Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Simple but Special

I love reasons to do special things. Valentine's used to be a hallmark holiday for me, that is before Que. It's his birthday, so as a couple it has always been special. This year I was prepared to make special things happen (and unlike previous years) on a strict budget. Previously, we celebrated the day as proud and hungry consumers. Proving our love with store bought tokens. Though lovely and yummy, we just aren't those kind of people anymore. Don't misunderstand, we still give presents and buy things, just not like before.

In the past, our consumption would include all sorts of stuff like a new dress that I'd never wear again with accessories to match, flowers with chocolates, dinner out, plus gifts. Don't get me wrong, those memories make me happy. It's just not us anymore and that's okay. These days its being together that makes something special.

Valentines breakfastArmed with Pinterest, I planned the menu for the day and ordered his secret present from Amazon.  For breakfast I made heart shaped pancakes, heart shaped turkey bacon and heart shaped cinnamon rolls. Yes, I know that pancakes and cinnamon rolls are redundant but they are his favorite breakfast items. I didn't reinvent the wheel, pancakes were from a mix and rolls from the tube. I cut fresh strawberries instead of syrup for the pancakes to ease the massive sugar load. 

Dad was too full but Kaeden had a puppy love lunch. It was a pb and j. I made a heart shaped with the same cookie cutter from breakfast. I used some oreos as the puppy's ears with raisins for eyes and nose. He spent about 30 seconds looking at the puppy face before devouring it. I didn't get a chance to snap a pic, so here is the inspiration.

Dinner was Que's favorite, a baked ziti. It's a recipe that I learned as a child. Ziti is one of my most requested dishes. So to express my appreciation for you, my readers, I am going to share this recipe below. Thank you for sharing this journey with us!

 For desert we made variation of lemon pound cake. We used our favorite recipe and topped with strawberries, a simple strawberry syrup and the lemon icing that is in the original recipe. It was a moist, light, fluffy cake with just the right balance of sweet and sour. It was like strawberry lemonade in a cake. YUM! 

Que waited patiently until after dinner for his gift. I ordered a good starter telescope on Amazon. We love star gazing. He especially loves to just sit and watch the sky for hours on end with his naked eyes, but Kaeden gets bored.  Kaeden likes meteor showers and eclipses because he can see something other than twinkling little lights. Enter telescope. Now, regardless of the (lack of) celestial activity, star gazing is a definite boy (bonding) activity. Mom will wait until spring/summer. 

The day turned out to be a success. A lot of people are thinking, "Is that all?'. Yes, it is all. We ate well, enjoyed each other's company and every one was happy. That's the point of days like this. Special can be simple. Hopefully this simple but happy memory will linger in our thoughts for a long time.

Stay posted for our lives as the golden gypsies!

Baked Ziti
1 package of mild Italian style turkey sausage*
1/2 lb to 1 lb ground beef
1 lb ziti noodles
2 jars of pasta(tomato) sauce 
large container of Ricotta cheese*
4 -5 cups of shredded cheese*
Italian seasoning ( basil, oregano, thyme)
mince garlic
1 cup diced onion
large lasagna pan/roaster tin*

*Notes: First, I am not a measuring cook. I eyeball everything. I have been making this particular recipe for 18 or so years from memory. I am going to try my best to give measurements so you can duplicate what I make, but feel free to lessen quantities as this is very meaty and cheesy. (It's a two meat and five cheese pasta!) I have even tried this with gluten free pasta and it adapts well. 
Pork sausage works well, we just don't eat it. Most turkey sausages are in swine casings so I use the insides only, but sliced link sausage is good too.  For the Ricotta, I use about 2/3s of a 32 oz container but I love cheese, a 24 oz package is plenty. When you mix the ricotta with the sauce, it will be an orange color with a thick consistency. If it is really light orange too much ricotta, too red not enough. I usually buy large 4 cups mozzarella and 2 cups small Italian cheese blend and use nearly all but a cup or so. A 9x11 would be too shallow for this recipe. It will yield 8-10 man adult sized servings so needs a lasagna worthy pan or roaster. 

Brown sausage and beef with onions and garlic. Season meat with salt, pepper, and Italian herbs. Once the meats are cooked through with no pink, drain. 

Boil pasta al dente, drain. It's crucial that the pasta is not fully cooked, it will finish in the oven. 

Combine ziti, meat mixture, sauce and half the ricotta in roaster pan. Once ingredients are mixed well, begin to add ricotta in small quantities until sauce is thick and orange. 

Mix in a cup (or two) of shredded cheese. Mix together until ziti, meat, sauce and cheese are throughout. Cover top with remainder of cheese. 

Bake @ 325 until cheese is melted and slightly browning on edges. It looks much like a done lasagna. Cut a square and enjoy with a salad.