There’s a billion “kitchen hacks” list out there, most of which is “duh” stuff (which is why they like to make themselves sound more amazing than they are by saying there’s 100 of them). Few are practical.
When you’ve been around the block–er, kitchen a few times, you pick up some handy tips and tricks by accident or ancient elder lore. Some are frugal, some are practical, some you wonder why the heck have never made it into the general pool of knowledge. And all of these are Anne-tested-and-approved. Especially the cleaning ones, cause I love to cook, but I hate to clean.
Here’s some of my favorites:
Scrub with coarse salt and olive oil to remove cooking stink from your hands.
Do you dread chopping fresh onion and garlic cause your fingers will smell like that for days? Take a pinch of coarse salt and about a tsp of olive oil in the cup of your hand and scour before you wash them. It’s like magic!
For that matter, chop up and freeze the onion you don’t use.
Are you one of those people who needs a half an onion for one recipe, and the rest wilts or rots in your fridge? Why go through the hassle of chopping half an onion when you grit your teeth 30 seconds longer and chop all of it? Toss it in an airtight container in the freezer to use when you need a little cooked onion for flavor in soups or the ground beef destined for spaghetti sauce. Bonus: you then get your onion flavor anytime you need without stink or tears.
And don’t forget to chill your onions in the fridge before you use them.
Forget those lists of 50 ways to not cry while cutting onions. This is one is the best, easiest, most stupid-proof one to minimize tears. The only one you’ll ever need.
…Unless they’re green onions.
You can let the half a bunch of green onions you don’t need rot in your fridge, or you can put them on your windowsill with a little water until you’re ready to use them. They can stay there pretty indefinitely, all fresh and crisp, with the occasional feeding; if you put back the root tips, they’ll even regrow all year long. And if they grow faster than you can use them, snip the tops off, slice them up, and freeze them.
And save your other veggie peels and scraps. And juicer pulp.
Toss them in a bag in the freezer. I must have spent eleventy million dollars over the years on the boxed broths before I realized how easy it was to make vegetable stock with the stuff I was throwing away. Okay, maybe not eleventy million, but certainly enough to buy myself a new dishwasher to replace my cranky 20-year-old one. Store bought veggie stock is meh. Yours will be awesome, and more delicious than even chicken broth. But if you don’t use broth as much as I do, at least you can use this stuff to make chicken soup from the bones.
Eating ribs or hot wings? Serve them with a bowl of water with a small wedge of lemon in it.
Restaurants, take a hint: a small finger bowl is 3000%* more effective than 17 wet wipes*. The acid of lemon juice: it’s not just for tenderizing meat. It also breaks down sticky stuff. Vinegar will also do in a pinch, but it will smell like, well, vinegar. Which is still better than the smell of a wet wipe.
Speaking of dishwashers… leaving crap and spots? Use a little white vinegar as a rinse-aid.
Also a great, natural substitute for Jet-dry. You can interrupt your rinse cycle and pour a splash in, or add it to the dispenser. Bonus: it helps kill off dishwasher funk smell.
For that matter, use vinegar everywhere:
Add to your mop bucket for shinier tile floors. Wipe out your cabinets and fridge (see dishwasher funk, above). Use it on your sink. Use it to break down oily crud on the stove and descale your coffee maker.
Bleach: the magic sink refresher.
You could use an old toothbrush to scrub the gunge out from around the drain, OR! You can plug the sink, add a capful of bleach, and fill with super hot water. Ignore your sink for about 30 minutes, until it’s all shiny and sterilized, to boot.
Forget to chill the wine?
A lifesaver for all stressed wine-drinkers or dinner party emergencies: pour the bottle of wine into a Ziploc baggie, and run the baggie under cold tap water. Use a funnel (or an aerator) to return it to the bottle. Chilled, aerated wine in under 2 minutes.
Use a pillbox as your travelling spice rack for camping.
I’ve mentioned this one before, but it’s so awesome it bears repeating. Often.
Your dusty melon-baller is actually a super-hero in disguise.
I can’t remember the last time I used it for making melon balls. Probably never. Coring a halved apple or pear, on the other hand? ALL. THE. TIME. Winter is coming! And so is school-snack-making season. And apple season. You can also use it to seed a cucumber really quickly, although I do that even less frequently than using the melon-baller for its intended purpose.
And while you’re debating whether you need that gizmo… Get more storage in drawers.
When I moved houses, my old silverware organizer (by happy coincidence) happened to JUST fit in a new drawer with its edges sitting on top. Voila, drawer within a drawer. All my smaller, most-used stuff is on top and easy to find; lesser-used larger items below.
Save the jars!
Glass is non-reactive, microwave-safe, naturally BPA-and-other-plastic-chemical-free, leak-proof, and dishwasher safe all in one package–everything that virtually every other storage container is not. You also likely throw the ones you get for free from the grocery store in recycling instead of washing them and using them when more often than not, they’re some variation of standard mason jars (meaning you can buy new lids if you want). Use them for everything. Do you like taking soup to work? Store it in a marinara-sized jar and pop the lid off before you put it in the microwave.
Never leak soup anywhere. Again. Ever.
Cleaning wax, pesticides, and dirt from fruit.
Put waxy fruit in a bowl. Sprinkle baking soda over the top. Fill bowl with water. Ignore 2-3 minutes. Dump water and rub each piece of fruit under running water with your hands to scour it with the baking soda residue and wash it off. Peel less stuff.
Milk’s about to expire? Make cheese.
No joke. You can make fresh ricotta cheese with lemon juice and salt on your stovetop. Ricotta, unlike milk, freezes excellently for later use.
Cleaning a gross microwave.
Take one mug of water, and microwave it for 2:30 on high (or until the water boils really good). Throw a tea bag in the water when you’re done, and start wiping the microwave out. By the time your tea is done steeping, you’ll be done cleaning. Sit and enjoy tea time.
This last one’s probably my personal favorite.