As the Food Editor for EatingWell Magazine, I’m always hearing from readers who want to cook dinner, but feel like they don’t have enough time. So as I worked on compiling our latest cookbook, EatingWell One-Pot Meals, which is all about simple, streamlined cooking, I came up with a list of tips that will make you a better cook (in addition to using really delicious, healthy recipes, of course) and will make cooking dinner a snap.
Recipes to Try:
27 Easy Simple One Pot Meals
Healthy, 20-Minute Dinner Recipes
Here are my five top tips to help you be a better, more efficient cook:
1. Organize your work space
Create a well-lit, clutter-free prep space in your kitchen that has space for your cutting board, ingredients and a bowl or two. Keep knives close by. And position a garbage can, trash bowl or compost bin within arm’s reach so you can get carrot peels, onions skins and so forth out of the way. (Of course, your space may be constrained, if you live in a tiny apartment, for instance, so improvise where necessary!)
2. Shop smart and keep a well-stocked pantry
Half the battle of getting dinner on the table quickly is making sure you don’t have to go to the supermarket every other day. The best approach is to make a weekly plan of what you’re going to cook, consult your recipes and write a detailed shopping list. Organize your list by these sections: produce, meat & seafood, dry goods, freezer, dairy, refrigerator, bakery & deli.
Top Foods Every Pantry Needs
When you’re making a shopping list, and as you cook and use up ingredients, jot it down on your list, you won’t come up empty-handed the next time you’re about to cook.
3. Use the power of herbs and spices
Herbs and spices are essential for making great-tasting food that’s healthy too. They let you create bright, aromatic, vibrant-tasting dishes without loading them up with salt, sugar, butter or cream. So keep a well-organized array of dried herbs and spices, preferably close to your work space. Keep in mind that herbs and spices do lose potency the longer they sit on your shelves. After they’ve been there a year or two, replace them. And if you have space, plant an herb garden or, if you live in a colder climate, a small planter that you can bring inside in the winter.
6 Healthiest Spices to Cook With
4. Cook like a pro
If you’ve ever watched line cooks in a restaurant then you know that the secret to how they churn out all those plates of food so quickly is that all their ingredients are prepared, organized and ready to go when they get an order. Chefs call this idea of having all the ingredients ready mise en place. Translated literally, it means everything in place. This is a great way to approach cooking at home, too—once you’ve read your recipe, head to the refrigerator and cupboards, pull out all the ingredients you’ll need and set them up next to your work space. If it’s going to take you a little while to chop and prep, then leave your meat in the refrigerator until closer to when you’re ready to put it in a pan. As you prepare ingredients, if you don’t have enough room to keep them organized in little piles on your cutting board, transfer them to small bowls. We like to use the glass ramekins that you can pick up at most supermarkets for prepped ingredients.
The other thing you may notice as you watch line cooks at a sauté station is that they use metal tongs for everything. Metal tongs are like an extension of the professional cook’s arm. Try them: a decent pair is inexpensive and you will never want to cook without them once you do. (If you cook with a nonstick skillet a lot, you should also get silicone-coated tongs.)
5. Chop quickly
Nothing slows you down more in the kitchen than dull knives. Invest in a good chef’s knife and paring knife. Then buy an inexpensive handheld knife sharpener—these can cost under $10—and take just a couple swipes of the knife through the little V groove before you get to work. You’ll be slicing through the skin of ripe tomatoes like it’s nothing. Also, if your chopping skills are slow and clunky, spend some time watching the pros on TV and mimic how they do it. You may not get as quick as them, but you can certainly pick up some of their technique, speed things up and be safer.
What advice has made you a better cook? Tell us what you think below.