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10 solutions to healthy cooking dilemmas

Show your kitchen who’s boss. To up your healthy cooking game, Chef Nancy Waldeck of Thomas F. Chapman Family Cancer Wellness at Piedmont shares her best tips to solve common cooking dilemmas. 

  1. Basil that tastes like licorice. “Most basils you buy in the store are Genovese or Italian large leaf,” she explains. “If you have a choice, try lemon basil if you don’t like the anise flavor. It’s lighter and has more of a citrus flavor.”
  2. Mushy brown rice or whole wheat pasta. Waldeck suspects you are probably overcooking it. She recommends looking at the cooking time on the box and subtracting two minutes. So, if the box says to cook the pasta for eight minutes, cook it only for six.
  3. Onions that make you cry. “The sulfur in the onions is what is making you cry — and what is so good nutritionally in the onions,” she says. Reduce your tears by chopping the onion in a well-ventilated room near a fan that blows the onion fumes away from your eyes.
  4. Bland, rubbery chicken breasts. “Always cut your chicken in half lengthwise — it makes a more consistent size so that the ends are not much smaller than the middle,” advises Waldeck. “This way, you do not have to cook the chicken too long on the ends to get the middle done.” She also suggests using an instant-read thermometer and taking the chicken out of the oven when it registers 165 degrees Fahrenheit. Marinating chicken will also help the texture.
  5. Kale or quinoa that tastes too earthy. “Try cutting your kale in thin shreds, removing the stalk and use flavorful seasonings,” she says. “If you don’t like the taste of regular quinoa, opt for tri-colored, red and black quinoa, which tastes more nutty than earthy.”
  6. You don’t have any buttermilk. Use regular milk and one to two tablespoons of distilled vinegar or lemon juice. Or, depending on the recipe, you can use yogurt as well.
  7. Dry, boring salmon. Use a meat thermometer to check the temperature and remove the fish from the oven when it reaches 145 degrees Fahrenheit. “You can also marinate your salmon on the counter for 20 to 30 minutes before cooking,” says Waldeck. “Coating the salmon in olive oil, salt, pepper and Dijon mustard is an easy, flavorful way to add seasoning.”
  8. White fish that’s so delicate, it falls apart when you try to pan-fry it. She advises sprinkling the fish with seasonings, salt, pepper and olive oil, then roasting it at 400 degrees for seven minutes. Watch this video tutorial on how to cook fish.
  9. Soggy stir-fry. “Don’t crowd the pan,” warns Waldeck. “If you add too much of anything to a pan, it’s going to steam or stew instead of roasting or sautéing. This applies whether you are cooking in a skillet or roasting on a sheet pan. Always err on the side of too much room in the pan, instead of too little.”
  10. Fumbling a new recipe. It may sound simple, but her motto is always, “Read the recipe! Take a moment to read the entire recipe before starting — this will help you discover any special steps you need to take.”

Get more healthy cooking tips from Living Better experts.

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