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5 Simple Cooking Hacks to Upgrade Your Home-Cooked Meals

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As restaurants and cafes close amid the coronavirus pandemic and more workers are advised to work from home, more people are opting to stay in and cook. While it is possible to have regular takeouts and convenient food deliveries, these costs will add up and you may end up spending more than when you eat out. Worse still, you may end up generating more plastic waste, too, from all the takeout containers.

That means many people need to pick up some cooking basics or improve their culinary chops. 

Well, we’ve got you covered. Here are five quick and cheap cooking tips that will help you make healthy and delicious meals at home.

1. Want Kopitiam style soft boiled eggs? Use this inexpensive kitchen gadget for perfect results every time.

Soft boiled eggs with kaya and butter toast are a breakfast staple in Singapore and Malaysia. Anyone can boil them to a half-cooked consistency, but to get a runny yolk that breaks on contact with a spoon is on another level. You could boil some water first and drop your eggs in, put on a timer and wait till the eggs are done cooking. But this method produces inconsistent results.

Let’s face it – there is nothing more satisfying than breaking a soft boiled egg yolk and looking at the yolk ooze out into the egg whites. That’s where this simple and cheap plastic gadget comes in.

This ingenious device used to be a common household gadget in the 1990s. It faded from kitchens as office workers started eating out for breakfast.

It is so easy to use that even complete kitchen noobs will have no trouble with it. Just boil some water, drop the room-temperature eggs into the translucent container, pour the water to the desired level (there are markings indicating the amount of water required for up to four eggs), cover with the lid, and wait for all the water to drain into the vessel below. Your eggs are ready to eat when the water is done draining.

For some reason, these contraptions are not really sold by most online retailers. It may have been replaced by electric egg boilers. But you can still find these in some supermarkets, neighbourhood kitchenware shops and on the second-hand online marketplace.

2. Bring frozen bread back to life with a little water

You’ve ordered a large batch of French baguettes from an upscale bakery. You slice them up, store them in the refrigerator, and go on with your day. But you soon realise that chilled bread, especially those artisan bread with chewy crusts, easily become dry and tasteless. They don’t taste any better even after you toast it.

Here’s a little-known tip – spray the bread slices with some water or quickly rinse them under the tap. Then put it in the toaster and bring the temperature up to a medium setting to dry out the excess water.

Water is a key ingredient in bread, and moistening it before toasting it returns its flavour and texture. While a higher temperature than usual setting is needed on the toaster, be careful not to burn the bread!

3. Store cooking oil in oil dispensers or condiment bottles

It’s cheaper to buy a large bottle or tin of cooking oil from the supermarkets and use it over a long period. But pouring it out is cumbersome, and you may end up pouring out too much oil into a heated pan or pot. 

This risks your dish becoming heavy, greases up your food and the bottle may slip from your hands, causing unnecessary messes and dangerous hot oil splatters.

Do what professional chefs do and pour the oil into an oil dispenser. There are purpose-built ones shaped like bottles with metal spouts, or small jugs with cork lids that look good on your kitchen counter.

But if you are after something more affordable without the bells and whistles, you can buy a plastic sauce dispenser typically used for condiments from the dollar store. Wrap a paper towel around it and secure it with a rubber band for extra grip.

4. Wilted vegetables and herbs? Soak them in cold water to perk them up. Or dry your salad greens in a salad spinner before storing them in the refrigerator.

Leafy vegetables like chye sim and bok choy, or herbs like basil and mint may look appetising on market shelves. But they tend to wilt when left out for too long. Don’t throw them away – they are still edible! The classic housewife trick of soaking the vegetables in cold water will return them to their original glory.

Salad greens are prone to wilting and turning gooey in the refrigerator, especially when they are stored in their packaging. And no one likes a sad-looking salad for lunch. To make your salad greens last longer, you could invest in a salad spinner to prepare them for cold storage.

Rinse the salad greens and pop them into the spinner. Spin to remove as much water as possible, and store the greens in a boxy container, in the vegetable chiller or the bottom shelves of the fridge, where it is the least cold. Ice crystals forming on the leaves will make your salad greens slimy, so prevent them by storing the greens in a warmer part of the fridge. You will have fresher, crunchier salad greens for much longer.

5. Make your own vegetable or meat broth

Soups, stews and curries are versatile meals that can be frozen for later consumption and can be easily warmed up over a stove in a few minutes. Other than the essential spices and herbs that give them flavour, an important ingredient that gives them the umami taste is broth or stock.

Making your own vegetable or meat broth is very easy and takes little effort. All you have to do is chop up the ingredients, put them in a large pot, top up with water and let them simmer gently for an hour or two. You can portion away some to freeze for later use, too.

There are many recipes of broth that you can try. For tom yam soups, you can try boiling prawn heads over low heat for a rich seafood flavour. Pork broth made with bony cuts of meat, such as ribs, is great for meat-based stews and soups. Vegetarians and vegans can try making their own broth using dashi, which is a type of dried kelp, mushroom, onions or carrots.

Store-bought stocks sold in packets or in cubes contain high levels of salt and preservatives. The last thing you want is to let your beef stew, which has been simmering on the stove for hours, end up tasting fake and processed, like a packet of instant noodles.

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