The Frugal Café | Photo credit: Rebecca Anne, "Flora's Cup"</a> | Creative Commons License,
Photo credit: Rebecca Anne, "Flora's Cup" | Creative Commons License,

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Frugal Café's Savvy 16, Volume 3: 16 More Kitchen & Shopping Tricks to Save You Money & Time

By Vicki McClure Davidson


This is the third installment in our "Savvy 16" series of kitchen and shopping tricks.

Eggplants can be difficult to slice, so using a serrated knife is best. And, as shown in this photo, eggplants are not just purple, but a range of colors. | Photo credit: Kevin Connors,


Eggplants can be difficult to slice, so using a serrated knife is best. And, as shown in this photo, eggplants are not just purple, but a range of colors. | Photo credit: Kevin Connors,
  1. Oil the Pasta Pot: Many people add a bit of oil to the water before boiling pasta to reduce its sticking. A more effective method, though, is to drizzle the oil into the bottom of the pot BEFORE adding the water. Tilt and swirl the oil around the pot before adding the water, instead of the other way around. After doing this, your pasta is much less likely to stick to the bottom of the pot.

  2. Slicing Thin Eggplant Slices: Eggplant is difficult to cut with a regular chef's knife unless the blade is extremely sharp. To get thin, even slices, a sawing action is needed. Use a serrated knife, such as a bread knife, and eggplant can be easily sliced to the desired thinness.

  3. De-Salting Ham: To remove much of the saltiness of ham, soak it for several hours in a big pot of cold water before cooking. The water will leech out from the ham a significant amount of salt.

  4. Cleaning Leeks: As wonderful leeks are in dishes, they are a chore to thoroughly clean. Dirt and grit become trapped inside the tightly wrapped leaves. So, instead of trying to clean them before chopping, chop them first. After you're done chopping, put all the cut leeks into a bowl of cold water. Swish the leeks about in the water for a minute, and the sand and dirt will dislodge and settle to the bottom of the bowl. You can lift out the now-clean leek pieces with your hands, a slotted spoon, or strainer. Don't dump the leeks and water from the bowl into a colander—the dirt will follow the water and will redeposit on the leeks.

  5. Making Deviled Eggs: This is an incredibly easy way to make deviled eggs. Put your cooked egg yolks in a zip-lock bag. Seal the bag and mash the egg yolks until they are all broken up. Add your additional ingredients (mayonaisse, mustard, crushed garlic, chopped green onions, herbs, salt, whatever you typically put into your deviled eggs). Reseal the bag and continue to mash and mix the eggs and other ingredients together thoroughly. When that's accomplished, cut off the tip of one of the bag's corners, squeeze mixture into cooked halved egg whites. When done, throw the zip-lock bag away (since you cut a hole in it, it isn't salvageable).

  6. Just a Squirt of Lemon: I love using fresh lemon when cooking (we have a handsome lemon tree on the side yard, and fresh lemons are so much more flavorful than bottled lemon juice, no matter what advertisers would have you believe). Some recipes, though, only ask for a teaspoon or a squirt of lemon, not the entire fruit. Not to worry about waste! Just prick the lemon on one of its ends with a thick toothpick or a skewer. Squeeze out as much juice as is needed for your recipe. You can then keep the lemon fresh by leaving the toothpick or skewer in the hole or store it in the fridge wrapped in plastic. Aluminum foil isn't the best choice for air-tight wrapping because of lemon juice's high acid level, which will eat through the foil. It should be OK to use if stored for just a short while.

  7. Reviving Limp Vegetables: You can perk up limp, listless vegetables that have languished too long in your crisper by soaking them for a few minutes in 2 cups of water with a tablespoon of vinegar.

  8. Frying Ground Beef & Grilling Hamburgers: Here's a trick for removing grease when frying ground beef. Add a teaspoon of water to the pan when frying hamburger on the stove. The water will pull a lot of the grease away from the meat while cooking, making it less fatty. When grilling hamburgers, don't press on them while they're cooking on the grill. They'll release their juices and end up dry and crumbly.

  9. Greenish Carrots: Avoid buying carrots that are tinged with green because they can be bitter. Cut very large carrots in half lengthwise and examine the core of the carrot. If it looks dramatically distinct from the rest of the carrot, it has become woody. Pry it out with the tip of a sturdy paring knife. A woody core is fibrous and unpleasant to eat.

  10. Tomatoes, when cooked, are notorious for staining plastic storage containers if you don't pre-treat them, which is simple to do. | Photo credit: jetlovski,


    Tomatoes, when cooked, are notorious for staining plastic storage containers if you don't pre-treat them, which is simple to do. | Photo credit: jetlovski,
  11. Preventing Cooked Tomato Stains in Plastic Storage Containers: To prevent those faint pink stains from occurring in your plastic storage containers holding leftover spaghetti sauce or chili beans or other reddish, acidic dishes, coat the container's interior with cooking spray before putting in the food.

  12. Speed-ripening Peaches: To quickly ripen an unripe peach, put it in a closed paper bag with a ripe banana. What you're doing is trapping ethylene gas, a natural emission of ripening bananas, which accelerates the ripening process of many fruits and vegetables. However, ethylene gas can also age your fresh produce faster, turning it mushy and rotten in record time. Click here to read about fresh produce that is sensitive to ethylene gas and what to do to stop it from ruining your fruits and vegetables, thus driving up your food bill.

  13. No Cold Storage for Honey: Honey should be stored in an airtight container at room temperature. Don't put it into the refrigerator. If it becomes too cold (and it doesn't take much cold for this to happen), honey will begin to crystallize.

  14. Removing a Lettuce Core: To easily remove the core from a head of lettuce, hit the core solidly on the top of the counter. This will separate the core from the head. The core can then be removed by giving it a slight twist and pulling it out.

  15. Mashed Potato Madness: Potatoes are finicky when being mashed, so be careful to not overdo it. Using a food processor, hand blender, or hand mixer is too much whipping. Your taters will turn into a horrid, gummy mess that is reminiscent of that homemade paste we used in grade school. Using a potato ricer (a handy gizmo with very fine holes that forces cooked potato chunks through the holes and leaves them smooth and lump-free) or mashing with an old-fashioned hand masher is much better for achieving the right texture. Also, leave potato peels on when boiling them for mashed potatoes. Peeling and then cooking, while cutting down on stove time, will make the potatoes watery and bland. Most of their flavor and starch will leech into the boiling water. Instead, cook them with peels on and peel them when they're done and still warm. Then, mash away. The cooking time will be longer, but it's worth it.

  16. Stopping Cut Apples from Turning Brown: To prevent the cut surface of an apple from browning, dip it in lemon or orange juice. A bit of lemon juice will also stop the browning of the cut surface of bananas, pears, Jerusalem artichokes, and avocados.

  17. Lifting a Roasted Chicken Out from the Roasting Pan: Do you struggle to lift up and out from the baking pan your beautiful roasted chicken, only to have a wing or leg fall off or the lovely browned skin bashed or torn during the ordeal? Try this: Get a large, sturdy chef's knife or a long-handled wooden spoon. Insert it into the bird's hollow cavity. You should be able to lift the chicken out, neatly and easily, and then transfer it intact to the serving platter.




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