Aaah cooking is a tricky one for many busy people… Until they come across cooking hacks!
At the same time, we want to save time but we also want to eat healthy and for cheap (plus some people like me really enjoy cooking)!
As I’ve been thinking about an article like this for a while, I reached out to a few people to help me come up with the best cooking hacks.
- One of them is my friend Paul Braicovich who is both French & Italian and the CFO at Cook It and wrote parts of this article. Cook it is a Montreal-based startup that helps you save time cooking by delivering meal boxes that include all the ingredients you need to cook delicious meals.
- My mom and grandma are excellent cooks and would have disinherited me if I published an article like this without including our family special cooking hacks!
- Ines “Schubi” who is a fit vegan coach and provides amazing content on her instagram.
Together, we have come up with some nifty cooking hacks and a system that will help you eat healthy meals without spending countless hours in the kitchen, and that will make your wallet happy.
Let’s hack cooking…
- 1. Equipment
- 2. Planning & Grocery Hacks
- 3. Preparation
- 4. Cooking and Re-heating
- 5. Preservation
- Got a hack to add to this collection? Go ahead and share it in the comments 👇
“Give me six hours to chop down a tree, and I’ll spend the first four sharpening the axe” – Abraham Lincoln
Let’s start with the basics: good & fast cooking starts with the proper equipment.
Here we will start with the “classic” must-use tool and not the youtube-1second-cheap-onion-chopper type.
You don’t have to go crazy with a $300 set of knives right away (if ever), but having the proper equipment to cut, cook and preserve food is a must.
If Paul had to choose two, it would be a Chef’s knife and a paring knife. They need to be sharp enough (you also need a sharpener).
Once you have them, prepping is going to be easier, faster and safer.
If you don’t have anything, you could consider a 15-piece Cuisinart knife set, pretty good and start at about $80. Can be ceramic but doesn’t have to.
On a related note, invest in a good potato peeler: it will save you a lot of time when cutting veggies!
To use your knife properly, you’ll also need a good cutting board that is also large enough.
Paul & I use wooden boards because of the antibacterial properties of wood. Hey, they’re also classier and eco-friendly!
Inès recommends using a bamboo chopping board as it’s better to avoid mold when it’s drying.
Let’s get cooking!
Most people only really need one good pan.
If you have to buy one, go for a thicker type as the temperature is going to be more homogenous when cooking plus they tend to be more resistant. But please don’t go with super thin low-cost pans.
Regarding the material, it can be either a stone pan or aluminum one.
I personally use this stone pan:
Good pots are also must-haves, and even if good ones are better, there is less quality difference between models than with pans.
Usually, you’ll need at least two pots:
- A large one (we’re talking at least 4L) for pasta. The Italian said it!
- a smaller one (about 1.5-2L) for sauce or rice
I don’t own & use cooking robots, but my Mom and grandma made me include this section!
They swear by them and repeat that it saves them “so much time” and allows them to do other things at the same time. And having been raised with their delicious Canards à l’orange, I do nothing but trust them!
The one brand they use in particular is Thermomix, a cooking robot that can cook, grind and knead. It costs a little fortune (around $1500), but it seems worth it if you can afford it and cook that often. It seems like the ultimate cooking hack if you can invest in a robot.
Plus they come with great recipes handbooks, and my grandmother can even use a USB key with pre-loaded recipe settings in hers!
Inès provided a wallet-friendlier option which can be found on your local ad listing website for less than $100 and consists of:
- 1 blender for liquids
- 1 mincer that can also grate (with a different blend)
Food Storage Containers & Zip Lock
As we’ll see more in details with the system and cooking hacks we’ve come up with, you need to be able to store food if you want to save time, eat healthy & cheaply.
When it comes to food storage containers, I highly recommend glass ones as they last longer and make re-heating easier, not to mention they make nice plates! You can find surprisingly cheap ones at the dollar store.
You’ll also need a good set of food storage bags (this kind) to preserve food in the freezer for instance. As for food storage containers, great deals are to be found at the dollar store.
2. Planning & Grocery Hacks
When I was talking about a system to save time, money and eat healthy I was mainly thinking about this part of the article.
If you plan your meals in advance, do the needed groceries and prepare them, you’ve got a pretty neat system in place. And this goes back to the bulking productivity principle.
This system has several advantages:
- You do things in bulk which equals fewer interruptions to cook (which might be the most important of all cooking hacks)
- You can cook several meals at the same time, saving you time
- You can buy things in bulk at the groceries and save money
- You can do the groceries less often (I’ve gone up to the point where I went every three weeks)
- You need eat out less often
- You choose what’s on your plate
- You help reduce food waste which as Paul points out, 30% of food produced goes to waste.
Starting to picture the system?
You plan & do the big groceries every three weeks for cheap, once a week you block 2 hours to prepare your delicious and healthy meals for the week, you put them in the fridge or freezer… and you get to enjoy them and not think about food for a whole week!
What Paul does as he likes cooking too much is that he always cook more portions than needed in the evening and then eats them for lunch on the next day.
This part highly depends on how you eat like if you follow a diet, your personal preferences etc.
Regardless of that, we all have our “classic meals” which makes planning is pretty easy: you break down your meals per day of the week and shuffle your “classic meals” several times during the week.
To avoid boredom be creative and think of different ways of eating the same thing with nearly the same ingredients. For instance, a burrito can become a naked burrito bow, a salad or even a sandwich!
This will allow you to cook them in bulk as we’ll see.
This is perhaps my favourite part because I feel it’s where you have the most data to optimize (and potential to save money!).
A few rules about grocery lists:
- Make a list before going grocery shopping. Make sure you need everything you buy. Less waste.
- Use an app or digital to-do list tool to make that list. Same as for a to-do list, you will never forget it, you can easily and quickly edit it and share it!
Here are my favourite grocery hacks:
- Find the cheapest store near you. For instance, I go to a pretty weird place called Segal’s Market in Montreal that features the best prices… since 1927! Sure, the brands are not always the same you see in big supermarkets, but the deals will make you forget that!
- Hunt for deals and coupons if you shop at classic grocery stores. There are countless mobile apps that can help, and I’ve even successfully launched one when at Yellow Pages. This one for instance would find deals and coupons at your favourite store based on your grocery list.
- Know your grocery store reductions patterns. If you pay attention, you will start to notice that for instance cheese is always discounted on Mondays and Tuesdays. Use that!
- Please do the math! When comparing products, make sure to compare price per g/kg/unit to get the real numbers.
- Check your bill as there can be mistakes. Like the time I got billed six bottles of expensive olive oil instead of 1!
- Prepared items are often more expensive like grated cheese. Learn to prepare them yourself: they’ll be fresher and cheaper.
- When shopping, look up & down the shelves to spot the cheapest products. Big companies fight and negotiate hard to be located in the middle of shelves because it’s where the consumer’s eyes are.
- Buy some non-perishables ingredients in large quantities (rice, pasta, tomato sauce…) it’s going to be cheaper, and you will always have something to prepare a quick meal. No need to order some take-out!
- Learn the tricks grocery stores use to make you buy more!
What are yours?
Now let’s get cooking!
Good cooking starts with good preparation. And good preparation can help you save time.
Here are some tips:
- Prepare and freeze sauce like fresh herbs & olive oil. It will be ready when you need it!
- Prepare and freeze things you often do as a general rule: like omelet preparation. Talk about cooking hacks!
- Freeze cut onions or fruits (or buy them this way if they’re not more expensive)
- Avocado dices
- Open your avocado in half
- Take the seed out
- Cut the flesh horizontally and vertically to prepare salad-or-anything-ready avocado dices!
- Eggs – I LOVE eggs hacks, don’t ask me why!
- Crack eggs on a flat surface and hold with one finger on each side over the “middle” of the egg
- Need to separate white and yellow egg easily? Use an empty water bottle to “suck” the yolk.
- Learn how to chop properly. You will save so much time, it’s safer, and the result will be better. Usually, people are terrible at it.
- Put olive oil on your knife, so that cut pieces don’t stick to your knife
- Semi-unfrozen chicken is way easier to cut. Don’t freeze chicken for that but if you’re unfreezing some chicken, don’t unfreeze it completely to cut it.
- If you need to quickly cool down a liquid or a sauce, put it in a glass bottle and put wet paper around it in the freezer for a quick cooling effect.
4. Cooking and Re-heating
If you’ve prepped a good way, cooking will be easy and fast thanks to the following cooking hacks!
A key thing to incorporate if you want to save time while cooking is that cooking takes the same time whether it’s for one plate or 5, so make 5!
You will still have to prepare different plates if you don’t want to eat the same plate over and over again. Prepare more of each, freeze them and spread them during the week!
The good thing is that you can cook multiple things at the same time, especially if you have four burners like most people. You could also cook some pasta at the same time as you prepare a salad!
Quick tips there as well:
- For anything involving boiling water, either
- Have the water boil faster with a water boiler
- Use a large pan to have the water boil faster due to the larger part of the pan in contact with the burner
- Eggs Hacks – told you I loved them!
- For hard-boiled eggs, you can
- Slice them with the shell on to make it go away easily
- “Blow” them as Tim Ferriss (as in the video below)
- For hard-boiled eggs, you can
Minute-Meals & Microwave Hacks
Sometimes we don’t have time to cook properly. Shit happens but it shouldn’t force you to buy fast food.
Make sure you always have a few minute-meals in mind if you don’t have prepared meals ready.
And microwaves are a godsend to cook incredibly fast!
Here are a few things you can cook in the microwave:
- Water: seriously, great way to prepare water for a cup of tea (or to reheat coffee)
- Eggs (again!): This was a revelation for me. Mix them and put them in the microwave. As a rule of thumb one egg = 1 minute.
- Rice (this was recommended to me in an indian cooking class!):
- Proportions: 1 cup of rice = 1 cup of water
- Time: 10 minutes per cup of rice
- Proportions: put the same as with a cooking pot
- Time: add 3-4 minutes to the suggested cooking time
- Sweet potatoes: just poke some holes in them and put them in the microwave for 2-3 minutes and voilà!
See the “reheating hacks” section below for some microwave reheating genius!
When you start preparing food for a whole week or more, reheating becomes an important part of your eating routine. That’s if you want to eat hot!
Reheating in ovens is best for food like bread or pizzas as it doesn’t dry them or makes them “mushy”.
For anything else, the microwave is your friend!
Microwave heat water particles to heat food, so to prevent your food from coming out burnt or dry, make sure to either:
- Add some sauce
- Add a splash on water/olive oil/butter on your plate
- Add a shot of water in the microwave with it if you have no other option (for bread or pizza for instance)
Have you ever heated something for a reasonable amount of time in the microwave, you take a bite and its cold? Few tricks to prevent that:
- Deconstruct your meal to spread the heating
- Mix your plate every minute
- Use the right container: a plate or glass container is way better than your takeout container!
If we want to keep for a few days, you’ll want to preserve it the right way!
Fridge or Freezer?
The eternal question!
Here are my rules about that:
- Prepared food that I will eat in the next three days goes in the fridge
- Food that I will eat in more than three days goes in the freezer.
- Bonus: move the food you’ll eat in the next day from your freezer to your fridge!
If you have to carry sauce or “saucy” food like a bolognaise, I have a hack for you.
Wrap the “closing” part of your container in cellophane.
It’s simple, but it works! I’ve even gone so far as carrying some Nuoc Mam fish sauce!
Special Food Preservation
Some food has special preservation hacks, here goes:
- Add lemon to avocado or keep it with it seed to keep it fresh longer
- Put avocados with apple & bananas so that they’re ready quicker
- Freeze peeled bananas to keep then from rotting
- Eggs – you know it!
- Want to know if an egg is still good to eat? Put in a glass of water. If it sinks, good. If it floats, no good.
That was cooking, hacked.