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Confessions of an Eat Out-aholic, 10.01.01 ...

Gilmore Girls star Lauren Graham learns to love beets, cook salmon and give her restaurant habit a rest.

I grew up with an overworked single father who, though committed to healthy home cooking, also knew when to shut off the Crock-Pot and go out to dinner. I still love having a simple evening suddenly become more of an event, and I relish the exotic flavors and unique textures of restaurant food. To this day, I'm convinced that chefs can create dishes regular people could not.

But I'm also convinced that restaurant chefs create dishes that regular people shouldn't eat every single day. I worry that I'm shortchanging my health with a constant diet of rich restaurant food. I long to eat food at home that doesn't come in a cardboard container. After a busy day of filming, however, I'm too tired to cook. Plus, I'm overwhelmed by my lack of culinary knowledge.

So I approach the editors at SELF and tell them their readers will be healthier if they send me, an admitted eat out-aholic, to a professional cooking class in Italy for the summer and let me write about it. They counter with an offer of a one-day crash course at my house with Scott Uehlein, executive chef at the renowned Canyon Ranch Health Resort in Tuscon, Arizona. Guess who wins?

Getting chef-y with Scott

On the appointed day, Chef Scott arrives at my house armed with loads of green--- what do you call them? --- vegetables. Looking healthy and spa like, Scott tempts me with delicious-sounding recipes. "How does buttermilk-battered chicken sound?" he asks. "Do you like Asian flavors? I have an easy, delicious sauce with a green-tea base. And wait until you try a golden beet!" Scott assures me I will feel as confident as a gourmet chef by the end of the day. I'm swept up in his enthusiasm. I brave the golden beet--- and it tastes good!

Chef Scott suggests we tackle dessert first (securing his place in my heart forever). The recipe for Bananas Foster is simple-- seven ingredients, including two kinds of alcohol. I'm already sold on this spa cuisine concept. Essentially, we're making a phyllo dough turnover with fruit filling. Phyllo turns out to be fun: I spray it with cooking oil, fill it with the banana mixture and fold it into a triangle. After baking for 15 minutes, it comes out flaky and delicious. You'd never know it was lowfat.

Scott then walks me through the rest of his recipes (we're going to serve them at a dinner party the next day): a roasted beet salad, Horseradish-Crusted Salmon With Cranberry Ketchup, Lyonnaise Potatoes and steamed green beans. I'm slightly intimidated by this list, but it's too late to suggest we go out instead.

So we get down to business. Surprisingly, I'm having fun. I enjoy grating the prehistoric-looking horseradish root for the salmon recipe. I wonder: Am I the only person who thought you battered fish by dipping it in egg first? For any of you similarly misdirected, the order is seasoned flour, then egg.

The Lyonnaise Potatoes are basically potatoes baked in a blend of broth and onions. I'm amazed by how rich they taste, especially since they take only 15 minutes to assemble. None of the recipes require too many ingredients, and they all seem like things I could make even if Chef Scott weren't holding my hand. I'm so inspired that I convince Scott to teach me some of the recipes he'd mentioned earlier. Was it really possible, for instance, that the aforementioned "easy, delicious sauce with a green-tea base" could truly be both easy and delicious? I have doubts. Chef Scott dispels them. We make the Green-Tea Soy Broth, which contains almost as few ingredients as it sounds. Chef Scott says it's delicious over seared tuna or noodles. And it turns out that even when the recipes have lots of ingredients, the techniques are easy and the results are worth it-- like the Buttermilk-Battered Chicken Breast With Sweet Corn Sauce we tackle next. It's easy, and when I taste it, I decide that I'd eat it every day if I cou ld. You can't even tell it's good for you.

Dinner party moment of truth

Eventually, of course, kitchen experimentation time is over, and it's time to put Chef Scott's cooking crash course to the real test. It's dinner party time. I gather some friends who I know won't hate me if the meal turns out terrible: screenwriter Kathy Ebel, actress Jen Jostyn, interior designer Molly Leutkemeyer and writer Peter Goldfinger. Chef Scott stands by to make sure I don't poison anyone.

Once everyone is seated, I realize I've forgotten to create a healthy appetizer. My friends are hungry, so I give them some of the rum left over from the Bananas Foster. Part of cooking is improvising, right? Everyone seems to love this meal-- including me. Usually, I don't find salmon exciting, but the way I made it, it's tasty. We all agree that the warm Bananas Foster would be even yummier with some vanilla Haagen-Dazs. Still, I didn't feel like I was cheating anyone by serving them something healthy because it all tasted good.

So, am I now a recovering eat out--aholic? Well, if by recovering you mean I've given up restaurants for good, then no. But I made that battered chicken again. The green-tea broth continues to hold up well in the fridge. And I thought about making Bananas Foster with some peaches I had. I'm pleased with myself and my culinary progress. I'm no longer afraid of making dinner. In fact, I was so inspired, I started a monthly dinner party where I make something new for friends every time. For the first party, I grilled tuna steaks and tossed a salad. Only this time, I did it all by myself-- and I felt very Chef Scott-ish.

-- By Lauren Graham.

Lauren Graham stars as Lorelai Gilmore on the WB's Gilmore Girls. She lives in the Los Angeles.
Credit: Self Magazine

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