Who wouldn’t like to cook smarter, not harder?
(Quick side note: I launched my podcast, Harder to Kill Radio, this week! Be sure to listen in. The episodes are ~30 minutes long, and I’m interviewing amazing people from the worlds of nutrition, fitness and mindset work about how to build unbreakable humans. I’d so appreciate your honest feedback on iTunes, too. It helps others find the show. Now, back to cooking smarter, not harder.)
If you’ve committed to eating healthier, you know that means cooking more at home. If you don’t box clever, that more could mean multiple trips to the grocery store every week, being virtually chained to your stove, and then trying to scale an insurmountable pile of dishes once it’s all done. Not exactly the most motivating proposition.
Luckily, there is a way to save your sanity and still have delicious food waiting for you to turn into a masterpiece, and it’s called “rolling food forward.” I can’t take credit for the term…that goes to my friend Ciarra Hannah of Popular Paleo and Frugal Paleo Cookbook, but it really does sum up my food strategy during a busy work week.
The concept is this: Cook up a bunch of food staples, then either eat them as is or transform them into something new with some simple tweaks. Keep your seasonings basic. By not heavily spicing these staples, you’ll have more room to change up their identities. If you make your chicken curry flavored right off the bat, you won’t be able to pair it with, say, salsa verde, and have it taste good.
You’ll have those staples on-hand so there’s less cooking from scratch for each meal. This strategy is also great for singles or couples who inevitably have leftovers on hand since most standard recipes serve four people.
Cook Smarter Staple #1: Roast Chicken
A basic roast chicken is truly like a blank canvas ready for you to paint on. It can be transformed into so many different things. Pre-cooked rotisserie chickens from the market are great in a pinch, but they’re more expensive than roasting a whole bird yourself, and sometimes, they’re injected with preservatives or other weird seasonings like MSG.
On your big weekly cook-up day, roast two whole chickens using the method(s) below. Two smaller chickens will fit in a large slow cooker. The downside is that the skin won’t get crispy but you can always remove them when cooked and crisp under the broiler if you want.
- Preheat the oven to 425F. Line a baking sheet with foil or parchment. Pat the chickens dry with paper towel (this will help make the skin crispy). Place both chickens on the baking sheet. Brush with melted ghee, if desired, and sprinkle with herbs, salt and pepper. No exact measurements here, just be sure it’s seasoned well.
- Place the chickens in the oven and roast for 20 minutes at 425F, then reduce the heat to 300F for another 45 minutes. If the chickens are on the large side (4+ pounds), roast for about 60 minutes.
Place both chickens in the slow cooker, and sprinkle with herbs, salt and pepper. Cover. Set the slow cooker to five hours on low or three hours on high. You do not need to add liquid.
How roll it forward:
- Tossed with Roasted Salsa Verde
- Added to Southwest Chicken Soup or Thai Coconut Soup
- Placed atop Citrus Avocado Salad
- Tossed into Paleo Chicken Bacon Mushroom Quiche
- Bones used to make broth for soup (Bone Broth 101)
Cook Smarter Staple #2: Homemade Paleo Mayo
Store-bought mayo is either packed with unhealthy industrial seed oils or—in the rare case it’s made with good oils—hugely expensive. It’s too bad because homemade mayo literally take 2 minutes to make and serves as a creamy, dreamy base to a myriad of dressings and sauces.
The tricky part is actually following the directions exactly. Since you’re attempting to combine water-based ingredients (egg and lemon juice) with a fat (the olive oil), you’ve got to make sure everything is at room temp for best results. Normal EVOO is too peppery for homemade mayo, so look for “light”-tasting olive oil or get fancy with something like avocado oil.
Want to see the video tutorial for how to make homemade mayo? Click the image below.
- Bring the egg and lemon juice to room temp. I usually put the whole egg (still in the shell!) in a small dish of very warm water for about 10 minutes and keep my lemons on the counter. You can also crack the egg into the blender and add the lemon juice with ¼ cup of the oil and let it sit for at least 30 minutes.
- Blend the egg, lemon juice, dry mustard, sea salt and ¼ cup oil on low speed for about 15 seconds.
- Now, very slowly drizzle in the remaining ¾ cup to 1 cup oil while slowly increasing the blender speed to medium. Do not turn it to high because the friction from the blender will heat up the content and cause the mayo to break.
- Once most of the oil is incorporated and the sound the blender makes changes (it’ll be a noticeable change in pitch), stop adding. You may have some left over. Just pour the excess oil back in the bottle. Refrigerate your mayo and add a sticky note with the date the egg expires to the container. That way you’ll know when it’s ready to toss out.
How roll it forward:
- Make Lemony Chive Paleo Mayo
- Make Paleo Ranch Dressing
- Make Paleo Chipotle Lime Mayo
- Mix into chicken salad like the Curried Chicken Salad from my Performance Paleo Cookbook
- Mix into Jalapeño Crab Dip for a party
Cook Smarter Staple #3: Oven-Caramelized Veggies
Okay, I admit, this is just a way sexier way to say “roasted veggies” but the truth is that when you roast veggies in the oven, their natural sugars come out. The flavors get concentrated and the end result is anything BUT your average boring steamed or boiled veggies. Instead, you’re treated to complex flavors that add depth and dimension to pretty much anything.
They’re great on their own, but you can also roll them forward into tons of dishes. Bonus: Wash and chop your veggies on your weekly cook-up day, then store them in large ziptop baggies with dried herbs or spices added. (Just skip the salt until you’re ready to put them in the oven since that’ll make them soggy.) All you have to do is take out a bag, dump it on a tray, and you’re ready to go.
- Preheat your oven to 400F. Line a baking sheet with foil or parchment. I like parchment because nothing sticks to it. Place the veggies on the sheet and drizzle with oil or fat of choice, a couple generous pinches of salt, pepper and / or spices.
- Roast for 20 to 30 minutes, depending on the type of veggies and how thickly you cut them. You want the edges to be browned and caramelly and the interior to be soft. Veggies that roast well: Brussels sprouts, bell peppers, onions, okra, zucchini, summer squash, broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, parsnips, beets, tomatoes, etc.
How roll it forward:
- Toss into Easy Red Curry Soup
- Mix into Caramelized Apple and Hazelnut Salad
- Add into Hearty Spinach Beef Frittata
- Fold into a Breakfast Scramble
- Use as a topping for Paleo Mediterranean Meatza Pies
I’m hoping this gives you some inspiration for rolling food forward and helps you cook smarter, not harder! Get creative and see where you can adapt this concept with your favorite meats, veggies and sauce. Remember, simple food is good food.
Questions? Ask them in the comments below.
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