In continuing with the great posts on food, I thought I’d include a few kitchen hacks I’ve come across. I’ll be the first to admit: I’m no chef. I love to cook; to whip up something new or different–but the way it tastes is, unfortunately, not always what I intend. That said, I have found a few ways to make some of the most common foods my wife and I eat actually taste good. While you won’t be able to use these techniques for everything, you can start right now, in your own kitchen! Here are a few hacks to implement before dinner tonight:

The Grilled-Cheese Sandwich Hack

Ah, the comfort food of modern American youth. While my family dips the grilled cheese in tomato soup, my wife likes hers plain–just the good ‘ol wheat bread with a slice of American cheese in-between. Growing up, my mom–who ran a home daycare, and didn’t have time to cook often–used to whip these up for the kids, and they were always good. Use this method to cook your own home-made grilled cheese in minutes, better than you’ve ever tasted.

Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything (a perfect starter cookbook) mentions a few things that have helped my grilled-cheese cooking:

  1. You won’t need a special panini press, or Foreman-style grill. Just use a flat-bottomed large pan or skillet, heated on medium-high. Throw in some butter to melt.
  2. Prepare the sandwiches by placing a slice of cheese between two slices of bread. Place the sandwiches, two at a time, on the heated pan.
  3. And here’s the awesome hack: Place a smaller pot, or heavy object, on top of the cooking sandwich(es). Yes, I mean to say: place another, smaller, object directly on the sandwiches, acting as a sort of “press” to flatten the sandwiches.
  4. Cook until desired doneness.

You’ll find that not only are the sandwiches amazing, they’re also dead-simple to clean up after: just wash the pan and any utensils used!

The Chicken Hack

Okay, here’s one that’s less specific: Whenever you plan cook chicken (breasts, thighs, quarters, whatever), you can make your chicken restaurant-quality by doing one simple thing:

Brining.

Brining is the process of submerging your protein in a water bath of saltwater for about thirty minutes. It helps the meat retain moisture, so when it’s cooked it won’t release it’s inner juices into the pan. Actually, brining can help you retain up to 80% more liquid in the meat–making for a much juicer cut–than not brining.

To brine your chicken (or turkey, for that matter), you just need to defrost the chicken and place it in a bowl of saltwater, completely covered. Place the bowl in the refrigerator for at least twenty or thirty minutes, and no longer than an hour. I usually shoot for 45 minutes, but do what works best. When you’re done, drain the chicken and dry it thoroughly, then season/prepare it as normal.

Trust me, it’s different in a really good way.

The Steak Hack

I’ve talked and blogged immensely about how to cook the perfect steak recipe–just check out my site for that–but there’s one thing that really sets my steaks apart from the average weekend BBQer:

Salting the steak.

Again, salting a steak is such a simple process, it’s a wonder not many other people I know of do it. The goal is to dry out your steak (I know, it sounds counterintuitive0 as much as possible before seasoning, marinating, and cooking. You’re literally taking a defrosted, patted-dry steak cut (any cut will work, but the best ones are aged, thick ribeye and top sirloin) on a plate and pouring salt on it. I like sea salt, as its crystals are larger than table salt. Let it sit for awhile–sometimes 30 minutes will do the trick. You’ll start to see bubbles of moisture mixing with the salt–that’s the salt literally pulling the moisture from the inside of the meat.

Rinse it off in cold water, pat it dry, and do it again if you want. When it seems dry enough, you can continue your recipe as desired, and be amazed at the results!

In Closing

These are just three of the ways I’ve discovered to “hack” my weeknight meals in a way that makes them special. My wife and family love them, and not in a “we have to” sort of way. Give them a shot the next time you decide to cook one of these, and let me know in the comments section how it turns out!

(Photo credit: Food Ingredients on the Oak via Shutterstock)

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