The French call them "trucs," Americans call them "tricks." Either way, they make for faster and fewer hours in the kitchen.
They also make us feel clever. Who doesn't smile smugly to herself after using a butter wrapper to grease the inside of a pan, for instance? (That way you use every smidgen of the butter.)
Anyhow, I wrote a column about my personal tricks of the trade a while ago and asked readers to send in their favorite techniques. I'm very humble now. These guys are smart.
Here are a few of the things they said (with a few personal comments):
First, we have the lemon issue. From Peter Thielman: "Instead of putting the leftover lemon in the refrigerator to mold and be forgotten, I use it to clean my cutting board and cutting surfaces."
But Gerald Mead has a different take: "I always have fresh lemons in the kitchen, especially in the summer to be able to put a slice in a glass of iced tea or ice water," he e-mails. "Since it is usually just one slice at a time, I keep the lemon cut end down in a shallow dessert dish in the refrigerator. It's convenient and keeps cold and fresh for the next slice until the lemon is used up in a few days."
Moving out of the orchard now, let's address the subject of bacon.
From Ken Bochmann: "When making old-fashioned German potato salad, you have to slice the bacon into small pieces, and it's difficult to do. I take the package of bacon and put it in the freezer for 20 to 30 minutes to semi-freeze. This makes it much easier to cut up the bacon strips into small pieces."
(Personal note: That's a good idea, Ken, but I have an easy trick, also. I zap a whole package of bacon, a few slices at a time, and then put the cooked bacon strips in the freezer where it does very well. And then it's a really quick job to make BLTs or salads.)
Back to readers -- bacon goes with eggs, right?
From Sharon Lesakowski: "When it comes to eggs, everyone seems to want sunnyside up. If you have any heat on the frying pan at all and you crack an egg and the yolk breaks, well -- no one wants to eat that.
"My tip is break your eggs into a bowl. If the yolk breaks, well it's 'who wants scrambled eggs?' and if you end up with two perfect yolks, gently pour them into a hot frying pan and sunnyside up you have!"
(Personal note: But then you have to wash the bowl. You are dealing with a person who ate peanut butter and jelly for eight years because it only required one knife. I can't stand seeing peanut butter in the jelly and vice versa so I learned a trick: You wipe the knife off with a paper towel between ingredients.)
From Rita M. Ganim: "When making brasciole (stuffed round steak) I use unflavored dental floss. It's strong and sanitary and I always know where it is.)
(Personal note: Great idea, Rita. You can use dental floss to truss a chicken, as well.)
Bev Tulett is a well-organized person, utterly ruthless, too: "I often find new recipes I'd like to try but after cutting them out, I either lose them or forget about them. Now I magnet the new recipe on the fridge where I can see it and give myself two weeks to make it. If it passes the test, I file it in my permanent recipe collection.
"If not, I throw it out. I guess it wasn't as interesting as I first thought."
And from Jane Moran: "My favorite cooking tip is not something modern women will put to use," she writes (eschewing e-mail) "But here it is anyway:
"I prefer a pastry cloth for pies and rolls, but it is hard to clean after every use. I fold up the cloth and rolling pin cover and put them in a plastic bag and pop them in the freezer. Next time you want to use them, they still have flour on them and a big help is that they are cold. No little bugs can grow on them in the freezer," this reader says.
(Personal note: I like pastry cloths, too. And this idea is what I call genius.)