Dining Out Paleo: BJ's Restaurant and Brewhouse

Welcome to my Thursday series: Dining Out Paleo

Every Thursday I post a recent dining out experience and how I chose the best possible options to stay true to my Paleo lifestyle and avoid grains, sugars, dairy, and soy to the best of my ability.  Unless informed otherwise, I always assume that the restaurant uses vegetable/canola oils for cooking.

I've mentioned before that most of my lunching entails a long drive out of town to destinations far and away... so when I'm given an opportunity to eat closer to home, I get super excited.  It is an even bigger jolt of joy when the lunch involves meeting my husband mid-day to share a meal, chat, catch up, and just enjoy each other's company.

Matt's and my most recent lunch date was at BJ's Restaurant and Brewhouse in Palmdale, CA.    The menu bears a likeness to War and Peace in page count alone, so I went in with a partial plan to focus only on salads.  If you don't want a boring ol' salad, there are close to 2.5 zillion different menu options, many including meat and vegetables.  Finding something that does not include grains, sugar, dairy, and soy is not too much of a challenge at BJ's.

With an abundance of vegetabley proteiny options from which to select, I finally narrowed my decision down to the Enlightened Thai Chicken Mango Salad.  Grilled, marinated chicken breast.  Chili spiced jicama and mango strips.  Red bell peppers and red onions on a bed of mixed baby greens, bibb lettuce, and arugula.  Topped with fresh sliced avocado, mint, green onions, and sesame wonton crisps.  Sweet citrus-chili dressing on the side.  Sweet means sugar, but I opted for the "fork dip" method meaning there was very little dressing consumed on the whole.  Just enough for additional flavor... which, honestly, the salad really didn't require.  

I was too enthralled by the arrival of my plate, that I initially didn't notice the glaring lack of protein with my vegetables!  Everything else just looked so bright and fresh that the absence of grilled chicken slipped right by.  Our waitress was quick to ameliorate the problem, but I was too hungry to worry about snapping another picture of salad complete with chicken.

This salad was fantastic.  I loved the chili seasoning in combination with the mango and the jicama.  The crunch of the vegetables with the creaminess of the avocado made for a delicious texture combination.  And the dressing was completely not necessary.

I was honestly a little surprised by something this uniquely flavorful and fresh coming out of a chain restaurant kitchen, but happy to report that fresh and flavorful was certainly the case.  BJ's has impressed me twice recently and I will gladly keep it as a go-to for local lunch recommendations and future date afternoons with the hubby.  Especially if the Rangers or the Dodgers have a day game being televised on the big screens.


Hatch Green Chile Season Descends on SoCal

For six very short weeks, spanning from August to September, green chiles native only to the Hatch Valley of New Mexico make their way into giant burlap sacks and venture out into the world for public consumption.  Hatch green chiles are bold and packed with flavor.  They add a unique, smoky, almost fruity, peppery punch to any dish.  They are full of vitamin C, calcium, iron and an impressive array of other vitamins and minerals critical to normal body function.  But most importantly, they are TASTY!  Why else would an entire New Mexico town dedicate an entire weekend just to celebrate these peppers?

Growing up in Texas, I was a jalapeño girl.  I liked hot.  The more seeds the better and I wasn't happy unless my eyes were watering and my tongue was toasted.  I'd never even heard of Hatch or green chiles until I met Matt and was served the most delicious bowl of stew by his mother early on in the relationship.  I was sold.  Instantly.  On Matt.  On his mom.  On green chiles.  Where could I possibly get my hands on this perfect ingredient?  In years past, I have merely been a green chile mooch.  I would graciously accept a frozen Ziploc full of the charred green goodness when offered from family members in-the-know.  And if Matt and I were really lucky, we'd be treated to even more piping hot bowls of green chile stew while visiting with relatives in December.

Luck shifted this year when Matt happened to spy a small printed announcement in our weekly Albertsons advertising flier.

The Hatch chiles are coming to California!  The closest store was an hour away, but I was determined to get my own 30 lb burlap sack of green chiles.

On the morning of August 11, we woke up early and drove to the Albertsons in Reseda, CA.  The line was already wrapped around the corner of the store with eager housewives, chefs, and families leaning on their carts full of 2, 3, 4, some even had 6 sacks of chiles waiting to be roasted.  Matt and I purchased our one bag of chiles and two bottles of water to help keep us hydrated in the impending heat.  Then we patiently took our place in line to wait to have the chiles roasted.

 Extra Hot.  Now we're talkin'!

While waiting in line, we had plenty of time to read the instructions for preparation and frozen storage.

It was hot enough standing in the sun, but the heat from the roasters easily added another layer of sizzle to those nearing the front of the line.  I lost count of how many times those queued around us made the joke "it's so hot out here, these peppers are going to roast themselves."  Ha ha.  Too many times is all I know.

After a little over an hour wait, it was our turn to get roasted!  From what I have heard, the line can take up to five or six hours and the store usually runs out of green chiles by 10 am.  At which point, Matt and I would've gotten back in the car and placed an order on Amazon for a jar of green chiles while we drove back home.  Lucky for us, that was not the case.  My car was fully permeated with the smoky smell of fresh roasted Hatch green chiles.

We made a pit stop at my mother-in-law's to divvy up the roasted chile peppers... completely necessary as Matt and I are both eager to chow down on her delicious green chile stew once this desert heat finally breaks and temperatures begin to drop.  The remainder of the chiles returned home with us and were divided into serving size bags and placed into the freezer for future consumption. 

 I'm thinking we didn't get enough.  Next year - TWO burlap sacks!

First item on the green chile menu - hamburgers!  Followed by green chile and pork meatballs.  Then a roast with green chiles thrown in.  Then they'll show up on top of my breakfast eggs.

Uh oh.  Definitely two sacks next year!


Dining Out Paleo: Dodger Stadium

Welcome to my Thursday series: Dining Out Paleo

Every Thursday I post a recent dining out experience and how I chose the best possible options to stay true to my Paleo lifestyle and avoid grains, sugars, dairy, and soy to the best of my ability.  Unless informed otherwise, I always assume that the restaurant uses vegetable/canola oils for cooking.

"Take me out to the ballgame.  Take me out with the crowd.  Buy me some peanuts and cracker jack..."

<scratching record sound>  Whoa!  Wait!  Is there a Paleo version of this song?  What's a Paleo baseball fan to do?!  Peanuts are a no-go and cracker jack?  Popcorn coated in caramelized sugar?  But a baseball game just isn't baseball without devouring a bag of peanuts, a box of Cracker Jack, some nachos, a basket of garlic fries, and a miniature batting helmet sized serving of soft-serve swirled ice cream... And that's just the first three innings! 

I'm not here to mess with tradition.  So if heading to a baseball game is your special treat time, have at it!  For me, I know how I feel after an indulgent day at "the park" and wanted to figure out a way to make a recent day at Dodger Stadium one I wouldn't regret... at least food wise.  It was up to the Dodgers to come through on their end of the deal.

The first step was to plan ahead!  I started by looking up the rules of the stadium - what was allowed in, what wasn't.  Even a list of what vendors are available.  I was happy to discover this handy link: The A to Z Guide for Dodger Stadium.  In fact, every stadium its their own A to Z.  (Heading to see "Youah Sawx"?  What about a day at The Ballpark watching the Texas Rangers win?  Even the Pirates have their own A to Z.)  

As for Dodger Stadium... Soft-sided coolers under 14" square.  Food from outside the stadium.  Sealed 1 liter plastic bottles of water or non-alcoholic beverages.  All allowed!  What a treat to know that I don't have to empty my wallet each time I go to the stadium and want a snack... I can just pack my own.

Armed with a list of potential vendors and my own prepared snacks, I was ready for a day with the Dodgers and my in-laws to celebrate my father-in-law's birthday!

Looking for a little sprint work before chilling out for a few hours?  Take the stairs.  My personal belief about stairs:  For as long as I can, I will.  I never pass up a good flight of stairs

And now the menu of meat (and select vegetable) options available around Dodger Stadium:

Bunless burger?  Head to Carl's Jr.

Can't break tradition?  Splurge on an all-beef Super Dodger Dog (and toss the bun).

My husband has informed me numerous times that the three voices that have been part of his life since birth are those of his mother, his father, and "The Voice of the Dodgers" Vin Scully.  Matt is a Dodger fan for life (even through the McCourt debacle) and will not step foot into Dodger Stadium without the tradition of delighting in a Dodger Dog, avec bun.

In my quest for meaty goodness around the stadium, I found one concession stand that offered Louisiana sausage with mango salsa.  Sounded tasty.  Maybe next visit.

While taking a walk before the game started, I found non-carbonated non-soda beverage options AND a food vendor with VEGETABLES!

The Healthy Plate offered an assortment of salads, cut vegetables, and even sushi!  So what did I nosh on while the Dodgers and the Chicago Cubs hashed it out for 9 very long innings?

Macadamia nuts and homemade grass-fed beef jerky!

The best treat of the whole day, however, was the Dodgers winning the game with a walk-off base hit by Hanley Ramirez.  

Plenty of folks make it a goal to see a game at every baseball stadium in America.  One of my new goals is to not only see a game at every stadium, but to identify the tasty Paleo treats that each stadium has to offer.  Next on the list - a lobster roll (minus the roll) at Fenway!


The Most Delicious Soba Dish

Paleo readers avert your eyes!  The first half of this post is full of wheat and grains and pseudocereals.  GASP!!  But don't be dismayed... there is a little something in here for you as well.  I'll tell you when it is safe to look back at the screen.

This past week, a very dear friend of mine was in town visiting from Japan.  She was here for a wedding and I was delighted to hear that she had a little bit of free time and wanted to get together for lunch and catching up.  We used to work together during the crazy time of starting up a new assembly line for a major auto manufacturer and the last time I saw her was three years ago right before Matt and I got married.

We spent the afternoon sharing stories, reminiscing, catching up on life's happenings and of course, eating!  One of my favorite parts of visiting with international friends is the exchange of gifts... not because I am greedy, but because it usually involves some type of native eats.  On this most recent visit, my friend gifted me with two packages of Japanese green tea and a package of soba noodles.

Back in my marathon running, carbo loading, grain eating days, I lived in an area with supremely easy access to a Japanese community and nearly daily eats of delicious Japanese food.  I lived on zaru soba.  It was like a comfort food from some long lost childhood I only imagined I had.  I couldn't get enough.  So when my gal pal handed over the gorgeous little bag of soba, my eyes lit up knowing there would be a special meal in my future.

When our visit was over, we said our sayonaras and went our separate ways.  My way was directly home to my computer to find a recipe that would be above and beyond the zaru soba I was used to and something I could easily and eventually convert to a Paleo dish.  My taste buds have grown up since I last ate soba and I wanted something with more depth and complexity.

After much clicking and searching, I found a recipe for "Otsu" that originates from a restaurant in San Francisco called Pomelo.  I made a few adjustments to make sure everything BUT the soba was Paleo as I wanted to confirm the taste for future use without buckwheat noodles.  The original recipe that includes soba, tofu, and wheat-free soy sauce can be found at 101 Cookbooks.

Following are pictures of my attempt at this dish.  Beyond the pictures I have recreated the recipe for a more Paleo friendly audience.  Grain-free/sugar-free/dairy-free/soy-free eaters - you may all open your eyes now.  I'm looking forward to making the cool crunchy Paleo version to help get through these hot desert days of summer.

One big bowl of FRESH: cilantro, cucumber, and green onion

I was informed that after the noodles cook, they should be immediately washed in cold water.  Not just rinsed, but washed in order to remove the starch.  I just spent a little bit of time hand scrubbing small handfuls of the noodles under the cold water.

Cool.  Crisp.  Refreshing.  Fresh.  Zesty.  With a PUNCH!  The perfect summer dish.

In an effort to add a little more vegetable to the plate, I whipped up a quick carrot salad to accompany the soba.  Not only did I get to use my new mandoline for the cucumbers, but my awesome julienne peeler for the carrots.  Have I mentioned how much I love kitchen gadgets?  The final dish was bright and delicious with a perfect contrast of textures - soft smooth noodles and crunchy carrots.  These have both been added to my go-to list of favorite recipes.

PALEO "OTSU" - Modified from the Pomelo Otsu Recipe, as reprinted by 101 Cookbooks

Grated zest of 1 lemon
Thumb sized piece of fresh ginger, peeled and grated
1 tablespoon local honey
1 teaspoon cayenne (reduce amount for less heat)
1 teaspoon salt
fresh squeezed juice from 1/2 lemon
1/4 cup rice vinegar
1/3 cup coconut aminos
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil

2 lbs pastured, boneless chicken breasts, sliced for stir-fry
1 tablespoon coconut oil
salt and pepper, to taste

1/2 head green cabbage, cored and shredded
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
3 green onions including whites, thinly sliced
1/2 English cucumber, thinly sliced
toasted sesame seeds, for garnish

Make the dressing by combining the lemon zest, grated ginger, honey, cayenne, and salt in a food processor and process until smooth.  Add the lemon juice, rice vinegar, and coconut aminos.  Pulse to combine.  With the machine running, drizzle in the extra-virgin olive oil and sesame oil.

In a skillet, heat the coconut oil over medium-high heat.  Salt and pepper the sliced chicken breast and brown in the skillet until cooked through.  Drain the skillet and set aside to cool.

In a large mixing bowl, combine the cabbage, cilantro, green onions, English cucumber slices, and cooked chicken strips.  Pour the dressing over the contents of the bowl and toss until everything is well coated.  Serve sprinkled with toasted sesame seeds.

Serves 4



Another Kitchen Christmas...

I always love new toys in the kitchen... as soon as the UPS truck turns the corner onto my street, the dogs are on high alert notifying me of the arrival of my brown corrugated boxes.  As much as I prefer packages adorned with shiny wrapping paper with a big fatty bow, the glorious Amazon logo is a close rival and well-accepted second choice for box decor.

Go ahead.  Click it.  You know you want to.  I'll wait.


My most recent addition to my kitchen counter was inspired by a photo on Instagram... of beet chips!  Yes.  Beet chips.  I will admit, I love my kitchen knives.  When it comes to making slices thin enough to merit a chip, however, I am not a master of knife skills and my chips are really more like uneven wedges.  And wedges don't get crispy unless they sit under the broiler for five minutes too long... in which case, the outside is charred and the inside is still the consistency of a mashed potato.

So what's my point?  Ever since I've been noshing on homemade sweet potato chips and fries, I've been envious of those perfectly thin mandoline made slices.  I've priced mandolines.  I've read the reviews.  But my knife-nicked finger tips have urged me to stay away.  Slips with a knife merit a band-aid, mistakes on a mandoline merit a trip to the ER.  But there was just something about that picture of beet chips.

I added beet greens to the veggie eats part of my weekly menu and had a glimmer of hope to use the beets to make chips.  I wasn't too eager to drop $100 on a new mandoline, so I turned to my trusty amazon.com to do some research.  Lo and behold, the Germans are not only great at developing a superior chamois (ShamWow, anyone?), they apparently make a great mandoline!  After one-click ordering, my dream of beet chips was now only a two-day shipping wait away!

I'll admit, I got butterflies when the box arrived.  Excitement over my new found ability to make chip slices of every possible starch and veggie within eye-shot... and nervousness over making chip slices of every possible digit on my right hand.  After a quick instructional review on YouTube (who reads directions anymore?), I was ready to slice and dice!

I gathered my now greenless beets, removed the stalks, and scrubbed away the dirt and grit.

I took a DEEP breath, closed my eyes... realized that wasn't a good idea so I opened them again... and then started slicing.  The first time isn't so easy.  Perhaps I was over cautious, a little fearful, and just not used to a mandoline.  By the last beet, my confidence and ability had grown and I had accumulated a nice mound of perfectly sliced beets.

I tossed them with coconut oil, a few sprinkles of salt, then laid them flat on a lined cookie sheet to roast in a 375° F oven for about 35 minutes.  I shuffled them around and flipped them over about half way through. 

I probably ate a few too many as I was convinced by the following evening that I was dying of renal failure.  If you've ever eaten beets, you'll understand.  If you haven't, just brace yourself before you head to the restroom and know that there is absolutely nothing wrong with your internal organs.

I was so thrilled with the results and the lazy easy clean-up of the mandoline and its pieces, I decided to take on the yams that were hanging out in the produce bowl on the shelf.


Sweet potato fries?  YES!

The julienne feature took some getting used to... but I certainly wasn't going to complain about delicious shoestring-esque crispy sweet potato strips.

I was on such a roll, I didn't want Matt to miss out on the thrill of my new kitchen gadget... I went all out with the holy grail of snackin's in the Rottman household - SWEET POTATO CHIPS.

Verdict?  100% success!

A little salt.  A little chili powder.  35 - 40 minutes of roasting at 375° F.  And then... CHIPS!  Crunchety, salty, snackilicious chips.

Another satisfied mandoline customer.  Thanks, Germany, for being so great with your "As Seen on TV" product line.  So if any of y'all need something sliced to perfection... onions, bell peppers, sweet potatoes, cucumbers... anything but fingers, just give me a call.  Or even better?  Order your own and remember to keep your fingers tucked and ALWAYS use the blade guard.


Dining Out Paleo: Fogo de Chão

Welcome to my Thursday series: Dining Out Paleo

Every Thursday I post a recent dining out experience and how I chose the best possible options to stay true to my Paleo lifestyle and avoid grains, sugars, dairy, and soy to the best of my ability.  Unless informed otherwise, I always assume that the restaurant uses vegetable/canola oils for cooking.

This week's Dining Out Paleo transpired at the easiest possible place to stick to a Paleo diet, a true meat lover's Paleo paradise - Fogo de Chão in Beverly Hills.  This particular week happened to be dineLA Restaurant Week, which meant Fogo was offering their same fantastic array of meats and veggies... but at a very reasonable discounted price.

The only real pitfall that you may encounter here is the high probability that you will spend your afternoon in gluttony, wallowing in mountains of succulent and perfectly cooked meat.  Portion control can be (and usually is) an issue.  With high prices and an endless parade of meat skewers, how can you not be tempted to eat your fill for the next week and a half?  With that said - we are all different and if you want to wear your Thanksgiving pants and have a meat coma designated driver on hand - have at it!  (On this day, I wore a very loose sundress as it is much more attractive than a pair of gray Hanes sweats, but serves the same purpose.)

So what to eat?  

The salad bar is gorgeous, well stocked, and unique with fresh flavors that will easily fill your tummy.  As much as I wanted to load my plate with all the beautiful produce, I had to remember that I would soon be subjecting my tummy to a steady cascade of divine meats.  This trip I opted for: cucumber slices, giant asparagus, artichoke hearts, hearts of palm, beets, BACON!, onions... and I succumbed to peer pressure and tried a bite of chicken salad... which was DELICIOUS!  There is a wide selection of olive oils and vinegars from which to choose if you are interested in dressing your plate, as well.  For me, the veggies are so flavorful that I opt out of additional seasoning.

When my salad bar plate was just about empty, I flipped my little red coaster shaped card to green and it was GO time for the meat parade!  My poor little iPhone couldn't keep up with the dim lighting and the constant flow of meat grazing across my plate... so here is a small sampling... you'll have to go and experience the rest for yourself.

The guy at the next table's face cracks me up!  That's about how I felt the first time I ate here.


Two small pieces at a time never seems that daunting... it is only after I consume two small pieces six or seven times that my stomach may finally say "enough already!"

Since I am a huge fan of spicy, I was taught to ask my server for a plate of grilled onions and jalapeños.  I also ask for a dish of chimichurri sauce.  Neither of these is brought out unless requested and they are DEFINITELY worth asking for!

After my very first visit, I also learned to moderate myself, eat slow, and enjoy the overall experience with my dining companions.  The food is certainly the highlight, but it is only enhanced by sharing this type of meal with good friends and family and great conversations.

Can't wait to go back!  This meat-loving chick has found her dining-out Mecca.