The incredible, edible egg.

Breakfast is a pretty big deal in our house, we get three dozen eggs a week, and usually go through almost all of them. Eggs are a great food if you’re counting calories- one egg is about seventy calories, and full of enough protein to keep you full all morning. My go-to breakfast is usually two eggs and a serving of Morningstar spicy breakfast “sausage”. Again, it’s high in protein and it keeps me going.

On weekends, I like to try and fancy it up a little, while still trying to keep calories under control. On Pinterest, there seems to be a recipe for muffin tin everything (meatloaf, tacos, chicken pot pie, eggs). So I decided to try the eggs.

http://www.thecomfortofcooking.com/2012/09/crisp-ham-and-egg-cups.html

Beyond easy to make- we were out of ham so I substituted turkey, and I added a little sprinkle of mozzarella cheese and slices of mushroom to each lunch meat slice before cracking the egg over them. The end result was a perfectly poached egg with a crisp piece of turkey. My baby even declared, “Mommy, you outdid yourself with this breakfast!” I can guarantee this is going to become a new weekend breakfast staple. Try it this weekend and bask in the praise and adoration of your family members.

Much Love,
Mama Cucina

Spaghetti Squash

Like many of you, I’m addicted to Pinterest. I have learned valuable secrets from Pinterest (a paste of baking soda and water will clean off my stove top!), quick and delicious recipes (homemade Butterfinger bars!), and all the pictures of Ian Somerholder I could ever want to look at.

But then there are the highly suspicious posts. You know the ones I’m talking about. The ones that promote negative calorie foods, or the deliciousness of mixing a cake mix with a can of diet soda (Don’t. Ever. It’s not a cake. It’s not even a distant cousin to a cake.), or (the point of this blog) replacing pasta with spaghetti squash.

This last one got me, especially after a dinner last month where I all but licked the plate after eating a spaghetti squash “pasta” meal. I needed to try it in the Mama Cucina test kitchen. After visiting the winter farmers market and buying two spaghetti squash, it was time to come up with some tasty meals. Here were the two I found on Pinterest:

http://fooddoodles.com/2013/01/10/skinny-spaghetti-squash-alfredo/

Not only did this recipe taste EXACTLY like angel hair pasta in Alfredo sauce, it clocked in at around 400 calories per serving. This was one of those meals that tasted so good, you’d expect it to be a lot worse for you.

http://recipes.prevention.com/Recipe/spaghetti-squash-casserole.aspx

This recipe was also solid. I added some mushrooms to the casserole and a little Greek yogurt, but otherwise it was a delicious meal!

So consider me the myth buster of spaghetti squash- it tastes as good as pasta, and has far fewer calories. So try it while squash is in season- I hope your family enjoys it as much as mine did!

Much Love,
Mama Cucina

Casserole Goodness

There are two kinds of people in the word… the people that like foods mixed together, and the people that don’t. The people that do are commonly referred to as casserole lovers. I think we all know what category Mama Cucina falls into…

It’s been a great week for cooking in the Mama Cucina kitchen- we made two casseroles in particular that were out of this world. The first was a chicken enchilada casserole that included all the smoky, spicy, cheesy flavors you love from enchiladas, without the hassle of stuffing and rolling them. Make this sometime soon for the Mexican food lovers in your life.

http://www.navywifecook.com/2012/04/chicken-enchilada-pasta.html

We also tried a marsala chicken casserole that might be my new favorite chicken recipe ever. The recipe itself is so easy to make; and the end result is a creamy dish full of chicken, mushrooms and rice. This is the type of meal that tastes so good, people will think you slaved away over a hot stove preparing it. I won’t give away the secret, I swear.

http://www.rachaelraymag.com/recipes/rachael-ray-magazine-recipe-search/no-recipe-zone-recipes/marsala-chicken-and-mushroom-casserole

With it still being somewhat cold and wintry here in Wisconsin, we need all the delicious comfort food we can get. These two recipes definitely fit the bill!

Much Love,

Mama Cucina

Dinner fit for a Papa

I love any reason to celebrate, but I really love birthdays. My friends tease me every year, because I can stretch a birthday celebration out for several weeks at a time. I believe in birthday dinners, lunches, pedicures, drinks, celebrations- the whole nine. I think the love of celebration helps me to not focus on the aging process.

January is a big celebration month for us. My husband, father-in-law, sister-in-law and nephew all celebrate their birthdays in January, in addition to my wedding anniversary. It’s basically a big party all month long.

We all know that food equals love, so what better way to celebrate Kevin aka: Papa Cucina’s birthday than with a delicious home cooked meal? It was also an excellent opportunity to make use of our Christmas pig! I defrosted a pork shoulder and made a delicious pork goulash.

http://www.foodwhine.com/2012/02/crockpot-goulash.html

The quality of the pork was delicious, but when paired with a nice spicy paprika and a creamy sauce- EVEN BETTER.

And of course no celebration meal is complete without dessert. Kevin loves few things more than a quality bread pudding. I found a recipe for a chocolate bread pudding, and substituted croissants for bread. Yeah, you’re going to want to try that.

http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/photo/Chocolate-Bread-Pudding-109128

Imagine crisp, warm croissants smothered in a warm chocolate pudding and you get the general idea of how amazing this recipe turned out.

I hope your families have as much to celebrate in 2013 as we do!

Much Love,
Mama Cucina

Holidaze.

Happy New Year to my Mama Cucina friends! Thank you for continuing to read my blog, trying my recipes and supporting my crazy kitchen antics.

It was a very food centric Christmas, as always. Instead of gifting people random crap they don’t really want/need, I focused on putting together gift boxes full of all the food I canned and preserved in 2012. Lucky gift box recipients received two different kinds of pickles, tomato sauce, pickled beets, pickled radishes, vanilla extract and a jar of salted caramel. I’m sorry- but that’s better than a Snuggy. The boxes were really well received, and I’m already thinking about what to include in them next year.

In return, we received some really delicious food gifts. My parents gifted us with (drumroll please)…. HALF OF A PIG! So I’ve been searching all over Pinterest for pork recipes. I’m trying a goulash on Sunday for the Husband’s birthday- I hope it turns out! I also received another cast iron dutch oven to make more of THE bread.

Speaking of THE bread, it has now has its own cult following. One of my good friends bought a dutch oven just to make THE bread for his family. Another friend made it for her family’s Christmas party and everyone loved it. I made two loaves of THE bread for a New Years Eve party we attended, and there were only a few pieces left by the end of the night. I also ended up handing out the recipe to three different people. Your New Years Resolution should be to make THE bread for your family.

My resolution to all of you in 2013 is to share more delicious recipes, focus on becoming more self-sustaining and continue to eat as locally and sustainably as possible. Here’s to a happy and hungry 2013!

a kneed to make bread…

Everyone knows about our endeavors to eat more organic, locally sourced food. The CSA, the grass fed cow, the eggs we get delivered every week… you know the story. Well, every week when we’d go to the farmers market for our CSA pick up, we’d buy  a loaf of bread from a local bakery. The bread was delicious- the kind of crunchy, soft bread you can use for toast, or to dunk in soup. The bread was delicious, but now that CSA season is over, it’s not as convenient for us to stop and pick up a loaf of homemade bread.

So I decided to take one for the Mama Cucina team. I committed myself to making homemade bread every week. Let me preface this by saying I am a pretty decent cook, but a horrible baker. I tried making scones last year, and they were like hockey pucks. This is embarrassing to admit, considering I was raised by a woman that makes homemade bread like no one’s business (love ya Mom!).

I found a recipe that seemed easy enough (flour, yeast, water, sit for 18 hours)- I could do this. And I did! This morning I was the proud owner of a delicious loaf of bread I made with my own two hands. My only regret? Not making two loaves at one time.

So after devouring a piece of warm bread, I got to thinking.

Loaf of bakery bread: $4.50 (Large loaf of Italian or Sourdough bread)

Loaf of grocery store bread: $4.29 (Brownberry whole grain bread)

Loaf of homemade bread: $1.01 (1 teaspoon of yeast: 29 cents; 3 cups of flour: 72 cents).

Huh. My math skills are not spectacular, but that’s a significant savings.

So based on the ease of this recipe and the savings- we’re officially a household that now makes our own bread. Here’s the recipe I used, I highly recommend it for baking novices. It’s pretty hard to screw up.

http://simplysogood.blogspot.com/2010/03/crusty-bread.html

I’m not even kidding- my bread looked just like the pictures. I’d post some of my own pictures, but the loaf is already half gone. No joke, it was that good.

Give it a try and let me know how it turns out!

Much Love,
Mama Cucina

I hate winter in Wisconsin.

It’s entirely possible I’ve made my thoughts on winter here in WI well known. I hate it. Hate, hate, hate everything about it. I hate the cold weather, I hate my skin and hair getting dry, I hate driving on snow and ice, I hate shoveling snow, I hate the fact it’s dark when I wake up, and dark when I get home from work in the afternoon. I hate the fact I need to wear an electric Snuggy (best Christmas gift ever!), over track pants, a sweatshirt and fuzzy socks, while cuddling under an electric blanket just to keep warm. No exaggeration.

There are only a few good things about living here in winter: the Green Bay Packers, and yummy winter comfort food. There’s something about eating pot roast or potato leek soup in July that just seems wrong.

So we’ve had our first snap of cold weather and it’s been miserable- not going to lie. In attempt to make the most of a bad situation I’ve decided it’s time to make some homemade, hearty soup and try to forget the fact snow is on its way. We’ve made two different soups in the past week, and they were both worth passing on.

 Thanks to our CSA, we have had bags (and I do mean bags) of potatoes, and five huge leeks in our fridge. Yup- that meant potato leek soup. I found the recipe below off Skinnytaste, and was kind of surprised that such a simple list of ingredients yielded such a flavorful soup. The only modification I made, was adding 1 cup of milk instead of 1/2 a cup; the extra half a cup did a lot to make the consistency of the soup a lot smoother and more palatable.

http://www.skinnytaste.com/2009/10/potato-leek-soup.html

Again, thanks to our CSA, we had a massive kohlrabi and no ideas what to do with it. It’s past the months of coleslaw and bbq, so I was stumped. Imagine my surprise when Kevin pulled out a creamy kohlrabi soup recipe that we made some modifications to. The end result was an unexpectedly smooth, mild tasting soup that has me hoping we get at least another kohlrabi before the season is over. Creamy kohlrabi soup recipe- where have you been all my life?!

Creamy Kohlrabi Soup

2 T butter

1 medium onion chopped

1lb. kohlrabi bulbs, peeled and chopped

2.5 cups vegetable stock

2.5 cups milk

1 bay leaf

1.5 t nutmeg

1.5 t curry powder

salt and pepper to taste

Melt butter in a large pot with a lid. Add onions and gently cook until soft- about 10 minutes. Add kohlrabi and cook for 2 minutes.

Add vegetable stock, milk and bay leaf to the pot, bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat to low and cook for 25 minutes or until the kohlrabi is tender. Let cool for a few minutes and remove the bay leaf.

Use an immersion blender and puree the soup until smooth. Season with the nutmeg, curry powder, salt and pepper to taste.

Hope these recipes keep you nice and warm in the coming months.

Much Love,
Mama Cucina

Why brown sugar could be the new bread crumb

I wish I could tell you life has calmed down significantly, and now that the semester is almost over, I can take a deep sigh of relief. I’d be lying. In addition to school, I was just out of town for a rowdy sales conference for three days that left me drained after. In addition, I haven’t seen my husband for more than twenty minutes at a time. We literally high five as I’m walking in the door, and he’s walking out.

But never fear, we’re remedying this Thursday night when the whole Mama Cucina family is headed downtown to see the How to Train Your Dragon live stage show. Sawyer is a big fan of the movie, and every mom blog I read raved about the show. So this is her belated birthday gift from Kevin and I. She asked to hit Transfer Pizza first (one of my friends is a waitress there, and treats Sawyer like the Princess she firmly believes she is), so it should be a fun night that gives us all a chance to catch up with one another.

I believe I promised a new recipe a few weeks back… something about THE BEST CHICKEN EVER!! And I must admit, there are few greater things to do to a chicken breast than roll it in brown sugar and bake it. The result is savory with just a hint of sweetness. So delicious! And only three ingredients- SO EASY!

http://foodforahungrysoul.blogspot.com/2009/10/simply-great-chicken.html

I hope as life slows down to a more manageable pace, I can dedicate more time to sharing recipes. I hope everyone is having a wonderful fall season, full of happy kitchen experiments.

Much Love,

Mama Cucina

Foodie-centric update

Life has been insane. I am in my last year of working on my Masters degree, and it feels like every spare second I have is spent doing scholarly research regarding Universal Design principles of an e-commerce platform. It has really inspired me to NOT keep going for my PhD, I don’t think I can take it. At least at this point in my life. Which means, ask me again in a year, and you’ll get a completely different answer.

In addition to school and work, I also had Sawyer’s fourth birthday to plan. My niece P turned 6 three days after Sawyer; so we always throw one big combined birthday bash every year. This bash beat all expectations; there was a bounce house, a sno kone machine, hay rides (courtesy of my Dad, who is like a big kid himself sometimes), a pinata, and all kinds of other fun activities. As well as food. I whipped up a big batch of Italian beef and Hungry Girl’s slow cooker pulled chicken (see below); along with my pesto pasta salad and a delicious kohlrabi and apple slaw; which I can’t even take credit for- it’s Papa Cucina’s creation. And it’s pretty much the only thing I can think to do with a big kohlrabi. And my lovely mother made some of the most beautiful cakes and cupcakes I think I have ever seen. Her culinary arts degree is serving her well.

http://www.hungry-girl.com/newsletters/raw/1284

The party was a blast, we had over forty people there and everyone left full and happy.

In addition to Sawyer’s birthday, we also had my Dad’s birthday to celebrate. We picked up a whole rack of ribs and five pounds of pulled pork from my favorite Q place ever: Milwaukee Smoked BBQ. These guys work magic with pulled pork, it’s so juicy- it doesn’t even need barbecue sauce. My mouth is watering just thinking about it. In addition to food, I needed to make a cake. My dad is a chocolate fanatic, so I found the following recipe, which sounded like a chocolate lover’s dream come true. It delivered! The cake was so dense and moist- it was the perfect chocolate cake.

http://www.milwaukeesmokedbbq.com/

http://kenzieskitchen.blogspot.com/2009/01/chocolate-chocolate-cake.html

So school, birthday parties, work, oh my! I’ve just now caught my breath. It’s a well known fact that when I’m stressed, I cook. Needless to say, my family has had some delicious food in the past few weeks. I DID end up pickling radishes and they turned out delicious. They are insanely good- we’re talking additively craveable on a vegetable omlette. Who would have thought?! If you’re so inclined, here’s the recipe:

http://blogs.denverpost.com/preserved/2011/06/06/pickled-radishes/1544/

It’s been feeling a lot like fall lately, which means it’s time for soup. We made two delicious soup recipes lately; a low-calorie potato soup that’s actually made with cauliflower instead of potatoes, and a black bean soup recipe courtesy of The Biggest Loser.

http://www.ziplist.com/recipes/205182-Baked_Potato_Soup

http://healthyrecipes.wikia.com/wiki/Spicy_Black_Bean_Soup_with_Lime_%26_Cilantro

I thought the potato soup was incredible (Papa Cucina was on the fence), and I couldn’t tell it was cauliflower and not potatoes. The black bean soup was also delicious; we doubled the recipe so we’d have a bigger batch to get us through the week. The heat from the jalapenos was a nice accent to the richness of the black beans.

Fall also means casserole season! We made this stuffed pepper casserole just last night for dinner and it was the most satisfying 540 calories I’ve had in a long time. It has all the elements of stuffed peppers: rice, tomato sauce and beef- without the time consuming process of boiling and stuffing the peppers.

http://a-kitchen-addiction.com/blogger/?q=http://akitchenaddiction.blogspot.com/2012/04/stuffed-pepper-casserole.html

I almost forgot! I promised my dear friend Liz the recipe for salmon florentine. This is one of those easy weeknight meals you’ll make time and time again. The calorie count is low, and it’s delicious.

http://www.self.com/fooddiet/recipes/2009/11/salmon-florentine?mbid=enws_row0326

Phew! So hopefully this gives you an idea of what I’ve been up to in the kitchen. I hope your lives are less hectic than mine at the moment, and I hope you’ve been making some delicious creations of your own.

Much Love,
Mama Cucina

Doing the can-can….

Still riding the high from reading Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver; I figured I’d try my hand at canning tomatoes. I had canned two different kinds of pickles earlier this year and it was a process. Canning really is a two person job, so when my friend Melissa came up with the idea of canning tomato sauce together, I jumped all over it.

I bought 20 pounds of tomatoes, and she took care of the canning jars, and the wine (the most important element of course). The process was a lot easier with two people (and one toddler); but the biggest surprise was the fact 20 pounds of tomatoes yielded only 12 pints of sauce. Since Melissa and I were splitting the fruit of our canning labors, this was only 6 pints a person (see how solid my math skills are right there? Bam!); and only 5 after we sampled a jar with some fresh basil fettuccine for dinner. This isn’t nearly enough sauce to get us through the winter, which means there will be tomato-palooza version 2.0. The truly alarming part of all this? I have 40 pounds of frozen whole tomatoes in my freezer right now, and 10 pounds of sauce. By the time winter arrives, I will have worked with 80 pounds of tomatoes. Holy crap, that’s a lot of tomatoes.

But, the difference between a can of store-bought crushed/diced tomatoes and the frozen tomatoes thawed out of the freezer is like night and day. We started freezing tomatoes a few years ago, and I don’t think we’ll ever stop. In the middle of frigid January, a minestrone soup made with fresh, farm grown organic tomatoes is like a bowl of summertime.

I had a few people interested in the tomato sauce recipe I used, so I’m posting it below. One of the most important things about canning tomatoes is keeping the pH level right, so please add 1 tablespoon of lemon juice (buy the squeezy lemon full of juice, don’t fresh squeeze!) into each pint jar before ladling the sauce in. The balsamic vinegar in this recipe will also help keep the acid level in check.

Mama’s Roasted Tomato Sauce

3lbs tomatoes

3 cloves garlic, peeled

1/2 t crushed red pepper

1/4 cup fresh basil or 2 T fresh rosemary (I use basil)

1 T balsamic vinegar

1/2 t kosher salt

Heat oven to 425 degrees. Cut each tomato in half lengthwise- arrange in a shallow baking pan cut side down; with the garlic and roasted red pepper. Bake for 40 minutes, or until the tomato skins pucker and start to turn brown. Let the tomatoes cool slightly, and then peel off the skins and discard.

For chunky tomato sauce, use the back of a fork or a potato masher to smash the garlic and tomatoes; and then blend in the basil, vinegar and salt. For smoother tomato sauce, put all tomatoes and garlic through a food processor until they reach the desired consistency. Stir in the basil, vinegar and salt.

Have canning jars and lids all sterilized (don’t worry about the rims). Pour 1 T of lemon juice into the bottom of each jar. Add tomato sauce, leaving 1/2” space at the top of the jar. Put the lids and rims on the jar to finger tightness. Submerge them in a boiling water bath for 30 minutes and then remove.

Once the jars are removed, let them cool (make sure the lids seal!) and then tighten the rims. They can be stored for up to one year.

Canning is a slightly labor intensive process; but so worth it. My advice is to start with a small project (pickles are good!), and work your way up to tomato sauce. I’m by no means a canning expert, but I’m happy to be your canning spirit guide (bonus to anyone who caught that Girls reference!); so email me with any questions.

Much Love,
Mama Cucina