Kitchen Hacks TM_KH_BOOZE_FI_001

I’m coming up on a milestone birthday (it rhymes with shmenty-five) and I’ve been doing some deep thinking and metaphor-exploring about this decade in a person’s life.

If the college years were a plastic bottle of Vladimir—painful but functional—then I’d say the mid-twenties have improved a little to Absolut. Specifically, though, they’re the last ounce left of a bottle of marshmallow-flavored Absolut in my old freezer. My roommate and I have no idea where it came from, or to what particular gathering it was towed, by whom. Nor do we quite like the flavor. But hey, it’s free, I guess. MORE

Kitchen Hacks TM_KH_PUFFP_FI_001

There are a lot of things no one warns you about before you graduate college. For example, you probably won’t find a job unless you double majored in physiomolecular engineering and Mandarin. And you will really miss being able to sneak all your clothes through the athletics department’s laundry.

One of the most staggering pangs of truth is that all of your friends will move away, leaving you on a sad, remote island where there used to be an archipelago of BFFs dotting your hallway.

Worse, once new post-grad digs are acquired, you will be invited to all your friends’ housewarming parties and conversely be obligated to host your own. Having people over is an art oft neglected during the dorm days. You get a keg, humans accumulate in its vicinity, and you feel just like Martha. But not anymore. When you’re a grownup, you must welcome folks into your home with warmth and well-crafted snacks. What?! MORE

Kitchen Hacks

Immerse Yourself

An appliance with a twist

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Packing up and moving a kitchen is a pain. But realizing, as you close the sole box that your own equipment fills, that all the good stuff actually belonged to your roommate — now that’s a tragedy.

As I recently mulled whether to move for a new job or stay put, the kitchen was not a factor. Unlike many people my age, I am not a natural born itinerant. I don’t get a thrill from accumulating new zip codes like beads on a key chain  I’m a foot-dragger, big time.

So as I started to empty the cardboard boxes and fill my new home, I expected to shed a poignant tear or two about a farewell to a city, or the end of an era, or something. Not about an appliance.

I looked at the stuff my two new roommates had furnished. A set of dishes! Good, I don’t have those. Silverware! Great, don’t have that either. Damn, I thought, as I placed my five reusable grocery sacks, three spatulas, and two animal-shaped dish scrubbers in the cabinet. I am useless.

The list of things I thought I had, but really don’t, began to grow. A loaf pan. A cast-iron skillet. A wire whisk, for goodness’ sake.

Those were replaced quickly. But the number one roommate-owned kitchen object that I miss dearly? Immersion blender. MORE

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I hope the giddiness I get from not following the rules anymore never fades as I go further into adulthood.

For example, I slept perpendicular-ly on the bed last night. Why? (Well, partially because I’m pretty short). BECAUSE I CAN. Deal with it.

This may be most exciting with food choices. Want to have Nutella for (not with) lunch? You’re allowed. And even if your idiosyncratic cravings don’t flout nutritional wisdom, it’s liberating just to know that nobody’s watching what you do anymore. (Things I have eaten as meals in the past month include: a chicken finger wrapped in a slice of plastic American cheese; a tub of hummus; a batch of miniature donuts; a carrot; wine; a jar of sun-dried tomatoes I got free from work; and a bag of popcorn drizzled with hot sauce.) Again, deal with it. MORE

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Butter, I’m happy to say, is back in style.

In the 90s, America panicked when we found out that butter’s high saturated fat and cholesterol content could be doing a number on our hearts. Many switched to margarine, a man-made, vegetable oil-based substitute. Sadly, margarine doesn’t work nearly as well for baking: cookies get burned, muffins go flat.

So imagine the collective joy when the nutrition world announces that margarine has its evils, too, namely lots of trans fats, which can mess with human cholesterol levels more than actual cholesterol.

Butter might never be called a “health food,” but it’s not such a public sin to use it anymore. In fact, compared to processed sugar or high-fructose anything, it’s downright en vogue.
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Kitchen Hacks TM_KH_SLOWCK_FI_001

When you think of a slow cooker, what do you think of? Do you even know what a slow cooker is? Yeah, your mom might have had one — a white crock most likely adorned with a stenciled blue flower design around the outside like my mom’s — used only when she made beef stew. Otherwise it probably sat in the deep corners of a lower kitchen cabinet next to the juicer or meat grinder. You probably thought beef stew was the only thing you could make in a slow cooker. Or that it’s an appliance you would never need in your kitchen. Do they still even make those things?
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Kitchen Hacks TM_KH_FRYNG_FI_001

One of the rules I’ve come to adopt as a life tenet is that sometimes, you just gotta say f— it.

Since my boyfriend and I began dating about five years ago, we’ve been compiling a list of wise saws to live by. (My secret hope is that one day, if/when we live together, I will crochet this list into an heirloom wall hanging.)

So far, we have a whopping total of three. 1. The above. 2. Listen to some good music every day. And 3. Don’t be an asshole.

For a former overachiever, the first has been the hardest to accept. But I know, deep, down, that truer words have rarely been spoken (or yet crocheted).

It goes for food, too. Sometimes, a nice salad or a lovingly braised chicken is just not going to happen. So sometimes my friends, you just gotta say, fry it.
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Kitchen Hacks

Clean Up Your Act

Kitchen cleaning shortcuts for the sloppy cook

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I’m kind of a slob, in spite (because?) of the very organized, on-time, WASPy nature of most of my life. But I’ve made peace. It doesn’t bother me that I can’t see my bedroom carpet because I have a second carpet made out of sweaters I put on then decided they didn’t match my outfit and discarded, and of towels that might be clean, or might not be, whatever. There are always coins and pens and miscellaneous pocket-items in my bed, because I flop onto it with my clothes still on and toss my purse on my pillow and stuff just falls out. I don’t care.

But my significant other does, especially in the kitchen. He’s a hoverer, but not because he knows squat about what I’m doing or has a helpful suggestion. He’s the self-appointed dropcloth. He buzzes around behind me while I’m stirring, swooping in to mop up a drip here or collect a pinch of wayward crumbs there, with a huff. I get very irritated. “Just wait till I’m done and I’ll clean everything once!” I say, of course very calmly and without waving the knife anywhere near his genitals. He shakes his head. “After you make food, everything’s sticky,” he once observed.
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Kitchen Hacks

Just Desserts

Fruit, the whole fruit... and a few sweet extras.

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Poached pears
If a couple weeks ago you earnestly pledged yourself to some New Year’s resolution, I’m a little annoyed at you. This is for several reasons.

One, chances are, your resolution involves getting in shape. Not to discourage in-shape-itude here, but the thing is, when all of you, the Resolved, suddenly descend on the gym on January 2nd in your new white sneakers, you take up all the good treadmills before I get there. Then, I get stuck on the old one that squeaks, behind the guy whose butt is exposed, plumber-like, atop his ill-fitting basketball shorts. Yes, this only lasts about a month before you let your memberships languish, but still. Not cool, guys.

Two, resolutions as we know them set us up for disappointment. If your resolution is to abstain from dessert, then the instant you cave and eat an Oreo sometime in February, you feel like a loser and go back to your old ways, inhaling whole sleeves wood-chipper style. And so I’m annoyed at you for depriving yourself of the chance to genuinely improve your relationship with dessert.

So, instead of convincing ourselves we can swear off sweets for good, let’s spend 2013 enjoying a better kind of sweet. The kind the planet invented all by itself.
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Sriracha sauce, a spicy Thai-style condiment made with chilis, is currently perched precariously on a cultural pinhead, teetering between cool and totally passé.

You see, in the life cycle of a food trend, first, people love it. Then they hate it. Then they love to hate it. And when they finally start hating to hate it, the circle of life is complete and we drop it like a used napkin.

The demographic most responsible for this vicious cycle? Hipsters. And, I propose, the most hipstery condiment out there is sriracha. MORE

Kitchen Hacks

Jar Head

Peanut butter goes beyond jelly

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They say that smell is the sense most linked to memory, and if that’s true, taste must follow close behind.

Whenever I taste peanut sauce, it’s like I’m teleported back to about 1999, Christmastime, around the dinner table. It was my small family, my nearly-senile, smelly-sweater-wearing grandpa, my uncle, and one of his long string of younger girlfriends with perms and degrees in fashion merchandising.

She–let’s call her Brandi because that sounds about right–wanted to help my mom make dinner that year. As my sister and I played with the cats to avoid interacting with actual relatives, she swooped out of the kitchen, lipsticked lips grinning. “It’s ready!”

“It” was peanut carrot soup. Or goop. Or something. It tasted like she’d put reduced-fat chunky Jif and rancid V-8 in a blender. Nasty. And we had to sit there fake-sipping it and saying “yum” without giggling (or gagging). MORE

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Sometimes with food, you have to skip the middleman. You know, like when putting icing onto an actual cake before eating it is just too much. Why waste batter? Icing, meet spoon, meet face.

I think it’s time we all confessed to committing variations on this sin when nobody’s looking. “Ha! Here I am, swigging the orange juice right from its plastic bottle like a badass,” we might think to ourselves. Even in public, we admit it’s fun to have hibachi tossed into our mouths (unless we miss, in which case it is not fun and that hibachi guy sucks). MORE

Kitchen Hacks

Cooking with Cubes

Those trays in your freezer can help you make more than cold drinks

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In my kitchen, the tools are half the fun. I have a potato peeler shaped like a monkey, a butter knife with a clay piece of toast as its handle, and a scrubber that’s attached to the back of a porcupine.

It’s part of a broader home decor philosophy, too. The first thing I bought for my new apartment, as soon as my roommate and I signed the lease about a year ago, was a metal octopus.

I went into Anthropologie to look for some trendy hand-towels or juice glasses or something that, having previously moved straight from a dorm to a furnished and fully-stocked house, I might need.

I already had a couple such items in tow when I reached the octopus, displayed on a shelf with coathooks and doorknobs. It had to be mine. Being an Anthropologie product, it was not budget-friendly. So naturally I put back all the other stuff.

The octopus hung proudly on a hook in my drywall until recently, when I was chastised by the landlord’s safety personnel for obstructing what turned out to be the hook for our fire extinguisher. Oops.

My favorite household items, all rooms inclusive, are my rubber ice cube trays: one shapes the ice into spaceships, the other into replicas of Grandpa’s dentures.

Even if you have boring rhomboid trays, though, frozen liquids are a top-shelf kitchen hack. With all the below variations, once the cubes are frozen, you can transfer them to a plastic freezer bag to free up your trays. In the mean time, you might want to label them, lest you end up with beef broth in your lemonade. MORE

Kitchen Hacks saladdressing

I am in love—Facebook might call it “Domestic Partnership”—with many condiments. Ketchup, barbecue sauce, honey mustard. Get me a spoon.

But with salad dressing, “It’s Complicated.”

When I eat out, 95% of the time, I ask for my dressing on the side. Yeah, I know the waiter will judge me. He’ll peg me as the kind of girl who owns a lot of expensive yoga pants, and that hurts. My boyfriend finds this special request dumb because he cannot comprehend why anyone would want to eat “just, like, plants.”

But I don’t ask for it on the side to save calories. The thing is, most salad dressing sucks. Unless you’re dining at a nice enough (read: expensive) place that the chef put some real thought into a homemade dressing that perfectly accents a salad’s flavors, you’re going to lose any freshness and crunchiness amid a sea of creamy blah. MORE

Kitchen Hacks

The Rice Is Right

One cheap appliance that can practically make dinner by itself.

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Right after I graduated college in 2010, I joined a yearlong nonprofit fellowship program. Along with my public service job I got a spot in one of the organization’s group houses, each planted in a “vibrant” (euphemism much?) Philly neighborhood. There were vermin, there were muggings. But at least there was a kitchen. After four years of cafeteria food and oven-less dorms, I would finally have the chance to cook.

My five new housemates and I decided that we’d sit down for group dinners twice a week to bond and talk shop. We would pair up and take turns cooking. I pictured myself rambling through West Philly’s farmers’ markets like a young, urban Julia Child, searching for ingredients and then whipping them up into a feast for my new best friends, armed with my one cookbook: How To Boil Water. But that is not what went down.

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