One of the questions I get asked the most in the classes I teach is: “Do you cook every day at home?” I feel like there is a common misconception that all professional chefs cook gourmet meals every day.
When I was a restaurant chef and was working long hours creating beautiful meals day in and day out; weeks went by before I would even think about cooking at home. I was cooking 60 plus hours a week for a living; the last thing I wanted to do was come home and cook myself anything, let alone clean another kitchen! I would eat things like frozen pizzas, hot pockets and lots of takeout. Fast forward to present day where working at The Chopping Block has changed my whole outlook on cooking and eating at home. Instead of just churning out a bunch of meals, getting to actually teach people how to cook for themselves has renewed my passion for cooking in my own kitchen. I still don’t cook every single day, but I am going to let you in on my secret for cooking smart, not hard.
Everyone has heard of meal prep but what does that actually mean? Most of the time when you think of meal prep, you think of a healthy way to pre-package and portion out all meals for the week. This is great in theory, but what if midway through the week you feel like something else? It can get pretty boring eating the same things over and over again. The way I approach meal prepping is the buffet method. If you have never heard of the buffet meal prep method, it is simply cooking or prepping multiple different proteins, veggies, and grains at one time. You then package them individually.
Then you take those already prepped items and turn them into your meal of choice throughout the week. I never know what I am going to be in the mood for when it comes to my meals so I make a variety of different things that came be combined in a multitude of different ways. I am not going to sit here at tell you that I cook this way in order to be healthy. I love my breads and carbs, dairy, cheese, and desserts as much as the next person. This method of cooking at home is meant to make your life easier by cooking a lot at one time in order to put together meals later on in the week in a flash and with minimal effort. The beauty of the buffet method is you can mix and match all the items prepped to be completely different every day.
It all starts at the grocery store. Besides my meal prepping secrets, I want to share with you how I stock my kitchen from pantry to refrigerator. These are the categories and some examples I stick to when shopping:
- Proteins - chicken, beef, pork, or fish (tempeh, seitan, or tofu)
- Veggies - greens, onions, peppers, tomatoes, mushrooms
- Fruits – berries, bananas, apples, pineapples
- Grains - quinoa, rice, farro, pasta, oats, cous cous
- Dairy - cheese, sour cream, milk, cream, yogurt (nut milk, coconut milk, oat milk)
- Breads - bagels, tortillas, buns, sourdough
- Canned goods - beans/legumes, veggies, tomatoes, stock
- Acid- citrus, vinegars, wines, pickles, fermented foods
- Spices - garlic, paprika, chili powder, ginger, black pepper
- Fresh or dried herbs- basil, oregano, scallions, cilantro
- Condiments – soy sauce, fish sauce, mustard, hot sauce, barbecue sauce, tahini, mayo
- Fats – sesame oil, butter, olive oil, canola oil, nut oil
I don’t want you to feel like you need to run to the store and pick up everything on this list. I suggest using what you have on hand and then slowly stock up on new items from each category to add to your pantry every time you go to the store.
Once you go grocery shopping and you have your proteins and veggies on hand, the next step is to get cooking. Try using a different seasoning mix on your vegetables that you may have never tried in order to make them more interesting than the usual. If you are roasting your vegetables, a few tricks to remember would be to roast around 425 degrees and lightly dress them with a high smoke point oil with a neutral flavor so that the seasonings are the main flavor. Below I roasted a head of cauliflower, a head of broccoli, and three carrots with salt, pepper and caraway seeds. This can be used as a side or as an addition to a salad, a rice bowl, or as crudité with dip.
If grilling your vegetables, I like to start with high direct heat for caramelization and them move them to a lower heat area to finish cooking. Here I am grilling tomatoes, onions, and jalapeños that can be blended up and be a salsa for your proteins, veggies, tacos, or even chips. This is something that can last in the fridge for weeks or even months frozen!
I usually start with prepping and cooking my vegetables then I move on to my proteins. When cooking proteins, I always pull them before they are cooked all of the way through. That way when reheating and using them for a meal in the future, I ensure I will not overcook them. If you will be eating your protein cold, then I suggest cooking them to the proper temperature. Below is a pork belly that I used for fried rice, crunchy and fried as a salad topping, sliced in a sandwich or as a side to my eggs.
While the vegetables and proteins are cooking or resting, I prepare my grains or other sides. I always love to have some quinoa or cous cous cooked because they are very versatile and they taste great either cold or hot. You can also take this time to cut some veggies to keep raw and package them up for later use, either in a sauté as crudité, or a salad. I also like pre-cooking pastas and rice. I choose two usually so I can alternate throughout the week. Below is a cous cous salad with grilled zucchini, squash, and onions with a cilantro chutney dressing.
This past week I decided to grill an assortment of proteins and vegetables:
Grilled chicken breasts
Grilled corn on the cob
Grilled beef tenderloin
Indoor grilled zucchini and squash
All of the above were cooked in one afternoon and will provide a week's worth of meals, if not more. So, what do you do with all of this food after it is cooked? Short answer is anything! My go to is always some sort of salad or bowl. Now I know what you are thinking: salads are boring and not a full meal. Let’s talk about how to build a better bowl/salad. I like to have a mix of grains, greens, proteins, veggies (cooked or raw) cheese, crunchy, and dressing to tie it all together. By combining all of these items, it becomes a complete and satisfying meal. Below is a combo of spinach, tomatoes, croutons, quinoa, cooked squash, raw onions and celery, and diced chicken with a lemon oregano vinaigrette.
You could also sauté the different ingredients to make one big pot of deliciousness! Below, I sautéed some onions, then I deglazed with balsamic vinegar, I added the grilled zucchini, squash, and corn, 1 can of black beans, and diced tomatoes and finished with fresh basil. Once finished, I topped it off with the grilled beef tenderloin that I sliced and a side of farro. It was a complete meal that was put together in 10 minutes! You could also add your grain to the sauté if preferred.
You could utilize all of these prepped ingredients to make tacos, sandwiches, stir fries and pasta dishes. If you want to only cook with minimal effort throughout the week, I highly suggest trying out the buffet meal prep method. It is a great way to utilize already made ingredients and test your creativity with how to put it together.
If you have other questions on where to start, be sure to ask any and all of your question in our private Facebook group. In the near future, we will be offering virtual meal prep classes but in the meantime if you want to learn more information on how to balance flavors or cooking techniques to better assist in your meal prep at home, please check out our virtual classes. We can even do private virtual lessons for a personalized experience!