The first time I met Melissa Joulwan, she hugged me.
It was the summer of 2011. We had planned to meet for dinner at Animal in Los Angeles with the Hartwigs of Whole9, and my nerves were jangling like deranged wind chimes. I’d never before met any Internet celebs in real life (or, frankly, anybody from the community of Paleo bloggers at all). I was going to meet a group of real-food superheroes that I’d admired and followed ever since going Paleo; their advice had changed my life. As Henry and I approached the restaurant, I felt like the new kid at school. I was desperate for my inner goober to stay hidden.
But that first hug from Mel—and her warm smile—instantly put me at ease. She teased and I giggled, and in no time at all, we were all sharing plates of food and raucous laughter. It’s hard not to become good friends with people with whom you’ve shared a platter of fried brains.
Since then, we’ve shut down restaurants in multiple time zones. Whenever Henry and I meet up with Mel and her husband Dave, we lose track of time, excitedly chattering about any and everything until we’re kicked out of whatever establishment we’re in.
It’s not just Mel’s keen palate, sassy writing, and glossy hair that I love; she and Dave are among the most creative, funny, and generous trailblazers we know. They strive to always do the right thing, aligning their goals with their values, and balancing work with play (and travel!). No wonder Mel and Dave are our role models; they follow their passions and make cool stuff—all while staying absolutely true to themselves.
As you all know, Mel’s dazzling personality and love for amazing flavors shines brilliantly in her first cookbook, Well Fed—the most dog-eared, sauce-splattered, well-loved resource in my kitchen.
It’s a flat-out amazing book—I can’t tell you how many people have confessed to me their deep love of it—but Mel’s now done the impossible: she somehow managed to improve on Well Fed. No matter if you’re cooking to impress a crowd or just yourself, Well Fed 2 offers everything a real food lover could hope for in a cookbook: international flavors, inventive tips, vivid stories, and stunning photography that dances off the page. The first time I flipped through the book, I already knew everything would be crazy-delicious, because my picky palate is rivaled only by Mel’s high flavor standards.
I joked recently in a recent interview with Liz Wolfe on the Balanced Bites podcast that I don’t read books any more—I just read magazines because I don’t have the time (or attention span) to get through anything longer than an US Weekly article (preferably about Baby Nori—and not just because her name makes me hungry for sushi). Besides, books are for smart people. But I do make an exception for cookbooks. And besides my own book, there’s no cookbook I’ve anticipated more than Well Fed 2.
As Mel’s readers know, her recipes are like taking a whirlwind culinary tour of exotic locales, from Costa Rica to Lebanon. With smart use of spices and seasonings, Mel’s flavor combinations never fail to hit the mark. On a five-hour flight from Maui to the Bay Area last week, I devoured my advance PDF copy of Mel’s new book. And when the physical copy of Mel’s book showed up in my mailbox, I broke out a pad of Post-It Notes to mark the recipes I wanted to make. I soon gave up; I wanted to make everything, from Banh Mi Meatballs and Cabbage Roses to Oven-Fried Salmon Cakes and Plantain Nachos.
The design of the book will be familiar to the legions of Well Fed fans out there—the pages are chock-full of valuable information yet simple to navigate. Each recipe is gorgeously photographed (by Dave!) and expertly laid out, with plenty of tips to help home cooks replicate or riff off of Mel’s dishes. Her “You Know How You Could Do That?” and “Tasty Ideas/Tastes Great With” features describe inventive variations and suggestions.
And judging from the heft and thickness of Well Fed 2, there’s roughly twice as much stuff as in Mel’s first cookbook. (Bonus: the size of the text in Well Fed 2’s been embiggened as well, making it easier for us old folks to scan the recipes while cooking!)
This cookbook isn’t just a collection of recipes, though: it’s a guide for cooks of all levels. The first Well Fed taught scores of readers to cook deliciously and efficiently, and Well Fed 2 builds on that. Mel shares loads of eye-opening tips and strategies for Paleo cooking and living.
If you’re an absolute beginner in the kitchen, Mel holds your hand and explains how to use her cookbook. The basics are covered in clear and concise terms. She even provides visual cues for key cooking terms, like braising and simmering.
But no matter if you’re a rookie or a pro, there’ll be days when you’re just not in the mood to spend time in the kitchen. Luckily, Mel’s book includes an entire section—”Keep It Simple, Sweetie”—that offers fantastic ideas for getting food in your belly in a flash.
I’m obsessed with Well Fed 2’s features on toppers for burgers, broccoli, and eggs—three of the primary staples in almost every Paleo eater’s pantry. It’s all too easy to fall into a humdrum routine with these foods, but Mel finds ridiculously simple and flavorful ways to keep ’em fresh. In fact, ground meat gets star treatment, as Mel shows us how to make not just burgers, but balls and bangers, too!
- Mel’s recommendations for Essential Cooking Tools are completely spot-on, and even includes equipment that are new to even Gadget Queens like me. Before Well Fed 2, I’d never heard of a ham dogger—a “sorta silly tool that turns ground beef into sausage shapes in seconds.” Obviously, I’m gonna have to go buy one right away.
- I love Mel’s tips on becoming a Paleo social butterfly. Although I have many friends in the Paleo community, I’m surrounded by non-cave people in my real life, so I really dig Mel’s strategies, such as eating before a non-Paleo party. (In Mel’s words, it’s like “nutritional duct tape to help you navigate the experience.”)
- On an autoimmune protocol (AIP)? Well Fed 2 includes modifications so that folks on an AIP can enjoy Mel’s recipes, too.
Best of all, Mel’s warm, playful, and encouraging personality shines through on every page. She’s even included a kick-ass playlist full of angst-y goth rock to make your time in the kitchen fun. Dancing is encouraged!
As soon as I returned home from Hawaii, I set out on a mission to cook as much as possible out of Well Fed 2. I neglected to photograph the Italian Pork Roast, Crispy-Sweet Collards, and a variety of meatballs—partly because I was too busy eating to bother, and partly because my boys were down with a stomach bug and needed some mothering.
But on Friday, I whipped out the camera to capture my Well Fed 2 cooking marathon.
One recipe that made my eyes pop out when I first saw it (on Dave’s laptop in Austin many months ago!) was the BBQ Beef “Waffle” Sandwich. I had to make it—even knowing that this was one of the more time-intensive recipes in the book. I knew the payoff would be worth it.
In the morning, I mixed together a bunch of spices…
…and tossed ’em with freshly-cubed chunks of chuck roast in my slow cooker.
After adding a few other ingredients…
…I let the slow cooker do its thing…
…while I prepped some of Mel’s BBQ Sauce.
There are eighteen(!) ingredients that make this sweet and spicy sauce so wonderful—and believe me, each one adds something special to the mix.
I won’t give away what those ingredients are, but most of them went into my trusty blender straightaway.
I measured out the remaining spices…
…and bloomed them in some coconut oil…
…before adding the puréed mixture.
Twenty minutes of simmering later…
…I had a thick, smoky barbecue sauce ready to go.
When the braised beef was done, I transferred it out of the slow cooker…
…and shredded the meat.
I combined it with some of the newly-made BBQ Sauce, and simmered it on the stovetop…
…while I tackled the sweet potato waffle “bread.”
I grated two sweet potatoes in my food processor…
…and added the binding ingredients called for in Mel’s recipe.
A scoop of the stuff went onto the greased surface of my underused waffle iron…
…and then I waited. Impatiently.
In the meantime, I shredded some cabbage to make Mel’s Classic Coleslaw.
As each bright orange waffle came off the griddle…
…I popped them into the oven to keep warm.
Finally, it was time to assemble my sammie:
Correction: GRAND SLAM.
Next up: I wanted to stockpile some portable protein for my boys’ packed lunches this week, so I flipped over to page 156: Tod Mun Chicken Cakes with Cucumber Relish.
I’d made this dish a few days before, and these patties were such a hit that the kids insisted I make ’em again. Seasoned with green herbs and red Thai curry paste, these babies are flavor-packed while still mild enough for grade-school palates.
I started by following Mel’s instructions and grinding up a whole mess ’o chicken. (Meanwhile, the kids were watching Chicken Run on the TV in our family room. It didn’t bother me one bit, because chicken is delicious.)
Then, I transferred the chicken to a bowl, and processed the herbs and curry paste with an egg, fish sauce, and a bunch of other good stuff. (Don’t worry about taking notes—the recipe’s at the end of this post!)
I combined the herb mixture and the chicken…
…and chilled it in the fridge for a half-hour.
Meanwhile, I made the tangy Cucumber Relish.
Once the chicken had firmed up a bit in the refrigerator, I used a disher to scoop and flatten it into patties, which I fried in coconut oil.
Don’t these look beautiful?
We ate a bunch of these patties for lunch with the cucumber salad, and the rest were packed away for school.
I know: you want me to stop teasing you with pictures of food from Well Fed 2 and just give you the %@#$! recipe, right?
Just ’cause you’re so special, here’s a free! exclusive! downloadable! PDF! of the recipe for Tod Mun Chicken Cakes with Cucumber Relish from Well Fed 2, courtesy of Mel. You won’t find it anywhere else…except in the pages of the book!
(Before you ask: no, I’m not going to post Mel’s recipe for her BBQ Beef “Waffle” Sandwiches. For that, you’ll have to get her book! You can, however, download a free 35-page PDF preview of Well Fed 2 by clicking this link. Do it!)
Even expert cooks can feel uninspired in the kitchen sometimes, but the ideas flow non-stop from the pages of Well Fed 2. Flip through the pages of this beautiful book, and you’ll see that Mel and Dave poured every bit of themselves into the rich, flavorful, vibrant, personality-filled pages. Mel’s years of experience cooking and savoring meals from around the world—and her love of food!—shine through in each recipe.
Call me biased, but I trust Mel’s palate implicitly. I could cook out of her extraordinary books every single day.
Well Fed 2 hits shelves on October 22. Preorder today—you won’t be sorry.