Real Food Tips: 34 Random Food & Cooking Tricks

There’s no better title than “random” for this list. These tips and tricks are all over the board, but these are the things you learn and collect after so many years of cooking. First are some tricks that I use regularly, then at the bottom you’ll find a long list of tips from our readers. Enjoy!

Freezing Pesto in Ice Cube Trays
  1. If an egg is spoiled it will float in a bowl of water rather than sink.
  2. To avoid dulling the blade of your knife, turn it upside down before scraping items off your cutting board.
  3. Use ice cube trays to freeze small portions of pesto, broth, applesauce and pizza sauce. Transfer the cubes to a Ziplock bag or other freezer-proof container and it will be easy to pull out exactly how much you need.
  4. The PLU code for organic produce starts with the number 9 and is five digits long (conventional produce is only 4 digits).
  5. To make peeling and mincing garlic easier first mash the clove with either the flat part of the knife or with the knife handle.
  6. Roll lemons or limes between the counter and the heel of your hand to make them easier to juice.
  7. To kick up a standard grilled cheese sandwich, sprinkle a little freshly grated parmesan cheese on the outside of the bread while it’s cooking then flip it over in the pan so the cheese will cook/stick to the bread.
  8. If measuring out both oil/butter and honey put the oil or butter in your measuring cup first then the honey will slide right out.
  9. Put bread ends or scraps (if cutting your child’s sandwich into a festive shape) into a big bag in the freezer to save for homemade croutons, stuffing, or breadcrumbs.
  10. Discard the seeds from hot peppers to reduce the heat a bit and allow the pepper flavor to be appreciated.  (This trick is from my husband…I rarely eat hot peppers!)

Here are some tips from our facebook fans (which are not all things I’ve tried myself yet)…please leave your suggestions in the comments below:

  1. Amanda: Disassemble a pomegranate in a bowl of water! Seeds sink, pulp floats
  2. Haley: Never store tomatoes in the fridge
  3. Alzbeta: Rub your hands on stainless steel (I usually use my kitchen faucet) to get rid of the garlic smell. Just one quick rub works for me.
  4. Laura: To keep sliced apples from browning, soak them in a mixture of cold water and salt.
  5. Kelly: Peel ginger with a spoon! So much easier to shave the skin off than cutting it with a knife.
  6. Vanessa: Never put lemon AND milk in your tea… it curdles.
  7. Jessica: Store onions in the fridge or soak them in cold water to help with watery eyes
  8. Marsha: Clean & prep as much of your produce as possible when you bring it home. Makes it much easier to put together for lunch or at dinner time after a long day at work.
  9. Loy: Don’t store apples and bananas near each other. Apples give off a gas that makes the bananas ripen (and go soft) much faster!
  10. Julie: CAREFULLY sink your knife blade into the seed of an avocado to remove. Then scoop the meat out with a spoon.
  11. Jean: Don’t store potatoes and onions together it causes eyes in your potatoes.
  12. Melissa: Pull your banana’s apart when you get home if they’re ripe enough it’ll slow down the ripening so they don’t get all brown.
  13. Missy: If your house is smelling like onions, garlic, etc. simmer a pot with 1/2 inch of water, 1/2 inch of white vinegar and a cinnamon stick and in minutes the odors will be neutralized.
  14. Abbey: Briefly soak berries in water with vinegar added to kill mold spores and keep berries fresh longer.
  15. Liz: After throwing away the peels for years it finally occurred to me to save the zest from my organic citrus, (oranges, limes, and lemons) and store it in the freezer for later.
  16. Sarah: Toss berries in flour before baking in muffins or bread and they will be more evenly distributed.
  17. Jasmine: To peel a hard-boiled egg, crack it all over, roll under your palm, then use a spoon to get under the skin and peel it. Most often, it’ll come off in one fell swoop.
  18. Jessica: If you buy spinach in the plastic container, flip it over in the fridge each day to prevent the condensation from wilting the leaves.
  19. Elizabeth: Apples in pineapple juice, orange juice, or any citrus juice will keep them from browning. We always like lime juice with the sweeter red apples, and pineapple or orange with the more tart varieties. Yum!
  20. Amy: You can tell if an egg is raw or hard boiled by spinning it. The hard boiled egg will spin faster than the raw one.
  21. Martha: To get the most “meat” off a pineapple; twist the top spikes off, cut the bottom part to have an even stand then just slice off the sides.. entering the fruit’s peel at an angle.
  22. Debbie: I always flip my nut butters upside down and set them in the cabinet for a couple days before opening. Mixes all the oil into the rest of the nut butter.
  23. Angelica: When you buy berries of any sort take them out of the plastic container and line the container with paper towels.Then place berries back in. Helps to keep berries longer. Instead of turning into mush they kind of dry out. I have had berries last at least a week this way. Also, do not wash until you’re ready to eat!
  24. Lynna: How do you know if a pineapple is ripe? Gently tug on one of the bottom leaves. If it comes away from the fruit with a gentle tug, the pineapple is ripe.

 

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79 thoughts on “Real Food Tips: 34 Random Food & Cooking Tricks”

  1. #21 is not accurate. Onions might encourage the eyes to grow, but potatoes already have eyes. The eyes do not come from storing them with onions.

  2. I don’t believe the banana comment because they can get ripped and ripen even faster. Something that does work however is keeping on the plastic they usually wrap on the stem for as long as you can.

  3. Eggs that float are just not fresh; they’re still useable and more suitable for hard cooked eggs than fresh eggs. Hot pepper seeds aren’t hotter than the pepper, and they contain great flavor along with texture and visual appeal.

    1. You never lived on a farm! And I stand to bet you never had the unpleasant experience of trying a floating egg anyways only to realize the hen had sat on it too long & you just boiled & crack open the fetus of a baby chick. Think about that when an egg floats straight to the top. There’s a reason. Hopefully you won’t find the saddest thing ever but changes to the yolk of that egg, visible or not have already begun.

  4. NEVER pack banannas in a school lunch when te lunch has any kind of cracker! the crackers end up tasting like banannas

  5. Need an avocado to ripen quickly – put it in a brown paper bag and the gasses it emits will speed up the process. Need it really fast? Put it in a brown paper bag with a banana.

  6. There was a string about Cilantro/ freezing… I have been creating a list of 101 ways to use an ice cube tray-

    take any fresh herbs you use regularly, chop fine, put in the bottom of an ice cube tray (1/4tsp) then cover with EVOO, Coconut Oil, stock, broth, water, etc (whatever you use to cook with). Put the tray in the freezer, remove the cubes, pkg them in a freezer safe container. When you’re ready to cook, you have the herbs & fat/ liquid all in one. You can do this with herbs, scallions, garlic, just about anything.

    An ice cube is roughly 1/4cup – I also freeze milk (when it’s just a little in the carton – no room for 2); wine (you can add herbs too); add an extra potato or 2 to the pot/ oven, then blend with water, stock or milk – quick easy thickener for soups, gravy, sauces, **add a pinch of garlic too; guacamole freezes nicely, each cube is about a serving for tacos – thaw while prepping everything else ** make a bunch when avocados are on sale/ in season, have it all year; freeze fruit mixed with yogurt (seasonal/ sales), pack in small mason jar, top with yogurt & by the time you get to work/ school it’s a yummy snack/ lunch treat (gogurt w/out the additives); cream cheese w/ herbs, salmon, jam – 1 cube/ bagel half – thaw as needed, **Add savory cc cubes to mac -n-cheese

    Do you make lunches? Sandwiches? Try pre-making a it: bread & meat – freeze, open-face, in the morning add cheese, veggies, spreads, wrap in parchment paper or paper towel. By lunch it’s thawed and everything stays cold. You can also just do pre-made meat servings in the freezer on a tray, then stack w/ wax paper, pull as needed. I actually will buy lunch meats on sale/ bulk, separated in sandwiches in a whole loaf of bread & freeze everything. Then it’s a quick lunch when I need it, nothing spoils. My fave is honey wheat, roasted turkey & guac (all made/ frozen) – pull it out, add lettuce, carrot shreds, red onion, roasted peppers. YUM!

    Ok – I think that’s enough for now…

  7. Tips for handling hot peppers:

    If you coat your fingers in a little bit of olive oil- the hot pepper oils don’t soak into your skin. If you forget and feel that tell-tale burn, make a paste with baking soda and milk. Spread the paste on your hands and let it sit for about ten minutes. Rinsing with milk or soaking the paste off in milk helps as well! Cheers!

  8. #7 , The grilled cheese sandwich tip, I have been doing that for over 15 years. So I am claiming this tip as mine.lol

  9. Hands smell like onion or garlic? Simply wet them, pour a generous amount of table salt onto palms, and rub hands together to form a kind of paste. Let it sit a minute or two, then rinse hands. Voila! Now your hands won’t smell like anything.
    PS To add another guacamole tip: If you spray the top of a bowl of leftover guacamole with cooking spray and cover with plastic wrap it won’t turn brown!

  10. Scooping out avocado with a spoon is messy and aggravating; if you are careful you can simply peel it with your fingers and leave the meat perfectly intact. I always do this; the first few pieces come off small, but eventually I can get hold of it so that the whole half-peeling comes in one piece. No wasted avocado stuck in the peeling!

  11. My favorite thing:

    Wilty lettuce? Chop up and let soak in a bowl of ice water for an hour– goes back to perfect crispiness (assuming it isn’t -too- far gone). I can’t tell you how often I threw wilted lettuce away before I learned this. Works for parsley and other greens too (at least in my experience).

  12. Just an add on to tip #7. We like cheddar with mozzarella, but will use whatever we have on hand. We almost always add thinly sliced tomatoes, some fresh baby spinach, and a sprinkle of garlic salt. It’s an easy way to add nutrition and our boys love it! Thanks for sharing these random tricks!

  13. I save the ends of loaves of breads as well. I usually use them for croutons,(if you don’t eat only organic food, using freezer-burnt hotdog or hamburger buns are great for croutons too!, but when I have a collection of about four cups of bread, I like to make bread pudding. It is super easy, only uses a little bit of milk and eggs, and its also a great way to use up the last little bit of nuts, or dried and frozen fruit. It can also be frozen, or keep for days int he refrigerator, making a dessert or snack that can last for a week.

  14. Rather than worry about apple slices browning when making my daughters’ school lunches, I toss the slices in a bit of cinnamon. It clings to the slices and makes them taste so yummy.

    Also, I store our apples in the fruit/veggie drawer of our refrigerator. I love cold, crisp apples straight out of the ‘fridge.

    1. Assistant to 100 Days (Jill)

      Hi Alana. I have not tried it. I know cilantro is frustrating because it goes bad so quickly, at least for me it does. Jill

      1. My sister has been storing her cilantro in a mason jar of water. She says the cilantro has stayed good for almost 2 weeks. So far I have only purchased as much as I need and so have not tried it myself.

  15. If you don’t plan to use the entire pepper or other seeded fresh produce, leave the seeds in the unused portion and it will last much longer.

  16. Food tip: I found that while we were trying to start a small garden that it was cheaper to get fresh live herbs at the grocery store then at Home Depot — also if you happen to be on assistance it falls under groceries. Just take it home and plant it! We also get used tires – from friends, when you get your tires changed, tire shops, etc. to use as bases for our raised garden – nothing gets mowed over, there is room for one to two good size plants of any kind you want to grow and you get to upcycle. You can paint them to make them more appealing or leave them as they are

  17. Once a pineapple is picked it won’t ripen anymore. Store it upside down for a day or two before cutting it up to distribute the juices.

  18. My tip for perfect boiled eggs is to put them in a rice/food steamer for 16-18 minutes and they come out perfect. No more waiting for the water to boil and then timing it. Use older eggs for easy peeling. I have a rice steamer that has several trays. I don’t know if it makes a difference.

  19. What a great blog you have…I love it! It is not an easy task, cutting out processed food, but certainly one worth the effort…my kids eat a lot of processed food….processed by ME!!! It can be hard work but once you get in the rhythm it is great…thanks for some new and interesting ideas. Maybe if you have time you might like to have a look at my blog, mamacino.wordpress.com

  20. Awesome tips, Lisa! I can’t wait to open my PB and hopefully skip the stirring!! I made a post of some tips of my own, and some of yours! I think my favorite is avocados — once ripened (on counter), transfer to fridge — to be perfect for up to 2 weeks or more! I’ve barely ever had a rotten avocado since! What a savings! http://fresh-you.blogspot.com/2012/02/18-quick-tips-for-kitchen.html

    More cool tips in the comments here! Yikes, aren’t cool ideas from the internet!, really from people, but the internet is what makes the info-passing so easy!

    I love the basil stored like fresh flowers idea — so cool!, and freezing ginger cubes idea, and the herb cutting in a mug idea, …here’s a good one: chop fresh herbs, like cilantro, then put it in ice cube trays (or silicone cupcake tins like I use) to be used as needed. And the plastic bag with cut corner for injecting pesto, or I like it for getting yogurt into a cup for a parfait, so the sides don’t get smudged.

    About the tomatoes, definitely true — it often says as much right on the plastic containers that tomatoes come in! When you put a tomato in the fridge, it stunts the ripening (as is the case for produce that you want to prevent from further ripening), but this is especially bad if your tomato isn’t ready! I think there is also more too it b/c …I think it was the first time I read the container, I had some tomatoes go bad in the fridge, and I’m sure they were were probably moldy, b/c I wouldn’t have taken as much notice of just an unripe tomato.

    Ok, I think I better get to bed! Thanks again for the tips (and the post idea!) and have a great night!

  21. Awesome tip for basil! And someone had said just to buy what I need and tomatoes won’t go bad…I literally bought one gorgeous organic roma tomato and left it out one day and it had spots of mold all over it. However, I had it in a basket of apples since Lisa said that’s where they keep theirs but a couple people have said apples will spoil things so I will try the window will next time. Can’t wait for summer when my neighborhood produce van guy sets up with the most amazing tomatoes in the world. :)

  22. For fresh basil – cut the end of the stem so there is a “fresh” cut, put in a cup of water ensuring no leaves touch the water, and cover with a plastic bag with holes in it (I usually punch through the bag several times with a fork). Store on your countertop.

    This creates a little humidifier that basil loves and it will stay fresh for up to two weeks this way. If you put it in the fridge it will go black!

  23. When filling an ice cube tray with pesto, put in a ziploc baggie and cut one corner off. Just squeeze it into each spot on the tray. It’s evenly distributed and it looks neat. No splooshes to clean up :)

  24. Just to add on to the ice cube tray idea…you can freeze your left over wine this way too for cooking. I like to use wine whenever I make burgundy pot roast.

    1. Freezing left over coffee is also great if you are a fan of ice coffee. You can make a wonderful glass and it won’t be deluted by H2O ice cubes.

  25. If you are using apples for a sweet application let them sit in a lemon lime flavored pop. If for salads…then I would suggest the lime or lemon juice.

    1. Pop is not real food though! If you use it for sweets, is the lime or lemon juice just too sour, or will it work?

  26. Last year the farmer at our CSA told us to to store our tomatoes stem side down on the countertop, and not to pile them up or put them by any other fruits. I experimented and left half the tomatoes right side up and half upside down and the upside down ones seemed to last longer! Gotta trust the farmer. ;)

  27. Gotta agree that you should NOT refrigerate tomatoes. It ruins the flavor, it makes them bland and pithy. If you only buy what you need, they won’t go bad. If they do turn soft, use them in tomato based dishes like beef stew or spaghetti.

    I’ve heard (but never actually tried) that putting citrus in the microwave for a few seconds helps them release more juice too.

    I do know this from experience–using older eggs to hard boil makes them peel much easier. Freshly bought eggs cling to their membrane and shell, making them hard to peel. (But somehow I can never remember to buy my eggs for Easter dyeing beforehand…)

    1. I do this all the time with any citris fruit. Depending on the size it’s usually in there for 10-30 seconds. Then I roll in on the counter pushing it a little and then cut into it. It’s amazing how much more juice you get out of it.

    1. Mondie, do you cover the glass jar with a lid or leave it open. I’m always looking for a way to keep berries longer

  28. absolutely do not refrigerate tomatoes. there is no need and it ruins the taste. if you buy fresh tomatoes they will last for weeks. better yet–grow your own.
    i live in hot and humid south alabama and i don’t know anyone who puts their tomatoes in the fridge. often they are put on the kitchen window sill, as my grandmother has always done.
    and, trust me, there is little prized more in the deep south than a delicious tomato.

  29. Yeah, I’m not sure about leaving tomatoes on the counter. They do taste better that way but spoil fast. My first organic tomato I bought a couples weeks ago had moldy spots on it a day after I bought it because I left it on the counter. What do you guys think?

  30. quick and easy way to chop fresh herbs – put them in the bottom of a coffee mug. stick your kitchen shears into the mug to cut them. the mug holds them together and you can snip them in no time. don’t know if this makes sense until you do it! i used to hate chopping herbs until someone showed me this trick.

  31. My produce manager told me to NEVER refrigerate tomatoes. I have kept them happily on my countertop for up to two weeks at a time. They do soften over time (if they last that long) but never turn to mush like they do in the refrigerator. My homegrown tomatoes last even longer on the counter. If they start to soften before I can use them, I pop them in my dehydrator. Dried tomatoes are a delicious snack!

  32. When cooking dry beans, make a double batch and freeze the extras. Next time you need beans for soup or a casserole and don’t have time to cook them, you’ve got a batch ready to go.

  33. Store your ginger root in the freezer. After peeling, wrap it in suran wrap and put it in a freezer bag. When you need it, just grate the amount needed.

    1. I put mine in the freezer unpeeled and then scrape the skin off with the back of the knife. Comes off like paper. Don’t let defrost through. It will be a pile of mush.

  34. Some of these tips are good, but many of them are old wives’ myths. If it works for you (or if you like doing it) then keep on! =) The only one I have to dispute for real though is keeping tomatoes in the fridge- you should always do this, unless they are overly ripe. Tomatoes on the counter will go bad super fast.

    1. 100 Days of Real Food

      I am not sure which ones you are referring to as old wives tales, but I would like to share what Michael Pollan said in a recent NYTimes interview when he was asked “Are There Any Foods You Won’t Eat?” He said “Feedlot meat. And tomatoes that have been in the refrigerator.”

      1. Interesting… Not sure where I stand yet, I usually store grape tomatoes in the fridge and others on the counter. I’ll have to experiment :)

      2. Did he give any reasoning why? Is it just tomatoes that haven’t been cut yet? I know it keeps them from ripening too quick but I don’t know why it’d be bad?

      3. Kelly, haven’t you ever noticed the mushy consistency and bland flavor that the fridge gives to tomatoes? Of course they don’t last as long, but I’d rather have flavorful tomatoes that maintain their interior walls (even very ripe ones do) for a short time than bland tomatoes with mushy insides.

      4. Alton Brown – my fave science chef – covered this once… I always had to battle my mother over this until this episode… “If they drop below 50 degrees a flavor compound called (Z)-3-dexenal is just going to flip itself off like a chemical switch” That is why the texture and flavor gets mealy and nasty.

  35. Flipping spinach or lettuce containers so the bottom leaves don’t wilt…..genious! Can’t believe I’d didn’t think of that.

    1. So happy you liked that one! I learned that one from a friend myself – so simple, yet brilliant at the same time :)

  36. To make the perfect hard boiled egg place eggs in the pan and cover with water. Bring eggs and water to a boil. Turn off burner when water first starts to boil and cover with lid. Set timer for 10 min. After 10 min drain out water and cover with cold water and ice. When eggs are cool enough to handle peel under running cold water. The shell slips off easily and the yolk is perfect with no trace of green.

  37. Lynna… THANK YOU! Kroger’s had pineapple on sale last week. While I considered buying one, I ended up putting it back because I had no idea how to know if it were ripe or not.

  38. Save all your carrot, celery, and onion trimmings and skin for chicken bone stock like the one above. I freeze them and throw them in the crock pot straight out of the freezer.

  39. Free DIY vegetable broth! Save peelings from organic vegetables in the freezer to make vegetable broth. Carrots, potatoes, other root veggies, squash, corncobs, celery, tomatoes, parsley stems, etc., are all great. (Cabbage and broccoli, not so much.) When you have a couple gallon bags full, put them in a big stock pot, cover with water, and add 1/2-3/4 tsp. salt per quart of water. Toss in a few extra handfuls of herbs if you have them with some bay leaves and peppercorns. Simmer about 45 mins, let cool, and strain. This makes at least 6 delicious quarts of vegetable broth for free. Freeze in quart containers (or ice cube trays, great tip above!).

    1. Do you think this would work overnight in the crockpot? I made the chicken broth in the crockpot overnight and it was wonderful.

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