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