Not surprisingly, our home is much the same! We have a stencil on the kitchen wall that reads "The Gathering Place" and I love that the kids gravitate to the kitchen. We often joke that we have 2,200 square feet, but we all end up in the kitchen! It's where we eat, chat and sometimes dance. (Although, truth be told, there are times when I would rather be able to hide in the kitchen and have some peace and quiet!)
Seeing as I spend about half my day in the kitchen, I have learned a few little "tricks of the trade" that I thought I would pass on to you. These are all just little things that make a big difference in the ease of preparing food and also in the final result. They are not in any particular order ... just as they have come to mind:
- I use a "garbage bowl" when preparing meals. I got the idea from Rachel Ray. I have a red bowl I bought from Wal-Mart for $1 and I use it for all the scraps that I cut off, peel and trim from the meal's makings. It saves me multiple trips to the trashcan. We are considering composting and I'm sure that this will come in handy for that sorting, too.
- When I make steak fries (like tonight) I line the pan with aluminum foil before broiling the potatoes. This gives me a quick clean-up at the end of cooking: just roll it up and toss it away. This also works for breaded chicken.
- I prefer to use fresh garlic in my recipes. I think that there is a difference in flavor. I love my Pampered Chef garlic press. A day doesn't go by that it isn't in the dish drain :). I think that having stronger flavors in my food helps me to eat a bit less ... more flavor means less need to eat a lot because my mouth gets done from tasting!
- I have another Pampered Chef tool that I love. I use my little brown scraper all the time: scraping pans, counter tops and the left-over dough from the bowl after making bread. Saves me from gunking up the kitchen sponge.
- I love to use coarse salt in my recipes. It adds an extra little "pow" to any dish. I love when toasting french bread to sprinkle a little salt after the butter. Yum!
- A pair of kitchen scissors are essential when using herbs. It's a lot easier to use the shears to cut up the chives or basil right into the bowl in place of chopping them on a board.
- To make super light and fluffy scrambled eggs, add a teaspoon of water after whisking them. The added moisture keeps the eggs from drying out.
- Peruse the day-old bread cart at the grocery store for yummy breads that are perfect for french toast. It doesn't matter that it's a tad bit stale as the bread will be that much more thirsty for the egg batter. That is where I find really good raisin bread that I would never buy at full price, but at half-price, it's a meal! :)
- Before measuring out sticky ingredients, spray the measuring cup or spoon with just a little oil. The peanut butter or honey will slide right out. (I also us my Pampered Chef measure-all for sticky stuff, but sometimes this is still an easier clean-up.)
- After cooking meat, I pour the grease into an old aluminum can that I keep in the freezer. That is an easy way to dispose of the fat ... one solid mass. I confess that I have trouble remembering each week that it's in there and I currently have 3 different cans ... but it is easy! :)
- I like to use a squirt of fresh lime juice when making Mexican food. A little splash makes the meal taste so very fresh!
- Make your own home-made croutons. First get some day-old bread (see above) in a yummy flavor (sourdough, foccacia, garlic, etc.) and then cut it into cubes. Toss it in a bowl with some olive oil, salt and a little dried italian seasoning. Then spread the cubes out on a cookie sheet and put it in the oven at 225 degrees until they are dried out (20-minutes or so). Turn them a few times to brown all the sides. They taste so much better than store-bought!
- I have a pepper grinder that I use ... there is wonderful flavor in fresh cracked pepper. Little things like fresh pepper can change an entire recipe!
- When you are cooking veggies, to stop them for over-cooking and losing their color, drain them in a colander and then dump them in a bowl of water and ice cubes. This arrests the heat while keeping your green beans bright green. Then you can use them at room temperature or re-heat them a bit for a hot dish. They look so pretty when they are the right color!
- This is a tip from my mom: when serving a hot drink, fill the mugs with hot tap water before filling them with your drink of choice. This will keep your coffee/cocoa/tea hot longer ... and it's great to hold on these cool, fall mornings.
Well ... that's all that's coming to mind today :) I'm sure I will add some other tricks of the trade - you can look for additions from me and other readers by checking the extra page, "Tricks 'n' Tips", found to the left of this post. Let me know tricks what you have in your apron ...