Put these time and money saving kitchen hacks to use in your home kitchen! Part of my series where I share my best pro chef tips so you can be a better cook.
It’s been awhile since I last shared some of my best tips and tricks to help make you a better cook. As someone who has worked as a professional chef for over ten years, there’s so much I’ve learned along the way, from observing other chefs in action to small actions I’ve intuitively applied while running my private chef and catering company Le Petit Chef, that I want to share with others who are looking to improve their skills.
There are all kinds of tricks professional chefs employ that can also be applied to a home kitchen situation, including learning proper knife skills, the art of mise en place and more. I’ve opened up my knife bag to show you my most essential items that I take with me on every job, and today I want to share some tried and true hacks to save you both time and money when it comes to cooking. Because let’s face it; we’re always trying to save money any way we can, right? And becoming more efficient in the kitchen will certainly make you a better cook.
For the past year or so, every time I was on a cooking job or just cooking at home and employed one of these time and money saving kitchen hacks, I would jot it down in a notebook or my phone, and I’m so happy to finally be able to put this post together so that they can live in one place!
Bring butter to room temperature faster
Have you ever needed room temperature butter for a baking recipe but you forgot to set your butter out in advance? This actually happens to me all the time. Not that I necessarily forget, but sometimes I’m on the job and coming straight from the grocery store and the first thing on my prep list is to make cookies or buttercream frosting or whatever, but the butter is still cold from the grocery case.
So here’s what you do to get it to room temp, stat: cut the butter into small pieces and place it in a bowl. Then place it in a warm area such as near the oven (if it’s turned on) or even outside if it’s a sunny day. The smaller, individual pieces of butter will soften much more quickly than a solid stick. Depending on how warm the area where you set it is, your butter can soften in as little as ten minutes!
Cool items down faster on a baking tray
If you have cooked something that you need to cool quickly such as a batch of rice for fried rice or quinoa for quinoa cakes (shown above), spread it on a baking tray. Because it’s spread into a thin layer, more surface is exposed to room temperature air, so it will cool down much more quickly (as little as five minutes) than if you were to leave it in the pot that it was cooked in.
Get a pot of water boiling ASAP
I’m a self taught chef, but I picked this one up from a friend in who was enrolled in culinary school at the time. No one wants to wait for water to boil- every hear that saying about a watched pot? So if you have a bunch of things to do in the kitchen and one of them includes boiling something, just get that pot going first thing so it will be ready when you need it. The same goes for preheating the oven, actually. Usually the very first thing I do when I get to someone’s house to start cooking is turn the oven(s) on to at least 350 degrees, and that way I don’t have to wait for them to preheat when I need them.
Don’t peel your veggies
If your vegetables are organic or at least very well cleaned, no need to bother peeling them unless you really want to for aesthetic purposes. You’ll save so much time this way, and plus there’s loads of extra nutrients and fiber in those carrot, cucumber and potato skins!
Embrace microplanes, mandolines, squeeze bottles and salt cellars
These tools that are standard in professional kitchens for the sole purpose of efficiency, but might not necessarily be found in the average home kitchen. But they should be! Investing in these tools will wind up saving you precious minutes in the kitchen.
- Microplane– I’ve talked about these before in previous posts, and I think every kitchen needs one. From grating garlic to shallot to citrus zest to nutmeg to fine shreds of cheese, they are so handy and make quick work of these flavor boosting jobs.
- Mandoline– same goes for a mandolin in terms of slicing vegetables thinly, uniformly and quickly. It’s so much faster than using a knife and results in more precise cuts. Just be careful when using and keep your fingers and knuckles away from that super sharp blade!
- Squeeze bottles– many restaurant kitchens use these to store cooking oil and other sauces because it saves them from having to unscrew the cap off of containers countless times. At home, instead of a plastic squeeze bottle I use a glass oil cruet because it’s prettier, but it’s the same concept.
- Salt cellar– Consider how many times you use salt throughout the day. If you don’t own a salt cellar, think of how many times you are removing the cap from that salt grinder or how much time it takes to shake salt from the shaker into the palm of your hand. Now think of how much time you would save if all you had to do was reach into a little crock filled with salt. Those seconds can really add up over time.
Keep a stash bowl handy
This is a solid time and money saving kitchen hack because it saves you multiple trips to the trash can (or even if the trash is next to you in a cupboard, you still have to open and close it every time). When doing something like chopping vegetables, dump your scraps or other bits of trash into a bowl. Minimize your trips to the trash can, or better yet, save those scraps for this next money saving tip….
Save your vegetable scraps to compost, make stock or feed chickens
There’s so much we can do with those vegetable scraps while reducing our carbon footprint, so this is one of my favorite time and money saving kitchen hacks to share. If you have a compost pile, that’s a no brainer. Ditto if you have chickens: feed them the scraps they are able to eat and save money on chicken feed. But I think the most common and practical use is to freeze them in a container and when you have enough, you can make a batch of vegetable stock that tastes worlds better than any store bought version you can find. Here’s a recipe for easy vegetable scrap stock from The Kitchn.
Revive stale bread
I love this tip too because it’s like magic. If you have a partial loaf of bread that is just a wee bit stale, don’t toss it! Run some water around the crust…don’t soak it, though. I like to fill the palm of my hand with water and then coat the outside of the loaf with it a couple of times. Then pop it in the oven at about 300 degrees for 6-7 minutes. You will marvel at the good-as-new, tender on the inside yet crunchy on the outside bread that emerges from the oven.
Here’s the science behind it: the water turns to steam, which rehydrates the bread’s interior, while the heat of the oven firms up the crust. But I still like to think it’s magic.
Save wilting herbs
Any herbs that are starting to look less than fresh or that you know you won’t be able to use before they go bad can get a second chance at life with this easy hack: pulse them in a food processor along with enough olive oil to cover. Then pour the mixture into a clean ice cube tray and freeze. Once frozen you can put the cubes into a container and label it so it’s easy to tell which herb is which. Or you can combine herbs together if you want! Then just pop a cube or two into your cooking to add a little flavor boost to soups, stews, roasts, sautés and more!
You can also blend up the herbs with the oil and strain them out using a cheesecloth to make an herb infused oil, which is shown above.
Grow your own herbs
An even better way to ensure that herbs don’t go to waste is to grow your own! You’ll save so much money this way because you can snip off only as much as you need from the plant, sparing you from purchasing a huge bunch when you might only need a couple of tablespoons. I currently have wild mint, rosemary bushes and lavender bushes in the backyard, a small potted bay leaf tree (fresh bay leaves are SO much better than dried, by the way) and a pot of basil on the kitchen counter, but this is something I want to commit to getting better at, so this summer I’m going to plant cilantro, parsley, thyme, chives, oregano and dill in a vertical planter. I’ll let you know how it goes!
Make your own trail mix
This isn’t really a pro chef tip but I still count it as one of my time and money saving kitchen hacks, because trail mix can be pricey! I always have those last little bits of nuts and dried fruit laying around that don’t necessarily sound so appealing on their own anymore, but rather than throw them out I will often combine them into a DIY trail mix. It’s a great way to clean out your cupboard and it really motivates me to finish up all that stuff because it’s not just boring almonds and cashews and dried cranberries anymore, now it’s a fun trail mix (especially if you throw a handful of chocolate chips in there)!
Learn to pickle (and shrub)
Pickling vegetables is another of my time and money saving kitchen hacks. By not letting surplus produce go to waste, you’re saving money! You can pickle pretty much anything, even fruit! Vegetables I love to pickle include onions, beets, carrots, green beans, cucumbers, radishes and cabbage, but I’m sure there are tons more that would pickle beautifully! Preserving them with vinegar substantially increases their lifespan, and it’s great to add extra acidity to your dishes. As far as fruit, I had a wonderful pickled pineapple something on top of fish in Costa Rica that I’ve been dying to recreate, and I love making drinking shrubs with berries and stone fruit- here’s my recipe for a Blueberry Apricot Shrub that you must try this summer!