Monday, February 4, 2019

Around the Kitchen Table - Our Cooking Shortcuts #Giveaway

Peg Cochran:  Do you ever take cooking "shortcuts"?   

I do sometimes.  I often use the chopped garlic in a jar when I’m in a hurry.  I know nothing beats a fresh clove, newly chopped, but when you cook every single meal yourself, you don’t always feel like going to all that trouble.  I’ve found the stuff in the jar usually works out fine.  Same with the ginger paste in a jar.  I don’t know about you, but I’ve never mastered chopping ginger effectively.  It’s fibrous and tough to cut. 

Then there are the recipes that call for using canned soup.
  I have to confess to indulging in one of them the other night when I threw together a quick Chicken Divan for our dinner that used up some leftover chicken, the remains of some broccoli and a hunk of cheddar cheese that wasn’t going to be good much longer.  A can of mushroom soup combined with some cream made a sauce that was good enough that hubby went back for seconds. 

How about you?  Do you indulge in any shortcuts?



Sheila Connolly: Of course. I learned at my mother's knee: her strategy for almost any savory dish was to add vermouth or butter or both. (She didn't bother with desserts.) I kept the butter part. One of her standbys she labeled "Shrimp Wiggle": frozen shrimp and Cambpell's Cream of Shrimp soup. And vermouth. I also buy boxes of stock (and what the heck is "bone stock"?) I use a garlic press for garlic because it's too darn messy to chop it. (If there was an onion press I'd probably use that too.) And I seldom peel potatoes, because aren't all the vitamins in the skin? (That's what I tell myself.)


Linda Wiken:  Shortcuts are a way of life! How are there enough hours in the day otherwise? So, two of my favorites are choosing packages of pre-chopped butternut squash rather than buying a whole one and doing the slice and dice struggle. My other favorite is using Better Than Bouillon when it comes to recipes calling for either chicken or beef broth. The jars take up less space then boxes or cans, or even homemade stock, and the taste is so authentically delicious. I would think the ultimate shortcut is an InstantPot, which I mention because I've been debating with myself about whether to buy one or not. I'm liking some of the other tips in this blog. Vermouth? Yes!


Daryl Wood Gerber: Sheila, check out a veggie chopper for the onions. Makes it so much easier. I got mine at a Pampered Chef cookware party. Like Linda, I have used precut butternut squash. So much easier. And I used dried garlic sometimes. I just bought peeled garlic -- it has a fairy decent shelf-life in the refrigerator -- but it HAS to be put into a tightly sealed container so the refrigerator doesn't turn into one huge garlic smell! Oof! Like Peg, I do use creamed soups for some casserole dishes. I use the kind with no gluten. Pacific is  a great brand. Also, about once a week, I cook a package of chicken thighs or chicken breasts. (I wrap them in foil and bake for 40 minutes on 300 degrees.) Sparky gets a little chicken on his very limited diet, and I use it for all sorts of things: stir-fry with veggies, chopped on a Caesar salad, etc. That makes it super easy to put dinner together. 


Leslie Budewitz: Totally agree on the chopped garlic and ginger, and the cut butternut squash. We make a fair amount of soups and stews during the winter, and I buy boxes of broth rather than make my own. (I ate way too much canned soup as a kid, by itself and in "hot dish," to choose to use it now.) Though I admit I use canned beans more often than cooking dried because I don't always plan far enough ahead, the quality is good, and it's easy. Does that count? 

I asked my hunny what other shortcuts we take, and he said, "Well, we don't press our own olive oil." Ah, that reminds me: He likes commercial blue cheese salad dressing, so we buy that for him, but I make my own vinaigrettes and dressings. Easy, fun, and always fresh -- unless I toss in a little of that garlic in a jar!


Lucy Burdette: Count me in on the box o' stock too, even though chefs swear by making their own, who has time? The best I've found is Daily Pantry Organic beef stock. It's got a delicious flavor and yet it's not loaded with sodium. Also, spaghetti sauce in a jar comes in very handy. I love the sauce our CT farm store makes (Bishops basil marinara), but usually I can find something at the grocery store in a pinch!


Krista Davis: Sheila, I love your mother's butter and vermouth technique. I've been meaning to buy some vermouth! I have to laugh about this because I have Better Than Boullion and the Pacific Cream of Chicken soup in my pantry. I love to make my own broth, and I do think there's a difference, but one doesn't always have the time for that. And I confess that I recently bought dried parsley. Hey, it's winter and I never use the whole bunch of parsley when I buy it. I do use fresh garlic, but I love garlic powder. It can give a dish a big boost of flavor. My favorite short cut is quick-cooking barley. It's the real thing but saves so much cooking time. My other big luxury is mayonnaise in a jar. Like Daryl, I often pop six chicken breasts in the oven. Saves so much time the rest of the week! Where won't I cut corners? On whipped cream! I always whip it myself.

Cleo's Bailey's Irish Cream and Coffee
Poke Cake. For the recipe, click the photo.
Cleo Coyle: I'll add one more thing to this great list of cooking shortcuts: cake mix starters. While I  enjoy baking from scratch, it's not for everyone, as I've learned! So many people have told me that they don't use scratch recipes, they simply use mixes. With a mix, inexperienced cooks can feel more confident in baking a successful dessert. After hearing that enough times, I no longer feel guilty about sharing recipes that start with a simple cake mix and build flavors from there. One of my most popular "semi-homemade" recipes does just that. It's my Bailey's Irish Cream and Coffee Poke Cake. Cooking shortcuts are okay by me, especially if they are more likely to get people into the kitchen. In this takeout culture (which can be very expensive, especially for families), even a little cooking can go a long way.


Leave a comment on this post to be entered,
please include your email address 
(so we can contact you if you win)!

Our Prize Package includes...

An e-book for Kindle or Nook of
by Peg Cochran

Plus a paperback or e-book of
A Cookbook Nook Mystery
by Daryl Wood Gerber,
US only for paper.


And a signed print copy of
A Haunted Bookshop Mystery by Cleo Coyle
with a 
"Jack is Back" tote bag!
(US only)

How about you?  
Do you use any cooking shortcuts?

Tell us in the comments below.
Include your email to be
entered in our giveaway!



  1. I do a lot of shortcuts in the kitchen. One of mine is if I make a pie, I buy pre-made crust. I really can't tell the difference and it's so much easier.

  2. I am the master of shortcuts! Like instead of worrying about seasoning, I use the Schilling seasoning packets. Or a cake mix instead of baking a cake by scratch.
    digicats {at} sbcglobal {dot} net

  3. I live out in a very rural area...the peppers aren't always the best in the wintertime, so I have good quality dried chopped red and green peppers that I can reconstitute and use when fresh isn't best. 33campany at gmail dotcom

  4. I use quite a few shortcuts when cooking. I like the chopped garlic in a jar and boxed stocks. The grocery store also has chopped onions, which I sometimes buy—I hate to chop onions!

  5. I use most of your shortcuts at one time or another. I keep a bottle of vermouth on the counter and use it instead of wine in sauces. It’s akways available and doesn’t go bad after opening. suefoster109 at gmail dot com.

  6. As I have gotten older and my arthritis has hit my hands, I do not like chopping as much as I did when I cook. So, if I can get things pre-cut, I do use them. I do love using canned soup in recipes, such as the all-day roast I make. I use jarred spaghetti sauce as a base. Have you ever read The Cake Mix Doctor cookbooks? They are amazing! Fantastic cakes that you would never guess started with a mix!
    Thank you all for this fantastic giveaway! I love all of your series and the daily recipes!

  7. Yes I do shortcuts all the time. I'm not much of a cook so anything that helps me is a big plus. I still try to keep things healthy though. nvictoria77(at)yahoo dot com

  8. Peeled garlic and pre-cut winter squash? Definitely! Broth? Yes, again. Makes it possible to whip up an almost-home-made soup any time. I can make pasta sauce but I'm not convinced it's any better than high quality prepared. I use canned sour cherries for baking ( pit 4 C. of cherries? Nope)Frozen peas and corn are great to have on hand. But I do bake from scratch, use fresh vegetables and fruit,make mostly homemade soup, fresh herbs when I can. Sometimes the goal is craft and creativity, but sometimes it's just to get some healthy eating with little fuss. Fun discussion!

    1. Love that last comment, Triss, about craft and creativity, vs. getting a healthy dinner on the table!

  9. My shortcut is a little wonky - my spousal unit does pretty much ALL the cooking now. My repertoire is larger, and I've been always glad to help if the SU hits a snag . . .works for us!


    1. Love that, PJ! Sometimes I'm the chef and Mr. Right's the sous, and other times, we reverse. And occasionally, one of us does it all and the other can sit at the counter with a glass of wine and watch!

  10. I can't wait to try the vermouth tip. That sounds delicious. For garlic and ginger, I like Rachel Ray's tip to microplane them. No big chunks, just lots of flavor. Since I live in Texas, there is a lot of Tex-Mex on the menu. For jalapenos, I buy the dried and grind them in my spice/coffee grinder. Hot and spicy flavor without having to chop. Just let it settle a bit before you take off the lid or you will find you have made your own pepper spray. Same goes for nachos heated in the microwave. Open the door to soon and bam -- pepper spray. I hope other cooks take comfort in the fact that Julia Child dropped a turkey on live TV. I know I do.

    Sur La Table also gave me a tip for butternut squash. Take a big pot, fill with water, bring to a boil and parboil the squash for 10 minutes. Take it out and let it cool and you can them peel it easily without getting out the chainsaw. I'm picky about my squash. Some of the precut doesn't always get the stringy part off and it can show up in the soup.

    1. Ellicia, I didn't know that about a butternut squash. Great tip. ~ Daryl

    2. What a great idea about the butternut squash! I remember Julia Child dropping a turkey. She never minded when things like that happened--she just carried on!

  11. Shortcuts are important in creating appetizing meals. since my time is limited it works efficiently. elliotbencan(at)hotmail(dot)com

  12. I use the shredded and bagged cabbage only because I simply cannot shred cabbage without it going all over the kitchen. I'v tried all different kinds of graters without any luck so here I am. jmpurcel at hotmail dot com.

  13. I'm with Daryl, the food chopper from Pampered Chef is a must have! My shortcut is usually bagged salad, but then I add more veggies to it. Thanks for the contest!

  14. Better Than Bouillon is great.
    I use the lobster version for my fish chowder. I'm not fond of clams, so the usual clam juice is not my idea of a good time.

    And then there are those cooked chickens when you just don't have time to spare.
    libbydodd at comcast dot net

    1. Those cooked chickens can be a lifesave. But I find you need to get to the grocery store as soon after five o'clock as possible because they sell out!

  15. Cooking for my family requires time and shortcuts are necessary. I appreciate this since it gives me more time for my grandchildren. saubleb(at)gmail(dot)com

    1. Grandchildren are the best! And mine likes to cook with me.

  16. I used short cuts like jar garlic,cake mix and canned soups and it's nice to see others do to. Thanks for new ideas .

  17. Food chopper, check. Better than Bouillon, check. I will use bag salad and add veggies - I use a LARGE size grater for the extra veggies - e.g. carrots, onion, zucchini, even cauliflower. So quick! And small grater for garlic, onion in recipes. All of my baking is from scratch and I found that weighing the flour and sugar is so much quicker. Especially flour, too much and your baking is just not right. And when I have to make roux for something - I make loads extra and freeze it in tablespoon size dollops wrapped in plastic wrap or waxed paper in a container and have it ready for when I don't have the time to brown it. Thank you all for your deliciously entertaining and well crafted mysteries!

  18. I love using short cuts! I always beef and chicken broth in a box on hand and chopped garlic in a jar. I discovered Better than Bullion years ago and also have that in my pantry. Thanks for the great giveaway and the helpful short cuts.

  19. I use Better than Bouillon. I just used it this morning as a matter of fact. I also use the coleslaw mix in vegetable soup instead of chopping cabbage. skforrest1957(at)gmail(dot)com