There are a number of ways to become a better cook: You can read a lot of cookbooks, learn from the experts, go to culinary school, or work your way through The Kitchn's Cooking and Baking Schools. You can make the same recipe dozens of times or cook all day to prep for the week or a big party. Do any of these at any time, and you'll improve your cooking skills — no doubt about it!
The only potential problem? You need time to do most of those things. Wouldn't it be nice if you could improve your cooking life in — oh, say — five-minute chunks instead? You can! Our list of mini tasks and projects to do in five minutes or less will make cooking feel easier, faster, and a little bit more experienced.
15 Five-Minute Projects to Improve Your Cooking Life
1. Practice knife skills by chopping an extra onion.
The next time you chop an onion, chop an extra one to work on your knife skills. If you have more than five minutes and really want to get into the swing of things, chop a whole bunch to caramelize, and then freeze.
2. Practice cutting food into same-sized pieces.
As Faith once wrote, the "real mark of good knife skills is being able to reliably cut everything to the same size." You want everything to cook at the same rate, so it pays to practice cutting your food precisely and evenly.
How do you learn to do this? Start with carrots!
3. Practice cracking a bunch of eggs with one hand.
If you're planning to make a quiche or something that uses a lot of eggs, take the opportunity to practice the one-handed egg crack. Knowing how to crack an egg with one hand is more than just a cool trick; it's actually really practical, since it frees up your other hand to stir or whisk at the same time. Watch our video tutorial, and then give it a try.
4. Work on your pan flip technique with dry beans.
When Ariel was in culinary school, her instructor told her to practice her pan flip with a bag of dried beans. That's right — when you practice pan flipping with dried beans instead of real (hot) food, you don't have to stress about spilling. If you spill, no big deal!
5. Make a sourdough starter.
If you love the taste of sourdough bread but don't have anyone who can pass a starter down to you, good news! You can make your own. You just need to stir some water and flour together, and then let it sit. Yes, you have to tend to it over the next few days, but it takes hardly any time to get it started.
6. Brown something without moving it for 5 minutes.
The one mistake every beginner makes in the kitchen? Moving food around too much in the pan. The next time you sear a piece of meat or brown a pan of vegetables, don't fiddle with it every 20 seconds. Let it sit for a good five minutes before turning or stirring so it really, truly browns, which builds flavor.
7. Practice deglazing (and clean the pan while you're at it).
If you've really seared a piece of meat or caramelized onions into golden goodness, the bottom of your pan probably shows it. You could spend 10 minutes scrubbing after dinner, or you could spend an extra five minutes now, while you're still cooking, to deglaze the pan, concentrate the flavor — and lo! — clean it as well. Totally worth knowing how to do. Read all about how to do it here:
8. Grate a bunch of citrus zest and freeze it.
Fresh citrus zest is a fantastic way to perk up a dish, but you might not always have it on hand. Instead of running out to the store, take five minutes the next time you have a few lemons, limes, and oranges around, zest them all, then freeze. (Here's what you can do with those zested lemons.)
9. Smell your spices.
When was the last time (or ever!) you really smelled your spices? Go through your spice drawer today and smell every one so you become familiar with them on their own. Notice how they differ from one another, and note the ones that really get your attention. (Also notice if you can't smell anything. If that's the case, toss that spice out and replace.)
10. Clean your spice grinder.
While you're at it, clean your spice grinder. If you grind spices a lot, you've probably built up an excess of oils and spice fragments. It's super easy to clean out — just grab some rice!
11. Separate your measuring spoons.
Let us fill you in on a little secret: If you keep all your measuring spoons in a pile in the drawer, there's a better way. Don't rummage through that pile to find the one you need; just separate out the teaspoon and tablespoons — or the ones you find you use the most often — and put them in their own little container, like Faith did here. Little time-saving organizing tips like this make life better. (And definitely take them off the ring! Same goes for measuring cups.)
12. Test and calibrate your food thermometer.
Are you sure your food thermometer is accurate? It won't do you much good if it isn't! Test it by placing it in ice water and boiling water. It should display 32°F in ice water, or 212°F in boiling water. If the reading is off, it needs to be calibrated.
13. Use up almost-empty jam, mustard, and tomato paste.
This is a very satisfying project to do when you have a few spare minutes. Open your fridge and pull out all the almost-empty jars and tubes of jam, mustard, or tomato paste. (We know they're in there.) Then follow this guide to shake up that jar and turn those leftovers into a whole new thing.
14. Make quick-pickled red onions.
There are so many ways to use pickled red onions. Make a batch in five minutes and it'll keep in your fridge for weeks. Every cook should have a jar around.
15. Make a big jar of salad dressing.
You already know homemade salad dressings are where it's at, but are you making enough at one time? A typical salad dressing recipe yields one cup or less, but you can save time and encourage more salad eating by making a big batch all at once. Double or triple a salad dressing recipe and fill up a large Ball jar to get you through dozens of weekday salads.
(Image credits: David Hopler of D Square Photo & Video; Leela Cyd; Ariel Knutson; Kelli Foster; Faith Durand; Dana Velden)