A Culinary Journal

A Culinary Journal

Classically trained NYC chef...turned California mom


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Easiest Dinner Ever. No-Boil Baked Ziti With Bison Meatballs

Easiest Dinner Ever. No-Boil Baked Ziti With Bison Meatballs

Baked ziti (ziti al forno) is a true comfort food to me.  A warm, baked, cheesy pasta dish bubbling from the oven is true comfort food.  Baked pasta dishes such as this have been around since the Middle Ages where nobles served such dishes at banquets. Once popular all over Italy, these days it is considered more of a staple dish for southern Italian towns such as Sicily and Campania. Here in the United States, baked ziti has remained a standby in Italian-American homes and restaurants for generations.

My recipe for baked ziti makes whipping up this dish pretty easy.  This is a “no-boil” recipe, meaning you can assemble the entire dish with uncooked pasta and then pop it in the oven to cook.  I added a simple bison-pork meatball to this recipe to add some protein into this pasta dish, making it even more satisfying.  As with all recipes that call for tomato sauce, I prefer and encourage everyone to make their own sauce.  My simple tomato sauce is pretty easy and does not include added sugar–a common ingredient in store-bought options.  That said, it takes a bit of time and planning.  Weekdays are taxing as it is, schedules are packed; I get it.  You can absolutely substitute store-bought sauce, which makes this one-pot meal even faster to whip up.  (My favorite jarred sauce is Mario Batali’s Marinara Sauce.)

baked ziti

For this recipe, I actually use dried rigatoni pasta instead of traditional ziti because, to me, the ridges on a rigatoni noodle allow for the sauce to adhere slightly better.  You can, however, use traditional ziti noodles or any other tubular pasta, such as penne–the cooking time should not change. 
baked ziti

I am a huge meatball fan; honestly, I could eat meatballs and sauce everyday.  There are many ways to make good meatballs, depending on what you want to use them for.  In this recipe, I like to use ground bison and a little bit of ground pork.  Bison is one of the leanest, most nutritious red meats available.  Bison are typically raised on open ranches and fed grass.  As a result, the meat contains less (if any) artificial antibiotics, hormones and steroids, and the production is more eco-friendly.  It is also one of the lowest-calorie meats: a 1/4 pound bison burger contains about 146 calories, about 20% less than a similarly sized ground beef burger.  Ground bison is also lean and lower in saturated fat and cholesterol, making it a go-to for me in many recipes that call for ground beef. Being that I love meatballs as much as I do, adding these to my baked ziti seems perfect.  
baked ziti

One last note to my readers, I am very excited to be a new publisher on Yummly.  If you are not familiar, Yummly is an amazing recipe sharing site so be sure to check it out.  If you like the recipes you see on my blog please use the “Yum” button (located by the social media sharing buttons below the recipes on my posts) to save your recipes to your personal recipe box.  Simmer + Sauce’s Yummly page can be seen by clicking here.  Thank you!

No-Boil Baked Ziti With Bison Meatballs

October 22, 2017
: 6
: 30 min
: 1 hr 10 min
: 1 hr 40 min
: easy

By:

Ingredients
  • 1 recipe of my Simple Tomato Sauce, or 1 16-ounce store-bought low sugar tomato basil or marinara sauce
  • 1 pound ground bison
  • 1/4 pound ground pork
  • 3/4 cup plain panko bread crumbs
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 lb. dried rigatoni pasta
  • 1 lb. mozzarella cheese, thinly sliced
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 1/2-3 cups cold water
  • 1/4 cup fresh basil leaves for garnish
Directions
  • Step 1 Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
  • Step 2 In a medium mixing bowl add the ground bison, ground pork, bread crumbs, egg, salt, pepper and garlic powder. Mix well to incorporate.
  • Step 3 Using your hands, form the mixture into balls about 1-inch in diameter. Set aside.
  • Step 4 Using a 9×13-inch baking dish, spread half the uncooked rigatoni in one layer on the bottom of the dish.
  • Step 5 Place half the uncooked meatballs down next. Drizzle the olive oil over the pasta. Spoon about half the tomato sauce evenly over the noodles and meatballs. Next, spread out half of the mozzarella, filling in the gaps between the noodles and meatballs.
  • Step 6 Repeat the layering process with the remaining ingredients, ending with the cheese. If you need to hold this dish and bake it later, cover and refrigerate at this point.
  • Step 7 When ready to bake, add 2 1/2 cups of water to the layered ziti dish. Press down lightly with a spatula so the liquid goes everywhere.  Add an additional 1/2 cup of water if needed to mostly cover the pasta.  Cover tightly with aluminum foil. This is important as it will help steam/cook the pasta. Place on the center rack of the oven and bake for 1 hour until the rigatoni is tender and cooked through. Remove the foil and cook uncovered for an additional 5-10 minutes.
  • Step 8 Turn the oven onto broil and lightly cook the ziti for a few seconds until lightly browned and the sauce is bubbling. Watch closely, as it will burn very easily.
  • Step 9 Let cool slightly. Garnish with whole basil leaves and serve.
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Crispy Halvah Cookies With Chocolate Chunks And Flaky Sea Salt

Crispy Halvah Cookies With Chocolate Chunks And Flaky Sea Salt

These are halvah cookies. Halvah, also known as “halwa,” “halva,” “halava,” and “helva,” is a broad term used to describe a dense, sweet confection made with a base of flour or nut butter, sometimes vegetables (typically carrots), but most commonly with sesame tahini. Halvah is eaten in many countries: all across the Middle East, Asia, North Africa, the Balkans, the United States and Israel. In the U.S., a sesame-based version is by far the most common, originally brought here in the early 20th century by Jewish immigrants. Although I’ve never made it, this form of halvah is supposed to be simple to make from scratch, consisting primarily of tahini, ground sesame butter and sugar or honey. This was the kind of halvah I grew up eating in New York City, which we normally got from the world-famous Zabars.  It was fresh, easy to locate and came in a variety of flavors.

Halvah is not your typical confection, it has an interesting texture: a bit crumbly but also fluffy at the same time.  My favorite is marble, with chocolate swirled in, although the pistachio is not bad either.  I wanted to try halvah in a cookie mainly because I Iove cookies, I love halvah, and I have never seen the two put together.  Halvah mixed into the dough makes these cookies slightly crispy yet delicate when baked, with great nutty chocolate flavor.

halvah cookies

When I was last in New York, I stopped by Chelsea Market, one of my favorite places on earth.  There is now a booth there, Seed + Mill, that is dedicated to only sesame seed products, including tahini and lots of halvah. Seed + Mill’s selection includes traditional halvah varieties like marble, pistachio or rose oil as well as unique flavor combinations like white chocolate & lemon, ginger, cardamom or sea salt dark chocolate. Their halvah is gluten-free and kosher, and many are also vegan.

I had trouble locating this sweet confection in Northern California, but recently learned it is out here: apparently you can find it at World Market in their International food section–who knew?!?!  The best halvah, if eating plain, is obviously fresh halvah, so if you are interested, I suggest you try making your own.  Melissa Clark posted a great recipe in The New York Times on how to make this sweet treat–this is the one I would try. Unless you are planning a trip to NYC or Israel, you may need to be flexible about where and when you get it.  (My son has a wonderful Israeli teacher who plans to go back to Israel in a few months for a bar mitzvah.  I gave her some of these cookies to try, and she gave them a big thumbs up–I take that very seriously!  She said that she will bring me some traditional Israeli halvah after her trip.  I can’t wait.)  But don’t let the halvah stop you, for this recipe, especially because the halvah is being baked, you certainly can get by with the store-bought version.  The delicious sesame flavor will be there as well as the wonderful crispness.

Crispy Halvah Chocolate Chunk Cookies

October 21, 2017
: 20
: 15 min
: 15 min
: 30 min
: easy

By:

Ingredients
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • dash of salt
  • 1 stick unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 3/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 6-ounce package semisweet chocolate chunks
  • 3/4 cup marble or plain halvah, roughly chopped
  • flaky sea salt
Directions
  • Step 1 Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside.
  • Step 2 In a medium mixing bowl add the flour, baking soda and dash of salt. Mix well and set aside.
  • Step 3 Using a kitchen mixer, such as a KitchenAid, fitted with a paddle attachment, add the butter and both sugars. Beat low until well incorporated.
  • Step 4 With the mixer on low, add the egg and vanilla and beat until just mixed.
  • Step 5 Remove the bowl from the mixer and fold in the chocolate chunks and halvah, being careful not to over mix.
  • Step 6 Using your hands, scoop about 2 tablespoons of the dough and roll into a dough ball.  Repeat with the remaining dough. Sprinkle some salt flakes on each cookie. Be sure to leave enough space so cookies are not overcrowded when baking.
  • Step 7 Bake cookies for about 15 minutes, do not over-bake. Remove from the oven and let cool. The cookies will firm up once they sit for a while.
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Dark N’ Stormy Cocktail

Dark N’ Stormy Cocktail

This is what happens when I read Esquire Magazine; my husband is to blame for that!  Dark N’ Stormy seems like the perfect cocktail right about now, given the political climate and the fact that Halloween is just around the corner.  Dark & Stormy is a rum based drink and the official drink of Bermuda, where is was born.  There is nothing fancy about it: it has ginger beer and lime, but the key to this tasty drink is good quality rum and the right balance of rum to ginger beer.  In my eyes, Esquire got the Dark N’ Stormy recipe just right.Dark N' Stormy

According to a Gosling Rum tale, this drink was invented more than 100 years ago.  In Bermuda, around 1860, the Gosling family was experimenting with making rum, which led to the creation  of Goslings Black Seal, a dark, distinct, full-bodied ‘old rum” as they say.  At the same time, the British Royal Navy began brewing ginger beer, according to legend, to help combat seasickness. What happened next was that a bartender at the Royal Naval Officer’s Club added a splash of the local rum to their spicy homemade ginger beer. A sailor had a taste and described the ominous appearance as “the color of a cloud only a fool or a dead man would sail under.”  The Dark N’ Stormy was created. This is a great rum drink to try if you love rum.  Some consider the lime juice optional, but I think it’s an absolute must.

Dark N' Stormy

Dark N' Stormy

October 20, 2017
: 1
: 5 min
:
: 5 min
: easy

By:

Ingredients
  • 2 ounces dark rum
  • 3 ounces ginger beer
  • 1/2 ounce freshly squeezed lime juice
Directions
  • Step 1 Using a cocktail shaker add a good amount of ice, the rum and the fresh lime juice. Shake well.
  • Step 2 Strain into a class half filled with crushed ice. Top with ginger beer.
  • Step 3 Garnish with a lime slice.
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Easiest Dinner Ever. No-Boil Baked Ziti With Bison Meatballs

Easiest Dinner Ever. No-Boil Baked Ziti With Bison Meatballs

Baked ziti (ziti al forno) is a true comfort food to me.  A warm, baked, cheesy pasta dish bubbling from the oven is true comfort food.  Baked pasta dishes such as this have been around since the Middle Ages where nobles served such dishes at banquets. Once popular all over Italy, these days it is considered more of a staple dish for southern Italian towns such as Sicily and Campania. Here in the United States, baked ziti has remained a standby in Italian-American homes and restaurants for generations.

My recipe for baked ziti makes whipping up this dish pretty easy.  This is a “no-boil” recipe, meaning you can assemble the entire dish with uncooked pasta and then pop it in the oven to cook.  I added a simple bison-pork meatball to this recipe to add some protein into this pasta dish, making it even more satisfying.  As with all recipes that call for tomato sauce, I prefer and encourage everyone to make their own sauce.  My simple tomato sauce is pretty easy and does not include added sugar–a common ingredient in store-bought options.  That said, it takes a bit of time and planning.  Weekdays are taxing as it is, schedules are packed; I get it.  You can absolutely substitute store-bought sauce, which makes this one-pot meal even faster to whip up.  (My favorite jarred sauce is Mario Batali’s Marinara Sauce.)

baked ziti

For this recipe, I actually use dried rigatoni pasta instead of traditional ziti because, to me, the ridges on a rigatoni noodle allow for the sauce to adhere slightly better.  You can, however, use traditional ziti noodles or any other tubular pasta, such as penne–the cooking time should not change. 
baked ziti

I am a huge meatball fan; honestly, I could eat meatballs and sauce everyday.  There are many ways to make good meatballs, depending on what you want to use them for.  In this recipe, I like to use ground bison and a little bit of ground pork.  Bison is one of the leanest, most nutritious red meats available.  Bison are typically raised on open ranches and fed grass.  As a result, the meat contains less (if any) artificial antibiotics, hormones and steroids, and the production is more eco-friendly.  It is also one of the lowest-calorie meats: a 1/4 pound bison burger contains about 146 calories, about 20% less than a similarly sized ground beef burger.  Ground bison is also lean and lower in saturated fat and cholesterol, making it a go-to for me in many recipes that call for ground beef. Being that I love meatballs as much as I do, adding these to my baked ziti seems perfect.  
baked ziti

One last note to my readers, I am very excited to be a new publisher on Yummly.  If you are not familiar, Yummly is an amazing recipe sharing site so be sure to check it out.  If you like the recipes you see on my blog please use the “Yum” button (located by the social media sharing buttons below the recipes on my posts) to save your recipes to your personal recipe box.  Simmer + Sauce’s Yummly page can be seen by clicking here.  Thank you!

No-Boil Baked Ziti With Bison Meatballs

October 22, 2017
: 6
: 30 min
: 1 hr 10 min
: 1 hr 40 min
: easy

By:

Ingredients
  • 1 recipe of my Simple Tomato Sauce, or 1 16-ounce store-bought low sugar tomato basil or marinara sauce
  • 1 pound ground bison
  • 1/4 pound ground pork
  • 3/4 cup plain panko bread crumbs
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 lb. dried rigatoni pasta
  • 1 lb. mozzarella cheese, thinly sliced
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 1/2-3 cups cold water
  • 1/4 cup fresh basil leaves for garnish
Directions
  • Step 1 Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
  • Step 2 In a medium mixing bowl add the ground bison, ground pork, bread crumbs, egg, salt, pepper and garlic powder. Mix well to incorporate.
  • Step 3 Using your hands, form the mixture into balls about 1-inch in diameter. Set aside.
  • Step 4 Using a 9×13-inch baking dish, spread half the uncooked rigatoni in one layer on the bottom of the dish.
  • Step 5 Place half the uncooked meatballs down next. Drizzle the olive oil over the pasta. Spoon about half the tomato sauce evenly over the noodles and meatballs. Next, spread out half of the mozzarella, filling in the gaps between the noodles and meatballs.
  • Step 6 Repeat the layering process with the remaining ingredients, ending with the cheese. If you need to hold this dish and bake it later, cover and refrigerate at this point.
  • Step 7 When ready to bake, add 2 1/2 cups of water to the layered ziti dish. Press down lightly with a spatula so the liquid goes everywhere.  Add an additional 1/2 cup of water if needed to mostly cover the pasta.  Cover tightly with aluminum foil. This is important as it will help steam/cook the pasta. Place on the center rack of the oven and bake for 1 hour until the rigatoni is tender and cooked through. Remove the foil and cook uncovered for an additional 5-10 minutes.
  • Step 8 Turn the oven onto broil and lightly cook the ziti for a few seconds until lightly browned and the sauce is bubbling. Watch closely, as it will burn very easily.
  • Step 9 Let cool slightly. Garnish with whole basil leaves and serve.
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