My kitchen has always been my favorite room in my house. Whether I’m cooking up a storm, rooting through the fridge, snacking at the counter, or pouring myself a glass of wine after a long day at work, I spend a lot of my waking hours in there. Add in the fact that I’m married to a bottomless pit, and we might as well just move our bed into the kitchen.
My passion for cooking and eating is not all fun and games, however. I make impulsive food purchases (half of which go bad before I use them), I frequently prepare dishes that require me to use far too many intricate machines (which then need to be painstakingly cleaned), and I’m a big-time slob—if you came over to my house on an average night, you’d find the kitchen counter littered with the remnants of onions, garlic, parsley, and shredded cheese, and the stove splattered with red sauce and olive oil. As a result, I’ve made it my mission to research all kinds of kitchen shortcuts that will enable me to streamline my operations, reduce my mess, and prolong my perishables’ staying power. Some of the best tips I’ve discovered are the most unusual ones—who knew you could use dental floss as a knife? The following tricks may be offbeat, but trust me—the first time you realize you never have to shed a single tear over an onion again, you’ll be sending me flowers to thank me.
When you buy celery, wrap it tightly in tin foil before you put it in the refrigerator; it will stay fresh for weeks. To preserve herbs and raw asparagus, store them upright in the fridge in a container filled with two inches of water.
Not only are refrigerated apples crisp and delicious, but they remain fresh up to ten times longer than their room-temperature counterparts. Store them in a plastic bag in your crisper drawer to prevent them from speeding up the ripening of other produce.
Unless you have a duck pond behind your house, you’ve probably had to throw out a fair amount of stale bread in your lifetime. Not anymore, thanks to these two effective ways to freshen it (though these tactics work only for slightly stale loaves, not irredeemably petrified ones):
- Put individual slices of bread on a splatter screen and hold it over a sauté pan filled with simmering water for about two minutes; the steam from the water will soften the bread.
- Put a stale loaf of bread inside a brown paper bag, then seal the bag and sprinkle it with water. Put the bag on a baking sheet in a 350° oven for about five minutes; the bread will come out warm and soft.
Most people default to keeping an open box of baking soda in their refrigerator to eliminate odors, but soaking a few cotton balls in vanilla extract and placing them in an open bowl in your fridge serves the same purpose and smells nice.
To combat the lingering scent of onions or garlic in Tupperware and other reusable plastic containers, wash the container, fill it with crumpled newspaper, and seal it. The plastic will be odor-free within a day or two.
Some people swear by lemon juice to remove the smell of garlic, onions, or fish from skin, but some scents are just too strong for citrus. In those cases, try washing your hands with mouthwash instead. If you don’t have any on hand, turn on your kitchen faucet and position a stainless steel knife under the water, angling the blade downward. Rub the fingers of each odorous hand together in the water flowing off the blade for about thirty seconds, and your skin will smell as sweet as the day you were born.
Cleanliness Is Next to Godliness
Remember those intricate machines I mentioned earlier? Perhaps none is more tedious to clean than a blender. Each part—the tiny blades, the rubber ring, the mini-lid that twists into the main cover—presents a new challenge. To skip all the fuss, just fill your dirty blender halfway with hot, soapy water, then put the lid on and run the blender for thirty seconds on high speed. Rinse out the pitcher and let it dry on a dish rack—no disassembly required.
As appealing-looking as a rack full of copper pots is, the metal tarnishes easily and is time-consuming and costly to clean. Rather than buying expensive copper polishes, conserve money and your elbow grease by rubbing ketchup all over the tarnished areas of your cookware with a paper towel. Let it sit for five minutes, then wipe off the ketchup and rinse the copper, which should now look like a penny circulated this year, rather than one from 1955.
Making cookies is one of life’s reliable pleasures, but most of us encounter a lot of speed bumps in the process: clouds of flour, bits of batter flying all over the kitchen, sticky globs that cling to our fingers as we try to deposit dough onto a baking sheet. To prevent dough from splattering while you mix it, place a piece of parchment paper over the bowl, then poke your electric mixer’s stems through the paper and into the mixer’s body. And to minimize mixing bowl–to-mouth time, use an ice-cream scoop dipped in cold water between each dose to move dough onto cookie sheets.
Floss Is a Many-Splendored Thing
Dental floss can be used to cut neat rounds of soft cheeses (such as goat cheese), soft pastry dough (such as the dough for cinnamon rolls), and even cakes that aren’t too tall. Always use unflavored floss.
Cry Me a River
So many recipes call for onion that the tears it induces seem unavoidable. Put the tissues and the Visine away—you won’t need them anymore if you take this advice:
- While you cut the onion, place a slice or hunk of bread in your mouth, letting it protrude from your lips. The bread absorbs many of the fumes from the onion before they reach your nose.
- Simply pop your onion in the freezer for ten or fifteen minutes, then chop away. (Just make sure it doesn’t harden so much that your knife can’t penetrate it.)
Thar She Blows
Any amateur baker who’s tried frosting a cake knows how difficult it is to achieve a uniformly silky finish. To give your icing an enviably sleek look, hold a hair dryer (set to low heat) a few inches above the cake. The warm air will melt the frosting just enough to smooth out its surface.
But that’s not all hair dryers can do. If you have a charcoal grill and the fire dies just as you’re ready to cook up a batch of burgers, aim a blow dryer (set to high heat) at the base of the coals. The airflow will restore the flames and save your barbecue in no time.
If you’d like to delve more deeply into the realm of “Why didn’t I think of that?” kitchen techniques, you can find some of the above tricks—and hundreds more—in the book The Best Quick Kitchen Tips. And as you speed unencumbered through your future meal preparations, think of me. I’ll probably be in my own kitchen, covered in spaghetti sauce, holding my hair dryer in one hand and a bottle of mouthwash in the other.Related Story: Celebrities Make Bizarre Food Requests
Updated November 12, 2010