If you cook from scratch, you’re probably willing to trade a little time for quality. But if you don’t already know some of these time-saving cooking tips, you might be making things harder than they need to be. Read on for 8+ genius tips to simplify cooking at home.
1. Defrosting Butter
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Who among us honestly always remembers to take the butter out of the fridge or freezer hours before you want to bake something? Defrosting in the microwave is tricky at best, and a big greasy mess at worst.
Try these tips instead:
- Grate the butter with a cheese grater! It’s all about increasing the surface area to make it warm up quicker. This works even better for frozen butter. Bonus tip: this is a great shortcut when cutting butter into flour, too.
- Get a glass measuring cup and fill it up with boiling hot water. Wait a few seconds and dump out the water. Flip the measuring cup upside down with the butter under it and wait 15 minutes.
2. Potato Masher Multitasking
Mashing potatoes is a job that usually belongs to either my hand mixer or if I decide to really go medieval on the lumps, my ricer. So, what’s a lonely hand masher to do? Plenty!
- Use it to mash other foods like stewed tomatoes or potatoes in soups, or to make guacamole -anything you want mixed but still chunky.
- Use it to break up ground sausage or other meats. If you’re anything like me, you want that tube of sausage chopped into thousands of perfect little crumbles, not the globby, sticky mess that results from trying to break it up with a wooden spoon.
- “Chop” walnuts with it. I really wish this worked for all nuts, but sadly walnuts are about the only nut soft enough for this trick.
3. DIY Mason jar lids
I still love mason jars, despite their rampant popularity on Pinterest of late. They’re cute, convenient, and always remind me of my mom’s homemade strawberry jam. I’m sure it’s not news that these little gems have utility far beyond just canning. But did you know about these sources of replacement lids?
- Mayonnaise and peanut butter jar lids: it’s so convenient (and rust free!) to have plastic lids for mason jars, and now I can stop buying them from Amazon.
- Parmesan cheese shaker lid: this just opens up a world of DIY fun. Plus, one of the holes can hold a straw, transforming your jar into a beverage holder
4. The Tearless Onion
The onion: it seems like everyone and their mother has an interesting trick to prevent onion tears.
As an ex-chemist, I can tell you that the cause is a tear-producing chemical that’s released when the cell walls of the onion are broken, so anything that prevents that chemical from evaporating and reaching your eyes will work.
Personally, I think a simple pair of splash goggles do the job nicely, but that’s probably the chemist in me again. Here are some other tips:
- Chill your onions. This works because the colder onion means less evaporation of the offending chemical, so it can’t waft into your eyeballs.
- Chew bread. My Italian husband taught me this one, saying his female relatives swore by chewing on Italian bread while chopping onions for their “all-day gravy.” In theory, the bread absorbs the chemicals so they can’t reach your eyes.
- Use a sharp knife. A dull knife does more damage to the onion tissues, releasing more of the chemical than a clean cut with a sharp knife would.
5. Bake Your Bacon
I haven’t cooked bacon in a frying pan or griddle for a decade, ever since I worked in a deli where they cooked huge batches on a giant sheet pan in the oven.
- There’s no flipping, no getting splattered with hot grease, and you get a batch of flat, straight, evenly cooked bacon. It’s hands-off and (in my opinion) an infinitely better method than babysitting a frying pan.
- Lay the bacon out on a sheet pan and bake it at 400 F for ~15 minutes.
- Optional: for a less messy option, put the bacon on a cooling rack or two on the baking sheet so the grease drains off.
- Want to save that delicious bacon grease? Collect it in a mason jar and save it for one of these ways to use that you may not have thought of.
6. Utilize Your Ice Cube Trays (for Everything but Ice)
Freezing various things in ice cube trays is awesome for two reasons: it reduces waste and it makes very convenient portions. Check out all the ways you can use it:
- Save leftover anything. This is freedom from the guilt of throwing out the expired leftovers of the buttermilk that you only needed ½ cup of. Freeze the rest in portioned servings. Works great for tomato paste, broths, sauces, even wine!
- Freeze fresh herbs. If your garden is bursting with fresh herbs, you can preserve what you can’t use. Chop them up and freeze them with some broth or butter or oil and they’ll make easy additions to soups and sauces.
- Coffee boosters. If you love iced coffee, don’t spoil it with regular ice cubes that’ll just dilute your drink–freeze an ice cube tray full of full-strength coffee and use those to chill your iced coffee drinks.
- Juice cubes. On the beverage note, freezing fruit juices into cubes creates a great base for smoothies.
- Single-serving baby food. I’m not always great at cooking in bulk or managing complicated recipes, but cooking a gigantic pot of yams and mashing it into a paste was a chore I could handle. My daughter’s lunch was as easy as grabbing a frozen food cube, defrosting it, and watching her spread it all over her face.
- Caramelized onions. OK, there are probably quite a few things that can be frozen in single portions, but I mention this one because 1) they’re delicious 2) I never remember to start dinner early enough to give them time to cook, and 3) I had no clue you could freeze cooked onions. This is amazing as it cuts a good 25 minutes from my Seattle Dogs recipe.
7. Peeling Garlic
Peeling fruits and veggies ranks among my most loathed cooking chores, and peeling garlic is no exception. Garlic-scented papery bits seem to static-cling to everything, and I inevitably get chunks of garlic under my fingernails.
Here are a few tricks to ease the process:
- If you just need a few cloves and you’re going to mince it anyway, I love the knife smash method. Place an unpeeled clove on the cutting board and lay a chef’s knife on top of it on its side, so that the clove is under the fat part of the blade. Then the fun part: give the knife a good hard whack with your fist or the heel of your hand to smash the garlic. Now you should have a smashed clove loosely covered with the skin, which you can now easily remove. The added bonus here is that smashing the clove also means less mincing.
- If you need a lot of cloves unpeeled, try the mason jar method – yes, again; they’re just so darn useful! Put as many cloves as you want in the jar, put the lid on, and shake hard for about 30 seconds. Open and dump out.
- You may have seen this method on Twitter using just the tip of a knife to pluck each clove off the bulb and out of its skin. To do this, insert the tip of a sharp knife about ¾ of the way into the clove, and twist and pull it free from the bulb.
As someone who makes a lot of Korean food, this is the best method for getting garlic peeled!
— 𝖛𝖆𝖑 ⬜⬜🟥🟥⬜⬜ (@VPestilenZ) June 17, 2019
8. Egg Substitutes
Maybe you used up all of your eggs. Or if you have kids like mine, maybe they were sacrificed in the name of “science.” Regardless of the reason, if you need an egg, try these tips:
- Mayonnaise is just eggs and oil, after all, so it makes a great egg substitute in most dishes; use 3 tablespoons (T).
- A good vegan option is 1 T cornstarch mixed with 3 T water.
- Flaxseed or chia seeds both form a gel-like liquid when soaked in water. Use 1T flax or chia plus 3 T water and wait about 15 minutes for the gel to form before adding it to your recipe.
Whether you’re short on needed ingredients or just looking for any way to save a few minutes in the kitchen, I hope this article has helped to up your cooking game and inspired your creativity. Do you have more must-know kitchen tips? Please share below!