Here is a creative collection of kitchen hacks that spotlight my readers’ resourcefulness and intelligence in the kitchen and pantry. You’re about to learn more ways to make the most of your time and money. From clever tricks involving coffee filters, kitchen mallets, and shower caps (yes, shower caps!) to simple storage solutions for sugars and spices—get ready to take conventional wisdom to an unconventional level.
Fake a pastry brush
Can’t find your basting/pastry brush? Make one! Take a piece of parchment paper and fold it over and over until you end up with a small rectangle. Now with kitchen scissors, cut away the folds from one of the four edges then cut that side into fringe. Use it as a disposable makeshift brush.
DIY powdered sugar
You can make your own soft, fluffy powdered sugar using your spice grinder. Pour regular white granulated sugar into the grinder, close it up and pulverize. Takes only a few seconds. Prepare to be amazed! Pssst: You can also perform this hack in your blender on the machine’s highest speed.
Need to get dinner on the table quickly, but it’s going to be at least an hour in the oven for the meatloaf to cook. You can drop that time to 15 minutes when you pull out a muffin tin. Fill the compartments to make individual mini meatloaves. Bake at 450 F for 15 mins and dinner’s ready!
Ignore egg dates
There’s a goofy myth out there that insists eggs never go bad. They certainly do, but probably not as quickly as you might assume from the confusing dating information on the carton. Well, you can forget all of that and conduct this test instead: Place an egg in a glass of water. Good eggs sink; bad eggs float.
Butternut squash can be a bear to peel, seed, and cube. Here’s how to tame: Pop a whole butternut squash in the microwave and zap it for 2 to 3 minutes on High. Allow to cool so you can handle it without getting burned. And then wow … so much easier to quickly turn it into the cubes you need.
The best banana bread is made with super ripe bananas. So what to do if yours are still not ripe enough? Here’s the trick: Place a piece of parchment on a cookie tray or sheet pan. Lay the bananas to be ripened on the parchment—in their peels. Turn the oven on to 400 F. and place the sheet pan in right away so the bananas are in there as the oven preheats. When the skins turn shiny and black, bananas are ready—perfectly soft on the inside and ready for that banana bread recipe.
Add powdered milk to meatloaf, meatballs, and cookie recipes. It’s a good way to add calcium to your diet. Most kids won’t touch milk made from powder, but mixed into other foods they won’t know it’s there.
Need a cheap but effective way to clamp shut your chip bags, etc.? Buy a bag of clothespins at the dollar store. They make great chip clips!
No more flipping
Instead of flipping pancakes, bake them. Pour the batter into a lightly oiled sheet pan and bake at 400 F for 20 minutes. Cut that big pancake into squares for the adults and as an option, use animal-shaped cookie cutters for the kids. Now you can sit down with your family and enjoy breakfast.
Cone coffee filters
If you need cone filters for your coffeemaker, buy the cheap 500-for-a-dollar round coffee filters at the dollar store. Fold them in half and bend both corners in an inch or so to create a cone filter. It works great and costs a lot less than the cone-shaped filters.
Used coffee grinds can eliminate even the worst refrigerator odors. First, remove the offending item that’s gone bad and is stinking up the fridge. Then, take out the used coffee filter with the coffee grinds in it and place it in your refrigerator in an open container. You just might discover that this works better than baking soda or any other commercial remedy. Just replace the coffee grinds when they dry out.
Did you know you can freeze eggs? Use an ice cube tray and spray it with non-stick cooking spray. Break one egg into each compartment. Freeze. Once frozen, transfer them to a zip-type freezer bag. Do it quickly, so they don’t melt and stick together. Return the bag to the freezer. When you need an egg, grab a cube from the bag. This is especially useful if you can buy eggs in bulk.
If you do not have a frost-free freezer, do this the next time you defrost: Dry the interior walls well and then spray them with a light coating of non-stick cooking spray. This will not prevent frost from building up, but it will make it a lot easier to defrost because the ice and frost will slide off effortlessly.
Two loaves, one loaf pan
If you have only one loaf pan but need to bake two loaves of bread, do this: Set the loaf pan in the middle of a 9 x 13 cake pan. The space on either side of the loaf pan is a perfect size and shape for a loaf of bread. Pour about an inch of water into the loaf pan to create steam during the baking process, which is great for the bread.
No more ice crystals
Eliminate ice crystals on your ice cream by placing a piece of plastic wrap on the surface of the ice cream, pressing and carefully making sure there are no pockets of air between the wrap and the ice cream. Replace the lid. Now your ice cream will be perfect fresh down to the last bite.
Easy store, quick thaw
When hamburger is on sale, buy extra and then put one-pound portions into small freezer bags. Before closing, use your rolling on and flatten it out. Now seal it up and stack these in the freezer. When you need a pound, it will thaw quickly because it is so thin. These flattened bags stack nicely in the freezer, too.
Flat frozen food
If you freeze food in plastic bags, you may have a freezer filled with odd-shaped lumps of food that are difficult to organize. From now on, slip a zipped bag of food into an empty cereal box, placing the whole thing into the freezer. Now the food item will freeze into a neat shape. Once frozen, slide it out of the box. Stack your freezer’s contents like bricks. You’ll know what you have because you’ll be able to see everything, plus your freezer will operate more efficiently with less air space.
When loading silverware into that compartmentalized basket in the dishwasher, use one compartment for knives, one for forks, and so on. Place them alternating up and down, so they don’t “nest” together. This saves a lot of time when you’re putting the clean silverware away because you can just grab all of the knives, all of the forks, etc., quickly and efficiently.
To keep lettuce fresh longer, do this: Wash the lettuce, allow it to drain for a few minutes, and then place it in an airtight container or bag. Before you close it up, slip in a single paper towel. It will keep the lettuce fresh longer. It’s like magic!
The lightweight shower caps that hotels often leave for guests make perfect bowl covers for the refrigerator. They’re large enough to fit most large bowls but also adjust to the smaller ones. They’re easier to use than plastic wrap and reusable, too.
Take away the hassle of cooking rice fresh every time you want it for a meal. You can freeze cooked rice. So, make up a big batch; then pack it into smaller portions and freeze. When you’re ready, the exact-sized portion you want is waiting for you.
Real vanilla sugar (for coffee drinks or to sprinkle on cookies and other sweets) can be costly. Here’s a way to make a whole pound of vanilla sugar inexpensively: Place one whole vanilla bean and a pound of granulated sugar in a blender or food processor. Pulse until the bean is invisible and the sugar is a cream color. This keeps very well in a covered canister.
Fun with filters
Use coffee filters to make tea bags, coffee bags, and even aroma bags for the tub. Fill, fold, and staple the filter in the shape you need; usually, one staple will do, and then add string. It is not only practical but fun.
Kitchen mallets, used to pound meat and flatten chicken breasts, are a pain to clean because the food gets stuck in the mallet head’s grooves. Try a rubber mallet. You’ll find it works equally well. In fact, you can use it to whack garlic, too. A rubber mallet is easy to clean and fits nicely in your utensil container.
A great way to avoid cleaning out the dreaded leftovers in the refrigerator is to keep a leftover inventory. Place a dry erase board on the front of your fridge, and each time you put a leftover in the fridge, write it down. Include the date you put it in the fridge. Then, when you use that leftover, mark it off your list. You’ll save time and money.
Process with plastic
Place a sheet of plastic wrap on the top of your food processor’s bowl before applying the lid. When you remove it, all of the splatters will be confined to the bowl, and the lid will be spotless!
Instead of replacing your refrigerator with one the same size, consider purchasing a mini-fridge and a chest freezer. For a lot less than the price of a refrigerator, you can get exactly what you need: lots of freezer space plus some fridge space. For small families or singles, a full-size refrigerator can be a waste.
Sealed plastic bags
You can seal just about any plastic bag by placing a piece of aluminum foil over the end to be sealed and running a hot iron over the foil. Make sure you have foil on both sides of the plastic to be sealed, so it doesn’t stick to the ironing surface. No expensive sealing gadget required.
Love this kitchen hack! To keep brown sugar soft, store it in a wide-mouth jar. Place a slice of bread (the heel if possible) on top of the sugar and apply the lid. Leave it on the pantry shelf, and you’ll have beautiful soft brown sugar all the time. Amazingly, the bread does not mold. Replace the bread each time you open the jar.
Do you often end up with spices you use only once or twice before they go stale, lose flavor and have to be thrown out? Form a spice co-op with a friend or neighbor. Now, whenever either of you purchases a new spice, you can share half the container. You’ll both save money and end up with a great spice collection.
Tie into a bow
And now for perhaps the best kitchen hack of all time: To keep dry onions fresh for a long time, cut a leg from a pair of clean pantyhose. Slice open the toe and then tie it tightly with a piece of yarn into a bow (or use that plastic tab from a loaf of bread!) Now, drop an onion into the toe area and tie another yarn bow above it. Repeat until the leg is filled with onions. Hang it to allow the onions air space. When you need an onion, simply untie the bottom bow. This makes the pantyhose leg reusable.
Expanded and Updated: 2-28-22
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