Fast food runs, deli detours and a grocery carts loaded with pre-prepared food can drain a food budget faster than a houseful of hungry teenagers. The secret for slashing your family’s food bill is to cook at home. And the way to become confident in the kitchen is to learn a few strategic “trucs” of the trade.

Truc (rhymes with “fluke”) is a French word that means a “trick,” not as in a magic trick or illusion, but rather a shortcut, gimmick, secret or way to do something better, cheaper, easier and faster.

PERFECT RICE.  Sauté 1 cup rice in two tablespoons oil in a sauce pan over medium heat until the kernels are well coated and begin to turn bright white. Add 1 cup water. Bring to a boil, stir and reduce to simmer. Cover and cook for 10 minutes undisturbed. Remove from the heat (do not peek) and wait for 15 minutes. Fluff with a fork and serve. Multiplies well, use equal amounts of rice and water.

PERFECT BOILED POTATOES. Say goodby to mushy boiled potatoes that fall apart: Fill a pot with two parts water and one part vinegar. Add a dash of kosher salt and bring to a boil. Drop in the peeled potatoes and gently boil until desired doneness.

PERFECT CUPCAKES. To make rich, moist “gourmet” cupcakes skip the muffin tins and paper liners. Grease and flour heavy ovenproof porcelain coffee cups. Fill with your favorite cake or muffin batter to 2/3 full. Bake in preheated oven at 325 degrees F for 20-25 minutes. Allow to cool for a few minutes then invert the cups to pop out the cakes.

PERFECT OMELET PAN. Any skillet can become your perfect omelet pan. The secret is making sure the omelet will not stick. Pour some kosher salt into the skillet and rub vigorously the bottom and sides of the pan with a kitchen towel. The salt acts like an abrasive to put a fine polish on the skillet. Discard the salt and proceed.

TENDER MOIST CHICKEN. When cooking a whole chicken, chicken parts or boneless skinless breasts in liquid (braising, boiling or stewing) make sure it never comes to a full boil, not even for a few moments. Once you see that liquid starting to move, turn the heat down so it remains just below the boiling point. This is the secret to moist and tender chicken every time.

FRESH BASIL. To enjoy “fresh” basil all year long, wash, pat dry between towels and then pick off the unbruised leaves from the stems. Pack them in a jar and cover completely with olive oil. Close the lid tightly and refrigerate. Use the “fresh” basil as needed throughout the year, also the wonderful basil-flavored oil.

QUICK CHILL. Champagne, beer and whites wines are best served very cold, around 43 degrees F. That takes at least an hour in the refrigerator. But you can cut that time to 20 minutes or less: Fill an ice bucket half full with ice cubes. Pour in several cups of cold water and add 4 tablespoons of salt. Plunge the beverage bottle into the ice bucket, adding additional water and ice so the bucket is full. In 10-12 minutes the beverage will be cold, let stand for 20 minutes to reach the ideal 43 degrees. Cheers!

Do you have a great kitchen trick? Share it with us in the comments below.