15 Kitchen Hacks To Make Cooking Easy
I’m just not sure about some of the words creeping into the culinary dictionary. Take “hack,” for instance. What does that mean exactly? I thought a hack was a dull, uninspiring journalist … not that I’ve ever been called one, at least not recently. When used as a verb, hacking is that thing hackers do to your computer to steal your identity. But now suddenly a hack is a good thing, a way to save you time or money or let you perform in the kitchen like a swashbuckling Iron Chef. I gotta say, it sounds like a good deal to me. I’m in.
So when I eventually hack my way to the kitchen, following are the tasty concoctions I will make, including the culinary hacks that get me there — hacks, I might add, that are anything but hackneyed.
My favourite hack is having homemade broth on hand. It takes time to simmer but is actually quite easy to make and is liquid gold in your freezer. In a pinch, I use good-quality, low-salt packaged chicken broth and freeze any leftover broth for later use. When making broth from scratch, be sure to chill strained broth in refrigerator overnight. The hardened layer of fat will be easy to remove. Find a myriad of chicken broth recipes online, but basically you just cook a whole chicken in water with a lot of veggies for about 3 to 4 hours.
Miso Soup: Bring broth to a boil. Whisk in a spoonful or two of miso paste. Add cubed tofu (I prefer firm). Simmer until heated through. Garnish with minced scallions. Serve with green tea or sake.
Cannellini Bean Soup: Bring broth to a boil. Stir in a can of drained cannellini beans and baby spinach or kale. Add a can of drained diced tomatoes. Season with salt and pepper. Simmer until heated through. Serve topped with homemade croutons or cooked crumbled bacon. Good with a Canadian beer.
Chopping Broccoli: When using broccoli crowns only, I freeze the stalks for soup. The soup is actually silkier without those little florets all over the place. Bring broth to a boil. Add a couple peeled and diced potatoes, sliced broccoli stems and chopped onion. Bring to a boil and simmer until vegetables are tender. Add some milk and shredded cheese, stirring until cheese melts. Purée in food processor. Serve topped with caramelized shallots. Serve with Sauvignon Blanc.
New York Spaghetti Sauce: It’s the butter that makes this sauce! Sauté a diced onion, minced garlic and sliced mushrooms in olive oil. Add a few tablespoons of tomato paste and 1 can San Marzano tomatoes with juice. Chop tomatoes right in the pot with scissors. Cook about 5 minutes. Add 1 cup chicken broth; bring to a boil and simmer, uncovered, 20 minutes. Add a handful of chopped fresh basil. Stir in 6 tbsp butter. Season with salt and pepper. Serve over fresh angel hair pasta and pour a Chianti. Freeze any leftover basil — or any fresh herbs for that matter — in olive oil in an ice cube tray.
This is a hack as old as time. In my mother’s day, good old store-bought Italian dressing was the marinade of choice but things have gotten fancier since the ’60s. Marinades add flavour and tenderize. As a rule, fish and seafood should be marinated for 1 hour. Meat and poultry can be marinated 4 hours or overnight.
Lemon Marinade: To get the most juice out of a lemon, roll it on the counter a few times. If you have leftover lemons, juice them, zest them and freeze both separately. In a medium saucepan, cook 2/3 cup extra virgin olive oil, zest of 1 lemon, 3 bay leaves, 3 rosemary sprigs and 1/2 tsp freshly ground pepper. Remove from heat; add 1/4 tsp kosher salt, 1/3 cup fresh lemon juice, 1/3 cup water. Great as a 1-hour marinade for fish or a 4-hour marinade for pork. Grill or roast. Serve with Riesling.
Sriracha Marinade: Stir together 1/2 cup low-sodium soy sauce, 1/4 cup rice vinegar, 1/4 cup brown sugar, 1 tbsp Sriracha sauce, 1 tbsp minced garlic. Pour over sliced beef tenderloin or other tender steak. Marinate 4 hours. Thread meat on skewers and broil or grill until medium-rare. Serve with Zinfandel.
If I have eggs in the kitchen, I’ve got dinner. From eggs benny to spaghetti carbonara, eggs are a most versatile and nutritious ingredient. There are so many kitchen hacks involving eggs that I’d need to write a book to include them all. The latest hack is draping fried eggs over everything from hearty beef steaks to ham sandwiches to delicate mesclun salads.
Cracking disaster: When cracking an egg, if a little bit of shell goes with it, scoop it out with the larger portion of cracked shell. Works like a magnet!
Poach: Poach eggs in disposable foil cupcake liners coated with non-stick spray. Place in skillet, add water so it’s even with eggs and poach, covered, over medium heat about 5 minutes or until set to desired consistency.
Bake: Bake eggs in the oven in a nest of creamed spinach. Make hollows and crack 1 egg into each hollow. Bake at 350˚F until eggs are set.
Hard boil: Cover eggs with water, bring to a boil and remove from heat. Cover and let sit 15 minutes. Peel under running water, pat dry, chop and toss with cooked potatoes or macaroni, minced celery, sweet pickles and red onion. Add mayo, salt, pepper and paprika. Or halve eggs and whip egg yolks with mayo, a dab of Dijon mustard and a pinch of salt. Stuff back into egg halves for devilled eggs.
Most egg dishes are great with Champagne or unoaked Chardonnay.
fast, fresh, easy
No matter how many hacks I learn, the most valuable hack will always be a recipe file of fast, fresh and easy entrées that make cooking a breeze. Here are a few of my favourites.
Couscous or Orzo Salad with Dates and Walnuts: Cook 1 cup couscous or orzo according to package directions. In medium bowl, mix 1/2 cup buttermilk, 2 tbsp mayo, 1 tsp cumin, 1 minced garlic clove, salt and pepper to taste. Stir in couscous or orzo. Divide mixture among 4 plates. Top with cooked sliced chicken, diced Medjool dates, chopped walnuts and minced scallions. Serve with Pinot Noir.
Baked Fish with Bread Crumbs: Whenever I make honey white bread in my bread maker, or any kind of bread for that matter, I turn the leftover stale bread into crumbs and freeze them. Spread halibut, snapper or flounder fillets with mayonnaise. Season bread crumbs with onion or celery salt, freshly ground pepper, garlic powder, Parmesan cheese, a pinch of dried herbs and paprika. Press onto fish. Bake at 425˚F until cooked through. Serve with Chenin Blanc.
Brown Butter Ravioli: In a saucepan, melt 1/2 cup unsalted butter over medium heat, swirling the pan occasionally. After the butter foams and has settled, the solids will begin to darken. When butter turns a caramel colour and has a nutty aroma, remove from heat. Pour over cooked cheese or beef ravioli. Serve with Chardonnay.
Coconut Chicken with Two Dipping Sauces: Dredge chicken fillets in flour, then beaten eggs, then a mixture of panko and unsweetened coconut. Place chicken in baking pan that has been coated with cooking spray. Bake at 450˚F until chicken is done, about 15 to 20 minutes. Make sweet and sour dipping sauce: In a medium saucepan, whisk 1 cup pineapple juice, 1/2 cup brown sugar, 1/3 cup water, 1/4 cup cider vinegar, 1 tbsp soy sauce, and 3 tbsp cornstarch. Can also add pineapple tidbits or crushed pineapple. Cook over medium heat, whisking constantly, until thick and bubbly. Make Sriracha mayonnaise: Stir together 1 tsp Sriracha sauce with 1/2 cup mayonnaise, 2 tsp rice vinegar and 2 tsp soy sauce. Serve with Gewürztraminer.
Speedy Shredded Pork: Rub 2 well-trimmed pork tenderloins with a mixture of 1 tsp chili powder, 1 tsp paprika and 1 tsp garlic powder. In large skillet, heat 1 tbsp canola oil. Add pork and cook over medium-high heat about 5 minutes per side or until cooked through. Remove from skillet, tent with foil and let rest 5 minutes. Using 2 forks, shred pork. Serve with barbecue sauce on toasted buns. Good with a craft beer.