Cooking Hacks You’ll Actually Use

Posted by on Jan 21, 2018 in Common Products - Uncommon Uses, Frugal For Everyone, Herbs, Recipes | 29 comments

cooking hacks

Once again we hear that the price of food will be going up this year. With that in mind, I’ve developed a list of practical cooking hacks to combat rising food prices, not only by saving money but also by saving time. In today’s busy world, both are equally appreciated.

Cooking Hacks:

Use a vegetable peeler to ‘grate’ Parmesan cheese and you won’t end up with clumps of cheese in your salad.

Like the creamy butter served in restaurants? Make your own – whip butter with half as much milk until fully absorbed – e.g. ¼ cup butter + 2 Tbsp. milk or 1 cup butter + ½ cup milk, etc. This increases the volume by almost half and makes the butter easier to spread.

Forgot to take the butter out of the fridge? Simply use the slicer on your cheese grater or your vegetable peeler and shave the butter. Less than a minute later you’ll have spreadable butter.

Make your own Greek yogurt at half the cost. Simply line a colander with triple layer of cheese cloth and set over a bowl. Pour in the regular yogurt (store bought or homemade), place in the fridge and let the whey drain out. The longer it drains, the thicker and milder the yogurt. Don’t throw the drained whey out, it’s full of nutrition. Add it to soup or use it to replace the liquid in baking.

Adding ¼ tsp. lemon juice to whipping cream will make it whip much faster.

Adding 2-3 Tbsp. of honey to 2 cups whipping cream will make the whipping cream stay firm longer. Beat the whipping cream until just starting to get stiff, beat in the honey, 1 Tbsp. at a time, continue beating until you have the desired thickness.

Drop heaping spoonfuls of whipped cream on a cookie sheet and freeze. When frozen, transfer to a freezer bag. Great to top hot chocolate or desserts.

For a quick sauce for pancakes, waffles, pudding or ice-cream, boil together 1/4 cup berry jam (raspberry, strawberry, blueberry, etc.) and 1/2 cup water for two minutes until blended. Remove from heat, stir in 1/2 tsp. almond extract and enjoy.

For a totally different treat try adding finely chopped herbs to the sauce above – basil goes with any berry; mint to blackberry; lavender to blueberries; add the herb after the sauce has been removed from heat. Experiment with other combinations. Start with a small amount of the herb (a tsp) and taste. You can always add more if desired. 

Need a quick dessert? Easily make a no-milk chocolate pie filling: Mix 1/4 cup cornstarch with 1/2 cup cold water – blend well. Boil together 1 1/2 cup water, 1/4 cup margarine, 3/4 to 1 cup white sugar and 3 Tbsp. cocoa. Add the cornstarch mix and cook until thick. Pour into baked pie shell, cool and top with whipped cream. You can also use this as a dark chocolate sauce to pour over ice-cream. Delicious.

Melt a package of caramels in a cup of hot strong coffee to make a terrific low-cost topping for ice-cream.

If you have a variety of cereal boxes each with just a bit left on the bottom, empty them all into a jar, shake so they become well mixed and cover. The children will think you’re a genius for inventing a new cereal and you’ll be happy with the no-waste.

Do not throw out ketchup, relish or chili sauce bottles if there is still the smallest amount left. Add a little vinegar and water, shake the bottle well, and pour into gravy, stew, or meat loaf mix. Good to the last drop.

When beating egg whites, add 1 Tbsp. of water to the whites. This makes them fluffier and almost doubles the amount.

To separate egg yolks from white use a small funnel. The white slides right through while the yolk remains.

Use cookie cutters to keep eggs for poaching or frying from spreading out. Simply place the cookie cutter (decorative ones are nice) in the pan and break the egg into it.

Marinate meats, poultry and fish by putting it and the marinade into a zip-lock bag, press out the air and seal. Set the whole thing in a bowl in the fridge and let marinate away, turning occasionally so marinade can penetrate all sides.

Tenderize stewing beef in canned tomatoes – pour the meat and tomatoes into a zip-lock bag, and marinate for a couple of hours. When ready, both the meat and tomatoes can be added to the stew.

Easily improve beef stew by adding ½ tsp. of vinegar or lemon juice while simmering.

Buy ground meat on sale – in bulk. Spread on cookie sheet. With plastic knife mark into ½ lb (250g) sections. Freeze. When frozen, break off each ½ lb section, place in zip-lock freezer bags and freeze flat. When needed, it takes no time at all to defrost the meat.

To get thin strips of meat for stir-frys, partially freeze the meat first. This makes it easier to slice it thin.

Flavour gravy, stock or stews with a small clove-studded onion. Remove the onion when cooking is finished.

Place fish on lemon slices when barbecuing. This keeps the fish from sticking to the grill and adds a lovely flavour.

Save orange and lemon peels. Boil together in water, strain and use the water to poach fish.

Skewers will be easy to remove from meat if you first spray them with vegetable spray. 

To quickly de-grease soup stock, drain the stock in a colander to remove the meat and vegetables, then pour the drained stock through a clean damp dishtowel (make sure the towel is not scented from the dryer). The fat and impurities will stick to the towel and you’ll have a beautiful clear stock.

Add herbs, spices or bouillon cubes to soup at the end of cooking to keep their aroma and flavour.

For a totally different taste, add a square of unsweetened chocolate to your next batch of brown sauce or gravy.

If the gravy isn’t dark enough, add a tsp. of instant coffee granules.

Heating a lemon in very hot water before juicing produces almost double the amount of juice.

Rinse the measuring cup with very hot water before adding honey, molasses or syrup. The sticky stuff will slide right out.

Mix the ingredients for pancakes in a strong plastic bag. Cut a small hole in the corner of the bag and pour onto the griddle right from the bag. You can even pour it into decorative cookie cutters and delight the family.

To freshen stale bread or rolls, place in paper bag, sprinkle the bag with water and place in a hot oven for a few minutes. Works like a charm.

Add 2 Tbsp. of mayo to any cake mix – makes cakes moister and more flavourful.

Make your cake mixes taste homemade – replace the water with milk, the oil with softened or melted butter – and add nuts or chips. Try adding 1/4 cup of peanut butter (smooth or crunchy, doesn’t matter which) to the melted butter.

An easy way to cut cake is to use plain dental floss or sewing thread to cut the slices. Just lay the floss/thread on top and pull down. Neat.

When making fruit pies sprinkle the sugar under the fruit, not on top. The sugar will bubble up through the fruit while it’s baking but not over the top of the dish.

If you need to cut marshmallows for use in a recipe, freeze them first and they’ll be much easier to cut.

Add a vanilla bean to a container of sugar used for baking. Also makes a tasty hot chocolate.

Freeze leftover tea in ice cube trays – transfer when frozen to freezer bags – and use these to flavour iced tea. Doesn’t dilute the tea the way water does.

When you have wine leftover from a party freeze it in ice cube trays and always be prepared when a recipe calls for a small amount of wine.

You can also freeze fruit juices in ice cube trays to flavour a punch, lemonade or even smoothies.

To store lettuce and other greens, place paper towel in a large container or zip-lock bag, lay the greens on top and add another paper towel on top and close. This will absorb the moisture and keep the greens last longer. It’s also a good idea to store this on the top shelf of your fridge, not in the crisper.

Bananas will last longer if placed inside a zip-lock bag. To keep them good for a week to 10 days, separate into two bunches; keep one on the counter and store the other bunch in a cool, dark place (not the fridge) until needed.

To re-crisp celery, place the stalk in a glass of cold water. This will crisp them right up. Also works for many herbs.

Freeze herbs for longer storage. Chop fresh herbs, place in ice cube trays and cover with olive oil or water, depending on what they’re to be used for. Freeze, then transfer to freezer bags. Make sure to date and label because frozen products all look the same after a while.

Add a couple of tablespoons of vinegar to the water when steaming vegetables to retain their bright colour.

To make a quick cheese sauce for cauliflower or broccoli, heat a can of condensed cream of cheese soup with 1/4 cup water. Blend well and pour over the vegetable.

When cooking potatoes or cauliflower add a dash of vinegar to the water. Won’t affect the taste but will keep the vegies white.

Use less salt when cooking vegetables by adding the salt at the end of cooking. The salt sticks better to the cooked food so less is needed.

I find these to be the most practical cooking hacks, the ones you’ll actually use. Watch my blog throughout the year to get more cooking hacks, ideas for food storage, practical substitutions and more. Saving time and money need not be an effort but can be kind of fun.

Talk to you again soon,

Lenie

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29 Comments

  1. No one else has asked this, so I will:
    Do you have any tips for speeding up the ripening of bananas? Sometimes the bananas in grocery stores are as green as a forest – what then?

    • Good morning Andy, that’s an easy one. Put an apple in with the bananas and they’ll ripen in no time. If you do this though, separate your bunch of bananas so they don’t all ripen at once. Enjoy your bananas with your instant oatmeal. 🙂

  2. Great food hacks.
    It is amazing what you can find out about today. Tricks like this were exclusive to chefs or cooks. Now everyone can know about them. Thanks for sharing.

  3. OMG Lenie,

    The list is very long but amazing.
    I will be using many of your hacks.
    Greek yogurt is really expensive and my son can only eat that. I will be making it now at home.
    I will be using whipping cream hacks too.
    Thank you, I am bookmarking this post to come over again to collect some great new hacks.
    thanks a lot.
    Regards,
    Andleeb

    • Andleeb, wonderful to hear from you and even better that you like my hacks. Hope you get to use many of them. Take care 🙂

  4. Excellent tips, Lenie. Many of them are new to me and I have to try them.

    • Hi Catarina – glad to know you will be using some of my tips – hope it makes your life easier seeing how busy you are.

  5. Great tips, as usual, Lenie. I love the idea of using dental floss to cut a cake. Using a knife on a frosted cake is always such a mess!

    • Hi Jeannette, I’m surprised you didn’t know that tip. I used to use sewing thread to cut cake way back when but dental floss is stronger and never breaks.

  6. All great tips, but the one about melting caramels in a cup of strong coffee has definitely caught my eye and also made me crave some ice cream pronto!

    • Hi Jeri – enjoy your ice cream – I guess this is a take-off from the fancy coffees now served at Starbucks. I haven’t tried this one but the friend who told me about it says it’s decadent – wonder how it would taste on waffles?

  7. What an amazing list of kitchen tips you have accumulated for us, Lenie! This post is a definite keeper, and one that I have shared far and wide.

    • Hi Doreen – I love collecting this kind of information and sharing it. I also enjoy using the tips. When I first heard about the bananas I thought that was crazy but I tried it and it works. Same with storing lettuce on the top shelf of the fridge – makes you wonder what good a crisper is. Thanks for sharing as usual. 🙂

  8. I love the illustration which cheered me up on a grey skied Monday morning.

    What excellent tips, some of which I do already;

    Mixing the remains in the cereal pack. My children love this and regular request for “a mixture!”

    Marinating meat for at least a few hours – check

    I do not use salt when seasoning poultry or fish as the seasoning products already contain salt.

    I will use your tip on getting all the mayo, ketchup and dressings from the bottle. It is a pain when you struggle to squeeze the last bit out.

    I have read about adding mayo to moisten cake, coffee to darken gravy but have never tried it.

    I always believed bananas browned quickly if they were kept in a bag.

    • Hi Phoenicia – loved your comments and the fact that you are using some of the tips. The one about bananas really works. I don’t shop more than once a week and this way I am able to store bananas for that entire time. Quite amazing.

  9. I grabbed onto the tip about heating a lemon in hot water to make it produce twice as much juice. Never heard this one. Have to try it.

    • Ken, I actually had reason to do that this past week. All you do is put hot water in a cup or glass, add the lemon, let sit for a minute and you’ll be surprised – it really works. 🙂

      • Have you tried it with other citrus fruits?

        • I haven’t but I don’t see why it wouldn’t work. I don’t have an orange or I would try it – be pretty neat if you could get extra orange juice.

  10. Thanks for sharing these Lenie! I too will use the banana tip – it will save me from visiting the shops every other day to find bananas at the perfect stage of ripeness (Indulged? My boys? Surely not!).

    • Monika – keep indulging those boys, time goes by to fast to do otherwise (that’s experience speaking). Anyway, the banana trick will save you a few trips (more time to spend with the boys 🙂 )

      • Will do Lenie. I always listen to words of experience… 😉

        • Ha Ha

  11. Awesome suggestions. I’ll be using some of these for sure, and soon. Thanks for sharing.

    • Hi Susan – You are such a cooking pro that I feel rather proud about you using some of my tips. 🙂

  12. Wow consider this list pinned and the tips will be used. I am like Janna where the majority of these are new to me. Thank you Lenie. Now I am off to move some of my bananas. lol

    • Hi Sharon – that banana tip is a dandy. I just recently received that tip from an elderly friend so I came home, tried it and it works – I couldn’t believe how well. Thanks for the comment. 🙂

  13. What a fantastic list of tips. Most are new to me. I am going to try adding honey to whipped cream.

    • Hi Donna – glad you like the list. My personal favourites are the ‘whipped butter’, the quick pancake/waffle sauce made with jam (my grandson and I indulged at Christmas) and straining the soup stock through the clean tea towel – that leaves the most beautiful clear stock. Success with yours.