I love to cook. If you would have told me a year ago that this would be the first sentence I would write for an article on Alamo City Moms Blog, I would have thought you lost your mind. Cooking has recently become therapeutic for me, and I love being able to share my newfound cooking love and knowledge with those around me. I love that I have all control in the kitchen, and even when my life with young kids crumbles around me, I know the kitchen is where I can find peace and comfort.
My mother was a terrible cook (sorry, Mom), so I did not learn this skill from her. Our meals growing up consisted of protein, starch, and one of the four vegetables my dad would actually eat. I don’t blame her for not knowing how to cook. I would be absolutely lost without the help of YouTube cooking tutorials or the recipe cook-alongs that pop up on my social media feed.
When I got married, my husband became the chef of our family. He learned in college when he said he didn’t want to only eat Ramen noodles. His mom is a wonderful cook who taught him the basics. His bravery in tackling any recipe, no matter the outcome, helped him to become the wonderful chef he is today. Before we had kids, my husband taught me and helped me to become better and more confident in the kitchen. We even took some Central Market cooking classes along the way.
After the birth of our first son, I realized it was insensitive of me to expect my husband to work all day, come home, and immediately begin preparing our dinner. Because I stay at home and have the flexibility of prepping for dinner all day, I decided I needed to take that burden off of his plate and begin the journey of cooking an edible meal for the two of us.
Before my son turned one, we would put him to bed and then spend the rest of the evening cooking, laughing, and drinking wine (those were the days!). Once he started eating the meals we ate, we had to completely change our routine, not to mention the time we ate dinner. Gone were the days of leisurely 8:30 P.M. meals that we considered our “date nights,” and we came to
embrace accept eating dinner earlier.
Now that we are knee–deep into raising two young kids, I wanted to share some tricks, tips and hacks to help in the kitchen. Unfortunately, these tricks won’t help to get your kids to actually eat the meals you prepare (I myself am still working on that), but they will save you some time, sanity, and make you feel like a real kitchen pro.
- Embrace the power of shredded chicken. Shredded chicken is a staple in many easy recipes, not to mention a time-saver on busy weeknights. Throw in already cooked, shredded chicken with some mixed veggies, rice, and a sauce for a quick stir fry. An extremely easy way to shred chicken is by using your stand mixer. Put the cooked chicken in your stand mixer with the paddle attachment, and turn it onto a low setting for about a minute or two. Your chicken will come out perfectly shredded for you to make ahead and grab when you need a protein. Keep watching it so you don’t over-shred, causing your chicken to dry out. I have also heard you can do this with your hand mixer, but I have yet to try it myself.
- Don’t put your grease down the drain! Never put grease that comes from meat down your kitchen sink drain. This is a recipe for clogged pipes and an expensive visit from the plumber (trust me on this!). You can throw it away, but that leads to a mess in your trash can. Instead, put some tinfoil in a bowl, pour your grease in the bowl, and stick it in the freezer. Once your grease freezes, throw the greasy tinfoil away. Pro tip: Don’t forget it’s in the freezer! I cannot tell you how many times I have opened my freezer to find a frozen grease bowl just sitting there.
- Don’t stress over unripened fruit. Bought unripe fruit but want to eat it quickly? Stick it in a brown paper bag (like the ones you get from Central Market or Trader Joe’s) and roll down the top to seal the bag. After a day or two, your fruit will be ripe to perfection. This will also work for a quick way to ripen avocados.
- Get a kitchen scale. I have recently begun baking and have found that weighing my flour makes for more accurate results. Using a kitchen scale, weigh your flour to get the perfect weighted amount. Look around the Internet for conversions and weight equivalents. A kitchen scale is something that every home kitchen needs. You can also use it to weigh dry ingredients or for portion control.
- Invest in an Instant Pot. Hands down, my favorite kitchen gadget (besides my coffee maker) is my Instant Pot. I love that you can make one-pot recipes all the time (yay for fewer dishes!) and that you can set and forget it. If you have the budget for an Instant Pot, it has saved me time and sanity. They go on sale often, so watch for a good deal and snatch one up. Here’s a quick tip about the IP: most recipes that you find online boast about fast cooking time but don’t take into account the time it takes for the IP to come to pressure. Keep that in mind when you are budgeting how long recipes will take to make. There have been many dinners when we end up eating 30 minutes later than expected as a result of having to wait for the IP to come to pressure. I love to cook hard-boiled eggs in my IP—they have become a staple for our busy mornings. (For an in-depth overview of the Instant Pot, check out Meghann’s post here. Or click here for a roundup of the ACMB Team’s favorite Instant Pot recipes!)
- Adopt this “egg-cellent” hack for hard-boiled eggs. Speaking of hard-boiled eggs, if you want to know the easiest hack to get the shells to slide off of the cooked eggs, steam them in a steamer basket on the stove. Add a little bit of water to a pot, bring to a boil, then add a steamer basket with the eggs in it. After 11-12 minutes, you will have perfectly hard boiled eggs that look Instagram-perfect when peeled. I found this hack from my favorite culinary consultant, Kenji Lopez-Alt, from Serious Eats. You can view the more detailed instructions here.
- Rely on your freezer for easy cheese-grating. Have a soft cheese but need it shredded or grated? No problem! Stick the cheese in your freezer for about 30 minutes and it will be much easier to shred than if you took it directly from the fridge. This also works for fresh ginger root, but be sure to peel it first before sticking it in the freezer.
- Forget the pastry bag. If you are working with icing but can’t find a pastry bag, you can easily use a Ziplock instead by filling it with icing and snipping off the corner. You’ll get the same results of a pastry bag without having to purchase something you may never use again. You can also look online for ways to cut the bag into different shapes (such as a star) to bring your cupcakes to the next level.
- Cut down your prep time. One of my least favorite things is prepping a recipe: the chopping, dicing, and prepping before I actually begin cooking. To cut down on prep time, keep a bowl for food waste or move your trash can next to you while you cook. Having to transfer discarded food directly to the trash after you prep every ingredient wastes valuable time. Having an ingredient waste bowl on the counter to dump into the large trash can at the end makes prepping a breeze.
- Take care of your shears. Use kitchen shears to trim the fat off of meat or cut bacon into bits. To keep kitchen shears at their peak, use them only for food-related cutting, and keep a separate set of scissors in the kitchen to open things with (easier said than done). Your kitchen shears will thank you.
With these tips, tricks, and hacks, you will become a pro in the kitchen in no time!