In my nearly decade-long self taught cooking journey, I've slowly picked up habits that help make my time in the kitchen much smoother and organized.
Since my food lifestyle has changed over time to an emphasis on real food as opposed to "processed" commercial food, my fridge and countertops are often stocked with perishable produce. (Sometimes cheez-its, too. Hey, I'm not perfect.) These fruits, veggies, and meats will spoil quickly if I don't take the extra care to store and prepare them properly when I get home from the store or market.
But let's face it, even when you fill your kitchen with fresh foods and have the best of intentions to cook homemade meals every day--you'll get burnt out at some point. Some nights all I want to do is throw a pizza in the oven, kick my feet up, and stick my nose in a good book (or watch an entertaining show).
If you're like me, this probably happens more frequently than you'd like to admit.
So what happens when you have a kitchen full of "ingredients" instead of ready made food, but you don't feel like cooking for a few days? Let it all go to waste?
You implement some meal planning tips (like taking inventory to know what's in your kitchen) and kitchen hacks so that the foods you spend hard earned money on lasts as long as possible. And if all else fails, there is always the freezer!
Fifteen Kitchen Hacks To Save Money, Prevent Food Waste & Make Your Life Easier
1. How to Store Fresh Herbs So They Don't Wilt As Quickly
To keep fresh herbs from the grocery store perky, place them in a cup filled with a little bit of water, cover loosely with a plastic bag, and store in the fridge. They'll usually last a few weeks like this, which is great if you love to garnish meals with a small handful of parsley or cilantro.
Bonus: when you store green onions (scallions) this way, and clip off what you need a little at a time, the green onions regrow!
2. Easy Buttermilk Substitute
If a recipe like biscuits calls for buttermilk and you don't have any on hand (I almost never do), simply add 1 tablespoon of lemon juice or white vinegar to a cup of milk and let it sit for 10 minutes before adding to the other ingredients. I learned this trick several years back from Joy the Baker and have used it time and time again.
3. How to Ripen Produce Quickly
No need to buy special bags to ripen your produce. When you want certain fruits to mature faster, simply store them on the counter (or in a plain paper bag) with other fruits that emit high levels of ethylene gas. For example, avocados and bananas are two fruits that emit high levels of ethylene gas so they're good to stick next to unripe fruit to speed up the process.
For more ideas on organizing fresh food in your kitchen check out my Five Tips For Making Your Produce Last Longer post.
4. Extend the Shelf Life of Lettuce or Cut Greens
To keep heads of lettuce or bags of cut greens from wilting and becoming slimy make sure to wrap them with paper towels (or clean linen towels) to absorb any moisture.
If you're buying a clam shell container with pre-washed greens, line the sides and top of the container with paper or linen towels before storing to absorb any precipitation that builds up on the container as it sits in the fridge.
5. Roll Out Citrus Fruits By Hand Before Juicing
If you want to get the most juice from your citrus fruits without using any equipment, roll each piece of fruit back and forth on the counter or a clean cutting board with the palm of your hand several times.
This will redistribute the juices and warm up the fruit, which makes getting the juice out much easier. This is so helpful if you're picking up a lime or lemon from the store for a last minute recipe and it's still pretty firm. Or, if you're making a margarita (or five) for loved ones.
6. How to Properly Store Shelled Nuts
The oils in nuts can go rancid easily, so to extend their shelf life and preserve the nuts' taste, store them in an airtight container in the freezer. I tend to buy my shelled nuts (like cashews, almonds, pecans, and walnuts) in bulk, and once I started storing them in the freezer I noticed a huge difference in taste!
7. Make Nut Milk at Home? Turn Your Leftover Pulp into Flour
While we're on the topic of nuts, if you make your own homemade almond milk or coconut milk (or any other nut milk for that matter), then you'll have leftover pulp afterward. Please don't throw it in the trash!
You can turn that leftover nut pulp into dried flour in only a few hours and use it in place of regular flour in a myriad of recipes (like cheddar and jalapeno coconut flour biscuits). Follow the instructions in my coconut flour post, and store the flour in the freezer for maximum shelf life.
8. Save Vegetable Scraps and Cooked Bones for Homemade Broth
This is a practical tip from my five things you should never throw away and how to reuse them post that I think everyone should follow! Homemade broth using leftover roasted bones and veggie scraps like celery, onions, garlic, and carrots (or even just vegetable scraps for vegetable broth) is a million bazillion times better than the stuff at the store.
And when you take the minimal effort to save scraps and bones for homemade broth later on, you save yourself lots of dough and make it easier to whip together a nourishing meal (like soup, stew, casserole, pasta, etc.) on the fly.
9. Recycle Glass Bottles into Homemade Cleaning Containers
When I started adding essential oils to my non-toxic homemade cleaners, I wanted a glass bottle so I didn't have to worry about citrus essential oils slowly breaking down the plastic.
Instead of buying an expensive glass spray bottle, I recycled one of my apple cider vinegar bottles by sending it through the dishwasher, removing the label, and sticking a spray nozzle from another bottle on top.
10. Re-Distribute the Natural Oils in Nut Butters Before Stirring
If you buy natural nut butters with no added oils, the jar should have a thick layer of oil at the top. Normally you have to spend 3-5 minutes carefully stirring the oil back into the peanut butter and by the time you get to the bottom of the jar, it's pretty dry and takes a lot of arm work!
To make this easier, as soon as you get home from the grocery store, store your nut butter upside down so the oils redistribute to the bottom of the jar. When you go to stir the oils back in, it will take much less work!
11. Quickly Peel Garlic
I learned this trick many years ago from watching Giada de Laurentiis' Every Italian show on Food Network. She emphasized back then how cathartic it is to peel and prepare garlic this way. It's so true! All you have to do is separate the cloves from the bulb and then smash each clove with the flat side of a chef's knife. Really let the garlic have it. ;)
This makes is SO easy to remove the peel without it sticking to your fingers. If you're prepping a bunch of garlic at once, you might consider using a garlic twist so that you can mince several cloves at a time while keeping your hands clean.
12. Prevent Tears While Chopping Onions
Onions are one of my favorite foods, so I'm too familiar with burning eyes and tears streaming down my face if I'm not careful about avoiding the fumes. Some folks claim that freezing the onion 20-30 minutes beforehand will keep the fumes at bay.
I haven't tried that; however, my favorite trick is to actually wear some sunglasses or goggles (like snowboarding or safety goggles). Sure, you look goofy for five minutes, but it works really well! Also, pull your body and face back away from the cutting board so you're not directly over the onion fumes.
13. How to Keep Celery Crisp Longer
I'm not sure about the science behind this trick, but it works really well! To keep your celery from turning floppy within a few days, wrap it tightly in aluminium foil to extend its shelf life and keep it crisp for weeks.
If you forget to do this and your celery goes limp after a week, no worries! Store with other veggie scraps (like onion, garlic, and carrots) in the freezer to make homemade broth.
14. Substitute for Baking Powder
When I made my last batch of banana nut bread, I was halfway into measuring out the dry ingredients before I realized I had no baking powder. I almost threw a fit, but then ran to my computer to see if I could concoct an alternative.
I discovered this awesome substitution chart and learned that you can use 1 part baking soda, 2 parts cream of tartar, and 1 part cornstarch instead of baking powder. By random chance, I had all three sitting in my pantry (I almost never use cream of tartar or cornstarch), so I didn't have to make an extra trip to the store in the middle of my recipe!
15. Bring Your Meat Closer to Room Temperature Before Cooking
To ensure that the meat will cook evenly and more quickly, pull your meat out of the fridge 30-60 minutes before you plan on using it. This will take "the chill" off the meat, and ensure that the insides (which are still very cold if you take it directly out of the fridge) cook as evenly as the outside.
You can spend that early time prepping the rest of the meal, and then by the time you're ready to cook the meat, the dish will come together in a snap. I follow this tip every time I fix cast-iron steak using my stove top and oven.
I'd like to hear from YOU!
Which of these kitchen hacks have you tried before or would like to implement in your own kitchen? Do you have any tips or stories to add?
Enjoy this post? Make sure to share this list with any friends or family who might benefit!
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This post has been shared over at Frugal Fridays.