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I Write About Food For A Living, And These Are The 36 Most Clever Cooking Tips I Learned This Year

Instantly upgrade boxed cake mix, make better pasta with one simple ingredient, and so much more.

Hey, I'm Hannah. I write about food for a living, so you can imagine I probably come across a ton of tips and tricks. Some have changed the way I cook, and others...well, I'd like to forget about them altogether. So I rounded up some of the best food-related hacks, shortcuts, and tips that I came across this past year.

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1. Use Jell-O vanilla pudding mix in place of half of the sugar when baking cookies. It keeps them super soft for days and gives them a cake-like interior.

Mixing batter for chocolate chip cookies.
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2. Put some mustard in mac 'n' cheese (even the boxed stuff). The flavor isn't noticeable, but it adds delicious depth of flavor. You can use Dijon, whole grain mustard, or even mustard powder. It all results in delicious mac 'n' cheese.

Mac 'n' cheese with ketchup and mustard.
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3. Cook just about any frozen food in the air fryer to crispy, take-out quality perfection. (I'm looking at you: Trader Joe's mandarin orange chicken). Oh, and it's great for crisping up any leftovers, too.

Air fryer French fries.
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4. Microwave lemons to get more juice out of them. After a quick 20 seconds, they're so much easier to squeeze and yield so much more juice.

Close up of a female hand pressing a lemon half onto a juicer.
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5. Instead of sautéing mushrooms in olive oil or butter, start cooking them in a dry pan for a few minutes. This gets much of the moisture out so they brown better.

Fresh Cut Mushroom Are Being Cooked In Fry Pan.
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6. Give a stale loaf of bread a new life by running it under water, then baking it in a warm, 300°F oven for about 10 minutes. The oven steams the stale, soggy bread and makes it as good as new.

A loaf of bread in an oven.
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7. When it comes to baking anything with a flaky dough (biscuits, cookies, pie dough, etc...) freeze and grate the butter, freeze the flour, and even freeze the mixing bowl for the best results. All of these steps keep the dough colder and makes for better baking results.

Directly above photograph of a woman preparing fruit pie dough
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8. Pre-make roux in big batches, then freeze it in silicon ice molds. Use the individual portions of roux whenever you're making something like gravy, mac 'n' cheese, or béchamel sauce. It's a total time saver.

Cooking roux - butter and floor - in a pot.
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9. Bake with browned butter instead of regular butter. Brown butter has a richer and nuttier flavor that will enhance whatever you're baking (cue: the world's best chocolate chip cookies).

Freshly melted butter in a skillet
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10. Add a little bit of mayonnaise to beaten eggs before scrambling them or making an omelette, quiche, or frittata. It makes them super light and fluffy.

Perfect, Light, Fluffy and Buttery Scrambled Eggs on Toast
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11. Use the spice packet that comes with instant ramen as a popcorn seasoning. Mix the powder with some melted butter or margarine and then toss with the popcorn. It's even better than the movie theater stuff.

Uncooked ramen with seasoning.
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12. Make a life-changing topping for vegetables by browning butter in a skillet, then adding breadcrumbs and nutmeg. Then add it on top of anything like roasted cauliflower, sweet potatoes, or Brussels sprouts.

Roasted cauliflower with turmeric, peppers and breadcrumbs on a table
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13. Put a bit of mayonnaise in your cake batter. Once you realize that mayo is mostly eggs and oil, it's not so hard to understand why it tastes so good.

A slice of cake with vanilla frosting and blueberries.
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14. When making grilled cheese, schmear a little bit of salad dressing on the outside of the bread. Most people do this with mayonnaise, but salad dressing (like store bought Italian dressing) is even better. Just a light spread is all you need.

Melted cheese pouring out of a grilled cheese sandwich
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15. Line the lid of your slow cooker with paper towel to soak up extra condensation and prevent your food from getting watery. This is especially useful if you're making dishes with a crispy top like lasagna or mac 'n' cheese with a bread crumb topping.

A slow cooker with condensation.
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16. If you're making soup, stew, or even a sauce that looks too thin, add a bit of instant mashed potatoes as a thickener. It's an easy fix when you realize too late that you've added too much liquid.

Ladling soup into a bowl.
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17. When breading something like a chicken cutlet, forget about the egg and coat it in mayonnaise before the breadcrumbs.

Frying chicken cutlets.
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18. You can boil eggs in the air fryer with no water necessary. Set your handy appliance to 270°F and place the eggs inside the basket. Cook 10 minutes for soft boiled or 15 minutes for hard boiled.

Eggs in an air fryer.
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19. Starchy foods like rice, pasta, potatoes, and quinoa taste better when cooked in stock, rather than plain water.

A woman cooking rice.
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20. Make an amazing pie crust using Girl Scout cookies like Trefoils or even Thin Mints. Just crush up the cookies and add melted butter to hold it all together.

An array of Girl Scout Cookies.
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21. For the creamiest mashed potatoes, forget about cream and butter and just crack an egg into them when they're just about ready. The heat of the mashed potatoes will cook it and make it safe to eat.

An egg and butter in a pot of mashed potatoes.
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22. Instead of salting your pasta water, add a chicken stock cube. It doubles the flavor of the pasta and the sauce. It's the easiest way to upgrade pasta night with a single ingredient.

A boullion cube.
Hannah Loewentheil

23. Add fish sauce to Caesar dressing. The flavor is a bit more muted than that of anchovies, but it still gives the dressing that much-needed salty punch. It makes for the best Caesar salad ever.

A homemade Caesar salad.
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24. Adding an extra egg yolk to any cookie recipe will result in softer, fluffier cookies that taste freshly baked even after a few days in the fridge.

Chocolate chip cookie dough in stand mixer
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25. Make homemade whipped cream with just heavy whipping cream and a mason jar. Pour in the cream, fasten the lid, and shake, shake, shake for about 20 seconds. You'll have delicious, fluffy whipped cream in no time.

Overhead of a bowl of whipped cream
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26. When in doubt (or when your spices are looking scarce) rub any meat in Sazón or taco seasoning. The mixture of spices is amazing and it makes anything from chicken or flank steak to pork so flavorful.

Spice rubbed marinated chicken thighs.
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27. Add a dash of vanilla extract and cinnamon to pancake or waffle batter. It gives the final product a touch of sweetness and richer flavor.

Making homemade pancakes.
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28. When baking something like carrot cake or zucchini bread, swap out half the oil with unsweetened apple sauce. It keeps the bread super moist and doesn't change the flavor.

A loaf of bread and apple sauce.
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29. Mix soy sauce and butter to instantly boost the flavor of just about any savory dish like fried rice, mushrooms, or salmon.

Hannah Loewentheil

30. Put a splash of orange juice in the batter for baked goods like pumpkin bread, banana bread, or cranberry muffins. Even store-bought juice is perfect. The acidity adds brightness to complement the spices.

Ingredients for baking in bowls.
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31. For the crispiest fried or roasted potatoes, dip them in ice water first. When you're cutting potatoes, toss them into a bowl of ice water. Give them a swirl to wash off excess starch, then drain and pat them dry. Even soaking them for a few minutes is enough to get them really crispy.

Roasted potatoes on a sheet pan.
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32. Add a few drops of lemon or lime juice to a cutting board before you dice onions. It doesn't impact the flavor whatsoever, but the acid from the lemon neutralizes the fumes from the onion so you won't cry.

A woman slicing red onions.
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33. Stir some cream cheese into your mac 'n' cheese to keep it creamy even after you've refrigerated the leftovers. It prevents the pasta from absorbing all the liquid so the cheese sauce stays creamy and thick for days. Oh, and for an additional flavor boost, try scallion cream cheese.

Macaroni and cheese in a bowl with cream cheese chucks.
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34. Turn frozen bananas into one-ingredient ice cream without any fancy equipment. Freeze bananas until they're solid then pop them into the blender until smooth and custardy. You can add in extra ingredients like cinnamon, chocolate chips, or peanut butter, then immediately freeze it for later.

Banana ice cream.
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35. Add a small amount of water to the pan when frying bacon. The water significantly reduces the amount of fat splattering, and it actually results in really crispy bacon.

Bacon frying in a pan.
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36. And finally, if you’re making a dish that relies heavily on spices for seasoning, toast the spices before adding them to your recipe. You only need to cook them on a pan for about 30 seconds until they are fragrant, but it vastly improves their taste and amplifies the flavor.

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Did you learn a great new cooking tip this year that others should know about? Tell us in the comments below!

The year is almost over, and we're looking back on 2021. Check out more from the year here!