These tips can save you time, money and even calories.By Rebecca Schneider Photos courtesy shutterstock.com
Don’t Get StuckHoney, maple syrup, molasses, agave—nature’s healthier sweeteners are also the stickiest. Before measuring out these tacky liquids spritz your measuring cup with spray oil, then watch the sticky goo slide right out.
Butter Me UpIt’s inevitable—too far into the baking process you realize you need softened butter. Resist the temptation to microwave butter, because it usually ends up melting, thus destroying the emulsion necessary to obtain the proper baking texture. Instead, grate butter onto wax or parchment paper and it’ll be soft in no time.
Easy as PieWhen it comes to piecrust, expert and novice bakers struggle to achieve the right amount of flour for rolling. Too much and the crust will be tough; too little and the dough will be sticky. Here’s a solution: When rolling out a crust, flour only the rolling pin and countertop with rice flour. Because rice doesn’t contain gluten, it won’t toughen the dough. But don’t overwork the dough, as that will result in a dense crust instead of a light flaky one.
Ripe for Picking
Bought a bag of avocados but fear some will turn mushy by the time you use them all? Instead of ripening avocados all at once, place only the avocados you’ll use on the counter and store the remainder in the refrigerator. This slows the ripening process without sacrificing flavor. When you’re ready to eat the refrigerated avocados, take out only what you’ll need to soften on the counter. This technique more than triples an avocado’s life span.
Slice It RightEven if you’ve picked out the juiciest lemon or lime, simply changing the way you slice it will yield more juice. Instead of cutting across the width, slice it lengthwise and then into wedges. To get even more juice, smoosh the fruit on the counter and roll it under your palm before slicing. Or microwave it for 20-30 seconds.
When shiny copper pots start to tarnish, a surprising remedy is as close as your refrigerator—ketchup. Just squeeze some ketchup onto a clean cloth and rub the condiment into the copper. Within minutes the original luster will return. Rinse off the ketchup and dry the pot with a clean towel. Poof, you’re done!
Freshen UpWhile most people think baking soda and baking powder last virtually forever, these leavening agents lose potency over time, resulting in compacted baked goods. To test your baking powder, mix ¼ teaspoon into ½ cup of very hot water. If it bubbles, the powder is good. If not, toss it. Repeat the test for baking soda, adding ¼ teaspoon vinegar to the water before stirring in the soda.
I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter
Want to have your cake and eat it too? Instead of relying on calorie-rich butter, replace some of it with plain nonfat Greek yogurt. In a recipe that calls for 2 cups butter, use only 1 cup butter and replace the other cup with ¾ cup Greek yogurt instead. The yogurt adds enough moisture to retain the consistency of your favorite muffins, quick breads, cookies and cupcakes. Keep in mind this only works for moist baked goods.
Squeaky-Clean SpongesKitchen sponges harbor all types of bacteria, so who wants to wipe dishes and countertops with that? To keep your sponges squeaky clean, start with two. Use one for the kitchen and place the other in a dishwasher rack. Every time you run the dishwasher, swap the sponges so you’ll always have a clean one on hand.
Store-bought fresh herbs are expensive, but you can make them last longer if you align and secure the stems with a rubber band, then gingerly snip the ends and stand the bundle in a glass of fresh water. The herbs will last for weeks if you keep snipping off the ends and changing the water every three days or so. This money-saving tip works particularly well for fresh cilantro, parsley, thyme and mint, but not basil.
Lighten UpEveryone likes sweets, but no one likes the extra calories in sugar. A natural alternative is xylitol, found in products like Xylo Sweet. Made from birch bark, xylitol has the same texture and appearance as sugar, but contains about a third fewer calories. It can replace sugar cup for cup in baking recipes. While there’s no need for conversions, if you prefer less sweetness, use a tad less xylitol than you would sugar, as xylitol is a little sweeter. Note: Some people report minor stomach upset after consuming xylitol, so test your tolerance by using half sugar and half xylitol before substituting one for one. Also, keep xylitol away from pets—it’s deadly to dogs and cats.
Plop, Plop, Fizz, Fizz
Fido tracks in mud and a guest spills red wine on the carpet. This cleaning challenge requires fast action! First, never rub. It wears down carpet fibers and often works the stain deeper into the material. Remove excess liquid by blotting the stain with a clean damp towel, then pour seltzer or club soda directly on the stain and blot until most of the liquid is gone. Repeat this process (remember, patience is a virtue!) until the stain is no longer visible.
Weedy TopicNo matter where you live, weeds take over. Some people rely on chemical weed killers, while others just pull up offenders or live with them. Luckily, two easy nontoxic alternatives exist: white vinegar and table salt. Pour either substance onto weeds—but avoid grass and plantings—and let time and nature take their course. Only do this on a hot sunny day, as it makes the treatment much more effective. Within a few days, the weeds will die and you can pull them out. Another trick is to apply boiling-hot water to weeds and watch them wilt into oblivion.
Take the Plunge
Oh no! The kitchen sink is clogged and you have dinner guests arriving in an hour. Don’t run out to buy a drain cleaner. Not only are they costly and harmful to the environment, they take a toll on pipes. Instead, keep a plunger on hand to plunge the drain until the water recedes. For smaller bathroom sinks have a mini-plunger on hand.