When I first started getting into cooking in my early 20’s, it typically looked like a hurricane had swept through the kitchen. I knew I’d never be Martha Stewart but little by little, with practice, and thanks to things like Cook’s Illustrated and the Food Network, I started learning some useful methods to manage the madness. But it wasn’t until culinary school, when I worked in a cramped kitchen with fifteen other aspiring chefs, that I truly learned the meaning of efficiency. The chef instructors constantly surveyed our work areas to make sure they were pristine. In addition to cleanliness, the other mandate was to never let anything go to waste; that (almost) everything could be repurposed into something else.
With these themes in mind, I thought I’d share a few techniques that have helped me streamline. With summer in full swing, no one wants to spend hours slaving away in a hot kitchen, so here’s a compilation of some of my favorite tried and tested kitchen hacks to save time and get the most bang for your buck.
1. Trash Bowl.
I first learned about this one in culinary school and I know it doesn’t sound too fancy but I listed it first because as odd as it sounds, it’s probably made the biggest impact on my cooking routine. I use an inexpensive large metal mixing bowl but any old bowl or container will do. Set it up next to your cutting board and toss in any and all scraps as you prep your meal. I love it because it drastically reduces the amount of cleanup time and trips to the trash. Plus, it’s something everyone has on hand.
2. Microplane your garlic.
This tool gets a lot of love in our kitchen. When I first started cooking I used it exclusively for making lemon zest and grating spices but now I use it almost nightly as a stand in for mincing garlic (no need for a garlic press!) It works great for ginger too.
3. Dry erase board.
This is another favorite from culinary school. Keep a dry erase board (like this) on your refrigerator with a list of what’s in your fridge. So often I forget what I bought at the store (hello ADD) and this list helps me keep track of what’s in stock and also which ingredients should be used first. I divide my list into categories (herbs, produce, dairy etc.) but do whatever works for you. Another perk – it’s green! Think of all the time saved lingering in front of an open fridge door.
4. Save your cheese rinds.
Don’t toss your cheese rinds! Save them in a Ziploc bag in the fridge or freezer and add them to your next tomato sauce or homemade stock – they are fantastic flavor boosters! Because of its high umami factor, Parmesan works especially well, but any hard cheese rind will be a wonderful addition.
5. Wrap your herbs in paper towel.
Fresh herbs make everything better. Unfortunately, it can be a challenge to use them up before they spoil in the fridge. To significantly extend their shelf life, take a damp paper towel and gently wrap it around your herbs before storing them in a bag or container in the fridge. Replace every few days as needed. You will be amazed at how much longer they last!
6. Clean your coffee/herb grinder with rice.
I love my little coffee-turned-herb grinder (like this). If you don’t have one I highly recommend – they are inexpensive, under $20, and endlessly useful for blending up all sorts of herbs, spices and small batch items. The only challenge is cleaning them because the aroma of strong scented spices like cumin can really linger. To remedy this, add a few tablespoons of uncooked rice and grind until you can no longer detect any scent.
7. Freeze your wine.
Anyone who loves to cook can probably attest to the ongoing challenge of managing fridge space. I always like to keep some extra cooking wine on hand and found that freezing a batch in an ice tray is an easy way to make room on the shelf for more important things – like wine for drinking! It’s also handy because the ice trays partition the wine into individual portions.
8. Keep your cooking oil in a squeeze bottle.
Light, heat and air are the enemies of cooking oils. To minimize exposure, I pour about a week’s worth of oil into a BPA-free plastic squeeze bottle that I keep in a cupboard within arm’s reach of the stove. I keep the original bottles of oil in a dark cupboard on a low shelf on the far side of the kitchen away from the stove (i.e. the coolest part of the room) and refill the squeeze bottle as needed.
I hope these tips help save you a little time and energy in the kitchen and I always love to hear from you.
What are some of your go-to tips?