Use This for That to Reduce Clutter and Save Money

Over the years I have been uniquely privileged to sit under the personal tutelage of world-famous gourmet cooks the likes of Julia Child, Christopher Kimball, Martin Yan, and Jacques Pepin.

Currently, I have standing appointments with Ina Garten, Ree Drummond, Molly Yeh, and Alton Brown. They come to my home and demonstrate every technique imaginable while I sit, front-row-center in front of the television. Or sometimes my coaches show up on my iPad right there on my kitchen counter, where they walk me step-by-step through recipes and techniques.

They’ve taught me the importance of three things: fresh ingredients, the right equipment, and a lot of practice. Which brings me to today’s topic: the right equipment.

We could go broke furnishing our kitchens with the ‘right equipment’ if we look to television cooks and professional chefs as examples—although I must say that the late Julia Child was the queen of using this-for-that. Recycle pantyhose to store onions, pick up a rolling pin or create a French baking oven with a single trip to HomeDepot. Just check out the photos in her classic tome, The Way to Cook. There are so many clever ways we can use this-for-that and still get the same results.



Also known as a double boiler, bain-marie technique means cooking over hot water instead of directly over the heat source. You can buy a beautiful copper-clad double boiler at Williams-Sonoma for $365—and spend the rest of your life polishing copper—or you can use what you have already:

This for that

Fill a small pot with about an inch of water and bring it to a boil; reduce the heat so the water is barely simmering. Place a metal bowl (or glass if you don’t have metal) about the same size as the pot on top to make a bain-marie. Make sure the bottom of the bowl is suspended above the water level itself before you proceed.

Pizza (Baking) Stone

A pizza sitting on top of a stove

Baking pizza or bread on stone produces excellent results. You can fork over a lot of money for the FibraMent-D oven baking stone or, you can take about $5 to your local floor tile or home improvement center and buy unglazed quarry (terracotta) tiles, which will do a fine job.

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This for that

You will want tiles that are at least ½-inch thick. That is a pretty standard size and shouldn’t be hard to find. If you have any concerns about there being lead in the tiles you will want to contact the manufacturer to be sure. As long as the materials are things like “all-natural clay and shale” you are good. Concrete is not a good choice. Some of the tiles at Home Depot are called Saltillo tiles or pavers. Other places have other names. Fireclay is a manufacturer that makes lead free tiles. You may also have some small, local manufacturers if you look around your area.

You can completely cover the shelves of your oven with tile and just leave it that way for all uses, or use one 16-inch square tile that you use for baking bread and pizza. At around $5 a tile, you’ll save a lot of dough.

Pastry Brushes

You can spend for a 3-piece pastry brush set from the kitchen department, or buy virtually the same set of paintbrushes online or in the home improvement aisle for half the price.

This for that

Artist-style brushes are handy for all kinds of uses in the kitchen. Use them to apply an egg wash or spread glaze on pastries before baking, coat bread with oil or melted butter, or baste meat with pan sauces or a marinade.

Pro tip: Designate your brushes for sweet or savory applications. Even when you wash them well by hand between use, you could still end up with a bit of garlicky flavor in your sweet pastry.

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Before you run out and buy every size of baking pan (8×8, 9×9, 9×13, 10×15) consider that you can probably use the size pan you have, provided you fill it correctly and you adjust the oven time and temperature accordingly. Regardless of the size of your pan, here are some filling guidelines:

  • Cakes and cupcakes: Fill no less than 1/2 and no more than 2/3 full.
  • Quick bread and muffins: Fill 2/3 full.
  • Casseroles and soufflés: Fill no more or less than 3/4- to 1-inch below the rim.
  • Pies: Fill almost to the top.

As for baking times, good cooks and bakers never rely on the times indicated in the recipe. They use them as guidelines, preferring to rely on visual indicators and doneness testers like inserting the blade of a knife into the center of a cake (if it comes out clean, the cake is done). And, when substituting a different size pan, one needs to be even less reliant on the printed guidelines as well.

Need more specific details? You will find a comprehensive Baking Pans Substitution Chart and details for how to measure a pan’s volume.


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8 replies
  1. Polly B Deal says:

    I keep my round stone in the oven except when I make something like a turkey. I noticed that when I took it out and started pre heating the oven, it took a lot less time. Coincidence? or does it take more time to preheat when the stone is in there? I do love biscuits cooked on the stone. I ruined one trying to cook raw chicken. It always smelled bad after that. Even tho the chicken cooked until fully done.

  2. PJ says:

    Be careful if using a glass bowl for the double boiler swap, not all glass is tempered for heat resistance and can crack if heated. I know this from experience. If you use a glass bowl make sure it is ‘oven proof’. Most Pyrex is, check the stamp on the bottom of the bowl to confirm. Also from experience, don’t use a pan that is just slightly smaller that the pan with the water, it will form a vacuum that will ‘bond’ the pans together. Lost two pans that way. Finally found a nice little double boiler at a garage sale for $5. It works great.

  3. Sabrina says:

    fizzy water and frozen apple juice conc. makes sparkling juice. Also, use potato peeler to zest oranges and all citruses. Peel in sparkling water for flavor. …Or boil with sugar for syrup to make pop. Roll boiled peel in sugar and dry to make candy at same time!!!

  4. Ms. Donna Parcel says:

    Mary, we don’t care for the end slices on a loaf of bread so I cut them in small cubes and save in a zip bag – I can make cheese and/or garlic croutons or when I need crumbs for a recipe I can grind them in a blender or a food processor — so much cheaper than buying croutons or bread crumbs.
    I’ve been reading and saving hints and recipes from your columns for around 20 years.
    Thank you,
    Donna Parcel

  5. Dr. Patricia Bloom says:

    We use the side of a wine bottle as a rolling pin, and the bottom to pound out meats.
    Request: Mary, could you or your readers come up with info to make flavors for the carbonated water used in Soda Stream devices? The flavors available are extremely expensive.
    Finally: I’ve been following you for years, probably since you sent out your first blog! Thank you so much for your invaluable research and assistance to folks like me. Beyond strictly financial issues, we are all “indebted” to you for your marvelous advice and encouragement.

    • PH says:

      I don’t have a Soda Stream but I use a carbonated beverage maker that uses CO2 cartridges. To flavor, I buy the bulk packs for “True” crystalized fruits (lemon, orange, grapefruit, etc.). The bulk pack is 500 packets but the cost is under 5 cents each. I buy CO2 cartridges in bulk as well (from Red Rock Distributing in Minnesota) and the bulk pricing comes in at less than 10 cents/cartridge. So, my cost for making fizzy water is 15 cents for 2 large servings.

      The metal CO2 cartridges are easily recyclable in my area.

      Hope that helps!

    • Sabrina says:

      fizzy water and frozen apple juice conc. makes sparkling juice. Also, use potato peeler to zest oranges and all citruses. Peel in sparkling water for flavor. …Or boil with sugar for syrup to make pop. Roll boiled peel in sugar and dry to make candy at same time!!!

    • Minnie Lanham says:

      I make lots of combination syrups. My most recent was organic hibiscus tea and organic elderberry that I placed in my instant pot for 5 mins. I then added honey and stored it in the refrigerator and add it to my SodaStream carbonated water.


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