I’ve known Paleo chef and cookbook author Melissa Joulwan for a number of years now, but I’m trying to remember exactly how we our friendship blossomed. It was online first — I stumbled across her fabulous food-n-life blog, The Clothes Make the Girl, through mutual friends, and I recall instantly appreciating her wit, sass (she’s a former rollergirl, so sass comes with the territory) and know-how.
Woman is on fire.
I made sure she made it into the pages of Experience Life while I was there (she’s now a community ambassador), and eventually we decided to meet up in person with our respective Daves (we are each married to one) when she was in the Twin Cities for a press check for her first cookbook, Well Fed: Paleo Recipes For People Who Love To Eat.
She is even lovelier — and livelier — in person, so we’ve since made meeting up a regular thing, and we have now worked together on a number of occasions. When she needed someone who could pull off both fitness model and shoot producer for one of her other books, Living Paleo for Dummies, for instance, she called me.
If you happen to pick up a copy, oh, haaaaaaaay!
So, when Mel announced she was coming out with Well Fed 2, I immediately, shamelessly took advantage of our friendship by sweet-talking her into sharing a recipe on my website.
What she did is far, far beyond a recipe, however. What she did is create an easy-plan for stocking your fridge with an entire week’s worth of meals in about two hours.
During a season filled with last-minute shopping trips, social obligations out the wazoo, and plenty of culinary temptations, this is exactly the kind of simple strategy that allows you to eat food that makes you feel good…both when you eat it, and afterward.
I’ve been cooking out of Well Fed 2 for a couple of months now, and I can honestly say that all of her recipes are like that — absolutely delicious, totally healthy…even if you don’t give two poos about Paleo eating. (Her Moroccan Meatballs showed up at our family Thanksgiving, and even my not-even-close-to-Paleo relatives snapped them up.)
If you are seeking out a new cookbook or looking for gift ideas, I highly recommend you pick up a copy. I, for one, bought several as gifts. (Don’t read this, Mom!)
Ask any questions you have for Mel in the comments section, and check the bottom of the post for details on a pretty swell giveaway that’s happening this Friday! I’ll let her take it from here….
As I type this, I’m sipping Rooibos earl grey tea from a Santa mug and listening to Christmas music. These words just grabbed me by the shoulders and made me pay attention: comfort and joy.
What a lovely thought!
Comfort and joy.
It can be a challenge to retain a sense of equilibrium during this festive — but potentially stressful — holiday season. I would argue that one of the easiest ways you can achieve a sense of comfort and joy in the next few weeks is by feeding yourself well.
To be clear, that doesn’t mean denying yourself celebratory bubbly and your favorite cookies once in a while. No! Instead, I encourage you to carve out two hours this week to crank out a bunch of healthy, nourishing food to fuel you for merrymaking.
The Cooking Workout
Cooking for me is creative playtime, but I don’t want to spend all my leisure hours clanging pots and pans. To make my time in the kitchen fun and productive when I’d rather be doing something else, I treat my cooking chores like a workout, complete with a time goal and reward at the end.
Warm-up: Prep ingredients and tools
Work session: Make all the dishes
Cash out: Pack it up and make a list
Cool-down: Clean up and relax
The Cooking Workout is based on two components: (1) Hot Plates, which are essentially meat+veg sautés you can make on the fly and (2) Bulk Recipes that make scrumptious dishes in larger quantities so you have leftovers throughout the week. The combination of both means you can fight boredom and have your own personal menu of choices to choose from every day. Your fridge is about to become your favorite restaurant.
The info below lists the recipes I recommend you make for a week’s worth of meals, plus a step-by-step plan for getting it all done in about two hours. 3-2-1… GO!
All About Hot Plates
The basis of cooking in our house is Hot Plates. It’s basically this:
Protein + Veggies + Fat + Spices + Sauce = Meal
With that in mind, I cook a pile of protein and bushels of vegetables to store in the fridge until it’s time to eat. Then I quickly sauté whatever I’m in the mood for and top it with spices and sauces to jazz it up. Easy! Here’s my recommendation for your week:
Ground Beef: 2-3 pounds, browned in a skillet with lots of salt, ground black pepper, and garlic powder.
Boneless, Skinless Chicken Thighs : 2-3 pounds, roasted with lots of salt, ground black pepper, garlic powder, and paprika.
Tuna, Sardines, Shrimp: Stock up on cans of tuna (my favorite is Genova Tonno, packed olive oil, no extra ingredients), sardines (my fave are Crown Prince, skinless and boneless), and shrimp (I defrost frozen, wild-caught in the fridge for last-minute meals).
Cooked Vegetables: Cook a bunch of veggies and store in the fridge. All of these (except the spaghetti squash and sweet potatoes), get a basic Steam-Sauté treatment:
Greens: kale, collards, spinach, or chard
Raw Vegetables: These are great for salad plates, snacks, and as add-ons alongside a Hot Plate:
Sauces: A drizzle of something luscious turns meat and vegetables into something you really want to eat. These three are very versatile and quick to make:
Sunshine Sauce: Like Asian peanut sauce without the peanuts.
Olive Oil Mayo: So much better than store-bought, and perfect for salad dressings, tuna/chicken salad, or dolloping on top of grilled meat.
Moroccan Dipping Sauce: Fresh, a little spicy, and fast to make; excellent drizzled over Hot Plates and doubles as salad dressing.
In addition to Hot Plates, you need some home-cooked comfort foods in the fridge. The great thing about all the recipes I’ve listed below is that they taste better the longer they sit, so you’re guaranteed delicious meals all week long.
Chocolate Chili: This is one of my most popular recipes, and if you double it, you can freeze half to have chili on-demand.
Italian Pork Roast: This yields tender, flavorful pork that’s great on its own and works well in Hot Plates or salads, too.
Silky Gingered Zucchini Soup: Soups are one of my favorite ways to get extra vegetables without even really thinking about it. This is a favorite of mine for breakfast, but if that’s too weird for you, just eat a small bowl before lunch or dinner, or as a snack.
Cooking Workout: The Plan
If you want to cook all of the stuff listed above and want to spend the minimum amount of time in the kitchen, there’s a plan below for how you can do it. This should serve 2-4 people for the better part of a week, give or take a meal or two. The recommendations included here are the way I cook for my husband (6′ 5″) and myself (5′ 4″) to keep us going through work days, strength training, walks, and yoga.
NOTE: This is pro-level cooking organization. It requires you to fire up the stove, the oven, and the slow cooker all at the same time. Put on some favorite tunes, get yourself a big glass of water, take a deep breath, and start chopping and stirring.
On The Menu
Here’s the comprehensive list of what you’re making:
Roasted Chicken Thighs
Olive Oil Mayo
Roasted Spaghetti Squash
Roasted Sweet Potatoes
Italian Pork Roast
Browned Ground Beef
Moroccan Dipping Sauce
Silky Gingered Zucchini Soup
1. Sharpen your knife. Break out your cutting board, some baking sheets, and a nonstick skillet. Drag your slow cooker out of the cabinet. Dust off your blender. Fill your water bottle. Turn on your tunes.
2. Take an egg out of the fridge to come to room temperature for the Olive Oil Mayo.
3. Preheat the oven to 400F for the chicken thighs, roasted spaghetti squash, and sweet potatoes.
4. Wash and cut the broccoli and green beans you are going to steam-sauté.
5. Collect an array of storage containers and jars for the finished food.
1. Get the Italian Pork Roast going. We’re easing into it with a simple exercise. This takes almost no hands-on time and will yield massive amounts of protein. Season the pork roast and plunk it in the slow cooker. [Recipe: Italian Pork Roast Recipe]
3. Start the Chocolate Chili. Make the chili all the way through to the end of the recipe so it can simmer on the back of the stove while you do the rest of the kitchen work. [Recipe: Chocolate Chili]
4. Get the chicken and veggies in the oven. Place the chicken thighs on a large baking sheet, sprinkle generously with salt, pepper, and garlic powder. On another baking sheet, place the cut spaghetti squash and a few whole, unpeeled sweet potatoes. Drizzle 3 tablespoons of water around the squash. Slide both baking sheets into the oven and set a timer for 30 minutes.
6. Brown the ground beef. Crumble the ground beef into a very large skillet — I like nonstick; you do what makes you feel comfortable — season it generously with salt, pepper, and garlic powder. Cook, breaking up clumps with a wooden spoon, until it’s no longer pink. Remove the meat to a storage container, but keep the pan where it is. Time to steam-sauté those veggies.
Did your 30-minute timer go off yet? Check the chicken and veggies in the oven. The chicken should be golden brown and sizzling. The squash should be tender to the touch. If yes, remove the chicken and squash from the oven, but slide the potatoes back in for another 20 minutes. If no, set the timer for 5-10 minutes and keep the chicken and squash in the oven.
7. Steam-sauté your veggies. Put 1/2 cup water in the hot pan, bring it to a boil, and add the broccoli. Let it steam-sauté for 5-7 minutes, then remove. (While it’s cooking, you can take a quick meditation break. Close your eyes, and do 10 rounds of slow breathing: in for 4 beats, out for 4 beats, completely filling and emptying your lungs. Comfort and joy, right here.) When the broccoli is tender, remove it to a storage container, add another 1/2 cup water to the pan, and cook the green beans. Repeat as necessary. While the veggies are cooking, make the Moroccan Dipping Sauce. [Complete Steam-Sauté Instructions]
Time to check the chicken, squash, and sweet potatoes again. How are they doing?
8. Make the Moroccan Dipping Sauce. While the green beans are steaming, whip up a batch of this sauce that doubles as salad dressing. [Recipe: Moroccan Dipping Sauce]
9. Make the Silky Gingered Zucchini Soup. This is last because by now you might be sick of cooking. If you are, give yourself permission to skip the soup. But if you’ve still got gas in the tank, make the soup and let it simmer while you get ready for your cool-down. [Recipe: Silky Gingered Zucchini Soup]
As your simmered and roasted dishes finish up, place them in BPA-free storage containers (like these) and pop them into the fridge. Remember: Despite what your grandma might have told you, it’s better to put freshly cooked food in the fridge while it’s warm; let it cool slightly on the countertop then get it into the fridge. Your homemade food is safe to eat for about a week; for more on food storage safety, visit TheKitchn and TheDailyMeal.
I also recommend you make a list of all the food you just cooked and make a list to hang on your refrigerator door. It’s an excellent reminder of how completely badass you are — and it makes it easy to review your home menu of deliciousness.
There you go! A week’s worth of food. Wishing you comfort and joy this holiday season!
If you’d like, share your favorite healthy recipe in the comments section below.
Melissa Joulwan is the author of the cookbooks Well Fed: Paleo Recipes For People Who Love To Eat and Well Fed 2: More Paleo Recipes For People Who Love To Eat, and the blog The Clothes Make The Girl, where she writes every day about her triumphs and failures in the gym, in the kitchen, in life.
After a lifetime of yo-yo dieting and food as the enemy, Melissa found the Paleo diet in 2009 and has been happily, healthily following it ever since. That year, she also underwent a thyroidectomy. In the aftermath, she became particularly interested in how diet affects hormones, body composition, mood, and motivation. These days, Melissa’s workouts are just as likely to include yoga and meditation as lifting heavy things and trying to stay ahead of the stopwatch.
Well Fed 2 was named one of the best books of 2013 by Amazon, and she contributed the recipes for the “Meal Map” in the New York Times bestselling book It Starts With Food. She is also a Community Ambassador for Experience Life magazine and has been a featured chef for U.S. Wellness Meats and Lava Lake Lamb, as well as an instructor at Whole Foods Culinary Center in Austin, Texas.