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!