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