10 Secrets to Fresh & Easy Cooking

Food celebrity and Real Simple. Real Life food expert Nathan Lyon shares tips for fresh and flavorful healthy cooking.

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Nathan Lyon, Courtesy of Real Simple. Real Life
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Host of Real Simple. Real Life. and A Lyon in the Kitchen, food expert Nathan Lyon believes the best tasting dinners come from fresh ingredients. Follow his 10 easy tips for getting the all the flavor of those ingredients from the grocery store to your dinner table.

1. Shop the perimeter of the grocery store. When shopping in the grocery store, stay to the outside edge, or perimeter, of the store. There you will find the freshest, healthiest, and often times, least expensive food items.

 2. Don't throw away your money by throwing away food. Instead, use your leftover vegetables like onions, carrots, celery, and mushrooms for a homemade stock. Chop up the vegetables, then simmer, adding black pepper corns and a few bay leaves, and voila! You have homemade stock. Full flavor at no additional cost.

3. Use good knives. The most important tool in the kitchen is a sharp knife. Dull knives are far more dangerous that sharp ones so keep your knife sharp. If you're buying new knives, keep in mind that sometimes less is more. Why purchase a massive set of knives when you mainly use only one or two? (Check out more Real Simple. Real Life must-have tools for starter kitchens.)

4. Cook passively. The best thing about the cold weather is the use of passive cooking techniques such as braising, roasting, and cooking in a slow cooker. You'll get plenty of flavor...all in one pot!

5. Take a temperature. Digital thermometers take the guesswork out of cooking meats and poultry. Simply insert the probe into the thickest part of the meat, enter the finished desired temperature, and press start. When the meat is properly cooked, the thermometer beeps. Also, keep an old-fashioned oven thermometer in your oven at all times. Even the newest of ovens can be off by almost twenty degrees!

6. Let roasted meat rest. Juicy meat is worth the wait. When it comes to serving large pieces of meat right from the oven, simply cover the meat with a piece of foil, for approximately 15 minutes or up to 30 minutes depending on the size. This will allow the juices in the meat to redistribute throughout the meat and not be lost to the cutting board.

7. Begin with cold water when simmering starchy food items like potatoes. Otherwise, dropping potatoes directly into boiling water will over cook the outside while the inside remains slightly undercooked. Also, when making mashed potatoes, heat the liquid, such as milk, to a simmer before mashing so that they don't cool down from the liquid and get gummy.

8. Add acid ingredients before salt. When seasoning with salt, always add the acid (lemon, vinegar, wine, etc) just before adding that last dash of salt. Acidic ingredients bring out the salty flavor in foods. So if are looking to cut back on salt, add the acid first.

9. Use fresh spices. When using spices, fresh is always best. If you're still cooking with the same box of ground pepper that your great grandmother gave you thirty years ago, give it a toss. Spices, much like coffee, work on the principle of oils, which break down with time. Purchase only enough spices for the next nine months or so, and store them in a cool, dark place. (Give your pantry a healthy makeover with tips from Real Simple. Real Life.)

10. Avoid a soggy sauté. The proper way to sauté mushrooms or spinach is with high heat and less food. Instead of adding all of the food at once, cook it in two or three batches. Cook a little at a time, set that aside, then cook some more. That way the food cooks properly without getting watery.

Nathan Lyon, food expert on Real Simple. Real Life and host of A Lyon in the Kitchen, shows viewers that cooking with fresh ingredients doesn't have to be intimidating or complicated. He believes great food starts fresh and the fresher the ingredients, the better the food. He has a degree in health science from James Madison University and graduated in the top of his class from the California School of Culinary Arts in Pasadena. He was chosen as a finalist to compete in the 2006 The Next Food Network Star competition in New York.

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