Today’s post is dedicated to those of you stuck in Good Food Jail – permanently chained to your cutting boards, knives, ovens and dishwashers. Preparing and cooking three meals a day, seven days a week can be a daunting task, and eat up all the time you’d like to take actually appreciating your culinary creations. So we’ve brought in the experts – a team of top Paleo chefs, to help you break out of jail, and enter the New Year well fed and stress-free.
Melissa “Melicious” Joulwan, Well Fed
A Whole9 Envoy Extraordinaire, author of the blog The Clothes Make The Girl, and the cookbook Well Fed: Paleo Recipes For People Who Love To Eat (packed with more than 115 Whole30-approved recipes).
From frozen to feasting. When I just can’t bear to pack one more work lunch, and I’m feeling really lazy, I don’t even bother to cook my food. Just put two big servings of frozen vegetables in a microwaveable container then drizzle them with olive oil and a good shake of garlic powder, salt, and pepper. Add a microwaveable protein (grilled chicken, frozen cooked shrimp), cram on the lid, and shove the container your bag. At lunchtime, microwave the whole shebang for three minutes, and voila! instant lunch with no real cooking time. It’s not a 4-star Michelin experience, but we all need to eat, like, 28 times a week, so a few of those meals can be “good enough.” It’s nutritious, it’s tastes good, and it’s ready fast.
Declare “Fish Day.” Declare an Official Fish Day and eat no-cook fish for all your meals with raw veggies on the side: tuna salad for lunch, sardines or kippers for a snack, and (defrosted) frozen, already cooked shrimp for dinner. With plenty of fresh veggies, homemade mayo or homemade salad dressing, and a little fruit on the side, it’s a fresh, light meal that requires just a little chopping and no cooking. Bonus if you add a hard-boiled egg or two to the plate.
Get multiple pans going at once! When I’m doing a big cookup for the week, I always have two pans going on the stove at once: one for meat and one for veggies. I clean and chop all the veggies I want to steam-sauté, and I set up an assembly line so I can move stuff in and out of the pans without needing to wash in between. Start with the fattiest meat and sauté ’til browned in the “meat” pan, then remove it from the pan and use the same pan, conveniently greased, to cook the next, etc. While the meat is cooking, fire up your “veggie” pan and steam-sauté one veggie after another, using the same water. Just cook one veg, remove it with a slotted spoon to a storage container, keeping the water in the pan hot, so you can add the next veg to the steam bath. Repeat, repeat, repeat. Bonus points: On a third burner, hard boil a dozen eggs for high-quality, grab-and-go protein. I guarantee that with this method, you can make enough food for 3-4 days in about an hour.
Make freezer “pellets.” This is such a Helpful Hints From Heloise kind of thing, it’s kind of embarrassing., but… when you have sorry-looking oranges, lemons, and limes lying around, squeeze the juice out of them and pour it into ice cube trays. When they’re frozen, I pop them out into a Ziplock and store them in the freezer. Anytime you need fresh juice for cooking, just pop one into the pot. This trick also works with leftover tomato paste (because every recipe in the world needs 1 stinkin’ tablespoon of tomato paste, so there’s always leftovers). And when you’re not doing a Whole30, this is good for old red and white wine, too.
Patty Strilaeff, Chowstalker
Fat double-duty. If you fry (pastured, organic) bacon or cook (grass-fed, organic) ground beef, instead of pouring off the grease and washing the pan, put a lid on it and reuse it for your next meal. It will not go bad and it’s great for tossing in some veggies or some salmon (but you’ll definitely want to wash the pan after the fish).
Dirty dish distress. Sometimes following a recipe as written will result in a ridiculous amount of dirty dishes. Do I really need to cook something in a skillet and then transfer to a baking dish, or mix in one bowl and then pour into another bowl? Read the recipe all the way through before you begin and look for short cuts that reduce the kitchen clean-up chores. For example: Lots of salad recipes have you make the salad dressing and pour over the salad. But it works way better to make the dressing in the bottom of the serving bowl, then add the other ingredients and mix. Then you have one less dish to wash.
Karen and Casey Puyleart, Purely Primal
The creators of Purely Primal enjoy cooking and eating fresh home-cooked meals with their two daughters, talking about food, photography, working on projects around their home, and exercising, both in the gym and out.
Organized shopping. Everything – from shopping to cooking – gets done faster and better when well organized. We use a custom-made shopping check list (available on our web site), sorted by the sections of the stores we shop at and inclusive of about 90% of the things we buy on a regular basis. A detailed list gets you into the store, looking for what you need, cuts impulse buying. Print the list ahead of time and post it in the kitchen. When an ingredient is running low, check it on the list immediately. When putting together a weekly menu keep the list at hand and make sure to include any ingredients not currently “in stock.”
Go back to (prep) school. Mise en place – everything in its place. Before you start, have everything you need ready. The recipe should be printed (even if it’s shorthand notes on a napkin) and placed within an easy glance of where you are working. The ingredients (including all spices and herbs) should be rounded up and roughly measured out. The pots, pans, knives and any other utensils should also be assembled and ready to go. Have the sink empty, the dishwasher put away, and the countertops clear. Keep the garbage can and compost buckets within an arm’s reach. Get all of your prep work done at one time – chopping the veggies or fruits first, and then the meat last.
Family time. More help means less time spent overall – but don’t limit the kids’ efforts to just doing the dishes. It’s an opportunity for the next generation to learn, and it gets them excited to try new things when they have helped make it. Involve the kids in getting all of the ingredients rounded up, even finding things at the grocery store. Make a game of guessing the spice (close your eyes and take a gentle sniff). Let them ask lots of questions, and even experiment a little (within reason). As they are old enough and have the dexterity, let them graduate to some of the prep tasks – measuring dry ingredients, stirring, even chopping. And eventually, relax at the counter and let them take the helm!
Charles and Julie Mayfield, Paleo Comfort Foods
Authors of the fabulous new cookbook, Paleo Comfort Foods, which bridges the gap between traditional cookbooks and the paleo diet in a seamless and beautiful way. (They wanted to describe themselves as, “Moderately well-adjusted human beings who wrote some silly book,” but we overrode their suggestion.)
Be (food) swingers. Coordinate a meal-swap with friends from your gym/area. Get 5 or so couples (about 10 people) and agree that on a given day each week, you’ll do a meal swap. So instead of making a batch of Chili that you’re stuck eating for 10 meals, you farm out most of those meals, and in exchange, get other meals. You’ve just minimized your time in the kitchen, and have some SERIOUS return on investment.
Choppity chop. Anytime you’re chopping veggies, chop extra. So, if you have the cutting board out and you’re chopping onions, peppers, broccoli, etc., chop up extra, and store the extra in the fridge for future use. That way, when you want to create a quick dish, you already have things chopped and ready to go.
Protein double-duty. Plan with “recycling” in mind. Try to plan your meals in such a way that lends itself to repurposing some of the protein for something else. Take chicken breasts. We might grill up 3-4 pounds on a given day. Some we’ll probably vacuum seal for future use, whereas maybe 2 days later we’ll use some of the leftovers for chicken salad, or use some of the chicken in Chicken Tomatillo Stew, or do a quick stir fry with some veggies, fresh ginger, and coconut aminos, or do chicken fajitas. That way, the protein is ready to go, and you’re not slaving that much more!
Jessica Meyers, Mastering the Art of Paleo Cooking
A Physician Assistant student on a mission to show others the diversity and quality of meals possible within the scope of the ‘Paleo diet,’ and enable readers to succeed with an arsenal of new recipes on her site, Mastering the Art of Paleo Cooking.
Spice in bulk. The right sauces and spices can turn any boring meal into a masterpiece. I periodically spend an afternoon making large batches of sauces and spice blends. I freeze the sauces in smaller portions to defrost and use when I’m short on time.
Remix your meals. Simply making large quantities of the same meal to last the week can quickly lead to ‘food burn-out.’ No matter how tasty that beef stew is on Monday, you will probably be beyond sick of it by Friday. Instead, spend your time making meals that can be easily “remixed” throughout the week. Recipes like my Crock-Pot Jalapeno Roast can be dinner with some cauliflower rice and avocado, thrown over some lettuce and veggies for an easy salad, mixed into scrambled eggs for delicious Machaca, or wrapped in large lettuce leaves for tacos.
Tom Denham, Whole Life Eating
Don’t be a garlic snob. Use garlic powder to add garlic flavor instead of taking the time to work with fresh garlic. Maybe my taste buds are inferior, but I have not found fresh garlic clearly superior to garlic powder in my cooking.
Carrots, easy. Buy already peeled, baby-cut carrots from the grocery store so that all you have to do is rinse and use them. I add “whole” baby-cut carrots to most recipes. Cut 2 or 3 at a time into halves or thirds if you want smaller carrot pieces.
Onion prep like a pro. Pre- prep your onions. Cut off the top, cut off the bottom, cut the onion in half from top to bottom, and then peel the skin off each half. Lay the onion flat side down and create half-moon slices by cutting down the half from top to bottom. You can use half-moon slices in most recipes. If you need smaller onion pieces, create them by cutting down the half-moon slices from right to left (or left to right if you are a leftie). Throw your cut onions into an air-tight container and shake them to separate all the onion pieces. As your cooking calls for onion, grab what you need from the container. I’ve never had cut onions spoil in the refrigerator, but I’ve probably never had 1 cut onion last more than a few days before cutting a new one.
Chicken smarts. Boil a whole bird to make “pulled chicken” and a pot of tasty chicken broth. Rinse and add the whole bird and giblets to cooking pot. Dust generously with salt, garlic powder, coriander powder, ground cumin, turmeric, and red chili powder. Add enough water to submerge the chicken. Bring the water to a boil and then reduce heat to a busy simmer and let cook covered 50 minutes to an hour. Use a pressure cooker to reduce the cooking time to 30 minutes. When done, the water has become chicken broth. Leave it in the pot while moving chicken to a large mixing bowl. The chicken will fall apart, so move the pieces as best you can with tongs and scoop the rest out with a slotted spoon. Use a pair of tongs to separate the chicken from the bones and skin and transfer it to another large bowl. Once you have the chicken separated, pull the chicken apart with a pair of forks and save it in an air-tight container. Discard the bones and skin. Let the broth cool 30 minutes to an hour and then pour it into an air-tight container. Use the broth to make a tasty soup or a cup at a time in recipes that need a little chicken flavor and moisture.
Bill Staley and Hayley Mason, Make It Paleo
Knife smarts. Invest in a good set of knives, as well as a knife skills class. (YouTube or a few nights of watching Food Network can help with the knife skills, as well as a healthy amount of practice). Having good, sharp knives, and knowing how to use them will make cooking prep a lot faster and more efficient.
Storage space. Stock your cupboard with a variety of reusable food containers. Your fridge will be filled with leftovers, chopped veggies for salads or omelets, fresh herbs, dressings, and lunches to take to school or work. Having the right containers to keep everything fresh and organized really helps! We recommend glass containers or BPA-free plastics.
Easy spices. Spice blends make gourmet cooking effortless. Buying ready-made mixes of herb salts, or spice blends will take the stress out of creative cooking. Seasonello is our favorite herb salt which is delicious on roasted, grilled, or sauteed vegetables, meat, fish, or poultry, as well as eggs, and salads. When purchasing pre-made spice blends, be sure to check the ingredients for gluten or sugars (you do not want either).
Extra, extra. Purchase extra pieces of key kitchen equipment to make cooking a streamlined affair. For us, that means having a few high-heat silicone utensils, several sets of measuring cups and spoons, tongs, and several cutting boards. When we’re both in the kitchen and cooking, this makes life easy as we do not have to share tools or stop to wash things frequently. We’re not saying you need 10 hand mixers, but having duplicates of key tools can come in handy and make cooking a bit more painless.
Michelle Tam, Nom Nom Paleo
The sardonic working mom and foodie behind the popular blog Nom Nom Paleo shows you how to shave time in the kitchen and still end up with healthy, flavor-packed meals that your brood will devour while murmuring “nomnomnom.” You can check out her awesome Nom Nom gear in the Nom Nom Paleo Spreadshirt store.
SousVide Supreme. The one thing that allows me to get Whole30-compliant nosh in my belly without spending too much time cooking and cleaning is my SousVide Supreme.This kitchen appliance is my absolute FAVORITE because it (1) saves me money; (2) tricks people into thinking I’ve got mad kitchen skillz; and (3) offers me the gift of time.
Although most people think the SousVide Supreme is an indulgent luxury item, it has saved me money in more ways than one. We rarely go out to eat nowadays because it’s so easy to crank out delicious meals at home. I’ve also saved on my grocery bills because, when cooked sous vide, tough, cheaper cuts of meat (e.g. grass fed beef tongue, oxtail, short ribs, etc.) are magically transformed into tender, succulent entrees. On the rare occasion when I buy an expensive steak, I don’t need to worry about spending money on a back-up dinner plan because it always turns out fantastic.
Cooking sous vide is so dang easy. All I do is season the meat, vacuum-seal, and drop the packets in the water oven for the specified time and temp. Prep and clean-up take 10 minutes, tops. With the SousVide Supreme, I can pre-cook a bunch of meat once a week so it’s ready to reheat when I want to eat it. The trick to meal planning with the water oven is finding and grouping items that can cook at the same temperature. For example, if you like all your red meat cooked to 130º F (medium rare), just plan to make all of them at the same time and remove each individual item as they finish cooking.
The beauty of sous vide is that you can cook lots of things ahead and then you’ve got tons of ready-to-eat meat in your fridge (where it’s good for ~4 days) or freezer (where it’s good for 6+ months). You can eat the meat cold (e.g. chicken breast) or just reheat it for 30 minutes in the water bath set to the final serving temp, dry it off, and sear. Plus, clean-up is a breeze.
I know I sound like a shill for SousVide Supreme but sous vide cooking is awesome. If you don’t want to shell out the money for one, I’ve written a post about how to hack one for cheap. Just try it — you’ll like it! (Unless you’re worried about plastics, but I’ve addressed that here.)
Michelle Norris, Caveman Cuisine
The Executive Chef of Caveman Cuisine, a paleo-friendly meal prep and delivery service, and a founding member of Paleo(fx) Austin Partners. She blogs at Ancestral Momentum with her husband, Keith Norris of Efficient Exercise.
Prep your peppers. No need enter into a knife-wrestle with these bad boys (you’ll lose, as they’re very accomplished). No, simply cut the tops and bottoms of the pepper off first, which allows the seed pod to be easy removed as a whole piece. Next, cut the pepper lengthwise down a single side, then roll the entire pepper out flat. This will allow for a much easier removal of those pesky membranes. Finally, cut the pepper into whatever shape you need, whether it be julienne strips or any of the various fashions of dice.
Pay now, not later. Think of it this way: would you rather clean up from prep work once or multiple times per week? Yeah, yeah, I hear ya. It is a drag at the time, but you’ll thank yourself later in the week. One reason chefs can produce incredible dishes in record time is because all of the ingredients for that dish were prepped for them ahead of time. You can do this, too. Wash and cut all vegetables to the specifications you will need them for the dishes you plan to make. Prep all meats to the extent that you can do so safely. Make sure to seal and store these all properly in the refrigerator. Fruits should be washed and prepped at the time you are ready to use them to keep them fresher longer.
Sharpest knife in the drawer. One additional tip as it relates to prep work: always be sure your knives are properly sharpened. A dull knife not only wastes your time, it creates more work and it can damage foods. Last but not least, a dull knife is a safety hazard in that it is more likely to injure you than its sharper drawer mate.
Dallas & Melissa Hartwig, Whole9
Founders of Whole9 and the original Whole30 program. We couldn’t let this post go without contributing our own kitchen tricks, even though we’re not “top Paleo chefs” by any means.
Own these gadgets. A few simple (and inexpensive) gadgets will make your kitchen life 74.3% easier. In no particular order, make sure your kitchen comes stocked with (a) a lemon/lime squeezer, (b) a garlic press, (c) a chopper (we like this one from Williams Sonoma), (d) multiple sizes of lightweight, fast-drying cutting boards (we love these from Epicurian), (e) a meat tenderizer (no more unevenly cooked chicken breasts!) and (f) cheesecloth (for clarified butter, soup stock and more).
Store smart. We have about 20 vacuum-sealed stoarge containers, to keep everything from nuts and seeds to coffee beans as fresh as the day we bought them. (We like these, from Bodum.) They look pretty lined up on your countertop, too.
5 minute meals. Keep a list of three “go-t0” meals on your fridge – quick and easy fixings made with ingredients you always have on hand. (Eggs and frozen spinach, canned salmon and sweet potato patties and frozen scallops and Imagine brand butternut squash soup are our go-to meals.) This way, when you’re home late, hungry and tired, you’ll have no excuse not to make a healthy, nourishing meal.
You don’t have to be a top Paleo chef to share your own kitchen tips and tricks. So share your favorite time-saving skills, and let us know which of our “expert” tips you found the most helpful.
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