Archive for the ‘Kitchen’ Category

Why you should use the “9″ button on the microwave all the time

31 Aug

Microwave number pad graphic

I saw a funny XKCD post referencing the phrase “as neglected as the nine button on the microwave.” I was immediately confused because I use the “9″ button almost every day, and I gradually realized that I needed to share my microwave-programming secret with the world. Long ago, I decided on a critical microwave strategy: Use as few buttons as possible.

In my experience, 99 seconds is an excellent length for most microwave ovens to heat a single-serving container of leftovers to a piping-hot temperature. Yes, 99 seconds is the same as one minute and 39 seconds, but 99 seconds involves just one numerical button (the “9,” if you follow) instead of three.

Does this modest lifehack actually save you time? It does if you’re as crazy as me! Whenever I use the microwave to heat food, I use a number that minimizes the number of buttons I need to touch. At first, it’s a silly exercise. Over the long term, it is undoubtedly the most time-efficient way to heat food in a microwave oven. Why waste an extra second splitting hairs to heat your food for 1:00 when 0:55 or 0:66 is practically the same interval?

I don’t expect people to adopt my system universally (EVEN THOUGH THEY SHOULD). Under my system, though, the “9″ button is anything but neglected. My most common cooking time is 99 seconds.


Magnetic bottlecap rings are like wine charms for bottles

19 Apr

Labeled magnet, ring, and finished bottle cap holderI often pour one glass of cider and recork the larger bottle for later. This has one drawback: no longer do I know what type of cider inside the bottle. Without caps, my blank bottles are impossible to tell apart.

My solution? With a magnet and a steel ring, I can attach the cap to the neck of the bottle. These things are require no tools to make, and they are infinitely reusable. I keep several stuck to the fridge in case I have a bottle-labeling emergency of some kind.

How to make one: Stick the magnet on the ring, and drop the ring around the neck of the bottle. The magnet will hold the cap there as long as you like. Magnetic or ring-based charms could also help people identify their bottles at a party.

Magnetic cap holder on bottleMagnetic bottle cap holder

Where to get the parts: I used magnets from hard drives because they’re powerful and semi-elegant, but any magnet that keeps the cap from flying away under normal drinking conditions should be fine. As for the rings, large ones work best — they need an internal diameter of at least 1.1″ (28 cm) to fit past the flared mouths of most bottles. Split rings (a.k.a. key rings) are fine if they’re large enough. Hardware stores also have a number of cheap plumbing fittings that would work as long as they’re ferromagnetic (made of metals like iron or steel) and will attract to a magnet.


Never to wonder if the dishes in the dishwasher are clean or dirty again

24 Mar

Clean dirty indicator combinedKnowing that the dishwasher is clean saves time. Here’s a double-sided clean/dirty indicator that you can make in less than a minute.

Dishwasher indicator magnetsFirst, use a magnet to find any ferrous surfaces on your dishwasher. Even if your dishwasher appears to be plastic, there may be metal bracing in some areas. If the magnet sticks, you are in business.

Put two magnets in an Altoids tin, with one on the lid and one on the bottom. This way, the tin will stick to your washer no matter which side is facing out.

Finally, put nametags (or other adhesive labels) reading “Clean” and “Dirty” on opposite sides. Flip the indicator as needed.


Add removable shelving to your freezer

08 Feb

Crate with stackingEvery apartment I’ve rented has had a refrigerator with a freezer on top. Not one of those freezers has had enough shelves; often, they have no shelves at all. Shelves would have been incredibly helpful, but why should a landlord care about that?

If you’ve ever tried to stack meat in the freezer, you already know that frozen food is slippery and frustrating to organize. Even if you build a careful stack and can close your freezer door without knocking down your frigid Tower of Babel, you’re guaranteed to need the item on the bottom of the stack far too soon.

My solution? Find a plastic crate and add your own shelves to the freezer. Milk crates, file crates, or any kind of rigid plastic box can be used to make your freezer a bit more manageable.

My original plan was to saw the crate in half and stack the resulting trays to make multiple levels of shelving (see diagram). Instead, I have kept my crate intact and found that it’s plenty useful in its existing form. My ice-cube trays are up high, out of the way, and the sides of the crate help keep stacked food stable.

Empty crateFreezer shelves

Now, I’m not blind to the fact that this is just a plastic crate stuck sideways into the freezer. It isn’t a glamorous or particularly complicated idea. Still, it solves a real household problem neatly, and you can’t beat the price or the ease of installation. Like the magnetic towel bar, this is a solution that makes no permanent changes and does no damage (a bonus for apartment dwellers or anyone who rents). It’s utilitarian to look at, but it’s no uglier than the inside of the freezer to begin with.


Better living through vinegar

13 Jan

Fluffy towelsThree ways to improve your morning routine for under $1

I think modern America is entirely too clean. Perhaps we should blame a lifetime of television advertisements for BRAND-NEW, LIFE-SAVING, home cleaning products that only a neglectful monster would try to survive without. I’m all for labor-saving bathroom cleaners and so forth, but please remember that using antibacterial treatments on our hands and countertops as though preparing for surgery does nothing but breed resistant bacteria and line the pockets of cleaning-product vendors. Moreover, there are often simpler, less-expensive alternatives to the myriad brightly-colored bottles found in the cleaning aisle.

Vinegar is one such miracle product — a cheap, effective, non-toxic cleaning agent with has no lingering effects (true, it has a distinctive smell, but that disappears quickly once the vinegar is wiped up or allowed to evaporate). I’ll skip the hippie justification for the moment and put it simply: You can take better showers, use softer towels, and drink tastier coffee by tomorrow with under a dollar’s worth of vinegar. Find me another cleaning product that can improve your entire morning routine so cheaply! If that isn’t enticing, you must live in a different world than I do or never have to get up and get ready for work. You are free to stop reading, and I am jealous of your life. Read the rest of this entry »


A lifetime supply of vanilla extract

02 Jan

Vanilla extract finished bottlesReal vanilla extract usually comes in small bottles at surprisingly hefty prices. I assume the scheming vanilla barons of the world can’t trust us with too much of their delicious extract at one time. I use vanilla extract casually in lots of things (in sodas, ciders, and smoothies, just for starters) and thought it would be a good exercise to make my own. It turns out that you can make a self-replenishing bottle of vanilla extract with just vodka, vanilla beans, and patience.

Vanilla beans may seem exotic, but the magic of the internet puts them right at your fingertips. A quick search finds many online vendors, including Amazon. Vanilla beans can be fairly inexpensive in bulk (under a dollar each), so I bought a large bunch and made a massive batch of vanilla extract for holiday gifts (I didn’t want to post about it before and give away any surprises). Along the way, I’ve ended up with plenty of vanilla extract for my own evil purposes. Read the rest of this entry »


Make a wine aerator from plumbing fittings

22 Nov

Letting wine breathe involves exposing it to air for up to 20 minutes before drinking it. This will generally improve a wine that has not yet fully aged, particularly a high-tannin red wine like a Syrah or Cabernet. On the other hand, a wine expert might gasp in horror (losing his monocle in the process) at letting a well-aged Pinot Noir breathe. Those of us with less-refined palates or a taste for bargain-hunting may get more bang for our bucks by letting our cheap wines mingle with the air before drinking them. Wine cannot breathe well in the bottle because there’s so little surface area exposed to air. Common breathing methods involve pouring wine into a decanter, which has a broad cross-section for maximum air exposure, or just pouring a glass and letting it sit for a while.

Of course, impatient cheapskates everywhere want to make this process go faster. Enter the wine aerator: a device intended to expose wine to a lot of air in a short time so that it can go from bottle to glass to mouth almost immediately. Vinturi makes a well-known, well-regarded aerator; it looks handsome and makes a cheerful slurping sound as wine funnels through it into your glass. However, the Vinturi aerator costs anywhere from $24 to $40 (that’s actually cheaper than it used to be), which is just enough that I decided to build my own aerator. I’ll show you how to do it with $10 worth of plumbing parts. Read the rest of this entry »


Use register tape for shopping lists and other household notes

10 Nov

Register tape mountMy friend Carly gets all the credit for this one. She has a roll of register tape mounted on a handsome spindle to use for household notes like shopping lists. As soon as I saw it, I knew that I had to make my own. Classy, cheap, and functional? I’m sold even without the classy. It’s easy to slap one together from spare parts that any packrat will have around the house.

I’ve attached notepads to the refrigerator door for shopping lists, which is a great idea for anyone to use, but this is superior and more aesthetically pleasing to boot. I like the elegance of tearing off as much paper as you need for any given task. Register tape is cheap, too, since a 130-foot roll costs less than a dollar. With an Altoids tin, a pair of corner braces, and a few magnets, you can be taking notes on a roll like the rest of us. Read the rest of this entry »


How to make magnetic LEGO® blocks

26 Sep

Magnet and postcardLet’s just admit it: magnets are fun. There is something inherently entertaining about playing with invisible forces that satisfies the inner child that still longs for Jedi powers and hoverboards. Therefore, I pounce on any chance to buy cheap magnets, and I never throw a magnet away without trying to find a new use for it. I recommend you do the same.

I think Lego® blocks are just as irresistible as magnets, so combining the two is win-win situation. I insist on high-quality, entertaining magnets on my fridge, and these meet my standards (as usual, my rules for what is entertaining or high quality are exacting and bizarre). Read the rest of this entry »


Make flavored ice for instant cocktails

12 Sep

Flavored ice cubesManhattan in progress

Ice-cube trays are far more versatile than they get credit for. When it comes to cocktails, ice cubes containing liqueurs, coffee, or even chunks of fruit have an advantage over regular ice: they add flavor to your drink rather than watering it down. I’ll give you three good examples:

  • Maraschino cubes: Put a Maraschino cherry and a generous splash of the accompanying juice into each section of an ice-cube tray and top the tray off with water. The cubes will freeze solid, although they will have a softer consistency than pure ice cubes. A few cubes in a glass of soda can make a cherry Coke or a Shirley Temple, complete with a cherry at the bottom. For a cocktail party, you can make instant Manhattans by serving bourbon and bitters over a Maraschino cube in a snifter or other small glass. By the time you finish your drink, you’ll have a delicious whiskey-soaked cherry for dessert.
  • Coffee cubes: Save old coffee and freeze it in an ice-cube tray. You can keep iced coffee cold (or even faux-Frappuccinos) without watering it down. Coffee cubes are also great additions to creamy or Kahlua-based drinks like White Russians, making them a hit at Lebowski parties.
  • Lime cubes: This versatile cube can go in all kinds of drinks, from Coke to tonic water and from whiskey to vodka. Just take an ice-cube tray full of water and add small wedges of lime to each compartment before freezing.

Shirley Temple

The possibilities go on and on. Flavored ice is great for parties and punch bowls but also for day-to-day treats. I make batches of various flavored ice cubes periodically and keep them in separate containers so the trays can get back to making regular ice.

Embrace the ice-cube tray! It has a lot more tricks to come.