Picture this. You get home from work after an exhausting and chaotic day only to find that dinner is not ready and your family is expecting you to be the one to make it. Jill O’Leary believes she has the perfect solution.
The Texas-based chef — who trained at Le Cordon Bleu in London and cooked in Santa Barbara throughout the 1990s and early 2000s — recently launched Plan-It Dinner, a new service that provides weekly menu plans and organized grocery lists. The intent is to give busy people convenient, affordable, and stress-free dinner options, which can be modified for both servings and ingredients.
“I know firsthand how this saves time and money,” explained O’Leary. “It also makes it easier to have a relaxed, healthful dinner.”
And health is another big part of the equation for O’Leary, who’s been an avid jogger for 35 years. “A lot of the reason America is overweight is our diet, and I want to make a cost contribution to make America get healthy,” she said of her inspiration to start the new company.
She has experience to back it up, too. As a private chef, a job she did in Santa Barbara from 1992-1997, O’Leary often made a week’s worth of meals for customers, leaving them in their refrigerators to be eaten at their leisure. In 1997, she moved to Ireland with her husband and graduated with highest honors from Le Cordon Bleu. Upon returning to Santa Barbara, O’Leary reopened her private chef and catering business from 1999-2007 but then moved to Texas, where she worked as a personal chef to a family for two years before opening her own catering business again.
Plan-It Dinner is the next step in her career. “I decided to take a chance,” she said.
Here are some of her favorite dishes and tips.
Pasta Fagioli: O’Leary makes this with ground beef, Italian sausage, onions, tomatoes, parmesan cheese, noodles, and melted cheese.
Asian Plank Steak: This is marinated the night before, cooking in wine, butter, soy, olive oil, peppercorn, and ground coriander. She grills it to medium rare.
Beef Stroganoff: O’Leary uses a tenderloin leg and cooks the meat in sherry wine.
Lamb Curry: O’Leary adds a touch of sweetness by adding a tiny amount of diced apples.