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Kitchen time savers (Part 1)

From big-batch cooking on the weekends, to “pantry raid” recipes for fast weeknight meals, it only takes a glance through some of my past posts to know that I’m not one to turn my nose up at a time-saving trick when it comes to making meals. Here, I’m sharing a series of classic time-savers that I’ve turned to often.

Stay tuned for more tips, tricks and shortcuts! For quick weeknight dinners, also search for #pantryraid.

The first time saver I swear by is buying pre-chopped or pre-crushed garlic and ginger. Depending on who you ask, buying prepared garlic and ginger may or may not be sacrilege. As far as I’m concerned, it’s fair game.

Yes, you can chop or mince garlic and make your own garlic paste. You can peel ginger with a spoon* or use a ceramic grater (I don’t have one but I love to use my Microplane.)

So why buy it in a jar, in a tube, or as frozen cubes? I generally keep both fresh garlic and ginger, as well as their prepared counterparts, as often as possible in my kitchen. I use them both equally.

I truly believe there is a time and a place when it just makes life that much easier:

  • It saves an extra few minutes of peeling and chopping. I hate peeling garlic!
  • It doesn’t make a mess out of your cutting board. Even though I always try to use a plastic mat for cutting garlic, I’ll gladly take one less thing to wash!
  • The pastes are easy to stir into mayonnaise and dressings, to make a quick garlic aioli for example on burger night or to dip french fries.
  • I also find garlic paste can be stirred in really nicely with softened butter, making both easy to spread on a baguette before baking for quick garlic bread.

If you don’t want to take a shortcut and need to clean your wooden or bamboo cutting boards after chopping garlic, reach for a few household cleaning wizards: salt, baking soda and vinegar.

Just dump the salt and baking soda directly on your board in the sink in roughly equal parts. I never measure, but if you want to measure, start with 1/4 cup of each. Add enough water so the salt and baking soda get thin but not too thin… think toothpaste. Scrub vigorously and let sit 5 minutes, then rinse with warm water.

This trick works like a charm, but if you need more smell-fighting power, add some white vinegar to the baking soda-salt mix instead of water. It will foam up. Let sit 5 -10 minutes, then rinse.

If you have wooden boards, remember to re-oil them periodically to maintain their luster, but always do so on a bone dry cutting board. Wait until it drys completely before oiling.

*To use a spoon to peel ginger, if you are not familiar: I find that it helps to have one long, rectangle piece of ginger to make it easier to scrape the spoon down, without catching it on any of the smaller parts of the root. First, trim the ends of the ginger with a pairing knife to remove the tough bits. Cut off any smaller, knobby pieces from the sides of the ginger. Then, take a teaspoon from your utensil drawer – not your teaspoon measuring spoon – and turn it so the hollow side is facing the ginger. Using the edge of the spoon, scrape it across the thin ginger skin repeatedly until you see the skin start to peel. Repeat until all skin is removed.