Our featured chef this month at Williams-Sonoma is Brittany Baldwin, the talent behind Portland Home Chef. Baldwin provides busy clients meals cooked with ingredients from her own half-acre farm, where she grows her own fruits and vegetables and raises chickens and quail for fresh eggs. We asked the chef for her best tips on creating a healthy meal after work. Read on for her expert — but completely real-life — response.
After cooking all day, I rarely feel like cooking when I get home. I make dinner in 15 minutes every night; I want each meal to be fast and as healthy as possible.
When I’m at my best, I begin planning the whole week on Sunday afternoon. First, I prepare what I need for lunches and breakfast. This can be as easy as hard-boiled eggs, fruit and yogurt to make a smoothie or a quick homemade granola recipe that is easy to vary and takes only a couple of minutes to prepare.
Next, I set up a couple main entrées. I’ll cut up a chicken or two, adding the thighs and wings to a bag of breading mixture. I’ll roast a breast for curried chicken salad. The other breast I will save for stir-fries, tacos, curry or quick pulled chicken sandwiches. Then I’ll freeze the carcass for a batch of homemade chicken stock I make about once a month (or whenever I run out). That will get me through the first half of the week pretty easily. If it feels like too much chicken, I’ll freeze the breaded chicken for later and eat the rest of what I’ve prepared for lunch and a dinner, switching to fish or meat mid-week.
When I’m short on time, I pick up fish (such as salmon, halibut or sole) and a baguette on my way home. I make a salad out of what’s in the garden, or alternatively I will grill or roast zucchini, winter squash, Brussels spouts, asparagus and whatever else is in season. I even have a spicy sesame cabbage I make in the dead of winter in five minutes or less.
It’s really all in the cooking method you use: grilling (on propane) takes around 10 minutes, and so does sautéing. That breaded chicken can be placed on a cookie sheet and roasted for 45 minutes with a potato, carrot and herbs while I answer work emails and get a load of laundry in.
Another trick is to use a slow cooker. I set it up the night before or on Sunday afternoon to marinate and be cooked a couple days later. I like to make green chili pork, Beef Burgundy or lamb tagines. Then when I get home, all I have to do is make a batch of rice, potatoes or polenta to pair with a salad, roasted seasonal vegetables, quick sautéed green beans, asparagus or maybe some pickled beets I made Sunday afternoon.
Typically these meals can be made into another meal the second night: enchiladas, Shepherd’s Pie, pot pies, soups or sandwiches. If there’s any food remaining, I freeze it in 1 to 2 portion sizes for later in the week, when I can’t bear to cook and could be tempted to resort to cheese and crackers or take-out pizza. Yes, chefs are human too.