Hard News by Russell Brown

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Hard News: Kitchen Hacks

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  • Amy Gale,

    More a heuristic than a hack, but:

    If a recipe involves special effort (eg puff pastry) or special shopping (eg fondue), always – funds permitting – make at least double and freeze the excess for next time.

    (Don’t freeze finished fondue. Freeze the rubbly fluid that results from processing the cheeses into small pieces then pulsing in the wine, kirsch, and cornflour. Do the seasoning at usage time.)

    tha Ith • Since May 2007 • 471 posts Report

  • Ian Dalziel, in reply to Amy Gale,

    a must to ovoid?

    Who wants balls of melon?

    a melon cholic?
    or even a gourd gelder?

    Christchurch • Since Dec 2006 • 7953 posts Report

  • Sacha, in reply to TracyMac,

    And for getting off jar lids

    Our tool-using ancestors would be proud. Find myself levering the edge of lids with the handle of a regular teaspoon in search of that satisfying pop as the seal releases. Can still re-seal afterwards if not using contents in one go.

    Ak • Since May 2008 • 19745 posts Report

  • Thrash Cardiom,

    When baking bread put a cast iron pan in the bottom of the oven when you turn it on to heat. Heat the oven to 230+ and heat for around an hour, particularly if you are using a stone.

    Just prior to putting your loaf/buns into the oven, pour boiling water into the cast iron pan. Instant steam oven. This produces a much better crust on the bread and helps the initial oven rise.

    CHB • Since Nov 2006 • 55 posts Report

  • Gareth, in reply to Thrash Cardiom,

    In this discussion, should you not be Thrash Cardamom?

    Bucolic in the backblocks… • Since Jan 2008 • 269 posts Report

  • Kyle Matthews,

    I went off the idea; really need a practical lesson because it would be great to be able to batch-cook chickpeas and beans then freeze meal-size lots.

    From when I used to own a pressure cooker, it takes about 30 minutes to pressure cook chickpeas to hummus-ready condition, compared to close to 90 minutes in a pot.

    Since Nov 2006 • 6243 posts Report

  • Thrash Cardiom,


    Best to make sure the cast iron pan is NOT touching the oven door else this can be the result:

    CHB • Since Nov 2006 • 55 posts Report

  • Thrash Cardiom, in reply to Gareth,

    Why, yes, I probably should.

    CHB • Since Nov 2006 • 55 posts Report

  • BenWilson,


    For my next hack, a picture is worth a thousand words. I can't believe I did it the hard way for so long.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 10657 posts Report

  • BenWilson,

    On efficiency, also worth knowing – a bigger pot is usually more efficient than a smaller one. The bottom has a larger surface area so energy flows through it more easily. It heats up the contents faster, and/or uses less energy doing so.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 10657 posts Report

  • Raymond A Francis, in reply to BenWilson,

    This I have to try, does it work on all cans?

    45' South • Since Nov 2006 • 578 posts Report

  • Emma Hart, in reply to BenWilson,

    For my next hack, a picture is worth a thousand words. I can't believe I did it the hard way for so long.

    We have one of those, and it's great. Not least because everyone in the family can use the same damn tin opener.

    Christchurch • Since Nov 2006 • 4651 posts Report

  • Chris Waugh, in reply to BenWilson,

    For my next hack, a picture is worth a thousand words. I can’t believe I did it the hard way for so long.

    That had never occurred to me. It looks like your method produces a much safer can edge, too.

    Wellington • Since Jan 2007 • 2401 posts Report

  • Paul Campbell,

    I bought a set of these excellent devices years ago for disassembly of spent rocket motors, they work equally well for jars

    Dunedin • Since Nov 2006 • 2623 posts Report

  • Jolisa, in reply to Russell Brown,

    It’s better than a recipe book.

    And even betterer AS a recipe book? If only we knew an editor-type person...

    Auckland, NZ • Since Nov 2006 • 1472 posts Report

  • Kate Hannah,

    Oh so many kitchen hacks! One for starters that I discovered when kids were little: blitz leftover beef casserole with your stick blender then reheat in a pot with a little cream & seasoning. Serve stirred through farfalle. Invented as way to get kids to eat stew, discovered is delish & great way to have a repeat dinner in same week while avoiding the déjà vu feeling.

    Quick gluten free crumble topping that's as good as the regular (I love crumble so that's saying something. )

    Melt some butter: how much? Maybe 100g? I'm of the thick layer of topping school, and the apples MUST be stewed. Stir into butter oats, ground almonds, cinnamon & brown sugar - ratios can vary - until crumb consistency reached. Top your stewed fruit & sprinkle with flaked almonds if you have some. Bake.

    I'm sure I'll return. Talking about food is pretty much my favourite thing ever. But the whanau are here soon for slow-roasted lamb...

    Auckland • Since Mar 2010 • 107 posts Report

  • Stephen Doyle, in reply to BenWilson,

    Ben, I impressed. We need to swap recipes.

    Stillwater • Since Nov 2011 • 28 posts Report

  • Ross Mason,

    Sorry Ben, you are using the wrong tables and theory.

    While there is a puddle of water in a pressure cooker the pressure follows the saturated steam tables. Note the pressure at 100 degC is 101kPa. At 120deg C it is about 200kPa. Twice atmospheric pressure.

    When there is no water left the pressure follows the gas law pretty much. But it takes 600 degC to double the pressure of any gas from room temperature (300Kx2 = 600C near enough). So that's why the pressure cooker venting slows down after a while, it runs out of liquid water. The water vapour is then obeying the gas law P=nRT. It's then time to NOT burn what is inside the pot!

    The temp of the steam in a covered pot is pretty close to the boiling point. Very close! When it is boiling the air is driven out of the pot and it leaves only water vapour. It is then acting like a heat pipe. A pressure cooker is a really really good heatpipe! Their effect is to try and keep the inside walls of the containment vessel very close to the boiling temperature. Within the odd 0.001 degC. They also have a thermal conduction of the order of 1000 times copper.

    I build and use them for controlling the temperature of detectors and sciencey things.

    Now back to my mulled wine on a cold, windy and rainy night...... :-)

    Upper Hutt • Since Jun 2007 • 1590 posts Report

  • BenWilson, in reply to Raymond A Francis,

    This I have to try, does it work on all cans?

    With the white can opener depicted, I have not encountered a can it won't open with ease. It was actually only today that I realized that the standard can opener can actually do the same thing. It's not perfectly designed to do it, but it still did a better job than it usually does. I tested it on the same can, on the bottom, which it would actually be difficult to cut off the other inefficient way since it's bevelled inwards, so getting a grip on the folded tin lip would be very difficult. Doing it the improved way it came off in 5 seconds. You can see the bevel in the close up - that's actually the bottom of the same can depicted.

    The white one is designed specifically to be used this way - it actually can't do it the other way. The gripping cog and the blade are aligned parallel. It's also oriented more ergonomically - the handles of the device points directly into the center of the lid, rather than tangentially to the edge as you see in the picture with the green tick. But the way in the picture applied the same basic idea, so I'm showing that you don't even need to throw your old can opener away - just use it differently.

    I'm using it right handed in the picture, because I always have. But you could leftie it, then you'd be able to see the mechanism at work. I'm just used to squeezing with left hand, turning with right. For the old way of doing it, that actually mattered, because both hands had to also apply other forces, which was what made opening a can so damned hard that way. The left had to not only squeeze but also twist, and apply downwards pressure. The right had to turn, and apply the lions share of the downwards. The results were unpredictable, from mangling the rim to breaking/bending the can opener, to having the can fly off half-opened. But this way of doing it, the squeeze hand only has to squeeze, the turning hand only has to turn.

    We have one of those, and it’s great. Not least because everyone in the family can use the same damn tin opener.

    Yes, it wasn't a job I relished, along with opening tight jars, to be handed a busted arse can and have to jimmy it for 5 minutes, often reverting to a pocket knife opener just to get through the part that just wouldn't cut.

    That had never occurred to me. It looks like your method produces a much safer can edge, too.

    The top edge is very neat, but it's also sharp, so there's a slight danger there. But the other way gives a sharp inner edge, which would often catch your fingers if you were trying to spoon out the last remnants. A small child could put their hand in the can and then get it stuck and severely lacerated pulling it out. So a slightly increased danger from the can lying around after use is more than counterbalanced by the decreased danger during the normal use. I usually rinse the lid whilst still holding it with the can opener (so I can use hot water), and then the can, and then put the lid in the can for disposal, all the while never putting my fingers within the can at any point.

    Because the lip is entirely gone, getting all the stuff out of the can is easier too.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 10657 posts Report

  • BenWilson, in reply to Ross Mason,

    Sorry Ben, you are using the wrong tables and theory.

    Yup, the fact that the system is not closed was causing me grief thinking about it. All my working there was intending to show was that the difference in the boiling point with the lid on is insignificant, since Ben Chapman kind of jokingly challenged that. And technically, yes, the boiling point probably is a tiny bit higher because the pressure is a tiny bit above the outside atmosphere. Unless you use a pressure cooker, which I wasn’t talking about.

    I’m not sure that it can be worked out, which is why I haven’t used any tables at all. The saturated steam tables you give require you to know the pressure, as do the Clausis-Clapeyron equations Ben gave. We could only know the pressure by actually measuring it, but upper bounding it seemed straightforward to me. It’s tiny so it hardly matters what equations or tables you use.

    But yes, ideal gas law is not working here. Thanks for the input, gentlemen. I feel I understand it better than yesterday.

    Presumably no one is disputing the underlying point, that cooking on full bore doesn’t cook things any faster than cooking at a lower (but still boiling) rate? Given that the pressure doesn’t change, that we are talking about pots, not pressure cookers.. The temperature in the pot is going to be the same either way, and the power is simply being wasted creating hot water vapour in your kitchen, to no good effect at all (quite the opposite, you are making the house damp), unless it was your purpose to evaporate water.

    I’m pointing it out because it’s strange and counter-intuitive, something many people may not realize, thinking that somehow they are speeding up the process by pouring 20 times as much power through their food. You can get almost the same effect putting pasta into a thermos flask and filling it with boiling water and leaving it to stand for 20 minutes as you can by putting it on the element, and cranking 2000 watts through it for 20 minutes.

    Ironically, pressure cookers are highly effective for the same reason. The lid is on so energy is not leaving the system at a great rate – once the cooker has reached the right pressure, you turn it right down. Ideally it wouldn’t vent at all if you had the stove setting exactly right, so that the energy coming in perfectly balanced what was radiating out. If you could insulate it perfectly, then it could actually pressure cook without using any power at all, once the right pressure is reached.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 10657 posts Report

  • BenWilson, in reply to Stephen Doyle,

    :-) Cheers. I haven't even posted any recipes.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 10657 posts Report

  • Christopher Dempsey,

    Oh, and my other hack is to turn broccoli into pesto, by blanching it, then blending it with lemon rinds and almonds and olive oil. I find it much more palatable in really small pieces and will eat a lot of it this way.

    Thanks. Made this tonight - very yummy.

    I’ve done that with some of the lemons from my own tree and I like the pleasantly rustic look they give to my kitchen shelf but I have to ask – how does one actually use a preserved lemon?

    OMG, it's delish! Trick is to think of it as condiment. A quarter chopped into an Italian style tomato sauce. Or put one stuffed inside a chicken, then roasted. Or chopped through stuffing. Chop a little through stewed apple, or stewed rhubarb. Anywhere you need a small hit of that lovely sour flavour..

    For relatively low-tech but great coffee-grinding, a hand grinder is the bee’s knees.

    Agree - I have a Zassenhaus, in German mill that a friend bought back from Germany for me some years ago. I make my morning coffee grinding my beans. A lovely little morning ritual, and I get lovely coffee.

    My hack: plant some herbs in pots. A mix of herbs - sage, thyme, marjoram, Italian parsley, basil etc. Then come summer time, lunchtime or light dinner, crush garlic, chop roughly, warm up in good olive oil, while that's gently warming up, put on pasta and then go pick a big handful of herbs. Chop these up, and when the garlic is softened to your hearts delight, throw in the herbs. Saute for a minute or so, then mix through your favourite pasta (spaghetti, or spirals or what have you) and serve up. Top with grated parmesan. Pour glass of nice white wine. Delish.

    Parnell / Tamaki-Auckland… • Since Sep 2008 • 659 posts Report

  • Stephen Judd,

    PROBLEM: recipes call for bacon, in small amounts, eg those French and Italian style recipes that are always wanting you to saute onions with some chopped salt pork product, and you don't want a manky packet of crappy bacon festering in the fridge, and you are too cheap to buy horrendously expensive lumps of speck or pancetta or what have you, and too busy to do your own charcuterie at home*.

    SOLUTION 1: keep bags of bacon offcuts in the freezer. For preference buy them from your local butcher who smokes their own, but such things are usually tucked away in the meat case at your supermarket. On no account buy the branded Hellers bacon bits which are hella expensive and not very good.

    SOLUTION 2: buy bacon bones (again, preferably from the butcher who smokes their own) and keep a bag in the freezer. What you want for anything slow-cooked and wet.

    * although this is totally worth it and fun if you have the time.

    PROBLEM: your recipe calls for smoked meat, but you are cooking for vegetarians or pork avoiders.

    SOLUTION: smoked paprika, aka pimenton, conveys a delicious smoky savoury flavour. A tin costs about $10 but lasts for ages as only small amounts are required. Watch out lest it you end up using it in everything and getting sick of it.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 3122 posts Report

  • linger, in reply to BenWilson,

    two unknowns, the pressure and the temperature.

    Three – we also don’t know the ionicity of the solution. (It’s not pure water, and depending on what you’re cooking, the difference may not be negligible. Increases in the ion content increase the boiling point of the liquid, by about the same order of magnitude as your pressure effect in a normal saucepan with lid – i.e., typically by one or two degrees.)

    But yeah, I agree with your underlying point: for boiling, you should only use the minimum energy input needed to maintain boiling temperature.

    Tokyo • Since Apr 2007 • 1944 posts Report

  • Ross Mason, in reply to linger,



    but you are cooking for vegetarians

    Do they cook for you? A meat lover?

    Upper Hutt • Since Jun 2007 • 1590 posts Report

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