Useful Tips

Peel Ginger with a Spoon

An image of a fresh ginger
Ginger can be tricky to peel with all its bumps and irregularities. Rather than using a paring knife or vegetable peeler, reach for the spoon. Scrape it against the skin and it'll come right off, following every contour and minimizing waste.

Storing Leftover Tomato Paste

Most recipes for pasta sauce and chili call for only a couple of tablespoons of tomato paste. If your paste comes in a tube, leftovers aren’t a problem. But if it’s in a can, don’t toss the remainder or let it dry out in the refrigerator.

Instead, freeze it in tablespoon-size portions in an ice-cube tray. Once they’re solid, transfer the cubes to a plastic freezer bag. Later add them directly to recipes—no need to thaw. Try this with chipotles in adobo and pesto, too.

Keep a Small Strainer for Citrus

Keeping a small handled-strainer in your tool crock next to the stove is a good idea so that you can quickly cut a lemon or lime in half and squeeze it directly through the strainer into the pot. Much easier than picking out seeds afterwards!

Peel a Potato in One Step

If you don't want to sit there peeling countless spuds just to get your mashed potato fix, you can use this simple method for peeling them in seconds. After boiling them, place them in a bowl of ice water for a few seconds. Then, just grab it with both hands, twist, and pull apart. The skin should slide right off.

Freeze as Flat as Possible

Freezer trick: freeze things flat and stack them. Whether it's soups, stews, or ground meat, the flatter and wider you can get them, the faster they'll freeze and defrost, which not only makes you more efficient, it also improves the quality of the

When freezing vegetables, cut them into pieces 1-inch or less and blanch any green vegetables. Place them on a large plate or sheet tray spaced apart from each other and freeze them solid before transferring to a plastic freezer bag and storing flat.

Defrost Meat on Aluminum Trays

The smartest way to defrost meat is to place it on an aluminum sheet tray or skillet. Aluminum is a great conductor of heat and will draw energy from the surrounding environment into your frozen meat much faster than a wooden cutting board or wood or stone countertop. You can cut defrosting times down by about 30 percent this way. It also works on soups, stews, and anything frozen flat.

Buy Pre-Peeled Garlic

An image of a Bottled peeled garlic
Bottled Garlic
Do you want to save time in cooking? Use pre-peeled garlic instead.

I find peeling garlic form a whole head to be a bit of a pain in the butt and usually can't be bothered. The pre-peeled stuff, so long as you buy it fresh, will last for weeks in the refrigerator and despite what some snooty chefs may tell you, it tastes just fine. Just make sure to buy it from a trusted store.

Use Small Strainer for Eggs

That same strainer can be used to make perfectly shaped poached eggs. How? Crack the eggs into the strainer over the sink and swirl them around gently to remove the excess watery white. What's left will be a tight, egg-shaped egg that poaches up clean.

Partially Freeze Meat Before Cutting

Slicing meat to grind or cook in a stir-fry can be tricky even with a sharp knife. To make it easier, place the meat in the freezer for 10 to 15 minutes to stiffen it up.

Keep Your Knives Sharp

Set of Knives hanging on a wall
Set of Knives
Having sharp knives is not only safer (your knife is less likely to slip off a vegetable and into your finger), but it just makes cooking so much more pleasurable when you can fly through your slicing, dicing, and chopping tasks.

Don't use those awful electric grinding machines which will strip off far more metal than is necessary, wearing your knife down and shortening its useful lifespan.

Even with a sharp knife, you'll want to hone the blade by stroking it across a steel to align any microscopic dings and bends before each use.

How to Blanch Vegetables

An image of Carrots and other vegetables on a plate
Want to preserve the bright color, the crunchy texture, and the nutrients of your vegetables without eating them raw? Blanching is the answer—and it’s fast and easy. Here’s how:

Bring a large pot of generously salted water to a vigorous boil; set a bowl of ice water next to the sink. Add the vegetables to the boiling water and cook, or “blanch,” until crisp-tender, about 45 seconds for smaller vegetables (green beans, snap peas, peas) and about 2 minutes for bigger ones (carrots, cauliflower, broccoli).

Drain; transfer the vegetables to the ice water to stop them from cooking (this is called “shocking”). Let cool completely. Drain, pat dry, and enjoy as crudités or in salads.

Store Greens and Herbs with a Damp Paper Towel

You can extend the lifespan of washed herbs and greens by several days by rolling them up in damp paper towels and placing them in zipper-lock bags with the seals left slightly open.

The paper towels will even give you a built-in freshness indicator. At the first hint of decay, you'll see darker spots of liquid forming on the paper towels. This is a good sign that you should use up your herbs and greens within a day or two.

For chopped or picked herbs, store them in a small deli container with a folded up damp paper towel on top of them.

Shredding Semisoft Cheese

An image of sliced cheese
Here’s another freezing tip.
Grating mozzarella, fontina, Havarti, and other semisoft cheeses can be messy and cumbersome. Make the task simpler by freezing the cheese until firm about 30 minutes before putting it to a box grater. The cheese will be easy to drag over the holes, and you’ll get long, elegant shreds.

Salt is Great but Don't Forget the Acid

Restaurant food tastes great because chefs season things with salt at every stage of the process.
But here's another secret: balancing acid is just as important as getting salt levels right when it comes to making things delicious. A squeeze of lemon juice in your sautéed vegetables will brighten them up. A dash of vinegar can alter your soup or stew from heavy and leaden to fresh and flavorful.
Keep several different types of acid on hand at all times—lemons, limes, sherry vinegar, red wine vinegar, rice wine vinegar, and white vinegar for starters—and use them judiciously when the occasion calls for it.

Use Egg Shells to Remove Egg Shells

An image of Egg Shells
Egg Shells
The empty half of an egg shell is the best tool to extract stubborn bits of cracked shells that have ended up in the bowl.

Use Tongs to Cooking Pretty Much Everything

Spatulas are awesome for anything that needs to be flipped or scraped, like eggs and pancakes. For everything else, tongs are the way to go. They’re much more nimble and less awkward to use, and you’ll find far fewer things jumping from your pan onto the floor. If you have non-stick cookware, be sure to use tongs with nylon tips. And always go for the 12-inchers.

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