I've been cooking in a dedicated manner now for about 7 years. By dedicated, I mean actually going into the kitchen and using real ingredients to make a whole meal. Prior to having a family, my early adult life in the kitchen was marked by frozen pizza, precooked meat and the kindness of my friends who were willing to give me a place at their table. I used to joke that I could use my kitchen for extra clothing storage (I didn't but I could have!) My how times have changed. It's an odd day when I don't find myself in the kitchen making something, be it an actual meal for my people or a food experiment.
Today I decided to wade through my Instagram feed (check me out @littleprairiekitchen) to create a post on some of my best kitchen hacks and tips that I have shared there. Some I have found out due to the kindness of the internet, some I happened to stumble upon by experimentation and some I have been informed of via fellow home cooks. I hope you find these useful and that they inspire you to try more things in the kitchen. Because if a girl who could barely make a frozen pizza can now whip up sauces, stocks and breads, you for sure got this!
Random veggie scraps are your best friend
This is one of my favorite (and more recent) finds. For years I've read you should save odds and ends of old veggies in a large container in the freezer for homemade stock, but figured I always had veggies on hand so why do this? Until one day when I wanted stock and there were no veggies to be had. Lucky for me, I happened to have a whole bowlful of onion and garlic skins and peels that paired with a handful of carrots, water, a chicken carcass, peppercorns, a sprouting onion and salt made some of the best stock ever! So now I am a convert. Any time you cut into an onion, carrot, celery or garlic, save the tops, skins or funky parts in a large freezer bag. Pop it into the freezer and once you have some bones or a full bag, grab any leftover veggies you may lurking around and make the BEST stock ever. Trust me, you will taste the difference in your meals when you use homemade stock. All this from what would have ended up in the garbage. Save the food success story indeed! If you need a stock recipe I've got you! At the end of this post you will find a link for my from scratch stock.
Save the bread!
While we're on the subject of saving food, let me tell you a story about the best breadcrumbs you've ever had. They are scraps and ends of the bread you eat processed and baked for 20 minutes. Same idea as the veggie saving program above, just grab a big freezer bag, toss ends and crusty bits of breads in there (I mostly save pieces from French bread), and when it's full and you have a half hour at home, make breadcrumbs. At the end of this post you will find my basic and tasty recipe for breadcrumbs. And I repeat, these are the BEST ever! I love them pressed into chicken for frying or baking, tossed in pasta with a bit of oil, salt and garlic, or as the topping to any number of amazing casseroles that call for breadcrumbs (or crackers or chips-serious I prefer these breadcrumbs over ALL of those things!) Once again, you are doing your part to minimize food waste and the payoff is delish!
Freezer food done right
This tip came to me courtesy of one of my many cookbooks. It's simple but it makes such a huge difference in taste and texture of leftovers. If you plan to make a big batch of something or have enough food leftover that it can be frozen into another meal, you need to cool it down completely before freezing! I generally allow my leftovers to sit on the counter for 45 minutes to an hour to cool down enough to package. Then put them in the refrigerator overnight to cool all the way down and then freeze the next day. The biggie here is by allowing the food to cool completely, you avoid moisture from warm and cold air combining inside your freezer bag resulting in freezer burn (those beautiful ice crystals that form on your food) and in an odd taste. It's also better for the food in your freezer as you are not shoving hot food alongside frozen food that could possibly begin to thaw that food out. Kitchen tips that result in my leftovers going the distance and is easy to do? Sign me up!
Roll with it
Now I want to start by saying that my pizza is amazing, delicious and all you could want in a pizza. But it is probably not made in the most authentic way possible. Having said that, hopefully pizza purists will understand my next tip and not cry. To make my life easier and avoid dough related accidents, I roll my pizza dough out with a rolling pin. There, I said it. When I first started making pizza, I tried to fling and toss the dough like they do in the movies and at all the real pizza joints. But all that happened was that I got angry at the dough for not shaping to the size I needed, the dough got dropped on the floor and flour got everywhere. So one day I got out my rolling pin and the rest is history. Would I like to someday be able to fling dough with abandon and know it will turn into a pillowy, chewy, amazing crust? Yes, but for today I will be satisfied that I can make from scratch pizza, even if I have to get a rolling pin involved. Motivated to make a rolling pin pizza? At the end is my version of pizza crust that can be made in under an hour!
Don't give up
This one is my biggest tip that I can ever give. If you are just starting out on your cooking journey, you are going to make some truly awful things. I'm sorry but it's true (you can ask Jim about my mint sauce if you don't believe me!) But don't let that stop you. Start simple, boil some pasta, brown some ground beef and add a good quality jar of pasta sauce to it. You made pasta and meat sauce! Maybe once you are more comfortable with this meal, you decide to make your own pasta sauce, then maybe after you have mastered that, you try your hand at homemade spaghetti and then before you know it, you have made a meal completely without any pre-made items. If you process your own beef you win and have exceeded me as I still buy my meat:) But you get the idea. You don't have to become From Scratch Freddie the first time you preheat an oven, but you do have to get in there and give it a go. So, I hope my little kitchen hacks will save you a little money, save some food, and bring some flavor to your life. BTW, I have recipes for both pasta sauce and from scratch pasta:) Check them out below!