Several cooking magazines devote regular space to tips from readers. Some of the tips are quite inventive; others are more common sense. But they are addicting -- sort of like popcorn before the show.
Even if you couldn't cook a lick, you would seem accomplished if you memorized the tips and mastered the techniques. I'd bet the cooking couldn't help but get better, too. Here's a random sampling from a Cuisine at Home compilation, "The Best 300+ Cooking Tips." Find the book and other cookbooks inspired by the magazine at www.cuisineathome.com.
--Papaya is an excellent meat tenderizer. To use it, peel off the skin, slice in half, scoop out the seeds and puree. Spread it over the meat, chill for three hours, then scrape off the puree and cook. Nancy Kahl, Plains, Pa.
--There are two problems when making kebabs. First, it takes too long to soak wooden skewers so they don't burn. And second, the food spins around when turning the kebabs. So, I presoak a bunch of skewers and freeze them in a plastic bag. The I use two for each kebab, space them about 1 inch apart, and slide the vegetables onto the skewers. No more spinning food. E. Hansen, North Quincy, Mass.
--I love warm bread with my dinner, but it rarely stays warm through the entire meal. ... Though there are bread warmers in stores, I've created my own inexpensive version. I wrap dried beans in a tea towel, then heat them in the microwave. The bundled beans sit in the bottom of my bread basket and keep bread warm through the whole meal. W. Martindale, St. Louis, Mo.
--To easily stuff bell peppers and keep them upright during baking, arrange and then bake them in a Bundt, tube, angel food or muffin pan (spray with nonstick spray first). The peppers stay upright, freeing your hands for assembly. Linda S. Randall, Cleveland
--I love fresh-ground coffee in the morning, but I don't love cleaning a gunked-up coffee grinder. To make the job easier, I grind up a heel of stale bread. The dry, hard bread cleans the coffee grounds from the sides and blades, and absorbs a lot of the sticky oils. Then all I have to do is wipe out the bread crumbs with a dry paper towel. L. Stalter, Chandler, Ariz.
--Why juice a whole lemon if all you need is a teaspoon? ... Roll a lemon on a hard surface, pressing on it to get the juice flowing inside. Poke a hole through the peel with a skewer, then squeeze out the amount of juice you need. The rest of the lemon is still intact and can be saved for later. Hank Kendall, Boston