Even if you love to cook, weeknight dinners can be tough to juggle. Want to make things easier on yourself? Save time and energy by skipping these unnecessary recipe steps. (Find 50 of our easiest weeknight dinner recipes over here.)
It’s OK to skip these steps cooking
Measuring water to cook grains
Making rice, buckwheat, quinoa or other grains? Don’t stress about getting the exact ratio of water to grains. Cook them like you would pasta: in a pot with plenty of water. When they’re tender, drain them. Easy!
Lots of recipes for dried beans call for a long soak time, typically eight hours or more. Don’t know about you, but I rarely plan that far ahead. Luckily, the soak is totally optional. You can cook beans right from dried. They may take a bit longer to soften, but there’s no harm in it.
Another shortcut? Place the beans in a pot and cover with a few inches of water. Bring to a boil, immediately turn the heat off, and let sit (covered) for about an hour. The beans will be as soft as if you’d done a long soak. Drain, rinse and cook as usual. Though if you have an Instant Pot, use it! It’s just the thing to cut time when cooking beans.
Important note: Be sure always to rinse and sort dried beans before soaking or cooking. Pebbles and grit can hide with the beans, and you really don’t want to accidentally chomp those.
Defrosting frozen veggies before cooking
Tossing frozen corn into a hash or boiling up a side dish of peas? No need to defrost them before cooking! They can go right from freezer to pot. The only exception is if you’re tossing these frozen veggies into a salad—you’ll definitely want them to come to room temperature first!
Making homemade pasta sauce? Some recipes would have you peel the tomatoes before you cook them. Unless you’re truly gourmet chef, this really isn’t necessary. Cooking down the tomatoes will soften the skins up, and the sauce will be delicious. If you want a smoother texture, just blitz the final product in a blender (or use an immersion blender!).
Actually, peeling most vegetables
Fancy restaurants peel vegetables to make them look pretty. Home cooks, though, needn’t peel most vegetables. Asparagus, carrots, potatoes, sweet potatoes, broccoli stems, zucchini and so on don’t need to be peeled. Just chop off the tough ends and scrub well.
Obvious exceptions include any vegetable with a tough skin (think winter squash and eggplant) and vegetables with marred skins-just cut away any damaged spots on a peel.
Measuring small amounts of salt or other seasonings
Some recipes call for tiny measurements of a spice: 1/4, 1/8, even 1/16 teaspoon! When I cook with my grandmother, she only uses one kind of measuring vessel: her hands. She’ll tip dried herbs and spices into her palm, and she’ll use her fingertips to pinch salt from a little bowl by the stove. She knows what confident cooks know: The recipe has to taste good to you. Seasoning should always be “to taste.” Add a dash, taste, and adjust as necessary.
Of course, in baking, you should measure precisely—it is a science after all And always measure baking soda and baking powder, which are so potent even using a bit more or less than called for can have a huge impact on the recipe.
Measuring exact amounts of veggies for stirfrys and skillet meals
A good skillet meal or stirfry is perfect for using up odds and ends in the refrigerator. While most recipes call for a specific quantity, consider those measurements as guidelines. If the recipe calls for carrots and you happen to have parsnips on hand, don’t worry! That’s an easy substitution. This peasant skillet supper is a great base recipe—swap in your favorites or scraps for a tasty last-minute supper.
Casseroles and soups are almost as flexible; just be sure to stick to the rough ratio of liquid to vegetables, though, so you don’t wind up with a wonky texture.
Using a specific liquid to deglaze a pan
After you brown your aromatics (that lovely combo of herbs and veggies, maybe meat too), many recipes have you add a splash of liquid to the pan. This brings up the “fond,” the caramelized brown bits on the pan. Then you cook the liquid to reduce it, adding flavor and moisture to the final dish.
Typically, recipes call for a specific type of broth or booze, but you can use just about any liquid to deglaze a pan. Don’t have the beef broth a recipe calls for? Use chicken broth, mushroom broth or veggie broth. Don’t have sherry? Use white wine, red wine or beer. You can even use a splash of water (add a dash of vinegar or squeeze of lemon at the end of cooking to add a bright taste).
Using the exact oil or fat called for
Unless you’re frying or cooking at a very high temperature, you probably can use your favorite oil to cook any recipe. (Always follow these secrets to safe deep-frying at home.)
Use flavorless oils interchangeably in cooking. That means canola, vegetable, corn, grapeseed and other oils can all be used in place of one another in the same proportions.
If the recipe calls for more flavorful oils, just make sure your flavor combos make sense. Flavorful oils include olive oil, coconut oil, butter and ghee (psst… get the scoop on ghee here).
Garnishing anything, ever!
Adding a curly strand of parsley to the side of a plate is an old diner trend that’s totally unnecessary in real life! If your crew just pushes the green stuff aside before digging in, skip it. If the garnish is meant to be eaten, we suggest chopping up your herbs and sprinkling them on top of the food for an easier-to-eat (but still fresh-looking) alternative. Or try adding a sprinkle of nuts or cheese on top for an attractive presentation that’s delicious, not just decorative.
What steps you can modify for faster baking
Want to bake right now, but butter’s hard as a rock? You don’t have to sit around waiting for the butter to soften. Cut the butter up into pieces and it’ll soften in a jiff. Or try this handy trick instead.
Letting eggs to room temperature
Baking recipes often call for eggs to be at room temperature. You can make that happen quickly, no wait required. Just put the eggs (uncracked) in a bowl of hot water for a few minutes. (Learn how the experts crack an egg, mess-free.)
Sifting dry ingredients
Plenty of cake recipes ask you to sift the flour. There are good reasons for it: Sifting before you measure the flour aerates it, so you won’t scoop too much. Sifting after you measure lightens the flour, making it easier to mix with other ingredients (sometimes you’ll sift flour with other ingredients, too, to thoroughly combine them).
Here’s the good news: You can skip the sift and use a whisk instead. Whisk the flour right in your canister if the recipe calls for sifting before measuring. Otherwise, just pour all the dry ingredients into a bowl and give them a good whisking. This will both aerate the flour and evenly distribute the ingredients.