Let’s be honest. It’s a lot of fun to pore over cookbooks and pick out the fabulous dinner you'd love to make, but how often do we actually have the time to make those complicated recipes? Probably only on the weekends because cooking those recipes takes time, and during the weeknights there isn’t a lot of that.
But instead of using time as an excuse for not cooking during the week, we've found some tricks and shortcuts to make anyone a faster cook.
It’s actually easier than you’d think. You don’t need to go to culinary school or take online training courses — just follow these simple, straightforward tips from culinary professionals to start your cooking makeover.
We turned to cooking experts Bruce Weinstein and Mark Scarbrough, who have not only written more than 20 cookbooks, but also just recently published Cooking Light: The Complete Quick Cook, which is filled with indispensable tips that will help make you faster and more efficient in the kitchen. From “mise-ing” your kitchen to cooking shortcuts, the unstoppable duo will guide you on your journey to becoming a better and quicker cook.
Get ready to revolutionize the way you cook today.
"Mise" Your Kitchen
As Mark Scarbrough explains, a lot of people know about “mise-ing” their recipes (as in the term mise en place --or everything in place) by getting the ingredients ready ahead of time, but not a lot of people know about “mise-ing” their kitchen.
What does he mean by that? Bruce Weinstein explains that it means setting up your kitchen so that everything is within reach. The area where you do most of your prepping should have easy access to knives and measuring cups so that “you’re not digging around for what you need.” This means having wooden spoons near your stove, where you’ll use them, instead of across the kitchen in a drawer.
Though Weinstein admits it’s a constant struggle to keep an often-used kitchen in order, he says it will pay off in the long run to keep it organized and “mise-ed,” because you’ll be able to cook faster.
Let the Supermarket Do the Work
“Want to be a quick cook? Learn how to stir-fry.” Weinstein says that the book has dedicated a whole chapter to this cooking method because it’s so fast. Because people's biggest complaint about stir-frying is the time-consuming chopping of vegetables and proteins, he suggests buying the ingredients already cut, saving about 20 minutes. A lot of supermarkets sell these products and label them as “stir-fried” beef, scallions, vegetables, ginger, etc. So, as he puts it, “Let the supermarket do the work for you.”
Use Condiments to Create Complex Flavors
Like buying your stir-fry ingredients pre-cut, using pre-made sauces and condiments is another way to cut back on time. Scarbrough explains that they liken Chinese condiments to the long reductions found in French sauces (with Chinese flavors, of course). The hoisin sauce that you're buying has been cooked for four hours or so and is then bottled and ready to use. Using soy sauce, rice vinegar, hoisin, and other pre-made sauces can add levels and levels of flavor, so you can get a complex and interesting sauce by just using a few ingredients.
Take Advantage of Convenience Foods
As Weinstein and Scarbrough say in the book, “Embrace Convenience — but Examine It.” What they mean is that convenience foods and products can be really helpful, but you need to make sure that the “only things that are in there are things that you would put in when you’re cooking. Then, you can easily let the supermarket do the cooking for you.” Make sure to read the labels and see what ingredients are in there, especially for items like broth.
They suggest turning to the salad bar when you’re really short on time because there are things there that are already chopped — like onions, carrots, tomatoes, broccoli, etc. It is a little more expensive, they admit, but that’s because the work is done for you. But if time is your excuse for not cooking, then you should go for it. Or, alternatively, they suggest buying frozen vegetables. “They are a perfectly good substitute and they are, for the most part, washed and chopped.” Plus, they might even be fresher than what’s available to you, depending on the season.
Quick Side Dishes That Round Out a Meal
Ever made a main course and then realized that you didn't have enough food? Weinstein recommends a quick dish of sautéed spinach with red chile flakes to round out the meal because spinach cooks in about two minutes. “All you have to do is heat a little olive oil in the pan, add the chile flakes to season the oil, and then add your spinach.” Or, try making one of Scarbrough’s favorite dishes, which includes roasted cauliflower florets, chickpeas, and olives. (It's super quick and you can buy the florets pre-cut.)
Instead of making plain peas with butter, prepare some couscous (it cooks in just five minutes) and add some peas, spices, and a little stock and you’ll have a fabulous dish in no time.
Essential Pantry Staples
“Your pantry cannot exist without canned beans. You can use them in salads, toss them in with roasted shrimp, or whip them up in a food processor and make a dip or bean burgers.” Herbs are always essential to have on hand, though some dried herbs carry better than others — Scarbrough would argue more for dried oregano and thyme over basil and parsley.
Weinstein suggests keeping spice blends on hand, such as Cajun or Italian blends, because that will save you from having to find six different jars and combine them together.
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