12 Kitchen Hacks Every Home Cook Needs to Have on Hand
There’s a huge benefit to being able to think on your feet in the kitchen. Sometimes, you don’t have everything you need for a recipe. Other times, you run out of time. Rather than running out and getting 4 different kinds of flours and milks, learn how to fake it. These 12 tips are in two categories: how to DIY an ingredient, and how to DIY or repurpose a tool. Combined, you’ll have the know-how to conquer some common bumps that happen to everyone in the kitchen!
Buttermilk is the milk that’s left over after making butter. It’s often thick and can still have flecks of butterfat in it. Buttermilk is often called for in recipes because of its acidity. Not only does the tanginess taste delicious in something like a biscuit, but it’s also necessary for the rising action of baking soda, which needs an acidic ingredient to activate. If you don’t have buttermilk on hand, don’t go turning your milk into butter. Fake it Frugal tell us how to fake it with an easy ratio: One cup milk to one tablespoon vinegar or lemon juice. The acid will begin to curdle the milk ever so slightly, making it just a bit thicker and definitely tangier. This is a great trick for any time you need buttermilk for leavening, like that biscuit, but not so good for ranch dressing.
If the recipe calls for a buttermilk wash but you don’t have a pastry brush, use a paper towel or some balled-up plastic wrap to delicately apply a milk or egg wash.
Make baking powder
If you run out of baking powder, don’t fret. If you have baking soda and cream of tartar, you can make your own in a pinch with a simple ratio from The Kitchn. If you don’t have cream of tartar sitting around, you should get some to keep in the back of your cabinet; it’s a stabilizer that helps keep your egg whites from deflating, and if you’re not putting it in your meringues and souffles, you’re really causing yourself undue frustration. To make baking powder, combine cream of tartar and baking soda in a 2:1 ratio. Whisk well.
The combination of baking soda and cream of tartar is particularly good for getting stains out of countertops and clothing. Make a diluted vinegar solution with distilled white vinegar and water and make into a paste with the cream of tartar, like Care2 does to avoid using bleach. Rub into the stain, let set for about 20 minutes, and wash normally.
Out of ricotta? Make some in no time
Have almost enough ricotta for a recipe but run short? If you have whole milk and lemons, you can make ricotta. Heat denatures the proteins in the milk, which lets the acid of the lemon juice tie the proteins up in new forms — cheese. Deb Perelman of Smitten Kitchen makes ricotta simply because it tastes better, and it’s really simple.
- 4 cups whole milk (or, for a richer ricotta, 3 cups milk and 1 cup heavy cream)
- ½ teaspoon coarse sea or kosher salt
- 3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
Directions: Pour the milk and salt into a saucepan and heat to 190 degrees Fahrenheit, stirring occasionally to keep it from scorching on the bottom. Remove from heat and add lemon juice, stirring gently once or twice, and let the pot sit undisturbed for 5 minutes.
Line a colander with cheesecloth or butter muslin. Pour the curds and whey into the cheesecloth and let drain until you’ve reached close to your desired consistency. Keep in mind that the cheese will continue to firm a bit as it cools.
If you don’t have cheesecloth, use a clean cotton t-shirt you don’t mind losing to a greater cause.
Ripen fruit — or avocados — fast
Or faster, anyway. As we learn from Jeffery Steingarten in The Man Who Ate Everything, technically, most fruit stops ripening when it’s off the tree/vine/bush. Because everything is harvested early to ensure it ships in one piece, though, your fruit is going to need a little help. Avocados are a different story, though: They only start ripening off the tree. What you want to do is use the natural ethylene gas to help soften and develop the flavors in what you’re trying to ripen. Fruit releases more ethylene than vegetables, and bananas release the most of all household fruit (this also means your carrots and peppers will last much longer if you don’t store them with your apples and bananas).
For this trick, put the item you want to ripen in a paper bag with a banana and leave at room temperature until you’ve reached the desired level of ripeness. Paper is important here because it breathes; if you put a peach and a banana in a plastic bag, they’ll condense and mold very quickly.
Need to make a smoothie with your newly ripened fruit but lost or broke the top of your blender? Screw in a mason jar instead, as shown here at The Kitchn, and drink right from the jar! Handy and produces fewer dirty dishes.
Chill a bottle of wine quickly
You need a cold bottle of wine but you either worked through all your pre-chilled wine or you dropped the ball and forgot to put it in the fridge. Don’t put it in the freezer. You’ll forget it’s there and it still takes longer than this method from Food52.
Put your bottle of wine into a bucket and fill a bowl with ice and with salt. A lot of salt. A whole big handful or two of salt. Give it a stir and add it all to the bucket, distributing the salty ice mixture around your bottle. Your wine will be cold in minutes. As Food/Science explains, this works because salt actually lowers the temperature of this whole system while also melting the ice. Water conducts more of the chill to the bottle because unlike piles of ice, it contains no insulating air pockets.
Another use for a wine bottle, full or empty? An impromtu rolling pin!
Make your own self-rising and cake flour
Different wheat flours have different properties based, usually, on the size of the grains and the amount of protein in the flour. All-purpose flour tends to have a fair bit of protein, bread flour even more, while cake flour has much, much less. Italian “00″ flour is some of the finest milled wheat flour you’ll find. The type of flour the recipe calls for is important to the final product: Biscuits made without self-rising flour will be hard tack hockey pucks, bread made with cake flour will crumble, cake made with bread flour will be tough. If you’re not a serious baker, though, there’s no reason to go out and stock your shelves with every flour known to man.
If a recipe calls for self-rising flour and you don’t have any, don’t run to the store. It’s a magical substance, but not an obscure one. The easy trick to making self-rising flour is to add 1½ tablespoons of baking powder and ¼ teaspoon of salt to 1 cup of flour.
King Arthur Flour explains that self-rising flour is often a softer, lower-protein flour because southern wheat (self-rising flour is a staple in the south in particular) tends to have both of those properties, so a pastry flour would work best. When making self-rising flour, an all-purpose flour like King Arthur’s may absorb more liquid than a softer wheat, and this can make a baked good tougher; be ready to increase the liquid in the recipe.
To make cake flour, Joy from Joy The Baker uses cornstarch to thin all-purpose flour into lighter, more tender cake flour. For every cup of flour the recipe calls for, switch out two tablespoons of flour for cornstarch. Make sure to sift and fluff the mixture well, as you want really light flour for recipes using cake flour.
If you’re making biscuits or pie dough and don’t have a pastry cutter, to work butter into your dough, use kitchen scissors to literally cut the butter into your flour.