If you’re an amateur in the kitchen, meal preparation can be a slow process. But there are plenty of hacks that can make the process faster and more efficient.
Bridget Lancaster and Julia Collin Davison, culinary scientists at America’s Test Kitchen and the hosts of the TV show’s 2017 season, gave us a few cooking tips that they say can help anyone save time and avoid mess.
Check them out.
Hold tomatoes in place to slice a bunch at once.
Cutting grape or cherry tomatoes in half is a pretty slow task. Instead, try putting a bunch of them between two small plastic container lids, and then slicing horizontally through the opening, Lancaster says. Of course, this trick requires ripe (unmushy) tomatoes and a very sharp knife.
Wash and dry herbs with a salad spinner.
Instead of rinsing off a few parsley sprigs at a time, wash the bunch in a salad spinner, Lancaster says. After the water drains, spin the whole bunch again to dry them.
Par-freeze slippery raw chicken.
- Amy Stephenson/Flickr
Put chicken in the freezer for about 15 minutes to firm up the meat before you start working with it. This will make it much easier to cut it into thin slices, Lancaster says.
Use kitchen shears to quickly trim and chop.
A pair of kitchen shears is the secret to many of Lancaster’s time-saving hacks. She uses them to quickly trim away fat from chicken, snip bacon into bits, and even roughly chop canned whole tomatoes while they’re still in the can.
Save a little pasta water to add to your sauce.
- Flickr/Matt M.
After draining pasta, save the last half-cup of the water if you’re making a sauce from scratch. That liquid has dissolved starch from the pasta in it, which can improve the texture of your sauce – if it’s thick or stodgy, you can add the water to thin it and even out the consistency, Lancaster says.
Store cookie dough balls in the freezer so you can bake quick cookies later.
- AP/Larry Crowe
Rather than baking an entire batch of cookies all at once, you can just bake the amount you want and freeze some for a later date, Lancaster says.
You can save baking time by freezing individual cookie dough balls that can be placed straight into the oven. To do that, roll the dough into cookie-sized balls, place them on a plate lined with parchment paper, and then stick them in the freezer for a few hours. Once they’re frozen solid, move the dough balls into a zip-lock bag and return them to the freezer.
The next time you’re hankering for a warm cookie, you can bake some of the balls straight from the freezer. They can go straight onto the baking sheet- they’ll just need an extra couple minutes.
Anchor your cutting board.
To prevent your cutting board from sliding, anchor it by placing a textured dish towel or a wet, wrung out paper towel underneath. That will help keep the board in place, which makes chopping faster and easier. You can also use the towel to wipe down the counter when you’re done, Davison says.
Create a temporary disposal spot near your cutting board for food scraps.
If you let your cutting board get clogged up with food scraps, the piles will make knife work more difficult, Davison says. Instead, place a paper towel or plastic shopping bag to the side of your board. That way, you can push the unwanted scraps right off the board and into the towel or bag while you’re slicing, which makes for for easy and quick disposal later.
Use a microwave to quickly toast nuts.
- Kirsten Loza/Flickr
If an oven or stovetop is unavailable, you can use a microwave to toast nuts or sesame seeds, Davison says. First, place a half-cup of raw nuts in a bowl and microwave at full power for two minutes, stirring every 30 seconds until they’re golden brown. Then spread the nuts on paper towels, which will absorb the natural oils as the nuts cool.
Use a rasp grater to easily puree.
- SF Cooking School/Twitter
A microplane rasp grater is the ideal tool for finely pureeing garlic, shallot, onion, ginger, or jalapeño, Davison says. Grating them is far easier than mincing the ingredients by hand, and the fine puree that comes out can even be incorporated into smooth sauces and vinaigrettes.
Spray measuring cups with oil when using sticky ingredients.
- Chris Waits/Flickr
When you’re measuring sticky ingredients, like honey or molasses, coat the measuring cup with vegetable oil spray first. The thin layer of oil will prevent things from sticking, Davison says.
Use a “sling” to easily remove brownies and breads from the pan.
To ensure breads, brownies, and blondies come out of the pan without crumbling, Davison says to make a sling. Before you add the batter, line the pan with two wide strips of parchment paper or aluminum foil – one laid length-wise, the other width-wise. Leave a little of each strip hanging over the edge to act as handles.
When you’re ready to remove your creation from the pan after it bakes, let it cool, then use the handles to lift your bread or brownies out in one piece before you slice.