Staff Picks: Our Favorite Kitchen Shortcuts

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[Photograph: Shutterstock]

We love a great big labor-intensive all-day cooking project as much as the next crew of food writers, but that doesn't mean we're above cutting corners—especially when those corners save time and effort without compromising deliciousness. And yes, sometimes we even buy pre-made tomato sauce. From last-minute meals to do-this-all-the-time hacks, here are our go-to cooking cheats. May they serve you well.

Embrace the Freezer

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[Photograph: Shutterstock]

As the occasional baker, I usually have extra egg whites left over from custards and buttercreams. I'll freeze these in ice cube trays and tuck them away for future egg drop soups, macarons, and pavlovas. They're easily portioned out (my silicone ice cube pretty much fills at 30g) and can be defrosted in the fridge or on the counter covered overnight before use. —Leang Chaing

This isn't exactly something you buy, but more something you do: when there's a little leftover wine around, I like to freeze it in an ice cube tray so I don't have to open an whole bottle to add a little to a sauce later on. The same works well for chicken or vegetable stock. —Maggie Hoffman

Whenever I want to add a vegetable to a meal but don't want to deal with roasting/steaming/cooking of any kind, I go for a bag of frozen peas and pop them in the microwave for a few minutes. Just last night I made a meal out of peas, bacon, and honey roasted almonds. —Vicky Wasik

Frozen brown rice! I know it's easy to cook rice, but I usually take about five minutes for a lunch break, and having brown rice ready to go in the freezer is so, so handy. Brown rice + leftovers = lunch. Brown rice + kimchi + egg = lunch. —Maggie Hoffman

Maximize Container Power

I always make vinaigrettes in plastic container: not only does it make mixing way easier (just slap a lid on and give it a good shake), but if there's dressing leftover, it's ready to store instantly. If you're like me and have a go-to dressing that you use regularly, even better—just make it in bulk and use as-needed. You can even get extra-fancy and do the whole thing in a squeeze bottle. —Niki Achitoff-Gray

Purge your storage containers! Who likes fumbling around trying to stack containers of different sizes or look for the right lid? I use only two storage containers: round deli containers, and flat plastic takeout containers. The deli containers come in cup, pint, and quart sizes, but the same lid fits all three so that means no fumbling. The plastic takeout containers are flat, stackable, and very inexpensive, so perfect for leftovers. I use ziplock bags for nearly everything else. My storage container space is organized, compact, and I never have to dig around for the "right" one. —J. Kenji Lopez-Alt

Just Buy It!

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[Photograph: Shutterstock]

Aside from the occasional can of beans or frozen pizza dough, I buy almost all of my ingredients fresh when I'm cooking, but here's a secret: I buy that pre-peeled garlic from the refrigerated produce aisle. It's just so much faster than peeling whole cloves (plus who likes those papery garlic skins getting everywhere? If I'm working on a garlic-forward dish, I'll use the real stuff, but when I've got a ton of prep to do and garlic is gonna just be a secondary flavor, I'm totally fine with the pre-peeled stuff's milder flavor. Pro-tip: buy it at the Asian market where it's about a quarter of the price. —J. Kenji Lopez-Alt

My recipe shortcut is Patsy's marinara sauce. I use it as a base to make spaghetti and meatballs, shrimp marinara, veal parmigiana, eggs in purgatory, pasta with red clam sauce. Its versatility is astounding. —Ed Levine

Seamless Web. When I'm too tired to cook, I do the next logical thing and order takeout. Otherwise, I'm a believer in using store-bought rotisserie chicken to simplify a meal. Shred the meat for a chicken salad, or eat it whole, with a simple salad on the side. —Daniel Gritzer

Work With What You've Got

[Photograph: Vicky Wasik]

When I want chicken stock and don't feel like committing to a full recipe, I'll take store-bought stock and throw in chopped vegetables and some cheap chicken parts (feet are best) and simmer them for a while to give it a little more balance and body. It takes less time than starting from scratch but makes for better flavor in stock-heavy soups or stews. If I want to expend even less effort, though, a little powdered gelatin to a store-bought stock can also help it thicken enough to form, say, the base of a rich pan sauce, something you literally can't accomplish with the straight-from-the-box stuff. Seriously, gelatin is crazy versatile. —Niki Achitoff-Gray

Use the microwave efficiently! A lot of people are scared of the microwave and think it's only for convenience food, but it's a fantastic tool if applied properly. For reheating liquids, there's nothing faster. In fact, if you want a pot of water to come to a boil faster, fill it half way with water and set it on the stovetop. Microwave the other half for a couple minutes then add them together. It'll come to a boil in about half the time as pure stovetop cooking. I also use the microwave to defrost frozen bread (go with short times at a moderate power rating and don't let the bread get above room temp), for cooking bacon (sandwich it between paper towels on a microwave-safe plate and microwave on high for about 10 minutes), or par-cooking potatoes for hash or eggplants for a stir fry. It's a great tool. —J. Kenji Lopez-Alt

Boiling a whole pot of dried chickpeas ahead of time without knowing what I'm going to cook. Because chickpeas are super versatile and homemade chickpeas taste so much better than canned chickpeas. Eventually I find a use for them! —Tracie Lee