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Tricks of the Trade

So just what are some of those tricks that can make dishes both healthier and tastier?

"All it takes is a basic understanding of how to bring out the natural flavors in food," says Connie Gutterson, RD, PhD, author of The Sonoma Diet and a TV food demo veteran.

One of her own favorite flavor-developing techniques is toasting grains and nuts before adding to recipes.

She is also a big fan of experimenting with different kinds of whole grains, and of roasting and caramelizing vegetables for added flavor.

"There are so many things you can do in the kitchen that don't come out of a bottle," says Gutterson, also a chef and dietitian at the Culinary Institute of America.

As you become more comfortable with cooking techniques, you can use key ingredients to completely change a basic recipe. A pantry stocked with a variety of spices, herbs, vinegars, oils, mustards, whole grains, beans, nuts, and vegetables can turn a single recipe into multiple variations.

"Using a different spice rub or grain can completely change a recipe," says Gutterson.

Break Out of a Rut

Do the same meals repeat themselves week after week in your house? If so, you are not alone. One thing home cooks can learn from cooking shows is how to add variety to the menu -- essential for keeping meals interesting, healthy, and enjoyable.

"Most cooks stick to the tried-and-true family favorites they can cook without a recipe and rarely venture out of that comfort zone, except for holidays and special occasions," says Holly Clegg, a cookbook author and frequent television guest.

Clegg recommends breaking out of your mold by starting with a familiar dish, such as lasagna, then tweaking it. Try adding salsa to your grilled chicken. Or maybe use different greens, veggies, or dressing for your standard salad.

"Start with recipes you know will give you the confidence to be creative, and experiment with techniques to lower the fat, calories, sugar, and sodium," Clegg recommends.

Many people just use one or two recipes from each of their cookbooks. But Clegg tells her audiences not to make the same recipe twice.

"The quickest way to culinary boredom and ordering takeout is by preparing and eating the same food all the time," says Krieger.

For inspiration, treat yourself to an afternoon of food television -- or surf the Internet for online cooking demos.

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