Tip Swap (Share Great Ideas!)

For those of you who aren’t aware, September 10 was National Swap Ideas Day. While no Congressional decree establishes it, no founder is identified and no presidential proclamation supports its very existence, come on: it’s a darn good idea. So in the spirit of “two heads are better than one,” I’d like to share a couple of handy ideas I’ve come up with over the years to simplify my life in the kitchen–both professionally and in my personal life. At the bottom, you can learn how to share your ideas as well. We can get a conversation going about how problem-solving common household nuisances can leave us more time and energy to do the more enjoyable things in life.

Make your oatmeal the night before.

I’m a proponent of healthy and hearty breakfasts, especially for my kids, whose school snack schedule is unfortunately sometimes the victim of anything from curriculum requirements to the weather. But here’s a little secret: I HATE cooking anything on school mornings!

Fortunately, my aversion to early morning cooking doesn’t mean that the ultimate healthy and hearty breakfast–oatmeal–is out. You know where I’m going with this, right? You think I’m going to tell you to what you’ve already heard before: whip out the handy CrockPot (though if this is the first time you’ve heard of CrockPot oatmeal and you want to give it a go, Alton Brown has the best recipe here). But I’ll tell you a secret: truth be told, I think slow cookers are useless except as a tool for a few select things that seem to do okay at the mercy of a completely uncontrollable electric appliance. Oatmeal is definitely one of those things. But really? You want to pull out a countertop appliance for hot cereal? If I had to clear a space on my kitchen counter for that, where would my kids leave all their Legos and action figures?

Tell you what: grab a pot and boil four cups of water. Add one cup of steel cut oats–also known as Irish oats–and bring back it back to the boil for two minutes. Turn the burner off, cover the pot with a sheet of tinfoil, then jam the pot lid over it, sealing it. Stick the pot in a cold oven. Walk away. In the morning, uncover the oats, put them on the stove over medium heat, and heat it until warm. That takes less time than a toaster pastry.

Berries on their last leg? Been there.

There’s nothing that irks me more than buying a pound of strawberries and finding the container cowering in the back of the fridge with four or five berries on their last leg. It’s even worse when I’ve over-purchased for a catering job and I have five pounds of them looking pretty peaked. You know the kind I’m talking about–the ones that make your kids cower and say, “No way, Mom!” when you try to serve them. They’re not moldy or anything: they’re just not perky anymore. But that doesn’t mean they have to hit the compost pile. Instead…

Not cute, but not garbage either. / Robert & Mihaela Vicol
  • Toss the hulled berries in the blender with some orange juice. Drink it. Or freeze it in ice cube trays to add to your child’s lunch box juice to keep it cold without watering it down.
  • Mash the berries and add them to some low-fat vanilla yogurt and serve as is or freeze it in small paper cups, adding a stick to the middle after they’ve been in the freezer for a couple of hours. Frozen yogurt popsicles.
  • Make some fresh fruit ice cubes like these, and add them to my Holiday Everyday Punch for an extra shot of fruit goodness. Or store them in a zip-top bag and use them for your favorite blended cocktails and smoothies.
  • Mash them up and add them to your barbecue sauce. You can’t taste them. But you also didn’t throw them in the garbage, and you can brag to your friends that your “secret ingredient” is something they’ll never be able to guess, if you’re into that type of thing.

So in the spirit of National Swap Ideas Day, I’d love to hear your kitchen and cooking tips. Visit our Facebook page, “like” it and post your tips–or use the comments section here if you’re not the social media type–and remember that if they’re obvious to you, chances are you’ll still blow someone’s mind with your resourcefulness or creativity. Tell your friends. Pick your brain. Let’s share some great ideas, friends!