Save money (and cabinet space!) by discovering new uses for your old kitchen standbys.
These days, it seems like every recipe requires its own special pot, pan or gadget. But do you really need a panini press, mandoline or other expensive gadget just to try out a new dish? Not only does it make you hesitant to experiment in the kitchen, it can also get pretty costly.
Tired of shelling out on kitchen equipment—however handy it may be—we turned to Kate Merker, food & nutrition director for Woman's Day, and Cynthia B. Keller, a chef instructor at Culinary Institute of America, for advice on how to use what you already have in your cabinets to achieve what one of these specialty cooking tools can do. The results: A win-win for your pocket book and dinner table.
Griddles are great for pancakes and fried eggs because they have a big, flat surface to cook on. However, their size (which ranges from 20"x10" to 23"x17") make them a beast when it comes to counter space and storage. But a cast iron skillet with a flat bottom will do the trick since it doesn’t warp when you put it on the stove, and you’ll get a relatively even heat conduction, according to Keller. Plus, she adds, “If well-conditioned, they become naturally non-stick.” In a pinch, a sauté pan would also work, she says, but they are prone to getting a hump in the middle, which will cause uneven shapes and heating.
A steamer is a terrific way to cook vegetables without adding fat, but there’s no need to add one to your already-crammed cupboard. Instead, simply place a wire mesh strainer or metal colander directly inside your cooking pot filled with water. If your lid won't fit after placing either inside, place a piece of aluminum foil over the top and seal it around the pot. Note: Be sure the strainer or colander is heat-safe or made with stainless steel (it should be clearly labeled). If you’re not sure what the material is, you should avoid using a strainer or colander for this type of preparation because it may contain lead solder, which can leech into your food.
It only takes one mess to learn that, if a recipe calls for a funnel, you should use it. The trouble is, you never know exactly what size you’ll need and storing larger diameter funnels is a pain. Fortunately, it’s a breeze to construct a makeshift one. For wet ingredients, trim off the bottom section of an empty plastic soda bottle (about 3 inches down from where the neck slopes) and turn it upside down. This will work for practically anything except when you’re home canning jellies or jams, as the high temperature can cause the plastic to warm and become misshapen. For dry ingredients, create a simple cone shape from parchment or wax paper, holding it in place or taping the sides.
When a recipe calls for fresh-squeezed juice, forget a reamer or handheld juicer—simply use a large pair of tongs (about 6- to 8-in long). Place a halved citrus fruit into the V-shape near the hinge along the top of the tongs and squeeze the handles together.
A mandoline will give you precision when slicing fruits and vegetables—but it’s expensive and can be dangerous if you don’t know how to handle it properly. Instead, use a vegetable peeler. It may not be as quick or uniform in slicing, but you can still achieve paper-thin slices and long curls of vegetables or fruit peels. For maximum efficacy and control, find one with a handle that comfortably fits your hand, and (carefully) slice towards the body.
If you like chicken rollups and veal scaloppini, a mallet is a must—but instead of keeping this Medieval-looking device around just to occasionally pound out some meat, go for a small sauté pan instead. Sandwich the meat between two layers of plastic cling wrap and have at it with your makeshift mallet. Keller likes to use an 8- or 9-in pan, because it has “a nice, broad flat surface and hits the meat evenly.” You could also use the sides of a heavy can wrapped in plastic, but a sauté pan will be easier to handle.
A sauté pan won’t give you those signature grill lines, but it will provide all the toasty, gooey sandwiches you can handle—without spending $40+ on a bulky, one-use gadget. Start with a sauté pan that's clean and not made of copper (which oxidizes). Put your panini in it and place a heavy cast iron skillet on top in order to press the sandwich down; flip your sandwich over once the bread is toasted. If you don't have a cast iron skillet, place a sauté pan on top, weighing it down with three or four large cans (around 28 oz) of soup or vegetables. Another option is to place an aluminum foil-covered brick on top of the panini in lieu of another pan.
Unless you’re piping an intricate design or delicate embellishments, skip the pastry bag (which is a bear to clean) and opt for a zip-top plastic bag that you can toss when done. Small sandwich bags break easily, so it’s best to use a gallon-size, heavy-duty freezer-safe bag. Like you would a pastry bag, add the frosting or filling (about halfway up or less), press it down gently into one bottom corner and twist the leftover bag at top to close it off. Snip the corner off as desired (the higher up you cut, the bigger the line will be) and pipe away.
Great as it may be for cooking fowl, the roasting rack doesn’t get much play beyond Thanksgiving. Skip the hassle (and cost) by creating a small ring or S-shape “snake” out of rolled foil that’s about 1/2-in thick. Place it in an aluminum roaster pan and then set your bird on top of it. For an even easier option, layer chopped onions, carrots and celery on the bottom of a pan, about 1/2- to 1-in deep, and set your bird on top. It’s just enough room to let the air circulate—with the added benefit of roasted vegetables for later.
Unlike some other items on the list, a rolling pin isn’t usually pricey. But it does take up space and, unless you love to bake, it’s seldom used. In its place, wrap a wine bottle (full or empty) with plastic cling wrap and work away as you would with a pin. The wrap will keep it from sticking and prevents a full-bottle from getting messy. If you’re working with dough for pie or shortbread cookies, ensure it stays cool by using a full bottle that’s been chilling in the fridge for a bit.
A wok retains heat well and provides a lot of surface area for quick-cooking meats and veggies. However, its 14" diameter makes storage a challenge while the bowl shape limits its usage. A large sauté pan works just as well for stir-fries and can be used for many other types of dishes. Keller advises picking up one that has a clad bottom and good weight to it, which will “hold the heat nice and high, and disperse it evenly.” Avoid lightweight, non-stick pans, which won’t conduct heat well enough.
More from Woman's Day: