Sarah Ballantyne, Ph.D. (a.k.a. The Paleo Mom) is the blogger behind the award-winning www.ThePaleoMom.com; cohost of the syndicated top-rated The Paleo View Podcast; and author of critically-acclaimed with New York Times Bestseller The Paleo Approach and brand-new The Paleo Approach Cookbook.
Sarah earned her doctorate degree in medical biophysics at the age of 26. She spent the next four years doing research on innate immunity and inflammation before becoming a stay-at-home mom. After her second daughter was born, she began to experiment with the Paleo lifestyle. It had an amazing effect on her health, including contributing to her 120-pound weight loss! Over time, she healed herself of a long laundry list of physical complaints including: Irritable Bowel Syndrome, acid reflux, migraines, anxiety, asthma, allergies, psoriasis and an autoimmune skin condition called lichen planus. Sarah successfully transitioned her originally skeptic husband and two spirited young daughters to a paleo diet and lifestyle. Her passion for providing straightforward explanations of the science behind the paleo diet and its modifications, plus her love of food and cooking and her dedication to her family form the foundations of her blog, her podcast and her books. You can also find Sarah on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest.
Q: How did you get involved in cooking to begin with? Was it something you learned to love early on or did you come to it later?
I got involved with cooking around the same time I got involved with food! As a small child, I “helped” my mom in the kitchen while she cooked all of our meals from scratch. As I got older, my contribution to cooking got bigger. My mom went back to university to become a teacher when I was 13, so it became my responsibility to cook the family’s dinner a few times per week. They were just simple meals of course. I didn’t start really experimenting with cooking techniques and flavors until I moved out on my own, but my love of cooking really goes back to those special times with my mom.
Q: Why is eating grass-fed meat and sustainably-caught fish different? How does it affect your cooking?
I switched to a Paleo diet in the hopes that it would help with some health conditions that were plaguing me. But, I didn’t really start using grass-fed meat and wild-caught fish until I had been eating this way for at least 6 months. I was motivated to switch by a newfound passion for nutrient density and understanding just how much more nutritious these high quality proteins are compared to their industrially produced counterparts. It did make a huge difference to my health; but I also discovered just how much more flavorful these high quality meats are! There was definitely a learning curve, especially for grass-fed meat which tends to cook much faster than conventional meat. I discovered that flavor can vary by farm and time of year and just how important it is to process the meat in a compassionate way, not just from an ethical standpoint but also in terms of the quality of the end product. I now cook exclusively with grass-fed, pasture-raised, and wild-caught meat, poultry and seafood.
Q: Is it just about health? Or is there more to it than that?
Treating the animals we eat with compassion, allowing them to eat their natural diets and live in their natural environments, respecting where our food comes from and feeling connected to the food system, growing our food sustainably, respecting and protecting our environment, increasing the nutritional quality of our food... these things all go hand-in-hand. And really, how awesome is that? We get to prioritize ethics, sustainability, the environment and our health all at once!!!
Q: How did you learn about grass-fed meat?
I guess it just came with the Paleo territory. As I was learning about nutrients, I was also learning about how to choose foods that contained more of them. I never felt that I couldn’t eat Paleo if I wasn’t eating exclusively perfect foods though. When I first “went Paleo”, all my food was industrially-produced. Then, I slowly started to buy more grass-fed, more local, and more organic. As I got healthier, buying these high quality foods became an even bigger priority, because they tasted better and I felt better eating them. The progression from where I started to where I am now was a slow one that respected my budget and involved a lot of personal discovery and exploration.
Q: Why is it so important to have the right ingredients?
Having the right ingredients is important both from a nutritional perspective and from a food chemistry perspective. Sometimes recipes are really forgiving and you can easily swap out one ingredient for another. Sometimes, substitutions just don’t work. It takes experience and a bit of a cavalier attitude in the kitchen to be able to look at a recipe and know whether it’s one where you can improvise or one you need to follow to the letter. When in doubt, stick to the recipe as written.
Q: What are the most important keys to success for the home chef?
I have two tips. First: Use a meat thermometer!!!!! It’s amazing how differently grass-fed meat can cook every time you cook it. And it always feels like such a tragedy when you overcook high quality ingredients. Second: Don’t leave the kitchen! Cooking requires attention, and if you’re trying to do too many non-cooking related tasks at the same time as you’re preparing foods, that’s when accidents and goof-ups tend to happen.
Q: What are your best tips for home cooking?
Again, I have two tips. First: Taste as you go. Okay, don’t taste meat before it’s cooked enough to no longer be a food poisoning hazard, but basically, every time you add something to a dish, taste it. Test whether or not vegetables are done by taking a bite. Take a taste before deciding whether to add a little more seasoning. There’s no better way to know a dish is “on track” than to actually have a taste. Second: Relax. Even if you’re a novice cook attempting a complicated recipe, don’t let it stress you out. Cooking should be just as enjoyable as eating. Even when a dish doesn’t turn out the way you hoped (it happens to all of us!), don’t let it get to you. Eat it if it’s edible and figure out what you can do differently next time. Finding the fun in cooking is probably the best thing you can do to get better at it.
Q: What is your favorite recipe using grass-fed meat?
Wait. I have to pick one favorite recipe???? Just one??? I don’t think I can!!!! I’d have a hard time picking ten favorites! Well, if I must make a choice, my favorite is grilled grass-fed lamb chops. I usually season them simply with a little salt, crushed garlic, and whatever fresh herb I have around and then let some hot coals to the rest.