5 Unconventional Tips To Save Time In The Kitchen

by | Apr 9, 2012

Photo by r.reveche

Darrin Carlson helps smart, busy men learn how to cook real food at Lean, Mean, Virile Machine. When he’s not doing analytical chemistry he’s trying hard not to fall off his surfboard. You can follow him on Twitter @Darrin_Carlson.

You may not be able to spend a couple of hours in the kitchen every day, but that doesn’t mean you should have to fall back on microwaveable mac and cheese either.

Although it’s important to build healthy habits by learning to prepare your food from scratch, most of us still have to devote a lot of time to work, school, friends, family, and other obligations.

This is why these five unconventional kitchen hacks are bound to come in handy.

5 Unconventional Tips To Save Time In The Kitchen

by Darrin Carlson

1. Peel potatoes without a peeler

Peeling potatoes can be a pain. Here’s a way to simplify the process.

Instead of peeling the potatoes before cooking them, peeling them after. The process of cooking the potatoes causes their skins to loosen (almost like a honey badger), allowing you to remove it freely.

Get a pot of water boiling and add the potatoes. Boil for about 45 minutes and pour out into a colander in the sink. Turn on the cold water above the potatoes. Hold one potato under the water stream, twist and pull to remove the skin. Holding potatoes under cold water cools down the exterior enough that you don’t burn yourself, while the inside remains hot.

2. Peel garlic without a knife

Traditionally, you needed to peel garlic cloves by whacking them with the side of a knife to loosen the skins and then peeling off by hand. But if you have to peel quite a bit, you can save yourself a lot of time by ditching the knife altogether.

Start out by separating the cloves by pushing down on the bulb with the heel of your hand. Then, take the cloves and toss them into a large mixing bowl (or a covered saucepan). Then, cover it tightly and shake it as if your life depended on it for a few seconds. The skins should peel off during this process.

3. Peel a hard-boiled egg fast

If you’ve only got a couple of hard-boiled eggs to peel, the best way is to use the “blowout” method. Pinch off both ends of the egg and bring one up to your mouth while holding your hand on the other side. Now, blow hard into the egg and it should slip out through the other end and into your hand!

If you’ve got a lot of eggs to peel (or you’re afraid of scaring your dinner guests off), you can also use a method similar to the one above for peeling garlic. After removing the eggs from boiling water and cooling, put them into a large mixing bowl or saucepan and cover. Shake for a minute and the shells should come right off.

4. Peel a banana like a monkey

Sick of mangling your banana every time you try to peel one? Tired of making the end all mushy when you try to peel the stem back? Take a cue from the way monkeys eat them.

Instead of peeling from the stem, go after it from the opposite side. Pinch this end between your fingers and it should split. You can then peel the sides down without having to squish the fruit.

5. Chill a bottle of wine quickly

Now that you’ve put in all the hard work learning how to peel potatoes, garlic, eggs, and bananas like a boss, you’ve earned a drink. But what if that pinot grigio is still at room temperature?

No problem. Fill up a sink (or bucket) with cold water. Add a few dozen cubes of ice and a handful of salt. Put the bottle in and stir it around. In about 15 minutes, you should have a perfectly chilled bottle of wine!

Water is a better conductor of heat than air, and adding salt lowers the freezing point, allowing you to quickly chill wine (or anything else, for that matter).

What are your favorite unconventional ways to save time in the kitchen?

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15 Responses to “5 Unconventional Tips To Save Time In The Kitchen”

  1. Darrin’s a good writer with a sharp analytical mind. I’ve been following his blog for over a year. Thanks, Darya, for giving him some exposure here.

    -Steve

  2. Nick Casteel says:

    I like to pre make mixtures that I use in several meals throughout the week. Some examples are: a vegitable mix where I clean and cop many veggies and add seasoning. Another is a bean mix that I fully cook, strain, and season. I also do the same thing with scrambled eggs and whatever added ingedients I choose. All this work on one day saves me housr throughout the rest of the week.

    • Darrin says:

      I’m with you there! I usually spend a couple hours cooking each Sunday so I have enough healthy food on hand at any time that hunger strikes.

      I call these my “go-to meals.” The things I can whip up without needing to consult a recipe (and can easily substitute ingredients based on what’s available.)

  3. Dan H says:

    Your explanation on #5 is a bit off. It doesn’t really matter if water or air is a better heat conductor. The conductivity of the glass of the bottle and the specific heat of the temperature of the external bottle surface is all that matters. A bottle of wine surrounded by air in a 0 F freezer will chill faster than the same bottle in a 37 F refrigerator. A bucket of ice water is probably around 33 F and will chill faster than a fridge. I doubt adding salt does anything except making the outside of your wine bottle salty. While ice cubes can get colder than 32 F (water freezing without salt), I’ve never seen the water in a cup freeze when you add ice. Unless your ice cubes are so cold that they can freeze the water, using salt to lower the freezing point is useless.

    The big reason (and it’s a good reason) to put the bottle in ice water rather than a freezer is that, you know the system will stabilize above freezing. If the wine is in a freezer and you forget about it for an hour, the result might not be pretty.

    Probably the fastest way to chill wine would be to transfer it from a well insulted glass bottle to an aluminum can before chilling. For other reasons, I doubt many people will do this.

    (You also got the issue if conducting heat backwards. Liquids have a higher specific heat than air which means that maintain a constant temperature longer. For example, put a candy thermometer in a pot, put a lid on and turn the flame on high. Compare how much a candy thermometer temperature rises in 3 min when the pot is empty vs when it’s full of water.)

    • Aeris says:

      Actually I am pretty sure that the explanation is correct. Adding salt to ice/ice water does make the melting/freezing (and even boiling) point lower hence making the ice bath colder than it would be and reducing the temperature of the bottle more quickly. People have been making homemade ice cream for years using this method. I understand what you mean when you say that a drink won’t freeze if you add ice cubes to it. However I’m sure you know that it does make the drink colder – say 10 degrees above freezing. Adding salt to this will make the drink even colder – not sure about how many degrees but it will certainly make a difference.

      Also it does matter whether it’s submerged in water or in air of the same temperature. If you take a dip in ice cold water, your core temp will drop really quickly, whereas if you go inside a freezer, your core temp will drop much slower. This is because water (since it’s a liquid) is a better conductor of heat than air (gaseous) and the heat from your body (or the wine bottle in this case) will be lost much quicker within the ice bath.

      “Heat spontaneously tends to flow from a body at a higher temperature to a body at a lower temperature. In the absence of external driving fluxes, temperature differences, over time, approach thermal equilibrium.”

      I’m not 100 percent sure of the science, because it’s seemingly pretty simplistic compared to the stuff you said but I think it’s Occam’s Razor in this case. 🙂 Perhaps Darya or anyone else might be able to confirm this or correct me if I’m wrong.

      • Darrin says:

        A-yep. See my reply to Dan.

        Additionally, saturating water with sodium chloride (table salt) lowers the freezing point from 0°C to -21.1°C (or from 32°F to -6°F).

        It would take a LOT of salt to get you there, but you won’t need nearly that much if you’re just looking to take your chardonnay down to 10°C.

    • Darrin says:

      Hey Dan!

      Thanks for the thoughtful response. It’s been a while since Physics class and I’m no doubt a little rusty in that department.

      The specific heat of a material (which you mentioned) can show you how much energy is required to change its temperature.

      However, I meant to appeal to Fourier’s Law as justification for this technique, which shows that the heat flux through a material is equal to the product of the temperature gradient and the material’s thermal conductivity. (Apologies to the non-science nerds.)

      Since water has a higher conductivity than air, it should then be able to create a greater heat flux, which results in faster cooling, no matter what the specific heat is. This is why room temperature water “feels” colder than the air.

      Just to be sure, I threw together a quick and dirty experiment while I was in the lab today.

      I put equal amounts of water in identical containers and put them in different cooling conditions for ten minutes.

      The sample I put in a -20°C freezer dropped from 23.5°C to 14.5°C. The other I put in an ice/water bath at 2.5°C and dropped from 23.5°C to 8.5°C.

      So the ice/water bath in my crude experiment was able to cool 166% as fast as the freezer, even though it was more than 20°C warmer (36°F for those of us still stuck with the imperial system).

      So I’m sticking by my claim here, but I’m with you that aluminum would be a better conductor… if only you wanted to fuss around that much! 🙂

  4. Dr. Drako says:

    Great article but #5 is a waste of good salt 🙂

    • Darrin says:

      Yeah… definitely not the place for artisanal sea salts! Store brand will do just fine here. Or omit it entirely. The ice bath is what’s key here.

  5. Nicole B. says:

    Boiling potatoes for 45 minutes to make them easier to peel? I’m not sure that’s saving time. Unless you have A LOT of potatoes.

    • Darrin says:

      Haha. I tend to get some pretty massive russets, so dial this down to whatever you need to cook it the entire way through. That’s all you need for this to work.

  6. Gretchen says:

    I just gave # 3 a try, given I have some hard boiled eggs left over from Easter this weekend. I gotta say, I am not sure how this really can work. All I ended up with was an egg that still had the shell and that weird pain behind your ears that you get from blowing up a balloon.

    Has anyone else tried it with success? Am I missing something?
    Thanks!

  7. Diane in Los Angeles says:

    Best way to peel a potato? Not at all. There’s good flavor and fiber in the skin. Mashed potatoes are better with some texture, anyway!

    And for garlic, a simple way to ease peeling is to separate the cloves, and spread them out over a microwave-safe plate. Put them in the microwave for 20-60 seconds (depends on their size and your microwave’s power). When you hear a pop or two, stop. Let them cool a minute or two, and the cloves will be softened and shrink just enough to make peeling a snap. Plus, the garlic flavor gets lightly tamed, the equivalent of a brief saute without the risk of scorching and making it bitter.

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