9 Cooking Steps You Should Feel Free to Skip

Like most people, when I was figuring out my way around a kitchen, I always cooked from recipes…

…and I followed those recipes to the letter, assuming if I didn’t, the result would be a culinary catastrophe. I stuck with the instructions even when I had no idea what they meant — like that time I dutifully poured some hot basting liquid down the drain after reading a step that said “reduce sauce by a third.”

Fast forward a few decades when, if I’m even using a recipe, I find myself looking at it through my shortcut goggles. What can I cheat? What can I swap? What can I skip? Turns out, a lot. Here are a few things I’ve found I can pass right over…

Measuring Water to Grain Ratio It’s crazy that I’ve been cooking as long as I have and still have to read the instructions on a label to remind myself of the liquid-to-grain ratio and the varying cooking times. Is it 2:1 for wheat berries and 2 1/2: 1 for farro? Or the opposite? Or neither? Guess what, it doesn’t matter! I’ve learned you can just cook your wheat berries, farro, and barley like you cook your pasta, covering with water and simmering until the grains taste firm-tender. I still use the packages for general timing guidelines, but my anxiety around perfectly cooked grains has been significantly diminished. (For whatever reason, I’m too scared to try this method with quinoa or rice, but it has definitely been done.)

Preheating the Oven I always used to laugh at my kids who wouldn’t place their frozen Trader Joe’s taquitos in the oven until it had preheated to exactly 400°F, not a minute sooner. When you’re reheating food that’s already been cooked, there’s no harm in placing it on a rack the moment you turn on the heat. Your food will warm as the oven warms. There is not complicated chemistry involved in warming up a leftover lasagna or a frozen fully cooked chicken finger. Baking something from scratch? That’s another story. Take it from the girl who routinely (accidentally!) omits the baking soda — you want to be really careful about skipping steps in baking…

Sifting Together Dry Ingredients …Except for this one! The day I read that you can whisk together dry ingredients (flour, baking powder, salt, etc) directly in the mixing bowl as opposed to hand-cranking a rusty-old sifter (they’re always rusty! Why?) was the day I started to hate baking, with all its annoyingly precise sciencey rules, a little bit less.

Cooking or Thawing Frozen Vegetables You can either add frozen vegetables directly to your pot (think peas into a risotto or a stir-fry or corn kernels into warmed polenta) or you can run them under hot water in a strainer (like green beans or chopped spinach) until they have thawed. You’ve just saved yourself at least five minutes and maybe even an extra pot to wash.

Peeling Carrots Put away the peeler! Unless for some reason the exterior of your carrot looks extra stringy and rough, there is no need to waste all that good veg. A good scrub will do the trick.

Washing Chicken If only my mom knew this in the ’80s. I have such vivid memories of her coming home from work and rushing to put dinner on the table. Ninety-percent of the time, that dinner involved chicken which meant rinsing and patting every breast or leg before adding it to the skillet. If she only knew that bacteria is killed through the normal process of cooking! And that dry chicken — as opposed to still sorta wet chicken — browns and roasts so much more effectively. (My mom also drives approximately 30% faster when she’s purchased butter at the store and wants to get it into the refrigerator ASAP, but that’s another story.)

Soaking Beans Overnight There’s a caveat here. Ever since I discovered dried heirloom beans, I find great comfort in soaking a pile of coronas or limas in a big bowl right before I go to sleep, knowing that they’ll be ready to go for dinner the next day. Romance and ritual aside, though, is this even necessary? No. It will just take longer for your beans to cook if you haven’t pre-soaked. If you haven’t thought ahead to soak overnight, boil beans for 5 minutes, then remove from heat, and let sit for another 45 minutes. At that point, they’ll be ready to throw into whatever recipe you’re making. (P.S. I’m sure you already know that an Instant Pot makes this process even faster.)

Trimming Cilantro How much do I dread picking off the little tiny thyme leaves from the sprig, or trimming basil or mint leaves from their woody stems? It’s no surprise that cilantro is my favorite herb, precisely because their stems are so tender, you can chop them right up along with the leaves or throw the entire bunch in to the blender with your avocado, cucumber, olive oil, and jalapeno for soup. Excuse me one second while I just go ahead and make that…

Pricking Baking Potatoes I’ve literally never done this in my life and I’ve baked approximately eight thousand russets. (And delicious russets at that!) Is this something people do unquestioningly out of ritualistic habit? Does it have something to do with tuber explosions? Will someone please explain?

P.S. Toby’s cookies that will blow you away (he skips a step! One that I always thought was crucial!) and 9 easy family meals we’ve loved to death.