I don’t know about you, but for me half the pleasure in cooking are the little tips and tricks that make it all so much fun. Call them “Kitchen Hacks” if you will, today I’m sharing a list of five of my favorite FAQs to help you along the way.
Bonus: there is a recipe for Candied Bacon at the end of the post, so get going and start reading…
Kitchen Hacks #1 – Let’s Start with plastic storage bags
Two ways to think outside the box of plastic storage bags in your kitchen drawer:
- Need a bigger plastic bag for storage – don’t make a run to the store, instead just put two bags together to make a larger one.
Simply, flip one of the zipper-style bags inside out! Then, combine the two bags by connecting their individual zippery locking strips. Viola! You now have a larger bag with the opening in the middle instead of at the top. Genius!
- By now, we all probably know how you can snip off the corner of a large plastic storage bag and use it as a pastry bag. This pastry bag substitution tip is perfect for making dressy deviled eggs, piping whipped cream or mashed potatoes. Problem is, the look of the end result isn’t as pretty without a decorative tip. What to do? Send in reinforcements. Use a piece of packing tape to cover the corner of the bag to reinforce it and make it stiffer. Then, instead of just cutting across the corner, cut out several little triangles to make a decorative “tip” or , even easier, use pinking shears to cut the tip off. Then, fill the bag and pipe away.
Bonus Tip – Go to the craft store and buy a good pair of Pinking Shears. Keep them in the kitchen. You’ll use them for decorative cutting of everything from thin sliced veggies, to the edges of homemade ravioli to the tips on these plastic bags.
Kitchen Hacks #2 – How to tell if your avocado is ripe
Of course, you can always do the squeeze test, but remember to be gentle. Sometimes squeezing does more harm than good. A ripe avocado will give way to a gentle press of the thumb; but if you squeeze too hard, you’re going to bruise this fruit. That’s right, fruit. Ripeness aside, avocados are biologically fruit even though we tend to think of them like vegetables. Either way they are delicious. The gorgeous avocados in these pics came from my friends at Martin’s Distribution in Charlotte.
To tell if your avocado is ripe, check the stem first. You want the stem to pop off easily and the space that remains to be a light green. This indicates the fruit inside is ripe and ready to enjoy. If the stem is already gone and the oval at the stem end is dark brown, the avocado is probably over ripe.
Bonus Tip for ripening avocados
To ripen avocados faster (or tomatoes, too, for that matter) simply put them in a brown paper bag with a banana. In as little time as overnight, the natural ethene gas released by the banana will ripen just about any other fruit or vegetable
Kitchen Hacks #3 – Stay away from the stem end when it comes to onions and bananas
What do onions and bananas have in common? The best way to peel them is from the blossom end.
If I shared this tip once, I’ve shared it 1000 times. It’s the best no-tears way to chop or slice an onion.
Why do we cry when we’re chopping onions? It’s the oil of the onion that has a natural chemical reaction with oxygen that affects our mucus membrane and makes our eyes being to water.
Lots of ways to curtail this process, if you are tall or if you wear contacts, the reaction will take longer to hit. Or, back in the day folks said to hold a slice of bread in your mouth. Or, another school of thought: to light a match, blow it out and then hold the unlite end in your mouth.
Truth here: The bread just gets in your way and the match? Well, if you like the smell of a burnt match and you want it right in your face, it will mask the oniony odor. But, I have a better plan.
Just don’t cut the stem end of the onion
Must of the onion oils are here. and if you don’t start by cutting the stem end, you are halfway home. Instead peel the outside of the onion from the blossom end, peeling the skin back like a banana. Then holding the still attached peeled skin back slice the onion from the blossom end to the root. When you get to the root end, toss it in the compost and continue with your recipe.
While odor isn’t a problem with bananas, sometimes snapping the stem end is difficult – especially for kiddos. Instead, simply squeeze the tip of the blossom end of the fruit. It will open up and you can easily peel from there.
Kitchen Hacks #4 – How to measure honey or molasses without a sticky mess
This one is another two-parter:
Part one: I learned this tip a long time ago, and all it takes is the jar of honey or molasses and a knife.
It’s great for honey or molasses that comes in a wide mouth jar. As you pour the honey or molasses (or any other syrupy substance) into a mixing bowl, measuring cup, your tea or over pancakes, place the knife across the opening of the jar. Then as you finish the pour, slide the knife down to cut off the flow as you simultaneously lift the jar. This one is easier to show than it is to explain. You know I have your back – Just watch the video from my appearance Aug 31, 2023 on Charlotte Today, here.
More on Measuring Honey and Molasses
Part two: When you are measuring honey or molasses into a teaspoon or tablespoon from a squeeze bottle or jar into sugar, flour or other dry ingredients, you can spray or wipe your measuring spoon with vegetable oil for easy clean up.
But, I can do you one better – you don’t really need to mess up the measuring spoon or cup at all. Just use it to create an indention in the dry ingredients. The measurement will be the same with no messy measuring spoon at the end of it all.
Put the flour or sugar in the bowl first. The press the measuring spoon or cup into the flour or sugar to make an indention. Take the spoon away and simply fill the hole you made with the honey or molasses – no fuss, no muss.
Bonus Tip #2 – Making Homemade Brown Sugar
If you measure 2-3 Tbsp. of molasses into 1 1/2 cups of granulated sugar, you can make your own brown sugar. Of course, I like to keep it as local as possible, so my go to is organic sugar and locally sourced Sorghum Syrup Molasses. I actually think the sorghum syrup tastes so much better than blackstrap molasses and its made ( often in the mountains) right here in North Carolina.
Simply measure as mentioned in Kitchen Hacks #4 above and then use a for to blend and in just a minute or two you’ll have brown sugar. No more wasting a box of the commercial stuff cause it sat in the back of your pantry too long. Although… if that happens…
Brown Sugar Bonus Tip
If you do have boxed brown sugar in your pantry and it’s gotten hard, don’t toss it. You can soften boxed brown sugar in the microwave. Cook on high for 30 seconds at a time until the sugar is soft and scoopable again.
All of this talk about brown sugar makes me hungry for candied bacon, who’s in?
Kitchen Hacks #5 – Why you need a cake cooling rack in your kitchen equipment toolbox
In a word, Bacon. In two words, bacon and frying.
A cake cooling rack fitted over a parchment paper lined cookie sheet with sides is the very best way to cook bacon.
Arrange the bacon on the cooling rack – slices may overlap slightly so they will all fit. Then, bake in a preheat 425 degrees oven for 25 minutes. Carefully pull the pan and rack ensemble out of the oven and remove the bacon from the rack. Allow the rack and pan to cool. The parchment paper will keep the bacon grease from your pan. So when the grease has cooled and solidified, you can just fold up the parchment and toss it away along with the greasy bacon fat mess.
If you want to keep the bacon fat, let it cool in the pan. Then pour into a strainer over a storage jar or container. The parchment paper will still help to keep the baking pan relatively grease free.
Bonus Tip – Other great uses for a cake cooling rack
Aside from the obvious of allowing cakes and cookies to cool…
- Use a cake rack to allow your breader to rest before frying. It makes all the difference when you make anything using a standard breading procedure of flour, egg and breader. The whole process is here in my favorite recipe for fried green tomatoes.
- Are you making a ton of egg salad? Or, potato salad or some other dish in which you would need to chop lots of eggs? Simply peel the eggs. Arrange the wire rack over a bowl. Push the eggs through the holes in the rack instead of using a knife to chop. This one is fun for kids to do, too!
- If you are making mashed potatoes and don’t have a masher. You can push the whole boiled potatoes though the rack just like the eggs.
- Use a cake rack after you fry as well as before. Stop putting fried foods on several layers of paper towels to drain. Instead, put them on a cake rack over a layer of paper towels. The food won’t stick to the paper toweling and the cake rack won’t collect any unwanted oil.
And now, the recipe for today. You know I always say, “Keep it Local.” Both the Colfax Creek Farms naturally cured bacon and the Sorghum Syrup Molasses are available in Charlotte at the Charlotte Regional Farmers Market on Saturday Mornings.
Candied Bacon with Homemade Brown Sugar
Here's a great treat any time of the year, Heidi Billotto helps make it even better when you start with local bacon and a great Kitchen Hack for making your own brown sugar
- 1 lb bacon I like to keep it local to North Carolina here and use Colfax Creek Farms, naturally cured bacon
- 1/2 – 2/3 cup homemade brown sugar Start with a cup of organic granulated or raw sugar and 2 tablespoons of NC sorghum syrup molasses. Blend the two together to make homemade brown sugar
line the baking sheet with parchment paper and place the cake cooling rack on top of the parchment fitting it inside the pan
Arrange the raw bacon strips side by side on the cake cooling rack
Top the bacon with a layer of brown sugar
Bake in a preheated 425 degree oven for 20-25 mins.
Remove from oven and allow bacon to cook on the rack for 10 minutes or so
Store candied bacon in an airtight jar or container in the fridge
Enjoy for a snack or as a garnish to a charcuterie board or use it to top salads or soups
Don’t worry if the bacon fat and sugar have burnt on the parchment paper when you pull your bacon out of the oven. Once the pan cools a bit, you can easily lift the parchment ( and all that burnt sugar mess) off of the pan and toss it in the trash for easy clean up.