Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Coming out of hibernation..

I'm baaaack!
I'm still here! Despite my lack of blogging, our cooking (and eating) has not diminished in the least! However, as autumn faded into winter and the Christmas season, I found my creative juices seemed to come to a halt. The month between Thanksgiving and Christmas is always a time where I want to make all the old familiar comfort foods and family favorites. As my mother always reminds me, I like traditions, especially when it comes to holidays. Thanksgiving wouldn't be complete, in my eyes, without cranberry crunch and lumpy mashed potatoes (the lumps are crucial); and December practically screams for warm and creamy foods (and abundant sweets). For a look at what I've been cooking over the past month, you can check out my pinterest page for some insight. I've made nearly everything under the "Fall/Winter Favorites" category. Some of my personal faves were: Gingerbread waffles, Giada's lentil soup, lower-cal fettuccine alfredo, and pork with cherry sauce. Yum!

But not to worry, my posts will be returning. I've got two in the works- one of which will include the incredibly creative and thoughtful (and ridiculous) Christmas gift from my hubby. Oh, did I mention this was our first Christmas together? Here we are at a Christmas Gala in Naples. It's also the picture on my Christmas cards that have yet to arrive...
Isn't he a stud?? :)

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

For Thanksgiving: Not a food post

Based on my previous track record and well, the title of my blog, one might think I live, eat (no pun intended), and breathe for food.   While food is the primary way I feel drawn to express creativity, writing is another big part of my personal creativity. For me, food is social and fun; and implies community. It’s most pleasurable aspect is sharing it with others.  It brings people together. Writing, on the other hand, has always been more of a private endeavor.  I’ve kept a diary since 2nd grade (although now I prefer the more sophisticated term “journal”). Blogging kind of joins the two!  Sometimes, I think it would be nice to share more of my private world- if only for entertainment, encouragement, or in attempt to bridge the big ocean that divides me from many of the ones I love!

This week I was thinking about Thanksgiving- a day dedicated to celebrating the many reasons we have to be grateful. The nature of the holiday has led to a focus on the gifts or blessings we have in our lives.  And don’t get me wrong, one of my favorite Thanksgiving traditions is going around the dinner table and everyone stating something they are thankful for. But for every gift there is a giver, right? As a Christian, I try to make a regular practice of thanking God for his many blessings, because I believe He is the Giver of all good things. And if there are things I want or ask for which I don’t have, then it must be because God, in his perfect and all-knowing character has deemed them not good for me; or at least not good right now. And I'm thankful for that too!

I was reflecting on my own tendency to forget about the Giver and decided I want that to be my focus this Thanksgiving: being thankful to the Lord for who He is, and not only for what He has given me (and He has given me much). I am thankful that some of the greatest gifts He gives are the intangible things; bound up in His promises to give us joy and peace through Christ. This poem is a product of these thoughts and reflections; and a personal call to myself and others to seek the Giver and not the gifts.  

No Good Thing Withheld
Psalm 84:11
“No good thing does he withhold from those who walk uprightly”

The Lord eagerly bestows good things
Upon the children of His vine
For all that He has given Christ
Is also now forever mine
We search too often His giving hand
Yet so seldom seek His face
If we rather sought our Father’s heart
We’d find unending stores of grace

His blessings not bound in fingers clenched
In hands reluctant to release,
But his riches rest in open palms
Offering gifts of joy and peace

James 1:17
"Every good and perfect gift is from above."

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Slow Cooker Barley Risotto

Temporary borrowed picture from
Friends, I have possibly discovered the most wonderfully delicious healthy-meets-gourmet dish yet. (Have I reeled you in?) AND I cooked it in my slow cooker! For those of you who think crock-pots don't count as cooking (you know who you are) then think again! This meal involved a small amount of prep work, but really all the slow cooker did was take the dirty work out of risotto. Instead of constantly stirring, as traditional risotto requires, the grains slowly soak up the broth over a few hours. A few finishing touches and you're done. And the best part of this meal (in my dietitian opinion): FIBER! Although my less health-inclined husband would say it was the butter. And cheese. Regardless of which end of the spectrum calls your name, I promise you, this gets just as creamy and heavenly as regular risotto.

In my excitement and haste I forgot to take a picture. Maybe during lunchtime leftovers tomorrow. Again, lack of necessary ingredients caused me to alter this quite a bit and combine various recipes..but now I can claim this as my own, right?

Slow Cooker Barley Risotto
Serves 4-6 (Makes about 8 cups)

2 Tablespoons butter, divided
2 finely sliced shallots (about 3 Tbs)
1 1/2 cups barley
5 1/4 cups chicken broth
1 fresh thyme sprig (or 1/2 tsp dried)
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 c parmesan cheese
pepper to taste

1. In a large skillet, cook sliced shallots in 1 Tbs melted butter over medium heat (about 1-2 mins).
2. Add thyme sprig and cook an additional 30 seconds. Add barley to skillet and cook an additional 2 minutes, or until all the grains are coated in butter.
3. Lightly spray slow cooker with non-stick spray. Add broth, salt, and barley mixture to slow cooker. Cover and cook on high for 3 1/2 to 4 hours, or until liquid is absorbed.
4. Add remaining 1 Tbs butter and parmesan cheese and stir gently until butter and cheese are melted. Salt & pepper to taste.

You will not regret this! :)

Sunday, November 6, 2011

When life hands you apples..make applesauce!

The change of seasons is welcome for many reasons: the weather cools down, the leaves change colors, I can bring out the winter wardrobe (scarves, boots, gloves and peacoats..what could be more fun?) and of course, fall food! In the States, seasonal changes didn't seem so drastic for a few reasons. First, I lived in Florida where it's summer for 11 months and fall/winter for 1 month; which hardly merits a dramatic change in wardrobe (sadly). Secondly, we have a variety of foods available to us most of the year. Sure there are some seasonal fluctuations, but if I want it badly enough I can find a winter squash in the spring or an avocado in December.

Here in Italy, it's a little different. While we don't have the luxury of incredible variety all year round, we do get the "cream of the crop" of the seasonal foods. You may recall me raving about the tomatoes this summer..and then a few posts later I complained about eating zucchini every other day- because that's what the summer has to offer: tomatoes and zucchini. And they were delicious!- But by August we were not sad to see them go. This fall I was disappointed that even some of the typical "in-season" fall foods are not widely available. Each week at the base we get a total of about 8 butternut squashes and you can own one for the small sacrifice of your child's college education (do you sense my sarcasm?) But I digress...

My positive point of all that is that because we don't have the variety all year round, the Harvest Season (September-November) is really celebrated. Every weekend in October you can find a harvest festival. Our local ones included: apples, truffles, chestnuts, chocolate, and beer & wine. We had the chance to go to the Apple Festival with some friends. It doesn't get much more fun than that! We sampled apple cider, apple wine, apple cakes and breads, and apple syrups.
There were about 30 tents like this one..all with their individual products
"Chestnuts roasting on an open fire.."

My first chestnut- yum!
Everyone participated in Apple Festival!
And because I can buy a ridiculous amount of apples for ridiculously cheap- I did! And I came home and made some apple pear sauce via slow cooker. It was way too easy and I'll definitely be doing it again :)

I made my own variation (which I'll post soon), but it was inspired by this one:

Monday, October 31, 2011

First article published! Woohoo!

As I've mentioned previously, there isn't a big demand for dietitians here in Italy (unless I want to enlist in the military- no thanks). After 2 years of working in a teaching/counseling setting at a research-oriented hospital, I know the importance of "keeping my feet wet" in the nutrition world in order to not lose my skills. Before I got married I applied for a freelance writing job on a whim; one that allows me to write as frequently as I wish about nutrition-related topics. Besides the small amount of extra spending money, it allows me to keep up to date with some current research, and consumer interest topics such as dieting, weight loss, and medical nutrition therapy.

Anywho- my first article was published this month! Hopefully I'll be able write more regularly in the future. Check it out here:

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Pumpkin in the morning, Pumpkin in the Evening, Pumpkin at Supper-time

All the pumpkin in this house called for some drastic creativity! Luckily, one of my BFF's sent me an e-article from SHAPE magazine on 10 different ways to cook pumpkin. Right away I knew had to make the lasagna. What a perfect twist to a usually strong & heavy dish. The natural savory flavor of pumpkin added a new "light" element to this meal, so much so that it needed very little cheese. I was a little worried, though, that the "unique-ness factor" would be a little too much for the hubby to handle. All day I kept telling him to "keep an open mind about dinner" without telling him what he'd be eating. Turns out- my worries were for nothing! I think he liked it even more than I did! The recipe left out a few important details, and as usual the commissary here left me without a few key ingredients, so I had to improvise a bit. But I'm getting ahead of myself..let's start  with breakfast :)

First, pumpkin oatmeal to warm me up! It was cold outside and nothing sounded better than warm, creamy, pumpkin-y oatmeal.

  • 1/3 c oats
  • 2/3 cups water
  • 1/3 c pumpkin puree
  • 1/4  tsp pumpkin pie spice + extra cinnamon
  • 2 tsp maple syrup
  • 1/2 banana, halved and sliced
  • 1/2 Tbs ground flax or 1 Tbs walnuts
1. Cook oatmeal in water according to instructions. When about 80% done (or after 4 mins for 5-minute oats), add in pumpkin, spices and maple syrup.
2. Cook an additional 1-2 mins. Remove from heat and stir in banana and nuts or flax.

No pumpkin at lunch, but dinner time = pumpkin lasagna! The light-ness of the pumpkin went perfectly with the mild veggies and ground turkey. I used oven-ready noodles and ended up cooking longer than the recipe said to.

Pumpkin "ricotta" layer. Store was out of ricotta (xgxasjifjrixx!) so I had to use cottage cheese.
Not quite the same, but it did the job.

Turkey-Veggie layer, on top of pumpkin-ricotta layer

I always forget to take the "after" picture because I'm so excited to eat. Oops!
Next time :)
And the final pumpkin "meal" was actually the following day, but same 24 hours- so that counts right? I met my chef-friend Sherry for a lesson in pumpkin-spice doughnuts! Mmmm mmmm.

First, in order to prepare for my indulgence, I started with a low-cal breakfast:
Egg beater & Veggie "open-face" omelet-yum!

Shaping the donuts- so cute!

Fryin' 'em up!

Finishing touch: cinnamon sugar coating
Even brought a few home for Chris, who I thought would be pumpkined-out by now. But alas, he still had room for some sweets :)

Monday, October 17, 2011

An Apple a Day..

Always striving for that daily fruit intake! (Does it count if it's in a cobbler form? What about a healthy cobbler?) I recently made these individual Apple Crisps from Clean & Delicious and they were super yummy! I was thankful I only made enough for my husband and me to have just one...we would have been reaching for seconds! But luckily these were so easy and quick to make, I think I'll be making them again soon :)

As always- had to make some changes based on availability and preference! I used canola oil instead of coconut. I used 1 Tbs ground flax instead of 1/4c wheat germ.

*Gluten Free without wheat germ

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Can't put my finger on it... Chocolate Granola

Sometimes I get a craving for something out of my normal realm of foods- something specific- and I drive  myself crazy trying to figure out what inspired  my momentary obsession. And I usually can't stop thinking about it until I've consumed it...and then I'm over it. (Does that sound like a problem?) Such was the case recently with chocolate granola. First, I rarely eat granola; and although I love chocolate I never desire it at breakfast time. So this one threw me for a loop trying to recall where I might have read or heard about, or saw chocolate granola. Then a few days later I was wandering through our grocery store and I saw chocolate cocoa puffs and I remembered!

When we were in France-all of 2 weeks ago- our hotel had breakfast in the mornings. They had 2 options of cereal: corn flakes or chocolate (corn?) flakes. I was a little skeptical because again, perhaps the only time of I don't want chocolate is at breakfast. So the first day I had corn flakes with a "splash" of chocolate flakes. It was pretty good so the next day I had a little more. By the third day I was going for half-corn, half-chocolate, and by out last day I was eating straight up chocolate flakes. So, I imagine I was going through some kind of withdrawl when I got home.

Needless to say the hunt for chocolate granola recipes began. I was surprised at how few I found. My preference was quite particular for cocoa-coated granola and not granola with chocolate chips. I found a blog with a recipe that sounded right up my alley, and which was inspired by a food network recipe. I  often will compare recipes to other recipe-sites that I trust (like food network) to get an idea of proportions, temperatures and cooking times to see how I can alter if needed.

Here's what I did: 
2 Tbs cocoa powder, unsweetened
2 1/4 c rolled oats
1/2 c shredded coconut
1/2 c sliced almonds almonds
1/2 t salt
1 t ground cinnamon
pinch of nutmeg (I'll omit this next time..)
1/2 c dried cranberries or cherries (cherries would be better- we didn't have any available here!)
6 Tbs brown sugar
1/3 c honey (see recommended changes below)
1/4 c + 2 Tbs applesauce (6 Tbs)
1 T canola oil
hot water

coffee in the picture not part of the recipe :)

1. Preheat oven to 250-300 degrees. (I recommend lower range if using a lot of honey)
2. Pour hot water over dried cherries and allow to sit for 15 mins.
3. Mix dry ingredients (cocoa powder-nutmeg). *Consider adding coconut half-way through baking. I plan to do this next time.
4. In a small saucepan, heat brown sugar, liquid sweeteners, applesauce and oil until blended and runny.
5. Add liquid to dry ingredients, along with dried cherries (drained) and toss well to coat.
6. Pour into glass baking dish or walled cookie sheet and bake 45 mins to 1 hour, tossing every 15 minutes or so.
7. Allow to cool completely. (*I made the mistake of thinking it would dry out completely in oven, but part of that happens in the cooling process. I think this is why mine turned out a little too crispy.) 

I cut the amounts in half of original recipe since I knew I didn't need 10 cups of chocolate granola laying around. All in all, it was pretty good. I used more honey than necessary since I didn't have agave and I think it made it a little too crispy for my taste (honey gets so hard!). Next time, I'll use maple syrup/honey combo and perhaps cook at a lower temp for longer time.

*I liked that this receipe used applesauce. I've never seen that before but it really cut down on the amount of oil needed (and therefore less fat) and had no hint of apple taste. I wonder if I can do this with pumkin puree instead of applesauce too?? But not with the chocolate..

**I will probably add the shredded coconut later next time because it dried up and was tasteless after an hour of baking.

Advice and suggestions welcome! How do you make granola??

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

How Much Pumpkin is Too Much Pumpkin??

 Trick question- you can never have too much pumpkin! Contrary to what you may think, pumpkin is extremely versatile. We hear "pumpkin" and think of sweet treats like pumpkin bread and pumpkin pie (and pumpkin cheesecake and pumpkin cupcakes and...), but plain 'ole pumpkin by itself can be groomed for sweet or savory dishes. One of my faves is a very simple pumpkin soup, which I'll post soon. And while reading some of my favorite food blogs..I see I'm not the only one who is slightly obsessed with the wonderful orange vegetable! (See link:

I was sad to hear of the pumpkin shortage in the States this year..because on a military base that means we have a pumpkin DRAUGHT! So when I spotted a display at our commissary..I stocked up. And the only reason I didn't take more was because I didn't want to come across as a hoarder...that, and my husband is already fearful I'm planning to make pumpkin hamburgers (I'm not, but he knows it's likely to pop up anywhere!). 

I've gone through a large can already. So far I've made a pumpkin cream cheese spread for a brunch event I attended, and pumpkin yogurt (one of my favorite snacks!) Here's what I do:

Pumpkin Pie Yogurt

1/3 cup canned pure pumpkin
1/3 cup plain yogurt
1 tsp maple syrup
1/4 tsp pumpkin pie spice (I make a large batch myself which I found here)
1/2 tbs milled flax seed, optional (I like the added nutti-ness)
*Other crunchy topping options: 1 Tbs walnuts, crunched up cinnamon graham cracker, or granola

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Would you like a baguette with that? "Oui!"

We are home from France- land of the cheese, bread, and most things delicious. One of my favorite things about traveling (ok, my most favorite thing) is the food. I'm thankful my husband shares this enthusuiasm with me, because it doubles the fun! We have an appreciation for history and art, but don't feel like we missed out if we don't get to see every museum, landmark or tourist attraction. We do however feel a responsibility to try as many different foods as we can- and then come home and attempt to re-create them! Before each trip we create a Muñoz Family Bucket List, which includes our "must-do" activities. I won't lie- 75% of them include food. A few from France were: eat Ratatoullie (check), eat chocolate mousse (check), eat a crepe or quiche everyday (Chris' item; and check), daily visit to the neighborhood Starbucks (check), and eat beef bourguignon (check). This time we tended to add more items as we went along because the restaurant menus looked so good!

First stop, finding a crepe for Chris. We had a neighborhood crepe shop right by our hotel! It was fun to watch them make these "French burritos" and my, were they tasty. Here's our favorite Crepe Man: 

1st start with the thin pancake-like batter

Fill it up with your favorite fillings-
Nutella (hazelnut butter & sugar) is popular here

Make friends with the Crepe Man so he'll hook you
up when you come back!
Did I mention that crepes were just snacks? Thank goodness we did so much walking! I wore my pedometer one day and we were close to 6 miles, even with taking the Metro many places. I was also pleasantly surprised at how easy it was to eat healthy. I was afraid (and naive) in my thinking that it would be impossible to avoid cream and cheese at every meal. But meals weren't over-sized, and I actually felt like I couldn't get enough of their salads since it's not something I order often in Italy (every time I try it's mostly meat and cheese with a few leaves of arugala, so I've quit..)
Roasted Duck and French Green Bean Salad

Fresh quiche, salads, sweets, paninis- hard to resist!
We had beef fondue one night. It was a fun experience
and forced to eat slowly!

But my favorite food experience was definitely the market we visited in Versailles before our picnic on the Grand Canal. Not only did they have fresh produce, but wine, cheese, meats, seafood, olives, tapanades and spreads, fresh flowers- and even a crepe stand.


Bread has never been my go-to comfort food, but my appreciation for it increased after this trip- especially when you watch someone pull it out of a brick oven piping hot. The smell is irresistable. But in the words of Ratatoullie (great cartoon movie about French food, for all ages!), it's not about the smell or the feel, but the "sound!" CRUNCH.

As if we didn't get enough in France, I came home determined to make beef bourguignon, and found a delightful Slow Cooker recipe, which I adapted as below: 

Slow Cooker Beef Bourguignon

3 Tablespoons Flour
2-3 lbs beef chuck, trimmed of fat, cut into 1 inch cubes
3 large carrots, peeled and sliced
1 medium onion, sliced
2 large potatoes, peeled and cut into 1 inch pieces
8oz fresh mushrooms, sliced
4-6 strips cooked bacon, cut into 1-2 inch pieces (I used 4 slices thick-cut)
1 14.5 ounce can beef broth
1 cup red wine
1 Tablespoon tomato paste
 2 cloves garlic, minced
1-2 tsp dried thyme
1 bay leaf

1. Coat beef chunks in flour seasoned with salt and pepper. Sear beef in a skillet on stovetop in 1 Tbs canola or vegetable oil until browned on the outside but not cooked through. (The searing is optional, but I think it brings out a wonderful flavor!)

2. Place meat in slow cooker and add remaining ingredients

3. Cover, and cook on LOW for 8 hours, or until meat and potatoes are both tender. (Mine only took about 6-7 hrs)

*Note: my 5 quart crockpot was filled to the brim! Everything turned out fine, but I ended up adding a little more water so they vegetables would stew and not roast.

**Note: My chef friend informed me that 1 cup of wine isn't enough..I just followed the recipe, but feel free to add more!

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

What's Cooking Lately

Banana Oatmeal Muffin Cups with Chocolate chunks
Well, blogging has been a little slower than I like, but as usual, the cooking has not been. I've been clearing out the pantry trying to get rid of odds and ends, and ridding our fridge of perishable items before our upcoming excursion to Paris (yay!!!). Summer is slowly fading away so we are seeing the beginnings of a new season, and finally new seasonal food. Out with the zucchini, tomatoes and eggplant, and in with the pumpkin, butternut squash, and apple goodness. Below are some of my recent experiments- some successful and some a work in progress.

Overnight Apple Cinnamon French Toast (whole wheat, of course)

Eggplant "Parmesan" Bake
Courtesy of Clean&Delicious...and a new Muñoz Family Favorite

A kilo of bell peppers acquired at the market...unfortunately many went to waste before I could use them.
But aren't they pretty?

I poached pears for the first time..wasn't super impressed- but I'm not giving up!


Carmelized red onion, roasted pepper & artichoke pizza
(yep- a premade crust and I didn't do much except compile it..but gosh it was good!)

Banana Oatmeal Muffin good I had to include 2 pictures
(An adaptation from GeenLiteBites which you can find at:
<I added 1 Tbs maple syrup and used plain almond milk> 

I am beyond excited to see what France has to offer- it is uncharted territory for me in terms of cooking..and eating for that matter! Chris says he plans to eat "crepes and quiche between every meal." We shall see.. I'm just hoping the French know a little bit more about breakfast than the Italians! Pictures to come :) Ciao!

Friday, September 16, 2011

Chicken Stock for the Soul

Homemade chicken stock...such a simple feat, one would think. But like most of my cooking projects, I begin like I only have one chance to get it right. So I scour multiple trusty cookbooks and websites to see all the variations and methods; flavors and techniques (type A personality, or thorough decide).  And then I usually end up with a combination of ideas from each; of which follows the birth of a Signature Dish.

Here in Italy, we have a beloved little mom&pop restuarant right down the street from the base where we live. Chris and I go there once or twice a month for a margherita pizza and a rotisserie chicken. I don't know how they season their chicken (polli), but we think it's quite magical. I don't know why it didn't occur to me until recently to use the leftover meat and bones to make a stock. I mean, I cook nearly everything in broth since the tap water here is less than stellar. And it would support my goal of having a "no-waste" kitchen!

Here's what I did: (and note, this makes a thick stock, which I like because then if I want a lighter broth I can thin it out with water, or leave it as is for something hearty like chicken chili!)

Chicken Stock for the Soul

  • Bones (with or without meat) from small cooked rotisserie chicken
  • 1 large onion, cut into chunks (doesn't even need to be peeled!)
  • 1 fennel bulb (my first time using fennel)
  • 2 celery stalks, with leaves
  • 3 large carrots, peeled
  • 3 garlic cloves (again, can leave peel on)
  • 8 parsley sprigs
  • 2 Bay leaves
  • a couple shakes of dried thyme
  • 8 cups water
  • 1-2 tsp fresh lemon juice (trust me!)
  • garlic powder (optional)

1. Add chicken bones and onion to pot (no oil needed). Stir around for a few minutes to release flavor and allowing onions to get some color.
2. Add water  and bring to a boil. (I used roughly 7-8 cups, but you could use more if desired)
3. Once boiling, add remainder of ingredients (except lemon juice & garlic powder). Reduce heat & simmer, partly covered, for an hour and 15 mins.
4. When finished, remove from heat and squeeze in 1 or 2 tsp of fresh lemon juice
*I actually ended up adding a few shakes of garlic powder when done also.

Of course this is a very versatile, flexible recipe. However, I found this combo of flavors to be just delightful :) I plan to freeze some, and use the rest for chicken chili and to cook couscous.

I also pureed most of the vegetables (after removing skins, peels and leaves) and made  DELICIOUS vegetable soup. Yum?

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Beginner Biscotti

3 months into my residence in Italy and I thought it was time to tackle one of my food-related ambitions. If you don't recall, I want to master homemade tomato sauce, drink espresso like an Italian (no milk), and learn how to make biscotti. (For the record, I have tried the espresso and was not a fan on attempt 1, 2, or 3. I decided un cafe macchiato- espresso with a splash of milk- is more my taste). But I'm getting off track...

If you've followed this blog for a while, then you know that baking anything scares me. I can screw up a Betty Crocker cookie mix (which only calls for ONE additional ingredient besides the mix, by the way). But I figure there is no better time to experiment than now, when I have time and willing taste-testers (hence the chocolate zucchini brownies). As irony would have it, my new sister-in-law is a pastry chef(!) so she swiftly sent me a recipe for biscotti. To be honest, as soon as I saw the words "attach paddle blades to mixer" I was intimidated, so instead we'll be attempting that one via skype supervision. Then, I stumbled upon a super simple biscotti recipe in my Newlywed Cookbook by Robin Miller (I highly recommend it for simple classic recipes). This one required all familiar ingredients, and no foreign appliances! Bring on the Peanut Butter Biscotti :)

Peanut Biscotti (by Robin Miller)

2 cups all purpose flour
2/3 cup granulated sugar
3/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
2 eggs
2 egg whites
1/3 cup crunchy peanut butter (I used smooth, and added some nuts)
1 tsp vanilla extract
non-stick cooking spray

1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees
2. In a large bowl, combine flour, sugar, baking soda, and salt. Set aside.
3. In a small bowl, whisk together eggs and egg whites. Whisk in peanut butter and vanilla (I found a fork was helpful!) Add egg mixture to dry ingredients and mix until a manageable dough forms
4. Transfer dough to lightly floured surface and shape into a 10-inch log (eyeball cutting board has inch measurements). Place log on a baking sheet that has been coated with cooking spray.
5. Bake 30-35 minutes, or until knife inserted near center comes out clean.
6. Reduce oven temperature to 300.
7. Allow log to cool for a few minutes (enough to handle) and cut crosswise into 18 slices and arrange slices on baking sheet.

8. Bake 20 more minutes, turning once, until golden. Cool until crisp.

OK..I think I'm ready for intermediate biscotti :)

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Signature Dish: Mushroom Orzo Risotto

Mushroom Orzo Risotto
 This recipe started out as a side dish for tonight's dinner (herb crusted pork tenderloin- thanks Mom!), but stole the show without a doubt. Sometimes when I'm planning our meals, it slips my mind that my husband requires about a billion calories a day. So I need meals and/or sides that will stretch- i.e. feed him a lot and allow me to have a "normal-person" intake. Therefore we tend to include a lot of rice, pasta, couscous or other grain with our meals. In the future though, I'd say this one is worth doubling. It was truly a Muñoz Family Favorite. (I wish I had a better picture, but it was gobbled down pretty quickly)

For those unfamiliar, orzo is a tiny rice-sized pasta that cooks in minutes. By coating it in the butter first, and allowing to sit after cooking, it even gets the creamy risotto texture. Perfect for a quick last-minute side dish. I adapted it from a Whole Foods recips, which you can find here: I modified and "healthified" it a bit, in true dietitian fashion. And according to my Offical Taste-Tester/Husband, he wouldn't change a thing. (Usually when given the option, he says "more cheese.")

Mushroom Orzo Risotto

8  medium mushrooms, quartered (About 2 1/2 cups when sliced)
2 Tbs finely chopped onion
2 Tbs butter
1 tsp dried parsley
3/4 cup uncooked orzo
2 cups chicken broth
2 Tbs grated or shredded parmesan cheese

1. Melt butter in a large saucepan or stockpot (something with a lid). Add onions and mushrooms and cook until tender but not browned, about 2-3 minutes.  
2. Add orzo and stir to coat, another 30-60 seconds.  
3. Add broth. Bring to boil and cook until orzo is tender, about 6-8 minutes.  
4. Remove from heat, stir in Parmesan and cover. Let rest an additional 3-5 minutes. Sprinkle with parsley and season with salt and pepper, if needed.

Makes 4 good-sized"side-dish" servings.

And because I was on a roll, we had some stuffed apples for dessert. These too, were pretty tasty, and very easy. Thanks Rachel Ray! (She puts them in muffin tins to bake so they don't topple over-genius!) I actually halved the entire stuffing recipe and decreased the brown sugar to 3 Tbs and they were still heavenly! (Make sure you scoop out the liquid from the bottom of the muffin tins when you serve them- yum!)

Oh- I am so excited for fall!

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Signature Dish: Tortelloni Primavera with Pesto

Tortelloni Primavera with Basil Pesto

Although I do like the challenge of mastering a new recipe, or attempting a new cooking method- I am a dietitian through and through. The proof? Because no matter what I'm making-  I find myself scheming how I can add a vegetable, reduce the butter, increase the fiber, etc. Even if I don't actually do it, it is my heart's desire to somehow get butternut squash puree into the cookie mix (haven't tried that yet..but it's on my mind!) And I have to say, our return from Tuscany left me culinarily (is that a word?) inspired. I usually experience a new burst of confidence and think, at least for a few days, that I can bump up my cooking level from "super easy" to just "easy." Or sometimes tasting somebody else's simple goodness is just the extra little boost I've needed to convince myself to throw that extra spice in the mix.

Last week,  I was planning to make one of our staple meals from my "super DUPER easy" repertorie of recipes: Tortelloni with Basil Pesto. This is Chris's all-time favorite meal. (Cute sidenote: his mom also informed me it was one of his first meals as a child...if that doesn't foreshadow a high-class-future-eater, I don't know what does!). Not shockingly, our local Italian grocery store has an entire aisle of fresh pastas with every imaginable stuffing so we can be pretty fancy without having to do much. This time we opted for Spinach and Ricotta tortelloni:

And even though our basil plant is thriving, I opted for the pre-made pesto also. I was ready to call it a meal when the dietitian voice said "that's not enough fiber!" So I scoured the fridge to see what I could find, and here's what we had:

  • handful of frozen spinach, (mostly thawed and extra water squeezed out)
  • big handful of frozen green beans
  • 2 medium carrots, peeled and julienned
  • 2 large mushrooms
  • 4 whole sun-dried tomatoes (in oil), chopped
  • 1 can of chick peas, rinsed and drained
Cooking Instructions:

1. Cook 16-20oz tortelloni according to package directions. Tortelloni only takes about 5 minutes.

2. I peeled and prepped the veggies, then heated some olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. I added some of the sun-dried tomato oil to the olive oil for a little extra flavor. I added the carrots first, since they seem to take longer, and sauteed for about 2 mins. Next I added the shrooms, Then threw in the spinach and green beans, and finally the tomatoes. I reduced the heat to medium low and let them all cook together for a few minutes.

3. Add a big spoonful (2 tbs) of basil pesto and stirred all the veggies together together. Season with s&p (if needed). Finally I added  1/2 can of chickpeas to the mixture. Turn off heat but allow to stay on the burner to keep warm until ready to mix with pasta.

4. Drain pasta and put back into pot. Toss gently with pesto of choice (we used a good 1/4 cup)

5. Serve tortelloni in shallow bowls and top with vegetable mixture. Say "Yum!" after the first bite, since you will be pleasantly surprised :)

Serves 4-ish.