Do you ever ponder what the average daily culinary experience was like in pioneer days? Some of the practices that were usual for prairie families are non-existent to us. For instance, most of us don’t have to travel to a creek or river to get water for cooking (or bathing). Prairie folk had their own food hacks when they were traversing the 2,500+ miles from east to west. For example, children were typically responsible for collecting “cow pies” (i.e. poop patties). They’d dutifully scoop up all the cow droppings they could find and give them to their mothers. It just so happens that when “cow pies” dry in the sun, they make excellent fire starters!
Speaking of cows, some families were fortunate enough to have a milk cow along on their journey to the west. If so, they would fill a pail of milk first thing in the morning, before walking. They’d hang this pail underneath the Conestoga wagon. Throughout the day, the milk in the pail would jostle and tumble around over the rough terrain. By the time evening drew near, the families would choose the location where they planned to bed down for the night.
Once they and others in the caravan formed their circle and started fires to cook supper, they’d remove the pail from the wagon. No longer was there milk inside but butter! In our modern world, everything, including cooking and preparing meals, is about convenience and saving time. We no longer have to fuel an oven with cow poop, thank goodness. Still, learning a few new food hacks for the coming year might put a smile on your face!
Keep instant mashed potatoes on hand for your New Year food hacks
I’ve been cooking and preparing meals for my family for 37 years. As time has passed, I’ve learned how to make healthier choices for ingredients and types of food. I try to stay away from pre-packaged or boxed foods that often contain toxic ingredients. After perusing the internet for new food hacks, though, I just might start keeping a box of instant mashed potatoes on hand in my pantry. As it turns out, you can use a scoop of instant potato flakes to thicken soups and stews! Have you ever misjudged the amount of liquid you add to a pot of soup or stew? You know, just by looking, that it’s going to be too thin. Well, now you can simply toss in a scoop of instant mashed potatoes straight from the box, and stir — it will thicken the pot! (In fact, I’d imagine that leftover homemade mashed potatoes would work just as well!)
If you like cookies to be fluffy inside, make this one of your food hacks
A lot of people prefer cookies to have a cake-like consistency on the inside. If that’s your preference, you can cut out half the amount of sugar your cookie recipe calls for. In its place, add a packet of vanilla instant pudding mix! Making this little swap is apparently the perfect way to give cookies a fluffier interior. It’s also supposed to keep cookies softer in storage for a longer period of time. When I read this hack, it made me curious. I’m wondering whether you could choose different flavors of pudding mix for different types of cookies. I just might be doing some experimenting with this one!
Make hard-boiled eggs in an air fryer
We have too many people in our household to use an air fryer for an entire meal. We do, however, use our fryer for add-ons and snacks or appetizers. If you have one of those new, trending oven appliances that include an enormous, commercial-sized air fryer where the broiler drawer usually is on an old-fashioned oven, then maybe you CAN make a whole meal in your fryer.
We have a countertop air fryer that was gifted to us by a friend who didn’t like the fact that she couldn’t cook enough food in it at once to feed her family. My kids love to make quick, single-serving snacks or meals, so we’ve put the gift to good use! One of our favorite things to make in the air fryer for special occasions is stuffed mushrooms! When we have a party, I keep these delicious wonders coming out of the fryer in batches. The platter usually empties as fast as I can fill it! I shared the recipe for air-fried stuffed mushrooms in this post, a while back.
For today’s food hacks, you’ll be glad to know that you no longer have to fill a pot with water and boil your eggs for 20 minutes to make them hard-boiled. You can pop up to six or so eggs at a time into an air fryer. Set the temperature to 270 degrees and cook for approximately 13 to 15 minutes. Voila! Hard-boiled eggs! If you prefer softer-boiled eggs, lessen your cooking time to about 10 minutes.
The easiest homemade whipped cream you’ll ever make
At the start of this post, I mentioned how the pioneers would make butter while they walked by hanging a bucket of milk underneath a wagon. When my kids were younger, they used to love to play pretend “Pioneer Life” in the yard. They would go pretend-hunting for food and wash baby doll clothes in buckets of water. In our real life, they loved to help me make homemade butter using a mason jar method. It’s basic premise is similar to hanging a bucket under a moving wagon. To make mason jar butter, you take the top cream off of raw milk or you buy some heavy cream at the store. Fill a mason jar about one-third to a half full. Then, shake, shake, shake!
It takes about 20 minutes or a little longer for the contents of the jar to turn into butter. For the best results, you can learn more about homemade butter-making, here. For today’s food hacks, we’re not talking about butter but homemade whipped cream! The key to using store-bought heavy cream to make whipped cream in a mason jar is to only shake the jar for about 30 seconds to a few minutes. (Note: I have not personally tried this hack yet, so I don’t know if it really works, but I plan on trying it soon!) If you don’t like the idea of using store-bought heavy cream because it’s loaded with preservatives for shelf life, you can search for an organic or raw cream alternative.
Make potato chips in a microwave oven
If you grow your own potatoes during gardening season, you can turn some of them into a delicious, crunchy, salty snack by using a microwave oven. Health-conscious choices for salt would be pink Himalayan or sea salt. Store-bought potatoes work just fine, as well. And, if you like a sweeter flavor for chips, use yams or sweet potatoes. You’ll also need to have some parchment paper on hand and a cooking spray. (I’ve read that you can make your own cooking spray with oil and water in a spritz bottle. Has anyone tried this? Let us know if it works!)
The key to getting a crispy chip is to slice the potatoes as thin as possible. If you have a mandoline tool, that would work perfectly. If not, you’ll just want to take your time and try to create uniformed, thin, slices of potato. Lay all the slices out in even rows on parchment paper. Spritz a little bit of oil onto each slice. Season to preference. You can use salt only or take it to the next level by adding in some garlic salt, vinegar or other seasonings to create combination flavors.
Microwaves vary regarding heat, so you’ll just have to keep an eye on your first few batches, until you get the timing down right. If you’re microwave is too powerful, you might try using it at 80% power to see if that helps. A basic cooking time to start with is four or five minutes. The goal is to cook the chips until they start to brown and crisp but to remove them before they burn. Don’t walk away while they’re in there! Keep an eye on them.
Do you have food hacks to share for the New Year?
If you have a favorite food hack to share, visit our Facebook page and leave a comment under this post! It’s fun to learn new ways to do things in the kitchen. What little tricks or exchanges do you use in your recipes that boost flavor, help you save time when cooking or just add an element of fun to the culinary experience? We want to hear about your best food hacks! And, if you try some of the hacks mentioned in this post, let us know how they turn out!