Sunday, September 2, 2012

Pantry Clean-Out Week = Bring on the Pumpkin

My Christmas gift/ yearly supply of Pumpkin
There are really 3 reasons we have "Pantry-clean-out" weeks in this house:    

1) I spent a ridiculous amount of money on groceries that month and I'm determined to use up what we have before buying more. (These usually occur at the end of the month)

2) I'm trying to rid the pantry of JUNK that has accumulated due to either a) having an especially busy month and therefore buying stuff I wouldn't normally buy; or b) Chris has laid the guilt on THICK and somehow we end up with ice cream, golden Oreos, Nutella, and other unidentifiable processed goods. 

3) Or- and this is the fun reason: Summer is fading and I'm getting ready for Pumpkin Season!!- I mean, Fall. In case you weren't aware, I do have about 28 lbs of pumpkin remaining from the previous year. And it's been waiting oh-so patiently to make it's debut. I only hope there isn't a pumpkin drought this year or I'm really going to have be wise about how I ration these 28 lbs!

So, here is my pantry and fridge at the end of this week: 

More than enough condiments, coffee, 1.5 measly carrots and cream soda (<--the Mr's)

And here it is now- after some minor redecorating :)

12 lbs minimum in pantry at all times. Just kidding. Kind of.

And I was so excited to make my yearly batch of pumpkin spice mix. This year I went with the recipe from Pumpkin Nook's Cookbook

Now, lest you think I've gone too far, let me tell you about a REAL issue. Chris and I had a semi-legitimate "tiff"- not an argument- about when the Christmas tree should go up. It's August 31st people!! My dear sweet hubby wants to put up the Christmas tree on Halloween. (!!). Yes, you read that right, Halloween. I mean, that is in the prime of Pumpkin Season, and he's trying to overshadow all the Thanksgiving delightfulness by putting up our 2.5 foot tree. Eyebrows were raised and threatening remarks may or may not have been made... but alas, I will probably give in. After his 28 years on earth, the man has mastered the puppy dog eyes and I gotta be honest, he's darn cute.  Those same puppy dog eyes are how we end up with "ice cream, golden Oreos, Nutella and other unidentifiable processed goods" in the house.

Pumpkin Collage:
Pumpkin Cupcakes- Birthday 2010

Pumpkin Cookbook Christmas 2011
The gift that gives all year.

P.S. Did anyone notice how I used both "lest" and "alas"? I've been reading too many 18th century novels.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Healthy Happy Summer: Thai Chicken Lettuce Wraps

One of the many fun things about working in the food world (even when on temporary hiatus) is the unofficial job duty of taste-tester. After counseling hundreds of clients on a very wide variety of nutrition needs, I can say with confidence that people undeniably want a dietitian who can tell them the "real deal" in addition to all the textbook stuff; especially when it comes to current diet trends. They want to talk to someone who isn't going to just tell them it's a bad idea and they should stick to a "healthy balanced diet." I get this- I would want this too! However, as Registered Dietitians we are trained and obligated to critically examine fad diets and look for any potential deficiencies, and even potentially harmful components. And it took me a while, but I finally came to accept that regardless of sound advice, people are going to do what they are going to do, so I had to learn to roll with the punches and help them figure out how their diet of choice can work for them, despite any shortcomings it may have (with the exception of long-term cleansing/detox diets, which I do not support for safety reasons!).

One of the more recent diet trends that only crossed my path one time while working at my previous job is the Paleo (Caveman) diet, which supports eating a simple unprocessed diet comprised of meat, seafood, fruits, vegetables, & tree nuts- but no dairy or grains. I have several friends and acquaintances who swear by it, and several have shared some wonderful recipes! I was initially skeptical because strict adherence to the diet requires one to avoid entire food groups- something I would have a hard time recommending to anyone; especially when those food groups include healthy whole grains and high fiber beans and legumes. It is also deficient in calcium and Vitamin D if followed strictly, so these would need to be supplemented. However, like most diets, there are several very commendable aspects to this eating plan: it mandates whole, unprocessed foods, is low in sugar and sodium, and encourages lots of fruits and vegetables (all of which dietitians have been urging for many years!) So while I do wonder about its long-term sustainability, I recognize that those who follow it love it, many experience improved health, and the recipes aren't bad! (For a more in-depth review, visit

Which brings me to the fun part of this blog post- the recipe! A friend recommended this recipe for Thai Chicken Lettuce Wraps from the Paleo Plan that she said I had to try. I did, and they were absolutely delicious! I did modify them a bit to use ingredients I had on hand and to suit our tastes. Plus, I cooked a side of rice (big Paleo no-no) for my carbohydrate-burning hubby who needs more fuel than the average joe! But all in all, I stuck to the recipe pretty closely. According to Chris- this one makes it into the Munoz Recipe Hall of Fame- he loved them that much.

His & Hers: one with rice, one without
Thai Chicken Lettuce Wraps
Serves 4


12 large Bibb lettuce leaves (at least!)
3-4 large red cabbage leaves, very thinly sliced
1/2 cup grated carrot
1 cup finely chopped raw broccoli
3 green onions, thinly sliced
1/3 cup cilantro leaves
1 lb skinless boneless chicken breast
1 Tbs coconut oil
salt & pepper

For Thai Peanut Sauce:

1/4 cup natural peanut butter
1/4 cup water
2 Tbs low sodium soy sauce (use gluten free if needed)
Juice from 1 small lime (about 2 Tbs)
2 garlic cloves, minced

Cooking Instructions:

1. Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees F
2. Season chicken on both sides with salt & pepper. Heat coconut oil in oven-proof skillet on the stove over medium-high heat. Add chicken and cook 3-5 minutes on each side. They should be nice and browned on the outside. Transfer skillet to the oven to finish cooking (about 15-20 minutes).
3. Meanwhile, mix all ingredients together for the Thai peanut sauce. (I used the Magic Bullet- worked like a charm!)
4. In a separate bowl, mix cabbage, carrot, broccoli & green onion together. Toss with a few tablespoons of the peanut sauce.
5. Once the chicken is finished, cut into 1/2 inch pieces.
6. Assemble lettuce wraps- fill each lettuce leaf with a scoop of the vegetable mixture, chicken, cilantro and top with a few teaspoons of peanut sauce.
7. Everyone say "YUMMMM"!

*Chris added the white rice to the wrap also; I ate it on the side. If serving rice, make 3/4 cup rice according to package directions, substituting 1/3 cup of the water for coconut milk. Season with salt and pepper and toss in some cilantro when done cooking.

Did I mention it makes delicious leftovers? This is Chris' Rice Bowl
Adapted from The Paleo Plan Recipe database at

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Quinoa for breakfast- with cherries on top!

Feeling the need to switch it up for breakfast lately. I usually rotate between eggs & wheat toast and oatmeal & yogurt. Love 'em both, but needing some more variety! I've had this recipe saved for months and figured I'd give it a whirl. Plus, it's cherry season, so I've got to take advantage! (2 lbs of cherries for 3 Euro!) At first I thought the ricotta might be a little weird on quinoa (and for breakfast) but turns out it was just the right touch! A Greek yogurt (or other thick yogurt) would probably work just as well, too.

I ended up changing it significantly so I could use what I already had- feel free to change it yourself! I'd love to hear what kind of combos you all come up with. Here's what I did:

Breakfast Quinoa with Ricotta and Cherries
Serves 4

  • 1 cup uncooked quinoa
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 Tbs oil ( I used coconut; any could be used)
  • 1/4 cup walnuts, coarsely chopped
  • 1/2 cup dried dates, or other dried fruit (such as raisins or chopped apricots)
  • 2 Tbs pure maple syrup
  • 1/2 tsp orange zest
  • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon, plus more for sprinkling
  • 1/4 cup ricotta cheese (full fat recommended!)
  • 1 cup fresh cherries, pitted and halved (you could also use other berries, but then you'd have to change the name of the recipe ;)

1. Cook quinoa according to package directions. Fluff with a fork then set aside.

2. In a large skillet, heat the oil. Add  walnuts and cook over low heat for about 2 minutes, being careful not to burn them. Add the dates, maple syrup, orange zest and cinnamon and stir until heated through.

3. Add the quinoa to the skillet and gently stir to make sure the nut/fruit mixture is well distributed.

4. Each serving is one generous cup of quinoa mixture, topped with 1 Tbs ricotta and 1/4 cup cherries.  Sprinkle with more cinnamon if desired.

*I made this ahead of time and topped with ricotta and cherries just before serving. Each serving is approx. 350 calories (and worth every one!)

**Recipe adapted from Food & Wine. Check it out here.

Friday, June 15, 2012

It's the little things...

I commented to Chris the other night that I haven't been enjoying cooking as much lately. I haven't had the urge to spend the whole day in our kitchen trying new recipes or attempting to recreate something we ate somewhere. He started to get worried that the novelty of living in a foreign country was wearing off on me. I assured him it wasn't. But as I thought about it more, I realized that because our lives have been a little busier lately our meal experience has changed. We were eating the same stuff as usual but often separately due to him working late or me having plans. To me, this changed the whole way I perceived "enjoying" a meal. The Italians got it right in that sense- you won't often see them eating alone, or in 20 minutes or less like we do. This new insight rang true last night as Chris and I sat down to eat Gnocchi alla Sorrentina, which I have been wanting to recreate after our trip to Sorrento last month. Our evening plans fell through, so instead of rushing through it (like we had intended to) we opened a bottle of wine, set the table, and lingered over our meal. It was so much fun to recount the day we spent in Sorrento, recalling what we did and what we ate. We kind of experienced it all over again!
Impromptu date night!

Chai Latte ala Emily at the beach house

We started talking about other examples of meals we really enjoyed. Often, we couldn't even recall exactly what we ate, but what we did remember was who we were with and the sentiment attached to the occasion. For example, I love drinking tea in the afternoon.  Chai tea, to be exact, with milk and honey, like my old roommate Emily taught me. When I went to Florida to visit in April, we made it a point to do this together. And you know what? That was the best-tasting chai latte I've had in months. It's the little things.

The whole crew sharing a meal in Capri

Also recently, my parents and their friends came to Italy. One of my best friends and her husband happened to be in town the same weekend and we got to share a meal all together. 8 people sitting around the table eating a 3 hour Italian meal. Sharing meals with family and friends has become one of my favorite things. I have always loved them, but being so far apart has caused me to treasure them even more- especially when we only get to do it a few times a year!

Last example, Chris and I have a favorite meal that I make once every other month or so. It's a Muñoz family fave- NOT because of it's extravagance (which it is not at all), but because of the sentiment. It was the first meal we made together in our home as a married couple. At the time I was only trying to rid his bachelor-pad-pantry of high sodium canned goods. But it turned out delicious and was so easy that it has made it into the regular rotation of dinner meals. And every time I make it- I say "do you know why this meal is special?" And Chris gets the frantic look that says "I should know why this meal is special but I don't, so please let her tell me before I have to make up an answer!"  (Which is part of the reason I ask in the first place- ha!). But we get to share a little moment of "aww, the first dinner!" And then we move on with a little piece of happy remembrance on our minds. Thank God I married a sentimental guy!

Muñoz Family Fave- Stewed Chicken & Tomatoes Over Rice (with artichokes)
Serves 4

  • 1 cup long grain white rice
  • 2 cans stewed tomatoes
  •  12oz skinless chicken breast or thighs, sliced into strips or chunks of equal size
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 2-3 large cloves of garlic, chopped
  • 1/4c olive oil
  • 1can green beans OR 1 can quartered artichoke hearts, rinsed and drained
  • Parmesan cheese (optional)
1. Cook rice according to package directions
2. Heat olive oil in large skillet. Add onion and cook until softened (2-3 mins).
3. Season chicken with salt and pepper. Add chicken and garlic to pan and cook until chicken appears cooked on the outside.
4. Add stewed tomatoes. Bring to a boil and then simmer for about 10 mins, or until chicken is cooked through.
5. Add canned green beans or artichokes and cook 1-2 more minutes until heated through.
6. Serve chicken mixture over rice and top with Parmesan cheese.

Making this meal for the first time in 2011!

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Sorrento is for...Lemons

Marina Grande in Sorrento
After nearly a month in America, I'm back in Italia! It's been a busy few weeks since being back, as I have taken on some volunteer responsibilities on base with a women's ministry group (ok- I've taken on a lot!). As a result, our meal creativity at home has suffered a little bit due to less available brain cells for meal planning. I broke down and bought my first frozen meal since we've been married. We almost made it a whole year without one. Of course, I saw this as a complete failure, while my husband saw it as complete success. He's so supportive! (I think he just secretly really liked it and is hoping they will come around more often...)

But the good news is, there's always the simplicity of an Italian meal. Although my own kitchen isn't seeing much magic these days- there's no shortage at the many trattorias and pizzerias. And now that spring has sprung, maybe I'll be re-inspired by the abundance of zucchini, tomatoes and garlic. This weekend, Chris and I headed down the coast to Sorrento. It was such an easy drive, we couldn't believe we've waited a whole year to go. But it was a beautiful day and we were glad to experience it on such day. We like to find places off the beaten path, and usually this happens either by accident or word of mouth. For this one, we have Rick Steves to thank. Trattoria di Emilia was  tucked in a quiet little nook on the shore of Marina Grande in Sorrento. This is a ways from the bustling tourist streets, away from the main port, and was right on the water. We couldn't have asked for a better view- or meal!

 We both opted for meatless meals, and of course, a local wine. I had Gnocchi alla Sorrentina and Chris had Ravioli alla Sorrentina (we still aren't sold on the seafood around here, which I'm pretty sure is mind boggling to the Italians). Sorrentina Sauce is pretty much just a tomato sauce with red pepper, basil, and buffalo mozzarella cheese, from what I've gathered. One could probably duplicate this at home- except your tomatoes aren't grown in the soil of Mt. Vesuvius, and your buffalo mozzarella isn't the same-sorry! (Do I sound like a snob yet?) But I'm sure it would still be pretty good. I did find a recipe on Food Network that looks very similar to what I had- except I would buy the fresh already-made gnocchi.

Gnocchi alla Sorrentina

Ravioli alla Sorrentina

And you can't have a trip to Sorrento without trying something lemon-flavored. We both sampled some limoncello. And then I had some citrus gelato called "the scent of Sorrento" in  English. It had candied orange and lemon peel in eat. Very refreshing. Everywhere we turned we saw lemons the size of footballs- how we left without buying any is a mystery. 
Chris demonstrating a "medium-sized" lemon

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Welcome to America: Bombarded with Variety

Today is day 2 of my three and a half week trip to the Motherland. My younger sister's wedding later this month provided opportunity for me to make a much desired trip to my original home. Ironically, I was last here for my own wedding. I had been counting down the days to see my family and friends and told everyone I knew that I wouldn't be seeing them for a month. I got the usual questions "what are you going home for?" and, "when are you coming back?" But the most common question was "what are you going to EAT?" Of course I had thought about it, but I think about food more than the average person. Yet I still find it humorous that anyone who has lived in Italy for any period of time recognizes the lack of variety compared to the good 'ole USA. And while I appreciate being able to get sushi or Mexican (or Starbucks or Chik-fil-a and the list goes on...) at any hour of the day, I have really grown to love the simplicity of minimal choices (have I mentioned I'm a poor decision maker?). I forgot how overwhelming an abundance of choices could be!

This was exhibited by my various airport exploits on my way home. Lunchtime in Naples airport consisted of- what else?- a panini. The only choice I had to make was between a Caprese panini or a prosciutto panini (and that was hard enough). Several hours later, I stepped foot in the Atlanta airport and was greeted by no less than 25 food options- in just my terminal! The scents were overwhelmingly inviting, despite the fact that I had already had 2 dinners that day (both on the trans-Atlantic flight; one for European-time dinner and another for the East Coast dinner time to help us get acclimated to the new time zone). So despite eating 4 meals that day (or more, I lost count) I was almost deceived into thinking I was hungry again. I knew this to be physically impossible, but my brain kept saying "no- you ARE hungry and that giant soft pretzel with butter will do the trick!" Rationality won this time, and I abstained, but just barely. And although there is plenty I miss (food-wise) about America, I'll take a delicious home-made meal made with lots of love any day :)

The picture below is of me and my first "love" meal in the states- made by my good friend and former roommate Jenny who cooked me PUMPKIN PANCAKES and mini quiches. The best restaurant in the world can't beat that!
Nothing says love like pumpkin!

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Ancient Matera

View of Matera from our hotel
Last weekend, Chris and I took a short weekend trip the city of Matera. It was our first experience on the east coast of Italy, so our drive took us straight across the country. Just like most of the cities we have visited, it is really old- and thought to be one of the world's oldest. But this one is unique in that it was relatively "undiscovered" until the mid 1900's. It is an entire little city that is built into two ravines with natural cave grottoes. People lived in these little cave dwellings (called sassi)- along with their animals- up until that past 60 years or so. Then a book was published enlightening the rest of Italy to the poor, over-crowded, and disease-stricken community. After that, efforts began to make it a healthy and livable place. Many of the population was relocated to fix the overcrowding. Now, it is a popular tourist town with hotels and restaurants and thermal spas, yet with most of the sassi very well preserved. We slept in our own little "cave" and everything! Now it is also well known for being where Mel Gibson's movie The Passion of the Christ was filmed. Coincidentally, we ended up eating at one of the restaurants he frequented while there.  We heard the best way to explore the city was just to wander through the labyrinth of streets and alleys- so we did! And we agree, a map is pointless :)
Our own personal cave
An interesting design on the ceiling of our hotel room-creepy!
The dining cave- where we had breakfast

One of the many sassi houses
Cave grottoes on the other side of the ravine (uninhabited)

 Just taking in the city from the top! It looked like a giant maze

A page from the restaurant menu where we ate dinner:
offering us "Fettuccine alla Mel Gibson"

 The night time view was  spectacular!
I thought it looked like a snow globe.

Sleepy morning in Matera

The drive included mile after mile of olive trees

Hello central Italia!

Who knew there were cherry blossoms in Italy?! (I didn't!)
Too beautiful not too pull over and snap a picture or two

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Recipe Makeover: Broccoli Salad

This recipe is a little premature for the summer barbecues it is normally seen at, but so what? I mean, there really isn't a "season" for a good salad, in my opinion. This was actually the product of a brain-dead moment where I honestly just couldn't think of a single item to bring to lunch with friends. Is this the cooking equivalent of writer's block??

Anyway, I took a southern classic and healthified it. (Yes, that's a word-healthified). I did a general recipe search to see what kind of variations I could find, and then went with one of the simpler ones. I like the simple dressing, combination of salty, sweet and savory, and the fact that the broccoli is barely cooked. I loved the results. Chris wasn't a big fan of the cold broccoli, but he's from California so what does he know about southern-style barbecues? (I say this with love!). Anyway, it was pretty easy and my lunch-bunch liked it too, unless they were just being polite. But I know them better than that! :)

How is this healthier? Well, I significantly cut down on the high calorie add-ins (raisins and bacon) and I eliminated the nuts. You could add in a few tablespoons of sunflower seeds or slivered almonds, if desired. The pre-crumbled bacon (real bacon) sold in the condiment section is only 25 calories per tablespoon because it contains a lot less fat. And the real healthy kicker is subbing the yogurt for the traditional mayo. This is totally do-able in this kind of salad (See my notes for straining the yogurt following the recipe). However, if the idea of eliminating mayo completely is scary to you, then try doing half mayo and half plain yogurt; or even using a little light sour cream. It reaaally adds up!

"Healthified" Broccoli Salad
Serves 4-6

  • 5-6 cups broccoli florets (I used 2 small heads)
  • 1/4 cup frozen peas, thawed
  • 1/4 cup raisins
  • 3-4 Tbs finely chopped red onion
  • 3 Tbs crumbled bacon bits
  • 1/2 cup plain Greek yogurt, or regular plain yogurt that's been strained*
  • 1 Tbs cider vinegar
  • 1-2 Tbs honey
1. Blanch broccoli florets in boiling water for 30-60 seconds, depending on desired doneness. (I opted for 30 seconds). Drain, and immediately submerge in ice water to stop the cooking process. Broccoli should still be bright green and crisp.

2. In a large bowl, combine broccoli, onion, peas, and raisins. In a small bowl, whisk together the yogurt, vinegar, and 1 Tbs honey. Add more honey to reach desired sweetness. (I ended up with 1 1/2 Tbs). Pour dressing over broccoli mixture and gently toss to coat. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

3. Stir in crumbled bacon immediately before serving.

*Straining regular plain yogurt is important, otherwise the dressing will get pretty runny after a few minutes. To strain, line a mesh strainer with a paper towel over the sink or a bowl and pour yogurt over the paper towel. Allow to strain for at least 20-30 minutes. The yogurt will thicken up to sour cream consistency. Viola!

Original recipe can be found at: Simply Recipes blog.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

3 Minute Hummus

I loooove chickpeas. I add them to everything (within reason. Unlike pumpkin). And pureed, they make the creamiest most perfect condiment! I've been experimenting with different flavoring combos, and this one seems to please both the Mr. and me. It's pretty basic, but honestly, most hummus recipes are. This one just happens to be my variation.

Note: I don't use tahini (sesame seed oil) because I think olive oil does the trick by itself, but feel free to add a tablespoon or too, and decrease the bean liquid. By using the bean liquid instead of more oil, you save on several hundred calories!

3 Minute Hummus

1 15-ounce can chickpeas (garbanzo beans), drained,  with 1/4 cup liquid reserved
3 Tbs olive oil
1 clove garlic (or 1/2 tsp jarred minced)
Juice from 1/2 a lemon
1 tsp ground cumin
1/4 tsp paprika
scant 1/8 tsp ground red pepper (cayenne)
salt to taste

In a food processor, puree the chickpeas with all ingredients besides 2 Tbs of the reserved liquid. Add more liquid until desired consistency is reached. (I usually use it all!).

Makes 1 1/2 cups (24 Tbs)
Serving Size: 2 Tbs

Per serving: ~60 calories (can't beat that!)

My favorite way to use hummus is as a sandwich spread...what's yours?

Friday, February 17, 2012

Accidental Veggie Lo Mein

This meal wasn't supposed to be vegetarian, but thanks to spoiled chicken it turned out that way, so I thought I'd share (in case anyone thought I wasn't keeping to my 1 or more vegetarian meals per week!). It was still yummy even without the chicken, but it did lack a plant protein to replace the chicken. I'd have added some tofu or edamame, perhaps, if I had some; or included a side dish with some protein..or maybe just drink a big glass of milk! Regardless, it was delish. You'll see it can be quite adaptable to accomodate your favorite vegetables. I used what I had on hand, and it turned out to be an excellent opportunity to increase the veggies!

Vegetable Lo Mein
(adapted from The Newlywed Cookbook by Robin Miller)

12 oz whole wheat thin spaghetti (can use any thin noodle)
1 Tbs + 1tsp sesame oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 tsp ground ginger
2 celery stalks, sliced
1 large carrot, halved lengthwise and sliced (about 2/3 cup)
1 red bell pepper, thinly sliced
1 heaping cup sliced mushrooms
2 cups sugar snap peas, ends trimmed
1 cup chicken broth (reduced sodium)
1 Tbs corn starch
2-3 Tbs soy sauce (red. sodium
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes (has some kick, use 1/4 tsp if you don't care for spicy!)
1/2 cup chopped green onions (optional)

1. Cook pasta according to package instructions. Drain and set aside. Transfer to serving bowl and cover with foil to keep warm. (You can drizzle with a small amount of sesame oil to keep noodles from sticking too much.)

2. Meanwhile, heat oil in large non-stick skillet over medium heat. Add garlic, celery and carrot and saute for two minutes. Add peppers and mushrooms and saute an additional 4-5 minutes. Vegetables should be crisp tender and not mushy. Finally add snap peas and saute 2 more minutes.

3. Dissolve cornstarch in broth. Mix in ground ginger, salt and red pepper flakes. Add mixture to skillet along with 2 Tbs soy sauce. Simmer 2 minutes, or until sauce thickens, stirring constantly.

4. Pour mixture over noodles, add green onions, and toss to combine.

Serves 4

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Itchin' Kitchen

We're having a late winter here in Italy. We had a relatively warm and dry November-January, but now that February is here, we are getting cold, WIND, and even a little snow. Maybe it's the Florida girl in me, but shouldn't we be nearing beach season? Regardless of the weather, our kitchen has been itchin' for springtime. My desire for the savory, warm meals of the winter has faded into craving fresh, simple meals. I'm ready for fresh salads, cherry tomatoes, lemon-infused everything, and yes, even the summer squashes, which I thought I'd never feel the need to eat again. Funny how that works out. By the time a season is over, my palette is ready for the next one, just in time.

Snowy mountains behind our base
When I declared to Chris earlier this week that next week we would be eating clean, simple, healthy meals, he looked at me blank-faced and asked, "isn't that how we eat anyway? We can't eat any healthier!" (Little does he know...). I pondered this and realized that it is perhaps more for my psychological benefit than physical. We do eat pretty healthy, but sometimes I take short-cuts for cost savings. For example, a pound of frozen ground turkey here is $1.25. That is hard to beat, but you have to wonder what's in it. They have organic ground turkey for $5.99, which I have never purchased. So again, for the sake of resetting my clean eating mind-set, that's what we're going to do. And after researching some simple clean recipes, I. am. excited.

I plan to blog as I go, but just to whet your taste buds, you can plan to see:
  • Pan seared chicken with basil strawberry balsamic glaze From my fave clean eating blog:
  • Fresh pasta with homemade pesto sauce
  • Vegetable Curry (tofu's debut in the Muñoz household)
  • Bison burgers with avocado
  • either homemade pizza (take 2), or homemade polenta (my current obsession)
That's it. Nothing fancy or extravagant. Just simple healthy foods, minus preservatives and unnecessary ingredients. If you're up for the challenge, please comment or email me anything you try! Also, March is National Nutrition Month, so this can be considered my pre-game warm-up :)

Oh- I almost forgot. My Valentines' Day treat! Chris had class all night so I took the liberty to experiment since it was just me. I made chocolate mousse with avocado instead of cream. I was skeptical at first, but after evaluating several recipes, I was convinced that the texture would be phenomenal without too much sacrifice of flavor. I was right! The smooth, creaminess of the mousse was excellent. I plan to play around with the recipe a little more because I could detect a hint of avocado...and I'm not sure how that would fly around here.

Here's what I did, but feel free to play around until you get the flavor you like.

Chocolate Mousse (with Avocado)
(adapted from

1 large ripe avocado
5-6 Tbs unsweetened cocoa powder
1/4 cup agave or honey
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup vanilla almond milk (or any milk)
pinch of salt
whipped cream (optional)
Fresh berries (optional)

1. Cut avocado and scoop out flesh. In food processor (I used Magic Bullet), pulse until broken up and relatively smooth.
2. Add pinch of slat, cocoa powder, agave (or honey), vanilla extract and 1/2 of the milk. Puree until smooth. Make sure you puree long enough to get the whipped, creamy texture. Add more milk as needed, or until you reach desired consistency.
3. Portion into 3 or 4 individual serving dishes and refrigerate for at least an hour. Top with fresh whipped cream and berries, if desired.

*While this is a healthier version of chocolate mouse than the traditional, it's still high in calories. Avocados are full of super healthy fats- great for cholesterol! However, all fats are high in calories, so don't go too crazy!

Monday, February 6, 2012

Pizza dough: Take 1

Not wanting to waste any time with those New Year's goals, I jumped on the opportunity when chef-friend-Sherry asked me to come over and make pizza dough with her. Now, as a yeast-novice, I told her I wanted to observe her every move. However, like most of our cooking endeavors, we get to talking and before I know it, whatever "we" are making is done. Therefore I am considering this my "observation" round of dough making. I did take charge of the pizza building, however. We made the dough one night with the plans to use it the next day. So into the fridge it went until I needed it. The next day, realizing I'd been sent home with 3 mini dough balls and nothing but words of encouragement, I called back for more thorough instructions. I was told to let it sit out at room temperature for about an hour, then "punch" out the air before rolling it out. (Blood pressure rising..)

I got the idea to make "personal pan pizzas" so that there would be no disagreements between me and Chris as far as the ratio of sausage to mushrooms to sun dried tomatoes. Above is Chris' pizza masterpiece- topped with an abundance of every option I gave him: spinach marinated in olive oil and garlic, mushrooms, sausage, sun-dried tomatoes, Parmesan cheese and buffalo mozzarella cheese. Mine was similar, with more of an emphasis on the spinach and mushrooms. We were both very, very satisfied with our creations. This was evidenced by the fact that we communicated solely with happy noises throughout all of dinner- that sounded something like "oooohhh," "mmmmm," and "woooooww."

Attempt 2 will be taking place soon, with recipe to follow. But one recommendation from this experience: use 6 ounces of dough to make a personal pan pizza by pressing into a 9" round cake pan.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Officially Italian?...Pasta Siciliana says "yes!"

This is not the one I cooked..we gobbled it down too fast. This is the
 restaurant's down the street (i.e my competition)
Have I mentioned I am Italian? Well, only 1/4 Italian if we want to get specific, but it's the largest piece in my cultural-heritage-pie. And since it's the largest, and the only one still actively cultivated in my family, it tends to be a pretty big 25%. (And thanks to my dark hair and Italian-looking mama, people usually don't ask too many questions. My sister on the other hand...) We grew up incorporating Italian traditions into holiday meals and festivities, and Italian cooking was always encouraged. And Italian weddings- don't get me started! If you haven't been to one, you need to get yourself an Italian friend!

Anyway, I just enjoyed a wonderful week-long visit with my former roommate and Resident Expert (RE), who flew all the way to Italy to come hang with me! And if you recall, RE has a pretty restricted diet, so I knew we would be packing meals and eating home-prepared foods daily. It's amazing how much fun you can have in Italy sans pasta and pizza..we were proof! But I admit, after being immersed in Southern Italy for the past week, I was feeling pretty bold and couragous when she left, and that usually leads me straight to the kitchen. Pasta Siciliana was calling my name and I wanted to make it myself. Now, you know I was running on adrenalline because I didn't have a recipe to go by. I just know what's in it: tomatoes, eggplant, olive oil, fresh mozzarrella and beautiful rigatoni pasta. (Here, whenever something is called _____"Siciliana" it means it has an eggplant sauce.)

So armed with my Alice Waters The Art of Simple Food,  a bottle of wine (mostly for cooking, people), and an optimistic attitude, I began. (Chris and I also had the unspoken arrangement that we would be eating eggs and waffles if this plan bombed.) But luckily, it did not. This was, if I may say so, a dish that will give any Italian restaurant a run for their money. It is not, however, something to whip up on a quick night you don't feel like cooking. It took a little time and lots of pans. Here we go:

Pasta Siciliana ala Heather


1 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil (divided)
1/4 cup dry red wine
1/8 tsp red pepper flakes
1/2 tsp dried oregano
1 lb eggplant (1 small)
4 oz fresh mozzarella cheese (the kind packed in water); thinly sliced
12 ounces penne or rigatoni pasta (I used whole wheat)

1. Slice eggplant into 1/4 inch rounds. Salt each side and set in a colander for 20 minutes to extract excess moisture. Then, lay slices on paper towel or clean kitchen towel and blot both sides to remove water. cut rounds into thin strips.

2. Next, heat 1 Tbs olive oil in large saucepan over medium heat. Add garlic and red pepper flakes and cook 1-2 minutes until garlic softens.

3. Add red wine, tomato sauce, and oregeno to the pan. Season with salt and pepper. Bring to a boil. Then, quickly reduce heat to low and simmer, partially covered, for 20-30 minutes. Sauce will thicken and reduce.

4. Meanwhile, in another large skillet, heat 1/4 cup olive oil over medium heat. Once hot, add 1/2 of the eggplant strips. (NOTE: eggplant will almost immediately absorb all the oil in the pan. Don't be alarmed. As they fry, they will release alot of the oil back into the pan. Once about 1/2 the oil is back in the pan, the eggplant should be a nice golden brown and very soft.) Use a slotted spoon to transfer eggplant to a papertowel lined plate.

5. Add remaining oil to the pan and fry the second batch of eggplant. (You may not need to use all the reserved oil..use enough to cover the bottom of the pan about 1/8-1/4 inch.) When finished add eggplant to tomato sauce along with a small amount of the eggplant oil. Gently stir in 1/2 of the mozzarella slices. Cover pot to keep warm while pasta cooks.

6. Cook pasta al dente according to package directions. Once finished, put in a bowl and serve with Siciliana sauce on top. Top with extra cheese slices, if desired.

Garnishing with fresh basil is also recommended..but this kitchen was fresh out :)

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Hello, 2012...Sorry I'm late!

Now that January is nearly come and seems like a fine time to talk about my New Year's goals. That's right- I said "goals." I pick this word because my resolutions aren't generally related to self improvement, but rather, new things I want to accomplish in the coming year. And true to character, they tend to be about food.

After ringing in the New Year, I realized how quickly my time in Italy is flying. And if I want to leave here knowing a little bit more about Italian cooking then I need to get movin'! So, my first goal is: learn to make pizza dough. GOOD pizza dough. This will, however, require that I conquer my fear of cooking with yeast. Right now, I just don't want to! But I know it must be done. So perhaps, this is the year. I feel I've met my previous year's goal of learning to make real-deal Italiano tomato sauce. I can make a mean sauce these days.

Second, I want to cook more vegetarian meals. I used to do this pretty often BM (before marriage), but have really gotten away from it since marrying Tazmanian devil (don't worry, it's a pet name). I believe in baby steps, so the initial goal is 1 meatless dinner per week. I've actually already started to do this, so I need to keep on keepin' on. (Major kudos to my friend Angie over at I Sweat the Small Stuff for her goal of 3 meatless dinners per week! I'll be coming to you for healthy ideas!)
Caprese Panini- one of our recent vegetarian lunches
(tomato, fresh basil, buffalo mozzarella)
Thanks, Mom for the Panini Press!!
Pumpkin BBQ Sauce
Next, I want to continue (and improve) on reducing food waste in our home. Besides the obvious "don't you know there are starving children in xyz-country?!" reason, it helps reduce food costs and, seriously- maybe it's a little OCDness in me- but I cannot stand to throw away foods just because they went bad before I was able to use them. Honestly, I think we do a pretty darn good job of this now, but there's always room for improvement. I'm a big fan of the "make extra and freeze some!" approach, but this only really works for bread and baked good in our house.We have a freezer full of homemade waffles and muffins. Rarely do I make a big batch of soup and think, 3 months down the road, "man I could really go for some potentially freezer burned chili!" But here is a recent example of avoiding waste before the stick-it-in-the-freezer option: Last week I made some roasted pork loins and overcooked them. They were TOUGH! Poor Chris kept saying "no, honey- it's really good!" But halfway through, he confessed his jaw hurt and he couldn't finish. So I pulled out my handy dandy Magic Bullet and chopped up the rest, mixed it with some delicious Pumpkin BBQ Sauce (see previous post), and the next day we had "pulled pork" sandwiches for lunch!

And last but not least, I desire and hope to blog more. I've been writing more non-food related things, but have become infrequent in blogging the past few months. It's a wonderful creative outlet for me, allows me to stay connected to friends and family, and saves Chris from the late-night brain storm sessions about the all the potential ways I can use, say 36 lbs of pumpkin, for example.

Well, until next time! We recently had the opportunity to travel to central Italy with my in-laws and I can't wait to write about that! Arrividerci!

Sunset view from our trip to Orvieto
Inside the walled city of Orvieto