My love of kitchen shortcuts is no big secret. I understand the gratification that comes from making pasta by hand or pie crust "from scratch"—I also love to relax on the couch with a book. So when it comes to pre-made or pre-assembeled ingredients that make cooking easier, I don't get snooty. Listen, here is my take: If the amount of labor in a recipe is going to prevent you from making it, why not cut down on the labor so it's more manageable? You'll be putting on your apron in no time. Right?
I contacted the Bon Appétit's brilliant associate food editor Janet McCracken to see what she thought of my some of my favorite shortcuts. I'm very pleased to announce that she endorsed many of them.
Here's a list of my favorite culinary alleys to cut through:
1. Pre-grated cheese. I know, you're probably thinking, "My gosh how hard is it to run some cheddar through the Cuisinart or use your grater?" (Especially since the invention of the microplane—the world's best graters?) TOO HARD! That's the answer. Homemade pizza is so easy to make and a great way to force more vegetables into your diet. But, if you don't have a dishwasher or an hour to grate cheese, you might not make that pizza thanks to the thought of cleaning the food processor or potentially skinning your knuckles on a grater. So, buy the pre-grated. Janet agrees with me completely. She buys pre-grated cheese too.
2. I don't sift. There, I said it. Back in the day of the blueberry and maple cupcakes that I made for Project Recipe, I talked to the Bon Appétit Test Kitchen about sifting and they told me they don't do it either! Generally, a vigorous whisking delivers the same effect. Janet said she'll sift if it's "a really fancy cake." I'm a casual type of girl. (Here's more info about sifting from Bon Appétit.)
3. Frozen puff pastry. There are so many uses for this stuff. Pot pie toppers, cheese straws, Palmier cookies—they all start with the humble frozen puff, at least in my kitchen. Janet approves: "It takes a dedicated baker to make their own puff pastry. The frozen variety, especially the ones made with butter, are great." Janet went so far as to say that she would understand if I used a frozen pie crust (I have a terrible pie crust track record) if it kept me baking pies. I'm not giving up yet though.
4. Pre-sliced mushrooms. I just don't see why not. Neither does Janet. However, she washes hers. I sometimes rub them with a wet paper towel.
5. And More! I think I got Janet excited about shortcuts because she added, "I don't have time to make my own stock. I used canned broth." Hallelujah! The only stock I've ever made was the short-cut turkey stock. The name appealed to me. "On occasion I have purchased pre-cut sweet potatoes for weeknight grilled fries," Janet said. I have been known to purchase frozen Trader Joe's fries—I can't believe how much Janet and I have in common! Janet also "doctor(s) up jarred tomato sauce all the time."
It's nice to realize that even food professionals enjoy the easier way out now and then.