I don’t know about you, but I believe cooking should be fun! The whole process can feel a bit magical — slicing up ingredients into the perfect size, letting them sizzle in a pot, adding in just the right amount of seasoning and spices, and smelling the mouth-watering aroma as it all comes together. Then you get to enjoy a (hopefully) tasty meal! What’s not to love about that?
It doesn’t matter if you’re experimenting with new ingredients or whipping up a recipe for the whole family, it’s always nice when it doesn’t feel like just another chore on your to-do list. Even if you’re rolling your sleeves up to make something you’ve done a million times, there could be a trick you’ve been missing that makes it even easier — and more delicious.
Luckily, there are plenty of tips out there that can help take all the frustration out of food prep. Whether it’s something one of our FIRST editors stumbled upon while cooking in their own kitchen or a newly-discovered bit of advice from a food pro, we’ve gathered up all the best advice we could get our hands on.
Take a look below to learn all the best cooking tips that will make your next recipe a breeze!
This story originally appeared in our sister site, First for Women.
Keep Herbs Fresher Longer
While drying herbs is a great way to extend their shelf life, many people prefer the flavors of fresh herbs. Freezing herbs in butter or oil is a great way to preserve the crisp flavor.
You can use melted butter or another oil like avocado oil or olive oil. Wash your herbs and remove any stems and brown leaves, then pat dry. Depending on what herb you’re using, you can either mince or chop. Some can be left whole, like rosemary leaves. You can even mix and match herbs, just make sure you remember which ones you used! Once your herbs are chopped, place a big pinch or two into each hole in a clean ice tray. Then, fill with oil or melted butter about 2/3 the way up, being careful not to overfill. Finally, you can cover your ice tray with plastic wrap and leave in the freezer. That’s it!
To use, you can simply remove one or two cubes of the frozen mixtures and drop them into any recipe or dish — no need to thaw! The best part is, this trick preserves the flavor of the fresh herbs for up to six months in the freezer. That means you never have to waste all that pure green cilantro again!
Say Goodbye to Soggy Roasted Veggies
The only thing our vegetables need to keep from getting mushy is about a tablespoon of cornstarch before roasting them. Start by tossing the veggies with olive oil and any spices you’d like, then sprinkle on the cornstarch, and roast them as you normally would.
Another helpful tip: Put your empty pan in the oven right after you set the temperature, so it warms up as the oven preheats before spreading your vegetables on it. Then carefully add a couple tablespoons of oil to the hot pan before popping it back in the oven for a few more minutes to make sure it’s really good and warm. Once that’s ready, you can add the veggies in a single layer and expect a nicely browned crust when you pull them back out again.
Make the Best Batch of Rice
If you look on the back of your bag of rice, you’ll probably notice a step most of us skip at the very start: rinsing the grains. It might seem pointless since you’ll be tossing them in water anyway, but it really does serve an important purpose.
According to the experts at Cook’s Illustrated, simply rinsing your rice before you cook it is the best way to achieve distinct, individual grains instead of one big lump. Giving them a quick bath helps to get rid of any excess starch that can cause that unwanted gummy texture.
Never Get Limp Asparagus Stuck in Your Teeth Again
According to chef James Currie of SORTEDfood, you should peel the tough ends of the asparagus stalk, leaving an inch or so of the thinner skin just underneath the leafy top, then cure them in a 50/50 mixture of salt and sugar for 10 minutes to eke out all the moisture. You can then rinse them off and cook as you normally would.
Slice an Onion for More Flavor
The experts at Cook’s Illustrated tested out eight white onions that they cut in two different ways: pole to pole (with the grain) and parallel to the equator (against the grain). According to their results, the onions that were sliced pole to pole were noticeably less flavorful in both taste and odor compared to those cut along the equator. If that seems like far too simple a reason for such a big change in taste, you can try testing it out yourself the next time you’re whipping up a meal that requires onions.
Don't Stress Making Everything From Scratch
This advice comes from the Pioneer Woman, Ree Drummond, who told TODAY: “I really think my number one piece of advice for a beginning home cook is to not expect [too much of] yourself, [don’t] put the pressure on yourself to make every single component of every meal from scratch,” Drummond elaborated. “Making things from scratch is amazing and I love to do it, but when you can find really high quality, really delicious tasting ingredients to help a meal along, then don’t be afraid to try them!”
Rescue Over-Salted Recipes
A simple option that can help suck out extra salt: add potatoes. Whether it’s a soup or something you’re sautéing, you can use a raw potato to try and soak up the excess flavor. In a soup, you can just plop an unpeeled potato right in and let it simmer for about half an hour.
For other dishes, chop or slice the potato so that it fits into your cooking method and give it plenty of time to work its magic (without burning the rest of your food). It will also add some of the starchy flavor to your meal, and might only make a subtle difference in the saltiness, but that can be exactly what you need to revive recipes from yuck to yum. It's up to you if you want to keep the potato pieces in or discard them after letting them do their salt-reducing job.
Whip Up the Most Tender Bacon
Bacon can be difficult to whip it up just right. Thankfully, there’s an easy solution for the perfect flavor and texture — all you need is a little water!
That’s right, adding some water to your frying pan will help the meat cook up both crispy and tender, rather than hard and crumbly. The folks at Cook’s Illustrated explain that water will keep the "initial cooking temperature low and gentle, so the meat retains its moisture and stays tender." Also, by the time it starts to boil, the fat will be almost completely rendered, so you're less likely to burn the meat while the fat cooks off.
Make Sweet Potato Mash Zing
One simple taste-boosting hack will change your sweet mash game altogether: adding a little bit of orange juice.
Yes, you read that right. Adding 1/4 to 1/2 cup of orange juice to sweet potato mash will make it taste even better, and your kids will be begging you for more. Why? Because the citrus juice adds a tangy, tantalizing zing to your potatoes that will give them new life. The best part about adding orange juice to your sweet potato mash is that you can add it to both savory and sweet varieties. So, whatever your sweet potatoes preference— whether it be a sweeter mash with cinnamon and maple syrup or a savory dish with butter and garlic — the orange juice is going to give your dish a kick that will take you out of this world.
Wipe Away Onion Smells on Your Hands
The secret is to rub your hands on something made of stainless steel — and that includes your sink basin. Yes, you read that right. Once you’re done chopping your onions, you can wash all your dishes and then brush your hands up against the sides of a stainless steel sink to remove any lingering onion odor.
If you don’t have a stainless steel sink, you can use stainless steel cookware or stainless steel cutlery.
Use This 10-Second Trick for Perfectly Poached Eggs
Julia Child's poached egg recipe starts off basic: Boil a large pot of water. Then, poke a teeny-tiny hole in your egg using a safety pin to release any air inside that could cause the shell to crack — the hole will be be small enough that you needn't worry about any liquids escaping. Lower the egg into the pot of boiling water for 10 seconds and 10 seconds only. Then, remove it with a slotted spoon and turn down the heat, waiting until the water has reached a simmer.
Wait, isn't this a poached egg recipe and not a hard-boiled egg recipe? You're right! The next step is to crack the egg and gently release it into the simmering water. Let the egg cook for about 3 to 4 minutes, then remove with your slotted spoon and let it drain over the pot. Once you've got your perfectly poached egg out of the pot, place it on a whole-wheat English muffin for a healthy eggs Benedict.
Use Your Instant Pot for Perfect Hard Boiled Eggs
Remove the guesswork when it comes to hard-boiled eggs with the 5-5-5 Method. First, pour water into your Instant Pot, and then place a trivet on top. Second, place your eggs on top of the trivet, seal the Instant Pot, and set it to high pressure for five minutes. Third, let the eggs sit for five minutes while the Instant Pot releases pressure. Last, remove your eggs and place them in an ice bath for five minutes to halt the cooking process.
An obvious benefit of the 5-5-5 Method is that you don't have to worry about overcooking or undercooking your eggs. Now, you can press a few buttons and walk away without worrying that your eggs will be slightly gray and stinky (tell-tale signs of an overcooked egg) or still runny (undercooked) when you peel them.
Roast Brussels Sprouts Like a Pro
Tossing a pan of Brussels sprouts in the oven is one thing, but actually serving a delectable tray of them is a whole different story. The worst thing that could happen is you end up with charred, wilted greens. So, what's the secret to crispy, crunchy Brussels?
According to Anthony Cole, executive chef of Chatham Bars Inn in Massachusetts, it's all about the oil you use and how high you set the oven. "Use a very light amount of fat, then just put it in a really, really hot oven, like 450 degrees is what we do at home," Cole told PopSugar. "Lay the sprouts flat on a sheet tray so they're not piled up on top of each other, and just roast those suckers." The sprouts only need to bake for 10 to 15 minutes before they're done, but keep an eye on them in case you need to remove them early.
Massage the Bitterness Out of Kale
It may sound like odd advice, but giving the leafy green a little rub down can make it taste mild, sweet, and totally edible. But before you start, go ahead and get rid of the stems. They are the thick, stringy culprit for a large portion of that unpalatable taste. Once those are out of the way, you can chop up the leaves, rinse them off, and get massaging.
The experts at Bon Appétit also recommend adding a pinch of salt and a squeeze of lemon or vinegar, then crunching the kale between your hands. They caution against over massaging the leaves, though. “You know what’s worse than tough kale? Mushy kale.” We have to agree. The trick seems to be rubbing them down until they just barely start to wilt.
Invest In the Ultimate Kitchen Tool
While promoting the revival of his how Good Eats, Alton Brown spoke with Men’s Journal about his essential kitchen tools. “I don’t understand how people can exist without a board scraper or a dough blade,” he explained. He’s so baffled by it, in fact, that he makes sure to pack one in his suitcase every time he travels. “I spend a lot of time in AirBnBs and they never have one in the kitchen.”
You might be wondering how a simple board scraper could be so beneficial or even what one is. They are broad metal or plastic blades (but not sharp) that are typically used for shaping ingredients in recipes like bread or pizza dough, but Brown explained how they can be helpful in other ways, too. “I move things around with it. If you chop up a bunch of ingredients, how are you going to move them all around? I use it as an extension of my hand. I can use it to clean a counter quickly. I find it’s an extremely simple but useful addition to any kitchen.”
Stop Waiting For Pasta Water to Boil
Another trick we picked up from Mr. Brown is to start by putting the pasta in the pot, then cover it with cold water, instead of waiting for the water to boil. This not only saves time, but gives you perfectly al dente noodles. Set it on the stove and wait for the boil. Once it starts bubbling, reduce the heat to simmer for a few minutes, then scoop it out with a slotted spider strainer
Defrost Leftovers in Record Time
J. Kenji López-Alt, chef and food writer from Serious Eats, explains that exposure to air causes sublimation, more commonly known as freezer burn. "The two enemies of frozen food are air and time,” he says. Slowly freezing over time, on the other hand, can cause large ice crystals to form. These mess with the cell structure of the food and makes it watery.
Thankfully, there’s a totally easy solution to make sure your meals don’t get all wet and mushy after chilling out in the freezer. Instead of using Tupperware or large containers, freeze your food flat by pouring or smoothing it out in a plastic freezer bag. This makes the surface area larger, which in turn makes it both freeze and defrost faster and more evenly. When done carefully, it also decreases the amount of air that can get in and cause freezer burn.
Make Fish Smell Less "Fishy"
When it comes to serving up dinner for your family, there are few more divisive options than fish. It doesn’t matter if you’re cooking a mild tilapia or a stronger salmon, the reputation for pungent odors can ruin a cranky teen or even a doting husband's appetite before he or she sits down to take a bite.
Luckily, there are a few ways to decrease the fishiness in any dish you’re preparing (if it hasn't simply gone bad). Harold McGee, a food science expert, recommends thoroughly rinsing the fish with cold water before you prepare it. “Oxidized fats, bacteria, and TMA on the surface can be rinsed off with tap water,” he told Discover magazine. He also recommends cooking the fish with acidic ingredients like lemons, vinegar, and tomatoes to help tame the aroma. You can also try soaking fish in milk for about 20 minutes to extract the odor-causing compounds and leave it with a fresher flavor.