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Ask HN: What kitchen/cooking hacks that have been really effective for you?
56 points by maxpblum a year ago | hide | past | web | 63 comments | favorite

Be able to sharpen a knife and always have at least one really sharp knife.

Learn how to cut/chop efficiently.

Pixian Douban Jiang - This is the flavor you were looking for:


Measure by weight, use a thermometer.

Make stock. Decent stock is one of the secrets to really good cooking, but it is not available in stores (at least in the US). Whenever you have poultry or pork scraps or bones or whatever, cooked or raw, save them in a bag in the freezer. Dumpster dive a KFC if need be ;). When you have a lot, put it all into a big kettle, cover with water, add 1TB vinegar and a pinch of salt. Bring just briefly to a boil, then put it in a 200F oven uncovered overnight. Then screen out the bones and glop. Chill the stock overnight so you can skim the fat off. It should be like chicken Jello at this point. Freeze it. Season as needed at time of use.

For a good tutorial on sharpening & honing, checkout this insightful tutorial by French Guy Cooking: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rWYIU1L_8vA&t=5s

> add 1TB vinegar

How does anyone need more than 16MB vinegar? Get off my lawn!

Realizing how much money and time can be saved cooking rice and beans.

Good tip make “sofrito” ahead of time (puree peppers, onions, cilantro, garlic) and freeze it in an ice tray so it is already portioned and ready for when you cook.

Rice and beans takes about 20 min to make without much effort, and is pretty nutritious. Not to mention you can eat for dollars a day.

Edit: My grandmother used to feed the whole family for less than $20. And most of that cost is in meat.

A few of my own:

1. Keep a stick of butter at room temperature in a closed container. It doesn't seem to go bad (at least not if you use it within a couple of months) and it's so much more spreadable.

2. Use the broiler in your oven. It makes food taste similar to if you'd grilled it. (This might not be a "hack," since it's just working as intended.)

3. Make buttered (or olive oiled) toast in the broiler. Put on the butter in advance, then broil until it's golden brown. That way the fat soaks through.

4. Clean your blender by blending water and detergent.

5. Make bland coffee taste better by adding cinnamon to the grounds before you brew it.

6. Use your stale bread for making french toast instead of throwing it out. This is how french toast was invented, I think, but it might not be obvious that you can do this.

Re: #6, the translation of French toast in French is pain perdu, literally meaning "lost bread", because it was a recipe to recover bread that was "lost" due to going stale.

Freeze herbs - most herbs will retain flavor. I've used rosemary, thyme and lemongrass as old as 6 months.

Ginger becomes really easy to grate if its frozen. So stick it in the freezer.

Add freshly crushed Cardamom, saffron and pistachios to vanilla ice-cream. Orgasmic.

Whack a garlic clove with the back of the knife. It will peel instantly.

Put a lid on to boil faster (~10-15% faster in my experience)

Add butter to Italian red sauce. Secret of an old manhattan italian restaurant, there was a NYTimes or NewYorker article on this famous italian diner in NY and their secret was - butter.

>Whack a garlic clove with the back of the knife. It will peel instantly.

That reminds me of a supposedly Punjabi technique I heard from someone: take a whole onion and whack it hard onto a table. Instantly becomes sweet-tasting instead of pungent (if eating it raw). Don't know the science behind it, but have tried it, it works.

Depending on where you live you might find that just growing a pot of rosemary, thyme, basil, mint, etc is an option rather than freezing previously-bought pieces.

Also when it comes to flavouring ice-cream garlic is an underappreciated flavour!

Use the side of a large knife to mash whole garlic cloves. The skin will easily separate and the clove will be ready to cook or chop.

This will easily break the clove. Ok if you are going for finely chopped but less nice if you need thin slices. Another way is to roll the clove between your hands for a few seconds. Trim the top and bottom off, roll, peel.

Also if you use a garlic press, there's no need to peel. Actually it's easier to clean the pres if you don't.

> Another way is to roll the clove between your hands for a few seconds. Trim the top and bottom off, roll, peel.

Yes, that works. You have to press the garlic hard while rolling it, though, more so if it is older and drier.

> Add freshly crushed Cardamom, saffron and pistachios to vanilla ice-cream. Orgasmic.

Also, mango ice cream + blackberries. So good

Not just butter but a bit of the pasta cooking liquid in there too - the salty/starchy water is a lovely addition.

Have a meal plan and make a list before you go shopping.

Don't go shopping when you are hungry.

It's OK to regularly cook and eat the same meals.

Dried pasta is as good as fresh pasta.

You don't need much in the way of equipment, one sharp knife, one pairing knife and one serrated knife will cover most things.

Dried herbs don't last long, especially if you leave them exposed to light.

Don't put bread in the fridge, it ruins the taste. This also applies to fruit and veg although what you do will depend on your climate.

for me it is "Don't go shopping when you are not hungry"

I'm so uninspired when I'm not in the mood for food :)

LOL for me it is "Don't go shopping when your hungry"!

Buying what looks good leads to waste for me, and I really don't like to waste.

That simply means you are more likely to stick to the grocery list :)

8 sticks of unsalted butter, a small dutch oven, medium heat, and ~40 minutes gives you fantastic ghee which can be eaten by lactose intolerant folks. Strain the resulting liquid through some cheese cloth into a mason jar and set it aside to cool down. We use it as a replacement for butter.

Use cookbooks as inspiration for your own concoction. Use the ingredients you have, don't measure and be creative. It's more fun and less work-like (i.e. no treasure hunts for random ingredients) and cheaper. Note: this method doesn't work well for breads, cakes, soufflés and other precise baking recipes.

Agree with everything about this, except to say that once you have a bit of a "feel" for baking bread, you can also stop using recipes and try whatever you fancy.

Freezer cooking. Once every 4-6 months you prep about 50 meals and freeze them. Then pull them out as needed and use slow cooker. There are sites like https://www.laurengreutman.com/category/blog/aldi-meal-plans... that help do this.

We got an instant pot a few years back, and now we use that. Besides replacing the slow cooker, the pressure cooker function of it can cook a frozen meal in 30 minutes instead of 8 hours.

Shopping and cooking for one can be a hassle. I was surprised to learn how convenient it is to buy larger portions, cut them up, and freeze them in baggies. My freezer has a row of chicken, one of beef, and one of shrimp along with piles of baggies of snow peas, water chestnuts, and broccoli. I keep a baggie of chopped onion and sometimes one of green pepper in the fridge door. Added a microwave and life was way simpler.

These all fall in the "buy restaurant stuff" category:

1. Cheap stainless steel prep bowls. [0] They're just $1-$3 each, so you can get enough that you never have to hunt for a bowl while chopping or cooking. Get a bunch of little ones, a few 3 or 4 quarts, and a couple of big ones for making salads.

2. Big square graduated plastic containers, for storage and transport of liquids. [1]

3. Universal pot lid. [2] Use this to cover any pan to finish or hold proteins or veg, or steam reheat starches.

4. Cheap spring-steel tongs [3] Get at least three, they're $2 each – use 'em for everything. Much less fussy than the hinged tongs.

5. Sous vide, as mentioned above – I like the Anova.

6. Shoulder tenders. This is the cut of beef from the teres majer muscle often sold in restaurants as the "petite filet" – because it is as tender as filet mignon, more flavorful, and much cheaper. Sous vide at 128F for 2 hours, sear and eat.

[0] https://www.webstaurantstore.com/3-qt-standard-weight-stainl... [1] https://www.webstaurantstore.com/4-qt-clear-square-polycarbo... [2] http://amzn.com/B000GHKIDG [3] https://www.webstaurantstore.com/12-stainless-steel-black-sc...

- chopping (onions):

- - Cut with a big, sharp knife, use your knuckles for alignment so you don't cut yourself.

- - Cut one direction, but don't worry about retaining the shape for the next cross-cut. Roughly align the stick-shapes after the first cut (spread out in to a longer line if too much to handle) and do the 2nd cut. It's not so bothersome if some onion pieces are not perfectly square, for things to cook evenly only the thinnest dimension matters and this is way faster than doing things carefully.

- cut tomatoes slightly off-center and you only have to remove 1 green spot (actually just not through the "poles", still through the center)

- sharpening a knife without a tool: use the underside edge of a cup or plate, it is usually not coated and works fine for sharpening.

- rather than cutting everything beforehand, I'm not afraid to take e.g. the onions out of the pan to fry the next vegetable and than mix it back to together at the end. (if you need to clean the pan, de-glaze it with a sup of water)

- don't be afraid to add water when things get to dry!

- use enough fat, makes everything taste better (especially important for vegan stuff)

- rescue boring improvised sauces by adding: ginger, chili, cilantro, soy-sauce

- make pasta sauce less thin by pouring in a bit of the pasta-water

- tomato sauce: cheat with tomato paste if you don't want to boil/simmer it down for very long.

- avocados: Take out the kernel by hitting it with the knife (like laying an axe to rest in a block of wood) and twisting (but don't hit too hard or it will become hard to get it off the knife). Use the biggest, roundest spoon you can find for peeling.

IMO the key to chopping an onion is to leave the root end intact, that way the bits are held together for the second cut. Then there is no holding together or spreading out of the bits required. Try it and you'll never go back!

See here: https://www.realsimple.com/food-recipes/cooking-tips-techniq...

I think my messy method is easier, at least for me. It takes a lot of my momentum out, when I have to aim not to cut through the root.

Also out onions in the freezer for 10-15 minutes before cutting if they make your eyes tear. The cold reduces this effect.

I've heard that cutting them under water helps for that. I don't do it myself because I think (unscientifically) that the tearing they cause might be good to clean out the eyes of any gunk - particularly if living in an area with dust.

Good quality equipment especially a good stand mixer, food processor and stainless steel everything helps a lot.

Shop at Sam's club or costco and potion large items ahead of time.

Plan menu items that can be prepared in individual servings like a restaurant so everyone can have what they want for dinner with little hassle.

The above tips let me run a family of 5 for about $300 per month food budget while serving delicious foods.

I have to say that a decent blender is ALMOST a requirement as well.

Off the top of my head things you can do with a blender that don't go well in the other devices you listed:

Broccoli soup, vegetable stock and hollandaise have all come out of my blender recently. The blender makes all of these items rather trivial to make compared to their classical preparations.

If you have to choose, go for stick blenders or immersion blenders over tabletop ones. They're easier to store, easier to clean, and can work with all sorts of bowls and containers.

I agree, I missed blender because my stand mixer has a blender attachment, pasta maker and meat grinder so I tend to lump them all together, but yes a blender is absolutely essential.

The Chef-Steps Facebook messenger bot https://www.messenger.com/t/Chefsteps is very useful for anyone with a Sous-vide machine. You can use it to quickly look up time / temperature settings.

It's not really a "hack" but getting a Sous-vide machine has probably been the biggest game changer for me. Being able to "perfectly" cook steaks/seafood at home with great ease is fantastic. Probably saved me hundreds of £££ over the past few years as I eat out a lot less now.

You can get a lot done with a good stir fry pan, knife, and cutting board. I'd invest in quality versions of those 3 before anything else.

I just got an InstantPot - so far it lives up to the hype. I've made chili, Thai curry 2x, rice, and hardboiled eggs so far, and they've all turned out fantastically, and all in under 30 minutes.

Find your favorite flavor combinations and work them into your meals. I love the combination of lime and salt, so I'll use that in rice, salads, stir fries, etc.

Sriracha/Cholula/insert your favorite hot sauce can save an otherwise bland dish.

On lazy weeks, I buy one of those big boxes of fresh mixed greens, a rotisserie chicken, and some guacamole. Then I make a big salad for each day of the week with just those ingredients. It's cheap, tastes good, and is on point nutritionally.

I just switched from cooking with olive oil to avocado oil. It has a higher smoke point and maintains its fat profile in high temps, and I haven't noticed a difference in taste/quality.

I'm starting doing this today https://www.t-nation.com/diet-fat-loss/tip-eat-rice-without-... Already cooked the first batch

And yes I know that reducing the calories of a staple food is the very definition of a First World Problem...

Here's the tl;dr for anyone else interested:

> It's remarkably simple. By boiling the rice in water mixed with coconut oil, you change the architecture of the rice, turning it into a "resistant starch," where two polysaccharides, amylose and amylopectin, connect to form indigestible bridges. Chilling the rice for 12 hours leads to further conversion of starches. The result is a food with far fewer calories.

How did your first batch turn out? I've heard the same about potatoes - they are a resistant starch and with each subsequent cooling off/re-heating cycle you increase the resistant starch levels.

The implication that white rice makes you fat, however, is ridiculous. Singling out one staple food (besides sugar) isn't helpful. Anything will make you fat in high enough qualities. Not a jab at you OP, but more our culture of maligning single food groups. (again, besides sugar :) )

How did your first batch turn out? I've heard the same about potatoes - they are a resistant starch and with each subsequent cooling off/re-heating cycle you increase the resistant starch levels.

Pretty nice, slight coconut taste, no discernible difference in texture, what flavour there was was mostly obscured by the curry I made. I think this will be my regular technique provided I can be organised enough. Maybe whip up the evening’s rice while I make breakfast.

I wonder if you get that effect with triple-fried chips, which are very fashionable right now.

> I've heard the same about potatoes - they are a resistant starch and with each subsequent cooling off/re-heating cycle you increase the resistant starch levels.

Don't do that to rice though, you significantly increase the risk of food poisoning. (And heat doesn't prevent it.)

Reheating rice can cause food poisoning? I'd never heard of that, but it seems to be legit: https://www.nhs.uk/chq/Pages/can-reheating-rice-cause-food-p...

However, you have to leave cooked rice at room temperature for that to be a concern. The method discussed above speaks of "chilling" the rice.

In any case, I've eaten plenty of rice (and lots of other things) left at room temperature for a day, and I've never had problems. But yeah, anecdata.

This thread reminds me of a similar one entitled something like "What are your food hacks?" that I saw on HN years ago.

I did a quick search for that thread on hn.algolia.com so that I could post the link, but did not find it, maybe because their data collection does not go back that far.

One of the comments in it that I found interesting was by PG, who wrote about how to cook rice and beans, to save on costs.

Wasn't just about the costs, was interesting otherwise too.

E.g. (after the prep) put the stuff in the cooker, and forget about it :)

Was reminded of it by both the thread subject and by this comment by navd in this thread:


Mostly ordering carryout and saving the time of cooking.

When I do cook, I opt for pre-prepped ingredients if possible.

Use plastic bags or containers to keep vegetables fresh in the fridge. Things like carrots dry out in no time in a fridge but stay usable for weeks if you simply keep them in a plastic bag. I've thrown away vegetables for years before figuring this out.

Similarly you can put most vegetables in a glass of water and they'll last a whole lot longer. Where I live vegetables aren't always very fresh and by doing this I can take wilty kale, for example, and make it full and crisp

When using green chillies in Indian gravy (i.e. wet) dishes, instead of adding and cooking them in the traditional way, try slicing them on both sides longitudinally (also remove heads and tips), and then add them to the dish somewhere in the middle or near the end of cooking. I discovered this technique while experimenting, and found that the resulting taste of the dish differs from the traditional use of chillies. It gives more of a good flavor and less of heat / spiciness.

A vitamix blender is the best thing I've ever purchased. I don't really care for eating salads, but I try to eat healthy. So I will blend combinations of the following: greens, apple, celery, cucumber, oranges, lemon, ginger, frozen pineapple, and frozen mango, and plain protein. Wakes me up better than coffee, and keeps me full till lunch.

Using a digital thermometer (dual probe) to monitor the actual temperature of the food. An instant-read digital thermometer is also handy. It is a game-changer for meat preparation. Although the best (Thermoworks) are circa $100 you because they have larger displays and read times of only 2 seconds, you can get a circa $15 one now with 4 to 5 second read times which is good enough most of the time.

Always stir fry some finely chopped onions and garlic before putting anything else

Use steam bags. My lunch today: i cut a largish potato in 8 slices, put a bit of salt, steamed it for 7 min in a steam bag in the microwave, then ate it with some sour cream and riccotta cheese.

Uncooked corn cobs snap easily in half. There is no need to get out a knife, which is a huge pain and does a lot of collateral damage to the corn. Just break it in two with your bare hands before cooking.

Potatoes are a staple food that you can nearly live on with nothing else. Keeping easy to cook versions of them on hand that you can add a little something to makes it easy to throw together a fresh, healthy meal.

Easy to cook versions include various forms of frozen potatoes, like hash browns and potatoes O'Brien, plus fresh ones that need little prep, like new potatoes or other varieties that basically need to be washed, but not peeled.

Hash browns plus potatoes O'Brien plus an egg or something is a way to have non boring potatoes with a bit of veggies and protein. New potatoes plus frozen chicken plus butter and spices can be baked together for a simple, no hassle meal.

When you feel and chop aromatic items like onions, garlic it peppers, run the wastes through the disposal. It help kill stuff growing in the disposal.

Your disposal blades can be sharpened by putting a mixture of cold water and ice through it. Be careful to not overload it with too much ice at one time.

If you use coconut oil, it can be kept in a liquid state by storing on a warm spot on the counter. If your fridge is next to a counter, the heat coming off the back can help create a warm spot.

I have been told, but not tried it: If you want a butter like spread and don't want margarine, you can store olive oil in the fridge to get it to firm up and make it spreadable.

If you have only ever had canned pineapple and you think it is gross, try actual fresh pineapple. You may finally understand the appeal. If you live on the West Coast, whole fresh pineapple is typically available at a reasonable price most if the year.

If you have a George Foreman grill, a nice meal to grill on it is a small steak, a thick slab of yam and a thick slab of fresh pineapple. You can also grill some onion with it if you like.

When you make spaghetti, don't bother to try to figure out how much noodles you need. Just make the entire thing of noodles. Cold leftover noodles with Parmesan cheese and some apple slices is yummy. Or you can fry the noodles up with an egg.

If you like homemade pizza but you don't make it often and are sick of throwing out gross, moldy mozzarella that never got used, use Parmesan instead of mozzarella for your pizza. It keeps better.

Pizza can be a source of veggies. Fresh chopped pineapple, onion and green or red peppers goes great with a little pepperoni.

Rinse grapes as soon as you get them home and pull them off the stem. They will keep for up to a week without getting all gross and mushy.

Celery can be kept fresh by standing it in a glass of ice water in the fridge.

Do not store apples and potatoes together. They rot faster if you do.

If you like bananas, get a banana hook to hang them from. It really makes a difference in how well they keep.

Cooking for one? Freeze small steaks in ones and twos in ziploc bags. Thaw them in minutes in a bowl of warm water in the sink.

You can ask your butcher to cut a thick London broil into very thin breakfast steaks. They will cook super fast and make it a breeze to throw together a light meal.

It's true about the olive oil! I left some in a glass in the fridge recently, and it solidied to a soft translucent yellow the consistency of moderately soft butter, perfectly spreadable. Why it isn't more of a thing I have no idea.

It would be a great way to make flavored spreads easily. Toss in herbs of your choosing, refrigerate. Voila! Flavored butter substitute for almost no effort.

ohh I didn't even notice I was replying to you. :-)

p.s. You said you've done a lot of blogging - where can I find that online?

I recently removed a bunch of my work from the web or simply stopped developing it. There is a partial list of new/current (not very fleshed out) projects here:


An old personal blog with substantial content is here:


I also have an old health blog called Mic Eats on blogspot that has substantial content. Like the one above, it is not being further developed, but it is also not being removed from the internet.

I have a number of new projects kind of in the idea stage. When they have some content, they will be added to my Patreon site. I also tweet new posts when they are published, even for blogs I have no desire to list on Patreon.

Aha thanks. (Well, nothing can be removed from the web - still accessible via the WaybackMachine...)

Have you read Steven Pressfield's Nobody Wants To Read Your Shit? An entertaining read. Maybe will help you take it less personally that no-one seems to want to read/hear you.

>>There's a mantra that real writers know but wannabe writers don’t. And the secret phrase is this:


Recognizing this painful truth is the first step in the writer's transformation from amateur to professional.

“When you understand that nobody wants to read your shit, you develop empathy. You acquire the skill that is indispensable to all artists and entrepreneurs—the ability to switch back and forth in your imagination from your own point of view as writer/painter/seller to the point of view of your reader/gallery-goer/customer. You learn to ask yourself with every sentence and every phrase: Is this interesting? Is it fun or challenging or inventive? Am I giving the reader enough? Is she bored? Is she following where I want to lead her?"<<

- use induction cook top with preset timers for boiling milk

- use induction cook top with preset timers for preparing rice.

- use food processor to prepare dough

- use two induction cook tops for parallel processing.

total meal preparation time 20 mins.

Hit a pomegranate with a mallet or bang it on the counter before opening. This will loosen most of the seeds.

The night before a chicken bbq, add in a tablespoon of yogurt to your marinating spices. It helps the chicken stay much more moist.

Quickly peel an egg by tapping it on and rolling it over the table first so that the shell breaks into small pieces.

Just order takeaways if you can get healthy meals there or try recipe boxes with ready to use ingredients.

Using Scissors to cut chilies, herbs is easy and effective compared to using a knife.

Grow herbs in your house, it is easy

Add taco seasoning to your scrambled eggs. It will make a delicious breakfast burrito that way.

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