Healthy Cooking Tips From An Expert

Hello! Welcome to Beyond Soy!

Recently I had the opportunity to talk an expert to learn a little more about the professional side of cooking. Tina attended culinary school at Johnson & Wales and currently works at a restaurant in Las Vegas. She also shares recipes that are both budget-friendly and healthy on her Instagram. Below, Tina and I discuss allergies in restaurants and how she approaches cooking at home. 

How did you get into cooking?
I started cooking with my family from a very young age, it brought the family together and we always had a great time... or at least I did!

Do you have any food intolerances, sensitivities, or allergies? Or experience with food requirements?
I am lucky to be free from any allergies or intolerances.  However, I have a younger brother who is deathly allergic to peanuts and other legumes, so growing up we never had peanut butter around and if we did it was a hassle to make sure everything was clean afterward and that no fumes got into the air when my little brother was around. It makes me nervous to this day to have peanuts in the house or even work with them at my job.



How much additional work is it to handle the dietary restrictions of a guest?
There is some amount of additional work when a guest comes in to eat at the restaurant where I work. We have to change cutting boards, use different utensils, sanitize everything, and always always wash our hands and use gloves (we do this for everyone, not just for guests with allergens). Ultimately, we are trained to safely handle food no matter if you have an allergen or not.

How frequently do you cook at home? Why?
I almost always cook at home. There are two main reasons why: (1) it's cheaper and (2) it's healthier!

Do you try to be healthy when cooking at home?
I have to admit that I don't always cook healthily, but most of the time I do.  If I’m honest, sometimes I just can't turn down a nice bowl of super cheesy mac-n-cheese or brie with freshly baked bread.  I always cook with fresh, whole and raw products, never anything processed.

Do you plan your meals? Why or why not?
I don't really plan my meals, I decide what to make based on what is on sale at the market and what I have in the fridge. I also don't like eating the same thing day in and day out, so meal prepping isn't for me; but I do think it is a good idea for those who may be busier than I am.

How do you shop for food (healthy or otherwise) on a budget?
When I shop for food I always scope out the market’s weekly newsletter first, before even leaving the house.  It gives me an idea of what I am shopping for and where I am going. I also limit how much I spend each month. I know that some sales aren't really sales: they may use big red letters that say “Chicken for 1.99$/lb”, but I know that I've seen it at much cheaper prices.



Do you have any tips for someone starting to cook for the first time?
If anyone is starting to cook for the first time I would suggest following recipes at first. After awhile, you will begin to know what products go well with others and you can start being creative on your own.  I still follow recipes, but when I'm limited with what I have in my fridge I try to be a little creative.  The Joy of Cooking is a great recipe book, but if you're a visual person searching the web may be a better option.

What is something about food or cooking that you wish everyone could know?
I wish that people would know and understand that cooking healthy isn't as expensive as people make it out to be, you just need to be aware of the sales!

Can you share an easy and (relatively) healthy recipe that you love to make?
A real easy and healthy dish that I basically grew up on is a chicken stir-fry, however this dish contains soy so I'll adjust it for you. What’s amazing about this type of dish is that you can put almost anything you want in it. To start, heat up a large sauté pan with a small amount of olive oil to medium-high heat. Take half a celery stalk, half a peeled carrot, half a head of broccoli, 3-4 mushrooms and one large garlic clove (all cut to your desired size or shape) and throw them in the pan. Sauté your mixed vegetables until you've got some color. Take them out of the pan and set your mix aside. Next, take a chicken thigh with the skin on and sear it skin side down until crispy; flip it, turn the heat low until cooked through. Once the chicken is done, take it out of the pan and add some butter to the pan with a little bit of water (or soy-free chicken stock, if available) to make a nice rich sauce. Always season as you go with salt and pepper! Add the vegetables back into the sauce, pour it over some rice or quinoa with your chicken, and you've got yourself a vegetable rich meal!