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Chefs' Secrets for Healthier Cooking

4 top chefs share tips and recipes for lighter dishes that don't scrimp on taste and style.

'Such a Pretty Face'

From the time she was old enough to stand on a chair and touch a bowl, Devin Alexander knew she loved to cook. She also knew she loved to eat. And by the time she was teenager, she was packing on the pounds.

"I was the one who always heard 'You have such a pretty face – if only you weren't so fat,' ", says Alexander, now a slim and celebrated Los Angeles healthy eating chef and author of the new book Fast Food Fix.

It wasn't until she became an adult that healthy cooking entered her life. "I decided there had to be a way I could enjoy food and not keep gaining," she says.

After a stint in culinary school, she found it: A style of low-fat cooking that not only helped her shed 55 pounds and keep it off for 12 years, but, as executive chef of Café Renee Catering in Los Angeles, help others do the same.

The most important lesson she learned: That how you cook is as important as what you cook.

"If you sprinkle a chicken breast with herbs and sear it in a pan on medium heat, it's going to taste blah; take that same chicken breast and cook it at high heat, and you'll seal in the flavors and bring out the spices, and you'll end up with a dish that tastes entirely different and very enjoyable," says Alexander.

She has a similar rule about cooking burgers: "People always say that extra-lean burgers taste dry – so they don't eat them," she says. The mistake here: "Squishing" the burger with a spatula to push out the fat.

"You think you are squishing out the excess fat, but what you are really squishing out is all the flavor and juices -- that's why it's dry and tasteless," she says. Instead, let the burger cook naturally, and leave the juices inside.

And yes, she says, buying extra-lean instead of lean makes a difference.

"One of the biggest mistakes I see people make is buying lean ground turkey instead of extra lean -- the packages say 7% fat vs. 1% and they think 6% can't be all that much difference, but it is," says Alexander. Flip the package over, she says, and you'll see that extra-lean turkey has 15 calories from fat, while the lean has 90 calories from fat. That's almost half the calories in a serving.

Another tip: Get the right tools for the best healthy cooking job.

"Invest in an ultrafine shredder and you'll find you can cover more surface with less cheese. You'll get flavor in every bite, but far fewer calories," she says.

Other healthy kitchen essentials, she says, include a food scale (so you know how big your portions really are); an olive oil sprayer, to add flavor with minimum calories; and a mallet to tenderize low-fat meats.

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