33 Ways to Save Time (and Embarrassment) In the Kitchen

What’s the first step to take once you decide to start eating better?

The simplest answer, for omnivores and vegetarians alike, is this: Start cooking.  I believe it was Michael Pollan who summed it up best when he pointed out that nobody reaches for a bottle of high-fructose corn syrup when they’re in their own kitchen.

iStock 000014684376XSmall 240x300Whether plant-based or omnivorous, your diet will improve the day you start cooking, because it forces you to become aware of every ingredient you put into your food and your body.  And if you’re vegetarian, vegan, or nearly so, you know that cooking your own food isn’t an option — it’s a must.

But cooking, and cooking healthy, takes time. And planning.  And even some practice.

That’s not such a bad thing if cooking is your particular brand of unwinding or meditation.  And that’s certainly not uncommon; cooking a special, all-day meal on a Sunday is as therapeutic an activity as any I know.

But what if that’s not you?  What if you’d rather be running, climbing, or ripping out your own armpit hair than stuck in a kitchen for any longer than it takes  to pour a bowl of cereal?

Then you’re in the right place.  Here’s a list of 33 ways you can speed up your cooking and avoid the kitchen mistakes that don’t just cost you time, but cost you friends.  (Okay, maybe it’s not that bad, but come on — you don’t want people to think vegetarian food sucks just ’cause yours does, do you?)

33 Cooking Time-Savers and Tips

  1. Chop vegetables quickly and evenly by first cutting thin strips, then lining up the strips and making uniform crosswise cuts from them.  Think carrots and celery, where most people do the complete opposite by making crosswise cuts first.
  2. Meticulous measurement is one of the biggest time-killers in the kitchen — unless you’re baking, stop measuring!  Those round numbers are just estimates anyway, and you’ll learn a lot about flavors and gain some confidence by making a few mistakes.
  3. Instead of measuring, learn just once what a teaspoon of spice looks like in your hand, or how many cranks of your pepper grinder it takes to grind a teaspoon.  (And I probably don’t need to tell you this, but 3 teaspoons make a tablespoon.)
  4. A tablespoon of oil is one drizzle around the pan.
  5. Two tablespoons of nut butter, coconut oil, or anything semi-solid is about the size of a ping-pong ball.
  6. Scan recipes ahead of time to see if you can prep some ingredients while others are cooking.
  7. Putting a lid on your pots and pans will lessen cooking and boiling times.  The downsides: You can’t reduce sauces this way, and it’s easy to forget to stir what you’re cooking and burn it.
  8. Use your sharpening steel! Here’s how.
  9. Minced is smaller than chopped is smaller than diced.
  10. Get an oil drizzler so you don’t have to keep going to the cabinet and taking the lid off of a bottle.
  11. For the same reason, get a pinch bowl for your salt.
  12. Lightly salt at each step of a recipe instead of once at the end.  But keep in mind that salt causes food to release its moisture, so if you’re trying to sear something, wait until after it’s done, to avoid boiling or steaming it.
  13. To better sear tofu, remove some of the moisture before cooking by slicing it into thin layers, wrapping each layer in paper towels, and resting a pan on top of it for several minutes.
  14. Instead of peeling garlic cloves, pop them out of their skins by resting the blade of a knife (or your palm) on them and hitting it with your other hand.
  15. Garlic burns easily, so as soon as it’s fragrant, add more ingredients or liquid to the pan.
  16. Use a garbage bowl to avoid multiple trips to the trash can.
  17. Soaking rice or lentils a few hours in advance will dramatically reduce their cooking times.
  18. Don’t add salt to pasta water until after it’s boiling, because salt water takes longer to boil than fresh water.
  19. Italians salt their pasta water until it tastes like seawater.  You should too.
  20. Don’t put oil in the pasta water.  It will prevent the sauce from sticking to the pasta.
  21. A lemon squeezer is one kitchen uni-tasker I like.  If you don’t have one, you can use a fork to get more juice out of a citrus fruit. Rolling it around first or even microwaving it for 10 seconds can also help.
  22. When a recipe calls for the zest of a lemon, lime, or orange, take only the oily, colorful stuff — none of the bitter, white pith.
  23. To get the most flavor from fresh ginger, use a spoon to peel it.  This will remove only the skin and leave the flavorful surface of the ginger behind.
  24. Dried herbs are much faster and often cheaper to use than fresh.  Use one-third the amount of dried herbs as you would fresh.
  25. If you prefer fresh herbs, save money by growing your own.
  26. You can eat the stems of fresh herbs if they’re soft, like parsley and cilantro.  Don’t eat woody stems like those of rosemary.
  27. Buy pre-cubed tofu instead of blocks.
  28. Nuts are very easy to burn when you’re trying to toast them.  To help avoid this, toast nuts in a pan over low-to-medium heat instead of in a toaster oven, so that they toast consistently and you don’t forget about them.
  29. Make large batches of grains, beans, and tomato sauce ahead of time and freeze in individual portions, so that you can pull one out when you’re in a pinch.
  30. You can remove most of the heat from a hot pepper by scraping out the seeds and white ribs.  Just make sure you wash your hands when you’re done.
  31. When doubling a recipe, you shouldn’t double the spicy ingredients — that would exponentially increase the spiciness.
  32. Different oils have different heat stabilities and smoke at different temperatures, making them suited to different purposes.  I like olive oil for low-temperature cooking and grapeseed or coconut oil for higher temperatures.  See more smoke points here.
  33. Never heat flaxseed oil, or the universe will end.

What’s your best time-saving (or epic-disaster-preventing) kitchen tip?

26 Comments

 


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Comments

  1. Love these tips. I promptly ordered a pinch bowl after reading this.

    I completely agree about measuring. Before I started blogging I just tossed in whatever looked good/ seemed right. But that doesn’t fly when you’re sharing recipes ;)

    My tip is to take your tip 29 a step further. I make a point to cook (+ food prep for raw foods) in bulk over the weekend. The remainder of the week I’m simply reheating or tossing something on the plate or in a bowl for lunch and dinner every day. It gets a little repetitive but I’m okay with that.

  2. Always read the ENTIRE recipe before you start. Yes, I’ve committed some errors due to recipes that weren’t written very clearly and made some flubs.

    I like to make a recipe once with measurement items, and then the second time I make it, I forego the measuring devices. By the second time, I know how it should look and taste at each step.

  3. Funny, I reached for a bottle of Karo Corn Syrup last night when I was making granola bars…

  4. I am a firm believer in not measuring unless you’re baking. That said, beginner cooks should never estimate salt, as too much can really make something inedible.

  5. Fantastic, informative post!

  6. Love this post! My timesaving tips:

    1. Plan your meals for the week. So much easier to know that on Monday I’m eating X and Y on Tuesday instead of staring at a bunch of veggies each night, wondering what to do with them.

    2. I take 2-3 hours each Sunday and prep for the week. If I have a dish that calls for rice, I go ahead and make it. Roast nuts, wash and chop veggies, etc. so things are ready to just throw in a pot when I need them.

  7. I recently invested in a pressure cooker and it has changed my world!! No more cooking beans for an eternity! I save energy, money and time :) Wow! Okay this is sounding like an infomercial.

    I am love loving this blog. Thanks :)

  8. Great tips. I will definitely try the no measuring. Best thing I’ve done was to buy a pressure cooker. It was a little intimidating at first, but once I became confident with it, it’s made a huge difference. I made mushroom barley soup with other veggies in about 30 minutes start to finish last night. It’s great for reducing the cooking times for beans amd grains. It supposedly retains nutrients and I agree with other enthusiasts that the food is more flavorful.

  9. These were very helpful! :-) Thanks! Completely agree especially about toasting nuts and frying garlic, the amount of times I’ve burnt both …

  10. Great tips! Two petty comments…
    #18 – the difference in the boiling time for salted vs unsalted water is minuscule. #7 is a way better tip – cover the pot of water as it heats. This keeps heat in and brings the water to a boil faster.

    #20 – adding oil to the pasta cooking water helps to keep foam down (pouring oil on troubled waters is a truism), it does nothing to keep the pasta from sticking. I don’t think it has any effect on whether the sauce sticks to the pasta unless you heavily oil the pasta after draining it.

  11. Willingness to substitute – and an ability to do so intelligently – saves a lot of time. Frequently, there’s no need to track down a niche item at a specialty grocery store, or to leave the house to grab that one thing you forgot, because something already on hand will do just about as well. This also yields some happy kitchen accidents, as you learn different uses for different things.

  12. I don’t understand the not doubling the spicy ingredients when doubling a recipe. Say I make two batches of spicy tomato sauce, each with (made up amounts/ingredients) one big can tomatoes, one onion, and one jalapeno. They’re equally spicy. Pour them each into a single pot and I have a double batch, right? Why, if simply I cooked a large batch with two cans of tomatoes and two onions, should I only use one jalapeno?

  13. I love these tips! I was so surprised to see how many of them I already do, just out of habit!

  14. Thanks for this great post! I hope it gets more people cooking from scratch. And save those rosemary stems – they make great little skewers.

  15. my top pick for kitchen tips kind of expands on #1. get a good set of knives (or just one great multi-purpose knife) and learn how to use it properly! this will save you TONS of time and money. when you can chop up piles of fruit and veg in seconds, there’s no need to buy expensive pre-cut produce (ie those ridiculously overpriced packs of stir-fry veg) and your meal prep time is really reduced.

    people are afraid to chop their veggies really quickly for fear of cutting their finger off, but it’s not that difficult. hold the knife close to the blade, not by the end of the handle. curl the fingers of your “holding” hand under so that it’s your knuckles sticking out, not your finger tips. keep your knife sharp, as mentioned in the list. you’re more likely to cut yourself with a dull knife than a sharp one.

  16. Fantastic post! I didn’t expect to make it through such a long list, but each tip was better than the last. I just kept reading! Thanks!

  17. Great list! When I first started cooking, I knew nothing. I had to read a box of pasta for instructions! I’ve since learned a lot of these things along the way and now I really enjoy cooking. It’s cool to see them all compiled in one easy list.

    P.S. Watch Rachael Ray much? #4, 16, 19, and 26 are all things I learned watching her show!

  18. Great tips! The salt pinch bowl and garbage bowl have sped up my cooking a lot over the past year. Two big tips I’ve learned are to read the recipe all the way through, and prep the ingredients before you start cooking. That way there are no surprises when the onions are already in the pot.

  19. Wow! What a wonderfully comprehensive list of tips!

    I love to cook but I have culinary education. Anything that encourages more people to cook at home is great! :) Thanks for sharing!

  20. I used your ginger tip last night (#23). My girlfriend was very impressed.

    Thanks Matt!

  21. Great post!

  22. Disagree with the salt tips, I’ve never used salt to boil pasta and my pasta turns out just fine. I actually have to limit my salt intake so I cut out what I can. We use WAY too much salt in cooking anyway!

    My tip: get a mandolin. Most come with different slice and julienne thickness and making prepping veggies a breeze!!!

  23. Thanks for the helpful post! My husband and I really enjoy your recipes and advice!
    My question is about raw food prep and I’m hoping someone can react to it: I’ve read not to prep certain raw veggies ahead of time for various reasons, including: cauliflower cut days in advance loses nutrition, greens washed days in advance can mold, etc. Is this true? If so, is there a good list I can consult to know what can be prepped on a Sunday? Thanks so much for the awesome website!!

  24. Great reminders of how to save time! I love number 25–I just started planting my 2011 garden!

  25. @Bethany – Check out Tonytantillo.com and click the Produce Tips. He has some good info that’s worked for me, although some suggestions are not vegetarian/vegan. I’ve had to pick through some of the content but there is a “tips” page for almost every conceivable fruit, veg and herb. Hope you find it useful :)

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