Maybe your New Year’s Resolution is to be more skilled in the kitchen, or at the very least, not burn anything too badly and have to resort to take out… again! It’s not all about the recipes you can whip up that make you a master in the kitchen, sometimes you can wow with hacks and tricks that will, in turn, make cooking quicker and easier – something we all want, so we can eat sooner!
Better your butter
If you are using butter in a recipe, there are a few ways to make it all a bit easier. For example, using a clean cheese grater on frozen butter will make it much simpler to work with when you are baking. This will also contribute to making your pastry better as grated flakes of butter will incorporate into the flour much easier and more evenly, meaning beautifully flaky pastry.
Quite often, you will need to soften or melt butter before use, and there are a few ways of doing this well. Softening butter doesn’t mean you have to use any sort of heating device, just a simple rolling pin will help do this and keep the flavor. If you need to melt the butter, whether it’s for baking or even just to spread on bread on a cold day, you can simply put a microwave-safe cup in the microwave, heat it up and place it upside down over the butter. This will soften it without melting it – perfect!
If you do accidentally melt butter rather than softening it, do not fear – it can be saved and returned back to its solid state! Just put a few ice cubes into the bowl of butter and stir for a minute or so. The butter should begin to solidify, and the ice cubes can be removed. This should work almost as well as correctly softened butter but will save you wasting a whole stick of butter.
Store it smarter
Rather than buying expensive spice jars, you can use empty Tic Tac containers, or even clean baby food jars. These are also ideal for travel or for using inside a motorhome, rather than carting your entire spice rack with you every time!
Cling film or plastic wrap is one of the most useful items you can have in your kitchen! For example, you can cover the inside of a bowl with it to avoid the stuck-on mess left behind by things such as batter and make washing up more straightforward. You can also use it to wrap around the stem of bananas which will slow down their ripening and, in the process, also slow the ripening of other fruit in your bowl, meaning tastier fruit for longer.
When it comes to storing ice cream (provided that you don’t eat it all in one go, somehow!), you may end up with tiny annoying ice crystals on the ice cream which tend to ruin the flavor. For this, if you stretch some plastic wrap across the top of the ice cream and seal by closing the lid, your delicious ice cream should be perfect and ready to eat when you next feel the urge!
If you use a lot of brown sugar, but struggle to keep it fresh and free of clumps, you can store it with a slice of bread to soak up any extra moisture and keep it ready to use at all times. You don’t have to worry about the bread going moldy either, as it will just dry up and become rock hard. If you do have brown sugar that has already gone hard but still need to use it in a pinch, you can soften it in the microwave for around 1 or 2 minutes, split into 30-second chunks to keep an eye on it and avoid it melting! Once you have softened the sugar, you need to use it ASAP as it will harden up again if left.
Pre-cutting food is a useful way to kickstart making a big meal such as a Sunday roast, but to avoid your sliced potatoes turning a revolting shade of brown, you can pop them in a bowl of water while you get on with the rest of your prep.
For quick and easy fuss-free cherry pit removal, you do not have to buy a fancy tool, you can simply use an icing tip – a star shaped one, or one with a serrated end is best. Pull the stem off and push the tip through the cherry, being sure to twist it a little to help it break through – et voila! The stone should come through the bottom in a matter of moments and leave the cherries still looking great, but pitless.
Another fruity tip is the best way to remove pomegranate seeds. They are a delicious fruit but so difficult and cumbersome to eat, so anything that makes this process easier is well welcomed in my eyes! Slice your pomegranate in half and push the center out a little to loosen the seeds. Hold above a bowl and give it a few hard thwacks on the back with a wooden spoon (this is also a great stress relief!). You should be left with a bowl of delicious seeds, an empty pomegranate and a big smile in less than a minute!
If your herbs are looking a little worse for wear and wilted, you can bring them back to life with just an ice bath! Remove the stems and get rid of any damaged leaves and place the rest, submerged in an ice bath until they start to perk back up and look much more refreshed! You can try this with fresh herbs such as mint, basil, and parsley.
When it comes to eggs, it can sometimes be hard to work out whether they are fresh and good to eat. The best way to tell is to fill a bowl with cold water and gently drop the egg in. It must be deep enough to tell whether the egg is floating or sinking as that is how you will be able to tell. If an egg is fresh, it will sink to the bottom and lay on its side. If it stands on a point but is still very much sinking, then it is okay to eat, but you should use it soon. If it floats to the top, you should throw it out as it has gone bad.
If you like to make fried eggs for breakfast but want to wow your guests, use a “ring” of red pepper to use as an edible mold which will keep the egg looking neat and add a delicious extra to your breakfast dish too!
Do you struggle with opening Pistachio nuts sometimes? If you utilize one-half of a discarded shell, you can place this in the gap between the shells of the closed nut and twist, you can prise it open, and it will save you a lot of time and sore fingers!
You don’t need to be Jamie Oliver to perfect these tricks and the more hacks like this that will save you time, effort and money in the kitchen, the better! Show off to your friends by holding a brunch or dinner party, and they’ll wonder just how you have done it!