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.