Saturday, 28 January 2017

Baked Ziti (but no Ziti)

I'm pretty sure there are about eight billion incarnations of lasagna.  And I will rarely tire of trying new ones.  Although you have to kind of watch - because you could be eating the exact same thing over and over.  And when you write a blog about trying out new recipes can result is a REALLY big gap between posts.

I have been wanting to share this with you for ages. 
It's meaty, cheesy, and makes a ton.  So it's perfect for a crowd or if you need leftovers to last a few days.
Start by frying up some onions.  Make sure you get em nice and golden colored.

Then add a whole buncha beef.

While that is cooking, mix up some cheeses.  Mozzarella, Parmesan, and Ricotta.


The egg also goes into the cheeses.  But "someone" forgot.  *sigh*
Okay - now back to the beef.  Once it's nice and browned, drain any excess fat and add the garlic.

Then the tomatoes.

And the tomato sauce.

Stir it all together and add a whole buncha spices.

Back to the cheese.  Add the cooked pasta to the cheese.
Now - I know the title says "ZITI" and this is PENNE, but Ziti isn't exactly considered standard pasta in a prairie border town.  And I failed to pick some up when I was visiting the big, fancy city.  So penne it was.
Not like it mattered - trust me.

Once the sauce has simmered, add a cup or two to the cheese and pasta mixture.

Then, in a deep 9 x 13 inch baking dish, start layering.  First the pasta.

Then a layer of sauce.  Then a whole buncha cheese.  (to say there's a lot of cheese in this dish is the understatement of the century)

Repeat until all the pasta, sauce, and cheese is used up.  Then bake.

 I have to say that this pasta dish is perfectly balanced with the meat to pasta to cheese ratio.  The flavor is fantastic and the leftovers get better and better.  Just like lasagna.
Although if I told you that it was easier than lasagna, I'd be lying - because it's still quite a bit of work.  But without the fuss of the lasagna noodles (I might be the only one who cooks extra noodles because at least one or two for sure rip).
It also freezes like a dream.  So if you wanted to make it in smaller containers, you could absolutely do that and not even know that it had been in the freezer.  I've done them in 8 x 8 inch square pans for this purpose and it serves me very well.
Now - if you're lucky enough to have access to ziti, I encourage you to use it!  But penne is a spectacular substitute.  I also encourage you to send me a bag also! 
Much love to you and your tastebuds!
xoxo - Heather
Baked Ziti
2 Tablespoons olive oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 whole large yellow onion, diced
2 pounds ground beef
1 28 ounce can whole tomatoes, with juice
2 14.5 ounce cans tomato sauce
2 teaspoons Italian seasoning
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
Salt and pepper to taste
16 ounces (weight) ziti or penne pasta, cooked until not quite al dente
1 15 ounce tub whole milk ricotta cheese
1 1/2 pound mozzarella cheese, grated
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
1 whole egg
Fresh minced parsley (if desired)
  1. Heat olive oil in a large pot over medium heat.  Add the onions and garlic and cook for about 5 minutes, until softened and golden. 
  2. Add the ground beef and cook until browned.  Drain excess fat, but leave a small amount behind for extra flavor and moisture.
  3. Add the tomatoes, tomato sauce, salt, pepper, Italian seasoning, and red pepper flakes.  Stir together, bring to a simmer, and cook for 25 - 30 minutes.
  4. Once the sauce has simmered for 25 - 30 minutes, remove 3 - 4 cups to a new bowl and allow to cool.
  5. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
  6. In a very large bowl, stir together the ricotta cheese, 2 cups of mozzarella cheese, parmesan, egg, and salt and pepper.  Do not mix completely!  Add the cooled meat sauce and stir again. 
  7. Cook the pasta until not quite al dente and rinse with cold water to stop the cooking process and cool the pasta.  Add the cooled pasta to the cheese and stir to combine.  Don't over-combine, there should still be lumps left.
  8. Pour half the pasta into a 9 x 13 baking dish.  Spread half the remaining meat sauce over the pasta, then top with half the remaining cheese.  Repeat with the pasta, sauce, and cheese.
  9. Bake in the preheated oven for 20 minutes or until bubbling.  Remove and let stand for 5 minutes before serving.  Sprinkle with fresh parsley if desired.
  10. FREEZER MEAL:  I like to split this up into aluminum 8 x 8 pans.  Prepare as above, cover tightly with two or three layers of aluminum foil.  To cook:  preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Bake from completely frozen 45 - 50 minutes or until heated through.  Remove the foil and bake another 10 minutes.

Friday, 20 January 2017

Taco Beef

Do you ever worry about preservatives?  I go through phases where I'm like "damn, that is probably full of preservatives - I should make it from scratch and it'll be more healthy for me".

Like - how does some of those famous breads stay good so long?  Erk.  That's not right.

And those packaged taco seasoning mixes?  Are they good for you or bad for you?  But then I wonder if the spices in the spice aisle are okay.

It's a dark, deep, and long rabbit hole.

I do think that making things from scratch often offers a depth of flavor that just isn't there with pre-packaged things.  I mean, I understand where convenience is a huge factor, but in my complete and honest opinion - throwing all of this stuff together to cook up doesn't take that much longer.

Heat the oil in a pan and add the onion.

Cook until softened and add in all the spices.

Don't forget the garlic!

Stir to coat the onions in the spice mixture.  Then add in the beef.

Then cook until the beef is just cooked through.  And add in the tomato sauce.

And the chicken broth, apple cider vinegar, and brown sugar.

Reduce the heat and simmer until the liquid is almost gone.  It should thicken and reduce as you cook it.  But watch as you don't want the meat to be completely dry.

Then put into your favorite shell and EAT!!  As you can see from my very dirty plate - I was A. HUNGRY and B. not really caring about how fancy the pictures looked.


There are a couple of different versions of taco seasoning available at the grocery stores, but this one beats them all - hands down.  It's well spiced, but not too much as often is the case.  In addition, you can up or reduce the cayenne depending on your heat proclivities.  Which is awesome.

Serve it in your vessel of choice with your favorite toppings (I'm a plain Jane cheese, sour cream, and lettuce girl).

I would definitely encourage you to double the recipe.  Then you can freeze half - or in smaller batches, to whip out on a busy evening.

The only question that remains.....  How many tacos can you eat? 

I refuse to admit my taco count.  It's high though.
PS - I used this taco meat to make homemade Crunchwrap Supremes (stay tuned for THAT) and they came out awesome.  I made extra to have at work over the week and it was just as good on day one as on day 4.  I absolutely recommend making a big batch to freeze!  Tacos - ANYTIME.

Enjoy! - Heather