When I think about the subject of cooking, I have many fond memories of learning this artful craft beginning at the age of six when my mother first started letting me “help” her make things like meatloaf, au gratin potatoes, and chocolate cake. Say what you want about having kids in the kitchen, but there’s a certain sense of nostalgia that is attached to the idea of cooking up recipes from a great big cookbook under the loving guidance of a parent. I have so many fond memories of cooking with my mom that I will never forget for the rest of my life.
I recall we had a thick three-ring binder cookbook with a red checkerboard and spoon on the cover (I think it was from Betty Crocker or something) that we’d constantly throw in little index cards and handwritten notes of new recipes that we enjoyed making and eating. That cookbook was our go-to resource for making the food that our family would enjoy. Of course, that was back in the days of my childhood when I didn’t really care about the quality of the food and nutrition contained in my diet. It was all about whipping up dishes that were palatable and made us feel good with no regard to the impact it was going to have on our health.
But that was then and this is now.
Today I am actively pursuing a more low-carbohydrate Paleo-styled dietary plan to help assist me in managing my weight and vastly improve my health. Because I used to make poor dietary choices early in my life that led me to weighing in at over 400 pounds in my early thirties, I am now saddled with the responsibility of making better choices in my diet for the sake of my future health. As I approach turning 40 later this year, it is critical that I continue to implement everything I have learned about healthy living, including doing things like eschewing grains, skipping the omega-6 heavy vegetable oils, significantly reducing sugar intake, stamping out the insulin-raising starches, and, of course, removing the highly-processed refined carbohydrates that passes for most of the “food” (in actuality, it’s not even close to being real FOOD!) Americans purchase and consume.
It’s high time people start to get serious about a very serious issue. Obesity, diabetes, Celiac disease, food allergies, heart disease, cancer…the health crisis we are currently experiencing is completely preventable if people would just learn how to eat and enjoy real food cooking again. Unfortunately, though, we’ve forgotten how to do that and now our health is suffering the consequences. People are in desperate need of help to know how to cook again–which is why I’m so happy that Bill Staley and Hayley Mason have released their amazing cookbook that is now my grown-up go-to resource entitled Make it Paleo: Over 200 Grain Free Recipes For Any Occasion.
This Paleo power couple is the perfect love story of two immensely passionate individuals dedicated to the subject of health and fitness. They have taught one another about what a healthy Paleo diet is all about and built a bond of friendship that turned into a romantic relationship centered around cooking meals together in the kitchen. And it is here where these two amazing people make the magic happen. Bill and Hayley are hardcore devotees to the basic tenets of Paleo/primal/low-carb living–meats, veggies, low-sugar fruits, nuts, seeds, and healthy fats. When you get to enjoy such succulent and satisfying food choices contained in those categories, you really don’t miss everything else!
They are quick to note that Paleo living isn’t about perfection or following a set of strict rules and guidelines. Instead, it’s about knowing what foods are right for you and consciously (and willingly!) making those choices about what you allow to go inside your body. Make It Paleo arms you with incredibly practical ways to know what the good food choices are and how to go about purchasing them. Clear instructions on what to look for when buying your food helps take the guesswork out of it. They even offer up a seasonal guide for produce so you know when crops are available according to when they are grown and harvested. Sadly, many Americans have grown far too accustomed to seeing strawberries available in grocery stores year-round and most people don’t even know they are primarily a crop available in the Spring.
One of the most exciting sections at the beginning of the book before the recipes is on the subject of “Oils and Fats.” There’s a lot of confusion about what “healthy fats” are because of the fat-phobia that still exists in our culture brought on by years of public indoctrination efforts by the USDA and their Dietary Guidelines, the American Heart Association, and other nutrition-related organizations pushing the high-carb (especially grains), low-fat message. And yet we now know more about the importance of consuming fat for the sake of living optimally healthy than ever before! Real food fat sources like coconut oil, ghee, palm oil, grass-fed butter, avocado oil, macadamia nut oil and even lard are all incredibly healthy fats to consume and you’ll get plenty of them in the recipes shared in Make It Paleo.
Helpful tips about how to enhance your Paleo cooking experience are sprinkled throughout this book. Bill and Hayley let you in on all of their inside secrets about making incredible-looking dishes like the gorgeous foods you see throughout this thick, nutrient-dense 450-page book. Especially helpful to me was on page 37 where they identify the best herbs and spices for seasoning various pieces of meat which includes a few surprises, too (coffee and cinnamon go well with beef? I didn’t know that.). Equally useful was the list of “Other Key Ingredients” that are off the beaten path of the general category of Paleo-friendly real food ingredients that help enhance your cooking experience, including coconut milk, bone broth, coconut flour, vinegar, and more! And despite the fact this diet is about primal living, we still live in modern times and can take advantage of the technological advances in cooking devices that make, as they say, “cooking a bit more civilized.”
Before they dive into sharing their boatload of recipes for Breakfast, Appetizers, Entrées, Salads, Soups, Sauces & Dressings, Side Dishes, and Treats & Cheats, they provide some much-needed “Basic Cooking Tips” advice that is worth the price of admission for this book alone. Many people tend to be intimidated by the thought of cooking, but Bill and Hayley try to lighten the load on you by reminding you what it’s really all about. That quickly becomes evident once you dive into the mouthwatering recipes themselves.
The formatting for the recipes in Make It Paleo is so user-friendly that I can’t imagine how they could have improved upon it. On the left-hand page is the name of the recipe, a quick commentary from the authors about it, the ingredients list, prep and cooking times, serving size, the “Process” on how to make the dish, and “Notes” at the bottom of the page revealing insider information about things to look for when making this recipe. On the right-hand page is a full-page color photo of the finished dish that will have your mouth watering before you even begin! I definitely appreciated the use of whisks on a scale of 1-3 difficulty for each of the recipes. If it only has one whisk, then that signifies it’s an easy recipe. But 2 1/2 or 3 whisks means it might require a little more work and finesse to pull it off. Giving you that insight before you dive into making the recipes in this book shows you that Bill and Hayley are conscious that not all at-home cooks are gourmet chefs capable of pulling off culinary miracles. And that’s completely okay.
Remember that chocolate cake I told you about earlier that I used to make with my mom growing up? Well, the one on page 370 looks absolutely divine and I’ll definitely be making it to celebrate my 40th birthday in December. My wife Christine wants the recipe on the very next page for carrot cake which she would eat everyday if I made it for her! Although some of the dessert recipes call for maple syrup (which could easily be substituted with the sweetener of your choice if you’re eating low-carb), the authors do describe the dishes in this section as “Treats and Cheats” for a reason. Even still, the beauty of Make It Paleo is that is allows you to take virtually any meal or occasion you can think of and, well, “make it Paleo.” The very back of the book even gives you a sample list of “Menus for Special Occasions” sorted out for events like birthdays, Easter, Sunday Brunch, Thanksgiving, Valentine’s, watching sports, and more!
All in all, Make It Paleo is one of the most well-rounded health-related cookbooks I have seen in nearly eight years of becoming conscious about my diet. The experience in the kitchen that Bill Staley and Hayley Mason share is invaluable as you seek to spruce up your own eating plan. For those people who think a Paleo/primal/low-carb eating program is drab and boring, I challenge you to read this book and maintain that same opinion. It ain’t gonna happen because you’ll be drooling too much over the foods you make. This is a resource I enthusiastically endorse and recommend to my friends, family, readers, and podcast listeners looking to find recipes that will nourish their bodies on their chosen nutritional plan.