Kitchen Tricks and Tips From Our Expert Cooks
How to Prevent Food From Sticking
Love the sear of a stainless skillet but not the way peppers can start to meld to the bottom midway through cooking? A little more oil should help. But don’t just pour it over the top of the food or you’ll end up with a greasy, soggy mess. Instead, use a metal spatula to loosen the vegetables or meat and push them to one side of the skillet. Then tilt the pan so the empty area is over the heat. Add the oil to the empty area (1 or 2 tablespoons should do it) and let it get hot before moving the food back. The heated oil on the hot pan will create a slick, nonstick surface, guaranteeing a surefire sauté.
Reviving Crystallized Honey
Try this trick to bring honey back to a luscious, drizzly state: Place the container in a bowl of hot water until the honey is smooth and runny, 5 to 10 minutes. (Alternatively, remove the lid, then microwave the jar in 30-second intervals.) To prevent crystals from forming again, store the honey in a cool, dry place (not the refrigerator) and avoid introducing moisture. So no double-dipping once your spoon hits your tea.
Cutting Roly-Poly Vegetables Safely
To keep your fingers safe from nicks, use the following technique on wobbly vegetables (such as potatoes, squash, and beets).
Step 1: With a sharp knife, cut a thin slice along the length of the potato (or another vegetable) to create a flat side.
Step 2: Turn the potato cut-side down on the cutting board. This will ensure that the potato is stable and won’t roll away. Slice as desired, stopping when the potato becomes unsteady and difficult to grip.
Step 3: Turn the potato so that the broad, flat side from which you made the last cut is facedown on the cutting board. Continue to slice as desired.
How to Make Simple Syrup
Want to sweeten your lemonade or iced tea? Don’t reach for the sugar bowl. You’ll get a better result—no sandy granules at the bottom of the glass—if you mix up a batch of simple syrup instead. Just combine 1 cup water with 1 cup sugar in a small saucepan and cook over medium heat, stirring often, until the sugar has completely dissolved, 3 to 5 minutes. Let it cool and add to beverages as needed. (Use 1½ teaspoons of simple syrup for every teaspoon of sugar you would usually use.) Store the syrup in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.
Keeping Crudités Fresh
There’s nothing inviting about a platter of limp broccoli florets and dried-out carrot sticks, so use this strategy to keep cut-up produce crisp and bright for up to 12 hours: Cover everything with a layer of damp paper towels, then wrap the platter in plastic wrap and refrigerate until the start of the party (a.k.a. crunch time).
How to Grill Corn
It’s hard to beat the smoky-sweet flavor of fresh corn cooked on a grill. Here’s how to do it.
Step 1. Pull the husks back from the corn, but leave them attached at the stem. Remove and discard the silks.
Step 2. Pull the husks back up around the corn. Soak the ears in a roasting pan or large bowl full of water for 15 minutes. (The water will prevent the husks from burning.
Step 3: Grill the corn over medium heat, turning often, until the kernels are tender and the husks are lightly charred, 8 to 10 minutes.
Trimming Green Beans in a Snap
Sitting with a bushel of beans and carefully pinching the ends off each one can be quite relaxing—if you’re sitting on a porch swing on a lazy afternoon. But if you have a cluttered countertop and 15 minutes until dinner, try this technique instead.
Step 1. Line up the stems. The beans’ tough, knobby ends need to go, but the other ends (the skinny, tapered tips) are tender and perfectly fine to eat. Sort the beans so that the stems all face one direction. Scoot a handful against your palm so that they’re even.
Step 2. Using a chef’s knife, cut off the knobby ends with one slice.
Making Stronger Iced Coffee and Tea
All too often, iced brews concocted at home are weak and watery—a total buzzkill. That’s because simply mixing your regular coffee or tea with ice dilutes its intensity. Fortunately, it’s easy to give your drink more muscle: Make it double-strength. For coffee, use ¼ cup ground beans for every cup of water; for tea, use 2 tea bags for every cup of water. Then chill, pour over ice, and get your day off the ground right.
Mastering Whipped Cream
Getting soft peaks—and not going too far (oops, butter!)—is easy if you use these three tips.
1. Start with the right ingredients. For fluffy, stable whipped cream, use cartons labeled “heavy cream,” “whipping cream,” or “heavy whipping cream.” (Save the light cream for coffee.) For sweetness, add 2 tablespoons granulated sugar per cup of cream before beating.
2. Watch carefeully. In a chilled bowl, with an electric mixer on high, beat chilled cream and sugar until the beaters leave visible lines when drawn across the cream. Reduce mixer speed to medium-low and continue to beat until soft peaks form. (When you hold up the beaters, the cream should stand up, then flop over.)
3. If you do overwhip, don’t panic. Add a splash of fresh, unwhipped cream to the curdled lumps and fold it in with a rubber spatula. Repeat as needed until the mixture smooths out.
A Cleaner Way to Crack an Egg
When you tap an egg on the edge of a bowl, you don’t break just the shell. The thin membrane surrounding the white and the yolk also ruptures, so tiny shell shards can mix with the liquid and end up in your finished dish. (Worst omelet ingredient ever.) Instead, crack the egg on a flat surface, like a counter, to create one clean break. That way, the membrane stays intact, meaning no shell in your scramble.
Step 1: Hold the egg in one hand and tap it firmly on a hard surface.
Step 2: Check the break: You should see an indentation and one side-to-side crack, like an equator.
Step 3: Place your thumbs on either side of the crack and gently pull the shell apart. Any shards will stick to the membrane, not fall into the bowl.
Taking Your Oven’s Temperature
Ovens can lie. Yours may say 350° F, but your last batch of brownies was squishy even though you followed the baking time. What gives? After a while, ovens may lose accuracy, running up to 25 degrees too hot or cool. To test yours, place an oven-safe thermometer on the middle rack and heat the oven to 300° F; when the oven indicates it has reached that temperature, check the thermometer. If it reads 275° F, you’ll know that you need to set the temperature 25 degrees higher. Or seek a permanent fix by calling a repairman recommended by the manufacturer.
How to Chop Garlic
No more struggling with sticky, paper-thin peels. With these three steps—trim, crush, chop— you can prep a clove in no time.
Step 1: Trim. Use the tip of a chef’s knife to slice off the hard root of each clove. This will allow the skin to peel away more easily.
Step 2: Crush. Place a clove under the flat side of the knife, with the blade facing away from you. Press the heel of your palm or your fist down on the knife until you feel the clove give way. Slip off and discard the skin.
Step 3: Chop. Gather together the peeled cloves, hold your knife by the handle, and place your other, nondominant hand on top of the blade. Rock the knife up and down through the cloves (the tip stays on the cutting board). Chop until the garlic is the size you desire.
Removing Salmon Bones
Before salmon fillets make it into the supermarket seafood case, the fishmonger has taken out the backbone and the ribs. But he doesn’t always catch the thin, soft pin bones that “float” in the flesh. Here’s a quick way to remove them at home.
Step 1: Run your index finger along the center seam of the fillet, going against the grain. If there are any pin bones present, you’ll feel them protruding at about half-inch intervals.
Step 2: With clean tweezers, grasp the tip of the bone and tug, pulling at a slight angle instead of up and out (pin bones grow slanted toward the fish’s head). Repeat as necessary.
Prettier Slaws (Chop-Chop)
Sure, your food processor is a whiz at grating vegetables…into short, stubby pieces. The next time you pull it out to make a slaw or a salad, try this trick for creating slender, elegant strands: Cut carrots, broccoli, or apples into pieces the same width as the feed tube (about 4 to 5 inches, usually). Then, instead of feeding them into the tube vertically, stack them on their sides.
Multitasking Sheet Pans
Measuring a trim 9 by 13 inches, quarter-sheet pans—sometimes called “small jelly-roll pans”—are handy for roasting foods with different cooking times. (Two sheets fit side by side in an oven.) Look at what else they’re great for.
1. Corralling Recipe Ingredients
Want someone else to start dinner? Gather meat, vegetables, and other perishables the recipe calls for on a quarter-sheet pan in the refrigerator to make it easy on your kitchen assistant.
2. Catching Drips in the Oven
To hold the oozy overflow of mini potpies, baked pastas, French onion soup, and fruit crisps, cook them on a quarter-sheet pan. You’ll keep the oven floor clean and leave space on the oven rack for the rest of the meal.
3. Making Deep-Dish Pizza
You don’t need a special pan to cook a great Chicago-style pie. Lightly oil the interior of a quarter-sheet pan, press the dough into the bottom and up the sides, then pile on your favorite toppings.
4. Freezing Cookie Dough
The pan’s slender size makes it ideal for freezing drop dough or berries. Slide the pan directly on top of your ice cream cartons (no need to reorganize the freezer to make room). Transfer the items to a container once they are firm.
Cast-Iron Pans 101
This affordable classic should be a staple in every kitchen. Cast iron distributes heat evenly and holds heat, so it's great for searing and frying. Its naturally nonstick surface—the product of "seasoning," a method used to seal and smooth the iron—makes it a good choice for delicate items, like breaded cutlets. Some pans come preseasoned. If yours isn't or if you have a pan that needs reseasoning, you can easily get it into shape. Here's how.
How to Season a Cast-Iron Pan
Step 1: Wash the pan with hot, soapy water and a stiff brush; rinse and dry thoroughly. Then, using a folded paper towel, apply a thin, even coating of vegetable oil to the pan, inside and out.
Step 2: Place a sheet of aluminum foil on the bottom oven rack to catch any drips. Bake the pan on the top rack at 350° F for 1 hour; let cool in oven.
How to Clean a Seasoned Cast-Iron Pan
Step 1: Very important—don't use soap or scouring powder on a seasoned pan. It will destroy the nonstick coating. Instead, sprinkle the pan with kosher salt and scrub it with a paper towel.
Step 2: Rinse the pan clean under hot water. Dry it immediately and thoroughly with paper towels, then apply a thin, even coating of vegetable oil. If you keep your cookware stacked, place a paper towel in the pan to protect its surface.
Prepping Hearty Greens
Kale, chard, mustard greens, and collards make delicious sautés and are a tasty addition to soups, but first you have to remove their tough stems. Instead of cutting them out with a knife, simply "zip" the leaves off. With one hand, hold a leaf at the bottom by the thickest part of the stem. With the other hand, gently pinch the leaf with your index finger and thumb and pull it up and off along the stem.
How to Soften Brown Sugar
Midway through the banana bread recipe, you realize that your brown sugar is one rock-hard mass. Solution: Place the block of sugar in a bowl, sprinkle with a teaspoon of water, cover with a damp paper towel, and microwave in 30-second intervals, checking between each, until soft. (This may take several minutes.) To keep a new package fresh, place the entire bag of sugar in an airtight container (as shown above) or a resealable freezer bag; store at room temperature.
Cutting Up a Pineapple
Supermarkets can charge twice as much for sliced pineapple as they do for the same amount of whole fruit. Here’s an easy way to handle this prickly job yourself.
Step 1: With a serrated or chef’s knife, cut off the top of the pineapple and a thick slice from the bottom.
Step 2: Stand the pineapple upright and, working from top to bottom, cut off the skin in strips, following the shape of the fruit. Use a small paring knife to remove any remaining eyes.
Step 3: Cut the pineapple lengthwise into wedges, then cut out the piece of core from each wedge.
Step 4: Slice or cut the pieces into chunks as desired. Cut-up pineapple will keep for up to 3 days in the refrigerator.
Easy Homemade Bread Crumbs
Making your own is a great way to use up the heels of old loaves. Stow the pieces in a large plastic bag in the freezer. When the bag is full, cut the bread into large chunks and pulse them in a food processor until you have fine crumbs. Toast the crumbs on a rimmed baking sheet in a 350° F oven, tossing once, until dry, 4 to 6 minutes. Use the crumbs to bread cutlets, make meatballs, or add crunch to casseroles. The crumbs will keep in the freezer for up to 6 months.
Storing Leftover Tomato Paste
Most recipes for pasta sauce and chili call for only a couple of tablespoons of tomato paste. If your paste comes in a tube, leftovers aren’t a problem. But if it’s in a can, don’t toss the remainder or let it dry out in the refrigerator. Instead, freeze it in tablespoon-size portions in an ice-cube tray. Once they’re solid, transfer the cubes to a plastic freezer bag. Later add them directly to recipes—no need to thaw. Try this with chipotles in adobo and pesto, too.
Slicing Brownies and Bars Neatly, Every Time
If you want perfect squares or rectangles, a spatula just won’t cut it. Follow this easy step-by-step to guarantee treats that look as good as they taste.
Step 1: Using a pastry brush, coat the bottom and sides of the baking pan with softened butter.
Step 2: Line the pan with a strip of parchment, leaving an overhang on 2 sides; press down so it sticks. Brush with more butter and line with a second strip of parchment, perpendicular to the first (also with an overhang). Brush with butter.
Step 3: Add the batter to the pan; bake and let cool as directed. Then, gripping the paper overhangs, lift the brownies or bars out of the pan and transfer to a cutting board.
Step 4: Using a large serrated knife, cut into squares or rectangles as desired, then lift off the parchment.
Keeping Baked Goods Fresh
Most holiday cookies and bars will last for up to a week in a tightly sealed container. But what if you’re planning to give them as a gift in a basic box? To maintain freshness until you drop them off to the lucky recipient, wrap the entire present in plastic wrap. (Alternatively, depending on the size of the box, you can slip it into a resealable plastic bag.) Protected from the drying air, your sweet offerings will stay moist and chewy for days.
Softening Butter Quickly
Forgot to take the sticks out of the refrigerator in advance? Here are two ways to speed the process along.
Fast: Cut the sticks into pieces and set out on a counter. In 10 to 15 minutes, you’ll be good to go.
Faster: Microwave the pieces on low in 20-second intervals, checking in between. The butter is ready when it’s malleable but not mushy.
From storing to cooking, here’s how to make the most of these tasty little gems.
1. Freeze shelled nuts to preserve their natural oils, which can turn rancid at room temperature. Stow each type of nut separately in an airtight container marked with the date. After a year, it’s time to toss them.
2. Toast nuts to give them more flavor. (Don’t be tempted to skip this step in a recipe—the little time it takes has a delicious payoff.) Simply spread on a rimmed baking sheet and cook in a 350° F oven, tossing occasionally, until they’re fragrant and their interiors are golden (break a nut in half to check), 5 to 10 minutes.
A Crisp Crust Every Time
There’s no better way to ruin a perfectly good pie than with a soggy, underdone crust. For foolproof crusts—yes, both top and bottom—position your pie on the lowest rack, where most ovens tend to concentrate heat. As the heat rises, it will crisp the bottom crust before cooking the exposed top crust. Using a transparent Pyrex pie plate also helps: A quick peek will tell you when the underside is golden (not pale and doughy looking), guaranteeing a rich, flaky dessert.
How to Take a Turkey’s Temperature
Using an instant-read thermometer is the best way to ensure a moist, juicy roast. But where do you put it? The most important thing to remember: Never place the probe too close to the bone or you’ll get an inaccurate reading. “Bones conduct heat at a different rate than meat and can range in temperature, depending on where they are in the bird,” says Simon Quellen Field, the author of Culinary Reactions: The Everyday Chemistry of Cooking ($17, amazon.com). The easiest method? Slide the thermometer into the thigh horizontally, just until it touches the bone, then pull it out slightly. Once it registers 165° F in the thigh—the slowest-cooking part of the bird—you’ll know that dinner is done.
Breading Without the Mess
Coating ingredients in flour, egg, and bread crumbs is the surest path to an extra-crispy crust, but it can turn your hands into a sticky, clumpy disaster. Follow this neat technique to solve that problem.
Step 1: Arrange your ingredients from your left to your right in this order: the food you want to bread (such as chicken fillets), flour, egg, and bread crumbs. Using your left (“dry”) hand, turn the chicken in the flour to coat both sides, then drop it into the bowl of egg.
Step 2 (shown here): Using your right (“wet”) hand, lift the chicken from the egg, shake off the excess, then drop it into the bread crumbs.
Step 3: Using your left (“dry”) hand, turn the chicken in the bread crumbs to coat both sides. Tap off the excess bread crumbs, then transfer to a clean plate. Repeat with the remaining chicken.
Choosing Shrimp—Fresh vs. Frozen
Here’s a fishmonger’s secret: The shiny, plump shrimp on ice at the seafood counter are actually less fresh than those in bags in the freezer case. The reason? To preserve them during shipping, almost all shrimp are frozen soon after they’re harvested. With the exception of most American Gulf and Georgia varieties, the majority of “fresh” shrimp are actually frozen shrimp that have been thawed. Once defrosted, shrimp are good for only 2 days. The smarter option? Buy frozen shrimp and thaw them yourself just before cooking. Running them under cold water for several minutes in a colander or a strainer will do the trick.
The Easiest Way to Core an Apple
Skip the drawer-cluttering gadgets and try this no-fuss method.
Step 1: Hold the apple upright on a cutting board and cut off one side, as close to the core as possible. Place the apple cut-side down and cut off another side. Repeat with the 2 remaining sides.
Step 2: Discard the core and slice or dice the 4 large apple pieces as desired.
Protecting a Piecrust From Overbrowning
Pie recipes often instruct you to place foil around the edges of the crust to keep it from darkening too quickly—and you find yourself fumbling with long, straight strips. Next time try this more sensible one-sheet trick.
Step 1: Fold a 12-inch-square piece of foil in half, forming a rectangle.
Step 2: Fold the foil in half again, forming a square.
Step 3: With scissors, cut out a quarter-circle shape, starting about 3 to 4 inches from the folded corner of the square; discard.
Step 4: Unfold the foil. Check that the opening is the correct size by holding it over the pie. The foil should cover just the rim of the crust. (If the hole is too small, refold the foil and cut out a larger circle.) Tuck the edge of the foil under the pie plate and continue baking the pie for the time instructed.
Summer Produce That Tastes Great Raw
Try incorporating the following vegetables au naturel in salads and slaws.
Asparagus: Thinly slice or, if slender, use whole.
Beets: Shred on a box grater.
Broccoli: Cut into florets or finely chop.
Corn: Cut the kernels off the cob.
Green beans and sugar snap peas: Thinly slice or use whole.
Kale and chard: Discard the stems and thinly slice the leaves.
Turnips and kohlrabi: Thinly slice or cut into matchsticks.
Zucchini and summer squash: Thinly slice or use a vegetable peeler to cut into ribbons.
How to Slice an Ice Cream Cake
Just out of the freezer, an ice cream cake is rock hard and can be impossible to cut.
Step 1: Rather than waiting for it to soften (er, melt), run a chef’s knife under very hot water.
Step 2: Start slicing. The hot blade will glide cleanly and easily through the cold layers (rewarm the blade as necessary).
Slicing a Melon
It’s not quite as daunting as slicing a butternut squash, but it’s close. Follow this four-step process to quickly—and efficiently—cut up a cantaloupe or a honeydew.
Step 1: With a serrated knife or a sharp chef’s knife, cut a slice off the top and bottom of the melon. Stand the melon upright, wobble-free, on the cutting surface.
Step 2: Working from top to bottom and following the curve of the melon, cut off strips of the rind. Make sure you cut all the way down to the tender fruit, past the tough middle layer.
Step 3: Slice the peeled melon in half from top to bottom. With a spoon, scoop out the seeds.
Step 4: Slice or cube as desired. Cut-up melon will keep in the refrigerator, covered, for up to 3 days.
Preparing a Salad in Advance
Want to make a salad well before serving—without ending up with a limp mess? It’s easy: Just layer the ingredients in one large bowl. Place the dressing at the bottom, then add sturdy, wilt-resistant vegetables (such as cut-up peppers, carrots, cucumbers, and radishes) and top with greens. Cover it all with a damp paper towel and refrigerate for up to 12 hours. Right before mealtime, remove the towel, add any delicate items (like croutons), and toss.
Keeping Fried Food Crispy
If you’re frying up shrimp or chicken, don’t rest the cooked pieces directly on a plate—the residual heat will become trapped under the food, creating steam and turning everything soggy. Instead, use a cooling rack (set on a rimmed baking sheet to keep counters clean). With room for air to circulate, fried morsels will maintain their satisfying crunch until dinner.
Aluminum-Foil Master Class
During grilling season, foil is a cook’s secret weapon. Here are three ways to use this marvelous multitasker.
1. As a packet for delicate foods. Prevent a whole fish or a fragile fillet from sticking to the grate by sealing it in a foil packet. (For flavor, add lemon and herbs.) Pierce the top of the packet several times before placing it on the grill. No flipping necessary.
2. As a makeshift grill brush. A clean grate prevents food from sticking. If you don’t have a wire brush on hand, crumple a sheet of foil into a ball, hold it with tongs, and use it to scrape off any bits stuck to the grate. (Do this while the grill is hot, both before and after cooking.)
3. As a tent for resting meat. Keep a resting steak warm by covering it loosely with foil. (Why let steak rest? It briefly continues to cook, then cools down, allowing fibers to plump with juices that would otherwise spill onto your cutting board. Five to 10 minutes should do it.)
Basting Without Burning
Tomato-based barbecue sauces, teriyaki sauces, and honey glazes contain sugar, which can burn easily. Avoid charring meat or poultry—and ensure that it gets that rich, caramelized finish—by waiting to apply sweet sauces until the last 2 to 3 minutes of cooking. Your patience will be (deliciously) rewarded.
Anyone who has tried to flip a skewer loaded with fish, meat, or vegetables knows how hard it is to prevent the individual pieces from spinning. The solution couldn’t be simpler: Just thread the pieces onto two parallel skewers. Turning them will be a cinch.
Making Your Own Chicken Cutlets
Trim your food budget by turning boneless, skinless chicken breasts into cutlets. It’s quick and easy, and it can save you up to $2 a pound. Here’s how.
Step 1: Place a boneless, skinless chicken breast on a cutting board. Hold it flat with the palm of one hand and, with a chef’s knife in the other hand, carefully slice it in half horizontally (parallel to the cutting board).
Step 2: Open the breast like a book and, if necessary, make a cut to separate the two halves. Trim any ragged edges.
Step 3: Place one hand over the other; use the heel of the bottom hand to press down and flatten each piece to a ⅜- to ½-inch thickness. Voilà! Nice, quick-cooking cutlets worthy of your best chicken Parmesan.