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For those who may not be receiving returns this year, a few tips for squeezing extra value out of ordinary kitchen items:

080410measuringspoons-thumb.jpgIn addition to their overt purpose, standard issue rounded stainless steel measuring spoons are also excellent for neatly removing cores from halved apples and pears, balling melon and making small, perfectly round ice cream scoops (to make ice cream orbs come out easily, dip the spoon in warm water before scooping, and after scooping rub the back of the spoon back and forth across the palm of your hand a few times to warm the metal slightly).

080410shaker-thumb.jpgCheese cloth is great for making cheese (of course), spice sachets and jelly, but its also useful for finely distributing flour, cornstarch, confectioners' sugar, cocoa and cinnamon. Just put the powder of your choice into a juice glass or the like, place a double layer of cheese cloth (a single layer if you have cloth with a very tight weave, as I've found to be the case with some of the unbleached varieties) over the open end, and secure it with a rubber band. This is not only less expensive than buying a shaker for the same purpose, but generally results in a much finer, more even dusting than the store bought variety. And when you are finished with the shaker, you can shake out the cheese cloth, wash it by hand with a little warm water and dish soap, and leave it to dry for some other job.

080410chopsticks-thumb.jpgInstead of tossing takeout chopsticks after one use, give them a rinse and keep them handy. Chopsticks are all-purpose kitchen utensils that can be reused again and again or sacrificed for a higher purpose (like lighting an oven pilot), as the situation merits. Skewers, delicate tongs, stir sticks, long "matches", oven door props, impromptu drain clearers and last-minute trivets; I have even used them as guides for rolling small sections of dough to a consistent thickness and specific orthogonal shapes and sizes.

And, finally, a few tips that I wish I could lay claim to but, alas, cannot:

Mason jars for small blender jobs: no need for mini-preps or Magic Bullets here.

Cleaning grandma's silver? You can forget harsh, expensive chemical cleaners and polishes when you have salt and tin foil on your side.

About the author: Amanda Clarke is a recovering restaurant pastry chef with a background in architecture. She lives in Brooklyn, New York, where she writes, tests, and develops recipes and works on freelance food-styling gigs between walkings and feedings of her two dogs and husband.

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