For my Thursday Thirteen, I’m heading to the kitchen. These tips may not be particularly imaginative, but they work, or anyway they’ve all worked for me!
1. Whack a garlic clove before peeling it. Big time chefs whack it with the side of a chef’s knife. People like me are a little nervous about doing that with a sharp blade. Lynn Rosetto Kasper points out you can use a flat rock if you wash it well. I just use my meat mallet.
2. Cut off the stem end of the garlic clove before whacking. Jacques Pepin does this—the peel slides right off if you do.
3. Use a piece of bread to clean your coffee or spice grinder. This is a great use for dry bread. After you grind up the beans or spices, grind up a piece of bread (take the ground coffee or spices out first, of course) and it will clean out the leftover oil and bits. Uncooked rice works the same way.
4. Put your cooking oil in bottles with pour spouts. They don’t have to be fancy—just save an old olive oil bottle you’ve washed out, buy a cheap spout from a kitchen store, and put it in there. Pouring oil in a pan is a lot faster than measuring.
5. Microwave crystallized honey. Take the top off the (plastic or glass) bottle and warm for around a minute or until honey liquifies.
6. Microwave limes or lemons before squeezing. Just for fifteen or twenty seconds. It frees up the juice. You can also roll them if you’ve got the arm strength (I don’t).
7. Fast(er) Baked Potatoes. Set your oven to 425, microwave baking potatoes that you’ve pricked all over with a fork until the oven reaches its temperature, then bake for fifteen or twenty minutes (thank you, Jacques Pepin). Note: you need to see how fast your oven reaches its temperature—Jacques says his takes eight to ten minutes, but mine takes around fifteen, which is really too long for potatoes in the microwave. Let them go for ten minutes and then let them sit until the oven reaches heat.
8. Julia Child’s never fail gravy recipe. Okay, it’s actually for béchamel sauce, but it works for gravy too. Just remember these proportions: 3, 2, 2. That translates to 3T flour, 2T butter, and 2C liquid (milk for béchamel, stock for gravy). Melt the butter until it foams, whisk in the flour and cook until it’s sort of the color of old ivory or (if you're daring) peanut butter, add the liquid while whisking. Julia says to heat the liquid. America’s Test Kitchen says it’s not necessary. I find heating it for a minute in the microwave prevents lumps.
9. Garlic presses are not evil. Alton Brown says they are. Julia disagrees. I find them very handy when I want crushed garlic, but get a heavy metal one so it really crushes the stuff.
10. To make never fail hard-boiled eggs. This is from some egg council somewhere and, again, it really works. Cover the egg with cold water in a covered saucepan. Bring the water to a full boil (if you live at higher altitudes, like me, make sure it's a rolling boil). Turn the burner off and let the egg sit undisturbed in the water for fifteen minutes. Peel and serve.
11. Get a basil plant. Put in on a window sill where there’s sun and water it regularly. You’ll get enough basil to take care of most needs and it’s a lot cheaper than the packages of fresh basil in the store.
12. Use coarse ground kosher salt. You’ll actually use less because you can see the salt you sprinkle and besides it feels neat. It’s not iodized, though, so make sure your vitamin pills contain iodine.
13. Don’t take crap about your cooking from anybody. Including me. If it works for you and doesn’t seem likely to cause food poisoning, go right ahead!