The 10 Best Cooking Hacks We Learned Last Year To Make Quarantine Cooking a Smidge Easier

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It's safe to say that in 2020, many of us spent more time in the kitchen than ever before. And while quarantine cooking wasn't always a breeze (have you ever tried to make sourdough bread?), there were certainly some hacks that made the thousands of meals we cooked this year easier to throw together. Not to mention a whole lot more flavorful and delicious.

From learning how to cook frozen veggies so they're just as good as the fresh kind to a secret that'll help you keep your avocado stockpile perfectly ripe for months, these are the best kitchen hacks we learned in 2020.

The best kitchen hacks we learned in 2020

1. You can speed-cook salmon in your air fryer

You can truly cook just about anything in an air fryer. But one thing that that might shock even the biggest air fryer aficionado is that you can use it to cook up a crispy salmon fillet in under 20 minutes. All you need to do is brush your fillet with olive oil, season it with salt and pepper, and pop it in the air fryer on a small piece of parchment paper. Before you know it, dinner will be served.

2. Cold water is best for cooking potatoes evenly

When you're cooking mashed potatoes, make sure your water is cold. It's the secret to making sure the potatoes cook evenly. "It's really important to cook potatoes this way so that the potato cooks from the inside out," chef Palak Patel shared in a previous episode of Cook With Us. "Otherwise, if you put it in hot water, the outside cooks before the inside is done." After they've cooked through and you've removed them from the boiling water, they'll undoubtedly turn out fluffy and delicious.

3. Use the freezer to keep your avocados ripe for months

If you want to stock up on avocados, there's a way to keep them ripe for months: Pop 'em in the freezer. Bethany Ugarte of Lilsipper shared you can pop them in the freezer at their peak ripeness, peel and all. Once you're ready to enjoy an avocado, simply run it under hot water and let it sit out on your counter for a bit. In just minutes, you'll be able to cut it open to reveal an avocado that's still perfectly ripe.

4. Roasting your cauliflower rice makes it so much better

Anyone who's made cauliflower rice before knows it can get a little... soggy. Aside from squeezing out as much moisture as you can with a towel or cheesecloth, a Redditor shared you can also lightly coat it in olive oil and spread it out on a baking tray. After roasting it for 10 to 15 minutes, it'll come out perfectly soft and, most importantly, not at all soggy.

For another fun way to prepare cauliflower rice, try this method:

5. You can incorporate carrot tops into homemade pesto

There are so many different ways you can use your food waste to create delicious meals. Aside from using food scraps to create a flavorful veggie broth, you can also save your carrot tops for your pasta sauce. "One popular use for carrot tops is incorporating them in homemade pesto," Kaitlin Mogentale, founder and CEO of Pulp Pantry, previously told Well+Good. "The key is blanching them first—aka boiling them for a few minutes then cooling them in ice water—to soften them up a bit first. Paired with olive oil, garlic, pine nuts, and other pesto ingredients, you'll wind up with a delicious meal.

6. When cutting cauliflower, start at the bottom

Ever feel like cutting up cauliflower takes forever—and often involves risking your fingers to ensure you have evenly-sized florets? There's an easier (and safer) way to do it. "Every time you're cutting big vegetables, the key is to make sure they're steady and not rolling around on your cutting board," Patel shared in another previous episode of Cook With Us. "Cut the stem so that your cauliflower can sit steady." Then once it's flat and easy to work with, put your knife through one of the gaps at the base, then slowly rotate the cauliflower until the stem is loose.

Either cut off the rest of the stem or rip it off with your hand. Then, from the bottom where you can easily see the florets, cut off however many you need to create "cauliflower trees." Once you have those trees, you can then break them down into smaller pieces with your hands that can be used however you, please.

7. Avocados are the secret to a super-creamy hot chocolate

Out of all the different ways to use avocados, this might be the most interesting. Liz Moody, a healthy living expert, shared it's the secret to making your dairy-free hot chocolate super-creamy. "This recipe doesn’t even need nut milk—just water!—but it makes the thickest, most delicious hot chocolate you’ve ever had," she told Well+Good. To get that perfect texture, you blend an avocado with raw cacao powder, maple syrup, boiling water, almond butter, and a few other ingredients. What you're left with is a healthy drink you'll want to sip on all season long.

8. Making your own oat milk only requires two simple ingredients

There's no need to buy fancy oat milks at the grocery store when you have a bag of rolled oats at home. For a super clean version, simply soak your oats for an hour, then drain them before adding them to your blender with some water. After blending until smooth and staining the oat milk, you'll have a fresh bottle sitting in your fridge for all your alt-milk needs.

9. Always cook your lentils in veggie stock—not water

If you're still trying to get on the lentil train, there's a hack that'll make you fall in love with those legumes instantly. According to Patel (clearly, she taught us a lot last year), always prepare them with veggie stock—not water. "I find that to give lentils a little extra flavor, use vegetable stock. Get your stock in the pot, and bring that to a simmer," she says. About 25 minutes later, you'll have the perfect consistency. Then you can use them in your chopped salads for a protein-packed lunch.

10. There's a simple way to cook frozen veggies perfectly every time

Frozen veggies usually come out soggy. That's a fact. But there's a method that never fails at making them taste just as great as the fresh kind: roasting them. According to Serena Poon, CN, a professional chef and certified nutritionist, you don't even need to thaw them out beforehand. "Just place them on a baking sheet, drizzle with oil—I prefer avocado oil—and Himalayan sea salt, and roast for about 15 to 30 minutes, until crispy and brown," she told Well+Good in November. "I also love adding garlic and fresh herbs for extra flavor."

Use your frozen veggies in this herby sheet pan recipe:

For more healthy recipes and cooking ideas from our community, join Well+Good’s Cook With Us Facebook group.

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