So maybe you think you’ve got it all figured out. You’re the MacGyver of the kitchen — spatula in one hand two eggs in the other. Crack, separate, and plop goes the egg in the bowl… with a bit of shell. The horror! So what do you do? Hint: using a spoon or your fingers isn’t the answer. Thankfully, we have a solution to your egg quandary (number 11) plus quick fixes to tons of other food prepping, cooking, and baking predicaments — from pitting a nectarine to softening butter the easy way. We’ve hacked your kitchen — prepare to have your mind blown (even if just a little bit).
1. Speed up ripening. Be a total magician and morph a banana from green to yellow or a peach from crunchy to juicy all with the help of a paper bag. When fruit is tossed into the bag, concentrated ethylene gas helps it ripen faster.
2. Slow down rotting. Store tomatoes stem end down to keep them from rotting as quickly. This prevents air from entering and moisture from exiting the scar where the tomato once attached to the vine. Storing them at room temperature rather than in the fridge also makes them last longer.
3. Give bananas a longer life. Keep bananas fresher, longer by wrapping the end of the bunch with plastic wrap. Better yet, separate each banana. The plastic wrap blocks ethylene gases from releasing out of the stem, consequently ripening the fruit too fast (see number 8).
4. Keep potatoes white. Cover shredded or diced potatoes with cold water before cooking to prevent the spuds from turning that gross grayish/brown caused by the release of a starch that makes them oxidize.
5. Keep cut fruit from browning. You’ve probably heard that a little squeeze of lemon juice can keep apple slices from looking unappetizing. A mixture of one part honey to two parts water works much the same to keep fruit from browning. The citric acid and vitamin C in lemon juice as well as a peptide in honey slows down the oxidation process that causes browning.
6. Prevent brown sugar from hardening. Help brown sugar stay soft and scoopable by tossing an orange peel or a slice of apple along with the sugar into an airtight container. For a quick fix, microwave brown sugar next to a small glass of water. The moisture within the microwave will help break up the block of sugar.
7. Avoid plastic wrap disasters. Had enough of wrangling plastic wrap? Store the roll in the fridge to store leftovers with less of a hassle. Chilling the wrap makes it easier to transport it from the roll to your bowl.
8. Get creative with covering food. They’re known for hair hackery, but shower caps are not limited to the bathroom. Cover leftovers with a fresh cap (right in their dishes) to keep bugs and unidentifiable particles from tainting food. They’re reusable and a helluva lot easier than repeatedly removing and replacing plastic wrap or tin foil.
9. Check if eggs are still (incredibly) edible. Gently place raw eggs in a bowl of cold water to see if they’ve gone bad. If the egg sinks to the bottom, it’s a-okay. If it floats the egg has seen better days. Over time, the liquid inside eggs evaporates through the porous shell, leaving a gas bubble inside. The floatier it is, the older it is.
Peeling, Pitting, and Removing
10. Easily scoop out squash seeds. Scoop seeds from vegetables such as squash and pumpkin with an ice cream scoop. Because the edge of the scoop is sharp, it cuts through the fibery, gooey stuff inside the squash easier than your hand or a regular spoon.
11. Never wrestle eggshell pieces again. Scoop up bits of broken eggshell from a batter or bowl of cracked eggs ready from scrambling with an already cracked egg. Gently ladle out the piece of shell with half of an eggshell. The shell acts as a magnet to draw up shell pieces without wasting too much egg.
12. Skim the fat. Remove excess fat from stocks, stews, and sauces by skimming a few ice cubes (wrapped in a paper towel or cheese cloth) along the surface of the liquid. The ice helps the fat solidify, making it easier to remove with a spoon or a piece of toast.
13. Separate yolks from whites. Separate eggs by gently squeezing a plastic water bottle over a cracked egg. When the bottle re-inflates with air, it will scoop the yolk right up. (Disclaimer: This method may take a little practice.)
14. Pit cherries with ease. Place cherries on top of an empty beer bottle, one at a time, and use a chopstick to push the pit into the bottle.
15. Pit stone fruits with a twist.
Pit stone fruits, such as plums and nectarines, by cutting them into two equal halves and twisting the halves in opposite directions. Use your thumb to pop out the pit (if your thumb doesn’t do the job, gently pry it out with a butter knife, or cut into quarters for easier separating).
17. Peel garlic the fuss-free way. Remove all cloves from the bulb then whack each clove with the side of a chef’s knife. The skin will fall right off.
18. Peel citrus fruits without the mess. If you’re like me, peeling an orange is a lengthy, difficult process. To avoid the mess and frustration, roll citrus fruits and/or microwave them for one minute for easy peeling (just be careful to not burn yourself).
19. De-skin potatoes without a peeler. Time to ditch the peeler again! Peel a potato in a snap by boiling it and then giving it an ice bath. The skins will separate from the potatoey center and you can pick them right off!
20. Flip that banana upside down. Ever had issues prying into a banana? You’re not alone. Instead of wasting precious banana by hacking into the fruit’s stem end with a knife, gently press the bottom together and peel the banana from the bottom up.
21. Peel boiled eggs in a big batch. Peel multiple hardboiled eggs at a time by shaking them in a lidded container. The eggs won’t be pretty, but they will be ready for an egg salad much quicker than traditional methods.
22. Make eggshell removal even easier. Add baking soda or vinegar to water when boiling eggs for easier shell removal. Both substances permeate the eggshells and help the albumen (that’s fancy speak for egg whites) separate from the shell.
23. Pit and peel an avocado with just one utensil. Cut an avocado into quarters length-wise to break the fruit from the pit (once it’s down to the last section, you can just pop the pit right off). Run a knife under the tip of skin on each section, then peel it off like a banana.
24. Hull strawberries. Use a straw to hull strawberries (it’s fate!). Press a straw through the bottom of a strawberry until it breaks through the top and takes the hull — or the white part of the center of the berry — with it. Remove any remaining leaves with your fingers
25. Make those citrus fruits even jucier. To get the most juice out of a lemon refrigerate then microwave it for 15-20 seconds. Bonus tips: Roll citrus fruits before squeezing, cut them lengthwise, and/or use a pair of tongs to squeeze instead of your own two hands.
26. Keep seeds from falling into citrus juice. Wrap citrus fruits in cheesecloth (or a clean stocking) for seed-free juice.
27. Remove pomegranate seeds (without dying your hands red). Cut a shallow cone into the flower end of the pomegranate then slice off the bottom of the fruit. Score the fruit along its natural ridges and pry each section apart to reveal the seeds.
28. De-kernel a cob of corn without your teeth. Use a bundt pan to slice corn kernels off the cob. Place the pointy end of the cob on the center hole of the pan (with the open part of the pan facing up) and gently slice downward. The pan acts double duty as both a stand and a kernel collector.
29. Measure sticky stuff without the mess. Coat a measuring cup or spoon with hot water or a dab of cooking oil (or spray) before measuring sticky substances such as molasses or honey. The heat or oil will help it slide right off and into a mixing bowl without leaving any behind.
30. Deal with hard-to-open jars. To open a stuck jar lid, wrap the lid with a rubber band and give it another try. The band will provide extra traction. If that’s still not enough (or your hands hurt too much), cover the rubberbanded top with a dishtowel, and try again.
31. Soften butter in a flash. Keeping butter out on the counter for an hour isn’t exactly ideal for a tight schedule. To speed up the process, grate it with a cheese grater or flatten it with a rolling pin (but put it in a plastic bag first) for spreadable, mixable butter in a pinch.
32. Soften butter faster (without a grater or rolling pin). If you’d rather not use one of the tips mentioned above, cut a stick of butter into about eight pieces. More surface area will allow the stick to soften more rapidly.
Photo by Perry Santanachote
33. Make your own buttermilk. To make buttermilk when there’s none of the real stuff in the fridge, add one tablespoon of vinegar or lemon juice to regular milk. The mixture won’t get as thick and creamy as buttermilk, but it will help create fluffy pancakes and quick breads just the same.
34. Cut cherry tomatoes in half all at once. Cut cherry or grape tomatoes in half with ease by placing them between two lids. Gently slice horizontally through the bunch of tomatoes while pressing down the top lid for perfectly halved tomatoes. What kind of lids, you ask? Anything works! Large yogurt container lids or Tupperware tops are two good options.
35. Stop onions from making you weep. To stop onion-induced tears freeze the onion before chopping. (Note: this trick only works if you’re planning to cook the onions later — otherwise, after the onion thaws out, the raw pieces will be a bit soggy!) Or if you want to look absolutely crazy when your housemate walks in, put a slice of bread in your mouth (partially sticking out) to absorb the irritant gas before it reaches the eyes.
36. Cut the (soft) cheese with ease. Cut soft cheeses such as brie and goat cheese with unflavored dental floss to avoid smooshing them. This trick also works for cake and cookie dough logs!
37. Make cheese grating easier and less messy. Before grating semisoft cheeses such as fontina and fresh mozzarella, freezing it for about 30 minutes beforehand.
38. Bring melted butter back to solid form. Revive over-softened butter by giving it an ice bath. Place the butter in a small bowl, and place the small bowl in a larger one filled with a few handfuls of ice and some cold water.
39. De-crystallize honey. Bring new life to crystallized honey by placing the container in a bowl of hot water for 5 to 10 minutes.
40. Make a perfect poached egg. To poach an egg that’s both tasty and aesthetically pleasing, use a metal mesh strainer to get rid of excess egg white. The strainer is also a great tool for gently lowering the egg into the water.
41. Prevent pots from boiling over. Prevent over boiling by placing a wooden spoon across a pot. Because wood is not a good material for conducting heat, the hot water strays away from the handle.
42. Cook a whole bird evenly. When cooking a whole turkey or chicken, ice the breast of the bird for even cooking. Since the dark thigh meat needs more time to cook than the white breast meat, chilling the breasts will promote even cooking. (Check out these other tips for making the perfect turkey.)
43. Don’t waste your time flipping. Now don’t flip out on us, but you don’t always have to flip your food. When roasting items such as French fries and veggies, pre-heating your cookie sheet eliminates the need to flip halfway through. This method isn’t suggested for baked goods like cookies (they wouldn’t look so pretty).
44. Cut brownies without the crumbs. There’s nothing worse than pulling out a pan of perfect-smelling brownies only to destroy the entire pan when it comes time to slice. For perfectly square, clean-cut brownies (or other bars) grease a baking pan, line it with two strips of parchment (one from left to right, one from front to back), and grease the parchment paper, too. Once cooked, let sit until cool to the touch. Once cooled, use the parchment paper edges to lift the brownies from the pan. Then slice with a serrated knife.
45. Use parchment paper if you’ve run out of muffin tin liners. No muffin liners? No problem! When you’ve run out of foil or paper muffin tin liners, use 5-inch squares of parchment paper instead. To help the paper stick better, spray the each well first. Then press the squares into each hole, folding the sides as needed to create flat walls. Plus, the makeshift liners look pretty darn fancy with those popped collars.
46. Foam milk without a frother. So maybe you don’t have a fancy-schmancy espresso machine with attached milk steamer. We can’t help you on the espresso front, but we can tell you how to get frothy, creamy, delicious milk foam on the cheap! All you need is a small jar with a lid. Fill the jar with a little milk (no more than halfway) and shake what your mama gave you (or your leftover jam jar) until the milk has doubled in size. Pop off the lid and microwave the milk for about 30 seconds.
47. Brew coffee without a coffee maker. Boil coffee in a pot of water (use the same amount of coffee and water you would for a coffee machine). Once the coffee is removed from the heat and the grounds have settled to the bottom (four or five minutes), ladle the coffee off the top of the pot into cups.
48. Give leftovers new life. Save the rice, pizza toppings, and grilled chicken. Instead of tossing leftovers in the trash, repurpose them into other meals like casseroles and frittatas.
49. Reheat pizza and other baked goods without drying them out. When reheating pizza or baked goods, place a cup of water in the microwave with it to add moisture to the air (therefore keeping the food from drying out).
50. Keep birthday cake fresh for days. Dug into a cake and didn’t finish the whole thing? Save cut-into cake from drying out by securing a slice of bread to the exposed portions with toothpicks. The bread holds in the cake’s moisture.
51. Reheat pasta in the microwave the right way. Reheating a giant blob of sauced spaghetti can get tricky — sizzling around the perimeter, ice cold in the middle. For even warming, shape leftover pasta into a donut (with a hole in the middle) on a plate.
52. Reheat bread in the microwave without producing hockey pucks. Much like number 49, the key to reheating already cooked foods is to add some moisture. When it comes to bread, set the microwave to a low power setting, and drape the rolls or buns with a moist paper towel.
Photo: Renee S. Suen
53. Chill wine and cocktails without diluting. Cool down a fresh glass of wine or a fancy cocktail by plopping a few frozen grapes in your glass.
54. Save fresh herbs for later use. Use an ice-cube tray or muffin tin to freeze fresh chopped herbs in water, olive oil, or stock for later use as a seasoning agent.
55. Steer clear of ice cream freezer burn. Place a piece of wax paper over ice cream before putting it back in the freezer. The barrier will help prevent freezer burn!
56. Easily cut meat into thin slices for stir-fries. Does your stir-fry ever really look the same as when you ordered take out? While the veggie part is easy, it’s tricky to produce thinly sliced chicken or beef. For a recipe that calls for thin slices, partially freeze meat before cutting it.
57. Extend nuts’ shelf life. Freeze shelled nuts to preserve their natural oils (which may go rancid at room temperature over time).
58. Cool down coffee without diluting it. Fill an ice cube tray with leftover coffee (cooled down to room temp) and let the cubes set in the freezer. The coffee cubes will keep an iced cup of Joe from becoming diluted. You can even customize the cubes by adding your favorite milk and sweetener.
59. Clean fruit and veggies without harsh chemicals. Scrub fresh produce with a mixture of baking soda and water to remove grit, grime, and pesticides.
60. Remove icky cooking smells from your hands. Neutralize garlic and onion smelling hands by rubbing them with lemon juice, baking soda, or stainless steel. Why stainless steel? When you touch the material, the molecules in the steel bind with the stinky-stanky causing molecules (such as sulfur from garlic).
61. Give the coffee grinder a clean new look. Coffee grinders don’t exactly get dirty, but grinds often clump inside the grinding well. To remove stuck on grinds, toss a few chunks of stale bread into the small appliance, pulse, then dump the crumbs. The coffee will stick to the bread!
Photo: Chiot's Run
62. Clean cast iron without causing rust. Scrubbing cast iron with soapy water is a no-no (it’ll strip away the seasoning on the pan built up from all those dishes). Instead, clean cast iron with a salt scrub to remove stuck on bits of food.
63. De-crust a microwave. Soak a sponge in water, pop it in the microwave, and let it cruise around the turntable for a minute. This double whammy hack loosens all that gross caked on stuff inside the microwave (making it easier to wipe away later) plus it helps disinfect the sponge, too!
64. Make an electric kettle glimmer. Lime scale often builds up on electric kettles, French presses, and other metal kitchen tools. To make them shimmer and shine like they’re brand new, scrub them with one part vinegar to one part water. If there are no electrical elements to what you’re cleaning, go ahead and soak the metal in the solution, or fill a kettle with the vinegar water and let it sit overnight.
65. Bring new life to wooden spoons. When wooden spoons don’t exactly look (or smell) like they used to, boil them in a pot of water and leave them lying in the sun to dry.
66. Keep wooden cutting boards looking new. Scrub a wooden cutting board with coarse salt and massage with half a lemon to clean away food particles and food smells. Rub the board with food grade mineral oil (find it at a hardware store) to condition the wood once a month.
KITCHEN ORGANIZATION AND SAFETY
67. Combat cross contamination.
Have two cutting boards — one for raw meat, one for everything else. It’ll help separate uncooked meat juices (ewie) from raw fruit and veggies, keeping you and your family safe from cross contamination. If you’re extra ambitious, purchase two different colored boards so there’s no confusion.
68. Keep recipes clean.
Display a recipe or cookbook from your kitchen cabinet with a pants hanger. It’ll keep the pages in sight and out of the line of oil splatters or counter spills. Laptop stands are another effective tool to elevate heavier cookbooks off your workspace.
69. Keep sponges dry.
Use a binder clip (upside down) to keep a kitchen sponge upright so it dries faster and stays ick-free for longer. Decreasing moisture in the sponge means germs, mold, and stink have less of a chance to build up.
70. Put an end to slippery cutting boards.
Place a damp (not sopping) dishtowel underneath a cutting board to keep it from slipping and sliding across the kitchen countertop.
71. Cover sharp edges.
When storing knifes in a drawer, pop a wine cork on the tip. It’ll keep the knife from jabbing wandering hands plus keep it from jostling around when a drawer is yanked open. The safest knife storage option is a block (which will also stave off blade dulling).
72. Keep knives sharp.
Store knives upside down in a countertop knife block (blades facing upward) to keep them from dulling. After chopping, transfer food to a pan or bowl using the back of a knife rather than drawing the blade across the cutting board, causing it to dull quicker. And remember kids, a sharp knife is a safer knife.
73. Learn to fight fires.
Before stopping, dropping, and rolling, sprinkle baking soda onto a small grease or electrical fire to extinguish the flames. When heated, baking soda releases carbon dioxide, which helps stifle the fire.
Any kitchen hacks we missed? C’mon there’s got to be something! Share with us in the comments below or tweet the author @nicmcdermott.