Every now and then I find myself in a conversation where I have an opportunity to share a kitchen trick I have picked up over the years. And every time I do, it invariably reminds me that at one point in my life, I didn’t have a bag of kitchen tips and tricks.
I take them for granted now because they have just become standard operating procedure for me. But when I first started cooking for my family, there were lots of things I didn’t know. And my ignorance of even simple little things were sources of quite a bit of frustration for me. As a wife and mother with a career outside the home, I was so stretched that grocery shopping was a once-a-week thing. I did not have the time, nor the patience, to make multiple stops during the week to buy the freshest version of what I needed.
For instance, I would always get annoyed whenever I tried to make something that called for fresh herbs like parsley or cilantro. I would go to the trouble of buying a small bunch of the fresh herb at the store during the weekend, use what I needed in the recipe, and after only a couple of days or so in the refrigerator, the rest would become limp and wilted. I really dislike throwing perfectly good food away, and it just seemed wrong that these beautiful herbs had such a short storage life.
Nuts and cheeses, often quite pricey, also have their storage issues.
Well, over the years, I have found solutions to some of these kitchen frustrations. Some of them are so simple I couldn’t believe that they weren’t talked about more. Maybe you already know some. But I thought I would share 7 of my most used, just in case you are now searching for some of the answers I once sought.
I hope these tips and tricks prove useful to you.
Tips and Tricks #1 – Storing cilantro and parsley
First, we should wash all produce purchased at the store. Even organic produce. Because even if something was grown without chemicals, it was still mass harvested, shipped and handled. We don’t know where it’s been before it gets to your kitchen, so it needs to be washed.
However, we all know what happens when wet cilantro or parsley is stored in the vegetable drawer. Within just a couple of days, it is starting to decay. And if you manage to pat it dry enough with a towel, it still wilts. But Maria, who worked with me in El Paso, shared this tip with me.
Wash your cilantro or parsley, picking out any browned or yellowed leaves. Then spin it dry in a salad spinner.
Next, spread the stems across several sheets of paper towels so that the herbs are not clumped together (pick out any remaining brown or yellow leaves). Let them sit and further air dry for 5 minutes or so. But don’t leave them out too long because they tend to wilt at room temperature.
Then roll the length of paper towels with the herbs inside, place the roll in a gallon Ziploc back, roll the Ziploc bag to force out any air, and seal the bag. Store the sealed bag in the refrigerator.
When you need to use more, open the bag and remove what you need. Then roll the paper towel back around the herb, place it in the bag again, remove the air and re-seal. Cilantro will keep for a week so and parsley even longer.
Tips and Tricks #2 – Storing tomatoes
There’s a lot of controversy about whether tomatoes should go in the refrigerator or not. Based on everything I have learned over the years, unless you are growing your own tomatoes and picking them at their peak or getting locally grown ones at the farmers’ market also in peak condition, then chances are that the ones you buy at the store are under-ripe.
Don’t store under-ripe tomatoes in the fridge. Keep them at room temperature until they are ripe, then you can move them to the fridge.
I tend to use mine before they need to be moved. If I do get some that start to look tired on me, I slow roast them in a low-temperature oven with some balsamic and spices to make a delicious spread. (More on that in a later post.)
Tips and Tricks #3 – Keeping Asparagus
Some stores will keep their fresh asparagus spears cut end down in water and/or ice. But others don’t. I take my spears as soon as I get home and place them in a small bowl of water, then stand the spears in the water bowl in the fridge. I haven’t had a shriveled spear in quite a while.
Tips and Tricks #4 – Handling Cheese
Cheese; delicious, decadent, and also-not-so-cheap. Isn’t it maddening to watch your cheese get that white powdery coating and start to get stinky (when it’s a cheese that should not look or smell like that)? Or just become outright moldy?
I used to throw away a lot of cheese until I realized that I should NOT be handling it directly with my hands. I now either use plastic gloves like these (which I buy in large bags for various kitchen uses), or…
…in a pinch, I use the Ziploc bag that the cheese is stored in as a glove substitute. I simply curl back the ends of the bag and hold the cheese through the back of the bag. Once I’ve cut off what I want, I pull the ends of the bag back over the cheese and re-seal it.
For shredded cheese, use a set of tongs or a spoon to take out what you need.
Tips and Tricks #5 – Storing Coffee
I was born and raised in Brazil, so I’m a little bit picky about my coffee. Many in the US store their ground coffee in the refrigerator or the freezer. But that tends to dry the grounds out and affects the flavor.
I purchase my Brazilian coffee online in 5-pound bags because it is more affordable that way. But it takes Steve and I quite a bit of time to go through 5 lbs. of coffee. I take a week’s worth and store it in a plastic container with a lid in my pantry. I vacuum seal the rest and store in the pantry as well until I need to replenish my weekly supply.
Note the extra length on the top of the vacuum-sealed bag. I seal the bag with the extra so I have room to cut off the seal, take the coffee I need, and then re-seal the bag.
Perfectly delicious, aromatic coffee every time!
tips and tricks #6 – Storing nuts
Nuts ain’t cheap, people! I used to want to cry whenever I opened my pantry and went to use some nuts I had stored, only to find that the oils had gone rancid and the nuts tasted terrible!
Then I learned that frozen nuts last a LONG time. Vacuum-sealed and frozen, they seem to keep forever.
Like the coffee vacuum-sealed bag, I leave extra bag art the top so that I can cut open and then re-seal the bag over and over again until the nuts have all been used up. When I get near the end, I may transfer a small amount to a regular Ziploc freezer bag.
tips and tricks #7 – cleaning cast iron
I love my cast iron skillets. But for years, I fought and fought against the rust buildup in my favorite pans. The taste would transfer to my food and I could not understand why they would get rusty. I would season them as instructed, and dry them over an open flame to seal in the oils, but the rust problem persisted.
Then I learned that I should NEVER use a sponge and soap on them! Ok, that was a problem for me because I am a clean freak when it comes to my kitchen. And sometimes, food particles get stuck to the bottom of the pan and I would have to use the rough side of the sponge to scrape them loose. How was I supposed to get rid of the stuck-on food and clean my pan if I couldn’t use a soapy sponge?
The solution was VERY hot water and salt. Sometimes the hot water suffices. Rinse the dirty pan thoroughly in VERY hot water, melting away all excess fat or grease, along with food particles. Then set on the stove and dry the pan over high heat until the water has evaporated and any remaining oils burn in and season the pan.
If by chance, there are food particles that are not rinsing fee, then sprinkle a good coat of salt in the pan and use a paper towel to rub the salt against the inside, basically scouring the pan clean with the salt. Rinse well in the VERY hot water and dry as described above.
Look at my beautifully seasoned pan, and not a spot of rust to be found!
These are my top 7 kitchen tips and tricks. I hope that even if you knew some already, that maybe even one might prove helpful to you.
If you have some of your own, please share by leaving a comment. I am always learning, and I am sure that other readers would appreciate your tips and tricks too!