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7 food hacks everyone should know!

Reviewed by our expert panel
Grandmother cooking with grand daughter

Time to go back to basics! These seven clever tricks will get the best results from your cooking — every time!

1 How to cook al dente pasta

First things first: choose a large pot! Pasta needs room to cook. Use plenty of water and bring to a rolling boil. Add a generous teaspoon of salt— this adds flavour to the pasta. Then add pasta to the pot, give it a stir, and bring it back to the boil. Cook according to the time on the packet— different shapes take different times. Make sure you check a couple of minutes before the time is up. If the pasta is softened but still springy, it’s al dente — ready. Drain well and serve.

HFG hack

Save some of the pasta water before you drain. It’s great for adding to your sauce to meld pasta and sauce together.

What not to do

You don’t need to add oil to the pasta pot. This doesn’t stop your pasta from clumping. A big pot with lots of water will do that.

2 How to cook fluffy rice

Some swear by rice cookers, but you don’t need one for perfect rice. To start, choose a pot with a firm-fitting lid. Then, rinse the rice, drain well, and add to pot. Add one-and-a-half times the amount of water compared to rice, by volume: so for 1 cup of rice, add 1½ cups of water. Bring to the boil with the lid on. Turn the heat down to low and leave it alone for 10 minutes. Don’t take the lid off. Remove the pot from the heat, and leave it to sit with the lid on for another 5–10 minutes. Then fluff with a fork.

For brown rice, add a little more water — roughly 2 cups for every cup of rice. The cooking time for brown rice will also be longer — between 30 and 40 minutes, depending on the rice.

HFG hack

Not sure how much rice to cook? Rice roughly triples in volume when cooked, so 1 cup of rice will make 3 cups of cooked rice.

What not to do

Don’t stir the rice while waiting for it to cook. Stirring causes the starch to activate, resulting in mushy rice. The single exception is when you’re making risotto, when you’ll want a smooth and creamy texture.

3 How to stir-fry meat

Sick of your chicken or beef stir-fries producing watery, pale results? It’s all down to technique. First, choose a large pan or wok. Overcrowding is the main reason chicken goes watery when you stir-fry. Next, let the pan get nice and hot. Add a little olive oil (spray oil is good) and let it heat.

Now the time has come to add your meat. If you have more than two serves, do it in batches. Cook one lot, then when it’s cooked through and golden, remove it and do the next meat batch. Toss gently with a spatula or chopsticks.

HFG hack

For a mixed stir-fry, cook your meat first, then remove it and cook the vegies. Combine everything at the end. This will ensure everything is perfectly cooked and the meat isn’t overdone.

What not to do

Don’t be tempted to put a lot of meat into the pan and expect it to brown. A little patience brings great results.

4 How to separate an egg

Making meringue or mayonnaise? You’ll first need to separate your yolks from the whites. The easiest way to do this is to use the simplest of tools — your hand. First, break the egg into a cup or small bowl. Hold one cupped handover another bowl; tip the egg gently into your hand. Slightly separate your fingers so the white falls through and the yolk stays in your hand.

HFG hack

If you get a fragment of eggshell stuck in your egg, use another piece of shell as a scoop to remove it.

What not to do

Cracking the egg against the edge of bowl can cause you to break the yolk or get shell in the egg. Instead, use a stable surface like the counter.

5 How to dice an onion

Want to get a perfectly diced onion? All it takes is practice and a sharp knife. Start by peeling your onion — but make sure you leave the root intact.

Cut in half lengthwise. Place the onion halves flat-side-down on a board. Make cuts lengthwise, at regular intervals, across the onion, leaving the root end attached (don’t cut all the way along the onion). Turn onion and cut across the other cuts, so you have nice small dice. Repeat for the other half.

HFG hack

Chefs often make a horizontal cut through the middle of the onion half towards the root before doing the final chop. This isn’t strictly necessary, but it does make for nice small dice.

What not to do

Don’t use a blunt knife. It sounds obvious, but a sharp knife will make chopping veg much easier and safer. Also, don’t drag your knife across the chopping board to scoop up the onion pieces — this will dull and damage your knife very quickly.

6 How to make an omelette

An omelette makes an easy meal in minutes — perfect for any time of the day. For each person, use 2 eggs and 2 tablespoons of milk or water. Lightly beat eggs and milk together, and season.

Heat a tiny bit of oil in a medium non-stick frying pan over medium-high heat. Pour the egg mixture into the pan. Pull the mixture away from the edges of the pan using a spatula, and let the uncooked egg flow into the space. Do this around the pan, until the egg is just cooked through. Add the filling of your choice on one half of the omelette. Fold the other half over, using the spatula. Cook for a few minutes, until filling is warmed through. Gently slide your omelette on to a plate to serve.

HFG hack

The trick is to use a hot pan that’s not too big — and don’t overcook the omelette, or it may become rubbery.

What not to do

Don’t try to flip your omelette — you’ll only end up with scrambled eggs. Fold it in half, or finish the top under a hot grill.

7 How to cook steak

Cooking meat can seem intimidating, and you’ll read all sorts of ‘rules’. But getting the perfect steak is not as tricky as you might think.

First, take the steak out of the fridge about half an hour before cooking, so it’s at room temperature. Choose a heavy-based, large pan and get it to a nice high heat. Oil your steak: spray or rub a little oil on both sides. Then add steak to the hot pan. Cook for 2 minutes on one side. Turn it over and do the same on the other side. This will give you a medium-rare steak. For medium or well done, cook for a little longer.

Finish thick steaks in the oven: place them in a 200°C oven for 5 minutes once browned. This will mean the surface of the steak won’t be burnt.

HFG hack

You can tell how cooked the meat is by feel. If it’s spongy, it’s rare. If it resists a bit when touched, it’s medium. If firm, it’s well done.

What not to do

Always let your meat rest for a few minutes before serving to seal in the juices and keep it tender. Plus, no one wants bloody meat juices seeping into their mash!

Make every meal a little healthier with these 5 easy health tweaks!

Swap & save

Replace the sour cream with plain reduced-fat yoghurt to cut back on saturated fat and kilojoules.

Experiment with herbs

Fresh or dried herbs add a boost of salt-free flavour to any meal.

Stir-fry smarter

Rather than adding more oil to the pan when stir-frying veggies, add a splash of water to stop them from sticking.

Bulk out sauces

Add some grated, mashed or puréed veggies (zucchini, carrot, cauliflower) to pasta sauces — or even mashed potato — to boost your vegie intake.

Baking? Just add cinnamon

Add natural sweetness and save kilojoules by reducing sugar and substituting a generous amount of cinnamon.

First published: Nov 2020
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