Sunday, November 14, 2010

cleaning house..

In all the insanity that goes along with being a mommy, a full time employee and a grad school student, I neglected to buy enough groceries to get us through 2 full weeks. Oops. But I refused to give in and head to the grocery store; I KNEW there was enough food in the cupboards, fridge and freezer I could put together in a few different ways to get us through the next week. A half a box of pasta shells inspired this recipe! Straight talk: I did have to buy the ricotta and the shredded mozzarella, but it's amazing how many excellent ingredients you can find in your own kitchen when you're desperate!

Stuffed Shells

1/2 box large pasta shells (about 20)
1 jar pasta sauce
15oz container ricotta
2 cups shredded mozzarella
1/2lb. ground beef or sausage
2/3 cup onion
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese
2 cups finely minced spinach (use your food processor and mince fresh spinach or frozen works too)

Cook pasta shells according to package directions. Brown ground meat, onion and garlic together. Drain the excess liquid. Stir in jar of pasta sauce.
Combine the ricotta, Parmesan, spinach and 1 cup of the mozzarella cheese.
Pour half of the pasta sauce mixture into the bottom of a 13x9" square baking dish. Stuff the shells with the ricotta mixture and arrange in the pan. Pour the remainder of the pasta sauce mixture over the stuffed shells.
Bake at 350 covered for 30 minutes. Uncover, sprinkle the last cup of mozzarella cheese over the pasta and bake uncovered for another 10 minutes.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Going Retro on you...

Growing up I spent a lot of time with my Grandparents. I was raised by a single mother who worked full time and went to school on the weekends. As a result, my Grandma prepared a lot of lunches and dinners for my sister and I. My Grandma is a good Midwestern Polish woman who defines a meal as "meat, potatoes and a canned vegetable on the side". To this day, meatloaf and potatoes or chicken and rice is my idea of perfect comfort food. As a tribute to my Grandma who defined more of my culinary landscape than I like to admit; here is a meatloaf recipe I guarantee you'll enjoy.

2 eggs
1/2 cup ketchup
1 cup bread crumbs
1 envelope onion soup mix
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1 Tablespoon minced garlic
2 pounds ground beef
1/2 cup ketchup for top

Preheat oven to 350. Whisk eggs and 1/2 cup ketchup. Stir in bread crumbs, soup mix, pepper and garlic. Add meat and mix. Form into 8 loaves. arrange in a 15x10x1 foil lined pan. Bake until internal temp is 160. About 25 minutes. Let stand 10 minutes. Spoon ketchup over meat loaf.

Much love,
Mama Cucina

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Soup Week!

For whatever reason, we've been making A LOT of soups lately. Here are two recent ones we made and enjoyed!

Beef Barley Soup

1lb. boneless beef sirloin or top round steak, cubed into 1" pieces
2 cups sliced fresh mushrooms
2 cloves fresh garlic, minced
32oz. beef broth
2 medium carrots, sliced
2 medium celery stalks sliced
1/4t dried thyme leaves, crushed
pepper to taste
1/2 cup quick cooking barley

Cook beef in a nonstick saucepan until browned and juices evaporate, stirring often.
Add mushrooms and garlic and cook until tender
Add broth, carrots, celery, thyme and pepper.
Heat to boil, stir in barley.
Cover and cook over low heat 20 minutes or until barley is done.

While I've made this recipe quite a few times, I tried a new variation on it this past weekend. I was excited to find buffalo stew meat on Peapod a few weeks ago! The great thing about buffalo is that it is a lot lower in fat and calories compared to beef. It works really well in this recipe because buffalo can sometimes be tricky to cook, it can not be cooked over high heat quickly- it does much better in a slow cooker or soup recipe. We found it to be juicy, hearty and a welcome swap for beef in this soup!

Au Gratin Cheese soup

1 5.25oz pre-packaged Au Gratin potatoes mix
1 10.5oz can chicken broth
3 cups water
2/3 cups diced carrot
2/3 cups diced celery
1/2 cup milk

Mix potato slices and cheese packet from au gratin potatoes mix with chicken broth, water, carrots and celery in large saucepan. Heat to boiling, stirring occasionally. Reduce heat; cover and simmer for 25-30 minutes or until potatoes are tender, stir continually. Remove from heat, stir in milk. Enjoy!

This is a great, easy weekday night recipe that uses ingredients you already have in your fridge and pantry. Pair it with a loaf of warm bread, and you're good to go!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Pumpkins are good for more than pie...

They are unavoidable right now- their round orange shape calling for carving, pie making, seed toasting and soup making! That's right, soup making. I found this recipe online last winter and the soup is so hearty and delicious, it's perfect for crisp fall nights.

Pumpkin Black Bean Soup

3 15oz cans black beans, rinsed and drained
1 16oz can diced tomatoes
1/4 cup butter
1 1/4 cup chopped onions
4 cloves garlic, chopped
1 t salt
1/2 t ground black pepper
4 cups beef broth
1 15oz can pumpkin puree
1/2lb. cubed cooked ham
3 T sherry vinegar

Pour two cans of the black beans into a food processor or blender along with the can of tomatoes. Puree until smooth, set aside.
Melt the butter in a soup pot over medium hear. Add the onion and garlic, and season with salt and pepper. Cook and stir until the onion is softened. Stir in the bean puree, remaining can of beans, beef broth, pumpkin puree and sherry vinegar. Mix until well blended, then simmer for about 25 minutes or until thick enough to cat the back of a metal spoon. Stir in the ham and heat through before serving.

Hope you enjoy this cool weather favorite as much as my family does!

Much Love,
Mama Cucina

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Cheesy, Potatoe-y, and Easy!

When given the daunting job of creating a side dish for a party, sometimes it seems the easiest solution is just to run to the grocery store, grab two pounds of potato salad and call it a day. Stop! Step away from the deli counter and put down the mass produced gelatinous potato goo! If you have five minutes to prep, a slow cooker and six simple ingredients, you can have delicious cheesy potatoes (far more satisfying than anything you'll find at the deli case!).

Cheesy Potatoes
(Courtesy of Fix-It and Forget-It)

2lb. frozen hash browns, partly thawed
2 10 3/4oz. cans cheddar cheese soup
12oz can evaporated skim milk
2.8oz can french-fried onion rings
salt to taste
pepper to taste

Combine all ingredients, pour into greased slow cooker. Cover. Cook on low for 6-8 hours, or high for 3-4 hours.
How easy was that?! I guarantee this will be a winning dish for all football/tailgate parties this fall.
Much love,
Mama Cucina

Thursday, October 14, 2010

A Cool Weather Favorite...

If you're anything like me, cooler weather means it's time to break out the slow cooker! When it comes to recipes, my slow cooker bible is Fix-It and Forget-It, edited by Dawn J Ranck and Phyllis Pellman Good. It is full of recipes for everything from apple cider to hash brown potatoes to chili and stuffed peppers. We tried a new stuffed pepper recipe last night and loved it! We substituted ground turkey for the ground beef and added a few more dashes of hot sauce to liven it up; but this was an easy recipe that all three of us enjoyed.

Stuffed Bell Peppers

8 large bell peppers
2lbs. ground beef, lightly browned
1 large onion, chopped
1 cup cooked rice
2 eggs, beaten
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup ketchup
dash hot pepper sauce
2 t salt
1/2 t pepper

Combine all ingredients except peppers. Gently pack mixture into peppers which have been capped and seeded. Place in greased slow cooker.
Cook on low 9-11 hours or high for 5-6 hours

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

This mama bit off more than she could chew...

Hi Mamas! It has been a while, I know. I'm in the middle of getting my Masters degree and there are only so many hours in a day. Which means sadly, my culinary exploits have not been documented as much as I would like. Which isn't to say we haven't been eating great food- I just have been too lazy to post all the amazing food we've been eating.

That being said, it's time to make up for some lost time! In theory it's suppose to be fall; but here in Wisconsin it has been getting warmer- not colder; which is putting a serious damper on my stew/soup/slow cooker cooking! I promise as it gets warmer, I will post all my cold weather favorites.

I had a conversation with a friend a few weeks ago- she told me she rarely cooks meat because she's always afraid it's going to be undercooked, and as a result, she ends up overcooking it. I can understand her pain. But imagine how fortuitous it was when I came across this great salmon recipe from Nigella Lawson; it is literally fool proof. If you can read, you can make this impressive dish.

Roasted Salmon with Green Herbs- Nigella Lawson

1 2-2 1/2lb. skinless salmon fillet
kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
1/4 cup olive oil
2 T fresh squeezed lemon juice
1/2 cup minced scallions, green and white parts
1/2 cup fresh minced dill
1/2 cup fresh minced parsley
1/4 cup dry white wine
lemon wedges for serving

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Place the salmon fillet in a glass, ceramic, or stainless steel roasting dish, and season it with salt and pepper. Whisk together the olive oil and lemon juice and drizzle the mixture evenly over the salmon. Let it stand at room temperature for 15 minutes. In a small bowl stir together the scallions, dill and parsley. Scatter the herb mixture over the salmon fillet, turning it so both sides are generously coated with the green herbs. Pour the wine around the fish fillet. Roast the salmon for 10-12 minutes, until almost cooked at the center at the thickest part. The center will be firm with just a line of uncooked salmon in the very center. Remove from oven, cover the dish tightly with aluminum foil and allow the fish to rest for 10 minutes. Cut the salmon crosswise into serving pieces and serve warm with lemon wedges.

I would recommend serving it with roasted fingerling potatoes and or a butternut squash- both in season now.

Much love,
Mama Cucina

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The ONLY way I eat carrots...

I consider myself to be a foodie; I will eat just about anything and will try almost anything once. With one exception. Carrots. I hate hate hate carrots more than any other food in the world. I will not eat them on a plane, I will not eat them on a train... I do not like them Sam-I-Am!
Well, with one notable exception. I love carrot cake. The combination of dense, moist carrot cake with sweet cream cheese frosting is one of life's most perfect pairs. Mmm. So here is a recipe for a carrot cake that a cousin brought to my Grammy's birthday party earlier this month. I am not going to talk about how "healthy" this cake is, because, well, it isn't. But sometimes mamas, you gotta have your cake and eat it too!

Carrot Cake
2 cups sugar
1 1/2 cup vegetable oil
5 large eggs
2 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 tsp salt (optional)
2 tsp cinnamon
2 cups grated carrots
1/3 cup raisins (optional)
1/2 cup (or more) pecan pieces or walnuts
1 20 oz can crushed pineapple (drained)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees, grease a 9x13" baking pan, set aside.
Mix sugar and oil together, add eggs one at a time. Add dry ingredients. Add carrots, raisins, and nuts. Add drained pineapple last. Pour evenly into pan. Bake for 40-45 minutes or until a pick or cake tester inserted in the middle of cake comes out clean.

Recipe for Cream Cheese Icing:
1 - 8oz brick cream cheese, room temperature
1 tsp vanilla
1 stick butter, room temperature
1 lb + powdered sugar....add more as needed
can add 1 sq of melted white chocolate
Mix together until creamy.

Easy weeknight dinner: salmon and zucchini with shallot vinaigrette

Now that school is back in session, mamas can all agree on one thing: we need dinner recipes that are quick to make, and contain healthy ingredients. Here is something we made in our house tonight for dinner; it only took about 20 minutes to make and all three of us really enjoyed it! I'm still trying to lose my last 10 pregnancy pounds (yes, my daughter will be 2 next month) and recipes like this are so helpful because they taste great and I don't feel the least bit deprived. I don't feed Sawyer much fish yet, but she loved the zucchini in the vinaigrette. And Kevin? Well he hasn't really met a food item he hasn't liked...

Salmon & Zucchini with shallot vinaigrette
(Courtesy of Real Simple Magazine- September 2010 edition)

1 shallot, finely chopped
2 T rice vinegar
2 T chopped fresh dill (a quarter tablespoon dried dill will work in a pinch)
3 T plus 1 t olive oil
salt and pepper
1 1/4lb. skinless salmon fillet, cut into four pieces
3 medium zucchini, cut into thin sticks

In a small bowl combine the shallot, vinegar, dill, 2 T of the oil and 1/4 t each salt and pepper. Set aside.

Heat 1 t of the remaining oil in a large non-stick skillet over medium heat. Season the salmon with 1/2 t pepper. Cook until opaque throughout, 3-5 minutes per side.

Meanwhile, heat the remaining T of oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the zucchini and 1/4 t each salt and pepper. Cook, tossing frequently until just tender- about 3-5 minutes. Serve with the salmon and the vinaigrette

Two things of note to my Mamas out there:
1) For more fast, kid friendly recipes, I highly recommend a subscription to Real Simple Magazine. I have been a subscriber for over 3 years, and this is where most of my recipe ideas come from. Or, take the easy way out and just keep checking Mama Cucina!

2) Zucchinis are still in season! Pick some up at your local farmers market (or fresh from your garden) and whip this up, along with my chocolate chip zucchini cake for dessert!

Much love,
Mama Cucina

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

You say tomato... I say grilled To-mah-to bisque!

Confession time. One of my favorite things at the farmers market is heirloom tomatoes. I love everything about them... their beautiful color, the way they taste, even parting with twice as much money compared to buying regular tomatoes, but I digress. Right now farmers markets are exploding with tomatoes (heirloom or otherwise) and so are most gardens. So here is a unique easy recipe for tomato bisque- courtesy of Jen Ehr Farms!

Grilled Tomato Bisque
8 medium to large size tomatoes
1 T olive oil
1 medium sized red onion chopped
1 quart chicken broth
1 t granulated sugar
1 cup heavy cream *** I recommend evaporated skim milk for a healthy alternative!
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup fresh chopped mint ** We substituted fresh basil since we have it in abundance

Prepare a grill by adjusting the grate so it's 4-5 inches from the flame or heat source. Heat a gas grill to high or a charcoal grill to medium hot. Place the whole tomatoes on the grate and grill, turning occasionally or until the skins crack and begin to blacken in some spots and the tomatoes soften, 7-9 minutes over charcoal; 12-15 minutes over gas. Take the tomatoes off the grill, core and coarsely chop them.
Heat the olive oil in a large soup pot over medium high heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally until soft- about 7 minutes. Stir in the chopped tomatoes, chicken broth and sugar. Increase the heat, bring to a boil; reduce the heat to medium and simmer until the soup is reduced by a quarter (about 20 minutes). Add the mint/basil and let cool for about 10 minutes before serving.

I recommend serving this soup old school style- alongside a nice melty grilled cheese sandwich. Mmmm.
Mama Cucina

Friday, August 13, 2010

Zucchini Fever!

It's inevitable. If you have a garden, chances are good you have more zucchini then you know what to do with. Farmers markets are exploding with zucchini too. So I say it's time to bake. I wanted to provide two good zucchini recipes- one for my chocoholic mamas out there, and one for my more health conscious mamas. Take your pick- both are delicious and easy to make!

Basic Zucchini Bread
(Courtesy of Better Homes & Gardens New Baking Book)

1 1/2 cups flour
1 t ground cinnamon
1/2 t baking soda
1/2 t baking powder
1/4 t salt
1/4 t ground nutmeg
1 beaten egg
1 cup sugar
1 cup finely shredded, unpeeled zucchini
1/4 cup cooking oil
1/4 t finely shredded lemon peel
1/2 cup chopped pecans or walnuts (optional)

Grease bottom and 1/2 inch up sides of an 8x4x2" loaf pan (VERY IMPORTANT! If you use a larger loaf pan, cut the cooking time in half); set aside. In a medium mixing bowl combine the flour, cinnamon, baking soda, baking powder, salt and nutmeg. Make a well in the center of the dry mixture, set aside.
In another medium mixing bowl, combine the egg, sugar, zucchini, oil and lemon peel. Add this mixture all at once to the dry mixture. Stir just until moistened (batter will be lumpy). Fold in the nuts.
Spoon batter into a prepared pan. Bake at 350 degrees 55-60 minutes or until a wooden toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

This recipe is so easy to make; I even mentioned to someone you could make it even healthier by using whole wheat flour. Sawyer loved this bread- she asked for it this morning for breakfast, calling it "cchini bread!". I think the moist texture, the lemon peel and cinnamon/nutmeg mixture makes this appealing to kids and adults alike- no chocolate needed!

And now... onto the chocolate!

Zucchini Chip Snack Cake
(courtesy of 204 Taste of Home Annual Recipes)

1/2 cup butter or margarine, softened
1 3/4 cups sugar
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 eggs
1 t vanilla extract
2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
2 T baking cocoa
1 t baking soda
1/2 t baking powder
1/2 t ground cinnamon
1/2 t ground cloves
1/2 cup buttermilk
2 cups shredded peeled zucchini
2 cups (12oz) semisweet chocolate chips

In a large mixing bowl cream butter and sugar. Beat in oil, eggs and vanilla. Combine dry ingredients, add to creamed mixture alternately with buttermilk. Stir in zucchini.
Pour into a greased 13x9x2 inch baking pan. Sprinkle with chocolate chips. Bake at 350 degrees for 45-50 minutes or until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean.

Hopefully this helps to take care of some of the zucchini you have!

Much love,
Mama Cucina

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Mama of the Month!

Yes! The beginning of a new month means a new Mama of the Month! This month's Mama; Melissa Polley is the new mama of an adorable Westie puppy named Dezzy. Melissa is also half of the food blogging couple A Duo of Chefs (

Favorite thing to cook: I'm a baker at heart so really I enjoy baking cookies, bread, cake, whatever, I'm not picky. But my favorite thing to eat out of all of my baking experiments are the Dark Chocolate Cupcakes with Vanilla Buttercream:

And take it from me, these cupcakes are AMAZING!

Favorite thing to do in Milwaukee: The Milwaukee Food Tours I've only been on the Brady Street tour, but it was a fun afternoon of really good food mixed with some interesting Milwaukee history. I can't wait to go on another tour!

Favorite restaurant in Milwaukee: Can I break this down according to food varieties? If we're celebrating I love Dream Dance or Union House in Wales. For brunch, Cafe Hollander. Middle of the road Taylor's Peoples Park in Waukesha and my favorite pizza place would be Balistreri's in Wauwatosa...just to name a few. :)

Please enjoy one of Melissa's favorite recipes!
Stovetop Sausage Mac & Cheese:

Wanna be a Mama of the month for 2010? Let me know!
Much love,
Mama Cucina

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

White Texas Sheet Cake- it's almond y'all!

By request, here is a recipe for a delicious almond flavored sheet cake I made this past week! Yes, it did come from Taste of Home Make-a-Meal (I promise to branch out more next week- pinky swear!). The recipe advises making this cake the day before, because it tastes better the longer it sits. I tested this theory and it's 100% true. Another time saving tip: I am going to include the frosting recipe for this cake, but didn't end up frosting the cake, because it was so good without the frosting- light and moist with a sweet almond flavor. Yum.

White Texas Sheet Cake

1 cup butter
1 cup water
2 cups all purpose flour
2 cups sugar
2 eggs, beaten
1/2 cup sour cream
1 t almond extract
1 t salt
1 t baking soda

1/2 cup butter
1/4 cup milk
4 1/2 cups confectioners' sugar
1/2t almond extract
1 cup chopped walnuts

In a large saucepan bring butter and water to a boil. Remove from the heat, stir in flour, sugar, eggs, sour cream, extract, salt and baking soda until smooth. Pour into a greased 15" x 10" x 1" baking pan. Bake at 375 degrees for 20-22 minutes or until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean.
Cool for twenty minutes.
Meanwhile for frosting combine butter and milk in a saucepan. Bring to a boil. Remove from heat, add sugar and extract. Mix well. Stir in walnuts, spread over warm cake.

Meal Delivery Week 4- White Lasagna

I have a confession to make. In my heart of hearts, deep down in my soul I love casseroles. I think they are pretty much the greatest thing ever; even better if they involve cream of mushroom soup and hamburger. I think I inherited this slightly kitsch-y trait from my Grandmother, who prepared quite a few meals for my sister and I growing up. Many of them were casseroles and they were all delicious.
So for my last week of meal delivery, I had to go back to my roots. I dug back into my Taste of Home Make-a-Meal cookbook and selected a very tasty white lasagna. I know it's been in the 90s here lately and the thought of lasagna might be too much; but hold onto this recipe in November, it's a good way to get rid of turkey leftovers!
White Lasagna

1/2 cup butter
1/3 cup all purpose flour
1T dried minced onions
1/4t garlic powder
1/8 t pepper
2 cups chicken or turkey broth
1 cup milk
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese- divided
1 4oz jar of sliced mushrooms- drained
9 lasagna noodles, cooked, rinsed and drained
3/4lb fresh cut asparagus, cooked and drained
2 cups cubed cooked turkey or chicken
6oz. shredded mozzarella cheese
6oz thinly sliced fully cooked ham, chopped

In a large saucepan, melt butter, stir in flour, onion, garlic powder and pepper until blended. Gradually add broth and milk. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat; cook and stir for two minutes, or until thickened and bubbling. Stir in 1/2 cup sauce Parmesan cheese.
Spread 1/2 cup sauce in a greased 13"X9"X2" baking dish. Stir mushrooms into remaining sauce. Place three noodles in the pan. Layer with asparagus, chicken, mozzarella and about 1 cup sauce. Top with three more noodles, the ham and half the remaining sauce. Cover with remaining noodles and sauce. Sprinkle with remaining Parmesan cheese. Bake uncovered at 350 degrees for 35 minutes or until heated through.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Guilt Free Indulgences

Mamas love a good cocktail from time to time... what mamas don't love are all the calories and sugar that go along with most cocktails. I was at the grocery store the other day and saw a cardboard Bethany Frankel (of Real Housewives fame) hawking Skinnygirl margaritas. This margarita blend was billed as, "All natural, lightly sweetened with agave nectar and made with premium 100% Blue Agave clear tequila". A 750ml bottle was being sold for $12.99, so I thought I'd give it a try; with only 37.5 calories per 1.5oz, I thought it might be worth it.
It was. YUM. Mama Cucina strongly endorses Skinnygirl margaritas- if you love a good plain margarita on the rocks, this is right up your alley. It's tart, sweet and it packs a serious punch. Just don't drink the whole bottle.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Chocolate chip cookies and a chocolate malt meet...

One of my greatest joys in life is flipping through cookbooks and finding new recipes. A few weeks ago my sister gave me a copy of Taste of Home: Make a Meal Recipe Book. The book is divided into three horizontal flaps: one flap containing recipes for entrees, one containing side dishes and the final containing desserts. Since I already had the entree selected for my meals-on-wheels delivery this week this cookbook came in handy- helping me select a dessert.
I found a recipe for Chocolate Malted Cookies and was immediately sold on these as a perfect twist on chocolate chip cookies:

Chocolate Malted Cookies

1 cup butter flavored shortening
1 1/4 cups packed brown sugar
1/2 cup malted milk powder ( I substituted ground up Whoppers malted candies)
2 T chocolate syrup
1 T vanilla extract
1 egg
2 cups all purpose flour
1 t baking soda
1/2 t salt
1 1/2 cups semisweet chocolate chips
1 cup milk chocolate chips

In a mixing bowl combine the first five ingredients; beat for two minutes. Add egg. Combine the flour, baking soda and salt; gradually add to creamed mixture. Mix well. Stir in chocolate chips and chunks. Shape into 2" balls, place 3" apart on ungreased baking sheets. Bake at 375 for 12-14 minutes or until golden brown. Cool for 2 minutes before removing to a wire rack.

I know there isn't anything particularly seasonal or organic about these cookies, but everyone needs a treat every once in a while, right? I promise these cookies will satisfy your sweet tooth!
Much Love,
Mama Cucina

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Meals on (Mini Cooper) wheels: week two

As I mentioned in one of my previous blogs, I am making weekly dinner deliveries for family members that just had their second baby. This summer has been incredibly hot and humid (just the way I like it!); and it really changes the meals I prepare. Normally I'd deliver casseroles and hot vegetable dishes, but how appetizing does that sound when it's 95 degrees out? So today I went with one of my favorite cold pasta dishes.

I have no idea where this recipe came from, I found it photocopied and jammed into one of my recipe collections. According to the recipe "This salad is a popular specialty of La Prima carry-outs in Houston, Dallas and Washington D.C". So while I've never been to La Prima, I have made this in my own kitchen and think it's perfect in hot weather. The combination of creamy mayonnaise, fresh dill and tomatoes and grilled chicken are all perfect on a hot day.

Fettuccine and Chicken Nicoise Salad

12oz fettuccine
1lb grilled chicken breasts, shredded or sliced into thin strips
3 medium tomatoes, diced
4 tablespoons capers, rinsed and drained
3/4 cup mayo
1 T chopped fresh dill
2 t salt
1t freshly ground black pepper

Mix together chicken, tomatoes, mayonnaise, dill, salt and pepper. Refrigerate several hours. Cook pasta until al dente, drain, rinse with cold water and drain again. Mix pasta and chicken salad and refrigerate until well chilled.

This is a great make-ahead recipe: make the chicken portion of the meal on a Sunday night and on Monday night all you have to do is cook the box of pasta and combine. How easy is that? This recipe is seasonal- you can find dill at your farmers market and tomatoes are just starting to pop up.

Much love,
Mama Cucina

Friday, July 16, 2010

Pho-get about it!

Disclaimer: I do not consider myself to be an expert when it comes to Asian cuisine. While I'm adventurous and will try just about anything, at the same time I think General Tso's chicken and shrimp fried rice are amazing. So I can only write to the taste of the food at Hue- not the actual Vietnamese authenticity.

Earlier this week Kevin and I were feel spontaneous so we decided to try Hue (pronounced Hway, named after a province in Vietnam that their food is inspired by) in Bay View. We had driven past it quite a few times and decided we were in the mood for an adventure. Hue is located at 2691 S Kinnickinnic in Bay View- right next to the Shape Up Shoppe. It's a cozy but inviting space; they have a small lounge and bar area and about fifteen tables in the restaurant. It's one of those perfect neighborhood gems you would never know about until you go inside.

We were immediately impressed with the unique menu options and the beer selection. Kevin loved the fact they had several Vietnamese beers on the menu- some of which he had never heard of. We also liked the fact all of the menu items were reasonably priced (later when we saw the size of the entrees, we liked Hue even more!).

For an appetizer we ordered the Hue sample platter which consisted of two fried shrimp, 2 beef skewers, 2 egg rolls and a spring roll. The fried shrimp were delicious and paired very well with their sweet and sour sauce which actually had a nice spicy bite to it. The beef skewers were tender and juicy and were incredible dipped in the peanut sauce. The egg rolls were good- perfectly crisp and the spring roll was delicious; the combination of cilantro, fresh mint and salmon was fresh and unique. Needless to say all three of us polished off the sampler platter pretty quickly.

For an entree Kevin ordered the Phở Tai Chin, Bò Vien: which was beef brisket, sirloin steak and beef meatballs in a beef broth with rice noodles. For those of you who have never had pho (pronounced "fuh") it's basically like Vietnamese chicken soup; it's a huge delicious bowl of flavorful broth, noodles and meat. The pho at Hue did not disappoint! It came in a huge bowl big enough to feed two and was served with a plate full of lime, jalapeno and Thai basil you could use to season the soup yourself.

I ordered the Bánh Xeo which was described as, "Vietnamese “crepe” filled with pork, shrimp, onions, bean sprouts, and mushrooms. Served with fresh herbs, cucumbers, and peanut dipping sauce". I took two bites and deemed it the ideal hangover food; there was a perfect amount of grease in the crepe itself and when paired with the peanut sauce it was heavenly. I requested their special fish sauce on the side and it also paired very well with the crepe. The herbs and cucumber provided a nice fresh crunch while the pork and shrimp were well seasoned. Next time I spend the night drinking too much wine, I'll be at Hue the next day for another one of these crepes!

For Sawyer we ordered the Cơm Chiên which is fried rice with Chinese sausage, shrimp, bbq pork and vegetables. The serving of rice was huge! Sawyer ate two plates of it and we still had enough to take home for lunch the next day. The fried rice was delicious; not too greasy and you were able to taste each one of the ingredients in the rice- instead of it being a big fried mess.

Without a doubt the highlight at Hue was watching Sawyer eat the Pho. She loved the broth and kept filling up her spoon with more of it. We got a good laugh snapping pictures of her first Vietnamese meal! And after the reasonable food prices and the huge portion sizes, I doubt it will be her last meal at Hue!

For directions and more menu options, check out their website:

Much Love,
Mama Cucina

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Tazinos: Pizza, Pasta & Salad for the Whole Family

A few weeks ago Kevin and I received a gift certificate for Tazino's; an all-you-can-eat pizza, salad and pasta buffet in Oak Creek we have driven past a few times. All three of us were in the mood for pizza (or peetzee if you're Sawyer) this afternoon so we decided to break in the gift certificate.
Tazino's is a local chain with locations in Kenosha, Menomonee Falls and Oak Creek; with another location opening soon in Racine. First and foremost, you can't beat the price. The adult lunch (and dinner) price on weekends is $7.99, kids under ten are $3.99 and kids under 3 are free (score one for Sawyer!). So for a family of four to go out for pizza it's $24.00. And with the variety that Tazino's offers; it's hard not to find something for everyone.

The buffet is comprised of a nice sized salad bar, cold pasta salads and warm pasta dishes, several soup selections, at least eight different pizza varieties, garlic cheese sticks and desserts (warm brownies and fried dough with sugar and cinnamon). The salad bar was a good size with plenty of healthy options including spinach. We chose to ignore the salad offerings because we were on a mission for carbs. Nothing but carbs.

Kevin tried a few of the different cold pasta salads (the Robosto salad and the Italian Confetti) and found them to be just ok. We sampled the mac and cheese and thought it was bland and under-seasoned; even Sawyer wasn't impressed. However if you have a kid that only eats mac and cheese, it's nice to know it's on the menu.

The real draw at Tazino's is the pizza. The pizza crust is a perfect hand tossed crust that's chewy with just the right amount of crunch. The sauce is also great; Tazino's claims their sauce is made from field picked tomatoes and I will admit it tasted more fresh than a lot of the pizza chain sauces. The pizza at Tazino's falls into several different catergories: classico, authentico and primo. The classico pizzas are just that: cheese, peperoni, sausage. Sawyer devoured a slice of cheese and sausage- she loved it. The authentico pizzas include margherita and roma tomato basil. We tried the roma tomato basil and thought it was delicious; the basil tasted nice and fresh. Kevin and I both loved the primo pizzas; especially the Chicken Bacon Ranch (my personal favorite! very creamy with just enough salty, delicious bacon) and the Tailgater (a unique combination of sausage, red onion and green pepper with a bbq sauce and just a hint of mustard). Kevin also gave the Aloha pizza his stamp of approval; he loves Hawaiin style pizza and found this one up to muster. Tazino's also has a POW (pizza of the week, their abbreviation, not mine) and this week it was "The Baked 'Tater" which is described as, "Our traditional crust is covered with a rich sour cream sauce, then topped with seasoned potatoes, smoky bacon bits, our 100% real cheese trio plus Real Cheddar cheese and chives". Kevin and I both thought it was delicious; the sauce was very creamy and the potatoes did not make the pizza too starch heavy. I don't think I'd order an entire Baked Tater pie (too rich!), but one slice was very satisfying.

The nice thing about the slices of pizza at Tazino's is that they are small- allowing you to try several different varieties. And while some pizza buffets are composed of pizzas that have been sitting under a heat lamp for an hour all the pizzas we sampled at Tazino's tasted fresh. Whenever we'd go back up to the buffet we'd notice at least three new pizzas that were brought out. Another cool feature was the "Accents station" which was a selection of at least twenty different spices you could sprinkle onto your pizza to personalize it (think: jerk seasoning, garlic salt).

The desserts were okay- the brownies were warm and dense but the fried dough was just okay. Sawyer however loved it and would have eaten several "Cinna-pillows" if I had allowed her to. I think the desserts are definitely catered towards a younger crowd; adult palates might not be quite as satisfied with them.

All and all, I think you'd be hard pressed to find a better quality and value for a family pizza dinner; even the pickiest eaters would find something on the menu that they would be happy eating and there are enough pizzas that would appeal to adults as well as kids.

Tazino's does offer carry out; but I honestly think it's a better value just to take the entire family in for a sit-down meal rather than the carry out option. The interior of Tazino's is nice but not fussy, making it the perfect place for a casual, inexpensive family meal.

Check out their website for more information on menu selection, price and nutritional information (kudos to Tazino's for not using MSG, high fructose corn syrup or trans fats).

Happy eating!
Mama Cucina

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Get Stuffed.

You can only be so prepared for the adventure that is parenthood. You can understand the fact you're going to be sleep deprived; but actually going for 32 hours without a nap is another thing. You can understand the baby cycle of eat-poop-eat-poop-maybe some vomit thrown in for fun- and sleep if you're lucky. Being a new parent is overwhelming to say the least.
When Sawyer was born my personal heroes were the people that brought us food. One of Kevin's friends showed up with four casseroles (there were literally post-partum tears of gratitude in my eyes) and one of Kevin's cousins agreed to drop off a meal every week for a month. And we're not talking a dish of food... we're talking AN ENTIRE MEAL: entree, several side dishes and desert. Seeing Liz come to the door with bags of food was the highlight of my otherwise overwhelming sleep deprived new mommy life. I still remember her salmon, leek and fennel pot pie. YUM.
Liz just had her second little girl last week and I decided to return the favor for her... because mamas have to stick together! So tomorrow I'm delivering my first meal and I wanted to make sure the meals I prepared for her and her family were relatively healthy and would appeal to adults as well as a toddler. And really isn't that what all mamas (new or otherwise) are looking for?
So here is a recipe I LOVE for stuffed peppers. I got this recipe from Glamour magazine several years ago (don't laugh! They have great easy recipes I use all the time!) and I have made this several times because Kevin loves it and it's easy.

4 red peppers
1 10oz box couscous
1 15oz can chick peas
1/4 cup toasted pine nuts
4 T olive oil
4oz crumbled feta cheese
1/4 cup chopped mixed fresh herbs (I recommend basil and mint)

Slice off the tops of the peppers, clean out the seeds and veins. Simmer in a pot of boiling water for 7-10 minutes until they are tender (don't let them get mushy). Set the drained peppers aside

Make couscous according to package instructions. Then, combine with herbs, toasted pine nuts, olive oil, crumbled feta cheese and the canned, drained chick peas.

Fill peppers with couscous mixture and serve. Enjoy!

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Get your grill on!

Wisconsin is a state of die-hard grillers. Come on- we've all seen the tailgaters at Miller Park cooking brats in the rain and we've all seen people painted half green and half gold grilling steaks in 30 below weather.
Personally there is nothing better than the smell (and taste!) of a burger being grilled. My mouth is watering right now. Seriously. Here is a recipe from one of my Mama fans. I refer to Liz as Super Mom because she has two adorable kids and is pregnant with her third (due soon!). Liz's son Garrett has a severe dairy allergy and she is always on the hunt for food that's dairy free and delicious. This is her chicken burger recipe that she recently made for her kids' birthday party and it received rave reviews. Enjoy!
Chicken Spinach Burgers

3 pounds of ground chicken
1 bag of spinach (roughly chopped)
1 container of basil (about 20 leaves)
2 shallots (finely chopped)
1 bell pepper (chopped)
A handful of italian parsley (roughly chopped)
A good squeeze of your favorite mustard

Mix all together. This combination makes 12-13 good patties. Grill 'em up and eat! Excellent topped with sauteed mushrooms!

Good news mamas! Spinach, basil, shallots and Italian parsley are ALL in season at the farmers market right now. If that's not one stop shopping, I don't know what is!
Happy grilling!
Mama Cucina

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Mama of the Month!

One of my monthly segments is going to be called Mama of the Month- where I highlight a Wisconsin "mama" (no, real children don't have to be involved for you to be a "Mama"- pets, surrogate children, even significant others that act like children make you eligible to be a Mama of the Month) and a fresh specialty this Mama is known for.
This month I chose a personal favorite mama: my mom Jody. I am sharing a recipe that is completely her own creation and completely delish. I might be slightly impartial, but she made this pasta salad at a cookout last night and the bowl was empty almost immediately.

So some fun facts about Jody:
Favorite thing to cook: lemon pudding cake (family secret recipe- don't even dare to ask for it)
Favorite thing to do in Milwaukee: walk by the lake
Favorite Milwaukee restaurant: Transfer
Favorite animal: cougar
Favorite daughter: Rebecca (ha! I KNEW it was true!)

Goat Cheese Pesto Salad
1 cup pesto (recipe below)
1/2 pound Rotelle Pasta
Goat Cheese cut into chunks (as much or as little as you would like)
2 pints cherry tomatoes
1 jar roasted peppers or sun dried tomatoes marinated in olive oil
Olive oil

Basil Pesto
2 cups fresh basil leaves, packed
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan-Reggiano or Romano cheese
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/3 cup pine nuts
3 medium sized garlic cloves, minced
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

1 Combine the basil in with the pine nuts, pulse a few times in a food processor. (Add the garlic, pulse a few times more.
2 Slowly add the olive oil in a constant stream while the food processor is on. Stop to scrape down the sides of the food processor with a rubber spatula. Add the grated cheese and pulse again until blended. Add a pinch of salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste.
Makes 1 cup.

You can find plenty of fresh basil at your local farmers market now- only $1.00 for a bunch! I recommend investing in an herb keeper- they are an inexpensive way to store fresh herbs in your fridge and help prolong the life of them.
Also, indoor herb gardens are a wonderful way to have fresh herbs all year long and they are a great savings compared to buying prepackaged herbs from the grocery store whenever you need a single sprig of rosemary or three mint leaves.
I hope you enjoy this pasta salad as much as we did and please e-mail me if you are interested in being a featured Mama of the Month!

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Side dish, done right!

There are always several important staples at any good 4th of July party: pasta salad, potato salad and cole slaw. However sometimes it's easy to get bogged down in a sea of mayonaise and oil and forget that side dishes don't have to be smothered in fat!
Here is a salad Kevin and I made for our 4th of July party this afternoon. We got the recipe from our JenEhr Farms CSA and all the ingredients were right in our pantry! This salad tastes like summer, light, fresh and it's good for you too!
On a side note, until we started our CSA, I never knew how good a fresh radish tasted! Many of the ones you find in the grocery store either have a wooden like texture or a bitter flavor. Good, fresh radishes actually taste both sweet and sharp at the same time. I've found myself chopping them up and putting them in salads, they're delicious!
Sawyer doesn't seem too enthused with radishes but she loves the snow peas. She enjoys them raw; I think the sweet flavor and the crunch are satisfying to both kids and adults.
Both snow peas and radishes are in season now and avalible at your local farmers market. Both items sell for about $2.00 a pound- which means you can whip together this quick salad for less than $5.00! Good for you and your wallet- that's a win/win situation right there!

Snow Pea, Radish and Scallion Salad

2 cups snow peas trimmed
2 scallions thinly sliced
4 radishes trimmed and cut into thin slices
1/4 cup rice vinegar
2 tsp granulated sugar
1 T vegetable oil

Put snow peas in a microwave safe bowl with 1 T water. Cover tightly and microwave for 1 minute. Drain and let cool. Cut snow peas into 1/2" pieces, discarding the ends.

In a bowl combine the snow peas, scallions and radishes. In a small bowl whisk the vinegar, sugar and oil until the sugar dissolves. Pour over the salad and serve.

Hope everyone has a wonderful fourth of July weekend!
Much love,

Mama Cucina

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Pickled Beets

About three years ago Kevin and I were having dinner at Bacchus and I saw the combination of beets and goat cheese for the first time. I was curious, I knew I liked beets and LOVED goat cheese but hmmm... together? Needless to say after my first salad, I was pretty much hooked. It got to the point I'd request the salad anywhere I saw it... and I'd make sure they left the pesky salad greens back in the kitchen. JUST the beets and JUST the goat cheese por favor.
For whatever reason, beets intimidated the heck out of me. I was terrified to try and pickle them in my own kitchen. But when a bunch of beets arrived in our CSA last week, I had no choice. It was do or die time (and it did look like some died in the kitchen after making the beets thanks to all the red dye, but that's another story).
I needed an easy recipe with only a few ingredients, so I went to my trusty to see what they might have for me. This is the recipe I came away with:
1 bunch (4 or 5) beets
1/4 cup cider vinegar
1 Tbsp sugar
1 Tbsp olive oil
1/2 teaspoon dry mustard
Salt and pepper

Remove greens from beets. Cut beets to uniform sizes so they will cook evenly. Boil around 30 minutes or until done. (Alternatively, you can roast them by wrapping them whole in foil and cooking them in a 350°F oven for about an hour.) A fork easily inserted into the beet will tell you if the beets are done or not.
2 Drain the beets, rinsing them in cold water. Use your fingers to slip the peels off of the beets. The peels should come off easily. Discard the peels. Slice the beets.
3 Make the vinaigrette by combining the cider vinegar, sugar, olive oil, and dry mustard. Whisk ingredients together with a fork. The dry mustard will help to emulsify the vinaigrette. Adjust to taste. Add salt and pepper to taste. Combine beets and vinaigrette in a bowl and allow to marinate for a half hour at room temperature.
Serves four.

I've heard from several people you can save the beet greens and cook them with bacon fat but come on... I overcame my fear of cooking the beet, I think I'll save the greens for another day.
In case you're curious, Sawyer loves beets. She initially thought they were strawberries when she saw me mixing them in the bowl... imagine her surprise when she bit into a vinegary beet. But they are delicious and a perfect summer side dish. Enjoy!
Much love,
Mama Cucina

Why Mama Cucina?

My husband and my relationship is based on love. But I think one of the best things we love and share together is food. I was raised by a mother and grandmother that cooked dinner every single night as a way of showing love for their families. I embraced this mentality and imagine how thrilled Kevin was to marry a feisty tempered Italian woman who knew her way around a kitchen! Before having our daughter we loved going out to eat every night and finding new hidden gems in Milwaukee. On the weekends we would go to our local specialty grocery store and buy ingredients for a themed gourmet feast.
Our daughter Sawyer was born almost two years ago and this seriously curtailed the amount of eating out we were able to do. But it did encourage us to cook at home more and focus on healthy foods for a growing infant. We both didn't want to have a "picky" eater and delighted in her newest food expeditions. "She eats edamame!" "How many other kids her age have had dry aged beef?"
This year Kevin and I made the commitment to eat more local, sustainable food. I made this decision for environmental reasons while Kevin made it based on the one thing that has yet to lead him wrong... his stomach. We joined a CSA and it has been like Christmas every week when Kevin comes home with our share. "What did we get?" "How do you prepare that?" I've equated it to Iron Chef... without Alton Brown's bad jokes. The three of us have enjoyed eating as sustainable, organic and local as possible.
All three of us are Sconnies (born and raised!) and take incredible pride in being from Wisconsin (for the most part). Kevin is an avid brewer and loves all the microbreweries Wisconsin has to offer. We also LOVE all the artisan cheese and meat companies in our great state.
But at the end of the day, Kevin and I are both busy parents with jobs outside our homes and it's all well and good that food is organic and local but if it's not easy to prepare and if it doesn't taste good... well then there's a good chance Jimmy John's is going to be making a delivery to our house that night.
So this blog is the culmination of all things Wisconsin (recipes, information on restaurants and food vendors) and delicious, healthy things mamas everywhere can make for dinner in an hour or less. I hope you enjoy this blog, I hope you post recipes you and your families love and I hope it encourages you to go out there and eat something local and delicious.
Much love,
Mama Cucina