Hakkity hack

Feb. 11, 2014 @ 09:53 AM

A hack is a tip or trick to make your life easier.
Want to play the theme from the Power Rangers on your cell? There’s a hack for that (press 3-3-2-3-9-3).
Have a big honking pimple on prom night? There’s a hack for that (dot with the liquid from an Advil gel cap).
Trying to open one of those impossible blister packs? Yep, a hack for that too (use a manual can opener).
For years I’ve had little tricks in the kitchen, to cut down on mess, to save time or save my sanity. I didn’t even know I was culinarily hacking all along.
When you pick up fresh broccoli at the supermarket, the stalks usually come fastened together with very thick rubber bands. Save them! They’re great for keeping opened bags of frozen veggies closed, and child-proofing cabinets.
Also, if you have bottles or jars that you just can’t open; wrap the rubber band around the lid.  Most of the time the extra grip will work, and you can open it easily.  Occasionally though, even the rubber band trick will fail to open a jar. In that case, grab your old-fashioned bottle opener, and just like it’s a bottle, slip it under the lid and give it a gentle lift. You’ll hear a pop when the seal is broken, and then you can easily unscrew it.
If you have mobility problems, instead of purchasing pre-sliced mushrooms, which are crazy expensive and usually not very fresh, buy whole ones, clean them and remove the stems.  Then use your egg slicer to slice them into even pieces.  This also works for strawberries.
I buy lots of fresh herbs, but don’t always use them right away. If you’d like to have pretty, perky herbs with which to cook for a few days, cut off the bottom ½ inch of the stems, and store the herbage in a glass of water in the fridge.
If you’re making deviled eggs, you don’t want a giant mess with bowls and spoons to clean.  Slice the eggs in half, and dump the yolks into a zip top bag. Add in the rest of the filling ingredients, and massage everything until fully mixed. Cut one corner off the bag and pipe into the whites. This also works when frosting cookies or cupcakes.
Speaking of cupcakes, you’re probably eating them all wrong. To get the frosting into your belly, and not your hands, face and shirt, split the cake in half length-wise, and put the bottom on top of the icing. You’ll get a neat little sandwich cake.
Go to a pet store and purchase a couple of packs of activated charcoal. They come in mesh bags and are found in the fish department.  They absorb odors and last for a very long time.  Keep one in your fridge and put others in any places or containers that are a bit stinky. I once bought an antique bread box that had been used to store a bunch of cinnamon potpourri. It reeked. In a week or so, a bag of charcoal removed the scent completely.
When you buy hamburger and plan to freeze it, take it out of the grocery store packaging. Put it in a zip top bag (I love those things), and flatten it before you freeze it. Once they’re frozen solid you can stack them, and they’ll take up almost no room (they’ll also thaw much faster).
To quickly chill beverage bottles put them in a large container with cold water, ice, and a couple of hands full of salt.  You’ll be drinking in 20 minutes.
My last trick isn’t a kitchen tip, but an awesome way to brighten a rainy day. Go, right now, and slip a $5 or $10 into the pocket of your raincoat. By the next time it rains you’ll probably have forgotten about it. But when you put your hand in your pocket, you’ll get a pleasant surprise.
I’ll bet you’ve got some odd little tricks of your own. Drop me a line to tell me about them, and in a future column I’ll share with the whole class.
Thanks for your time.
Debbie Matthews lives, writes and cooks in Durham. Her email address is momsequitur@gmail.com.