I’ve been learning for years.
Sneaky moms. 😉
Over the years, I’ve gotten better. Faster. And… lazier.
There are certain cooking-related tasks that are just a pain in the assss-paragus, if you know what I mean.
Here are my favorite, can’t-live-without-them, hacks for making cooking WAY more fun.
1. Not chopping onions. I decided a couple years ago, I would never chop an onion again. I cut them in half long ways, then slice into half moons. ALWAYS. If you need smaller pieces you just slice really really thin half moons.
2. Give your greens some air. You know how greens get all slimy and gross-smelling when they sit in the fridge for too long? It’s because they need to breathe. Poke a few holes in the plastic bag before storing in the fridge. The same works for sprouts.
3. Smash garlic in a dish towel. UGH. Peeling garlic is the worst. To save time (and get some crazy out of your system), wrap the entire clove in a dish towel, then bang the heck out of it against the counter. Open it up, and all the garlic will be separated from the peel. Save what you don’t need in a sealed container in the fridge. You’re welcome.
4. How to clean mushrooms the right way: Use a damp dish towel to gently wipe the dirt off each mushroom. Don’t run them under water; they’ll turn slimy. (Bonus tip: save the stems for chicken stock!)
5. The easiest chicken stock ever. Place a 3-4 pound chicken in your slow cooker, on a bed of celery, carrots, and onion (just rough cuts; no need to chop). Cook for 4-6 hours on low. Remove the chicken, carve, and eat, leaving the veggies, drippings, etc. in the pot. Return the carcass to the slow cooker, with 8 cups of water, some bonus vegetable scraps (like those mushroom stems), and a few sprigs of fresh rosemary. Cook on low for 8-12 hours. Cool, strain, and you’re done.
6. Speaking of chicken stock, add it to everything. If you have homemade stock on hand, add it to all your home-cooked dishes for a flavor boost. Add a splash to your stir fry. Steam your greens in it. Simmer beans with some onions and peppers for an easy weeknight meal. Cook your rice in half stock and half water. The applications are endless.
7. Only cook with wine you’d actually drink. Okay, so this isn’t really a hack, but wine is important. Don’t use weeks-old wine or $1.50 swill. If you wouldn’t drink it, don’t put it in your food.
8. Sharpen your knives at Ace hardware. Okay — those “sharpening sticks” that come with most knife sets? They’re actually called honers, and their job is to keep your knives true — as in, not crooked. To get them sharpened, let the professionals do it. Your local hardware store will do it for about $7 a knife. You’ll have to live without said knife for a few days though, so plan ahead.
9. No-peel applesauce. Most people don’t make their own applesauce because of all that peeling. Well, you can skip that step. Check out the recipe here.
10. How to separate leafy greens from their stalks: Hold the bottom of the stalk in your right hand. Grip the stem with your left hand, just above the right. In one quick movement, pull the entire stem, hard, with your right hand. The leaf should stay in your left hand, and the stem will remain in your right. This works best with curly kale and other firm greens, but it’ll work for all of them.
11. Frozen vegetables. Vegetables are frozen at peak freshness, so you’re not skimping on flavor or nutrition by going frozen. I always have a couple bags of broccoli, green beans, butternut squash, and whatever else strikes my fancy. Just stick to plain old veggies (none of these weird flavor explosions), and you’re good. Great on busy weeknights.
12. Blend your smoothies for a really long time. When you make a smoothie, does that smooth, creamy texture seem to elude you in favor of blueberry skins and tiny pieces of spinach that stick in your teeth? Blend your smoothie for at least one full minute, sometimes two, to eliminate even the tiniest chunks.
13. Clean your coffee pot with lemons, ice cubes, and salt. This is an old trick from the restaurant industry, and nothing works better. Cut a lemon in half. Squeeze the juice into your coffee pot, and throw the lemon halves in there too. Add ice cubes and kosher salt, and swirl around until the stain goes away. Then rinse really well, so your coffee doesn’t taste like a lemon drop. This will also work on tea stains or dingy soup pots.
Got some kitchen hacks of your own? Don’t be stingy — share!