NOURISHMENT – Stoke The Fire

Hot Off the Press: 9 Pro Cooking Shortcuts

By Dina Cheney

With summer around the corner, the outdoors beckon. Read on for tips from experts on ways to streamline cooking. Follow these suggestions, and you’ll be able to spend more time at the park and fewer hours at the stove.

1. Schedule meal prep

Many swear by devoting a couple of hours a week to meal prep. “Schedule it as you would a job,” says Kyndra Holley, author of “Craveable Keto Cookbook” (Victory Belt Publishing, January 2018), “30 Minute Ketogenic Cooking” (Victory Belt Publishing, April 2018), “Keto Happy Hour” (Victory Belt Publishing, February 2018) and “Dairy-Free Keto Cooking” (Victory Belt Publishing, July 2019). “Not having to worry about what I am going to eat throughout the week makes those hectic weekdays that much easier and helps me stay on track with my health and fitness goals. Not to mention, it frees up my evenings and gives me more quality time with my family because I am not in the kitchen cooking every night.”

Before you get started, she advises, stock up on glass storage containers, a vacuum sealer and different-size freezer bags. Then cook up various elements, such as whole grains, proteins, legumes and vegetables, suggests New York–based chef Melissa Eboli. To jazz up these meal components, try preparing dressings or sauces, such as the garlic confit and pistachio pesto from Teri Turner, author of “No Crumbs Left: Recipes for Everyday Food Made Marvelous (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, May 2019), recipes below. Finally, cut up fresh vegetables and fruit and hard-boiled eggs. Then, during the week, combine these ingredients in a myriad of ways. For example, for a savory breakfast, assemble cooked quinoa, hard-boiled eggs and roasted tomatoes in a bowl, and drizzle with pistachio pesto.

2. Try sheet-pan cooking

For convenience, cut raw proteins and vegetables into slightly larger than bite-size pieces, and toss with olive oil and seasonings to coat, suggests Nicole Downs, author of “Keto for Foodies” (Victory Belt Publishing, 2019). Spread onto a large, greased sheet pan, and roast in a preheated 400-degree-F oven for about 20 minutes, or until the ingredients are cooked through. One variation could feature diced boneless, skinless chicken breasts, broccoli florets, lemon wedges and sliced bell peppers. No need to keep track of—and later wash—multiple pots and pans.

3. Rely on spice blends

In a few dashes, spice blends add huge helpings of flavor. Chef Nick Stellino, author of 12 cookbooks and star of “Storyteller in the Kitchen” on public television, relies on a mixture of 1 tablespoon each of salt, pepper, paprika, onion powder, garlic powder and brown sugar for roasting vegetables. While Natalia Levey, author of “Cravings Boss” (Balboa Press, 2016), recommends the 21 Seasoning Salute from Trader Joe’s. I often turn to the following commonly available blends: Italian seasoning, chili powder, garam masala, poultry seasoning, pumpkin pie spice, five spice powder, berbere, ras el hanout, za’atar, curry powder, Old Bay seasoning, everything bagel spice, and Trader Joe’s chili lime salt. When I don’t have time to mince fresh garlic cloves, I’ll use garlic powder, which supplies pungent flavor, with zero work on my part.

4. Marinate in the morning

Upon waking up, marinate pork chops or chicken breasts in 2 cups water mixed with 1 tablespoon each of sugar and salt, suggests Stellino. Later that day, roast in a preheated 400-degree-F oven for 12 to 15 minutes or grill. For a quick kebab dinner, Holley will cut up vegetables and marinate chunks of chicken and beef in advance, then grill the components at the last minute. If you run out of time for this step, try purchasing pre-marinated meat or fish at the grocery store.

5. Choose convenience ingredients

Rotisserie chicken is the ultimate meal helper. “You can usually get a great deal, especially later in the evenings when stores tend to clearance them off,” Holley shares. I purchase two per week, shred the meat, and include it in my children’s packed lunches and my own midday salad. The poultry also can star in soups and stews. For a simple idea, heat up chicken broth with sliced carrots and shredded rotisserie chicken, and simmer until the vegetables are cooked through. Stir in fresh dill or parsley and serve.

While in the freezer section, pick up precooked grains (such as brown rice), vegetables (try cauliflower “rice”) and smoothie packs. In the refrigerated area, seek out pre-cut fresh vegetables (coleslaw mix and pre-washed salad greens), peeled garlic cloves and pre-grated Parmesan cheese. Meanwhile, bottled fruit and vegetable purees and jarred sauces and dressings are also helpful. Just look for products free of added sweeteners, such as the Rao’s line of tomato sauces.

6. Pick near-instant proteins and quick cooking methods

For no-cook proteins, stock up on canned seafood (such as tuna and sardines), canned beans (chickpeas) or tofu. With the latter, the drier high-protein variety does not need to be pressed and drained, a savings of about 20 minutes. Among quick-cooking proteins, try eggs, chicken tenders, flank steak, shrimp, scallops and pork tenderloin. Whenever you can, take advantage of the labor of the fishmonger or butcher, as in skinless and boneless chicken, shelled and deveined shrimp, and fish denuded of scales and bones. Then employ efficient cooking methods, especially grilling, broiling, sauteing, stir-frying and steaming. In particular, broiling cooks ingredients in mere minutes—much more rapidly than a standard oven.

7. Cut ingredients into smaller pieces

The smaller the ingredient, the more quickly it will cook. That’s why, instead of baking an entire frittata or meatloaf, try dividing the mixture up among the wells in a muffin pan. Your dish will be ready in roughly half the time. Meanwhile, cut meat into smaller pieces. For instance, cube chicken tenders, halve boneless, skinless chicken breasts and slice pork tenderloin.

8. Your microwave and slow cooker are your friends

For near-instant morning meals, use your microwave. Cover and nuke rolled oats stirred with liquid and seasonings. Or crack an egg into a microwave-safe mug, cover and cook for one to one and a half minutes.

Vegetables are ideal prepared in the microwave. For instance, combine baby carrots, salt and water in a Pyrex, cover and nuke15 minutes. Possibly the most miraculous example, sweet potatoes will be tender in about 15 minutes rather than the one to one and half hours in a standard oven.

Also, consider investing in a slow cooker or Instant Pot. Although these devices cook food slowly, they do all the work while you’re out of the house or focused on other tasks. “Slow cookers are great for those cold winter days when you want something warm and comforting, and equally as perfect for those hot summer days when you don’t want to heat up the oven,” Holley says. Think: brisket, pot roast and stewed black beans.

9. Double and freeze

“Whenever possible, double the batch and freeze the rest,” Holley advises. “I apply this principle to just about everything I cook. If I am in between meal prep or just feel like eating something different than what I have prepped, I make a double batch and freeze the rest so that I am always building my food-prep stash in the freezer.”


Pistachio Pesto*

I have a confession: I am not a fan of basil pesto. It’s too intense. When I developed this gentler, sweeter pistachio pesto, it quickly became a staple in my kitchen. I always have a jar on hand because the nutty sweetness I just can’t get enough of is perfect on almost everything: eggs, fish, chicken salad, or a dollop in a soup. Add it to meat loaf, stuff it into a burger. It’s absolutely out of this world, and a bit of a game changer.



  • 1 cup shelled raw pistachios
  • 1 cup fresh basil leaves
  • 1 cup fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves
  • 3 cloves garlic, pressed
  • ½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper


In a food processor, pulse the raw pistachios until coarsely chopped. Add the basil, parsley, and garlic and pulse until mixed well. With the motor running, slowly add the olive oil, about one-third at a time, and process until combined well. Add the lemon juice, salt, and pepper and pulse until combined well. Serve immediately or store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.

Garlic Confit*

Though people have been making garlic confit for ages, Gjelina, an LA restaurant, certainly brought it to the forefront. That’s where I first tried it, and I’ve been making my own version ever since. I cook the garlic slowly in oil to give it an almost buttery consistency. As essential to my pantry as salt and black  pepper, the tenderness and gentle taste will make this a staple for you, too. You can change this up by using any of your favorite fresh herbs.



  • 4 cups peeled garlic cloves
  • 3 cups extra-virgin olive oil
  • ½ cup fresh basil leaves
  • 2 sprigs rosemary
  • 2 bay leaves


Preheat the oven to 350°F. In a medium baking pan with sides, spread the garlic out evenly. Pour the olive oil over, making sure the  garlic is completely covered with the oil. Tuck in the basil, rosemary, and bay leaves, and bake for 35 minutes, or until the garlic is lightly browned and soft. Remove from the oven and let cool to room temperature. Once cooled, transfer the garlic confit to glass jars, making sure the oil is covering the garlic, and seal the jars. Store in the refrigerator for up to 6 weeks.

No Crumbs Left

*Both recipes excerpted from “No Crumbs Left: Recipes for Everyday Food Made Marvelous © 2019 by Teri Turner LLC. Photography © 2019 by Tim Turner. Reproduced by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. All rights reserved.

Video credit: Multifocus, Shutterstock
Photo credit: Anton Nikolov, Unsplashl Ella Olson, Unsplash; DebbiSmirnoff, Getty Images; Pratiksha Mohanty, Unsplash; istetiana, Getty Images; fotosunny, Shutterstock; HandmadePictures, Getty Images; Jason Briscoe, Unsplash; sherwood, Shutterstock; bonchan, Getty Images; Tim Turner, courtesy Houghton Mifflin Harcourt


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Dina Cheney

Dina Cheney is a writer and recipe developer whose cookbooks include “The New Milks,” “Mug Meals,” “Meatless All Day,” “Year-Round Slow Cooker,” “Williams-Sonoma New Flavors for Salads,” and “Tasting Club.” She has contributed articles and recipes to Every Day with Rachel Ray, Parents, Fine Cooking, Clean Eating, Specialty Food, Coastal Living, The Huffington Post, and more. Cheney is a graduate of The Institute of Culinary Education and Columbia University. Find her online at, and her complete collection of non-dairy resources at