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9 Shortcuts to Slash Your Cooking Time

It would be great if every night we could pour a glass of wine, put on some jazz, and leisurely rustle up the perfect batch of bolognese. But in the frenzied real world, most of us need to get in and out of the kitchen quick. But being strapped for time doesn’t mean you have to settle for nuking frozen pizza or dialing up for Chinese. All you need are these brilliant cooking hacks to help cut your kitchen time in half.

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Crunch a Bunch

Who doesn’t love starting the day with crunchy granola? Homemade is almost always going to be healthier (read: less of a sugar bomb) than store-bought. But a well-made granola can take up to 1-hour in the oven—plus cooling time—which is enough to keep most people pouring their hippie food from the box. Well, granola lovers rejoice: You can score the same great toasty flavor and crunch in a fraction of the time by employing your trusty skillet.

Fast and Furious Method: Heat 1 tablespoon coconut oil and 1 tablespoon honey in a heavy skillet (preferably cast-iron) over medium heat until melted. Add 3/4 cup rolled oats, 1/4 cup unsalted pumpkin seeds (pepitas), 1/4 cup dried cherries, 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon, and a pinch of salt to the skillet and heat until oats are toasted, about 5 minutes, stirring frequently. Spread mixture on a baking sheet or cutting board to cool. Serves 4.

Pasta, Pronto!

When you’re short on time, waiting for a pot of pasta water to boil is a serious test of patience. That’s why you should turn to your electric kettle for a helping hand. With an electric kettle, the water is in direct contact with the heating element, so there’s no pot to heat first. The upshot is that it can boil water much, much quicker and is at least twice as efficient in doing so (for a side of environmental do-goodery).

Fast and Furious Method: Pour a couple cups of water in a large pot, cover, and place over high heat. Meanwhile, bring a kettle-full of water to a rapid boil and then pour into the pot. The water should return to a boil in only a few seconds. If needed, boil additional water in the kettle.

Smooth Move

Smoothies can be a great way to load up on protein, healthy fats, and age-avenging antioxidants (gracias, fruits and veggies). But pulling all the necessary ingredients from the fridge, freezer, and pantry each time you crave a frosty drink can be a pain. Enter: Smoothie cups. Simply whip up a larger batch of your favorite smoothie, freeze the mixture in unlined muffin cups (preferably silicon for easier extraction), and then place the subzero smoothie cups in a zip-top bag for later use. You want the mixture to be thicker than it would be for a single-serve smoothie, so use a little less liquid than normal. When in need of a smoothie fix, simply place a couple smoothie pucks into the blender with some liquid of choice and whip it good.

Fast and Furious Method: Place 2 cups almond milk, juice of 1/2 lemon, 1 cup reduced-fat ricotta cheese, 2 cups blueberries, 2 tablespoons honey, 2 teaspoons vanilla extract, 1 teaspoon cinnamon, and 1/2 cup almonds in a blender container and blend until smooth and thick. Divide mixture among 12 standard-sized muffin cups and freeze until solid, about 4 hours. When ready to enjoy a smoothie, place 1 cup almond milk or other liquid of choice and 2 frozen smoothie cups into blender container; blend until smooth. (For most blenders, it’s best to carefully slice the smoothie cups into quarters first before blending.) Serves 6.

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Go Nuts

Toasted nuts can instantly make salads, oatmeal, pasta dishes, and soups taste better. But firing up the oven and waiting for it to preheat to toast a handful of almonds always feels like a waist of time and energy. So turn to your microwave and nuke those nuts into toasty goodness.

Fast and Furious Method: Spread nuts such as pecans, walnuts, or almonds in a single layer on a microwave-safe plate. Microwave on high in 1-minute intervals, stirring in between, until nuts are fragrant and a few shades darker than they began.

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Sleep On It

In a rush to get out the door in the morning but sick of mushy quick-cook oats? Soaking steel-cut oats overnight in hot water is a stealthy way to enjoy a bowlful of the belly-filling grains in a flash. The oats soak up the water giving them a toothsome, chewy texture.

Fast and Furious Method: Place 1 cup steel-cut oats, a pinch of salt, and 2 1/2 cups water in a saucepan. Bring to a slight simmer, immediately turn off heat, cover, and let oats soak overnight. In the morning, stir in some milk and spices such as cinnamon and heat over medium-low until creamy and warmed through, about 5 minutes. Top with berries and chopped nuts. Serves 4.

Hot Potato

Laced with immune-boosting beta-carotene, sweet potatoes deserve to be a main player in more of your meals. But roasting them in the oven can seemingly take eons on harried weeknights. The fix: Bust out the box grater from the depths of your kitchen drawer. When grated, sweet potatoes take only a couple of minutes to cook in a skillet.

Fast and Furious Method: Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Peel and grate 1 medium-sized sweet potato, place in a colander, and squeeze out any excess liquid. Add sweet potato, 1 chopped shallot, 2 minced garlic cloves, 1 tablespoon fresh thyme, 1/4 teaspoon each salt and pepper, and a pinch of chili flakes to the skillet and cook for 4 minutes or until potato is tender. Top with chopped parsley and toasted walnuts. Serves 2.

Go Fish

Salmon is a great way to reel in ultra-healthy omega-3 fats and metabolism-revving protein. To get it on your dinner plate is short order, cook it from the top instead of the bottom. While most people overlook their oven broiler, it’s a great way to infuse your catch of the day with the great flavor of the outdoor grill in half the time it usually takes to bake it in the oven.

Fast and Furious Method: Preheat your oven broiler. Place 4 center-cut salmon fillets on a baking sheet lined with foil and coated with cooking spray. In a small bowl, whisk together 2 tablespoons white miso, 2 tablespoons reduced-sodium soy sauce, 1 tablespoon rice vinegar, 2 teaspoons grated ginger, and 2 teaspoons honey. Brush salmon with miso mixture and broil about 5 inches from the heat source for 5 minutes or until the flesh is just cooked through in the center.

Pound It

Chicken breast is America’s favorite dinner protein. But as much as we like it, we should be giving it a good beating before cooking. Pounding chicken flat promotes even cooking and helps tenderize the meat. Plus, the thinner the meat, the faster heat will travel into it from the oven or pan, cutting cooking time by as much as half. Less cooking time also means moister meat—no more appetite-killing parched chicken breast.

Fast and Furious Method: Place each of 4 6-ounce boneless, skinless chicken breasts between 2 sheets of plastic wrap or parchment paper; pound to 1/4-inch thickness using a kitchen mallet or a heavy skillet. Season with salt, pepper, and smoked paprika. Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add chicken to pan; sauté for 3 minutes on each side or until cooked through.

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Before Beaters

From fruit salad to chocolate cake, dessert is always more awesome with a dollop of real whipped cream. But you don’t need to lug out a stand mixer to whip up the good stuff. It turns out you can use ye olde Mason jar to make near instant whipped cream (minus the spray can). And you can use the same jar to store any extra in the fridge. No clean-up!

Fast and Furious Method: Place 1 cup cold whipping cream, 1 tablespoon sugar, and 1 teaspoon vanilla extract in a wide-mouth jar. Screw on the lid and shake vigorously for about 1 minute or until you have fluffy cream.

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