20 incredible food and kitchen hacks
Cooking doesn’t have to be a chore. In fact, there are plenty of handy hacks which can help save you time and money. These are some of the best shortcuts and top tips I’ve picked up over the years which are guaranteed to make your life that little bit easier in the kitchen…
1. How to remove salmon skin with your finger
Forget what you’ve been taught. You don’t need a knife to remove the salmon skin; just your index finger. Simply peel away a bit of the salmon skin from the tail end, and then pull the skin towards you with your left hand while moving your right index finger side-to-side like a saw. With a little practice, this will produce a much cleaner cut and save on washing up!
2. A simple trick to make lemons last longer
You’ve probably heard about microwaving a lemon to extract more juice, but what do you do with the leftover lemon halves when you only need a teaspoon of juice? I used to find myself storing the leftovers in the fridge, only for the halves to go dry and hard really quick. One solution is to squeeze all the juice out and freeze in an ice cube tray, but I prefer to pierce the bottom of the fruit with a skewer and squeeze the juice out that way. Not only does it make it easier to zest for another recipe, but the small hole means oxygen can’t get into it, thus helping it stay fresh for longer.
3. Revive your herbs
Got some herbs which are on the turn? Don’t throw them away. Chop them up finely and place in an ice cube tray. Top up with water and you’ve got a readymade flavour bomb. You can do the same (minus the water) with leftover sauces and pestos, too.
4. Try the egg float test
You shouldn’t take any chances with eggs, but you can find out how fresh they are by submerging them in a bowl of cold water. If the egg sinks to the bottom and falls on its side, that means it’s very fresh. If the egg sinks to the bottom in an upright position, it’s still good to eat but should be used soon. Whereas if your egg floats to the top and is bobbling along the surface, throw it away immediately as it’s gone bad.
5. Stop crying over onions
Don’t put yourself through the pain of trying to peel a pack of fiddly shallots while your eyes are streaming. Instead, plunge them in a bowl of boiling hot water and leave for 5 minutes. Once cool enough to handle, pinch each shallot at its stem end and they should slip straight out of the skin. The same trick works for garlic.
6. Save any pickling juice
Once you’ve finished a jar of gherkins or pickled onions, don’t be tempted to throw away the liquid. You can reuse it to tenderise meat or to brine your own vegetables like carrots, radishes and cauliflower. It’s also a handy replacement for vinegar in recipes, too.
7. Caramelise onions in half the time
They taste great, but caramelised onions do take a while to cook and often you need to keep stirring them to stop the onions from catching. To half the cooking time, add a pinch of baking soda. I’m no science geek but apparently by raising the PH level of the onions, it speeds up the the Maillard reaction, which is responsible for the browning of sugars in food. It works brilliantly for white onions, but less so for red onions… unless you like the idea of eating GREEN onions!
8. Use up all your broccoli
Broccoli stems, in particular, are woefully underused but if you remove the tough outer skin, you can finely slice the rest and use in salads or stir fries. Often I’ll add them to your soffritto mix when making a bolognese, chilli or even a risotto and my dinner guests never know.
9. Make your own kale crisps
Kale remains a divisive ingredient but as well as being super cheap, it’s also a nutritional powerhouse. But rather than just boiling or steaming it, try making your own kale crisps. Simply coat your hands in a little oil and gently massage the leaves to coat. Season with salt, pepper and chilli or garlic flakes and roast in a hot oven for 6-8 minutes until crisp.
10. Don’t forget to score the skin
Whether you’re cooking a duck breast or sea bass fillet, meat and fish can easily shrink when pan-fry if you haven’t scored the skin beforehand. Another useful trick, especially when cooking fish, is to hold the fillet down when you place it in the pan for a good 10 seconds. This will stop the edges from curling upwards, which will ensure a more even cook.
11. Stop staining your storage containers
I’ve lost count how many storage containers I’ve stained with last night’s curry or chilli. I wish I realised then that if you wipe it clean with a combination of baking soda and water and let it sit for a couple of hours, any stubborn marks will be gone and the storage container will look as good as new.
12. Freeze your steak before slicing and cooking
If you’re making a beef stir fry and don’t want the meat to look all limp, stick it in the freezer for 20 minutes to firm up. You’ll be amazed at how easy it is to slice evenly.
13. Create your own vanilla sugar
This is probably my favourite hack and makes the most of vanilla pods which would normally end up in the bin. Once you’ve removed all the seeds, bury the empty pod in a jar full of sugar. Once infused, it creates the most delicious vanilla sugar which is great in coffee or on top of porridge.
14. Hull a strawberry using a plastic straw
I laughed when a friend mentioned they did this but it actually works. Starting at the tip, just push a plastic straw all the way through the strawberry and the stem will pop out the other side. Clever, hey?
15. Stop syrup or peanut butter sticking to the spoon
Some people (a lot of people) might like licking the spoon but there comes a point when it tastes a bit sickly. So, if a recipe demands peanut butter, maple syrup or honey, coat the spoon in a hot water or a flavourless oil first and it will slide right off.
16. Try nutritional yeast
If you’re thinking about going vegan but are worried about giving up certain foods, particularly cheese, you might want to jump on the nutritional yeast bandwagon. It doesn’t the sound the best but a small handful of these flakes adds a rich cheesiness to pasta dishes, risottos and enchiladas.
17. Don’t bin your bread
Please, please, please… never throw away bread. That’s what your freezer is for! But even if you’ve got a few slices or even a loaf which is going stale, you can easily make your own croutons or whip up a quick summer pudding.
18. Embrace overnight oats
Everyone has time for breakfast. If you know time is tight in the morning, plan ahead and make yourself some overnight oats the night before. It only takes a couple of minutes and it’s much healthier (and cheaper) than grabbing a pastry from Greggs!
Recipes to try…
19. Never throw out pasta water
The water might some redundant after you’ve cooked spaghetti but just adding a spoonful to your ragu or sauce will create a lovely, silky texture which will help the sauce to wrap around the pasta. Bellissimo!
20. Scrape the skin off ginger using the edge of a spoon
Don’t faff about with a knife, trying to get in-between all those nobbly bits. You’ll end up wasting half of it and wonder why you even bothered. Instead, use a spoon as your grater and you’ll peel all the skin off the ginger in next-to-no time.