Friday, June 7, 2013

Baked Ziti (Good for a Crowd, or a Freezer Meal)

by Sheila

I had book club at my house recently and had an extremely busy week leading up to it.  I won't bore you with all the details, but I had commitments (including company and travel) all day and every evening for the week leading up to book club.  I needed to prepare a meal for eight that would not require much hands-on time during our meeting.   I admit to taking the easy out and making this do-ahead recipe for our group for dinner.  It fits in with my food philosophy of being easy, foolproof, tasty and the added advantage of being able to be made ahead and/or prepared as a freezer meal.

Baked Ziti ready to go in the oven or freeze for later

Baked Ziti

(Adapted from a Cooking Light Recipe November 2003)

Yield:  8 servings (serving size 1 ½ cups)


1 (1-pound) package uncooked ziti

1 pound hot turkey Italian sausage

1 cup chopped onion

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 (8 ounce) can tomato paste

¼ t salt

¼ t black pepper

2 (14.5 ounce) cans petite diced tomatoes (undrained)

¼ cup chopped fresh basil

1T dried Italian Seasoning

Cooking spray

1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese

1 cup grated Parmesan cheese

2 cups sour cream

1.       Preheat oven to 350 degrees

2.      Cook pasta according to package directions.  Set aside.

3.      Remove casings from sausage.  Cook sausage, onion and garlic in non-stick skillet until sausage is browned, stirring to crumble.  Add the tomato paste, salt, pepper and tomatoes and bring to a boil.  Cover, reduce heat, and simmer 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

4.      Combine cooked pasta, sausage mixture, and basil.  Place half the mixture in a 4 quart casserole coated with cooking spray.  Top with half the sour cream, half the mozzarella, and half the Parmesan.  Repeat layers.  Bake at 350 degrees for 25 minutes or until bubbly.
Cooked sausage, onion & garlic
The cooked ziti combined with the cooked sausage and tomato mixture
Ready to spread the sour cream on the first layer
The side view - Yummy!

Note:  This can be made a day ahead and refrigerated.  When heating, bake for approximately 45 minutes.  Also, it can be frozen.  When heating, bake for approximately 1 hour, or more, depending on portion size.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

LéKué Healthful Cooking

by Ann

It’s fun to get packages delivered to the door.  It’s even more fun when they are surprises or free!  Those of you who are our faithful readers you know that Sheila, Heather and I are trying to grow our blog, and are changing the format somewhat.  If you missed the details and our interested in our changes, go back to my post from last Wednesday.

One of my personal goals is to review products that would be of interest to our readers.  My motivation for this is threefold.  I want to spread the word about products available to make life more convenient, beautiful, or fun; for inspiration for blog topics; and to get exciting “stuff in the mail.”  The day after last week’s post the Fed Ex guy came to my door with a package I had not expected; a sample product sent because of my Kitchen Assistant position with Sur la Table (click to see related post).  Receiving it made me even more anxious to start reviewing products on the blog, so here goes!

The product I received was a LéKué (pronounced lay-kway) silicon steam case with tray.  Although I had seen these in the store I hadn’t looked hard at them, thinking it wasn’t something I needed.  Using the product proved that theory wrong! 

When I first opened it, based upon its appearance I assumed that it was a microwave cooker, which it is, but is also much more.  Because it is made of surgical-grade platinum silicone it can go in the refrigerator, freezer, microwave, or oven up to 425°.

The version I received was clear with an orange removable tray.
I went on the Sur la Table website to find out about this product and found that LéKué produces a wide range of silicone kitchen products, and that this cooker can be purchased in multiple sizes, for which I received the 1-2 person version.  I then went on the LéKué website to see their more about this European company and its products.   

Both websites I visited had short helpful videos related to the use and care of the product.  The Sur la Table video showed preparing a piece of fish, which inspired me to do the same.  But first I wanted to steam up some spinach to go with the fish.  (Already looks like I need two of these – one for the veggies and one for the entrée.)

I used simple but flavorful ingredients to cook with a piece of salmon.  My hubby cut a shallot and a few small peppers into slivers and minced some fresh ginger.  I added the ginger to a mixture of low sodium soy sauce and a bit of honey to pour over the fish/veggie combination.  Yum.

I wanted to see how the device worked in the toaster oven, so put the prepared the fish to cook at 400°.  After seeing that the tray was not damaged in any way at that temperature for about five minutes my curiosity was satisfied, but we were ready to eat and the fish not quite done.  So, I finished it off in the microwave for another minute, which resulted in perfection.  The flavors were well melded and delicious.

Served with fresh pasta (from a cooking class) and spinach, half of a piece of fish apiece was perfect!
To clean, it went straight in the dishwasher, and came out looking like new.  The LéKué brand claims that by using this steamer foods are able to cook in their own juices and that healthy cooking need not be boring or bland.  My experiment with a somewhat bold mix of ingredients proved this to be true!

I hope to be reviewing more products in the near future, and will categorize them under our "Finds" listing at the top of our site.
Stay tuned to see what further surprises the Fed Ex man brings!

Sunday, June 2, 2013

The Retirement Watch

by Heather

Traditionally, in most industries, when one retires after years of service, that person is given a retirement watch (although how that got started, I don't know --- why would you need a watch once you're retired?).

 Nordstrom's orange and cream color-blocked sweater; Chico's tan crops; Nordstrom's gold and cream striped tank

In education, that doesn't usually happen.
Any money given to a school or district almost always has the stipulation that the money can only be used for the children, which is probably how it should be.
However, that means when an educator retires, he/she doesn't expect anything other than a pat on the back.

 Chico's gold and orange bangle; Alexis Bittar cream, orange, and gold bangles; Michael Kors watch and purse; Juicy Couture gold and orange bracelet; BCBG gold and orange ring

But, when you have dear friends such as I have, that's just not enough in their book.
As my time as an educator came to an end in May, the FACS (Family and Consumer Science -- formerly Home Ec) teachers in my district held a tea for me.
It was an unexpected honor that almost moved me to tears
(not quite, though, since I'm really looking forward to retirement!).

 Vince Camuto orange, tan, white, and gold sandals (Macy's)

Technically, I retired years ago from my job as a high school principal but returned to work as a high school teacher. I wasn't ready to stay home,  but didn't want the  24/7 hours of being a high school administrator. This time I really am retiring and making a commitment to myself not to work full-time anymore, anywhere.
Diana O., a long-time friend,  colleague, and co-coach with me of the cheer team back in our younger days (what were we thinking??), along with two of my former bosses, Chris E. and Sara H., hosted the most beautiful tea last month at Diana's lovely home. The wonderful ladies who attended (all current or former FACS teachers) chipped in toward a most generous gift card and other thoughtful presents and cards.
Co-bloggers Ann and Sheila were also there as great friends and former FACS teachers. 

Juicy Couture gold necklace and gold/orange necklace

Now, back to that gift card.
You know that I couldn't let that sit in my pocket too long --
it was burning a hole.
What to spend it on that would bring me
happy memories of those ladies and my time spent in education?
A watch, of course.
And the perfect watch just happened to show up on Pinterest -- an orange (my favorite color) and gold Michael Kors. I tracked it down and then, magically, it appeared on my doorstep several days later.  I've been wearing it like a badge of honor for the past several weeks.

Michael Kors orange and gold watch (Macy's)

I still have money left over (I told you they were generous!) and I'm waiting for inspiration.
Clothing, jewelry, chrome for my motorcycle? Decisions, decisions...
What does a retired lady need?
I have everything already that's most important:
great friends, wonderful family members, good health, and a husband with whom I want to grow old (and a gift card still burning a hole in my pocket).