Cooking shortcuts are little tricks that let you make good food without the full-on effort. We're not talking semi-homemade, though -- simply a few timesavers that speed things up.
Rice goes so well with so many main dishes from chicken and beef to veggie stir-fries. You can eat it plain or dress it up with add-ins such as veggies, cheese and seasonings. Making it from scratch, however, can take awhile, and instant rice isn't always that tasty.
The solution? Skip the boxed instant and go premade. Many stores now sell frozen, pre-cooked rice. Try the Thai Jasmine Rice from Trader Joe's, which cooks in the microwave in just minutes. Or look for brown rice in your supermarket's freezer section for a fast, healthy, fiber-friendly side.
Another trick: Save your leftover rice. When you get take-out, save the cartons of rice to have on another night that week. To cook, steam the rice in a steamer insert for 10 minutes or so. It will be as good as new, and totally delish.
Fresh garlic adds wonderful taste to so many dishes, but sometimes you just don't have time to mince it up. Sure, you could add garlic powder, but it doesn't give quite the same flavor to a dish.
Instead, try jarred (or frozen) garlic when the dish you are making will cook at length. "I always used jarred garlic in soups and casseroles. Garlic takes me forever to chop, and if it's not the key ingredient, you can't tell the difference," says food writer Maris Callahan, who blogs about her creations at In Good Taste. If garlic is front and center in a dish, however, do stick with fresh.
Want a tangy flavor without the measuring and mixing? Try chili sauce. "I loathe ketchup, but chili sauce is great! It fleshes out BBQ sauces and adds a tangy flavor to a lot of dishes without a lot of effort on my part," says cookbook author Rachel Rappaport.
Need to chop veggies for a soup or sauce? It can take awhile if you do it by hand -- but who says you have to? Instead, toss onions, carrots and whatever else you need into your food processor (or mini food prep) and pulse until you get your desired chop.
If you need something sliced, a full-size food processor fitted with a slicing disk does it in seconds.
How many times have you opened a canister, needing to measure its contents out fast, but had to take time to find the right measure? Save time by keeping a measuring cup handy all the time. "I keep a quarter-cup measuring cup in my flour, white sugar, brown sugar, etc. That way, I never have to go digging for one," says Cate O'Malley, who writes Sweetnicks.
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