Two years ago, I realized that I was broke and 40 pounds overweight. I decided to take on both issues by cutting out my fast food and microwave meal habits. My goal was to replace those bad habits with healthy eating and home cooking.
The only problem was that I didn’t know how to cook. Fortunately, I had three things to help me through, internet access, a library card, and cable. Today, I love to cook, and I’ve learned 14 smart kitchen hacks along the way.
If you’ve been shoving your knives into a drawer, or sticking them down inside one of those wooden butcher blocks, you are literally ruining them. Instead, mount a magnet strip on your wall and attach your knife to those. Just be careful when you pull one down to use. Grab the handle and rotate the knife so that the blade comes away from the magnet first. This will prevent the blade from going dull as it rubs against the strip.
You know that slightly tacky shelf liner that you put in your cabinets. Keep a few pieces of that around so that you can safely cut meat and produce without worrying about your cutting board slipping against the smooth surface of your counter. If you don’t have shelf paper on hand, a damp hand towel that has been rung out very well is a pretty decent substitute.
You know those ‘cutlery sets’ that always go on sale at your local big box store? Steer clear. The worst ones are flimsy and dangerous. The best are barely mediocre. Instead, learn about different types of knives, what they can do, and which ones that you need. I survived for more than five years with a paring knife and a decent chef’s knife. The key is to buy the best quality that you can afford, keep them clean (but never in the dishwasher), keep them honed, and to get them professionally sharpened.
If you want to skimp on price in the kitchen, cutting boards are one area where you can get away with that. Go to your local restaurant supply store, and buy loads of inexpensive cutting boards. Then, color code them to avoid cross contamination.
Think about it. If you have a designated board for seafood, poultry, meat, and vegetables you significantly lower the likelihood that any food that isn’t going to be thoroughly cooked comes into contact with something unsafe.
It doesn’t matter how busy you are. It doesn’t matter how convenient fast food is. There is no reason not to cook real food every single day. Also, no it doesn’t cost too much to do so. Your best tool in your fight to save money, and ensure that you have a healthy meal waiting for you each night is your slow cooker. If you can throw some protein and vegetables into a crockpot along with some seasonings, you can home to a delicious meal that is waiting for you. I invested a little money in a programmable slow cooker, found at AllKitchenFind and cannot imagine life without it.
Yes, it might be a little bit annoying that everybody is instagramming their food, and that people who are entirely unqualified to speak on the topic of culinary arts is suddenly a food blogger. However, the truth is that there are tons of great blogs related to all styles of cooking. Even better, there are still great instructional cooking shows.
Are you interested in following some great foodie blogs and shows?
- Budget Bytes
- Serious Eats
- The Minimalist Baker
- Good Eats!
- America’s Test Kitchen
- Taste With David Rosengarten
- Two Fat Ladies
- Molto Mario
- Two Hot Tamales
- Anything by Julia Child
It might be difficult to find some of these shows. Availability is sporadic on Hulu and Netflix. If you can get a copy of a few DVDs at your local library or find episodes on YouTube, there is so much great information for aspiring cooks.
Most spices contain oils. When stored for long periods of time, they can become rancid. Even if they do not become rancid, they do become stale and flavorless. If you’ve ever added a particular spice to a recipe and tasted little or nothing as a result, you’ve probably used an old spice. The trick is to avoid buying those big shakers of spices from your grocery store. Instead, plan your menus as best you can. Then, get your spices from the bulk bins. Even better, shop for spices in a store that specializes in international cuisines. Trust me. The garam masala that you pick up from your local Indian grocer will be much better than what you find at your grocery super store.
Shaking salt onto food at the last minute is no substitute for proper seasoning and tasting throughout the cooking process. Remember that salt is a flavor enhancer. It makes food taste better. That’s why salt even has a place in desserts. If you’ve ever had a meal in a restaurant that tasted salty, but not particularly flavorful, there is a good chance that the chef shook some salt onto the food at the last minute, but didn’t use salt while they were cooking. Now, this doesn’t mean that salting at the end is bad. Deep fried foods and many grilled proteins, love a bit of salt to finish them off. Just be sure to make smart choices about buying and using salt.
When you start shopping, scope out the produce section and the meat/seafood section to see what is on sale. Once you have identified some items that are inexpensive and tasty, it’s time to get creative. For example, let’s say that you walked through the deli department and found rotisserie chickens on sale. So, you grab a few. Your next step is to find ways to maximize your ingredient. In this case, the hot rotisserie chicken makes a great roast chicken dinner with a bit of salad. Now it’s time to think about what to do next. Shredded chicken thighs are great in soups and casseroles. Bones can be cooked down and turned into stock. Other leftovers can be used for quesadillas, sandwiches, and even fried rice.
Assuming that your local grocery store is configured like most other grocery stores, remember that the perimeter tends to be where the healthy food is. Fruits, vegetables, meat, and dairy products tend to get stocked on the outside walls. The more processed foods tend to be in the aisles. There are a few exceptions to this rule. Dried and canned beans are found in the middle aisles along with quinoa and brown rice. In general, though, the good stuff is on can be found if you make a wide circle.
There are so many reasons to visit your local farmers market. First and foremost, you are encouraging local agriculture and that is insanely important. You can also save loads of money on local produce. Not convinced? Try visiting your farmer’s market just before closing time. In many cases, it costs the vendors too much money to take the produce back home with them. I’ve paid two dollars for watermelons that would have normally sold for twice that rate.
Learn to read recipes. Know the ingredients that you need. Then, measure them out ahead of time. Have you ever watched a cooking show and noticed that the cook had their ingredients all set up and lined up? That is mis en place. It’s a great way to be sure that you have everything you need at your fingertips while you are in the middle of cooking. I even took the time to invest in some of those little glass ramekins to hold eggs and chopped vegetables.
Don’t wait until the very end to start cleaning up after yourself while you are cooking. Instead, clean up a little bit at a time while you are working. For example, if you are done using a knife, wash it, dry it, and hang it up again. The same applies with prep utensils, and work surfaces. Wipe them down and put them in the sink or dishwasher ASAP. When you are done eating, the only things left to clean should be plates, silverware, and cookware.
If you are cooking your food at temperatures under 400 degrees, you might be inviting blandness into your home. For years, I never really understood what the big deal about roast chicken was. That’s because I was following a recipe that was full of bad advice. I was cooking my chicken at 375 degrees for 30 minutes a pound. It wasn’t bad. There was just no crispy, caramelized skin and the meat was always a bit dry. Then, I learned to do two things. The first was that I started cooking chicken at a higher temperature, at least 400 degrees. The second was that I started to use a cooking thermometer to measure doneness instead of a time. The result, crispy, juicy chicken that’s caramelized and flavorful. This technique works well when roasting other meats as well, and vegetables.
Once I started to apply these techniques, I really began enjoying the process of cooking for myself. Even better, I started looking forward to eating healthy, satisfying meals at home instead of constantly going out to eat or relying on food I could chuck into the microwave.