Tips of the Week: Special Kitchen Hacks Edition

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Tips of the Week: Special Kitchen Hacks Edition

Tips of the Week is our weekly peek at some of the best making tips, tricks, and recommendations we’ve discovered in our travels. Check in every Friday to see what we’ve discovered. And we want to hear from you. Please share your tips, shortcuts, best practices, and tall shop tales in the comments below and we might use your tip in a future column.

This week I decided to do something a little different. I was watching a YouTube video on making perfect pancakes and I spotted a brilliant little tip in there: When melting butter for pancakes, don’t bother to dirty a sauce pan. Put the butter in a metal measuring cup and place it on the griddle (or skillet) that you are preheating and let the butter melt in the cup. Great idea! So, I posted this to my FB page and asked friends and associates to add their own kitchen tips, tricks, and best practices. I got a big response, with lots of great suggestions. Here’s a link to the whole thread with many more equally useful tips. Below are some of my favorites in the lot. Do you have any kitchen and cooking tips? Feel free to chime in down in the comment section below.

Vacuum Sealing Large Food Lots

Kate Kretz: “Invest in a vacuum packer. We buy large quantities of food at Costco (mostly our protein… fish, shrimp, chicken, red meat, if you eat it), and divide it up into meal-size portions, vacuum pack, and freeze. When you come home form work each day, submerge a package in cold water to thaw quickly, then cook dinner.”

This reminded me of an article we published here on Make: a few years back about using a manual air pump and regular Ziploc-type bags to create much cheaper vacuum sealed packages for your freezer.

Dishwashing Sponges

Bruce Dykes: “Have two sink sponges in circulation at a time, and keep one in the dishwasher. Swap one for the other after each time you run the washer so you always have a clean sponge on the sink.”

Bruce also writes: “When it comes to cheap kitchen appliances, the thrift store is your friend. George Foreman grills, bread machines, and those breakfast sandwich cookers are all readily available and cheap. In short, anything ‘As seen on TV.'”

[Above image from 30 Surprising Things You Can Clean in Your Dishwasher on PopSuagr.]

Making Extra for Tomorrow’s Meals

John Anderson offered a bunch of really wonderful tips. Here’s one: “Fry your leftover rice; don’t make fresh rice just to fry (aka as, “Why make fresh risotto to make into risotto balls, Ina Garten? Just make a crap load more risotto the first time and re-purpose the left overs!”) Ditto Twice-baked potatoes: If you plan to make baked potatoes one night, bake extra to re-bake the next night. All kinds of great foods are really just “things you do with leftovers.” So, if you make sauce for a lasagna (and eat lasagna with bread), double your sauce recipe. Whatever you don’t use in the lasagna, becomes pappa al pomodoro the next night, with your stale bread leftovers thrown in for good measure. (This doesn’t work with canned sauce… I mean it could, but life is too short for most of that crap.)”

Use a Julep Strainer

Lenore Edman: “The julep strainer from your bar kit is the perfect tool for straining lemon seeds out of lemon juice. It actually lets the juice through and doesn’t clog with pulp the way mesh strainers do.”

Nutmeg All the Things

My old friend Shevek Barnhart is a professional chef who own his own restaurant in Silver City, New Mexico. He writes: “A pinch of nutmeg in *all* recipes will pull the various ingredient flavors together and the end result will improve the taste of every item you cook or bake.

“Keep a thermometer in your refrigerator and freezer. Items in a -10F freezer will extend its life by double if wrapped properly. Your refrigerator should be at 34F for the freshest foods—no milk on the door for extended life, fruits and veg up top where its warmest and meats on the bottom where coldest and if the drip the blood won’t contaminate other items.”

No Need to Measure Water for Your Rice Cooker

I love my rice cooker, use it frequently, and will, from now on use Chris Combs’s great way to get the rice-to-water ratio correct without the need of measuring tools: “No need to measure water for your rice cooker. Just level out the rice and then touch the surface of the rice with a straightened pinky or index finger. Add water until it reaches your first knuckle. (About an inch above the rice.)”

Get Thee an Instant Pot

My friends Emily Smith and Clarissa Fetrow used this discussion as their opening to start singing the praises of the Instant Pot, an appliance (from Canada) that I’d never even heard of. After hearing of their experiences, and discovering that Clarissa even has a “sekrit” group on FB where Instant Pot cultists gather, exchange recipes, make sacrifices to their pressure-cooked gods, or whatever else they do in there, I am seriously intrigued and thinking of getting one.

Emily Smith: “It’s from Canada, eh? The pressure cooker feature is like a reverse slow cooker. It’s changed my life. And it’s super safe (I’ve always been a bit wary of pressure cookers). It has a “keep warm” function so your food can be cooked super fast and then you can leave it on all day so you don’t have to hover over the pot. Other features include saute’er, yogurt-maker, rice cooker, slow cooker, and more. Having so many features also means less clean-up (you can saute and pressure cook in the same pan). I can go on. I swear I have no affiliation with Instant Pot other than as an owner. They just came out with a new version that’s supposed to be better for canning. I have a few friends that have multiple Pots going at the same time. As soon as these things go “smart,” I’m jumping ship. I think we (I?) will look back at these days as the glory days of the Instant Pot.”

Clarissa Fetrow: “If I had a nickel for every time I proselytized about my Instant Pot, I’d have enough money to buy another one. (Actually I had two and gave one to my friend, but kept the liner.) Gareth, the future is Instant Pot.”

Tips from Caleb Kraft

Make:’s very own Caleb Kraft sent me the following, and I thought they were good enough to include all of them here:

  • When making something wooden for the kitchen (example: cutting boards), make sure to raise the grain with with water and sand it down a few times or it will raise as soon as someone starts using it, ruining your smooth finish.
  • If you need a turntable or lazy Susan in a pinch, many microwaves have a removable ring with wheels on it to assist turning the microwave table. Toss that underneath a plate and you’ve got a lazy Susan. perfect for icing a cake or even for photography.
  • Parchment wants to curl, but if you add a tiny dab of whatever dough you’re putting on it — under – each corner, it’ll hold the parchment in place. Even works on the bed of your chocolate 3D printer
  • If you put something stainless steel in the dishwasher, it will likely came out tarnished. Often, a scrubbing with white vinegar will remove that.
  • If your cutting board is slipping around, a damp washcloth underneath it will keep it still in a pinch.

And finally, as my friend Christos Liacouras points out:

“Every recipe is a song. Sometimes you want to play the classical arrangement, sometimes you want to play jazz.”

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Gareth Branwyn is a freelance writer and the former Editorial Director of Maker Media. He is the author or editor of over a dozen books on technology, DIY, and geek culture. He is currently a contributor to Boing Boing, Wink Books, and Wink Fun. His free weekly-ish maker tips newsletter can be found at

View more articles by Gareth Branwyn
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