Mary Anne here. The Bloomingdale’s demo yesterday was fantastic – exhilarating, exciting and a little nerve-wracking, but more to come on that tomorrow.
Yesterday, at the demo, I shared my Top 10 Kitchen Tips for saving time, saving money and saving food. There are hundreds of tips and I’ll keep sharing, but these are a few I follow religiously in my own kitchen. I would love to hear what your favorite time- and money-savers are!
- Plan ahead! Prepare components of your meals ahead of time. For instance if you know you want Tacos on Tuesday, grate the cheese and prepare the meat or chicken filling a day or two before and refrigerate it in a covered container. When you get home from work on Taco Tuesday, they’re halfway to being ready. Added benefit: you took the 5 extra minutes to grate a block of cheese, which is much cheaper than buying it pre-grated.
- Take advantage of seasonal produce and save big bucks. For instance, during April and May, stock up on fancier fare like asparagus, artichokes, mangoes, butter lettuce, pineapple, strawberries, vidalia onions, green beans and apricots, without breaking the bank. For a complete list of seasonal produce, check out Fruits and Veggies More.
- Make your own salad dressing: it’s much cheaper than bottled and a lot healthier since it’s not loaded with chemicals and preservatives. Plus, you can control how much oil you use. Generally, two-parts vinegar to one-part oil will lighten things up, but add a teaspoon or two of honey to mitigate the acidity. Make the dressing about half-an-hour or more beforehand so that the flavors will mingle, especially if you’re using herbs and seasonings. The shallot dressing from the Salade Nicoise is a flavorful, versatile accompaniment to just about any salad. The balsamic dressing from the Wild Rice Salad is another great basic.
- Store-bought Crème Fraiche is great with meats and stews, but it’s also very expensive. For homemade Crème Fraiche combine one part sour cream and one part heavy whipping cream. Whisk together the creams in a glass bowl. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and leave in a warm spot, overnight in the kitchen. The mixture thickens and this process can take up to 16-24 hours depending on the warmth of your kitchen. After the mixture has thickened, transfer to the fridge for 4 hours where it will continue to thicken.
- To save time and money, use your freezer! Broth-based soups (versus cream-based) freeze and defrost beautifully. I freeze individual portions in plastic Chinese food containers and then defrost them for 24-hours in the refrigerator. Crab cakes, rice-based dishes, meatballs, tomato- and meat-based sauces, chili, breads and most baked goods also freeze well. Steer clear of freezing salads, veggies, mayo-based foods, and cheese.
- Fresh herbs are expensive, so I extend their fridge-life by cutting off the stems at the bottom, placing the stems in a glass of water – like you would with cut flowers – then covering the top “leaves” in an unsealed plastic bag in the refrigerator. Stored this way, fresh herbs should last at least a week.
- Berries can also be so expensive and they often mold before you have a chance to enjoy them. To avoid premature expiration, remove berries from their packaging as soon as you get home and discard anything that looks like it may be starting to rot. Place the unwashed berries in an unsealed tupperware and pop it in the fridge. They should last about five days.
- Unused avocado halves tend to oxidize pretty quickly. To prevent their soft green flesh from immediately turning hard and brown, keep the pit intact and squeeze a bit of lemon juice over the exposed half. Place the avocado in an airtight container in the fridge. Stored this way, your avocado should last two days. UPDATE: Epicurious’ Serena Bass sprayed a bit of Pam on her leftover avocado half (with the pit in place) and she stored it unsealed in her refrigerator for three days without compromising consistency or flavor!
- To make the most out of a cheaper or tougher cut of meat, grab a mallet, preferably a steel mallet with spikes. Wrap the meat in plastic wrap and then pound each side evenly for about a minute. Make sure to tenderize evenly so that the meat cooks evenly.
- Keep your eyes dry when chopping fresh onions, shallots and jalapenos by holding a piece of bread between your teeth – it absorbs the vapors. An audience member at yesterday’s Bloomingdale’s demo likes to use goggles in her own kitchen. And when you’re chopping jalapenos in particular, always wear rubber gloves – if you accidentally touch your eye before washing your hands, you’re in for a long, painful night.
- There are certain items in my kitchen I couldn’t cook without – for instance, I couldn’t live without sharp knives, JA Henckels is my favorite brand. Instead of using a whetstone, I sharpen mine once a week using a Wusthof stainless steel sharpener – about 5-10 swipes on the coarse side, then 5-10 swipes on the fine side always going with the grain, not against it. A sharp knife will easily slice through a ripe tomato – that’s the ultimate test in my kitchen. You’ll also need a good cutting board. I prefer wooden boards that have a moat to catch the juices from rare meats. But don’t forget to regularly disinfect wooden boards; they’re porous so they will absorb bacteria.
- Set it and forget it: If you plan to use a stockpot or a Dutch oven as a slow cooker, spray it with a light coating of “Pam” beforehand. It makes the clean up so much quicker!
For tips on using up forgotten pantry items and kitchen stock before it goes bad, check out this post.
For tips on cheap grocery shopping in NYC, check out this post.