The Frugal Café | Photo credit: Rebecca Anne, "Flora's Cup"</a> | Creative Commons License,
Photo credit: Rebecca Anne, "Flora's Cup" | Creative Commons License,

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Frugal Café's Savvy 16 Redux: 16 More Kitchen & Shopping Tricks to Save You Money & Time | Chopping Jalepeños, Whipped Frosting, Garlic Mincing, Gravy Messes, Eggs, Zucchini, & More

By Vicki McClure Davidson


This is the second in our "Savvy 16" series of kitchen and shopping tricks.

Chile peppers are loved throughout the world for their flavor and "heat," but working with them without proper protection for your hands is asking for trouble. | Photo credit: MS Office
Chile peppers are loved throughout the world for their flavor and heat, but working with them without proper protection for your hands is asking for trouble.
  1. Chopping Jalepeños: Hot peppers are fabulous in so many dishes, but they are detrimental to your hands if you don't protect yourself when chopping up fresh chiles. Always wear food-service-type latex or rubber gloves when working with the hotter peppers (bell peppers and Hatch chiles aren't a problem, but jalepeños, serranos, and that spicy mama of them all, the habeñero, plus all the hot Asian and Mexican chile peppers in between, are horrible to exposed skin).

    If you don't have kitchen gloves, bag your hands with common plastic bags secured with rubber bands or string. No matter how careful you are (I'm speaking from painful first-hand experience here), if your hands aren't protected, chances are your skin will come into contact with the seeds or the inner white fleshy membrane, both of which are much stronger than the pepper itself. The reaction is usually severe if you are chopping a good number of peppers. Washing your hands doesn't help (and washing them in hot water makes it worse), because capsaicin, the agent in the peppers that causes the burning reaction, is oil-based (it's extremely water-resistant). It depends on how much contact you have. So play it safe! While a true chemical burn doesn't occur, physical contact with the seeds and inner membrane can be terribly painful and your fingers and other parts of your body will swell up. This pain/discomfort can last for 12 to 36 hours. Do not rub your eyes, nose, mouth, or "netherland" regions with your gloved hands. You'll be transferring the capsaicin to those areas—something you will surely regret!

  2. Simple Defatting of Soup or Stock: This is a nifty trick that takes advantage of gravity and flotation. Instead of storing the soup or stock in the refrigerator so that the fat rises to the top and hardens so it can be lifted or scooped off, do this. Put the soup in a container with an air-tight lid and turn it upside down when you put it in the fridge. Then, when it's ready, you can just pour the broth off the top and the hardened fat will stay behind in the bottom of the container.

  3. Removing Fish Fillet Pin Bones: Those tiny pin bones in fresh fish fillets can be difficult to find to remove. To easily find them for removal, lay the fillet, bone side up, across an inverted mixing bowl. The curve of the bowl will cause the fish to curve and wow, the bones will stick out, making them so easy to find. Use a pair of needle-nose pliers to pull the bones out.

  4. Zucchini Surplus Storage: When your garden is bursting with a bumper crop of zucchini, or the grocery store has a dynamite sale on the green beauties, stock up. Storing any surplus is easy. Grate the zucchini in a food processor and pack the pulp in freezer bags in portions for making zucchini bread or other recipes later in the year.

  5. Fast Food Condiments: Save those little packets of ketchup, mayonnaise, relish, taco sauce, soy sauce, mustard, horseradish, and anything else that you get at fast food restaurants. They are perfect for packing in bagged lunches, keeping in a desk drawer at work, or tossing a few into a picnic basket to save space. A hefty collection of them in a nice tin makes an inexpensive, appreciated gift for students who are away from home or for people who commute often. Keep some in your fridge for those times you suddenly discover you are out of ketchup and hamburgers are on the dinner menu, or you want to add a bit of spiciness to a dish. I once made a decent-sized bowl of shrimp cocktail sauce using a number of packets of ketchup and Arby's Horsey® horseradish sauce that I had on hand.

  6. Speedy Garlic Chopping: I've never understood why people invest in a garlic press which is the absolute dickens to clean up. Here's a fast, simple way to chop or mince garlic that I've been doing for years, and have seen Food Network chefs do all the time. Take the individual garlic clove, skin included, trim off the rough root end, then lay the garlic on its side on a cutting board. With a large, heavy knife over the clove, smack it hard with the broad side of the knife using the heel of your hand. Thunk—when smashed, most of the dry garlic skin just pops off, leaving the garlic clove quickly broken/smashed into many small pieces. You may need to chop the clove a bit more if you want it finer. However, cleaning a knife is much easier than cleaning out a garlic press. And removing the skin from the clove this way is a breeze.

  7. Whipped Frosting: When you buy a container of ready-made cake frosting from the store, you can slyly increase its volume so that it will go farther. Spoon it out of its container into a medium-sized mixing bowl. Whip it with your mixer or hand blender for a few minutes. You can actually double it in size in a very short time. Not only will you now be able to frost more cakes, brownies, or cupcakes, but each serving will have less sugar and fewer calories because there is less frosting being used.

  8. Perk Up Canned Broth: While making your own broth or stock is much cheaper and much better for you and your family with its lower salt content, in a pinch, we all sometimes need to add a can of chicken or beef broth to a dish. To disguise the flavor of canned broth, simmer it first for 15 to 20 minutes with a handful of minced onions, carrots, and celery. A bit of garlic will also perk it up.

  9. Easy Stuffed Cabbage: To save time when making stuffed cabbage, freeze and thaw the head of cabbage beforehand instead of parboiling it. The thawed leaves will become very pliable and won't taste differently than before.

  10. Keep Eggs Cold to Last Longer: Eggs are fragile, believe it or not. They will age more in one day at room temperature than they will in one week in the refrigerator. Eggs can be kept refrigerated in their carton for at least four to five weeks beyond the packing date. An egg shell may have as many as 17,000 tiny pores over its surface. Through these pores, the egg can absorb flavors and odors. Storing it in the carton and in the refrigerator helps keep it fresh. And you may not have known this, but eggs are placed in their cartons with their large end up to keep the air cell in place and the yolk centered.

  11. Finger Protection When Grating: When grating cheese or vegetables, you can prevent nasty, bloody scrapes to your finger tips from the rough metal on a flat or sided hand grater by putting a thimble on the finger or fingers that you usually abuse. For most people, it's usually the thumb. You can still have a firm grip, but now, you won't be adding a bit of yourself to the grated cheese or ginger root.

  12. Make "Poor Man's Parsley": Don't toss out the carrot greens from your garden's harvest or those that may still be intact on the carrots from the farmers market or grocery store. Parsley and carrots are in the same family. Chopped carrot greens, also called carrot tops, are rich in vitamins and can replace parsley in many recipes. In fact, they have been referred to as "poor man's parsley" for centuries. They are loaded with potassium, which can make them taste more bitter than parsley. Wash them, dry them, chop them, pop them into a freezer bag, and put them in the freezer. To use carrot greens, no defrosting is necessary. Just pinch out what is needed and put it into soups, stews, or other main dishes. They are delicious when added to mushrooms that are being sautéd. Use them fresh in salads. Ironically, carrot greens are high in Vitamin K, which is lacking in the carrots themselves. <Carrot Top Trivia: Carrot tops were considered a fashion statement when worn by the ladies of the English court. The lacy green foliage provided an attractive hair ornament or an adornment on their hats.

  13. Salt Eggplant to Reduce Moisture and Bitterness: When frying, eggplant soaks up oil like a sponge, but you can reduce its ability to absorb oil. Slice the eggplant, salt the cut flesh, and let it sit for 30 minutes or more. Then drain, brush off as salt as possible, pat dry, and proceed with cooking. Salt pulls out the eggplant's juices that carry those bitter flavors found in globe eggplant. The bitterness is believed to be caused by alkaloids, bitter-tasting compounds concentrated in and around the eggplant's seeds. Salting also dries the eggplant flesh so that it isn't quite as mushy when cooked. Use kosher salt instead of table salt; the larger surface area of kosher salt will draw out more juice.

  14. Less Mess with Gravy Server: Rather than use a gravy boat at the dinner table, try using a large teapot instead for serving gravy. The spout is designed for pouring, so pouring gravy on mashed potatoes or meat is much easier and less messy. The closed lid on the teapot will help the gravy stay warm.

  15. Knowing Beans about Beans: Dried beans are extremely economical and can be stored up to a year at room temperature in an airtight container. The older the beans are, the longer they will take to soak and cook, so don't mix new dried beans with old beans when cooking them. This will cause uneven cooking. Use lukewarm (room temperature) water when rinsing and soaking dried beans. Cold water may cause the beans to toughen. When soaking beans, some may float to the top along with some loose skin. This means that the beans are old and contain little moisture. Skim any of these floating beans or particles off the surface and discard them. Salt, sugar, and any acidic ingredients, such as tomato sauce, vinegar, citrus juice, or wine, should not be added until the beans are almost tender. If added at the beginning of the cooking process, they'll harden the skins on the beans and prevent them from absorbing the necessary liquid to soften them. Use a gentle boil when cooking dried beans. Do not allow beans to boil rapidly, which will cause them to burst.

  16. Stem Removal of Spinach Leaves: To quickly and neatly stem a spinach leaf, fold the leaf in half and pull off the stem. No muss, no fuss.





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