Kitchen Hacks 101

Welcome  The idea for today’s post came out of necessity last week.  We were in a long stretch of snow and ice, so we were making do with the groceries in the cabinet and fridge.  This was fine for us, but I had been asked to make some chocolate chip muffins for someone.  And I had forgotten until the last minute.  I had no chocolate chips and no eggs.  I also forgot to set out my butter to soften ahead of time.  So right there, in one frantic afternoon, I relied on three of my favorite kitchen hacks.

Today, I’m going to share a dozen of my favorite “hacks” from the kitchen.  I’m also going to share my recipe that came from my adventure last week, Chocolate Chunk Applesauce Muffins, which are pretty tasty.  Problem solving in the kitchen has almost become a past time for me!

A Dozen of my Favorite Kitchen Tips and Tricks

1 No chocolate chips?  Well, if you have any chocolate bars or chocolate almond bark, you can chop them to make your own chocolate chips.  The only way this won’t work is if it is unsweetened bar chocolate.  To make my Chocolate Chunk Applesauce Muffins, I placed a few chocolate almond bark blocks in a zip-top bag and went to work on it with the flat side of a meat mallet.  In a few minutes I had a great amount of chocolate chunks.  They worked perfectly in the muffin batter, giving almost the effect of mini-chocolate chips.  And no one even noticed that the chocolate pieces were of irregular size.

2 And I’m out of eggs!  Mashed ripe banana or applesauce can actually work as egg substitute in baked goods.  In my case, I used applesauce.  The ratio is 1/3 cup of applesauce for each egg in the recipe.  The more eggs in a recipe, the more the flavor and texture will change with this substitution.  I really don’t recommend going any higher than a 3-egg to 1 cup applesauce swap ratio.  This substitution works well for cakes, quick breads, muffins, and occasionally cookies.  It obviously won’t work in something like cheesecake!

3 Did you forget to set out the butter to soften again?  I don’t know about you, but I seem to do this all the time when making a recipe that calls for softened butter.  If this sounds familiar, you’ve got to try this trick.  Boil a pot of water.  Pour the boiling hot water in a clean Mason jar, dump out the water and flip the jar over the stick of butter (vertically).  Let stand for 3 or 4 minutes.  Check to see if soft enough, if not, repeat the process one more time.  What would have taken hours is now done in minutes.

4 Have an extra half of citrus fruit from a recipe?  Citrus fruit makes the BEST garbage disposal cleaner/deodorizer.  I stick the half of lemon, orange, or lime all the way down in the drain.  I then turn on the warm water and run the disposal for about two minutes.  The acid in the fruit cleans the disposal, while the citrus smell lingers in the kitchen.  I’ve used this procedure my entire adult life.

5 When making cake and candy pops, let them set up by placing the sticks in an upside-down colander placed over some wax paper.  Colanders with lots of holes give many places to place the sticks so the pops won’t have to touch.  The wax paper collects any drips that may result.

6 Cutting perfectly portioned watermelon wedges got easier last summer when I learned this cutting trick.  Cut the ends off a round watermelon.  Cut in half length-wise and place the halves, cut side down on a cutting board (Hopefully you can hit the half mark better than I did in my hurry!)  Cut each of these pieces in half again, length-wise, making four long wedges.  Cut across each of these four wedges in one to two inch increments, yielding perfectly portioned watermelon slices.

summer seasonal fruit
Fresh seasonal fruit makes a great simple summer dessert.

7 Don’t have cream or no time to make chocolate ganache? Keep containers of store-bought chocolate fudge frosting on hand and you will have all you need for a quick ganache. Place about a cup of the frosting in a microwave-safe bowl and heat in microwave for abut 20 seconds. Pour over cake, or other dessert, and allow to set for five to ten minutes…instant ganache!

Recipe for Semi-Naked Chocolate Peanut Butter Cake is here.

8 Not great at decorating cakes? Use cookie cutters as molds for packaged candy melts and make candy decorations for almost any occasion.

Recipe for Cinnamon Applesauce Cake with Cinnamon Buttercream and Candy Leaves can be found here.

9 I keep a gallon-size freezer zip-top bag in the freezer for overripe bananas. Every time a banana goes past our taste preference, I peel the banana and toss it in the bag. Then it’s ready to make banana breads and muffins or smoothies.

10 You don’t need fancy candy dipping tools when coating truffles or cake pops in candy coating. You just need some plastic forks. Break the inner two tines out of two plastic forks and use to dip candies in the chocolate coating. The round shapes nest perfectly in between the outer tines. Whenever we have leftover plastic utensils from an event, I save a few so I can have backups for when others break. I used this trick when I made these Devil’s Food Cake Truffles.

Devil's Food Cake Truffles
A fudgy filling wrapped in a dark chocolate or vanilla candy coating makes an easy truffle for entertaining or gift-giving. You can get the recipe here.

11 Love meatloaf, but hating wait an hour or longer to cook a loaf? Making mini-meatloaves in a muffin tin is a much faster option. Plus, the leftovers are just the right size for the lunch box the next day. Get my Mini-Meatloaves recipe here.

12 Tired of boring oatmeal? You need stir-ins! Nuts and fruit are always good, but have you tried peanut butter, honey, and banana? How about apple butter or pumpkin butter with some walnuts or pecans? Peanut butter and jelly also make good stir-ins. I always try to stir in at least some sort of protein to give the oatmeal some lasting power through my morning. These are my family’s favorite oatmeal mix-ins.

Well, that was fun. I hope somewhere among my twelve favorite kitchen hacks you may have found something new to try. We’re all about helping each other along! What are some of your favorite kitchen tips and tricks?

Today’s Recipe

Chocolate Chunk Applesauce Muffins (makes 1 dozen standard muffins)

  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup butter, softened
  • 1/3 cup applesauce
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla
  • 1 cup AP flour
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 2/3 cup chopped chocolate or mini-chocolate chips

Turn oven to 350 degrees. Line a 12-cup muffin tin with paper liners or spray with nonstick cooking spray.

Cream butter and sugar in large mixing bowl. Add applesauce, milk, and vanilla and mix.

In separate bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Add to butter mixture and mix until just combined. Fold in chocolate.

Divide batter between the twelve muffin cups. Bake at 350 for 20-22 minutes. Remove to wire cooling racks.

Today’s Scripture