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 Cups..so 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 researcher...you 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 it..my 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: http://www.wholefoodsmarket.com/recipes/recipe.php?recipeId=1924. 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!