There are certain small skills that make life better and easier. I’m well aware that many of them take place outside of the kitchen, and I probably don’t know as many of those as I should. I’m of no use if you have a flat tire or need to calculate the circumference of something or want to find your way out of the woods.
But after many years of clanking around in the kitchen, I have collected a fair arsenal of cooking tips and shortcuts. Here are a few that everyone should know:
HOW TO QUICKLY RIPEN AVOCADOS
If you have a hard avocado and you need it to be soft in a day or so, simply place it in a brown paper bag with a banana or apple and fold the top to close it up. The natural ethylene gases emitted by the other fruit will cause the avocado to ripen faster. Depending on how hard your avocado is, it might take a couple of days.
HOW TO MINCE GARLIC SUPER FINE
If you are using minced garlic in a dish, particularly a dish where the garlic is uncooked, big chunks are not what you are looking for. Just smash a clove or two (or five) with the side of a heavy knife, slip off the papery skin, and start chopping on a cutting board. As the garlic gets chopped, add a pinch or so of kosher or sea salt, and keep chopping. The salt acts as an abrasive so the garlic gets minced fine, finer, finest. Every once in a while, use the side of the knife to smear the garlic against the cutting board, then scrape it back up and keep mincing. You can hear the salt crunching under the blade as it works to pulverize the garlic.
HOW TO MAKE BUTTERMILK
Unless we are really planning ahead, when “buttermilk” comes up as in ingredient in a recipe, it’s unlikely most of us have it on hand. Easy solution: Make your own. Place 1 tablespoon lemon juice or white vinegar in a measuring cup and then fill it with milk to the 1 cup line. I like to use whole milk, but you can also use 2%. If you see slight curdling, don’t worry — it won’t affect the finished product. This may not be as thick as regular buttermilk, but the acidity in the milk will perform the same function — getting you to a tender, flaky and flavorful baked good.
HOW TO PEEL GINGER WITH A SPOON
Ginger’s skin is thin enough to be scraped off with the edge of a teaspoon. In fact, it’s easier to use a spoon than a vegetable peeler because the spoon can get into the crevices and navigate over the bumps more easily. Also, this means you can have even a very little kid help with this kitchen task, since they can’t nick themselves with a spoon.
HOW TO SOFTEN BROWN SUGAR
If you have a day or two, just place a piece of fresh bread in a container with the brown sugar, seal the container, and your brown sugar will soften right up. If you are in a hurry, place the brown sugar in a bowl, place a damp paper towel over it, cover the bowl with a plate and microwave it for 20 seconds. Check to see if it’s soft, and if not, continue microwaving in 20 second bursts until it is. Use it pretty quickly, and when you store any leftovers, make sure to put a piece of fresh bread in the container with the sugar.
HOW TO GET HONEY (OR MOLASSES, MAPLE SYRUP OR CORN SYRUP) OUT OF A MEASURING CUP
Anything sticky is just plain hard to measure. You pour it into the cup, or spoon, and then into your bowl or pot, and a thick coating is always left inside the measuring cup, drip drip dripping, but never fully getting out of the cup. The quick hack is cooking spray. Just spray the inside of the cup or measuring spoon with nonstick cooking spray, measure your sticky ingredient, and it will slide right out. Cleanup is easier, too!
Now I’m off to google “how to change a tire.”
Katie Workman has written two cookbooks focused on easy, family-friendly cooking, “Dinner Solved!” and “The Mom 100 Cookbook.” She blogs at http://www.themom100.com/about-katie-workman. She can be reached at Katie@themom100.com.