These kitchen tips are really tops

Posted: Sunday, March 30, 2003

Cooks are the most inventive people.

Give a cook a problem, and it will be solved. It probably comes from the need to make-do when missing an ingredient or not wanting to shell out $29.95 for that special pan.

Personally, I'm fascinated by the kitchen tricks people have come up with to solve everyday problems. A new book I can't put down is The Best Kitchen Quick Tips: 534 Tricks, Techniques and Shortcuts for the Curious Cook by the editors of Cook's Illustrated magazine (Boston Common Press, $19.95). Page after page, I'm left saying to myself: "Why didn't I think of that?"

For example:

Cleaning your food processor bowl with a good soak is tough because of the hole in the middle. Place a film canister over the top of it and then you can fill it with soapy water.

Place a small table fan by the dish rack and have it blowing on wet dishes so they will be dry by the time you are ready to put them away.

Oh, what to do with leftover lasagna? Cut the long noodles in half, and they fit in 5-by-3-inch mini-loaf pans as if they were made for them. Wrap each individually and freeze for later.

Have you ever been splattered by dry ingredients flying from your stand mixer bowl? Drape a clean, damp towel over the front of the bowl and machine and start mixing. It will catch anything that flies out.

When preparing meat or chicken, your hands can get sticky. Keep the pepper mill clean by draping plastic wrap or wax paper over the knob. Place your hand on the paper, and it will keep the mill clean. Dispose of the paper when you're done.

When baking a pie crust, line it with foil and use pennies as pie weights.

To prevent cutting yourself when peeling potatoes (I nipped myself doing this just the other week) insert a cork screw into the potato and hold the handle rather than the potato.

Protect recipes from kitchen mess by placing them under a clean, glass pot lid.

Defatting sauces is a tedious chore. Try this: Allow the drippings to cool some, pour into a large plastic bag and close. Allow time for the fat to separate. Hold the bag over a pot or bowl, lifting it from one top corner. Snip off the bottom corner over the bowl and let the liquid run out. Pinch it closed before the fat runs out.

Use an ice cream scoop to remove seeds and strings from a squash.

Store your tongs inside a used cardboard paper towel dowel.

Use a cotton swab to clean the waffle iron grid.

Dry wine glasses by placing four chopsticks in two parallel rows, then placing the glasses upside down on the sticks.

Clean the saut pan of excess bacon grease by pouring out the bulk of it and wiping the pan with a wad of paper towels grasped in a pair of tongs.

Test baking powder freshness by mixing 2 teaspoons of baking powder in 1 cup of hot tap water. If there is immediate bubbling, it's good. If the bubbling is slow or nonexistent, get a new box of soda.

When you buy brown sugar, open the box and pour it all in a large resealable plastic bag. This way, when you need to measure a cup, the cup and your hand will fit in the bag without making a mess.

To keep from pouring batter into the hole of a tube cake pan, place a small paper cup over the opening while pouring.

Dan Macdonald is a reporter for the Jacksonville Times-Union in Jacksonville, Fla.

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