Follow these short-order steps to make healthy meals easy.
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Follow these short-order steps to make healthy meals easy.

You don't have to be a short-order cook to create meals in a hurry, but we can all learn some culinary wisdom from those who can prepare hundreds of meals in a single day. Follow these short-order steps to make healthy meals easy.

Tip 1: Relax, put on some music and pour yourself a cup of tea. A composed cook is a more efficient one.

Tip 2: Read the recipe through ahead of time so you know everything that's going to happen. Take a minute to imagine doing the steps.

Tip 3: Lay out your prepared ingredients in bowls. Having everything at your fingertips means the dish will come together faster. Cutting an onion before you start to cook is actually a time-saver; cutting it after the cooking has already begun wastes time-you have to take the skillet off the heat, then heat it back up when you're done chopping. That being said, remember that quick cooking is about getting maximal results in minimal time. So, for instance, if a recipe calls for cooking an ingredient first, make use of that cooking time to get other prep work done.

Tip 4: Room-temperature vegetables cook faster than cold ones. While we don't advocate letting meat, poultry, fish or dairy sit out, we do let our vegetables come to room-temperature so they will sear quickly, cook evenly and blend more readily with other ingredients.

Tip 5: Substitute carefully. Although some substitutions seem obvious, they can be tricky business. A ruined dish is a waste of time. See The Well-Stocked Pantry.

Tip 6: Measure accurately. Nothing wrecks a quick-cooking sauté like a double portion of flour or an overdose of salt.

Tip 7: Work in a bigger bowl than you think you need. Ever seen someone try to make tuna salad for four in a cereal bowl? Get out the big bowls-you'll avoid a mess on the counter, and you won't have to transfer contents to bigger bowls once they become unwieldy.

Tip 8: Do messy work in the sink. Stir batters, coatings and spice mixtures in bowls set in the sink. Spills are simply washed down the drain.

Tip 9: Turn up the heat. While you shouldn't sauté onions in butter over high heat (the butter solids will burn and the onions will then stick and scorch), you also shouldn't do so over low (the onions will just wilt and turn greasy). Don't be afraid of higher temperatures-within reason. If you're minding the skillet, the ingredients will not burn.

Tip 10: Always have towels and oven mitts at the ready. And make sure they're dry. Wet mitts conduct heat right to your hands.

Tip 11: Clean up as you cook. Put things in the dishwasher while you're waiting for the onions to soften, or wash the cutting boards and mixing bowls while you're waiting for the tomato sauce to come to a simmer. Always put each tool back in the same place-so you will know exactly where to find it next time. Aim to start and finish with a clean kitchen. (Don't be afraid to recruit help from the ranks of those who will be eating what you cook.)

Tip 12: A watched pot always boils. Pay attention to the dish as it cooks; don't just set a timer and leave it. All timing guidelines are just that: guidelines, not laws. Pay more attention to visual and olfactory cues.