The Basics of Cooking Whole Foods

Not a chef? Hardly ever boil water? No problem because you don't need to be a five-star chef! The idea that preparing whole foods has become down-right scary, if you're not used to doing it. The reality is you can make an amazing dinner in less time and with fewer steps than Hamburger Helper.

Really! The trick is to let go of the recipe mindset and start learning some simple ways to prepare whole foods.

Here are some simple cooking techniques that save you time and a lot of trouble to make an outstanding meal with tons of flavor.

  • Grilling is one cooking technique most people can wrap their heads around. But don't just settle for grilled meats — throw on any veggies you can grab. Grilled vegetables offer a simple way to cook, especially if you've already fired up the grill for some steaks!

    Cut up an assortment of vegetables in 1- to 2-inch cubes, drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with salt, and turn frequently over medium-high heat. You can skewer them for easier grilling (and don't forget to soak wood or bamboo skewers in some water to keep them from burning on your grill).

    Imagine throwing a steak or salmon on the grill at the same time as some vegetables. You've got a meal with minimal cooking and loads of flavor.

  • Roasting is winter's grilling substitute. If it's too cold to grill, you can roast vegetables as a simple way to go. Simply cut up an assortment of veggies, toss in olive oil and salt, and roast until ready to eat. Other than cutting the vegetables this is a simple way to pair the veggies with a protein source and whole grain.

    It's also a great way to cook meats. Think of roasting as simply seasoning and then tossing into the oven. Done.

  • Poaching or steaming is a wonderful and quick way to cook seafood. If you're scared of cooking fish, this method is the easiest way to get it right because you slow-cook the fish so you can check it often for just the right flakiness.

    Take a large skillet with lid, fill the bottom with 1 to 2 tablespoons of olive oil and lemon juice — about a quarter cup, or enough to fill the bottom of the pan (dry white wine also works), lay the fish down, season with salt and pepper, add some herbs like dill or rosemary if you'd like, and cook covered on medium-low heat.

    This technique slow-cooks the fish in about 5 minutes. Just keep checking until just cooked through.

  • One-pot meals on the stove top or in a slow cooker are fabulous. Soups, stews, and chilies all work great, but experiment with other ideas like slow-cooking chicken and spices for taco night.

When using some of these techniques, think of ways you can use the same foods more than once throughout the week. If you're grilling chicken, double the amount to use in burritos, salads, and other dishes throughout the week.

Roasted veggies? Make sure to cook them al dente and use them up in egg scrambles, sandwiches, or pair along side with a whole grain such as quinoa. This makes simple work of preparing quick weekday meals.

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