A Day in the Life: Whole30 Cook-Up

I could have (and almost did) called this post “Meal Prep Saturday” – kind of like my Sunday Food Prep posts, but on Saturday. But I was looking for something that sounded a little more interesting, and then when I decided to essentially walk you through what my weekly cook-up looks like, the post sort of named itself.

bearfamilystrong.com | food prep final

This particular “edition” of my weekly food prep session is piggybacking off of my favorite paleo/whole30 blogger, Melissa Joulwan. She has a great series of posts on “Meal Planning” – and I only use that term loosely because she does, as well. It’s more a series of “Cook-ups”, where she walks you through the steps of a weekly cooking marathon that will leave you with a weeks worth of delicous, Whole30 approved food. It’s like my Sunday Food Prep sessions on steroids.

Anyway. I decided for this particular week to do something similar and walk you through what a typical weekend afternoon (Saturday or Sunday, it varies) looks like for me. I normally cook up enough protein to last us through a week’s worth of lunches, plus a few dinners; and then the Husband and I also usually meal plan the remaining dinners and write them out on the white board in our kitchen. This way we have plenty of pre-cooked items on hand, but because I do enjoy cooking it also gives us the flexibility to eat something that hasn’t been re-heated. Observe:

bearfamilystrong.com | food prep white board

Because our lunches typically consist of salads with protein, or protein and raw vegetables and maybe half a baked sweet potato, or leftovers from the previous night’s meal if it was large enough, there’s no need to add them to the white board. (Plus, I always run out of space!) This week, however, we’re working through some odd scheduling issues and so I wanted to make sure we had enough pre-cooked food on hand for the entire week.

To make food prep easier, Mel recommends making something in a slow-cooker, and some kind of stew or chili each week, in addition to basic proteins and a variety of vegetables and sauces. You’ll notice I’m not making many vegetables – starches aside, I typically prefer to cook them right before I eat them; or I eat them raw in the form of sliced veggies or salads. So without further ado, here’s what we’re making this week!

Turkey Ratatouille (omit wine)

Crockpot Cashew Chicken

Grilled Chicken Breasts

– Hard Boiled Eggs

– Turkey Meatballs

– Seasoned Ground Beef

– Beef and Veggie Frittata

– Roasted Spaghetti Squash

– Baked Sweet Potatoes

– Homemade Mayonnaise

– Spicy Green Dipping Sauce

The Plan:

The keys to successfully executing a weekly cook-up are time management and planning. One method is doing a continuous afternoon of work and knocking everything out at the same time.  My personal preference, however, is to plan my cook-up around the rest of my day. Let me explain. While none of the things I intend to make are particularly hard, some of them – like brined and grilled chicken breasts – require a few extra steps. So when I found myself with some extra time to kill before my Crossfit class because I woke up earlier than normal to see my Husband off to work, I hard boiled a bunch of eggs and got my chicken breasts brining so I could grill them later in the day. Getting these two items out of the way before my workout took less than thirty minutes and saves me that step later in the afternoon. Also thinking ahead, I set aside an egg and a lemon to make homemade mayonnaise later (it works best when they are at room temperature). Then I ate a banana and almond butter, finished off my last cup of coffee, and headed off to Crossfit!

Later on after a great workout, a post-workout meal, and a shower, I got down to the real work. This is where a little bit of planning comes in handy. The goal is to organize your cook-up into something that makes sense – get your prep work out of the way, then work smarter, not harder. If you’re making a crockpot meal or something that requires slow simmering on the oven, get those meals ready first so that you can leave them to cook on their own while you take care of something else, like grilling chicken breast or baking meatballs. Ready? Grab something to drink, put on some fun music, and let’s get started!

bearfamilystrong.com | food prep vegetables

1. Chop and peel all your vegetables – for me this included onion, eggplant, zucchini, yellow squash, bell peppers, and potatoes; as well as fresh ginger and garlic. I separated the vegetables into bowls based on what recipe it was for and when I needed it. I also prepped my spaghetti squash by cutting it in half and scooping out the insides, as well as wrapping two sweet potatoes in foil. Had my crockpot meal not required the oven (I needed to roast the cashews), I would have thrown the squash and potatoes in the oven to roast at this point.

2. Start on your slow simmer meal – I began to cook the vegetables and brown 1.5 pounds of turkey for the ratatouille, and while that was going I prepped the ingredients for my crockpot meal.

3. Once my ratatouille was simmering, I turned my full attention to the crockpot meal. And just a note: although the cashew chicken ended up tasting pretty good in the end, it was definitely a lot more involved than your standard crockpot meal (see step 1 re: cashews above), so I spent more time on this step than normal.

4. Once the cashews were roasted and added to my cashew chicken, I coated my spaghetti squash with oil and laid both halves face down on a baking sheet alongside my foil wrapped sweet potatoes, tossed them in a 375 degree oven, and set my phone timer for 45 minutes.

5. Next step – into a bowl I tossed the other 1.5 pounds of turkey (it was a 3 pound family pack from Wegmans) with fresh diced parsely and some italian spices and made up a bunch of turkey meatballs. They immediately went into the oven with the squash and potatoes, and I set the oven timer for 15 minutes, flipping the meatballs halfway through.

bearfamilystrong.com | food prep oven

6. Vegetable chopping take two – I completely forgot to set aside diced onion for my ground beef, as well as bell pepper and cherry tomatoes for the frittata.

7. Once I removed the meatballs from the oven and set them aside to cool, I heated up my cast iron skillet and set to work browning two pounds of ground beef with diced onion, fresh parsely, salt, pepper, and garlic powder.

8. While your beef is browning, go ahead and check your spaghetti squash and potatoes. I took the squash out of the oven at about 45 minutes and left the potatoes in about 20 minutes longer.

9. After the beef was done, I used the same pan to saute some onion, bell pepper, cherry tomato halves, and fresh spinach. Then I tossed that into a glass baking dish, added about a third of my ground beef, and topped it off with ten beaten eggs. Into my already heated 350 degree oven for thirty minutes!

10. This was a good time to check my ratatouille and give it a good stir. In fact, after almost three hours of work it was also a good time for me to stop and eat a small bowl of ratatouille as a snack/small meal.

11. In between bites, I heated up the grill (it was perfect grilling weather!) and rinsed my brined chicken breasts. After coating them with a healthy dose of olive oil and Trader Joe’s 21 seasoning salute I added them to the grill, as well as the poblano peppers and red fresno chiles I needed for my spicy green aioli.

bearfamilystrong.com | food prep grill

12. After the frittata was done and the grilled chicken breasts were resting, I made mayonnaise and spicy green aioli. This required cleaning my food processor for the second and third time, which meant…

…I had every intention of cooking up a batch of oven roasted cauliflower rice, but I could not bring myself to clean the food processor one more time. Instead I cleaned my kitchen, which took just as long.

Whew! Now, take some time to pull out all the tupperware containers you own, because you’ll need them! I actually don’t have enough large tupperware containers, and so the ratatouille and the cashew chicken just ended up going straight into the refrigerator in their pots. Once we eat enough servings to get them down to a more manageable amount I’ll move them to smaller containers.

Pat yourself on the back for doing all that work! When it was all said and done I clocked in at just under four hours. If you’re really feeling froggy (I wasn’t), feel free to slice up some raw vegetables to have on hand for easy snacks during the week. I’ll do that, just later in the weekend. Also, don’t forget to keep a list of what’s in the fridge! (Mel’s idea, not mine!)

bearfamilystrong.com | food prep fridge

And there you go!

What are you eating this week?

Weekend Recap

Happy Monday! How was everyone’s weekend? Aside from some nasty thunderstorms off and on, mine was really nice!

First off, it was the first “free” weekend I’ve had in a while. May was a busy month – I went to Boston for the Grub Street Writers Conference, then I went back to PA for Mother’s Day Weekend, then I spent the next weekend helping my sister and brother-in-law move into their new apartment, and then I went back to PA for Memorial Day Weekend. To say that I was looking forward to having a weekend to myself would be putting it mildly!

Friday night was pretty low-key – I made an easy dinner of leftovers and had a movie skype date with The Man. Every now and then we’ll get on Skype, pick a movie on Netflix, and watch it together. While I’d much rather watch a movie with him in person, this is better than nothing! I was feeling like a classic, so we went with Top Gun. I keep forgetting how YOUNG Tom Cruise is in that movie!

Saturday started off with a morning run:

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It’s a good thing I went running early in the morning. I haven’t been running outside in a few weeks (I’ve had to use the treadmills at work instead), and I am not used to the hot weather we’ve been having! It was 0700 and already over 70 degrees! Still, I kept it on the slower side and made it through three miles. Unfortunately, this is what I looked like when I got home:

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Yes, that is my nasty looking leg, all scratched up to high heaven. While my super cute running shorts were perfect for running in 50 degree weather in Boston…they were not too effective against the 70+ degree weather with one billion percent humidity in Virginia. As it turns out, I need the compression on my legs. I know you’re not supposed to scratch when your legs start to burn/itch/hurt, but I couldn’t help it. At one point I actually had to stop and make sure I wasn’t being bitten by something – it was that bad.

After I stretched, showered, and ate breakfast, it was off to the local farmers market!

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How much do I love that it’s strawberry season? There is nothing better than a sun-warmed strawberry, picked directly from the plant and popped into your mouth. I spent several summers growing up working at a produce farm, so I’ve picked my fair share of strawberries. Best. Summers. Ever.

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Because it’s still early in the season, there wasn’t an extensive amount of produce  available, but I still came home with a pretty decent pile of goods:

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Red leaf lettuce, fresh basil, sugar snap peas, strawberries, and patty pan squash. I have absolutely no idea what to do with patty pan squash, so that will be interesting! I also picked up a package of chorizo at one of the local meat stands.

Once my produce was put away, I got back in my car and hit the road towards Hiddencroft Vineyards in Northern Virginia, where I was meeting my sister and brother-in-law for a wine tasting and picnic. And talk about Hidden! I had to drive over two miles on a one lane dirt road just to get back to the winery. At one point I thought I had a flat tire, my car was shaking so bad. But, I arrived in one piece:

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It really was a beautiful place. I wish I would have taken more pictures, but it was close to 100 degrees on Saturday…all of my energy was focused on trying not to melt. I was impressed with most of their wines – I tend to be a dry wine kind of gal, and I prefer heavy dry reds, like Cabernet Sauvignon. Lately though, with the weather being what it is, I’ve found myself leaning towards the dry, crisp Chardonnays for the summer months. Hiddencroft had a very nice dry Traminette, as well as a dry Vidal Blanc. As for reds – they really nailed them. The Chambourcin had just the right amount of pepper, while the Dutchman’s Creek Blend was a smooth, balanced red. They also had a great Tannat, barrel aged for 42 months and very dry. I loved it, but it was too much for summer. We settled on a bottle of the Vidal Blanc to enjoy with our picnic.

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My sister got this great wine picnic basket from her in-laws, and it was perfect for our lunch – pastrami slices, fresh strawberries and grapes, french baguette with goat cheese and cranberry chutney, chopped veggies, and some black and green olives. I wish I had taken pictures, but again, it was too hot and I forgot. Blogger fail!

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After the winery, I went back to my sister’s apartment (after an unplanned stop at Walmart) and spent the afternoon alternately reading and napping. Bliss. We ordered greek food for dinner and finished off the night watching I, Robot. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen that movie – and it was better than I had remembered!

I spent the night on their couch, and Sunday morning we all woke up and went to their church together, where we heard a great message on how we should act as Christians. This has been a recurring theme in my devotions lately, which tells me I should sit up and pay attention. One thing that struck me from the message was how our words and our actions as Christians have to back each other up. We can’t just do “good deeds” without witnessing, and we can’t walk around preaching to people if we don’t act like a Christian should.

I drove back to my own apartment after church, where I spent the afternoon working on recipes and cleaning my place. All in all, it was a relaxing weekend, which is just what I needed! It was a perfect way to begin the month of June…

…and speaking of, how it is June already? What happened to May?

How did you spend your weekend?