“Gourmet” Weekday Dinner

Ok, bear with me… This one is a doozy, but I promise it’s worth it…

I may be a professional chef by day, but coming home after working all day in a kitchen to make dinner can feel quite daunting. Despite my lack of energy, I always strive to cook a fresh meal for my family. They are the reason I love cooking, after all. It doesn’t make sense to cook 4-star rated food to strangers only to come home and press 4:00 minutes on the microwave for my loved ones. So in an attempt to save a little energy at the end of the day and still provide a balanced, home cooked meal for my family, I’ve used a couple of tricks from my years as a catering chef and applied them to our weekly dining routine.

One of the most challenging things to master as a chef is timing. Catering chefs, for example, have to manage a menu for hundreds of people at one time. The food, in every single detail, has to ALL come out piping hot, not over- or under-cooked, AND taste delicious. How is this possible? One method: par-cooking. By partially cooking your food,  cooling it down, then bringing it back up to the proper temperature for consumption, you’re able to uphold the ultimate vision of the dish without comprising the tasty end result due to lack of time. Still with me? It’s actually quite simple. Here’s how I use this technique for my family.

Saturday was a beautiful day in California and we had a few pounds of chicken breast hanging out in the freezer, so we pulled out the grill. But instead of grilling enough chicken for just our Saturday dinner, I fully grilled enough for us that night, then lightly kissed the grill with the rest of the chicken for later in the week. I did the same for some vegetables. Now we could eat “Grilled Chicken with Summer Vegetables” on a Wednesday night when I was more interested in playing with my daughter than cooking. Hang in there… I promise all of this detail will be worth it. But first…here are a handful of tips for properly par-cooking food

Tips for properly par-cooking food:
  1. Invest in a good thermometer. And calibrate it regularly. (Comment below if you have questions on how to do this!)
  2. Lightly sear or grill your food only for a couple of seconds — just long enough to get those gorgeous grill marks.
  3. Cool your food properly. Hot food must be cooled to 70°F in 2 hours, then down to 41°F in an additional 4 hours. Example: If I grill chicken at 2:00P, I have until 4:00P to get the internal temperature to below 70°F (this is where that thermometer comes in handy!). I then have until 8:00P to get the internal temperature to below 41°F. All of this time and temperature monitoring might seem overwhelming but it ultimately means delicious leftovers without a nasty stomach ache!
    • Don’t put your hot food in the fridge to cool faster. The residual heat could potentially heat the inside of your fridge, which could cause other food in your fridge to get warm and spoil. Ew. And a waste of money.
  4. When ready to eat your food, properly heat it up again in the oven. Use these temperatures when cooking various types of food. (Make sure to temp the thickest part of the ingredient. Cooking multiple sizes? Start with the smallest item, remove it from the oven once fully cooked, then continue with the rest. This will eliminate any random overcooked food):
    1. Fish – 145°F
    2. Casseroles – 165°F
    3. Pork – 145°F
    4. Poultry – 165°F
    5. Beef (steaks)  – 145°F
    6. Ground meat – 165°F
  5. With all of that being said, don’t cook your protein until the thermometer reads that number above. Pull out the protein when the temperature reads about 10°F less than the goal. (e.g.: Take chicken out of the oven when the temperature reads 150-155°F). Why? Because all protein needs time to rest. Resting allows the juices to flow back into the entire piece of the protein cooked. And when you rest your protein, it will continue to cook. So…. If you pull out your chicken exactly at 165°F, and it rests for 10 minutes, then by the time you eat the chicken it will be overcooked.

Still with me? I promise it’s all worth it.

Ok, how about we do some actual cooking?

Here is the dish that inspired this post:

IMG_3613

Herb Grilled Chicken with Lemon Cauliflower Rice, Grilled Vegetables, and Hazelnut Romesco

Yields 4 portions

Ingredients:

Chicken
  • 3 chicken breasts ( I aim for 5 oz. serving portions per person)
  • ½ tsp. minced parsley
  • ½ tsp. minced oregano
  • 1 tsp. avocado oil (or oil of choice)
  • salt and pepper
  • zest of 1 lemon
Hazelnut Romesco
  • 3 red bell peppers
  • ¼ cup olive oil, plus 1 tbsp.
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 3 tbsp. sherry vinegar (or red wine vinegar)
  • ¼ cup toasted hazelnuts
  • 1 roma tomato, roasted in 400°F oven for 10 minutes
  • ¼ bunch of parsley
Lemon Cauliflower Rice
  • 1 small head of cauliflower
  • 1 tbsp. avocado oil
  • ¼ bunch of parsley, minced
  • 1 clove of garlic, minced
  • 1 shallot (or ¼ yellow onion) minced
  • zest of 1 lemon and its juice (want my recipe for preserved lemons to add to this dish instead? Comment below!)

    IMG_3612
    Make preserved lemons for added pop of flavor all year!
Vegetables
  • Whatever you have in the fridge! Or find at the Farmer’s Market or grocery store! Go seasonal and it will be delish. Just season with oil, salt, and pepper. Then kiss the grill lightly, cool, then reheat in a 450°F oven for 10 min.

IMG_3609

Chicken

IMG_3610Start by marinating the chicken with the ingredients listed. This can be done 24 hours in advance. Lightly grill the top side of the chicken. Cool (as directed above). When ready to reheat, preheat oven to 450°F. I prefer a higher temperature to add more color to the chicken and to enable you to get the chicken in and out of the oven faster, which will prevent drying out the chicken breast. Cook for about 8-10 minutes (or until the temp is 155°F). Rest, serve, and eat! You can also throw it in the microwave for about 4-5 minutes too and cut the time even more!

Hazelnut Romesco

Preheat oven to 400°F. Coat bell peppers with 1 tbsp. olive oil, place on a cookie sheet, and roast until skin is black (about 15-20 minutes). Rotate occasionally for an even char. Remove bell peppers from oven, place immediately in bowl, and cover with plastic wrap. Cool until you’re able to touch. Once cooled, peel skin and remove the seeds. Place roasted bell pepper in blender with remaining ingredients and blend until smooth. Season with salt and pepper.

Lemon Cauliflower Rice

IMG_3611Cut core from cauliflower and place in food processor. Pulse until until cauliflower is the size of rice. Reserve until ready to sauté. In large saucepan, heat oil on medium heat. Add shallots and sauté for 30 seconds. Add garlic and saute for 10 seconds. Turn off the heat and add cauliflower, lemon zest, and lemon juice. Season with salt and pepper, and serve. If you’re not a fan of cauliflower, substitute with quinoa, brown rice, basmati rice, or pearl barley. Just make sure to alter the cook time accordingly. Comment below if you have questions!

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Thank you for hanging with me for this long one! I hope it helps those who wish they could have a home-cooked meal on those busy weekday nights.

Have any questions? Comment below!

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