I grew up playing chef and cooking show as a kid, like a lot of my friends. I even starred in my first (and to date ONLY) cooking show at the tender age of 4 (local access “Cooking with Martha” in Stoughton, MA). I have loved the kitchen from an early age.
Despite my love of cooking I didn’t get a lot of kitchen time until I was an adult. The only trouble was, when I got married my passion for cooking far outweighed my skill. Not to be deterred, I started to teach myself everything I could about the fine art of food.
Looking back on the early days of Hamburger Helper and iceberg lettuce salads, I can say that I have come a VERY long way, and I can give most of the credit for my progress to the Food Network.
Say what? The Food Network?
100% Serious. It’s not just undercover restaurant shows and cooking competitions, my friends…oh no, there are some really great kitchen hack gems to be gleaned on the Food Network. You just have to know where to dig them out.
When we made the decision for me to stay home with my son after he was born my only request was “could we please get cable so I can have something to watch during the night when I am feeding the baby?”
So with some careful budgeting we picked the least expensive package that included the Food Network, and I embarked upon my midnight television cooking crash course.
And it worked…
In fact my husband said the day that I discovered Good Eats with Alton Brown is the day my cooking took a turn for the better.
After Alton Brown I sat under the virtual tutelage of Rachel Ray, Melissa D’Arabian, Iron Chef America (to date the only show that could MAKE me want to eat seafood), and Chopped to name a few.
Oh, and if you’re reading this Alton, any time you need a guest judge for Cutthroat Kitchen, I’m your woman, just give me a call!
I learned a lot of valuable kitchen hacks that have made my cooking more flavorful, quick, and less wasteful and I’m going to share those kitchen hacks with you!
10 Kitchen Hacks I Learned from the Food Network
1. Store nuts tightly sealed in the freezer.
Did you know that nuts go stale? I didn’t before I saw Rachel Ray grab a plastic container of walnuts out of her freezer during one episode of 30 Minute Meals.
Nuts are ridiculously expensive when you buy them in the tiny recipe portioned bags. It is much more cost effective to buy a larger amount and use them when you need them.
The trouble is, if you don’t use them quickly enough the oils in the nuts oxidize and start to taste “off”. Not what you want to have ruining your famous banana bread.
Bonus hack: Toast nuts before you use them to enhance their “nutty” flavor. Add nuts to a dry pan over low heat, stirring occasionally until you start to smell the aroma of toasted nuts. Once you smell them, remove them from the heat right away.
2. Use a bowl to collect your cooking garbage and then make only ONE trip to the trash can.
The garbage bowl, or GB as Rachel Ray affectionately named it, is a genius idea, and I’ve peeled many a carrot, potato, and apple over my $1 discount store plastic bowl.
Yes, I do know that I could technically drag my trash can over, but then I’d be leaning over the trashcan peeling. It’s just way more comfortable and convenient to use the garbage bowl at counter (and arm) level.
When you’re done, dump it once into your trash can, then toss the bowl into the dishwasher. Easy, peasy!
3. A sharp chef’s knife will replace a drawer full of uni-taskers.
I was introduced to the concept of “uni-taskers” by Alton Brown (who, incidentally, greatly dislikes them). A uni-tasker is something that has only one use, and otherwise clutters up a kitchen drawer.
A good quality, sharp chef’s knife can cut nearly everything in your kitchen much more quickly and with less clean up than a specialty gadget. So save your money on that egg slicer or onion chopper and reach for your knife block instead.
4. Any time you need your food to be cooked fast, enhance flavor, tenderize tough (or cheap) meat, or keep food moist grab a pressure cooker.
This little kitchen hack gem came to me courtesy of Iron Chef America (which coincidentally had the unfortunate side effect of making my husband hungry for restaurant quality food at 10 PM every single time).
I bought my first pressure cooker to make corned beef and cabbage, one of our family traditions, but really started to see the most benefits when I upgraded to an electric counter top pressure cooker. I don’t have to babysit that model and it has different settings for different types of food to maximize its performance.
Not only that, but modern electric pressure cookers have so many safety features that you never need to fear you’ll explode a pot of beans all over your kitchen.
This isn’t your momma’s pressure cooker!
I use my electric pressure cooker every day, sometimes multiple times a day, and it has made some of the most delicious meals I’ve eaten, all in a fraction of the time it would take on the stove top or in the oven. It enhances the flavors of food in a way that you really just have too taste to believe.
Bonus hack: Invest in a Bluetooth enabled electric pressure cooker to keep up with your food’s progress from your smartphone. Not joking!
5. Restaurants don’t throw away their leftovers, they re-purpose them!
Having never worked in the food service industry I never wondered what happened to the extra bread that was baked and not used during that evening’s dinner service. I never thought about the fact that every chicken carcass or beef joint was turned into something more, or that kitchen cuttings from carrots or celery might become part of the flavoring for a broth to be used the next day.
Restaurants are notoriously frugal and concerned with stretching the most bang for their food cost buck, and so here’s a few ideas that I learned that have served me well in my own kitchen:
- Turn leftover mashed potatoes into Potato Cheese Soup or add your leftover beef roast and turn them both into a savory Shepherd’s Pie.
- Make too much oatmeal? No sweat, Leftover Oatmeal Bread to the rescue!
- Collect leftover chicken bones (from whole chickens) and the trimmings from onions, carrots and celery in the freezer until you accumulate a gallon sized storage bag full. Then toss in a crock pot with some salt, peppercorns, and a bay leaf or two. Then cover with water, turn it on and come back in the evening to free chicken stock. (Or, get it done in 2 hours in a pressure cooker for deeply flavorful, gelatin rich stock.)
One of the coolest features of the internet is that you can just open up your favorite search engine and you can call up any recipe you like to re-purpose almost any leftover!
6. Cook once, eat twice!
If you’re a smaller family, or even a larger one, creating “intentional leftovers” to freeze is a genius way to avoid takeout on busy nights. So next time you’re making a lasagna, pasta sauce, or casserole, just make extra for the freezer.
Even when the meal you are making doesn’t freeze well, you can brown extra meat to freeze for quick meals later or chop extra veggies to grab from the fridge for another meal tomorrow.
It really doesn’t take that much more time to brown two pounds of beef than it does to brown one, and roasting two chickens lets you shred one for a quick meal from the freezer later.
Leverage your prep and cooking time to make another meal easier.
7. Need a small amount of a specialty ingredient? Buy it by the ounce at the deli counter or salad bar!
Need just four slices of bacon, or a handful of olives? It is often much less expensive to buy exactly the amount that you need by going to the deli counter or the salad bar.
Marinated artichokes, olives, baby corn, bean sprouts, specialty salamis, sausages, and cheeses are all fresher and less expensive when bought by the ounce instead of in a large package.
Why buy a larger amount just to let it go to waste in the fridge?
8. Onions don’t need to make you cry, do this instead.
So I know that some people have taken to wearing swim goggles when they cut onions, and I bet that actually does work. Truthfully, though, that’s just not my speed. Thankfully the solution is much simpler (and less of a fashion risk) than that.
Put your onions in the fridge overnight.
Something about the cold environment keeps the volatile fumes from being, well, quite so volatile. And so long as I remember to put an onion in the fridge before I need to cut it, it’s no more tears for me!
9. Don’t use soap and water on your cast iron.
If you’ve ever struggled with keeping your cast iron from sticking, then you’ve got a seasoning problem. And if you are anything like almost any American cook, you may have tried cleaning your nicely seasoned cast iron with gasp soap and water.
Believe it or not, that is actually the wrong way to clean cast iron. Soap will remove the protective and well loved “non-stick” nature of cast iron seasoning and turn your beautiful pan into a horrible mess.
The trick is to use kosher salt to clean your pan. Once it has cooled enough to handle, sprinkle some kosher salt inside the cast iron pan, then get a paper towel that you’ve dampened with some water and scrub away the food residue.
The salt cleans the pan while leaving the seasoning intact. Dry completely and add a thin layer of oil to the pan with a paper towel and you should be good to go!
10. Play Chopped in your own kitchen.
I’ve often wondered how I would fare on an episode of Chopped. The baskets of food they get surprised with sometimes seem do-able, other times seem impossible!
Whenever I see a basket, I like to come up with an idea of what I would do with those ingredients and, much to my amusement, sometimes that is exactly what one of the competitors actually does!
But back in real life it has been very useful to come up with creative ways to put together meals. For several years when my husband was in business for himself we had some very lean seasons where going to the grocery store was not really an option for several weeks at a time.
Luckily, careful shopping (and monthly commodity distributions) during the more prosperous times meant that we were able to pull together different ingredients and get creative to make it through. Some of our most unexpected successes came from “Chopped” style challenges in our own kitchen.
Thankfully our finances have improved greatly since those lean years, but we still try to see how long we can stretch going to the store and use up those foods that get shoved to the back of the fridge or back of the pantry. It’s a fun challenge and keeps us from wasting food we already have!
So there you have it, ten of my favorite kitchen hacks, all learned from late nights, up with my baby, watching Food Network!
What’s your favorite kitchen hack you’ve learned from food tv?