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Friday, December 29, 2017

Baked Ziti: An Easy Lasagna Alternative

Baked Ziti

Baked Ziti is cookin’ in Stroud’s kitchen.  Don’t be fooled.  Clearasil is not in the recipe. But if you like lasagna and want a different take, with a lot less effort, read on.

I know my faithful readers are both dying to spit some jokes at me, so let’s get those out of the way.

Hear about the new Italian TV show?  Sex and the Ziti.

Saw a woman with big Zitis walking down the street. Pick her up?  Nope, I pasta.

Are you fond of Ziti?  No, but I love Naples.

I make a great casserole.  Zitiously?

Don't just stand there, ziti down and talk to me.

I told my girlfriend I couldn’t make it to her house for spaghetti.  She said, Oh, that’s a ziti.

So now you’re thinking, enough is too much.  I agree.  Let’s pour some wine, move along to the recipe, and get this pasta started.

Baked Ziti

Preheat oven to 375ºF

Butter a 9 X 13 inch baking dish

1 (16 ounce) package of Ziti
1 ½ half cups ricotta cheese
5 Cups of shredded mozzarella Cheese
1 egg beaten
A couple of healthy splashes of olive oil
¼ Cup Parmesan cheese
18 ounce can whole tomatoes, with juice
salt and pepper to taste
½ Onion finely diced
4 Large cloves of garlic
1 Heaping teaspoon Herbes de Provence
1 Teaspoon oregano
(or use herbs of your choice)

Heat a large pot of salted water to the boil, add the ziti and cook for 9 minutes, drain and rinse. Should be al dente.  Don’t get it too soft.  Remember it’s going in the oven for 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, put the un-drained tomatoes, onion, garlic, olive oil and herbs in a food processor and blend to make a marinara sauce. Taste and add salt and pepper to suit.

After draining the pasta very well, put it in a large bowl and mix in the ricotta cheese, beaten egg,  and 2 ½ cups mozzarella.  When fully mixed, add 1 ½ cups marinara sauce and mix again.

Cover the bottom of the baking dish with a layer of the pasta mixture, then a thin layer of marinara sauce, then a scattering of mozzarella cheese. Continue to layer until the all the pasta is used.

Finish with a final layer of marinara sauce, sprinkled with the remainder of the mozzarella and dust the top with Parmesan.

Bake in the pre-heated over for 30 minutes, remove it from the oven and allow it to rest for 15 minutes before serving.

The marinara sauce adds a bit of sweetness, so I like to serve a dry Italian white to accompany.  Rather have a light red wine?  Sure, why not?

Salad and Italian bread optional.

You realize you can make this delicious dish in under an hour?  Almost as fast as ordering a pizza, a lot more satisfying and at a fraction of the cost. Plus, it will easily feed 6 to 8 of your coarse, wine swilling friends.

So, how much did it cost?  Just a guess, but I’d say about twelve bucks and not a ziti more.

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Camino Island by John Grisham

Camino Island

Camino Island, John Grisham’s latest doesn’t start out as a page-turner, but that’s how it ends up.  Along the way, you’ll meet thieves, a bookstore owner in the town of Santa Rosa, on Camino Island, Florida, and a young and semi-failed novelist and former resident.

A motley group of thieves, who seem to have little in common besides greed, plan a perfect heist of rare manuscripts from the Princeton University library.  With the manuscripts insured for twenty-five million dollars, insurance investigators snap into action, along with the FBI. Do they work together? In which book have you ever heard of two agencies working in harmony? But, in this case dual purposes make perfect sense.  Insurance companies don’t care about the crime only the recovery of property, and the FBI only cares about arresting the perps.

Mercer Mann, a less than successful novelist and former resident of Camino Island, is recruited to return to her childhood home and go under-cover. The target is Bruce Cable, who runs a successful independent bookstore, but makes most of his money dealing in rare books.

Let’s take a look at the unfolding.  First off, as Grisham admits in the end notes, he knows nothing about the Princeton Library, or the nuts and bolts of robbery and the result is his robbers are as interesting as cold oatmeal, which is odd because he’s known for character development, as much as compelling plots.  His books, like The Firm, The Pelican Brief and the more recent Rogue Lawyer, all grab you from page one and sweep you along on a twisting, turning ride.  Not so with Camino Island.  But, if you plod through the first 15% (yes, I read it on Kindle), you’re treated to some real John Grisham. You’ll know Bruce Cable and Mercer Mann as well as you know Mitch McDeere (The Firm), Darby Shaw (The Pelican Brief), and Danilo Silva (The Partner).  Once Grisham develops a character, you’re hooked into a plot with unexpected detours, unexpected pleasures, and a raucous ending.

A cardinal rule of writing is, write what you know about.  Well, as an experienced practicing attorney, John Grisham knows the law and he also knows people.  When he combines those with an ingenious plot, he has a winner.  Camino Island is another winner, but like an experienced gambler, you have to be willing to accept a few bad hands before the money rolls in.

Friday, December 22, 2017

Raisin Cane Cake

Raisin Cane Cake

Yes, I’ve written about raisin cake before, but now a quick recipe is even more essential.

You liked the Sweet Hot Mustard and the Hot Maple Pecans, but you’re looking for something quick, but still substantial to go with that coffee after a scrumptious meal.  Yeah, you have a sweet tooth and I'm right there with you.

But, in this squeeze of time inappropriately called the Holiday Season, what with Christmas and Hanukkah and New Year’s coming faster than your credit card bill, you need a dessert with a taste worth bragging about, but doesn’t mash another time user onto your already bulging schedule.

How about my Raisin Cane Cake?  Put it together in fifteen minutes, slide it in the preheated oven and wait for the timer to go off fifty minutes later.  That gives you time to serve your greedy guests and hold up your end of the very droll conversation while your dessert quietly bakes and comes out ready to make you shine.

Time’s a wasting.  Let’s get started.

Raisin Cane Cake
Serves 6-8

Preheat oven to 350ºF
Butter a bread pan.

2 Cups raisins, boiled for ten minutes. Save a cup of juice.
¼ Cup butter + butter for greasing the pan
1 Egg
¾ Cup cane sugar
1 Teaspoon each of cinnamon and nutmeg
1 ½ Cups all-purpose flour
1 Teaspoon baking soda

This is quickest if you organize the timing.  Put the raisins on to boil.  I used 2 cups of water.

Heat the butter enough to make it soft.  Immediately, use an electric beater to cream the butter, sugar, and egg.  Add the spices, flour and baking soda. 

Add the cup of raisin juice and put the raisins on a plate to cool a bit.  After beating in the raisin juice, blend in the raisins.

Put the batter in the buttered bread pan and slam it in the oven for 50 minutes.  Check doneness with a knife.  Comes out clean?  Done!

Whip some heavy cream if you want a topping.

That’s it, the whole cake done in a jiffy.  Satisfied guests. Satisfied spouse (even better).  Applause, please!

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Hot Maple Pecans

Hot Maple Pecans

So, you made the Sweet Hot Mustard, but you have more friends coming over, or although you have your close friends covered, you have a few more semi-friends and a few tolerable colleagues on your “maybe I should give them a gift” list.  Well, once again, as both my faithful readers have learned, I am here to help.  Think the Sweet Hot Mustard was easy to make?  Well, check out Hot Maple Pecans!

You may be asking yourself, where the hell does your kitchen counselor come up with all these indescribably delicious recipes. I’ll tell you if you promise not to divulge my culinary secrets. 

Some I make up.  Some come from a collection of family favorites.  Many come from friends who are much more skilled in the kitchen than I. Some catch my eye on the net and serve as a basis, from which I always diverge.

But, one thing I can promise.  I have made these recipes in my own kitchen before I ever put them in my blog.  I do this because I love my devoted followers, both of them.  Ok, maybe love is too strong a word.  I severely and reverently like both my devoted readers and am fond of the rest of you.

Enough saccharine sentimentality and on to a sweet little treat that you can add to your repertoire and give as special gifts to close friends, as well as those you tolerate.

Hot Maple Pecans
1 lb pecan halves
3 T butter - melted
1/4 Cup maple syrup 
1 T brown sugar 
3/4 t salt
1/2 t ground red pepper

Plus butter for greasing your rimmed baking pan. 

Preheat oven to 375ºF (190ºC) and to prevent sticking, either butter your baking pan, or line with parchment paper. 

Mix the butter, maple syrup, brown sugar, salt and red pepper until well blended.  Heat on low only until the sugar is dissolved. Remove from heat. Toss in the pecans and stir briefly until well coated.  Spread in a single layer on the baking sheet and bake for 10-12 minutes, stirring one or twice. Allow to cool.

You can sub cinnamon for the red pepper, but I never would.  If the bastards can’t handle a little bit of spice, meal’s over!

So there it is, another quick fix to the quivering fear that you may not have a gift for those you barely like. 

See how important it is to subscribe to my blog?  Think of the problems I’ve already solved for you!  And as you sprint to the four corners of the earth this holiday season, Merry Christmas everyone!  Especially you, Tiny Tits Tim!