We’re all cooking more than ever, but we’re also mentally, physically, and emotionally burnt out, and tired of eating the same pantry pasta 4 nights in a row. But, you can seriously improve your at-home meals with a few simple tweaks that aren’t master chef-level skills. In fact, all you need are a few game changing hacks that will give you more confidence in the kitchen and make cooking 53% easier.
We buy herbs with the best intentions to use them, but they wilt in most refrigerators. Store them in a jar with water like fresh flowers, and keep the jar in the fridge. Drape your green produce bag from the store (this will help you feel better about not bringing your own bags to the store, too) loosely over the top of them and they’ll stay in the fridge for up to two weeks. Fresh herbs level up any dish. You have my word.
Use kitchen shears (fancy word for scissors) to snip off basil directly into eggs, chives or parsley into salads, or to make your dish look more like the tv show you just watched. You don’t even have to get out your cutting board or get flustered trying to cut herbs with a dull knife (more on that later…).
This can be used for anything and everything and it’s my favorite way to “mince” garlic. Just use the microplane (which is a small grater) against a garlic clove, on the outside of your lemon to zest it, on your parmesan wedge for perfect, snowy consistency, on fresh spices like cinnamon or nutmeg, or even dark chocolate shavings for your morning coffee. I mean it takes seconds. Why not?
This is not a glamorous tip, but it is crucial. Let’s say we’re following a recipe for soup— most soups start the same way, sweating the aromatics (onion, garlic, herbs). Start by salting at this stage. When you add the next stage of ingredients, you salt them too. When you add the liquid stage, you salt that too. You see the pattern, right? You don’t just salt at the end; you salt throughout and it builds, making a huge difference in the overall flavor.
Also, you’re probably not salting your pasta water enough either. It should be like ocean water salty. A big huge claw of salt into that boiling pot of water before the pasta goes in to cook. This goes for other dishes too; salt more than you think.
Watching someone squeeze a lemon that’s cut in half horizontally irks me, maybe more than it should, and I will certainly look into that. But it’s nearly impossible to squeeze this way, especially if you’re actually trying to squeeze a rock-hard LIME. The lemon (or lime) needs to be cut like this: first, you slice “the cheeks” off of each long side of the lemon. Now you have 3 pieces to squeeze (2 cheeks, 1 middle with seeds). The cheeks are far easier to squeeze, have no seeds, and if you only need a tablespoon of juice, then you have 2 ready-to-go pieces of lemon to store in your fridge for future use or your glass of water.
A well-seasoned cast iron skillet is a kitchen game changer. To clean, do not add soap and water, just pour a good amount of kosher salt into your pan and rub it with a kitchen towel to get all the dirty bits off. Then you can wipe it out with a damp cloth. This will ensure a rust free, non-toxic, non-stick skillet that you will have for decades. Your scrambled egg mornings just became ultra-manageable.
You measure honey and then half of it gets stuck in the measuring cup, leaving you to hassle with scraping it out onto a spoon that it is now stuck on. Just spray your measure cup (or spoon) with a little olive oil spray and proceed. It glides out effortlessly.
Wilted greens. It happens. But you don’t need to throw them out. You can revive them in a bowl of cold water for about 15 minutes or slightly less. They magically pep up like they just enjoyed a good cryo session.
Maybe you’re not eating a lot of mangos, but it’s probably because you don’t know how to cut one. This is a favorite party trick, but it may be a bit difficult to describe, so bear with me. Slice the mango’s “cheeks” off (a mango has an oval pit in its center, so find the sides with more surface area to avoid that pit and slices those cheeks off of the mango). Then hold a mango cheek in one hand, and with a small drinking glass in the other hand, slide the glass into the mango flesh, separating it from its skin. Here’s a video in case I butchered that:
While that sentence certainly will go down as one of the grossest I’ve ever written, I can’t tell you how effective this hack is. Summer is coming and creamed corn is one of life’s most delicious pleasures— and the magic of its sweet, creaminess is in the corn itself. No need to add milk or cream. After you slice the corn kernels off the cob, take the back of your knife (carefully) or a spoon, and scrape down the cob to get the sweet milk from the kernel pockets. Add some good quality butter, a big claw of salt, and you have yourself creamed corn with essentially zero effort.
Dull knives are dangerous, and infuriating. This is THE MOST IMPERATIVE part of cooking, and why I saved it for last. A dull knife is commonplace, not sure why, when it can simply be remedied for under $100 bucks. Get a sharp knife, keep it sharp and your cooking will change instantly. Oh, and keep a damp dish towel under that cutting board to keep it from moving on ya.
We’re all salivating for our favorite spaghetti bolognese from that one place we love, but in the meantime, you got this.
Jenny is a writer, cooking coach, and host of Cliffs Notes Kitchen, where she shows how simple, bite-sized shifts with minimal effort, can create lasting changes in your health. You can find more of her articles here.