(Jenn Fields / The Denver Post)
From our Food Goddess, Tamara:
Yes, that’s the tornado that touched down a couple miles from my neighborhood last night. It was a raucous night.
Today, for the second time in as many weeks, I braved my kitchen to cook for friends who lost a loved one. So I thought it would be good to talk about cooking to help friends.
Cooking for friends doesn’t have to be restricted to a death in the family. Birth of a baby, finals week, new to the neighborhood, moving away, these are all times when people can be too busy and too stressed to cook or eat properly.
What’s 4 Dinner Solutions was actually started because I used to deliver dinners to teachers during the last push of the school year. If you know any teachers, you know they start to look a little rough around the edges by the time school is finishing up. Seemed the least I could do for them.
What do bring. Don’t overwhelm them with sugary treats. Sugar, while great for mood and comfort, can add to fatigue. Last week I baked cookies because chocolate was requested. If you are doing a dessert, make sure it’s ready to serve. Don’t expect them to cut a cake or brownies into serving sizes. Cookies (find your favorite here) and cupcakes (some fun flavors here) are a great choice.
Know your audience. Skip the alcohol unless you’re really sure this is okay. I have one friend that a wine care package is my first thought, but that’s a rare exception. If they have food restrictions, go for a vegetable, fruit, cheese and dip platter. Lots of healthy finger foods that can accommodate the vegans, gluten-free and allergy prone. A tray is perfect for those that just don’t have the time or inclination to sit down for a meal. Grazing is often how people cope with stressful situations.
Please for all that is holy, don’t make a casserole. Make a complete dinner, or if that’s not possible, put together a deli platter. Or how about a picnic? Put a bunch of picnic foods in a nice basket, along with paper plates, napkins, utensils and cups.
If food is not an option, then offer to walk the dog, clean the litter box, watch the kids for the afternoon, or vacuum the house before guests arrive.
Now how about you, what do you do for friends in a time of need? And what’s on your plate for the weekend? Anyone else dodging wild weather? If you missed it, JeffreyW bought a new camera this week. Pictures are worth a look.
Now for the recipes. For tonight I have put together a Pot Roast (photo above by JeffreyW) with all the trimmings (recipe here), hot and ready when they get home and for tomorrow, I’m putting together the featured recipe. They can then bake as needed. I’ll add a loaf of crusty bread and a bag of salad to complete that meal.
1 pound ziti pasta
1 pound bulk Italian sausage, spicy or mix 1/2 spicy and 1/2 sweet
1/2 yellow onion, chopped
3 to 4 tsp crushed garlic
2 tsp dried basil, crushed
1 tsp dried oregano, crushed
1/4 tsp thyme
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1- 6 oz can tomato paste
2 – 14 oz cans tomato sauce
8 oz mozzarella cheese, grated
12 oz ricotta cheese
1 cup grated parmesan
Saucepan, skillet, 9×13 baking dish
Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add the pasta and boil, uncovered, until the pasta is al dente, you want it very chewy as it will continue to cook while you bake it. Drain the pasta and DO NOT RINSE (you want the pasta starchy so it grabs the sauce).
In a skillet, brown the sausage. When it is mostly browned, add the onions and stir well to combine. Sauté everything until the onions are translucent, about 4-5 minutes. Add the garlic, spices and stir to combine. Cook 1 to 2 minutes, then add tomato paste, stirring to coat all the meat. Add tomato sauce and bring to a low simmer for 5 minutes.
Spread a thin layer of sauce in the bottom of a lightly oiled 9×13-inch casserole pan. Add a layer of pasta, ladle more sauce, spoon 1/2 the ricotta cheese over sauce, in dollops (three across and 4 to 5 up works well, kind of like you’d do cookie dough). Spread a 1/4 of the mozzarella. Add more pasta, more sauce, remaining ricotta, 1/4 of the mozzarella, sauce, pasta and the rest of the sauce. Top with mozzarella and parmesan.
Bake at 350°F until the top is bubbly and browned, about 20 minutes. Let rest for 5 minutes before cutting. I put a cookie sheet under the baking dish to catch any sauce bubbling over.
Serves at least 8
NOTES: This can be put together ahead of time and refrigerated. Bake for 15 minutes, covered with foil, bake for additional 20 minutes until cheese is bubbly and brown and center is hot. As this serves 8, you can use two 8×8 baking dishes and freeze one for later.
That’s if for this week. No Bixby update, but he’s recovering nicely from his “procedure” and I’m recovering from being dragged across the grass and the black eye has healed considerably. Life with an overgrown puppy. Have a terrific weekend – TaMara