National Falafal Day!!!

Ok, I realize it isn’t paleo traditionally, but in celebration of the holiday I had to make a stop at one of my favorite vegetarian spots today for lunch, Maoz at The Triangle 4700 Guadalupe.

Now, before I get any backlash, being made from chickpeas, falafal is not paleo. However, more important to me, it is gluten and grain-free. And for the uppity Austin foodies, yes Maoz is a franchise and not born in our backyard. But, they are locally owned and the owner has been there working and chatting with guests virtually every time I have been in. The service is incredibly friendly and their product is always very fresh.

My pick, the Maoz Salad Box every time. At 250 calories to start, you then have a topping bar of tons of fresh produce and homemade sauces to top it without feeling guilty. I definitely recommend checking them out!

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Avocado, Citrus and Fennel Salad

citrus fennel

This is a great little salad I like to whip up when it starts warming up outside. The avocados are a no brainer as I always have them on hand and they go in just about everything I eat. A great vegetarian source of protein, avocados contain all 18 essential amino acids to form a complete protein. They are also a great source of high density lipoproteins (the good cholesterol) and have incredible anti-inflammatory properties. Combine the peppery spice of the arugula with the sweetness of the citrus and the fennel’s aroma and it’s a win.

For those who know me, my favorite things to make are soups and sauces, and that includes dressings. There really is no reason for anyone to visit the salad dressing aisle in the grocery store other than to get some ideas of a dressing to make at home themselves in a batch to use and also store for later.

One of the first ingredients to look at in our diets whether it be for weight management, performance or just simply to be healthy is where our fat comes from. Rather than get into too much science here, for now let’s just stick with the refined oils used in salad dressings. When oils are processed, their chemical structures are manipulated by manufacturers in order to increase shelf life, maximize smoke points for high-temp cooking and any number of other reasons. These alterations also increase the likelihood of oxidation of the oil and making them molecularity unstable and potentially becoming carcinogenic free radicals within the body. The list below are oils to avoid and those recommended. Keep in mind that we are only talking about for cold uses. I will spend significant time in another post discussing oils safe for cooking as many listed here like olive oil are very dangerous to cook with for the same oxidation concerns.

Oils to Avoid: Canola, Corn, Vegetable, Soybean, Grapeseed, Sunflower, Safflower, Rice Bran

Oils Recommended: Olive, Sesame, Nut (walnut, pecan, macadamia), Flaxseed, Avocado

Next time you’re at the store, pick up a bottle or two or ten. Read the labels and I challenge you to find many if any at all that do not contain these processed oils. Look especially close at those that advertise being “Made with Olive Oil.” Sure, the are technically made with some olive oil, but there are no guidelines set as to what percentage must be olive oil and what can be the other junk.

The Ginger Citrus Vinaigrette recipe below is a great example of what you can do yourself. The ratio of vinegar to oil is one that can be kept standard for you in other dressings so with that you can get creative and play with other flavors from fruits to berries, nuts and spices. This leaves you in control not only of the flavors you are in the mood for, but also the quality of ingredients you are putting into your body.

Ginger Citrus Vinaigrette
1/2 cup blood orange juice (may substitute orange, lime, yuzu or any citrus juice)
1 teaspoon fresh ginger, grated
1 tablespoon finely chopped shallots
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon organic local honey
1 tablespoon sherry vinegar
1 cup olive oil
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper

Salad
4 cups arugula, rinsed
1 whole avocado, peeled pitted and sliced 1/4″ thick
1 whole fennel bulb with frond, bulb sliced very thin with knife or mandoline, with sprigs reserved for garnish
1/2 small red onion, sliced thin
1 grapefruit, cut into supremes

1. Mix all vinaigrette ingredients except oil, salt and pepper into a bowl and whisk together or blend with a hand mixer.
2. Very slowly drizzle oil while continuing to whisk until an emulsification begins to develop. Oil may be added a little faster at this point. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
3. Lay avocado slices across bottom of plate as a base for arugula.
4. Toss arugula, shaved fennel and red onion lightly with just enough vinaigrette to coat but not soak and wilt the leaves. Place on top of the arugula.
5. Garnish with supremes and fennel sprigs.
Note: for added protein, this salad goes GREAT with smoked salmon, ahi tuna or lump crab meat. Enjoy!!!

Butternut Squash Soup

With rain in the forecast the rest of the week, it was a perfect day for one of my favorite pastimes and the closest I have come to a Zen moment. I’m not talking chicken soup for your soul. I’m talking about checking out from everything in my life that may be stressing me out at the time and being at perfect harmony with the universe. Some people meditate, some people create art, I make soup… A… Lot… Of… Soup… At a previous restaurant, my tomato soup called for exactly 50 tomatoes that I would fire roast individually by hand. Forgive the language, but when it comes to soup, I don’t f$&k around…

With the nasty weather coming later this week, what better than something that’ll stick to your insides and warm ya right up. Best yet, this soup is incredibly versatile when it comes to seasonings so before we get into it, I’ll touch on that. With a great full body and natural earthy sweetness, the butternut squash holds its own with just about anything you want to throw at it so when you season it, don’t be afraid to be bold. This is one recipe I am not going to list spices in the ingredients. That’s up to you. I will give you some ideas before we get into it of some of my faves.

Ideas:

– Simply seasoned with salt and pepper au natural…
– Cumin, salt, and pepper with a poblano coconut cream…
– Curry, any curry… Hot, sweet, rogan josh, vindaloo… Take your pick…
– Cloves and nutmeg, great for the holidays…

Ingredients:

1 Butternut Squash
2 Onions, white or yellow, small dice
2 Stalks Celery, small dice
1 Carrot, small dice
4 Cloves Garlic, chopped fine
1 Quart Chicken Stock
1 Cup Coconut Milk
4 Tbsp Coconut Oil

Method:

1. Preheat oven to 350 F, grease sheet pan with 2 tbsp of oil.
2. Peel squash and cut in quarters, scoop out seeds and lay cut side down on sheet pan. Cover with foil and bake for 45-60 minutes until soft. Will depend on oven and size of squash.
3. While squash is heating, sweat onion, celery and carrot with remaining 2 tbsp coconut oil on medium-low heat in sauce pot. Do not allow to brown. When softened, add garlic and continue to cook for 2 minutes and remove from heat.
4. Add squash to pot, top with chicken stock and bring to boil. Reduce to simmer for 15 minutes. Blend with immersion blender until smooth. (For smoother consistency you can strain through a fine mesh strainer, but you will be losing great fiber.) Continue to blend while adding cream. Note: This step can be done in a blender also. Blend in batches, never filling more than half the pitcher at a time or you will end up with a mess. Trust me…
5. This is where ya get to choose your own adventure. Be bold. Don’t be afraid. Find the flavor that suits your mood and make it happen.

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