There are small, but very common, irritations that prevent us from enjoying food as much as we would like or from producing food that resembles the dishes on magazine covers. Fortunately, there are also some easy ways to get around them. Here are 12 of our favorite food hacks:
1. Make cheap wine taste better
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Probably everyone has heard of the idea of letting wine breathe, especially young wine. But, realistically, who thinks far enough in advance to open the bottle and pour it into a decanter a few hours before dinner? Or, for that matter, who owns a decanter they actually think to use?
The point of aerating the wine is to let as much of the liquid come into contact with air as possible, so let’s do that. Get two pitchers. Pour the wine into one, and then pour it back and forth between the two pitchers about 15 times. It will taste better. If you don’t believe it, do the pitcher trick with half of the bottle and use the other half as a control, and see if it doesn’t.
2. Keep bugs out of your drinks
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Want a glass of lemonade on the front porch, but hate how the gnats love the sugar as much as you do? Invert a coffee filter and punch a straw through it, then place the filter on top of the drink for a cheap, easy lid. It’s not likely to be reusable, but if you’re careful, you could probably get a couple of turns out of it.
3. Cook bacon in the oven
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The heat will be distributed more evenly, so you won’t have raw ends and crisp middle parts. Try it at about 400 degrees. The first time or two, you’ll have to watch to see how long it takes, but after that it should be smooth sailing. Plus, now you’ve got a free burner to make extra pancakes when guests come over.
4. Water your guacamole (or potatoes)
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Guacamole goes brown in the fridge pretty fast. We won’t bore you with the chemistry, but the culprit is air. No matter how tightly you seal the container, some is going to get in there. One quick fix is to pour a thin layer of water on top. The water will block the air from the guacamole, keeping it nice and green. Just pour the water off when you’re ready to eat it. This same trick will work with peeled potatoes: Just keep them in water until you’re ready to use and then pour out the water.
5. Soften butter quickly
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Maybe you’re making some last-minute biscuits, and your butter is too hard to bake with. Or you want some with a dinner roll, but it’s too hard to spread. Just put it on a plate under a warm glass (either use hot, running water or a microwave to heat up the glass). Place it over the butter, making sure the butter doesn’t touch the glass. After a few minutes, the warmth will have softened the butter. There’s a lot of variables here, such as how much butter is involved, its starting temperature and how hot the glass is, so use your judgment and make sure to keep an eye on it, so you get soft butter, not liquid butter.
6. No more shells in your eggs
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Anyone who’s done any amount of cooking has cracked an egg and split it oh-so-carefully, only to have bits of shell crumble into the bowl anyway. Don’t just sigh and start poking around in there. Sigh, sure, but then wet your finger a little before you start fishing out the shell. The water will help the shell stick to your hand and save you minutes of frustrating shell fishing. Other people swear by using a (more structurally sound) bit of shell to scoop it out.
7. Get at pomegranate seeds easily
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Ripe pomegranates can be really tasty, but getting the seeds out of them without the bitter-tasting pith is a lot like work. Messy, stain-causing work. There’s an easier way. Before you start cutting into it, roll the pomegranate around on a clean surface. Press firmly, and you’ll start to hear a crackling sound as the pith separates from the seeds. Keep going until you no longer hear the crackling sound. It could take a good few minutes. Once that’s done, slice it in half.
To be on the safe side, put a paper towel over the knife and pomegranate, so that if any particularly juicy seeds start squirting, the paper towel will catch it instead of your shirt. Hold one half of the cut pomegranate inverted over a bowl, and tap on the outer shell with a spoon or something similar. The seeds will come out slowly, so you might want to give the shell a squeeze from time to time. Once you’re done, repeat with the other half. There will still be some bits of pith in the bowl, so be sure to pick those out before you eat.
8. Keep tomatoes fresh
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Once again, air is the enemy. Store tomatoes with the stem side down, because that’s where the air gets in the most quickly, and you’ll add shelf life to your tomatoes. Also, keep them at room temperature, not in the fridge.
9. Peel hard-boiled eggs easily
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Maybe you’re making an egg salad, so the look of the hard-boiled eggs doesn’t matter, but if you’re making deviled eggs, or just plain want your egg to be pretty, try adding a little baking soda to the water when you’re boiling it. The soda will permeate the shell enough to make it not stick to the egg, but shouldn’t alter the flavor.
10. Slice cheese with floss
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Want to cut some brie or other soft cheese, but hate the way a knife ends up smashing it as it cuts? Use some (unflavored) dental floss.
11. Iced, but not watered down, coffee
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Want a cold coffee, but still want it to taste like coffee? Take some of the coffee left in today’s pot and pour it into ice cube trays to freeze. Then use the frozen coffee to chill the cup the next day without losing any of the coffee flavor.
12. Have cooking wine at the ready
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The recipe calls for a cup of red wine, and you just know the cooking wine isn’t going to be good enough to make it taste right. Next time you have a bottle of wine you can’t finish, pour it into an ice-cube tray and let it freeze, then you can just drop in a couple of cubes as the recipe calls for it. Now, freezing the wine means it will taste a bit off, but as long as it’s not in the freezer too long, it should still work.
What’s your favorite food hack? Share with us in comments below or on our Facebook page.