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Dinner in Under an Hour: Genius Time-Saving Tips

When you’re short on time and inspiration, here’s how to make a meal that satisfies and impresses.

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Don’t have a whole lot of free time to devote to dinner? With the quick cooking tips and advice of an expert recipe developer, you can speed up your weeknight cooking and get meals ready in 60 minutes or less. 

Ali Slagle, who’s developed hundreds of weeknight-ready recipes, has all the expert insight you need to make dinners at home a breeze. Slagle’s cookbook, I Dream of Dinner (So You Don’t Have To), is a handy weeknight companion that’s filled with recipes totaling 45 minutes, with just 10 ingredients max. And she’s developed each to help you get a meal ready efficiently and easily. 

“There are so many books about weeknight cooking, but when I looked at them, I kind of called bullshit,” Slagle says. “[Most] don’t really feel like recipes I can truly make every night. I really wanted to make a book you could use at 6:30, without time to go to the grocery store.”

Tonight, instead of standing in front of your fridge, wracking your brain for delicious dinner ideas that don’t take hours to prepare, try Slagle’s genius time-saving tips.

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Identify one ingredient that sounds delicious

Rather than trying to find a dinner recipe that includes multiple ingredients hanging out in your pantry and fridge, Slagle suggests reframing your approach. “I think identifying one thing that seems delicious—and that could be an herb or even a general idea— will help you be excited to cook and move a little bit faster, too,” she says.

Not feeling what’s in your fridge? Try to find just one item that you’re interested in, or one that you know will taste good. 

“I think it’s important to cook what you feel like eating,” Slagle says. “When you’re cooking something that you feel like you should eat or what’s in the fridge, it can be hard to push through cooking and then be excited to eat.”

Working with a single ingredient gives you plenty of starting points, and it doesn’t limit what you can make. All of Slagle’s recipes in I Dream of Dinner (So You Don’t Have To) come together with just a few key items. “Ten ingredients gave me enough flexibility that I could do more than one element, like a main and a side, or a sauce and the main. You’re still able to make various components,” Slagle explains.

Skip the ingredient prep to save time

“When I started cooking as a kid, I didn’t know that you had to do the prep in the ingredient list first. So, I would just prep as I went,” Slagle says. “When I realized that’s not what you’re supposed to do, I was like, ‘Well, why not?’”

As a result, her recipes use a different approach: There is no prep. Instead, you’ll do all of your would-be prep, like dicing onions and peeling veggies, as part of the recipe’s steps. 

You can use this time-saving approach with many recipes. Skip the pre-cooking prep and instead try to tackle those steps while your various components cook. For example, you can chop veggies while your protein cooks; you can whip up a sauce while your main is in the oven. 

Use a new ingredient to create exciting flavor

When you’re stuck in a rut, one new ingredient (or an ingredient used in a new way) can spice up your cooking. Reach for something that excites you, and try putting it to use in a dish you’ve made before.

As Slagle suggests, “You can incorporate the new ingredient you want to use in an application you enjoy. You don’t have to change your whole life around this one ingredient, or [even] leftovers. What do you like to eat, and how can you incorporate that thing into it?” 

For example, one of Slagle’s favorite recipes from her cookbook is a meatless spin on Sloppy Joes. Her Sloppy Lennys are a take on the original, without the seasoning packet and with red lentils in place of ground beef. With just one new ingredient, a childhood fave became an entirely new meal. 

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Streamline your cooking by multitasking

Instead of pulling out a separate pot for each component of a recipe, or repeating tasks like boiling water, Slagle suggests streamlining your process. “Use certain elements of the dish in more than one way, or use a certain step in more than one way,” she explains. “[For example], boil pasta with lentils or with vegetables; basically, a pot of boiling water can do many things at once.”

You can also use a sheet pan to roast multiple ingredients at once, slashing both the amount of cookware you’re using and the time it takes to cook a whole meal. Wherever you can combine steps or cook multiple items simultaneously, you’ll save yourself time.

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