The Stove Works for You, and Other Perspectives + Secrets from a Well-Loved Kitchen.

By: Jen Shoop

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What are some of your most leaned-upon bits of wisdom when in the kitchen?

The first that came to my mind was the notion that the stove works for you. When I was younger, I remember frantically dicing last minute mise-en-place while the pan would sizzle, screaming hot. The stove was in control. Someone told me at some point that “the stove should work for you, not the other way around,” and I’ve never looked at a hot pan the same way. You can always remove the pan from the burner or turn down the heat. If you’re not ready to boil the pasta but the water is boiling, just reduce the heat until you are! The stove — temperature in general — is just one ingredient that you need to learn to control as you cook.

A few other random perspectives, secrets, and mini-enhancements, most of them less philosophical than the foregoing:

+Extend the life of fresh herbs by placing their stems in a water glass filled partway with water, just as you would cut flowers. Place a baggie loosely over the top. We’ve had herbs last at least 2x as long as they would in a little clamshell or just placed in a drawer this way.

+We buy spices in bulk (in the flat packs that ship free) from Spice House and then decant into jars that we sort, roughly, into two big bins (<<these are my favorite bins for organizing utility areas of the house; also great for things like batteries, light bulbs, under-the-sink, etc.) — the first for spices beginning with letters A-M, the second with spices beginning with letters N-Z. Mr. Magpie labels the jars with the spice on the lid (so easy to see from a birds-eye view) and the expiration date on the side (very easy to let spices expire — not that they usually turn “bad” or “rancid” but just lose their flavor / potency).

+On the spices front, if you buy spices in their whole pod/seed form (e.g., coriander seed, allspice berries, cumin seed), they basically do not expire. You can then just grind them (to order, or in smaller batches) using a spice grinder (we have two of these — one we reserved for coffee beans and one for spices, before we upgrade our coffee grinder to this — or you’d end up with spice-flavored coffee). This is an excellent way to prolong the lives of pricier spices.

+Soak fresh fruit in a solution of 1 tsp baking soda per 2 cups water, then drain and rinse. Baking soda acts like a mild abrasive to remove impurities and pesticide residue. There is some skepticism about the overall efficacy of this (how much are you actually removing?) but we do this for things like grapes and berries — you can really see a difference in the fruit’s skin. Especially grapes — always so dusty! Soaking them in water, period, helps, but the baking soda is an added layer.

+Read the instructions through entirely from top to bottom at least 2x before starting.

+Stow fresh bread (sourdough loaf, baguette) in a large baggie. If you stow in a paper bag, it dries out. The baggie does mean that it will lose its crispness/crust, but then we just warm in a low oven (250) for a few minutes to bring it back to life. This is the best way to enjoy fresh bread over multiple days — otherwise, it’s too stale by day two!

+Reheat takeout fries by spreading out on a large baking sheet (make sure fries have a lot of “elbow room” / aren’t squished up together / are in one layer) and spritz with Pam. Place in a 350 degree oven until you start smelling them (usually a few minutes). They are unbelievably crisp!!

+Two perhaps unexpected items we use constantly in the kitchen: our scale and our OXO funnels. For example, over the weekend, I used the funnels to pour simple syrup I’d made into a squeeze bottle and to transfer pancake batter into a squeeze bottle (you can make shapes / letters this way in the pan!). Also helpful when discarding used fry oil — funnel into a used plastic bottle to discard (not good to put down the drain).

+On the scale front: my baking results changed dramatically when I started cooking by weight. Temperature, brand of ingredient, variations in ingredients (e.g., fat percentage in butter you use, “fluffiness” of brown sugar, etc) can impact measurements! We also use to, for example, mete out dinner-sized portions when freezing leftovers. Mr. Magpie will usually freeze just enough for a dinner or lunch for two people in each baggie. That way we can grab and defrost just enough for a meal at a time.

+On the freezing leftovers front: Mr. Magpie loves his vacuum sealer. It really prolongs the life of frozen foods (no freezer burn / frost!). Also used heavily for cooking sous-vide.

+We keep our most-used kitchen implements in two places: a crock by stovetop for easy access (mainly spatulas, large spoons, and our spider whisk) and a large top drawer in our island, sorted in this organizer (quality is incredible and can expand/retract to fit your drawer’s dimensions). This top drawer includes: several sets of tongs, a whisk and mini whisk, peeler, two mini spatulas, wine key, thermometer, kitchen shears, microplane. The drawer is delightfully uncluttered so you can easily find what you need at all times. The rest of our implements (items used less frequently — chef’s presses, can opener, apple corer, different sizes of whisks, bench scraper, ice cream scoop, etc) are kept in large bins in the next drawer down.

+Speaking of kitchen implements: one unexpected one that has made its way permanently to “the top drawer” (e.g., heavy use category) is the strawberry huller. Our kids are fruit flies and we go through a lot of fruit — especially berries — each week. This strawberry huller has probably saved us hundreds of dollars in wasted strawberry tops.

+Use the reminders app in your iPhone to create shopping lists by store. We have ones for the grocery store, Costco, and beverages. That way you can just yell at Siri when you think to add something to the grocery list: “Hey Siri, add pistachios to the grocery list!” Mr. Magpie and I set these reminders lists to “shared” so we can both add to them and then whoever stops by the grocery next knows exactly what to buy.

+We always keep some butter at room temperature in our butter keeper. Makes it so much easier to spread onto toast or swirl into steamed veggies. We keep the rest of our butter in the freezer until needed. We buy unsalted Kerrygold butter in bulk from Costco. This is one of those things that is totally and 100% the “splurge.” Everything tastes better with good-quality butter. Baking, toast, etc! You will not regret it.

+Save deli quart and pint containers from takeout restaurant by running through the dishwasher. These make the best “mise en place” containers — we just label the top with contents using painter’s tape and a sharpie; you can then peel off the painter’s tape and repurpose. These containers are especially useful for stowing things like bacon fat — the plastic is pliable so you can really get every last bit out.

+Wash and dry the Kuhn Rikon peelers and any knives (we mainly have Shun for everyday use, and then. Mr. Magpie has an assortment of very fancy Japanese knives for specific purposes that I’m too afraid to touch) immediately after use. This prevents rust/corrosion. (BTW, just a random reminder that K.R. peelers are the most elite peelers.)

+Glass tupperware is generally infinitely better than plastic. There are the environmental reasons, and from a functional standpoint: glass does not warp, discolor, or take on scent. Works in microwave, oven, dishwasher. Our most-used sets are by Snapware and Pyrex. The Pyrex set has some particularly useful sizes — we use those little ones constantly for leftover small portions / cut limes or onions / etc.

+We keep lots of small cutting boards on hand. Great for dicing / slicing small amounts of things, making sandwiches, quickly cutting something in half, etc. My favorite are the hi-soft ones from Tenryo.

+Mr. Magpie regularly sharpens our knives (he will take his roll of knives up to New York to the Korin store up there!) — dull knives are a big hazard! — and oils our Boos blocks.

What are yours?


+What meal takes you back to your childhood table?

+More of our favorite (perhaps unexpected) kitchen gear favorites.

+Kitchen gizmos/gadgets we love.

+A great, simple weeknight recipe. Probably best suited to spring/summer but sometimes you need a mid-winter palate cleanser. We also love this peel and eat shrimp recipe for weeknights.

+What would your last meal be?

Shopping Break.

+In top photo: our well-loved, dog-eared and oil-splattered copy of La Gran Cocina (our Bible for Latin cooking), a mini Epicurean cutting board, and a citrus press.

+J. Crew is running one of those epic extra 60% off sale promos. Boys pocket tees (Hill has these in tons of colors) and girls’ graphic tees (<<mini has this one) are a few dollars apiece! This is my favorite time to stock up on basics for the kids.

+I love my new Negative henley so much, but it is a tad revealing for public? I was just looking for alternative styles with more coverage. Drawn to this bodysuit style, this striped J. Crew, and this waffled one from Askk NY.

+We will have a lot of downtime in the coming weeks with no childcare, so I panic-ordered a ton of arts and crafts supplies in the middle of the night. I picked up this craft kit (Kid Made Modern ones are nicer, and make better gifts, but I figure this cheap set will be perfect for a long morning), some blank peg dolls for them to decorate / draw characters onto, construction paper, and new markers and gel crayons (I love the Ooly brand ones but was going for dazzling expansiveness with a lower price tag).

+Another idea, if you’re in the same boat: last weekend, Mr. Magpie spread a roll of Melissa and Doug easel paper out across the floor of our front hallway and pulled out all of our Ed Emberley books. The kids were hard at work for a long time drawing “a city” with different characters.

+These mittens are so fabulous.

+For my resort-bound girlies: this Juliet Dunn, everything Marea (especially love this kaftan and this mini), and a new Hunza G (<<so many fun new colors / stripes / options!)

+LOVE this entire lace set from VB’s new arrivals.

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23 thoughts on “The Stove Works for You, and Other Perspectives + Secrets from a Well-Loved Kitchen.

  1. Completely agree with “the stove works for you”! I remember having a hard time adjusting to an electric stove after feeling more in control with a gas stove. But I could’ve just moved the pan off the burner (DUH)! I remember Samin Nosrat (author of “Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat”) saying that heat is an ingredient that you can control — not just heat from peppers/spices but as in temperature.

    Tomato paste is an unsung hero for many recipes, I think, particularly for soups and stews and anytime you need a little extra “something”. Sometimes if I want to be fancy I used the San Marzano tomato paste in the tubes, but more often I use the canned ones as they are a fraction of the cost of the ones in tubes. Here’s a tip for when you open a can of tomato paste and only use a spoonful: I cut out squares of parchment/waxed paper (about 4×4″, but no need to be exact here) then dole out a tablespoon or so of tomato paste on each square of paper. Then I stack them one on top of the other (almost like assembling a lasagna — imagine the papers are your lasagna sheets), flattening it a little, then store it in a sealed bag in the freezer. Next time you need a spoonful of tomato paste, just peel off one of the layers and you will have it ready to go.

    1. Mia – this is such a brilliant idea on the tomato paste front! You’re also making me realize that we could do the same thing with extra bits of tomato sauce in an ice cube tray. We have a few recipes that call for, like 1/4 cup tomato sauce and we always fret about what to do with the other 3/4 cup. It’s like $1 a can so it’s not the price but just hate to waste and also know we’ll be one day soon making the same dish and again needing 1/4 cup. Going to lean into this mentality and just freeze it!


  2. Agree on so many of these, Jen!

    One thing I’d add that is a must for me in my kitchen is a box of disposable food prep gloves. I love using them in particular when handling any protein (makes the idea of peeling shrimp, cutting chicken, etc, so much easier to me), or when handling hot peppers. I’m so much more inclined to make certain meals with these on hand!

    1. Oo good point – the hot peppers especially! I once made a jalapeno/serrano queso dip and my fingers were BURNING for like a full day afterwards. Thanks for that reminder!


  3. I’m surprised you didn’t mention the citrus press! That is a heavily used item in our kitchen. I read a chef say you don’t need one of these but I disagree – I do not like the feeling of the juice on hands and if you have a cut on your hand. Ouch! Highly recommend for all your citrus needs. Especially drinks.

    1. Yes! I should have highlighted that because it’s implied in the top photo!! We use ours…almost every day. A must!


  4. Love the strawberry huller! I’ve had it since you first mentioned it on the blog and love it to this day. I generally don’t like such gadgets (apple slicer, gadget to remove garlic skin with some rolling, etc.) and tend to go back to just using a knife, but the strawberry huller was a surprising exception. Another exception was an egg slicer… great for egg salad if you slice the egg in both directions.

    I also stow fresh bread in a ziploc, and it does work well, but sometimes I wish there was a more aesthetically pleasing solution for my small countertop. I purchased an emile henry breadbox at one point and thought was going to be it, but it kept arriving cracked. Would love any suggestions you have.

    As for the Kuhn Rikon, I literally cannot get them to not rust after washing and drying but may try them again. I was shocked when the rust appeared after a single wash + drying with two different peelers, but they are extremely effective like you mentioned.

    I’m also very intrigued by the jar opener you recently mentioned… it’s on my list to purchase post holiday travel. You also mentioned some sprinkle spatulas recently which I own, but one thing I would caution with those is that sometimes they arrive with the silicone peeling off along the seams. I ordered a set and kept the ones that didn’t have this issue.

    Anyway, love your kitchen-related posts! Would you consider another what’s in my refrigerator/what I eat in a week type post?

    1. Agree with you on the huller – I was skeptical (another “thing” to have to pull out and wash when getting breakfast ready!) but it really does work well and save us a lot of money. Good point on the egg slicer — something we don’t yet have!!

      I agree on the aesthetics of the ziploc. Wish I had a better solution for this. Maybe a really big stasher bag? Not much of an improvement though. Will keep my ears out!

      Thanks for the feedback on these kinds of posts!! Will definitely try to do more of these kinds of posts in the new year!


  5. Stasher bags! I invested in about a dozen some years ago and they were well worth it. I use them most for open packages of cheese (which are always impossible to fully reclose) and veggie prep. I barely buy plastic ziplocks anymore.

    1. Love this post and so excited for the comments! I’ve started washing berries in a water bath + a splash of white vinegar. Soak, rinse, dry thoroughly, and your berries will last 2x longer.

    2. SUCH a good use case for the Stashers! Hadn’t thought of that and usually use baggies (yuck – feel bad saying that). Maybe I’ll buy a few just for this purpose!!


      1. YES to Stasher bags!! Trader Joe’s actually just came out with their own version at a fraction of the price- quality is the same as far as I can tell! Xo

    1. Added these to my amazon cart. Think the smaller ones would be great for freezing a mixture of lemon juice, ginger, and mint so that I then only need to add that to a cup of hot water in the mornings vs. preparing everything each time. Thanks for the suggestion!

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