Hacking Your Kitchen

Shelora Sheldan collected her own favourite kitchen hacks, then reached out to chefs, passionate home cooks, bakers, bartenders, poets, and even an heirloom bean grower, for more innovations. Ready, set, hack!

Face it, we’re all looking for shortcuts to save on time, energy, or effort, and hacks, those innovative solutions to tricky problems, are the order of the day. Often they’re common sense advice, but at their finest, hacks reflect a person’s inventiveness. My kitchens, for better or worse, have always been miniscule and plagued with lack of storage, so coming up with solutions to make cooking life easier has become second nature.

For example, pulling open a cutlery drawer and setting a cutting board on top adds extra prep room, and chairs always become extra space for setting down mixing bowls or plates. My go-to cooking hacks include: peeling ginger root with the edge of a teaspoon to make it quick and easy, and sprinkling a clove of garlic with salt to make mincing more efficient—it breaks down the garlic faster, yielding a wonderful, salty mash. Whether it’s a whole chicken or thick-cut steak, my dry aging hack involves simply leaving the meat, unwrapped, in the fridge for 24 hours, ridding the protein of excess moisture. It renders crisper skin on roast chicken and a good even sear on steaks. On the extreme end of the hack scale, twisting up a wire coat hanger for a makeshift toasting rack to set over an electric stove’s element has worked wonders in the past. And a clothing iron really does make a serviceable grilled cheese sandwich—minus the steam setting. Just press the sandwich in between tin foil, and voila!


Jennifer Cockrall-King, food writer, author, co-author of Tawâw: Progressive Indigenous Cuisine, Naramata, BC

Use a damp cloth under the bottom of a bowl to keep it from spinning as you stir or whisk.

Choose lemon and limes with smooth skins, not deep pores, as they seem to be juicer.

To get way more juice from citrus, pop them in the microwave for about 10 seconds before juicing.


When making anything with chocolate, I always add a bit of espresso coffee to the recipe as it enhances the chocolate flavour and makes it richer.  – Nancy Wong


Heidi Fink, chef, culinary instructor, Victoria

Substitute the peanut butter in cookies with an equal part of tahini plus a tablespoon of toasted sesame oil.

Keep some of the pasta’s cooking water to thin pasta sauces or pesto. It provides a bit of starch to help sauce cling to noodles.

Pretend kale is cabbage when you cook it. That means low and slow for a more tender, flavourful side dish.

Limes juice better and faster by cutting them in straight wedges around the core/center instead of cutting like a lemon wedge.


Evan Jensen, craft bartender and consultant, Columbia Tower Club, Seattle

When using a three-piece cocktail shaker, invert the middle top, as opposed to the lid, and invert, so the holes are facing down over the tin, and use it as a pulp strainer.

In lieu of a shaker, use a mason jar.

In a pinch, a wooden spoon makes an adequate muddler.

To save time, Jensen suggests making batch cocktails by using this simple bartender ratio: equal amounts of citrus and sweet with double the base spirit. For example, one part lime juice to one part triple sec to two parts tequila.


Bill Jones, chef, author, owner Deerholme Farm, Cowichan Valley

In the spring I pick lots of stinging nettle and blanch and freeze in cubes. It adds instant wild flavour to sauces and stews.”

Running a cup of pickling vinegar through an empty dishwasher cycle removes scaling and refreshes the interior.

To bake frozen loaves of bread, run the loaves (frozen) quickly under cold water. Bake in a hot oven until the crust is hard. The centre will be moist and the crust crisp like freshly baked bread.


Yve Kosugi, artisan baker, Farmersdotter Organics, Cawston, BC

To eliminate the need for measuring spoons, cut a pound of butter into quarter sticks and freeze them wrapped in parchment paper. There are eight tablespoons to a quarter pound and you can easily measure by the tablespoon by just cutting off what you need.

For accurate oven temperature calibration, use a baking stone and thermometer. The stone evens the heat and the thermometer tells you the correct temperature.

When using a springform pan, invert the bottom so that the cake is easier to remove.

Put whole garlic cloves in a stainless bowl, top it with another slightly smaller bowl, and shake vigorously. Most of the skins fly off, making quick work of peeling.


Denise Marchessault, cooking instructor and cookbook author, Victoria

Use a microplane zester when mincing garlic or ginger—it’s quick and easy.

Whenever making a big batch of stock, reserve half to reduce to a syrup-like consistency. Freeze the concentrated stock in ice cube trays and add the cubes (a.k.a. flavour bombs) to everything from soups to stews and pasta sauces. The cubes also make quick and flavourful chicken or beef pan sauces.

When a recipe calls for room temperature eggs, place the eggs (in the shell) in a bowl of warm tap water for a few minutes.

Need room temperature butter in a hurry? Grate the butter with a cheese grater.


If I have a vegan request and no time, I use miso and diced potato to make a quick soup base – just add diced vegetables or mushrooms for a quick and savoury soup or sauce.  – Bill Jones


Autumn Maxwell, owner Cold Comfort Ice Cream, Victoria

Zest a bunch of citrus, add an equal volume of sugar, and puree the mixture to a paste. It stores for a long time in the fridge and is easy to add by the teaspoon whenever you need to add a citrusy burst to ice creams, smoothies, pies, custards, or crumbles.


Colleen McClean, chef, artisan baker, Hearth & Grain, Powell River

Wrap half a lemon in cheesecloth before squeezing. No need to strain out the pips.


Susan Musgrave, poet, author of A Taste of Haida Gwaii, owner of Copper Beech House, Haida Gwaii

To stop cheese from going moldy, put a sugar cube in the bag you keep it in.

To keep a bottle of Prosecco or champagne bubbly for quite a few days after it’s been open, put a teaspoon in the mouth of the bottle. No need to re-cork. Just refrigerate.


Steve Sando, cookbook author, heirloom bean grower and founder Rancho Gordo, Napa

A plain old vegetable peeler is my favourite tool. For slicing cabbage, you get super-thin slices and you can do just enough for your bean taco. You get nice razor-thin slices of radishes as well. And for carrots, after you get the skin off, keep peeling and you get nice very thin strips of carrot, which are perfect for salads.”


Ron Shewchuk, barbecue evangelist and cookbook author, Vancouver

To prevent anything from sticking to a hot grill, wait before flipping it. As the food chars, it naturally releases off the cooking grate. Test by just trying to gently lift it with the bottom lip of your tongs. If it doesn’t release from the grill, wait another minute or two.


Solomon Siegel, cocktail aficionado, GM, and co-owner Pagliacci’s, Victoria

Adding a pinch of salt to any citrus cocktail, or any cocktail, makes flavours taste more like themselves, essentially speeding up the activity of your taste buds.


Nancy Wong, PR professional, passionate baker, Vancouver

Use buttermilk in anything that includes baking powder or baking soda as the acid in the buttermilk activates the leavening agents resulting in a lighter texture. As a substitute, adding a bit of lemon juice or apple cider vinegar to the liquid in the recipe creates the same process.


Photo by Aaron Thomas on Unsplash

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