Americans have all sorts of excuses for not cooking. According to an Impulse Research study funded by Bosch, 28% said they stay out of the kitchen because they don’t know how to cook, 25% cited wanting to avoid cleaning up, and 21% said they don’t have enough time. While the first two excuses are almost reasonable, the third just isn’t good enough. Everyone has a crazy schedule, so it comes down to prioritizing.
If you’re still skeptical, then it’s time to rethink the way you cook. Just because you like to have all your vegetables chopped before you boil water or turn on the oven doesn’t mean it’s the best idea. We’re sharing eight of our favorite tips to help you turn out great meals in way less time than you ever thought possible. Dinner just became a lot more doable.
1. Buy bulk packages of meat
Bulk packages of meat can be a huge waste of space and money if you automatically toss a whole tenderloin or 20-pack of chicken breasts into the freezer. Those massive hunks of meat take forever to thaw. Besides, when would you possibly need 20 chicken breasts at the exact same time? In order to make bulk meat your friend, you have to invest a little bit of time when you get back from the store in order to cut down on prep later.
The instant you walk in the door, set to work portioning out your chicken, fish, and beef. Men’s Fitness suggests it’s best to seal individual servings in zip-top bags. Adding a marinade or rub will basically turn the protein into a no-fuss dinner that just needs to be cooked. You can make the thawing process go even faster if you pound out thicker pieces of meat before storing them. Try this method for chicken breasts and pork chops, and you’ll also be able to squeeze more of them into your freezer than you would a wad of misshapen cuts.
2. Stock your pantry
It’s pretty hard to throw together a meal quickly if you don’t have anything on hand. Building a pantry of staples is essential to speeding through cooking, and it’s easier than you might think. Mark Bittman tells Bon Appétit he can’t stand when people ask him what five ingredients they should always keep in their cupboards. Why? Because five items won’t get you very far, and those generic suggestions don’t address your specific tastes. It does you no good to stock up on chopped, frozen spinach if the taste makes you gag.
Instead, Bittman says to think about your favorite cuisines and use that inspiration to guide you. If you like Thai food, then things like basil, mint, coconut milk, curry paste, and fish sauce are good choices. Italian fanatics will want to keep pasta, canned tomatoes, balsamic vinegar, anchovies, and garlic on hand.
3. Get great produce
Guys who haven’t embraced the farmers markets are putting themselves at a serious disadvantage when it comes to fast, flavorful meals. Chef Gale Gand explains this mentality to Food & Wine. “Quality ingredients are crucial, because you don’t have to do a lot to them,” she says. When you’re using ripe fruits and vegetables, you don’t need much more than oil, salt, and vinegar to have a phenomenal dish.
Tomatoes are a great example. You can make a fantastic no-cook pasta sauce with diced tomatoes, finely minced garlic, a few chopped olives, a sprinkle of red pepper flakes, a drizzle of vinegar, a splash of olive oil, and some herbs. You can have it chopped and mixed in the time it takes to cook the spaghetti, then add the pasta right to the same bowl. If you’re feeling fancy, grate some cheese on top.
4. Embrace your microwave
Microwaves usually get put on cooks’ naughty lists because they encourage things like instant noodles and condensed soup. While it’s true this kitchen appliance is perfect for those uses, it has plenty of applications for more nutritious foods. Eating Well says you can make a baked potato in the microwave in 20 minutes, which is way speedier than the usual hour it would take in the oven. It’s also great for steaming vegetables like broccoli or carrots. Just add a splash of water to the bottom of a dish, top with the veggies, cover with a lid, and cook until they’re just tender. You can even use it for rice. Check out Food Network’s simple recipe.
5. Stick to the stove
Meats and veggies roasted in the oven might be delicious, but they also take time. If you stick with cooking on the stove, you can make a quick meal in just a matter of minutes. WebMD suggested things like fried rice, omelets, quesadillas, and toasted sandwiches. Need a little bit of inspiration? The Kitchn shares a method for quesadillas that can be adapted for just about any leftovers you have in your fridge. If you’re feeling a bit fancier, try an omelet.
6. Have a game plan
Before you jump right into cooking, take a minute or two to get your thoughts organized. You’ll feel less frantic and have a better sense of order. If you’re using a recipe, About Food says to read it through before you start. You don’t want to find out you were supposed to preheat your oven when your entrée is ready to start baking.
Also, don’t underestimate the importance of the order in which you cook components. If you’re making a steak salad, waiting to cook the meat last is going to slow you down significantly. That protein needs time to rest before slicing, so cooking it at the end of the process will leave you waiting.
7. Use a garbage bowl
Most home cooks don’t realize how much time they waste walking to the trash can and back as they’re cooking. It might not seem like it matters, but those little trips can really add up over the course of cooking a meal. The Kitchn suggests keeping a bowl or container right next to your work area so you can toss waste into it as you’re working. This will also keep you from dropping things on the floor, so you’ll probably end up spending less time cleaning.
8. Give your ice cube tray a new use
Most recipes that call for wine only use a small amount. You can certainly drink the rest, but you might want to fill up a few slots in your ice cube tray. Instead of wrestling with the corkscrew the next time you make risotto, you can just pop a few cubes into your pan. Yahoo Food also likes this strategy for tomato paste, pesto, and vegetable purées.
Ice cube trays are also a great way to store herbs. Many of the bundles of basil and parsley from the store are way too big to use up before they start to wilt. Chop up extras, add to the tray, then top with just enough oil to cover the herbs. Why oil? It preserves the flavor better than water.