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August 11, 2020

We’re living in a paradox right now. The world has slowed down, but life is still moving. We’re home more, and yet, we’re still so busy. We start to make plans, and things change. And so, we stand at the foot of the water, dipping our feet in, and we wait for the tide to turn.

As the world waits, you can find me in the kitchen these days. Slicing tomatoes, dicing onions, chopping peppers, I find a new purpose. I shred, stir, steam, season, and saute, and I feel a sense of peace.

I’m not a master chef, but I can follow a recipe and prepare a healthy and delicious dinner for my family rather successfully. In fact, it’s relatively easy to throw together a meal rather quickly; but I’ve realized that if you want to eat healthy on a regular basis, the key thing is to learn how to cook the basics—your protein, your veggies, and your grains.

Protein

In terms of a purely healthy protein, there’s a reason many bodybuilder diets involves eating a henhouse of chickens a week. A skinless chicken breast has just about everything you need, is low fat, high protein, and easy to cook. It’s also about as boring as it gets. Put just about anything on it—BBQ sauce, citrus, parmesan, any kind of marinade, whatever. It’ll be less healthy, but you’ll feel less like you’re in a retirement home. Just remember—the hardest thing about cooking chicken is not overcooking it. But, that’s still better than salmonella. Don’t be afraid to slice into the meat to check if you don’t have a thermometer. You’ll be happier with an uglier, well-cooked meal.

Fish is also a great healthy, easy option. Whether it’s salmon, swordfish, cod, or anything else, I like to heat up a cast iron pan, throw a slab of fish on with olive oil or butter, then after a minute or two, pop it in the oven at 375°F. You’ll know it’s ready when you can flake off the top of the fish easily with a fork.

Put some black pepper and lemon juice on, and you have an $8 meal which would probably cost you $30+ in a restaurant.

For those vegetarians among us, tofu is your best bet. Pan-fry it brown, drizzle with some soy sauce and you’re good to go.

Vegetables

I’m always impressed with people who can make veggies as tasty as the rest of the meal. Now—some of us have attempted this in rather crude ways (say, slathering broccoli in cheese), but the true chef knows just what sauces or spices to throw into the mix.

Most beginners in the kitchen think salads when they want veggies. But unless you buy them pre-made, salads can take a lot of prep time.

And perhaps I’m not a big salad person overall, but I find that to make salads exciting, you have to slather them in so much dressing and accoutrements (like goat cheese, or walnuts), they become a meal in and of themselves.

While you can always stir fry veggies, an even healthier option is using the almighty baking sheet. Chop up your veggies (not spinach, or other leaves—they will catch fire), drizzle some olive oil and whatever tasty herbs, spices or sauces you can imagine, and bake at 415°F (or so).

Grains

Let’s be honest. You don’t need me to tell you anything about the ‘delicious carbs’ part of the food pyramid. We can’t exactly pretend it’s that super healthy, but there’s something very satisfying to it—the feeling that we will never be hungry again. And, if you’re doing a long run, or a cardio-heavy workout, carbs are actually good for you. There’s a reason that a popular marathon runner’s meal the night before a big race is a big ole plate of spaghetti.

As far as rice goes, it’s not difficult to cook, but mysteriously, it always takes longer than you think.

In terms of fast, easy options, frozen rice is not bad, and some thin fettuccini type noodles only have to be boiled.

If you’re feeling emboldened (which by now I hope you are), there are some more experimental noodles that are fun to play with. Pad Thai, for example, isn’t as hard to make as you might think. All you have to do is soften the noodles with boiling water as you stir fry whatever veggies you have on hand and throw in chicken, shrimp or tofu with some eggs. Garlic and ginger will take it to the next level. A couple of tablespoons of fish sauce and ketchup (blasphemy, I know) and you’ve got yourself a Pad Thai without having to go through Postmates.

Bringing It All Together

There are millions of recipes online, countless ways to make your meals exciting, fresh and new. But if you’re new to the kitchen and looking for easy cooking ideas, you’ll never go wrong with the basics:

The Stir Fry
Fry up your veggies, add protein, throw in some rice, add sauce and you’re done. This basic food concept has a thousand different names across the world and is spiced and sauced a thousand different ways. I mean you basically just get everything hot and throw it together. Just remember—if you put spinach in, do it at the end!

The Baked Chicken
It’s shockingly easy—throw a whole chicken on a baking sheet or cast iron pan and put it in the oven at 425°F for 75 minutes, or so (though keep in mind, most ovens lie about their exact temperature). Throw some veggies in with the chicken and you’re good to go. When it’s done, take it out, ignore the desperate look your dog is giving you, and slice it up! You’ll have enough chicken for dinner and leftovers for the next couple days.

The Mad Scramble
A few eggs in a scramble (or egg whites) are a great base for a healthy meal. Add some veggies into the mix and you’re hitting everything your body needs.

It's a Wrap
The dark secret of a good amount of Americanized Mexican food is that it’s basically all just a stir fry in a tortilla. Caramelize some onions and peppers then throw in sliced chicken or steak. Add some spinach at the end and wrap it all in a tortilla. You’ll have everything you need. Of course, you can also add cheese, which you don’t need, but I know you desperately want.

Make It Easy!

When you go on social media, it seems like everyone you know is a Michelin-star chef, throwing together ornate, beautiful dishes on a Tuesday. Oh! Looks like my hunky, yet sensitive husband Brad accidentally whipped up seared scallops and risottos with souffle dessert!

But there’s no reason to be intimidated.

When you’re first starting out, I encourage you to keep things simple, and learn how to cook the basics. Only then, try experimenting with your newfound knowledge. You may even have fun!