Do you ever see a life hack so simple that the fact that you didn’t come up with it yourself is almost embarrassing? That’s how we felt when we found out how to test if our baking soda was still effective. Sometimes we all just need a fresh mind with a little bit of kitchen know-how to solve the problems that have been puzzling us for years.
Here’s how to solve a few of those common culinary issues as simply and cheaply as possible.
Keep herbs AFAP (as fresh as possible)
Fresh herbs are pretty much the quickest way to take your average dish and turn it into “Wow this flavour is incredible, I need this recipe!” However, they work best if they’re not wilty/slimy/fuzzy which seems to happen within a few milliseconds of getting them home. Extending your herbs’ shelf life just takes a little TLC before you put them away and some daily maintenance.
Before you put your herbs away, give them a light rinse to get them clean and then wrap the stems in a damp paper towel, keeping the leafy areas out of the roll. Then keep them in a plastic bag in your fridge. Like storing cut flowers, the damp paper towel will keep the herbs fresh longer and the cold will keep them from wilting prematurely. Every day, do a little check and remove any leaves that are too far gone so they don’t harm the others. This method works for pretty much all your herbs, except for basil, which is more delicate.
Remember, if you know you won’t be able to use all of your herb bundle before they go bad, a lot of herbs can be frozen for later or you can dry them yourself so you’re not throwing out good food.
Keep basil AFAP
Basil needs more care because it wilts if you look at it the wrong way and it doesn’t like the cold. Rinse the leaves gently when you bring the bundle home, then store it in a mason jar, vase or cup filled with water. Put a plastic bag loosely over the leaves to protect them and the whole apparatus can be left on the counter.
Test the freshness of your baking soda
Baking soda tends to sit in the cupboard for months or possibly years until one day we go “How long ago did I buy that?” How do you know if it’s still fresh enough to work as a leavening agent in baking? Generally, baking soda and powder both last for six months to a year, but if you’re not sure how long it’s been in the cupboard, that doesn’t really help. Not a problem. Testing if baking soda is still effective is so simple you might need to sit down.
All you have to do is that grade six science experiment with the vinegar. Put a little of the questionable baking soda in a bowl, add vinegar and if it reacts, it will work in your baking. If it doesn’t, it’s a little too far gone for cooking, but will still work for cleaning.
Test the freshness of your baking powder
Baking powder is basically the same deal. We just want to know if it will still react properly in a recipe to make our baked goods rise. To test baking powder, put a small amount in a bowl and pour a little boiling water on top. If it fizzes, you’re in business.
Stop burning the edges of pies
Does it ever happen that the edges of your pies get a little too dark while the insides still need a little more time? There are two things you can do to make sure your pies are an even golden brown from edge to center.
First, bake them in a metal pan instead of a glass one so that the center of the pie heats up faster. It takes longer for glass to heat up so while the bottom of the dish is taking its sweet time to even start cooking the pie, the edges of the crust have already started baking. The metal pan will heat up faster so the pie itself will start cooking faster.
Before you put the pie in the oven, use tinfoil to cover the edges to protect them from direct heat. Then, five to ten minutes before you take the pie out, remove the tinfoil so the outsides can crisp up. Evenly-baked pie every time.
Sure, salt your pasta, but how much?
The oldest recipe in the book is pasta. We all know the rules: salt the water, bring it to a boil, add the pasta, cook until al dente, dinner is served. But how much do you salt the water? Some of us are afraid of adding too much because of the link between sodium and heart disease. Professional chefs say that for the best tasting pasta, you should salt the water until it tastes like the ocean.
That may seem like a lot of salt, but don’t be concerned. When making pasta, only about three per cent of the sodium in the water actually ends up in the pasta. Cooking your noodles in ocean water is just fine for your sodium levels.
Stop things from sticking to your cast iron
If things are sticking to your cast iron pan, it means something went wrong at the beginning. When you first bring home a cast iron pan, give it a good wash with soap to remove any sort of coating or dirt left on it from manufacturing. This is the LAST TIME soap will ever touch this pan. Then you need to season it in the oven.
Use shortening to completely coat the entire pan with grease. Be liberal with it because this is your first layer of non-stick fat. Then put the pan on a baking sheet and bake it in the oven for two hours at 350 degrees. After two hours, turn the oven off, but leave the pan inside while it cools down. For the first little while, cook fatty foods in your cast iron to build up the layers of grease that will keep food from sticking. When you wash your pan use only water so you don’t wash away all your fat build-up.