We’re all busy, so time-saving tips are always welcome, especially in the kitchen! Anything that helps me save enough time so that I can cook regularly during the work-week is a good thing. There are also some little-known tips that help enrich the flavor of dishes. Here are a few of my favorite little kitchen secrets for your enjoyment and use. Please share some of your own!
For some reason, it took me until this past year to get a mini-chopper (thanks to my aunt and uncle, who actually bought off my Christmas list!). What a remarkable little tool! I use it whenever I need to chop more than a single onion, more than 3 or so chile peppers, more than 2-3 cloves of garlic….well, you get the idea. It’s easy to clean and chops in an instant!
Mise en Place
The concept of prepping all your cooking ingredients before starting to cook is a huge time saver. It means you don’t have to prep as you go, but rather everything is ready as you need it, which speeds the overall cooking process. I wrote a complete blog post on just this topic a few weeks ago, which can be found here.
Glace rather than canned broth
So many recipes call for beef, chicken or other kinds of broth, and most folks use canned, prepared broth because it’s what is most available. But most people don’t know the secret of glace – fresh, unsalted stock that is reduced 20-times to a near gel-like consistnecy. It’s sold in small or large containers and keeps for months at a time, and is easily reconstituted to make salt-free, fresh-tasting broth that enhances your dishes like you made the stock yourself. I prefer to the More than Gourmet brand, available in supermarkets and online.
The Garbage Bowl
This is one of those tricks that once you start using it, you’ll probably slap the side of your head and wonder why you haven’t been doing it for years. Rather than make a trip to the garbage can every chopping job, or inundating your garbage disposal with too many trimmings, simply put a medium-sized bowl on the countertop, and put all your discards in the bowl as you prep and cook (onion skins, carrot peels, empty vegetable bags, vegetable trimmings, meat trimmings, empty packages, rubber bands, etc.). When you’re done cooking or as the bowl fills, you can empty it in the garbage – and voila, easy, neat and more efficient. If you’d rather not dirty a bowl, use one of those empty vegetable bags instead, and throw it away along with the garbage!
Gloves for Chopping Chiles
This is a must-do for anyone who wears contacts and has to put their fingers in their eyes after chopping those spicy jalapenos, serranos or habaneros. It’s not a bad tip for any cook so that you don’t stick a fingertip coated with chile oil in your eye or touch any other sensitive part unintentionally. Just buy a pack of single-use latex gloves (make sure you get the powder-free variety) and you have a great tool on hand for keeping all that chile spice where it belongs. I buy mine at my local Walgreen’s (just $6 for a box of 50), but you can find them in just about any pharmacy store.
Sear Meat and Finish in the Oven
This is a great time-saving technique, particularly if you’re entertaining. Whether it’s chicken, steak or pork chops, you can sear the meat just until brown on the outside, then set it aside and finish it a la minute as you are ready to serve your meal. Even if you’re not preparing in advance, this is a pretty fail-safe cooking technique that produces beautifully cooked, tender and moist meat in a short amount of time. Preheat the oven to 500 degrees F. Heat oil (preferably peanut or grapeseed oil since they do well at high heat) in a skillet over high heat. When hot, add your steaks, chops, or whatever and cook until beautifully browned on one side, probably two minutes or less. Turn over, and do the same on the other side. Meat will still be raw in the middle. If you are cooking immediately, put the skillet (make sure it’s ovenproof!) right in the oven. If doing in advance, remove the meat to a baking sheet and leave alone until ready to cook for serving. Cook for about 8 minutes for a 1 1/2″ steak, about the same for a similar thickness pork chop, and about 10 minutes for a boneless chicken breast. Remove and let rest a few minutes, then serve!
Those are just a few of my favorite tips…more to come in future postings. What are your favorite kitchen secrets?