One of the biggest challenges to eating a Paleo diet is the loss of convenience foods. It means that for most of us, every single meal must be cooked from scratch, even on those hectic weeknights when there is only 45 minutes between ballet class and soccer practice. So, what can you do to make those frantic meals manageable? There are a handful of useful tricks: make a meal the night before that will have plenty of leftovers, whip up something super quick on those nights like scrambled eggs, salad and fruit, or use one or two of the nearly one hundred recipes in Make Ahead Paleo by Tammy Credicott–an entire paleo cookbook dedicated to recipes you can make in advance so that you can maintain your sanity on those crazy days (while sticking to your paleo principles and eating good food!).
Make Ahead Paleo is full of useful tips for making meals in advance using a variety of strategies. It includes information on how to store foods and how long different foods keep, freezing and thawing, spice blends you can make in advance and keep on hand, tips on using a slow cooker, and tips for meals that can be packed for when you ‘re eating on the go. The recipes fall into several sections: Make & Freeze (exactly what it sounds like–you can dedicate a big cooking day once every few weeks and fill your freezer with easy meals), Low & Slow (meals you can throw in the crock pot in the morning that will be ready when you walk in the door in the evening), On The Go (meals you can make in advance that will travel well whether for a road trip or just to pack for lunch), Room Service (meals you can easily whip up in a hotel room), Travel Treats (paleo treats that won’t disintegrate if you need to move them from your kitchen to a second location that isn’t your mouth), and Week In A Day (menu plans and recipes for Monday thru Friday including shopping lists and what you can make on your Sunday cook up day to make the week easier).
I love the styling of this book, the way the recipes are laid out, the visual menu at the front of the book, and the photography. This book also has some great resources to help you stay organized, like freezer inventory sheets, grocery lists, and items to stock your pantry with.
Once again, I let my babysitter and 3-year old pick a recipe to cook together for my book review. And, once again (and still not a surprise), they chose a cookie recipe: Kitchen Sink Cookies (that’s them in the bottom right corner of the cover). They followed the directions, using the option of coconut oil because my daughter is so sensitive to dairy that cooking with butter causes her problems. Unfortunately, our cookies didn’t spread. The recipe instructions said to place dough balls on a baking sheet (and mentions to space them apart especially if you use butter because they will spread). Well, their cookies were just as ball shaped after baking as they were prior. Cookies that don’t spread are fairly common in paleo baking (and why you will see so many recipes that call for flattening cookies or making “cookie patties”), but the recipe instructions didn’t specify flattening the balls for this recipe, which was definitely an oversight. The cookies still tasted great of course, but they didn’t look much like the picture.
Because of our Kitchen Sink Cookie Ball experience, I let my babysitter and 3-year old pick a second cookie recipe from the book. This time they picked Chocolate Almond Butter Swirls. The recipe simply called for coconut oil (with no butter option), but just in case, I instructed the babysitter to put two cookies in the oven and reserve the remainder of the dough until we saw how they baked. Once again, the cookies did not spread (but the instructions did not specify flattening the balls of dough). We flattened the rest of the batch and sure enough, they looked just like the photo in the book when they came out. I felt very frustrated that two recipes that we chose had the same problem: a missing instruction. Especially because the Chocolate Almond Butter Swirls were the best paleo cookie I have ever had, hands down and even including my own recipes. They were so good that I made a second batch (flattening the cookie balls, of course) to freeze so that I have them on hand to send to school with my youngest when there’s a birthday celebration in her class. And it’s not often I make any recipe more than once (unless it’s one I’m perfecting for my blog or my Perfect Paleo Pancakes).
I felt it was important to also test a savory recipe from the book. As is always my challenge with paleo cookbooks, I had to select a recipe that was also autoimmune protocol-friendly (most importantly for me is nightshade free as I can now handle the occasional meal containing eggs or nuts). Fortunately, there was actually quite a number of recipes to choose from. I picked Apricot Orange Pork Chops. Because I was going to make them the next day, I didn’t freeze the sauce ingredients, but instead mixed them ahead of time and kept them in the fridge. My sauce did not turn the same rich brown of the sauce in the photograph (maybe because my ingredients were never frozen?), but it sure did taste awesome. And it was a super quick and easy meal to whip together.
There are so many recipes I find really exciting in Make Ahead Paleo that I haven’t had a chance to try yet. There are yeast-based paleo versions of pizza crust and English muffins (one of my old addictions), which I can’t wait to try. And there’s about five slow cooker recipes that just might mean I actually use my slow cooker from time to time (I haven’t made them yet because they use ingredients that I don’t have on hand right now and life has been a little hectic for me lately!). Because I don’t have time to test more recipes, I did take the time to read the instructions on a large number of the recipes. I feel like the oversight on the two cookie recipes I made was likely an aberration (and hopefully one that can be fixed before the next printing). Of the five other cookie recipes that I didn’t try, one does say to flatten the dough balls (two more don’t), one is cut with a cookie cutter and one is supposed to be ball shaped… I think that’s a good sign. For the savory dishes, I can read the instructions and have a fairly strong sense that they will work out as written.
I think Make Ahead Paleo would be a great resource for someone looking for recipes to make their hectic weeknights easier. I love the variety of strategies presented in the book and the dozens of useful tips for taking the stress out of meal preparation. There’s also a wide range of flavors represented in the recipes, so you won’t always feel like you’re eating the same thing over and over again (which frankly, make ahead meals can often feel like). While I think the intended audience was not necessarily the experienced cook, I think having some skills in the kitchen will be helpful when tackling these recipes.