Cooking Basics: Simple Recipes for Getting Started

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By the time you read this, Halloween will be over and we’ll be on to Thanksgiving and all of the winter holidays. A true eating fest, for sure. By the way, what have you done with all of your leftover Halloween candy? My colleagues have a tendency to bring their leftovers into work, which doesn’t bode well come 3 PM when a person’s energy level has taken a nosedive!

Anyway, last week we looked at some stir-fry “basics,” and I just wanted to add a couple of other pointers. If you do decide to try stir-frying — or even if you’re an old pro — a helpful hint is to cut your foods into approximately the same size pieces so that they cook at the same time. No want wants to bite into a piece of rubberized chicken. Also, because the foods tend to cook fairly quickly, have whatever sauce you’re going to use ready to go. The last thing you want to do is scramble to throw together a sauce, leaving the food in your wok to overcook. If you need a little push to get started, here’s a pretty basic recipe for stir-fry:

Stir-Fry Chicken and Broccoli
1 pound chicken breast strips
2 tablespoons canola or peanut oil
4 cups vegetables — broccoli, red and green pepper strips, sliced water chestnuts (Make sure they’re all prepped and ready to throw into the skillet or wok!)
1 1/2 cups lower-sodium chicken broth
3 tablespoons reduced-sodium soy sauce
3 tablespoons cornstarch
1 teaspoon brown sugar
1 1/2 cups cooked brown rice

Stir-fry chicken in hot oil in a large skillet or wok until brown. Add vegetables. Stir until done. Mix broth, soy, cornstarch, and sugar. Add to skillet. Cook for another 2 minutes. Serve chicken mixture over cooked hot rice.

The nice thing about this recipe is that you can substitute other ingredients, such as lean beef, pork, or tofu for the chicken. Or you can try other types of vegetables, such as snow peas and chopped Chinese cabbage. If you don’t have time to prepare fresh vegetables, look for frozen stir-fry vegetables as a timesaver. For more stir-frying tips and sauce recipes, check out the recipes on

Broiling Salmon
By now, you’ve received the message that fish is good for you, especially cold water, fatty fish such as salmon. The omega-3 fatty acids in fish are good for us in so many ways that it makes sense to heed the advice of the American Heart Association to eat fish at least twice each week (sorry, breaded fish sticks don’t count!). I used to hear from my patients that they didn’t know how to cook fish and would therefore only eat it when at a restaurant. That’s too bad because fish is pretty easy to cook. Yes, you can grill fish but I’m going to make an assumption that unless you live in a warm climate year-round or are a diehard barbecue fan, you’ve probably put away the grill for the season. That means you can turn to your broiler to whip up a tasty salmon meal. Here’s how:

  • Start with fresh salmon with the skin (allow 4–6 ounces per person). Ask for a center-cut piece of salmon.
  • Preheat your broiler and line your broiler pan with aluminum foil. Brush the foil lightly with olive oil so that the fish won’t stick.
  • Place the salmon fillets skin-side down on the foil, keeping them about 4–6 inches away from the broiler. Sprinkle them with pepper.
  • Broil the fish for about 7–10 minutes per inch of thickness.
  • When the salmon is golden-brown on top, it’s likely done. Test the salmon by gently poking it with a fork: it should flake easily.
  • Remove the salmon from the broiler pan and let it rest for about 5 minutes. In the meantime, if you want, prepare a simple sauce by mixing nonfat or low-fat Greek-style plain yogurt with a bit of olive oil, a squeeze of lemon juice, some lemon zest, and 2 tablespoons of chopped fresh dill. Add a clove or two of finely chopped garlic, if you like. Spread over the salmon and enjoy!

This dish is good for your heart, your bones, and your diabetes. Oh, and your waistline, too. If you’re not a fan of yogurt, sauté two finely chopped garlic cloves in a little bit of olive oil for 30 seconds. Add some Dijon mustard, freshly squeezed lemon juice, chicken broth, and pepper and cook on high for one minute. Then stir in freshly chopped dill. Pour over the salmon and serve.

You can cook fish in a number of different ways (did you know you can poach fish in the microwave?) that don’t have to take a lot of time and effort. Experiment a little and you’ll soon be a pro!

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