Timesaver: Be Your Own Personal Chef

If you know me well enough you know that I am always looking for the most efficient way to do anything. Maximizing time is particularly important now as I try to carve out time for creative pursuits.  So, given that I do not have a personal chef to help me feed my family nutritious meals (and spare me the daily question of “what to make for dinner tonight?”), early this year I incorporated a personal chef’s work habits into my weekly routine. In other words, I cook for the entire week (lunches and dinners) in 2 hours. What??

It’s a more streamlined process now that we eat predominantly Paleo: cook up all meats, root vegetables, and soups and store in the fridge to use throughout the week. In the past, I would also cook up all the grains (quinoa pilaf, brown rice, etc.), as well.    During the week, we mix and match what is cooked with fresh salads, steamed greens or throw together a chili or spaghetti dish.   Leftover chicken makes a great chicken salad or addition to breakfast eggs.

In Well Fed, Melissa Joulwan documents a good (restaurant-style) process which she calls a “weekly cookup” and she is a good resource if you are less than skilled in the kitchen with technique/planning or need recipe creation/ideas (I should add for the Paleo palette).   My process is below (suited to our family’s tastes and my time availability); I repeat weekly based on what is available at the organic market.  I don’t eat red meat, so I use different chicken and turkey cuts.  But, I will grill up a steak for C during the week if he wants one, since that is minimal effort.

The Evening Before:

1.  Cut up mirepoix (carrots, celery, onions) for the stock, soup(s), and meatballs/burgers and store in containers in fridge.

2.  Cut up and brine 2 whole chickens. I save the backbones and wingtips for the stock (to be made into soup the next day). If I don’t want soup the coming week, I freeze the backs/tips for future use. Store brining meats in fridge over night.   Brining pulls moisture into the meat (via osmosis) and helps meat retain good flavor the whole week.   If not using organic chicken, remove the skin which retains nasty residues (pesticides, etc.) that you don’t want to baste your chicken in.

My Simple Brine (2 chickens or small turkey):

1/4 C – 1/3 C of kosher salt

1/2 C of sugar (if not on Paleo)

4 garlic cloves

1/2 tsp of black peppercorns

Enough cold water to cover (at least a gallon)

Optional or seasonal additions:  Juniper berries, fresh thyme, bay leaves, or allspice berries

Dissolve salt and sugar in a pitcher of cold water.  Place chicken into zip lock bags (or large bowl).  Fill bags with brine mixture.  Add extra water to cover completely.  Toss in the garlic, peppercorn and additional options.  Seal bags and store mixture in fridge, preferably overnight (minimum 3-4 hours).  The next day, empty contents into a colander to drain.  Pat meat dry with paper towels or let chicken sit on a platter in the fridge for an hour or two to dry out (I do the former).

3.  Make stock for soup(s).  Um , Google how to?

4.  Pull ground turkey and turkey tenderloins out to thaw in fridge.

 

Cooking Day

I try to accomplish on a Thursday morning, so I can enjoy more time with the hubby and kiddo in the weekend.  However, when I was working at the day job, I cooked on Sunday mornings.  Em spends time with Dora the Explorer, and I try to keep my cook to under 2 hours so we have time for play and learning (and minimize TV time).

Cut up and roast root vegetables (sweet potatoes, squashes).  If I can find one I will roast spaghetti squash to use for spaghetti (use low or no-sugar marinara)

1. Cut up and roast root vegetables (sweet potatoes, squashes). If I can find one, I will roast spaghetti squash to use later for “spaghetti” (use store-bought low or no-sugar marinara to save time). The squashes make a cool addition to simple chili, as well.

2.  Get soup started using stock and mirepoix.  I like Joulwen's Golden Cauliflower Soup.

2. Get soup started using stock and mirepoix (and other ingredients). I like Joulwen’s Golden Cauliflower Soup. Alternately, you can get grain dishes started at this point so they have time to simmer.

3. Prep meats (this week it is turkey burgers, turkey cutlets, and grilled chicken).  All are great on salads or alone with a salad and or steamed/roasted vegetables.

3. Prep meats (this week it is turkey burgers, turkey cutlets, and grilled chicken). All are great on salads or alone with a salad and or steamed/roasted vegetables.

4.  Make a simple rub (I use avocado oil due to it's high smoke point, a bit of salt/pepper and paprika).

4. Grilled chicken: After brining, make a simple rub (I use avocado oil due to its high smoke point, a tiny bit of salt/pepper and paprika and sometimes onion or garlic powder…reminds me of mom’s fried chicken without the gluten).

5.  Get chicken on the grill...

5. Get chicken on the grill…

6. And turkey cutlets into pan...

6. And turkey cutlets into pan…

7.  Then the turkey burgers (or meatballs) follow in the same pan.  9:30 am...wrapping up soon.

7. Then the turkey burgers (or meatballs) follow in the same pan. 9:20 am…wrapping up soon.

8.  Small kitchen, so I do dishes along the way while stuff cooks.

8. Small kitchen, so I do dishes along the way while stuff cooks.

10.  Don't forget the chicken!  Soup, cutlets, and burgers are all done by now.

9. Don’t forget the chicken! Soup, cutlets, and burgers are all done by now.

10.  All cooked up and into containers to cool in the fridge (not counter).

10. All cooked up and into containers to cool in the fridge (not counter).

11.  Dishes washed or loaded...

11. Dishes washed or loaded…

12.  And I'm finished!

12. And I’m finished!

12. Off the Roosevelt Island with Em

12. Off the Roosevelt Island with Em

13.  Yay for nature walks!

13. Yay for nature walks!

 

What are your thoughts?