Eight weeks into practicing the Personal Chef Approach™, wife, mother, author, and premium member Lane Morris Buckman has generously updated us with her experiences, obstacles, and ultimate victory in using the

PCA™ – showing us exactly what does, and does not work for her. Oh, and did I mention this wonder woman also has a full-time job on the side?

You might remember that I blogged about my first time trying the Personal Chef Approach™.  I was facing the challenge of a wee, tiny kitchen, a freshman selection of cookware, and beginner level cooking skills, but with Julie Anne’s excellent instructions and encouragement that “if I could read, I could cook,” a little creativity with my space, and a surprising amount of sweat, I managed to cook up my first week’s worth of food.  I was elated and very proud of myself.  And tired!  I have an even greater respect for the Iron Chefs now.

I did really well for two weeks, staying organized, making sure I had studied my menu plan for the week, purchased and put away my groceries before Saturday, and had my kitchen ready for action.  Then Life ate my plans with as much gusto as I ate that flank steak of Julie Anne’s, and the rhythm dropped entirely.

Having had success already, I thought, “I’ll just throw my meals together before bed.  Then everything will be fine.”  And I learned a great new lesson:  Never, never on a Monday.  At least not after an eight hour day at the office, swimming lessons, grocery shopping, and getting the little guy to bed.  I made a lot of silly mistakes, and I ended up with half a mess, a couple of burned fingers, and one grossly undercooked chicken.

It was more of the same the next week, though I had learned my lesson about trying to Wonder Woman my way into a week’s worth of pre-cooked meals on a workday.  I emailed Julie Anne and shared my woes, and she wrote back reminding me that the PCA™ was about making your life easier, not adding stress.  There wasn’t a right or wrong way to do it.  There was just the way that would work for me.

Freed from perfectionism with her words, I got back to it.  It is work, and it does take time, but so is cooking every night.  For the last couple of weeks, I have worked the PCA™ into my schedule, and it is starting to feel natural and comfortable.  This past week it actually felt a little easy.

Here is what is working for me:

Since my son wakes up at the crack of dawn on Saturday, I am getting up with him.  When he is fed and started on his weekly allotment of Wii time, I go to the grocery store.  I have found that if I follow Julie Anne’s lead and split my grocery list into 4 groups (Aisle, Dairy, Produce, Meat–I actually use a separate page for each group) and shop in order of one heading at a time, it goes faster and I don’t forget things.  I am back home and unpacking my groceries by noon, and while I unpack, I start doing some ingredient prep.  If I am separating out meats, I go ahead and put them in their marinades before refrigerating.  I even lump my vegetables together if I know I am going to cook them in a group.  By the time I have that done, the family is hungry, so I cook a big lunch.  Last Saturday, it was cedar plank grilled salmon and fresh greens.

While lunch is on the go, I put together the ingredients for my chicken soup, which is what I eat for lunch all week.  I go ahead and prep my vegetables for roasting then, and when I pull my salmon out of the oven, I just slide in the tray of veg for roasting.  It takes just about as long to roast the veg as it does to eat lunch, and then I clean up the kitchen and spend the rest of the day with my family [checking the soup as needed, and turning it off to cool], until it is time to cook dinner.

While I make dinner, I portion out my soup to freeze and work on extra side dishes for the week.  I hate side dishes.  They are my least favorite because my family is so crosswise of what I think makes a decent dish, and I am always tempted to just steam a bag of something, or open a can of beans.  But, by the end of the day, I have all my side dishes prepped, and my lunch for the upcoming week.

I don’t think about it again until Sunday, and while I am cooking breakfast, I start cooking all my main entrees for the week.  When you get the hang of it, it’s really no more trouble to have a couple of extra pans on the stovetop, or in the oven.  This past Sunday, I was finished cooking and cooling a huge lot of Tandoori chicken legs, BBQ chicken breasts, beef skewers, and beef satay by noon.  After lunch, as part of cleaning up the kitchen, I portioned out the meals and put them away.  My refrigerator looks like a ziplock container farm!

It sounds like a lot of time in the kitchen, but it really wasn’t.  It was time I was spending in the kitchen anyway, to produce that day’s meals.  But, using Julie Anne’s PCA™ method, I am using that time more wisely and getting a lot more accomplished with less stress, and with more time left over to pretend I am a monkey astronaut chasing down Sith lords in my son’s  bedroom.

Thank you so much Lane for giving us all an example of how you can take the approach and custom tailor it to fit your own schedule. It should work for you, rather than the other way around. There are no PCA™ undercover police lurking around waiting to bust you for not cook everything on the menu all at once, or swapping out ingredients or recipes for family favorites. The Personal Chef Approach™ is there to help guide you, not enslave you. With practice we all find our own groove. Have you tried the PCA™ yet?

PS. Less than one week left to sign-up at the low introductory rate, and be entered into our t-shirt give-away drawing. All premium members will still enjoy the considerable introductory rate savings for as long as they allow their memberships to renew without interruption, but the full price of $9.95 per month or $99.50 per year goes into effect at midnight PST on Friday July 1st, 2011.

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  • June 24, 2011
    9:26 am

    This is fantastic! I love hearing first hand how other moms and followers of Julie Anne do this. How it works for them and how to tweak things. Thank you for sharing this!

  • June 24, 2011
    9:45 am

    This is great! Thank you for sharing!

  • June 24, 2011
    1:33 pm

    You’re so right about adapting the plan to fit your own situation. As a single gal, one who tends to keep pretty wonky hours, I’ve found that multi tasking and making use of blocks of unscheduled time allows me to make up and freeze meals that last for about three to four weeks. Since I’m often up late waiting for glue or paint to dry, I can whip up a batch of Bright Eye muffins, cool them and put them into bags holding six. I actually got eighteen muffins out of the recipe so I’ve got enough for the month. I also look at what’s on sale at the shops so that I can pick up extra chicken or whatever and make a couple of different entrees to work into the meal rotation. I try to do a major shopping trip to get tinned goods, baking needs, and other essentials, but if I see a good sale on a protein, I’ll make a quick run over to the shop to pick it up and do some PCA cooking to get that item into my rotation of meals. Fresh veg and fruit are something I pick up every week so I can have the freshest possible plus I check the bins for quick sale items like overly ripe bananas for muffins. Even if I don’t plan on using the bananas right away, they can always be frozen and used later. I think a big part of the PCA approach is being able to adapt your plan to utilize items that are on sale so that you are saving time and money. I also find that using those little blocks of time you find here and there are great for chopping veg, organizing your pantry and setting up a list of items in your pantry so that once you use up that item, it automatically goes on your shopping list. All these activities add up to being less stressed in the kitchen, epecially at dinner time. I find this is working for me, I eat better, look forward to meals and am actually trying things I haven’t eaten before. I got lamb chops at a good price yesterday and I’ll cook them Saturday night with leftovers for two meals. I’ve never had lamb before and I’m looking forward to this adventure. That’s what cooking for meal times should be, an adventure for the taste buds. Hope a single gal’s perspective convinces someone else to give the PCA a try.

    • June 24, 2011
      5:49 pm

      Ruthee – such a great example of another way of adapting the PCA™! I’m a single gall too, so I relate. Also great points about how to maximize it’s money-saving potential!

      I hope you try the Apricot Lamb Chops recipe from a few weeks ago – it is one of my personal favs. Sounds weird when you read it, but those flavors are heavenly together.

  • June 24, 2011
    4:27 pm

    Ruthee, I love your comments. Let us know how the lamb turns out.

  • June 24, 2011
    9:39 am

    I do think it is wonderfully helpful. You know, I approach this from a professional standpoint – we go into the clients home, and have to fix everything at once. As a home cook the PCA™ can be so much more flexible. Everyone can and should take it at their own pace and will find exactly how it works best in their situation.

  • June 24, 2011
    5:28 pm

    Thank you for posting this! Very encouraging!

    • June 26, 2011
      9:47 am

      You’ll get there too – all it takes is a little practice.

  • June 24, 2011
    6:12 pm

    Apricot lamb chops sounds so much better than the traditional accompaniment of mint jelly. I really enjoy couscous, so I will definitely have that along with something green (maybe Swiss chard)to round out the meal. Now, I’ll be dreaming about lamb chops tonite. LOL Could be a lot worse. I will let spvoelker and all of you know how it all turns out.

    • June 26, 2011
      9:48 am

      Wish I could come for dinner. I LOVE that recipe!

  • June 26, 2011
    9:38 am

    Great tips!!!:)

    • June 26, 2011
      9:50 am

      Isn’t she clever – it is SO interesting for me to hear how people adapt the PCA™ to their schedules since it is so much more flexible for the home cook than it is for the professional.

      • September 29, 2011
        2:57 pm

        What I find so interesting is you could never find this anywhree else.

  • June 27, 2011
    1:10 pm

    Made the lamb chops with couscous and the meal was wonderful! I love couscous and always have some in the pantry because it is so versatile. The lamb chops were so good! The first time I’ve ever had lamb and I’ll definitely be cooking that again. Had the Swiss chard for a veg and that was a first as well. Very much like spinach I found and I enjoyed that as well. Easy clean up and leftovers for two meals, couldn’t ask for more. Cooked up some boneless, skinless chicken breasts at the same time and have those to chop up and put into salads or add to stir fries through the week. I’m finding cooking a lot less stressful since I’m cooking a few different things at a time. It seems calming to know that despite trades people working in my flat, that I can have a meal on the table minutes after the last one has left. 🙂