12 Kitchen Hacks that will Change your Life

1. Avoid plastic wrap disasters. Plastic wrap is by far my most despised kitchen product. To avoid putting up a fight every time you have to cover leftovers, store the roll of plastic wrap in the refrigerator. Chilling it will make it easier to handle!

Source: http://www.greenhome.com/compostable-cling-wrap-1.html
Source: http://www.greenhome.com/compostable-cling-wrap-1.html

2. Poke holes in oil bottle seals for better control. Ever go to drizzle a bit of oil in a pan or over a dish and end up with a puddle of grease? Next time you buy a bottle of oil, leave the safety seal on, and poke a few holes in it with a fork or toothpick. Easy, controlled pours will be at your fingertips (literally).

3. Peel potatoes without a peeler. Thanksgiving just got 100x easier. Next time you have to peel potatoes, boil them first, then plunk them in a bowl of ice water. The skin will separate from the insides, and you can pick it right off!

Source: http://www.inspiredtaste.net/22809/simple-potato-salad-recipe/
Source: http://www.inspiredtaste.net/22809/simple-potato-salad-recipe/

4. Remain tear-free while chopping onions. I’ll be the first to admit I’ve gone to some pretty extreme lengths to avoid bawling my eyes out every time I have to chop an onion (plastic wrap around the head, anyone?). Finally, a solution that works: freeze your onion for about 15 minutes before chopping. That’s it! The theory here is that the cold inhibits the release of eye-irritating chemicals.

5. Cut berries, olives, or cherry tomatoes in half with ease. To save time cutting large numbers of small, round foods, place them between two lids (large yogurt container lids and Tupperware tops work well) or plates. Gently slice horizontally between the two surfaces while pressing gently to keep the food in place. Voila!

Source: http://www.cocojenalle.com/blog/2014/2/6/kitchen-hack-the-best-way-to-slice-cherry-tomatoes
Source: http://www.cocojenalle.com/blog/2014/2/6/kitchen-hack-the-best-way-to-slice-cherry-tomatoes

6. Reheat pizza & baked goods without drying them out. Microwaving leftover pizza and other baked goods can often zap the life right out of what was once a delicious treat. To avoid drying out these types of foods, place a cup of water in the microwave when reheating them to add moisture to the air. When reheating bread, set the microwave to a low power setting, and drape the bread with a moist paper towel.

7. Double whammy: De-crust your microwave AND disinfect your sponge. Soak a sponge in water and pop it in your microwave for one minute. The moisture will loosen any crusty messes stuck to the inside of your microwave, making it easier to wipe clean. Plus, your sponge will get a free disinfecting and deodorizing treatment!

Source: http://www.pinkwhen.com/how-to-steam-clean-a-microwave/
Source: http://www.pinkwhen.com/how-to-steam-clean-a-microwave/

8. Remove food odors from your hands. To get rid of the lingering smell of garlic or onions on your hands, rub them with lemon juice, baking soda, or stainless steel. Stainless steel, you ask? The molecules in the steel bind with the odor-causing molecules on your hands to lift the stink right off.

9. De-crystallize honey. Honey often granulates and solidifies over time, rendering it almost useless. To bring it back to life, just place the container in a bowl of hot water for five to 10 minutes.

Source: http://www.countrycleaver.com/2014/09/decrystalize-honey.html
Source: http://www.countrycleaver.com/2014/09/decrystalize-honey.html

10. Peel ginger with a spoon. Fresh ginger, with all its twists, turns, and nobs, can be a real pain to peel. Turns out using a spoon rather than a traditional peeler will save you time and a headache!

11. Use floss to cut soft foods. For perfectly sliced soft cheese, fluffy cakes, or rolled dough, ditch the knife and instead turn to unscented dental floss!

Source: http://www.casaandcompany.com/home/15-kitchen-hacks-to-try/
Source: http://www.casaandcompany.com/home/15-kitchen-hacks-to-try/

12. Freeze fresh herbs in olive oil. This one’s my personal favorite of the bunch. If you know your herbs are destined to die (like when you buy an entire packet of Thyme only to use a half teaspoon in the recipe you’re making), give the herbs a rough chop, place in an ice cube tray, and cover with olive oil. Put the tray in the freezer and pop out individual cubes to add instant flavor and freshness to sauces, pastas, soups, and all sorts of dishes. The oil will keep the herbs from browning and getting freezer burn, and the individual cubes make it easy to portion out just what you need.

Source: http://www.likeaboss.com/food-drink/boss-chef-101-up-your-cooking-game-with-10-kitchen-life-hacks/
Source: http://www.likeaboss.com/food-drink/boss-chef-101-up-your-cooking-game-with-10-kitchen-life-hacks/

Don’t you just feel wiser already? I know I do. Stay tuned for another post next week, and until then, happy cooking!

Sources: http://greatist.com/health/kitchen-tips-hacks, http://lifehacker.com/tag/kitchen-hacks, http://www.howdoesshe.com/18-kitchen-hacks-youll-wish-you-knew-before/, http://www.likeaboss.com/food-drink/boss-chef-101-up-your-cooking-game-with-10-kitchen-life-hacks/

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Seasonal Spotlight: Okra

Okra is one of those foods I hear of from time to time, but have never actually cooked, and I consider myself a pretty avid cook and a reasonably adventurous eater. So I started thinking, this mysterious little pod probably has a few of our readers stumped, too. Now that July is well underway, the time is right to give this peak-season veggie the attention it deserves. And so, I present to you, an Introduction to Okra.

Source: http://fostersnursery.com/fresh-okra/
Source: http://fostersnursery.com/fresh-okra/

What is it? While it may look like some sort of rigid pepper, okra actually belongs to the same family of flowering plants as cotton and cacao. You may have heard it referred to as ladies’ fingers, bhindi, bamia, ochro or gumbo. The bright green pod is thought to have originated in Northeast Africa, and some compare its flavor to that of zucchini or eggplant. Okra sometimes gets a bad rap because of the gooey liquid it tends to release when cooked, but if prepared properly and used creatively, okra can be super tasty and can enhance all sorts of dishes.

When and were do I find it? Okra is available year-round in the south, but only shows up in the rest of the country in the summer months, when it’s in its high season. You may have to do some research to find it in your particular region, but generally fresh okra can be found at Indian food stores, well-stocked produce markets, and many specialty grocery stores like Whole Foods.

Source: http://www.inner-gourmet.com/2011/07/my-ultimate-love-fried-okra.html
Source: http://www.inner-gourmet.com/2011/07/my-ultimate-love-fried-okra.html

How do I pick it? Look for fresh okra that is bright green without bruises or blemishes. Choose pods that are pliable, yet firm, and go for the smaller ones (3-4 inches in length), as these will be the most tender.

How do I store it? Okra has a short shelf life of only a day or two (after that it tends to get slimy…yuck!). Refrigerate in a ventilated bag and wait to wash the pods until right before preparing them. You can also freeze it for up to six months (wash & remove stems first).

Source: http://food52.com/recipes/23847-okra-and-sweet-corn-purloo
Source: http://food52.com/recipes/23847-okra-and-sweet-corn-purloo

How do I cook it? Okra can be cooked whole (remove the stems), or sliced into slivers or rounds. The sticky substance released from the pods acts as a great thickener for gumbos and soups, or if you’re looking to minimize its gooeyness, cooking the okra whole, pan searing it at high heat, stewing it, or braising it will work best. Breading and frying okra, either in a sauté pan or a deep fryer, is another popular preparation, and yields a nice crispy bite.

Is it healthy? Yes! Okra is high in fiber, vitamin C, vitamin A, and folate. Not only that, but the vegetable is rich with antioxidants, and is among the very lowest-calorie vegetables, weighing in at only 33 calories per cup.

Okra Recipes

Do you have suggested recipes? Always. Here are a few of our favorites (pictured above):
1. Smashed Cayenne & Cornmeal Crusted Fried Okra
2. Pickled Okra
3. Okra and Corn Maque Choux
4. Skillet-Roasted Okra and Shrimp
5. Chicken-and-Okra Gumbo

Have I convinced you yet that okra is worth your time?? I sure hope so! Check back in next week for another post, and until then, happy cooking!

Sources:
http://www.vegetariantimes.com/blog/how-to-pick-prep-and-cook-with-okra/
http://www.grocerycouponguide.com/how-to-buy-and-store-fresh-okra/
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Okra
http://www.nutrition-and-you.com/okra.html
http://healthland.time.com/2013/07/22/eat-this-now-okra/

5 Tips for Taking Stellar Recipe Photos

A picture is worth a thousands words, and food photography is no exception! Use these tips to turn your recipe photos into works of art (or at the very least, somewhat appetizing depictions of your surely beautiful culinary creations)!

Source: www.munchery.com
Source: http://www.munchery.com

1. Lighting is key. Whenever possible, use natural light when snapping food photos. Set up your shoot outside in a cloudy area for a nice even light. If you’re stuck indoors, shoot next to a window for the best possible lighting. If you really want to get fancy, you can set up a white sheet of poster board opposite the window to bounce light on the shadowed side of the food and achieve a brighter, more evenly lit staging area. Try and shoot your photo so that your food is lower than your source of light—this will ensure any shadows are behind or beside the dish. Always avoid shooting in direct light—this will flatten your photo. Also, if at all possible, avoid using the flash on your phone, or any flash for that matter, as your photos will have an unattractive yellow tint to them and you will end up with harsh shadows.

Source: http://www.thecookingjar.com/blogging-tips/food-blogging-photography-tips/
Source: http://www.thecookingjar.com/blogging-tips/food-blogging-photography-tips/

2. Experiment with angles. You may have noticed many great food photographs are taken looking directly down at the dish. This “top down” technique often yields pretty awesome photos, and is a great go-to angle. However, not all dishes are well suited to a birds-eye-view photo (think tiered cakes or sandwiches). Experiment! Get closer to your subject, take a step back, and try shooting from all different angles! You want to showcase the parts of the food that make it incredible, so take your time and experiment until you find that perfect shot.

Source: http://cakecrumbsbeachsand.com/2015/04/honey-cake-mascarpone-figs-pistachios/
Source: http://cakecrumbsbeachsand.com/2015/04/honey-cake-mascarpone-figs-pistachios/

3. Don’t forget to garnish! Garnishes can transform a food photo from boring to brilliant. Monochromatic dishes (think fettuccine alfredo or pancakes) almost always benefit from a pop of color, while dishes with one textural note (like a bowl of soup) will look 100x better with a textural element like a handful of crispy croutons. A sprig of fresh herbs, an edible flower, a bright piece of fruit, or a toasty piece of bread can do wonders to your photograph, and can also provide hints for dishes that may otherwise be hard to identity (baba ganoush, anyone?).

Sources: http://kylewillets.com/tzatziki-sauce/, http://cakecrumbsbeachsand.com/2013/05/chocolate-fudge-cake-with-ganache-and-raspberries/
Sources: http://kylewillets.com/tzatziki-sauce/, http://cakecrumbsbeachsand.com/2013/05/chocolate-fudge-cake-with-ganache-and-raspberries/

4. Choose the right props. Similar in a sense to garnishes, including the right props in your photo can make all the difference. Everything from the surface your dish is sitting on, to the items barely visible in the background, can enhance the photograph, even if only on a subconscious level. Select dishes in a color that will enhance the food, and choose textures and surfaces that help convey the “mood” of the photo. For example, if you’re photographing a vibrant summer salad, a crisp white plate on a rustic wood surface would likely capture the beauty and essence of the dish. Try including some of the cooking tools, ingredients, or suggested pairings in the photo to compliment the dish: a wooden spoon, a few fresh lemons, a glass of wine, etc. Finally, think beyond the kitchen–scarves, ribbons, plants, and household ornaments can make wonderful props, too!

Sources: http://myvega.com/vega-life/recipe-center/grapefruit-sage-hydrating-mocktail/, http://tasty-yummies.com/2014/09/22/apple-tahini-toast-with-honey-and-thyme/
Sources: http://myvega.com/vega-life/recipe-center/grapefruit-sage-hydrating-mocktail/, http://tasty-yummies.com/2014/09/22/apple-tahini-toast-with-honey-and-thyme/

5. Consider process photos. Some of the most compelling photos of your dish may actually be from when you were cooking, assembling, or enjoying it! Try to remember to snap photos right from the start: when the ingredients are laid out, when you first combine everything in a bowl, when you’re dropping spoonfuls of batter onto a sheet pan…you get the idea. Similarly, capture the moments just before you dive in: the first bite on your fork, the cake with a slice missing, etc. These “action” photos are often more dynamic than pictures of the finished product.

Source: http://pinchofyum.com/garlic-tostones-puerto-rican-fried-plantains
Source: http://pinchofyum.com/garlic-tostones-puerto-rican-fried-plantains

There you have it! Next thing you know, you’ll be snapping food photos like a pro! Check in next Tuesday for our next post, and until then, happy cooking!