It has been a busy week for me. As I contemplated a topic for this week, my brain was still thinking of a hundred different things.


I was having trouble settling on something to write about because my thoughts kept returning to my to-do list. I finally decided I would share some tips and tricks to get you in and out of the kitchen quicker.


Maybe you’ve heard of some of these. Hopefully there are others you will want to try.


If you have tricks of your own, I’d love to hear them! I’m always looking for ways to streamline my time in the kitchen.


Tips and tricks

• Love onions but hate the harsh taste? Try soaking your cut onions in a mixture of one cup water with one tablespoon of baking soda for 15 minutes. Be sure to rinse well before continuing to use in your favorite recipe.


• Revive crystallized honey in a pot of hot water. Simply place the jar of honey in a pot of hot (not boiling) water and wait a few minutes. The honey crystals will disappear, and your honey will be as good as new!


• Need to juice a lemon but can’t find (or don’t have) a citrus reamer? Hold half a lemon in one hand and a pair of kitchen tongs in the other hand. Holding the tongs closed, stick the pincers into the halved fruit and use a twisting motion to extract the juice.


• Speaking of juicing a lemon (or lime or orange), you will be able to extract more juice if you place the fruit on the counter and gently roll it back and forth with the palm of your hand before cutting it to juice. The rolling motion breaks down some of the membranes, allowing more juice to flow.


• Need to slice kiwi, strawberries or bananas for a fruit salad but hate trying to keep up with the slippery fruit? Try your egg slicer. You’ll get even slices and won’t have to try to catch the kiwi before it slides off the cutting board! (This trick only works on soft foods, with a firmness similar to hard-boiled eggs.)


• Next time you need to measure sticky ingredients (peanut butter, honey, molasses, etc.), try spraying the inside of the measuring cup with vegetable oil spray. When emptied, the ingredient will slide right out of the cup.


• Make homemade cookies anytime! If you keep some frozen dough on hand, you can make as many (or as few) fresh-baked cookies as you like. Simply form the dough into balls, place on a cookie sheet and freeze. Once the balls are firm, transfer to a zip-top bag and store in the freezer. A word of warning though: frozen cookie dough balls make a tempting midnight snack right out of the freezer. (Watch out for raw eggs ...)


• One way to pit an avocado calls for inserting a chef’s knife into the stone of the halved fruit and twisting. A safer method is to use a waiter’s corkscrew. Hold the avocado firmly against the counter top and insert the corkscrew. The pit can then be easily (and safely) pulled out.


• Speaking of avocados, if you’re only going to use half of the fruit, leave the pit in the second half and wrap securely in plastic wrap. The pit will help prevent the fruit from darkening.


• Place a wooden spoon over boiling water to keep it from boiling over. This is especially useful when cooking pasta, potatoes or any grains that tend to foam up and boil over.


• Next time you boil eggs, add a generous splash of white vinegar to the boiling water and then carefully add your eggs. Boil for 15 minutes, then rinse under cool, running water to stop the cooking. The shells will practically fall off. I always hated peeling boiled eggs before my daughter taught me this trick.


• Here’s a trick that I use quite often. It seems that as I get older my hands get weaker – or the jar lids get tighter. Anyway, next time you’ve got a lid that just won’t budge, try putting a thick rubber band around the lid and then twisting. The rubber gives you a better grip and the lid comes loose much more easily. I’ve found that those thick little bands they put around bunches of asparagus work particularly well, and I save some just for this purpose!


Waste not, want not

It was one of my mom’s favorite sayings: Waste not, Want not. And with today’s high cost of groceries its just as useful today as it was 40 years ago when I was a child.


• Extra garlic? You can freeze it. Just peel, mince or press the cloves and cover with enough mild-flavored oil to coat. Then spoon heaping teaspoons of the mixture onto baking sheets and freeze. Transfer the frozen portions to a freezer bag or container.


• Don’t you just hate to throw away 90 percent of the bunch of fresh herbs when you purchase them in the grocery store? I always wish they would sell just a pinch! Use a similar method as above to save fresh herbs. Simply chop and place in ice cube trays. Cover with olive oil and store in the freezer. The oil keeps the herbs from browning and getting freezer burn. This is also a great way to save the bounty of herbs from your garden at the end of the summer.


• Leftover sauces? How many times do you purchase (or make) a sauce and only use a small portion of it? (think evaporated milk, tomato sauce, buttermilk, etc.). Portion the leftover sauce into ice cube trays and freeze. Pop out the cubes and store in freezer bags or containers until needed.


• Bread going stale? Heels that no one will eat? Give the bread a whirl in the food processor until fine crumbs form. Place in freezer bags or containers and freeze until needed. You’ll have a plentiful source of bread crumbs for topping your next casserole.


• Leftover vegetables from tonight’s dinner? This is one of my favorites! Start a gallon freezer bag and add leftover (cooked) vegetables. Continue adding vegetables until you’ve accumulated a fair amount. Then when you make soup or stew throw in all of the leftover vegetables. YUM!


• Want to keep those fresh berries from growing mold and rotting? Rinse in a mild vinegar solution (1 part vinegar to 3 parts water) before storing in the refrigerator. Then store in a paper towel lined container. You’ll extend the shelf life of your berries!


Karen Tempel, an aspiring chef since she could reach the countertops, has been delighting friends and family with tempting treats for most of her life. She is the owner of Everyday Gourmet, a custom caterer in the Aiken area. Visit her website at www.LetKarenCook.com or email her at Karen@LetKarenCook.com.