Did you ever have to write down all the steps for making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich? If you started with “spread the peanut butter on the bread,” you were automatically marked wrong. The point of the exercise is to think of–and document–all the tiny steps that we don’t even think about.
The same is true in the kitchen! Whether your Mom was a great cook or just great at the microwave, I’ll bet she has many cooking tips filed away in her head. If you aren’t around at the right moment for her to share them, you’ll miss them.
In that spirit, here are just a few of my favorite cooking secrets.
- Make your own delicious flavored lemonades or margaritas. Cut up small chunks of fruit, remove the seeds, and freeze in a single layer in a pan or cookie sheet. When making your beverage of choice, use the fruit instead of ice cubes. Blend the fruit with the liquid for a slushie or muddle the fruit for a hint of flavor. I blended 2 cups of frozen watermelon with 2 cups of lemonade and ended up with a delicious, not-too-sweet slushie.
- How many times have you done this at grilling time? The marinated chicken or steak is ready to go out to the grill. You pile everything on a big platter and get it on the grill. Then you have to go back inside and wash the raw meat oogies off the platter, or get a different serving dish. Next time, cover the platter with some plastic wrap (or use a plastic veggie bag from the store) before putting the raw meat on top. Then you don’t need to wash the platter, and there’s no risk of cross-contamination.
- Homemade sandwich bread dough makes wonderful hamburger buns. After the first rise, divide the dough into 8 portions, roll each into a ball, and flatten slightly. Allow to rise a second time until puffy and then bake for 15-20 minutes.
- When serving macaroni salad (here’s my favorite macaroni salad recipe) at a picnic or other outdoor event, it must stay cold so the mayonnaise doesn’t spoil. Place your serving bowl inside a larger bowl that’s filled with ice to keep everything cold.
- The stove can easily turn into a sticky mess with all those mixing spoons and spatulas sitting around. Instead of using a traditional spoon rest, set your utensils on a damp sponge. Use it to quickly wipe down the stove during cleanup and then toss it into the dishwasher.
- Make meal prep easy when the days are hot. Bake chicken, shred it, and freeze in 2-cup portions. Then when you need a quick meal, you can warm the chicken without heating up the kitchen. Dinner’s ready in 10 minutes.
- Keep blue cheese (tightly wrapped) in the freezer. It will still crumble easily for salads and won’t stink up the fridge.
- Nothing ruins an asparagus dish more than biting into a stem that’s tough and woody, but it’s easy to avoid this gustatory calamity. Asparagus stems will break in just the right place if you hold them in the middle and snap off the end. Some will be longer and some shorter, but every bite will be delicious.
- Keep your chips and other snack bags closed with spring-loaded clothespins. Don’t spend a mint on those fancy chip clips!
- Need a crunchy snack or side dish for your next camping trip? Jicama-Carrot Slaw is easy to make, won’t spoil in the heat, and the whole family loves it.
- Reuse clean yogurt containers to make jumbo ice cubes for pitchers of lemonade or ice tea. Freeze a bit of fruit or a mint leaf in the ice for color and a hint of flavor.
- If you’ve cooked more corn on the cob than your crew can eat, don’t toss it. Freeze it for use in future recipes–here’s how.
- If your recipe only calls for the green part of the green onion, plant the white part in the garden or a small pot (leave a bit sticking up out of the soil). In a couple of weeks, you’ll have more green onions.
- Tired of crumbs and butter debris in the jelly? When you get home from the store, put the jelly into a clean, labeled squeeze container. A repurposed salad dressing bottle is perfect for this. Kids can squeeze and spread easily, and there’s no more mystery material in the jelly jar.
What are your favorite cooking secrets?