You’d think by now all the tricks to faster, easier and ultimately better food preparation would have been discovered.
Not so, if social media can be believed. My Facebook feed is punctuated on a regular basis by “awesome,” “amazing” and “mind-blowing” cooking hacks accompanied by a video, before-and-after photos and usually plenty of capital letters and exclamation marks. (You MUST try this!!)
Inspired by curiosity and skepticism, I decided to put a new batch of these hacks to the test.
Keeping avocados from browning. The trick? Store a cut avocado in an airtight container with a few onion slices. Supposedly, sulfur compounds from the onion will oxidize and keep the green surface from browning.
I did this, parked it in the fridge and kind of forgot about it for 24 hours. And wow, it was still pretty green. The avocado smelled faintly of onion but didn’t taste onion-y.
The next day, it was still primarily green. I packed a mixed-greens salad for lunch that morning, topped with chunks of avocado, and then threw a few onion slices on top. At lunchtime, the avocado was as green as when I’d chopped it.
Speed-ripening bananas. When you want banana bread, you can never find overripe bananas, am I right?
So here’s what you do. Bake your underripe bananas (even tinged with green, as mine were) in a 350-degree oven for 5 to 7 minutes.
I baked mine 7 minutes, during which time the peel turned mostly black (upon cooling, they were fully black). I peeled them and, voila — they were indeed banana-bread ready.
Speed-ripening avocados. Wrap the avocado in aluminum foil, place in a 200-degree oven until soft, and then cool in the fridge.
The directions said 10 minutes but added that it could take up to 1 hour, depending on how hard the avocado was. Well, my avocado was large and rock hard, so I left it in the oven for an hour. It never felt soft to the squeeze, but I placed it in the fridge as instructed to let it cool.
To my surprise, when I cut into it later, it was soft — though it still had that “green” taste to it, not that rich taste of a counter-ripened fruit. But for a batch of guac, with a multitude of flavors added? Or a salad with other ingredients? This is a viable solution.
Silk-free corn shucking. You really want to spend all that time picking silks out of a dozen ears of fresh corn? Didn’t think so.
Instead of trying to shuck off husk and silks all at once, peel away all the outer husks a layer at a time until you’re left with pretty much only the silky tassel. Then get a good grip on the tassel and pull it off with one tug. Success — my ears had just one or two silks left behind.
Removing bits of eggshell. You know how when you reach into a broken egg to extract a piece of shell, it seems to run the other direction? The trick here is to wet your finger first. Instant eggshell magnet!
Easier cheese grating. The trick: Coat the grater surface with vegetable oil spray before grating.
Well, this was a no-brainer. My chunk of 1-year aged cheddar slid across the surface, fewer shreds stuck in the holes, and the grater was easier to clean.
Faster pasta cooking. Soak pasta in a bowl of water for an hour, and then just drop it in boiling water for 60 seconds, and it’s ready to eat.
My elbow macaroni soaked for exactly 1 hour, but it took 2 minutes in boiling water to be properly al dente. Still, that’s faster than the 7 to 8 minutes the box tells you, for really no effort on your part.
Easier peeling of hard-cooked eggs. Add a teaspoon of baking soda to the water before cooking the eggs, then let them cool and peel them. Supposedly, the baking soda makes the cooking water more alkaline, which helps loosen the bond between the white and the shell.
Don’t waste your baking soda.
My eight eggs consisted of four old ones, two newer eggs and two from a carton I had just purchased. And when I shelled them, exactly four peeled easily, two semi-easily and two were very difficult (read: pockmarked, with a bunch of egg that came off with pieces of shell).
I have yet to find any better way to make hard-cooked eggs easy to peel than simply: Use old eggs.
Instant lemonade. Cut a fresh lemon into quarters, combine in a blender with 2 cups water, a few ice cubes and a few tablespoons of sugar and blend for a quick version of a favorite summer beverage.
I did exactly that, except that I cut my lemon into eighths to be sure to get out all the seeds, and I cut a chunk of the thick peel off the end of each piece. Still, after a full minute of high-speed blending, I was left with a lot of chunks of rind and unblended pulp — and a few missed seeds. I decided the only option was to strain them out.
In the end, I had close to 3 cups of OK, kinda-watered-down lemonade. But I’m not sure this method saved any time over making lemonade the traditional way. I’m guessing it works better with thin-skinned lemons.
Keep cut apples from browning. Slice an apple, then reassemble it around the core and wrap with a rubber band, this hack instructs.
First of all, for this to work, you have to use one of those apple slicer tools to end up with a core in one piece.
I tried this with three varieties: Granny Smith, Honeycrisp and Golden Delicious. Five hours later, there was some brown on all the pieces, though they weren’t terrible.
But why would you even do this? I suppose it makes sense for a brown bag lunch, when you don’t want to cut up an apple at work. If you cut and rubber-band it in the morning, it will have only a few hours to start to turn brown.
Easier fridge cleaning. It sounded good in theory: Cover refrigerator shelves with Press ‘n’ Seal wrap, then peel off and replace the wrap when the shelf needs cleaning.
But then I tried it.
A, the wrap wasn’t wide enough to cover my clear plastic slide-out shelves. And B, it didn’t stick! At all!
And then I remembered that the real hassle of cleaning the fridge isn’t the wipe-down — that’s NBD. It’s the clearing out of all the food and containers, which you would have to do regardless.
THE JURY’S STILL OUT
DIY vegetable oil spray. The formula for making your own nonstick spray is 5 parts water to 1 part vegetable oil, combined in a spray bottle.
I now have a bottle of this mixture in my cupboard. After vigorous shaking (it needs it, every time), I sprayed some side by side with Pam. They looked similar, but then when I ran my finger through each side, the Pam was definitely greasier.
I checked online — 5:1 is the standard formula (one recipe even said 7:1). I have yet to try this in a skillet or baking pan.
So, the final tally: seven thumbs up and four thumbs down. That’s more keeper tricks than when I tried out a batch of other cooking hacks a year ago. Perhaps I’m getting better at seeing past the exclamation marks.