Although you may love rolling up your sleeves and embarking on an ambitious cooking project now and then, most days you are scrambling for an extra hour as you whip together dinner. Thankfully, having these tricks up our sleeves makes quick work of breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
Cut it smaller: Keep this in mind as you chop and slice through your veggies—especially thick root vegetables, like potatoes, beets, and carrots. Cutting them smaller means there is more surface area to make contact with the heat. There is also a shorter distance for the heat to travel as it penetrates the center of the vegetable. Think about a baked potato: The centermost-portion of the potato stays raw longest. So instead of cooking one giant baked potato, cook dozens of miniature potato parts.
Equally important to small pieces are uniformly-sized pieces. If half of your sweet potato is chopped in 1-inch cubes, and the other half is centimeters thick, either the big ones will be underdone, the little ones will be burnt, or worse, both.
Just use a grater: What cooks even quicker than small cubes of vegetables? Tiny, thin shards of vegetables. Use a box grater or the grating attachment on a food processor for bigger jobs. This will turn fibrous produce into shredded vegetables you can sauté in seconds, or flash-fry into crispy goodness.
Go boneless: If you have a schedule to keep, buy boneless. Better yet: Buy bone-in and remove the bones ahead of time when you have got an extra few minutes, then use them to make stock. Bypassing the bone means all you have to cook is the meat.
Pound it thinner: You have gone boneless. Now go flat. The thicker the meat, the longer it will take to cook. (Consider a steak—the thinner edges are always more well-done than the fat center.) So get out the meat mallet and whack away, creating a wider, thinner piece of meat. Just be sure not to overcook it; this can happen fast. And remember that fattier, bone-in cuts of meat have more flavor than boneless, skinless options. Make up the difference by breading the meat with cheese and spices, like mustard powder.
Just add water—or stock: Liquid is a good conductor of heat, so adding a splash of water, stock, or broth to your pan will speed up the cooking process. In fact, one of the first techniques taught in many culinary schools is how to sauté vegetables to tenderness without overcooking them: Start them in a sauté pan with a splash of water, a pat of butter, and salt and pepper, and cover with a tented parchment paper cap. By the time the water evaporates, the vegetables are almost done cooking; all that’s left for you to do is let the butter caramelize them. You can skip the parchment paper at home, but keep an eye out so the vegetables do not scorch once the water evaporates.
Cover it up: Boiling or simmering away? Cover the pot with a tight-fitting lid, and trap in the heat and steam that will do double-duty on your food. But keep in mind: If you are trying to reduce and thicken a sauce, keep that lid off so the liquid can evaporate faster.