During the pandemic, people are spending more time cooking at home — but sometimes, the endless cycle of cooking and cleaning can leave us in a rut, leading to impulsive takeout orders.
Food and lifestyle expert Alejandra Ramos and Food and Wine culinary director-at-large Justin Chapple stopped by TODAY with Hoda and Jenna on Wednesday morning to share some great tips that can help save time in the kitchen and make it easier to cook your favorite meals.
1. Easily remove food odors from your hands
After cutting onion or garlic, rub your hands with a piece of celery to get rid of any lingering odors. You’ll still want to wash your hands just as regularly, but the “incredibly strong” essence of celery will neutralize the strong smells.
Chapple recommends saving celery scraps after cooking with them. Store them in a container with a damp paper towel and use the scraps as needed, after slicing onions or garlic.
2. Keep brown sugar soft
Brown sugar can get hard and clumpy easily, but according to Chapple, placing a slice of bread in an airtight container with the brown sugar can help. You’ll have to replace the bread every so often, but the sugar will draw moisture from the bread, keeping it soft.
3. Make perfect hard-boiled eggs
If your hard-boiled eggs tend to crack when you’re making them, Chapple has two possible solutions for you. The first method is to add vinegar to boiling water, which will tighten the egg whites. The second trick, his favorite method, involves covering the eggs with room-temperature water for 15 minutes, which will prevent them from cracking when boiling.
Related: Justin Chapple shares how to select the best eggs and showcases fun cooking techniques for this versatile protein.
4. Revive stale bread with water
There’s no need to throw out stale bread: You can rescue it by simply running it under water and baking it at 450 F for five minutes.
5. Toast nuts before adding them to meals
Toasting nuts adds a ton of flavor to even the simplest recipe, but the nuts can burn easily in the pan if you’re not keeping a close eye on them. Ramos recommends toasting them in a microwave to minimize the risk: Place them on a microwave-safe plate and pop them in the microwave for a minute or two, until they start sizzling. Let cool for a few minutes then use in your favorite recipe.
This also works with spices like whole cumin seeds. And if you’re trying to chop nuts neatly, use a pastry cutter in a bowl to keep pieces confined.
Related: Kitchen hacks may save time and energy, but not all of them are great ideas.
6. Use garlic for extra flavor in sandwiches
Ramos said she picked up this simple tip from chefs in Spain and uses it to add flavor to the most basic sandwiches. Take a peeled garlic clove and rub it over toasted bread before adding condiments. The simple method works on everything from turkey sandwiches to burgers — even on pizza crust!
7. Avoid soggy salads by changing the order of ingredients
Rather than putting dressing on salad last, Ramos recommends putting the dressing into an empty bowl, then swirling the bowl so that the dressing coats the inside. Add salad greens and other ingredients, then toss just before eating. This method will lead to perfectly-dressed greens — and leaves you with less dishes to clean.
Chile-Maple Skirt Steak Salad by Alejandra Ramos
8. Make restaurant-quality salads in minutes
Ramos said this trick comes from New York City restaurant Via Carota, which she claimed makes some of the best salads the city: Simply chill your vegetables before putting them into a salad!
Place lettuce, celery, carrots or cucumbers in a bowl filled with ice water for a few minutes, then dry the vegetables and make the salad. The method will make vegetables super-crisp and brightly colored.