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 (http://chefduo.blogspot.com/).

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: http://chefduo.blogspot.com/2009/07/dark-chocolate-cupcakes-with-vanilla.html

And take it from me, these cupcakes are AMAZING!

Favorite thing to do in Milwaukee: The Milwaukee Food Tours http://www.milwaukeefoodtours.com/ 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.