“I just want everybody to enjoy food as much as I do.”
Wise words from my ‘flat-mate.’ I agree.
Yes we like food, and contrary to popular opinion, you can cook delicious healthy food that isn’t dry chicken breast with steamed veggies and plain brown rice. It just takes some reworking of your perceptions about food.
Actually I know a lot of fitness professionals who surprisingly love food, we talk about food all the time.
What you may not know is that there are literally thousands of healthy ways to prepare awesome lean proteins and veggies.
Get to know your spice rack!
You’ve probably heard me talk a lot over the last year or more about developing skills, and naturally one of those skills I think you should work on developing is definitely the art of cooking.
I highly encourage you to take in a cooking class on your weight loss journey, but you might be a little hesitant about getting started, so here are some finer points of cooking — kind of more, ‘off the top of my head’ — that I think you should try to attack, one at a time (in no particular order):
1) Cut wine bottle plastic and place under your cutting board, or you can use a wet dish towel to prevent slipping.
2) Use plastic or wood cutting boards, never glass (they’ll dull your knives) – plastic should be used for raw meats, wood boards can get crevasses over time, which can store some nasty stuff (think Salmonella) if the sections come apart or the cuts get deep enough into the wood, but are good for veggies still.
3) Use a large metal bowl (or break your garbage bin out from under the sink) for easy disposal of kitchen scraps, rather than going back and forth to the garbage.
4) Go through recipes in their entirety before you start, they are really just guidelines, so cooking times might vary depending on the oven, and unlike baking, you won’t need to follow most of them to the letter.
5) It is a good idea to learn when certain foods are done, rather than just cooking something for a cooking time. For instance, chicken breast is done when clear juices start to run, or when cooking a steak the desired doneness can be compared to touching your thumb to certain fingers, then feeling the big muscle group at the base of the thumb (index finger to thumb is rare, pinky finger to thumb is often well-done), while most green veggies are done when they become bright green.
6) Lay out everything you need, including utensils like knives or peelers, with your pots/pans and ingredients, spices and oils.
7) I like to prep all my foods before I actually begin cooking (a matter of preference really), but it will make things smoother if you have everything cut and ready to go before you start cooking.
8) **Tip – Taking one or two days out of the week to prep and cut all your veggies in advance, is an easy way to reduce the amount of time you will spend cooking throughout the week.
9) **Follow-Up Tip – You could cook most of your proteins in advance, but I find this dries them out, and is particularly a bad idea for fish.
10) Stay tidy as you go, especially keep your cutting board clean by throwing cut ingredients into metal bowls or other containers ready for cooking. I also like to wash dishes that don’t go in the dishwasher as I go (or am waiting).
11) Keep a lot of small tasting spoons available for tasting things as you go but throw used ones in the sink (especially if cooking for others).
12) Heat spices in oil (or dry pan sometimes) for a short amount of time (1-3 minutes) before adding additional liquids, this will help bring out the flavour of the spices in most dishes like curries, chilis or stews, be careful not to burn them though.
13) Slice through your food when prepping, rather than chopping, it will make working with your knife a lot easier. Cutting should be fairly quiet, and will prevent bruising, let the weight of the knife do the work, cutting straight down, put using your blade forward and backward. Some things like garlic and ginger, might be better chopped or minced, in order to bring out the flavour a little more this is the exception to the rule. Mincing is a very good technique to learn, for moments when you break your garlic press.
14) Curl the finger tips back under the 1st knuckle, of your free hand when slicing food so there are no finger tips available to be cut and at worst you take a little skin off the knuckles. Ideally even between your first and second knuckle should be right against the side of the blade of your knife and the knife never comes high enough to cut anything other than the food.
15) Try to keep the height of the ingredients you are cutting low so as to make it easier to slice, while decreasing the risk of any cuts.
16) Play with the spices sometimes, as you may choose to use slightly more or slightly less ingredients (1 large pepper instead of 1 cup of pepper for instance…), but I encourage you to err on the side of caution with strongly flavoured spices.
17) Salt and Pepper are often used ‘to taste’ in recipes, a skill acquired with practice – I don’t subscribe to salt being a really bad thing, unless you have been diagnosed as being salt sensitive, just don’t go crazy. However, we wouldn’t want you to over-season with it either, so remember that salt is used to help bring the flavour of foods out more, when it’s the dominant flavour, it won’t be as good.
18) The longer you cook salt, the more flavour it adds, so you will need to add more salt if you add salt towards the end of the cooking time (or just before serving) and less salt if you put it in, earlier in the process.
19) Pat dry your proteins before you cook them if you want to get a nice sear on them, otherwise you’ll end up boiling or poaching your proteins through the water on the outside.
20) Actually while you’re at it pat dry your veggies too, or they’ll be a wet soaking mess if you grill, roast, stir-fry, or saute them.
21) Put salt on meat/proteins, just before cooking, not in marinates – salt pulls water out of the meat over time, so it will start to cure the meat, leaving a wet film on the meat you just patted dry, this can dry the meat out, so season just before you cook them.
22) Marinated meat need not be done as long as people think it should and is really a way to tenderize tough meat like flank steak, or other tougher cuts – try marinating steak in papaya or onion juice (basically use a food processor to break them down all the way, but pick one or the other, not both) for 30-60 minutes, you’d be amazed (I learned this from a chef friend…).
23) Invest in some white pepper, which has a stronger flavour than regular black pepper, so you won’t need as much but won’t add a ‘gritty‘ texture to your food for some recipes.
24) While you’re at it, invest in a good spice rack, with a solid variety. You can buy stuff pre-ground, but grinding yourself really amplifies the flavour of some spices.
25) Garlic and Ginger burn easily and will go bitter, add them in a little bit later in the process or keep an eye on them constantly stirring (this will also depend on the heat of the pan).
26) You can peel ginger really easily with a spoon, cut it into 1″ cubes and store it in the freezer for fresh use (fresh ginger is a thousand times better than ground…).
27) When ‘preheating’ a pan, always do so without the oil in the pan, or risk burning the oil in the pan and making a mess!
28) Don’t ‘preheat’ a pan and add butter, or it will brown (which might be called for in some recipes, just not most), when cooking with butter put it in when you turn the pan on (I like to keep the pan at about medium hot for butter).
29) A pan is probably hot enough to cook with when you can flick some water in and the oil sizzles (medium to high heat essentially…which is not always called for).
30) When you stir-fry, you’ll know a pan is hot enough (high heat should be used with a wok), when a quick flick of water evaporates in less than a second.
31) It’s not a good idea to consume oils that have burned in a pan or beyond their smoke point.
32) Use spray bottles for your oils to decrease the volume you are likely to use (healthy cooking tip).
33) Use a variety of unrefined, virgin oils whenever possible (again keep in mind their smoke point for usage – and we can discuss organic/non-organic in the comments below).
34) Store oils in small quantities in a cool/dark place to prevent them from going rancid – certain oils go rancid sooner than others so you may want to consider refrigerating some oils (like peanut) just in case, but know that refrigeration often solidifies oils, so store them in wide mouth glass containers if you can.
35) Generally I recommend keeping olive oil, grape seed oil, coconut oil, peanut, sesame (both of the latter for asian cuisine), butter, and a nut oil of some kind around in small quantities – you probably won’t cook with the nut oil (except peanut, which isn’t really a nut, it’s a legume) and you could add flax, avocado and/or hemp oil (which all need to be refrigerated) to the mix for salad dressings – the variety is for different purposes though, so if you don’t like asian cuisine, no need to keep sesame oil around (though it’s delicious!).
36) Canned beans should be rinsed and drained in a strainer before use.
37) Dried beans should be less than 2 years old, or they won’t cook well — might be a good idea to date some of your pantry goods sometimes.
38) If you use canned items, look for ones stored in water (limited preservatives), with low sodium/salt content and look for a BPA-free can if you can.
39) Make things in large batches, left-overs are great for lunch the next day and minimizes the amount of time you spend cooking.
40) Aim to get foods in season as they are much more rich in vitamins and nutrients, but also because they taste better when locally grown.
41) Frozen foods are ok as a quick substitute, if you must, but often end up mushy, consider thawing in paper towel before use.
42) I don’t actually use non-stick frying pans much, but if you do, make sure you use quality plastic utensils with them, use up to medium heat and wait for them to cool-down before you wash them or you’ll ruin the non-stick coating.
43) When possible, I LOVE using cast iron pans – they have a high heat tolerance, heat evenly, retain their heat very well (but take a little longer to heat up…) and are multi-purpose for the oven for pan-searing meats and finishing them in the oven (one my favourite ways to do chicken breast as it retains the juices better), or something like a frittata **just know that cast iron develops a patina like copper, that makes it act like a non-stick pan, and that you should only wash with really hot water and no soap, or risk losing the protective film and making it rust!
44) Stainless Steel will remove that garlic smell (if it bothers you…) from your cutting boards and hands.
45) Nuts should be stored in small quantities, in cool-dark places too, or refrigerated (you can freeze them too), to prevent them from going rancid.
Got something you’d like to add, comments, now!